Max Shachtman


“Co-Existence” as a Catch-Phrase in the Cold War

(Spring 1955)

From The New International, Vol. XXI No. 1, Spring 1955, pp. 3–6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THERE IS NO FEAR MORE UNIVERSAL among the peoples of the world than the fear of a third world war. There is no wish more profound among these people than the wish for peace between the powers whose conflicts threaten war. And there is no formula that has aroused such widespread hope for an end to fear than the formula of “peaceful co-existence.” The Stalinists, who are the most active and persistent promoters of the formula, can rightly claim to have originated it, popularized it in every country and translated it into every language of the earth, including gibberish. But they are not its only banner-bearers. Tito is warmly in favor of peaceful co-existence. Nehru is, too. So is Attlee and, naturally, Bevan. Even that does not complete the list. Churchill has for some time now “nourished the hope that there is a new outlook in Russia, a new hope of peaceful co-existence with the Russian nation,” as he said last October 10th. French Social Democrats, Radical Socialists, “Independents” of every hue and price and de Gaullists vie for prominence in this field. German supporters include Frankfort bankers, Ruhr industrialists, Lutheran pastors, former prime ministers, former generals, former Nazis, former revolutionists and former Germans. And to close the ring, the United States too is full of supporters, from the supine and eager, like, let us say, the editors of the Nation, who are for it in English or Russian or any other language, to the President of the United States himself, who suspecting its Russian origin declines to subscribe to the official term and offers in its stead an authentically American formula, “modus vivendi,” which turns out to read, when translated into English by Latin scholars, “peaceful co-existence.”

In these circumstances, it is positively astounding that there should be any danger of war whatever. In a world whose every important part is not only populated but led by proponents of peaceful co-existence of nations and peoples, the preparations for war and the fear of war would alike seem to be grotesquely irrational. The fact that masses of people have seized so eagerly upon the formula of coexistence is an indication, if a new one were needed, of how passionately they desire peace. And the fact that the spokesmen and leaders of the very powers whose conflict is generating war are at the same time proclaiming the formula as their very own, on both sides, is an indication of how meaningless it is as an assurance of peace.

The phrase, “peaceful co-existence,” as originated by the Stalinists, is, standing by itself, either meaningless or worse than meaningless. As presented by Stalin, the idea which it is supposed to summarize is both hilarious and an insult to people accustomed to thinking politically about political questions. A good enough sample is provided in the colloquy between Stalin and Harold Stassen (April 9, 1947) in which the former does all he can to show his contempt for the intelligence of people and the latter does all he can to justify it.

Stassen: Generalissimo Stalin ... the relations of the U.S.A, and the USSR are very important. I realize that we have two economic systems that are very different ... I would be interested to know if you think these two economic systems can exist together in the same modern world in harmony with each other?

Stalin: Of course they can. The difference between them is not important so far as cooperation is concerned. The systems in Germany and the United States are the same but war broke out between them. The U.S. and USSR systems are different but we didn’t wage war against each other and the USSR does not propose to. If during the war they could cooperate, why can’t they today in peace, given the wish to cooperate? Of course, if there is no desire to cooperate, even with the same economic system they may fall out as was the case with Germany ...

If one party does not wish to cooperate, then that means there exists a threat of attack. And actually Germany, not wishing to cooperate with the USSR, attacked the USSR. Could the USSR have cooperated with Germany? Yes, the USSR could have cooperated with Germany but the Germans did not wish to cooperate. Otherwise the USSR could have cooperated with Germany as with any other country. As you see, this concerns the sphere of desire and not the possibility of cooperating. It is necessary to make a distinction between the possibility of cooperating and the wish to cooperate. The possibility of cooperation always exists but there is not always present the wish to cooperate. If one party does not wish to cooperate, then the result will be conflict, war.

Stassen: It must be mutual ...

