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Henry Judd

Truman-Stalin Swap Invites
to Peace Talk, Get No Place

(14 February 1949)


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 7, 14 February 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


If so much was not at issue, from the point of view of the peoples of the world and peace, the struggle of statement and counter-statement between Stalin and Truman might provide excellent relief in a comic opera. The upshot of the exchange seems to be that never were two men more “anxious” to meet with each other, but one is “grounded” by bad health and the other likes Washington so much that he couldn’t dream of leaving for a moment. (Since Stalin cannot travel by “boat or plane” we could suggest a trip by submarine, equipped with one of the navy’s new “schnorkel” breathing devices.)

In any event, the whole matter has boiled down to nothing – there will be no meeting, at least under the circumstances and conditions proposed by Stalin. (Wasn’t it Truman, by the way, who described the gentleman from the Kremlin as a “good old Joe”?)

We are all familiar with the official reasons: Stalin suggests that Truman simply doesn’t want to meet him, that America wants to continue its aggressive policy, etc. Truman and his Secretary of State Acheson – the latter eager to wipe out any past suggestion that he was not as “tough” with Russia as he should be – have coldly and sarcastically rejected the Stalin invitations on the grounds that they are “maneuvers”; that the UN is the proper mailbox for such requests; that the other powers involved in the dispute must also be present, etc.
 

Cold War Spreads

In the meantime, our cleverest journalists are busily at work weighing up the score of who won the exchange, from a propagandistic viewpoint. The scale seems about even (that is, a fat zero on both sides), but it is perfectly clear that the much-maligned cause of peace has lost, and solidly too.

The cold war continues and, in fact, extends itself to hitherto comparatively untouched areas and nations! We refer, of course, to the new struggle over the Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, which takes the form of Stalin’s effort to maintain their “neutrality’’ (that is, refusal to join the North Atlantic pact) and Truman’s effort to draw them into that same war alliance.

This is the only real, concrete result of the past few weeks’ discussion – a deepening of the differences which have now reached the stage of outright military pacts, alliances and arrangements. In this light, the “rejected invitations” assume a farcical form and a primitive way of deceiving great masses of people.
 

Stalin’s Motivation

We must ask ourselves, however, how can we explain the statements of Stalin and those of Truman? Was Stalin merely seeking to put his rival on the spot by having him reject a demagogically-proposed invitation? Was Truman simply slamming the door and proposing full steam ahead for war? It is not as simple as this. There is little doubt that Stalin would like a meeting at which a temporary and important settlement of today’s most outstanding and sensitive differences could be settled. In Europe, at any rate, Stalinism has scored no recent victories; in fact, it has lost some serious struggles: Berlin, Yugoslavia, etc. Everything indicates the most serious difficulties in economic relations both with the occupied lands and in the occupied lands (particularly Eastern Germany). Furthermore, the victory of Chinese Stalinism in Asia is only remotely a victory for Stalin, since it bears no direct relation to the Russian armies or Russian imperialism itself.

America, on the other hand, particularly by contrast with Russia, has scored some definite victories in Europe and – most important – now appears in a position to move to the offensive and to gather some fruits from its billions invested in European recovery. The ERP program has had definite successes; European capitalism is again a going concern. The content of Stalin’s answers to the loaded questions put to him shows Uncle Joe’s awareness of this and his desire to stop future progress. “Want to settle the Berlin issue?” Then don’t form a Western Germany. “Want to have peace in Europe?” Then drop the idea of a North Atlantic Security Pact. “Want to have world peace?” Then stop the rearmament program, liquidate your atomic bomb construction.

The motivation of Stalin, therefore, is to force a halt in the expansion and aggressiveness of American imperialism. This halt must be on all levels: political, military and economic.
 

They Cannot Bring Peace

Truman’s rejection has, of course, the same origin. As the leader, spokesman and champion of American capitalism, he must advance his country over the only road which can fulfill its objectives, in imperialist terms.

That means preparation for war (rearmament, atom bomb construction, etc.); formation of a strong Western German state as a buffer and the creation of a solid military bloc out of the Marshall Plan nations (North Atlantic Pact). How can he turn back, without liquidating his entire foreign program? No more than Stalin can change the seemingly defensive tactics Which have been dictated to him today by circumstances beyond his control.

