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|From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Editorials|
|Date: December, 2020|
History, Sentiment and the EU
|The European Union has produced a post-national Europe by means of a system of supra-national, teleological, law, which makes “xenophobic nationalism” redundant and gives migration a positive value. Membership of it “has opened not merely the physical borders of Europe to our goods, services and people but also the borders in our minds”. It is inspired by the philosophy of Spinoza, who said: “Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind”. Its Member States, by joining it: “agree to values that reflect the apotheosis of civilisation and which have been inspired by the writings and thoughts of the great philosophers, leaders, religions, and lawyers. It is an achievement beyond the wildest imagination and prophecies at the end of the Second World War when Europe was at its lowest and most devastated state”.
This is the account of it given by Paul Gallagher, Senior Counsel and former Attorney-General, in his article on Peter Sutherland And The European Project in the Summer 2020 issue of the Jesuit Quarterly, Studies.
But what we are seeing in the EU at present, especially with regard to the 2nd World War, is that truth is nationalist. The movement that led to the formation of the EU gained practical force because Europe was at its “lowest and most devastated state” in 1945. The major states, which had been full of confidence in 1939, were sunk in confusion in 1945. They no longer quite knew what they were. They could not return to what they had been in 1939. They were under the necessity of becoming something else.
It was not that they had been disillusioned, through internal development, of the illusions, conventions, assumptions and practices of 1939, but that they had been disrupted physically by outside forces and that the ideas attached to functional states and the societies depending on them had fallen away.
The EU would not exist but for the War, or Wars, of 1939-45. But the difficulty which it is finding in relating itself to that era casts practical doubt on whether there actually was a coherent event that could be called The Anti Fascist War, and whether the War or Wars that actually happened had any constructive relationship with what happened in Europe subsequently. It became customary to say that a rules-based order was established in Europe after 1945 because of the victory of the Anti-Fascist forces in the Anti-Fascist War of 1939-45. But one of the major effects on Europe of the military events of 193945 was to displace it from the centre of world affairs, divide it in two, and make each part the front line in a military and political confrontation between the two states that had defeated Germany, and had become the Super-Powers of the world by doing so.
These two states made very unequal contributions to the defeat of Germany.
The main interest of the United States was to extend its power in the Pacific. It became involved in the War in Europe as a by-product of its War with Japan.
It committed itself to giving priority to the European War in December 1941 but it did not become engaged militarily
in Europe until 1944. This long delay was caused by British refusal to invade France in 1942 and 1943. By 1944 the point of invading France was not to ensure that Germany would not win, but to limit Russian advance.
If a German victory would undermine civilisation, which was the routine thing to say, then civilisation had been saved by 1944. The German Army had failed to achieve a breakthrough in Russia in 1941. The Russian Front held against revived German assaults in 1942. Thereafter Germany encountered a military expertise equal to its own, backed by much greater resources, and the only question was when it would be defeated.
In the ideology of the moment on the Western side from 1941 to 1944, Nazi Germany was presented as a mortal danger to civilisation in all its varieties, from comprehensive Communism to laissez-faire capitalism. That was why the Communist world was united with the Capitalist world in a crusade against it. That was the case when Nazism became dominant in central and Western Europe in 1940 and there was no sign of an internal force in Western Europe rising up to overthrow it.
The characteristic of Fascism, which brought it to the fore in Europe after the 1st World War, was that it drew its support from both the Left and the Right. It retained that characteristic in power, disabling social resistance. There was therefore no realistic possibility of its being overthrown by an internal European force.
And so, if it was a menace to civilisation, civilisation could only be saved by an external force.
The external force which stopped it and drove it back and consolidated its grip on territories conquered from it was the force of Communist Russia. In 1944 it was a virtual certainty that the Nazi State would be defeated and overthrown by Russia within a year or two and that Europe up to the Spanish border would become Communist if Britain delayed any longer the American urge to land a fighting force in France.
The United States landed an army in Northern France in July 1944, and a short while later it landed another army in the South of France. A new French Government was established in Paris. This new French Government repudiated the Government which had declared war in September 1939 and lost it in June 1940, and which had made a peace agreement with Germany when it was no longer able to sustain a war effort. The new Government, put in place by American power, declared the old Government to have been a bunch of traitors. The main political party in the new French political system was the Communist Party.
