All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
THE World War was won by the soldiers of democracy, over an autocracy in quest of world hegemony, led by an over-ambitious Emperor. The Peace was lost by democracy's postwar statesmen, for twenty years united in an attitude of defeatism, to that same autocracy in quest of the same world hegemony, this time led by an obscure World War corporal. The defeatism of those statesmen permitted Hitler's Germany to rearm, increase her territory and population, and create a militarized nationalism openly organized for wars of conquest.
Misled by the nationalist and racial slogans of Hitlerism and Fascism, many democratic statesmen long believed that the essential conflict was between German and Italian nationalism on the one side and Communism on the other. Only recently have they realized that the basic social principles of Fascism and National Socialism closely resemble those of Communism, the unimportant difference being that the revolutionary internationalism of Communism is replaced by racism, nationalism and imperial expansion. Fundamentally, Fascist dictatorship fights Communism as a competitor, but its chief aim is the destruction of democracy, for that is its deadly enemy. Any war which Hitler and Mussolini may undertake, whether for European or for colonial expansion, will be primarily an ideological war between the principles of state totalitarianism and the principles of democracy.
The defeatism of democratic statesmen in recent years grew out of their overestimation of Germany's fighting power and perfection of organization. They overlooked the chinks in Hitler's polished armor. The German unity achieved by Hitler is indeed formidable and imposing, but it is much less complete than he has made it appear.
It was comparatively easy to unite Germany, still smarting from defeat, on the task of throwing off the yoke of a humiliating treaty. It was comparatively easy to consolidate this unity by such tangible achievements as the reintroduction of conscription, the return of the Saar, the reoccupation and fortification of the Rhineland, the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland, all without a war. It was likewise easy to give employment to millions of unemployed through rearmament, the building of roads and the creation of a great defense system. It was not hard to make the Jews the scapegoats for Germany's defeat and consequent hardships, particularly as simultaneously a decree eliminated them from public services,trade and the liberal professions and thereby created numerous jobs for Nazi partisans. Terrorism facilitated the destruction of all competing political parties. Attacks on the clergy and the Churches were justified on the plea of their internationalism, their interference in political matters and their opposition to racism. Potential rivals to Hitler among his own close followers were murdered.
Even so, in no other country and in no other moment of our modern era could national unity have been achieved by such methods of "statesmanship" aided by such mediæval slogans.
A sine qua non for success was the advent to autocratic power of a primitive individual, with a mind unburdened by education, free from all the inhibitions created by any knowledge of historical precedents, economic laws and social morality, free from all traditions of responsibility, chivalry and refinement, but possessed of indomitable courage and determination, unlimited personal ambition, self-confidence and will, of crude peasant logic and cunning, untiring energy and perseverance, and entirely lacking in any sense of humor. The requirement, in other words, was for a man with that special gift of rigid, ruthless and automatic authority which distinguishes the German corporal from all other human beings. That man appeared—endowed, moreover, with a mystic and primitive faith in the reality of the Wagnerian Valhalla. Even so, another ingredient was necessary—Hitler's prodigious luck, and his unlimited faith in it. As a statesman, Hitler is the great "simplifier" of complicated situations and problems. Further, he has an instinct for "timing," for choosing the favorable moment. This has enabled him to use so successfully the simple method of diplomacy by threat.
There can be no doubt that the Germany which faces the democratic world today is much more formidable than that which made war in 1914. Its power it owes to Adolf Hitler. But, great as are Hitler's achievements, dictatorship as such has liabilities. These must not be overlooked.
To be really effective, dictatorship requires that the dictator be constantly dynamic. The system precludes passive statesmanship. It thrives on continuing and ever greater achievements, on spectacular successes. The slightest hesitation or failure immediately affects it adversely.
Every dictator owes his acquisition of power largely to a devoted group of disciples. Here is another of the many difficulties of dictatorship. How maintain full and continuing control over this group of prætorians? It might be done comparatively easily if the group could be strictly limited numerically and qualitatively, but this becomes increasingly difficult as the exercise of practical government demands the admission of new elements into the dictator's party and requires that their growing ambitions be satisfied by promotion to higher rank. In the case of Hitler's dictatorship, the annexations of Austria and the Sudetenland have provided examples of this difficulty. Nazi leaders from Germany proper had to be appointed in those areas, and at once we began hearing of Hitler's difficulty in dealing with the frustrated ambitions and jealousies of the local leaders. This is the sort of thing which introduces elements of criticism and disintegration in a ruling party at points where it ought to be most strong. When we are considering dictatorship we should bear in mind that Cæsar was killed by Brutus.
