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The New International, October 1945


Editorial Comment

Deadlock at London

The New Russian Empire vs. American World Domination –
What Was at Stake in the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers


From The New International, Vol. XI No. 7, October 1945, pp. 195–198.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


As the Foreign Ministers of the “victor” powers gathered around the now famous “green baize” table at London’s Lancaster House last month, the peoples of a war-shattered world were just beginning to dig out of their rubble heaps and survey the devastation about them. From London to Stalingrad and from Narvik to Tobruk, the Old World was a scene of desolation and misery. Hunger, cold and disease were sending the mortality rate spiraling to new heights. Homeless millions – Poles, Sudetens, Russians, Germans, Jews, Austrians – continued to make the highways of Central Europe the scenes of the most utter wretchedness. Alongside them moved the new slave caffels of German prisoners of war – dreary, gray columns disappearing over the Eastern horizon into the vastness of Russia, or being transported to France to blow themselves up digging for landmines. On the other side of the globe American scientists were bringing their instruments to where Hiroshima and Nagasaki had once stood to test the earth for evidence of lethal radioactivity. The smell of death and devastation hung heavy over a smoking and ruined world.

The horror with which the war reached its climax in atomic mass murder was accentuated by the sober statements of scientists that atomic bombing in a future war would leave the world in a condition which would make the present one appear sane and orderly by comparison.

What the Conference Dealt With

However, if this background of havoc and threat of worse havoc to come made any impression upon the minds of the statesmen gathered at London, it was not apparent from the agenda before them or the reports of their discussions. The business that occupied the attention of the conference was “business as usual” far the imperialist powers. It was the diplomatic and political struggle aver boundaries, spheres of influence, oil, bases, colonies, mandates, seaports, outlets to the sea, “life lines” of empire, peoples, nations, governments. The struggle at the conference table continued over the same issues over which the war had been fought. The place of artillery and bombers had been taken by the cant and hypocrisy of lying statesmen, backed by the armed might of their respective nations. History has, however, taught us that peacetime diplomacy is but a continuation of war by other means, just as, in turn, its end-result is once more to become transformed into a struggle with weapons of destruction.

The conference was to be a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, England, the United States, France and China ostensibly to lay the foundations for a world of peace. Its agenda was to cover (1) a final peace with Italy; (2) peace treaties with the former German satellites, Finland, Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria; (3) withdrawal of foreign troops from Iran; (4) internationalization of waterways; and (5) “also such matters relating to the Far East as it may be practical and convenient to discuss.”

Actually the agenda could have been summed up under the heading: “Division of the loot.” As it turned out, the robber chiefs could come to no agreement on the final division of the rubble heaps of the world which they, together with the Axis bandits, had produced. The horror of a new world war counted for little in their discussions when weighed against the domination of Trieste .or the occupation of the Dodecanese Islands.

Once the conference got under way the press dropped reference to the “Big Five” and spoke of the “Big Three.” The role of France and China was understood from the outset to be in the main that of spectators. France has been reduced by war to a third-rate power, at best; China is hardly even that, despite “victory.” Both of them are economically, financially and militarily dependent upon the United States. They were present solely to provide a little “democratic” window-dressing, on the one hand, and to strengthen the Anglo-Americans against Russia, on the other.

Really Only Two “Big Powers”

However, the term “Big Three” was likewise inaccurate. In actuality there were two real powers at the table – the United States and Russia. Only they had come out of the war standing on their own feet instead of leaning on someone. The Russian economy, the vital role of lend-lease notwithstanding, had proved itself capable of supporting a military front in a modern war. The Russian regime had proved itself capable of grinding out of the people the last ounce of war-effort and still emerge as politically strong as before the war, if not stronger.

The Russian army had proved itself a formidable war machine, an equal of the armies of the strongest capitalist powers.

