In response to:
The Double Dealer from the September 8, 1966 issue
To the Editors:
Surely the time has come to blow the whistle before the current outburst of revisionism regarding the origins of the cold war goes much further. In your issue of September 8, Mr. Gar Alperovitz, in effect, blames the Soviet decision to turn against the west on poor old Allen Dulles and his part in arranging the surrender of the German armies in Italy. By his handling of this affair, Mr. Alperovitz concludes, “Dulles helped set in motion the events that we know as the Cold War.”
Mr. Alperovitz is a gifted young historian: But it is a hopelessly shallow interpretation of the Soviet Union to suppose that “suspicions arising from these events in early 1945” led to the Russian decision to abandon the wartime coalition. It is also an interpretation which does little credit to the seriousness of the Russian leaders. Stalin and his associates were, after all, Marxists. They regarded the United States as the enemy, not because of anything Allen Dulles did, but because the United States was the leading capitalist power. The very existence of the United States was, by definition, a menace to Soviet security. Nothing the United States could have done in 1945 would have dispelled Stalin’s mistrust—short of the conversion of the United States into a Stalinist despotism, and even this would not have sufficed, as the experience of Yugoslavia and China later showed, unless it were accompanied by total subservience to Moscow. So long as the United States remained a capitalist democracy, given Stalin’s rigid theology, no American policy could win basic Soviet confidence, and every American initiative was poisoned from the source.
The wartime collaboration was created by one thing, and one thing alone: the threat of Nazi victory. So long as this threat was real, collaboration continued. The Yalta conference, which took place in the shadow of the Rundstedt counteroffensive in the Ardennes, was the last expression of the wartime mood. In the weeks after Yalta the military situation changed with great rapidity. With Nazi Germany shattered, the need for cooperation was disappearing. The Soviet Union therefore began the post-war political battle for Europe, moving quickly to violate the pledges it had just made at Yalta for political freedom in Poland and Rumania.
The definitive proof of the Soviet change of line was, of course, the article by Jacques Duclos in the April 1945 issue of Cahiers du Communisme, This article, with its savage attack on “Browderism”—i.e., the policy of post-war support for bourgeois democratic governments, like that of Franklin Roosevelt—was plainly an authoritative announcement by the Comintern official formerly responsible for the western Communist parties that the period of anti-fascist collaboration was over. The Duclos piece must obviously have been planned and scheduled at least six or eight weeks before its publication—that is, well before Allen Dulles began to negotiate for the surrender of the German armies in Italy, well before Franklin Roosevelt died, and many months before Harry Truman ordered that the atomic bomb be dropped on Japan. William Z. Foster, who replaced Browder as leader of the American Communist Party and brought the CPUSA policy into line with Moscow, later boasted of having said in January 1944, “A post-war Roosevelt administration would continue to be, as it is now, an imperialist government.” The Soviet “change” of line was the direct result of two things: (1) this intransigent Marxist view of the United States, which had been submerged but not altered during the war; and (2) the approaching end of the war, which brought this view to the surface again.
The United States government may be pursuing strange policies in Vietnam. But let not the intellectual community, in an excess of remorse, suppose that the United States—or even the CIA—has been responsible for everything that has gone wrong in the world in the last twenty years. The record shows beyond dispute that Allen Dulles did not start the cold war.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
City University of New York
Gar Alperovitz replies:
Arthur Schlesinger’s statement of the doctrine of historical inevitability helps set the terms of debate over the origins of the Cold War. He writes: “One thing, and one thing alone,” permitted wartime Soviet-American cooperation; “nothing” could have dispelled Stalin’s mistrust; “no” American policy could have won confidence; “every” American initiative was poisoned from the source. Since Stalin’s “rigid theology” required him to start a battle for Europe, American activities could have played no substantial role in the beginning of the Cold War.
In my review of The Secret Surrender I argued neither that Allen Dulles started the Cold War, nor that the United States has been responsible for everything which has gone wrong in the last twenty years. What I wrote was quite specific: “The Cold War cannot be understood simply as an American response to a Soviet challenge, but rather as the insidious interaction of mutual suspicions, blame for which must be shared by all.” As an illustration I pointed out we now have evidence that Dulles’s secret 1945 negotiations with the Nazis undermined American-Soviet relations in much the same way as did the later U-2 incident.
One approach to a discussion of differing interpretations of the Cold War is to recall the view urged by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson in 1945: He held, contrary to Mr. Schlesinger’s idea, that the United States had it in Its power profoundly to influence postwar relations with the Soviet Union. This responsibility, he believed, demanded that provocative actions be avoided. Arguing against the hawks of his day—especially on European matters—Stimson urged “the greatest care and the greatest patience and the greatest thoughtfulness.” By the time of his resignation, however, he had lost the debate. And on nuclear matters he was dismayed to find Secretary of State Byrnes “very much against any attempt to cooperate with Russia….”
Most observers agree the major turning point of the Cold War came in 1947. What happened earlier? Stimson was aware the tough line had won out in 1945 in the US Government. Did this fact have consequences, or was everything inevitably fated from the start? Soviet provocations, brutality, and terror called forth American responses, but what produced Soviet policies? Why such surprising beginnings as Soviet sponsorship of the 1945 free elections in Hungary which routed the Communists? And how account for Stalin’s agreement not to aid the Greek Communists (strictly adhered to, according to Churchill)? Any study of the Cold War must go beyond current simplifications to define with precision to what extent American actions can be understood as responsive to Soviet behavior, or on the other hand, causative of it, or both.
Serious historians of the Cold War will also have to deal with the 1945 Jacques Duclos article cited by Mr. Schlesinger, but many will be surprised to see him offer the article as “definitive proof” of a shift in Soviet strategy towards Europe. Duclos’s article did have impact in American Communist circles, precipitating both a change in Party leadership and a hardening of policy. In point of fact, however, Duclos did not argue against supporting bourgeois governments, as Mr. Schlesinger has it. On the contrary, he even endorsed Communist support of Roosevelt. What he did attack was the 1944 decision of the American Communist Party to dissolve itself, and he denounced such excesses—for Marxists—as Browder’s wartime embrace of “monopolistic trust” leaders like J.P. Morgan.
As for Europe, again Duclos’s article had a meaning different from that ascribed to it by Mr. Schlesinger: In 1945 it was one of many confirmations that European Communists had decided to abandon violent revolutionary struggle in favor of the more modest aim of electoral success. Duclos’s main point was that it would be a mistake to copy the American Communist Party’s withdrawal from electoral politics. Subsequently, French and other European Communists, including Duclos, lay down the arms they had learned to use in the resistance, to devote primary attention to the open political arena; and they continued to toss Marxist theology to the winds by participating in De Gaulle’s and other early post-war “bourgeois” governments.
Communist policy throughout Europe was to become militant, totalitarian, and brutal, but not in response to Duclos’s article, and not in 1945, but for the most part in late 1946 and 1947. That surprising ambivalence and considerable moderation were evident in the earliest post-war years suggests a more open view of historical possibilities—and, also, that the Cold War may be viewed as the result of decisions made by men in at least two nations. It may well be, as Walter Lippmann observed at the time, that “an accommodation, a modus vivendi, a working arrangement, some simple form of cooperation” was possible, but that by demanding more, US policy got less, “making the best the enemy of the good.”
Historians are now beginning a painstaking review of the period before Communist strategy toughened to determine precisely how American and Soviet moves interacted. In this significant investigation there is need for much research and an open and public sifting of evidence and testing of ideas. It is disappointing and somehow sad that an eminent member of the historical profession should feel called upon to admonish that “the whistle be blown” on this intellectual effort.
October 20, 1966