Iran’s Crisis of Legitimacy
An Embattled Regime Faces Mass Protests—and an Ailing Supreme Leader
ON SEPTEMBER 11, 1935, Sir Samuel Hoare, the British Foreign Secretary, delivered what many people considered the most impressive speech ever heard in Geneva. He laid down the fundamentals of an effective League of Nations policy. Geneva is accustomed to declamations and declarations and has become tired of them. This time Geneva, to the surprise of all skeptics, not only listened to a strong speech, but also responded with strong action. The League suddenly became a power competent to give a new aspect to world history. The noncommittal ideology of yesterday has become the forceful action of today. Will it survive tomorrow?
The answer to this question evidently depends upon the play of forces that determines the policy of the chief powers. This play of forces consists not only in the struggle of idealisms. But it is also not only, as many say, a play of massive material interests which for their realization lay hold of whatever tools appear to be most useful at the moment. All governments respond to the immediate political situation of their respective countries. This political situation is always a very complex composite, formed from ideologies, Machtinteressen, tactics of domestic politics, and economic purposes. If one is to understand the play of forces which determines the present phase of world policy in all its implications and motivations, one must carefully analyze the internal situation of the nations and groups of nations concerned. It is not just a question of idealism versus selfishness, dishonesty versus honesty, imperialism versus pacifism, the "haves" versus the "have-nots" -- none of this, and yet all of this together. Too many heterogeneous characters appear on the stage of history for us to be able to force them into any simple scheme. The history of the world is not concerned, as are bad authors, only with black and white, virtue and vice, brutality and gentleness, justice and injustice.
In his great speech Sir Samuel Hoare admitted "the mistakes that no doubt His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the British people, like every other Government and every other people, have made in the past." Only Hoare himself knows which "mistakes" he had in mind. But it is certain that as recently as June 7, 1935, English policy had experienced a complete revolution. When at that time Ramsay MacDonald was displaced by Stanley Baldwin, Sir John Simon by Sir Samuel Hoare, and Lord Londonderry by Philip Cunliffe-Lister, many looked upon it as a change of personalities of little consequence. Had Baldwin not already as head of the Conservative Party been the real leader in the government? In the opinion of the public was Sir Samuel a more colorful figure than Sir John? Hoare had belonged to this National Government from the beginning, as had Simon. It appeared to be a little regrouping inside the Cabinet. Why should it greatly modify the direction of British policy? But in reality it meant a complete swing about.
Only three weeks after the re-shuffling of the Cabinet the results of the so-called Peace Ballot were announced. The English League of Nations Union, under Viscount Cecil, had in January started the Ballot on a complicated questionnaire:
"Should Britain remain a member of the League? Are you in favor of an all-round reduction of armament by an international agreement? Are you in favor of all-round abolition of national military and naval aircraft by international agreement? Should the manufacture and sale of armaments for private profit be prohibited? If one nation attacks another, should other nations compel it to desist by: 1. economic non-military measures? 2. military measures if necessary?"
11,628,000 votes were cast, of which over 10 million were for economic sanctions and almost 6,800,000 for military sanctions.
The significance of this Peace Ballot was at first as little appreciated by the non-British world as had been that of the Cabinet change. Even today it is impossible to say which of the two was of more far-reaching consequence. It was destiny that the change in government personnel seemed to favor the policy of the Peace Ballot. It is known that in recent years MacDonald had cherished as much dislike for the League as sympathy for Mussolini. (This peculiar and tragic volte-face in the life of this British statesman, whose political days are now over, we cannot discuss here.) Baldwin was always free from the personal prepossessions that inhibited MacDonald. Sir John Simon was as acute as he was unresponsive to sentiment. Certainly he was much more skeptical about the League than was bearable to the passionately pacifistic and League-minded public opinion of England.
