Ted Grant

World Peace or Uneasy Truce?

Written: Summer 1989
Source: Militant International Review, no. 40 (summer 1989)
Transcription: Francesco 2013
Proofread: Francesco 2013
Markup: Francesco 2013

Recent negotiations between Russia and the United States and its allies, including the Reagan-Gorbachev summit, are supposed to bring world peace. They bred illusions that peace can be achieved through “good will” and a genuine desire to reach an agreement. But this is fundamentally false. The boom in the capitalist countries in the last eight years, coupled with the contradictions within imperialism and the crisis in the Stalinist states, have led to a temporary desire by the superpowers to arrive at an agreement. But the underlying reality is of two fundamentally opposed social systems which cannot tolerate indefinitely the existence of the other. Their basic antagonism can be “softened” only temporarily.

In the West, the productive forces i.e. the means of producing wealth, have grown beyond the limits of private ownership and the nation states. In the East, there is a crisis of bureaucratic control and planning in the countries of proletarian Bonapartism. In addition, there is the aggravated crisis of imperialist exploitation of the impoverished countries of the third world. War and poverty are an inevitable accompaniment to the contradictions of capitalism.

Arms expenditure amounts to $1,000 billion every two years. If this expenditure were used for productive purposes, it could undoubtedly solve all the economic and social problems of the terribly impoverished underdeveloped countries, the capitalist countries and the Soviet Union itself. But to imagine that this could be achieved through “good will” is to hark back to the ideas of the utopian socialists who believed that capitalists could be convinced by appealing to their “good will” to adopt socialism.

Arms expenditure is a crushing burden on the economies of the West and on the Soviet Union and its satellites. Nevertheless, the imperialist powers are not prepared to cut down the production of armaments too much through any agreement with the Soviet Union. A massive cut would affect the military-industrial complex in the NATO countries. It would reduce a vital market for those capitalist enterprises, which are paid to produce scrap metal by developing new weapons as old ones are made obsolescent. Any substantial cutback would seriously aggravate any developing economic crisis.

On the other hand, the only power which has a light burden of arms, Japan, has succeeded in becoming, within the space of 40 years, the second greatest imperialist power in the world. Japan spends just 1.6 percent of its GNP on arms, whereas other imperialist powers spend five, six or seven percent. Japan has demonstrated her superiority in the field of cars, computers and so on, because Japanese capitalists have been able to plough back the surplus which would otherwise have gone on armaments into the productive sectors of the economy.

Japan will not maintain its low arms spending indefinitely. To preserve its markets in any recession, and to enhance its political “muscle” in the world arena, inevitably Japan will attempt to achieve military as well as economic supremacy by building up a military machine in the air, on the sea and on land. Already the portion of GNP that Japan spends on arms is greater in absolute terms ($30 billion) than the six percent of GNP that Britain spends.

These contradictions have forced the imperialist powers into making an attempt at “compromise”. All the imperialist powers feel the burden of arms and would like, if not drastically, at least to cut the arms bill in some way. In the Soviet Union, particularly during the Brezhnev era, production was ploughed into arms, up to 15 percent of GNP, slowing growth. This policy contrasts with relatively light arms expenditure of the Soviet state under Lenin and Trotsky who relied on a policy of socialist internationalism and the support of the international working class to defend its borders. Recognising that developing the productive forces is the key to the stability of any society, Gorbachev aims to reduce the money spent on arms, in order to produce more consumer goods to boost the living standards of the increasingly restive Soviet people. That is why Gorbachev is prepared to concede more in negotiations with imperialism than he is offered in return.

Another reason for temporary detente between imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracies is the dangerous social consequences of the continued super-exploitation of the neo-colonial countries – more rapacious and more parasitic than ever before in history. The debt of the colonial countries to imperialism has reached $1300 billion. Rising interest rates and the widening gap between the relatively low price of raw materials and foodstuffs, the dominant form of production for the underdeveloped economies, and the relatively high price of the capital goods and industrial products, which are produced in the metropolitan countries, have exploited the labour of the masses of the third world.

This remorseless exploitation of the colonial peoples has pushed them down into levels of poverty which are greater than at any time in the last 50 years. This is a formula for explosions and revolutions: guerrilla wars in the Philippines, Peru and El Salvador, social upheavals in Haiti, Venezuela, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and now Jordan.

