Max Shachtman

Notes of the Month

After the Moscow Conference

Stalin’s Aims in Europe

(November 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 10, November 1943, pp. 296–299.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

”It is therefore quite certain,” we wrote last month, “that the forthcoming meeting of the second-rank minds (not the great statesmen themselves, but only their Foreign Secretaries) will produce nothing worth serious mention so far as solving the fundamental question of Anglo-American-Russian relations is concerned. They may some day get near to a patched-up solution, but much time must yet elapse, many events take place, and many, many more meetings be held before that is accomplished.”

The almost universal enthusiasm with which the agreements at the Moscow meeting of Hull, Eden and Molotov was hailed in the press seems to refute this prediction.

“A great beginning has been made, and that Russia has shared in the task is a further demonstration ... of Russia’s willingness to cooperate,” said the New York Times.

“In Moscow was put together the four-cornered frame within which the questions of the war and the peace must henceforth be settled,” wrote Mrs. Anne O’Hare McCormick.

“This is a happy day,” exclaimed the leading Scripps-Howard paper, the New York World-Telegram.

“The declaration of Moscow is a start from which a new age can come,” wrote Raymond Clapper, and his fellow-commentator, William Philip Simms, spoke of “the momentous declarations of the Foreign Ministers at Moscow” “What a victory for the United Nations and what a promise!” added Edgar Ansel Mowrer. “The Moscow balance sheet is superbly profitable.” And more of the same from Miss Dorothy Thompson, and, of course, much more, in half-hushed awe, from Samuel Grafton.

However, the closest scrutiny of the main declaration of the Moscow Conference makes all the delirious jubilation extremely puzzling. Especially when it is borne in mind that the declaration says nothing, or nothing that has serious meaning, about all the problems which the now so jubilant commentators said, prior to the conference, would have to be settled firmly and clearly when the foreign secretaries assembled.

The key question – What is to be done about Germany? – is dealt with only indirectly, vaguely, and ambiguously enough to allow of several interpretations. The other key question, inseparably connected with the first – What is to be done about Europe’s various national boundaries? – remains just as obscure. These problems, after all, sum up, or at least express most clearly, the main question of the war aims of the Allies. That is the question that the Allies have not agreed upon, and cannot agree upon to their mutual satisfaction.

Time was when Mr. Churchill could content himself by saying that his war aim was – to win the war. This objective did not help greatly to distinguish him from Hitler or anyone else who ever fought a war. Now that the fear of a Hitler victory has declined among the people, Mr. Churchill’s unenlightening declaration no longer suffices. The demand for a clear statement of objectives grows stronger among the people and in the needs of the objective situation. The Moscow Declaration is a substitute for a clear statement, a stalling for time, an agreement to defer consideration of an agreement.

The Points of Agreement

There are, nevertheless, points on which agreement has been reached, at least in so far as words mean anything on the scraps of paper which imperialist diplomats sign and file for discardment at any indicated moment.

First, there is agreement upon joint efforts to prevent or suppress the coming revolution in Europe. On this score, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin can agree with the fullest sincerity and with every determination to keep their pledge. To the Stalinist bureaucracy, the socialist revolution in Europe is not less a threat than it is to the bourgeoisie of England and the United States. Hence, there is real unity among them on what the Declaration calls “the necessity of insuring a rapid and orderly transition from war to peace” and mutual consultation and joint action “for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security pending the reestablishment of law and order.”

There can be no two constructions placed on those classic words: “law and order.” The “rapid and orderly transition from war to peace” means, of course, preventing the “disorderly” intervention of the masses in the solution of their problems and the determination of their fate. That is to be determined for them.

Second, there is agreement that the “united action” of the Big Three “will be continued for the organization and maintenance of peace and security” and that they “will act together in all matters relating to the surrender and disarmament of that enemy.”

It is this statement that really generated the enthusiasm. Out of it has been read Russia’s decision to remain on the side of the United States and England throughout the war and the post-war period. If such a declaration has been greeted with such obviously hysterical relief, it is only because the prospects of Russia remaining in the “democratic” alliance were secretly regarded as not very bright before the Moscow conference took place.

England and the United States have been fearful of a separate peace between Stalin and Hitler, which would give Stalin a good deal of what he wants but would leave his whilom allies to face Hitler alone. How concrete were the possibilities of a Russo-German peace, is of course hard to say. Specific information on that score is at a minimum, particularly information about the extent of the differences between those in the upper German circles who regard the war with Russia as a mistake and those who do not. But what is indubitable is that Stalin played his hand for all it was worth, and played it in a situation which made the hand worth a lot.

