THERE is no need to underline
the gravity of the political events which are taking place in Europe The struggle for political power has reached a critical point in Belgium, Italy and Poland, and we shall find that though each crisis is different the essential threat is always the same.
It is in Belgium, perhaps, that the true nature of the struggle can best be studied. For four years Belgium has been politically dormant. During that period the people of Belgium and the normal political and social forces of the country have been inactive. Only three kinds of political action were possible. The first was the maintenance in exile of the continuity of government and the normal political framework. The selection of the men to carry out this vital task was to some extent fortuitous since the work depended on getting out of Belgium. And the very nature of the work meant, first, that this section looked rather to the past than to the future, and, second, that it was in very imperfect touch with actual life in Belgium. The second kind of political action was direct and indirect collaboration with the enemy. The third kind embraced every active expression of resistance. Inevitably positive resistance was secret and conspiratorial. Hence the difficulty of checking up on the real political intention and integrity of different individuals and different groups. Furthermore this resistance was divorced from public life and the continuity of administration and government. Hence, too, it finally came into the open as a State within a State where the teal State suffered from the weakness of many years of exile and dissociation with the experiences of the masses of the people.
On the whole the difficulties created by this complex situation have been
admirably overcome. Belgium does not possess a de Gaulle who can personally fuse the different elements and provide a new inspiration. In spite of this the State has been re-established and the opposition forced to show the quality of its hand. But there are very serious weaknesses. The Government is negative and dull and it appears passg. The politically active resistance can profit from this to 'arrogate to itself the remedying of all grievances, whether political or social, and by seeking to indict any politician of collaborationist tendencies it can clear many opponents out of its path. And though the resistance has a Right as well as a Left wing, the weight is behind the Left. It is supported from abroad and it has no need to show any sense of the desirability of unity and obedience to the law.
In all this the point of importance is that there can be no real testing of the feeling of the people as a whole, and the condition of any such testing is the maintenance of authority even by an intrinsically weak and uninspiring Government. Already Left publicists in this country are charging the Belgian Government with reactionary tendencies, .upholding the Left resistance and criticising the Allied armies for interfering. Yet one has but to make the effort of imagination to transplant conditions in Belgium to this country to realise how critical these same Left publicists would be of any armed defiance of an administration upholding the law and backed . by official Labour. Such elements would be freely denounced as intolerable and totalitarian in tendency. They would be universally re
garded as more dangerous to liberty than any constitutional government. No service is done to anything but lawless totalitarianism by the present discrediting of the Pierlot Government and the support of defiant resisters who in order to inflame mob passion do not scruple to pretend that murder has been committed in riots provoked by themselves.
TN Italy the trouble is rather different, ▪ but in the long run even more
serious. There you get the discreditMg of government altogether. This discrediting is partly due to the much greater discontinuity with a remote non-Fascist past, partly to the individual weakness of the comparatively few men who can compose a quasidemocratic government and partly to the fact that real political and administrative decisions arc taken by the Allied military authorities. Italy in fact is effectively occupied, and her present position really resembles that of France or Belgium before liberation, though with important differences. There is, for instance, no resistance to the occupying Powers, but politically that is not altogether an advantage since one mode at least of autonomous political action is thereby denied to the Italians. But much more important is the fact that the Italians have nothing to look forward to politically. The Allied withdrawal, when it takes place. will do nothing to shape a coherent political life. It will simply leave half-discredited political figures to make the best of conditions of want, destruction and inexperience.
Though there are reports of the real beginnings of municipal political life in the provincial cities, we have to face the truth that all the conditions are against the development of a natural democratic life and for the growth of an internally-disciplined, authoritarian, ruthless political party which can grasp the helm and command confidence if only through fear and force. And since any nominal Fascism is barred, the only possibility is Communism. The process is already well on its way to fulfilment and every sort of appeal is being made to the industrial north and the resistance under the continuing German occupation.
Unpopular as the idea may be, the only possible way of countering this danger would be by Allied action. First, to give at once far greater authority to the Italian Government now; and, second, to give encouragement to the strongest constitutional and moral forces in the country, the monarchy and the Church. Only thus can the true testing of Italian opinion be made—a testing which will take place as soon as the Allies withdraw. The alternative is not democracy, but civil anarchy leading to an unwanted Communism.
