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Gordon Haskell

Notes of the Month

Shifts in American Foreign Policy

An Analysis of the New Administration’s Offensive

(February 1953)

From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 1, January–February 1953, pp. 18–26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Eisenhower administration has been in power for only a few weeks. Yet these weeks have sufficed to indicate a very definite shift in the tendency of American foreign policy. It will be a long time before the new tendency reveals itself in all its concrete manifestations, before all the preparations, both political and physical, are completed which will make it possible for this policy to be transformed from words into decisive actions. There are so many obstacles and countervailing pressures in the world that the policy may be deflected from its set objectives, and turned into its opposite. Yet none of these considerations should be permitted to obscure the fact that a new policy is here, and that the fate of the world is being shaped by it.

It has become popular to discuss American foreign policy in terms of “liberation or containment.” Actually, both these terms are fundamentally misleading. What is at stake is really this: in the struggle for unrivalled world hegemony, shall the United States take the political and military offensive now. Or shall it retain its defensive posture for a longer period, hoping for more favorable conditions under which to bring its sole remaining rival, Russia, to her knees?

The American government has decided to turn to the offensive.

The so-called policy of “containment” which dominated the thinking of the Truman administrations was a policy of the strategic defensive. Its objective was to stabilize the struggle on the basis of the lines which divide the Stalinist world from the world of capitalism, that is, to firmly secure the division of the world achieved in the Second World War. Implicit in this policy was the acceptance, for the time being at least, of Stalin’s control over Eastern Europe, and even if in more qualified terms, of the strategic relations in Asia. Implicit was also the idea that in a world thus stabilized, the internal problems of the Stalinist world (particularly those created by the national antagonisms within it) would eventually weaken it and make it more inclined to accept a future adjustment on terms less favorable to itself.

The Truman government’s policy was a result of two factors of unequal weight. The more important of these was an assessment of the economic, social and military strength of the American bloc in the struggle. The American government had acquired a vast experience during and since the last war in world affairs. It had come to have a healthy respect for the revolutionary temper of the masses of the colonial world, and a no less healthy respect for the ability of Stalin to make capital out of every American misstep in Europe. It recognized the weakness of the governments which it had bolstered and supported everywhere since World War II, and the fatal effect on them of any policy which seemed too contemptuous of their peoples, or too openly directed toward dragging them into another world holocaust. In short, the Truman government did not believe that the American bloc could go over to the offensive now.

The second factor stemmed from the political psychology of the men who, in their aggregate, made up the Truman governments. These men had been intimately connected with the direction of World War II, and of the cold war which followed it. Although they were vastly disillusioned by the failure of the United States to achieve its real objectives in the war, they were emotionally attached to what had been achieved. The division of the world was not as they had foreseen it. Yet they had acquiesced in it in 1944–5 as the best that could be got out of the situation. They were shocked to find out that Stalin was not willing to rest on his achievements, even for a period. But they had expended their energies to salvage whatever they had achieved at the enormous expenditure of treasure and lives in the war. For the time being they were willing to rest if only they could feel that the world would remain carved as they had carved it.

But the bases of strictly American power are not so weak as to imprint on our ruling class a deep and lasting defensive psychology. For France, after World War I, and for the rest of Europe today any thought of the offensive, political or military, is a nightmare. Even to the Truman administration, the defensive posture was thought of as a strategic, but temporary expedient. They know very well that the principle propounded by old Clausewitz for military warfare applies to the politico-military struggle for the world today:

“We must maintain throughout that a defensive without any positive principle is to be regarded as self-contradiction in strategy as well as in tactics, and therefore we always come back to the fact that every defensive, according to its strength, will seek to change to attack as soon as it has exhausted the advantages of the defensive.”

The psychological factor which predisposed the Truman administration to the defensive does not have any force with the Republican government. Although their party participated in the decisions which ended the Second World War, they did not bear the same kind of responsibility for them as did those who ran the show. There were some among them who even at the time protested the agreements reached at Teheran and Yalta, though they did not have the conviction or the power to make an all-out fight to change them. And as the cold war got under way, they remained in consistent opposition, hailing only those measures taken by the Democrats which seemed more in line with their aggressive moods.

In seeking the roots of the Republican administration’s political penchant for the offensive, however, one must go beyond the absence of some of the inhibitions which restrained the Democrats. There is a positive element in it also. In a more direct sense than is true of the Democrats, the Republicans represent the basic cadres of American big business. The Eisenhower administration is not made up of capitalist financiers and their attorneys in general, it is composed and dominated by the captains of American industry. They most directly reflect the need for American capitalism to expand its economic control over the world both in terms of investments and markets. In them the dynamic of American industrial expansion is expressed most clearly as a psychological imperative.

