Klement Gottwald, of the Litvinov School

The Litvinov School, part three

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This entry is part 9 of 9 in the Britain and her Jews

The Litvinov School part one here.
The Litvinov school part two here.
Though under Chamberlain they made slower progress, the Zionists had only to wait for him to be replaced, to which end their friends in the Focus worked ever more energetically. They leveraged personal connections and old friendships and employed pathos and emotive moralising. They redefined words expediently. According to Lord Lloyd, head of the British Council, writing to his friend Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, in September 1938, “If Germany was allowed to annex the Sudetenland not only would Czechoslovakia be at her mercy, but all the smaller European states would draw the conclusion that there was no way of standing up to Hitler and ‘you will have opened a path for Germany to the Black Sea’.” As in the case of Romania’s oil supplies, the need to prevent Germany accessing what the Soviets already had was treated as self-explanatory. Lloyd invoked courage, “sacrifice”, “what is Right” and “to be the champions of weak peoples”, the last of which was “a task surely set us by Providence”. He informed Halifax that “There are worse issues even than war”, referring to peace.1

We may never know how much, if at all, Halifax was swayed by the pretentious use of capital letters, but evidently Lloyd wielded piety as a bludgeon; all talk of concern for “weak peoples” was a veil or a lever to be worn or pulled as was found judicious. The Zionists with whom Lloyd frequently dined, who colluded in the same belligerent cause as he, were explicit about their intention to subjugate or displace the natives of Palestine. We find no objection from Lloyd to Churchill for his ardent support for that project or the forthrightly racial supremacist reasons Churchill gave. Nor did Lloyd write letters pleading the case of the minorities forced to live under the Czechoslovak state since 1919 or, indeed, of the Czechs themselves before that date. We might hope that Providence later reviewed how best to set its tasks, so considerate had it been in the 1930s to Zionists, communists, financiers and manufacturers, and so neglectful to Lloyd and Churchill’s proclaimed interest, the British Empire, and to the tranquility of ordinary European folk.

To suggest that the Beneš government was worthy of the help of Britain would obviously be absurd, but arguably it was not even worthy of that of France. The case for such help relied entirely on the fear campaign against Germany and the apologies, from the same parties, for the Soviet Union. The notion that a helpless ‘democracy’ was being ‘fed’ to a dictator in 1938 was false, as Lukes describes: “By the spring of 1938, the Czechoslovak parliament, the prime minister and the cabinet had been pushed aside by Beneš. During the dramatic summer months he was – for better, or worse – the sole decisionmaker in the country.”2 Real democracy militates against the gathering of such autocratic powers even in times of crisis. Czechoslovakia had the kind of democracy any multicultural, civically-defined state should expect.

After Germany successfully “championed” the Sudeten Germans and the Slovaks, Lloyd wrote to the Daily Telegraph that “it was ‘impossible to speak without shame and difficult to speak without indignation, of what we have done to the Czech people’. Disraeli had credited Britain with two great assets, her Fleet and her good name: ‘Today we must console ourselves that we still have our Fleet.’”3 Her Fleet was a great asset, but Disraeli had brandished it in 1877 to prolong the sanguinary Turkish occupation of Christian lands and Churchill used it to starve Germany in 1919; the malnourished state of the German delegation at Versailles detracted from Britain’s “good name”, and Churchill’s. The disgrace Disraeli and his admirers had incurred on Britain’s behalf was mitigated, not extended, when Chamberlain helped extricate France from an alliance it should never have made and on which Beneš was a fool to rely.

When the Prime Minister reminded Lloyd in October 1938 that “the policy I am pursuing is a dual one” and that “conciliation is a part of it fully as essential as rearmament”, Charmley says that “Lloyd increasingly felt that what was needed was ‘an alternative National Government’”.4 To form that alternative was the primary objective of the Focus, which Churchill referred to as the “Cave of Adullam” and from which had come one attempt already in April 1938.5 During the Sudeten hysteria, “[f]resh in funds, the Focus began printing millions of leaflets and booked a London hall for a protest meeting… to throw out the Chamberlain four and set up a national government.”6 A new government was needed specifically to collaborate with the USSR.