Stalin: Let us not mutually criticize our systems. Everyone has the right to follow the system he wants to maintain. Which one is better will be said by history. We should respect the systems chosen by the people, and whether the system is good or bad is the business of the American people. To cooperate, one does not need the same systems. One should respect the other system when approved by the people. Only on this basis can we secure cooperation. Only, if we criticize, it will lead us too far ...

Some people call the Soviet system totalitarian. Our people call the American system monopoly capitalism. If we start calling each other names with the words monopolist and totalitarian, it will lead to no cooperation.

We must start from the historical fact that there are two systems approved by the people. Only on that basis is cooperation possible. If we distract each other with criticism, that is propaganda.

As to propaganda, I am not a propagandist but a business-like man. We should not be sectarian. When the people wish to change the systems they will do so ...

Stassen: As I see it, then, you think it is possible that there will be cooperation provided there is a will and desire to cooperate.

Stalin: That is correct ...

Stassen: I appreciate the opportunity of talking with you. (J. Stalin, For Peaceful Coexistence, pp. 33–36.)

If Stalin were still alive, you could not exclude the possibility that he would some day laugh himself to death from thinking of this conversation, of the serious attention he received from his visitor, and of the assiduity with which a worldwide movement that once had respect for the science of Marxism would disseminate his words as the essence of its political program.

It is hardly necessary to dwell on the fact that there is not an ounce of Lenin’s thinking and teaching in all this political rubbish, even if we allow for a moment for anything as preposterous as a comparison between the workers’ Soviet republic which Lenin represented and talked about and the paradise of exploitation which Stalin constructed. “World imperialism,” said Lenin in March, 1918, “cannot live side by side with a victorious advancing social revolution.” A more direct and unambiguous refutation-in-advance of Stalin could not be asked for. “The existence of the Soviet republic side by side with imperialist states for any length of time is inconceivable. In the end one or the other must triumph,” said Lenin exactly a year later. In November 1920 Lenin reiterated:

“As long as capitalism and socialism remain side by side we cannot live peacefully – the one or the other will be the victor in the end. An obituary will be sung either over the death of world capitalism or the death of the Soviet Republic. At present we have only a respite in the war.”

Those who need more examples of Lenin’s views on this subject will find more than enough of them assembled by Trotsky in his critique of the draft program of the Communist International submitted to its Sixth Congress in 1928. But the above is enough to show that here too, when Stalin assured his American visitor that “as to the possibility of cooperation, I adhere to Lenin,” he was perpetrating a characteristic fraud, that is, the basic element upon which his reputation and regime have always subsisted.

It may be thought that so many things have changed since Lenin’s time that Stalin should be looked upon not as a spurious follower but as a worthy innovator. Let us make some such assumption, and test Stalin’s views not against Lenin’s, which is after all of secondary importance, but against social reality.

It now appears both possible and desirable that “these two economic systems can exist together in the same modern world in harmony with each other.” Aren’t these two systems different? Of course they are; but, says Stalin, “the difference between them is not important so far as cooperation is concerned,” and is not therefore of a nature that would generate between them the kind of conflict that leads to war, always – let it not be forgotten – “given the wish to cooperate.”

If the difference between them is not important in this connection, then obviously the antagonism which this difference expresses is likewise not so important; that is, the antagonism is not irreconcilable, conflict between the two systems leading to the victory of one or the other is not inevitable, because “the possibility of cooperation always exists” – we note, “always.”

What do the two systems represent? According to Stalin, at least, the one represents socialism and the other capitalism. In the former, the working class and its interests have reached, at any rate, according to Stalin, their highest and most concentrated expression. In the latter, it is the capitalist class and its interests that find their most concentrated expression. Is there a conflict between the two? There is, and Stalin, like his successors in the Kremlin and his followers in the Communist parties, would be the last man to deny it. And the conflict results from what? From the fact that the systems are not the same? From the fact that they represent different, antagonistic, irreconcilable class interests? Not a bit of it. “To cooperate,” emphasizes Stalin, “one does not need the same systems.” As for Russia, “Russia wants to cooperate.” It is only “If one party does not wish to cooperate, then the result will be conflict, war.” Peace, even peace in perpetuity (“the possibility of cooperation always exists”), then depends entirely upon “the wish to cooperate.”

