Shall It Be War or Peace?
(Article from Labor Action's annual May special issue, 1951)
The war in Korea has brought the world face to face with the great question of our time: Shall it be war or peace?
In Congress, in the press, and throughout the nation a "great debate" over foreign policy rages. This war has shattered the bipartisan unity on foreign policy which has kept the most vital questions out of the political arena in the United States for over a decade.
And the peoples of the world look anxiously across the oceans toward the United States. For too many of them it seems that it is here, in this rich and powerful country, that this question will be decided. It is the American government, they feel, and the American people who hold it in their power to decide.
Yet as long as the argument is left to the two major political parties, to the newspapers and other "official" molders of public opinion, the question can only be decided in one way. It matters not that the Democrats are now parading as the party of "peace" - by which they mean merely "restricted warfare." It is of secondary importance that the Republicans vacillate between those who would widen the war in Asia and those who would pull American troops back to the Western Hemisphere and its auxiliary airstrips in Britain and Japan.
As long as the United States is run by these parties and by the social and economic groups which dominate them, sooner or later World War III will break out in all its civilization-destroying fury. For none of them has any answer, in the long run, to the spread of Stalinism - except armed force used to the utmost.
THE BASIC PROBLEM
The present phase of American foreign policy started with .the proclamation of the "Truman doctrine." Since then it has been modified and its emphasis has been shifted here and there.
But in essence, the basic idea has remained the same: Contain Stalinism wherever it shows a tendency to expand. Contain it with Marshall Plan aid or its equivalent where possible. Contain it by propping up governments, even reactionary or fascist governments, with economic aid or arms, or both. And contain it with military force where no other method shows promise of success.
The very terms in which this policy is put reveal the basic problem.
Stalinism is an expansive force. It expands not only by Russian or satellite invasion, though it expands most rapidly and easily where these are used or stand immediately in the background. It has its mass movements everywhere, in varying degrees of strength. It makes a powerful appeal to all the wretched and exploited of the capitalist world - that is, to all those who are not made wretched and exploited by Stalinism itself.
And although Russia and her satellites cover a vast area with great natural wealth and tremendous populations, it is clear that the economic, industrial and hence military potential of the United States and her allies is so much more powerful than that of Russia that, if it were not for this expansive appeal of Stalinism to the peoples of the world, the totalitarian masters of the Kremlin would not dream of risking war now.
But cannot the United States, with its high standard of living and its political democracy, have a superior appeal to the peoples? Can't it counter the political movements of Stalinism, which represent a new form of slavery for man, with much more powerful popular movements which fight for man's political and economic emancipation, for democracy and freedom and plenty? Why can it hope to "contain" Stalinism only through military force?
The answer to these questions lies on the battlefields of Korea and Indo-China, in the struggle in Malaya, in the "neutralism" which is so powerful in Europe, in the hesitations of the governments of India and even Britain to accept the policies of the American government.
The American government cannot defeat Stalinism politically because throughout the world it seeks to maintain capitalism. Yet outside the United States, the masses of the people nowhere want this social and economic system.
To the peoples of Asia it means the landlord, the usurer, the tax collector, the foreign imperialist. It means poverty without hope, degradation without end.
To the workers of Europe it stands as a symbol of exploitation, oppression, a denial of human dignity.
To the peoples of Africa, the Middle East, Latin America it means the imperialist master allied with the brutal native ruler, the foreigner living off the resources and the sweat and toil of the people. They don't want it or any part of it. It has no appeal to them, it cannot rally them. When they hear the word "democracy" and see that those who mouth it most loudly really mean "capitalism," they look elsewhere for their salvation.
But Stalinism ... is that any better? No, it is worse. But Stalinism has this weapon: It is against the known oppressors and exploiters of these peoples. It promises them land, and at first often gives it to them. It is against the landlords and capitalists and tax collectors as they are. Tomorrow, when it has power, it will impose a new landlord, a new oppressor, a new tax collector. These will be totalitarian state bureaucrats who exploit the people and oppress them in the name of the master state. But all that is tomorrow. Today it leads them against their immediate enemies.