Exclusion of the Soviets

While Churchill was inciting war in Paris in September, Robert Boothby travelled to meet Litvinov in Geneva and returned saying that “the Russians will give us full support”.7 This was even less true to Britain than it was to Czechoslovakia. Until near the end of the crisis, Beneš “was convinced that… the Soviet Union would ‘fight its way through Poland and Romania’ to help Czechoslovakia…”, though the Soviets lacked agreements with either country to do so.8 When asked to confirm the Soviets’ intention to honour the treaty with Czechoslovakia, Litvinov “carefully waited for Beneš to surrender before he said publicly that Moscow had given an affirmative answer.” At any rate, because France “had already made clear that it was not prepared to live up to its obligations, Moscow’s promises of support had purely cosmetic value.” As Lukes says, after ‘Munich’, ”the Kremlin was able to create the appearance of being supportive of the Prague government but without accepting any responsibility.”9 In 1947, Benes said that “The truth is that the Soviets did not want to help us,” and that they “acted deceitfully.” During the crisis, referring to Sergei Aleksandrovsky, the Soviet ambassador in Prague, Beneš said “I asked him three questions, whether the Soviets would help us, and I repeated them. He did not answer, he never answered. That was the main reason why I capitulated.”10 The Soviets appear to have had a reserve plan but their agents failed to activate it. After the war, Klement Gottwald, the Czech Communist Party leader, told Benes “that Soviet leaders had severely criticized [Gottwald] for his failure to carry out a communist coup d’état in Prague during the September 1938 crisis.”11

According to Lukes, the Soviets’ desire, short of war, was “a seat at the international conference that would eventually deal with the crisis.” Litvinov told Lord De La Warr, the British ambassador to the League of Nations, “that Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union should meet in Paris to discuss the crisis”; he wanted to avoid an international conference excluding the Soviet Union.12 At Munich, Litvinov’s fear, a “modus vivendi between the Franco-British bloc and the Hitler-Mussolini tandem” which “increased the Kremlin’s isolation” was fulfilled.13 Thus “[t]wo days after the conference, Georgi Dimitrov, the Comintern chief, expressed the opinion that the Munich Agreement, was directed against the Soviet Union. He said nothing of Czechoslovakia.”14

Size of forces

Denied war in September 1938, Lord Lloyd and others of the Focus fomented the myth of the ‘betrayal’ at Munich, their equivalent of the ‘stab in the back’ in Germany at the end of the Great War. They put only one of the Czechs’ faithless allies on trial and called the other as a witness. Whereas Beneš admitted his mistake eventually, Stalin’s good faith is still argued seriously by some Western historians, lest either the benevolence or the acuity of his allies in Britain, and the regime begotten by them, be doubted.

Most criers of betrayal mean, but say more indirectly, what Frank McDonough brassily asserts: September 1938 was “a lost opportunity to start a two-front war”.15 McDonough also demolishes the fear campaign, carried out since 1933, on which relies the notion of Churchill as a prescient seer of danger. Churchill’s claims had always contradicted the calculations of the disinterested Air Ministry, as intended by Robert Vansittart, who contributed numbers based on ‘intelligence’ from a network composed largely of communists and “Jewish emigrés”.16 According to McDonough,

“The forces available to Germany in 1938 were never as favourable as British ministers, supported by their bungling military and intelligence advisers, had predicted… Hitler’s ability to talk a good fight spread the alarm, but he had been bluffing all along… The French air force outnumbered the Luftwaffe by a ratio of four to three, and those figures excluded additional air force support of Britain and Czechoslovakia… The Luftwaffe’s capacity to bomb British cities was merely a figment of the British Chiefs of Staff’s imagination. No serious German study of the Luftwaffe fighting strength in 1938 has unearthed any plans to bomb Britain whatsoever… the British and French government leaders and their Chiefs of Staff totally misread how much the balance of power was loaded in their favour in 1938.”17