Fine! Excellent! Most encouraging!

But conflict and war are a most disruptive reality or else a permanent threat not only between nations but within them as well. If durable peace between different states which represent different classes and class interests is not only possible and desirable but is also attainable provided only there is good will on both sides, then a fortiori it is possible and desirable, within a given state, to attain a durable peace between presently conflicting classes, class organizations and class institutions if, again, there is good will on both sides? Indeed, if it is so easy to achieve international peace between foreigners, it should be ten times easier to achieve peace within the national family.

It follows ineluctably that class struggle, class warfare, is not the irrepressible product of inherently antagonistic social relations but the result of ill-will on one or more sides, of “not wishing to cooperate.” If these two economic systems can exist together in the same modern world in harmony with each other” (“Of course they can,” says Stalin), then there is no reason of God, Nature or Man why the two economic classes cannot exist together in every country in harmony with each other, for by the same token, “the possibility of cooperation always exists.” Class struggle is produced by ill-will, class collaboration is assured by the wish to cooperate and with it peace at home as well as abroad. It follows finally that class organizations, about the need of which the Stalinists speak from time to time, are at best an anachronism. Peace here and everywhere can be sufficiently guaranteed by assembling into one organization all those who “wish to cooperate” and isolating into wretched cliques of the publicly pilloried those in whom, to quote Stalin again, “there is not always present the wish to cooperate.” And if peace is, as the Stalinists always stress, the most important and most desirable thing in the world today, then the division of society into those “who wish” as against those “who do not wish” becomes the most important, most desirable, most meaningful division, superseding all other divisions in every significant respect.

“Peaceful co-existence,” as set forth by Stalin, proves to be a hollow phrase, a catchphrase for the unwary and unthinking that has no more meaning by itself than its equally hollow simplification and equivalent – “Peace” without further qualification. The fact is that the cry of “Peace,” regardless of the nobility of the ideal it expressed and sought to achieve, has never been anything more than a pious utterance, a ceremonial watchword, a will-o’-the-wisp, and even, at times, a downright fraud, except where it was related concretely to the terms on which it was to be realized and preserved.

On this score, at least, no fault attaches to the Stalinists. They are free of the charge of pacifist abstractness, of crying peace for the sake of peace, of crying peace at any cost. Once they have made sure that the air is positively dense with the shouts of “peaceful co-existence” and that all inquiring voices have been shamed or intimidated into silence by facing them with the cry that “The only alternative to co-existence is co-destruction” (or “no-existence” or any of a dozen other versions of the same dire thought), they are ready to present their concrete terms for peace.

The first condition, as already stated by Stalin, is most characteristic. It is the demand for the gag over the mouth. “Some people call the Soviet system totalitarian. Our people call the American system monopoly capitalism. If we start calling each other names with the words monopolist and totalitarian, it will lead to no cooperation ... If we distract each other with criticism, that is propaganda (sic!).” From the Russian side, such an agreement would be most pleasant. Nobody who lives under Stalinism has the right to criticize anything or anybody except as ordered by the police regime; the press and all other means of communication are exactly 100 per cent in the hands of that regime; if it orders its press and spokesmen to call capitalism “names” (incredible phrase!) like “monopolist,” it loses nothing; it still has at its complete disposal a vast machine in every capitalist country whose capacity for “calling names” is as vast as it is undeterred. It gains enormously, however, by inducing its governmental counterpart in the capitalist countries to enforce silence upon its people as to the nature and deeds of the Stalinist regime.

There is not a regime anywhere in the world today that is as sensitive to criticism and as unrelentingly merciless toward its critics as the regime of the Kremlin.

