William F. Warde

Debate On Peace:
CP and Its Critics

(Spring 1964)

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.2, Spring 1964, pp.52-54.
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

WHEN THE Chinese Communists presented a documented indictment of the American CP positions in the March 8, 1963 Peking People’s Daily, its spokesman promised a reply to the attack. Up to now they have offered no comprehensive refutation of the Chinese charges that

“... for a considerable period, certain leaders of the CPUSA, in their reports and statements, have been doing their utmost to prettify US imperialism, to prettify Kennedy, the US imperialist chieftain, and to affirm their loyalty to the US ruling class.”

But the American CP leaders have plunged into the controversies generated by the Sino-Soviet rift through a pamphlet: The Ideological Struggle in the American Left. This reprint of an editorial from the August 1963 Political Affairs attempts to answer the arguments advanced against their views by radical critics in this country.

“This article,” write the Political Affairs editors, “presents a basic analysis of the current resurgence of petty-bourgeois radicalism in the USA, which often presents itself under the banner of Marxism and even in defense of Marxism, but which, masking itself behind leftist slogans and demands, actually weakens, confuses and disrupts the struggle for peace, national liberation, economic security and socialism.”

Three such groups and individuals are singled out for attack: Huberman and Sweezy, the Monthly Review editors, Eugene Genovese of Science and Society, and the Trotskyists. All of these from their specific standpoints see merit in many of Peking’s arguments against Moscow’s opportunism and revisionism.

The Upside-Down Technique

For those acquainted with the policies and practices of the American CP as they really are, and not as they are depicted by J. Edgar Hoover, John Birchers, and the right-wing press, the followers of Khrushchev present themselves in masquerade costume. They come forward as advocates of Marxist doctrines of the class struggle, as continuators of Lenin (no longer of Stalin), and as revolutionary fighters for the establishment of socialism in this country. Their left-wing opponents, on the other hand, are collectively labelled radical middle-class intellectuals, petty-bourgeois socialists, super-leftists, dogmatists, sectarians, phrase-mongers and pessimists who are capitulating to imperialism.

These harsh epithets indicate that the criticisms from Peking and its supporters are evoking sympathy in their own ranks, as in other Communist parties from India to England. This is confirmed in the conclusion to the article where the editors admit: “We need to combat tendencies to yield to the pressures of Leftist attacks.”

They do not (yet!) dare utter such sharp denunciations of the Chinese leaders who are, after all, the principal proponents of the arguments. This shamefaced mode of indirect polemic recalls the preliminary phases of the Sino-Soviet debate when Moscow used Albania and Peking used Yugoslavia as surrogates for their actual targets.

The pamphlet does not express anything essentially different from the views directed against the Chinese by the Russian ideologists and their echoers elsewhere. The American CP leaders have never been noted for independence or originality of political thought. However, they do try to grapple with some of the major issues in the Great Debate. Foremost among them is the struggle for world peace against the nuclear war danger.

Two Disparate Views

The international working-class vanguard is reorienting itself around two fundamentally opposing lines on this life-and-death question. One proceeds from the premises that war cannot be abolished, the arms race ended, armaments scrapped and permanent peace achieved, without the overthrow of imperialism and that the mobilization of the masses for power is the indispensable means for promoting and winning that victory.

These ideas are not new. They were held by all the revolutionary Marxists of the twentieth century from Rosa Luxemburg to the Bolsheviks. They are maintained by the Chinese Communists and those ranged with them on that issue in this country. The contrary view proclaims that world peace and disarmament do not necessarily depend upon the struggle against capitalism leading to the elimination of imperialism. These desirable goals can be attained in other ways than the class struggle and with other forces than the revolutionary masses. This line, originally propounded by the Social-Democratic reformists, was taken over by Stalin when he abandoned Lenin’s foreign policy. It is being implemented today under Khrushchev.

In support of this position the Political Affairs editors argue that the war plans of the imperialists can be defeated, “even with capitalism still existing in parts of the world.” This can be done, not because imperialism has cast off its predatory or bellicose characteristics, but because of the “profound change that has taken place in the relationship of world forces” between the capitalist and anti-capitalist camps. A qualitative transformation in the war-making capacities of the imperialists has been brought about, not by revolutionary developments within their heartlands, but through external changes. “Imperialism,” they write, “no longer possesses the power that it had in years past.”

