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Fourth International, September 1949


John Saunders

Time Tables for World War III


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.8, September 1949, pp.236-240.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The key question that absorbs the attention of the American ruling class is when to launch an all-out attack against the Soviet Union. Bernard Baruch has warned Washington that it is absolutely essential to formulate a timetable for the coming War.

For some time the American military has been weighing the problem of whether to prepare for an imminent showdown or for a more leisurely time schedule. Should they concentrate their efforts on the immediate production of B-36 bombers and other weapons now readily at hand or should they pursue a policy of experimentation lest the materiel now being manufactured become outdated at a later period?

But far more important than military preparation, according to Baruch, are the economic considerations. If war is to be postponed then it becomes essential for the Administration to come forth with a plan to stave off the depression. And in addition it becomes necessary to safeguard the economy from the dangers of bankruptcy resulting from an excess of spending over income. Otherwise the United States runs the risk of being too weakened internally to face the final showdown.

The “War-Now” Crowd

Proponents of “war-now” have always comprised a considerable section of the American monopolists. Only a few months before his death Secretary of Defense Forrestal declared that “time flows against us.” Speaking before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on April 8, Federal Reserve Board member Marriner S. Eccles bluntly urged a speedy showdown:

“The Communists mean to have another war, if need be, to exterminate, capitalism. We must meet these challenges boldly and soon. In any realistic appraisal of the outlook today we are bound to ask ourselves whether we are not relatively better prepared now – or could soon become better prepared – to enforce a settlement than we will be five years or ten years from now.

“Will this menacing cloud that hangs over the world grow less threatening if we procrastinate and postpone a settlement?”

Answering in the negative he further set forth his fear of delay.

“There is every indication that the Russians are consolidating their positiori and mustering their strength as rapidly as possible. We do not have inexhaustible supplies of manpower and resources to support indefinitely programs of the magnitude which we are now shouldering or contemplating both at home and abroad.”

It goes without saying that a large part of the military shares the views expressed by Eccles. Every sign of recovery behind the iron curtain worries and frightens them. Speaking before a group of executives and reserve officers in a class on industrial mobilization in New York City on May 19, Colonel Walter R. Godard warned that the Soviet Union had made “a truly amazing recovery from the ravages of World War II.” The Russians had turned the destruction by the Germans into an advantage by rebuilding their heavy industry from the ground up and dispersing it.

“By 1950 the Russians could sustain a war from Siberia even if all western Russia were lost ... For a nation bent en war it could produce an industrial fortress capable of supplying vast military forces and subject only to difficult long-range attack.”

The possession of a supposed monopoly of the atomic bomb figures high in the calculations of the proponents of a speedy war. They have visions of a short successful war without too much sacrifice in life on the part of the American people. A huge air force carrying atom bombs, they believe, could demoralize the Russian people, destroy its industry, cripple its transport and force her to her knees. There would be little chance of retaliation as long as the Soviet Union had not accumulated a stockpile of this dreaded weapon.

The United States has the necessary bases; it has forged the Atlantic Pact, thereby assuring allies for this gigantic venture. And European industry has been revived to contribute its share to the preponderance of industrial productivity which the Western powers now enjoy over the Soviet Union and its satellites. Through several years of “cold war” the peoples have been conditioned to an all-out war. There is the danger, however, as the US News of April 28 points out, that “the world’s war fever, once reduced, will be harder to stir up despite fighting in China and Greece, or threats to Japan.”

There is also the realization that hatred toward the United States is increasing among the peoples of the world and it might be wise to act at once before they completely turn against the Wall Street bully. In addition, the possibility also exists that the building up of the German and Japanese economies will in the long run furnish a nucleus for new alignments directed against this country.

But the permeating fear is the coming depression which is bound to stir class hatreds and internal dissension that will not be conducive to a united war effort. Most of all these is the unpalatable truth that capitalism is in precipitous decline with time definitely working against its survival.

Limitations of Atom Bomb

Despite the powerful arguments adduced by the proponents of speedy war, a goodly section of the ruling class remains unconvinced or at least hesitant. There is considerable doubt that the atomic bomb will remain the exclusive monopoly of American imperialism. Besides there is a growing awareness, especially among the more competent military experts, that the atom bomb cannot accomplish the quick victory expected of it. In a series of articles in the N.Y. Times, Hanson W. Baldwin, its military expert, debunked the omnipotence of the atom bomb and the hopes of easy victory it had excited. On May 30, he wrote:

The easy-war, one weapon theorists, with their strategical dependence upon the atomic bomb and the long-range strategic bomber, have sold a bill of goods to Congress and the public that has caused us to put an overdependence upon the bomb and to guard it with almost panicky secrecy ...

