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Fourth International, July-August 1951


World in Review

Cease-Fire in Korea


From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.4, July-August 1951, pp.99-101.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


After a dramatic hitch involving the question of press representation at the scene of negotiations, talks regarding a cease-fire in Korea have been resumed in the city of Kaesang. In all likelihood, an armistice will sooner or later be achieved despite renewed complications over the issue of withdrawal of “foreign troops.” For, although frictions and irritations manifesting the basically irreconcilable character of the opponents in the war are in the nature of things and may arise again from time to time, both sides are convinced that a stalemate has been reached. The current stalemate makes military operations fruitless at this stage and requires more adequate political and diplomatic as well as industrial and military preparations, before the test of arms is to be resumed. All this was foreshadowed by the course of the Senatorial investigation of the MacArthur dismissal on the one hand, and by the steadily mounting “peace offensive” of the Kremlin culminating in the Malik truce talk, on the other.

For the capitalists and their various apologists, as well as for the Stalinists and their fellow travelers, “both sides” simply means the administration in Washington and the regime in Moscow. For us this identification is much too narrow and oversimplified. We see the two sides in the struggle predominantly as the camp of capitalist imperialism, and the camp of the oppressed workers and colonial peoples. We see contradictions within each of these camps: Between the newly dominant, arrogant and more reckless American capitalists and the run-down, more cautious European capitalists, chastened by closer contact with the specter of proletarian and colonial revolutions – within the camp of imperialism; between the surging Asian masses ready to throw off the shackles of centuries of oppression cost what may and the conservative, treacherous Stalinist bureaucracy based on the first workers’ state – within the other camp. It is these contradictions, expressed in manifold forms, that are at the root of the present stalemate.

Lessons of the Korean War

The whole Korean war has served from the first as an object lesson in the dynamics of this unfolding international class struggle and of the conflicting pressures within each camp. Only the apostles of the sterile “Third Camp” (whose whole recent development has been one of ever closer adaptation to the camp of imperialism) choose to ignore the light that has been cast on the whole question.

That the outbreak of the war a year ago was deeply rooted in the latent civil war within Korea has been confirmed a hundred times over again by on-the-spot reports from the correspondents of the capitalist press itself. They could offer no other satisfactory explanation of the early collapse of the South Korean armies and the rapid sweep down to the Pusan beachhead.

That this war was linked directly with the Chinese revolution became evident when the intervention of the Chinese armies overcame the powerful build-up in men and materiel that permitted MacArthur to storm Inchon and drive up to the Yalu. Here again, the capitalist observers on the scene could account for the phenomenon in no other way than to refer, however obliquely, to the “will to fight regardless of all losses” which rendered futile the efforts of the greatest military machine in modern times. That is – to the spirit of the Asian revolution.

The role of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the war was made no less plain. MacArthur himself gave evidence to the effect that a squadron or two of military planes would have been sufficient to wipe out the Pusan beachhead and drive the imperialist troops into the sea. What adequate air support would have meant for the Chinese counter-offensive down from the Yalu is a foregone conclusion. The treacherous role of the Stalinist bureaucracy can be surmised from these facts, which furnish a bare hint of its full scope. It can only be ignored and made a subject for ill-placed pleasantries by “Marxists” like the Shachtmanites whose memories are so short that they cannot recall the facts of Stalin’s betrayal in the Spanish civil war, to take one outstanding example and to leave aside entirely the facts recently published by the Yugoslav leaders on their experience with the Kremlin during World War II.

Finally, from the first the European capitalists have been dragging their feet in the joint venture, full of fear of the spread of the Asian upsurge – for which the Iranian crisis has served as a fresh confirmation – and uneasy about the feelings of the masses at home, of which Aneurin

Bevan’s resignation from the British Labor government and the growing Left Wing opposition to Attlee’s pro-American policy is only the most recent and most significant indication.

Differing Aims in the Truce

These are the broad basic factors that circumscribe the narrower, if more publicized, struggle between the Big Two – that is, between the most powerful single countries within each camp, the USA and the USSR. For both, the cease-fire in Korea signifies a retreat. For the USA, a retreat mainly into the recesses of greater military and industrial preparedness. For the USSR, a retreat mainly into the field of diplomatic maneuvers. The objectives of each retreat are conditioned by the character of the regime in each country in the light of the Korean experience.

The administration in Washington regards the ceasefire in Korea not as a step to peace but above all else as an armed truce that will give the USA time to mount its industrial apparatus and its military bases to a point at which it will be assured of the maximum chances of success in a war it now regards as inevitable and not too distant, The Korean venture has proved to Washington to be “the wrong war, at the wrong time, in the wrong place,” as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs Omar Bradley put it. The very nature of capitalism permits of no other conclusion for the American ruling class. The productive apparatus of the capitalist USA has already grown to such proportions and the world market for “free enterprise” has shrunk to such an extent that any extended period of peace could only result in an economic disaster by comparison with which the crash of 1929 would look like a minor calamity. Even the cease-fire reports gave the New York Stock Market a bad case of “peace jitters.” An armaments economy can only serve as a very restricted, temporary expedient to keep American industry going. The problem of markets has to be solved, and without too much delay.

