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Fourth International, March 1949


Editorial Review

Peace on the Bargain Counter


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.3, March 1949, pp.67-69.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Nothing has been so symbolic of the decadence of the mightiest and most prosperous capitalist power in the world as the expressions of pain and alarm with which leading American statesmen and publicists greeted Stalin’s proposal for a conference with Truman. The very thought that the points of friction and antagonism which rasp the nerves of an unsettled world might be mitigated, is anathema to the Yankee Caesars. For them, the peace danger has replaced the war danger. Truman’s flimsy pretexts for rejecting the proffered meeting were a bad joke calculated to stir the mirth of cynical politicians and to dash the hopes and yearnings for peace of the peoples of America and the world.

The “cold war” is not only a tactic in the grand strategy of American imperialism for the destruction of the Soviet Union and world domination; it has become a way of life. The prosperity of American capitalism depends ever more directly upon a wasteful armaments economy supplying the sinews of war to the military machine at home and its satraps abroad. Wall Street has lost confidence in the works and profits of a peaceful order as is so frequently shown these days by the “jitters” caused by the slightest tremor on the stock market, the faintest sign of a contraction of the consumers market, the most infinitesimal drop in the price index. A cataclysmic crisis lurks in the shadows.

How. to prevent this catastrophe from enveloping the United States and the world – and in the process laying low the designs of America’s rulers – is a problem that baf-fies the wisest heads of the bourgeois intelligentsia. One thing they know: a termination of the “cold war” will embarrass and possibly upset the armaments and military aid program and thus hasten the coming of the crisis. That’s not the least reason for the indecent haste of Truman and Acheson in rejecting Stalin’s proposal – it sounded to them like a proposal to cut their own throats.

The chorus of scepticism in Stalin’s sincerity provoked by his answers to correspondent Kingsbury Smith is propaganda that can fool only schoolboys and social democrats. A conference would soon reveal the hoax if one was intended. Moreover sincerity is as rare among diplomats as oranges in the Arctic Circle – discounted from the beginning in negotiations. The plain truth is that there is nothing that Washington could gain from a deal that would offset the advantages they now derive from their aggressive economic and military intervention in the affairs of Europe.

A settlement of the German problem? The question is being decided by the re-industrialization of the Ruhr under Anglo-American auspices and by the incessant pressure on the Eastern Zone through the airlift and other measures. A reduction in armaments? The very proposal has a preposterous ring in the ears of the State Department not only for economic reasons but because it could undo the major diplomatic coup they are about to achieve with the signing of the North Atlantic Defense Pact. Trade with Eastern Europe? For this a deal is unnecessary: the satellite states need American exports and trade with Marshall Plan nations far more than America needs theirs, as witnessed by the number of trade pacts now being signed without an over-all political agreement.

The biggest impulsion for a deal – not even hinted at in Stalin’s statement or in the Truman-Acheson replies – comes not from Europe but from Asia, i.e., China. The disaster which has overtaken Chiang Kai-shek at the hands of the Stalinist peasant armies is above all a disaster for American imperialism. The nationalization of Eastern European industry is hardly worthy of notice compared with the possibility of the closing down of the untapped Chinese markets to American capital investments. Without the Asiatic market, billions in idle American capital will rot in the bank vaults and, as in pre-war Germany, ever-expanding industry will strangle within the confinement of national boundaries.

There are foo many imponderables in the civil war in China for it to become the subject of diplomatic haggling – let alone public discussion between Stalin and Truman. It would be a different matter if Stalin held a whiphand over Mao Tse-tung as he does over Rakosi and Dmitrov. But the evidence is contradictory. Despite his public professions of support to Stalin against Tito, Mao continues to resemble Tito in his political complexion, his independent strength and military power. What Washington wants in China is not a promise that its present inconsequential private capital will not be nationalized – Mao has already given that assurance. It wants a guarantee of “safe” and “stable” conditions for investment and exploitation. That requires not a verbal, or even a written agreement, but a political regime suitable for the purpose.

