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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(31 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 83, 31 October 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

More than two million men are immobilized along a muddy western front that will soon be winter-bound. Except for an isolated air raid and the occasional deadly swish of a torpedo through the open sea, the war has not yet begun. The French sacrificed thousands of men to advance into German soil at the outset, merely to give the appearance of doing something to help the beleaguered Poles. At the first sign of German counter-pressure they fell back, at the price of an undisclosed number of lives and the status quo ante. Sept. 3 has been re-established.

“Peace offensives” have had their hour and between London, Paris and Berlin the air is filled with reciprocal imprecations and threats that somehow continue their persistent failure to materialize. Is it because on both sides of this so-far-sham battle eyes are fixed on Moscow? Is it not, certainly, because no one is sure, even now, who is friend and who is foe ?

Moscow is most assuredly the principal actor in this strange spectacle and strangest of all, nobody seems to be sure just what role it is playing! Scan one day’s news: Russia makes new demands on Finland which send the latter’s negotiators back to Helsingfors. Russia turns the City of Flint over to Germany. Russia tells Britain it will not recognize the blockade. Russia sends a big trade delegation to Berlin and announces it will furnish Hitler with a million tons of grain. Russia even gets a ginger little approving pat from Chamberlain about its invasion of Poland. Russia sends aid to China – for cash and goods on the line – and denounces “agents of Washington” for trying to cast discord into the tentative. Moscow-Tokyo, harmony!

And most important of all: it is from Russia that the next war move in southeastern Europe is now generally expected. In Berlin they are looking for it and Berlin has the inside track right now. Shrewd observers recognize that despite the new pact of the Allies with Turkey, Rumania is likely to get the same kind of “support” that Poland got. Apparently the general sense is that if Stalin wants Bessarabia he can probably have it without undue difficulty.

From Hitler, certainly, the Kremlin dictator is certainly getting every encouragement to move. Hitler is proceeding, apparently, on the theory that it will be comparatively easy to re-capture ground lost to Stalin if Stalin can be brought to overreach himself.

From the Allies he can at the same time count upon a certain degree of forbearance because he knows they are not going to take any steps which would more or less irrevocably line up Russia as an ally at Germany’s side in actual hostilities. Not until they give up all hope of bringing about a German-Russian clash will the Allies risk extending the war front to the southeast and, of necessity, to the Mediterranean as well.

It is over this diplomatic no-man’s land that Stalin is flying like a trapeze artist, high, wide, and handsome. But he can’t just keep swinging, especially with foe-friends and friend-foes sawing away at the ropes on both sides.

And the one thing Stalin most seriously lacks is a safety net.

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Last updated on 17 February 2018