Putin the Great
Russia’s Imperial Impostor
One of the few men who can claim to have called the turn on the gyrations of Communist foreign policy over the last decade is Dr. Eduard Beneš, President of the Czechoslovak Republic. In his memoirs, recently published in Prague, he has carefully and reasonably explained his belief in the spring of 1939 that the Russians would buy time from Hitler if an agreement with Great Britain and France should prove impossible, but would eventually be drawn into the war against Germany. This belief was based, he writes, on intelligence reports he was receiving from agents in the German Army and in the anti-Nazi underground. But it was also based on his knowledge of Communist doctrine and practice, which convinced him that the Soviets would preserve their basic revolutionary aims and directives, even though they should be forced along a course of action which "would, in western Europe, produce the impression of being either a series of sudden, unexpected and sensational changes in policy and tactics, or some kind of amoral Machiavellism."
Dr. Beneš called the turn on Moscow's policies, as the war developed, far more accurately than the Czech Communists, who were busy denouncing him as one of the "Guilty Men of Czechoslovakia" for aiding "the British imperialist war effort." Now that the wartime alliance is ended, and both the sudden changes and the impression of cunning duplicity have returned, the American Communists may well be as bewildered and as wrong about the future as the Czech Communists were in 1940. It is true that the problems are strikingly dissimilar. America has no students, either of Russia or of the revolutionary movement, in the tradition of Masaryk and Beneš. The agents available to American leaders are too often lapsed or dissident revolutionaries whose disloyalty to Stalinism is clear but whose new loyalties may be a matter for some conjecture. Yet it remains urgent to understand both Soviet foreign policy and the world revolutionary movement, and the American Communist Party is one point at which these two massive but uncertain forces come into focus for us.
There are a number of reasons why the speeches and writings of American Communists are little studied outside the party as clues to the problem. It is a small party, seventeenth or eighteenth in size among the national Communist parties of the world. This has important effects on the nature of political discussion among members, and on the function of leadership. It reduces to a minimum those substitutes for free discussion, as we think of it, which are still being sought inside the general Communist organizational formula of "democratic centralism." One of these substitutes is the "self-criticism" to which larger Communist parties are frequently challenged; another is the inevitable tempering of ideology involved in its translation into terms which can be grasped by a fairly numerous rank and file. These are often shadowy enough in Russia, or China, or France, where party members are numbered in seven figures. Among some 75,000 estimated members of the American party, whose rights as citizens are sharply limited by law and custom, political discussion acquires both a conspiratorial and an ex cathedra tone. Both mask the truth more than they reveal it.
The American Communists share with their European counterparts what the London Economist has called "that propensity to tactical oversimplification, suppressio veri, deliberate ambiguity, and slanderous imputation of motive, which is the moral occupational disease of most Marxist writers." The historical reasons for this propensity are old and tangled. They have been compounded in the United States by the verbal bitterness of the extreme Right, as well as by the running fire of vituperation with which the splinter parties in the American revolutionary movement have always built up their conviction of moral righteousness, if not their effectiveness in winning converts. A hundred years ago Karl Marx may have deserved his reputation as a master of abusive language, but he was a tyro compared to those who have resigned, or been purged, from the several parties which now call themselves Marxist.
The official Stalinists play a leading but by no means exclusive rôle among these parties in the United States, and their policies, like their language, are indisputably influenced by the others. Besides the European Social-Democrats now resident in the United States, who play a more important part in revolutionary polemics here than they are usually credited with, there are the followers of Daniel DeLeon, of Leon Trotsky, and of several "deviationists" who have run foul of Moscow orthodoxy in the last 30 years. Among these, the most recent is Earl Browder, who was expelled from the party in 1946 over issues which throw some light on the foreign policy program of American Communists. He has apparently not organized a splinter group of his own, but he still considers himself a Marxist and a Communist in his political writing, and he apparently retains access to Moscow. Even if this situation is recognized to involve a confusion of personal with political differences, it makes still harder the task of trying to understand what American Communists are seeking. Mr. Browder, for example, and Political Affairs, the monthly journal of the orthodox Stalinists, are at present in controversy over the English translation of three words in the key paragraph of Zhdanov's important speech to the Cominform in Poland last September.
