Meltzer: ‘The Fifth Column’

By Albert Meltzer
War Commentary, May 1941
”World War – Cold War: Selections from the Anarchist Journals War Commentary & Freedom 1939-1950″

Consciences are bad in Fleet Street. Our press lords, who boosted Hitler to the skies when Hitler only did things one attacks him for but had not come into competition with the City of London, are now in opposition to him. Consciences are bad in the homes of the aristocracy and the politicians: the Friends of Hitler in Mayfair and Westminster have to change their tactics.

Lord Redesdale declares that he has no longer any sympathy with the Hitler regime (despite daughter Unity Mitford’s antics and son-in-law Oswald Mosley’s convulsions) for now ”the enemies of the King are the enemies of every honest man”. George Robey left for a trip to Australia and told the Daily Express how much he admired Hitler – by the time he came back he had to say ”it was only a joke”. Lord Londonderry indignantly denies canards about his being interned as a spy (because he had entertained Ribbentrop in the old days) – an analogous position with Prince Louis of Battenberg in the last war. The Page-Crofts and the Arnold Wilsons, the friends of fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain in the old days (still, so far as the last two go), the Lennox Boyds, and the others – all have to swallow their words, and all do their bit with patriotism.

Hannen Swaffer mentions Tory MPs such as this – and forgets his own idol, Winston Churchill: ”Had I been in Italy at the time, I should have been a fascist,” ”I have always declared that if Britain were defeated in a war, we should need a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful place amongst the nations.”

This was what we once called the Fifth Column. In Spain, Franco had four columns converging on Madrid, and boasted of a fifth of provocateurs, spies and fascists within it. The reference was clear. All the friends of fascism were the enemies within the gates: so they were called in revolutionary Spain.

The Communist Party took up the slogan parrot-fashion, and urged purges of the ‘Fifth Column’ everywhere – until its master, Stalin, about-faced and they were forced to join it.

But our Fifth Column, also reversed when war was declared. They supported Hitler, Mussolini, etc., because they wanted to preserve Capitalism-Imperialism. This war against Hitler (which poor dupes of workers are kidded is against fascism) is for the preservation of Capitalism-Imperialism. Excited patriotism took the place of fervent fascism. Sudden ‘sympathy’ for fishermen killed by Nazi machine-gunners (not a new development in totalitarian warfare) became one of the ‘excuses’ for this reversal.

Now what? Our Fifth Column has a bad conscience. It must save its face: for previous admiration for Herr Hitler is now at a discount. So it looks for a scapegoat.

Norway provides for it. Major Quisling, at the head of the Nazi party, led a movement to help the Nazis.

To put it bluntly (but don’t tell Mr Lennox-Boyd or the Friends of Nationalist Spain), Quisling did a Franco. Not a very effective Franco, but certainly Quisling had the support of an important section of the Norwegian ruling-class, e.g. the head of the Oslo police, the Bishop of Oslo, and many officers. (The Norwegian ruling-class has always been pro-German, and recently pro-Nazi, influences: largely as a result of the strength of social revolution.)

Now the Nazis have other movements, too: the German-American Bund, the Dutch, Rumanian, Swedish, etc., Nazi ‘culture’ and ‘sports’ movements: all of which could emulate Franco, Quisling or Kuusinen. Similarly, any Communist Party would help Russia (e.g. the Finnish Communist Party, although it did not exist outside Moscow) if it were the opposing force.

One might say, perhaps, that such movements represented (to the ruling classes of the Allied powers in a capitalist war) the new ‘Fifth Column’. Our ex-Fifth Column, and still fascistic, ruling class might perhaps term these the new ‘Fifth Column’.

Oh no. They have a better trick. With these they deliberately confuse the genuine anti-war (anti-Hitler’s and anti-Stalin’s, as well as anti-Chamberlain’s, war) elements – socialists, pacifists and anarchists.

The Sunday Dispatch has a flaming article: ‘Where Britain Must Strike Next’. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of speech for ‘defaitists’ and anarchists, it declares. The Peace Pledge Union it denounces as a ‘revolutionary’ organisation. It insists on dictatorial measures in the French manner. All this from a Rothermere paper – Rothermere, the backer of Hitler and Mussolini in days gone by, the man who introduced Fascism to Britain by his support of Mosley, and the man who was recently dragged through the police courts on that case about the Princess and the royal heads of Europe and Hitler.

Hannen Swaffer, cynical Fleet Street scribbler, writes in the ‘Labour’ Daily Herald as though he didn’t know of the huge numbers of local Labour parties opposing the war and affiliated to the No Conscription League, or of trade union rank-and-file opposition to the war, by writing as though only fascists, plus a few communists, opposed the war – with the possible exception, perhaps, of one or two ‘sentimental pacifists’.

Careful propaganda, ‘public opinion made to order’, biased reporting, unscrupulous misrepresentation; gradually it is worked up to insist to suppress all revolutionary, peace yes, and labour movements. Churchill the timemay not be able to ‘control’ all the seas all the time, on his statement, but he ‘controlled’ the General Strike very efficiently. Chamberlain, Rothermere, Beaverbrook: we all know what even the ordinary trade unionist think of them.

Is the working class going to allow its movements to be broken by action, following careful propaganda? Let us know in advance the technique:

1. Ex-boosters of Hitler clamour for imprisonment of all Germans, as potential spies, inclusing those who risked their lives fighting Hitler underground whiile these gentlemen wrote letters to The Times in their clubs, saying what good Hitler was doing for Germany.

2. The demand for dissolution of all communist, fascist ‘defeatist’ and similar organisations (the term similar to include trade unions, Labour Parties and co-ops opposing the war; ILP, NCL, Peace Pledge Union, anarchists, educational and civil liberties bodies).

3. The creation, gradually, of the power of the executive to dissolve anything they chhoose.

4. The strengthening of the executive power as the dictatorial body controlling the country.

5. Hitlerism, and not even with the social programme that was used to delude the German people.

ALBERT MELTZER

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