GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Russia and the Catholics

May 1 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Russia and the Catholics

May 1 1945

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Russia and the Catholics

TWENTY - FIVE years ago, when the world was giddily celebrating the end of the war which was to end all wars, M. Paderewski came to the London Press Club to address a Monday afternoon meeting. Paderewski was not only a great pianist but a distinguished linguist and something of a politician—he later became President of Poland. It was his boast that he could speak on the wrongs of his country

in seven languages.

He probably felt that he was addressing the most influential personalities in the British Press, and determined to excel even his own high standard of oratory. Certainly his hearers were men of influence, but not quite in the direction that he imagined. As it was a Monday they consisted almost entirely of Sunday sports writers enjoying their day off after strenuous week-end labors.

He started off with a story which is as old as Poland itself. Ten thousand pounds was once offered (he told us) for the best international essay on the elephant. A German wrote 100,000 words entitled, “Introduction to a Monograph on the Elephant.” A Frenchman wTote a witty essay he entitled, “Les Amours de I'Elephant." An Englishman put in a manuscript called, “Big Game Shooting with Elephants.” But a Pole who tried for the prize called his manuscript, “The Elephant and the Polish Question.”

With that appropriate and topical introduction Paderewski raised his beautiful white hands and summoned the magic of language to his aid. He told of the wrongs of Poland and how she needed an outlet to the sea. Over and over again he called for the sea, the sea, the sea. It was like great music and I found myself stirred to the depths, while wishing I had brought a map. As for the sport writers, they listened in respectful astonishment. They could not understand what it had to do with piano playing.

I thought of this incongruous scene on the morning that Churchill was to open the three days’ debate on the Crimea Conference of the Big Three. In my mail that morning was a manifesto issued by the Catholic Archbishop of St. Andrews and his five Scottish Bishops. It had been sent to every Member of Parliament and its message was couched in words of fire. Britain had pledged her word to Poland, they reminded us, and it was our duty as legislators to insist that the Government honor the nation’s word. Russia, according to the Bishops, was the enemy of Christ and of civilization.

The manifesto left no doubt as to what we should do. Britain should refuse to accept the settlement of Poland’s new boundaries and if necessary break off relations with Russia. The Bishops did not openly call for war against Russia—not at this stage.

As an M.P. I deeply resented this intrusion of a religious body into temporal affairs, not merely because the realms of Caesar and God are historically divided, but because it had in its spirit the beginning of a fatal world alignment of Catholicism against the »Soviet. With Europe rent with feuds and fired by passions, it would not be difficult to invoke a crusade of Catholic countries against Russia as the heathen temple of communism.

Seldom has the House of Commons met in a mood where reason and sentiment were so cruelly involved against each other. Never have I seen the Members so determined to utter no word that was not charged with responsibility. No wonder that the three days debate is spoken of now as one of the finest in all our parliamentary history.

Churchill has his critics, but no one can accuse him of self-pity or self-dramatization. He is an intensely dramatic figure, but that is because he occupies the centre of the Stage in the world tragedy. Like King Lear he stands in the midst of the lightning, but, unlike the mad King, his mind is crystal clear. Never does he pose as a man wearied by his giant’s task or ask the sympathy of the mob.

In his opening speech he gave us clearly to understand that he and Stalin and Roosevelt had reached an understanding on which we had the right to hope that a permanent edifice of peace could be built. One wondered, listening to him, what Hitler would have felt if he could have looked upon that scene in the Crimea, where the leaders of Russia, the U. S. A. and Britain were determining the end of Germany and the shape of things to come. He might have crawled away muttering, like Hunchback Richard III on the eve of Bosworth:

“My conscience has a thousand several tongues,

And every tongue brings in a several tale,

And every tale condemns me for a villain.

Perjury, perjury in the high'st degree,

Murder, stern murder, in the dir'st degree,

Throng to the Bar, crying all, guilty! guilty!"

Hitler Creates Alliance

HITLER has conjured into being an alliance of Communist Russia, Republican America and the United Kingdom. His villainies have accomplished what reason and necessity had failed to do. Churchill made war on Bolshevist Russia in 1919, yet Hitler had changed Stalin and Churchill into comrades at arms, comrades in peace.

Quite obviously Churchill would have preferred to leave the settlement of Poland’s frontiers until the Peace Conference, but I have no doubt that Stalin said to him: “You know what the Poles are like. Supposing at the Peace Conference we all decided to restrict Poland to the Curzon Line and to compensate her with territory taken from the Reich. The Poles would simply refuse to accept the decision and they would be supported by Catholic statesmen all over Europe. In other words we would have to plunge eastern Europe in another war immediately. The only time to do it is now when we are on the spot.”

It is known that both Churchill and Roosevelt expressed their dislike of the Lublin Provisional Government, a collection of men playing the role of puppets to Russia. Again one can be certain that Stalin answered in some such terms as: “I, too, dislike these opportunists, but obviously Russia must have a government in Poland which will be friendly to her so that when the peace comes and we withdraw our troops from Polish soil they will not turn against us.”

Both Roosevelt and Churchill must have adhered to their opposition, for it was finally agreed that a government should be formed consisting partially of the Lublin group, the Emigré Government in London, and of representative democratic leaders in Warsaw. Until that government was formed Britain and America would continue to recognize the Emigré Government while Stalin would recognize the Lublin Government.