England, on the other hand, was on the ropes. It had only one course for the immediate future, to hang on grimly until things took a turn for the better. Its industry was exhausted. Much of it was hopelessly obsolete, as the mining industry. It had accumulated a tremendous debt during the war, both internal and external. It had been forced to liquidate many foreign holdings, as in the United States. It had lost most of its foreign market, upon which it has to rely for a functioning economy. It was, in short, financially bankrupt. It had fallen hopelessly behind the United States as a naval power. Its merchant fleet, once the pride of the seas, was now reduced in size, largely over-age, and inferior to that of the United States. American competition was taking over the world’s airways. Its vast Empire was a long series of headaches. India was once more stirring. China was opposing, with covert American support, no doubt, England’s resuming her old status in that country. The Jewish-Arab problem continued to boil in the Near East. The satellite empires of the French and Dutch were likewise beset by colonial risings in Indo-China and the East Indies. American influence had suddenly appeared everywhere. Even in the Dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand a renewed American tide had set in. At home the working class had repudiated the direct political rule of the capitalist class in the form of the Tory party. If Bevin continued to talk tough at the conference, it was not a sign of British confidence but rather because the Empire had its back to the wall and there was nothing else to do.

New Position of the United States

The United States had emerged from the First World War as a dominant power, equaled and rivaled only by the failing strength of the British Empire. The United States emerges from this war as the triumphant heir of the capitalist world. Its power is felt everywhere. It has no formidable rivals up to boundaries of the Russian spheres. Europe lives on American rations today in the most literal sense and American economic and military power is unchallenged in the islands of the Pacific, including Japan, and the Asiatic mainland up to the Russian zones in Korea and Manchuria. Khaki-clad officers roll through the streets of Berlin and Paris, Brussels and Rome, Teheran and Cairo, Calcutta and Mandalay, Chungking and Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai. Statesmen of large nations and small European, Asiatic or Latin American, vie with each other to secure the favors of the State Department at Washington, favors which mean loans and UNRRA relief handouts. Wall Street has become the super-arbiter over the economic destinies of most of the world. American military might seeks bases halfway around the world: Iceland, Greenland, Bermuda, the Azores, Brazil, the islands across the length and breadth of the Pacific, including the Okinawas, on the very doorstep of Japan. Its fleets reach almost five-ocean proportions. Its ability to produce the atomic bomb gives it the power of life and death over other peoples.

Yet with all this vast power in its hands, American capitalism can achieve no stability and prosperity. Already the United States’ home economy is beset by growing unemployment, loss of purchasing power, threatened inflation, and a growing wave of strikes. Its inability to master the economic contradictions at home drives American imperialism to further efforts to master the contradictions of world economy. In order to “organize” the domestic economy, American imperialism seeks to “organize” world economy. The successful stabilization and exploitation of the world becomes the only means toward the stabilization and exploitation of the United States.

Russia’s Imperialist Expansion

The only nation which remains beyond the reach of the American world octopus is Russia. Basing itself upon a fundamentally different economic order – ureaucratic collectivism – Russia has maintained a monopoly of foreign trade and achieved, by sweating, starving and bleeding its own people: a comparative economic self-sufficiency adequate to remain independent from the economic domination of world capitalism. Basing itself upon its bureaucratically planned economy, Its natural resources, its vast territory, its tremendous human reservoir, and its strategic geographic location, Russian military power has everywhere erupted beyond its old boundaries. Helsinki, Warsaw, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia, Bucharest resound to the tread of Russian boots. The Russian battle star appears in northern Iran, Manchuria, Korea, southern Sakhalin, the Kuriles and stands poised over Turkish Armenia and the Dardanelles.

Though following economic laws peculiar to its own collectivist economy, Russian imperialism, like that of the capitalist world, finds the solution to many internal problems beyond its national boundaries. The attempt to organize a self-sufficient economy within one country continually develops internal contradictions. Russian industry, even though part of a “planned economy,” develops unevenly. This is so whether it is well planned or is bureaucratically mismanaged. Some industries have dire need of imports to prosper while others must dispose of surpluses abroad. In Russia, as elsewhere, economy drives incessantly to adjust itself to the world division of labor. The addition of Poland, the Balkans, Finland and Asiatic territories to the Russian economic sphere affords the Russian rulers the opportunity to lessen the strains and tensions upon their autarchic economy.

