George Novack writing as William Warde

The Big Five at London

Written: 1945
Source: Fourth International, Vol. 6, No. 11, November 1945, pp. 333-336.
Transcription/Editing: Daniel Gaido
HTML Markup: David Walters
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2005. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.

On October 2 the first peace conference of the Second World War broke up in utter collapse. For twenty-two days the Foreign Ministers of the five greatest Allied Powers met in almost continuous session to grapple with the problems of-making a peace. Their deliberations culminated in a hopeless deadlock. Weary, bitter, pessimistic, these representatives of the world rulers finally agreed to terminate their talks. This was the only thing they could agree upon.

It was freely admitted that this first Council of Foreign Ministers had accomplished nothing, had even given a severe setback to enduring peace. C. L. Sulzberger who covered the conference for the New York Times called it “an abysmal fiasco.” In Moscow Izvestia wrote on October 5: “The first session of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs ended without result. No decision whatsoever was adopted. Not even a communiqué which could have explained why the Ministers’ Council failed was issued.” The exalted participants could not even agree on the official minutes of the proceedings. Not a very auspicious beginning for the radiant new world that was supposed to issue from the war for democracy!

The Big Three had set up the Council of Foreign Ministers at Potsdam in July to draft peace treaties with the defeated Axis nations and in general to work out detailed solutions of the political, territorial and strategic problems posed by the war. The London Conference was the first of a series of projected meetings expected to be drawn out for over two years. At London the Foreign Ministers of United States, Great Britain, the USSR, France and China undertook to devise peace settlements with Italy, Finland, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria.

The previous conferences of the Big Three held in wartime had been conducted in complete secrecy and their decisions withheld on the false pretext of military necessity. Since the Ministers’ Council at London met during peacetime, this excuse was obviously invalid. Yet these meetings too, which were deciding the fate of millions, were conducted in as much secrecy as the Foreign Ministers could manage. In a moment of candor C. L. Sulzberger of the New York Times sub the mounting suspicion of the people regarding the real reasons for this secret diplomacy. “The general public which fought and won this war,” he wrote on September 30, “has an uneasy feeling that the only excuse for this closed-door business, now that the war is over and secrecy is no excuse, is that there must be something smelly going on.”

In fact, as reports of the haggling and bickering leaked out, the stench emanating from this cesspool of power politics became overpowering and impossible to suppress. At the moment, American imperialism sees no need for covering up the conflicts between the “United Nations.” As a consequence, the capitalist press has become brazenly cynical in its comments. Here is a typical paragraph from the typewriter of William Philip Simms in the September 27 New York World-Telegram. “There were power politics and bargaining behind closed doors. Nations without any interest in certain problems were invited in. Others, vitally concerned, were barred. For sordidness this first peace parley made the 1919 Paris peace conference look like a thing of sweetness and light.”

All pretence of observing the declarations about self-determination of nations in the Atlantic and San Francisco Charters was thrown aside. Not one of the peoples whose lives and futures were at stake were even formally represented. Their wishes and welfare were neither consulted nor considered. Australia’s Foreign Minister Evart acidly commented that 43 of the 48 lesser members of the United Nations who had come together in San Francisco last spring were shut out. Even the crowned puppets of Anglo-American imperialism, Kings George of Greece and Peter of Yugoslavia, complained because they were not permitted to intrude upon this exclusive gathering. Inside the conference room on most of the main issues the Council of Five was reduced to Three—and in essence this trio narrowed down to a contest of strength between the United States and the USSR.

Almost every point on the agenda precipitated a conflict which served to expose the predatory aims of the participants and the utterly reactionary character and consequences of the war. Molotov demanded $600,000,000 in reparations from ruined Italy. The British also wanted heavy payments. Byrnes flatly refused to go along, not out of humanitarian motives, but because he said the United States would foot the bill for these indemnities in the long run.

