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Fourth International, March-April 1951


John Saunders

The “Great Debate”


From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.2, March-April 1951, pp.44-49.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The “Great Debate” is no accident. It arises from the hopeless situation in which American imperialism finds itself. To survive and thrive even for a generation more the American colossus must turn back the clock and restore capitalist private property in the Soviet Union and its satellites. In addition it must arrest the developing revolution in China and prevent its further spread in the Orient as well as halt its contagious infection of the peoples of Europe, the Near East, Africa and South America. This is indeed a Herculean task. It is obvious that it can be achieved only by waging relentless counterrevolutionary war against the rising new order. It is equally obvious that such a war at this time will be of long duration, prohibitively costly in manpower, money and resources, bringing bankruptcy to the only capitalist power whose stability survived World War II.

It is natural that under these circumstances doubts should arise in the minds of a section of the American bourgeoisie. Was the American century only a dream after all? Can it ever be accomplished in real life? Or must the situation be examined in the light of the new relationship of forces brought about by the great Chinese revolution? That is the crux of the question.

The “Great Debate” has encompassed the entire capitalist world. Every European and Asiatic power is re-examining its foreign policy in light of the weakness and vulnerability of the American colossus, revealed particularly in the Korean war. The hope of a “third force” is arising among the Western countries in Europe, in India and the Arab lands. The desire for survival, even if only for a few more years, is engulfing their bourgeoisies whose existence is endangered by the intransigence of American imperialism. The peoples of the world are demanding peace and forcing their rulers to seek the road of neutrality in World War III, if that is indeed possible.

Truman Administration’s Reasoning

For its part, the Truman administration, which heads the most influential section of the American capitalists, wants to continue on the course charted by Winston Churchill in his 1946 Fulton speech. The Truman Doctrine, Washington reasons, has helped to contain the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan has built up capitalist Europe industrially and readied it for the next step of military preparedness. General Eisenhower has been appointed head of the European army which must now be established in all the non-Communist countries of Europe. When that work is successfully accomplished the Pentagon can let loose its stockpile of atom bombs while the newly-formed European armies can hold back the onslaughts of the Soviet Army. Even if unsuccessful in halting the huge Soviet armies, the Eisenhower troops can fight a rearguard battle, resorting to a scorched earth policy while the cities of the Soviet Union are pulverized with bombs from European and Near East bases. The strength of the industrial potential of the American colossus is relied upon to wear down and finally conquer the Soviet Union and its satellites.

Whatever might be the final outcome of this projected war one thing is clear, as Eisenhower reminded Congress after his tour of Europe: if the Soviet Army obtains possession of the Ruhr with its industrial potential intact there is slight hope of crushing the Soviet Union Thus the Administration has never doubted that the main prize of the cold war is Western Germany. The US might consider concessions elsewhere but it must concentrate its main effort on this battleground.

Despite this fact, Washington permitted itself to be sucked into the Korean theatre in a venture that was purposeless from the start. Only several months before the North Koreans struck, Acheson publicly acknowledged that this peninsula was not within the American defense zone. Under pressure from the most arrogant section of the American bourgeoisie Truman ran amuck and hurried troops to that vulnerable sector. He thought that an American commitment backed up by the docile United Nations, added to the bluster of American jingoes, would suffice to scare off the Soviet Union as well as revolutionary China from coming to the assistance of the embattled Koreans.

Forces Behind the Contenders

There was little to gain from such a move under the best circumstances. But it proved to be the worst choice for American imperialism. The current weakness of its arms has been unmasked before the entire world. American prestige and leadership are seriously undermined. And worst of all for the State Department, the American masses are voicing their disapproval, thereby making new ventures doubly difficult. The opposition now justifiably accuses the administration of a lack of seriousness and stability in conducting its foreign policy.

The blasts of Hoover, Taft and Kennedy have had a profound effect on the American people. Mail to Congressmen from their constituents has been overwhelmingly – 40 to 1, according to one N.Y. Times report – in favor of the opposition. Hoover estimates, moreover, that he has the full support of 68% of the press and partial support of another 6% as against 24% favoring the Truman policy.

Yet the Administration leaders seem more determined than ever to carry out the Churchill line of arming Western Europe, and especially Germany. For it is quite apparent that without German forces no serious effort can be made to stop the Red Army. The New York Times, the Herald-Tribune and what appears to be the most influential section of the press are urging the State Department to proceed with utmost speed on its designated course. The majority of the Senate and House refuses to deviate from established policy. One gathers from this that the Administration line will prevail despite the fact that the majority of the people and even of the press are opposed to this policy. It is hard to buck the international bankers who have set the tone for American imperialism since the days of World War I.