The foregoing general problems are common to all dictators. But in addition Hitler is faced, or will shortly be faced, by specific problems of considerable magnitude.
Hitler's succession of unopposed victories has imparted to his dictatorial dynamism a momentum which he will find it hard either to maintain or to reduce without weakening his personal prestige. Nevertheless, some weighty problems must be solved and a series of preparatory moves carried through before he is in a position to launch out upon the remainder of his grandiose program of world hegemony. Until he has prepared the ground more painstakingly than has yet been possible he would encounter serious obstacles to either his East European or colonial goals. According to the most reliable German expert opinion, for example, the preparation of the strategic elements for a penetration of Southern Russia would take from two to three years.
Hitler has put forward his colonial demands mainly as a matter of prestige. Without a powerful navy and convenient naval bases it is unthinkable that he could launch a war for the return of Germany's prewar colonies. Moreover, it is an error to believe that a colonial empire is indispensable to German prosperity. In the prewar period German colonial emigration totalled only 200,000 people and Germany's trade with her colonies represented only one-half of one percent of her total trade. Resistance by the interested Powers to Hitler's colonial demands has considerably stiffened of late. He might of course risk an attempt to secure some colonies by negotiation; but he hesitates to embark on a method which is new to him and which is not likely to succeed unless he turns back to blackmail. But for this he is not sure that he now commands powerful enough means of coercion. Also, he has too frequently declared that nothing short of the return of all the former German colonies would be satisfactory. This he certainly cannot hope to achieve by negotiation alone. It therefore seems probable that he will not be able to press his colonial demands actively—i.e. except verbally—for the present. In this situation he has encouraged Fascist Italy to put forward territorial demands, hoping to create a test which may bring Italy some rewards; for this might be useful to German colonial negotiations in the future.
But the question of Italian claims on French territory has a much deeper significance: it involves the fundamental problem of German-Italian relations and the actual strength of the Rome-Berlin Axis. This problem deserves special analysis.
From the German point of view, the Rome-Berlin Axis served its main purpose at the time of the annexation of Austria and the partitionment of Czecho-Slovakia. Hitler doubtless sees that he cannot count on profiting much more from Italian support. Moreover, like most Germans, he does not place too great reliance on Italy's military strength in a possible war against the united forces and resources of Great Britain and France. Italian friendliness meant much to Germany in March and September 1938; but after all, the support given was only moral. Hitler considers that he paid for these services by his declaration in April 1938 regarding the inviolability of Italy's frontier on the Brenner and by his present support—likewise moral—of Italian claims in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. It seems most unlikely that when on January 30, 1939, Hitler pledged military support to Italy he meant that he would straightway dispatch an expeditionary force to help her in any war of aggression against France. More probably he was deliberately paying a last instalment on his debt to Mussolini—not a very expensive one, either, for he is right if he reasons that Italy will not venture upon any serious undertaking unless the German Army is available from the very outset. Furthermore, it would be quite in line with German modern diplomatic methods to have encouraged Italian threats of aggression, with a view to compromising Mussolini in the eyes of British and French public opinion and so preventing a rapprochement between Italy and the two great European democracies. If France, supported unequivocally by Great Britain, definitely refuses to grant any territorial concessions to Italy, Hitler will probably withdraw his promise of military support to Italy, pleading his pacifism. He would count on thus regaining some popularity in England and furthering his aim of a German-British rapprochement.
Germany's influence in the Danubian States is at present stronger than Italy's. But here, as throughout the Balkans, there is more ground for German-Italian rivalry than coöperation.
Economically and financially, an Italo-German alliance has no great prospects, for in this realm neither country can help the other. Moreover, both are forced to import certain raw materials and foodstuffs, and both are dependent to this extent on foreign markets and credits. Will there not develop naturally, then, a competition between Italy and Germany for a rapprochement with Britain and the United States as the only solution of their respective financial and economic difficulties?
The psychological factor should also be taken into consideration. Let us disregard for a moment the great differences between Latin and Germanic characteristics. It must be admitted that personally the two dictators have many traits in common, especially the love of theatrical effects and absolute self-confidence, although Mussolini, the more experienced and better educated of the two, possesses more of the qualities of a statesman. Broadly speaking, too, the aims of Fascism and National Socialism are similar: Mussolini aims at recreating a modern Roman Empire, Hitler at creating a German Empire. Each régime has embodied in its program some of the fundamentals of Communism, and each has added to these the ingredients of nationalism, militarism and racism. In the present phase, their personal relationship is one of emulation and imitation.