How did England and the United States counter this threat? By an agreement, at least tentative, to give Stalin much of what he wants in order that they shall not have to face Hitler alone, but face him with the invaluable collaboration of Russia. Or, to be strictly accurate, by an agreement not to deny Stalin what he wants.

In other words, if we discount the possibility of secret agreements in Moscow as being unthinkable in people as rectitudinous and morally elevated as the spokesmen of Anglo-Saxon imperialism (to say nothing of the Vozhd of all the Russian peoples), Messrs. Hull and Eden may not yet have agreed to grant all of Stalin’s imperialist demands, but neither did they rule them out of the question.

The problem still remains to be solved, and as we said, “much time must yet elapse, many events take place, and many, many more meetings be held before that is accomplished.” At bottom, it will be decided by superior force, by the power most favored by the relationship of forces, and consequently the power in a position to take what it wants and impose approval of its seizures upon “friend” and enemy alike.

However, without for a moment wishing to reflect upon the uprightness and candor of the delegates from Washington and London – God forbid! – we are of the opinion that in so far as these questions can be settled in the closed upper circles of imperialism (the time for the masses to say their word is yet to come), they have been settled far more in favor of the Kremlin than of England and the United States. In the given situation, Stalin is in a better position to dictate the terms of an agreement to his allies than they are to dictate to him.

Stalin’s Program

First, Stalin is determined to annex at least southern Finland, all of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of the western Ukraine and western White Russia that were formerly ruled by the Poles, all of Bessarabia and Bukovina. Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill, Hull nor Eden, have dared to say him nay. Any doubts on this score that may have been propped up by the hopeful muddleheads of the bourgeois press were promptly dispelled by the statement of Stalin’s Ambassador to Mexico, Oumansky, a few days after the Moscow Conference.

Second, Stalin aims to place all the countries east of Germany under the domination of the Kremlin. Such a policy already has the support of responsible circles in England, which advocate the division of Europe into two parts, the western half under English control and the eastern half under Russian. “Under the domination of the Kremlin” means one of two things for eastern Europe, depending on circumstances and the strength of Stalinism:

  1. Outright rule by the Stalinists proper. Toward this end, Stalin already has his “National Committees” for Poland, for Yugoslavia, recently, according to reports, for Greece and even for Austria, under the leadership of the Stalinist Johann Keplenig.
  2. If the more preferable choice of direct Stalinist rule, through an open or concealed Stalinist party, backed by the Russian army and the GPU, is not possible, then domination of these countries by regimes entirely subservient to Stalin, that is, a system of vassal states such as France established in eastern and southeastern Europe after the First World War. On both these parallel-running roads, Stalin has already advanced very far.

Third, whatever the success of his “maximum” program, Stalin aims at the very least to maintain and even aggravate the “Balkanization” of Europe. Hitler sought to unite Europe, by reactionary means, that is, inside a Germain jail. Stalin, who cannot expect to unite all Europe within his jail, wants to keep it as split-up as possible, also by reactionary means.

Europe’s only hope for survival, to say nothing of progress; its only way out of the barbarism into which it is sinking; its only weapon against being exploited, disfranchised and degraded, either by British, American or Russian imperialism, or a combination of them – is the economic and political unity of the continent. Such unity is an essential necessity for the life of the Old World now. It is realizable only in the form of a United Socialist States of Europe.

Stalin, like Churchill, requires the splitting-up of Europe in order to facilitate the domination of the peoples and the nations that compose it. That, far more than any fear of an impossible cordon sanitaire around Russia like the one set up after World War I, is what makes Stalin adamant against any combination of European countries. Along this line, Stalin has met with success thus far. He has torpedoed the plan for a Polish-Czech alliance, and is signing a pact with Benes to bring Czechoslovakia within his own sphere of influence. What he intends to do with Czechoslovakia and with Benes, is another matter. But no doubt he remembers that Bismarck said: “Whoever has Bohemia, has Europe.”

A Conference on Europe – Without Europe

It is control of Europe that is at stake. It is highly significant – not to say astounding! – that at the Moscow Conference, which was considering the fate of Europe, not a single continental-European country was represented, except for Russia herself. Europe is not to decide its fate, that is to be decided for it. When de Gaulle warned, after the Moscow Conference, that “France thinks that any European settlement and any major world settlement without her would not be a good settlement,” grief vied with impotence. And if that is how de Gaulle, of once mighty France, speaks, it is easy to imagine the thoughts of Queen Wilhelmina, King Peter, King George of Greece, King Albert, to say nothing of King Victor Emmanuel. The Powers grow fewer in number, the Pawns more numerous.

