Joseph Hansen

Three Programs for Peace

(Winter 1958)

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.1, Winter 1958, pp.8-15.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

An examination of the capitalist policy of “containment” the socialist alternative and the Kremlin’s proposal for “peaceful co-existence” Which one is the most realistic?

AS THE major world powers announce one technical success after another in building missiles capable of reducing each other’s industrial centers to radioactive ruins, we are assured that the very destructiveness of the weapons prevents their use. Thus, if we are to believe the propaganda, the greatest contribution being made toward world peace is the improvement of the mechanism by which to blow up civilization.

Confidence in the durability of a peace based on such a “balance of terror” is not spectacularly high. “Soviet expansionist aims have not changed,” Eisenhower declared November 7. “Eternal vigilance and increased free world military power, backed by our combined economic and spiritual strength, provide the only answer to this threat ...” Other Allied spokesmen picture the possibility of the leaders of the USSR blundering into war even though they may not desire it.

Khrushchev, speaking for the other side, held in a November 3 broadcast that an “early” conflict is not likely.

“But, of course, no one can say categorically that there will be no war. It is a matter of common knowledge that there are statesmen in some capitalistic countries, statesmen holding important government posts, who advocate war. Can anyone vouch for madmen?”

In a rejoinder November 12 that lent substance to Khrushchev’s charge about “madmen,” General Thomas Power, head of the US Strategic Air Command, announced:

“The planes are on the runways loaded with nuclear bombs. The crews sleep nearby. We are increasing the number of planes on the alert to one-third of our effectives. The planes can be off in 15 minutes.”

* * *

It is fairly well agreed, I think, that no generation has faced such a dangerous situation as ours. Responsible scientists warn insistently that even the continued testing of atomic weapons threatens radioactive pollution of our environment and lasting genetic damage to the human race, while war can mean the extinction of all the higher forms of life. At the same time, no generation has ever been given an opportunity so fraught with responsibility as ours – the opportunity to place at the disposal of all future ages the atom as an inexhaustible source of beneficent energy. The struggle for peace has truly become crucial.

It would seem that objective thinking is called for. Ingrained emotional attitudes, preconceived notions, cultism, the slogans of exploded dogmas, narrow factionalism were never before such dangerous substitutes for accurate analysis of social reality and correct determination of what to do about its major problems. Socialists especially, no matter what current they belong to, are bound by their proclaimed scientific outlook to examine all sides of the question of abolishing the war threat with an open mind. If we are concerned enough about winning a world of enduring peace to frankly discuss all contributions to the problem, as a necessary part of the process of solving it, then the American socialist movement has an excellent chance, it seems to me, to make its not inconsiderable weight felt in the balance of forces.

With these considerations in mind I propose to examine in this article the three main peace programs now contending for allegiance on a world scale. These can be conveniently identified as

  1. “for capitalism,”
  2. “for socialism,”
  3. “for peaceful co-existence.”

“The Policy of Containment”

THE ANNOUNCED aim of the capitalist program is the “containment of communism.” “Containment” appears as the preparatory stage in a proposed eventual rollback of “communism.” The term “communism” embraces a multitude of evils in the eyes of monopoly capitalism – the Soviet bloc, colonial freedom movements, labor governments, planned economies, the socialist aspirations of workers, farmers and peasants, militant unionism, even socialized medicine. Anti-imperialist bourgeois nationalism of Nasser’s type is also included, although it is often called “fascists” by imperialist propagandists.

Countries where a pronounced rollback under British or American auspices has succeeded since the end of World War II include Greece, Malaya, Kenya, Iran, British Guiana, various Latin American nations, the Philippines and Guatemala. Postwar France and Italy, where the workers were close to power at the end of World War II, should likewise be included. Attempted rollbacks by the Dutch in Indonesia and the British-French-Israelis recently in Suez failed. American efforts in China and Korea belong in the category of reverses as do the drawn-out French campaigns in Indo-China and, most likely, Algeria where French forces are still trying to shoot down the freedom movement.

This record contains items significant for the light they throw on the real meaning of the capitalist “peace” program. In British Guiana and Guatemala, for instance, the people by large majorities elected officials committed to far-reaching reforms, although not to communism. Britain at once sent a gunboat to Georgetown to forcibly overthrow the popularly chosen government. In Guatemala a US banana company, backed by the State Department, engineered an armed revolt by a reactionary minority to overthrow the government. In Indonesia, where the people, as in other colonial regions, took the “Four Freedoms” promises of the Allies seriously and chose a new government of their own, the Dutch staged a blitzkrieg in Nazi style in a desperate and ill-fated attempt to re-establish their despotic rule. The British, French and Israelis tried a similar blitzkrieg on Egypt last year. In the Korean civil war, the Truman Administration intervened without consulting Congress, still less the American people.

