Edvard Beneš, of the Litvinov School

The Litvinov School, part two

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This entry is part 8 of 9 in the Britain and her Jews

Part 1 of The Litvinov School here.

Even with the ‘help’ of the CPC, the Czechoslovaks’ ability to resist Hitler’s territorial demands diminished sharply when Germany occupied and united with Austria in March 1938. Czech forces were thereafter distributed more sparsely along a greatly lengthened border with Germany. The less viable the Czechoslovak state became, the more the Soviets encouraged intransigence:

“Police informers inside the communist apparat reported that as a result of the Anschluß Moscow reaffirmed its order to abandon the dictatorship of the proletariat [communist revolution] as the CPC’s immediate objective. Instead, all of its strength was to be committed against Nazism… [A]fter the destruction of the Third Reich… the dictatorship of the proletariat would be resurrected as the party’s main objective. The main task of the CPC was to ensure that the Czechoslovak-German conflict would be fought as an all-out war, whatever the consequences.”1

The day after the German-Austrian union, in collaboration with Litvinov’s man in London, Ivan Maisky, Churchill went public with the suggestion that “the only sensible policy to deal with the obvious German threat to European peace was a ‘Grand Alliance’ of mutual defence based on the Covenant of the League of Nations.”2 Churchill thereafter began to openly call for Britain to support the Soviet Union. His book Arms and the Covenant was released in June 1938; in October that year, he met with the BBC producer and Soviet spy Guy Burgess and gave him a signed copy.

Rather than aggravate the disputes between the European powers, Neville Chamberlain sought to alleviate them by helping Germany get most of what it demanded. Naturally, he did not see the USSR as a partner. According to John Charmley, Chamberlain “saw in Russia a dictatorship as evil as Hitler’s and a country which was ‘stealthily and cunningly pulling all the strings behind the scenes to get us involved in a war with Germany’”.3 Chamberlain thought that a “positive response to Russian requests for talks would be the prelude to war, whilst a guarantee to Czechoslovakia would ‘simply be a pretext’ for that war.” The Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, who was yet to be converted by the warmongers, “reminded the Foreign Policy Committee that the more closely they associated themselves with France and Russia, ‘the more we produced in German minds the impression that we were plotting to encircle Germany and the more difficult it would be to make any real settlement with Germany’.”4

Halifax and Chamberlain identified the raison d’etre of Churchill and the Focus, but as they never renounced British involvement in France’s disputes with Germany, Chamberlain was susceptible to ensnarement in those disputes by the means in which the war party specialised. The private intelligence networks run by Robert Vansittart, Lord Lloyd and others, and the alarming ‘reports’ and rumours they produced, were one such means. Another was direct incitement of hostility between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Lukes identifies Litvinov as the most likely culprit for the false but convincing intelligence reports of German mobilisation near the Czech border which provoked a partial Czechoslovak mobilisation of forces on 20th May 1938.5 All the Soviets’ behaviour is consistent with an intention to provoke a war and avoid committing forces to it for as long as possible. On 11th May, Litvinov had told the Czech diplomat Arnost Heidrich that

“[W]ar was inevitable. We know, he continued, that the ‘West wishes Stalin to destroy Hitler and Hitler to destroy Stalin.’ But Moscow would not oblige its enemies, warned Litvinov. ‘This time it will be the Soviets who will stand by until near the end when they will be able to step in and bring about a just and permanent peace.’”

According to Lukes,

“Litvinov’s summary… was authentic… Moscow apparently hoped that a collective of states would emerge that would commit itself to an anti-Hitler agenda. The Kremlin intended to strengthen the collective’s resolve by its own warlike élan, then drive it into a shooting war with Hitler—and stand aside… Before the crisis, the Kremlin had strengthened Czechoslovakia’s determination to defend itself against the Third Reich by posturing as a reliable ally. Once the crisis started, however, Soviet officials retreated and made themselves unavailable for official business..”6

Litvinov believed that time was on the side of the Soviets, “because the future war, originally fueled by nationalism, would have gradually become a revolutionary war against the European bourgeoisie”. Such a war would be “a guarantee against a Franco-British-German rapprochement, which would constitute the greatest threat to Soviet security.”7

War failed to eventuate in May, but the war party exploited what they saw as an opportunity to humiliate Hitler. Reginald Leeper, who used his position as head of the Foreign Office news department to form a cartel of compliant diplomatic correspondents from major newspapers, had recruited Churchill into the Anti-Nazi Council, from which was formed the Focus. As David Irving describes, Leeper openly used Foreign Office press conferences to aggravate Anglo-German relations: “When no tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, Leeper poured fuel on the flames, flaunting it as a triumph of ‘collective security’ over Hitler’s ambitions…”8 On June 2nd, at a League of Nations demonstration, “[r]eferring to the recent Czech crisis,” Churchill “crowed over Hitler’s apparent climbdown on May 21 – claiming it as a definite success for collective security – and scoffed at the critics of rearmament…”9 Supporters of the League and its Covenant appear to have drifted from their professed pacific origins. Irving continues: “Months later, Hitler would still betray a smouldering bitterness over the episode: despite every assurance… that not one German soldier had been set in motion, Fleet-street had crowed over Germany ‘bowing to British pressure.’”10

