May 13, 2015

Page 3 of 3

There is the question of the relations between Germany and Japan. It seems to me that that is a matter which must be in the thoughts of everyone who attempts to make an appreciation of the foreign situation.[1]

The extant published sources, however, include a disabused letter to his wife dated 17 January 1936, in which he wrote that ‘One must consider these two predatory military dictatorship nations, Germany and Japan, as working in accord’[2] and an important article following the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan, published in November 1936 and reprinted in Step by Step (1939).

It is important because in it Churchill stresses (pace Carlton again) that all forms of anti-Communism are not virtuous – something of course which he would never have admitted fifteen years before:

Communism in Japan as in Germany is held fast in the grip of a highly efficient, all-pervading police force, eagerly waiting to smite the smallest manifestation. Yet these two great powers in opposite quarters of the globe use the pretext of their fears of Communism to proclaim an association the purpose of which, and the consequences of which, can only be the furtherance of their national designs.[3]

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But unfortunately, one has to take the complexity of the character into account. His position of advocating a strict neutrality during the Spanish Civil War – a neutrality which in fact favoured the Fascist camp – showed that he still believed that the Right, even the extreme Right, had a duty to fight what he saw as Communist infiltration:

[I]t seems certain that a majority of Spaniards are on the rebel side.[4] Four and a half millions of them voted only last spring[5] for the various Conservative parties of the Right and Centre against four and a quarter millions who voted for the parties of the Left. One must suppose that those people who were then opposed to constitutional Socialism, are to-day all the more hostile to the Communist, Anarchist and Syndicalist forces which are now openly warring for absolute dominance in Spain.[6]

Not disguising his continued anti-Communism, Churchill had written a fortnight before:

All the national and martial forces in Spain have been profoundly stirred by the rise of Italy under Mussolini to Imperial power in the Mediterranean. Italian methods are a guide. Italian achievements are a spur. Shall Spain, the greatest empire in the world when Italy was a mere bunch of disunited petty princedoms, now sink into the equalitarian squalor of a Communist State, or shall it resume its place among the great Powers of the world?[7]

Likewise, Churchill adopted a benevolent attitude towards the Fascist dictatorship in Portugal established by Salazar in 1932, probably this time for strategic considerations, since the threat of a Communist take-over seemed remote, contrary to Spain.[8] Salazar had two invaluable assets: his lack of aggressiveness[9] and the possession of the Azores, a capital position to hold in the Battle of the Atlantic. Churchill had remained obsessed by the devastation wreaked by the U-boat war in 1914-1918, and there is little doubt that strategic considerations entered into his complacent treatment of Salazar, who indeed delivered his side of the bargain by allowing Britain to occupy the Azores for the duration of the war – somewhat belatedly, however, in October 1943, after the Germans had been driven from North Africa and decisively beaten by the Soviets at Kursk, the largest ever tank battle.

There is no reason to believe that Churchill entertained any illusions towards Salazar, and even less that he had any empathy for him and his régime. Simply, Churchill evidently believed that he had played a good trick on Hitler by turning the tables on him, with a Fascist dictator indirectly participating in the British struggle against the U-boats of Nazi Germany. Churchill never let slip a chance to outwit his opponents, but in his speech to the House of Commons announcing this splendid diplomatic victory on 12 October 1943, Churchill had another reason to rejoice, since the deal with Salazar was naturally presented as a deal with Portugal, Britain’s oldest ally as it was and is always presented.

Churchill could not resist to enter into the historical minutiae which he enjoyed so much, starting his speech with a carefully-crafted theatrical effect:

I have an announcement to make to the House arising out of the Treaty signed between this country and Portugal in the year 1373 between His Majesty King Edward III and King Ferdinand and Queen Eleanor of Portugal.


This engagement has lasted now for over [sic] 600 years, and is without parallel in world history. I have now to announce its latest application.[10]

Historical considerations also probably dictated Churchill’s attitude to Franco, though in an indirect way, once the rebellious general had become the Caudillo of Spain – the continued existence of the historical anomaly of Gibraltar was now entirely dependent on his goodwill, or rather on his avoidance of a formal military alliance with Germany and Italy. It was clear that the Rock could not be long defended against a combined attack of German, Italian and Spanish forces.