This has happened during the boom of the 1980s. What is going to happen in the inevitable development of slump conditions in the coming period or even during the course of the next few years?

That the situation has not become totally unmanageable for the imperialist powers already is because of the role of the Stalinist bureaucracies. They have acted as a counter-revolutionary force, both against social revolution in the West and against the national and colonial wars of liberation in the third world.

In order to arrive at good terms with the West they are prepared to sell out the colonial peoples. The May events in France 1968 demonstrated that the Soviet bureaucracy is fundamentally opposed to socialist revolution in the developed countries because of the effect this would have on their grip on society in the Soviet Union.

There has been a complete degeneration of the Stalinist parties in the West and in the ex-colonial areas. They are no longer even openly committed to revolution and the transformation of society in the Western countries. Nor are they in favour of the development of the socialist revolution, either through a workers’ democracy or even in a deformed way through guerrilla war in the ex-colonial countries. For example, the Philippine “Communist” Party supported Marcos and denounced the NPA guerrillas.

In a desperate attempt to get an agreement with the capitalist powers, the Soviet leadership has openly renounced the strategy of revolution and has denied the relevance of class struggle. This is against everything Marx, Engels and Lenin ever stood for – ideas which were the very basis of the Soviet state.

For example, Honecker, the East German leader, without blinking an eyelid wrote in the Morning Star that:

“Human beings include people from different, even antagonistic classes in society. They extend from the working class and circles of monopoly capital itself. We are far from reducing international relations to a class struggle stereotype.”

Similarly, at the time of Gorbachev’s visit to Britain (April 5) the Morning Star was happy to state that:

“new thinking suggests that there are universal human values – peace, security and justice; values that are common to all of us irrespective of our nationality, religion, ideology or class; values that transcend all such differences.”

This is absolute utopianism of the worst character. It is going back a century to the utopian socialists who imagined they could conciliate the capitalists and reconcile them to a movement in the direction of socialism.

Gorbachev claims to have broken with Stalin, on whom he blames all the crimes of the bureaucracy in the past. However, he has adopted the fundamental ideas of Stalinism, of a society in the Soviet Union which is divided between the bureaucracy, on the one hand, and the working class on the other. He accepts Stalin’s nonsense that “peaceful co-existence” between the capitalist states and the Soviet Union, a deformed workers’ state, can continue indefinitely.

Peaceful co-existence of different economic and social systems was Stalin’s, not Lenin’s idea. “We live not only in a state but a system of states,” Lenin said at the 8th party congress in March 1919, “the existence of the Soviet republic side by side with the imperialist states for an indeterminate period is unthinkable. In the end either one or the other will conquer.” (Lenin, “Report of the Central Committee”, March 18, 1919, in Collected Works, vol. 29, p. 153)

Again, only a year later, after the defeat of the foreign armies of intervention into the Soviet Union, Lenin said:

“…we have passed from war to peace but we have not forgotten that war will come again. So long as both capitalism and socialism remain we cannot live in peace. Either one or the other, in the long run, will conquer. There will be a funeral chant either for the Soviet Republic or for world capitalism. This is a moratorium in a war.” (Lenin, “Speech at a meeting of activists of the Moscow organisation of the RCP(B)”, December 6, 1920, in Collected Works, vol. 31, p. 457)

Two years later, Lenin summarised the relations between the new Soviet state and the imperialists:

“We have got a certain equilibrium, although extremely fragile, extremely unstable. Nevertheless, such an equilibrium can exist – of course not for long – in a capitalist environment.” (Lenin, “Theses for a report on the tactics of the RCP”, Third Congress of the Communist International, June 22-July 12, 1921, in Collected Works, vol. 32, p. 454)(1)

And Lenin’s prediction was proved right when “peaceful co-existence” ended in the explosion of the imperialist Second World War.

The idea of peaceful co-existence which was rejected by Lenin has been adopted by Gorbachev. He pretends that the idea is the idea of Lenin and not of Stalin. While Gorbachev has repudiated Stalin and all his crimes, he still maintains the fundamental ideas of Stalin on which the bureaucracy rests.

It is true that for relatively short periods peaceful co-existence can be maintained. But inevitably the contradictions between two conflicting social systems must generate irreconcilable antagonisms.