A year after landing its Army in Normandy, the forces of the United States met up with those of the Russians at Berlin. What is called the Cold War then began almost immediately, with Britain playing the leading part in it at first. A new ideological world then appeared on stage so quickly that there could be no doubt that it had been on the wings waiting for its turn to come on. From the Summer of 1941 to the Spring of 1945 Communism and Capitalism had been defending Civilisation. Communism had done the main work of defeating Nazi Germany. But then the new ideology gave one to understand that Communism had been an even greater danger to Civilisation than Fascism had been.
If the American landing in Normandy had been delayed by Britain for yet another year, Europe probably would have become Communist up to the Pyrenees and European Civilisation would have ended. The force that destroyed Fascism was worse than Fascism. That is an idea that is inescapable in Churchill’s writings, which are a part of Europe’s view of itself to such an extent that German Chancellor Merkel has the fixed idea that it was Churchill rather than Stalin who got rid of Hitler!
This is the ideological ground on which the European Union was constructed. It is a marshland. But it was the fact that it was marshland that gave the opportunity for the element of supranational idealism to play a significant part in the construction of post-1945 Europe.
What happened was not the convergence of a group of nation-states which came to a realisation out of their own development that they had a common interest in establishing a joint European arrangement which would take precedence over their national arrangements. They all began afresh in 1945 as wrecked nation-states, under American occupation, which were nurtured back to life within a capitalist market laid on by America and nudged towards a West Europeanism by America, so that they would present a common front against the Communist force that had set up its own system in Eastern Europe.
They did not, after 1945, live out the consequences of the war which they had just fought against each other. A deus ex machina appeared on the scene, as in an 18th century French comedy, and put everything on a new footing. The ideology of the War was put aside—or was reversed, with the hero of the Anti-Fascist War becoming the villain.
Germany recovered quickest from the experience of the War. It was beaten in the War. There was no confusion in the matter,
as there had been in 1918 when the political base gave way and surrendered with an undefeated army still in the field; giving rise to the not unreasonable “stab in the back” accusation that was unsettling. In 1945 military-political unity was maintained until the enemy armies met in Berlin. Germany then set about getting itself going again on a new footing. It did not torment itself by raking over the immediate past. It inherited national unity from the Nazi period and built on it, forming a Government staffed in great part by personnel of the National Socialist State. It could do this because America (the god from outside the machine), which had been neutral in the War for more than two years, was itself enlisting Nazi personnel in its conflict with the Power that had destroyed Nazi Germany, and that it was therefore obliged to share the world with.
Affairs went very differently in France. It had declared war on Germany, had been defeated in the war, had made an agreement with Germany in accordance with its military defeat, had conducted its own Government under that agreement, while Germany remained in occupation of a stretch of Northern and Western France in order to cope with British refusal to end the War, had been condemned as traitorous for acknowledging the fact of defeat by an ultra-nationalist element sponsored by Britain, had been overthrown by a Resistance movement made effective by an American invasion from the South, had had a new Government formed by the Resistance which had put the wartime Government on trial for treason, had been restored to the formal status of a Great Power in the United Nations order of things, had tried as a nominal Great Power among the victors to achieve the long-standing French ambition of territory across the Rhine, had had to back down in the face of the quickly resurgent German nationalism, and had given up and submitted to the Europeanist development being driven by Germany and the United States.
Because of that chequered history France, a nominal Victor State, was a problem to itself after 1945, in a way that Germany, the defeated villain of the story, was not.
Was the 1940 Government that made terms with Germany in the light of military defeat a representative institution or a Fifth Column clique of traitors?
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And, more basically: on what ground should that question be answered? Is the answer to be got through investigating empirical fact? If it is, then there is no doubt that the Government that made terms with Germany in June 1940 was a democratically-elected Government, and its action was in accordance with the wishes of the great majority of the population.
But is truth necessarily a statement that corresponds with existing fact? Of is it a transcendental ideal that is not hidebound by existing facts?
I notice that, in recent years, academics in Irish Universities have rejected the view of the 19th century German historian, Leopold von Ranke, that it is the business of historians to describe historical situations as they actually were as far as that can be discovered. They are catching up with the ideologue of the Official IRA, who was once a power in RTE, and is know the chief Political Correspondent of the Sunday Independent, Eoghan Harris, who said decades ago that truth has little, if anything, to do with empirical fact being mere ‘factualism’.
