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Fourth International, Fall 1954


Milton Alvin

Does “Co-Existence” Mean Peace?

Eisenhower Favors Modus Vivendi But Continues on Road to New War


From Fourth International, Vol.15 No.4, Fall 1954, pp.115-117.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE GENEVA cease-fire agreement, bringing to a close the long war in Indochina, seems to have left us with no major war in the world for the first time in some 22 years. At least we are so informed by the Stalinist press, and the opinion is echoed by part of the capitalist press.

According to the Stalinists, the agreement marks a momentous step toward co-existence – the peaceful coexistence of capitalism and the Soviet bloc. The official Stalinist leaders both here and abroad have greeted this with jubilation, as though it represented some kind of victory for the peoples of the world in general and the people of Indochina in particular.

But the Geneva agreement handed over the people of the French-controlled territories to further imperialist exploitation without regard for their years of heroic struggle for freedom. They were bargained away like cattle. Their well-deserved victory was snatched away just as they were about to throw off the chains of imperialism once for all.

The Indochinese were sacrificed by the Stalinists in hope of getting a deal with the capitalist countries. By their betrayal, the Stalinists say to the imperialists, “See, we are not such bad fellows. We are wiling to give away a great deal if you will only give us a chance.” They hope that the capitalists, especially the Americans, wild take the hint.

But this is essentially the same kind of betrayal we have seen time and again in the past 20 years, the surrender of the basic interests of the exploited masses in favor of a temporary understanding with the capitalists.

The idea of a protracted peace based upon agreements between the capitalist world and the Soviet bloc seems to have many adherents in official seats of power today. However, the concepts of the character of the agreement are as varied as the routes by which they were reached.

For example, Churchill, the old war-dog of British imperialism, has stated that we must give co-existence “a real try.” That is a considerable shift from his position in 1946, voiced at Fulton, Missouri, when he launched the “cold war.”

Churchill reflects the deep-seated fear the British people feel at the prospect of another war. Everyone knows that the cities of England would be among the first targets in a new war – and everyone knows equally well that there is no defense against the new types of weapons.

Furthermore, Churchill understands that the fortunes of capitalist Britain cannot be retained, let alone expanded, by depending in the main on the old ways. Small detachments of troops used to conquer entire colonies and keep them in subjugation. But those days are gone forever. British imperialism must seek time, in hope that internal developments in the colonial areas will eventually turn to its advantage.

The case of Iran is instructive in this respect. Churchill did not send troops when the Iranians, under Mossadegh, kicked the British out of the oil fields and took over the refineries. The imperialists waited and plotted; and when Mossadegh did not go further, and the Stalinists with their decisive following also halted the movement half way, the counter-revolution, formed around the Shah, struck back successfully. Churchill did not have to fire a shot to reinstate the oil companies.

Eisenhower Shifts

Even the power-drunk American imperialists have had to pause in their war plans. President Eisenhower himself favors trying for a modus vivendi with the Soviet Union. But the arrangement he wants is so hedged with qualifications that it has proved unacceptable to the other side.

Wall Street is caught in a contradictory position. Armed with hydrogen bombs and perhaps worse weapons, American Big Business hopes to recapture control over those areas that have slipped out of the imperialist sector. But there is wide opposition to war here at home plus the opposition of America’s allies. In fact, the only allies that seem to be anxious to get on with another world war are those who have little or nothing to lose, such as Chiang Kai-shek and Syngman Rhee.

For this and other reasons, the Eisenhower administration has been compelled to recognize a state of “co-existence” with the Soviet bloc. No one knows how long it will last, but for the time being we have a sort of peace.

That is, if you are willing to overlook the fighting in North Africa, where the Tunisians and Moroccans are trying to win independence from France; the fighting in Burma and Malaya and Kenya, where the people are trying to win independence from British imperialism; the civil war in the Philippine Islands. That is quite a bit to pass over.

However, the Stalinists – who thought up the idea of co-existence – believe that this state of affairs, which they term “peaceful,” can be made permanent by establishing trade relations and by “good will.”

