Li Fu-jen

The Big Four at Paris

(August 1946)

From Fourth International, Vol.7 No.8, August 1946, pp.242-245.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It was possible to predict in advance the nature of the happenings at the Paris meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers which began on June 15 and continued well into July. The pattern of this “Big Four” gathering had already been drawn at the Potsdam conference and the London meeting of the “Big Five” last fall, of which it was the continuation. The purposes and aims of the participants remained unchanged. But where the London gathering ended in complete deadlock, foundering on the sharp antagonisms between the Anglo-American bloc, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union on the other, the Paris meeting resulted in a measure of “agreement.”

The purpose of the meeting was to prepare “peace” treaties to be presented to Italy, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland. Byrnes, Molotov, Bevin and Bidault each sat down to redraw the map of Europe in accordance with the immediate needs and strategic requirements of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France, and to divide tke spoils of war. It was a gathering of imperialist brigands, plus the usurping brigands of the Stalin government. The business transacted was as dirty and as sordid as the interests which the conferees represented.

The line-up at this Paris conference was a faithful reflection of the realities of international relationships in the post-war period. On every issue without exception the Anglo-American representatives appeared as a united bloc against the representative of the Soviet Union. The French representative, supposedly filling the role of “honest broker” and mediator between the big powers, turned up invariably as the supporter and servitor of the Anglo-American bloc. This line-up not only helped assure the predominance of the Anglo-American bloc. It also enabled the Anglo-American representatives to convert the conference into an anti-Soviet forum. At every point in the discussions the Soviet Union was made to appear as an obstructionist force which was rendering extremely difficult the task of working out a satisfactory framework for Europe’s future.

At the top of the agenda stood the question of a “peace” treaty for Italy. And it was around Italy’s future boundaries, the disposition of its colonies, reparations, and the distribution of Italian war booty (mainly the Italian fleet) that the conferees bargained, haggled and snarled at one another. If “peace terms” were discussed for the other Axis satellites – Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland – they were discussed in dead secret. All four of these countries are now satellites of the Soviet Union.

According to the partial decisions reached by the Big Four at Paris, Italy will be made to sign a robber “peace” which will reduce the country to the status of a Balkan power.

  1. She is to be stripped of her African colonial possessions – Somaliland, Eritrea, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania – and will be required in the “peace” treaty to renounce all claim to these territories.
  2. The entire group of Dodecanese islands are to be ceded to Greece.
  3. Yugoslavia, satellite of the Kremlin, will get the Italian territories of Zara, the Dalmatian islands, Fiume and most of Istria.
  4. The Italian port of Trieste, at the head of the Adriatic, is to be “internationalized” under authority of the Security Council of the United Nations.
  5. The Piedmontese area of Briga and Tenda is to be taken over by France.
  6. The Italian navy and merchant fleet are to be divided among the victorious powers. Italy’s navy will consist of four cruisers and little else.
  7. Italy is to pay an indemnity of $100,000,000 to the Soviet Union, payment to be effected by deliveries in kind spread over a period of seven years.

The dismemberment of Italy and its empire was naturally not agreed upon without considerable horse-trading and squabbling. Italy’s African colonies loomed large in the discussions. Britain is in complete control of these colonies by virtue of conquest. All the conferees agreed that Italy should be required to renounce these possessions, but they could not agree on how to dispose of them, “Laborite” Minister Bevin, watchdog of the imperial interests of Britain, proposed maintenance of the status quo, i.e., a continuation of British occupation and control, postponing final disposition of the question for one year. Molotov wanted the conference to appoint a quadripartite commission, with Soviet participation, to “observe, study and report” on the British administration. The commission, he said, should also have advisory powers. This proposal was not at all to Bevin’s liking. It would be tantamount, he said, to setting up an actual trusteeship as contemplated in the United Nations charter and would in effect prejudge the eventual permanent decision regarding the Italian colonies. Behind this pretended concern for the judicial niceties, of course, was Britain’s determination not to surrender what she had succeeded in grabbing during the war. Britain, said Bevin, must insist on maintaining her position “even if she found herself alone among the great powers in backing it.” So no agreement was reached.