The evidence is sufficient to permit some generalizations. Monopoly capital, whether Dutch, French, British or American, follows a policy of intervening in the internal affairs of other countries in order to safeguard, re-establish or extend its own economic and political interests. Its policy is to plunge ahead without consulting the public at home. Moreover, monopoly capital does not hesitate to resort to war to accomplish these aims if it thinks it can get away with it.

We hear the argument frequently enough, of course, that such actions are “forced on us” by the cold war, the armaments race, and “communist conspiracies.” The truth is somewhat different. If the Kremlin has engaged in “conspiracies,” these have generally been with diplomats of the capitalist powers, as in the secret sessions at the Yalta Conference.

The record likewise shows that the cold war was started by the Western powers. The introductory act was the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the Japanese government had indicated its desire to negotiate for peace. This demonstrated the readiness of monopoly capital to begin the next war with the weapons used to close the last one. The first declaration of bellicose intent was delivered in 1945 by General Marshall, the figure selected soon after by Truman as his emissary to Chiang Kai-shek and later as Secretary of State. Marshall’s outline of the cold war to come was followed in 1946 by Churchill’s notorious Fulton, Missouri, speech singling out the new foe.

Despite the enormous devastation inflicted on the USSR by the Nazi invasion, Truman then cut off all further aid to the World War II ally. To make things still plainer, he ousted Wallace from his cabinet for advocating the advisability of reaching at least a twenty-year understanding with the Soviet Union. Moscow did not respond with cold-war measures of its own until 1947 when the terms of the Marshall Plan made unmistakably clear that it was designed solely to revive the capitalist system in Western Europe as part of a new worldwide economic and military alliance directed against the USSR.

As for the armaments race, this started with the “monopoly” and stockpiling of the atomic bomb under the Truman Administration. Its use as a threat in international diplomacy forced the Soviet Union to strenuous efforts to meet the challenge. When the monopoly was broken, as was inevitable, Truman’s answer was to add the hydrogen bomb to the American arsenal, a threat that not unexpectedly was met in kind; and so the postwar years have seen the heaping up of bigger and better instruments of massacre and destruction as in all previous armaments races.

The facts, it seems to me, show that the primary responsibility for the present ominous international situation rests with monopoly capital. Let us assume, however, for someone who still may not feel fully convinced, that the main responsibility does not lie with the governments whose foreign policies are molded by the billionaires behind them. Then are we not entitled to a clear answer to the following question: just what in their program, as we have seen it unfold before our eyes, offers the slightest hope that it can bring enduring peace? Their program has, on the contrary, in its actual development brought us closer and closer – and not always by inches – to what Dulles in his “calculated risk” vocabulary has called “the brink.”

The capitalist peace program since the end of World War II has proved to be a cover for imperialist expansion. It has aimed at deceiving and lulling the masses while the biggest military alliance the world has ever seen was constructed. Today America’s military frontier has been extended from the Atlantic coast and the Philippines to a perimeter encircling the Soviet bloc from Japan and Korea to the Middle East and Western Germany. So-called “little” wars have broken out periodically under this “peace” program and there is little in the declarations of the leading imperialist statesmen on which to base any hope that they will draw the line on a “big” war.

“Could Happen Anywhere”

Tadao Watanabe, Mayor of Hiroshima on a visit to America, told a reporter of the Los Angeles Times Oct. 24 about the atom-bombing of his city:

“There were 430,000, including soldiers in the city then. After the atomic bomb, which killed nearly 200,000 persons, the population diminished to 130,000.
“Many left Hiroshima. But many are now returning. The city, tenth largest in Japan, has reached the 400,000 mark.”

Of these, 100,000 still report to the Atomic Bomb Hospital for periodical checks on the effects of radiation, among them the Mayor, who bears a scarred face. Two thousand victims are still hospitalized. Thirty-two deaths due to radiation disease have been reported so far this year.

Twelve years after the blast, Hiroshima is

“... about 50% recovered from the effects of the A-bomb ... There are still many bridges to rebuild. There is a shortage of homes. Streets and sewers need attention. However, our schools have nearly all been rebuilt.”

In response to a question about how the residents feel toward those who, without warning, exploded the fearful bomb over their homes, schools, hospitals and other public buildings, the Mayor tactfully replied:

“Our people have no particular feeling against Americans. They understand this could happen anywhere in war ...”

Is this course due simply to an alleged “threat” from the Soviet Union – a new danger that appeared in 1945? The truth is that capitalist history is replete with colonial conquests, “pacification” campaigns and wars upon other nations.