Russian Marxist dissidents in the 1920s/30s made play with the two Russian words for truth—pravda and istina, attributing
3 to istina the meaning of factual truth and to pravda a kind of idealistic truth which is in fact a lie. But istina might also have been given the meaning of a sociological survey of the moment, while Pravda expressed the dynamism of the situation.
In the case of Pravda there is no doubt that the dynamism was there, and Nazism came to grief on it. There is equally no doubt that the pravda of the Official IRA was wishful thinking. But where does the Platonist ideal of the true France, which was betrayed by the Petain Government, relying on the static popular opinion of the moment, fit in?
In all the translated French material about this period that I have read, I cannot recall one instance in which the French declaration of war is seen as the source of the problem or is even mentioned.
What was the French purpose in declaring war? Did it have a purpose, or was it just acting under the spell cast on it by Britain in the early 1920s?
France had a magnificent Army, and it had constructed an impregnable defence line on the border with Germany, the Maginot Line. If it had wanted to make war on Germany, it might have done so with complete impunity in March 1936, when Hitler with great daring ventured to put a small bit of his small army into the demilitarised Rhineland in contravention of the Versailles Treaty. Or it might have done so in the Autumn of 1938, when it had a Treaty with Czechoslovakia—which would have activated a Czech Treaty with Russia—and would probably have led to the overthrow of Hitler by an officer plot into the bargain.
But it passed over these opportunities, apparently under British influence, letting Hitler acquire the advanced arms industry in the German part of Czechoslovakia. And then it declared War on an immeasurably-strengthened Germany, apparently because Britain decided to—and did so without ensuring full British engagement in the War.
France had the most magnificent army in the world in 1939. Here is an account of it written by a Latvian correspondent, Arved Arenstam, in a book published posthumously in 1942:
“I had the magnificent review of 14th July, 1939, in my mind’s eye. I had never seen a more brilliant and impressive spectacle anywhere—in Berlin, Moscow, Warsaw, or any European capital. It was not merely an Army, it was a nation in arms. The scene as they marched proudly down the Champs Elysees in the hot sunshine, with brilliant colours and clashing arms, was one that will always live in the minds of those who saw it. I was struck by the passionate enthusiasm of the people as they cheered the Army in which they had implicit faith. It was the Maginot Line come to life, a human wall built of faith…” (Tapestry Of A Debacle: From Paris To Vichy. A book of Contacts by the late Arved Arenstam, Constable & Co. London 1942, p10).
“I only met one pessimist at this time, a Hungarian journalist named Doros, who had been transferred from Berlin to Paris. We soon got friendly, and every time Doros visited me he said: ‘You underestimate Germany’s strength like everybody else here. It is a military machine such as the world has never yet known…’
“’But France has the best Army in the world’, I protested. ‘You saw the Military Review…’
“’I’m not impressed by parades. Wars are not won by spectacular marching’, said Doros darkly…
“At one of my little dinners one night, Doros expounded his point of view in the presence of ten other colleagues from various counties. He was shouted down as a defeatist. There was a general suspicion that, being a Hungarian, he was probably well disposed towards the Axis. He was certainly nothing of the kind. He was merely a keen observer, whose many years in Germany made him see things in a very different perspective from ours…
“The French have a particular expression for the false statements and empty talk which engendered exaggerated self-confidence. They call it ‘bourrage de crâne’ [ballyhoo; brainwashing]. They themselves had displayed this quality ever since 3rd September [when they declared war].
“After the Polish defeat I had a talk with Major Mallye, the General Staff’s spokesman for the Foreign Press. ‘How could anything like Poland’s experience possibly happen to us?’ he said. ‘How is such a comparison possible?… Rydz-Smigly knew as much about military strategy as my boot… Our staff of officers is the finest in the world. Why, for instance, am I merely a Major and not a General? Because my military knowledge does not justify my becoming a General. With us here in France, a General must have a General’s knowledge… Their mental level is higher than that of any other soldiers in the world. You can see it in their faces, in their alert look of intelligence. Naturally no soldier should criticise or doubt an order. But each one is sufficiently intelligent to ask himself why such and such an order is given, and he obeys because he is convinced of the necessity. No, you don’t find automatons here as you do in Germany and Russia. Particularly in Russia. I once met a Red Marshal, his military knowledge was about on the level of one of our sergeants’.