But this demand is much too general and “idealistic” to acquire prominence in the Stalinist platform. More urgent demands are in the forefront. They are the demands which must be fulfilled in order to safeguard the usurpations, the conquests, the subjugations and exploitations which lie at the basis of the enormous power which the Stalinist bureaucracy has acquired.

NEVER BEFORE IN HISTORY has a single power ruled over such vast territories and populations as do the Russian totalitarians today. Yet, even though so many of its adversaries are paralyzed into terror and panic at the spectacle of apparent invulnerability and solidity of the Kremlin, its power is in reality precarious in the extreme. It has not yet succeeded in consolidating its own ranks as a stable ruling class, and even if allowed that it can ever succeed, all the indications are that for this it needs a long and undisturbed period. It has not yet succeeded in consolidating the power of the ruling class as a whole over the people from whom it usurped it, and for this consolidation, too, it needs a long and undisturbed period, if it can ever achieve it at all. It has far from succeeded in consolidating its rule over the countries which swelled its imperialist power after the war, and for that too it requires time – more time than for anything else. The Stalinist bureaucracy, to maintain the succulent powers and privileges which it has torn from the masses over whom it rules, must wage incessant warfare against them. Before it can do more outside its empire than it is doing now, that is, more than laying the groundwork for additional conquest and spoliation in the near or distant future, it needs to feel that it has more or less won its war against the peoples of its empire. Whoever does not understand this fundamental consideration, cannot begin to understand the present massive Stalinist campaign around the slogan of “peaceful co-existence.”

The device is much older than Stalinism, for, as the French would say, they have not invented their powder. In the very midst of the World War, Hitler, having conquered most of Europe but not yet consolidated his conquests, offered peace to England, and there is no doubt that he was perfectly sincere in his desire to “co-exist peacefully” with the British until he felt safe enough to give the next marching orders. Once Japan had won, or virtually won, all the territory it needed for the establishment of its Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, it was undoubtedly ready for a Co-existence Peace with the United States. It is hardly necessary to go further back into history for the hundreds of similar examples which it provides.

In this light, the terms which the Stalinists hope to win in obtaining the peace they have in mind fall into clearer perspective. They are most directly summarized in the directives around which American Stalinists are ordered to organize their campaign for “peaceful co-existence” in this country by a spokesman for the party leadership, A.B. Magil (Political Affairs, January 1955, p. 14): “three issues take top priority today: West German rearmament, policy toward People’s China, especially as it relates to Formosa, and U.M.T. (Universal Military Training).”

The concentration of Stalinist opposition on the question of German rearmament is as understandable as it is revealing. Germany is the only country which has the innate strength to enable it to become the center and main base of an anti-Stalinist bloc, if not in the world as a whole then at least in Europe. Whether it would be effective for a short time (in case it were organized on a reactionary foundation and by reactionary methods) or for a long time (in case it were organized on a democratic foundation and by democratic methods), there is no doubt that it would represent the only possibility of a power native to Europe that would inspire dread and panic in the Kremlin. As suggested, the unification of Western Europe (Western, that is, to start with) around Germany as its strongest pillar could take place in a reactionary or a progressive way. One way or the other it will have to take place, for to try to postpone the consummation of the organic trend that leads to it can only prolong the agony and convulsions to which Europe is subject in its present archaic division. The first attempt to unite it into one organized whole was a disaster for Germany, a disaster for all of Europe and a disaster for Russia as well. It could not end otherwise, for in its foundation and the manner of its organization it was reactionary. Fascism could work in no other way and the outcome could be no different than it was. It does not follow, however, that that was the only way; another is as possible as it is necessary.

Germany is already well on the way to that commanding position, by virtue of its tremendous and steadily growing economic and political strength, which will enable it once again to make the effort at initiating and directing the unification of Europe. It will act under one leadership or another: the leadership of the bourgeoisie, represented by militant reactionaries or even by a second-growth Fascist movement; or the leadership of the proletariat, represented at first, perhaps, by the Social Democratic Party as it is but subject to a political development into the kind of socialist movement it can and must become. The one Germany or the other would constitute a danger to Stalinism in the highest degree, and while in the first case it would also be a danger to the working class and democracy everywhere, in the second case it could not but be a powerful source of hope and encouragement to the working class and democracy and even, under favorable circumstances, be a historical milestone marking a decisive turn in world history.