Since the turn of the century inter-imperialist conflicts, economic, diplomatic and military, have dominated world politics. The expansion of German capitalism was a primary cause of both the first and second world wars. That this was not a peculiarity of the German variety is demonstrated by the history of Italian capitalism in the Mediterranean and Japanese capitalism in the Pacific. American capitalism has displayed the same proclivities, as the growth of its territories and spheres of influence at the expense of other countries eloquently testifies.

Especially to be noted are the decisions of the German, Italian and Japanese capitalists to plunge into World War II. These can be called, if you wish, decisions to take a “calculated risk,” but that glamorized label does not change their suicidal character. What serious student of the history of the rise and fall of class societies would venture to assert that such self-destructive tendencies no longer exist among the world’s capitalist rulers?

The fact is, as Marxism long ago demonstrated, that the tendency of the capitalist system to expand at the expense of other kinds of economy or at the expense of its own sections, is built-in. Capital requires expanding markets, fresh sources of raw materials and cheaper labor power, new areas of investment for its surpluses. Otherwise profits pinch off. But the capitalist system exists for the sake of profits and nothing else – profits cannot be permitted to pinch off for long. The means for overcoming a decline in profit-making or obstacles to an increase simply change ultimately into the form of war; war is therefore inseparable from the system itself.

Is Socialism Practical?

THE SOCIALIST peace program starts from this basic fact of the inseparability of war from capitalism. If capitalism makes enduring peace impossible, then the system must give way to a better one, whose aim is not profit-making but the satisfaction of the needs of humanity and whose basic means of expansion thereby calls for free cooperation instead of the intensification of competition and the exploitation of labor. The socialist peace program boils down to the struggle of the workers to end capitalism.

The arguments against it are therefore always arguments against socialism, all of them being variations of a single theme – its alleged impracticality.

(1) The first great argument against socialism was the theoretical assumption that capitalism had always existed and would naturally always continue to exist because it corresponded with “human nature.” Hard facts upset this naive assumption. Capitalism was shown to be but a newcomer among economic systems; it is less than five hundred years old. Moreover the decline of other systems after their rise indicated a similar fate for capitalism.

(2) An associated standard argument was that socialism represented a beautiful ideal but lacked a basis in reality; socialists were therefore nothing but Utopians. Marxist theory upset these contentions. The working class, created by capitalism itself, was shown to have a decisive economic interest in the development of socialism, and since socialism signifies a higher level of economy and culture, leading to a classless society, the working-class movement in this direction represents the interests of society as a whole. In addition, the worldwide industrial system established by capitalism provides a sufficient base for the enormous increase in productivity required to realize socialism.

(3) The historic debate then shifted to the field of demonstration. Where was the experimental proof that the planned economy of socialism would really work? For decades Marxists pointed to the political significance of the Paris Commune of 1871 where the workers first took power. But that experience was not extended enough to show plainly its economic significance or to sink convincingly into world consciousness.

All this is changed today. Forty years after the October 1917 revolution the great majority of mankind, having seen a planned economy tested out in the Soviet Union, recognizes its superiority over capitalism. The practical experience is all the more decisive because it occurred under the double handicap of being confined to one country and of being subjected to the parasitism of the Stalinist bureaucracy. It requires little imagination to visualize what a planned economy could accomplish in the industrialized West and on a world-wide scale under the democratic control of the workers.

(4) The main current argument against socialism is that the Soviet Union is imperialistic, expansionist and aggressive. The 1939 wars on Poland and Finland and the seizure of Eastern Europe are cited as evidence.

The contention is flimsy. Eastern Europe had already been seized by the German armies as they moved toward the Ukraine in a campaign that was genuinely imperialist. The Red Army crossed the same areas in the counterattack against Hitler’s forces. The seizure was therefore defensive from a military viewpoint and not due to an economic compulsion lodged in the planned economy of the USSR. This likewise holds true for the attacks on Poland and Finland at the beginning of World War II when German imperialism made its first big military moves eastward. (That does not mean that the attacks were justified from the socialist viewpoint.)

The Stalinist regime maintained the capitalist structure of Eastern Europe for several years despite the wishes of the native populations and finally engineered bureaucratic overturns only because a proffered deal with Western capitalism was rejected. Insofar as socialist principles are concerned, including the defense of the Soviet Union, Stalin’s actions, beginning with his praise of the pact with Hitler and ending with his frame-up trials and murder of Communist leaders in Eastern Europe, can be listed as crimes; but they are not evidence of an imperialist drive like that inherent in the economic structure of capitalism.

(5) We now come to the final argument against the socialist peace program. This is that the masses are not ready for socialism yet: therefore, in view of the acuteness of the war danger, we must seek to mobilize other “peace forces.”