It is now known that the British secret services, with Churchill’s approval, ‘bought’ a number of Spanish generals and high officials. In exchange for British gold, they were expected to use their influence to persuade Franco and his associates to remain neutral.[11] Churchill also encouraged the Spanish authorities in the belief that if they remained neutral towards Britain – that is, of course, if they left Gibraltar alone – the British Government would find no objection to their acquisition of territory in Morocco to the detriment of the French. He had no qualms explaining his position to Lord Halifax in September 1940:

I do not mind if the Spaniards go into French Morocco. The letters exchanged with de Gaulle do not commit us to any exact restoration of the territories of France, and the attitude of the Vichy Government towards us and towards him has undoubtedly justified a harder feeling towards France than existed at the time of her collapse .[12]

We have discussed elsewhere[13] the highly complicated relations between the British Government and the Vichy régime after June 1940. It is clear that Churchill never saw in Pétain the bulwark against Bolshevism which he pretended to be – but he hoped that he could somehow be useful against the Germans. In his memoirs, Churchill published a passage of a remarkable memorandum sent to his Cabinet colleagues on 14 November 1940 in which it is clear that he distinguishes between his contempt of Pétain and his Vichy associates and the British Government’s interest in refusing to break with them:

Pétain has always been an anti-British defeatist, and is now a dotard. The idea that we can build on such men is vain. They may, however, be forced by rising opinion in France and by German severities to change their line in our favour. Certainly we should have contacts with them.[14]

As we now know, these hopes were unfounded. Just as the gamble that Mussolini would remain neutral if carefully nursed by British diplomacy proved wrong in the event, Pétain did not hesitate to order French troops in North Africa to shoot at the Anglo-American ‘invaders’ in November 1942.

But in 1936, in the first months of the Spanish Civil War, he continued to make scathing comments upon ‘the evangelists of the Third International’ – in an article published on the occasion of the Moscow Trials, in which by the way he made the point that the victims ‘were nearly all Jews’,[15] as if he now saw those ‘International Jews’ whom he formally denounced in a favourable light – and in one devoted to ‘The Communist Schism’ between Stalinists and Trostkyists, in which he took up the religious metaphor:

What Rome is to Catholics, Moscow is to the Communists of every country: with the important difference that whereas devout Catholics contribute to the centre of their faith, it is Moscow which distributes money to its adherents in foreign lands. […]

On the other hand, the Trostkyites, now almost entirely cut off from the Moscow finance, are emerging as a separate force. Even in the Spanish welter we discern their appearance as the P.O.U.M., a sect achieving the quintessence of fœtidity, and surpassing all others in hate.[16]

Sometimes, silence speaks volumes : In Arms and the Covenant, a selection of speeches compiled by his son Randolph in the spring of 1938[17] and published on 24 June 1938, naturally with his full approval, Churchill denounces German rearmament and British appeasement from 1932 to 1938 in every page – but there is not a single word on the Soviet Union. In the summer of 1938, when the book appeared, it would have been impolitic to remind the reading public of Churchill’s pronouncements on ‘the evangelists of the Third International’ at the time of the Spanish Civil War.

By contrast, Step by Step , whose Preface was written almost exactly one year later[18], contains both some of his anti-Soviet writings (like ‘The Communist Schism’ of 1936 quoted above) and his most recent advocacy of at least a tacit alliance with the USSR, ‘The Russian Counterpoise’,  published in May 1939, in which he openly said that ‘a definite association between Poland and Russia becomes indispensable’. One can of course notice that he speaks of Russia, not the Soviet Union – but for the Poles, ‘eternal Russia’ was of course no more reassuring than the USSR. That this policy should be considered as the lesser of the two evils is made explicit in the next paragraph:

These are days when acts of faith must be performed by Governments and peoples who are striving to resist the spread of Nazidom. […] This is no time to dawdle. Peace may yet be saved by the assembly of superior forces against aggression. Grave risks have to be run by all the anti-Nazi countries if war is to be prevented.[19]

