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Irving Howe

World Politics

Stalinism and Europe’s Boundaries

(12 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 32, 12 August 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The major problem agitating European diplomacy at the moment is that of boundary settlements. In the past 15 hectic years, the boundaries of several countries have been changed any number of times; other countries have, for periods of time, even ceased to exist as independent nations.

One of the most interesting sidelights of this general problem is the attitude which the various Stalinist parties of Europe have taken towards the boundary problem. This has been a very difficult matter for them. Basically and ultimately, their primary loyalty is to Stalinist Russia and it is in the interests of the Stalinist ruling class that they function. Yet, in a number of southern European countries they have been propelled into governmental responsibility and power by the bayonets of the Russian army; they therefore have imperialist interests of their own. Thus, for instance, the Stalinists of a country like Yugoslavia or Hungary are concerned not only – though still primarily – with the needs of Russian imperialism; they have, as dominant forces in their own native regimes, their own fish to fry.

Stalinist Boundary Conflicts

In the past few weeks, I have worked up a list, probably not complete, of instances in which Stalinist parties of different European countries have come into conflict with each other on problems of boundary settlement. Here are the most dramatic instances:

  1. French Stalinists urge the separation of the Ruhr from Germany; the German Stalinists urge its retention within the framework of Germany.
  2. Yugoslavia Stalinists under Tito’s leadership, want the strategic port of Trieste; the Italian Stalinists want Trieste to be part of Italy.
  3. Hungarian Stalinists support frontier revision in Transylvania; Rumanian Stalinists insist that the borders of Transylvania be maintained.
  4. Austrian Stalinists support the claim of the Austrian government to the South Tyrol; the Italian Stalinists oppose it.
  5. Czech Stalinists want the Cieszen coalfields, located at the point where Poland and Czechoslovakia meet, to be part of their country; while the Polish Stalinists oppose that.
  6. Hungarian and Czech Stalinists are in conflict on the problem of the expulsion of Hungarians from Slovakia initiated by the Czech government.

Thus far, these differences exist only among Stalinist puppet parties themselves. They are not especially difficult to explain. It seems reasonable to assume that Moscow is allowing its puppets a certain flexibility of motion ... so that they will continue to be efficient puppets. For instance, the issue of Trieste. The conflict over Trieste has reached the point where the next world war might well break out around that dispute, as this last one broke out around the issue of Danzig; that is, while such border disputes do not cause a war, they help ignite it. The rival imperialist governments of Yugoslavia and Italy are bitterly fighting for control of Trieste, and they have succeeded in inflaming among their peoples powerful nationalist sentiments on the question. If therefore, the Italian Stalinists were to agree to the cession of Trieste to Yugoslavia, their hold on the Italian working class would be greatly reduced – and thereby their value to Stalin would decrease. So that it is to Russia’s advantage to allow its puppet parties to take dissenting positions on boundary questions, in view of the fact that neither the Italian nor Yugoslav Stalinists will actually decide the fate of Trieste.

How Far Will They Go?

However, another incident has recently taken place which is of a more striking nature. Russian armies are deeply entrenched in Austrian territory. They control over a third of that unfortunate little country and they have sucked dry most of its economic resources. A dispute arose between the Russian occupying troops and the Austrian government over certain industries, including some formerly held by German Nazis, the ownership of which is now in dispute. The Russian occupation laid claim to these industries, and in a move to forestall their seizure by the Russians, the Austrian government decided to nationalize them. We shall not here discuss the significance of this nationalization – part of a general economic trend in Europe – except to say that the change was largely a formal legal one, since the industries in dispute had largely been held by the government already.

What is interesting is this: the Austrian Stalinists supported the motion to nationalize the industries in question. After this decision by the Austrian government, the Russian occupying authority objected to Austrian decision to nationalize on the grounds that it would deprive the Russians of what was “rightfully” theirs. When the Austrian government went along with its legal maneuver of nationalizing the disputed industries, it did so with the support of the Austrian Stalinists.

Apparently, then, for the first time a puppet Stalinist party has defied its master. But even here it would not do to jump to hasty conclusions. We simply do not have the necessary information: was there previous consultation between the Russians arid the Austrian Stalinists? was the stand of the Austrian Stalinists agreed upon in such consultation? is there indication of open disagreement?

We ask these questions because it is possible that, again for reasons of political convenience the Russians may have allowed their Austrian puppets to register formal dissent. But whatever the specific facts in the Austrian situation, this much is certain:

Such terms as “nationalist” or “internationalist” when applied to the Stalinist parties are largely meaningless. They are primarily agents of the Stalinist ruling class of Russia; as such they can pose, whichever way is convenient to them, as nationalists or internationalists. In addition, in a number of countries they have developed interests and ambitions of their own, and these interests and ambitions may at one point or another come into conflict with those of other Stalinist parties or even with Mother Russia herself. But that stage, if it is ever reached at all, is not yet here. In the meantime, the Stalinist parties continue their role above all and before anything else as agents of the Russian ruling class.

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