As a minority party, teetering on the edge of illegality, the United States Communist Party relies more on attacking American foreign policy than on propounding its own views. So what it is against is explained more often than what it is for. The present party line holds that American foreign policy is one of aggressive imperialism, "a naked attempt of the big monopolists of this country to set up their ruthless rule over the whole torn and shattered world." William Z. Foster, 67-year-old leader of the Communist Party, a native-born American working-class leader from Taunton, Mass., has listed recently what he believes to be the goals of this imperialist policy. They are: "to create a bloc of reactionary states directed against the U.S.S.R. (expressed most clearly in the United States of Europe scheme); to support actively all reactionary and Fascist states—Spain, Greece, Portugal, Turkey, Austria, Switzerland; to drive the Communists out of the democratic coalition governments and to push these governments further and further to the Right; to force Germany and as many other European states as possible to become economic and political dependencies of the United States; to prevent economic collaboration among the new democracies themselves and between them and the U.S.S.R.; to break up the coöperation between Communists and Socialists, workers and peasants, Catholics and non-Catholics, throughout Europe; to undermine and split the great new trade union movement and other mass organizations of the people."
Mr. Foster has listed elsewhere seven steps he believes "Wall Street imperialists" have decided on: "to undermine the strength of the British, French and Dutch empires and to secure an economic hold upon their colonies and dominions; to reduce the U.S.S.R. to the status of a second-class power; to transform China into a satellite of the United States; to make Japan into a puppet country, economically and politically dependent upon the United States; to tighten American economic, political and military control over all of Latin America; to turn the Mediterranean into an American lake; to exercise complete domination in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans." Other measures are not excluded from this picture; Mr. Foster, like The Daily Worker, is quick to denounce what he calls the use of food reserves for reactionary political purposes, pressure exerted through reconstruction loans to war-stricken countries, the increase of red-baiting within the country in order to stifle even liberal dissent, the growth of militarism as exemplified in defense appropriations or plans for universal military training.
"We American Communists are in full opposition to this whole imperialist program, in gross and in detail, as being violently hostile to the democracy, well-being and peace of the American people, as well as the rest of the world," Mr. Foster has written. "That's the whole story in a nutshell."
The heart of the American Communists' present foreign policy is a demand for a return to what they call "the Roosevelt peace policies." This phrase hides a terminological quicksand, for one of the chief doctrinal quarrels between Browder and Foster seems to hinge on their differing interpretations of what was actually the significance of Roosevelt's policies. But even Mr. Foster uses the phrase.
"The foreign policy of the United States," he has recently written, "should be based on friendly coöperation with the Soviet Union and the new democracies now springing up in various parts of the world. Only this will lay the basis for a strong United Nations. Big Three coöperation, which was the foundation of Roosevelt's successful foreign policy, can be achieved if the American people want it, which they do." Henry A. Wallace is praised for his championship of this policy; "Wall Street" is excoriated for its rejection. Another Communist source, the now defunct weekly New Masses, has consistently called for "a front of democracy and peace" to rebuild this foreign policy. "It would be utterly destructive to think," it has recently written, "that the mythology of the anti-Comintern has taken such deep roots among the people, and especially within progressive circles, as to make impossible a regrouping into a democratic front, as typified earlier in the Roosevelt coalition."
This central position is spelled out in the current "party line" under five main headings: collaboration with the Soviet Union; sympathy and support for the "new democracies" of eastern Europe; reconstruction of coalition governments, including the Communists, in France and Italy; aid to the struggle of colonial peoples for national independence; and nonintervention in the civil war in China. For the most part, the concrete measures suggested under these headings are obvious. They include nonpolitical loans for the rebuilding of war-ravaged areas of Europe: support for Socialist planning instead of free enterprise projects, and iron-clad adherence to the principle of Big Three unity in settling political differences. (In this respect, the American Communists go farther than Molotov, whose position on the veto problem in the United Nations calls for Big Five unity.)