But the decisive factor was and is this public opinion itself. It was organized by pacifists, but by British pacifists, that is, by political realists. A prominent English Liberal said to me the other day in London: "You see, the trouble with the French peace movement is that it is run by cranks." That is perhaps true not of the French peace movement alone; but surely it does not apply to the English. English pacifism is very realistic. It has its roots in the religious as well as in the humanitarian and liberalistic British character. It is certainly not, as so many argue, merely a veil for "English imperialism," whatever that means. The ten million who voted for the English League of Nations policy, for collective security plus sanctions, really mean what they say. They are resolved to take the consequences for the British Empire just as they are now demanding them of the Italian, and would tomorrow demand them of any other Covenant breaker. So little imperialistic are they that they are ready to abandon India or to subordinate the British colonies as British mandates to the League.
The question whether these millions represent a real majority of the English people is for practical purposes of little importance. They represent certainly the most active part of the British nation politically. For only the active people participate in that kind of voluntary affair. The question is of little importance also for another reason. The elections on November 14 again confirmed an old English experience that in essence the domestic political fight is always waged for one million votes. The majority which gave Baldwin's government in the House of Commons a majority of almost 250 seats was scarcely 1,500,000 votes. A million votes for one side or the other means in England a change of government, a change of régime, a change of system. The Peace Ballot told the Conservative Government that it had to take heed of almost 12,000,000 voters, among them without doubt some millions of Conservative electors. The government pricked up its ears to listen to the distinct voice of the people.
Is that of no avail now that the elections are over? Can the British Government betray or deceive its voters after the event? Can it disrespect now what it had to respect before the elections? Anyone who knows anything of modern English history -- and that means above all the part of English society that is interested in politics -- does not for a moment consider this possible. England is the only great nation of the world in which, apart from the political parties and the press, an independent public opinion exercises a constantly effective power. A government that acted in opposition to public opinion would in a short time be compelled to dissolve Parliament and call new elections, no matter how large its majority was; and the new elections would again be decided by those million votes which determine English history.
It was again destiny that the test case of English pacifism came up in a situation that caused English imperialism to take the course it would have had to take anyhow. The 11 million who voted in June for an active League of Nations policy on the part of England are not the whole English nation. There are millions of Englishmen who view the League with the greatest skepticism and suspicion, millions who -- regardless of motives -- had joined the ranks of Mussolini's admirers. It was Mussolini himself who decimated the legions of his English admirers. Not because he threatened the sources of the Blue Nile and the communication lines to India and Australia. That he had already done before June, that was implied from the beginning in his Ethiopian policy, and in spite of this no "diehard" cried alarm and MacDonald and Simon saw no reason in those four lovely April days which they spent with Mussolini in Stresa even to mention Ethiopia. It was Mussolini's remarks which were spread through diplomatic channels in London society, and the inspired articles of the Italian press -- there are only inspired articles under dictatorships -- which aroused the uneasy attention of Mussolini's admirers in England, such as that the Mediterranean was an Italian sea and the British navy no longer mattered. That was more than English pride would have borne even if it had been true. Mussolini had underrated England -- we shall soon see for what reasons. Thus it was ultimately Mussolini himself who united England, in spite of all tactical inhibitions, to a degree never previously attained.
In brief, England today pursues a League of Nations policy because, first, it is fundamentally pacifist and detests war; second, because it is afraid of the European chaos that would inevitably follow the disintegration of the League; third, because the action of the League is meant to make unnecessary military measures for the protection of British interests if and when such interests should be at stake. Naturally, the three motives are not in reality so sharply defined as they are here formulated. Pacifist ideology, imperialistic egoism, and party tactics are intermingled. But the stream of public opinion, which they form, flows in one direction.
Nothing of all this is true for France, which at the moment plays England's counterpart in Geneva. Pierre Laval made his great speech in Geneva the day after Sir Samuel Hoare. He appeared -- that was the intention -- to agree with Hoare in everything. But the French ideology and the French material position are different from the English in almost every respect. Laval's cabinet came into power on the same day, June 7, as Baldwin's. But from the beginning it was weak, just as the English was strong. If England is today as never before conscious of her strength, France is, as hardly ever previously, conscious of weakness. This feeling of weakness is much more cause than effect of the profound rift that is poisoning public life in France today.
