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The Cold War

First Published: In Struggle! No. 246, April 14, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Less than 20 years ago, housewives kept stocks of canned goods in their cellars in the event of a nuclear war which seemed imminent. Around the same time, the Cuban missile crisis put an end, so to speak, to a 15-year long cold war between the East and the West.

In this article we will attempt to focus on the Cold War which had a considerable impact on world developments from 1945 to the beginning of the sixties. We do not claim to have dealt with all the ins and outs of that period in doing so. Rather we deal with the Cold War as an important political event that provides a general framework for introducing that historical period. In future articles, we will take up some of the specific points more in depth.

1945-1947: A period of uncertainty

In the 18-month period following the August 1945 armistice, the new balance of power between the belligerent countries was somewhat unclear and uncertain. It was clear that the respective power of the various countries had greatly changed, but it was not clear what practical implications this would have on the world situation. The purpose of the Cold War was to resolve this. This is why we must first look at the situation at the end of the war>

The United States literally became the factory of the world. At that time, the U.S. alone was responsible for 50% of world industrial production. They also became world creditors and accumulated 75% of the existing stocks of gold in their coffers. The European imperialist countries lost 2/3 of their productivecapacity and, because of the war loans, they passed from creditor countries to debtor countries. The economic superiority of the U.S. was such that the sum of the grass national product (GNP) of all the most important imperialist countries – France, West Germany, Japan, Great Britain and Italy – only represented 40% of the U.S. GNP. This gives an idea of the huge economic disparity upon which U.S. supremacy was founded.

The U.S.S.R. was in a completely different situation from the U.S. Instead of having undergone extraordinary development during the war as the U.S. did, the U.S.S.R. faced considerable destruction. Over 20 millions Soviet people died as opposed to 400,000 Americans. Industrial production was reduced by 30% in crucial sectors like the steel and oil industry and over 70,000 villages were completely destroyed leaving 25 million people without shelter. Yet, the U.S.S.R. was able to develop a formidable army, well-equipped with Soviet material, spread out from Korea in Asia to the eastern part of Germany in Europe. So, in spite of great losses, the U.S.S.R. appeared at this time, and for the first time, as a major power on the world scene. It is probably because Great Britain and the U.S. recognized this that the various summit conferences which took place during the war gave the. U.S.S.R. outstanding influence in the ransacked and only slightly industrialized countries of Eastern Europe.

The world situation was therefore very different from what it had been in 1939. In spite of the complexity of this situation, we can draw out a few important aspects.

The cold war and the two great powers

From 1945 to 1947, the U.S. play a relatively discreet political role given the degree of their economic supremacy and especially in comparison to the role which they played after 1947. During this two-year period, they were absorbed by internal problems. Wartime industry had to be converted to peacetime industry and millions of soldiers had to be called back. Apart from a series of strikes against the rising cost of living in 1946, they did not meet with too much difficulty. The fall in production of 1946 was checked the following year, and economic recovery began in 1948. On the international scene, the U.S. tried to develop hegemony over Asia by occupying Japan alone, while they shared the military occupation, of Germany with France and Great Britain and with the U.S.S.R.

The end of the war in the U.S.S.R. did’ not lead to great internal disorders either. The fourth Five-Year Plan began in 1946 along the lines of the reconstruction plans in the thirties, with a definite priority to heavy industry. 25% of the national income, levied mostly from the peasantry, was used for capital accumulation. This of course, limited the possibility of increased consumption. While pursuing in effect the same political line as before the war, the Soviet government tried however to remedy some of the problems which arose during the wartime. A monetary reform in 1947 served to track down and to fight those who had made money on the black market and land which peasants had illegally taken possession of during the conflict was taken back, Minister Jdanov launched a campaign against revisionism in the field of art and culture.

Instability In Europe

While the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were relatively stable despite everything, the situation was very different in some European imperialist countries and in Eastern Europe. In these first post-war years, these countries were the cradle of uncertainty.

As we have previously mentioned (see IN STRUGGLE! no. 241) in many imperialist countries, the end of the war was marked by a movement of the masses towards the left. In the countries where the Resistance was active, this was the result of a vast movement of mass mobilization not only against Nazism, but also against the existing state of things in 1939. This represented a potential danger for the bourgeoisies, especially since in the 1946 elections in France, the Communist Party became the most influential party in the country after having received 5.5 million votes. In France, however, as in Italy and in Belgium, the Communist Party was in a minority position in the gOvernment. This was a completely new, but also highly ambiguous and unstable political situation, for it was based on an attempt to continue the anti-fascist coalition which had existed during the war, the united front of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. On the economic scene, there were a series of nationalizations of industries in key sectors of the economy in Great Britain, France and Italy. At the same time, important social reforms were initiated, especially in Great Britain and, at last, French women won the right to vote.

