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Labor Action, 14 March 1949


Jack Brad

Vishinsky for Molotov –
What’s Behind Change?


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 11, 14 March 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Labor Action recognizes the difficulty of attempting to assess, so soon after the event and on the basis of little more than the bare Moscow announcement, the significance of the replacement of Molotov and Mikoyan in the Russian government. The accompanying article by Jack Brad, is presented – both by the writer and by the Editors – as an interesting hypothesis on the political meaning of the change. Labor Action will return to this subject as soon as further data is considered to clarify the question.Ed.

* * *

The sudden Moscow announcement of Molotov’s replacement by Vishinsky as Russian foreign minister has caused consternation and speculation everywhere. In all probability this uncertainty is as great behind the Iron Curtain as on this side of it. For the absolutist despotism that is the Politbureau of the Kremlin works in darkness, without explanation or forewarning. It gives no explanations nor feels any need to do so; its shifts are sudden, often tragically affecting the lives of millions but completely beyond scrutiny, not to speak of control. The chief question is to fathom from the straws in the wind the meaning of these latest moves.

That a change is in process is evident. Russia’s imperialist program in Europe has not progressed for over a year, since the Czech coup. While expansion in Asia has continued with seven-league boots, perhaps this creates more problems than it solves for the Kremlin and in no way compensates for the stalemate and actual failures of its European program. For it appears that at least some sections of the ruling bureaucracy thought it possible to extend Russian hegemony at least to the Rhine without war and in a short period. The Ruhr is the prime objective of Russia’s European policy.

Not only has Molotov failed in this but American imperialism has succeeded in stabilizing West Europe’s politics and economy and has even organized it into a gigantic, far-flung integrated military alliance which puts the vast might of the American productive machine on the continent as a decisive military factor. And almost of equal importance has been the Tito development. The measurement of success of any Russian policy will be to a large degree its ability to weaken, undermine and destroy this most dangerous heresy.

The present program has thus reached an impasse. It has failed against Tito, it has raised the specter of other Titos in Bulgaria and Poland; the Ruhr and West Germany are for the coming period in Western hands. The UN, also, has failed to advance Russia’s interests.

That is to say, the wartime-established arenas for relationship and regulation of inter-imperialist differences no longer serve any Russian purpose, and Russia’s commitment to them is to be decreased accordingly. Already the Kremlin has liquidated its consulates in the U.S., has sharply reduced her foreign staffs in the U.S., UN, England and France, has withdrawn from several important UN technical agencies and has reduced her trade with the U.S. to a vanishing point.

For Russia, no further expansion of its insatiable imperialism is possible without strengthening the basis from which it operates. This means reorganization of the Communist Parties, consolidation of Eastern Europe, and deepening of the war economy throughout its empire. Its present positions have been rendered vulnerable by the Western counter-attack. It is likely that the coming period will be one of internal reorganization of the Russian empire for the larger struggles ahead. This is the changed perspective with which the master class of bureaucrats now sees the world. A withdrawal to pre-1939 levels is impossible. Russia has become a world power too big for such retirement into semi-isolation. But tightening up and reduction of commitments is clearly in order. The cold war has moved to another plane.

German Problem

First attention must be given to a rapid solution to the German problem, Since the West German state seems inevitable and the Ruhr is lost for the moment for Russia, a new approach will be developed, of which the broad outlines are already clear. An East German state of some considerable strength will probably be created. The first task of this new puppet bastion will be to liquidate the Achilles’ heel that is Berlin. So long as the Berlin question remains unresolved, the Iron Curtain contains a deep crack.

A larger solution to the German question, for the Russians, will require consolidation in East Europe, where fear of Germany is still strong and is still a powerful impetus behind Stalinist-inspired pan-Slavic nationalism. More important is the economic problem. For if the Ruhr is lost then a substitute must be created. German productivity, technical skill, manpower, resources and machines must be harnessed. But this is viewed with dread by Poland, Czechoslovakia and other satellite states. For it was Germany’s great economic strength that leveled their economies in advance of Hitler’s legions. All these states are now in the process of vast economic construction programs themselves. They see any resurrection of German economy as a threat.