Po I an d
THE Polish crisis is of yet another ▪ nature. Poland has neither been
defeated nor liberated. Poland remains occupied partly by the Germans and partly by the Russians. The Germans have not attempted to create a puppet Government, partly because it would have been a failure and partly because, in their view, even a Polish puppet administration would have been too good for the despised Poles. The Russians have, but their puppet Government has practically no Polish backing. It lives partly on Allied fear of Russia and partly on some degree of recognition by international Left elements. Poland itself is bleeding and silent,
though it is perfectly clear that her resistance movements are actuated by one sok motive which is to free all Poland of all foreign masters. Meanwhile all that is left is the London Government, continuous with pre-war Poland and recognised by practically every Pole able to speak.
Thus the present Polish political crisis has nothing whatever to do with Poland. It is wholly the result of foreign interference. It simply arises from the fact that even the most sincere and strenuous and straining efforts on the part of statesmanlike Poles to make the best of betrayal are not enough to appease an enemy backed by an ally. Its result can only be to weaken still further the cause of Poland fighting for the world yet against that world.
Summing up, then, we can scc that though in these three countries you have quite a different type of crisis, the effect in each case is to strengthen the lawless and non-national elements. In Belgium where the trouble-makers may fail, you have a challenge in the name of armed forces (after the Fascia pattern) within a State; in Italy you have the way prepared for Left totalitarianism, and in Poland you have the threat of a Left foreign occupation. And it is even more important to note that in each case the idea of consulting the feelings of a country to see what it really wants is conveniently by-passed. Let us be clear that in no case has the struggle anything to do with " reaction" versus " social progress " as is being made out in sections of our press.
THE little gale which blew up last week in Canadian political circles, though, from the imperial Point of view, a side-issue, is not without its bearing on the general situation. Together with General Eisenhower's call for increased supplies of men and material, the announcement by Mr. Mackenzie King in the House of Commons, Ottawa, of an Order in Council making 16,000 conscribed Canadian home-defence troops available for overseas service indicates that the military authorities view the next few weeks as of supreme importance and suggest that a sleet effort is to be made to bring the war to a speedy conclusion. In face of anticipated opposition to this Order, the decision had been reached to drop it and the sudden change looks as though pressure had been brought to bear trom outside. General Eisenhower needs every man he can get. But the episode is of interest, also, in marking a further step in Canada's identification of herself with her AngloAmerican Allies. One of the effects of the war has been to emphasise the independence of the Dominions; it gave them the opportunity to exercise choice as to whether they would participate in the conflict and to what extent ; that Britain's declaration of war against the Axis did not automatically involve them was made clear. But, over against that is to be set the fact that complete sovereignty in the present state of affairs is impossible. If our reading of the incident is correct it shows that the Ottawa Cabinet, though politically free, has seen the need of bowing to military representations even at the risk of provoking a political crisis.
Mr. Curtin in Australia and General Smuts in South Africa have had to overcome similar opposition on the question of overseas service. The military alliance will leave its mark on the political relations between the different members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
A FARMERS' MANIFESTO HITHERTO British farmers,
while demanding greater consideration for agriculture, have refrained from setting forth their claims in the context of a national policy. They have spoken as agriculturalists concerned with their own industry rather than as citizens having in view the welfare of the community as a whole. This defect, it would seem, is to be remedied.
Mr. J. K. Knowles, president of the National Farmers' Union,' addressing the Manchester Rotary Club, declared that before long the N.F.U. would be publishing a statement dealing with agriculture's contribution to the welfare of the nation and of the Empire as a whole. Speaking to this audience of Manchester business men, be said: "We are now a debtor nation and the best part of £200,000,000 that used to accrue to us as interest on foreign investments—in the shape of food—had been lost. But if British industry wants trade it must look to markets and not to investments. 'I'hese markets will be found in the greater prosperity that world agriculture seems likely to enjoy." Extending his outlook to the whole world, he mentioned the " more enlightened policy on food production and distribution as envisaged at the Hot Springs Conference," which the British Government had endorsed, knowing that we could" no longer import food as freely as we used to do in unregulated markets. But the part of his address most likely to appeal to his audience was that in which he referred to agricultute's purchasing power, which, he declared, was in the neighbourhood of £.500,000,000 and would probably greatly increase. " Markets at home and markets abroad!" he concluded. .,That was the opportunity before Manchester to-day."
If Mr. Knowles truly represents the union of which he is the president, it is evident that the farmer of to-day is neither provincial-minded nor insular. But he can go further still; he can give evidence that he is looking at his contribution to the human commonwealth from the standpoint of those who desire to see developed a soundly based and justly balanced order in which first things will be given first place. Farmers, if they realised the fact, could claim the support not only of sane economics but also of a Christian philosophy of life.