Two things are wrong with the argument. First of all, the exact leadership of the so-called “peace forces” is left exceedingly vague. The proposal is made to accept the “anti-monopoly” outlook supposedly held by the more liberal or, as some call them, “progressive” capitalists – the type represented by Henry A. Wallace. This is at best. More commonly the leadership of the “peace forces” is pinned on alleged peace-loving, “anti-monopoly” combinations like Truman or Stevenson and the top labor bureaucrats. But such forces are precisely those that have proved most effective in the past in mobilizing popular sentiment for imperialist wars. It would be just as practical to count on a hangman’s noose as on these agents of monopoly capital to bring us enduring peace.

Second, while it may be true that all the masses of the world are not equally ready for socialism, they have certainly displayed readiness for some truly titanic struggles. The most casual comparison of the world of 1957 with the world of 1917 when the first socialist government was firmly established shows that the idea of socialism is no longer confined to the vanguard of the working class in Europe and America and a few scattered intellectuals elsewhere. The ability of planned economy in the Soviet Union to bring a backward country into the front rank of modern nations at a rate far beyond anything demonstrated under capitalism at its best has convinced the majority of mankind that something more in correspondence with modern needs than “free enterprise” is now available.

When the people of China moved against Chiang Kai-shek they also moved in the direction of socialism – no one could mistake that. Their revolution constitutes a colossal new addition to the weight already contributed by the peoples of the Soviet Union to the forces favoring the socialist revolution on a world-wide scale. In the great postwar upsurges extending from the most primitive colonial areas to England, the world’s first capitalist country, both workers and peasants have repeatedly sought to give mandates for the establishment of socialism. This is clearly reflected in the popularity of such measures as the nationalization of industries under the Labor Government in England and the establishment of Five-Year Plans in countries like India.

The growth of socialist sentiment is inevitable, for the development of capitalism itself impels it. The productive capacity of industry is now so prodigious that the limitations confining it – private property in the means of production and national boundaries – can be maintained only by turning industry with increasing destructiveness upon itself. Social production clamors for social planning. The technical expansion of industry on the scale now required and now possible is qualitatively beyond the capacity of capitalist property relations. Popular consciousness, no matter how resistant, cannot fail to catch up with this fact, particularly since the penalty for delaying the conversion to socialism – two world wars and the relapse into fascist barbarism – threatens to be exacted again, this time with a severity that compels attention from even the most ardent protagonists of the status quo.

The universal fear among ordinary people of another war is a significant symptom of this process. The contrast with the pro-war frenzies of World War I and even the sullen acceptance of World War II could not be more striking. True of the United States as well as other countries, this dread constitutes one of the most powerful real deterrents to war. The sentiment, reflecting objective reality, constitutes a stage in the subjective preparation for socialism. All it requires to reveal its true content is the shift from its negative form of resistance to imperialist war-making to its positive form of adherence to the socialist program.

Finally we must note the continued dynamism of the international class struggle despite all the efforts of monopoly capital to contain and subdue it. No sooner is popular unrest quieted in one area than it flares up elsewhere. It is this irrepressible up-thrust of the world revolution, more than the retaliatory power of the Soviet bloc, that has forced repeated postponements of the timetable of World War III.

What made it impossible for the Western powers to open hostilities on the USSR immediately after World War II when they still enjoyed a US monopoly of the bomb was the “Get Us Home” movement of the American soldiers. What stopped MacArthur at the Yalu was the mass resistance of the Korean and Chinese peoples. What doomed the French at Dienbienphu was the military capacity of the Indo-Chinese freedom fighters. What frustrated the British-French-Israeli plot to seize the Suez was the militant action of their prospective victims in blocking the canal and- cutting the oil lines – that and the protests of British labor. In America the warmakers look uneasily at the potential power of the massive labor movement and worry over the problem of its containment in the event of another war. The same problem faces them to a more acute degree among their allies, where the workers have a long tradition of independent political action.

The constant renewal of the class struggle on an international scale is the single most encouraging sign of the readiness of the masses to struggle for socialism. As Marx long ago pointed out, the classless society of the future will be the inevitable outcome of the class struggle, intensified and carried to its logical conclusion.

* * *

“Wouldn’t Take Much”

It wouldn’t take much – an assassination, a frontier incident – for a little war” to start in the Middle East. Whether it’s Arab against Arab, Arab against Israeli or Turk, a “little war” could swiftly become world war. – US News & World Report, Nov. 22.