Mentally, France has never grown up to the position of power which she won in 1919, with the help of her allies, at Versailles. During the years of the greatest expansion of power she never lost her inferiority complex with respect to vanquished Germany. This alone determined her vacillating foreign policy. From this arose her obstinacy, her incapacity for conciliatory policy, for timely concessions, for constructive ideas. It was France, not England, that made the principle of collective security the goal of her policy. But what she always had in mind was security against Germany, and security against Germany meant security for the entire European system which was set up in 1918 to keep Germany down. France felt weak in the degree to which this system began to show cracks on all sides. Her inferiority complex turned into panic in January 1933 when Hitler seized Germany.
This inferiority complex determines not only the ideology of the French foreign policy, but also its practice. France is also a pacifistic nation, but French pacifism divides the nation rather than unites it. French pacifists are not, as are English, conservatives (in the sense of philosophy, not of party), but radicals. Pacifist propaganda in France runs for the most part along with communist propaganda. Consequently it is looked upon by the conservatives as a sapping of national strength, as anti-national.
The gulf between Right and Left is today scarcely to be bridged. It has already been realized by foreign observers that the French position today manifests unpleasant similarities with Germany's in 1932. The whole country is divided into two enemy camps which are so heavily armed that it is doubtful how far the government's power would go if these weapons were once put into use. The camps eye each other with the utmost suspicion; each has diametrically opposed views on all vital questions. Whereas in England the economic recovery which has been steadily progressing for the last three years has purged internal politics of the bitterness which characterized it in 1931, in France the steadily aggravating economic depression has intensified this bitterness to a point where only a slight increase would set off an explosion. And just as these years of recovery have bolstered English pride in the system of parliamentary democracy extraordinarily, so the years of depression in France have brought this system into extreme discredit. And just as recovery in England has made it possible for the government not only to put its finances in order, but also to grant tax reductions, and redress former cuts in its social budget, the French Government must seek refuge in restrictions which make the era of Laval so dangerously like that of Brüning not only in its political but also in its economic and financial conditions. And this policy of restrictions in France is apparently doomed to the same failure as in Germany.
The task of Pierre Laval is unsolvable, but he is always under compulsion to act as he does. He is not free. The rift which divides the nation goes through his own cabinet. The formula of compromise for which Laval is always striving in Geneva, which he would like to use between Italy and England, is at the same time the formula of compromise which he needs at home. While French conservatives and their representatives in the government prize the newly-founded friendship with Italy above everything, the representatives of the Left threaten to break up the Cabinet if Laval refuses to follow England's leadership at Geneva. Herriot, Bonnet, Mandel (as the standard bearer of Clemencist tradition), would resign on the day on which Laval tried to take sides against England. But no one wishes to face the consequences of such a step. For the alternative to a cabinet of the Center parties would be a cabinet of the Left, left not in the traditional French sense, but a Left in which probably for the first time in French history communists would play a dominant rôle. How strong they are the elections in the spring will show. But no one doubts that these elections will bring heavy losses to the Socialists as well as the Radical Socialists, and to the Communists great gains. At that time, at the latest, the French crisis will be decided, if it is not done previously through the devaluation of the franc. This might change the whole scene. But Laval cannot do it. And the appointment of a Left government which might be ready to devalue the franc might at the same time give the signal for a civil war. That is the tragic dilemma under which French policy must act.
It is not only domestic political restraints which make Laval hesitate. He has also military scares. The nightmare that haunts many French people is a German-Italian military alliance, to which as a last resort Mussolini could be driven. What would the entire English fleet avail against an attack of the combined German and Italian armies? France would have to stand the attack alone, for the Russian alliance does not count very much, and the Little Entente would be busy in case of a crisis with its own cares (Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria, and domestic troubles). If England were as powerful on land as she is at sea, the French option would not, despite everything, be in doubt for a moment. But since Germany has rearmed, France feels a need for military protection. Mussolini appeared to satisfy it, until England placed before France the unpleasant choice between Rome and London.
Laval's League policy has as little to do with that of Briand as Baldwin's has with that of the earlier MacDonald. Almost a decade has passed since Stresemann made his entrance into the League of Nations Assembly amidst the enthusiastic applause of representatives of the whole world. These years have altered French policy as well as English, German and Russian.
