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Irving Howe

UNO Debates Spoils of War

Big 3 Preside at
“Peacemakers” Brawl

(11 February 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 6, 11 February 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first meeting of the Security Council of the United Nations Organization – hailed by its supporters as the one force which could bring peace to the world – has turned into a bloody verbal brawl between Britain and Russia.

This brawl, a thousand times more than diplomatic platitudes about “international cooperation," reflects the true state of the imperialist struggle taking place among the nations which won the war – and are now fighting so sharply with each other for the lion’s share of the booty.

The conflict came to a head on the issue of Greece. Russia, represented by Andrei Vishinsky, the infamous prosecutor of the Moscow Trials, charged that British troops were being maintained in Greece in order to prop up an unpopular and weak reactionary regime. against the wishes of the Greek people. But surely nobody – not even the London correspondent of PM or The Nation – could take seriously the spectacle of a creature like Vishinsky shedding tears over the lack of democracy ... in Greece. There are limits to everything, and even vaudeville performers sometimes show restraint. And for the Stalinist dictatorship, which had installed puppet regimes in Eastern European countries without the slightest regard for the wishes of the peoples of those countries, now suddenly to become indignant about the lack of democracy in Greece – well, that was something for the books.

A Clash of Empires

Yet it IS a fact that there is no real democracy in Greece, that there has been a reactionary terror buttressed by British tanks and bayonets. To point out, as we do here, the totally hypocritical and two-sided nature of the Russian charge is not in the slightest degree to whitewash or support the role of Britain in the Mediterranean.

For apparently everyone understood that the verbiage about democracy which Vishinsky and Bevin hurled at each other at the UNO meeting was not to be taken seriously. What was the REAL issue? The correspondent of the New York Times, James Reston, wrote on February 4:

“It is generally admitted here that this is no common dispute over the mysteries of Balkan politics or a clash of personalities. It is seen instead as a clash of empires, a new phase in the old Anglo-Russian struggle for influence in the Mediterranean and the Near and Middle East. And it is seen as the beginning of a showdown before the Paris Peace Conference redrafts the map of the Mediterranean.”

This, as you can see, is delightfully frank. And accurate, too. Greece occupies an immensely important strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean: it lies on the path to the Near East and to that “jewel” of the British Empire, India. If Britain were to lose control of that pathway of empire; if she were to face an unfriendly Greek government, one which leaned to Russia; if she were to have the Near Eastern Arab-Jewish struggle explode in her face – then the Empire would indeed be in complete jeopardy. Which is why, even under the aegis of the “socialist” Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin (who boasts of his working class origin, even if he can’t boast of any working class policies), Britain still clings desperately and clutchingly to its wobbly control of the Near East. And if she were to lose Greece ...

But the Stalin regime realizes all this as well as anyone else. What Britain wants to cling to, the Stalin dictatorship wants to snatch away: it has big eyes and long fingers. Greece is, for it, merely a stepping stone. Russia has demanded bases from Turkey, has indicated a desire for bases in the Dodecanese Islands and has demanded “UNO trusteeships” for the Italian colonies of Tripolitania and Eritrea. Stalinist imperialism thereby clashes with British imperialism in the latter’s “heartland” – and that’s why Ernest Bevin shouts so thunderously at the UNO.

And They Talk Peace!

There is the reality, the unadorned and simple fact. What about the UNO, then? In its first session, it is already shown for what it is: a talk- shop, a maneuvering ground in which the major imperialist powers – Britain, Russia and America – were indignant about the imperialist plunder of EACH OTHER, but in which not the slightest, not the tiniest, genuine step for peace can be taken. It is the power relationships that prevail – inside the UNO as well as outside. Whoever has the strength wins – and no speeches change it. The giant imperialisms of America, Russia and Britain predominate because they have the guns; and the other nations play follow the leader.

How could it be otherwise in an imperialist world where powers fight over the spoils of the last war and uneasily prepare for the next? The UNO has no power and no meaning aside from the strength of its dominating members, and their irreconcilable conflicts dominate the proceedings. The liberals may publish weekly sheets full of crocodile tears, but socialists who understand what is going on expect nothing else.

In the meantime, there’s even a certain refreshing aspect to the spectacle of the big powers telling the truth about each other. It reminds one of the delightful cartoon of the great socialist artist, Art Young, in which he has two capitalist politicians of opposing parties standing on soap-boxes and pointing to each other while saying “He’s no good!" Of course! Russia exposes Britain in Greece. Britain exposes Russia in Iran. Russia exposes British imperialism in the Dutch East Indies. And, turnabout, Britain inquires skeptically about Russian intentions in Tripolitania.

Occasionally, while you’re reading the newspaper reports of these shopkeeper squabbles at the UNO, you suddenly remember: Good Lord, these miserable creatures are arguing about countries in which millions of people live, people who also want democracy and the right to decide their own destiny. But their voice is not heard at the UNO. Only the other week, the Russians announced that the United States and Britain had agreed to cede to them the Kuriles Islands and the southern half of Sakhalin. Now, people live there. What do they think and what do they want? Nobody asks them. Do the Greeks want British troops? Do the Javanese want Dutch and British troops? Do the Iranians want American, British and Russian troops?

The bargaining continues in the UNO and at the secret “peace” conference. Just think: a few diplomats sitting in secret deciding the fate of millions, cutting up maps – and dividing the wealth of the world among them. The giant of capitalist imperialism, the United States, sits at the head of the table; its junior partner, Britain, sits next to it; and across it sits the new imperialist tycoon, Stalinist imperialism. You take this; we take that.

And it is this repulsive spectacle which taffy-brained liberals tell us will bring peace to the world!

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