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England’s Cliveden Set

The work of foreign agents does not necessarily involve the securing of military and naval secrets. Information of all kinds is important to an aggressor planning an invasion or estimating a potential enemy’s strength and morale; and often a diplomatic secret is worth far more than the choicest blueprint of a carefully guarded military device.

There are persons whom money, social position, political promises or glory cannot interest in following a policy of benefit to a foreign power. In such instances, however, protection of class interests sometimes drives them to acts which can scarcely be distinguished from those of paid foreign agents. This is especially true of those whose financial interests are on an international scale and who consequently think internationally.

Such class interests were involved in the betrayal of Austria to the Nazis only a few months before aggressor nations were invited to cut themselves a slice of Czechoslovakia; and it will probably never be known just how much the Nazis’ Fifth Column, working in dinner jackets and evening gowns, influenced the powerful personages involved to chart a course which sacrificed a nation and a people and which foretold the Munich “peace” pact.

The story begins when Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of England, accepted an invitation to spend the week-end of March 26-27, 1938, at Cliveden, Lord and Lady Astor’s country estate at Taplow, Buckinghamshire, in the beautiful Thames Valley. When the Prime Minister and his wife arrived at the huge Georgian house rising out of a fairyland of gardens and forests with the placid river for a background, the other guests who had already arrived and their hosts were under the horseshoe stone staircase to receive them.

The small but carefully selected group of guests had been invited “to play charades” over the week-end a game in which the participants form opposing sides and act a certain part while the opponents try to guess what they are portraying. Every man invited held a strategic position in the British government, and it was during this “charades party” week-end that they secretly charted a course of British policy which will affect not only the fate of the British Empire but the course of world events and the lives of countless millions of people for years to come.

This course, which indirectly menaces the peace and security of the United States, deliberately launched England on a series of maneuvers which made Hitler stronger and will inevitably lead Great Britain on the road to fascism. The British Parliament and the British people do not know of these decisions, some of which the Chamberlain government has already carried out.

And without a knowledge of what happened during the talks in those historic two days and what preceded them, the world can only puzzle over an almost incomprehensible British foreign policy.

Present at this week-end gathering, besides the Astors and the Prime Minister and his wife, were the following:

Sir Thomas Inskip, Minister for Defense.

Sir Alexander Cadogan, who replaced Sir Robert Vansittart as adviser to the British Cabinet and who acts in a supervisory capacity over the extraordinarily powerful British Intelligence Service.

Geoffrey Dawson, editor of the London Times.

Lord Lothian, Governor of the National Bank of Scotland, a determined advocate of refusing arms to the Spanish democratic government while Hitler and Mussolini supplied Franco with them.

Tom Jones, adviser to former Premier Baldwin.

The Right Honorable E.A. Fitzroy, Speaker of the House of Commons.

The Baroness Mary Ravensdale, sister-in-law of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British fascist movement.

To understand the amazing game played by the Cliveden house guests, in which nations and peoples have already been shuffled about as pawns, one must remember that powerful German industrialists and financiers like the Krupps and the Thyssens supported Hitler primarily in order to crush the German trade-union and political movements which were in the late 1920’s threatening their wealth and power.

The Astors are part of the same family in the United States. Lady Nancy Astor, born in Virginia, married into one of the richest families in England. Her interests and the interests of Viscount Astor, her husband, stretch into banking, railroads, life insurance and journalism. Half a dozen members of the family are in Parliament: Lady Astor, her husband, their son, in the House of Commons; and two relatives in the House of Lords. The Astor family controls two of the most powerful and influential newspapers in the world, the London Times and the London Observer. In the past these papers, whose influence cannot be exaggerated, have been strong enough to make and break Prime Ministers.

Cliveden House, ruled by the intensely energetic and ambitious American-born woman, had already left its mark upon current history following other week-end parties. Lady Astor and her coterie had been playing a more or less minor rôle in the affairs of the largest empire in the world, but decisions recently reached at her week-end parties have already changed the map of Europe, after almost incredible intrigues, betrayals and double-crossings, carried through with the ruthlessness of a conquering Cæsar and the boundless ambitions of a Napoleon.

