Max Shachtman


For a democratic foreign policy


From Labor Action, mid-1953.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE foreign policy of the United States is a disaster. It was that under the late Roosevelt’s War Deal, it remained that during Truman’s Fair Deal, and it has got worse in the first 100 days of the Eisenhower administration.

Every thoughtful reactionary has known this for years, for he cannot blind himself to the big fact:

In the course of the Second World War, the Stalinists succeeded in conquering and consolidating their totalitarian power in a dozen countries of Europe and Asia. It is hard to recall another example in history of the establishment of an empire of comparable dimensions and significance at such speed, with so little resistance, and at such low cost, hardly a shot being fired. All this changed the face of the earth, perhaps more radically than in any comparable period of history.

And yet: the leaders and statesmen of all the capitalist powers, including the mighty US, stood by, helpless to prevent these Stalinist victories, unable to do more than lift a finger to tear out their own hair. There is nothing in our lifetime to equal this.

And yet: the truth is that the more-or-less responsible reactionaries have no alternative to the foreign policy of yesterday. That policy is today what it was under Roosevelt and Truman – a policy of imperialism as adapted to the particular position and needs of American imperialism.

Whoever tries to apply an imperialist policy in the world today, where the outstanding common characteristic is hatred of imperialism and determination to be rid of it, is bound to reap disaster and nothing else. And this holds true even if the policy is directed against Stalinism, which is itself the most despotic and imperialistic power in the world.

Because there is no practical reactionary alternative to the present Washington policy, it does not follow that the fight against Stalinism is hopeless. There is an alternative to the Eisenhower-Truman-Roosevelt policy.

Its name is: a democratic foreign policy.

To make the solution of the problem still simpler, the democratic foreign policy could confine itself, to begin with, to one single point: the unreserved right of self determination for all peoples and nations.

Just a little point like that? Yes, that is all; for a beginning that would be enough and more than enough, for it would be an immense and even (if we may use such a word nowadays) a revolutionary beginning.

The power of this idea – the right of people to govern themselves completely tree from foreign domination – can hardly be exaggerated. Its power is no less than world shaking – and woe to those who ignore or even underrate it! No tyranny in modern times has long been able to withstand its shattering force and that will prove to be just as true in the future as in the past.

The passion for freedom from alien oppression was so strong during the Second World War that Hitler found it impossible to organize his “New Order” in Europe in the face of the millions who sustained the national resistance movements against the Germans.

It was so strong amongst the Ukrainian people, who sought as they still seek, to throw off the Muscovite yoke, that at first many of them even went to the appalling extreme of welcoming the German invader in the hope that he would help them achieve their end.

In turn, it was so strong among the Russian people that despite their hatred for their own exploiters, they fought like tigers to ward off the threat to their national integrity and dignity from the Hitlerite Supermen.

It was and is so strong among the Yugoslavs that it produced the first deep and damaging breach in the Stalinist empire – the first but not the last.

It is so profound and irresistible among the hundreds of millions who make up the population of Asia and Africa, so long dormant, and now so aroused, that no imperialist power or combination of powers is strong enough to thwart these peoples in their epochal revolution,

The solid support of this overwhelming majority of humanity is almost instantaneously on the side of that political force which seriously champions its aspirations. In world politics today, in the world conflict today, whoever has this mighty fraternal support is invincible; whoever invokes its opposition is absolutely and irretrievably done for.

Does that mean that Washington and Moscow are on the right track, since both speak so much and so often about national independence and sovereignty? Does it mean that, apart from other matters, both have a democratic foreign policy; or if not, that it is hard to distinguish good coin from base in this field?

Not hard at all! During the First World War, the German Kaiser, in conflict with Britain, called for national independence for Ireland and India, and even subsidized Irish and Indian nationalists with money and guns. But since he was not at all for national freedom for the Alsatians, Galicians, Czechs and Africans who were oppressed by his imperialism, nobody was fooled into believing that the Kaiser had a democratic foreign policy, not even the Irish and Indians.

Because the Russian Tsar was for the “national independence” of the Serbs, who were threatened by the Austrians, but himself kept the Poles under the Russian yoke, no Pole had any illusions about the Tsar’s passion for democracy.

In the Second World War, Japan, at war with Britain, proclaimed its desire to see India and Burma independent from London; but very few people were fooled by the imperialists who at the same time kept Tokyo’s armed boots on the throat of the Korean people.

Lenin, the Bolshevik Marxist, who was proud to call himself a consistent democrat, was the one who set forth the simple test for the real socialist, for the real internationalist, for the real democrat, the foolproof way in which to distinguish them from imperialist demagogues, apologists and oppressors: the true differs from the false by being for the right of self determination, as we put it above, “for all peoples and nations,’’ and not just for those oppressed by “the other side.”

Ever since the election campaign of last year, Eisenhower and his supporters have been talking about taking the “initiative” in the struggle with the Stalinists. They talk about it now. It is guaranteed-safe to assume that they will continue to talk about it without producing anything more than they have produced up to now, namely, zero.

Yet the initiative can be taken. It requires no more than the solemn public statement to the entire world by an authoritative American spokesman:

“We declare, in the name of democracy, that we stand and shall continue to stand firmly and unconditionally for the most fundamental of all democratic rights, the right of all peoples and nations to full national self-determination.

“We stand and shall continue to stand for the ultimate withdrawal of all foreign troops and police from the territories of the people seeking to exercise this right, so that they may freely and sovereignly decide all questions concerning them in normal democratic elections.

