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Irving Howe

Marshall Plan for the Imperialist Domination
of Europe Underlines the Need for Socialism

(23 June 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 26, 23 June 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The international scene this past week has been dominated by discussion of the Marshall plan, which proposes to aid the economic revival of Europe by a five billion dollar program to be applied to Europe as a whole. If, argue the proponents of this plan, it can be carried out, its advantages are obvious: economic aid is rendered not to one or another country where it serves merely to provide temporary relief, but rather to Europe as a whole so that a genuine continent-wide recovery becomes possible. That is the formal argument in behalf of the Marshall plan. Let us see what its actual purpose and significance is. These lines are written before a Russian reaction to the plan is available, and hence must be tentative estimates. That is why we wish at the moment only to offer a few notes:

1) What is the relationship of the Marshall plan to the Truman Doctrine?

This was the first question that arose in everyone’s mind. Presumably the Truman Doctrine was supposed to lay the basis for U.S. foreign policy for some time to come; why then the addition of the Marshall plan?

It seems now that one reason for the Marshall plan is the skeptical popular response accorded to the Truman Doctrine in Europe and among sections of the American people. A program which stated bluntly that its purpose was to oppose the spread of “communism” (i.e., Russian domination) by buttressing the military establishments of such notoriously reactionary regimes as those in Greece and Turkey, was hardly calculated to arouse popular enthusiasm, even if it was surprisingly frank in its imperialist motivation. The Truman Doctrine established the essential goal of U.S. imperialism, but it was too unadorned with humanitarian rhetoric and flimflam to stand alone.

On the other hand, the Marshall plan says nothing about aiding the military systems of the European nations under Anglo-American influence; it speaks merely of the economic recovery of Europe. But the obvious fact is that a nation which, has improved its economic position is in an excellent position to strengthen its military position. Thus, if the Marshall plan, by establishing a modicum of order in Europe, succeeds in improving the economic position of, say, France and Greece, these and similar countries would then be able to create a military power as a counterweight to that of Stalinist Russia.

In this sense, the basic imperialist purpose of the Marshall plan and the Truman Doctrine is the same: to call a halt to Russian expansion, perhaps to push them back and to stabilize the positions of western capitalism.

2) Military Support and Economic Aid.

Yet there are some important differences between the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall plan; or more accurately, the latter represents a modification in U.S. imperialist policy as enunciated by the former. The Truman Doctrine was frankly an emergency measure; it reflected the growing concern of U.S. imperialism with the expansion of its Russian rival. It was designed to reinforce weak positions. The Marshall plan is more ambitious; it is designed to attempt nothing less than a partial reorganization and recovery of European economy under U.S. domination. There is no contradiction between these two proposals, only a supplementation.

For it becomes increasingly clear that emergency relief measures are of no ultimate value. The crisis of Europe is due to its inability to resume production on an organized, continent-wide basis – which is due, in turn, to the inter-imperialist conflict of the ma|or powers victorious in the Second World War and to the general disintegration of European capitalism. To take the first steps toward the most limited economic recovery, Europe needs large scale production of coal, of fertilizer, of steel, of war-shattered buildings; it needs a rationalization of industrial-agricultural relations: it needs a sensible reordering of its manpower. But all of these prerequisites to economic recovery depend in the very first instant on the political reorganization of Europe. How is German steel to be produced if the major powers cannot possibly agree on a rate of German production? How is the industrial heart of Europe, the Ruhr, to be revived if the great powers can agree on neither its purpose nor disposition?

If considered in terms of its formal purpose – the basic reorganization of European economy along rational lines – the Marshall plan is preposterous at the very outset: for it proposes to maintain and invigorate the very social relationships of capitalist production and organization which are the cause of the European crisis. Yet it can serve certain other purposes.

3) Where does Russia come in?

Marshall specifically stated that Russia was to be included in the plan, if it wished. This is apparently a shift from the Truman Doctrine which was directed against Russia. Does it mean that the Marshall plan is still another attempt to work out a temporary truce with Russia in Europe by means of mutual concessions – the halting of territorial expansion by Russia and perhaps its withdrawal from some areas, and the granting of economic credits by the U.S.? Or is the offer to Russia merely camouflage with which subsequently to create a “western bloc?”

At the moment, it seems likely that the Marshall plan allows for both alternatives. By its inclusion of Russia as among the possible recipients of U. S. aid, the plan clearly offers to the Stalinist regime still another proposal for some sort of temporary working arrangement in Europe.

This offer is not without attractiveness to the Russians. They need U.S. credits and need them badly – what they loot in Hungary, or a dozen Hungarys, doesn’t compensate for what they might get from Detroit if U.S. credits were available. And there is a report from Frederick Kuh, Chicago Sun correspondent, that the governments of the eastern puppet states – Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland – are urging Moscow to agree to a Foreign Minister’s conference: these economically wobbly regimes are also entranced by the prospect of some U.S. dollars. But in turn the Russians would have to pay. As Edwin James, managing editor of the New York Times, writes in his authoritative comment on June 22:

“It stands to reason that if and when the United States puts up money to help the reforms suggested by Secretary Marshall it is not going to do so in a manner to help the Red-dominated regimes ...”

So that if the Russians balk, or no agreement with them can be reached, the second possible perspective of the Marshall plan can be applied: the attempt to achieve a measure of economic recovery by organizing the western capitalist countries of Europe as an economic entity. In a word, the “western bloc.”

This rather more subtle character of the Marshall plan, as contrasted with the Truman Doctrine, puts the Russians in something of a quandary, reflected in the careful treatment accorded the plan in the Stalinist Daily Worker which neither supports nor denounces it but merely adopts a skeptical attitude. Our guess is that the Russians will ggree to attend a conference – at which all of the old stumbling blocks will again appear.

4) Can the Plan Work?

That depends on what one means by the question. If some transient agreement is reached with the Stalinist dictatorship, it is possible that some of the more blatant barriers to economic life – the division Of Germany into four closed economic zones; the occupation of the east European countries; the deliberate restriction of German production; the imposition of impossible reparations on Germany – may be modified. That might ease the present absolutely impossible economic situation – but even if that unlikely event took place, it would only be a breathing spell after which all of the present and irreconcilable conflicts for the control of Europe would break out in even greater ferocity.

If the Marshall plan, however, develops into an economic basis for a western bloc, it will only sharpen the already severe conflict in Europe. It will then only hasten the conflict between Russian and U.S. imperialisms.

One thing, however, can be declared with certainty: the Marshall plan, or any other plan of its kind, cannot bring genuine security and freedom to Europe. It cannot destroy the stupid economic divisions, the nationalist antagonisms and the artificial restriction of production which today leave Europe in prostration.

No matter what the subjective intentions of its author, the plan is objectively a means for the tightening of U.S. domination of at least western Europe. But it cannot succeed in establishing a genuinely planned and freely controlled European economic unit, because it is premised on the very fact which makes such a situation impossible: the continued existence of capitalist states on the continent.

The inadequacy of the Marshall plan in this respect only underlines the need for the rebuilding of Europe on a unified Socialist basis. Given a United States of Socialist Europe – a continent in which all resources were rationally planned, freely controlled by the masses of people; in which artificial national economic barriers were dissolved – the recovery of the continent could proceed speedily. Such a revolutionary reconstruction of Europe, and nothing else, can bring order and freedom and plenty from the present chaos.

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