Further haggling and maneuvering ensued when Italy’s colonial empire was placed on the auction block. Britain sought to safeguard her imperial lifelines in the Mediterranean from the threat of Kremlin encroachment by placing Italy’s colonies under international trusteeships, which meant domination by the Anglo-American bloc. Russia thereupon put in a bid for Tripolitania and for bases in Eritrea as well as the Dodecanese Islands claimed by Greece. Here too the dear “Allies” found themselves deadlocked.

Next came up the question of treaties with Rumania and Bulgaria. But the United States and Great Britain flatly refused to approve draft treaties with these two countries until their Kremlin-controlled regimes were “democratized.” In retaliation Molotov caustically criticized the dictatorial regime propped up by Anglo-American bayonets in Greece. He did not refer to the actions of these “defenders of democracy” who are engaged in suppressing the insurgent peoples fighting for national independence in Java, Burma, Indo-China and Malaya. But near the end of the conference Molotov was reported to have remarked to one English diplomat: “Byrnes wants to push democracy in the Balkans to see how it works there before he tries it in South Carolina.”

In their rush for spheres of influence, colonial outposts, military bases and lines of communication the five powers bared their fangs and snarled and snapped at each other like beasts of prey. They fought over whole countries and chunks of continents. The knives of the Big Three have already carved up the living body of Europe. But they find themselves unable to underwrite each other’s plunder.

These “Allies” have no trust or confidence in each other. Neither the United States nor Great Britain hide its hostility toward the USSR. At one point of the conference Bevin accused Molotov of employing Hitlerian methods and retracted these words only when Molotov threatened to walk out of the parley. At another point Molotov’s request that Russia have the right to share in the control of Japan provoked such a sharp rejoinder from Byrnes that it likewise threatened to break up the conference then and there.

Molotov argued for revision of the treaty governing the Dardanelles, saying that Russia needed complete and free access to this strait which at present keeps the Russians locked up in the Black Sea. Byrnes and Bevin flatly opposed this in the guise of defenders of Turkey against the unreasonable coercion of the USSR. Thereupon, according to Drew Pearson, Molotov said to Bevin: “How about discussing the Suez Canal and our relationship to it?” Bevin became furious at the suggestion. Then turning to Byrnes, Molotov said: “Well, let’s discuss the Panama Canal and its relationship to the United States.” This enraged Byrnes, who indicated to Molotov that the Panama Canal was none of Russia’s damn business. To this Molotov replied that if the Suez and the Panama were none of Russia’s business, the Dardanelles were none of the United States’ and Great Britain’s business! And in the hands of these brigands lies the fate of the peoples!

These masters of world destiny could not even manage to get together on the future of the city of Trieste, which is a bone of contention between Yugoslavia and Italy. Molotov backed Yugoslavia’s claim while Byrnes and Bevin insisted that Trieste remain in Italian hands. The question of Trieste has disturbed the peace of Europe for over thirty years. It has been a constant source of irritation between the nations, a breeding ground of war. Now after two world wars the victors are still incapable of cleaning up this plague spot. Trieste remains a hopeless tangle which continues to create fresh antagonisms.

Thus even on the smallest questions the architects of peace could find no formula for settling their disputes, for maintaining peace amongst themselves. “What had been foreseen as a meeting to draft treaties of peace for the defeated powers, starting with Italy, turned into a meeting overwhelmingly occupied by the attempt to establish a peace between the principal members of the United Nations,” remarked Hugh R. Wilson, former U.S. Ambassador to Germany. On the other side of the Atlantic the Daily Herald,organ of the British Labor Party, exclaimed: “The world is heading with its eyes open for another war.”

Behind the Breakdown

Each side of course has tried to unload responsibility for the failure of the conference upon the other. Byrnes blamed its breakdown upon Russia’s unreasonable demands. Molotov hastened to explain that the real reason for the London fiasco consisted in the divergent interpretations of the Berlin agreement signed by Truman, Stalin and Attlee.