The week-ends at Cliveden House which culminated in the historic one of March 26-27, began in the fall of 1937. Lady Astor had been having teas with Lady Ravensdale and had entertained von Ribbentrop, Nazi Ambassador to Great Britain, at her town house. Gradually the Astor-controlled London Times assumed a pro-Nazi bias on its very influential editorial page. When the Times wants to launch a campaign, its custom is to run a series of letters in its famous correspondence columns and then an editorial advocating the policy decided upon. During October, 1937, the Times sprouted letters regarding Hitler’s claims for the return of the colonies taken from Germany after the war.

Rather than have Germany attack her, England preferred to see Hitler turn his eyes to the fertile Ukrainian wheat fields of the Soviet Union. It meant war, but that war seemed inevitable. If Russia won, England and her economic royalists would be faced with “the menace of communism.” But if Germany won, she would expand eastward and, exhausted by the war, would be in no condition to make demands upon England. The part Great Britain’s economic royalists had to play, then, was to strengthen Germany in her preparations for the coming war with Russia and at the same time prepare herself to fight if her calculations went wrong.

Cabinet ministers Lord Hailsham (sugar and insurance interests), Lord Swinton (railroads, power, with subsidiaries in Germany, Italy, etc.), Sir Samuel Hoare (real estate, insurance, etc.), were felt out and thought it was a good idea. Chamberlain himself had a hefty interest (around twelve thousand shares) in Imperial Chemical Industries, affiliated with I.G. Farbenindustrie, the German dye trust which is very actively supplying Hitler with war materials. The difficulty was Anthony Eden, British Foreign Minister, who was opposed to fascist aggressions because he feared they would eventually threaten the British Empire. Eden would certainly not approve of strengthening fascist countries and encouraging them to still greater aggressions.

At one of the carefully selected little parties the Astors invited Eden. In the small drawing room banked with flowers the idea was broached about sending an emissary to talk the matter over with Hitler some genial, inoffensive person like Lord Halifax (huge land interests) for instance. Eden understood why the Times had suddenly raised the issue of the lost German colonies to an extent greater even than Hitler himself, and Eden emphatically expressed his disapproval. Such a step, he insisted, would encourage both Germany and Italy to further aggressions which would ultimately wreck the British Empire.

Nevertheless, the cabinet ministers who had been consulted brought pressure upon Chamberlain and while the Foreign Secretary was in Brussels on a state matter, the Prime Minister announced that Halifax would visit the Fuehrer. Eden was furious and after a stormy session tendered his resignation. At that period, however, Éden’s resignation might have thrown England into a turmoil so Chamberlain mollified him. Public sympathy was with Eden and before he was eased out, the country had to be prepared for it.

In the quiet and subdued atmosphere of the diplomats’ drawing rooms in London they tell, with many a chuckle, how Lord Halifax, his bowler firmly on his head, was sent to Berlin and Berchtesgaden in mid-November, 1937, with instructions not to get into any arguments. Lord Halifax, in the mellow judgment of his close friends, is one of the most amiable and charming of the British peers, earnest, well meaning and not particularly bright.

In Berlin Halifax met Goering, attired for the occasion in a new and bewilderingly gaudy uniform. In the course of their conversation Goering, resting his hands on his enormous paunch, said:

“The world cannot stand still. World conditions cannot be frozen just as they are forever. The world is subject to change.”

“Of course not,” Lord Halifax agreed amiably. “It’s absurd to think that anything can be frozen and no changes made.”

“Germany cannot stand still,” Goering continued. “Germany must expand. She must have Austria, Czechoslovakia and other countries she must have oil ”

Now this was a point for argument but the Messenger Extraordinary had been instructed not to get into any arguments; so he nodded and in his best pacifying tone murmured, “Naturally. No one expects Germany to stand still if she must expand.”

After Austria was invaded and Halifax was asked by his close friends what he had cooked up over there, he told the above story, expressing the fear that his conversation was probably misunderstood by Goering, the latter taking his amiability to mean that Great Britain approved Germany’s plans to swallow Austria. The French Intelligence Service, however, has a different version, most of it collected during February, 1938, which, in the light of subsequent events, seems far more accurate.