The Russians, to the contrary, have need for German economic power. Thus there are reports that the Russians have ordered the return of large numbers of the three million expelled Sudeten Germans to Czechoslovakia so that formerly rich area can help resolve the labor shortage, particularly the shortage of skilled labor, and contribute to the production of heavy industry. But this requires that the leaders of the Czech CP renege on their racist anti-German policy. There are rumors of differences in the Czech leadership over this matter. If the Germans are permitted to return, and the Sudetenland is again permitted to flourish, the Czechs want guarantees.

The Polish official CP paper recently began a new propaganda line: “that the Poles must forget their hatred of all Germans.” There are rumors of trade agreements between Poland and East Germany. Some circles predict that the new East German state will be admitted to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, the Russian “ERP.” There are plans afoot for the construction of a new industrial complex between Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany. This will require not only recognition of East Germany by the satellites but their assumption of the annual deficit of 100 million marks of this area, which is now carried by Russia. From the point of view of Russia’s interests, it is not alone a matter of increasing production, particularly of heavy goods and war materials, but also of pointing a permanent dagger at Eastern Europe; a dagger in Russian hands which would serve as a brake on Titoist thoughts. A Russian-controlled East Germany is to be that weapon.

Vishinsky’s Role

The purges in East Europe have reduced native oppositions to the vanishing point. Stalinization of parties and institutions is about complete. The new trend is toward Russification, toward tying politics, economy and culture to Russia. Thus in Rumanian schools the Russian language has been made compulsory. Throughout East Europe every type of Western influence is being expunged, and Russian movies, books, periodicals and even scientific and cultural dicta are dominant. The formula for empire that is emerging is tantamount to organic absorption and subjugation to Russia.

Vishinsky is already identified with this process. It was he who performed the operation on Hungary. Recently he spent considerable time at Carlsbad in Czechoslovakia where it was rumored that Cominform session was in process. It is not difficult to see this cynical, blood-stained prosecutor for the GPU stepping into Zhdanov’s shoes as manipulator and whiplash of the Communist Parties. It is likely that the chief activities of the new Foreign Minister will be in connection with imperial consolidation in Eastern Europe rather than on the larger stage of negotiations with the West. In such a program, the Communist Parties will have an important role.

Vishinsky is not a member of the Politbureau. This hangman of the old Bolsheviks has Menshevik origins and such things are never forgotten in the Russian hierarchy. Both Vishinsky and Gromyko are second-stringers without decisive power in the great bureaucratic oligarchy. Certainly there is no comparison between a Vishinsky and a Molotov, who has been until now second only to Stalin, and whose position in the Politbureau makes him one of the real top rulers. Vishinsky will be a tool of the Politbureau but until now he has not had a voice in it. His expressions of policy will probably be more rigid, more tentative and therefore less decisive.

This idea is given added weight by Mikoyan’s retirement from the post of Minister for Foreign Trade. Mikoyan, like Molotov, is an original Stalinist and remains on the Politbureau. It is the function of foreign trade that is reduced in relative importance rather than Mikoyan.

Internal Difficulties

Internal problems of Russia are to receive more attention from now on. Everything is not going well inside Russia. Not only in the satellite nations is there severe economic dislocation. The police system has been extended.

V.M. Dean, writing up the latest information from Russia in a foreign policy report, writes:

“The internal situation in the USSR has seriously deteriorated in the past year, both with respect to material conditions (which in some instances are worse than they were during the war, due in large part to war destruction and dislocation), and with respect to repression of criticism and opposition. Current repression, although not as ruthless as the purges of the 1930’s, is more extensive in scope, embracing not only political and economic convictions, but also all aspects of cultural life.”

The turn exemplified by Molotov’s and Mikoyan’s transfers has much to do with these internal distresses and the rule of the bureaucracy in Russia. The next period may be an even harsher anti-Western one in all fields as part of extension of war production and consolidation of the new empire with Russia.

It has been suggested that these changes may indicate a “left” turn. Since the end of the so-called “third period” in 1933–34 there have been no “left” or “right” zig-zags in the Stalinist movement, if these terms are to be used with anything resembling their usual meaning in the working-class movement. There have only been periods of “hard” and “soft” relations with the capitalist countries (reflected in the CP policies), depending on Russian foreign policy at the moment. The ideological element has been replaced by eclectic opportunism. New terms are needed to describe the features of Stalinist politics, but “left” and “right” have lost all traditional meaning in relation to it. The present turn, in this sense, is toward a “hard” policy.

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