Bismarck’s aphorism about Bohemia is limited by its context. More to the point – there is no control of Europe without control of Germany. The converse is not less true – there is no control of Germany without control of Europe. The Allies know the truth of the first statement, just as Hitler knows the truth of its converse. Hitler’s days, however, are shorter in number than the days of the Allies. The problem stands before the Allies.

What are the Allies going to do about Germany? All the disputes among them lead to this question. Assuming the defeat of Germany, the United States and England have the general aim of crushing Germany economically and politically, eliminating her as an imperialist rival, and subjecting her to joint domination. As to just how this is to be done concretely, there is the greatest uncertainty. The source of their uncertainty – leaving aside the danger of a proletarian revolution in Germany which they count on smashing without too great difficulty – is Russia.

What does Stalin want with Germany, or in Germany? In the first place, he does not want a Germany ruled by England and the United States. It is the greatest of absurdities to imagine that when the war ends Stalin will say to his allies: I now have Estonia; you make take Germany. Failing a revolutionary victory in Germany, the United States and England will have to share control of the country with Russia. If the Hitlerite armies collapse, the Anglo-American forces will march in from the West (and perhaps the South), but the Russian army will not come to a halt at the eastern frontier out of fear of violating Stalin’s theory of “socialism in one country”; it will march in, and meet its allies at an agreed-upon point in Germany, much in the same manner as it met its German ally in 1939 in Poland.

Does this mean that the two armed forces will face each other in open hostility? Most likely not. Both have too much to lose by such a conflict. It is far more likely that every effort will be made to establish a “join” occupation of Germany, and “joint” responsibility for it. But underneath this joint responsibility, the conflict would nevertheless continue.

There are points of agreement on Germany, in the first place. Czechoslovakia will be “restored,” in one form or another. It has already been announced by the Moscow declaration that Austria will be separated from Germany, and that the Allies will seek to maintain this head-without-a-body in much the same state of artificial animation by which Russian scientists keep alive the severed head of a dog, that is, by rigid control of its bloodstream. In the West, there may be another attempt at what the French tried to set up after the First World War, an “Independent Rhineland Republic.” In the East, the Russians may seek to “compensate” a controlled “independent Poland” by attaching to it the territory of East Prussia. But whatever else the Allies agree upon, Russia does not want a completely dismembered and disemboweled Germany.

Russia’s Post-War Needs

Germany crushed economically and politically means Anglo-American domination of the continent, or at least of the most important part of it. Anglo-American domination of most of Europe means greater Russian dependence upon the United States after the war. The war is bleeding Russia more than any other country. After the war, she will be dependent to a great extent – the outside world does not know to just how great an extent – upon foreign aid, in the form of food and, above all, in the form of capital goods, for the reconstruction of the country.

Where is this aid to be obtained? American imperialism counts upon its tremendous economic superiority, and its indispensability to Russian reconstruction, not only for a market in Russia but also as a means of getting approval for its European political program from the Kremlin. Guarded expressions of this expectation have already appeared in the American press. But this is precisely what Stalin does not want. The difference between Stalin “not wanting” and, for example, de Gaulle “not wanting,” is that the former has trumps to play whereas the latter is hunting desperately for deuces and treys.

The only other important source of materials for the reconstruction of Russia is Germany. To escape dependence upon the United States, Russia must have at least considerable control over Germany. The official press (there is no other) in Russia has already said: We have suffered most at German hands, we must come first in reparations. By reparations is meant: German labor and the products of German industry, the machine-tool industry especially, to be used to reconstruct Russia. In this respect, Stalinist imperialism stands on the same plane as Clemenceau and Lloyd George in 1919.

How to appear before the German people as its despoiler and plunderer, who makes it pay for the crimes of its ruling class, and at the same time as its “liberator,” who does not want it humiliated, dismembered and crushed, as the other Allies do – that would of course be a tremendously complicated problem for Stalin, and may bring him more grief than glory. But he has instruments at his disposal that Churchill and Roosevelt do not have. The chief instrument is a native political force, or one that operates as such, in the capitalist countries, Germany included. That force is the Stalinist movement, in all of its guises and transmutations.

The “Free German” Committee

The disguise now assumed by Stalinism in Germany is the “Free German National Committee” in Moscow, plus its “Union of German Officers,” plus a network of affiliates in Sweden, England, Mexico. Neither its significance nor its strength can be underrated.