The broad lines of development in Eastern Europe are strikingly similar. During this period. there were coalition governments in these countries, as in Western European ones, though communists had a more important role in these than in the West. In Eastern Europe, this period was also marked by nationalizations of key sectors of the economy and the initiation of reforms, like the agrarian reform which redistributed the property of big landowners to the peasants. Communists described this as the starch for new and democratic paths to socialism, without disrupting the State apparatus and without having recourse to the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was very similar to the line adopted by the communists in imperialist countries, a line which tried to avoid aggravating the contradiction between socialism and imperialism. The presence of the Red Army in the East and of the army of the Allies in the West was to play an important role in determining which way things would finally tilt in each country.

The boundaries of the Soviet zone of influence were still being battled over. In 1946, the U.S.S.R. supported a secessionist movement in the north of Iran and only withdrew its troops after strenious international negotiations. The U.S.S.R. also made territorial claims over part of Turkey which would have given it a passageway to the Mediterranean. So there was also a certain instability around the question of boundaries.

National movements develop

There was increasing unrest in the colonies and dependent countries. During the war, there had been feverish economic activity – and in much better conditions than before the war – in India, Africa, the Middle East and other regions to support the war effort of the mother countries. Consequently, national movements became that much stronger. In Black Africa, it was around this time that the nationalist movement became a real force. In Asia, Japan had supported the setting up of nationalist governments in countries like Indonesia in an attempt to weaken the allied forces. After the defeat of Japan and the return of the Dutch colonialists. Indonesia proclaimed its independence in August 1945, and Vietnam did the same. In both cases, armed struggle against the colonizing forces nevertheless broke out and lasted for many years. The Philippines won their independence and the situation in China was precarious. Like everywhere else where a class coalition had defeated fascism, the question of State power was now the key issue. Although the U.S.S.R. was in favour of a coalition government in China, civil war nevertheless broke out between the communist forces under the leadership of Mao and the Chiang Kai Chek nationalists with whom the U.S. had signed a military assistance pact in June 1946.

In the Middle East, Great Britain was forced to recognize the independence of Jordan while France had to put an end to forced labour in its African colonies and to give French citizenship to the Blacks. In passing, it is interesting to note an important difference between Great Britain’s colonial policy and that of France. Great Britain much more easily granted autonomy and then independence to its colonies as long as its economic interests were protected, while France tried to integrate its colonies as French territories overseas with parliamentary representatives in Paris, etc. Consequently, the struggle for independence was much more difficult in the French colonies.

Unrest develops in the colonies as the imperialist mother countries weaken. This marked the beginning of a series of national independence struggles.

1947: the beginning of the cold war

In 1947, there were a number of unresolved questions on the world scene in relation to coalition governments, spheres of influence and colonial movements. In this context, Great Britain proved to be incapable of controlling the situation, and thus the decline of Great Britain as a world power became apparant. At the beginning of 1947, Great Britain was forced to inform the U.S. that it was no longer able to oppose armed communist resistance in Greece. It informed the U.S. that if they did not want to see the Soviet sphere of influence spread to Greece, they would have to intervene. Great Britain was no longer able to withhold from recognizing the independence of India, Pakistan and Burma where there were mass nationalist movements. Finally, in July, Great Britain failed in its effort to retain a status for the pound sterling which allowed it to be freely converted into gold; the dollar thus became the only lord and master.

So, the United States then became the political, economic and military leaders of the Western world, determined to bring this whole complicated situation to order. In March 1947, President Truman presented the following policy: “I believe that it must be the policy of the U.S. to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure... If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world – and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation.”[1]

The intent was very clear: the U.S. took on the mission of fighting communism wherever it might be, within the country or elsewhere in the world, whether it involved forces internal or external to any given country.

For this reason, in March 1947. Truman ordered that an inquiry be conducted among U.S. government employees, those already employed and future employees, so as to purge the State apparatus, and by extension the strategic industries, of all elements suspected of having communist sympathies. Intellectual circles and artists, as well as the labour movement, came next. In June 1947. the Taft-Hartley law was passed against labour unions, imposing considerable limits on acquired rights. This law stipulated that support strikes were illegal, that union dues were no longer to be collected by the employer, that union leaders had to swear an anti-communist oath, etc.