Lord Halifax, these secret-service reports state, pledged England to a hands-off policy on Hitler’s ambitions in Central Europe if Germany would not raise the question of the return of the colonies for six years. Within that period England estimated that Hitler would have expanded, strengthened his war machine and fought the Soviet Union to a victorious conclusion.

Late in January 1938, Lord and Lady Astor invited some guests for a week-end at Cliveden. The Prime Minister of England came and so did Lord Halifax, Lord Lothian, Tom Jones and J.L. Garvin, editor of the Astor-controlled London Observer. When Chamberlain returned to London, he asked Eden to open negotiations with Italy to secure a promise to stop killing British sailors and sinking British merchant vessels in the Mediterranean. During this time the British Foreign Office was issuing statements that Mussolini was “cooperating” in the hunt for the “unidentified” pirates.

British opinion, roused by the sinking of English ships, might hamper deals with the fascist leaders if such attacks were not ended. In return for the cessation of the piratical attacks, Chamberlain was ready to offer recognition of Abyssinia and even loans to Italy to develop her captured territory. It was paying tribute to a pirate chieftain, but Chamberlain was ready to do it to quiet opposition at home to the sinking of British vessels and to give him time in which to develop his policy.

Eden, who had fought for sanctions against the aggressor when Abyssinia was invaded, obeyed orders but insisted that Italy must first get her soldiers out of Spain. He did not want Mussolini to get a stranglehold upon Gibraltar, one of the strategic life lines of the British Empire. Mussolini refused and told the British Ambassador in Rome that he and Great Britain would never to able to get together because Eden insisted on the withdrawal of Italian troops from Spain, and that it might help if a different Foreign Secretary were appointed. Hitler, working closely with Mussolini in the Rome-Berlin axis, also began to press for a different Foreign Secretary but went Mussolini one better. Von Ribbentrop informed Chamberlain that Der Fuehrer was displeased with the English press attacks upon him, Nazis and Nazi aggressions. Der Fuehrer wanted that stopped.

The Foreign Office of the once proud and still biggest empire in the world promptly sent notes to the newspapers in Fleet Street requesting that stories about Nazis and Hitler be toned down “to aid the government,” and most of the once proud and independent British newspapers established a “voluntary censorship” at what amounted to an order from Hitler relayed through England’s Foreign Office. The explanation the newspapers gave to their staffs was that the world situation was too critical to refuse the government’s request and, besides that refusal would probably mean losing routine Foreign Office and other government department news sources. The more than average British citizen doesn’t know even today how his government and “independent” press took orders from Hitler.

In the latter part of January, 1938, the French Intelligence Service, still not knowing of the secret deal Halifax had made, learned that Hitler intended to invade Austria late in February and that simultaneously both Italy and Germany, instead of withdrawing troops as they had said they would, planned to intensify their offensive in Spain. When the French Intelligence learned of it, M. Delbos, then French Foreign Minister, and Eden were in Geneva attending a meeting of the Council of the League. Delbos excitedly informed Eden who, never dreaming that Great Britain had not only agreed to sacrifice Austria and betray France but was also double-crossing her own Foreign Minister, telephoned Chamberlain from Geneva.

The Prime Minister listened attentively, thanked him dryly, hung up, and promptly telephoned Sir Eric Phipps, British Ambassador to France. Sir Eric was instructed to get hold of M. Chautemps, the French Premier at the time, and ask that Chautemps instruct Delbos to stop frightening the British Foreign Secretary. But all during February the French Intelligence kept getting more information about the planned invasion of Austria and the proposed intensified offensive in Spain, and relayed it to England with insistent suggestions for joint precautions. Eden in turn relayed it to Chamberlain who always thanked him.

The date set for the invasion was approaching but Eden was still in office and Hitler began to fear that perhaps “perfidious Albion” with all her overtures of friendship might really be double-crossing Germany. If England could send a special emissary to offer to sell out Austria and double-cross her ally France, she might be quite capable of tricking Germany. Simultaneously the Gestapo stumbled upon information that the British Intelligence had reached into the top ranks of the German Army and was working with high officers. Hitler, not knowing how far the British Intelligence had penetrated, shook up his cabinet, made Ribbentrop Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and prepared for war in the event that England was leading him into a trap.