The linchpin in this entire policy is clearly collaboration with the Soviet Union, and its positions are hard to distinguish, except in minor details, from those taken by Molotov and Vishinsky. Mr. Foster has said in public recently that Soviet leaders have made mistakes: "Marxists make no claim to infallibility." He has denied the charge of slavish following of "the Moscow line," pointing for an example to "the different course taken by the Russians and ourselves regarding Earl Browder." But at the same time he has admitted that the American Communists "generally agree with the main line of the Soviet Union." The party he leads is not a member of the Cominform, but the reasons for this are frankly of a tactical nature. Even if they do not share in the "exchange of experience and coördination of activity" for which the Cominform was established, no secret is made of their reliance on Moscow for ideas and guidance, at the very least, in the field of foreign policy. The official position on this point, according to Mr. Foster, is that policies are made by the American party itself, "without consultation with any outside forces." But the Russian Communists, who are directly involved through their control of a major power in nearly every foreign policy problem in the world, are at the same time credited by him with a "size-up of their situation and work [which] is incomparably more frank, penetrating and correct than any possible criticism coming from outside, including that of foreign Communists."
In backing this program, the American Communists can claim a certain consistency. Big Three unity is the postwar equivalent of collective security; support of coalition governments stems from the prewar "Popular Front" program; championship of colonial peoples has never changed since 1917; and the overriding importance in all Communist foreign policy of the security of the Soviet Union as the Socialist fatherland dates from Lenin himself. The sharp turns in the road to international revolution look sharper when they are seen from the side of the road than they do to those whose view is held by discipline and doctrine to the eventual goal.
It remains a minority program, under heavier public attack than at any time in a generation. The criticism is not directed primarily against the specific points of Communist foreign policy. Some of these, like nonintervention in the Chinese civil war or loans to eastern European countries, are backed by Americans who can be called fellow-travellers of the American Communists only with considerable hysteria. The popularity in many countries outside the Soviet Union of some of the cardinal points of Communist foreign policy is now difficult to credit exclusively to the Moscow radio, or the ponderous style of New Times, still the chief international organ of "the Moscow line" on foreign policy, or to human stupidity. This represents a change in non-Communist thinking almost as marked as the revision of the earlier American belief that Communist economics were automatically self-destroying. Today serious and thoughtful criticism of the American Communists has shifted to the totality of their policy, and the two features of this which most deeply disturb other Americans are its apparent commitment to ethical values which violate western traditions (the police state, the use of terror as a deliberate political weapon, the justification of means by ends), and its apparent commitment, in a world of frightening national rivalry, to the interests of Soviet Russia.
The first of these criticisms extends far beyond the range of foreign policy, and is by no means new. The second has become vastly more important in recent years. The growth of Russian power has been the primary factor in this process. On the one hand, Communism has profited in nearly every country of the world by its theoretical offer of peace, based on its analysis of modern war as a function of the bourgeois state. On the other hand, it has incurred a liability it did not have when Soviet Russia was a defeated and bankrupt country. The unsettling effect of World War II on older concepts of national patriotism is still difficult to measure. The desire for peace, as an end in itself, has probably grown stronger nearly everywhere. Fascism has played its part, in many countries, in sharpening class, race and other group divisions within nations. But this is still a world, outside the U.S.S.R., of sovereign nations; and it is hard to resist the conclusion that the central problem of Communist foreign policy in the United States is its Americanization.
The report of the Royal Commission which investigated Russian espionage activities in Canada in 1946 stated the problem in explicit terms in describing the activities of Communist study groups organized among Canadians:
Indeed, a sense of internationalism seems in many cases to play a definite rôle in one stage of the courses. In these cases, the Canadian sympathizer is first encouraged to develop a sense of loyalty, not directly to a foreign state, but to what he conceives to be an international ideal. This subjective internationalism is then usually linked almost inextricably through the indoctrination courses to the propaganda of a particular foreign state, with the current conception of the national interests of that foreign state and with the current doctrines and policies of Communist parties throughout the world.