Then the U.S. spread the good word throughout the world allying with the local bourgeoisies. The Communist deputies were expelled from the French government on May 5, 1947. Then, the Communist members lost their posts in the Italian government on May 31. It was not a mere coincidence. The U.S. offensive against communism also had an economic aspect. It is clear that if it took too long for Europe to come out of the economic difficulties of the reconstruction, the social order could have been seriously threatened, as witness the important strikes during these years, the movement of homeless, etc.

The Marshall Plan

So, in June 1947, General Marshall presented what is known as the Marshall Plan. To put an end to “hunger and misery” the U.S. offered considerable economic aid to all European countries, including the U.S.S.R. and the countries of Eastern Europe. This was a very clever move. Besides supporting U.S. economic recovery, it contributed politically to detaching Eastern European countries away from the U.S.S.R. which refused to subscribe to this plan and to accept its conditions. Countries like Czechoslovakia were inclined to accept the plan. As a matter of fact, Czechoslovakia accepted the plan until it was forced to withdraw by the Soviet veto.

In Western Europe, $12 billion worth of aid rolled in under the Marshall Plan between 1948 and 1952. Some 85% of this was not in money but in goods. Germany, France and Great Britain took 50% of this, Britain alone receiving 25%. The communists, oddly enough, condemned the Marshall Plan as a move to “deindustrialize” Europe. In fact, its real effect would be to firm these countries up as bulwarks against communism while keeping them solidly within the U.S. camp. The Americans made parallel moves in defeated Japan; U.S. authorities there were the strong “inspiration” behind the more democratic new constitution adopted in May 1947.

Another step in the process of bringing the imperialist camp together was made in October with the creation of the GATT [2], the objective of which was to encourage trade among the countries belonging to it. In practice, trade would develop very rapidly indeed among member countries, from 8 to 10% per annum, which fuelled growth.

Socialist camp on the defensive

The socialist camp was a little caught short by this general imperialist offensive. In contrast, the creation of the Cominform [3] in September 1947 stands out as a defensive move designed to bring political unity to the people’s democracies being courted on all sides by the Americans. The Cominform analysis of the situation at the time was that the world was divided into two camps, except they did not see that division as being between the imperialist camp and the socialist camp, with the Eastern European countries isolated from the democratic but non-socialist forces. Instead, they drew the dividing line between the anti-imperialist and democratic camp and the anti-democratic pro-imperialist camp. This led to a basically defensive line: defend the peace to block the war that imperialism seemed to want to restart; defend democracy; defend the national sovereignty – in particular of the Western European countries – against U.S. imperialism, the number l enemy of the world’s peoples. The transparent objective of this policy was to prevent the imperialist camp from pulling together in too solid a unity behind the U.S. Consequently, the struggle for socialism was played down because to accentuate it would be to thrust the Western European national bourgeoisies still further into the arms of the U.S. This was an aspect that would be revived again and again as a key clement in future Soviet policy.

As 1947 drew to a close, it was remarkable how much the world situation had changed in one year. The division of Europe had become more sharply defined. In subsequent years this would become even more so and would stabilize.

1948-1950: lines drawn between the two camps

The socialist camp reacted to the launching of the cold war by hardening its line from 1948 on. In February, 1948, the bourgeois party Ministers were dropped from the Czech government. This was but the mirror image of what had already transpired in Italy and France, where communists had earlier been ousted from the governments. Absorbing the socialist parties everywhere in Eastern Europe, the communist parties set up what for all practical purposes amounted to one-party States. In terms of economics, the people’s democracies imitated the Soviet model of rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture in a planned economy.

The COMECON [4] was set up in 1949, partly in response to the Marshall Plan. It aimed to establish economic ties between Eastern European countries, which had been virtually non-existent before World War Two. Stalin theorized about this move in 1952, postulating that two parallel markets would lead to the ruin of imperialism, which would be increasingly deprived of its markets. Historical events have since proved something different: there has been a progressive integration of the two markets due in particular to the difficulties which the creation of a separate parallel market had created for the socialist camp itself.