The whole of Asia is in revolt against the social, political and economic conditions of the past century. Stalinism fosters and distorts this revolt and rides its wave. The United Stares tries to dam it and hold it back while preaching the glories of "democracy" and capitalism. In Europe, where the workers have been socialists for decades, their socialist aspirations and hatred of capitalism has never been so near unanimous as today. The Stalinists cry: We too are against capitalism, and see - we destroy it wherever we conquer! The American government bolsters and supports the old capitalist cliques which no longer have the strength to stand on their own feet.
Is it any wonder, then, that American policy can nowhere create a social force worth mentioning, and therefore has to rely on the force of arms?
Is it any wonder that Russia, poorer and weaker economically and industrially than the United States, can march ahead, relying on the social force which it rides and perverts and will eventually crush under its totalitarian system, to make up for its economic weakness in the contest for the world?
What does the war in Korea teach us about the nature of the struggle for the world which is going on, and about the results which are to be expected from the policies of the American ruling class?
Here was a country which has not known political independence since ancient times. The United States defeated its latest oppressor (Japan) in war, and then divided the country with Russia as part of a world-wide political deal.
True, the United States wanted nothing in Korea... except strategic position and prestige in the cold war which broke out soon after the Nazis and Japanese imperialists had been defeated. It also wanted "stability", which meant actually keeping a reactionary, brutal, capitalist-landlord clique in power, headed by President Rhee.
In the North the Stalinists established their puppet regime also. Behind the political "leaders" imported from their training schools in Peiping and Moscow stood the power of Stalinist China and the master in the Kremlin.
Ground between these two political and military forces, the Korean people didn't have a chance. Political democracy, national independence, a right to decide their own social and economic institutions - all these were denied to them.
At one point in the jockeying of the cold war, the American military and political leaders had proclaimed that Korea was outside the American sphere in Asia. Stalin decided on a gamble, and the North Korean army invaded across the 38th parallel.
Despite the fact that South Korea contained 20 million people to North Korea's 8 million, the invasion was stopped not by Rhee's armies but only by the sheer weight Of American firepower. The South Korean army was poorly equipped, it is true, but it disintegrated almost without a fight. Guerrilla forces appeared in its rear . . . and such forces cannot exist without support in the countryside. Whole detachments went over to the Stalinists. The nation did not leap to defend itself and its government against the Stalinist attack. It was apathetic ... or even hostile to Rhee.
Since then, the war has raged back and forth over the lands, homes and bodies of the Korean people. The Chinese Stalinists came in at the moment when victory seemed assured to the United States forces. Today, no such victory is possible in a military sense, and in any event, who wins can matter little to the surviving Koreans. Their land is shattered. Decades of backbreaking work, a life always on the border of starvation - that is the future of the Korean people, whoever wins.
Yet the American soldiers fight on and die . . . for what? For democracy and freedom for the Koreans? That is a ghastly joke. To stem Stalinism in Asia? A decade of struggling up and down the peninsula would not do it. To prove to other Asiatic and European peoples that if they will stand up to Stalinism the United States will back them up? One look at Seoul, at a hundred Korean towns and villages bombed and napalmed out of existence, and the peoples of Asia might even decide that quiet submission to Stalinism would be the lesser evil - TO THIS.
In the Name of 'Democracy'
No one in the American government can make a practicable proposal to end the war. No one has! Stalin has a good thing, and he is not likely to let go even if the Chinese Stalinists should want to. At least not till he achieves his political objectives: admission of Stalinist China to the United Nations, a say in the Japanese peace treaty, etc. Yet whether or not the United States proposes to yield these concessions, to continue the war in Korea can only continue the killing and the destruction, it can produce nothing positive whatever.
An even better example of the nature of this struggle exists in Indo-China and Malaya. It is a better example because here the peoples of these countries have not been overwhelmed by foreign armies on both sides: they are doing their own fighting.
In Indo-China the French are fighting to retain their imperialist power in this rich country. The United States supports France with arms as part of the world struggle to "contain" Stalinism. Independent Socialists not only want Stalinism "contained," they want it destroyed. But what can possibly be accomplished by supporting the French in Indo-China?