These diplomatic excuses touch only the surface of the situation. The fact is that the London conference served to lay bare the real relations among the Allied powers which military necessity had compelled them to camouflage during the war. The fundamental interests and aims of the Big Three do not coincide but conflict to an ever-increasing degree. Their divergent and antagonistic purposes engendered the disputes which deadlocked the conference.

In his victory address on September 2 Stalin declared: “Now we can say that conditions for the peace of the World have already been won.” This is as cynical a falsification as the similar “peace” statements Stalin made after the signing of the Soviet-German pact in 1939. The present imperialist peace has not diminished, let alone eliminated, the sources of armed conflict in the world. It has instead immediately produced sharpened friction between the Anglo-American bloc and the Soviet Union.

The London meeting itself provided the best demonstration of this development. Its atmosphere was saturated with fear amt suspicion. “Russia began with her fear of isolation and her suspicions of Western democracies,” noted the New York Timescorrespondent Herbert L. Matthews. “Now these fears are stronger than at any time since before the war. The Western powers began with their fears of Russia and other profound objections to the Eastern bloc which Russia has created in her frantic search for security. Those fears are also stronger than ever.”

The Anglo-American imperialists dread the extension of the Kremlin’s power in Europe and Asia. Their diplomatic efforts are directed toward curbing and confining the spread of Soviet influence. The Anglo-American insistence upon intervention in Eastern European affairs is motivated by the desire to secure points of support for themselves in these countries, which Moscow has marked out for its own. The disputes over Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria do not revolve around the question of “democracy,” as the official propagandists present it, but around the struggle for power over these nations.

At Yalta, Stalin and Churchill with Roosevelt’s blessing concluded an agreement—one of many such secret deals—to divide Europe into two spheres of influence. Eastern Europe and Germany up to the Elbe was to go to the Kremlin while England was to be sovereign over the countries bordering the Mediterranean, Italy, Greece, etc. According to the rules of power politics, agreements of this kind are made to be bent, if not broken. Each side strives to outwit, to overreach, and outmaneuver the other. So it has been in this instance.

Through their puppet monarchs and friendly political agents, by means of diplomatic pressure and manipulations behind the scenes the United States and Great Britain have been seeking to penetrate the Kremlin’s allotted sphere of domination. In retaliation, through the EAM-ELAS in Greece, through the powerful Stalinist parties in Italy and France and through diplomatic counter-pressure and intrigue the Soviet Union interferes with England’s preserves.

Underlying this struggle among the Big Three for spheres of influence and aggravating the conflicts between them is the social-economic antagonism between the capitalist world and the degenerated workers’ state which still remains rooted in the nationalized property of the USSR. The Soviet occupation and domination of Eastern Europe disrupts and menaces capitalist property relations although the Kremlin has evidently thus far limited itself in the occupied countries to social reforms and has brutally suppressed the attempts of the masses to overthrow capitalism and place the workers in power.

The Russian Menace

Nevertheless this critical situation creates a permanent state of instability and unrest throughout Eastern Europe. Moreover, Stalin’s Red Army marauders have not shown much regard for the properties owned by Western capitalists in the Rumanian oil-fields, in Austria, Germany and elsewhere. Unrest in Eastern Europe, if it persists, will inevitably communicate itself into Western Europe. Present Stalin-controlled Eastern Europe represents therefore a social danger to capitalism and cannot be accepted by Anglo-American imperialism as a long-lasting solution. That is why the “Russian menace” is again much discussed nowadays in the ruling circles of Washington and London. The social question still lies at the root of the growing political and territorial conflicts.