In these years, the idea of multiple national and different paths to socialism was a no-no. The earlier understanding of people’s democracies as a path that allowed the building of socialism without a stage of dictatorship of the proletariat was abandoned. The dictatorship of the proletariat became the only principled way to carry out the transition from capitalism to socialism. Thus Yugoslavia, which held to the previous path of people’s democracy was strongly condemned by the socialist camp countries in June 1948 and expelled from the Cominform. Yugoslavia developed some links with the U.S. shortly afterwards, accepting aid.

There was precious little left of the former wartime alliance between the Soviet Union and the imperialist countries. There was a complete breakdown in March 1948 in Germany; this was followed by the Soviet imposition of a blockade on West Berlin (Western army-occupied area in the middle of the Soviet-occupied zone) which brought little gain for the U.S.S.R.

Shortly afterwards, in May 1949, the Western zone became the Federal Republic of Germany. Five months later, the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic. The two zones in Korea (north and south) were similarly transformed into two States on August 15, 1948. In the Middle East, Israel was created in 1948 and would serve as the policeman for imperialist interests in this troubled oil-rich region. Imperialism shored up its positions in Latin America as well with the establishment of the Organization of American States (OAS). This move worked very well apparently; throughout the cold-war period, the Latin American regimes were to be among the strongest supporters of the U.S. The few dissidents like Jacob Arbenz in Guatemala were rapidly overthrown with American help.

All the uncertain elements in the equation were thus defined. The defeat of the communist resislance in Greece in 1949 brought the division of Europe into two very distinct camps, each with its policies and institutions to ensure unity within its ranks, to conclusion.

The relative strength of the two camps

In the whole 1945 to 1950 period it is clear that the balance of power was tipping most often in favour of the imperialist camp. Compare industrial production figures: COMECON countries accounted for 18% of world production in 1948 while the U.S. alone was responsible for 50%. Consider the weapons balance: even if the U.S. is excluded, the NATO alliance, formed in 1949, had more arms than the whole socialist camp.

In each direct confrontation after the war – in Iran, Berlin, Greece – it was the socialist camp that had to beat a retreat. A look at the facts shows that most of the actions by the socialist camp were simply a response to an attack by the imperialist camp on many fronts; the socialist camp moves added up to a basic retrenchment. The Soviet policy seems to have been mainly defensive.

The fact that in both blocks the various countries followed more or less similar parallel paths is indicative of how much influence the United State and Soviet Union had. The very pronounced U.S. hegemony in Western Europe might well have been a factor in temporarily softening the rivalries between the imperialist countries. Similarly, Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe stifled the nationalism of the people’s democracies for a time.

The fifties

The proclamation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, was a great victory for the socialist camp. It was a victory which was due mainly to the efforts of the Chinese communist forces in waging and winning the civil war. U.S. imperialism was shaken; it moved quickly to organize an economic, diplomatic and political blockade against China. The blockade was maintained up until a few years ago. On the other side of the ledger, China signed a treaty of alliance and friendship with the Soviet Union in February, 1950. From that date on, the main battlefront for the confrontation between the two camps shifted from Europe to Asia and to the colonial countries in general. The pattern of the fifties was set: the workers movement in the increasingly prosperous imperialist countries was brought under control; the socialist camp gradually disintegrated; national liberation struggles became very important.

Senator McCarthy goes on with-hunt

As the fifties opened, U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy made himself famous in a rather unfortunate way: he called for a full-scale revival of witch-hunts against everything unAmerican. His target included everything which even seemed progressive, including those who had supported Roosevelt’s reformist 1933 New Deal.

In Canada, the top union brass rather than the State took charge of purging their ranks of progressives and communists. They engineered splits, expelled “red” individuals from unions as well as “red” unions from labour federations raided “red” unions with rival or newly-created “white” ones, and performed all sorts of manipulative tricks. This had a negative effect on the growth of the union movement. In the late forties and early fifties, delegates elected by their fellow workers were barred from union conventions due to suspected communist sympathies.

These North American examples don’t exhaust the list. The situation was not much better for the working class in the other imperialist countries either. In France, the unity accomplished by the formation of the Confederation generale du travail (CGT) in 1936 in the wake of a massive strike movement was broken in 1947. West Germany embarked on a policy of institutionalized class collaboration with co-management of enterprises by unions and management in certain sectors of the economy. Communist parties were either stagnating or in decline everywhere.

In short, the workers movement came into the fifties divided, robbed of its most advanced members and dominated by the most chauvinist and class-collaborationist sections of the working class. This was one of the results of the cold war that the capitalists are undoubtedly only too proud to admit.