Yet a closer; inspection of the faction supporting the Administration views reveals that it is not so homogeneous as it appears on the surface. From the speeches of the numerous protagonists as well as from editorial comment at least three different reasons can be deduced for support of Truman:

Three Types of Truman Supporters

  1. Some believe that a show of strength by the United States and the build-up of a European army will deter the Soviet Union and its satellites from following a bold course; that a better balance in the relationship of forces will be achieved, thereby preventing all-out war for a long period. This tendency feels that the Soviet Union, cowed by American superiority in atomic weapons, will confine its opposition to German rearmament to the writing of blistering diplomatic notes. If the Soviet Union or the troops of its East German satellite strike to forestall the learmament of Western Germany, the misunderstanding of this tendency will come to light sharply and suddenly and throw it completely off balance. This element will either counsel retreat or remain silent in the face of cries for peace by the masses. Above all it fears war and realizes its dangers to American imperialism.
  2. Others back up Truman because they feel that a build-up of a European army including German troops will so bolster the strength of the Atlantic Pact nations that the Western powers will be in a position to make a far better deal with the Soviet Union than they can now obtain. It appears that even Churchill, who fathered Truman’s policy, belongs to this school of thought today. War is the last thing they desire. This is true of almost the entire European bourgeoisie. The same view is shared by an increasing number of American capitalists, both in Truman’s camp and in the opposition. Faced with an unforeseen strong move on the part of the Soviet Union to forestall German rearmament these backers of Truman will likewise counsel retreat and urge a deal on the best possible terms to avoid war.
  3. There is no doubt that the third element, the hard core of the State Department and the Pentagon, intends to go ahead come what may. They see the dangers ahead involved in their present policy but feel it is the oniy course to pursue. Although many hope to avoid war for the present, they are fully resigned to it if the Soviet Union answers the aggression of German rearmament with the use of its own counter-forces. Dulles expressed their views when he exclaimed that they would rather die in battle than in bed. For these people arc convinced that unless they can assure United States domination of Germany their cause is lost; that they might as well fight now before their fortunes are still further reduced. But the question nevertheless remains whether this tough nucleus will be able to swing the country in favor of war under such circumstances.

Will not a falling away of many of their staunch backers induce divided counsel in their ranks? Will not the pressure of the Hoover-Taft opposition, the phalanx of European capitalists, and the still greater outcries of the masses force the Administration to hesitate and perhaps paralyze it completely? That is not only possible but at this juncture would seem probable. The size and influence of the bourgeois supporters of State Department policy is largely an illusion.

Allies Scared by US Plans

Despite the almost limitless power of American imperialism to impose its will on its satellites in the North Atlantic Pact, the hopeless position of the European capitalists and the even more pitiful condition of the West European masses which would result from war will undoubtedly bring about repercussions that might well shatter the plans of General Eisenhower. The necessity of the North Atlantic Pact countries to remain united in the face of Soviet power is indeed real from the point of view of preserving and extending the capitalist system. But the West European bourgeoisie receives very little assurance from its arrogant masters on this side of the ocean. Eisenhower’s battle plans call for a retreating and losing struggle in Western Europe that must lead to the total destruction of its industry. The blueprint for war as well as the propaganda of the American State and War Departments scares America’s allies to death. Aside from a few compradors who can escape with a share of their loot to this country, the great bulk of the European bourgeoisie, not to mention the workers, face the kind of disaster which not even a successful re-invasion could repair.

Even if the unlikely prospect of building up a European army with German participation is achieved the difficulties ahead for Truman’s policy are tremendous. The huge expense for rearming this country and Europe will bring about a spiraling inflation at home which must continue despite controls. The masses will not take kindly to regimentation especially when they have little faith in Administration policy and, in the light of the Korean events, little confidence in its success. As the dollar shrinks in value, the pound, franc, and lira will decline even more precipitately, reducing Europe’s masses to desperation. The increased tempo of rearmament and spending, carried to a pitch for several war years, can only help bankrupt the capitalist system. The necessity for efficient prosecution of such a war will lead to cries for the nationalization of industry. Then there is a strong possibility that the terrific impact of the atom bomb and the invasion by the Red Army might lead to revolution in Europe at the very outbreak of World War III. Finally, in this country the Administration must fight an unpopular war with the American working masses untamed, relying largely on the labor leaders to keep them in check.

