Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The New International, November 1934


Marko Shtip

Storm Clouds Over Europe

From New International, Vol. I No. 4, November 1934, pp. 111–112.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


IT TOOK many years, and an exhaustive examination of documents not previously available before the details of the intrigues and machinations leading up to the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand by Gavril Princip were laid bare. It cannot be said in advance how long it will be before the full story can be told of exactly what forces stood behind Petrus Kalemen when he fired the shots in Marseilles which put an end to one of Europe’s most detestable tyrants, Alexander Karageorgevitch. The death of the Yugoslavian monarch did not set off the powder-keg of war in Europe, as it was set off in Sarajevo almost exactly twenty years ago. But it did thrust into the limelight the most acute of those antagonisms, conflicts and re-arrangements of forces which are combining to plunge Europe, teetering on the brink, into the abyss of a new imperialist shambles.

The last world war was preceded by years of frenzied making and unmaking of alliances. Each of the then big powers anticipated the military war by an intensive diplomatic warfare. When the armed struggle began, both sides felt adequately fortified by alliances previously arrived at. The preparations for the next war are proceeding in accordance with the same formula. For the, big powers, hegemony in Europe is the springboard for a stronger position in world politics. And now, as a generation ago, the Balkans constitute one of the most important – if not the most important – axis around which European politics revolves. A eastern corner of the Old World. In any case, it is there that the mystic could easily say that there is a fatality about the south- [a passage is missing here – ETOL] witches’ cauldron seethes and boils and threatens to bubble over onto the whole continent.

The treaties of Versailles, St. Germain and Neuilly changed the map of Europe. Numerous peoples and nationalities which had previously groaned under the yoke of the old empires, were herded together within national frontiers, for the most part carved out of the hide of the defeated Central powers. After the first flush of bewildered enthusiasm at the change of their status, the “liberated” peoples began to settle down to the realization that they had exchanged one lash for another. Most of the new states created in eastern Europe after the war proved to be the vassals of France, the guarantors of her domination on the continent, and her pawns in the fight to maintain a rather satisfactory status quo. A disaffected Italy might continue to protest the meagerness of her share of the spoils. Germany might whimper and bleat for re-recognition in the comity of imperialist highwaymen. England might look askance at the fierceness of France’s determination to have the final word on the mainland. But so long as France was faced by a paralyzed opponent across the Rhine, and was supported by Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugoslavia, its continental hegemony was sufficiently assured, even if very delicate adjustments and concessions were required at particularly perilous moments.

The triumph of Fascism. in Germany has introduced a new element into this situation. The new German imperialism is not content to. supplicate. It roars where once it whispered. It stalks menacingly but of the League of Nations into which it begged to be admitted not so many years ago. It demands again a place in the sun, a revision of Europe’s frontiers, and the right to the armaments necessary to obtain it. With increasing insolence, it flaunts in the face of those who refuse it more military strength than permitted it by the Versailles treaty. With poorly concealed insolence, it flagrantly violates the provisions of the treaty which drastically curtail its military preparations. As the most formidable foe of France in the capitalist world, Germany displays a new aggressiveness which is a direct threat to French dominion in Europe. The struggle between the French status quo (one imperialist partition of the continent) and the German frontier revision (another imperialist partition of the continent), added to those other antagonisms which are reaching the breaking point, spell war. The section of Europe where the breaking point threatens most imminently, is the Balkans and the adjacent Danubian area. It is in this territory that the most complicated knots are to be found in those threads which cross and crisscross the continent.

In order to unravel them and to weave the threads into a more coherent pattern, it may be well to use Italy and its connections as a central point of departure. As compared with France and England, Italy received only a very tiny share of the spoils at the conclusion of the war. One might almost say that Italy received less on the Adriatic than did little Greece on the Ægean, when the acquisition of Macedonia with the port of Salonika and southern Bulgaria with the port of Dedeagatch made Yugoslavia and Bulgaria respectively dependent upon Greece for access to the sea. The secret treaty in 1916 by means of which her support was bought by the Allies, guaranteed Italy a position after the war which would establish her as the only Adriatic power. She was indeed given Istria, with the port of Trieste, and after several exciting years, during which Fiume was first invaded by the adventurer D’Annunzio and then made a “free city”, that port too was annexed to Italy by the Treaty of Rome, against the bitter opposition of Yugoslavia.