Beyond the urges born of the needs of Russian economy, the bureaucracy is driven on by those motives of power, prestige and revenue that have been the motive forces of predatory expansion by ruling classes throughout the ages. The same motives carried the flag of the Czar to the Pacific and beyond it to Alaska, across Finland to the border of Sweden, across the deserts of Central Asia to the borders of Afghanistan and, in countless wars with Turkey, beyond the Caucasus. These are the motives of plunder, of taxation, of the building of mass conscript armies, and of the securing of strategic points of “national defense.” The present generation of Russian political, economic and military functionaries have been brought up in the tradition of a fervent nationalism. The place of “Holy Russia” and Pan-Slavism has been taken by the mission of Russia to bring Russian “socialism” to the “dark peoples” of the border lands. Russian “socialism” includes, of course, the political and economic domination. of the Russian ruling bureaucracy over the new territories, whether directly annexed or ruled through puppet regimes.

The New Russian Empire

By means of this imperialist aggrandizement, the Russian bureaucratic class is fashioning a new Eurasian empire covering a tremendous, continuous land block with a quarter billion population. The Russian rulers nave revealed that they have no self-limitations upon the boundaries of their empire. They insist upon pushing them as far as American and British resistance permits. Their westward expansion must, for the present, rest at the western limits of the Russian zone of occupation in Germany. Here they are up against what is rapidly becoming a well-knit “western bloc” of the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, basing itself upon Anglo-American support. The major present objective of the Russians appears to be the Near East and the Mediterranean. This drive seems aimed beyond the age-old Russian desire to control the Dardanelles. It casts the long shadow of the Russian bear over the sensitive “middle zone” of the British Empire, the Mediterranean and the Arab world on its southern and eastern shores, including Iraq and oil-rich Iran, now occupied by both Russian and British troops.

It is a different Russia and a different world from that often years ago when Litvinov appeared at Geneva to plead for “collective security.” It a far different world from is likewise that of Munich, where the “Big Four” implicitly told Russia that Europe was none of its business. (Of that “Big Four” only Britain counts today.) Russia today considers its “business” to involve the fate of Finland, the Baltic states, Poland, Germany, Austria, the Balkan states, Hungary, Greece, Czecho-Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Tangier, the Italian colonies in Africa,the Dodecanese islands, Turkey and the Dardanelles, Iran, Mongolia, Manchuria, Korea and the Kuriles.

World War II has, therefore, simultaneously brought to birth the new Russian empire, based upon bureaucratic collectivism, and the final and complete supremacy of America in the world of capitalism. In between the two giants, the ancient British Empire is being subjected to a tight squeeze. The logic of the situation forces it to reconcile itself to a role of junior partner to American world domination. The more pressure Russia exerts upon British spheres, the more must Britain cling to the United States and subordinate its interests to those of America. It is this relationship of forces that must be understood to understand what took place at London.

The Conflict Over Voting Procedure

The bourgeois press correspondents and columnists, as usual, occupied themselves at great length with the superficialities of the controversy at London, in particular the matter of voting procedure. After an initial agreement that all five powers participate in the discussions, Molotov, on September 22, suddenly demanded the exclusion of France and China from the discussions of peace treaties with the former German satellites: Finland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary (now Russian satellites). The technical grounds upon which he based the demand was that the Potsdam agreement had limited treaty-making powers only to those nations that had been at war with these former German allies. The pro-Russian commentators explained that Molotov grew irritated over the fact that nearly all questions brought a four-to-one line-up, with Russia standing alone. Samuel Grafton, who has been properly dubbed the “theoretician of the air-raid wardens,” explained that Russia was quite proper in its approach, since the “world of communism” had one vote and the world of capitalism had four. If the discussions were only confined to the “Big Three” it would result, he explained, in a two-to-one vote against Russia and its bargaining power would therefore be greater. The logic of this position is, of course, that if the “world of communism” and the world of capitalism were each given one vote, Russia’s bargaining power would be still greater. And, with proper corrections, this approach is not incorrect. Stalin, as boss of the bureaucratic collectivist world,would prefer to do business vis-à-vis the American bosses of the capitalist world. At least, he would not be outvoted.