By including both his more reticent and his (reluctantly) ‘realistic’ writings, did Churchill not want to show to the thinking public, notably on the Right, that now, in the spring of 1939, even an arch-enemy of Communism like himself had to come round to the idea of an inevitable alliance with the Soviet Union? By suggesting  that he did not operate this evolution whole-heartedly, he of course increased its exemplary value for those who continued to nurture violently anti-Communist sentiments.[20]

Thus when he resumed his anti-Communist crusade, this time after 1945-1946, in the context of the ‘Cold War’, he was able to claim that he had always remained consistent at least deep in his heart, even if his reason pleaded in favour of an alliance with the Soviets in the months preceding the German attack on Poland in September 1939 – and even more so after their attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Indeed, even his magnificently combative speech on the BBC on the day of that surprise attack was balanced in such a way that he did not appear as an enthusiastic convert of Communism – he was careful not to use the word ‘Bolshevik’ and its derivatives, now only part of the vocabulary of Hitler and the various quisling régimes in Occupied Europe, but he was also careful to speak of ‘Russia’: ‘At four o’clock this morning Hitler attacked and invaded Russia’, at a pinch ‘Soviet Russia’: ‘We have offered the Government of Soviet Russia any technical or economic assistance which is in our power’, avoiding ‘the Soviet Union’ or ‘the USSR’. And there were of course the carefully-chosen sentences which both justified his past and present conduct – but also preserved the future, though it is impossible to know whether, as Carlton suggests, he was already thinking about it:

No one has been a more consistent opponent of Communism than I have for the last twenty-five years. I will unsay no word that I have spoken about it. But all this fades away before the spectacle which is now unfolding. The past with its crimes, its follies and its tragedies, flashes away.[21]


What are we to conclude from all this? The first reflection that springs to mind is the diversity of the situations. Ironically, the first Fascist dictator, whose rise to power Churchill largely approved in the name of the containment of Bolshevism in the 1920s, was the first to fall. ‘The keystone of the Fascist arch has crumbled’, Churchill declared in the House of Commons, after the Fascist Grand Council repudiated him on 25 July 1943.[22]

But things were not as simple as that, as we saw. Admittedly, the Vichy puppets also easily crumbled when their German masters were no longer in a position to impose their presence. But Churchill’s attitude in the spring of 1945, when it was the turn of the German extreme version of Fascism to crumble, has always remained veiled in ambiguity. His constant belief in ‘the lesser of two evils’ led him to toy with the idea of using at least some of the German armed forces as a countervailing power against the irresistible Red Army. In his superbly researched book on The Second World War, David Reynolds demonstrates how Churchill kept silent in his memoirs about the secret plans which he ordered for ‘Operation Unthinkable’ – a surprise Anglo-American attack on the Soviet Union with the help of ten German divisions to be launched on 1 July 1945. The existence of these plans at the former Public Record Office, now called British National Archives, was only made official in 1998.[23]

Although the report mentioned that it would take some time before German troops could be used, it did not say whether the delay was due to the necessary phase of ‘denazification’:

It is estimated that 10 German divisions might be reformed and re-equipped in the early stages. These could not, however, in any event be available by 1st July.[24]

As it turned out, nazified or de-nazified German forces were not used – but it is significant that Churchill did not baulk at the thought of employing them in yet another anti-Soviet campaign.

On the other hand, since it did not mean confronting the Soviet might head on by military means, he allowed the Portuguese and Spanish dictators to die a natural death – which took some time since Salazar only died in 1970 and Franco in 1975, respectively five and ten years after Churchill’s own death. The reason is not far to see. David Reynolds once more points out how Churchill left out from The Second World War a minute to the Cabinet dated 10 November 1944 in which he wrote, taking up once again his medical vocabulary of 1918-1920: ‘Should the communists become masters of Spain we must expect the infection to spread very fast both through Italy and France’.[25]