It would be preposterous to conclude that the newly-reconstituted Germany is equally at the disposal, so to speak, of Fascism or the working class. At the present time and for the entire next period at least, the working class and its political movement are so far ahead of Fascism or neoFascism in the race for the leadership of the nation that the two cannot be mentioned in the same breath. On this score, there is no need to pay the slightest attention to the hysterical outcries about a “new Fascist wave” in Germany which are heard from ignoramuses or from not-at-all ignorant but cool-calculating politicians, the Stalinists in the first place, who have their irons to warm in the fires of indignation they aim to light. The Fascist movement as a movement of any serious consequence in Germany today has less – far less – weight and importance than Hitler’s movement at the time of the Munich Putsch in 1923. Fascism itself has suffered an all but incalculable moral and political discreditment among the German people, not only among all sections of the working people but among the middle classes as well. The German youth, taken virtually as a whole, is hostile or at the least ice-cold toward Fascism in any form, past or resurrected. As for the bourgeoisie, the last thing it is thinking of at the present time is a Fascist movement – it does not want it, speaking subjectively; it does not need it, speaking objectively. Practically every consideration of international and domestic politics speaks against the significant recrudescence of a Fascist movement in Germany in the next period. For the next stage belongs to the Social Democracy and the labor movement on which it rests, its neo-reformist, anti-class-war theorists to the contrary notwithstanding. Indeed, it is hardly possible to speak seriously about a serious Fascist movement in Germany until that stage, the stage of working-class domination of the political situation, has passed with the party of the working class having proved its demoralization and incapacity to lead the nation in solving its problems.

In that connection, it would be grossly premature, to put it mildly, to assume the worst for tomorrow’s development. To put it otherwise, there is no need to assume that the next period will bring a mere reproduction of the Weimar Republic and all the wretched impotence and perspectivelessness that distinguished it and led to its early demise. The German working class is united for the first time in decades, and if the party banner under which it is united is not an altogether clear one and if its present official spokesmen leave almost everything to be desired, the fact remains that the German proletariat has learned many bitter lessons already and is capable of learning everything else it needs to know in the time which is left to it for freedom of movement. In the forefront of the international working class today, as its leading division, stand the British and German socialist proletariats and of the two there is no doubt as to which is of greater political importance.

It is not easy to say which prospect fills the Stalinist bureaucracy with more fear, the prospect of a strong Fascist Germany (and a Fascist Germany would be strong indeed) or that of a strong Socialist Germany (and a Socialist Germany would be infinitely stronger and solider). In all likelihood, the Kremlin fears the latter far more than the former. What is certain is that if that were the case it would be entirely justified in its apprehensions. A Socialist Germany would sound the knell of a Stalinist Russia, of the whole Stalinist empire. It would become absolutely impossible for the Stalinist autocracy to keep its cruel knife at the throat of its slaves if it could no longer show them a knife pointed at Russia from a reactionary West. The whole putrid abomination would be destroyed root and branch by the arising slaves and destroyed overnight, so to say. Such a prospect does not seem to attract the Stalinists.

The main axis of the “co-existence” propaganda of Stalinism therefore boils down to its German policy. In that policy, it is reactionary through and through, chauvinistic through and through, imperialistic through and through; and if the unspeakable monstrosity of another war between Germany and Russia materializes again, the Russian proletariat, which will not suffer least from the holocaust, will find no consolation in the fact – and a fact it would be – that its ruling class shared heavily in the primary responsibility.

AMONG THE CAPITALIST COUNTRIES, the most prominent and unyielding in the drive to keep Germany dismembered, weak, dependent and dictated to by force by other powers, is France. To the extent that they aid and abet France in this chauvinistic expression of her own decay to the level of a second-rank power, British and American imperialism share responsibility for this unjust and even criminal policy toward Germany and for all its consequences in the future. To rob Germany of the Saar is a cynical outrage against the very democracy which the despoilers proclaim; to prohibit Germany by force from freely deciding her own foreign policy, is an outrage against her national sovereignty and thereby against an elementary democratic right that every nation should enjoy; to impose upon Germany a decision made by others on its military establishment, an inherent right of any sovereign nation which Germany is prohibited by armed force from exercising freely, is an affront to the people of the country, regardless of whether they themselves favor a military establishment or not, or if they do, regardless of how they propose to institute it; to have others decide for Germany, with armed force to impose the decision upon her, how she shall organize her internal political life, how she shall organize and carry through elections, how she shall organize her governmental machinery and what limits she is forbidden to pass, is one of the most brazen denials of democracy ever to be perpetrated in the very name of democracy.

But each of these three occupying powers, indeed all three put together, do not equal in intensity, perseverance, shamelessness and reaction the policy toward Germany which the Stalinists demand as their conditions for “peaceful co-existence.”

The Russians not only support the most reactionary, militaristic and chauvinistic sections of French society in their hostility toward Germany; they not only support the ruthless amputation from Germany of the Saar region by French imperialism; they not only suggest that the Ruhr, the economic heart of Germany,, be taken out of German hands and jointly exploited by others. They have gone and continue to go further.

The Russians stole one part of East Prussia and annexed it to the Russian empire; in addition, they turned over the southern 39,000 square miles of it, with the three provinces of West Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia to their Polish vassals in order to help tie Poland hand and foot to the Kremlin’s foreign policy. (It has always been thus in the history of imperialism: by turning over some slaves to his vassal, the imperialist overlord makes the vassal his slave in turn.) The Russians tied their Czechoslovakian vassal hand and foot to their foreign policy by returning to their rule the land of the Sudeten-Germans, who have repeatedly sought to exercise their elementary right to unite with all other Germans into a single sovereign nation. (The fact that the Western allies of Russia acquiesced in these spoliations at various honeymoon conferences with Stalin on the basis, primarily, of stupidity and gullibility and in the hope of quid pro quo, does not in the least excuse their complicity in the crime.) The Russians ripped what is now called so mockingly the “German Democratic Republic” from what remained of Germany and turned over its sub-management to a band of degraded, characterless quislings who no more deserve the name of revolutionists or democrats than they do the name of Germans.

It is the same Russians, that is, the Stalinist bureaucracy, that now insists:

The Stalinists fear a united, independent, strong Germany, but above all they fear an independent socialist Germany which would be able to proceed irresistibly to the unification and consolidation of a democratic German nation serving as anchor of a democratic united Europe. They fear it with good cause!

(In this connection, the refusal of the German Social Democratic Party to join Adenauer in accepting the dismemberment of Germany into two parts, is entirely justified, and from every standpoint at that. Equally justified is the refusal of the party to support the Paris agreements on a new German army which it would be hard to call a “German” army in the first place and which would be – is already being – launched under reactionary auspices and control. Not at all justified, however, is the failure of the party leadership to present to the people a concrete alternative program of its own which would provide for the unification of all of Germany on a democratic basis and at the same time for a democratic defense of the authentic national interests of Germany. In the absence of a democratic socialist military defense program, entirely in consonance with the revolutionary traditions of the German Marxist movement, the Social Democratic Party turns over the task of the defense of the country, willy-nilly, to American imperialism. In consequence, the legitimate national interests of a democratic Germany are obliterated by the imperialist interests of world capitalism and the menacing presence of the Stalinist armies at and even inside Germany’s frontiers is perpetuated. Passive “neutralism” here to is no substitute for the active, positive, militant and independent position of Third Camp socialism.)

The imperialist nature of the Stalinist policy which is so clear in the case of Germany stems from its class position and its class interests. Even without the threat from the newly-rising Germany – and we repeat, the threat is not less great from a socialist Germany than from a reactionary Germany, even if the threat is fundamentally different in kind and in consequences – the position of the Kremlin despotism is exceedingly precarious, and nobody knows this better than the despots themselves.

THE SECOND WORLD WAR WAS the most critical test to which the Stalinist regime was submitted. It lacked but a hair’s breadth from failing to survive the test. If it did survive, it was less because of strength of its own than because of the extreme criminality of its opponent. In a manner of speaking, if Stalin made it possible for Hitler to take power in Germany in 1933, Hitler repaid him by making it possible for Stalin to retain power in Russia ten years later. But before Hitler made it unmistakeably clear that he was warring not only against the regime but also against the nation (or rather the nations) as a whole and all the peoples in it, thus enabling Stalin to mobilize sufficient national popular strength to withstand the Hitlerite assault – before that, the numerous peoples of the Stalinist empire, the Russian people included, made it amply evident that they hated their regime, many of them with an extremism that was manifested in no other country during the war. At no stage of the war were there such humiliating mass surrenders as during the first half year of the Nazi assault upon Russia; in no other country did so many people serve in the army of the enemy as troops joining the attack upon their own regime; in no other country did so many people welcome, at least at the beginning, the invading enemy; no other country can show a fraction of the number from the Russian empire, displaced from their homeland, who refuse to return to it. When assembled, the facts, which have been almost completely suppressed by the efficient falsification-and-myth-making machine of Stalinism, stand as the strongest popular condemnation of a regime that can be found anywhere in the twentieth century.

The wrath and hatred of the peoples of the Stalinist empire has not been dispelled. It is as deep as before; in many respects it has deepened since the end of the war. It is this hostility of the masses, active or passive, that keeps the totalitarian bureaucracy in a state of permanent crisis. The crisis in agriculture is a permanent political crisis of the regime which cannot conquer the hostility of the state serfs. The crisis in industry is a permanent political crisis of the regime which cannot overcome the year-round passive strike of a working class subjected to the most intensive exploitation known in any modern country in this century. The crisis of the empire is a permanent political crisis created by the rebellion of the peoples of the “national republics” and the newly-annexed satellite countries against the Stalinist Great-Russian chauvinism and imperialism. And as a sort of superstructure resting upon all of them is the permanent crisis in the ranks of the ruling class itself, broadly conceived, which demands a “democracy” and “relaxation” for itself which the totalitarian summits of the regime cannot grant because the police terror which it needs to keep the mass subjected to the ruling class must of necessity be directed in part against the ruling class itself!

How ironical it is that anyone, Bevan, or Nehru, or even Stassen, should listen seriously to preachments about “peaceful co-existence” from people who have shown no ability to co-exist peacefully with their vassal-allies, whom they keep under military control; with their own people at home, whom they keep under strictest police surveillance and terror; with their own ruling class, from whom they forcibly take all political rights in order to keep an all-pervading armed guard that prevents the people as a whole from acquiring any political rights; or even within their own circle of self- perpetuating despots, not one of whom is sure of escaping another day from the omnipresent threat of a bullet at the base of the skull!

TO LIFT THE MASK OF FRAUD from the Stalinist campaign for “peaceful coexistence” does not eliminate the need of counterposing to it a socialist campaign for peace. Perhaps more than anyone else, the socialists who seek to mobilize the forces of the Third Camp are eager for peace, even the relative peace of today, if for no other reason than the urgent need we feel for time – time in which to persuade, to clarify, to mobilize, to assemble the largest and strongest possible host that would bar the road to a horror whose full significance and consequence can only be seen in outline or guessed at right now.

