Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee

Modern Revisionism: U.S.-Soviet Detente....

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 1, No. 5, November-December 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Much has been made of detente (relaxation of tensions between the US and the USSR) in recent years. The press of the Soviet Union and the US have both been saying that the development of detente ushers in a new era in world politics. This new era is heralded as a time of ’peace’, ’co-operation’, ’international friendship’, and ’the end of nuclear confrontation.’ The joint Apollo-Soyuz space shot which climaxed with the Soviet and US astronauts clasping hands in space supposedly captures this new spirit.

To the US imperialists the reality behind the glowing rhetoric is profits. The Soviet Union desperately needs US manufactured machinery and technology to sure up its sagging economy. They have promised huge orders of expensive equipment for their steel, chemical and oil plants. Sales of these industrial goods promise a profit bonanza for the US monopolies.


But the profits sought from detente are not merely economic. By offering expanded trade and favorable financing for Soviet purchases, the US imperialists hope to steer the Soviets further along the path of ’moderation’. They are eager to encourage the recent trend in Soviet foreign policy which has resulted in significant concessions to imperialist interests, particularly in the Middle East and South East Asia.

Given these advantages, the favorable attitude of imperialism towards detente is not hard to understand. Detente obviously offers them significant opportunities to strengthen their position in the world.

What attitude should the working class take to detente?

The CPUSA argues that the development of detente is an event of world wide historical import. They maintain that the relaxation of tensions between the US and the USSR is the focal point for the struggle against US imperialism. Gus Hall, General Secretary of the CPUSA, writes, “The essence of this moment, the balance of its forces, its direction, its currents and its trends are all encompassed in the phrase ’the struggle for detente.’”

In order to understand what is being said here it is necessary to remember that to the CPUSA the Soviet Union is the center and leading force in the world-wide struggles for freedom and national independence. Just as they view the US as the main bulwark of the imperialist exploiters so they view the Soviet Union as the main stay of the world’s working class and its allies.

Thus when they say that the “essence of this moment” consists in the progressive development of detente they mean more than just the development of understanding between the US and the Soviet Union as single states. They are arguing that the development of detente stands at the center of the global struggles between the forces of imperialism and the forces of socialism.


Is it true that ’detente’ is an accurate summation of the present course of world development? Is it true as the revisionists implicitly argue that there has been a worldwide accommodation between US imperialism and the world’s oppressed and exploited peoples? Hardly. While there has been a minor relaxation of the tensions between the Soviet Union and the US governments, worldwide antagonisms between the popular forces and the US imperialists have sharpened.

For example, examine South East Asia. Certainly the victory of the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian peoples did not result in reduced antagonisms in the region. On the contrary, these victories have spurred the development of national liberation movements in the whole region; far from a progressing accommodation, there has been a general sharpening of struggles against US imperialism from Thailand to the Philippines, from Malaysia to Indonesia.

If there has really been a ’detente’ in the area what is the reason for Ford’s provocative demonstration of ’American military might’ in the Mayaquez affair? If the US is being forced into an accommodation with the forces of revolution why is it that the State Department threatens to use tactical nuclear weapons to back up President Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship in South Korea?

South East Asia and the surrounding regions are not the only areas to experience a general intensification of anti-imperialist struggle. In Latin America the liberation movements are as strong as ever and popular anti-imperialist sentiments are higher than any time since the end of World War II. In Africa, the liberation of Guinea Bisseau, Angola and Mozambique has further isolated both the Rhodesian and South African settler regimes and their US monopolist backers. In the Middle East the growing Arab unity – despite the recent Egyptian-Israeli settlement – and the rising star of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) attest to strengthening popular movements. And in Europe, what country better expresses sharpening antagonisms than Portugal.

The real core of worldwide political struggle is expressed by a general sharpening of antagonisms between the revolutionary forces and US imperialism not by their weakening. While the development of US-Soviet detente is an important feature of the present political scene it is hardly the central one.


Gus Hall, however, is not content with just misjudging recent developments in the world. He deepens and compounds his error by distorting the basic and fundamental character of US imperialism. He revises the primary Marxist-Leninist teachings about the real nature of imperialism and creates reformist illusions as a result.

He maintains that detente “represents an important change in the class policy of monopoly capitalism which is forced to recognize the realities of the present day world.” He argues that it has been forced to change its character, moaning sympathetically, “The acceptance of detente is a very painful process for US imperialism.”