The detailed testimony of some of the accused Canadians made three points clear: (1) the original motivation of nearly all was in terms of "an international ideal;" (2) this opening was then used by a singularly bumbling Soviet espionage service to make some of them agents of a foreign state in completely non-idealistic ways; (3) some of those who had been more thoroughly indoctrinated were consciously aware of this and yet still confident that service to "the Socialist fatherland" could be reconciled with their Canadian patriotism. Others were not so confident. In "The Meaning of Treason," Rebecca West has described the later trial of Dr. Allan Nunn May, British scientist who was convicted of giving samples of uranium to a Russian agent, in terms which convincingly reveal the deep moral indecision on this point which persists even in those who have subscribed to large portions of the Communist position. Here, then, is the framework of emotion and loyalty within which any national Communist party must work out a foreign policy. The Russian appeal to non-Russians is based on an idealism, chiefly the hope for peace, which is international. Over the short run, the support evoked by this appeal can be, and in fact is, used to serve the Soviet Union. Can the Communists work out, over the long pull, any mass acceptance of their internationalism as a position which does not do violence to the national loyalties of Americans?
Not even the realists in the Russian Politburo have been able to dissipate the attraction of Communism as a promise of possible peace among nations. The increasing terror of modern war has played a part in keeping the promise fresh in many minds. It is much too glib to assume that American Communists follow a Russian line for reasons which fit neatly into any older patterns of national rivalry or simple treason. International Communist agents are usually professionals, and Soviet diplomatic and trade offices make it possible for them to operate in great secrecy. But our estimate of their skill may be based more often on our own sense of insecurity than on any observation or experience. The fact is rather that Moscow still has a direct appeal to the imagination of many non-Russians, in spite of the importance of specifically Russian national interests in its foreign policies. This appeal is based far more on doctrine than on recent diplomatic history. Before the war, Maxim Litvinov's defense of collective security tended to reënforce this doctrinal base; but since the war, Soviet support of the international brotherhood of man has been consistently subordinated to the security demands of the U.S.S.R. Yet the doctrinal appeal of Marxism to many who would gladly sacrifice most of the prerogatives of the nation-state in return for peace is now a century old. Professor E. H. Carr, in "Nationalism and After," has listed the evidence supporting the curious paradox that World War II may have marked, in many minds, both the apogee and at the same time the end of unqualified nationalism. Popular support for schemes of world government in the United States over the last few years suggests that older feelings of patriotism are still being profoundly churned and modified even in people not attracted by Marxism.
In other parts of the world, the simple internationalism of the "Communist Manifesto" is currently being fused with specific national traditions in ways more varied even than those tried by Lenin in Russia a generation ago. The exact nature and the speed of this alloying process is still uncertain, outside of Russia, but only those transfixed by the creeping terror of the Russian secret police deny that the process is taking place. In both China and Europe, the influence of the Red Army, of professional Communist agents, and of Moscow directives is certainly stronger than in the United States. Yet the integrity of older concepts of nationalism has also been under far heavier attack than in the United States, as a result of the war, which worked enormous destruction both on private property and on the ideas and loyalties of the middle class.
The degree to which Russian national interests can be blended into even an embryonic Communist internationalism, with recognition of specific national differences, varies widely in different countries, and the determining factor is always Soviet security. The speed at which the process may continue is also impossible to predict, and the question of a national war involving Russia is the greatest unknown in the equation. But many reports from both eastern and western Europe agree that, among the many and curious motivations which have led men and women into the Communist parties since the war, a hope of reconciling the forces of nationalism and internationalism has played a large rôle. The Chinese Communists, according to almost all first-hand accounts, are convinced that the political value of their status as a national Chinese party inside an international Communist movement is more valuable to them than the dubious gain of complete doctrinal orthodoxy and a few Russian machine guns. The "nationalization" of the Communist movement throughout the world is less a tactical gambit dreamed up in the Kremlin than it is a response to very real pressures generated in wartime resistance movements and in the postwar period.