Washington’s Objectives

On the other hand, the possibility of the industrial plant in Western Europe falling into the sphere of the USSR represents not only an immediate threat of huge investment losses to American finance capital but also the danger of an enormous strengthening of the anti-capitalist camp economically – a prospect which could soon upset the present stalemate to the permanent disadvantage of capitalism and thus spell its early doom.

The “right” war thus appears as the one with the USSR directly, the “right” place as the European continent, and the “right” time as not too far off, by 1953 according to some who (like Defense Mobilizer Charles H. Wilson) see that year as the peak to be reached by the preparedness effort. Accordingly, Washington is speeding up its military plans at the risk of disturbing the diplomatic balance within its own camp – the deal with Franco Spain for air and naval bases being only the latest development in this trend. The achievement of a ceasefire in Korea has a more restricted political objective as well, as a theme on which to win the administration another term in the 1952 elections as the “peace party” (the Wilson and F.D.R. administrations set the example) in order to hold the masses in tow all the better for the outbreak of the “right” war in the ensuing years.

Soviet Bureaucracy’s Aims

The Soviet bureaucracy has another conception of the cease-fire in Korea. It supported the ambitions of the North Korean and the militant intervention of the Chinese only as a desperate expedient when the “cold war” of American imperialism left no possibility of any kind of a deal open to the Kremlin. Conservative as all bureaucracies are, its object is not to challenge American imperialism, but to seek a modus vivendi with it. Disloyal, like all bureaucracies to the social basis upon which it rests, its object is not to aid the colonial peoples in their anti-imperialist struggle, but merely to exploit that struggle for its own leactionary ends.

Stalin’s policy aims at all times to defend and extend the power, the privileges and the revenue of the bureaucracy. Revolutionary upsurge and the entry of many-millioned armed masses into the political arena unsettles the status quo of which the bureaucracy has been an integral part for more than two decades, and therefore is regarded by the Kremlin as the foremost threat to its existence. Stalin banks on the imperialists’ equally great fear of the mass upsurge for a common basis upon which a deal can be concluded once more, as at Yalta and Potsdam toward the end of World War II.

The whole course of the Kremlin in the Korean war was undoubtedly directed toward convincing Washington of the imminence and extent of the threat from the aroused Asian masses, of the ability of the Kremlin itself to exert a measure of control over it and of the need of an understanding between Moscow and Washington if this danger common to both is to be curbed at all. This is the real line of reasoning behind the whole campaign that began with the Stockholm Peace Congress. It now has reached the point of open overtures to Washington with the issuance of the English-language Moscow “News” in which figures like the historian Eugene Tarle and the former ambassador Alexander Troyanovsky are brought into the limelight once more, to ponder on the “irrationality” of strained relations between the USA and USSR and to preach the gospel of peaceful cohabitation of the “two systems.” This accounts for Malik’s, that is, Stalin’s, initiative in arranging for cease-fire negotiations.

Can There Be a Deal?

Clearly the Stalinist bureaucracy looks upon the armistice in Korea as the prelude for a deal with imperialism for which the Asian masses are to be put on the auction block in a new Stalinist betrayal that is to top off the whole history of Stalin’s crimes against the oppressed of the world. Washington was only too ready, for its part, to snap up Malik’s proposal. But that hardly means a readiness to acquiesce in the objective behind it. The American ruling class has learned its lesson from the Yalta and Potsdam agreements. Much as they might desire to take up Stalin’s offer, the imperialists cannot place any reliance upon it to solve their problems for three basic reasons:

  1. Whatever the Stalinist bureaucracy’s intentions may be, the nationalized economy upon which it rests exerts an unyielding pressure upon all the territories assigned to the Soviet sphere which results in their economic absorption or assimilation within that economy, a development forecast by Leon Trotsky as far back as 1939, when the Stalin-Hitler deal gave Eastern Poland to the USSR.
  2. This development, taking place at a time when the capitalist productive plant, above all in the USA, has been greatly expanded, means a constant shrinking of the world market for capitalism and threatens it with a steadily stepped-up strangulation.
  3. The economic crisis of capitalism is a constant source of mass unrest, whose scope is unforeseeable and therefore uncontrollable with or without Stalin’s aid as long as the crisis subsists.

Capitalist Drive to War Inevitable

Their objective is therefore to resolve the crisis once and for all from their point of view, that is, by reconquering the whole world for capitalist economy. That is why the Stalinist “peace campaign” can lead only to deceptive illusions, that is why the cease-fire can mean nothing but an armed truce. Otherwise, the Soviet bureaucracy would have to make fundamental concessions to imperialism affecting the whole nature of the nationalized economy, that is, agree to pave the road for a restoration of capitalism in the USSR and to the abolition of the source of its power and relative independence.

The new armed truce will be subject to the same contradictory pressures within each camp already observed in the course of the Korean war. The problem of shaking off the paralyzing hand of the totalitarian bureaucracy in the Kremlin is becoming ever more pressing for the aroused anti-imperialist masses of Asia. The problem of overthrowing capitalism in order to avoid the hellish new devastations of another world war is becoming more urgent for all of humanity.

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