It is painful because it is a shift from the basic cold war concept that has determined it s foreign policy for some 30 years. US imperialism can move towards detente only to the extent that it gives up the concept of trying to deal from a position of strength, that it gives up the concept of blockading the Socialist countries, that it gives up its dream of the ’American Century,’ a dream in which US imperialism would dominate the world.”

While the US government may temporarily give up – and to a large extent has – the tactic of blockading Socialist countries, it will never give up trying to bargain from a position of strength. Nor will it give up its dream of dominating the world. In order to do so it would have to change its very nature.

Similarly in the trade union struggle. While the bourgeoisie may give up a particular tactic in its fights with the workers, it will never cease its efforts to bully and dominate them. For example, temporarily the monopolists have given up trying to smash the trade unions through military and police force but they have not given up their struggle to control the trade unions and the workers within them. They have changed their tactics; they no longer attack the trade unions openly from without. Now they pursue the ’enlightened’ tactic of infiltration and subversion, buying off the trade union leaders and turning them into class collaborators.

The struggle for worldwide domination is an outgrowth of the very nature of imperialism. The economic core of imperialism is monopoly capitalism. Monopoly capitalism is a system based on the development of a few large corporations in each branch of production that have attained monopoly status in their industry. These corporations maintain their monopolies by economically bludgeoning and dominating their competitors, forcing them to either follow the dictates of monopoly or out of business altogether.

Monopoly corporations, however, are not just content to dominate their own domestic market. Because further investment in domestic markets would inevitably lead to expanded competition and thus lower rates of profit they expand overseas. They export their capital to other countries and attempt to secure a monopoly in these other countries’ markets as well. Their scramble for worldwide monopoly provides a global framework for their efforts at domination as well.

Thus the political bullying of US imperialism is a mere extension into the realm of politics of the basic economics of monopoly capitalism. US imperialism can only give up its struggle to dominate the world to the extent that it ceases to be imperialism.


To imply as Gus Hall does that imperialism can be forced to surrender its basic essence is to create illusions; it is to prettify imperialism.

But Gus Hall takes his efforts in imperialism’s behalf even further. He maintains that detente can make imperialism give up its “nuclear brinksmanship” and provide “real assurances of peace”, that detente can end its “cold war policy of frontal aggression.” Detente, he says, provides a “way of getting out from under the increasingly heavy burden of huge military budgets.” In addition, detente provides an opening to end racism, reaction and anti-democratic practices.

Imagine. An imperialism without the danger of war and nuclear holocaust, an imperialism resigned to peace in the world, an imperialism without racism, reaction and oppressive military budgets. A ’pretty’ imperialism indeed!

Such an imperialism would certainly be one to struggle for if it were not such an idle pipe dream. And certainly if the struggle for detente could alter the basic and fundamental characteristics of imperialism, all revolutionaries would be duty bound to strive for it. Indeed we would take the struggle tor detente as seriously as Hall does and place it at the center of our overall struggles.

But unfortunately Hall (and any who swallow his web of lies) suffers from magnificent – and at the same time catastrophic – illusions. Imperialism is bound to war, racism and repression by a thousand threads; it could not survive without them.

To advocate the centrality of the struggle for detente by maintaining that it can negate the character of imperialism is to mislead the working class. To teach that any struggle can lead to reform of imperialism’s policy of racism and war is to disarm the revolutionary movement.

For unless the working class understands that no reforms can possibly alter imperialism’s anti-popular nature which finds its natural expression in wars of aggression and racist oppression, it will never succeed in winning peace and an end to racism.

This is not to argue that the working class should ignore the question of the struggle against imperialism’s foreign policy. The peace movement of the 60’s and early 70’s demonstrated the effects of a domestic popular movement in the struggle for peace. Like wise, the struggles of longshore workers against the importation of Rhodesian chrome have demonstrated the effects of struggles against imperialism’s export of racism.

But what both of these struggles also showed is that while they could impede imperialism’s ability to carry out its program of war and racism, they could not end that policy itself. The war threat of imperialism remains as real as ever; and racism remains as its fundamental policy.

For there is only one way to put an end to the danger of war. There is but one way to eradicate racism and but one way to provide real democracy for all the world’ peoples. And that is not by struggling for detente or any other form of accommodation with US imperialism. On the contrary, the only way to ’prettify’-imperialism is to wipe it off the face of this earth!