Can Stalin prevail upon Mao to share administrative and military power with the Kuomintang or its successor and to permit them solid controls, not merely the facade of office in a “coalition” cabinet? Does he exercise that much power over Mao? Or will Mao, the vulgar agrarian democrat who is nimbler with Marxist phraseology than he is with Marxist policies and strategy, break his head on the dynamics of the Chinese revolution? Will the State Department find it more appropriate to wait until Mao’s reactionary and Utopian theory of stages – first feudalism, then capitalism, then socialism – crashes on the rocks of reality and once again permits imperialism to build a praetorian guard and let loose another white terror upon the Chinese people?

Washington’s refusal to be rushed into negotiations indicates among other things that the answers to these questions are not ready to hand. That it has not closed the door entirely reveals the importance it attaches to a “Chinese deal” if Stalin can demonstrate more power over the course of events in that country than he now appears to possess.

When Washington demands “proofs” of Stalin’s sincerity, it is not speaking of obvious concessions. These, it is now winning by force and intends to keep winning that way. It is demanding fundamental concessions which would undermine the Kremlin not only in its sphere in Eastern Europe but in the Soviet Union itself. Naturally, Washington is prepared to accept such an offering as the condition for a peaceful settlement, but its basic foreign policy is founded on the cold-blooded proposition that such far-reaching concessions can only be won as the trophies of war.

It is inconceivable that Stalin is unmindful of these facts of life. Why then did he take the extraordinary step of publicly proposing a conference with Truman? It is superficial to write off his proposal as “peace propaganda” alone, although he obviously counted on its impact upon the war-stricken peoples of Europe and even upon the European bourgeoisie which is not at all enthusiastic about their countries becoming a battlegiRound once again. Perhaps Stalin was yielding to pressure from Eastern Europe in order to prove to them it is not he but Washington which is hostile to a deal.

The strength acquired by Stalin by the addition of the satellite countries is now turning to weakness. The Kremlin is discovering, once direct plunder became impracticable, that is is increasingly difficult to create healthy economic relationships with Eastern Europe that will favor the privileged Soviet bureaucracy and its nationally limited economy. Unable to supply these states with needed capital or even to fulfill elementary barter arrangements, Stalin has resorted to the most brazen exploitation.

The extension of peasant ownings, resulting from the division of the large estates in the Balkans, has given rise to new demands upon the states, exacerbating discontent with Stalin’s depredations. Titoism is thus no accidental “Yugoslav” phenomenon but the most consummate form of a general and growing resistance to economic piracy. Moscow cannot hope to deal with this problem by force alone; it must find capital which is possessed only by its mortal enemy.

Beset by difficulties and crises on every side – from which the Soviet Union is by no means excluded – Stalin once again turns to the formula by which he averted disaster in the past. For twenty years Stalin relied on diplomatic maneuvers, on arrupt shifts from one group of capitalist powers to another. Veering from an orientation based on the anti-Versailles powers in the Twenties to “collective security” pacts with the “democracies” in the mid-Thirties, then to an alliance with Hitler and finally back to the “peace-loving” nations, Stalin managed to save his bureaucratic regime. But at what tremendous cost! – the victory of Hitler in Germany, Franco’s rise to power on the bleached bones of the Spanish proletariat, a second world slaughter, the saving of European capitalism after World War II and the degeneration of the Soviet Union into a loathsome caricature of the workers’ state created by the Russian Revolution.

Since the end of the war Stalin’s formula has lost its magic. The area for maneuvering between capitalist powers has been drastically curtailed if not eliminated altogether. There are still many capitalist nations but there is only one capitalist power – the United States. England, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland and the rest could no more move out of the American orbit and maintain capitalism in their countries than Stalin could abandon the monopoly of foreign trade and maintain his bureaucracy.

The deals consummated by Stalin in Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam were therefore more limited in character and more temporary than any of those cited above. Stalin’s bargaining power rested upon the military victories of the Red Army and above all upon his influence over the insurgent proletariat of Europe. His trumps were played after the Stalinist parties succeeded in throttling the revolution in Italy and France and American imperialism began building its military counter-force in Europe. There in a nutshell is Stalin’s present dilemma.