The Vietminh forces get aid and support from Stalinist China. That is true. Yet they are a political movement which appeals to the desire of the people to be rid of foreign rule.
As long as the French insist on ruling, no genuine popular movement can be built in Indo-China to resist Stalinism. Every democrat who allies himself with the French becomes a supporter of foreign imperialism over his own people - and thus automatically ceases to be a democrat and a patriot. No popular, democratic, anti-Stalinist movement can be built there unless it is also against the French and their puppet Boo Dal. But any such movement will be crushed by American guns, planes and tanks operated by Frenchmen and foreign legionnaires ... In the name of "democracy."
In Malaya, a powerful Stalinist movement exists, apparently chiefly, among the vast Chinese population. It is against the great plantation owners and British rule. The Stalinist guerrillas find such strong support among the common people that the British government has embarked on a vast project of "resettling" the whole Chinese population in new concentration areas. Will they now bring "democracy" to the concentrated population?
They're Uneasy, But -
It is under these circumstances that the actual military struggle to "contain" Stalinism takes place. In Europe and the rest of Asia, in Africa and Latin America the struggle goes on by "peaceful" means - to the accompaniment of production converted from the necessities of life to the instruments of death.
Tens and hundreds of millions of people understand that Stalinism is a form of oppression, and they do not harken to its false blandishments. But everywhere they feel that no alternative worth fighting for and dying for is offered them. Reluctantly, grudgingly, they yield to the pressure, the threats and promises, the enormous economic weight of the United States.
They arm but they have little heart for the fight. To them the prospect is not of a victory over a foe which threatens their progress toward a better world. For the government which arms them is openly and avowedly determined to keep the world socially and economically capitalist even if civilisation is destroyed in the attempt.
In the United States the more conscious workers, labor leaders, the liberals and "men of good will" are uneasy about the foreign policy of the government. They see that it has failed to gain the support of the common people of the world, and that even those governments in the American camp who are most sensitive to the popular will, like those in Britain and India, resist the full implications of the "Truman doctrine." They rally to Truman against the open preventive-war advocates like MacArthur (that is what his policy boils down to, even if it is "only" a preventive war against China to start with). But they have no real policy of their own to offer.
Some of them want peace so badly that they bury their heads in the sands and cry out for "honest negotiations" with Stalin. Where these demands are not directly influenced by Stalinist and Stalinoid propaganda, they are simply an expression of wishful thinking, which may be a charming trait of childhood but is unbecoming to adults.
Others urge the government to put more money in the Voice of America, to make Point 4 aid a really major effort, and to give encouragement, aid and support to popular anti-Stalinist movements on both sides of the Iron Curtain. They are plunged into despair every time the government pulls a "boner" like its aid to Franco, and criticize it for doing so. They deplore the American support to reactionary governments, and are constantly in search for some good, solid liberal democrat or even socialist to whom the government should give its support.
The Third Camp
These people have a glimmering of what is wrong, but it is hardly ever more than a glimmering. For the basic fact which they fail to see is that this government, this kind of government, is incapable of acting differently than it does, at least to any degree which could have real significance. They fail to recognize that what is wrong is not a "mistake" or a series of mistakes in policy. What is wrong is the central fact that this government wants to "contain" and defeat Stalinism not in the interest of democracy and freedom for the peoples of the world, but in the interest of maintaining capitalism in the world, a capitalism of which the United States is today the chief remaining beneficiary.
Stalinism will remain reactionary, totalitarian and aggressive as long as it is in power and as long as it has the power to make an anti-capitalist appeal to the peoples. The American government will continue to support capitalism as long as it is a capitalist government, and will therefore continue to try to contain Stalinism by military force as its chief and only effective weapon. This means that unless a third force is brought into play, World War III is on the way.
This third force is precisely the desire of the masses of Asia, of Europe and the rest of the world to be rid of capitalism, and of the masses in the Stalinist countries to be rid of Stalinism. It expresses itself in a thousand ways. But it is almost nowhere consciously organized into a powerful, cohesive political movement. Up till now the sheer economic and military power of the two great camps headed by Washington and Moscow have been able in large measure to attract the elements of this Third Camp to themselves. Millions gravitate to Stalinism because they feel that the only alternative is a capitalist world dominated by America. Other millions gravitate to the camp of Washington because they fear the aggressive military power of the hated totalitarianism of Russia.