At the same time, Lenin’s idea of the international revolution was distorted by Stalin into the “theory” of “socialism in a single country”. As Trotsky explained:

“Internationalism is not some abstract principle but an expression of an economic fact. Just as liberalism is the ideology of national capital, so socialism is international. Capitalism started the world-wide division of labour, the task of socialism is to carry the international exchange of goods and services to its highest development.” (Trotsky, “Socialism in a Separate Country?”, in The History of the Russian Revolution, vol. 3, appendix 2)

The nationalist idea of socialism in one country reflected the interests of the Russian bureaucracy and is still accepted by Gorbachev. And yet the bankruptcy of “socialism in a single country” has been revealed by the crisis that exists in Russia today, which Gorbachev himself has admitted.

The once mighty Communist International no longer exists. Gorbachev has even suggested (Soviet News, May 8) that there be joint activities between the Soviet “Communist” Party and the West German Social Democrats to celebrate the anniversary of the Second International! Apparently, there are no differences now between the Soviet bureaucracy and the Western reformist parties.

Those parties that claim to be “communist” are now degenerate nationalist organisations. In this sense, they are reformist parties of a different nature to the reformist parties of the Socialist International. They are what Lenin called social-patriotic parties. Their leaders have degenerated completely and have no intention of moving in the direction of the socialist revolution – although the party rank and file may have a different attitude altogether.

All this has had an effect on international relations. The imperialists are no longer terrified of the possibility of revolution in the West, at least not one led by the communist parties. They realise that even in the colonial countries the communist parties are not in favour of the overthrow of imperialism and capitalism.

Gorbachev is desperate to arrive at some sort of an agreement with world imperialism. Consequently, the Soviet bureaucracy is prepared to bring to an end many of the regional conflicts between the superpowers, at the expense of those in struggle.

The latest evidence of this is the attempt to arrive at a compromise to bring “independence” to Namibia and to solve the question of South Africa through the diplomacy of an agreement between the white ruling class in South Africa and the black majority. This is completely utopian and impossible. The Kremlin bureaucracy is now attempting to restrain the ANC from the “armed struggle”, in reality futile guerrillaism, which they supported in the past. But they do not substitute a policy of arming the black masses, arguing instead for virtual capitulation to the Botha-De Klerk regime.

In Namibia the South Africans were forced into negotiation after they suffered a military defeat at Cuitocunaval at the hands of Cuban and Angolan forces. A deal was struck by the Soviet bureaucracy and the Cubans with US imperialism and the South African regime over the heads of SWAPO, the nationalist force in Namibia. “Independence” was to be granted to Namibia and South Africa would stop its direct attacks on the region. In fact, Namibia will remain subservient to South African interests. South Africa will continue to control most of Namibian industry and its major port at Walvis Bay. But this agreement is inherently unstable because, in reality, as it will become clear, it does not meet the aspirations of the Namibian people for independence from South African control and economic domination.

In Afghanistan, the Soviet bureaucracy, in order to reach an accommodation with imperialism, withdrew from the country in return for a pledge that Pakistan would not continue to supply the Mujaheddin. But no sooner had the agreement been signed in Geneva, than the Pakistani ISI and army generals broke the agreement by stepping up the supply of “advisors” and weapons for the Mujaheddin guerrillas to launch an attack on the Afghan cities. But contrary to all the boasts of the guerrillas and the predictions of the Western governments, the Najibullah regime has survived. The Soviet bureaucracy has so far maintained military and food supplies to the cities. The Mullah-led guerrilla armies are really just brigands and bandits. They have failed to take even one city and have become bogged down. They are split along regional, ethnic and religious lines and their guerrilla traditions have proved disastrous in front-line assaults on Jalalabad that the CIA and the Pakistani secret service urged them to attempt.

In Nicaragua, the Soviet bureaucracy has exerted massive pressure on the Sandinista government to try for an agreement with US imperialism, by dropping its programme of expropriation and allowing up to 60 percent private ownership of industry and of sectors of the land. Even though the Contras have been shown to have no popular support within the country, many of their demands are being conceded by the Sandinista government under pressure from US imperialism. But these concessions will not satisfy US imperialism because even the now mangled form that the revolution has taken in Nicaragua can still act as a beacon to the impoverished masses of other Central American states. So the long-term aim of the US government to overthrow the Sandinistas remains. The failure to solve any of the social problems of the Nicaraguan people opens up the possibility of an internal right-wing coup, or alternatively the Sandinistas may be forced to go further than they intend and expropriate landlordism and capitalism.