And equally important, they have an active contempt for the masses surpassed only by the similar feelings of the old aristocracy when it was at the historic height of its power. Their contempt for the American workers is tempered only by the respect they have been taught by the union movement, but it expresses itself in their open proclamations that “there is nothing wrong with a little unemployment.” Their contempt for the masses of the rest of the world is boundless.

It may be thought that an attempt to emphasize the difference between the rulers of the Republican government and their Fair Deal predecessors in this respect can be only of indifferent value. This realm of the psychology of classes, or of groups within classes, is always the happy hunting ground of “experts” in “mass psychology.” Yet one ignores it at one’s peril.

It is quite true that Truman, and Roosevelt before him, and the men who surrounded them were utterly cynical about the desires and aspirations of the peoples of the world. They proclaimed that they were fighting for the right of self-determination for all nations, and then sat down at Teheran and Yalta and carved up the peoples of the world like so many sides of beef. They said that they were fighting only for democracy and freedom, and then made their dirty deals with Darlan and Badoglio ... and Stalin. They said that colonialism would have no place in the new world they were fashioning, and then armed the British troops who suppressed the national liberation movement of Indo-China until the French could get there to take over.

But they learned that even when deceived and defeated and bartered, the masses are never to be ignored. They learned that disaffected populations were ripe plucking for the social demagoguery of Stalinism. They discovered that they and their allies could dissipate their strength in far corners of the world in keeping down mass movements even when these had no connection with Stalinism. Although they could not bring the masses to their side with a real program of social and economic liberation, they knew that they could not afford to turn them into outright and active enemies by threatening them with naked imperialist domination.

The Republicans, by their very nature are of a different mentality. To them the American workers are not a potential ally to be wooed by concessions. they are an unfortunate power which has to be emasculated. To the mid-Western senators who dominate the Congressional committees, the masses of Europe and Asia are a bunch of ignorant and dirty foreigners who must be shown their place ... which is in armies fighting for the enlightened Americans, or on plantations and in factories doing a fair day’s work which will bring a fair week’s profit by American standards. In this view even the capitalists and governments of foreign countries are at best ineffective moochers who seek to perpetuate a power which they can no longer rightfully command, and at the expense of the American taxpayer at that.

This, it is true, is the lowest mental denominator of the breed, but it is a widespread and dominant one nevertheless. In its more sophisticated form, this contempt for the masses reveals itself in the idea that power, economic and military, and power alone is what decides the fate of the world. As long as the world is organized in class societies in which the rule of man over man is institutionalized everywhere, there is much truth to this idea. But the crudity with which it is felt and translated into policy is what gives the Republican government its peculiar stamp, and which lays the background for the specific aggressive policy in foreign affairs which it is now launching.

To a certain degree, the inclination of a sizable section of the Republican Party in recent years toward an “Asiatic” policy as against a “European” one can best be understood in this context. Since the end of the world war there was no real room for an offensive American policy on the Continent. None of the European allies were ready for it, and Stalin was so firmly and directly entrenched in Eastern Europe that nothing short of all-out war could hope to budge him there.

Asia seemed to offer much more appetizing opportunities for a “positive” policy. The Stalinist consolidation in China was far less powerful and developed than its consolidation in Europe. The revolutionary-nationalist temper of the masses of all Asia was a factor to be considered, but the white man had always been able to settle such problems with enough firepower in the past. Further, there were ruling classes in Asia which had already lost everything (Chiang Kai-shek) or were on the verge of losing it (France in Indo-China) and hence were willing to become the pliant tools of the Americans in the hope of regaining something. Such groups, although worthless in themselves, are always necessary to give modem imperialism the mask of legitimacy.

Although the “Asian” wing of the Republican Party may not be dominant, it is powerful and vociferous. Led by Senator Knowland of California (or Formosa?), backed by the Kohlberg “China Lobby” and given ideological support by the Luce publications this group represents the immediate and narrow interests of a gang of promoters who hope to make a real financial killing in the vast economic potential of China. They also represent a conviction that America’s historical destiny lies in the East (Luce) and not in the old and exhausted center of our civilization, Europe.

This conception is not accepted by the whole of the Eisenhower administration. The struggle between the “European” and the “Asian” wings of the party will continue. But given the agreement between both wings that America must move to the political offensive at once, the “Asian” wing has a decided advantage. Asia is obviously the “easier” and less dangerous sphere in which to launch dramatic actions, even if not in which to get quick results.