So far it can be seen that the Big Three were reaching a settlement in which there was a strong basis of common sense. The territory east of the Curzon Line had been seized by Poland from Russia in 1921, when the Soviet was weak, defeated and despised of nations. Now Poland was being liberated from the German terror by the colossal victories and sacrifices of the Soviet Army, and it could be argued that the least which could be done in gratitude would be to return the territories seized 24 years ago and briefly reoccupied by Russia in 1939.

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“We need that territory for our defense,” said Stalin. “We must keep the German beast cornered for ever. And, after all, what chance has Poland of any independent life unless we do away with the power of Germany to make war?”

Churchill told us none of these things categorically yet he contrived to give the clear impression that they had happened at the Conference. He and Roosevelt had been faced with the alternative of refusing to sanction Russia’s seizing of Polish territory, and thereby causing a deadlock between the United Nations, or of accepting it in the hope that a satisfied Russia would enter wholeheartedly into the grand alliance of Peace after the war. Each of us in the British Parliament had to take his own decision and vote according to his conscience, but what whip could say that, faced with a similar dilemma, he would have done differently than Churchill and Roosevelt? To come back from the Crimea and inform the world, including the enemy, that the United Nations had lallen out! . . . That would have been unthinkable.

Weak Points

Yet I believe the Prime Minister made one cardinal error in his speech. He kept on repeating that the Polish settlement was just. We were willing to concede that it was necessary, that it was wise, that it was inevitable, that it was urgent. We would have agreed to almost any adjective in the dictionary except “just.” More than three years ago Poland and Russia signed an alliance and agreed to respect each other’s integrity as well as render all possible mutual aid. Yet here was the big partner in that alliance carving the other up and arresting thousands of its citizens who might give trouble.

“It is impossible to do a rotten thing decently,” muttered a Tory M.P. sitting next to me. “Winston ought to know that.”

There was a demonstrably weak point in Churchill’s argument. He was urging the need of this particular territory to Russia for security reasons, ¿■security against whom? It could not be Germany, since the Big Three were making plans to render her militarily impotent for 100 years. Or if Germany was still a potential menace then what about the security of Poland, which was to be given actual slices of German territory?

These were the weak and illogical points in the Prime Minister’s case, but there was in each of our hearts the gnawing insistence that in Churchill’s place we would have acted as he had done, for the sake of the future of the world, for without the close friendship of Russia there can be no peace for any of us.

But that night a group of 20 Tories put down an amendment to the vote of confidence. They asked the House to declare that while it approved of the Government’s general conduct of the war it disapproved of the Polish settlement as an act of injustice and as a failure by the British Government to honor its pledges. It was arranged that the amendment should be debated on riie second day.

It is the habit of people to speak of politicians as place seekers, rubber stamps, opportunists and men of straw. Think for a moment of these 20 rebels. Some of them had already announced that they would not contest the next election. Long and faithful service might well mean that they were in line for some mark of official favor. Yet they deliberately chose to rebel against the Whips by the blackest sin that an M.P. can commit—refusing to back a vote of confidence. They cast aside their claims to preferment because they placed honor above honors.

I shall never forget that day’s debate. Each speech swayed the House and left our minds torn by indecision. ! Young Peter Thornycroft, a brilliant audacious figure, who is an embryonic Prime Minister, startled us with his j frankness. “We in this country,” he said, “are charged with speaking in two voices. Of course we do. America is peopled by idealists, Ruasia by realists. We must talk in one language to the Western world and in another language altogether to the East. It is a pity that there are not more realists in America and more idealists in Russia. But since our Allies are what they are we must speak with two voices.”

Up in the diplomatic gallery the Russian Ambassador was smiling. As far away as he could get was the Polish Ambassador, sombre, grim, motionless. Eden’s face was flushed, for he had to wind up the debate that day and he had to carry the House with him. And just then there came a sudden and silent moment of drama. A supporter of the Government was on his feet, declaring that he believed in Russia’s promise that Poland would be allowed to hold a free election, and he hoped that the Emigre Polish Prime Minister in London, M. Mikolajczyk, would go back and join the Provisional Government now.

A messenger handed a note to be passed along to Captain Alan Graham, M.P., one of the movers of the amendment. Graham read the note and then j leaned across to our bench. “Madame j Mikolajczyk has been arrested by the I Russians in Warsaw!” he said to us. There was not one of us who did not feel a sinking of the heart. It was so cruel, so insensitive, so insulting to Britain as a nation, for we were still acknowledging the Emigré administration in London as the rightful Polish Government. Graham handed the message to Kenneth Pickthorn, the member for Cambridge University, who j was on his feet addressing the House. Pickthorn looked at it and then read it aloud. Eden leaped to his feet.

“I know nothing of this,” he said, “but we shall make immediate enquiries and will report our findings to the | House.” There were anger and resentj ment in his heart, too. Actually it ! was not until two days later, when the vote had been taken, that he was able to tell us that Madame Mikolajczyk had been released as a result of strong representations from His Majesty’s Government. I do not imagine that Churchill and Eden minced words in their communications to Moscow.

When the division on the amendment took place 28 M.P.’s went into the lobby against the Government, all of them Tories except two. Half of the number were Catholics. The rest of us crowded the Government lobby in the belief that Churchill and Eden could have done nothing else but agree to the Partition of Poland. It was a vote of confidence, not only in our own Government but, strange as it may seem, a vote of confidence in the integrity and good will of Russia.

An hour later we learned that a junior Minister, Harry Strauss, had voted with the rebels and sent in his resignation to the Prime Minister. He threw away his political career because he held that even though we had only guaranteed the western frontier of Poland there were no frontiers in the realm of honor.