In Kampuchea, in an attempt to mollify the Chinese bureaucracy rather than imperialism, the Soviet bureaucracy has pressured the Vietnamese-backed regime to come to an accommodation with pro-capitalist guerrilla armies, and the Khmer Rouge forces of the former Pol Pot regime. The Kampuchean masses would never tolerate the return of Pol Pot who massacred millions and there is no real popular or military basis for the pro-capitalist forces. So even if imperialism, China and the Soviet Union succeeded in imposing a coalition government, the dominant force would still be the present pro-Vietnamese group.

Any analysis of these regional conflicts shows that despite the huge concessions sought by imperialism and agreed to by the Soviet bureaucracy, the social causes underlying these conflicts cannot be wished away. So the agreements are built on weak foundations and can only be temporary.

Capitalism has not solved its problems, nor has Stalinism solved the problems in the Soviet Union. In fact Gorbachev is now talking about “reforms” proceeding over decades. Long before this, the antagonisms between the West and Russia will have become exacerbated, and social explosions will erupt in the third world, both in those areas where temporary accommodations have been made and in new areas.

The scrapping of a few nuclear armaments, while 96 percent of the stockpiles remain, is an indication of the ferocious determination of US imperialism and the other imperialist powers to maintain nuclear arms in reserve. Under conditions of capitalist crisis, when military-police dictatorships could be established in the West, then undoubtedly there would be the possibility of a world nuclear war, which would mean the destruction of mankind and of all life on the planet.

In the past Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky spoke of either the establishment of socialism throughout the world or the inevitable development of barbarism. In this present epoch we can say that the alternative is even more stark, either the establishing of the democratic socialist rule of the working class, or the possibility of annihilation of all life on the planet. This is the choice for the future.

All the sugary talk by the communist parties of the world, by the so-called democratic parties, and by the reformist parties of the working class about arriving at an agreement through the so-called United Nations is an illusion. All agreements are subject to veto by the major imperialist powers and the Chinese and Soviet bureaucracies represented on the UN’s security council. They all have nuclear arms at their disposal. The Western powers have no intention of scrapping their vast nuclear stockpiles. They only want to scale down their nuclear and conventional weaponry.

Since the Second World War there have only been 15 days of peace. Wars are continually taking place in the colonial world. This reflects a jockeying for position between the super powers. World history since 1914 has been the history of attempts to arrive at agreements and compromises which end in further explosions. The temporary agreement between the so-called democratic powers and the Soviet Union during the course of the war against Hitler did not last long after the collapse of the Nazi regime and of Japan.

Towards the end of the war there had been an agreement between the Allied powers for the Soviet Union to enter the war against Japan. But the imperialist powers changed that policy. The Japanese were ready to surrender but president Truman still ordered the dropping of two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs were a warning to the Soviet Union of what could happen to it, if it did not do what US imperialism wanted. However, Stalin realised that the troops of imperialism were war weary and were demanding to be sent home as soon as the war was over. Russian troops entered Manchuria and defeated the Japanese army. So the bombs failed in their purpose.

Very rapidly international relations entered the period of the “cold war”. This in its turn led to the arms race, dwarfing even the massive re-armament programme of Hitler between 1933-39. But the arms race cancelled itself out. One superpower’s attempt to gain an advantage in one sphere or another was immediately counteracted by the other. The cold war has been followed by a period of relative “detente” but this is of a very shaky character and can only prepare the way for a new and even greater arms race.

The arms race also had the purpose, for the West and the Soviet Union, of diverting the mass of people to look for an enemy outside the borders of their own country. Thus American imperialism endeavoured to put all the blame for the explosions in the third world onto the shoulders of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bureaucracy. On the other hand, the Soviet bureaucracy portrayed itself (with more justification) as a beleaguered fortress threatened by imperialism.

