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Henry Judd

World Politics

Can the Pact Defend Europe Against
the Russian Stalinist Steamroller?

(9 May 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 19, 9 May 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Sufficient time and discussion has elapsed since the original presentation of the North Atlantic Security Pact for us to attempt to draw some more fundamental conclusions as to its significance. Like any other document, after all, the pact which has so engrossed public opinion for several weeks, is a skeletal statement, of objectives and principles upon whose bones only political reality can place some flesh.

It is all the more difficult to evaluate this pact since it is doubtful if any such document has ever been followed by such a formidable barrage of deceitful propaganda, misrepresentation and general chicanery. On the one hand, its proponents have sought to cover it with shining innocence and nobility, all in the blessed spirit of Easter. Not only does it fit into the spirit and framework of the UN and its charter (in fact, it is nothing but a measure to bolster the UN!), but its purely “defensive” purposes could only be misunderstood by evil-doers whose minds are bent on “aggression.” Russia and its satellite powers, of course, have described the pact as open preparations for war, “military plans against the Soviet Union are being drawn up” (Gromyko), the heights of insolent imperialist aggressiveness, etc.

At the present point, the only subject on which all analysts of the pact (right, center and left) can find unanimous agreement is that it has delivered a death blow to the already rapidly expiring UN. That body, whose prestige has declined at a pace infinitely more rapid than that of the League of Nations, has become simply a center of public propagandistic announcement for the two warring camps which divide our world.

The contempt and disdain with which the top representatives of all foreign governments now treat it (they are content to send their lesser spokesmen to its gatherings) is matched by the tone of the discussions which go on. It is only necessary to listen to radio broadcasts of UN meetings – a welter of abuse, charges, accusations, slander, etc. – to realize that this body is effectively dead from any point of view. Three years sufficed to murder it.

We must reject with equal emphasis both interpretative views on the pact itself. It is neither an innocent document of “defense,” as its reactionary endorsers would like us to believe, nor is it a violent “aggressive military alliance” preluding the launching of World War III against Russia, as its Stalinist opponents and other analysts tell us. Both points of view are gross oversimplifications made with malicious propagandistic intent.

Pact Is Obsolete

That the pact is a totally reactionary document, based upon a reactionary conception of world politics, goes without saying. But its reactionary nature rests not simply upon its militaristic tendencies, its drive to further harden and split the world into antagonistic sectors, but rather upon a more fundamental fact.

This has been suggested by David Rousset, writing in the Nation of two weeks past. The pact is an “anachronism,” suggests Rousset, and rests upon an outmoded (and therefore both reactionary and impossible) conception of territorial security belonging to a pre-war period. Yet it is the only kind of conception which American imperialism, the organizer of the pact, is capable of developing.

Why is it outmoded and antiquated? Simply because its “defensive” military doctrine conceives of a military world of large mass armies which the atom bomb and the jet plane have bypassed? Or because that part of the pact which contains military implications is an absurdity which deceives no one since, unlike true military alliances of previous periods which consisted of understandings between two actual military powers, this particular alliance is between one mighty military power (America) and a set of nations which are, at best, only potential military forces?

No, the military absurdity of the pact is not sufficient to warrant our description of “anachronistic,” particularly since the pact is far more a political document, attempting to create a political force in opposition to Stalinist Russia, than a military one. Its military clauses, as we shall see again, rest on extremely shaky grounds.

Its reactionary nature is primarily political in character, and this in more than one way:

  1. It is not an alliance between equals, but between a powerful supernation and nations which, badly weakened by the war, are dependent to one or another degree upon America. This means the inner operation of the pact will be determined by minority forces determined to retain the existing relationships and with no concern for the masses of people involved.

Looks to Status Quo

  1. It conceives of the defense against Russia and Stalinism in static terms, with the ultimate decision to be based on military superiority. While it is not true that military force is to be applied today or. that immediate preparations for war mobilization are placed on the urgent order of the day (we agree with Rousset’s viewpoint which defines the immediate tactical aim of the pact as an effort to wring concessions from Russia by a show of strength short of immediate war), it is perfectly clear that each clause and line in the pact leads in but one direction – an eventual showdown with Russia by force and violence.
  2. Linked with Point 2 is perhaps the more important fact that, if we remove for the moment the pact’s military aspects, the remaining political content is entirely status quo in nature. That is, it presumes the continuation and hopes for the stabilization of both American and Western European capitalism. There is no conception of any political or social struggle against Stalinism or Russian influence in progressive terms; no idea of winning Europe’s masses to the side of this new “Grand Alliance” by a superior and attractive program of social progress.