The problems posed by the “peace” are necessarily leading to a realignment of forces on a world scale. The United States and Great Britain are promulgating the idea of organizing a Western bloc designed to encircle the Kremlin’s sphere of influence in Europe, to check its expansion, and, at a later stage, to push it back (in exchange for concessions from Washington and London). DeGaulle aspires to have France play the leading European role in the organization of such a projected anti-Soviet diplomatic combination. The world press is already openly discussing this unfolding cleavage between the powers. “Everyone knows,” cabled H. L. Matthews from London to the New York Timeson September 24, “that the continuation of present trends will inevitably bring about a division into an Eastern bloc dominated by Russia and a Western one dominated by the United States and Great Britain. . . . It is fully realized that problems of frontiers, colonies and the like are completely dwarfed by the one great problem of whether the East is going to line up against the West.”

A parallel process, it can be observed, is taking place in Asia. There the United States and the USSR have both rushed forward to grab all they can in order to promote their strategic interests. In addition to the bases it has seized in the Pacific, United States forces have occupied Japan and Southern Korea. Washington plans to use the docile governments of China and Japan as agents in its encirclement of the Soviet Union and its further penetration into Asia.

At the same time the Kremlin has taken over southern Sakhalin, northern Korea and the Kuriles. By treaty with Chungking the USSR has gained a foothold in Manchuria and obtained access to its chief ports, Port Arthur and Dairen, for naval purposes. These moves and counter-moves by the two leading world states are obviously directed against each other as insurance in case of eventual conflict. This was explicitly referred to during the discussions on Japan at the Big Three conference.

A Ring of Steel

Drew Pearson wrote that Byrnes explained at the conference that the United States had great need of a chain of Island bases in the Pacific as security against Japan. Molotov laughed at this feeble argument and hinted strongly that Russia felt the United States wanted the bases solely for use against the Soviet Union. “OK,” he is reported to have said, “you’ve got your naval bases in the Pacific. Then we want Paramushiro. If you’re going to have your ring of steel, we’ll have ours.”

Each of the great powers is busily engaged in forging the links in its own “ring of steel.” Meanwhile the propaganda machines on both sides are trying to cover their real aims by accusing each other of aggression. In September, Pravda attacked the French Socialists for trying to recreate the old cordon sanitaireagainst the Soviet Union. The Anglo-American big business press along with its liberal and Social Democratic echoes keeps howling that the USSR acts like a “totalitarian dictator” in Europe and Asia. In his speech broadcast after returning from London Secretary of State Byrnes charged that Moscow was trying to “dictate terms of peace to its allies.”

The Kremlin is unquestionably striving to get as much as it can and to stretch its influence as far as it will go. But the ambitions of the expansionists in Moscow are already beginning to sharply clash with the aims and interests of the Anglo-American imperialists throughout Europe and Asia. At London, the United, States and Great Britain served warning that they would not agree to converting Eastern Europe to a private preserve of the Kremlin. They went further and undertook a vigorous diplomatic counter-campaign to halt any further advances by the USSR and to girdle its domains. Stalin, as a matter of fact, would not at all be averse to dividing the world into mutually agreed-upon spheres of influence on a “live-and-let-live” basis. The Kremlin’s diplomacy is in fact shaped to arrive at an understanding with Washington along these lines.

Wall Street and Its World Plans

But the Wall Street agents in Washington have more ambitious plans. Nothing in history compares to the enormous explosive force of American imperialism which in the brief period of the past few years has penetrated into all corners of the world. America’s monopolists cannot and will not tolerate, in the long run, a Soviet Union which dominates half of Europe and Asia.

The present hue and cry against the expansionism of the USSR serves the purpose of distracting public attention from Wall Street’s drive for world domination. This drive proceeds uninterruptedly under the most misleading disguises and hypocritical slogans: freedom of trade, freedom of the air, freedom of elections, etc. The foremost slavemaster decorates its predatory program with all the garlands of liberty. This accords with an established tradition of the American ruling classes. The Southern slaveholders likewise embellished their society with the trappings of democracy; bragged of their devotion to freedom; and finally launched a counter-revolutionary rebellion in the name of “free trade, free men and a free South.”

