In the port of Tallinn, capital of Estonia, stands a statue of Winston Churchill. They treasure our former prime minister there. However, this monument was erected not to commemorate his exploits in the Second World War, but to honour the way he rescued Estonia from the scourge of Communism after the First World War.
In December 1918, when he was Minister of Munitions, Churchill despatched a naval squadron to the Baltic States under Rear-Admiral Alexander Sinclair. Under the code name Operation “Red Trek”, Sinclair sailed into the Estonian and Latvian ports, landing troops and supplies and promising to attack the Bolsheviks “as far as my guns can reach”.
There was no other politician at the time who had such a clear-sighted understanding of the evils of Socialism.
Throughout 1919, Churchill fought an almost lone battle inside the war-weary Cabinet to sustain support for the resistance to Bolshevism. He almost broke with Lloyd George, then prime minister, over the issue. But in the end, he prevailed sufficiently to ensure that the Baltic States held out against the Red Army and maintained their independence for those 20 inter-war years.
As he was able to say with personal satisfaction in various speeches in 1919:
“The Estonians, to some extent supplied with British arms, have made a very stout fight and have really shown the weakness of the Bolshevists…”1
“When our pacifists or Bolshevist featherheads in this country raise their shrill voices in hysterical glee at every Bolshevist victory let them remember that but for the [White Russians] the whole weight of Bolshevist aggression would be thrust upon these small states…”2
“They are intact today. They have maintained their existence precariously. Quivering and shaking, but still standing, they have held back not only the Bolshevik armies but the more devastating Bolshevik propaganda.”3
Churchill’s stoutness of heart in 1919, did not arise from a tendency to warmongering, which his enemies liked to ascribe to him. It was far more the expression of a deeply held distrust of Socialism, which first found expression in 1908, in his great Dundee speech.
There was no other politician at the time who had such a clear-sighted understanding of the evils of Socialism, or who returned to the theme so often. When Churchill first laid out his argument, in 1908, it was as a leading member of the great reforming Liberal government. He saw Socialism as a dire threat to the progressive cause as it willed similar progressive ends as Liberalism, while destroying the capacity to create the wealth to pay for them.
His Dundee speech is worth quoting at some length because there has probably been no greater exposition of the differences between Liberalism and Socialism:
“Socialism seeks to pull down wealth; Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely, by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference. Socialism assails the pre-eminence of the individual; Liberalism seeks, and shall seek more in the future, to build up a minimum standard for the mass. Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly.”4
The early part of the speech focused on the flawed approach of Socialism to wealth creation. He then went on to describe with great prescience – anticipating many of the horrors of the 20th century – how Socialism’s ideals failed so badly when put into practice.
“…..the exalted ideal of the Socialists – a universal brotherhood, owning all things in common – is not always supported by the evidence of their practice. They put before us a creed of universal self-sacrifice. They preach it in the language of spite and envy, of hatred, and all uncharitableness.”5
In this, he anticipated the argument of Orwell, in The Road to Wigan Pier, that Socialists generally do not care about the poor, they just hate the rich. Marx of course provided them with the creed to implement this animus of envy and hatred. For the Socialism of Karl Marx sought not to share evenly and fairly the proceeds of production, but to replace the Bourgeoise with the Proletariat as masters of the system. It was a doctrine of materialism and power.
As Churchill recognised in 1922:
“The policy of the Socialist is that the Government should own all the means of production, distribution and exchange; that there should be no such thing as private enterprise or private property, no private shop or house or cottage; no bank or ship; no private savings, no private business, no buying or selling; no enterprise, no wages, no profits; everything to be owned by the State; everybody is to be directed by the State; everybody is to be rationed by the State; everyone will be told what they are to do, what their employment is to be, where they are to live, when they are to travel… Think for a moment of the power which would be in the hands of the men who obtained the control of this terrific governing machine of Socialism. During their term of office they would sit high above the masses, ruling their lives, and appointing their toil as if they were gods in heaven….. they will never give up their power once they have got it.”6
It is clear from this speech that Churchill already saw in plain sight what the Webbs and Laski and Bernard Shaw were still denying outright 15 years later:
“What has happened on the only occasion when this terrible experiment has been carried out with ruthless logic to its final conclusion upon the body and carcass of a great nation? Russia, the great granary of Europe, is rapidly reduced to a desert. Famine and pestilence are ravaging her people and carrying them off literally by tens of millions.”7
Since 1917, of course, the creed of Socialism has been deployed in many countries. It has left deep scars. Up to a hundred million people have been sacrificed upon its altar. Yet even so, our weekend press was full of useful idiots being given a generous hearing for their Marxist nostalgia. Our young people are schooled only in the horrors of Fascism and not those of Socialism. And so many of them fall under the spell of Corbyn’s: “For the many not the few.”
Churchill would have been appalled by this state of affairs and perhaps especially by the slogan. His riposte rings true over the hundred years since he delivered it:
“As we sit here, 120 millions of Russians are prostrate under Socialist and Communist tyranny… There you see the rule of the few made absolute over the wishes of the many.”8