In essence, however, Hitler and Mussolini are competitors for very much the same power and hegemony and therefore are potential enemies. Their alliance, though it has served each of them well—especially Germany—is not evenly balanced. Both partners have the same boundless ambitions, but whereas Germany thinks she possesses the force, actual or potential, to threaten the world single-handed, today or tomorrow, Italy knows that her resources allow her no such wild imaginings. She realizes that she must play second fiddle to her towering companion. The association is the uncomfortable one of a pedestrian alongside a man walking on stilts. The Berlin-Rome Axis will appear in history as an artificial alliance for temporary ends between two Powers with essentially competing interests.
At home Hitler's power of decision is not unlimited. The loyalty of the German Reichswehr to him in his capacity of Reichsführer and Reichskanzler is indisputable. Yet the Reichswehr certainly cannot yet be considered a National Socialist Army. On the whole, the army chiefs still retain their traditional Prussian spirit and ideals, and it will be some years before the boys of the Hitler Jugend attain the rank of colonels and generals and are in a position to break the old spirit and put that of National Socialism in its place. Until then Hitler's personal hold on the Reichswehr cannot be regarded as absolutely secure in any and every emergency. He was proved right in relying on its obedience even when, against its advice, he reoccupied the Rhineland, and again when in 1938 he annexed Austria and the Sudetenland. The Reichswehr approved of the dispatch of small detachments to Spain, for so German matériel and equipment could be tested under conditions of actual war. But would the Reichswehr approve the dispatch of an expeditionary force to support Italy in an attack on Tunis or Nice? Hitler cannot be sure.
In his Reichstag speech of January 30, 1939, Hitler openly admitted for the first time that Germany is suffering from serious financial and economic difficulties. To solve these difficulties, he said, production and export trade must be greatly increased, even at the cost of a trade war with Great Britain for markets. He added that this was not a matter of choice, but of life and death. Now it will be more difficult than Hitler indicated to reconcile an increase in the production of goods for export with a continued and simultaneous increase of armaments. Dr. Schacht's resignation showed that he did not think Germany could carry out such a program without the help of foreign money markets. But will the British or American democracies step in to save Germany's finances and enable her to continue the rearmaments which in turn impose on them such costly rearmament programs?
Hitler is also faced with a social problem. The National Socialist program calls for social reform on a vast scale, and he has accomplished much for the working class in the way of housing and schools, recreation, and care of mothers and children. His work in German political unification and in rearmament and his ventures in foreign policy allowed him to shelve temporarily other parts of his program. But, as the last free election showed in the spring of 1933, when Hitler was already Reichskanzler under Hindenburg, there were in Germany at least 6½ million Communists and 8 million Socialists, as well as numerous democratically-minded voters. Deprived of their leaders, terrorized and persecuted, these groups no longer constitute an effective opposition, and in fact many of them have apparently been swallowed up in the Nazi movement. But the bulk of them are still there. Long working hours (in some war industries as many as 70 per week), comparatively low wages, the continuous levies and so-called "voluntary contributions" for party aims and the Winterhilfswerk, are highly unpopular. The lavish expenditure on parades and the luxury in which some of the Nazi leaders live also provoke unfavorable comment. Hitler's frequent references in recent speeches to the debt of gratitude owed by the Third Reich to the working man show that he is making an effort to overcome this feeling. His internal policy may soon become still more radical and may include measures such as land reform at the expense of the great proprietors, seizure of church properties and a capital levy on big industrialists and the Junkers.
The period of Hitler's spectacular successes started in 1933. The meeting of the four Great Powers at Munich on September 29, 1938, might have meant more for him than the end of a very lucky chapter. He might have made it the occasion for opening a new chapter of peaceful diplomatic achievement. But he did not understand how great were his opportunities in this hitherto unexplored field of action. He missed the chance of a lifetime.
Recall how much he had just obtained and how spectacularly. The threat that he would start an aggressive war had been taken seriously and Great Britain and France had sanctioned his seizure of part of Czecho-Slovakia. He had been allowed to march triumphantly into a defenseless country, at the head of his troops, at the hour he had fixed. His prestige had never stood so high. Following two dramatic personal visits to him by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Chamberlain and M. Daladier had flown to Munich at the eleventh hour to plead with the Führer for mercy and peace. Hitler was overwhelmed. He could never have hoped for so much. No higher or unexpected tribute to his vanity and power could possibly have been paid. According to his primitive understanding, this stupendous event demonstrated that he was almighty. Once more he had proved to the Reichswehr and to moderate National Socialist disciples like Marshal Goering that there was nothing to fear from democratic Europe, that he and von Ribbentrop again had rightly gauged the situation and won the day.