Naturally, none of the conferees suggested consulting the native peoples of the ex-Italian colonies as to their wishes in the matter. They count least of all in these conclaves of bandits busy dividing the swag of war. Nor were the foreign ministers visibly perturbed by the angry protest of the Italian bourgeoisie which denounced the decision to strip Italy of her colonial possessions. While the Italian premier, Alcide de Gasperi, loudly proclaimed that he would never sign a peace which deprived Italy of her African colonies, the Rome bourgeois newspaper Minuto assessed the Paris decision with lively realism. Adjuring the Italian government to sign no treaty renouncing the colonies, the paper declared:

Postponement of the decision on the Italian colonies means that the British, who now occupy and govern our African possessions, will remain masters of them for another year. This method fits in with the historical tradition of Great Britain, which has occupied a considerable part of the world provisionally and never has let go of it. One year from now the British will be even less disposed to abandon Somaliland, Eritrea, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.

Trieste was the subject of even more heated wrangling than Italian colonies. This strategic port on the Adriatic is the natural outlet for the normally large trade of the Danubian countries, where Stalin is attempting to create a closed economic preserve for the Soviet Union. The Soviet monopoly of the Danubian trade conflicts sharply with the world aims of American imperialism – which will not countenance the closing of markets anywhere – and even more sharply with the immediate economic interests of Britain, which needs very urgently the markets, raw materials and food supplies of the Danube valley. Control of Trieste is vital. In Anglo-American hands it can be used as a lever to pry open Stalin’s Danubian trade monopoly. Even before the Paris conference opened, the American imperialists, by seizing 700 Danubian barges in their zone in Austria, served notice on the Kremlin of their intention to smash this monopoly.

Molotov’s first proposal was that Trieste should be ceded to Yugoslavia, satellite of the Soviet Union, as a “reward” for that country’s “great sacrifices” in the war. Byrnes and Bevin would have none of that. They finally agreed to the internationalization of the city under an administration to be set up by the United Nations. Molotov had to agree. His next move was to agree to internationalization, but the boundaries he proposed to draw would have converted Trieste into an enclave wholly withinYugoslavian territory. Byrnes and Bevin would have none of that either, insisting that the projected “free city” of Trieste must have a frontier with Italy, which, unlike Yugoslavia, is very much under the Anglo-American thumb. Molotov had to climb down again and agree to boundary lines proposed by Bidault, acting as mediator between the Anglo-American and Soviet representatives. Having got thus far, the conferees split on the question of who should administer the new “Danzig.” Byrnes and Bevin wanted it controlled by the Security Council of the United Nations – which, of course, is dominated by the United States and Great Britain. Molotov wanted it placed under the jurisdiction of the Council of Foreign Ministers. The question remained unsettled.

On the relatively minor question of Italian war reparations, Molotov was forced to recede from the original Soviet demand for a 8600,000,000 indemnity and to accept $100,000,000, after attempting unsuccessfully to trade all Soviet reparations claims against an agreement to cede Trieste to Yugoslavia. But even the smaller sum of $100,000,000 will be wrung from the labor of the poverty-stricken Italian masses, who thus are to be made to pay for the crimes of the Italian bourgeoisie and its Fascist government. The conferees agreed to strip Italy of ‘her navy, but became deadlocked on the question of disposition of the various fleet units.

Small wonder that when the various decisions were announced they brought instant popular reaction in Italy. An estimated 5,000 people swarmed into the Piazza del Popolo in Rome and shouted, “Down with America, Britain, France and Russia.” The demonstrators attacked automobiles bearing Allied military personnel. Banners carried inscriptions reading “Long Live Italian Trieste,” “Long Live Italian Zara,” “Trieste is Italian.”

Meanwhile in Trieste, which has a mixed population of about a million, part Italian and part Slav, the reaction was even more violent. On the night of July 6 some 10,000 Italian demonstrators shouted at British and American soldiers: “You traitors! Why don’t you get out of Italy? Why don’t you go back home to America, England and India?” British and American troops broke up the demonstration by hurling tear-gas bombs. The Paris decision satisfied neither the Italians nor the Slavs. When it was announced, more than 200,000 workers in the Venezia Giulia area, which includes Trieste, went out on a general strike and completely paralyzed all activity. Allied military authorities ordered the strikers back to work, with threats to use force, and to show that they meant business an American warship put into port and trained its heavy guns on Trieste.