The points of conflict which stymied the London discussions all involved the trouble spots where the frontiers of the new Russian empire pressed upon the capitalist world.

Trieste and Italy’s Colonies

(1) The final peace treaty with Italy ran into the problem of Trieste. In a sense, Trieste has a double importance for Russia. First, it is the westernmost extension of the Russian sphere. Second, it is the only port at present through which the Russian world has an outlet to the Mediterranean.

The discussions went through all the old mumbo-jumbo of the ethnic, juridical, historical and socio-economic claims of Italy and Yugoslavia upon the territory. A reading of the claims of both sides is, by itself, convincing proof of the hopelessness of any kind of durable solution under capitalism. The mixture of the population of Trieste itself, the crazy-quilt pattern of Italian, Slovenian and Croatian settlements in the adjacent area, the pivotal importance of the port for world power politics, all indicate that the minority problem will continue to fester regardless of any solution short of a freely-determined place in a United Socialist States of Europe.

Russia stood adamant in support of the claims upon Trieste advanced by its puppet Yugoslavian regime, headed by Tito. (Reports have it that the failure of the Yugoslavian Foreign Minister, Subasitch, to appear at London were due to his confinement under house arrest.) The Italian claims were supported by Bevin, with just as much insistence. The real nature of the dispute over Trieste is to be seen in the fact that the British Foreign Minister takes upon his shoulders the defense of Italian interests in Trieste, about which Togliatti, Stalinist Minister in the Italian Cabinet, has only a few pious and innocuous remarks to make. Bevin, spokesman of British imperialist interests, is free to speak out on Italian interests. Togliatti, Russian spearhead in the Italian government, finds himself compelled to dodge the issue.

The peace treaty with Italy also involved the disposition of the Italian colonies. Britain had favored individual trusteeships, with an eye toward taking the best for herself and giving what was left to France. The United States had favored international trusteeships, which would give it a dominant voice without direct responsibility for colonial administration. Russia threw a bombshell into the discussions by favoring individual trusteeships and calmly indicating that it was prepared to take “responsibility for” Tripolitania and, perhaps, Eritrea. Russia’s demand was a bombshell precisely because the thinking of the Anglo-American world cannot quite adjust itself to an international situation in which Russia proposes to become a Mediterranean and an African power. Whether Russia is serious in its demands or is seeking to bargain for concessions like the Dodecanese Islands which it can use to guard the approaches to the Dardanelles is difficult to say at this time. Byrnes and Bevin dodged the question by postponing it until the UNO trusteeship council has been set up.

Iran and the Dardanelles

(2) The withdrawal of the troops from Iran involved an attempt by the British to advance the date of withdrawal from that of the treaty provision with Iran (that the occupation continue until “six months after the defeat of Japan.”) Molotov insisted upon the maximum time for occupation in accordance with the treaty provisions.

(3) The discussion of the internationalization of the waterways bogged down because this involves the problem of the Dardanelles. Russia opposes renewal of the 1936 Montreux Convention or any form of internationalization of the straits which does not permit Russia to have free use of them and control them in time of war. Molotov took the aggressive on this question, as on all others. When Bevin raised the question of the Dardanelles, Molotov raised the question of control of the Suez Canal. When Byrnes interjected to support Bevin, Molotov said that the United States was as much involved in the matter of the Dardanelles as Russia was in the matter of the Panama Canal. Here too the result was a deadlock.