“Everyone was saying much the same thing…
“After the collapse of Poland, a number of Polish Officers of high rank came to France to form a new army. Among them was an experienced Officer on the General Staff who had gone through the Polish campaign from start to finish, and who knew just why Germany had walked over the Polish Army in 18 days instead of holding out for the three months Gamelin had anticipated. This Officer expressed a desire to give a lecture on his experiences before the Headquarters Staff. Convinced that he could be of real service to his Allies, he put his proposition to Colonel Pierronet, co-publisher of Epoque, who was on good terms with Gamelin. Pierronet was enthusiastic about the idea, and promised to approach the General at the earliest opportunity…
“But that Polish Officer never got an answer… Long afterwards in the State of Vichy, the truth came out. Pierronet had gone to Gamelin and put the proposition to him. Whereupon the Generalissimo sprang up in a rage shouting: ‘What the devil possesses you to make such a suggestion to me?… French Generals have nothing to learn from Poles. If anyone knows how this war should be waged, it is I and my Staff…’
“That was Gamelin. On the most tragic day of all in Bordeaux, he visited President Lebrun, and said: ‘If I had to draw up another War Plan—if hostilities were to begin again from the very beginning to-day—I would act exactly as I have done. My War Plan was the only right one.’
“C’est extraordinaire quand-même, said Lebrun, not of course to Gamelin—this anaemic President hadn’t the pluck for thatbut to Senator Reibel, whom he informed of the General’s secret visit.
… “The French Left were always the least concerned with regard to war. The group gathered about Blum were pronouncedly friendly to Germany, and only changed round after Hitler’s accession to power. The reasons for this swing round were of a purely ideological nature. The French Socialists, Communists, and the Pacifist wing of the Radical Party have always shown little understanding of the problem of security, of military strength and the need of national defence. The leading Left politicians of France opposed the construction of the Maginot Line. But the Right were just as culpable as the Left. They too made a turn about for the same ideological reasons, but they made it in the other direction.
“The Right—as represented by Poincaré, Tardieu, Louis Marin etc.—were the oppressors of Democratic Germany. They practiced the Separatist policy in the Rhineland and that of petty intrigue in occupied Germany. It was not Germany they hated so much as the democratic Weimar system, and they surpassed themselves in their efforts to make life impossible for this regime. When I think of the things one of the Reich’s Chancellors of the Weimar Republic, Dr. Wirth, told me about these paltry manoeuvres……
“The French Right of that time were also anti-British. They were anti-British for reasons exactly opposed to those for which their present successors are anti-British to-day, namely because they did not consider the British sufficiently antiGerman. Today they say it was because of Britain’s hostility towards Germany that France was dragged into the war, and that the youth of France had to give their lives for the sake of England’s reckoning with Germany. In a private talk we once had at Geneva, Litvinoff told me he regarded the French Reactionaries as the world’s prize-fool politicians…
“The French Rights hated the Lefts, and vice-versa. This Party passion made any rational policy more or less impossible…” (ibid, pp 10-16).
(The change of ground of French Right anti-British sentiment reflected an actual change in British policy towards Germany. From about 1923 to March 1939 British policy towards Germany was anti-French, in that it connived at German evasions of Versailles restrictions in the 1920s, and after 1933 collaborated with Germany in breaking them openly. Then, in March 1939, it suddenly decided to try to undo what it had done and set about making a war on Germany which the French would have to fight. When Churchill in the crisis of 1940 said that he loved France, a French writer, Fabre-Luce, commented sarcastically that he was sure he did, but in the way that a rider loves his horse!)
In August 1914 James Connolly got ready to meet Imperialist War with international class war in accordance with the policy of the Second International. But the International made no serious attempt to meet Imperialist war with class war. If it had attempted to do so, it would probably have failed. The workers in the various states responded willingly to calls from their Governments to enlist and fight.