In 1945 Churchill had evidently not forgotten his earlier fear of ‘the foul baboonery of Bolshevism’. Given the choice between the authoritarian extreme Left and the authoritarian extreme Right, it was clear that he remained faithful to his phrase of 1937, ‘I hope not to be called upon to survive in a world under a government of either of these dispensations’, and that he believed that the dictatorships of Portugal and Spain, contrary to the totalitarian régimes of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, were no threat to British freedom. On the other hand, there is no substantial evidence to contradict Quinault’s view that Churchill ‘initially opposed the Bolsheviks, but once they had won the civil war Churchill sought a settlement with them in the interests of international stability’.[26] Broadly speaking, if one takes his anti-Bolshevik language as what it primarily was in the inter-war years, that is a discourse for internal consumption, it seems clear that his ‘Cold War rhetoric’ before the letter was precisely that – behind the offensive language,[27] behind the ‘war of words’, Churchill had become reconciled to the continued existence of Soviet Russia – as opposed to that of Nazi Germany, and for Churchill, Hitler, not Stalin, was the real ‘warmonger’ in the late 1930s. The fact remains that Kinvig is right when he writes:

The language in which he chose publicly to denounce the Russian regime was eloquent of the depth of his detestation and more than rivalled that which he directed at his adversaries in the Second World War.[28]

One may approve or denounce Churchill’s eminently pragmatic position towards the various forms of the extreme Right and extreme Left, but one cannot deny his remarkable consistency if one accepts that his constant overriding aim was the preservation of ‘bourgeois’ liberties – the key to the survival of civilisation in his eyes.


Bibliography (Sources quoted)

-Churchill, Winston. The World Crisis. 6 vol. London: Thornton Butterworth, 1923-1931 (Abridged Edition. London : Penguin, 2007). Volumes quoted here: Vol IV: The Aftermath (1929); Vol V: The Eastern Front (1931).

-Churchill, Winston. ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’. Illustrated Sunday Herald (8 February 1920). Reprinted in The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill (see below), vol. IV: 26-31.

-Churchill, Winston. ‘Shall we All commit Suicide?’ Pall Mall Magazine (24 September 1924). Reprinted in Thoughts and Adventures (1932-1947, see below).

-Churchill, Winston. ‘Trotsky: The Ogre of Europe’. Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (December 1929). Reprinted in Cosmopolitan (March 1930) and Great Contemporaries  (1937-1947, see below).

-Churchill, Winston.  ‘Mass Effects in Modern Life’. The Strand Magazine (May 1931). Reprinted in Thoughts and Adventures (1932-1947, see below).

-Churchill, Winston.  ‘The Spanish Tragedy’. Evening Standard (10 August 1936). Reprinted in Step By Step (1939-1947, see below).

-Churchill, Winston. ‘Keep out of Spain’. Evening Standard  (21 August 1936). Reprinted in Step By Step (1939-1947, see below).

-Churchill, Winston. ‘Enemies to the Left’. Evening Standard (4 September 1936).  Reprinted in Step By Step (1939-1947, see below).

 -Churchill, Winston.  ‘The Communist Schism’. Evening Standard (16 October 1936). Reprinted in Step By Step (1939-1947, see below).

-Churchill, Winston. ‘Germany and Japan’. Evening Standard (27 November 1936). Reprinted in Step by Step (1939-1947, see below).

-Churchill, Winston.  ‘The Creeds of the Devil’. The Sunday Chronicle, (27 June 1937). Reproduced in The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill. Vol.2: Churchill and Politics (see below).

-Churchill, Winston. ‘The Russian Counterpoise’. Daily Telegraph (4 May 1939). Reprinted in Step by Step (1939-1947, see below).

-Churchill, Winston. Thoughts and Adventures. London : Thornton Butterworth, 1932 (Revised, Odhams, 1947. New annotated edition: Muller, James W. [Editor]. Thoughts and Adventures – Churchill Reflects on Spies, Cartoons, Flying, and the Future. With contributions by Paul H. Courtenay & Alana L. Barton. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2009).

-Churchill, Winston. Great Contemporaries. London : Thornton Butterworth, 1937 (Revised, 1938. Subsequent  revised editions : Macmillan, 1942 ; Odhams, 1947).