The real problem is not the readiness of the masses but the readiness of their current leaders to carry the struggle forward and pursue it to the end. To analyze this complex question is beyond the scope of this article. I will indicate here only the main outline of the course proposed by socialists of the Trotskyist persuasion to build a leadership capable of measuring up to the task:

(1) To follow attentively the divisions within the capitalist class as their world system is shaken by one crisis after another. This means to support the struggles of the so-called “neutralist” colonial bourgeoisie to win independence from monopoly capital but without granting their parties or leaders (Nehru, Nasser; etc.) any political confidence. The same applies to defense of democratic rights by sections of the capitalist class against attack from domestic reaction and fascism.

(2) To foster independent political action by the working class. The aim is to help wean the workers from the capitalist parties by suggesting and participating in actions, no matter how partial or immature, that bring the workers into politics as an independent force.

(3) To firmly support socialist principles in both speech and action.

No one is going to popularize socialism except socialists. We must utilize every possible occasion to defend socialism and to explain its advantages over capitalism, above all in the great question of ending imperalist wars and winning enduring peace.

(4) To build a Leninist-type party capable of combining maximum democracy in reaching decisions with maximum discipline in carrying them out.

(5) To fight for partial demands such as the following:

Real Meaning of “Peaceful Co-existence”

I COME now to the program of “peaceful co-existence” promulgated by the Kremlin and its adherents in other countries.

The main proposal of this program is that the capitalist sector of the world and the Soviet bloc should agree to give up war and permit the two systems to demonstrate in peaceful competition which is superior. On the face of it, the proposal seems fair enough. But what does monopoly capital have to gain from abiding by the rules of Greco-Roman wrestling? The Kremlin response is that another war will signify the finish of capitalism.

No doubt another war would do just that. It might perhaps finish the Soviet system, too, if not all mankind. But the leaders of the Communist parties assure us that the mass movement for peace is so strong today that it has halted the imperialist war-makers. The facts, as we have seen, bear out the correctness of this estimate. Now let us ask some searching questions that must have occurred to every socialist who has really seriously thought about the problem of war and peace and not just gone along with nice-sounding slogans handed down from above.

If the mass pressure is great enough to stop the imperialists from war, why isn’t it great enough to stop them from exploiting and enslaving colonies? If the anti-war pressure is so great as to make it right to appeal to the imperialist governments to reverse their warmaking course and follow a policy of “peaceful co-existence,” why doesn’t it make it right to appeal to them to follow a policy of replacing capitalism by socialism? Socialism, we know, would make possible the mutual cooperation of Western and Soviet industry, a sure guarantee of peace, whereas “peaceful co-existence,” even if feasible, would still mean economic competition with its never-ending threat of changing into war as it has in the past.

The answer to these unavoidable questions, we may suppose, is that the Kremlin is realistic enough to see that the capitalist class will never agree to preside over its own liquidation. But why is the Kremlin not realistic enough to see that the capitalist class will never agree to preside over its own liquidation by permitting a peaceful demonstration over the rest of this century of the superiority of planned economy?

We see now how Utopian is the appeal to the reason and good sense of the capitalist rulers as a guarantee of peace. We also see why it is that the class-struggle program of Marx and Engels is disregarded by the statesmen of Moscow. Of what use are the teachings of Marx and Engels if you can convince the capitalists to go for “peaceful co-existence”? But to convince the capitalists, you have to give a demonstration, don’t you, of your willingness to collaborate? Hence the line of reasoning that calls for peaceful co-existence with the high command of the Democratic party and opposition to independent political action and working class militancy.

Alexander Bittleman expressed this line of thinking recently in a serialized article in the Daily Worker entitled, I Take a Fresh Look:

“The emerging period of peaceful co-existence and competition does not call for the abolition of capitalism in the US ... To use the scientific terminology of Marxism-Leninism, the social and political nature of the struggle will be generally democratic, not socialist.”

Bittleman is completely accurate in acknowledging that the “peaceful co-existence” policy “does not call for the abolition of capitalism.” He is not so accurate in claiming that he is taking a “fresh” look.

Let me make clear at this point that I do not disagree with the right of the Soviet government to use the slogan of “peaceful co-existence” in the field of diplomacy. In fact it seems to me to have proved useful, in view of the current inability of the Eisenhower administration to accept it even hypocritically. As a proposal which the Soviet Union could really carry out so far as the future of its economy is concerned, it has helped demonstrate where the major guilt for the war danger lies.

The same holds true for the accompanying disarmament proposal. And I might add that the Soviet government is perfectly within its rights when it engages in or calls for “high level” conferences, or, if it sees fit, participates in the United Nations, today’s edition of what Lenin called a “thieves’ kitchen.”

It is necessary to say these perhaps obvious things because the Trotskyist movement has been unjustly accused by proponents of “peaceful co-existence” of exhibiting a sectarian attitude on these issues.