There are records in the British Foreign Office which show that Hitler, before invading Austria, tested England to be sure he wasn’t being led into a trap. Von Ribbentrop informed Eden and Chamberlain that Hitler intended to summon Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, and demand that Austria rearrange her cabinet, take in Dr. Seyss-Inquart and release imprisoned Nazis. Hitler knew that Schuschnigg would immediately rush to England and France for aid. If they turned Austria down it was safe to proceed with the invasion.

The British Foreign Office records show that Schuschnigg did rush to England and France for support, that France was ready to give it, but that England refused, thereby forcing France to keep out of it.

While these frantic maneuvers were going on, the Astor-controlled Times and Observer, the Nazi and the Italian press simultaneously started a campaign against Eden. The date set for the sacrifice of Austria was approaching and Eden had to go or it might fail. The public, however, was with Eden; so another kind of attack was launched. Stories began to appear about the Foreign Secretary’s health. There were sighs, long faces, sad regrets, but Eden stuck to his post in the hope that he could do something. On February 19, Hitler, tired of waiting, bluntly demanded that he be removed, and with the newspaper campaign in full swing, Chamberlain “in response to public opinion” removed him the very next day.

The amiable Lord Halifax was appointed Foreign Secretary. Pro-fascists like A.L. Lennon-Boyd, stanch supporter of Franco and admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, were given ministerial posts.

The Austrian invasion was delayed for three weeks because of the difficulty in getting Eden out. When the news flashed to a startled world that Nazi troops were thundering into a country whose independence Hitler had promised to respect, M. Corbin, the still unsuspecting French Ambassador, rushed to the Foreign Office to arrange for swift joint action. This was at four o’clock in the afternoon of March 11, 1938. Instead of receiving him immediately, Lord Halifax kept him waiting until nine o’clock in the evening. By that time Austria was Nazi territory. There was nothing to do but protest; so Lord Halifax, with a straight face, joined France in a “strong protest.” It was not until a week after Austria had been absorbed that the French Intelligence Service learned the details of the Halifax deal and finally understood why England had side-stepped the pleas for joint action and why the French Ambassador had been kept cooling his heels until the occupation of Austria was completed.

From Austria Hitler got more men for his army, large deposits of magnesite, timber forests and enormous water-power resources for electricity. From Czechoslovakia, if he could get it, Hitler would have the Skoda armament works, one of the biggest in the world, factories in the Sudeten area, be next door to Hungarian wheat and Rumanian oil, dominate the Balkans, destroy potential Russian air and troop bases in Central Europe, and place Nazi troops within a few miles of the Soviet border and the Ukrainian wheat fields he has eyed so long.

Five days after Austria was invaded, on March 16, at 3:30 in the afternoon, Lord Halifax personally summoned the Czechoslovakian Minister. At four o’clock the Minister came out of the conference with a dazed and bewildered air. Lord Halifax had made some “suggestions.” Revealing complete ignorance of what had happened and was happening in Czechoslovakian politics, Halifax was nevertheless laying down the law.

It was obvious that the British Foreign Secretary was getting orders from someone else, for Halifax suggested that the Central European Republic try to conciliate Germany (which it had been doing for months) and that a German be taken into the cabinet (there were already three in it). On March 22 there was another meeting at which the Minister learned that Halifax wanted the Czech Government to take a Nazi into the cabinet as Austria took Dr. Seyss-Inquart at Hitler’s orders.

This pressure from England for Czechoslovakian Nazis to be given more power in the government was virtually telling the beleaguered little democracy to fashion a strong rope and hang itself. Subsequent events showed that Chamberlain personally supplied the rope.

Then came the historic week-end of March 26-27, 1938.

The walls of the small drawing room at Cliveden House are lined with shelves filled with books. The laughing and chatting guests had gathered there after a delightful dinner. For the Prime Minister of England to go through all sorts of contortions in a game of charades might prove a trifle undignified; so the hostess suggested that they play “musical chairs.”

Everyone thought it was a splendid idea and men servants in their impressive blue liveries arranged the chairs in the required order, carefully spacing the distances between them. One of the laughing and bejeweled women took her place at the piano. In “musical chairs” there is one person more than the number of chairs. When the music starts the players march around the chairs. The moment the music stops everyone dives for the nearest chair leaving the extra person standing and subject to the hilarious jibes of the other players and those rooting from the bleachers. It’s one of the ways statesmen relax.