Is it possible to have good trade relations, to say nothing of good will, when countries are divided arbitrarily after generations of development as economic and cultural entities? Germany, Korea and Indochina are divided down the miiddle. This kind of solution solves nothing. Instead it plants a time-bomb in each of these areas that is bound to explode with terrible force.

These divisions formalize a latent civil war which in the end must be carried through to victory by one side or the other. People who believe this state of affairs can be made to last any length of time are living in a political dream world.

Forty years ago Lenin characterized the era then opening up as one of wars and revolutions, the end result of which would see the replacement of world capitalism by world socialism. This idea, which dominated the early Third International, was also held by Leon Trotsky, who saw the revolution as “permanent,” or continuous, until the goal of world socialism was reached.

“Socialism in One Country”

About 30 years ago, after Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin challenged this basic idea of the world communist movement and advanced in its place the theory of building “socialism in one country.”

Outside of the communist movement itself, Stalin’s theory and Trotsky’s struggle against it attracted little or no attention at the time. But in our time it has become the key question of world politics.

The great struggle between Trotsky and Stalin over this question has been repeated at every critical stage of world history since then. It now appears once more, forcing us again to re-examine and re-appraise it in the light of new events.

Boiled down to its essence, the question is this: Can two qualitatively different forms of property relations co-exist peacefully?

Depending on the answer given to this question hinge the answers to all questions of strategy and tactics.

The Stalinist answer, that peaceful co-existence is possible, implies maintenance of the status quo, keeping the world as it is today. This answer requires that the workers in capitalist countries give up the class struggle in favor of supporting capitalism and that the workers in the Soviet bloc uncritically support the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy. In short, the Stalinist position advocates permanent division of the world as it is and opposes revolution or any other major change.

For example, where the capitalist rulers have a friendly agreement with the Kremlin, in that country the Stalinists, in order not to disrupt the agreement, must not even seek for reforms. This was the case in France in the post-World War II days when the Stalinists, as members of the government, were against wage increases and strikes and voted money to conduct the war in Indochina.

The tact is that where a capitalist government is in alliance with the Kremlin – this is the aim of co-existence – the Stalinists play the role of capitalist agents within the working class openly and without much subterfuge. We had a good dose of this in America during World War II when the Communist Party acted as strike-breakers, stoolpigeons for the bosses and generally opposed every forward movement the workers tried to make.

Where such an alliance does not exist, the Stalinists play the role of militants to put pressure on the capitalists. This masks their real role which is strictly limited to getting an alliance.

Experience has taught that the Stalinist policy of supporting capitalist governments in exchange for alliances with the Soviet government results in the betrayal of the workers’ movement. But does it bring peace? The experience of the period preceding World War II says it does not.

The Stalinists promised in those days that “collective security” would maintain peace. In the name of this policy, they derailed the Spanish revolution and the French revolutionary movement of 1936. In the name of this policy in the US, they herded the workers into the Democratic Party, insofar as the Stalinists had influence among the workers in those days, and they had a lot then. But despite collective security, the war came anyway. And it turned out that the least secure was the Soviet Union itself, deprived as it was of the support of the revolutions the Stalinists had betrayed in the Thirties. After the war, the alliances with England and the US blew up in the faces of the Stalinists and the “cold war” was upon us. In the light of this experience, one must take a dim view of the lasting quality of alliances with capitalist countries.

We do not rule out all temporary agreements between the Soviet Union and capitalist countries. What is impermissible is the subordination of the workers’ struggles in the capitalist countries to the alliance. What we condemn is the Stalinist policy of betraying the fundamental aims of the workers in favor of agreements with the bosses.

Why They Plan War

It is not the good will or bad will of Big Business that determines the instability of agreements with the Soviet Union. It is the requirements of capitalist economy. For example, it is admitted everywhere that the American economy would be plunged into a terrible depression if government spending for war should be stopped or sharply curtailed. Even with the present huge expenditures, the beginnings of a serious economic crisis are with us.