McDonough is unusual among anti-fascist historians in alluding to Germans’ need to consider all the countries surrounding them and implicitly acknowledging that Germany would be insane to launch its whole air force at any of them at once. Even then, McDonough omits to mention the scale of the Soviet forces. According to Manfred Jonas, France, already ahead of Germany in aircraft in September 1938, “began to re-arm in earnest” the following spring and ordered a further 1,000 planes from the USA to be delivered in July 1939. Geoffrey Roberts informs us that “The 1938 Soviet war plan identified Germany as the chief enemy and allocated 140 divisions and 10,000 tanks to the defence of the USSR’s western borders.” Jonas dates the beginning of the Soviets’ rearmament to March 1939.18 To be autarkic and have 140 divisions and 10,000 tanks on one front before even “beginning” to re-arm was a favourable situation indeed; the common idea of the Soviets as ‘defensive’ is more convenient than true. According to Joachim Hoffman, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22nd, 1941,

“the Red Army possessed no less than 24,000 tanks, including 1,861 type T-34 tanks (a medium tank, perhaps the most effective armored weapon of the entire war) and KV (Klim Voroshilov) tanks (a series of heavy tanks), which had no equal anywhere in the world.”

Germany had 3,550 German tanks and assault guns, of which half were light tanks. Hoffman adds that “Since 1938, the Air Forces of the Red Army had received a total of 23,245 military aircraft, including 3,719 aircraft of the latest design.” The lowest Soviet estimates grant that at least 10,000 were ready at the start of Barbarossa to engage the “2,500 combat-ready German aircraft”.19 The aggressive positioning of these forces near the German borders in 1941 was a factor in the vastness of the Soviets’ losses in the early stages of the German invasion.20

Soviet expansion

Geoffrey Roberts describes ‘Munich’ as “a mortal blow to the policy of collective security” which “all but ended Soviet hopes for an alliance with Britain and France against Hitler.” It only ended those hopes temporarily while delivering the Soviets undeserved legitimation in Britain. Roberts says that “Moscow did not retreat into complete isolation. Instead, Stalin bided his time and awaited events.”21

Having never really believed in the Covenant or “the indivisibility of peace”, Stalin was free to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler in August 1939 which freed Germany to invade France, though presumably Stalin would have preferred a costly, lengthy struggle there.22 Once France was defeated, the Soviets disposed of old, inhibitory pretences and began to issue demands to the “weak peoples” Lloyd assumed they would respect. Between November 1939 and June 1940, the Soviets invaded Finland and annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They then occupied Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in June 1940; the ensuing mass deportations and killings proved less controversial, both with the likes of Lloyd, who had personally intervened to prevent Romania drawing closer to Germany, and with the World Jewish Congress. Perhaps the specific provisions of the Minorities Treaty were all-important and communist mass murder fell outside its jurisdiction merely by misfortune, or perhaps the leaders of the WJC, like Samuel Untermyer, were obsessively opposed to Hitler and supported the Soviets regardless of the human cost. Certainly Soviet occupation, a nightmare for ordinary Europeans, was welcomed in some circles; as Sean McMeekin describes, when the Soviets occupied eastern Poland in October 1939, “many Jews rejoiced in the news that the red army had arrived”.23 The pact with ‘the Nazis’ and the devourment of neighbouring countries apparently only cost the Soviets the support of a few Western fellow-travellers; Churchill remained an eager suitor.24

