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|From: Church & State: Editorials|
|Date: April, 2022|
The 'West' v Russia: Unfinished Business From World War Two
|The 'West' v Russia: Unfinished Business From World War Two
The Polish Deputy Foreign Minister, Marcin Prydacz, interviewed on BBC Radio's Today programme on 7th April by Nick Robinson, agreed that the War with Russia now being fought in the Ukraine had been waiting to happen ever since 1945.
He did not volunteer this opinion in so many words but, when it was put to him that it was the substance of what he was saying, he agreed.
It is significant that the question was put to him on British radio and not on Irish radio.
It could not have been put on Irish radio, even though the Irish State and the Irish populace had been sceptical at the time of Britain's presentation of its second World War on Germany, and of its proclaimed outcome as a victorious defence of civilisation against a deadly enemy of civilisation which had somehow arisen out of European civilisation and was threatening the world.
Scepticism about British actions and purposes saw Ireland through the War as an independent country, like Switzerland, which was willing to fight for its independence.
It was intimidated neither by the threats nor the moral posturing of the Saviour of Civilisation.
It knew, from memory of recent events, that Hitler had not come to power, and restored Germany as a major European Power, against British opposition. It knew that Hitler had re-built German power with active British assistance.
The propaganda name given to this after the event was appeasement. A name more in accordance with the facts is collaboration.
Britain was the guardian of the Versailles restrictions imposed on Germany. The United States withdrew from the European scene at the end of the War in disgust, Britain and France having prevented it from implementing the policy with which it had entered the War and saved them from probable defeat.
And Britain had then prevented France from making a settlement which would have secured it against Germany. It was then up to Britain to enforce the Versailles conditions on Germany, or else put it to the League of Nations to revise them.
The League was the world institution established by the Versailles Conference. Britain, having humoured the American President by agreeing to set up the League, then marginalised it by maintaining its enlarged Empire as the world body by which it acted.
It ignored the League when facilitating Hitler in breaking the Versailles conditions imposed on Germany. And then, suddenly, having broken Czechoslovakia for Hitler in the Fall of 1938, and making Germany the hegemonic Power in Eastern Europe, it decided to make War on Germany again in 1939.
The excuse for the War was the issue of Danzig—a German city in "The Polish Corridor", but not governed by Poland. It was a kind of detached City State under League of Nations authority.
The 'Corridor" was a stretch of German territory awarded to Poland by the Versailles Conference to give it access to the sea. It ran between East Prussia and the rest of Germany.
The German democracy of 1919-1932 refused to recognise the Polish Corridor settlement made by Versailles. But one of Hitler's first actions was to establish normal relations between Germany and Poland. A German/Polish Treaty was signed in 1934.
Effective Polish national power was established by Josef Pilsudski more than by any other individual. Pilsudski was the only Continental Socialist leader with whom James Connolly expressed agreement. He did so in both runs of The Workers' Republic, fifteen years apart.
Pilsudski, like Connolly, took it that authentic socialism could only be established within a national political body. He founded a Polish Socialist Party as a nationalist party stretching across three states, and, like Connolly, he formed an Army. And, like Connolly, he went to war in 1914, in alliance with Germany.
The main body of the Polish population lay in the Tsarist State under the Partition arrangements of 1790. Pilsudski found a base in Austria for organising his army, and he went to war as an ally of Austria and Germany in 1914, both of which acknowledged in principle the restoration of a Polish State as a war aim.
Pilsudski was very much out of tune with the internationalism of the mainstream Social Democracy of the time, especially in Eastern Europe. Pilsudski's "deviation" was condemned both by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. And, if Pilsudski was out of tune, then so was Connolly.
Pilsudski remains a live presence in Polish culture, but Connolly has been reduced to an empty icon in Irish culture, socialist and bourgeois.
