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Henry Judd

World Politics

Is War Coming?

(25 October 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 43, 25 October 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There cannot, of course, be any final or authoritative answer to this question, even from those like Stalin, Marshall, Bevin, et al. who supposedly are in a position to know. To even consider the possibility that they may know is to assume that they are actually the movers and operators of historic events, rather than moved and manipulated by factors beyond their control.

It must be recognized that any discussion on the problem of war today is based upon the assumption that the two great world powers inevitably must and will reach a showdown point where hot war becomes unavoidable and the dreaded conflict of atomic power and long-range bombing planes will be upon us. Unpleasant as it may be, this universal assumption has a healthy element in it. There is probably less illusion on the general subject of war, its nature and purpose, than ever before. False hopes and pacifist doctrine in general (except in the sphere of exclusively individual acts such as those of the COs) play little part.

The problem of the struggle against war does not lie along these lines, but rather in overcoming the existing mass apathy and the pervasive feeling of hopelessness before the inevitable. Only with respect to that part which holds that war between capitalist America and Stalinist Russia is inevitable dare we go along with this attitude.

But is the inevitable almost upon us? Does all the noise and fury at the United Nations Paris assembly signify what Trotsky once referred to as the warning flashes of heat lightning before the storm itself? Will the struggle over Berlin go down in history as the first battle of World War III as the Spanish Civil War introduced the Second World War? Will there actually be war within the next two, three or six-month period?

Conflict Still in Diplomatic Stage

Secretary of State Marshall, a bit of an authority on this subject, made a highly significant remark last week at the UN sessions when presenting the American case against Russia at the Security Council. Years back, he said, such an incident as that of Berlin would have meant war long ago. Perhaps the general was expressing his surprise and amazement that, this time, war hasn’t come. In any case, his remark is absolutely correct. Far more trivial incidents have served as the starting point for grandiose wars between rivals in past years. But Berlin, where great powers struggle bitterly and viciously for mastery of a central and strategic city of unparalleled importance containing millions of people, where the differences are so sharp that the impasse reached seems unbreakable – surely an “incident” on a gigantic scale when compared to such trivialities as Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination or Hitler’s seizure of Danzig – all this has not yet led to war and, in our opinion, will not lead to war.

Why is this the case? To begin with, since socialists do not accept the belief that war begins in an accidental manner, but rather that a complex and involved evolution and preparation along economic, political and social lines must first have occurred, it is clear that this process is still, fortunately, far from complete. That road which leads to the point where rival powers no longer are able to compromise, in any form or manner, their differences, but must fight it out to the end, is now being traversed by both Russian and American imperialism. But the end point is not yet within sight.

There are many signs that indicate this. The speeches of Vishinsky are not pre-war speeches in the sense, for example, that those of Hitler in 1938–39 were. The main efforts of American foreign policy are still diplomatic rather than inflammatory in character. The concrete military acts of both nations are of the preparedness stage, rather than the active war-preparations type. Even in the Berlin struggle over all these months the Russians have yet to actually interfere (shoot down) a single American plane.

It is also clear that preparations for World War III must be, because of the expected nature of the war, infinitely more careful and complete than those of previous wars. Three years’ time has hardly been sufficient. Linked with this is the acknowledged dread of the belligerent rulers themselves that the war itself may well be so destructive in character as to weaken, possibly even nullify, the material and social basis upon which their rule over society rests. Naturally, this hesitation will hardly be decisive, once the end point is reached; the war rulers of both America and Russia will unhesitatingly launch the disaster once they believe they can win out, and are prepared for victory.

Popular Reaction Is Obstacle

Finally, and perhaps most important of all from the socialist point of view, is the general recognition of those who hold responsibility that there is no mass, popular political and ideological preparation for the war as yet. Greatest difficulty of all would be mobilization of the European peoples for such a war. Only complete irresponsibles, such as Churchill is today, dare sing the aggressive marching tunes; those who hold power and know the reality of mass sentiment must spend their efforts in preliminary efforts to fix responsibility on the other.

Stalin and his fellow criminals in the Kremlin not excepted, there is great fear and indecision today in all leading political circles about bearing responsibility for a future war. This factor cannot be ignored, and acts as a definite deterring factor. Put in other words, the rulers themselves tremble before the spectacle of war since they know not what it will bring, above all with regard to perpetuation of their power.

Can we then safely assume that nothing can happen, that today’s headlines are empty sound and fury? Since we know that the road of preparedness is now being actively built and reinforced by all possible means, obviously not. It is a question of time and timing. There even exists, in our opinion, the possibility of an unexpected and premature launching of the war within the immediate future.

It could happen in one of two ways:

  1. The Russian regime, partly through the obstinate blundering of its obtuse leadership and partly through the pressure of the alleged aggressive wing of its leadership (whose supposed leader was the late Zhdanov) may push its way into war by simply refusing to halt or negotiate.
  2. The minority “Zhdanov wing” of American imperialism, made up of our air chiefs, assorted militarists and aggressive imperialists, may succeed with its concept of a “preventive war” and push ahead in the manner proposed by Churchill.

But both possibilities, presented by minority circles within the general ruling class of both nations, have neither the benefit of popular support, widespread acceptance nor adequate preparation. It is very unlikely that either will prevail.

Thus we conclude that the war is still some period away. But each passing day brings the inevitable that much closer, and each day in which the opponents of the war do not score some success in their work is a lost and wasted day. In essence, the struggle against war is the struggle for awakening the dormant consciousness of people and bringing them to an understanding that they can actually do something about this problem.

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