The Stalinists have won over, by one means or another, the vast majority of the politically active German émigrés, social-democrats included. Among the Germans taken prisoner in Russia, a most intensive campaign of Stalinist agitation and organization has been conducted for a long time, and not without success. The literature issued by Moscow for German consumption is enormous, and makes the efforts of the OWI look like a publicity campaign to put across a Kiwanis convention. This is on the record. What efforts are made behind the scenes to establish contact in Germany with that element among the ruling classes, above all in the Junker officer caste, which is for the “Bismarckian orientation,” that is, an alliance between Germany and Russia against the Western powers, is only hinted at by the special efforts the Stalinists have directed at gaining the allegiance of captured officers.

The propaganda of the Stalinists is concentrated against Hitler and his immediate circle, and promises immunity to all who break with him. There is no end to its praise of Russia as the friend of Germany, as her liberator, as the indicated partner in political and economic collaboration after the war, as the “decisive guarantee of the freedom and independence of Germany.” Every printed page recalls that Russia was always opposed to the Versailles Treaty, and that without alliance with Russia now, Germany will get an even worse treaty imposed upon her. Praise for Allied England and Allied America is not even muted – it just isn’t sung at all. Each point in this propaganda speaks volumes.

Stalin may pledge himself, along with his partners, to ever-so-democratic a regime in Germany after Hitler is overturned. He has already made such a pledge for Italy. But if every one of the seven “guarantees for democracy” contained in the Declaration on Italy of the Moscow Conference were to be repeated for Germany, Stalin would have no difficulty in concretizing them in the form of a “democratic” government, ranging from some of the “anti-fascist” Junker officers to out-and-out Stalinists, with some democratic figures in between. If a government of the monarchists and social-democrats was possible in Germany in 1919, a government of generals and Stalinists is certainly not out of the question for the present-day Kremlin. Besides, is not Russia herself the world’s greatest democracy?

Would it merely be influenced by the Stalinists? Or dominated by them? Or under their outright control? The answer lies entirely in the realm of the relationship of forces, and has not at all been decided a priori by Stalin. He will go as far as he can in gaining control over Germany – and not a step less. The limits will be set not by any reluctance on his part, but by the given strength of his allies, on the one side, and the revolutionary resistance of the German proletariat, on the other. As for the German bourgeoisie itself, without the support of England and the United States, or the support of the people, it would not be a decisive force.

This is what England and the United States fear, and no agreement has yet been reached to dispel their fear. Wherever Stalinist Russia advances and establishes its domination, it inspires antagonism in the ranks of the bourgeoisie, whether momentary considerations make it expedient to express this antagonism or not. From this point of view, those who see the conflict between Russia’s “nationalized property” and bourgeois “private property,” are quite right, even if they do exaggerate tremendously the weight of the conflict.

But to point this out, and this alone, is to tell a half-truth which is the worst kind of falsehood and deception to the working class. A far greater conflict is produced by the advance of Stalinism – the conflict between the conquering bureaucracy and the masses it reduces to economic and political slavery. That Churchill is not delighted at the prospect of Stalin annexing Poland, goes without saying. It does not follow, however, that the class enemies of Churchill, the proletariat of Poland and all other countries, should be delighted at the prospect. For the working class, Stalinist domination means a new totalitarian slavery.

Woe to those revolutionists and woe to those workers who fail to understand this and to lay the necessary emphasis upon it.

The Proletariat Has Yet to Speak

The aims of the imperialists are not too difficult to understand. The aims of Stalinist imperialism are no more mysterious. They are ambitious and sweeping aims, for the Stalinist bureaucracy is not only under great compulsions to expand and conquer, but has gained a great self-confidence in undertaking the expansion.

IF the aims of all the imperialists were assured of realization, a dark period would be ahead for all peoples. But while the imperialists, the Kremlin gang in particular, take the masses into account in working out their aims, their reckonings are based on the assumption that the masses will not get into motion for their own class interests and under their own class banner, or that if they do, it will again be possible to traduce or crush them.

There is the real “flaw” in all the ambitious lusts of reaction. The antagonisms and conflicts in its ranks have opened crevices before, and the masses have poured through. That will happen again and again. Churchill may dispose of de Gaulle as impotent; but the masses at whose head de Gaulle formally stands are not impotent, and they will yet say their word. Stalin will find that the corruption and acquisition of a few Nazi officers is one thing, and the subversion and enslavement of the German proletariat another. The imperialists have their aims. The working class has its own. To clarify these aims is the task of the time. One of the most important elements of that task is to gird the proletariat for the war against Stalinism, to the bitter end.

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Last updated on 11 July 2015