The music started and the dour Prime Minister of the greatest empire in the world, the Minister in charge of the Empire’s defense measures, the editor of England’s most powerful newspaper, the Right Honorable Speaker of the House of Commons, the sister-in-law of England’s leading fascist and several others started marching while the piano tinkled its challenging tune. The Prime Minister, perhaps because he is essentially conservative, marched cautiously and stepped quickly between the spaces while Lady Astor eyed him shrewdly and the others suppressed giggles. The Prime Minister tried to maintain at least the dignity of his banking background but managed “to look only a little porky” as one expressed it afterward. Suddenly the music stopped. Everyone lunged for the nearest chair. The Prime Minister managed to get one and plopped into it heavily.

After half an hour or so some of the strategic rulers of Great Britain got a little winded and quit. A conversation started on foreign affairs and most of the wives retired to another room. When the discussion was ended the little Cliveden house party had come to six major decisions which will change the face of the world if successfully carried through.

Those decisions (maneuvers to put some of them into effect have already begun) are:

1. To inform France that England will go to her aid if she is attacked, unless the attack results from a treaty obligation with another power.

2. To introduce peace time conscription in England.

3. To appoint three ministers to coordinate industrial defense (conscription in peace time); supervise military conscription; and, coordinate the “political education of the people” (propaganda).

4. To reach an agreement with Italy to preserve the legitimate interest of both countries in the Mediterranean.

5. To discuss mutual problems with Germany.

6. To express the hope to Germany that her methods of self-assertion be such as will not hinder mutual discussions by arousing British public opinion against her.

The two most important decisions in this plan are the one for the conscription of labor in peace time and the effort to force France to break the Franco-Soviet pact by choosing between England and Russia.

Consider conscription first and the motives behind it:

When any country whose workers are strongly organized starts veering towards fascism, it must either win over the trade-unions in one way or another or destroy them, for rebellious labor can prevent fascism by means of the general strike. British labor is known to hate fascism since it has learned that fascism destroys, among other things, the value of the trade-unions and all that they have gained after many years of struggle. Any veering by England toward fascism and fascist alliances spells trouble with the trade-unions; hence, the decision “to coordinate the political education of the people.” This move is particularly necessary since some trade-union leaders, especially in the important armament industry, have already stated publicly that unless the workers were given assurances that the arms labor was manufacturing would be used in defense of democracy and not to destroy it, they would not cooperate.

Hence “the education of the people” and the conscription of labor in peace time which would ultimately lead to government control over the unions. With some variations it is the same procedure followed by Hitler in getting control of the once extremely powerful German trade-unions.

A few days after this historic week-end, the Times came out for “national organization” and the wisdom of “national registration.” National registration, as the history of fascist countries has shown, is the first step in the conscription of labor. With this opening gun having been fired, it is a safe prophecy that if the Chamberlain government remains in office British labor will witness one of the most determined attacks ever made upon it in its history. All indications point to the ground being laid and it may result in splitting the trade-union movement, for some of the leaders are willing to go with the government while others have already indicated that they will refuse unless they know that it’s for democracy and not for fascism.

The second important decision is to exert pressure upon France to break her pact with the Soviet Union something Hitler has been unsuccessfully trying to accomplish for a long time. At the moment it appears that Great Britain will succeed just as she has already succeeded in breaking the Czechoslovakian-Soviet pact another rupture Hitler was determined upon.

England has a reputation for shrewd diplomacy. In the past she has used nations and peoples, played one against the other, betrayed, sacrificed, double-crossed in the march of her empire. Since the Cliveden week-end, however, with its resultant intrigues, England has, to all appearances, finally double-crossed herself.

Those who guide her destiny and the destinies of her millions of subjects have apparently come to the conclusion that democracy, as England has known it, cannot survive and that it is a choice between fascism and communism. Under communism, the ruling class to which the Cliveden week-end guests belong, stand to lose their wealth and power. It is the fatuous hope of the economic royalists that under fascism they will still sit on top of the roost, and so the Cliveden week-enders move toward fascism.

Hitler’s Fifth Column finds strange allies.