Challenged by anti-imperialist forces on all continents and confronted by the military and economic might of the Soviet Union, the system of imperialism incontestably has less freedom of action and is much weaker than it used to be. But the essential differences in the ideological struggle do not revolve around recognizing this shift in the balance of world power.

Some Key Questions

Do the defeats and retreats of imperialism since the end of World War II warrant the categorical conclusion that atomic war can be stopped without abolishing capitalism in its strongholds? Can peace be guaranteed by relying primarily upon negotiations and agreements between the US and the USSR, thanks to the accumulated power of the workers’ states and the advances of the colonial liberation movements? Still further, should the struggles of the colonial peoples and the workers in the advanced countries be regulated and restricted by this strategy which means in practice that their aims are subordinated to diplomatic deals between the Big Two and the quest for alliances with peacefully-disposed sections of the capitalist ruling class? These are the key questions in dispute.

Different lines in national and world politics are tested in the fire of events. The Political Affairs editors themselves take the Cuban crisis of October 1962 as a touchstone for the correctness of Soviet policy and as “an especially striking example of indulgence in irresponsible Leftist romanticism” by Huberman, Sweezy, Genovese and the Trotskyists who shared certain of the Chinese criticisms of the Kremlin’s conduct in this affair.

The CP writers make two general judgments about the Cuban confrontation. First, it was “a setback of US imperialism” and “a victory for the policy of peaceful coexistence.” Second, its outcome proved that the Washington decision-makers were realistic enough to refrain from warmaking. “Yes,” they reply to their critics, “some circles in the Kennedy administration were sober enough to recognize the realities of the situation and so were persuaded to yield to the pressures and to make concessions.” Since nuclear war was averted and Cuba was not invaded for a second time, the Political Affairs editors declare that the “doves” prevailed over the “hawks.”

THIS optimistic assessment of the eyeball-to-eyeball encounter in the Caribbean directly controverts that of the Washington authorities. In their opinion the “hawks” pushed aside the “doves” and the Soviet compliance with the ultimatum to remove the rockets proved that a tough stand paid off.

In any event, enough pressures were exerted upon the Soviet government to force its withdrawal of the missiles. Neither the Chinese nor the Cuban leaders – or the Trotskyists – blamed the Kremlin for retreating under the threat of atomic retaliation. Their criticisms were focussed upon the way this was done. “The position of the Chinese Communist party and the Chinese people on the Caribbean crisis was very clear,” Peking retorted in its editorial entitled A Comment on the Statement of the CPUSA.

“We supported the five just demands of the Cuban Revolutionary Government, we were against putting any faith in Kennedy’s sham ‘guarantee,’ and we were against imposing ‘international inspection’ on Cuba. From the outset we directed the spearhead of our struggle against US imperialism, which was committing aggression against Cuba. We neither advocated the sending of missiles to Cuba, nor obstructed the withdrawal of so-called offensive weapons. We opposed adventurism and we also opposed capitulationism. We would like to ask: What was wrong with these correct positions of ours?”

The Missile Crisis

The Political Affairs editors deny the Chinese charge, brought forward by Huberman and Sweezy, that the Soviet negotiators were “making a deal with imperialism at the expense of another nation’s sovereignty.” What were the impermissible concessions to the US and the UN? They agreed to remove the missiles without consulting the Cubans, and they were for unilateral inspection. The editors conveniently neglect to mention Castro’s five points around which the disagreements revolved.

Much more serious than the article’s effort to justify the conduct of the Kremlin from start to finish is its whitewash of the Kennedy administration. The main lesson of the missile crisis, according to the CP apologists, is that in the showdown the dominant forces in charge of US foreign affairs opted for peace and not for war. Washington clamped a blockade around the area in defiance of international law, issued an ultimatum to the Soviet Union, prepared a massive assault upon Cuba, and stood ready by its own admission to escalate the conflict and use atomic weapons if necessary. But all this gives no cause for alarm. The White House was a dovecote; the head of the peace-faction resided there; sobriety prevailed along the Potomac.

The Chinese Communists rightly protested against this idealization of “the US imperialist chieftain.” They objected to depicting him to the Soviet public before and after his assassination as “a great man of peace” while the American CP does its bit in building up this myth.

Such misrepresentation is the logical consequence of pinning hopes for permanent peace on those anti-war elements among the capitalist rulers with whom it is possible to arrive at a mutual understanding. Parleys and pacts between governments with different social structures are necessary and desirable provided they strengthen the struggle for peace and socialism. But no diplomatic considerations can justify embellishing the role of the Democratic administration in the Cuban crisis. It gambled with the lives of the American people and world peace. Isn’t a Marxist above all obliged to expose and combat those responsible for this perilous course?