Class Character of Hoover Policy

Such a policy does not seem realistic to the Hoover-Taft-Kennedy faction. They are concerned foremost with saving and prolonging the capitalist system and are dismayed at the foolhardy plans of the State Department. Although they find themselves in a minority today, the so-called “retreatists” are all men who carry considerable weight with their class. They are proven class politicians who have contributed mightily in helping to prolong the life of the capitalist system in this country.

Hoover and Taft have always conducted their political campaigns along strictly ruling class lines. Hoover refused to give an inch of ground to the working class in the dark days of the depression. He saved the capitalist system several years of life by prolonging the depression to the bitter end at the expense of the workers. He insisted upon having the depression run its course though it meant starvation and hunger and ruined lives for millions. He had no qualms in calling upon General MacArthur to drive the veteran bonus marchers from Washington at the point of the bayonet. He continually fooled the people by his false statements that prosperity was around the corner though he, most of all, knew better. He encouraged his own class to resist the slightest demands of the workers while he placed the bankers on the dole of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He timed his false statements of optimism to coincide with the liquidation of securities on the stock exchange, thereby getting new suckers for Wall Street. He willingly took the rap and continued his ruthless course although he knew that the 1932 elections would go against him. In that way Hoover endeared himself to his own class although he became discredited with the workers and farmers.

Hoover’s Record

But Hoover was far from an isolationist with little knowledge or concern about the rest of the world. Hoover had been to every corner of the earth long before he became president. He ranks with Lloyd George, Wilson and Churchill in keeping the Russian Revolution from spreading to the rest of Europe. What the others accomplished by military means Hoover achieved with food control. As head of the American Relief Administration and European Children’s Relief Fund after World War I, Hoover so manipulated the parceling of food to the hungry of Europe as to strangle the militant European labor movement. In so doing Hoover became an expert on world labor and revolutionary organizations and is perhaps better acquainted with counter-revolutionary techniques than any other living American. It might also be mentioned that Hover is no novice at evaluating and appraising military plans, having acquired considerable experience as president.

Taft’s Record

Taft is a worthy partner of Hoover. He obtained tremendous prestige in the last elections, winning the Ohio senatorial race by the largest majonty yet obtained by any candidate for that office. He is the uncontested leader of the Republican party today and his own fortunes are so indissolubly bound to those of his party that he is known throughout the country as Mr. Republican. There is little doubt that if a parliamentary government existed in the US new elections would have resulted from the gravest crisis this country experienced since the Civil War. And most likely Taft would have headed the new government.

Thus we are dealing with people who have much weight with their class and whose opinions should not be lightly discounted because they are not at present in the seats of power. The huge number of favorable letters received by the press in response to Hoover’s speech opening the “Great Debate” are an indication that these politicians are capable of canalizing mass support in the days to come. If Taft appears more amenable to compromise than Hoover it is not that his line differs essentially. It is merely a stratagem due to his desire to become president at the head of a party which is divided on this issue.

First and foremost the Hoover-Taft forces stress economy. Without a healthy economic base all war plans are futile, they contend. The only stable capitalist power in the world must keep its own house in order lest it collapse and bring down the world capitalist system in ruins. Having undisguised contempt for the masses, this tendency has little objection to spending huge sums for armament, provided the workers are taxed sufficiently to balance the budget. This group realizes that there is little danger of a depression today with such huge outlays for the weapons of death. A gradual expansion of armaments as a replacement for the shrinking world market is essential to keep the economy in balance. But there is growing alarm at the recent rapid increase far beyond the needs of a “healthy” capitalist structure.

What Hoover-Taft Fear and Want

The specter of unrestricted inflation haunts the Hoover-Taft forces. If there is no war immediately ahead and the pace of armaments can be somewhat reduced, they would prefer to take this course. They relish a certain amount of slack in employment to lessen the bargaining power of the workers and permit a thorough housebreaking of the unions in preparation for World War III. For Hoover and Taft place little reliance on the labor leaders to keep the workers from thwarting the plans of the imperialists. It is this blind spot on the part of these ‘’realists” that will lead to their undoing. It was contempt for the Asiatic masses that helped produce the present crisis in Korea. Similarly, contempt for the American workers will lead to disaster for the industrialists at home. But that is a lesson for the future which these ruthless politicians will learn the hard way.