Connolly did not waste time lamenting that fact. He assessed the War outside the ideological evasions of the leaders of the International and concluded that it was essentially a war of the British Empire to destroy the German nation, whose statehood was less than fifty years old but which was already threatening British industrial supremacy because of the more advanced position of the working class in its economic life. He declared support for Germany, and he committed the small workers’ army, formed in the 1913 class conflict, to the struggle for Irish
national independence. And, when a middle class movement prepared to make national war on the British Empire, he joined forces with it. He was been accused of subordinating socialism to nationalism. What he did was take account of the fact that international socialist revolution had been taken off the agenda and commit his small socialist force to the national struggle, so that it would have a prominent position within it when it succeeded.
In Russia Lenin committed his small Party to a policy of revolutionary socialist defeatism. When the war effort proved too much for the Tsarist regime and it collapsed, Lenin’s party dominated the chaos by undertaking to extricate Russia from the War and legitimise the land seizures of the peasants.
In France and Germany working class commitment to the War continued right to the end—or to the eleventh hour in the case of Germany, where there was a kind of socialist mutiny while the Army in the field was still holding a line of orderly retreat.
What was done to Germany in defeat confirmed Connolly’s analysis of September 1914. It was a War upon the German nation.
Connolly praised Karl Liebknecht in August 1914 as a revolutionary international Socialist. That was before it became clear to him that the working class internationalism that would stop war was a wishful ideal without motive power in actual situations of advanced capitalism. Liebknecht continued to oppose the War after it had settled down into an unstoppable routine. Connolly never mentioned him again. Only the German War Socialists are mentioned in The Workers’ Republic. They were defending the most socialist country in the world from the attempt of the Imperialist World Power to destroy it, so he praised them.
Taking it that the War on the German side was a war of national defence, the appropriate socialist policy in the face of destructive Versailles post-War policy of plunder and subjugation would have been one of revolutionary defence. Liebknecht’s policy was the overthrow of the weak Social Democratic Government that had taken over from the Kaiser. And the moderate Social Democrats, who had tried to stand apart from the War, argued at the end of it that the German State had caused it, ingratiating themselves with the Victors.
The Victors were unappreciative. They prolonged the War after the Armistice of November 1918 until the following June, and, with the German Navy out of the way, intensified the food Blockade, which was estimated to have caused the death by privation of at least half a million civilians—a British estimate by Bomber Harris who ran the mass bombing raids in the second war on Germany.
The Starvation Blockade was kept up until the new German Government agreed to plead guilty, on behalf of the German people, of having caused the War. It was an equivalent of the nuclear bombing of undefended Japanese cities in 1945 to speed up the Japanese surrender.
The object of socialist class warfare in an advanced capitalist economy is to gain command of the State and subject it to working class power. Where there is no actual State apparatus to be fought over by the classes, as there wasn’t in Germany in 1919, the object had to be to restore the State and assert its
5 national independence against the Versailles Powers. In other words, what was required of the German Social Democracy was that it should be strongly nationalist against the Versailles Powers.
If it had done that, it would have had the power within the State that it restored.
Mere class war in a political vacuum was futile.
France had borne the main human and economic cost of the Great War on the Allied side. It regained Alsace-Lorraine, which it had lost by its aggression of 1870, but it failed to gain the strong border against Germany that it wanted. It was the main Victor in the War, so how could it be that it failed to determine the arrangements made in 1918-19? The following explanation is given in The Third Republic by Raymond Recouly in a translation published in London in 1928:
“After a war lasting fifty-two months… which was one of the most murderous and ruinous in her whole history, it was necessary for France to secure: 1 Reparations for the heavy damages she had incurred; 2 The certainty that for a long time, if not for ever, she would not have to fear any further aggression on the part of Germany…
“Rarely have greater difficulties presented themselves to French negotiators. The material damage caused by the war reached such a colossal figure that it might well be questioned whether Germany would even be in a position to make good the whole amount. And although France was the chief victim, she was far from being the only one. The unity of the Allies, which had been so difficult to secure even when hostilities were at their height…, was to be far more difficult to maintain when the peril was past.