What we object to is the deliberate sowing of illusions, the presentation of these counters in the diplomatic game as panaceas – or as adequate protectives against war. The truth is that plenty of solemn covenants have been reached by capitalist powers to disarm; but invariably these sacred agreements were intended to beguile pacifist sentiment as part of the preparations for war. Can it be forgotten that Hitler himself proposed disarmament as he set out to rearm Germany? Or, to take another example, can it be overlooked that the United Nations has proved no more effective in assuring peace than the League of Nations? The intervention of the Western powers in the Korean civil war was carried out officially under the flag of the United Nations, while in the case of the Suez crisis the British, French and Israeli invaders acted as if no one had told them about the UN. But the proponents of “peaceful co-existence” never tire of picturing disarmament as the only road to peace and the United Nations as the only institution (outside of a “high level” conference dominated by Washington and Moscow) capable of preventing another war.

Why do the Kremlin and the Communist parties present such nostrums as remedies for war and brush aside the active and independent mass struggle for socialism as “unrealistic” or “sectarian”? To answer this question we must consider the real content of their program for “peaceful co-existence.”

I trust that not even the most ardent supporter of whatever leaders happen to be on top in Moscow when this article is printed will feel (after the Twentieth Congress) it is a slander to say that the Stalin regime was not without fault in conducting its domestic policy during the past decades. In fact I think it will be generally agreed that the majority of those who still consider themselves friends of the Soviet Union and admirers of the successes of the planned economy are re-evaluating the entire past and coming around to the view that in all honesty it must be admitted Trotsky saw with great clarity what was happening in the Soviet Union, They are likewise inclined to be critical of the domestic policy of the current leadership. These are welcome developments, for independent thinking can only be of service to the cause of socialism.

However, the general tendency is also to make an exception, in all sincerity, for Soviet foreign policy, especially when it is given such attractive names as “peace” and “peaceful co-existence.”

It is good that so many independent socialists today are critical of Stalinist domestic policy, especially the policy of the latter years of the dictator when his paranoia became extreme. By what logic can they refuse to extend this critical appraisal to foreign policy? Isn’t the foreign policy of a regime simply the extension of its domestic policy? Isn’t that what Marxism teaches?

For example, during those terrible years of the mid-thirties when Stalin was staging the greatest frame-ups in history, murdering the socialist leaders of Lenin’s generation, killing tens of thousands of their followers or throwing them into prisons and slave-labor camps on completely false charges – wasn’t this reflected in Soviet foreign policy? Isn’t it advisable in the light of the interrelation of domestic and foreign policy to take a fresh look at the whole “people’s front” policy initiated by Stalin around 1934?

Stalinist domestic policy centered upon safeguarding and extending the special privileges of the bureaucratic caste. This policy entailed a political counter-revolution that wiped out the Soviet democracy of the time of Lenin and Trotsky. Naturally it was never called by the right name – political counter-revolution. A more attractive label was placed on Stalin’s construction of a totalitarian regime – “building socialism in one country.” Lest anyone misunderstand, let me again say that in this same period the planned economy, which remained as the most precious conquest of the revolution, did reveal its enormous potentiality despite the handicaps heaped on it by the very bureaucracy in charge of its development.

The foreign extension of the domestic political counter-revolution was also given attractive labels – “defense of the land of socialism,” “people’s front against war and fascism,” “peaceful co-existence.”

This foreign policy is simple enough in concept. It aims at protecting the specially privileged bureaucracy from two standing threats: the socialist aspirations of the international working class and the restorationist designs of world capitalism. In application, the policy is more complex, for the bureaucracy on the one hand seeks to combine with world capitalism against the common danger of revolutionary socialism; on the other it seeks leadership of revolutionary struggles in order to pawn them off. Yet in a showdown with capitalist invasion it is prepared to put up a desperate resistance, as we saw in World War II.

Running through all the tacks and veers, however, the main effort has been to reach agreement with world capitalism on maintaining the status quo. This spells out as no rollback by imperialism of the Soviet property forms and no extension of these property forms into capitalist areas insofar as the bureaucracy can control the elemental drive of the masses in this direction which the world of today is experiencing.

The bureaucracy has been extraordinarily concerned about demonstrating its sincerity in this respect. Hence the conversion of the Communist parties into vehicles of class collaboration instead of class struggle, the liquidation of the Communist International in 1943 at the request of Roosevelt, the suppression of revolutionary socialists in Spain as “fifth columnists,” the support of capitalist parties and capitalist governments throughout the world, including the United States, and so on and on.

Cold War at Bargain Rates

The Los Angeles Times thinks that disarmament would “handicap” the USA more than the USSR. So why continue the London negotiations? An Aug. 24 editorial offers this as a good and sufficient reason:

“The President’s new proposal to the London conference seems useful nevertheless. Continued negotiation is desirable; talk is cheap. We appear to have the initiative now in the contest for world regard as ‘the most peaceful,’ and disarmament debates are one of the cheapest means of waging cold war, even with Harold Stassen’s London expense account.”