But along this path lies World War III, the devastation of the world, and a "victory" - if one is ever achieved by either side in such a straggle - which can put back the progress of humanity by a century. A way must be found to mobilize this Third Camp in its own name, under its own social and political banner, completely independent of the two war camps.
This is the program of Independent Socialism, of the Independent Socialist League in the United States. This is what we urge on our comrades in the socialist movements large and small all over the world. And above all, this is our task in the United States: to urge, to educate the militants in the trade unions, the students, the liberals in all walks of life, to build an independent political movement here as a first step toward building an organized Third Camp movement throughout the world.
The American people bear a terrible responsibility on its shoulders . . . and the American labor movement bears it most heavily. We do not live in a totalitarian country, as do the workers of Russia. We can still organize ourselves politically despite increasing restrictions. We still have enough freedom of the press, of speech and of assembly for that, despite the whittling and cramping of democracy which is another part of the war drive. Nothing but a failure to understand what is going on in the world can prevent the American labor movement from breaking its ties with the two old parties, particularly in the field of foreign policy.
The formation of a political movement in the United States which is not committed to preserving capitalism everywhere, an independent labor party, would go a long way toward encouraging the formation of Third Camp political movements throughout the world.
The Third Camp sentiment does not need to be created ... it is already there. It expresses itself in the struggles for national independence of the colonial peoples, in the movements of national resistance to Stalinism, in the reluctance and even open hostility of masses of socialist workers in Europe to the militarization of their countries under United States pressure.
It's Up to Us!
To the millions of peoples in these movements "public opinion" in the United States seems as united as the regimented "public opinion" in Russia. The policies of the government are publicly attacked only by the most rabid warmongers, and by almost no one else. The mere knowledge that in the United States there is a powerful political movement which has as its objective not the support of capitalism throughout the world, but of democracy and freedom - such knowledge would hearten the peoples in their effort to organize the Third Camp..
The Independent Socialists do not "demand" that such a party in America proclaim itself for socialism. That, we are confident, will come at a later stage in political development. What is required is that an independent labor party proclaim itself the uncompromising champion of national independence and democracy everywhere, and that it pledge itself to use the vast wealth of this country to aid and bolster the peoples in their struggle for democracy.
But even if such a party came into existence here, and even if the Third Camp forces throughout the world became better organized, more conscious and self-reliant, would that actually prevent World War III?
It is the only force which has that possibility. Only such a movement could undermine Stalinism both externally and internally so as to rob the dictators in the Kremlin of any chance of victory in a war. And such a movement, clearly anti-Stalinist and anti-capitalist at the same time, could exercise a powerful influence on those Americans who have become impatient with the ceaseless maneuvers of the cold war and lend an ear to the madmen who would "end it quickly" by dropping the A-bomb on Moscow.
But what if Stalin or the reactionaries in this country should start the war anyway, in desperation?
The calamity would be great, the destruction terrible. But it would not be the end of the world. With a powerful social-political movement resisting the war aims of both camps, with millions of people all over the world refusing to support a struggle which is not of their making and is fought not for their own interests, the impact, ferocity and duration of the war could be greatly reduced. Instead of millions on both sides of the war determined to die rather than submit to the hated social and economic systems which each seeks to impose on the other, they would be struggling against the war makers in both.
The Third Camp position of the Independent Socialists is not an "easy" solution, a pet panacea like "negotiations in good faith" or "drop the atom-bomb and end it all." It is a proposal for a world-wide political struggle against those who offer the world only war and destruction. It does not and cannot "guarantee" peace.
But it is the only program which takes into account the real nature, the real aims of both war blocs, and seeks to counter them with a real political force. It is the only program in which the words "democracy" and "freedom" are not cynical covers for the brutal realities of capitalism and Stalinism. The organization of the Third Camp into a conscious, militant, determined political movement, a "force in being" is the hope of the world.
To this the Independent Socialist League dedicates itself.