Imperialism has not been able to launch a war against the Soviet Union because the latter has built up an overwhelming superiority in conventional arms and has a strategic dominance on the European continent, while nuclear war would mean mutual suicide. The power of the working class which is enshrined in bourgeois democracy, trade union rights and the rights of political parties, acts as a deterrent to the ruling class of the West launching an attack against the Soviet Union. However, unless there is a socialist transformation of society, then eventually the ruling classes will try to crush the organisations of the working class. If they succeeded through some form of military-police dictatorship, then it would open up the possibility of a lunatic general resorting to a “first strike” against the Soviet Union, leading to world war.

On the other hand, the Soviets cannot use their conventional arms superiority, partly because any conventional war in Europe would inevitably lead to the use of nuclear weapons. But most importantly, the Soviet bureaucracy has not invaded because the Red Army could not hold down the masses of Western Europe. If the bureaucracy cannot tame the Polish masses, it can hardly suppress the European working class.

There is another fundamental antagonism which undermines world relations: the divisions between the imperialist powers themselves. Sooner or later the rivalries between Japan and the USA; between the EEC and the USA; and between the EEC and Japan, will surface. These rivalries are already exhibited in embryo in the squabbles over tariffs and restrictions on one another’s exports.

US imperialism built up its military might not just for the sake of piling up arms or to maintain a market for its military industrial complex. It needed military might to dominate the colonial world for imperialism. But since 1945 all the old colonial powers have burnt their fingers in colonial wars – in Vietnam, Algeria, Central America and Indonesia. They were forced to abandon direct control in return for a collective economic domination using the force of US arms.

But imperialism is not one homogeneous whole. There are differences between the national capitalist states, even about arms. US and British imperialism wish to modernise short-range nuclear weapons whatever Gorbachev is prepared to concede. West Germany, however, opposes this. While the market of the Soviet Union is only worth 2-3 percent of West German exports at present, the Germans wish to develop commercial ties with the bureaucracies of Eastern Europe as an important market for the future. Any new escalation in the arms race would jeopardise that.

But the main consideration for Kohl and the West German government is that, in the eyes of the West German people, short-range nuclear weapons make their country the arena for any war. There is massive opposition to the idea of a tactical nuclear war which would destroy the economy and annihilate the West German people, without directly affecting other NATO countries or the Warsaw Pact. So Kohl has no intention, when it could cost him the election, of drawing the chestnuts out of the fire for his dear allies.

Thatcher and Bush want to force through this modernisation before the next year’s elections in West Germany, after which any elected Social Democratic government would be under great pressure to scrap this nuclear escalation. Kohl is resisting modernisation prior to the elections, although once they are safely out of the way, and assuming the Christian Democrats are returned to power, then it is possible that he or any new CD leader would then agree to reach a compromise with Bush and Thatcher.

This split in NATO alone shows the strains within imperialism which threaten stable world relations. The growing antagonisms will lead to new convulsions and new revolutions, not only in the colonial countries but in the West as well.

The capitalist West and the bureaucratic workers’ states of the East are in the grip of a growing crisis. Inevitably they will be at each other’s throats in the future. The whole history of capitalism over the last 200 years has demonstrated that any agreements made are not worth the paper on which they are written. As soon as the relations between the powers alters the old agreements are scrapped – as Hitler showed when he systematically broke the terms of the Versailles treaty, imposed on Germany after the First World War and supposedly the guarantee of everlasting peace.

The dialectic of history has increased the mutual dependence of all nations to an immeasurable degree over the last four decades. The world economy is bound together into one interdependent whole. Yet, the Stalinist bureaucracy acts as a fetter on the development of the productive forces in the East and the imperialist powers hold back economic and social progress in the West.

The next epoch will not see continued and permanent collaboration between the Western powers and the Stalinist states. On the contrary, it will be an epoch of growing antagonisms, especially with the end of the present economic boom which has so far lasted for eight years. Inevitably there will be trade wars between nations, as well as struggles between the classes within nations.

These conflicts within imperialism, in their turn, will have an effect in the countries of proletarian Bonapartism. This in its turn will lead to new recriminations and to new war preparations between the powers.

The fate of the world will be decided not by agreements between the powers but by the struggle of the classes. Sugary illusions in detente will be exploded by events.

It is on the road of storm and stress, along the road of struggle, that a solution to problems of the world will be achieved. Fraternal relations between the peoples can only be guaranteed by the coming to power of the working class and a collaboration on an international scale of the workers of all countries in a socialist plan of production.


(1) Where translations of this and above quotations from Lenin differ we have kept the wording used in the original article.