Even the military plans of the Hoover-Taft faction, in stressing naval and air power, conform much more to their urge for a stable economy than to a realistic appraisal of the military needs. Korea has shown that the air arm has been grossly overrated. Even though the US has a strong superiority in battleships and other naval craft there is nevertheless little prospect that the combined imperialist naval and air force can effectively defend the outposts of Japan, Formosa and the Philippines against China and the Soviet Union with its huge submarine fleet. Hoover is interested in exacting a high toll of casualties for the invasion of these islands and he is not likely to be disappointed. But in any case the Hoover-Taft group knows that it is unrealistic to count on stopping the huge Russian and Chinese armies on land thousands of miles from these shores.

The Military Strategy of Hoover-Taft

However, it would be a mistake to conclude from the Hoover-Taft speeches that they want this country to desert its allies and play a purely passive role except in the defense of this hemisphere. Hoover is fully aware that a revolution is raging in China, that it is spreading to southeast Asia and can embrace that whole continent. For that reason he is all the more anxious to crush this revolution and, if not fully successful, at least to grind it to a halt as soon as possible before its flames devour the remains of the capitalist system. The task of destroying the Soviet Union, he opines, can wait for a more opportune time.

Taft, in a quite correct analysis of Stalinism, maintains that the Kremlin does not want to expand unless it is forced to do so under terrific pressure from imperialism. Therefore, he concludes, why not confine the energies of this country and the capitalist world to smashing the actual revolutionary threat in Asia? Let imperialism utilize Chiang Kai-shek, Bao Dai and any other puppets who have control of armed forces to harass the Chinese revolution as much as possible. This is in line with the form of imperialist intervention undertaken against the Russian revolution after 1917. Even if it fails, he seems to speculate, it might so weaken the revolutionary forces, so tire out the masses through war and starvation, so decimate the best fighters for the new order that the counter-revolution might once again, as in Russia, raise its head from within and curb the ascendant revolution. A regime resulting from such a variant would make a deal with the USA more feasible, in his view.

Thus Taft is willing to unloose the American bombers and the naval armada to wear down the Asiatic masses. From all indications it is this minority policy toward Asia that is now being adopted by the Administration. The State Department seems determined to hold on to Formosa, although before the invasion of Korean Acheson was ready to keep hands off while Mao’s forces were preparing to conquer it.

Attitude Toward Germany

But most of the discussion in the debate centers around the European orientation of American imperialism with the arming of Western Germany as the key to the situation.

The Hoover-Taft group fears that Moscow is not bluffing when it states that it will not tolerate the rearmament of Germany.

“Why not let well enough alone,” says Taft in effect. “We are sitting pretty. We control the Ruhr today. We can utilize it for making a deal which will be to our advantage. If we don’t make a deal we can still be in possession of the Ruhr if we play our cards right. If the Soviet Union moves to seize it she will appear as the aggressor and will have difficulty in rallying her people in support of such a war. But if we arm Germany we shall appear as the aggressors even if Stalin is the first to strike militarily. Why provoke the Soviet Union, especially when we know that we cannot stop its army?”

Hoover expects the rising revolutionary tide to embrace Europe soon and feels there is very little American arms can do to prevent it. Either the European bourgeoisie will be able to crush it with its own power, which is very unlikely, or the revolution will run its course and come into conflict with Stalinism. The Kremlin, both he and Taft assume, will encounter insurmountable difficulty in assimilating the powerful industrial proletariat of Western Germany and France. Either there will be strife on a broad scale or the Stalinist bureaucracy will crack from within. In other words, Hoover and Taft realize that the crisis of world capitalism is also the crisis of Stalinism. Eor that reason Hoover counsels watchful waiting: If the US is well-armed, in complete control of the air and the seas, able to strike at a moment’s notice, with its economy functioning smoothly and not overextended, the American spread-eagle can jump in for the kill. Here the dream of the American Century has a last spark of life.

Then there is always the possibility that like Hitler when he invaded the Soviet Union, Stalin might also pull a faux pas. The Kremlin in its haste to crush Tito might be tempted to undertake the risky venture of invading Yugoslavia, affording unpredictable opportunities for American imperialism.

In any case, realizing that only a short successful war can save capitalism, the Hoover-Taft faction is not yet ready to risk all on one throw of the dice.

The Tactics of the Opposition

Hoover and Taft are serious politicians. They are resorting to every strategem to have their point of view accepted because they realize that the stakes are high. Their main speeches were perfectly timed. Hoover opened up the debate while the Brussels conference of foreign ministers was in session. Taft delivered his talk in the Senate on the day Eisenhower departed for Europe. These master politicians spoke over the heads of the American capitalists, directly to the European bourgeoisie.