The simplicity of these theories is beguiling – and dangerous. There are many things wrong with them. First, there is no certainty that the atomic bomb can win any war of the near future. There is almost absolute certainly that it cannot stop the Red Army, and that if we do not attempt to defend Western Europe by all means in our power, that region would be easily overrun in case of war.

Gen. Omar Bradley, Army Chief of Staff, is quoted in the May 20 issue of US News s testifying as follows before a Congressional Committee:

“Ultimately, a war between nations is reduced to one man defending his land while another tries to invade it. Whatever the devastation in his cities and the disorder in his existence, man will not be conquered until you fight him for his life.”

The magazine sums up the general’s argument approvingly:

“The generals are quietly assuming that they will get the short end of any search for a weapon that wins wars easily. They assume, too, that future wars, in the end, will be won or lost after a long struggle by the infantryman with a gun in his hand.”

The leading American strategists have come to realize that the Soviet Union is too vast a country to be conquered easily notwithstanding the atom bomb. The industries of that country are too well dispersed and the location of many of their key plants remains a secret from the enemy intelligence. As a further deterrent, already indicated by Baldwin, there is the fear that the occupation of Europe by the Red Army cannot be prevented by the Western forces. When the two mighty antagonists are engaged in a death struggle, will not the masses of the world take advantage of the situation and throw off their own oppressors? Even without the revolt of the masses and with victory secured by force of arms, would not the material resources expended in the war result in the complete bankruptcy of capitalism? Only the United States remained solvent after the Second World War. But with the whole burden of financing the Third World War placed on its shoulders, what are the prospects for Washington to avert bankruptcy especially if the struggle, as seems likely, is prolonged? The very fight for the “free enterprise” system will thus bring its demise closer. The foremost world capitalist statesman, Winston Churchill, was obliged to allude to this contradiction of capitalism in his speech on March 31 before the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when the stated: “The problems of victory may be even more baffling than those of defeat.

Perhaps because of the realization that another war could sound the death-knell of capitalism, a group of liberal politicians, churchmen and professors have come to the conclusion, without thinking the question through to the end, that capitalism can live side by side with the Soviet Union for an indefinite time. Henry A. Wallace and Alexander Meiklejohn, former president of Amherst, represent this school of thought. They think that the two systems can carry on a friendly rivalry over the years until the more resilient economy reveals its superiority and convinces its competitor to make the necessary changes peacefully. It goes without saying that these Utopians and demagogues have so much confidence in the capitalist system as to believe that the United States will come out victorious in this “peaceful competition of ideologies.”

But very few American industrialists or statesmen have the naive faith in capitalism possessed by these men. On the contrary it is the very degeneration of world capitalism now going on before their eyes that has convinced them that sooner or later the two systems must meet on the battlefield. Capitalism requires more room for expansion and the Soviet Union with its satellites stands in the way. Even the existence of a weak and degenerated workers’ state looms as a mortal challenge to capitalism and must be destroyed. Thus Wallace is not likely to find too many adherents within the ruling class to his present expressed theory. There is on the contrary every likelihood that it will be he who will eventually abandon it.

Yet the conviction exists among the realistic statesmen of capitalism, who fully understand the incompatibility of the two world systems and the inevitability of war between them, that time is on the side of the United States. They point to the fact that the Soviet Union is losing the “cold war” in Europe. They look with pride at the recovery obtained in Western Europe as the result of the Marshall Plan. They see the American colossus and its allies irresistibly gaining in strength while Stalin and his satellites are getting weaker. This viewpoint is perhaps best expressed by Virgil D. Reed, Associate Director of Research of America’s largest advertising firm, J. Walter Thompson: “Satellite nations behind the iron curtain are a pie crust which will explode wide open along with Russia itself.”

Weakness of the Kremlin’s Domain

The press is playing up the economic weakness of Eastern Europe, its lack of progress and the reduction of its living standards. C.L. Sulzberger says in the N.Y. Times, January 9:

One thing frequently overlooked in the hysteria of the diplomatic and propaganda conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States is the economic ability of the Soviet Union to wage a war ... Examining such statistical information as can be gathered, one finds four vital economic fields in which the Soviet Union is relatively so far behind the United States that one cannot see how any sensible Moscow government could care to risk open conflict until a balance has been established.

