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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(20 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 72, 20 September 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Late last Friday night the Berlin radio issued the first announcement of the news that Russia and Japan had settled on a “truce” to terminate eight years of undeclared warfare on the Siberian and Mongolian frontiers. This was confirmed on Saturday in Moscow and early Sunday morning Soviet troops crossed the Polish border and marched to meet the oncoming hordes at some new, still unsettled boundary in eastern Poland. Simultaneously the Japanese High Command announced a new major offensive in West China, the first in nearly a year, and began moving fresh troops south from the Soviet and Mongolian borders for a new attempt to crush Chinese resistance.

The pattern of events sketched in shadows behind the Stalin-Hitler pact is thus coming swiftly now to light. Many profess to see the forthcoming creation of a Rome-Berlin-Moscow-Tokyo axis. But Stalin has only one real axis and that is the preservation of himself and his clique of usurpers who hold the Russian masses in bondage. To those who understand this he is not nor ever has been an “enigma” – a thing of mystery whose secret no man can discover.

Stalin is not moving into Poland to “liberate” the Ukrainians and White Russians oppressed by Polish landlords. His claim to such a purpose is the vilest hypocrisy matched only by those of his pact partner, Hitler. Nor is he moving because of any unquenchable urge to expand the frontiers of Russia. He has had almost more than even he could handle in securing his primacy within the broad boundaries he already rules. No, Stalin is taking the Ukraine because he does not dare let Hitler have it, and does not dare let it remain “independent” unless he, and not Hitler, dominates it with his army, his secret police, his whole bloody apparatus of repression.

It was on this understanding that he left Poland to Hitler’s tender mercies. Because Hitler was able to move with such blinding speed, Stalin was drawn in even more swiftly than he expected to be. That is why his deal with Japan is still a tentative one and presumably that is also why he had to move with such caution that he did not even inform Earl Browder of his intentions. For Browder has been trying to make the Stalin-Hitler deal palatable to the American imperialists by insisting, with much verbal perspiration, that it left Japan hopelessly isolated. But now Stalin has flashed the green light to Japan in China, just as he touched off the go-ahead signal for Hitler in Poland. What his peace-loving and peace protecting efforts are going to mean to Rumania, Latvia, Esthonia, and Finland, even Browder won’t dare guess now!

The speedy conquest of Poland and its partition by Germany and Russia naturally places the whole of southeastern Europe at the mercy of the Berlin-Moscow axis. Rumania must now either yield or be crushed and similarly partitioned. Bulgaria, like a yapping little jackal, is waiting to get back the territory of Drobujda, given to Rumania after the last war, and will readily accede to all that Hitler demands. Turkey is immobilized, and its foreign minister has been summoned to Moscow to sign a new pact that takes into full account the new conditions. Mussolini is still bargaining with Britain and France and Yugoslavia waits to learn its fate from his lips.

If Mussolini finally falls on the Allied side of the fence a war front may after all take form in southeastern Europe. But if he hesitates very much longer – and he is likely to – that cherished hope of the Anglo-French combine will fade entirely and there will be nothing left but to concentrate on the western front. If it turns out this way, Belgium and the Netherlands and perhaps even the Scandinavian states cannot hope to remain neutral very long.

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