Europe is at the crossroads. Developments demand that a definite decision be made concerning the road to be taken. The decision has been postponed so long that the margin of arbitrariness has been narrowed to the extreme. The great majority of European nations are not Great Powers but instead little and middle-size states. The Scandinavian countries, Holland, Switzerland, the Successor States of the former Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, all the Balkans and the Russian border states -- have all, through Hitler and Mussolini, been made aware of their helplessness. They all see in the League of Nations their only and last protection. They all are (with one or two exceptions) gratified to follow English leadership in shaping the League into an efficient instrument for the preservation of peace and for protection against wanton attack. None of them is interested in Ethiopia, in the balance of power in the Mediterranean or the Red Sea. But they all look upon League intervention in favor of Africa as a kind of rehearsal for the really great performance which may be put on in Europe tomorrow. And they hope that if this rehearsal goes off well no one will have the courage or feel the need to raise the curtain upon the real play. All feel that if the League functions this time a precedent will have been created which will make its action in the future ten times easier, quicker and more effective. This explains the promptness with which fifty states responded to Geneva's call and which surprised so many even in Geneva itself.
But however great England's influence may be, the real motive for the promptness of the decision was the consciousness of each of these countries: Tua res agitur. For to the great majority of the central and eastern European countries pacifist ideology means simply nothing at all. They do not feel the moral aversion to war that prevails in Anglo-Saxon countries. For many among them, moreover, economic sanctions mean a much greater economic sacrifice than for a great power. And thanks to the impenetrable network of ententes, non-aggression and arbitration pacts, and whatever the modern names for the old alliances are, it brings many of them into conflicts similar to these in which France is involved. It remains to be seen how far these conflicts of interests and this lack of intellectual conviction will impair the practice of sanctions. But the moral pressure which Geneva brings to bear will probably receive sufficient support from the apprehension which almost all European nations feel of Germany, a nation outside the League and rapidly rearming.
This is the dominant motive first of all for Soviet Russia's attitude. Humanitarian pacifism is as far from the bolshevist ideology as it is from Mussolini's militant nationalism. Also, the League is for Russia a matter of convenience, not of conviction. What determines Russia is not the desire for a better and safer European order, which, according to Russian ideology, could be brought about only by a triumphant Third International. It is also not the outlawing of war as an instrument of international policy (for the class war -- which also has little respect for the value of human life -- is, to its way of thinking, the inevitable characteristic of the capitalistic world).
Three definite considerations lead Russia today to come forward as the protagonist of the League and the policy of sanctions. The days of Rapallo when, to the amazed horror of the victorious western Powers, Russia and Germany appeared to join their lot as the two great outcast-nations, have passed long since. Today Russia feels itself threatened directly by Germany in the West as by Japan in the East. And it has very good reason to feel so. In none of his numerous protestations for peace has Hitler neglected to express his hatred and enmity for Russia. It is the vital element of National Socialism into which he fits all his external foreign political tactics. Since Hitler's understanding with Poland the "German danger" has become acute for Russia. The Soviets need protection for their western boundaries, and they seek this protection in Geneva, because only through Geneva can the military alliance with France and the Little Entente become effective. Russia recognizes fully how unpopular the Franco-Russian alliance is in a France whose domestic politics is completely dominated by the tension between the growing fascist and communist forces. The League is needed as a common denominator to make France's need for security coincide with the Russian need for protection on its western border.
But two other motives would alone be sufficient to explain Russia's active rôle in Geneva. In Ethiopia fascism must receive a fatal blow. If Mussolini's power breaks on the League, Hitler's fall is believed to be the inevitable consequence. (This motive plays no small part among the French and English left wing, but it is nowhere paramount.) And finally, Russian foreign policy is focused on two points. The Asiatic East is in even stormier ferment than the European East. In comparison with the shifts that are developing there under the ruthless aggression of Japan the Ethiopian question looks like a bagatelle. Of the European Powers only one besides Russia is directly interested in these events of world-historical importance: England. Under the pressure of fascist imperialism, English and Russian interests are for the first time in Europe as well as in Asia brought into the same direction. This is a turn the significance of which for the future cannot be exaggerated.