(4) Molotov utilized the addition of the apparently harmless point attached to the end of the agenda referring to “matters relating to the Far East” to spring a diplomatic coup by suddenly raising the question of control over the occupation of Japan. The Russians cleverly manipulated the discontent expressed by the Chinese, Australians and Dutch over the position which the United States had taken that the occupation of Japan was solely an American matter. Byrnes was maneuvered into a corner where he found himself isolated. Bevin stated that he was obligated to support the views. of the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand on the question. The Americans have since countered with a move to establish an advisory council which involves not only Russia but also Britain, China, France, the Netherlands and the Philippines. The effect of the maneuver is to accept the principle of a joint council which the Russians advanced but to restrict severely its powers and to include sufficient nations to reduce Russia’s specific weight again.

(5) The peace treaties with Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary raised the question of the internal regimes in these countries. This question brought to the fore the profound discovery by the correspondents that the Russians and Anglo-Americans had different definitions of democracy! The present governments of these states are maintained by internal political terror organized by the native Stalinists under GPU direction with, of course, the bayonets of the Russian army of occupation in the background. They are Russian puppet governments in the same sense that the present government of Greece is a puppet of Britain and the present government of the Philippines is a puppet of the United States.

Molotov, smarting under the inquiries about “democracy” in these countries, finally blew up and demanded the exclusion of France and China from the discussions. What is more, he asked that the minutes showing his agreement at the beginning of the conference to French and Chinese participation be expunged. Bevin referred to this as a “falsification of history.” Since the latter has long been state policy in Stalinist Russia, Molotov was no doubt puzzled by what was meant by this objection. The final sessions of the conference grew increasingly tense. At one point Bevin accused the Russians of using “Hitlerian tactics.” When this was translated to him, Molotov gathered up his papers and prepared to leave. An apology by Bevin saved the conference at this point. On September 28 the session lasted exactly ten minutes because the conferees could not agree on procedure. At one session, it is reported, Molotov, bound by rigid instructions from the Kremlin, nearly drove Byrnes and Bevin to distraction by repeating the same answer to their questions some thirty times. At another point, Bevin, ex-dock worker, lost his temper and shouted at Molotov, ex-bookkeeper, “Mr. Molotov, I am from the proletariat.”

How the Conference Ended

The conference can hardly be said to have adjourned. It is more accurate to say that it simply broke up. The last days were spent over the adoption of the minutes of the conference. Molotov refused to sign the minutes without the deletions referred to above. When the conference was about to break up over the deadlock, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Shih-chieh, quoted the philosophers of the East and recommended that everyone go home and have a good night’s sleep to improve their dispositions and, perhaps, have greater success the next day. Whether they slept well or not is not known. However, the next day’s session was the last. The conference ended in a deadlock and in utter futility.

Never has a diplomatic gathering revealed in such stark and dramatic terms the utter inability of the exploiting classes of the world to organize world peace. All those pious hopes that the atomic bomb, with its promise of total destruction for civilization, would somehow frighten the statesmen of the world into agreement have come to naught. Likewise with those misplaced confidences that the United Nations Organization would succeed where the old League of Nations failed. Even while the “Big Five” were maneuvering at Lancaster House, the United Nations Council sat in session a few blocks away. Its deliberations were properly ignored by world opinion. Its agenda was filled with the meaningless items of structure and procedure for the world organization while the real essence of world power was being decided elsewhere.

No one can now hazard a guess as to how long it will take for the conflicts at stake in the conference to be transformed into a Third World War. But no one can deny that they are moving in that direction with an irresistible logic. Molotov is supposed to have quipped that when Byrnes is pushed to the wall he begins “dangling the bomb.” It is inevitable that Russia will, sooner or later, also have “the bomb” to dangle. The hourglass of history is running out. The time still allotted to mankind to build a world of socialism grows increasingly short.

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