An outstanding instance of the application of the policy in Stalin’s time was the course followed after Hitler came to power. Stalin sought and won a pact with French capitalism. During the mighty upsurges of the French labor movement following 1935, the French Communist party hewed to a class-collaborationist People’s Front coalition with the Radical-Socialists that forestalled a socialist victory. As Hitler methodically built his military machine in accordance with his well-advertised blueprint for the conquest of the Soviet Union, Stalin double-crossed his French ally in return for a “non-aggression” pact signed with Ribbentrop. This 1939 pact was probably the outstanding success registered by Stalin’s policy of “peaceful co-existence.” It lasted less than two years. Meanwhile it signalled the opening of World War II and proved of immense service to German imperialism in getting ready for the blitzkrieg invasion of the Soviet Union.

Just as Soviet foreign policy is the extension of Soviet domestic policy, so the domestic policy of the various Communist parties adhering to Moscow, it must be emphasized, is the extension of Soviet foreign policy into the internal politics of other countries.

In the United States, for almost a quarter of a century, the Communist party has industriously translated Moscow’s foreign policy of “peaceful co-existence” into its own national policy of class collaboration, registering some of its most conspicuous achievements under Earl Browder. During the turbulent rise of the CIO, strategically placed CP militants who might well have sparked the formation of a Labor party were persuaded to organize support for candidates of the Democratic party in order to “stop” such “main dangers” as Alfred Landon. Union leaders influenced by the Communist party went so far down the line of class collaboration during the war as to offer permanent no-strike pledges. The Communist party itself denounced the striking United Mine Workers, supported the Smith Act and hailed the persecution of revolutionary socialists under its reactionary provisions.

One might well wonder why such an unrealistic policy of the Stalin era should still remain in force after the Twentieth Congress punctured the notorious “cult of the personality.” It can be argued that in a world where wars like the one in Korea or in the Suez area break out overnight, the policy of “peaceful co-existence” has become even more chimerical than in Stalin’s day. There is far less opportunity for diplomatic maneuvering among the imperialist powers. The greatly weakened Stalinist bureaucracy, beset by domestic ferment and challenges abroad to its infallibility, is incomparably less capable of delivering the goods in a deal with imperialism. Moreover, popular unrest in both the Soviet and capitalist sectors begins to play a role like that of a new world power that rejects the policy of putting the class struggle in deep freeze. As the Kremlin discovered, it could impose “peaceful co-existence” on the insurgent Hungarian workers only through a most barbarous bloodletting.

It would seem more rational, consequently, for the bureaucracy to turn in the direction of the socialist peace program. So why doesn’t it act rationally? The question is misplaced. The bureaucracy does act rationally – in defending its narrow caste interests in a planned economy. But the bureaucracy is not prepared to preside over its own liquidation. In this it acts like a ruling class even though it is only a parasitic caste. The persistence with which it clings to Stalin’s policy of “peaceful co-existence” in foreign policy is thus another gauge of the incapacity of the bureaucracy to reform itself at home.

The same incapacity is apparent in the top bureaucracy of the American Communist party. They now appear to be trying to re-dedicate the rank and file to the fatal class-collaborationist extension of “peaceful co-existence” that brought the organization to its present depths. I have already referred to Bittleman’s pronouncement that the policy “does not call for the abolition of capitalism in the US” and hence does not call for the elimination of the root causes of war.

An instructive example of the policy’s application was furnished in the recent New York mayoralty contest. The Communist party decided to turn its “main fire” on the Republican candidate Christenberry, who didn’t have a chance against the Tammany machine, and to support incumbent Mayor Wagner. Wagner belongs to the party that bears responsibility for the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Truman Doctrine of the “containment of communism,” the Marshall Plan, the anti-Soviet military alliance called NATO, the Korean intervention, and most recently the Little Rock, Arkansas, situation. Wagner’s party also happens to have been the one that started the bipartisan cold war, the “loyalty oath” witch-hunt, and the Smith Act persecutions.

In contrast to this position, such independent socialist figures as Vincent Hallinan called for support of the Socialist Workers Party slate headed by Joyce Cowley, as did the National Guardian, which is widely read in radical circles.

To them, New York state CP leaders Benjamin J. Davis and George B. Charney responded in the November 3 Worker:

“A vote for the SWP is a vote that objectively gives some measure of support to counter-revolution.”