Italy at last. Her policy constitutes the only real puzzle in a tremendously complicated yet transparent play. What Mussolini seeks in his deadly Ethiopian adventure historians may reveal. All official explanations are insults to human intelligence.
But the pressure under which the fascist dictatorship acts and which makes its entire weakness apparent is clearly to be seen. For years Mussolini has pathetically announced that in 1935 the new Imperium Romanum would be founded. On this fateful year all military preparations were centered. For this year the all-inclusive propaganda apparatus prepared public opinion. Ethiopia should become the cornerstone of this empire. For half a century Italy had had this aspiration, in vain. Fascism was to bring about a successful realization. Whoever seeks behind this for primarily economic motives is as badly mistaken as in every attempt at an economic interpretation of any nationalism. Ethiopia is in every respect economically worthless for Italy. Whether it does or does not contain natural resources the exploitation of which would pay, is still an open question. Were they there, Italy would need the aid of foreign capital to exploit them, and no country is so rich in natural resources that the net profit to be derived from them would by any possibility cover the costs of a war. Moreover, for a purely economic penetration of Ethiopia Mussolini could have obtained the diplomatic and probably also the financial support of England. But he was not striving for economic opportunities; he sought rather military triumphs. He did not seek gold, he sought war and power. That brought the civilized world to its feet.
The Anglo-Saxon world will understand this only when it has learned to understand the internal play of forces in the fascist world. Fascism came into power as a youth movement. Youth, disappointed and hopeless, came out of the trenches to find at home a régime that had nothing to offer it. It overthrew this régime and placed its own members and followers, almost all young people, in hundreds of thousands of positions. Thirteen years have passed and meanwhile a new generation has grown up. Since its sixth year it has been trained, through the Ballila and other organizations, for service in the Party and has become acquainted only with the narrow corner of reality which it is allowed to look at there. This service has aroused demands, awakened claims. The organization to which one belongs must recompense the service adequately; it has obligations towards its members. But the Party cannot honor the bills which it has issued. There are not enough jobs for this rising generation, because young people, who are themselves the power in the Party, still occupy all the positions; and this young generation is intellectually and vocationally untrained to open up new possibilities of work. That is a very serious danger. Mussolini, who by exploiting a similar social tension seized power himself, is very well able to appreciate this danger. He must find for these youths adventure and careers, cost what it may.
Apparently he estimated the price far below what it now appears to be. The fatal error lay in his judgment of England. He had not reckoned with the possibility that England would offer serious resistance. Not because he fooled himself about England's interests, but because he undervalued England's strength. As a fascist dictator he was thoroughly convinced of the inferiority and weakness of English democracy. Because pacifism predominated in England, Mussolini believed that England would under no circumstances fight. In this belief he was reaffirmed by the policy of the MacDonald-Simon Cabinet, which, in spite of all Italy's open preparations for war, gave no serious warning until summer. Now Italy is caught in a trap and the dictator is the captive of his own catchwords, his own propaganda. Dictatorships are the weakest governments for they cannot go back, they must not admit any mistakes, they must at any price always press onwards along the road which they have once chosen.
Here lies the kernel of the European danger, however the system of sanctions which came into force on November 18 works out practically, however the military action in Ethiopia turns out. For Italy's position is in any event hopeless unless Mussolini comes soon to an understanding with the League, that is, with England. When and how this understanding could be reached is not to be seen at the moment. That it could be achieved by sharing the spoils with England and France is, I think, extremely improbable. England knows that she would thereby destroy the League itself and Mussolini can offer no adequate compensation. Never again could an English statesman in Geneva plead for general principles if England were to draw an unfair advantage from this conflict.
To picture the consequences of an Italian breakdown is not the aim of this article. The most serious consequences would not be felt in Africa or in the Mediterranean but in Central Europe. The key to the European situation would once again lie, as so often during the last 250 years, in Austria. There Germany's line of expansion crosses France's link with the Little Entente, and there it meets Italy's continental system.