W.F. Clayton

Words, Words, Words

The Hoax of Dumbarton Oaks

(October 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 43, 23 October 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

The Dumbarton Oaks agreement is just so much writing on paper. Last week we pointed out that the real decisions as to who will get what are being made by force of arms. First seize it, as Stalin is seizing Eastern Europe and Churchill is seizing Greece. Then sit down and bargain. Meanwhile carry on a parade of preparing world peace at Dumbarton Oaks.

The workers should not for a moment let themselves be tangled up in all these imperialist maneuvers and tricks. As we showed in recent articles, the politicians who paraded at Dumbarton Oaks do not themselves believe in any world organization to keep the peace and adjust disputes. What we want to show here is that even if they were perfectly sincere, that still would be no guarantee of peace.

Capitalism develops unevenly with constantly shifting power relations. Thus a treaty made today is worth nothing in ten years’ time. In fact, in a few months any number of events can make it obsolete.

History of Alliances

Take the United States and Britain on the one hand and France and Germany on the other. In 1870, France and Germany fought. The French implored the British to intervene. The British would have nothing to do with it. The United States observed from afar and took no interest.

But nations develop unevenly. Germany grew rapidly between 1870 and 1914 and became a rival of England’s. She was dangerous because Britain was not developing in proportion. Britain therefore took up the cause of France in order to defeat Germany. By 1914 the United States could not afford to see Germany dominate Europe. She therefore entered the war when it was clear that unless she entered, Britain would be defeated.

Thus the economic development of the powers was so uneven that any treaties signed in 1870 were a joke by 1914. In fact, long before 1914 World War I was on the way, clear for all to see.

Another consequence of uneven development is that powers change sides. Thus Italy was in an alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary up to 1914. But Italy had decided that she stood to gain more from Britain and France. So she carefully arranged to drop the first alliance at a convenient moment and joined Britain and France. No kind of peace organization can prevent that.

Relations with Japan

Sometimes a big power encourages a weak one to rob, as the United States for instance encouraged the Japanese to attack China in 1894. By 1914, however, United States imperialism was jealous of Japan in the Far East. For the time being, however, Japan represented Britain and the United States in the Far East against Germany. That was during the war of 1914–18. Britain was glad not to have to fight Japan at that time. But Japan took the chance to steal still more of China. As soon as the war was over the United States let Japan know that henceforth if there was any stealing or exploiting to be done in China, she would have a share in it.

The relationship of forces had changed between 1894 and 1918. Soon it would change between Japan and Britain also and Japan’s power and claims would increase so enormously that she would challenge both the United States and Britain together for supremacy in the Far East. What peace organization can settle such things?

There are other changes – such as changes in the relationship between sworn allies. Thus Britain fought in 1914–18 to prevent Germany from dominating the continent of Europe. But she didn’t fight Germany to give France the chance to dominate Europe. Britain therefore after 1918 constantly played France against Germany and Germany against France. This helped to keep Europe in a constant turmoil of fear and uncertainty with new pacts signed every other month. Today part of the struggle over Germany is: who will use Germany against whom?

Other Changes Follow

The external changes also affect the internal relationships and vice versa. Thus as the class struggle sharpened in France, some powerful French capitalists began to intrigue with Hitler in order to give up the alliance with Britain and join Germany in the partition of Europe. Thus they hoped to introduce what they called “order” into France itself. But there were others in France who preferred the British alliance and therefore sang hymns to a war for democracy.

Thus the treaties written on paper had less and less reality because those who had to carry them out couldn’t decide whether the treaties should be carried out or not. No pact for peace can prevent that happening again and again.

We had a development of the same kind in Germany. Thus when Germany was a republic between 1919 and 1933, the European situation was fairly stable. The organized German workers didn’t wish to fight anybody. But as soon as the working class movement in Germany was crushed the whole relationship of forces between the powers was altered, Germany became much more powerfully organized for war. No peace pact can prevent France or Britain going fascist.

Finally there is another type of development inherent, in capitalism. Its increasing bankruptcy drives the workers to struggle. Thus the successful Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 upset all the powers, in Europe, in Asia and in America as well. But the isolation of Russia caused a change in Russia itself. By 1936 the Soviets were abolished. Russia becomes a state ruled by a counter-revolutionary ruling class. The imperialists remain suspicious of Russia for a long time but as soon as they realize that Stalin is counter-revolutionary, not only in ideas but in acts, the balance of forces changes again.

New Conflict Certain

Now place all this in a declining world market. Throw in the great crisis of 1929 onwards which upsets all calculations and itself causes changes in both external and internal relationships. We get a picture of complete confusion, disorder, economic chaos, shifting relationships of power inside and outside the great powers.

The smaller powers seek cover now under the umbrella of one great power, now under the umbrella of another. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow either inside or outside his own country. Therefore every few months you get a pact, a counter-pact, an entente, an understanding, a misunderstanding, four-power alliances, three-power alliances, two-power alliances, pact with Russia, pact against Russia, until in the end everything explodes in war. The reason is that capitalistic development is so uneven that if even a sincere treaty was signed at Dumbarton Oaks, in two years it wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on.

That is why Labor Action keeps its eyes glued on imperialist interests and imperialist rivalries and will not let dust from Dumbarton Oaks get into its eyes. As long as you have chaotic capitalism you have the seeds of imperialist war.

Last updated on 16 February 2016