The Russian overthrow of arbitrary, abusive power and the actually existing proposition of "workers and peasants being their own masters" sent simultaneous shock waves of hope and dread throughout Europe and the world.
No matter that a workers' revolution in Germany or Britain did not follow, as expected, on the morrow of the Bolshevik triumph, nor that Russian emancipation would soon founder under the yoke of Stalinist despotism, the point was that on 17 October 1917, a vision of democratic ownership had been born.
Despite the horror of the First World War, the US secretary of state Robert Lansing evidently had other things on his mind when he wrote in 1918: "Bolshevism is the most hideous and monstrous thing that the human mind has ever conceived . . . it is worse, far worse, than a Prussianised Germany, and would mean an ever greater menace to human liberty."
Lansing's dread was typical of the Western ruling classes who feared that the "Bolshevik virus" would infect the body politic they resided in. The antidote for this virus was fascism. It was candidly prescribed by elite opinion - even though this would mean betrayal of the Versailles Treaty, the League of Nations and the heartfelt popular conviction that the First World War was to have been the "war to end all wars".
Between 1929 and 1940, US corporate investment in Nazi Germany increased faster than in any other European country. Enthusiasm among Western elites for the thuggish policies of Salazar, Mussolini, Franco and Hitler was based on their ruthless "discipline" of the labour movement and suppression of democratic movements generally. But more than this, it was hoped that the Nazi war machine in particular would be unleashed on the Soviet Union to destroy the Bolshevik virus.
It is widely presumed that Britain's pre-war establishment was guilty of "Nazi appeasement" - the notion that a supine government acquiesced in Hitler's aggrandisement. But such criticism obscures a pro-Nazi policy which was to be used as an instrument by Britain's rulers in a wider geopolitical strategy, namely, the destruction of the Soviet virus.
When Hitler remilitarised the Rhineland in 1936 and two years later annexed Austria and the Czech Sudetenland, Chamberlain and his cohorts were, despite public statements to the contrary, actively encouraging Nazi expansionism through discreet diplomatic channels. The policy was collusion, not appeasement.
In November 1937, Lord Halifax personally told Hitler of the British government's appreciation of his destruction of Communism in his country. Hitler's comment that "Britain and Germany were the two pillars upon which the European social order would rest" was music to Chamberlain's ears.
Scarcely examined are the minutes of the meeting between Chamberlain and Hitler on 23 September 1938 at Godesberg. Here the two pillars of European social order produced the formula of a "free hand" for Hitler to dominate Central and Eastern Europe while Western Europe would remain Britain's sphere of influence.
"Between us there should be no conflict," the Fuhrer told Chamberlain. Their collusion provides real meaning to the British leader's famous "peace in our time" declaration when he returned from Munich later that month. It meant order for Western and in particular British capitalism. However, the fascist antidote would soon mutate into an uncontrollable cancer.
`The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion', by Alvin Finkel and Clement Leibovitz, is published by Merlin Press (pounds 12.95)Reuse content