The disembowelling of Connolly has been chiefly the work of Desmond Greaves and of the Connolly Association, which he took in hand for the British Communist Party. Greaves, in his big biography of Connolly and in his pamphlets and in Irish Democrat articles, remakes Connolly into a semi-articulate Leninist, erasing his sense of affinity with Pilsudski. (We published Connolly's Pilsudski articles about forty years ago, along with observations of the Polish situation, but no notice was taken of the pamphlet.)
In the actual working out of things, the Pilsudskian deviation flourished, and the internationalist orthodoxy proved to be a miserable failure.
Lenin's disagreement with Pilsudski moved from words to deeds in 1920. There was a Polish/Russian War—a war between Pilsudski and Lenin. Lenin decided to push his way through Poland to Central Europe in order to stimulate the international revolution which he believed was waiting to happen there.
Pilsudski, in a Cavalier spirit similar to Connolly's, describes in his book, The Year 1920, how he held his Army together in a long retreat to Warsaw before the Russian offensive, re-wound it in Warsaw, and launched a vigorous counter-attack which dispersed the Russian armies and gave firm borders to the extended Polish State.
Pilsudski's State lasted until his death. It did not survive long when Polish affairs passed into the hands of Colonel Beck, who revoked the Treaty with Germany by entering into a military alliance—against Germany—with Britain and France, while refusing to make any arrangements with Russia.
Colonel Beck, in effect, treated both Germany and Russia as enemies when agreeing to form a military alliance with Britain which was virtually certain to lead to war with Germany. The British purpose in offering this alliance can only have been to spark off War with Germany over the Danzig Question.
Colonel Beck's insistence that Russia must be excluded from the encirclement of Germany indicates confidence in a Polish victory against Germany.
Poland had won the last major war fought in Europe in 1920. Germany, which had been disarmed for fourteen years, had a new untried army which, only a couple of years earlier had been practising manoeuvres with cardboard tanks. It was not unreasonable for Beck to have had great expectations from war with Germany, supported by the French and British Empires.
As to the exclusion of Russia from the anti-German alliance: it left Polish options open against Russia, which Poland had defeated in 1920. And anyway, had Stalin, with his crazy ideological purges of the officer corps of the Red Army, not rendered it useless?
Stalin, excluded from the anti-German alliance by a hostile Poland, and taking account of the possibility of a Polish collapse which would leave Germany in possession of Pilsudski's Poland right up against his borders, agreed to a German suggestion of a Non-Aggression Pact.
The European Union recently adopted a motion which declared Russia responsible for the Second World War by signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler, ignoring the fact that Russia only agreed to this Pact as a measure of self-defence after it had been excluded by Poland from the alliance against Germany.
The effective meaning of the Pact was that, if the Polish State collapsed, Russia would occupy the region which Poland had conquered in 1920. And that is what happened. Poland collapsed militarily, and the British and French Guarantees were not acted on .
Pilsudski's nationalism was a pioneering force in Eastern Europe, where the various peoples had lived in Empires without the tight nationalistic regimentation favoured by Britain and the West. And Pilsudski's Polish nationalism included, Lithuania, which had once been a political entity, and the Ukraine, which had not. His State extended into what was later designation as the Ukraine, and was experienced there as national oppression by the native Ukrainian nationalism was beginning to develop.
The Polish/Russian War of 1920 might be described as the first conflict between Fascism and Communism—between national and international socialism. Fascism was national-socialism.
Lenin's view, which was the view held by the mass Social Democratic Parties of the time, was that Socialism would come about through a working class development across national boundaries and that it was incompatible with Nationalism. Nationalism was seen as a divisive force binding the working class to capitalism. That view was asserted most clearly by Rosa Luxemburg.
Connolly in August 1914 was willing to be active in the international socialist revolution, but he saw very quickly that it was not going to happen. Nationalism prevailed in European politics, and he therefore pursued the socialist cause within the nationalist framework, and supported Germany as a victim of British Imperialism and as the most socialist state in Europe.