Since none of the pact’s signers dare admit the increasingly apparent fact that Europe’s social order is structurally an exhausted one and that, at best, it can regain a limited stability if America continues its loans and outright grants, it naturally follows that they cannot meet the Stalinist challenge (which is primarily social and political; only military as a final resort) by a social challenge of their own. It is in this, of course, that the pact’s impossibility of success really lies.

Let us put it in another way. The pact belongs to the overall Marshall Plan strategy of American imperialism. Like the economic-aid program, it is a part of the broad plan. By an outward show of force and strength, it is believed that Russian expansionism will be brought further to a halt. At the same time, the undoubted economic recovery in Western Europe together with American military and continued economic aid is supposed to permit the rebuilding of large military forces in Europe – 100 divisions, huge jet air forces, etc. Within 5 to 10 years, Western Europe will be militarily powerful enough (so the most optimistic proponents of the plan believe) to halt the Russian armies. The whole conception treats Russia and its problem as if it were nothing but a revived Nazi Germany which only superior military forces can halt.

Even this conception is absurd, and raises an infinity of problems. Shall, for example, the Maginot Line be reconstructed? Shall France and England rebuild their huge land armies of millions of men? Shall America send token divisions to Europe? And what is to happen to today’s economic recovery, still so shaky and convalescent? Shall there be a new turning away from production of consumers’ goods and towards military production? But how could this possibly be done without another and more thorough reversal of current German policy which would not only permit, but demand full, unhampered production of each and every machine in that area and foremost of all in the Ruhr?

Doomed to Failure

The great dilemma of even a powerful producer like America – guns or butter – surely cannot be solved by the weak ERP nations. If they are called upon to divert their recovery into war channels now (and this would have to be full-scale, or it would be meaningless), we shall rapidly see the collapse of even the recovery that has occurred. And this tendency carries within it an even greater danger – unquestionably the major, danger of all – since it would involve the life and standards of the workers of Europe, those who are to be called upon to do the war production work and the fighting which lies at its ultimate end.

There is the heart of the problem. Can the masses of Western Europe be mobilized by (a) America, or (b) America’s representatives in the ERP nations for a violent struggle against, Russia? A highly dubious matter, in our opinion. Arms, cannon, jet planes, etc., are not enough. There must be the political, social and ideological will to fight. The story of France’s collapse in 1940 is a familiar one and no one believes any longer in the theory of overwhelming German technical superiority. The French masses had no desire or willingness to fight in 1940; the European masses have even less desire or will to fight in 1949.

Who seriously contends that their apathy to America versus Russia will have lessened by 1950, or 1955? If their national governments engage in all-out war production, at the expense of consumers’ goods and living standards, is it not clear that the national Stalinist movements will at the very least hold their present mass strength? Thus, when and if the war comes, it will not be with a Hitler with hundreds of Nazi agents in France, but a Stalin with millions of supporters in Italy, Germany, France, etc.

The more one examines the pact in its concreteness, the more impossible it becomes. It will meet with the passive resistance, in Rousset’s words, of the European masses who simply cannot be mobilized to fight for American or any other kind of capitalism. The fulfillment of this pact would guarantee the overrunning of Western Europe by Russia. And America? Would Truman then proceed to the systematic atomic destruction of each and every major European city?

We conclude then: the North Atlantic Pact is a gesture doomed in advance to failure. In content, it is reactionary; in outlook, it is antiquated; in perspective, it is illusory; in doctrine, it is hopeless. Its European political supporters join the ranks of generals without armies. Yet, as we know, it is the best our capitalist statesmen are capable of producing.

To our general indictment of bankruptcy against them we must now add the charge of being incapable of defending Western Europe, or any part thereof, from the threat and menace of Stalinism. It is precisely because socialists are so concerned about halting the spread of Stalinism throughout the world that they reject any support to such pacts, or those who originate them.

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