Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 15. July 26, 1939
Which is the Truth?
The subject of the articles below is a well-debated one, and in view of its relative importance "Salient" has decided to publish them. They are offered without further comment.
Dear "Salient,"—Russia has done many dubious things, but it takes Mr. Witheford to accuse her of sharing equally with Britain in the Munich Agreement.
The undisputed facts are that Mr. Chamberlain was the prime mover in the organisation of the concessions which meant the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. There is much evidence to show that some action of the kind was contemplated long before September 30th.
Russia did not desert Czechoslovakia. The Czech government never appealed to Russia for help. Russia had no part at all in either the planning or the signing or the carrying out of the Munich Agreement. The terms of the alliance stated that the U.S.S.R. was to come to the help of Czechoslovakia if France did so, too. The Russian government repeatedly declared their determination to fulfil these obligations. Large forces were mobilised and held in readiness. (There were headlines "3,000,000 men near Russian frontier.") The air force could have been immediately useful. Some Czech authorities also say that Russia was willing to help even without France, as a part of her obligations as a League member if Czechoslovakia was attacked. But when Daladier joined with Chamberlain in forcing the Munich Agreement on the Czechs, the Czech government was forced to yield without attempting to fight.
(The Czech official report of the Agreement says that when the British representatives' attention had been called "to the consequences of such a plan from the internal political economic and financial aspect." the reply was. "If you do not accept, you will have to settle your affairs with the Germans absolutely alone. Perhaps the French may tell you this more gently, but you can believe me that they share our (i.e., the British) views.")
The third matter on which enlightenment is sought is a wide one. I do not believe that there is a single one of the Victoria College Communists, Socialists and other "leftists" who would condone the shooting of priests, merely as priests, or any "massacres" perpetrated by Reds or anyone else. But they would, on sound authority, say that "Communist atrocities" have been much ex-aggerated and that they are by no means an essential part of the communist or socialist economic system (nor if democracy were a world-wide reality would violence be a necessary part of revolution).
The Communist attitude and behaviour to priests is fundamentally different from the Fascist attitude to Communists. Communists are opposed to religion both because it is politically an anti-socialist force historically on the side of authority against reform, and because they consider it false, contrary to science. But they consider that education and reason will gradually overcome religious ideas. Priests were not executed on purely religious grounds, either in Spain or Russia. Doubtless many were killed by small groups of fanatics, or by enraged peasants and town mobs where individual priests were especially detested, and others were executed for political reasons, i.e., "counter-revolutionary" (in Russia) or rebellious activities. This is deplorable—so are all political executions. (It is said that 14 Basque priests were executed by the Spanish Fascists for supporting the Government.) Nevertheless in Russia about 1934 W. H. Chamberlin reports that some 38,000 churches were open, about 70 per cent of those existing before the Revolution. The Constitution of 1936 enfranchised in the U.S.S.R. nearly 50,000 practising priests of the Greek Orthodox Church alone. This rather discredits the charge that Communism means the wholesale massacre of priests. At present religious persecution consists, according to Chamberlin (an anti-Soviet writer), in the Government's refusal to print or import religious books, in the prohibition of organised religious teaching of children (though parents may teach religion in the home and children may be taken to church), and in the refusal to allow churches to carry on charitable and recreational work. Priests are also sometimes "arrested and de ported on grounds that they do not understand." Nearly all seminaries for training priests have been closed. Since 1929 public religious propaganda, apart from services and sermons, has not been allowed. On the other hand the constitution guarantees freedom of worship. Of recent years the Government has ceased to allow village meetings to close down a church by a bare majority; the vote must be overwhelming, while in cities, except for street-widening, churches may not be demolished or taken over, unless no congregation can be found to keep the building in repair and pay the ordinary taxes. No rent is charged.
Yaroslavsky's recent statement, probably based on the census, shows that out of just over 100 million adults, 30 million are "believers."
Naturally, Communist persecution of religion is far less severe than Fascist persecution of Communism. Fascists would not risk leaving Communism to die out gradually from the efforts of counter propaganda, official restrictions and discouragement.
"Massacre" is a good word, which may be defined as large-scale killing of the defenceless perpetrated in a cause of which one disapproves. Technically it can be used of one's own side but somehow that doesn't happen. Both in Spain and in Russia "massacres" took place on both sides. Since by the accident of history we are civilised people with a democratic tradition, not troubled much by passions of fear, bitter frustration hatred and revenge, we don't under stand murder except as a kind of madness. Besides in our part of the world we see little of the daily massacre and torture inflicted by Poverty, more deadly than war and a hundred times more deadly than all the revolutions the world has ever seen. We are not complacent about any massacres. In Russia and Spain the working people faced armed insurrection supported soon by foreign troops, foreign munitions, and foreign money. Even in Russia it was not democracy they expected if they were beaten. The excesses of the Nazis cannot be extenuated by danger from abroad (—for anyone would admit that armed aggression by Russia against Germany or Italy would have found nearly all the rest of Europe supporting the nations attacked).
Atrocities are too often red herrings dragged across the trail of truth by those who do not want the real trail followed. It is occasionally possible but usually impossible to compare one great movement's record with another. Christians in religious wars and peacetime persecutions have committed "atrocities" certainly as bad and probably worse than those of the Communists. How many of us would like the stories of the Albigenses, the Thirty Years' War Cromwell in Ire land, the Spaniards in Holland, and other gruesome tales to dominate men's ideas of Christianity, as much as the true and false stories of Red terror dominate the usual Christian attitude to Communism?
Curiously enough the very people who are most horrified at the dark doings of the O.G.P.U. show a fervent enthusiasm for mass murder in warfare—defensive, of course, but so do the O.G.P.U. regard themselves as a defensive force. The Russians could well consider themselves more humane than the gallant imperialist soldier—their executions are comparatively rapid and painless; their victims are not total strangers driven against them by compulsion; and the number of them is only a rivulet beside the ocean of the victims of capitalist wars.