Ernst Meyer

Relief for Russia

The “Humanitarian” Capitalists

(21 March 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 22, 21 March 1922, p. 168.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2019). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The working people of every country have felt themselves in honor bound to come to the aid of the starving workers and peasants of Soviet Russia. The collections made among the working people of capitalist countries, themselves plunged into the depths of poverty, and only able to contribute to Soviet Russia at all by depriving themselves of the necessities of life, have naturally not sufficed to neutralize the effects of the frightful famine catastrophe. Last autumn Nansen considered the sum of 5 million pounds sterling – half the cost of a dreadnought as adequate for the relief of the famine in Russia. The League of Nations, whose own yearly budget exceeds 20 million gold francs, as also the separate capitalistic states, refused to grant this sum, although Nansen made it clear that this refusal implied hundreds of thousands of deaths in Russia. Meanwhile various classes of the bourgeoisie had also become aware of the frightful misery obtaining in Russia. This induced the Communist deputies in the Prussian Diet to make an attempt towards the utilization of state means for the relief of the famine. On the 11th and 13th of March a Communist motion came up for debate in the Prussian Diet, in which the demand was formulated that the Prussian Diet grant 20 million marks famine relief to the Soviet republic, without imposing any conditions whatever. At the same time the Communist deputies proposed that the money should by raised by cancelling expenses for the state police, especially for the police spy organisation.

The other parties, almost without exception, utilized this last proposal as pretext for condemning the Communist motion. They maintained that the Communists were endeavoring to utilize a purely humanitarian demand for the purpose of playing party politics. In reality, however, it was the representatives of the bourgeois parties who opposed the whole motion for the simple reason that they “would not give any support to Bolshevism”, no| even in the form of food for the starving. The actual upshot of the attitude taken by the two bourgeois parties of the right was identical with the phrase coined by the Berlin Nationalist Deutsche Tageszeitung some months ago: “Soviet Russia cannot be helped by food and medicine, but only by cannon.” The Right deputies exerted themselves to the utmost to prove that Bolshevism alone was to blame for the famine, but their arguments were superficial to such a degree

that even the spokesman of the Democratic Party indignantly rejected their objection as “political subterfuges”. The Communist deputies laid the more emphasis on the fact that the politics of intervention and blockade employed by the capitalist states against Soviet Russia, and supported by Germany, have been the means of hindering Russia in the work of reconstruction. Since the capitalist states have realized that there is nothing to be gained by fresh military attacks, and that resumption of economical relations with Soviet Russia lies in their own interest it is naturally the duty of these states to offer reparation for wrong done by giving the means whereby the starving may be relieved. Germany is the more under obligation of reparation since she has on several occasions supplied weapons, soldiers and money to the Baltic adventurers against Soviet Russia and by lending aid to Awaloff Bermondt.

As the bourgeois parties were forced to admit the justice of these political and general humanitarian reasons, they sought other pretexts as a basis for their attitude of refusal. The representative of the Stinnes party asserted that it would be perfectly “unique” for one state to help another. The Communists were able to reply that Soviet Russia itself had set an example in solidarity last year, expressing proletarian sympathy by sending a large sum for the victims of the factory catastrophe in Oppau.

The representatives of the parties of the Right did not shrink, finally, from repeating the lie that the money collected for Soviet Russia was not employed for the benefit of the starving but was used for purposes of propaganda. The spokesman of the Communist Party had already completely refuted this objection by quoting utterances of Nansen’s, and by reference to report from bourgeois correspondents and from the Red Cross, in which this assertion was repeatedly designated as entirely untrue. The Communist speaker was thus able to brand the repetition of this lie as a “conscious slander”, and the call to order with which the President of the Diet expressed his disapproval of the term only served to emphasise the correctness of the characterisation.

The representative of the Center Party attempted to set the Communist motion aside by pointing out that feeding the hungry was more the task of private charity. At the same time he referred to the measures taken by the members of his, the Catholic, faith, who at the instigation of the Pope and of the German archbishops had arranged for church collections to be made, and had established a fund with the aid of a Catholic periodical. The Communist speaker, when presenting the motion to the house, had already drawn attention to the fact that the appeals of the Pope and archbishops had not in any way put an end to the campaign of slander being conducted by the Catholic press against Soviet Russia. He also emphasized the fact that the enormous extent of the famine catastrophe renders all private charity entirely inadequate, and that state help should he regarded as a perfect matter of course in face of what the capitalist world owes to Russia.

During the debate on the motion the Social Democrat felt exceedingly uncomfortable. They felt that their support of the official government policy with reference to Russia had made them participators in the responsibility. They were also fully aware of their own sins of omission with regard to the relief action, for neither the trade unions nor the Social Democrats, nor even the Independents, with some few exceptions, had as much as ventured to reprint the appeal of the Amsterdam Trade Union International in favor of Russia.

The Communist motion received the greatest amount of support from the Independent Social Democrats. But even their speaker could not refrain from adding a hope of different treatment of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries to the demand for famine relief.

For the time being the debate was concluded by the Communist motion being referred to the budget committee. Here the parties will have the opportunity of proving whether their objections to the motion are only to its form, as they maintain, and if they are at bottom in agreement with lending aid to Soviet Russia. In any case, the debate demonstrated anew that it is possible for alleged representatives of humanity to pass over with perfect indifference and even brutality the actual fact that millions of human beings are dying of starvation. The attitude of refusal adopted by the large bourgeois parties should be a fresh means of inducement to all working people to exercise proletarian solidarity more than ever. The motion, which was necessary in order to show the real attitude of the bourgeois parliaments to Soviet Russia, will then bear immediate fruit in the form of actual concrete help for the starving workers and peasants of Russia.

Last updated on 1 September 2019