The world considered that Munich had saved it from war at the very last moment. As such the "settlement" was acclaimed a great success. There seemed every likelihood that it would be the preliminary to further conferences for the reëstablishment of European peace and confidence. The curious document signed by Chancellor Hitler and Mr. Chamberlain just before the latter left Munich was regarded both in England and in Germany as a mutual pact of non-aggression opening up a vista of German-British rapprochement and coöperation.
But within a few days Hitler made a speech in which he violently attacked certain British statesmen for having dared to criticize the methods which he and Mr. Chamberlain had used. He threatened that war might become inevitable if those statesmen should ever come into office. He attacked Britain's rearmament and her "governess attitude" towards the Continent. He again stressed Germany's colonial claims. All in all, his speech revealed clearly that Munich had in no way modified his methods. On top of it came a ruthless and officially organized Jewish pogrom. Apprehension once more gripped the world and showed itself in an intensification of the armament race.
The British and French Prime Ministers went to Munich out of dire necessity and as the logical consequence of twenty years of democratic defeatism. These two statesmen were partly responsible for their humiliation, but not solely responsible. The fault must be shared by those who over many years did many incongruous things simultaneously—i.e. made concessions to Germany without ever being really generous or really firm, failed to prevent German rearmament, were inefficient and parsimonious in maintaining their own armaments, palmed off responsibility for European crises onto an impotent League of Nations, and preached the theory that peace was divisible between Western Europe (where peace could and should be saved) and Eastern Europe (where peace could not and therefore should not be saved). Britain, insufficiently armed, could hardly be expected suddenly to seize the occasion of Czecho-Slovakia's acute peril to go to war with Germany, and no British cabinet could have hoped to persuade British public opinion that war in this special case was unavoidable when it had not been unavoidable when Germany illegally restored conscription, remilitarized the Rhineland in violation of the Locarno Treaties, and annexed Austria, whose independence had been guaranteed by a series of British Governments.
True, in going to Munich and later to Rome, Mr. Chamberlain probably was guided more by humanitarian instincts than by statesmanship. Be that as it may, the proof he gave of devotion to the cause of peace brought at least one chapter of British defeatism to its logical conclusion. The British people, and with them most of the civilized world, must by now realize that democracy has exhausted the possibilities for averting war by compromise and that from now on the entire and sole responsibility in decisions between war and peace must be borne by the dictators of the totalitarian Powers.
The tactical errors of Hitler and Mussolini prevented the Munich Conference from being the starting point for further peace negotiations. Meanwhile, Britain's decision to give immediate military assistance to France if she is attacked will intensify Germany's reluctance to assist Italy in securing control of the Mediterranean. This will tend to create discord between Rome and Berlin and may very well result in a competition between them for a rapprochement with Great Britain. The risk is that, in this very important psychological moment, the British Government will receive any "feelers" put out by either of the two totalitarian states too eagerly. In particular it would be fatal if Hitler and Mussolini gained the impression that out of his devotion to peace Mr. Chamberlain might be persuaded to try his hand at a Franco-Italian mediation. The slightest sign of weakness in Paris or London would be seized on by Hitler and Mussolini to recreate a pre-Munich situation. For years defeatism succeeded in postponing the risk of war by making its eventual arrival more and more certain. The great lesson of Munich should be that the era of postponements has come to an end.
Hitler's crudeness, which gave him so many successes, has ended by creating—or nearly creating, for as these lines are written the picture is still not clear as regards certain gentlemen either in Downing Street or at the Quai d'Orsay—what Bismarck always most feared: an almost universal anti-German coalition. Among the masses of the people this coalition is now, in the moral field, a tangible reality. It is the more dangerous for Nazi Germany and for Hitler's future career because it is a coalition on the grounds he himself chose—ideological grounds. World democracy, finally realizing its peril, is arming in earnest to defend the principles of freedom which make individual lives worth living.
No idealization of state totalitarianism, whether super-nationalist and racial as in the case of Hitler's National Socialism, or more nearly Communist as in the case of Stalin's Bolshevism, can ever be acceptable to free-minded human beings who have lived under a régime of law. It is one of the most interesting phenomena of Hitler's political activity that it has resulted in bringing about so soon such an overwhelming and unprecedented manifestation of defensive solidarity amongst the democratic peoples. It was their divisions and the defeatism of their leaders which made Hitler supreme. Woodrow Wilson tried to unite the postwar world in an idealism for which it was not yet ripe. It would be the height of paradox if Hitler, of all persons, were destined by his statesmanship finally "to make the world safe for Democracy."