-Churchill, Winston. Arms and the Covenant : Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill. Compiled by Randolph S. Churchill. London: G.G. Harrap & Co., 1938.

-Churchill, Winston. Step By Step: Speeches 1936-1939. London : Thornton Butterworth, 1939 (Revised, Odhams, 1947).

-Churchill, Winston. Into Battle : War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill  [1938-1940]. Compiled by Charles Eade. London: Cassell, 1941.

-Churchill, Winston. The Unrelenting Struggle : War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill  [1940-1941]. Compiled by Charles Eade. London: Cassell, 1942.

-Churchill, Winston. Onwards to Victory : War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill, 1943. Compiled by Charles Eade. London: Cassell, 1944.

-Churchill, Winston. The Second World War. 6 vol. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948-1954.

      -(1) The Gathering Storm. 1948

      -(2) Their Finest Hour. 1949

-Churchill, Winston.  The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill. General Editor: Michael Wolff. Vol.1: Churchill and War; Vol.2: Churchill and Politics; Vol.4: Churchill at Large. London: Library of Imperial History, 1976.

-Churchill, Winston.  Winston S. Churchill : His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963. Editor: Robert Rhodes James. Vol.IV: 1922-1928 & Vol.V: 1928-1935. London : Bowker, 1974.


-Addison, Paul. Churchill on the Home Front. London : Jonathan Cape, 1992 (Churchill on the Home Front, 1900-1955. With a new Preface by the Author. London: Pimlico, 1993).

-Addison, Paul. Churchill : The unexpected Hero. Oxford : University Press, 2005.

-Best, Geoffrey. Churchill: A Study in Greatness. London: Hambledon, 2001 (London: Penguin, 2002). See my review on

-Carlton, David. Churchill and the Soviet Union. Manchester : University Press, 2000.

-Carlton, David. ‘Churchill and the two “Evil Empires” ’. Churchill in the twenty-first Century: A Conference held at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 11-13 January 2001’. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series 11 (2001) : 331-352.

-Cohen, Ronald I. Bibliography of the Works by Sir Winston Churchill. 3 vol. London & New York : Thoemmes Continuum, 2006.

-Eden, (Sir) Anthony (Lord Avon). The Eden Memoirs. Vol. I: Facing the Dictators. London: Cassel, 1962.

-Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill. London : Heinemann, 1976-1988.

-vol. 4 : 1917-1922.

      -vol. 5 : Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939.

      -vol. 6 : Finest Hour, 1939-1941.

      –Companion Volume to vol. 4, Part 1.

-Jenkins, Roy. Churchill. London : Macmillan, 2001 (Pan Books, 2002).

-Kinvig, Clifford. Churchill’s Crusade : The British Invasion of Russia. London: Hambledon, 2006.

-Langworth, Richard M. [Editor]. Churchill by Himself: The Life, Times and Opinions of Winston Churchill in his own Words. London: Ebury Press, 2008.

-Lloyd George, David. The Truth about the Peace Treaties.  2 vol. London: Victor Gollancz, 1938.

-Manchester, William. The Last Lion : Winston Spencer Churchill. 2 vol. London: Michael Joseph, 1983-1988. Vol.1 : Visions of Glory, 1874-1932.  Vol. 2 : The Caged Lion, 1932-1940.

-Mowat, Charles L. Britain Between the Wars 1918-1940. London: Methuen, 1955 (University Paperbacks, 1968).

-Pelling, Henry. Winston Churchill. London: Macmillan, 1974 (New Edition, 1989. With new Introduction: Ware: Wordsworth, 1999).

-Quinault, Roland. ‘Churchill and Russia’. War & Society 9-1 (May 1991): 99-120.

-Reynolds, David. In Command of History : Churchill fighting and writing the Second World War. London: Allen Lane, 2004. See Paul Addison’s review on

-Rose, Norman : Churchill : An Unruly Life. London : Simon & Schuster, 1994 (Churchill : Unruly Giant. New York : Free Press, 1995).

-Smyth, Denis. ‘ « Les chevaliers de Saint-George » : la Grande-Bretagne et la corruption des généraux espagnols (1940-1942)’. Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains 162 (April 1991): 29-54.