While the Iron and Steel Institute estimates that United States output in 1948 achieved an all-time record of 88,000,000 tons and that the existing industry’s potential ingot capacity is 96,000,000 tons annually, Soviet production was less than one-fourth of this. It is estimated that the 17,300,000 metric tons produced by the Soviet Union last year was about a million tons less than produced in 1940. Likewise the 29,000,000 tons of petroleum produced in 1948 was about 2 million less than in 1940. The nations of the Western world out-produce the Russian world 13 to 1 in petroleum, 6 to 1 in steel, 3 to 1 in coal and 9 to 1 in copper. The Soviet Union was able to manufacture only 8,000 passenger cars last year. Sulzberger estimates: “According to a breakdown of Soviet announced plans and results it would appear that Moscow’s plans for the steel, automotive, building material and oil industries have not attained the fixed targets.”

He also reports that “the entire educational system appears to have been disrupted,” the school enrollment being “only about 29,500,000 last year as compared to 35,000,000 when the Axis attacked in 1941.” Referring to the purges Sulzberger states “that apparently three-fourths of all Communist party secretaries in the armed forces have been replaced since World War II ended. This, coupled with fairly large desertions from the Soviet Army, indicates a morale problem of some importance.”

Another N.Y. Times correspondent, Joseph A. Loftus, writing on March 2, says:

“The Soviet worker’s position has improved over that of the stringent wartime level, but it seems that he has not regained even his own pre-war standard.” Statistics provided by Loftus show how far below the countries of Western Europe are the Russian living standard.

The continuation and even strengthening of the Stalinist police regime in the Soviet Union bears eloquent testimony to the dissatisfaction of the Russian masses. The purges of the ruling Stalinist parties in the satellite countries show the growing hatred for the Kremlin bureaucrats even among those who are closest to the Soviet Union. But perhaps the most crushing blow has been the successful defiance by Tito of the Kremlin bureaucrats. Many of the Stalinist leaders of the satellite powers long to follow his example and are undoubtedly awaiting the appropriate opportunity. The low productive level of the Soviet Union and its inability to help its satellites must lead them ever closer to a break with Stalinism.

Kennan’s Thesis

Aware of these trends, George F. Kennan, Director of Policy Planning Staff of the State Department, outlined in Foreign Affairs about two years ago his plan for containing the Soviet Union by applying economic pressure to which that country is so vulnerable. This is the policy which has been carried out by the State Department with notable success. Let us quote some extracts from Kennan’s thesis which speaks for itself:

It must be surmised from this that even within so highly disciplined an organization as the Communist Party there must be a growing divergence in age, outlook and interest between the great mass of Party members, only so recently recruited into the movement, and the little self-perpetuating clique of men at the top, whom most of these Party members have never met, with whom they have never conversed, and with whom they can have no political intimacy.

Who can say whether, in these circumstances, the eventual rejuvenation of the higher spheres of authority (which can be only a matter of time) can take place smoothly and peacefully, or whether rivals in the quest for higher power will not eventually reach down into these politically immature and inexperienced masses in order to find support for their respective claims? ...

And if disunity were ever to seize and paralyze the Party, the chaos and weakness of Russian society would be revealed in forms beyond description. For we have seen that Soviet power is only a crust concealing an amorphous mass of human beings among whom no independent organizational structure is tolerated ...

And who can say with assurance that the strong light still cast by the Kremlin on the dissatisfied peoples of the Western world is not the powerful afterglow of a constellation which is in actuality on the wane? This cannot be proved. And it cannot be disproved. But the possibility remains (and in the opinion of this writer it is a strong one) that Soviet power, like the capitalist world of its conception, bears within it the seeds of its own decay, and that the sprouting of these seeds is well advanced.

Confident that Russia “is still by far the weaker power” he lays down the directive for American diplomacy:

The United States has it in its power to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which, must eventually find their outlet in either the breakdown or the greater mellowing of Soviet power.

Kennan’s theory was partially reinforced by Winston Churchill who in his MIT address held out the hope of internal dissension and collapse of the Soviet bureaucracy, stating, “It may not be our nerve or the structure of our civilization which will break, and peace may yet be preserved.” But Churchill was very cautious in answering his own question: “Is time on our side? That is not a question that can be answered within strict limits. We have certainly not an unlimited period of time before a settlement should be achieved.”

