The 50th Anniversary of the Warsaw Pact
The alleged ‘war’ between the two power blocs was orchestrated to control public opinion”
This month marks the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Warsaw Pact, the political and military alliance of the so called ‘socialist’ countries in Eastern Europe. Signed on 14 May 1955 it bound together in a ‘defensive alliance’ Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Albania. East Germany joined in 1956, while Albania started distancing itself from 1962 onward and withdrew altogether in 1968.
The Russian government claimed that the Warsaw Pact was established as a response to the incorporation of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1955. In practice, however, it acted as a facade for maintaining political and military control over East European countries ‘liberated’ from German occupation and a cloak for intervention in the affairs of its ‘allies’ (in effect its satellites), as occurred in Hungary and Poland in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Norman Lowe points out that for many writing during the ‘Cold War’ era, NATO was “the West’s self-defence against communist aggression” (Mastering British History, p.529). But while there was great tension and antagonism after the war the notion that Russia was waiting for the opportunity to invade Western Europe, an action that would have achieved nothing short of total self-annihilation, must be viewed with scepticism.
President Eisenhower, for example, consistently held the view that the Russia posed no military threat to Western Europe. Instead, he saw NATO’s primary role as to ‘harden’ European people in their opposition to ‘communism’ and “to corral its allies and to head off neutralism, as well as deter the Russians” (Frank Costigliola, Kennedy’s Quest for Victory,p. 244).
In 1999, the Guardian reviewed newly declassified British government documents including a 1968 Foreign Office joint intelligence committee analysis. Its summary of the analysis states: “Russia had no intention of launching a military attack on the West at the height of the Cold War and in stark contrast to what Western politicians and military leaders were saying in public about the ‘Soviet threat'” (1 January 1999). But if the Russian military threat didn’t really exist what was the basis of the ‘Cold War?’
An important pre-condition for the perpetuation of capitalist class dominance is the unconditional ‘obedience’ of ordinary working people. In a non authoritarian society perhaps the most effective way of sustaining obedience is by inducing fear of a perceived external threat that intimidates ordinary people into giving unquestioning support to their governments in return for protection from the apparent threat. Western governments conceived the ