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International Socialist Review, Winter 1960



The “Thaw”


From International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.1, Winter 1960, pp.3-4, 23.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THESE are not yet balmy days, but they are certainly less frigid than before the Eisenhower-Khrushchev agreement to exchange personal visits. To be sure, the American arms budget is not being reduced, and the United States government is building an intermediate-range missile base in Turkey to further menace the cities of European Russia and the vital centers of Soviet Central Asia. Nevertheless, the diplomatic moves have aroused profound hopes throughout the world.

Are these hopes justified? Will the diplomatic “thaw” become pervasive, lead to disarmament, and bring lasting peace?

In our opinion, the “thaw” does indeed represent a major setback for the side that started the cold war, then tried unsuccessfully for fourteen years to turn it into a third world war. The side in the world conflict which has been driving towards war, and has simultaneously been prevented so far from unleashing it on a world scale is the big business power elite that rules this country.

On this score we reject as utterly worthless the “middle ground” view that the blame must be equally distributed between the Soviet Union and the United States. The facts are unmistakable: it is our own capitalist rulers who bear the responsibility for the war danger. Moreover, according to all observers and even casual tourists, this truth is known to the vast majority of people in other countries and expressed by their universal fear and hatred of the Wall Street plutocracy and its “Ugly American” representatives abroad.

The American capitalist rulers have been pushing towards a full-scale war because they are determined to save the capitalist system of private profit, a system in which they are the most solid pillar and the principal beneficiary. The mortal sickness of world capitalism arises from the incapacity of our planet to accommodate the inexorable requirement of capital for ever new markets and ever new fields of investment in order to survive. The world has its limits, and by 1914 capitalism reached these limits. Thereafter, capitalist development was marked by a series of profound convulsions, including two world wars, the Great Depression of the thirties, fascist barbarism in Germany, Italy and Spain and the drive to World War III. These catastrophes forced the working people in many parts of the world to take the road of revolution as the only way out of the unbearable misery and privation that descended upon them.

Revolutionary successes, in turn, have further constricted the area for capitalist investment and exploitation. The Russian Revolution of October 1917, the expansion of the Soviet Union into Eastern Europe after World War II and the October 1949 revolution in China removed one third of the world’s surface and close to one billion people from the orbit of capitalism.

Throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, the colonial people have raised the banner of national independence and threaten to deprive the imperialist powers of the “right” to their countries’ wealth. Though in Western Europe revolutionary working-class movements were prevented by the Stalinized Communist parties and the reformist Social Democracy from finishing off capitalism at the end of World War II, the workers remain powerfully organized and hamstring repeated attempts to transform their countries into secure bases for a war against the Soviet Union.

The workers of the United States, although they never attained the radical consciousness of the European workers, are nonetheless unwilling to accept the burden of war preparations in the form of reduced living standards. Instead they display combativity and resistance to such reductions and compel the corporations and Washington to virtually extend the front of the cold war to include the American unions.

To the extent that they win their demands and press their struggle, the colonial masses and the workers in major capitalist countries further narrow the already constricted opportunity for capitalist profit making.

American big business began preparing for a global showdown with all these class forces that assail its rule even before the second world war had ended. The bombs exploded on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a warning to all who opposed its plans to rule the world: Submit! Or you too can be wiped off the face of the earth.

But side by side with American big business’ war preparations, the ability of its foes to resist has grown in equal proportion. The American imperialists learned this to their sorrow during the Korean war.

The victory of the Chinese revolution had goaded the American power elite to seek an early showdown in Asia. The outbreak of the Korean civil war provided the pretext. Truman plunged the country into the war in June 1950. Nine months later, after the Chinese had entered the fray, the Americans equipped with the latest weapons, including a stock-pile of A-bombs held in reserve, had been fought to a standstill by the much more poorly equipped Chinese and North Koreans.

A major factor in the US decision not to try to break the stalemate was the declining morale of the GIs who could not be sold on the notion that they were waging a just war. The American troops were bewildered by the hostility that the Korean people, for whose freedom they were supposedly fighting, displayed toward them. All the way south to Pusan, the people were “South Koreans by day and North Koreans by night.” Every village was a potential enemy base.

The mood of the GIs spread to the American people at home. The Korean war became the most unpopular in American history. To seek to break the Korean deadlock by carrying the war to Chinese territory risked multiplying the disaffection of the American troops and the resistance to war at home.

The US power elite had to agree to an armistice in Korea. The American brass hats and politicians had sought to intimidate the Asian masses by a demonstration of their ruthlessness and armed might. They found themselves unable to make their will prevail against an insurgent people even in the small Korean peninsula. Sobered by this experience, American big business policy makers began to make more careful plans, beginning with a reappraisal of the international relationship of forces. Besides the strength of the Asian revolution and the anti-war temper of the American people, they had now also to weigh the Soviet Union’s ever-growing military potential. They had to reckon first with the Soviet Union’s A-bombs, then its H-bombs, then its superiority in rocketry. The scales, American big business found, were constantly tipping against the prospects of victory. To redress the balance would require time and the development of a whole series of favorable political and military factors.

In the period, following the settlement of the Korean “police action,” the US government several times verged again on war. Secretary of State Dulles’ pronouncement that the art of statesmanship consists in going to the brink but avoiding the plunge, expressed American big business’ ineluctable drive to war in only a slightly more restrained manner than did Truman’s policy of “calculated risk” in Korea. But Washington’s timetable for world conquest was badly disrupted. The odds piling up against American imperialism began to be given recognition in Washington’s foreign policy. Peace gestures began alternating with war threats in US diplomacy.

The US government found it inexpedient to try to keep the American people at a high tension of war preparedness when big business could not risk actually taking the country to war. A relaxation of tensions had to be provided for. The American people’s growing fears of the government’s foreign policy had to be calmed. Furthermore, as we have noted, the majority of the people even in countries allied to Washington reviled the United States as the source of the war danger. In the hope of lining up these peoples in the future on the side of American big business, the US government sought to screen its war preparations by seeming periodically to pursue a peaceful solution of its conflict with the Soviet Union.

Thus the “thaw” testifies to the strength of popular movements throughout the world. It indicates that American imperialism can be further slowed down and paralyzed by new advances of the international working class until, finally, the worldwide victory of socialism frees the world permanently of the menace of a third world war.

But are the members of the American power elite really still preparing for war? Doesn’t the fact that both the United States and the Soviet Union have sufficient nuclear bombs to “overkill” mankind sixty or seventy times deter US big business from ever precipitating the holocaust? Khrushchev and the leaders of the Communist party in this country, are among those who would have us believe that the American capitalists and their politicians can be “turned away for good from the warpath by appealing to their fears of atomic annihilation.

The fear that the hydrogen bomb will not spare their lives or possessions is certainly present among the American capitalists. It is quite likely, in our opinion, that this fear entered as a factor in their decision to relax cold-war tensions at this time. But we should also keep in mind that conditions have eased up somewhat for the capitalist class – at least temporarily. To offset defeats in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, the American, West European and Japanese economies have been booming during the last ten years (though the prosperity was marred by two recessions). Political conservatism has gained in Western Europe during the same time. These factors have allowed the capitalist policy makers to be more deliberate about their tactics and, without abandoning the arms buildup, to back away from suicidal solutions.

But these conditions cannot be expected to last indefinitely. The contradictions of the capitalist system lead toward another major economic collapse which will again bring the rule of the bourgeoisie in question throughout the world. Once more, imperialism will seek a way out through desperate solutions. No ruling class in history has ever surrendered power willingly, no matter how senseless its resistance or how outmoded the social system which it represents. The time always comes when, goaded to blind fury about the prospects of losing power, the ruling class does not shrink from self-destruction to prevent social change.

A timely political offensive by the working class in Western Europe and America can nevertheless so paralyze the will of the capitalist class as to render it powerless to precipitate a global war in defense of its system even in the midst of a deep economic and social crisis. If the working class goes all the way – that is, if it gains political power and reorganizes society on socialist lines – mankind will be forever freed of the haunting fear of war. But if the working class is derailed in its pursuit of political power by illusions that peace is possible under capitalism, or by any other illusion leading to a class-collaborationist course, the capitalist class will inevitably regain its self-confidence and will, at one point or another, unleash its vengeance. That is why the Stalinist recipe for “eliminating war” through a two-power deal holds such a grave threat for the cause of peace. It debilitates the workers’ socialist consciousness and thereby prevents the working-class movement from struggling against war in the only realistic way – namely, by linking that struggle with the fight for socialism.

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