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Irving Howe

Major Powers Redivide Continent

New Peace Treaties Mangle the Face of Europe

(16 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 50, 16 December 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The torturous and drawn-out negotiations among the “Big Three” victors of the Second World War seem to have come to a turning point during the past week. A whole series of new patch-work agreements have been reached, none of which fundamentally solve any problem but which apparently provide some basis for collaboration among the three imperialist powers – the U.S., Britain and Russia – in the immediate future.

In a few weeks, announced the meeting of foreign ministers, peace treaties will be signed with a number of the former minor Axis powers. These treaties with the five satellite Axis powers – Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland – provide, among other things, for the following:

1) The most pressing and difficult problem of Trieste has been worked out on a basis which will probably prove unsatisfactory to all concerned but which represents a horse-trading agreement among the major imperialist powers. The Adriatic port of Trieste and its immediate vicinity will be taken from Italy – a tremendous blow to that country’s imperial aspirations – and made into a Free Territory. The United Nations Security Council will appoint a Trieste Governor, with strong powers including control of the police. There will also be a popularly elected Legislative Assembly with ill-defined powers. Occupation troops – American, British and Yugoslavian – will be evacuated from the area “after the Governor decides that they are no longer needed.” (N.Y. Times – a paper which not only prints “all the news that’s fit to print” but also has a highly developed sense of irony.)

Expect Continued Conflict

It should be noted that the Russians have won a considerable concession in being allowed to import 5,000 Yugoslav troops into Yugoslavia, a prospect which does not fill supporters of U.S. imperialism with delight.

The western imperialist powers have won a victory, however, in the granting of strong police powers to the Trieste governor who will in all probability be either a direct representative of their bloc or someone from a small country amenable to their pressure. Expected result: continued internal conflict in Trieste between the governor and his police, defending Western imperialist interests against the Yugoslav troops, who will of course be handpicked ‘ representatives of Tito (i.e., Stalin.)

In the meantime, it should be noted that not one of those deciding Trieste’s fate even consider – fantastic notion that it seems to them! – the idea of asking the people of Trieste themselves what they wish; of organizing a plebiscite to poll them for their desires. For as in all the other recent border changes, the peoples involved are shifted without consultation.

2) Reparations: Very steep reparations have been exacted on the already bankrupt and disorganized satellite powers. Italy is to pay $100,000,000 to Russia; $125,000,000 to Yugoslavia; $105,000,000 to Greece; $25,000,000 to Ethiopia; and $5,000,000 to Albania. Rumania is to pay $300,000,000 to Russia and Hungary is to pay $200,000,000 to Russia. If these reparations are ever carried into practise, they can only mean the further disorganization and destruction of European economy and the further debasement of the already pitiful standard of living of the workers and peasants of southeastern Europe.

3) A whole series of border revisions – again this playing fast and loose, with people without consulting them on their own fate! – was decided on. Rumania is to cede Bukovina and Bessarabia to Russia, but since Stalin’s armies have already taken these areas the pact merely confirms the reality. The Dodecanese islands are granted to the Greek Monarchy. Southern Dobruja, a strip of land between Rumania and Bulgaria, is ceded by the former to the latter. The loss of the port and the province of Petsamo, Finland, to Russia – over which the Western “democrats” once shed such piteous tears – has been confirmed.

“Free Navigation”

And finally, the Big Three agreed upon the “principle” of free navigation of the Danube, which has been hailed as a victory for the Anglo-American bloc. Just what that bloc will be able to do with the “principle,”’however, so long as Russian troops control the countries along the Danube, remains to be seen.

The agreements summarized above elicited squeals of delight and heavy “think pieces” on the part of newspaper columnists, whose sole handicap is that they have to write on subjects of Which they understand very little. These columnist pundits – in between trying to blow down the walls of the miners union with their rhetorical wind – have expressed their delight at the new “reasonable” attitude shown by the Russians. But this “reasonable” attitude and the “amity” shown among the Big Three is nothing more than a mutual agreement that some sort of compromise of imperialist rulership would have to be worked out. The Russians made some concessions, as did the U.S. and Britain; but all of these maneuvers have meaning only if understood in the context of the fact that they are inter-imperialist in nature, part of the shifting kaleidoscope of big power domination and that nowhere was there any genuine democratic expression of people’s sentiments or regards for people’s needs.

But more responsible voices among the capitalist commentators – like the managing editor of the N.Y. Times, Edwin James, in his December 8 article – warned against the assumption that the rivalries among the major powers had come to an end. He pointed – and correctly so – to the continued existence of numerous sore spots: the major peace treaties with Germany and Austria (in Berlin a Stalinist appointed city administration refused to make way for an elected and anti-Stalinist administration); the state of near-civil war in Greece and the border clashes between Greek monarchist troops and Yugoslav troops; the question of what attitude the UN is to assume toward Spain, etc.

For though there is no prospect of immediate war – none of the major imperialist powers is ready for it or wants it yet – the conflicts between them are sharp, severe and permanent and cannot be wiped out by mere treaties or statements. They will continue to exist so long as the spectres of capitalist imperialism and Stalinist imperialism threaten the future of this world; nothing short of the abolition of these two monsters can remove the threat of an eventual Third World War which endangers the very future of the human race.

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