The “European” wing of the party is more subject to the sobering realization that Europe cannot be ignored. The needs of maintaining the world capitalist alliance must be coordinated with the policy of attack, even if it is mutually agreed that the first offensive is to be launched in Asia. Thus the very important cleavage in the Republican Party does not stem from different conceptions of the nature of American foreign policy. On that they are all united for the offensive. It stems from differences over how far and how fast they can afford to go in the immediate circumstances.

But there, to put it mildly, is the rub. All the objective factors which dictated the policy of the strategic defensive to the Democrats are still in effect. True, American and allied armament has been built up to a strength vastly surpassing what the government had at its disposal when the cold war took definite shape. Russia is girdled by a chain of air bases from which atomic attacks or reprisals can be launched in the event that aggressive policies explode into full-scale war. The Atlantic Pact powers have an army which is no longer only on paper. In that sense, the balance of forces is not what it was from 1946 through 1949.

But Russia still has the interior lines from which to launch concentrated political and military sallies against the vast periphery on which Western imperialism must stand guard. The Stalinist political movements, though waning, are still entrenched powers in France and Italy, essential to any hope of holding the line in Europe while engaging in adventures in Asia. And above all, the governments of Europe and those who are sought as allies in Asia (India, Indonesia, etc.) are absolutely opposed to risking, let alone launching, any offensives now which go beyond mere talk about assuring freedom from Stalinist domination to those governments which are still free of it.

Before the Republican government can go beyond words, a whole new psychological atmosphere must be created in the non-Stalinist world. The allies must be convinced that America can finish anything she starts, and without involving them directly in war on their own soil. If they can’t be convinced, they must be bulldozed and squeezed till the last vestiges of independence, and the last hope of an independent policy has been pressed out of them. They must be cajoled and threatened into acquiescing in partial measures, the consequences of which lead them to agree to further measures, the logical and inevitable and unavoidable conclusions from which are the final measure of taking the open risk of World War III.

There is a long and stony road ahead before all this can be achieved. The administration set forth firmly on this road by the unilateral declaration of its support to Chiang Kai-shek in any future invasion of China. The announcement of this policy resulted in a flare-up of opposition and panic in Europe. But then the European governments took another look at Chiang, and realized that this toothless old tiger was about as likely to rupture his gums on the mainland of China as he is to permit a legal opposition to function in Formosa. They heaved a sigh of relief at the thought that these were only brave words for American domestic consumption, when the plans for a blockade of the China coast sent them into another panic. Dulles was forced to deny any such plans, which would strike such a heavy blow at our gallant ally who is holding the bastion of Hong Kong (and doing a bit of profitable business through it on the side) for White Christian Civilization.

But then there is Indo-China. True, the French have been more than reluctant to have their army supplemented (and supplanted) by Americans in that last rich Asiatic colony. They want arms and money in thick rolls, but no Americans, please. Yet their situation is getting more and more desperate. The French officer corps is rapidly being turned into the corpses of officers in the hopeless struggle. Faced with the imminence of German military resurgence (under American auspices) on the Continent, they simply cannot afford the further reduction of their relative power by a continuation of the expenditure of blood and treasure in the rice paddies around Hanoi. Perhaps the Americans can now convince them that the only way out is to train Asians with American arms ... and the instructors who are so inseparable from them, specially in “backward” countries.

In Europe it is only possible to apply pressure to the allies not, for the moment, to Stalin or his satellites. Thus Dulles’ trip to the continent to insist on a speedy ratification of the agreement to form a European army on pain of a “re-evaluation” of what America can do for (read “to”) the shaky ruling classes of Europe if they refuse.

And thus, finally, the proposal of the Eisenhower administration to symbolically destroy the work which was concluded at Teheran and Yalta and Potsdam.


“I decline absolutely to embark here upon a discussion about Russian good faith. It is quite evident that these matters touch the whole future of the world. Terrible, indeed, would be the fortunes of mankind if some awful schism arose between the Western democracies and the Russian people, if all future world organizations were rent asunder and a new cataclysm of inconceivable violence destroyed what is left of the treasures and liberties of mankind.”
Winston Churchill, in the debate in the House of Commons on the Yalta agreement, Spring, 1945.