Summer 1938

That the reports of German mobilisation were false, and that his Soviet allies had avoided contact during the hour of need, somehow failed to cause Beneš to doubt what Voroshilov and Litvinov had previously asserted, that the Soviets would send forces to fight any German invasion. That Romania or Poland sat between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia and had not agreed to allow Soviet forces to travel through their territories was also unperturbing. The Soviets thus expected their provocative deceptions to bear more fruit. Lukes asks

“What did Litvinov do in June 1938 to clear away the clouds gathering above Czechoslovakia? Did he raise the issue of the corridor with Bucharest? Did he even talk to Beneš? He did neither. What Litvinov really wanted was to break through the emerging diplomatic blockade around the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia’s fate was of secondary importance.”11

Andrei Zhdanov, a leading Central Committee member trusted by Stalin, told the Czechoslovak Communist Party the real plan in secret in August 1938, his address confirming what the CPC had been told after the 7th Congress of the Comintern in 1935: the Soviets pursued ‘collective security’ as the most likely recipe for war among capitalist states and class war across Europe.12 Why the same was welcomed by anyone else ought to be a central question for historians.

September 1938

Though having never given any guarantee to Czechoslovakia, the consensus among politicians and civil servants for joint action with France caused British entanglement in the Czech dispute with Germany. Britain involved itself to help extricate France from the obligation the latter had undertaken in 1935, i.e. to preserve Britain’s alignment with France while avoiding war.13 This was considered a better option by the vilified ‘appeasers’ than leaping to the assistance of a state which had chosen to side with the Soviets and which Voroshilov laughingly referred to as “a dagger in Germany’s back”.14 The so-called ultimatum British and French diplomats issued to Beneš after the Munich summit in September 1938 was a statement of non-intervention which helped preserve peace; that Beneš and Litvinov were disappointed to receive it would be forgotten had they lacked the support of those who went on to write the victors’ history.

Churchill and other Focus members spent the September crisis making every possible attempt to force Britain and France into war. According to David Irving, with Chamberlain’s approval,

“…the home secretary Sam Hoare placed wiretaps on Eden, Macmillan, and Churchill – all future prime ministers. MI5 was already tapping embassy telephones. Vansittart, wise to the ways of ministers, eschewed the telephone and contacted Winston and Labour conspirators only in their private homes. …Neville Chamberlain betrayed no feelings when Messrs Churchill and Attlee were heard conniving with Maisky and Masaryk, undertaking to overthrow his government; nor when Masaryk telephoned President Roosevelt direct… MI5 has declined to make available the British transcripts… The German intercepts of London embassy communications indicate that Masaryk was furnishing documents and funds to overthrow the British government.”15

After harassing French ministers by phone, Churchill and other members of the Focus flew to Paris to collaborate with the Czech ambassador in Paris, Štefan Ošusky, in a plot to simultaneously collapse the British and French governments. Eric Phipps, the British ambassador in Paris, telegraphed to Halifax that “His Majesty’s government should realise [the] extreme danger of even appearing to encourage [the] small, but noisy and corrupt, war group here.” The war group tried to close off any means of peaceful resolution. “General Spears and seven others of the Focus, including Harold Macmillan, sent an urgent letter to Lord Halifax threatening a Tory revolt if the screw was turned on Beneš any tighter as Hitler was demanding.”16 They then resorted to an attempt to sabotage Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler, as Irving describes: “They decided that Winston should go to Lord Halifax and persuade him to put out a threatening communiqué before Hitler’s broadcast. This would force Chamberlain’s hand…” There would be “a forty-second announcement broadcast in German over Nazi wavelengths in the pause just before Hitler spoke. All Germany would then hear of England’s resolve to fight.” The text “was headed ‘official communiqué’ and typed on foreign office notepaper. Rex Leeper, one of Masaryk’s ‘clients’ at the FO who had steered Britain to the brink in May, sent it to Reuter’s agency. (Afterward the FO and the French foreign ministry immediately disowned it…)” However, according to Churchill’s comrade Frederick Lindemann, the BBC “fumbled or refused to break international wavelength agreements, so it went out only over the conventional channels, an hour after Hitler’s speech.”17

Even after Beneš submitted to Hitler’s demands for control of the Sudetenland, as he was jointly advised to do by Britain, France and Italy, Churchill urged Masaryk to “implore Dr. Beneš to… refuse to pull Czech troops out of the vital fortifications” for as long as possible as, in Churchill’s words, “a tremendous reaction against the betrayal of Czechoslovakia [was] imminent”. Irving refers to this as Churchill’s “final incitement to war – for such there would have been if Beneš were now to disregard the Four Power agreement.” Cadogan, Vansittart’s successor as head of the Foreign Office, “recorded in amusement that Winston, Lloyd and others were still ‘intriguing with Masaryk and Maisky.’”18

Amid the crisis, Masaryk was also lobbied by the Focus’ Zionist associates, who awaited such moments of British vulnerability. On 23rd September, as Irving says, “Recalling Churchill’s June 1937 advice to wait until Britain’s hour of distraction, Chaim Weizmann, Israel Moses Sieff, and the other Zionists bore down on Jan Masaryk… urging war.”19 On the 28th September,

“Over at the Carlton Grill… Chaim Weizmann… invited several gentile Zionists to discuss how to exploit the Czech crisis in the context of Palestine. Britain had only two divisions there, and only two more available for France… A year earlier a foreign office memorandum had pointed out that the Zionist policies of the colonial office were rousing anger throughout the Moslem Middle East, and that there was a powerful argument for revising them if the air situation was as perilous as Mr Churchill claimed.”