England, as soon as she saw Germany beaten and her dynasty destroyed, faced with the twofold menace of revolution and Bolshevism, inevitably returned to her traditional policy of not allowing another nation, such as France, to occupy too prominent a position in Europe in her stead. She was thus instinctively inclined to use every effort in order to limit the consequences of the Allied victory as far as possible… “Clemenceau, the man who was conducting the negotiations, was better qualified… to conduct the war to a close than to discuss the terms of peace…
“The fact that the war was won is due to Foch and to Clemenceau…
“The enormous prestige he gained by the victory… made him master of France. Whenever he opened his mouth, or laid down a law, no one could stand up against him, and, as a matter of fact, no one tried to do so…
“As the large number of delegates seemed to present an obstacle to the progress of negotiations, the five great Powers, England, the United States, France, Italy and Japan, decided that the leaders of their delegations should meet together in order to decide the fundamental questions… Japan and America had no European interests, whilst England was more of a sea Power than a continental Power, less interested in European affairs than in those connected with her own empire. France had everything to gain by not leaving the minor European nations out in the cold, for her traditional policy had for centuries led her to rely upon them, more especially as most of these nations, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Roumania and Yugoslavia, owed their existence, their recovery and aggrandisement in a large measure to her. It was therefore a mistake and a source of weakness for France to be deprived of their support.
“Of the two great questions to be settled, that of guarantees was the most important.
“During the course of the last hundred years, France had seen her territory invaded four times—in 1814, 1815, 1870 and 1914—her richest provinces occupied by the invader, her capital captured or on the point of being captured…
“Any further invasion of war within the space of ten, twenty or thirty years would run the risk of inflicting the final blow… “What is the best way of obtaining the security of which she stands in such pressing need? There are only two ways of warding off an enemy’s blows—either his power of attack must be diminished, or one’s own powers of resistance must be increased…
“How was it possible to diminish the military power of Germany, who, in spite of her territorial losses, Alsace-Lorraine, Posen and Schleswig, nevertheless still possessed a population one-third as large again as that of France? Divide Germany up? That was not to be thought of. It is impossible to put the clock back, and there is no power in the world capable of forcing people of the same race and language, who for half a century have merged into a single state, to carry on a separate existence.
“Would it be possible… to disarm her in an absolutely efficacious way? If it were a matter of temporary disarmamentyes. But if permanent disarmament were meant, commonsense and reason said—no. A great country like Germany, with strong military traditions, always succeeds, however great the efforts made to bind her, in raising an army commensurate with her means and her requirements…
“Thus the only alternative was for France to increase her defensive forces as much as possible, and a prerequisite of this was to possess a powerful, almost impregnable frontier—the Rhine…
“This was the theory advanced by Marshal Foch in his three Memoranda…
“Foch, anxious not to go beyond his own domain, kept resolutely to the military side of the question—the Rhine barrier: but it was no very difficult matter to transfer his idea from the military to the political and economic sphere, and to contemplate the formation of some sort of autonomous Rhineland State under the control of the Allies…
“The French Government at first accepted the Marshal’s proposal and endeavoured to have it adopted by the Allies. But it met with violent opposition on the part of the Americans, and above all the English…
“Many important circumstances combined to force France to pay attention to these objections. Nevertheless, on what was for her a vital question, the safeguarding of her frontier, she could and should have used every possible effort to have her solution accepted. England, in her demands concerning the German fleet and colonies, had set the example, and from the very beginning had openly formulated her terms and had them accepted. France should have done likewise… But she never made sufficient use of the means at her command. All too soon the representatives of France gave way and took a back seat. They allowed themselves to consent to England’s suggestion that, instead of having the Rhine as a definite frontier, as Foch insisted, there should be a body guaranteeing the help of England and America in case of German aggression.
“This meant dropping the substance for the shadow…” (pp 335-347).
This was published in 1928, when Germany was unarmed and intimidated into submissiveness, by a Frenchman for whom history was actual experience by which politics should be judged, and who, while admiring England, had an informed understanding of the value of its promises. Eleven years later France followed England in declaring war on a Germany which had shrugged off the Versailles restrictions with English connivance and which had been armed with British collaboration. It did so without ensuring that Britain would send an Army to France of the scale required for destroying the German State again. Within a year it lost the War it had declared and, with the German Army in occupation, it made an Armistice with it, and was made war on by Britain for doing so. This incident is not dwelt upon by British historians of the War, but there is at least one history of it: England’s Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-42, by Colin Smith (2009).