The War, fought as Total War when Britain entered it, destroyed the framework of European culture as it had developed since the French Revolution and, in the end, it detached the elements of society from each other and set them in conflict. Lenin's view was that orderly social existence could only be restored by the organised dominance of the working class: the dictatorship of the proletariat.
1919 was the year that that would have happened, if it was going to happen. It did not happen. In 1920 the classes were brought back into conjunction in functional form by the Fascist movements pioneered by Mussolini. In Lenin's view, Fascism enabled Capitalism to have a second innings, and was therefore reactionary—but it only prevailed by according the working class an acknowledged place in the social order which it had never had before.
Pilsudski's National-Socialism, however, did not arise out of a deadlock of class antagonism, as Mussolini's did. Like Connolly's it had a different source—a source that might be dismissed as sentimental nationalism before there was any political need for it.
But it was there in place in 1919, and it was the force which prevented Lenin's State from testing the European situation in 1920.
Here is an extract from a speech made by Pilsudski in 1923, which it is easy to imagine Connolly delivering if MacNeill had not aborted the Rising:
"An extraordinary thing happened. In the course of a few days, without the men making any efforts, without any violence on his part, …without any so-called 'legal' occurrences, something most unusual became a fact. This man became a Dictator. When I was preparing today's speech, I thought over this term 'Dictator'. I didn't wish to use any far-fetched term or coin any special title for myself, I only wish, as a historian, to define the phenomenon which cannot be otherwise described. For this man issued edicts universally obeyed, his orders were executed; he nominated officials, both military and civilian. Whether he did well or ill I will not discuss at this moment, I am only concerned with the fact, the simple fact, the historical fact, which I cannot otherwise describe than by using the word 'Dictator'.
"…How did he become Dictator of Poland without imposing his power by any violence, without making himself popular by any public activation… This man was welcomed for one thing for which he was considered extraordinary… —he wore this uniform, he was Commandant of the First Brigade. The only value which men had at that time, the only moral force which compelled men to obedience… was the fact that he was the Commandant of the First Brigade…
"Gentlemen, I was Dictator for some months. It was my own decision—whether wise or foolish is irrelevant—to call the diet, to surrender my power into its hands, and to create a legal form for the life of the Polish state. My decision was obeyed. The deputies who have often attacked me since, were elected on my orders, obeyed that order, and accepted election; at a date fixed by me they presented themselves at Warsaw…" [SOURCE]
That was the first time Pilsudski was a Dictator. It was not the last time. He was a force behind the representative democracy which he established, and he was not inhibited from interfering with it. When he was Dictator the Polish State was described as Fascist, and I see no reason to quibble with that description.
The history of Europe between the Wars demonstrates that formal democracy with nothing behind it can be a helpless thing, and that there are no actual rules for the game.
The conduct of the Polish State went awry when he died, and Colonel Beck, between two flicks of the ash from his agor, decided to accept the illusory Anglo-French guarantee, break Pilsudski's Treaty with Hitler, and provoke war with Germany while rejecting alliance with Russia—rather than negotiate a settlement a settlement of the Danzig issue.
Twenty-four years after Pilsudski drew the Russian Armies to Moscow for a counter-attack, and five years after Beck joined the Anglo-French alliance against Germany, the Russian Army was back at the gates of Warsaw, while within the gates there was a Polish insurrection against the German administration. That insurrection was also directed against the Russian Army outside the gates.
Britain had become a marginal force in the World War that it had launched, supposedly over Polish claims on Danzig. The fighting of the war against Germany in the East had become entirely a Russian affair. Russia had maintained a front against German attack in 1941 and was systematically driving the German forces back on a broad front, conquering countries in the course of defending itself, and liberating them according to the official propaganda of the War devised by the incongruous alliance of Russia, Britain and America.
Britain had withdrawn from battle in 1940, and had not returned to it while the outcome of the War in Russia was still uncertain and Russia felt in the need of a Second Front.