As we know that Churchill asked for the suppression of accurate force comparisons from the Air Ministry, it is unlikely that sincere dread of Germany was his primary motive in collaborating with foreign governments against his own after 1933. I find no evidence that he became sympathetic to Marxism or was any kind of Soviet agent. Though he was given money by various Jews throughout his life, there was never an evident quid pro quo. Most likely, Churchill and his benefactors understood him to be their advocate and servant in politics, as individuals and as Jews; he did what he could for them. Churchill acted upon what Disraeli presented as an observation: “The Lord deals with the nations as the nations deal with the Jews.” As the interests of communists and “Jewish emigrés” like Jurgen Kuczynski were the same in regard to Hitler’s Germany as those of rich Jewish industrialists like Henry Strakosch and of Robert Waley Cohen, the Board of Deputies and the other “leaders of anglo-Jewry” who secretly financed the Focus, along with Samuel Untermyer’s boycott movement (with which Churchill began his campaign against Hitler in tandem) and the World Jewish Congress, Churchill collaborated with and served all at once, continuing naturally from his earlier life, when Ernest Cassel had been his munificent benefactor (as he was of King Edward VII), and from that of his father, for whom Nathan Rothschild was the equivalent of Cassel, as Nathan’s father Lionel had been for Benjamin Disraeli. As all those interests also coincided with those of the Soviet Union, as expressed through its Jewish diplomats Maxim Litvinov and Ivan Maisky, Churchill naturally served as a voluntary advocate of the Soviet cause, affecting to be concerned with security rather than openly working to replace the existing British policy with one designed to enhance the power of the small foreign minority he regarded as a superior race. The Soviets took the position that was natural for the Soviets; so did the Focus, and woe to the ‘cowards’, ‘appeasers’ and ‘fascists’ who tried to take the natural British position.

Weak peoples

Of all the “weak peoples” seeking “champions”, Jews in Britain were the most generously treated by “Providence”. The Czechs and Slovaks, like the Poles and Romanians, were less fortunate. When Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Red Army in 1945 and the Beneš government, then including Gottwald’s communists, subsequently expelled its entire German population, Western reactions were markedly different from those of Churchill and his cohorts in March 1939 when Germany had subjected the remainder of Czechia to protectorate status.25 Gerhard Weinberg adds that

“In 1945, the Soviet Union annexed the easternmost portion of pre-Munich Czechoslovakia on the grounds that the people living there were akin to those in the adjacent Ukrainian SSR – the same basis on which Germany annexed what had come to be called the Sudetenland. In 1968, the army of the Soviet Union, together with units from the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia. No public demand was voiced anywhere then, and to my knowledge no historian has suggested since, that the United States, Britain, France, or anyone else go to war to protect the independence of Czechoslovakia.”26

Within weeks of taking power in 1948, the communist regime of Czechoslovakia, with the Soviets’ approval, supplied crucial arms to Israel, which immediately expanded its territory and drove masses of Palestinians into flight. They and their descendants remain stateless refugees. Churchill smiled to see the “higher grade race” triumph over the “lower manifestation”.

‘Munich’ is said by its detractors to have sanctioned the ‘dismemberment’ of Czechoslovakia. Czechs and Slovaks, within three years of independence from the Soviet Union, consensually dismembered their state and have since lived peacefully as two distinct peoples. The Masaryk-Beneš era was as artificial as that of communist rule; the fidelity of the likes of Churchill and Lloyd to Czechoslovakia was no realer than Stalin or Litvinov’s. ‘Munich’ is not a metonym for betrayal of the weak but an object lesson in the warmongers’ craft: they disparage peace and lie about the past to justify their crimes forever after.