The cold war carries on strong

But the cold war did not slacken. In the 1952 presidential elections in the U.S., a general (Eisenhower) was elected to the White House. His Secretary of Defence was none other than Charles Wilson, president of General Motors, the living symbol of the military-industrial complex. The Republican victory came on a hawkish programme that said the Truman cold-war policy had been too soft-line and defensive. Eisenhower argued that it was not good enough just to “contain” communism; it must be driven back. Eastern Europe must be liberated. The entry of Greece and Turkey into NATO just a few months earlier was to improve conditions to attain this objective.

Economically, the Western European imperialist countries completed the process of post-war reconstruction by about 1950. Their economies were visibly growing and free of any major economic crisis. There was even talk of the German, Italian and Japanese “economic miracles”, a reference to the fact that these economies enjoyed growth rates two to four times greater than the rather average U.S. rate. There were rivalries between the imperialist countries, mainly focussed in the colonial world. In 1956, for example, the United States strongly opposed (as did the Soviet Union) the military attack on Egypt by Britain, France and Israel after Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez canal. However, these rivalries were definitely secondary in relation to the trend towards greater unity in the imperialist camp. The European Coal and Steel Agreement was set up in April 1951. It was the start of what would become the European Economic Community (EEC or Common Market) in 1957. In 1959, the other European countries outside the EEC Followed suit and formed the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). With the passage of time, it would become evident that these developments would have consequences on the relative strength of Europe and the United States.

The socialist camp torn apart

Stability reigned in the imperialist countries. The cold war against communism was clearly being won. Meanwhile, the countries in the socialist camp were also enjoying success in their endeavours to industrialize. The rate of industrial growth in Eastern European countries varied between 11% and 16% per year between 1951 and 1956. There too post-war reconstruction was completed by 1950. All eyes were on the Soviet Union’s military advances: the atomic bomb in 1949, the hydrogen bomb in 1953, the launching of the Sputnik satellite and intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S. from Soviet bases in 1957.

But the dazzling statistics also serve to cover up major social contradictions in the socialist camp. Indeed, these contradictions were probably greater than the ones affecting the imperialist countries at that time. The death of Stalin on March 5, 1953, set things off. In the U.S.S.R., the pressure was immediately taken off the peasants with a boost in prices for farm products. In the Eastern European people’s democracies, the whole approach followed since 1948 was second-guessed: collectivizition of agriculture was cut back; small-scale private trading and small private industry was encouraged; greater emphasis was placed on production of consumer goods. In June 1953, workers rioted in Czechoslovakia to protest a reform of the monetary system that was financed by undermining the purchasing power of the workers. Further riots broke out the next month in East Berlin, and so it spread...

Appeals for relaxation of tensions

1953 was the point during the cold war when the appeals for relaxation of tensions began to be launched with greater and greater insistence. The idea of separate national roads to socialism was back in style. In June, the Soviet Union proposed exchanging ambassadors again with Tito’s Yugoslavia; Yugoslavia agreed. Leaders who had been thrown out as rightists in the people’s democracies – like Imre Nagy in Hungary – came back. Pressure built up to reduce the role played by the communist parties. China by and large escaped this trend. From 1951 to 1956, China implemented its first 5 year plan modelled on the Soviet example of the 1930s.

Thus between 1953 and 1955, the people’s democracies changed their course rather considerably. In 1955 there was another sharp turn. National exceptionalism was again subjected to criticism. The right-wing leaders were sacked again; the policies of 1953, which it was argued had promoted tendencies to the restoration of capitalism, came under fire. The Warsaw mutual self-defence pact was signed in May 1955, highlighting the effort to pull together the badly shaken socialist camp. Meanwhile, the United States was setting up one military pact after another with countries on the periphery of the socialist countries, as we will see later.

The deStalinization

February 1956: the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union gave the official signal to deStalinize. The line of peaceful coexistence and economic competition with the imperialist camp was declared. The apparent objective of this move was to depolarize the conflicts in the world and to cool out the imperialist countries’ desire for war so that the socialist camp could give more attention to economic development. This was also the time when the idea was bluntly put forward of a peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism in the imperialist countries. As we will see later, the Soviet Union was working on many fronts at the international level to escape its isolation. In other words. the Soviet Union went further than it had ever gone before to prove to imperialism that communism really did not threaten it The struggle from now on need only be carried out in terms of each socio-economic system striving to out-do the other in terms of economic achievements.

