The World War ended with the downfall of three imperialist powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. Four exploiting Great Powers emerged from the war as victors: the United States, Britain, France and Japan.
The peace treaties, the crux of which is the Versailles peace treaty, are nothing other than an attempt to stabilise the world domination of these four victorious powers; politically and economically, by reducing the rest of the world to the level of a single colony exploited by them, and socially, by creating an international union of the bourgeoisie designed to strengthen bourgeois rule both over the proletariat of their own countries and over the victorious revolutionary proletariat of Russia. With this end in view, a whole series of small vassal states were set up around Russia and armed by the Entente in order to strangle Soviet Russia at the first convenient opportunity. The defeated nations were made to repay fully the losses suffered by the victorious powers during the war.
It is now blatantly clear that the assumptions on which the peace treaties were built were mistaken. The attempt to establish a new balance of power on a capitalist basis had proved unsuccessful. The last four years present a picture of continual vacillation, constant uncertainty, economic crises, unemployment and labour shortages, ministerial crises, party crises and international political crises.
By holding an endless series of conferences, the imperialist powers are trying to delay the disintegration of the world system founded on the notorious peace treaties, and to conceal the bankruptcy of the Versailles peace.
In Russia attempts to overthrow the dictatorship of the proletariat have proved unsuccessful. The proletariat throughout the capitalist world is all the more firm in its support for Soviet Russia. Even the leaders of the Amsterdam International have been forced to declare openly that the overthrow of proletarian power in Russia would be tantamount to a victory for world reaction over the entire proletariat.
Turkey, outpost of the growing revolution in the East, has taken up arms and successfully opposed the implementation of the peace treaty. One of the most vital parts of the peace treaty is being solemnly buried at the Lausanne conference.
The prolonged world economic crisis has shown that the economic conceptions of the Versailles peace treaty were profoundly wrong. Britain, the leader of European imperialism and extremely dependent on world trade, is not in a position to consolidate its economy without the restoration of Germany and Russia. The United States, the strongest imperialist power, has finally turned its back on the peace treaty and is trying to consolidate an independent policy of world-wide imperialism. To realise this aim, it has enlisted the support of important sections of the British Empire – Canada and Australia.
The oppressed British colonies, the basis of Britain’s world power, are rebelling against their rulers: the entire Moslem world has been swept by open or clandestine revolt.
All the assumptions of the peace treaty have proved invalid, with a single exception: that the proletariat in the bourgeois countries has to bear the entire burden of the war and the Versailles treaty.
At first glance it might appear that, of all the victorious powers, France has gained the most. Besides the seizure of Alsace-Lorraine, the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine and the claim to countless billions of German reparations, it has in military terms become the strongest power on the European continent. With the help of its vassal states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, whose armies are under the command and leadership of French generals, with the help of its own huge army, of its submarines and its airforce, France dominates the entire European continent; it is the watchdog and guardian of the Versailles peace treaty. However, its economy, diminishing population, enormous domestic and foreign debts and consequent economic dependence on Britain and America do not provide a firm enough basis for its insatiable imperialist appetite. British control of all the important naval strongholds, and the British and American oil monopoly, greatly limit its political power. The economic value of the iron ore gained by France as a result of the Versailles peace treaty is reduced by the fact that the coal vital for exploiting this wealth is in the Ruhr, which belongs to Germany. Hopes that German reparations would help to regulate France’s shaky finances have proved illusory. All the financial experts are agreed that Germany cannot possibly pay the sums needed by France to revive its finances. The French bourgeoisie has only one option – to lower the living standards of the French proletariat to the German level. The hunger the German workers are suffering prefigures the poverty that threatens to overtake the French workers very soon. Once the complete bankruptcy of the Versailles peace treaty is apparent, the devaluation of the franc, which is being deliberately encouraged by certain sections of French heavy industry, will be used to force the French proletariat to pay all the costs of the war.
The World War gave Britain the opportunity to unite its colonial world empire, stretching from the Cape of Good Hope to Egypt, and from Arabia to India. Britain has kept possession of all the most important outlets to the oceans. By making concessions to the dominions, it is trying to maintain an Anglo-Saxon world empire.
However, despite the great ability of the British bourgeoisie to adapt itself, and despite its stubborn efforts to win back the world market, it has become clear that, in the conditions created by the Versailles peace treaty, Britain cannot flourish. Such a highly industrialised country as Britain cannot exist unless the economies of Germany and Russia are restored. Here the interests of Britain and France violently clash: Britain wants to sell its goods to Germany, but this is prevented by the Versailles peace treaty; France wants to squeeze huge sums out of Germany as compensation for war losses, but this threatens to destroy German purchasing power. Hence Britain favours a reduction of reparations, while France is carrying on an undercover war against Britain in the Near East to compel greater flexibility on the question of reparations. While the British proletariat, through the unemployment affecting millions of workers, is shouldering the burden of the war, the British bourgeoisie continues to make new deals with the French bourgeoisie – at the expense of Germany.
