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Susan Green


Issues in Dispute

(6 July 1950)

From The New International, Vol. XVI No. 5, September–October 1950, pp. 313–315.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Dear Comrades:

Permit me space for a few comments on R. Fahan’s The Politics of Incineration appearing in the March–April issue.

It seems to me that the existence and effects of the Russian totalitarian empire are not really integrated in Fahan’s thinking. This totalitarian empire makes it impossible to project any plan against the A and H bombs or against war on a worldwide basis – unless it be the false products emanating from Russia, i.e., the “peace” petition. People know this – no, they feel it in their bones. Thus they ask, for instance, what good it would do if western scientists took a principled position against giving their talents to the production of A and H bombs when they cannot get the cooperation of the scientists behind the iron curtain; when such Russian scientists who made the slightest move to respond would soon be dispatched to meet their ancestors. People do not act from motives of moral rectitude when there is a military problem involving physical existence itself. To defy the powers that they conceive may give them some protection – and they hope for some protection even in an atom war – defiance must have a chance to arise also in the enemy country. Fahan’s purely moral approach is inadequate.

In effect Fahan writes off “the people” when he retires into the charmed circle of those he considers politically and humanly qualified to align themselves as absolutely and at all times opposed to the use of the H-bomb. True, he has widened the circle to include not only independent Socialists, but also pacifists and radicals “who have not become Social-Democrats.” But this is still to be isolated from the people.

In his attitude on the H-bomb Fahan poses a point not easy of solution. He asserts his conviction that Socialists must say that a Socialist society “even if locked in struggle with a capitalist or Stalinist enemy” would not use the H- bomb. Suppose that a counter-revolutionary state thus armed were attacking a Socialist state. Should the Socialist state submit to annihilation of itself and its people by the H-bombs of the counter-revolutionary state? Or would the Socialist state, after making every human and even super-human effort to appeal to the peoples of the counter-revolutionary state and to the peoples of the world to stop the attack, have to do this basically immoral thing, namely, use mass-annihilating weapons in a desperate effort at self-defense? At any rate, it would be for the people of the Socialist state to decide what they would want to do – not for us a priori.

In offering his slogans, Fahan again comes up against the lack of internationalism in the world, though he does not recognize his problem. He says: “The major criterion for such proposals is simply this: do they direct the masses of people against the TWO power blocs that threaten human incineration? If they do, then they are desirable, regardless of their limitations, their ‘impracticability’ or their departure from ‘traditional’ Socialist slogans.”

But when Fahan gets down to cases he talks ONLY about demands on the U.S. government. He includes also Europe and the European masses. However, the sixty-four dollar question is how to take into account Russia and its masses, Russia’s satellites and their masses? Any proposals or slogans against war presuppose the kind of civil liberties which do not exist in the second of “the two power blocs.” Therefore, the proposals and slogans could have only unilateral application, thus freezing the hopes of the peoples of the first of “the two power blocs.”

Without meaning any offense to Fahan, it strikes me that there is too much of moral heroics, let me say, in the main tenor of his remarks – “let it be said that there are some men who, in the sea of blood, did not acquiesce.” Perhaps there is something still to be done other than preserve our moral rectitude, important as this is.

There being no potent Socialist revolutionary forces in the world today, where can be found other elements to bestir themselves in anti-war action? The answer of course is in the trade union movements and also in the Social-Democratic masses of Europe. But these elements will not accept any plan which, because of the nature of the Russian dictatorship and of the iron curtain, would have to be unilateral.

The pivotal problem is to reach the people behind the iron curtain. Should not organized labor and the Social Democracy of the western world exert themselves to solve this problem?

While criticising, I do not think Socialists oppose the propaganda programs of the west against the Russian government, since there is here a political potential beyond the purposes of the western governments. However, organized labor and the Social-Democratic masses may independently be able to perform a really great historic task in reaching out to the Russian people. This could only be done completely on their own, using their own resources in money, human talents and ideas, to build that necessary bridge between the working peoples of the two opposing camps. Appeals could be made for joint actions in the interest of peace. Assurances of solidarity and support from the people of the west could be given. The technical means for communicating such ideas can be evolved. The working people of the west, acting independently of their governments, would be an example to the Russian people, encouraging them to act against their own government. This, it seems to me, is the great need, namely, the bridge between the working people on both sides of the iron curtain.

To be sure such an effort may fail, especially since time is running out. Yet it is unthinkable that the powerful labor organizations of the west should be stricken with palsy and remain paralyzed while humanity-destroying World War III creeps up on us. Will organized labor do something? This is the question – not, I regret, simply our immortal souls, though these should undoubtedly be kept intact.

Susan Green

New York City, July 6, 1950

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