Churchill like Baruch is willing to delay the war on condition that the Soviet Union offers such concessions as will further weaken its power vis-à-vis the Western world. But despite the known weakness in the Kremlin’s bureaucratic structure which Trotsky pointed out a long time ago, it is not a foregone conclusion that the downfall of the Moscow ruling clique will result in the overthrow of existing property relations in the USSR and thus redound to the benefit of American imperialism. There is at least as much indication as there is to the contrary, that an internal shakeup in the Soviet regime would unleash the forces of world revolution which are now being hemmed in and perverted by the Kremlin. What is most significant in Tito’s revolt is that the Yugoslav masses still remain as much as ever opposed to the imperialist rulers of the world.

Weakness of World Capitalism

The economic weaknesses of the Soviet Union as outlined by Kennan have likewise been known for a long time. But this little aids a world capitalist system in full disintegration. Each points to the weakness of the other and is counting heavily on being able to outlast its rival. But the question remains as to whether the masses of the world will not be able to settle accounts with both. Kennan relies on America’s power to avoid a serious depression, while the Kremlin bolsters its own waning forces with the hope that capitalism will soon be in the grip of economic paralysis.

The current policy of the State Department toward the Soviet Union and its satellites has been a two-edged sword. It has cut down on American exports and has at the same time forced the United States to adopt a military budget that will leave a heavy deficit at the end of the fiscal year. The Marshall Plan has built up economic autarchy in the nations of Western Europe, thereby further demoralizing international trade, the lifeblood of the capitalist system.

In his article in the N.Y. Times on June 1, correspondent James Reston points to the necessity for an immediate shift in American diplomacy:

In economic terms, however, the feeling in the Capital is that the need of Eastern Europe for the trade of Western Europe is so great, and vice versa, that this interdependence of the Continent is going; to force Moscow and Washington to reaph a limited compromise ...

Mr. Acheson, it is also observed here, is under similar pressures to increase East-West trade. If the flow of trade from the satellites to Western Europe had been as great in 1947 as it was in 1938, the Western European imports from the new world – and the cost of the European Recovery Program – would have been reduced by 25 per cent. The economic future of the Marshall Plan depends, our officials concede, on their ability to obtain essential imports from other than dollar sources ...

This reliance of Western Europe on Eastern Europe and vice versa is forcing both Mr. Vishinsky and Mr. Acheson to face up to several difficult questions. In Eastern Europe Mr. Vishinsky must allow trade with the West or face the danger of an expanding Titoism. In Western Europe Mr. Acheson must find ways of increasing trade with the East or face the prospect of getting more and more appropriations from a Congress that is growing weary in well-doing.

Both Foreign Ministers, in short, are confronted with the prospect of building up the other side. In political terms they do not like it, but in economic terms they are forced to find a compromise.

The United States, being the only solvent capitalist power, cannot permit itself the luxury of an inflation of the type experienced on the European continent. On the other hand it cannot afford a drastic deflation that the cutting off of world trade has placed on the agenda at the present time.

Military Problems Complex

The policy of even a successful prolongation of the “cold war” will undoubtedly find the Soviet Union in possession of the atomic bomb. In that event the destruction of American industry in war will probably be at least as devastating as that suffered by the more dispersed Soviet industry at the hands of American bombers. No matter how we look at the problem it is fallacious to reason that time is on the side of American imperialism.

There is still another factor that is causing Washington to tread cautiously, especially a section of the Big Brass. No matter how much is expended on the war preparations, there can be little doubt that most of the money brings greater profit to the industrialists than it actually aids in the final drive for war. Military problems constantly grow more complex and baffling. There is the deathly fear of the submarine menace which almost twice foiled the allies in their drive to crush German imperialism and much effort is now being devoted to obtain a substantial defense against the more modern Schnorkel designs.

The more farsighted see the necessity for diffusing American industry more widely throughout the country. But a recent survey has indicated that it would he too costly to move existing equipment. What is being done instead is to try to build new plants with an eye on the atomic bomb. That will take considerable time.

And then there is the hope, as expressed by Hanson Baldwin, of building up an army in Western Europe that can halt the Russian forces short of the Channel. Finally there is the dire need of containing the flank in Asia lest the ferment there become completely unmanageable and shatter all plans for a successful assault against the Soviet Union.