Eor this they were accused by Senator Connally, head of the Senate Eoreign Relations Committee, of shattering the confidence of the Europeans in American foreign policy. But it was precisely lack of confidence in Truman which impelled these capitalist statesmen to make their speeches. They told the foreign capitalists not to permit themselves to be trapped by the foolish and unrealistic plans of the Administration and the Pentagon. Taft went so far as to point out that acquiescence in the American blueprint for arming Europe would lead to destruction of Europe’s industrial plants. What he omitted was that his own policy would in the last analysis lead to the same results.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the addresses of Hoover and Taft have had a profound effect on the European bourgeoisie, especially the German, who might have been their allies in World War II had the policies of Hoover and Taft then prevailed. So, though in a minority at home they have already done much to impede the plans of the Administration. For, above all, they fear disaster, as Taft has repeated over and over again. Disaster in one of two ways: either immediate war for which they are quite unprepared, or retreat under pressure, which would once and for all destroy the power and prestige of American imperialism. And fully sizing up their opponents, the Taft forces know the Administration is heading for such a debacle. Having completely committed itself the State Department will be pressured by forces beyond its control either toward war or humiliating retreat, thereby wrecking the very foundation of the system they are all so eager to preserve.

The Factor of Mass Feelings

Fortunately for the Taft-Hoover group, at the moment the American masses as well as those of the entire world tend to their side in this dispute with Truman and his group. These crafty politicians have for a long time sought an issue with popular appeal. Now for the first time in more than two decades these Republican reactionaries can plump for their own class and at the same, time get support from the masses who mistakenly think that their course leads away from war. In the absence of an independent labor party it is possible for Taft to channelize much of the mass discontent of the workers in this country against the headlong drive for war on the part of the Administration. All signs point to success unless the State Department by precipitate action has plunged this country into war before the next presidential elections.

As long as the American people are not able to prevent war with an independent leadership of their own, they will rally behind a section of the capitalist class that holds out promise of postponement of the war even for a short period. Despite the continuous campaign against appeasement and against a deal with Stalin, the American masses would be overjoyed if one were made. The bourgeoisie hesitates, knowing that Stalin has little control of the revolutionary forces that are buffeting both imperialism and Stalinism alike. Consequently the State Department fears the repercussions from the inevitable breakdown of any counterrevolutionary pact with the Kremlin. But deal or no deal, the people of this country in their present mood will overwhelmingly support any section of the capitalist class that seeks to stave off the dreaded catastrophe of war by shying away from unnecessarily provoking the Soviet Union.

This is the chief reason why Eisenhower’s report of his European tour was so widely acclaimed. The general seems to have come up with the magic formula for building up a European army without provoking Moscow. In order to bolster confidence in the feasibility of his plan and sell it to the Atlantic Pact countries Eisenhower intends to send some additional American troops abroad together with a huge supply of military equipment for the projected European army. A glimpse of fresh-faced GIs and sparkling new materiel should imbue France and England with courage to set up additional divisions. Only after the Atlantic Pact allies will have gathered a sizeable army will they approach the German government on participation. With a better balance in the relationship of opposing forces there will be some possibility of convincing the German capitalists to take the risk. True, the plan calls for a delay in German rearmament but the time can be effectively used in laying a better political and economic groundwork for a western orientation on the part of the German capitalists. In the meantime it is hoped that the staging of atom bomb extravaganzas such as that in Nevada will cause the Kremlin to pause.

It is obvious that the danger to the Soviet Union is not immediate and the Kremlin will concentrate more on wooing the German capitalists by peaceful means rather than by forcing the issue. Only in case of a breakdown in the projected four-power conference and of signs of a successful development of the Eisenhower plan for gradual armament will the alternative course be seriously weighed by Moscow. There is little likelihood, however, that Eisenhower, will succeed in building an effective European fighting machine. The European masses will refuse to bear the burden of still larger armies and this in turn will have its repercussions on the people of this country, who are growing restive over the war plans of the Administration.

While the American statesmen argue for their points of view, it will be the world masses who will really decide the issues. It is far more likely, for example, that the reawakened and enlightened German proletariat will settle the question of German rearmament and the building of a West European army than either Truman, Hoover or Eisenhower, or any of their capitalist supporters. Nor, it must be remembered, has the American working class even begun to make its own voice heard in this “Great Debate.”

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