The colonial secretary, Malcolm Macdonald, warned Weizmann that, “should war now break out, Palestine would be subject to martial law and further immigration halted. Weizmann wrote to him that same day, warning that the British must choose between friendship of Jewry and of Arabs.”20

Weizmann’s audacity in issuing warnings to the British Empire invites more investigation than it has yet received, as does the choice he presented. The friendship of Jewry, an unfortunate people exiled from dozens of realms and oppressed throughout history for no reason, was surely a paltry reward for angering the vastly more numerous Arabs. It also proved an uneven kind of friendship, as Lord Moyne or the inhabitants of the King David Hotel might attest. Still, though the Zionist leaders were inciting war among European nations and blatantly plotting treason against their host country, the smaller, more troublesome group had its way over the succeeding decade. No doubt this owed much to the favour it won among a section of the British upper class, leaders of anglo-Jewry and the members of the Focus. As Martin Gilbert describes, “On 8 June 1937… at a private dinner given by Sir Archibald Sinclair at which Churchill was present, as well as James de Rothschild and several parliamentary supporters of Zionism: Leo Amery, Clement Attlee, Colonel Josiah Wedgwood and Captain Victor Cazalet”, Churchill told Weizmann “‘You know, you are our masters…’ and he added, pointing to those present, ‘If you ask us to fight, we shall fight like tigers.’”21

In September 1938, Zionists were attempting to organise the eviction of British forces from Palestine, if necessary by armed insurrection. On October 1st, “…as Masaryk walked into Weizmann’s home,” he encountered the same crew “discussing ways of destroying Chamberlain’s policies on Palestine”. Having been informed that war with Germany would entail conscription of Jews in Palestine, Blanche Dugdale, niece of Arthur Balfour and a leading gentile Zionist, wrote that “We can only work by every means, fair and foul… to buy land, bring in men, get arms.’”22 Zionists have always attacked any suggestion that their loyalty to their host countries were compromised, but, regardless of ancestry, those who seek opportunities in a nation’s vulnerabilities can fairly be counted among its enemies, as can those, like Churchill, who advise and encourage them to do so.

  1. Lukes, p142. According to William West, Czech arms manufacturers, via the Comintern, supplied Austrian communists with weaponry to assist in an attempted revolution in 1934. “This traffic was also a factor in the Spanish Civil War” and “appears to have been organised by Max K. Adler.” Truth Betrayed, W J West, p77, footnote 24 ↩︎
  2. McDonough, p192 ↩︎
  3. Chamberlain, Charmley, chapter 7 ↩︎
  4. Chamberlain, Charmley, chapter 7 ↩︎
  5. Lukes, p148-157, especially p154. Irving speculates that the war party provoked the May crisis or co-ordinated it with Litvinov: “What was the origin of the canard? Did Masaryk talk with Churchill in those crucial days? The ebullient Czech was certainly spotted the day before the crisis in conclave with Vansittart.” Irving, p123 ↩︎
  6. Lukes, p154. “Paradoxically, after the tensions declined, Moscow emerged to claim that the partial mobilization was a success, at least in part because of the firmness of Soviet foreign policy.” ↩︎
  7. Lukes, p157 ↩︎
  8. Irving, p123 ↩︎
  9. Irving, p127 ↩︎
  10. Irving, p123 ↩︎
  11. Lukes, p193. “To Benes, the Soviet Union wanted to appear ready—indeed, eager—to go to war. Toward the West the Soviet Union needed to present itself as a reliable, strong, but prudent partner. On this front, the main objective was to prevent the Soviet Union’s isolation by working against a rapprochement between Western democracies and Hitler.” ↩︎
  12. Lukes, p191, 198-200. At the Zhdanov meeting with the CPC, Harry Pollitt, head of the CPGB and collaborator with the Board of Deputies and the Home Secretary in terrorism against the anti-war British Union of Fascists, was in attendance. ↩︎
  13. Considering the enormity of its consequences, historians are remarkably incurious about who ensured the continuation of the Anglo-French entente through the 1920s and 1930s and why. ↩︎
  14. Lukes, p192 ↩︎
  15. Irving, p138 ↩︎
  16. Irving, p147 ↩︎
  17. Irving, p150 ↩︎
  18. Irving, p156 ↩︎
  19. Irving, p145 ↩︎
  20. Irving, p152 ↩︎
  21. Churchill and the Jews, Martin Gilbert, chapter 11 ↩︎
  22. Irving, p156-7 ↩︎
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