Here is the main explanation offered for this assertion, which sounds like an echo from the charges in the Moscow frame-up trials:

“SWPers argue that the fight for peaceful co-existence is an abandonment of the fight against imperialism. The opposite is true. The fight for peace has in fact weakened imperialism. Moreover this is the only approach that can win the masses to advance toward socialism. The position of the SWP because it claims to be socialist is disorienting and dangerous. We believe therefore that a vote for the SWP does not advance the cause of socialism, and actually weakens the struggle for peace. It is a vote against peaceful co-existence.”

To believe Davis and Charney, to vote for a socialist is objectively counter-revolutionary because it promotes war, but to vote for a Big Business candidate is progressive because it protects peace and advances socialism! Could better confirmation be asked for the authority with which Bittleman spoke when he said that the “political nature of the struggle” for “peaceful co-existence” is “not socialist”?

The editors of the National Guardian probably voiced general opinion in the American radical movement on this display of CP policy when they commented November 11:

“We marvel, as at a fancy boxer protecting a glass jaw, at the facile logic which can anathematize a socialist campaign as not advancing the cause of socialism; and in the same combination can approve (pardon: approve the approval of) a tailist campaign which hates socialism like the devil hates holy water.”

We need only add that this example shows what the program of “peaceful co-existence” as applied by the Communist Party in the United States today really means. It simply refers to the anti-socialist political services proffered like free advertising samples by the representatives of the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy to the representatives of monopoly capital.

Aren’t we forced to conclude that the slogan of “peaceful co-existence,” as used by the Kremlin, is deceptive? It really signifies maintenance of the status quo; that is, maintenance of the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy in one part of the world and of monopoly capital in the rest. It therefore stands in the road of the one program that can really bring peace to the world – the struggle for socialism.

The real content of the program of “peaceful co-existence,” as applied by the Stalinist leaders, may be summarized as follows:

  1. It seeks a new division of the world and spheres of influence between Moscow and Washington. The secret deal made at the Yalta conference to divide up the world at the end of World War II was upset on the one side by the cold war and on the other by the overturns of property relations in Eastern Europe. The Chinese revolution still further upset the old balance. Moscow now seeks agreement on maintaining the status quo as it exists today.
  2. This signifies slowing down and halting the class struggle not only after the projected deal is consummated, but in advance, as an earnest of good faith and reliability.
  3. It also signifies preventing or halting, where possible, colonial struggles for national independence as well as the mass struggle in the colonial areas for social liberation from capitalist relations. This is seen conspicuously in the case of the French Communist party’s support of Premier Mollet’s effort to suppress the Algerian struggle for freedom and the Indian Communist party’s support of Nehru’s capitalist government.
  4. In this country it means support of the Democratic party and opposition to independent labor political action. To vote for socialist candidates becomes, in the words of Davis and Charney, “a vote that objectively gives some measure of support to counter-revolution.”
  5. It appeals, by way of reciprocity, for the tacit compliance of the Western imperialists in the Kremlin’s suppression of outbursts in the Soviet bloc such as the uprisings in East Germany and Hungary.

Let me conclude by stressing the Utopian character of the program of “peaceful co-existence.” There are four main sources of conflict in the world today: between the working class and the capitalist rulers; between the colonial peoples and the Western imperialists; between the Soviet bloc and world capitalism; between the Kremlin hierarchy and the masses under their domination.

Can the advocates of “peaceful co-existence” guarantee that these conflicts will not break out into armed conflict? They cannot, because, as they themselves admit, they cannot vouch for the peaceful intentions of the capitalists; and indeed, as Hungary has proved, cannot even forestall armed uprisings in their own domain.

The question is then posed; if these struggles, which arise from the antagonistic nature of the existing social and political relations, cannot be suppressed, how is “peaceful co-existence” to be guaranteed under present conditions? “Peaceful co-existence” is possible only if everything remains as it is – if the workers don’t clash with the capitalists, or the colonial peoples with the metropolitan slave masters, or world imperialism with the Soviet bloc, or the Soviet masses with the bureaucratic overlords. But in that case what happens to the struggle and prospects of national liberation and workers power where these have yet to be won?

* * *

So far as the Soviet Union is concerned, the great hope for the triumph of a genuine socialist peace program in the coming period is the ferment pointing to a political overturn of the Stalin regime, of which Khrushchev is the continuator. The slogan of the progressive opposition currents is “Back to Lenin.” This means above all a return to the democracy known under Lenin. A regeneration of the Russian revolution at home will inevitably find its corollary in the field of foreign relations. “Back to Lenin” signifies a return to the world-wide struggle for socialism that gained such momentum in the first years of the Communist International.

We stand with the Russian workers in their striving for this change in the political structure of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, here at home, we can best serve the struggle for peace by advancing unitedly in the fight for socialism. There is no other realistic course.


Last updated on: 5.3.2006