  1. Lord Lloyd and the decline of the British Empire, John Charmley, 1987, p218-9 ↩︎
  2. The Munich Crisis, 1938, edited by Igor Lukes and Erik Goldstein, 1999, p15 ↩︎
  3. Lloyd, Charmley, p215, p220 ↩︎
  4. Lloyd, Charmley, p221 ↩︎
  5. Irving, p119. “[T]he New Statesman’s editor put out secret feelers to influential Liberal and Labour politicians: would they join a putative Churchill coalition with Eden as foreign secretary, if their minority parties were strongly represented in his cabinet? It was their first sniff of power for some time. Attlee agreed in principle, but retired into his shell soon after the editor sounded him. Greenwood and Morrison showed more interest, and Bevin was also rumoured to be willing, if offered the ministry of labour. These remarkable soundings, described by Kingsley Martin to Hugh Dalton a few days later, were an echo of things to come.” ↩︎
  6. Irving, p148 ↩︎
  7. Irving, p142-4 ↩︎
  8. Lukes, p231 ↩︎
  9. Lukes, p229 ↩︎
  10. Lukes, p257. Benes revealed his fury at Stalin’s perfidy on several occasions in 1945. See Munich, Lukes and Goldstein (eds), p20-1 ↩︎
  11. Lukes, p231. It appears to be standard practice among anti-fascist historians to simply ignore this evidence and treat the Soviets, especially Litvinov, as having sagely foreseen the ‘Nazi threat’ and as eager friends of democracy foolishly spurned by ‘the appeasers’. ↩︎
  12. Lukes, p229 ↩︎
  13. Stalin and Benes at the End of September 1938: New Evidence from the Prague Archives, Igor Lukes, Slavic Review, Volume 52, Number 1, Spring 1993, p48 ↩︎
  14. Lukes, p258. Likewise, “Litvinov’s suggestion… did not mention the participation of Czechoslovakia.” Lukes, p230 ↩︎
  15. McDonough, p197 ↩︎
  16. Churchill’s Man of Mystery – Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence, Gill Bennett, 2007, chapter 9. Vansittart and Churchill tried to silence the Air Ministry rather than prove the accuracy of their estimates. ↩︎
  17. McDonough, p197-8. Bluffs by Hitler, as when he privately boasted of outmatching the RAF in 1935, had been presented in Parliament and the press as ‘intelligence’ from ‘credible sources’, as had the claims, sometimes humorous, of communists like Jurgen Kuczynski. ↩︎
  18. McDonough, p409, 440 ↩︎
  19. Stalin’s War of Extermination, Joachim Hoffman, 2001, p30-32 ↩︎
  20. Stalin’s War, Sean McMeekin, 2021, chapter 17. “The Lvov/Lemberg salient… contained the best-armed and most mechanized divisions in the entire Red Army… its fate in the early days of Barbarossa exposed… the baleful consequences of Stalin’s grasping at territory in 1939 and the Red Army’s offensive deployment in 1941.” ↩︎
  21. McDonough, p414. Lukes says that “The Munich affair proved to be a godsend… for the Communist party of Czechoslovakia. Klement Gottwald noted in late December 1938… that, despite its defeat, the CPC had succeeded in drilling into the minds of Czechoslovak citizens the link between the security of their country and the security of the Soviet Union. During the crisis, Gottwald observed, anticommunism had for the first time become unfashionable and unpatriotic. Party propaganda had managed to form the public view that hostility toward the CPC meant endangering Czechoslovakia’s national security and that hostility toward the Soviet Union weakened Czechoslovakia.” This paid dividends between 1945-8, after which public opinion was given less regard. ↩︎
  22. After the start of war between Germany and Britain and France, Czech communists visited Moscow. “The delegation was received by an official of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was justified, he said: ‘If the USSR had concluded a treaty with the Western powers, Germany would never have unleashed a war from which will develop world revolution which we have been preparing for a long time… A surrounded Germany would never have entered into war… We cannot afford Germany to lose… The present war must last as long as we want… Keep calm because never was the time more favorable for our interests than at present.’ The long-term Soviet strategy outlined… was in harmony not only with the 7th Congress but also with the ideas laid down by Zhdanov in his August 1938 speech before the Czechoslovak Communist party’s Central Committee.” Lukes, p258 ↩︎
  23. McMeekin, chapter 6 ↩︎
  24. That is, Churchill continued throughout the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact to court Stalin, who had chosen to ally with Churchill’s sworn enemy, and historians attribute even that to necessity. ↩︎
  25. “It was with a degree of pride that Andrei Zhdanov, in the autumn of 1947, reviewed the changes World War II brought about in Europe. He noted that the war had significantly altered the international balance of power in favour of the Soviet Union. ‘The war dealt capitalism a heavy blow’, Zhdanov asserted. Some of the main bastions of imperialism were defeated (Germany, Japan and Italy) and others were weakened (Great Britain and France). By contrast, the Soviet Union was greatly strengthened.” Munich, Lukes and Goldstein, p41. Lukes adds that the Soviet position in Europe relied on terror and the goodwill of the USA. ↩︎
  26. Munich, Lukes and Goldstein, p1 ↩︎
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