Where before the war Stalin could combine diplomatic maneuvers between the powers with the pressure of native Stalinist movements, since 1945 he has been limited almost exclusively to pressure. But the class struggle sets specific limits to this game which thwart the plans even of the arch-Machiavelli in the Kremlin. Thorez and Togliatti have discovered that the revolutionary momentum of the masses cannot be turned on and off at the bidding of the Kremlin like a water tap.

When, with the active aid of the Stalinists, the revolutionary tide was turned back, the traitors found that their position was not improved but worsened. Apathy and disillusionment gripped the masses when American-sponsored reaction mounted its offensive – directed in the first place against the Stalinists themselves. Therewith Stalinist pressure lost its force. The workers could not be stirred into action against “the American party” to safeguard “national sovereignty,” i.e., the Kremlin. The “rotating strikes,” resisted by the broad masses and draining the energy of the vanguard, in the end have helped only to buttress America’s position in Europe.

Then too, the Stalinist parties, particularly those in France and Italy, have undergone profound changes. Although still “border guards” for the Soviet bureaucracy, they have become mass parties of the proletariat not so easily maneuvered as the more compact pre-war Communist parties. The pseudo-left turn proclaimed in 1947 coincided with an upsurge of the masses in France and Italy and led to struggles which took on revolutionary proportions surpassing the bounds set by the Stalinist leadership. Alarmed at this development the bureaucracy was obliged to openly betray the insurrectionary general strike in Italy last July and to ruthlessly suppress the movement for a general strike in France at the cost of a shattering defeat for the miners’ union.

When Cachin and Togliatti now speak of the peaceful co-existence of socialism and capitalism they speak from the bottom of their reformist hearts. They are perfectly at home in the role of loyal oppositionists to capitalist regimes or – in extremity – as underground agents for an advancing Red Army. But playing with the socialist revolution is causing disquiet and apprehension among them – too costly and loo dangerous. Trotsky wrote in 1940 that Stalin traded the Communist parties like wheat and manganese. Unfortunately for the Kremlin traders, however, the price of Stalinism unlike that of wheat and ore has seriously declined on the world market.

Does this mean that no agreement between Stalin and Truman is possible? Such a conclusion underrates the tremendous popular sentiment for peace which Washington cannot leave out of its considerations. American imperialism is obliged to resort to such maneuvers until the road toewar is cleared of its main obstacle, i.e., until the workers of Western Europe are decisively defeated and reaction is firmly in the saddle. Furthermore, there is still the likelihood that Stalin’s counter-revolutionary policies may still be of service to Wall Street in Western Europe and in regaining a foothold in China.

It does mean, however, that Washington will give far less for such a deal than it did at Yalta and Potsdam. It may extend some sorely needed loans to Stalin and his vassals to enable them to purchase American tools and machinery. It may alter the form but in no case will it change the essence of its world policy of anti-Communist aggression. The military bastion it is now building to encircle the Soviet Union will be strengthened, not dismantled. The “cold war,” however rebaptized, will continue.

But for Stalin, who so sorely needs a breathing spell, even such “concessions” are not trifles. Pursuing a policy of the blindest empiricism, he will pay for them with the only coin he has – the servility and capitulation of the Communist parties in Western Europe. True, such a policy will be difficult to execute and will cause greater friction within the parties in the event of an economic crisis and sharpening class conflicts.

During the Renault strike in Paris when the workers defied the Stalinist union leaders, Thorez declared, “We will not permit ourselves to be outflanked on the left.” The bureaucrat gives himself credit for an omnipotence he does not possess. The Stalinist higher command are not free agents; they are reformist leaders of big mass movements which have a class logic of their own and – to make matters worse – they are tools of the Kremlin which is contemptuous of the domestic needs of the Communist parties. Despite their better judgment, another “right turn” may very well impose the role of Scheidemann and Noske, the Social Democratic butchers of the German revolution of 1918, upon the Thorezes and the Togliattis.

Will they succeed in this role and thus hasten a victory iof reaction and the outbreak of war? Or will such a counter-revolutionary policy lead to deep convulsions within the Communist parties and large-scale splits resulting in the formation of mass revolutionary parties which will alter the entire course of world history?

In the depth of the crisis, the intensity of the class struggle, the revolutionary determination of the masses, the experience and perspicacity of Trotskyist leadership lies the answer to these fateful questions.

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