Only, the socialist call for peace has at its foundation a principle which is either ignored or flouted every day by the two big imperialist camps. That principle was set forth, during the First World War, in an historic document. One day after the proclamation of the Soviet Republic by the 2nd Soviet Congress (November 8, 1917), Lenin rose to read the draft for a Proclamation for Peace which was adopted immediately by unanimous vote. In the parts that concern us most topically now, it read:

A just and democratic peace for which the great majority of wearied, tormented and war-exhausted toilers and laboring classes of all belligerent countries are thirsting, a peace which the Russian workers and peasants have so loudly and insistently demanded since the overthrow of the Tsar’s monarchy, such a peace the [Soviet] government considers to be an immediate peace without annexations (i.e., without the seizure of foreign territory and the forcible annexation of foreign nationalities) and without indemnities.

The Russian Government proposes to all warring peoples that this kind of peace be concluded at once; it also expresses its readiness to take immediately, without the least delay, all decisive steps pending the final confirmation of all the terms of such a peace by the plenipotentiary assemblies of all countries and all nations.

By annexation or seizure of foreign territory the government, in accordance with the legal concepts of democracy in general and of the working class in particular, understands any incorporation of a small and weak nationality by a large and powerful state without a clear, definite and voluntary expression of agreement and desire by the weak nationality, regardless of the time when such forcible incorporation took place, regardless also of how developed or how backward is the nation forcibly attached or forcibly detained within the frontiers of the state and, finally, regardless of whether or not this large nation is located in Europe or in distant lands beyond the sea.

If any nation whatsoever is detained by force within the boundaries of a certain state and if, contrary to its expressed desire – whether such a desire is made manifest in the press, national assemblies, party relations, or in protests and uprisings against national oppression – is not given the right to determine the form of its state life by free voting and completely free from the presence of the troops of the annexing or stronger state and without the least pressure, then the adjoining of that nation by the stronger state is annexation, i.e., seizure by force and violence.

The government considers that to continue this war simply to decide how to divide the weak nationalities among the powerful and rich nations which had seized them would be the greatest crime against humanity, and it solemnly announces its readiness to sign at once the terms of peace which will end this war on the indicated conditions, equally just for all nationalities without exception.

The principle enunciated in this magnificent political document and the methods by which it proposes to realize it in life, constitute a challenge to everyone, everywhere, who stands for peace, who is interested in achieving a genuine peace (which is anything but the peace of the cemetery or even the peace of the concentration camp), or who even proclaims his support of peace in any way. It is not one whit less applicable today than it was in 1917. For socialists and unreconstructed democrats, it must constitute the essence of their program for peace. It is on this program that we socialists, for our part, stand in giving our answer to the problem of Germany, of Germany robbed, of Germany annexed, of Germany divided. It is the basis for our answer to the problem of Formosa, the freely-expressed opinion of whose inhabitants the two imperialist blocs do not even think of ascertaining in the present crisis. It is the basis for our answer to the problem of still-occupied parts of India and Indonesia; to the problem of the North African colonies of the French imperialists; to the problem of the bloody hunting ground of British imperialism in Kenya and elsewhere; to the problem of the colonies of Stalinism no less than the colonies of capitalist imperialism.

It would be most enlightening to hear a categorical, unambiguous statement of position on the democratic principle put so forthrightly and vigorously in the Bolshevik Proclamation of Peace of 1917 from such champions of democracy as President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Churchill, and from all who side with them in the world conflict today. It would be no less interesting to hear such a statement from those who claim legitimate descent from the Bolsheviks, that is, the present masters of Russia and their vassals everywhere in the world. And it would be especially interesting to hear a statement on the principle of democracy from democratic leaders like those who head the Indian republic, the British Labor Party, its left wing included, and the American labor movement. Indeed, no effort should be spared to persuade them all, sooner or later, to speak up, and to the point.

As for us Marxists, we do not hesitate to say: The Proclamation quoted above suits us perfectly. We put it forward today as our own, without reservation, without modification, just as it is, in letter and in spirit. It is a model of a working class program for peace. It is a model of a democratic and socialist program for peace. It links us with a great past. It is the preparation for a greater future.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 15 August 2019