France might have gone to war against Germany with the virtual certainty of success if its purpose was to remove Hitler. It had a Treaty with Czechoslovakia which, if honoured, would have activated a Czechoslovak Treaty with Russia. But it let the opportunity pass, apparently because Britain wished Czechoslovakia to be broken up and the Sudetenland and the Czech arms industry transferred to Germany.
How can the gross political incompetence of the French State during those twenty-two years, in a matter that was vital to it, be accounted for? I suggest, in the light of the history of Democracy, that the fault lay in the fact that the democratic French state was thrown up by a democratic revolution and for that reason never found a way of conducting a stable political regime in the national interest.
The aristocratic British State waged a long war against the French Revolution and against the whole idea of democracy. It then, in 1832, began a very gradual modification of itself in the direction of democracy under the hegemony of the aristocratic ruling class in its two-party system of Whigs and Tories. It might be regarded as having become a kind of democracy in the 1880s, but it was a democracy with an aristocratic component which did its thinking on foreign policy, devised ways and means, and ensured consistency of purpose.
The unguided French democracy in the 19th century threw up a multitude of parties representing different shades of interest, and on a number of occasions turned to monarchy and dictatorship for relief.
In the 1920s and 1930s it had the formalities of democracy in a state which had failed to secure its frontier and it engaged in a kind of class struggle politics which consistently refused to deal with the outstanding national issue. Much the same kind of thing went on in Germany until 1933.
Hitler asserted and achieved national independence as a precondition of any further development. The class struggle within the subordinate Weimar system was getting nowhere. Hitler drew elements from all sides together in the independence movement on an understanding that he would establish a functional compromise when the state became free. And he did so to a considerable extent. And the German State became greatly strengthened as a result.
In terms of French fixed ideas, Germany was an aggressor because it existed. In 1870 France made war on Prussia because the dozens of German statelets were beginning to cohere around it. The Emperor, Napoleon 3, went down to the frontier and exhorted his troops to go and do to the Germans what their ancestors had done before them. The French Army
and French resources were greatly superior to the Prussian, but the Prussian Army was more tightly controlled and the Prussian State was more effectively purposeful. The lumbering French Army was outmanoeuvred and disrupted. The Emperor retired to England. Democracy was restored in the form of the Paris Commune. Though lacking an Army, it refused to negotiate terms, calling instead for a mass rising of the people. Eventually the Germans found somebody to negotiate an end to the war. And a French Marshall with an Irish name, McMahon, set about slaughtering the Communards—an event which led to the entrenched alienation of the proletarian from the system of the Third Republic which was based on the destruction of the Commune.
(While alienation was an element in Marx’s description of Capitalism, it was in France that it was given durable political representation. In Britain the proletariat on the whole remained deferential, to the extent its main political involvement for decades was through the laissez-faire capitalist party, the Liberal Party, and the formation of a major Labour Party came about only when the Liberal Party destroyed itself in the Great War which it launched in 1914.)
The 1870 Prussian defence against a French declaration of war was one of the four German invasions referred to above. Two of the others were incidents in the Napoleonic War in which Prussia was allied with England, and managed to raise an Army under French occupation.
In the mid-1930s Germany was arming with British support, while in France low-level class war continued. But there was no revival of French national purpose either on the Right or the Left. The complacency of the Right has been pointed to as the source of the alleged Fifth Columnism which supposedly caused the collapse of the French Front in 1940, according to British propaganda-history.
It is difficult to fathom what was going in French political life in the middle and late 1930s if you are dependent on English translations, or are intimidated by post-War Churchillian mythology of the War, or feel obliged to bow to EU inanities about it.
Communist influence was strong throughout Europe after the Great War because the destructiveness of the War, moral as well as physical, had unleashed the elements of society and opened up the possibility of reconstruction on fundamentally different lines, as was being done in Russia under utterly different circumstances. The theory of it was that the antagonism between capital and labour would be resolved by the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat. The Communist movement did not achieve dominance in Italy, Germany or France, but was too powerful in each of them to allow a simple restoration of pre-War conditions. If that condition of things continued indefinitely, it seemed probable that Communist dominance would be achieved, and that would be the end of civilisation in Europe according to the bourgeois reckoning.