Between Fiume and Trieste at the northern end of the Adriatic, and the valuable ports at the southern end belonging to Albania, an Italian vassal, state, lies the long but unsatisfactory Dalmatian coastline of Yugoslavia. For years now a fierce antagonism has existed between the two Adriatic powers: Yugoslavia coveting the rich ports of northern Albania, and Mussolini aiming to rule supreme over the sea by conquering the Dalmatian coast and taking under his eminently emancipatory wing the Croats and Slovenes now oppressed by their Serbian overlords. The loud outcries of solicitous indignation against the sufferings of the Croats, which fill the columns of the Italian press from time to time, are merely a transcription in the realm of idealism of the desire to convert the profits and power of the Yugoslav dinar into their equivalent in Italian liras.

Italy’s antagonism towards Yugoslavia has not only determined her opposition to France in the past, but has dictated her patronage of the two defeated countries to the North of her Adriatic enemy’s frontiers, namely, Hungary and Austria, Austria has found in Italy an ally, a guarantor of her independence. Austria fears absorption into Germany by way of Anschluss, and Italy is determined to prevent the consummation of the alliance on German terms out of concern over the reestablishment of the latter’s old position of dominance in the Danubian and Balkan corner of Europe. But Italy’s attitude towards Austria is not a matter of principle with her, any more than it was in 1915. The cement between the bricks not only keeps them apart; it also keeps them together. And Austria is not only a barrier between Germany on the one side and Italy and the Balkans on the other, but also a possible bridge between the Blackshirt and Brownshirt regimes.

The relationships between Mussolini and Hitler are a story in themselves, not devoid of the elements of a classical Italian farce Italy has great African colonial ambitions which are far from being to the liking of the principal North African imperialist power, France. To extort colonial support from the latter, Italy has beem toying provocatively with the idea of an alliance with Germany: The opinions which the two dictators have of each other are hardly a deep state secret. Against Hitler’s contemptuous reference to the “filthy Mediteranean peoples” can be balanced off Mussolini’s speech at Bari, where his auditors at home and abroad were reminded that Rome had her Virgil and Caesar when Hitler’s ancestors wandered about in Teuton forests as illiterates. The exchange of compliments has not prevented the carrying on of negotiations between the dirty Mediterraneans and the Teuton swineherds, thus far without satisfactory conclusions. In effect, the issue will be settled on Austrian soil. Starhemberg’s Heimwehr is directly under the patronage of Italy and serves her faithfully. Schuschnigg’s Sturmscharen are not only pro-monarchist and pro-restorationist in their predilections, but are not disinclined to a reconciliation with the German Nazis. Upon the outcome of the conflict between the two will depend whether Austria remains a barrier between Italy and Germany or a bridge.

Whatever the outcome, Austria is already a bridge between Italy and Hungary. This alliance too has been determined in the past by a mutual antagonism to France and her Little Entente. Croatian refugees from Yugoslavia has always found shelter in Italy or Hungary, and it is not without significance that Hungarian army officers were found to be the military instructors of fugitive Croatian terrorists at their camps in the border villages of Janka-Puszta and Mezo-Kanisza, whence the assassins of King Alexander are reputed to have come. Hungary still chafes under the dismemberment she suffered after the signing of the “peace treaties”. She falls naturally into any bloc that may be formed in Central Europe for the purpose of revising the territorial provisions of the treaties. She does not conceal her insistence upon frontier revisions, although the Little Entente has been even more sharply candid in its assertions that revision is equivalent to war. Hungary covets Bukovina and the Siebenburg regions which fell to the lot of Rumania after the war, as well as the southeastern Slovakian regions of Czechoslovakia. Here again the basis of the anti-French orientation of Hungary is clearly discernible; so also, Hungary’s past financial, political and military affiliations with Italy.

It is at this point that the threads leading through the labyrinth of alliances breaks off in a new direction. After years of unconcealed hostility, a rapprochement between Italy and France seems to be in a fair way of accomplishment. The policy of bluster and blackmail pursued by Mussolini has apparently convinced France that it is better to grant the Italians some concessions in Africa than to have them extend the scope of the already alarming Germano-Polish alliance. In gaining each other, however, the old enemies are threatened with the loss of old friends. The regrouping of forces and alliances is taking place at a speedy rate before our very eyes.