The Trieste Settlement

The disposition of the Trieste question at the Paris meeting – as dirty a deal as was ever made at a conference of imperialist bandits – enables us once again to compare the deeds of the imperialists and the Kremlin clique with the high-sounding aims for which they allegedly fought against the Axis. An editorial in the New York Times of July 4 expressed the glaring contradiction with exceptional clarity:

As for the agreement itself, like many other decisions of the Big Powers, it pays scant regard to proclaimed principles and bases itself on expediency and a compromise among Big Power interests. The result is that it is disliked by all concerned, and by creating a Danzig on the Adriatic assures continued conflict for its ultimate possession.

If the Big Powers had followed the principles they proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter they would have held a plebiscite to make certain that any territorial change accorded with the expressed wishes of the peoples concerned. But since Russia opposed this, since the United States and Great Britain had abandoned this principle in other territorial settlements, and since France is intent on keeping the door open for similar settlements in western Germany, internationalization was perhaps the only way out under the circumstances, barring a final split.

By disposing of Trieste without any regard for the interests or wishes of the inhabitants, the Paris “peace-makers” have exacerbated national hatreds, set Slav against Italian and Italian against Slav, thereby sowing new seeds of national conflict and war. The economic consequences of the new territorial divisions will quickly be felt. They can only add to the economic chaos which is the picture of Europe today.

Every point on the agenda of the Paris conference revealed the deep split between the Anglo-American bloc and the Soviet Union. Some issues were resolved by compromises, with Molo-tov invariably yielding to Byrnes and Bevin. Others remained deadlocked. Yet the conference was confined exclusively to the peripheral problems of Europe. Germany is the central stake of world diplomacy on the Old Continent. The “peace-making” at Paris was therefore a kind of curtain raiser for the real drama to come. On the question of Germany’s future, the Anglo-American bloc and the Soviet Union are sharply at odds. The conflicts over such issues as Trieste are but a foretaste of the wider divergencies which will later become manifest.

Time and experience have shown the Anglo-American imperialists the need for modifying the “peace” originally contemplated for Germany at Potsdam. Division of Germany into four occupation zones, each cut off from the other, has deepened the chaos of the German and European economy. While burdening Britain and the United States with tremendous budgetary commitments, the division prevents a reorganization of the German economy even on the extremely low levels determined by the victorious powers. Thus, while paying out tremendous sums for the occupation, there exists no possibility of economic return. Britain is unable to resume desperately needed trade with the defeated Reich. The United States cannot reorganize, even on the lowest levels, the economy of Europe in its own interests.

The big obstacle to the plans of the imperialists is the Soviet Union. Stalin’s policy is one of integrating the Russian occupation zone with the economy of the Soviet Union. Politically, Stalin seeks to prevent a reunification of Germany, for he fears a reunified Germany would only become a satellite of the western imperialist states and a source of new danger to the Soviet Union. Failing unification, the British have a plan for uniting the US, British and French occupation zones into a new German state, with its capital at Frankfurt. This state would have a population of 44 millions and would include the resources of the Ruhr and the Rhineland. Eastern Germany would become another state under Soviet domination, with a population of 22 millions. Raw materials and coal for its factories would have to come from non-German territories or from the Soviet Union itself.

It is precisely the threat of a unified Germany (excluding the Soviet zone of occupation) that Byrnes and Bevin hung over the Paris conference. But threats did not end there. The timing of the Bikini atom bomb test to coincide with the Paris conference was no accident. American imperialism was intent on reminding the Soviet negotiators that in all the decisive fields of strength the U.S., together with Britain, holds the aces. Molotov may be able to obstruct treaty-making for Europe except on Stalin’s terms – for a while. But the pressures which the Anglo-American bloc are able to exert are enormous. Byrnes let it be known that unless peace treaties for Europe could be agreed upon, the United States, acting through the United Nations, would conclude its own treaties – at least with Italy and Germany – thus leaving the Soviet Union isolated behind its “iron curtain.”