As this is written, the Eisenhower administration has just sent up to Congress its heralded resolution on the so-called “repudiation” of the “secret agreements” concluded at Yalta and Potsdam. The more antediluvian Republican legislators are grumbling that it does not go far enough. They had expected a pronouncement which would attack impartially their Democratic colleagues and their Russian enemies. But in its effort to produce a statement which can win unanimous consent, the controlling brains of the Republican government have written one which is of a somewhat different character. There is no telling at the moment, what its fate will be, textually, in the Congress.

But “weak” as the proposed statement may be, it clearly and unambiguously marks the turn of the helm in the direction of the worldwide offensive. For all who can read, it sets as the ultimate objective of American foreign policy a drastic reversal of the division of the world achieved as a result of World War II, a reversal which cannot be realized short of World War III. If there are Republican leaders who cannot read, this is due to a lamentable inadequacy of their political education.

In fact, the statement is not weak, it is very clever. It is designed to trap the Democrats into an acceptance of the reversal of their former administration’s policies. Though ambiguous, it pushes the limits of what may be accomplished with the allies at this stage of the new policy. If they do not balk now, they can be shown, at later stages, that the Republican government never concealed its intentions to take the offensive and push it until the world was re-divided; on the contrary, that they proclaimed their aims for the whole world to see as soon as they had taken power.

Textually, the proposed resolution simply states that the American government will never accept the Stalinist “perversions” of agreements made during the last war which have resulted in the enslavement of peoples. The meaning of this is to clearly repudiate American acquiescence in every territorial grab made by Stalin during or after the war, and to announce the intention of America to “peacefully” get him to let go of them in due course. The profession of purely peaceful intent was indispensable to the resolution. Otherwise the allies would face an almost impossible task in keeping their governments tied to the American chariot in the face of popular opposition.

Now that the course has been laid and announced to the world, it may be a long time before anything very material is done in its pursuit. All-out war on American initiative is excluded for a long time to come. As the Stalinists have been quite aware for years (even at the time when they were conferring with Roosevelt and Truman) that eventually America would not abide by the decisions of World War II, this announcement does not compel them to take any drastic action. No one can predict at the moment just how they will react, but the likelihood is that they will see their best chance in breaking up the Western alliance; in using America’s policy of the offensive to convince the less courageous or more vulnerable allies that it will be safer for them to dissociate themselves from America than to be pushed or dragged into the vortex of war by it. In any event, they seem confident that the economic tendencies of capitalism will play their role in disrupting the offensive and that time is more on their side than against them.

All these factors will play their role in thwarting the Republican ambitions. They are already caught up in their own contradictions of promising a balanced budget and tax cuts, objectives which are not only mutually exclusive, but quite incompatible with the military and political requirements of their foreign policy. And although these promises may not weigh too heavily with the heads of the giant corporations who staff the cabinet, they are dear to the hearts of the mass of their small-business retainers.

But vastly more important than this is their utter inability to understand what moves the minds and hearts of the millions upon millions of workers and peasants all over the world. To the extent that they even think in ideological terms, they seem to believe that these people can be won to their struggle against Stalinism by an endless reiteration of catchy slogans, about the same way as one can increase the sale of a particular brand of eyewash. People who are condemned to a life-long diet of onions and dirty bread, while they watch their American-supported masters cavorting in luxury are to be recruited to the struggle for “a better life.” Whole nations which have been and still are deprived of the elementary right to rule themselves are to be won by a barrage of talk about “freedom.” Peoples whose governments have suppressed all oppositions, who have not known what freedom of speech or press is for decades, are to shed their blood under the banners of “democracy.”

The Fair Dealers at least had an inkling of what was involved Their “Point Four” program was a dim and flickering reflection of it. They could not do what was required, because despite their relatively better understanding, they too were committed, at bottom, to the preservation on a world scale of the rotting capitalist system and the decayed capitalist and semi-feudal classes from which the peoples in the non-Stalinist world suffer. But the Republicans lack even the inkling which bothered some and animated others among their predecessors. They will carry on their “ideological” campaign more as a formality than out of any conviction. Like General MacArthur, they really believe that the masses understand only one language: force.

This blindness to the needs of the masses everywhere, this contempt for their ability to understand what their interests are and to act on them, is the prime guarantee of a worldwide defeat for the Republicans and their policy. Stalin is just as cynical as they are. He has, if possible, an even greater contempt for the masses. He is a past master in the use of force as a political weapon. But he knows that the peoples of the world are capable of upsetting all calculations if they are not taken into account. While holding his own masses in the iron grip of a totalitarian rule without equal for brutality in the world’s history, he recognizes that the masses who are oppressed by other, more ancient forms of tyranny, can be moved to revolt against them.

