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Irving Howe

World Politics

(25 March 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 12, 25 March 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Without attempting a complete analysis, I want to devote this column to some preliminary notes on the present war scene.

(1) Will There Be a War Soon? Or, Rather, How Soon Will There Be a War?

Any expectation that the Second World War would in some way put an end to imperialist conflict can now be put to rest. Any expectation that the very horror of the atomic bomb would force the imperialist powers to desist from war can also be put to rest. The forces driving imperialist countries into war surmount individual desires and individual fears.

On every side, the victors of the war are quarreling over who is to control the vital resources and strategic areas of the world. American imperialism, which has one of its main economic stakes in China, comes into sharp conflict with Russia in Manchuria, where the Stalinists have walked off with half of the industrial plant. In the Near East, the British – with the Americans panting, on their back – are struggling against Russian encroachments on their imperialist holdings, which means primarily oil. It is difficult to remember a situation in which the nature of imperialist conflict, the unabashed race to grab and despoil has been as open and cynical, By comparison, the struggle around the Versailles Treaty was a friendly discussion.

There will probably not be a war in the immediate future. The powers are not ready for it yet. War preparations take time. The peoples of all countries are emotionally tired, physically exhausted, politically skeptical. And it will take time to prepare new stockpiles of war material, to “reconvert” to atomic war.

But war is on the agenda – if imperialism is allowed to continue. The new imperialist conflict issues from the ranks of the “united victors” of the second world war.

(2) What Is Russia After? How Far Will She Go?

The basic Russian strategy seems to be to take advantage of the common knowledge that America and Britain are not prepared for immediate war and therefore to indulge in imperialist raids. London and Washington will send notes of protest, but the bureaucrats of the Kremlin are not much impressed by diplomatic rhetoric. It seems highly likely that Stalin will not go so far as to force the Allies to prepare for immediate war. For all of the factors which make immediate war unappetizing for Britain and America operate as well with regard to Russia; she too has suffered economically from the war.

So the Russians proceed to make a raid here and a sortie there; grab the factories in Manchuria; march into Northern Iran and present the British with an accomplished fact; grab an oil field in Hungary; denude Poland of its factories. But we do not believe that at present they are likely to cross that line which the Allies are now drawing; the line which says “You can’t go further than this without war.”

(3) Does Internal Crisis Provoke Russia’s Moves?

There is less information about the internal situation in Russia than about any other country in the world. Nonetheless, from the little that does creep past the censors and from a general analysis of the nature of Stalinism, we believe that Russia is in no way exempt from the general rule that in every class society external crisis is inevitably bound up with and in part stems from internal crisis. The imperialism of Russia is motivated by social forces basically different from those of highly developed capitalist countries. The latter seeks outlets for capital investments, but the Russians seek places in which to replenish their badly battered industrial plant, places where they can raid directly and on the primitive basis of simple looting. It should be remembered that there has been not the slightest loosening of the internal totalitarian regime in Russia; that, on the contrary, Stalin’s recent speech insisted on continued militarization.

This policy means a continued scarcity of consumers goods, which the people in Russia had been told would be increasingly available after the. war. And that the masses are dissatisfied with this is evidenced by the continued and remarkable propaganda in the Russian press warning its soldiers not to be overly impressed with the “riches” they have seen in Bulgaria, Poland, Austria and such countries. That gives you a real picture of the standard of living under Stalinism; that the soldiers are impressed by the conditions they see in the most primitive and hunger-stricken countries of Eastern Europe. Stalinist Russia has not even been able to give its people the living standards of ... Bulgaria, or Poland!

Another interesting indication of internal crisis – this should not be magnified to mean immediate serious internal struggle in Russia – is an article in the March 8 Pravda which compares the present situation to 1920, a period of famine, internal revolt, disorganization and practical breakdown of industry and agriculture.

And so the bureaucracy engages in imperialist raids, each of them calculated to ease the internal strain, to replace its worn out and misused industries; but none of them solving its basic problems.

(4) What Are America and Britain Going to Do Now? Will There Be a Military Alliance?

Churchill’s call for a military alliance between America and Britain has been cold-shouldered by Washington and not commented on officially by London. That should not divert us from the fact that America and Britain are operating in joint imperialist action. Neither of them can meet the threat of Russian imperialist competition without the aid of the other. There may be no official military alliance; Churchill’s speech was probably a mere trial balloon to test public reaction to the idea; but in practice there is already a virtual military alliance. (Cnurchill’s role is worth noting. This Tory and Mussolini admirer is unofficial ambassador of the British Labor government. Churchill is free to go off on any individual tears, and the government is not obliged to take responsibility for its ambassador, ex officio. A convenient arrangement!)

America, of course, is in the dominant position! As the only creditor nation in the world, it is in a position to dominate its partners. This is true, even though at the moment Britain seems more aggressively in opposition to Russia. British imperial interests are more directly threatened in the Near East than are American interests. But regardless of relatively minor differences between them, American and British imperialisms are being welded into a military bloc. That America, in the process, is also horning in on its partner – well, that’s imperialism.

(5) What Position Should Workers Take Toward These Developments?

To say that war will probably not break out immediately is not to deny the gravity of the situation. The world has begun to tread the road to war once more – this time, toward atomic war.

The pace of disintegration, and degeneration of the imperialist world increases. The Second World War has hardly ended and the clear outlines of the Third can already be seen. Could there be any more persuasive and convincing argument for our insistence that the workers should not support ANY imperialist power in its war moves, and that socialism is today essential for the very PRESERVATION of humanity?

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