One of the main concerns of the Versailles peace is Central Europe – the new colony of the imperialist gangsters. Parcelled out into a countless number of small states, divided into a series of economically unviable provinces, Central Europe has lost all possibility of following an independent policy. These states have all become colonies of British and French capital. The Great Powers, according to the needs of their changing interests, incite them against each other. Czechoslovakia, torn away from an economic body that brought together 60 million people, is undergoing a prolonged economic crisis. Austria has become an unviable imitation of a state, hanging on to the appearance of an independent political existence only because of the mutual hostility of its neighbours. Poland, which was given huge territories with a non-Polish population, has become a distant outpost of France, a caricature of the French Empire. In all these countries the proletariat, as a result of the fall in living standards and high unemployment, is paying the costs of the war.
The most important issue in the Versailles peace treaty is, however, Germany. Disarmed, deprived of any opportunity to defend itself, it is completely at the mercy of the Great Powers. The German bourgeoisie tries to make common cause now with the British and now with the French bourgeoisie. It is striving, through increased exploitation of the German proletariat, to satisfy part of the French claims, and at the same time, by resorting to foreign help, to strengthen its rule over the German proletariat. But even the most intensive exploitation of the German proletariat – even the reduction of the German worker to the level of a kind of European coolie, even the sea of poverty into which, thanks to the Versailles peace treaty, the German proletariat has sunk – all this still does not make the payment of the reparations possible. Germany has therefore become a toy in the hands of Britain and France. The French bourgeoisie wants to decide the question by force – by occupying the Ruhr. Britain is absolutely opposed to this. Only the intervention of the United States, economically the strongest power, could have gone some way towards conciliating the mutually conflicting interests of Britain, France and Germany.
However, the United States has long since refused to participate in implementing the Versailles peace, and was against ratifying the Versailles treaty. The United States, which emerged from the World War as the strongest power economically and politically, and as a major creditor of the European imperialist powers, shows no desire to help France out of its financial crisis by allocating substantial credits to Germany. American capital is steadily turning its back on the chaos in Europe and is trying, with great success, to build its own large colonial empire in Central and South America and in the Far East, and at the same time, by means of protective tariffs, to secure for its own ruling class the right to exploit the home market. Whilst leaving continental Europe to the mercy of fate, America nevertheless has to deal with the conflicting interests of Britain and Japan. By using its economic supremacy to build a strong navy, the United States has forced the other imperialist powers to sign the Washington agreement on disarmament. In doing this, it undermined one of the most important bases of the Versailles peace treaty – British world supremacy at sea – and so has removed any interest Britain had in preserving the alignment of powers envisaged by the Versailles treaty.
Japan, the youngest of the imperialist world powers, is also keeping out of the chaos in Europe created by the Versailles peace treaty. However, the transformation of the United States into a world power has seriously affected its interests. In Washington, Japan was forced to renounce its alliance with Britain; this removed yet another of the major pillars on which the division of the world that took place at Versailles was based. In addition, not only are the oppressed peoples rebelling against the rule of Britain and Japan, but the British dominions are seeking to safeguard their interests in the coming battle between the United States and Japan by establishing close links with the United States. The edifice of British imperialism is, in consequence, showing bigger and bigger cracks.
Owing to the conflicting interests of the imperialist Great Powers, the attempt to create a firm basis for their world rule has proved completely unsuccessful. The great edifice of the peace treaty lies in ruins. The Great Powers and their vassals are preparing for a new war. Militarism is stronger than ever. Although the bourgeoisie is panic-stricken and horrified at the thought of the new proletarian revolution that would result from the world war, the inner laws of the capitalist social order are inexorably leading to a new world conflict.
The Tasks of the Communist Parties
The Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals are trying to support the radical wing of the bourgeoisie, who represent mainly trade and banking capital, in their ineffectual fight for the reduction of reparations. On this, as on every question, they walk hand in hand with the bourgeoisie. The task of the Communist Parties, especially those in the victorious countries, is to explain to the masses that the Versailles peace treaty transfers all war costs to the proletariat in both the defeated and the victorious countries. They must make it clear that in every country the real victim of bourgeois peacemaking is the proletariat. Following on from this, the Communist Parties, above all those of Germany and France, must start a joint struggle against the Versailles peace treaty. The German Communist Party must emphasize the readiness of the German proletariat to help in any way possible the workers and peasants of Northern France to restore their ruined economy; at the same time, it must wage a sharp fight against its own bourgeoisie, which is ready to join the French bourgeoisie (Stinnes agreement [It is not clear what this refers to. In 1922, Stinnes did explore various schemes for a voluntary Franco-German iron and coal cartel, but nothing came of them.]) in sacrificing the German proletariat to a policy of meeting all obligations, and is even prepared to turn Germany into a colony of the French bourgeoisie, if this would fully secure its class interests. The French Communist Party must do all it can to fight the imperialist tendencies of its own bourgeoisie and any attempt to enrich the French bourgeoisie by increased exploitation of the German proletariat. It must fight for immediate withdrawal from the occupied left bank of the Rhine. It must fight against the seizure of the Ruhr, against the dismemberment of Germany and against French imperialism. It is no longer enough to oppose the idea of ‘defence of the fatherland’ in France: the struggle against the Versailles treaty must now be taken up everywhere. The Czechoslovak and Polish Communist Parties, as well as the Communist Parties of other vassal countries subordinate to France, have a duty to combine the fight against their own bourgeoisies with the fight against French imperialism. Joint mass actions must show the proletariat that the attempt to implement the Versailles peace treaty will reduce the entire European proletariat to grinding poverty, and that opposition to this attempt is in the common interests of the proletariat of the whole world.