-Soames, Mary [Editor]. Speaking for Themselves : The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill. London: Doubleday, 1998.

-Wrigley, Chris. Winston Churchill : A Biographical Companion. Oxford: ABC-Clio, 2002. See my review on

-Young, John W. ‘Churchill and the East-West détente’. Churchill in the twenty-first Century: A Conference held at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 11-13 January 2001’. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series 11 (2001) : 373-392.


[1] Reprinted in Arms and the Covenant: 236.

[2] Soames. Speaking for Themselves: 411.

[3] Churchill. ‘Germany and Japan’. Reprinted in Step By Step (1947 ed.): 71-72.

[4] I.e. the Francoist side.

[5] The article was published on 21 August 1936.

[6] Churchill. ‘Keep out of Spain’. Evening Standard (21 August 1936). Reprinted in Step By Step (1947):  42-43.

[7] Churchill. ‘The Spanish Tragedy’. Evening Standard (10 August 1936). Reprinted in Step By Step (1947): 40.

[8] This may explain why Franco features repeatedly in Churchill’s published speeches and writings of the 1930s, as opposed to Salazar, who is never mentioned.

[9]Well-informed at all points that were of concern to him, Stalin was prudent but not slow. Seldom raising his voice, a good listener, prone to doodling, he was the quietest dictator I have ever known, with the exception of Dr. Salazar’. Eden. The Eden Memoirs. Vol. I : Facing the Dictators: 153.

[10] Churchill. Onwards to Victory: 235.

[11] The story is notably recounted in Smyth. ‘ « Les chevaliers de Saint-George » : la Grande-Bretagne et la corruption des généraux espagnols (1940-1942)’.

[12] Gilbert. Winston S. Churchill. Vol. VI: Finest Hour, 1939-1941: 816

[13] During the Lille Conference of March 2009, whose Proceedings are under way.

[14] Churchill. Their Finest Hour: 527

[15] ‘Enemies to the Left’. Evening Standard (4 September 1936).  Reprinted in Step By Step (1947): 49, 48.

[16] ‘The Communist Schism’. Evening Standard (16 October 1936). Reprinted in Step By Step (1947): 58, 60.

[17] The Preface is dated 28 May 1938.

[18] 21 May 1939. The book was published on 27 June 1939.

[19] ‘The Russian Counterpoise’. Daily Telegraph (4 May 1939).  Reprinted in Step By Step (1947): 344.

[20] In Winston S. Churchill. Vol.V: Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939, Sir Martin Gilbert gives a revealing list, drawn by Lord Halifax following Churchill’s article, of the obstacles to an alliance with Russia (p. 1068). He also neatly documents Churchill’s private and public pleas in favour of a revival of the pre-1914 alliance between Britain, France and Russia (e.g. pp. 1073 & 1088).

[21] ‘The Fourth Climacteric: A Broadcast Address on the German Invasion of Russia, June 22, 1941’. Churchill. The Unrelenting Struggle: 178, 179.

[22] Churchill. ‘Mussolini’s Downfall’. A speech to the House of Commons, July 27, 1943. Onwards to Victory: 142.

[23] A scan is available on

It was left to a Russian historian to provide the first scholarly article on this ‘revelation’. Rzeševskij, Oleg. ‘Sekretnye voennye plany U. Xercillja protiv SSSR v mae 1945 g.’ [W. Churchill’s secret war plans against the USSR in May 1945] Novaja i novejšaja storia 3 (1999): 98-123.

[24] “Operation Unthinkable: ‘Russia: Threat to Western Civilization,'” British War Cabinet, Joint Planning Staff [Draft and Final Reports: 22 May, 8 June, and 11 July 1945], Public Record Office, CAB 120/691/109040 / 001: p.10.

[25] Reynolds. In Command of History:463.

[26] Quinault. ‘Churchill and Russia’: 115.

[27] Kinvig speaks of his ‘extravagant language’ and of his ‘extreme language’. Churchill’s Crusade: xiii and 85.

[28] Kinvig. Churchill’s Crusade: 85.

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