After its victory at Stalingrad, the Russian leadership began to feel confident of holding out alone, and after Kursk Russian victory was a virtual certainty.
The Warsaw Rising of 1944 had the obvious purpose of pre-empting liberation of Poland by Russia, and confronting Russia with a Polish nationalist Government in Warsaw.
The Russian Army, faced with the Rising in Warsaw, did not alter its plans. It went into Winter quarters while the Rising ran its course. And Hitler, who might have vacated Warsaw in the hope of causing conflict within the East/West alliance, did not do so. He suppressed the Rising and left Warsaw as a shell for the Russians to occupy.
There was a Polish Government in Exile, dating from 1939, when it had refused to have Russia as part of the alliance against Germany. In 1944, when the Red Army was breaking the German State, Russia would have no truck with that Western-oriented Polish Government. It had its own Polish Government in readiness, which it put in place when it occupied Warsaw.
The Government in British exile protested. From their viewpoint Britain was betraying Poland, after using it as a trip-wire for starting war on Germany. Churchill ordered them to be quiet. He could not yet force a breach with Stalin and still claim to have won the War. He consented to the setting-up of the Russian-oriented Government because had no choice in the matter. Britain had lost all directive contact with the War it had started.
After the surrender of Germany in 1945, Churchill did begin to set in motion plans for conflict with Russia over Poland, but his staff persuaded him it would be a futile act of madness.
Britain had begun the War, had lost (or given up) control of it, and played very little part in determining the outcome. It had to live with the outcome.
But the outcome was not what EU rhetoric now represents it as being. The defeat of Germany brought the basic antagonism in the world to the fore and made the two States expressing that antagonism into the World Powers. It was not a settlement but a stand-off—most especially so from the Polish viewpoint.
It was a condition of latent war that was deterred from happening by particular considerations.
America now seems to see its way to launching it by means of the Ukraine, and Russia seems willing to accept the challenge.
It would possibly have happened five years ago, if Hilary Clinton had been elected. The intervention of Trump, who wanted to end the antagonistic heritage of the 2nd World War by accepting that the world need not have a master, appears to have given urgency to Biden's efforts to push matters to a decisive confrontation in which the Russian State is destroyed (the only way in which its leaders can be 'tried' as war criminals), and China isolated and brought to heel.
The Ukraine is a new state, created by Soviet Russia. Its nationalism is a new nationalism—having previously been seen as Hitler's ally against Russia. On a mass scale it is a new phenomenon. It is absolutist in its values. It sees itself as being well worth a World War. And it has been well-tutored by the USA.
And neutral Ireland, in retreat from its own nationalism, is buying into heavily into absolutist anti-Russian nationalism of the Ukrainian state—a state which made its first orderly appearance in the world within the Soviet Union.
Unlike Ireland, it became an independent state without war when the Soviet Union dismantled itself. Its independence was not preceded by a strong assertion of mass Ukrainian nationalism. Nationalism seems to have followed from being set up as an independent state, rather than being the force that brought the state into being.
The Ukraine was the Frontier of an Empire which was a civilisation, rather than a nationalism—unlike the British Empire, which was an exclusive nationalism with conquests. It was given a structured political existence as a region of the Soviet Union—a formally national existence but with the supra-national Bolshevik Party as its ruling body and its bond with the other Republics of the Union. (The Union of England and Scotland was likewise based on the prior existence of a common party system—the Whigs and the Tories.)
The Ukrainian Socialist Republic was admitted to the United Nations as a founding member in 1945. The Ukrainian nationalist development—which had raised an Army to fight the Soviet Union in alliance with Germany, and to serve the Nazi movement in various capacities—including the policing of Concentration Camps—was suppressed after the War and was not much heard of until it appeared in the Maidan Square coup d'etat in 2014.