Open class struggle erupts in people’s democracies

DeStalinization was accompanied by the formal dissolution of the Cominform in April’ 1956. The immediate result in the people’s democracies was a rising tide of demands by various different social classes. Many of the rightist leaders ousted just a year earlier were back in the saddle again. Starting in October, 1956, there were demonstrations in Poland calling for more democracy, the legalizetion of a multi-party system, etc. In Hungary, the one-party system was declared abolished. A tremendous movement grew up in favour of petty commerce and private small-scale industry, On November 2, the Hungarian government announced its intention of leaving the Warsaw Pact. Two days later, Soviet troops were in Hungary to put an abrupt end to the moves that were heading directly in the direction of the disintegration of the socialist camp.

Despite the Soviet response, from this point on the people’s democracies each increasingly pursued their own national path, albeit within certain limits, as the present events in Poland indicate. China was on what appeared more and more to be a different course than that pursued by the Russians and Eastern Europeans. The 1958 Great Leap Forward was particularly striking in this regard; the Soviet Union condemned it. Given this kind of situation, it is hard to make much sense out of the material written by communists in this period which went on and on utterly seriously about the wonderful string of victories being won by the socialist camp. The same communist writings portrayed the imperialist camp as being on the point of falling apart under the weight of its own internal contradictions. Despite the efforts at unity represented by the 1957 and 1960 conferences of communist parties in Moscow, the first joint meetings of communist forces from around the world in 35 years, the socialist camp was to break up in the early sixties.

The cold war and decolonization

We said earlier that in the fifties the main battlefronts of the cold war had shifted to the colonial world, where the national independence movement was building up. In 1954, just about all the Asian countries had gained political independence. The independence of Ghana in 1957 marked the entry of black Africa into the independence movement. The process culminated in 1960 with the granting of political independence to 15 African countries. How these new countries would align themselves was to be an important factor in the cold war chess game.

As with all the other direct confrontations between the two camps, the Korean war (June 1950 to July 1953) forced nearly everybody to choose sides. This worked against the socialist camp every time. The United Nations vote on sending troops to fight North Korea was 45 in favour, 5 against (all socialist bloc countries) and 7 abstentions. Most of the newly independent countries tended to form a solid bloc in favour of the U.S. policy of “containment”. The socialist camp was very isolated on the international scene. There were, however, those 7 abstentions. These votes represented the stand of countries which were looking for a third way, rejecting alignment with one camp or the other. The Soviet Union was not in a position to get these countries to join its camp en masse. Hence it chose the option of strengthening the neutralist trend as a source of potential support. Furthermore, especially after 1953, the Soviet Union went to the greatest possible lengths to avoid polarization between countries. It stressed themes that had prospects of getting broad support in the third world détente, disarmament, peace, decolonization...

The U.S. took the opposite stance. It of course came out publicly in favour of decolonization. But it did so only insofar as decolonization opened up new markets to it. Hence, its major material support given to French imperialism’s fight against the Vietnamese. The number one objective above all others had to be to fight the possibility of a new communist State.

U.S. tries to firm up its camp

The United States thus worked to try to divide the world into two as sharply as possible. U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles said that neutralism was immoral. The United States matched its pious words with pirate actions by overthrowing the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953. The Mossadegh regime had immorally tried to develop an international policy that kept equal distance from the two camps. Its ultimate sin was to nationalize the Anglo-lranian Oil company. In April 1954, the United States set up the Baghdad Pact, a kind of loose-knit mini-NATO,for the pro-Western countries in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. The United States itself joined in March 1957. This came shortly after the proclamation of the Eisenhower doctrine, which sanctioned U.S. military intervention in any Middle Eastern country to battle communism if such ’aid’ was requested.

In September of 1954, another military pact was signed establishing the South-East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO). A few months later, West Germany was admitted to the United Nations. The U.S. was doing what it could to get as many countries as possible (especially in the Third World) involved in fighting for its cause: the encirclement and containment of the socialist camp. This was the period when the socialist bloc countries moved to form the Warsaw Pact.

Neutralism spreads

Nevertheless, the United States was forced to take account of the existence of “neutral” countries. The leading countries in this category were India, Egypt, Indonesia, Burma and Yugoslavia. The most powerful expression of the neutralist trend was without a doubt the April 1955 Bandung conference, It was attended by all the independent countries from Africa and Asia except South Africa, Israel, North and South Korea and Taiwan. There were 29 represented. The neutral countries, took the initiative to invite China which had up to then been extremely isolated by the containment policy; it was China’s first big entry onto the international scene since the 1949 revolution.