The Kremlin clique is not completely myopic. Stalin appreciates the fact that superior strength lies with the Anglo-American bloc. That is why all the yielding at Paris was done by Molotov. The Soviet Union was compelled to abandon its stand on Trieste. It lost out on the question of the Italian colonies. It was compelled to scale down its demand for Italian reparations. When the Big Four get around to discussing a peace treaty for Germany, the Soviet Union will be compelled to yield still more. For Stalin is incapable and unable to struggle against the imperialists in alliance with the international proletariat, and the Kremlin can find no other allies elsewhere; it can no longer maneuver between the different imperialist camps.

At Paris, the Soviet Union was in the position of fighting rearguard diplomatic actions, always retreating, always trying to cover its retreats. But the space for diplomatic maneuvering is constantly being narrowed down. When the problem of Germany comes to the fore, there will be no farther point in Europe to which diplomatic retreat can be made. The choice before Stalin will be clear-cut and inescapable: either to submit to Anglo-American pressures and thus escape a showdown; or resist, and retire into isolation behind the “iron curtain,” thus sharply breaking with the imperialist camp and hastening the day of inevitable war.

It was in an endeavor to delay this approaching denouement that Molotov, at the Paris conference, did everything in his power to retard the calling of a 21-nation “peace conference” which Byrnes, backed by Bevin and Bidault, insisted on convening toward the end of July in order to pass upon draft “peace” treaties for the Axis satellites.

Byrnes demanded that it be called for July 29 in Paris. Molotov demurred to including China as one of the inviting powers, on the ground that the Chinese government had had no hand in negotiating the terms of the European treaties. This was obviously a stall, but Byrnes was able to make political capital out of Molotov’s stand. After all, China was one of the “Big Five,” and it was unseemly to “insult” a worthy ally by excluding it from the list of inviting powers.

Molotov next demanded that the “Big Four” foreign ministers determine in advance the rules of procedure for the projected “peace” conference. Byrnes and Bevin promptly objected to thus “tying the hands of the conference” in advance. They wanted to be free to line up their satellites among the 21 nations behind any proposals they may want the conference to adopt. In such a broad gathering the Kremlin is at a decided disadvantage. That is why Molotov wanted to establish the rules of the game in advance. But Byrnes and Bevin were adamant. The “Big Four” ministers then retired into secret session. One can only imagine what was said to Molotov behind the closed doors. When die full parley reconvened, Molotov announced his agreement with the summoning of the “peace” conference for July 29 – with no restrictive rules set. Even in these secondary matters the Kremlin was compelled to submit.

The London conference of the “Big Five” demonstrated the irreconcilability of the interests – both immediate and historic – of the big imperialist powers and the Soviet Union; the Paris conference of the “Big Four” again heavily underscored it. Nowhere can an identity of interests be found, apart from the fact that both the imperialists and Stalin are anxious to prevent the masses of ruined Europe from rising in revolution. At every other point where the interests of the two camps meet – they clash. Stalin is driven to a course of territorial expansionism, both for purposes of military security and economic rehabilitation. This expansionist policy runs up against economic and political needs of the imperialists. The United States and Great Britain are impelled not only to attempt to pry open the new domain of the Kremlin in eastern and southern Europe, but to break into the closed economic preserve represented by the Soviet Union itself.

But while this basic antagonism can be resolved only through the destruction either of the Soviet Union or imperialism, it will not necessarily explode in war in the immediate future. Stalin is only too well aware of the fearful weakness of the Soviet Union and the awesome might of American imperialism. The latter, for its part, faces great difficulties. World War II was a dangerous and costly business even for this richest and mightiest of powers. There is a popular revulsion against war which it will take time to overcome. The soldiers themselves are in no mood for new campaigns on foreign soil. Moreover, the war imposed enormous strain on the fabric of the economy. The American bourgeoisie needs time to mend its economic fences. This means garnering the fruits of the victory which signalized its paramountcy as a world power.

But there is no peace – in Europe or anywhere else in the world. At best there is an uneasy truce. The rivalries that yesterday converted Europe into a shambles are now keeping the Continent disunited, its economic fabric torn, its people ruined. The Paris conference was a warning to the European and world proletariat! It showed the only kind of world the imperialist peacemakers and the Kremlin clique are capable of organizing – a world of discord, of unabashed banditry, of economic chaos and sinking living standards for the masses, with the prospect of another and more terrible war hovering always in the background.


Last updated on 10.2.2009