Argument by Epithet

The Political Affairs editors stamp Genovese as a Leftist for saying that Kennedy’s readiness “to escalate the crisis if he didn’t get his way” removed all doubt of the general direction of his policy. Not so, they argue, because Kennedy didn’t get his way. They confuse the deterring or deflection of Washington’s course by opposing forces and tactical considerations with its strategic aims. The long-range global policy remains the same even though it was not carried through to its logical end at that particular juncture. If, for various reasons, the atomaniacs did not resort to nuclear war or invade Cuba in October 1962, should they therefore be certified as safe and sane, especially since they have not given up plans to destroy the Cuban Revolution and control nuclear explosives enough to make the earth uninhabitable?

The CP spokesmen accuse Genovese of sectarianism for insisting against Herbert Aptheker that a successful peace movement cannot be built without an understanding of the nature of imperialism and the sources of the war danger. They deliberately misconstrue this elementary truth as though Genovese was making such understanding a precondition for any peace movement. However, the point at issue is, not how an anti-war mass movement is to be brought into existence, but along what lines is it to be ideologically influenced and guided by socialist participants in order to realize

The experience of October 1962 threw light on this question too. The response of the existing national peace movement to this crisis was feeble and confused, among other reasons, because its leadership and ranks lacked a “sound critical estimate of the nature of imperialism.” The illusion that the White House could be counted on not to be adventurous or aggressive contributed to this demoralization. The American CP has become so spellbound by this illusion that it condemns socialists who refuse to transform the political executives of monopoly capitalism into prospective protectors of world peace – and impart this mistrust to others – as “Leftist phrasemongers.”

The Political Affairs editors warn the other critics that their “defeatism leads in the direction of Trotskyism, which carried to its extreme the cloaking of capitulation and even support of reaction in ‘revolutionary’ phrases.” Their evidence of Trotsky’s “basic defeatism” is a distorted version of his condemnation of Stalin’s theory of building socialism in the Soviet Union alone. Trotsky did not maintain that the construction of socialism “would have to wait until the socialist revolution could be won on a world scale.” The Left Opposition was the first to propose an industrialization plan for Soviet economy.

Lessons of History

Trotsky never ceased emphasizing that the buildup of internal strength had to go hand in hand with the advancement of the mass struggle for power elsewhere. The Soviet Union, like all other conquests of the workers, would be in constant jeopardy so long as capitalism dominated the major countries. The Nazi invasion, after the crushing of the German labor movement, proved the correctness of his warning. Now the Cuban confrontation has given an alarm signal that the danger of atomic war remains lodged in the capitalist possession of military, political and economic supremacy. Mankind cannot be liberated from the prospect of incineration until and unless this power is taken from the monopolists and militarists and vested in the working people who have no foreign investments to safeguard and no arms profits to gain.

These socialist objectives require political organization and action independent of the capitalist parties. Yet in their article the CP spokesmen continue to defend their refusal to engage in a joint political campaign with other socialist tendencies against the Democrats and Republicans in the 1958 New York election. In 1960 they gave back door support to the Democratic ticket and will most likely do the same in 1964. The struggle for peace can only be injured by backing, on whatever pretexts, the candidates of the party that initiated and sustains the Cold War, intervenes in a few hot ones (Viet-Nam), and keeps increasing its military budget, regardless of the slight relaxation of tension since the signing of the partial test-ban.

The Political Affairs article takes up a number of weaknesses, which the International Socialist Review has previously pointed out, in the Monthly Review positions on the causes of Soviet revisionism, the relations between the backward colonial and the advanced capitalist countries in the process of world revolution, their detachment from the task of building a working-class party, and, in Genovese’s case, the consequences of a nuclear war. But whatever their deficiencies, Huberman, Sweezy, Prof. Baran and Genovese are closer to the ideas of Marx and the line of Lenin than the American followers of Khrushchev.

The CP has been the principal target of capitalist reaction throughout the Cold War. But its prestige among radicals has sunk so low for other reasons. Stripped of Marxist terminology, the CP policies are essentially indistinguishable from liberalism. This repels those on the Left who are seeking socialist answers to the grave problems posed by the struggle against nuclear war.


Last updated on: 11.2.2006