The nationalism of Petliura and Bandera (who was briefly in alliance with Pilsudski in1920) was rooted out, though the seeds of it were nurtured in exile. The possibility of its revival does not seem to have been considered when the borders of the dismantled Union were being decided. But an independent nation-state must have a nationalism, and what existed in the nationalist pre-history of the Ukraine was Symon Petliura and Stepan Bandera.
The history of the Ukraine as an independent state began over thirty years ago, when the ways of transforming the Communist system into a Capitalist system were being groped for. The first capitalists were the 'oligarchs', who gained possession of large tracts of State property that was being privatised. The oligarchs had no expertise as capitalists. They had grown up in the Young Communist League, not in the market. Like the oligarchs in Russia, they made connections with American finance capitalism. But, unlike Russia, which constructed a State system of its own after a decade of anarchic oligarchic democracy, the Ukraine put itself in tutelage to the United States. It had its Colour Revolution and its spectacular domestic feuds, which contributed nothing to the establishment of an effective State. Its resources, established in the Soviet period, seem to have been frittered away. And socially it developed a sophisticated and Westernised upper layer above a Third World lower layer.
The events in Maidan Square eight years ago suggested that the seeds left by the nationalist development of the early 1940s had sprouted again and had made space for themselves outside the limelight. Nothing else could explain the sudden eruption of 1941-style anti-Russian nationalism in response to Yanukovych's proposal for a two way trade relationship for the Ukraine with Russia and the European Union.
The EU, which had diligently been making nonsense of itself, supported the Maidan Square coup, not knowing what they were doing—"Father forgive them!"
The USA does know what it is doing. It has never had any problem about taking anti-Russian elements of Nazism into its service.
Under US tutelage, the Ukraine has committed itself to becoming a member of NATO against Russia—it can mean nothing else as Russia has been refused the possibility of achieving security within NATO—to becoming bilingual in the Ukrainian variant of Russian and American English—and to suppress the use of the Russian variant.
There doesn't seem to have been any difficulty in linguistic communication during the Tsarist, Whiteguard, Communist, Nazi, or post-Communist periods, but it seems certain now that the languages will be forced apart and that use of the Russian variant will cease.
The Secretary of State has said that ethnic considerations have no relevance to the conflict in the Ukraine—which means that Russia can have no legitimate interest in protecting the Russian minority and the Ukrainian nationalists need have no qualms about suppressing it. But, with Russia having become a capitalist nation-state, that position was not tenable.
President Zelensky has demanded a War Crimes Trial on the Nuremberg pattern for the Russian Government; and he demanded the ending of the Veto System on the United Nations Security Council. What these demands amount to the destruction of the Russian State, and the abolition of the United Nations—which could not have been established without at least Russia and the USA having a Veto on its decisions.
The Veto System as established implied a multi-polar world. It was actually bi-polar. Britain, France and China were window dressing. Britain and France remain window-dressing. But China—the American client-state of 1945—has become a Power which the US dare not challenge for the moment.
The growth in Chinese power compensates for the decline in Russian power.
If Putin's bid to re-establish Russia's right to make war (gained by its defeat of Germany), on a par with America's right to make war, comes off—and the Russian-Chinese alliance holds—then something like the pre-1990 order of the world will be restored. However, it will not be founded on antagonistic economic systems but only on rival capitalist economies.
But, if Russia's bid fails, and President Zelensky's demands are met, while China may remain a major economic Power for a while, it will not be a Power with a war-making heritage.
If events go that way, then the Veto system in the UN, will be grossly anomalous from the Clinton/Obama/Biden viewpoint, as implying the multi-polar world advocated by Donald Trump—the Traitor to Manifest Destiny.
As to NATO, with its 30 members and its eagerness for more, it is now best regarded as the framework for the American world state.
The war in the Ukraine has delayed the conflict between the West and East of the EU. It has taken the EU off the hook with relation to Hungary, Poland and family values. It has released the Covid funds with which it was blackmailing them.