It is this thoroughness of preparation on the part of the military planners which accounts for their hesitancy to take the final leap, as much as they would like to do so. And we can be sure that the problems that will arise in the future will be no less numerous nor more easily solved than those with which they are grappling today.

The truth of the matter is that the American ruling class is rationalizing when it relies on the theory that time is on its side. The bitter reality is that in its more sober moments it fears the consequences of war and prefers to postpone the evil day as long as possible.

Time Running Against Capitalism

Time has been running against capitalism since the birth of the Soviet Union. That has always been understood by the imperialists and that is why they sought to crush the USSR as soon as possible. If they have failed to do so it is because the forces of the world working class, despite their seeming weakness, have been able to prevent it. Too weak to spread the revolution to the rest of Europe, the world’s masses were still able to give sufficient aid to the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky to force the imperialists to admit defeat after a four-year effort following the First World War.

When the revolution was put down in Germany and the rest of Europe, the young Soviet Republic entered into the treaty of Rapallo with Germany, thereby keeping the capitalist world divided and preserving a precarious balance between the powers. Later, the conflicting interests among the capitalist countries prevented a united struggle against the Soviet Union. The Allied hope that the Soviet Union would bleed to death in the course of the Second World War failed to materialize. The imperialists had once again underestimated the vitality of a nationalized economy originating in a workers’ revolution.

Having utilized the Kremlin clique to crush the budding European revolutions at the end of the Second World War, the capitalist powers were in a strategic position to settle accounts with the degenerated workers’ state. The Bullitts and the Big Brass urged speedy action. But their advice was not accepted. True, the State Department subsequently unleashed the “cold war.” But today they are faced with a menacing situation in China and the Far East. Who doubts that they will face even more insurmountable difficulties later?

It is this chain of events which is worrying capitalist statesmen like Baruch and Churchill. They see the danger in this drift and fully realize there is no easy way out. They see both the underlying fallacy of the “war-now” crowd and the misplaced assurance of those like Kennan who think the Soviet Union will fall like an over-ripe apple.

That is why Baruch has sounded his note of warning directed in reality to both groups. Great sacrifices will be necessary, he intimates, to win the next war, which is inevitable and cannot be delayed too long despite temporary and partial agreements. The whole capitalist world including the United States will have to be thoroughly regimented and mobilized for this Herculean effort. There must be thorough preparation in materiel and morale. And it must be done at once. There is a little time left, says Churchill, but not too much. Time is flowing against the imperialists.

Can They Set the Date?

If huge concessions cannot be forced from the Soviet Union at once then Washington must proceed with a plan that will definitely set the date for the conflict and proceed directly and unhesitatingly toward that goal. Otherwise it will lose the initiative and be forced to act in time of panic and internal strife. In other words the imperialists will have to lead from weakness rather than strength.

But it is one thing to sound the alarm and it is another to convince a host of arrogant and not overbright politicians and militarists, whose divergences seem to be growing to formulate a precise timetable for war. And even if agreement upon a schedule is reached what assurance is there that it can be carried out as planned? There is the more likely prospect that the differences over the timetable will continue and perhaps become more aggravated; that a blueprtit drawn today will be scrapped tomorrow as has been the case for almost thirty years.

Capitalist contradictions foreshadow a continuous drift until the point of imminent breakdown of world capitalism is reached. That point is not too far distant. No possible agreements with the Soviet Union for the increase of international trade can do more than put a temporary brake on the coming depression. As its last hope of survival and out of extreme weakness American imperialism, like Germany before it, will inaugurate the Third World War. The lifeblood of capitalism is oozing out fast and time is its deathly foe.

However, time which is running inexorably against both world imperialism and Stalinism, is permitting the revolutionary Marxists everywhere the opportunity to build up and season their cadres and arm them with a genuine Marxist program. The recent uprisings in Asia have drawn hundreds of millions of people into conflict with their oppressors. The coming worldwide depression and mounting chaos will bring the now dormant layers of the world’s population, including the workers of this country, into the vortex of struggle. The seeds of revolution will sprout everywhere. As each passing day reveals further the bankruptcy of Washington and the Kremlin, the self-reliance of the masses develops. War or no war, they will learn through their own experiences that only the struggle for world socialism can save mankind from barbarism.

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