In short, then, the cold war will and must continue. In fact, the temperature can only get warmer, particularly after such fiascos as this latest! The issue of peace does not lie in the hand of either Truman or Stalin; they are two men pursuing similar paths which, while they may not always be parallel, will inevitably meet at the crossroads of war.

*

Mindszenty: Mea Culpa

Cardinal Mindszenty has “confessed” (or, at any rate, partially “confessed”) and the trial in Hungary has drawn to its inevitable conclusion. Inevitable, we say, because it is sure that Stalinism cannot undertake such risky ventures as its confession trials without absolute, iron-clad guarantees in advance that the play will unfold precisely as the GPU script writers have written it up.

The question is again with us: why these self-incriminating “confessions,” which seem so useful to Stalinism? A broken “Old Bolshevik” – yes; but an active cardinal of Rome? We suggest, to begin with, that we should be no more surprised at the alleged confession than the Catholic Church itself has been. Rome laid the basis for an “explanation” of the confession as soon as Mindszenty’s arrest took place by its charges of torture and mysterious “confession-inducing” drugs. What they expected has taken place, although hardly for the reasons they suggest. It is not necessary – in fact, it is futile – to seek explanations in such over-simplified tales as drugs, beatings, etc. The fact is that there is no one all-embracing and all-satisfying “explanation” such as one reads at the end of a detective thriller. The technique of Stalinism is far subtler and more serious. We don’t claim to have “the” explanation; we only suggest that it is a combination of many factors and forces, operating together and so cleverly used and played upon by the GPU masters that – and why should this be inconceivable? – the confessor actually believes, to a great extent, his own fantastic explanation!

Why cannot there be some elements of factual truth in the cardinal’s “confession”? Is it inconceivable that he was involved in black market currency manipulations, for example; or that he approached Western circles for aid, etc.? Basing themselves upon these kernels of truth, upon isolation, questioning, trickery and a combination of psychologically demoralizing techniques well know to students of such matters, it is not impossible to conceive of Stalinism rapidly breaking down and undermining a Mindszenty. These, of course, are secondary factors in the tragic trial now concluded.

Furthermore, the historic tendency of the church has always been to compromise, to seek a modus vivendi with the state power, regardless of whom this power was. The story of Nazi Germany is familiar. We contend that this principled readiness to compromise in itself prepares the moral and psychological basis for a capitulation and “confession” such as this. For, unlike other social systems or varieties of capitalism, totalitarian Stalinism cannot compromise with the church so long as that church rests upon the Vatican (that is, the West). Faced with an enemy who will not compromise with him, the Catholic Church in Stalinist lands must meet a new situation which it hitherto has never had to face. That is, it must become either a principled, outlawed opposition, leading an underground existence – or cease to exist as a Roman Catholic Church and become a Stalinist State Catholic Church.

We shall now see whether the Hungarian bishops break with Rome to form a new church or go into the opposition. But this unexpectedly harsh enemy who will not make a “deal” (except on his own terms) has sowed confusion and despair among the church leadership. This is the moral groundwork for “confessions.”
 

Political Objectives of the Trial

Furthermore, if we examine briefly the social structure of Hungarian Stalinism, the picture is even clearer. In this backward land, two-thirds of the population were peasants, cemented to the big landlords by the influence of the Catholic Church over them.

The transitional social basis of Stalinism consists of these same peasants whom it has converted info small landowners by its program of division of the estates. But this is a transitional, opportunistic and very unstable base for Stalinism, in the long run. This same peasantry formed the major reservoir of resistance to the new regime and the church’s influence over the peasantry must be broken as a part of the struggle of Stalinism to dominate this same peasantry. (This, of course, with an eye to the period when collectivization of the small farms must be begun.)

The trial, then, must also be seen as an effort to discredit and humiliate the Catholic Church before the Hungarian peasantry. The cardinal has “confessed”; “he did not fight like a man”; he has disavowed the Vatican by offering his resignation to the Hungarian government; he traded in American dollars, etc., etc. How can such a compromised church authority build up and organize a future opposition to the present regime?

There are many other implications in this sensational trial which must wait for more information and details. The above analysis, of course, assumes that our readers share the same revulsion and disgust that we do with the whole affair, stamped as it is with the sinister methods of Stalinism.


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