In Hungary Orban won a General Election which he was expected to lose. If he had made Hungary into something other than a democracy, he would not have been expected to lose it, and his victory would have been discounted in advance. It was clearly an election which he won, but which he might have lost.
But Smart-Alec O'Toole writes in his Irish Times Pastoral: "The autocrat Viktor Orban has just been re-elected, right at the heart of the European Union" !
Has Orban been elected for life them? Or is an autocrat a democrat with whom you disagree? Or has O'Toole lost control of his categories?
When Dante had his vision of Hell he was not surprised by what he saw there. It was only a dimension of what he had seen on Earth.
But O'Toole has somehow been living with a vision of the heart of democracy, and it has left him shocked and bewildered—at least for this week—and now the vision has evaporated, leaving him shocked by the actuality.
What he sees is that "the threat to democracy comes at least as much from the inside as the outside" (Irish Times, 12.4.22).
Democracy threatens itself! Of course it does! Does he know nothing of its Athenian origins? Has he never read Plato?
Two thousand years later Edmund Burke saw democracy as possibly being a stable form of political organisation in more or less self-sufficient peasant communities—not the kind of thing that O'Toole appreciates.
And O'Toole has also discovered the intimate connection between modern democracy in large states—representative democracy, which Rousseau said was not democracy at all—and Capitalism: "The molten core of this crisis of democracy is capitalism itself which has gone feral" (sic).
Furthermore: "Surveillance capitalism… has privatised and monetised the free flow of information" which is essential to "democratic consent".
And, on top of that, globalism undermines "the law-making systems that developed with modernity nation states… by depriving these states of their livelihood—taxes…" And—"The gross inequality generated by this feral capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with the promise of democracy, which is that each citizen has an equal say". Because oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch can exert political influence across many jurisdictions.
What can be the cause of this mental disturbance through which things that have been obvious for decades, centuries, or millenia are seen as if they had just happened? Brexit, presumably! As a Brit-admirer he saw the world through rose-coloured glasses, but now he sees it face to face. And it's just awful—at least, this week it is!
What we have now is "a form of capitalism that is essentially about looting the world before it burns". In other words, we have Capitalism as it has always been. It was born within Imperialism. The loot of India fuelled its take-off, along with the monopoly of the Slave Trade won by Britain the War of the Grand Alliance. But for all that looting, we would not be the civilised commodity-consumers that all are now.
Commodities were almost a novelty in De Valera's Ireland, where every household was a little productive unit and the countryside was littered with Labourers' Cottages, each with its acre of land on which a family could be raised outside the market. But De Valera's Ireland is dead and gone. And O'Toole danced on its grave.
"Capitalism and technology are not going to sustain or spread democracy". But they are, you know. What existed before them is now seen as a kind of barbarism.
Capitalism has not gone wild: it is "feral" in its essence. It is an unstable system which can only survive by expanding. Its core is molten like that of a volcano. It equalises all things in its path by destroying them. Karl Marx explained it all for children to learn almost two centuries ago. He also saw its fierce energy. So did Carlyle, who became a guru to Young Ireland. Marx said that money would become "the universal equivalent" for which all human values could be exchanged. Carlyle's way of putting it was that human contacts were being reduced to "the nexus of callous cash payment".
But human nature has proved to be immensely adaptable, and its adaptation to this Capitalism—which must destroy all values that are obstacles to its expansion, and foster values conducive to expansion—is now the medium of advanced Western civilisation. And consent to it is the essential thing in what is now called democracy.
O'Toole concludes that democracy can only be spread—he means that the spread of this aberrant kind of democracy can only be stopped—"by the people who are willing to fight for it". He gives not the slightest hint of what in particular it is that they should fight for.
The overall theme of the article is that "Putin's psychotic war" made some people "desire to draw a clean line between the democratic world on the one side and the vicious autocracies on the other. That is escapist fantasy", the two now having become the same.
Why then describe Putin as psychotic? Or the independently-elected Orban, who fosters old-fashioned values, as an autocrat?