It is significant that this process has so far had no important reflection in the foreign policy of the American Communist Party. It continues to base its general appeal on the older and purer program of the Third International. Moscow theoretical journals are currently debating the nomenclature to be applied to the "democracies of a special type" which have emerged since the war. Every Communist party in Europe is now committed to at least one position which conflicts with Soviet foreign policy. When the "Socialist realists" in Moscow art circles attack Picasso, the French Communists extol him; Czech Communists announce without rebuke that they see no need for a proletarian dictatorship in their country; Arthur Horner challenges British miners to dig more coal for a European recovery program which Moscow denounces. Such instances of national diversity within international Communism are still exceedingly rare, but a few years ago there were none at all. The Communists are fumbling for a new formula which will allow Mr. Manuilsky to be Foreign Minister of a "republic" which is sovereign only in the protocol of Lake Success, Marshal Tito to be the head of a semi-sovereign state which cannot make war without Russian permission, and the French and Italian Communists to be independent at least to the point required for them to gain mass support in nations where an older patriotism is taking, to say the least, a long time to die. Mr. Foster, however, has stuck close to the simpler formula; he rejects the charge that his party is un-American by claiming that the charge is based exclusively on a "monopoly-capitalist conception of patriotism." It is significant that his foreign policy must be described or quoted chiefly in negative terms. Its totality is suspect, regardless of its specific points, except to those Americans who fully accept the formula that Soviet success will bring international Socialism which will bring peace.
There are several possible reasons for this. One is the long history of schism and heresy inside American Communism which gives a special onus, by Communist standards, to charges of "revisionism," and especially of "exceptionalism"—the Marxist code word embracing all suggestions that the pattern of proletarian revolution may be modified in any degree by circumstances peculiarly American. Earl Browder's expulsion from the party in 1946 was based on charges of "right opportunism," and the sharpest attack on his policies, made by Jacques Duclos, French Communist leader, in Les Cahiers du Communisme, in May 1945 singled out as his chief crimes the changing of the American party to a "political association" and his forecast of relatively long-term class and international peace for the United States. The tactics were correct, the New Masses declared when the controversy had ended Mr. Browder's leadership of the party, but the principle had been wrong.
Mr. Browder is still an "exceptionalist," arguing that American imperialism has had potentially progressive aspects and that a long-term peaceful alliance between the Soviet Union and America is both possible and desirable. "According to a new dogmatism," he has recently written, "that has temporarily established itself recently among American Marxists, to speak of anything progressive coming out of American imperialism is the 'crime against the Holy Ghost,' it is the original sin of 'revisionism,' it is the unspeakable word which puts the man who utters it outside the pale, to be shunned like a leper." He might have added that the Russian Communists have so far neither shunned him nor denounced him.
Another reason may lie in the fact that American Communists have won their greatest support in the past among first-generation immigrants, whose American patriotism is relatively shallow-rooted, and among intellectuals, most susceptible to the undiluted internationalism of pure Marxist doctrine. Ten years ago, Mr. Browder was the leader of the party when an attempt was made to claim for American Communists some of the traditions of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, largely in terms of propaganda. This was designed to widen the party's appeal and to attract Americans of other groups than those which have traditionally dominated its membership. It is all but impossible now to estimate how effective this attempt proved. It took place in the middle of the depression and when a strong anti-Fascist movement was still growing; both of these were factors tending to widen the Communist appeal in any case. The subsequent dispute over Browder's expulsion from the party was conducted on both sides (at least in public) in such algebraic language that it is difficult now even to guess how much this departure from pure internationalism was involved. What is clear is that the policy changed with the propaganda.
"America," Irving Babbitt said, "is where Europe goes when it dies." This country may well become the last stronghold of what was once strict orthodoxy in European Communism, just as it may be the last habitat of the anti-Comintern. Certainly the foreign policy of the American Communists is now more Russian than Molotov's, if only because it is denied the swift and sudden manœuvrability which that resourceful Foreign Minister retains. It is more Communist than that of Mao Tse-tung, or Clement Gottwald, or Mathias Rakosi, who has already begun the long series of concessions which power exacts from any doctrine. It includes many issues on which it could enlist mass support, yet it remains suspect and alien to most Americans. Only a major depression could give the American Communists again the chances which were theirs during the war to work out a Communist solution in American terms for the conflict between nationalism and internationalism which lies at the heart of the world's crisis.