Thus wherever the peoples are struggling for political democracy, against foreign rule, for a higher standard of living, Stalin builds his movement on the basis of supporting their struggles. It is true that he is quite capable of ordering his minions to suppress such struggles if they tend to get out of control. But the struggle for the peoples of the world cannot be won against him by a government which regards their fight for freedom and democracy and a decent life now as a danger almost equal to that of Stalinism itself. Such a government can only aid the world-wide growth of the Stalinist movement. It can only succeed in progressively isolating the American people from the rest of the peoples of the world until the day when we stand alone, the object of universal distrust and hatred.

As the implications for the American people of this policy become translated into hard and harder experiences, their resistance to it can be counted on to grow. But for it to be transformed into meaningful and effective opposition, there must also be understanding both of the nature of American imperialism and of Stalinism. There must be a growth of the understanding of the different interests of the American people in general, and of the workers in particular, from those of the present rulers of our destinies. As long as even the advanced workers continue to think in terms of “America” and “Russia,” or of “Democracy” and “Communism” as the protagonists of the world conflict, opposition to the burdens of war and its preparations will be frittered away at best, and can turn into utterly reactionary channels at worst. We have seen a first step in the latter direction in the reactions to the Korean war as they were expressed in the recent elections.

Independent Socialists are for a policy of liberation for the peoples oppressed by Stalinism, but for us the word liberation is not put in quotation marks. We are also for a policy of liberation for the colonial peoples oppressed by the capitalist nations, and for the masses of those nations who are subjects of the oppression of their own ruling classes. We are for the complete destruction of Stalinism as a world force, both in Russia and elsewhere, but not in the name of restoring a hated capitalism to the peoples who have got rid of it, or of keeping it on the backs of the peoples who still groan under it.

But we recognize that the war which is being prepared by the Stalinist bureaucracy and by the American capitalists does not have liberation as its objective. It is aimed toward another division of the world on terms even more favorable to each protagonist than those which were available to them at the end of World War II; in fact, this time it is really a question of the whole world or nothing. Freedom, democracy, peace, liberation ... these are just the shop-worn emblems which they seek to mobilize the exhausted and fearful and rebellious masses.

Our credentials in putting forth our views on the nature of the war which is being prepared is the analysis we made of the struggle which engulfed the world ten years ago. Although we yielded to no one in our hatred of fascism and our determination to resist it and crush it, we proclaimed throughout the war that the aims of the belligerent powers on both sides could not claim the support of people who fought for democracy and freedom for all peoples. We did not have to wait till the cold war broke out in all its fury to recognize the consequences of Teheran, which were confirmed at Yalta and Potsdam ... we stated them clearly at the time:

The seeds of the Third World War are being sown already. World War II is not yet over, decidedly not yet, and the conditions for speeding World War III are being laid ... The military struggle between the two big camps is accompanied by a feverish political struggle inside the Allied camp. The attempts made in it to come to an agreement on the division of the spoils are condemned in advance to the failure which the essentially temporary character of any imperialist agreement bears from the moment it is adopted. They agreed before, once, twice and ten times. Their very agreements contained the germ of conflict. The agreement over Poland simply injects one of the many germs of tomorrow’s conflict. (The New International, January 1944, p. 7)

And the proposal which we make now is the same that we made then. It is not a proposal directed to the Republican government, or to Stalin. It is directed to the workers, the common people of our own country as well as those throughout the world: If you want peace, you must struggle on your own behalf against the war-makers.

For the American workers, blessed with democracy and living in a land of power and plenty this means: break loose from the policies of a government which will drag you through blood and slime to assure its supremacy in the world. Form your own political party to oppose it. Form a political party which will proclaim to the peoples of the world, and act on such a proclamation, that you will support their struggles for freedom and democracy against their rulers everywhere and in every circumstance. Take the political offensive away from Stalinism by championing the cause of the oppressed everywhere, beginning right at home and close to home where you can prove that these are no empty words, but represent a solemn commitment for action.

To follow the Republican administration in its headlong course toward World War III would be a disaster for humanity. To seek merely to replace the Republicans with their Democratic rivals whose policy, in the longer run amounted to the same thing, would be little better. The only chance of avoiding another and ultimately horrible catastrophe for mankind is to start on the road of mobilizing the peoples on both sides of the iron curtain to struggle for themselves against both war camps. It is a difficult policy, which requires the utmost clarity of understanding, and the most inflexible purpose in carrying it through. The forces committed to it are small indeed. But in their growth lies the only hope of humanity.

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