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Henry Judd

World Politics

Stalin-Truman Notes and Peace

(24 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 21, 24 May 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Of far greater importance than the question of who won the now-concluded Battle of Diplomatic Notes between Washington and Moscow – and whether Molotov was guilty or innocent of a breach of diplomatic “courtesy” in revealing Ambassador Smith’s letter – is the profound reaction this event had among the masses of people everywhere. Perhaps nothing has served better to illustrate the understanding prevalent everywhere that the problem of war or peace is, in essence, the problem of the struggle between the two great world rivals,American and Russian imperialism; as well as the universal longing and desire for an end to the present uncertainty and the assurance of real peace.

The eagerness, almost pathetic and deeply emotional, with which great masses of people seized upon these notes and wove into their contents their own desires and wishes is a reaction that socialists everywhere must understand and make use of to the full. From Moscow, the UP reported how, “Russians crowded five and six deep in front of newspaper bulletin boards ...” Workers, mothers with children, army officers read the dispatches and then, “As they read, they nudged each other, and made such comments as: ‘Good, huh? Good!’For the first time in months, many of them beamed at those among them who obviously were foreigners.” Another source reports how, “For twenty-four hours people on both sides of the Iron Curtain in Europe breathed more easily at this faint hint in days of mounting tension of relief from the haunting fear of war.”

The same reactions were prevalent in America and are familiar to all of us. The slightest possibility of a relaxing of the calculated strain between the two monsters was seized upon everywhere as an opportunity for hope and rejoicing. As we all know, within twenty-four hours this had all ended, dashed to bits on the sharp rocks of Washington and the Kremlin and the vicious words of Molotov, Truman, Marshall and company. Since that moment, the great issue – so far as the press is concerned – has been, who “won”? Meanwhile, the rapidly dwindling interest in the entire matter is passing away and soon “normal” relations of struggle and strain will return.

Stalin Wins Propaganda Battle

It is not difficult to reply to the question, “who won?” Strictly on the propaganda front, Stalinism scored a victory as should be obvious to all. Surely President Truman outdid himself in this turn. Impulsively launching an ambiguously worded note on the sea of diplomatic conflict, he gave the shrewd diplomats of the Kremlin an opportunity to launch a campaign for settlement of the basic issues that divide the two great Powers precisely at a moment when American imperialism has not the slightest desire or interest to make a deal! “The Soviet Government ... is in agreement with the proposal to begin ... discussion and settlement of the differences between us,” said Mr. Molotov in reply to Mr. Smith’s remark that, “So far as the United States is concerned, the door is always pen for full discussion and the composing of our differences.” All the ludicrous protests that Molotov “revealed” a diplomatic note will not do away with the fact that his proposal to discuss put Truman strictly on the spot and smack up against the wall.

Blunderer Truman, of course, spent the next few days explaining that no invitation for a conference was in tended, that nothing had changed and that the note was not a bid (who knows what it was?). Simultaneously, the consternation created by this secret action in the capitals of the 16 Marshall Plan nations had to be calmed down. But the world Stalinist press, with its gang of fellow travellers, was furiously at work claiming that Russia, which wanted to talk peace, had been repulsed by a belligerent American administration. Meanwhile, a tentative and temporary settlement was not one bit closer than before.

It is difficult to imagine what Truman had in mind in launching his note. American imperialism is, at the moment, on the offensive everywhere. It has begun operation of its Marshall Plan, and is feverishly re-building its military forces while preparing for military guarantees to Western Europe. At the moment, it desires no relaxing of the tension but, on the contrary, hopes to drive Stalinism still further back behind the Curtain by screwing up its pressures on all fronts – economic in Western Europe, military in Greece and China, etc. It wants no negotiations, now. Only an examination of the mind of Truman and his “advisors” might provide an explanation to why Stalin was handed this propaganda gift.

They Cannot Bring Peace

Part of the motivation behind the Kremlin’s eager acceptance of this gift is obvious and has already been stated. A fool – which Stalin is not – would have grasped the chance. But there are other motives. There is little doubt that the Kremlin, at the moment, is willing and ready to negotiate. There are many reasons why this is true. Stalin would be quite willing to sit down and work out a deal with American imperialism. How long it would last – in fact, whether one could even be worked out – is beside the point.

Right now, Moscow is consolidating behind the Curtain. A part, an important part, of this process is the upbuilding of these areas industrially and economically,in accord with Russian plans, of course. A successful deal with America, from Stalin’s viewpoint, would involve recognition of the Kremlin’s hegemony over Eastern Europe and the Balkans – acceptance by America of a division of Europe into twain, such as Wallace now advocates. Secondly, once this division is agreed to, Stalin would like the resumption of greatest Eastern and Western Europe trading and commerce, above all to get capital goods for the occupied lands.

Likewise, all reports make it clear that internal Russian economic life is not going too well. Machinery and capital goods, above all, are needed. Now that the Marshall Plan has become a fact in Western Europe, why should not Stalin offer to trade a quiescent attitude onthe part of his Stalinist parties in Italy, France, etc., in exchange, let us say, for several billions of long-term American loans? Why not? The struggle between these two imperialist rivals in Europe, as elsewhere, will assume more and more a struggle of production, productivity, for the next period – in preparation for the next military and political battles. Thus it seems to us that Stalin would be far from adverse to a serious and very concrete discussion with Truman. That it shall not happen today is clear. But tomorrow? The basis for a temporary agreement definitely does exist.

Would it last, even if worked out? Would it mean peace? Of course not. Great masses might hail such an arrangement as meaning “final peace,” in their illusory hope and yearning, but it would not endure. The basic political slogan of Labor Action – “Neither Washington nor Moscow” – has no meaning if it does not teach us that neither of the great rivals will bring anything but war, ultimately, and constant tension, currently. The great peace and anti-war potentiality whose existence is so obvious, must be directed into independent paths that lead away from Stalinism and American capitalism; to self-reliance rather than dependence upon diplomatic scoundrels and double-talkers.

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