The conference brought together countries that were opposed to one another in many respects. Some, like Ceylon, Pakistan and the Philippines, were very pro-West and were fighting the communists in their own bailiwick. Seated at the same table were countries like China and North Vietnam. A lot of effort was therefore made to reaffirm the points where agreement did already exist between the various countries; the big point was unconditional support for the decolonization struggle. Bandung was also successful from the neutralists’ viewpoint because the conference agreed to oppose participation in any military alliance which was formed to favour the interests of a foreign power. That resolution evidently pointed an oblique finger at the recent U.S.-initiated military pacts.

The U.S.S.R. and non-alignment

It is easy to see how these developments pleased the U.S.S.R. The whole line of economic competion mentioned above that had been adopted al the 20th C.P.S.U. Congress in 1956 seemed made to order as a response to the neutralist appeal. There were other economic facts at work too. The newly independent countries all faced serious problems of underdevelopment. In just about every case, the leaders of the new governments wished to maintain economic links with the old imperialist metropolis, by staying in the British Commonwealth, for example. However, such economic ties did not come without other forms of servitude and subordination of a neo-colonial nature.

In this context, non-alignment meant playing on the contradictions between the two camps to your own national advantage. When the United States refused to finance the Aswan dam in Egypt, Nasser turned to the Soviet Union in 1956. When France abruptly broke off all economic ties with Guinea after it declared independence in 1958, the U.S.S.R. took up the slack and funded the first 3-year plan. The same thing happened in Cuba after the American economic blockade of 1961. India played both ends against the middle, accepting Soviet capital and technicians with one hand and U.S. and international aid with the other.

Economic and military aid were the favoured tools used by the Soviets to get involved in national liberation struggles. Their objective was to break up the imperialist camp by breaking off the neutralists, etc. Thus they concentrated on winning over the local bourgeoisies in power in the different countries. In so doing they were also able to get great influence in some strategic areas of the world such as the Middle East. The U.S. leaders were to get pretty worried about what they termed the Soviet offensive. They reacted by talking about total cold war in 1958.

National liberation struggles left to bourgeoisie

The communist forces were thus at this time providing a political perspective for the national liberation struggles that in most cases left those struggles under the leadership of bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces. Africa won its independence from colonial rule in just about all parts of the continent without any significant role at all being played by communists or communist ideas. At most, a few leaders like Ghana’s Nkrumah would invoke Marxist concepts. This situation may lie explained in terms of a number of particular historical and sociological factors. Another factor was the chauvinism of the communists in the imperialist metropolis countries like France where they openly opposed Algerian independence. National liberation was carried out in the name of a very diverse set of ideologies: pan-Arabism; pan-Africanism, which calls for the unity of all Blacks; Senegal president Senghor’s African socialism, which means collaboration between all classes, by-force if need be;. Labourism in many ex-British colonies, etc. At the beginning of the sixties, virtually all the newly independent countries were bourgeois regimes. Some leaned more to the Soviet Union, some more towards the West.

The way in which the world situation evolved during the cold war presents an evident paradox: 1) while the socialist camp was predicting the imminent collapse of imperialism, the U.S.-led imperialist camp was getting soldier year by year: 2) the supposed growing threat posed by the socialist camp was the pretext cited for the relentless holy war against communism in Europe, the U.S. and the ex-colonies. Yet, despite some genuine and sometimes startlingly impressive achievements, the socialist camp was progressing slowly but surely towards disunity and disintegration.

How are we to interpret this apparent historical turn-around? This is not only a central issue in terms of history, It is also critical in terms of the effect that the answer to this question might have on the development of a more scientific understanding of the evolution of imperialism, the capitalist mode or production from the First World War to today.

What consequences might an understanding of what was happening in this period have for our comprehension of what has happened in the class struggle, including the struggle for decolonization, over the past 50 years? What does it mean for our view of the strategy and tactics to be employed to make revolution today? We will be examining these questions and others in an upcoming article soon.


[1]Hofstader, R. The structure of American history, Prentice-Hall, 1973, p. 361

[2]General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

[3]The Comiform included at the outset the communist parties in the people’s democracies, the Soviet Union, France and Italy.

[4]The Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) included Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the USSR, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and East Germany in 1950.