In Italy the Capital/Labour stalemate was broken by Mussolini’s Fascist movement, which restored the combination of capital and labour in a market system in the governing of which each would have corporate representation. Mussolini had pioneered this development in 1914-15 when, as a revolutionary socialist, he had, in alliance with Britain, brought Italy into the War, against the opposition of both the Socialist Party and the Church, by merging revolutionary socialism and nationalism. In the mid-1920s Churchill went to Rome to do
7 homage to Mussolini as the saviour of civilisation. And, in the early 1930s, he praised Hitler on the same grounds, and said that, if England ever found itself in the kind of bondage imposed on Germany in 1919, he hoped it would find its Hitler to save it. He began to oppose Germany a couple of years later only because Fascism had made it strong, and not at all because it was fascist.
Class antagonism politics continued in France throughout the 1930s. They were leading nowhere. And there were those who looked to Germany and Italy with envy and wished there could be a fascist settlement in France. But this was not Fifth Columnism. It was understood that National Socialism was nationalist and could not be got for France by opening the frontier to Germany.
The standard British line in 1940-41 was that the defeat in France was brought about by the Fifth Columnism which saturated the French upper classes and which opened the front to the Germans. I have been looking for evidence of this for about fifty years and have not found a trace of it. The military defeat had a military cause. And, though the result was an overwhelming German victory, it was in essence a gamble with a new tactic that came off but might well have been a catastrophe if things had gone wrong at certain junctures.
In June 1940 neither the Right nor the Left in France was inclined, under the shock of military defeat in a war which had been thoughtlessly declared, to deny the fact of defeat and to continue the War without an Army. Churchill told them that they did not have the right, under an agreement made with Britain in 1939, to admit defeat and look for terms of settlement with the state on which it had declared war and lost.
What definite purpose did France have for declaring that war? Andre Maurois said: “on September 3rd 1939… she began her second world war. More than any other which France has waged in the long course of her history, this was a war of principles and ideals” (A History Of France, 1949, in 1960 English translation p490).
To put it another way, it had no national purpose, and any other purpose was difficult to grasp. For what then should it have sacrificed itself when it lost its war?
On the German side there was clear purpose. It had been encircled militarily by superior forces by the agreement between Britain, France and Poland. War had been declared on it. That was why it fought. Absence of intelligible purpose on the French side must have had a considerable influence on the way things went after its declaration of war.
Paul Gallagher quotes Spinoza saying “Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind”. But Spinoza was of the opinion that reason had no motive power of its own. Human action is driven by passion, emotion. A critical section of his Ethics has the title Of Human Bondage—bondage to the emotions.
That is what the EU needs to take account of just now—when the President of the Commission has declared that her object is to abolish hate. De-humanisation in the service of what seems reasonable to her is not a practical project.
Churchill made his famous speech about fighting them on the hedges and ditches in June 1940, after he had taken his Army home and refused to commit his Air Force in France and there was no real prospect of a German invasion. It was a sermon to the French. General Spears, Churchill’s personal General, and a British-type Francophile, was amongst them at the time and he describes how the rhetoric impressed them for an instant and was then dismissed. And “that night there was a rift between us… I had my password and they did not have theirs. We no longer belonged to one society bounded by the same horizon. A lifetime steeped in French feeling, sentiment and affection was falling from me. England alone counted now” (Spears, Assignment To Catastrophe, June 4th, p361). And he records that Reynaud, the Anglophile Premier, observed: “Your people… are acting as if they were merely interested onlookers…” (June 1st).
Churchill’s urging that Paris should be defended by street fighting (and destroyed) was ignored. The French democracy that had declared war acknowledged the fact of defeat and made the best settlement they could, which left them in control of about half of the country with the other half remaining under German occupation pending a settlement with England. But “the people have no right to be wrong”—at least not where they act contrary to British interest.
The Vichy regime, recognised as legitimate by Ireland and the United States, and overthrown by a rebellious French General who accompanied the US invasion of Occupied France in 1944, led to a very complicated situation in post-War France which has been much written about. There were problems about history and memory, and the different kinds of truth, and the appropriateness of detaching political facts from the political contexts, and the function of history with relation to the requirement of conducting a democratic state.
None of the problems arise in actual Irish history. But revisionist historians with the task of remoulding “perceptions” in the British interest through the education system have seized on those History/Memory themes in French literature and tried to reproduce the Vichy Syndrome in the educated Irish mind. But all of that must wait on the next issue.
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