The truth is that the would-be peace-makers have little or no confidence in the prospect of a lasting peace. In their eyes the present period represents an armed interlude, a breathing spell for the war-wearied nations. Under the guise of a peace settlement the diplomats of the ruling powers are actually making preparations for the next war. In his recent Biennial Report, Chief of Staff George C. Marshall virtually admitted that America’s militarists regard a new war as inevitable. They are preparing for a new war and yet they are deathly afraid of it.

The fear of a third world war hung like a dark and foreboding cloud over the London conference. The Foreign Ministers were aware that their unresolved disputes contained the seeds of another bloodbath. This restrained them from precipitating any showdown. The Kremlin, especially, is mortally terrified of another war. Stalin knows how exhausted the USSR is, how mighty the U.S. military machine is. The atomic bomb may not have been mentioned but this terrible engine of destruction monopolized at present by the United States was suspended over the heads around the conference table.

Nor is Washington in a mood to wage war. The tide of events is now running in the opposite direction. Reckless militarists and impatient mouthpieces for imperialism are agitating for an attack upon Russia before it acquires the secrets of atomic bomb manufacture. But the people here and throughout the world are not only sick of war but shudder at the thought of unloosing a third world war which can demolish civilization and destroy humanity. This growing revulsion against war bridles the war-mongers.

Moreover America’s capitalist rulers have their own material reasons for wishing peace. The recently concluded war was a costly as well as risky enterprise for them. They have not even begun coping with its consequences. They look forward longingly to the Pax Americanain which they can rule and exploit the world to their pocketbook’s pleasure. They want now to cash in on the imperialist peace.

That is one set of reasons why, despite their differences, the representatives of the great powers limited themselves to a “war of nerves” at the London conference. Having sparred a bit to feel each other out, the contenders have retired to their corners to consult with their managers on the tactics for the next round.

The Fear of World Revolution

But there exists an even stronger brake upon the war-making propensities of the powers. That is their common fear of the world revolution. The colonial slaves in Asia and Africa are rising up as an aftermath of the war. The peoples in Europe are restless and poised for revolutionary resistance. This fear of the rising revolutionary temper of the masses unites the Big Three in an unholy counter-revolutionary alliance. It restrains their representatives from accentuating differences too deeply and pushing their conflicts toward the breaking point. Stalin remains a firm ally ‘of the Anglo-American imperialists in stamping out the revolutionary movements of the masses.

But the fierce struggle for hegemony between the powers is placing Europe on the rack and tearing it to pieces. The entire continent writhes in agony while the Big Three quarrel over the division of the spoils. The peoples of Europe who are the principal victims of Big Three power politics are groping for a way out of their terrible predicament. Some seek salvation through alliance with the Eastern bloc under the Kremlin; others through collaboration with a Western bloc managed by the Anglo-American imperialists.

Experience has already proven that both of these courses will propel Europe deeper into the abyss. Either singly or in combination, the present conquerors cannot lead Europe out of its blind alley by reorganizing its economy and state relations. They come only to carve up, strangle, rob and further degrade the continent. They cannot even give tortured Europe bread, shelter, work or peace.

At the beginning of the London conference, New York Timescorrespondent H. L. Matthews cabled: “Already there is a striking parallel to Versailles in 1919. The grab for colonies is no different than it was in those days. One finds here now the same struggle for economic mastery in such questions as the Ruhr and the Rhineland, the clash of two great ideologies, the intense national rivalries, the secret treaties secretly arrived at, the spirit of revenge and domination.”

After 33 sessions marked by incessant conflict the London conference arrived at a stalemate. Its collapse signifies how far the disintegration of the capitalist world and the demoralization and disorientation of its rulers has proceeded since Versailles. The peace settlement of the victors in the first imperialist slaughter brought humanity in the following years a world depression, fascism, and a Second World War.

Now the victors of this war are at each other’s throats before they can conclude the first treaties of peace. Can anyone capable of learning the lessons of events expect better results from the Big Five peacemakers of 1945 than from their Big Four predecessors at Versailles in 1919?