“We call upon the Russian government to take the same stand with respect to the non-Russian peoples whom it rules and whose territories it occupies.

“However, regardless of the decision taken by the Russian government on our appeal, we declare that we favour and shall give appropriate support to all actions aimed at the realization of this right by the peoples and nations now under the rule of those governments allied with the United States, notably the colonies and possessions of (Great Britain, France and Belgium.

“Not only shall we oppose sending American armed forces to the support of any nation which seeks to force its rule upon another nation, but we shall support those peoples and nations which are seeking the right of self-determination and shall deny all arms and financial aid to anyone seeking to deprive them of this right.

“However, again regardless of the decision taken by the governments allied with the United States on our appeal, we declare that we categorically favour setting the example within the United States and its territories by immediately granting the right to decide their political fate to all American possessions anti territories such as Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as Guam and all other Pacific possessions now occupied by American armed forces.”

In the face of such a declaration, if made and maintained, how long would it be before the present and ever-growing suspicion, if not downright hostility, with which most of the people of the world look upon the United States, would change to warm and solid friendship?

How long would it be before the persistent and anything-but-ineffective Stalinist propaganda campaign against American imperialism collapsed?

How long would it be before the soil of the Stalinist empire burned too hot for the feet of its present overlords ?

We cannot say exactly, to be sure, but it would certainly take less time than it will to manufacture all the A-bombs and H-bombs needed in the great crusade to make Russia a super-Hiroshima.

That is the socialist view (the view of the Independent Socialists, of course, and not the State-Department socialists or the Defend-Russia socialists) of a democratic foreign policy.

To adopt it, we had no need to go to the great books of socialist principles. Where we found it was good enough. We do not hesitate to take it from Wilson’s Fourteen Points. We do not hesitate to take it from the Roosevelt-Churchill Atlantic Charter. The only difference is this: we are not among those socialists and those democrats who proclaim the principle on holiday occasions and spend the rest of the time explaining why it must be demanded of “the other side” but cannot, alas! be applied for the moment to “our side.”

It goes without saying that such on elementary democratic policy will not be adopted, nor con it be, by the Eisenhower administration. Only a certified political idiot would even dream of expecting a democratic foreign policy from this or any other capitalist regime.

The noblest and sincerest Eisenhower man would not hesitate to explain that such a declaration is childish, utopian, unreasonable and impractical – although it would be impossible for him to say why in terms of democratic principle. The average Eisenhower man (this goes also for the average capital-D Democrat) would find the declaration good ground for suspecting its author of subversive intentions. So, if only in the interests of economizing time, we do not even think in terms of persuading the Republicans – or the Democrats – to adopt such a foreign policy.

After all, the picture of the Eisenhower administration proclaiming such an elementary democratic policy is too much even for the most solidly balanced mind. Turn your back on the French colonial assassins just to win the support of the Algerian, Moroccan, Madagascan and Indo-Chinese people? No, better to send more arms and bombs to the French so that they can teach the obstreperous Indo-Chinese the virtues of the West.

Say one single word against the villainous British campaign in Malaya or against the Mau Mau, and thus offend the Tory imperialists? Not for a moment! The most natural allies of an American imperialist policy are reactionaries and imperialists throughout the world, that is, those who ignore the revolutionary and democratic avalanche that is burying the old order throughout the world, those who do not understand it, those who despise the “lower classes” and the “backward peoples” and are resolved to “keep them in their places.”

But the American working class and its labour movement – that is something else again! It can and it must adopt this simple democratic proposition as its very own.

Every day that it continues to take responsibility for the administration’s foreign polity – while more and more clearly realizing in its innermost councils that there is something radically wrong with the policy – it hurts itself and its interests more grievously, it brings discredit upon itself among the peoples abroad, it contributes to the explosive stalemate between the two imperialist contenders for world power, and above all it denies itself the birthright privilege of being the sturdiest champion of democracy in the nation.

Anyone with eyes in his head to see what is really going on in the world knows how American capitalism and its governments stand in the thinking of the people everywhere. Actively or passively, out of desperation or out of hopeful and clear-cut conviction, out of reluctant support to the “enemy of an enemy” or enthusiastic support of their authentic aspirations – it is these tens and hundreds of millions who are deciding the fate of the entire world. They will decide – not the big statesmen, not the big exploiters and not even the big bombs.

And the fact that must hammer its way into the heads of all of us until it is firmly seated there is this: there is no chance on God’s green earth that these tens and hundreds of millions of people will place their confidence in the Eisenhower administration, or in anything like that administration, or in anyone bearing political responsibility for it, there is no chance that they will become its reliable allies. Their masters, their rulers their governments, perhaps; but the people themselves no.

Their confidence can be won, however, by the American labour movement. Of that, there is not only a chance but a great chance and, under proper circumstances, a sure chance. But not if the American labour movement appears before these peoples as a mere agent cozening them and inducing them in behalf of an Eisenhower administration or anything like it. Not if it bears responsibility in their eyes for the foreign policy of Eisenhower or even of the allied governments which Washington shelters, subsidizes and supports.

There is a great chance – but only if the American labour movement, starting with its most progressive elements takes responsibility only for it in its own voice – the voice of the most powerful labour movement on earth today – and with that voice pledges labour’s unremitting dedication to the foreign policy of democracy.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 13 January 2020