The fact that in the course of his rapprochement to France Mussolini sought the friendship of Czecholovakia, has practically put an end to the Italo-Hungarian alliance. The dissatisfaction of the Magyar revisionists, who are undoubtedly being prodded along by a whole section of the British Conservatives, is producing a turn to Germany for the first time in years. The first clear sign of the reorientation was the announcement of an economic and military alliance between Berlin and Budapest. The second was the ostentatious visit of Premier Gombos to Warsaw, the seat of Germany’s most prominent ally, lost to France upon the consummation of the Franco-Russian agreement. It should be borne in mind that the Hungarian reaction can attain the frontier revisions dear to it only by means of a violent assault upon Czechoslovakia and Rumania which would end in a common borderline being established in Carpathia between Hungary and Poland. By the very nature of their position, neither Germany nor Poland would necessarily be averse to the adventure. If, as appears at the moment to be the case, Gombos was not received in Warsaw with the cordiality he would have preferred, it is only because Polono-Rumanian relationships are not yet a settled matter. Rumania has signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, it is true. The dominant group in the country, moreover, is still unmistakably loyal to French imperialism. But here too, nothing is fixed and rigid. The details of the shifts behind the scenes are not easy to establish. However, it is known that whereas Titulescu, minister of foreign affairs, and arch-enemy of Hungarian revisionism, continues to stand by France, the president of the council of ministers, Tatarescu, leans strongly towards joining the German-Polish bloc. In any case, it may be said with a fair degree of certainty that if Rumania does not join the bloc, Hungary will.

Another old French alliance is imperilled by the impending Franco-Italian agreement. While Rumania looks with official favor upon it because it feels that, allied with the Quai d’Orsay, Italy will curb Hungary’s territorial ambitions, Yugoslavia is of quite a different mind. As soon as the Mussolini’s pro-French orientation became clear, the Yugoslav press began to write with a noticeably increased aggressiveness against Italy and with a friendlier tone about Germany. The feverish activity of Hitler’s emissaries in the Balkans has been far from fruitless. Economic pacts now link Belgrade with Berlin. At Geneva, the Yugoslav delegate openly supported the arrogant position taken by the Polish representative, Colonel Beck, towards the ever-recurring question of the “minorities”. Furthermore, it is significant that the Yugoslavs refused to sign the pact directed against Hitler by which France, England and Italy guaranteed the “independence and integrity of Austria”, that is, repeated the assurances given on February 17. It will be remembered, also, that Barthou’s visit to Belgrade was obviously not crowned with success, in contrast to all previous negotiations between France and Yugoslavia. It was undoubtedly in a final attempt to arrive at an agreement that Alexander reciprocated Barthou’s visit. The Geneva correspondent of the New York Times puts his finger on the nub of the question when he writes: “Alexander seemed to be the keystone of the Little Entente. He was flirting with Berlin. He was going to Paris for a showdown, and, if he returned dissatisfied and swung toward Germany, then Rumania, already doubtful, would follow, and Czechoslovakia could not alone resist the current.”

Just who was behind the hand that struck down the Serbian despot may not be ascertained for a long time, if ever. But the unusual circumstances surrounding his death simply saturate the affair with great political significance, and make it most unlikely that the assassination was planned by an obscure individual or group of persons without high official connections. He was driven through Marseilles in violation of French regulations which, ever since the assassination of Carnot, provide that no sovereign or chief of state shall be transported in a vehicle with running boards; the police line, usually so dense, was loosely strung out on this occasion; these and other aspects of the affair lead one to conclude that something more than fortuitous circumstances made it so easy to dispatch him to his ancestors. In any case, whatever may have been the real forces behind the pistol of Petrus Kalemen, Alexander’s visit to France was a symbol of the deep-going changes taking place in Europe’s imperialist alignments.

All the combinations and re-combinations are, to be sure, still in a fluid state. It would not be correct to assert that even Yugoslavia has cast the die and taken up a determined position. It is significant to note that, according to a press dispatch from Istanbul on October 12, Yugoslavia has asked that the fifth of the semiofficial but highly important Balkan conferences, scheduled to take place at the beginning of October, be postponed sine die. “The Yugoslav government’s objection to holding the conference this year may be attributed to a desire to avoid public discussion of certain vexed questions.” What more vexed question do the ruling Serbs face than that of determining their future affiliation: with the German bloc or with the French?

If Marseilles did not have the immediate effect of a Sarajevo, it was not because the outbreak of another world war is not to be dreamed of, as Sir John Simon hastened to assure the public two days after the assassination. In 1914, the system of alliances on both sides was practically completed, fixed, sure – save for some uncertainty about a country like Italy, or Rumania. At the present hour, the old alliances are being recast. But the realignments are taking place at such a mad, convulsive pace that the war clouds which hover over the old continent, and are especially dark and swollen over Central Europe, threaten not to be overly long in bursting into a hellish storm.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 25 February 2016