In addition there is the problem of investments. American capitalism has accumulated unprecedented aggregates of new capital in the past 15 years. Much of this cannot find profitable investment at home. But abroad even countries like India and Indonesia are today considered too risky to suit the tastes of Wall Street.

The world tendency of revolutionary upsurge, reducing the area of safe investment on the one hand, and the piling up of idle capital in America on the other, are contradictory movements of far greater explosive force than the hydrogen bomb.

The need to make the world safe for investments impels capitalist America toward war and makes any deals or agreements with the Soviet bloc highly temporary.

The resumption of trade, advanced by the Stalinists as a panacea, would not alter this. It is not trade that American economy requires so much as fields of investment. But this is ruled out in the Soviet bloc for two reasons:

  1. American capitalists will not risk their money in Soviet bloc countries under present circumstances.
  2. The Stalinists cannot permit financial invasion of Soviet industries in substantial amounts without putting a question mark over their own future.

The fact that England and France are so depleted of capital reserves that the need for trade looms large and thus impels them, toward friendly relations with the Soviet bloc for the time being does not reduce the impulsion American capitalism feels toward finding safe areas of investment. It simply means that in each case economic necessity determines the varying current attitudes of these capitalist sectors toward the Soviet bloc.


Analysis of the underlying economic reality shows that American imperialism will not swerve from its basic course toward war. This is true even if the Eisenhower administration reaches some kind of temporary understanding with the Kremlin. Such a change would be a formal but not an essential change. It would be undertaken for tactical reasons with the aim of utilizing it to further the long-range aim of war. Hitler even signed a pact with Stalin as a preliminary step toward launching an invasion of the Soviet Union. American Big Business would agree to a temporary deal with the Kremlin without the slightest illusion about its real character.

The Stalinists on the other hand take “peaceful co-existence” as their guiding line, the real line that determines fundamental policy. Trotsky pointed out 30 years ago what illusions the theory of “socialism in one country” would sow and what betrayals it would lead to. He warned that Stalin’s theory, which is the premise of “peaceful co-existence,” would disarm the workers of the capitalist countries as well as those of the Soviet Union. And we have seen how tragically his warnings were verified.

The present theory of co-existence will fare no differently. With Moscow concentrating on winning an alliance with France, for example, the French workers will get a new dose of betrayal. The same holds good for any other country where the Stalinists have any influence whatsoever.

As against the Stalinist concept, here is what Lenin said about the possibility of co-existence:

“We have now passed from the arena of war to the arena of peace and we have not forgotten that war will come again. As long as capitalism, and socialism remain side by side we cannot live peacefully – one or the other will be the victor in the end. An obituary will be sung either over the death of world capitalism or the death of the Soviet Republic. At present we have only a respite in the war.”

Like dozens of similar statements made by both Lenin and Trotsky after World War I, this shows that the founders of the first workers state had no illusions about peace enduring between capitalism and socialism.

As in those days, this problem is the key to world politics today. If you believe that co-existence is possible, then you must logically give up any perspective of the workers taking power in America and organizing socialism here. You must help achieve an alliance between Wall Street and the Kremlin. That means giving up any struggle in the interests of the workers. That is the perspective of the Stalinists.

If, on the other hand, you believe as we of the Socialist Workers Party do, that co-existence is an illusion, leads the workers into a trap and betrays their real interests, you will double and re-double your efforts to win a Workers and Farmers Government in America.

That is the way the question is posed today: Co-existence or socialist revolution. And not only for us, but for all the oppressed, all the exploited of the world. Are these multi-mil1ioned masses, rising to their feet for the first time in history, to give up their struggle as the Stalinists propose?

We do not believe they will do so! We do not believe that the Stalinists can much longer sign away the gains made by those who have fought and won. The road to peace is not through “co-existence,” through alliances of the workers with the capitalists, either within any single country or internationally. The road to world socialism is the only road to peace. When the workers of the world have ousted the capitalists from power, then and only then will we have peace, cooperation among peoples, brotherhood. There is no other way.

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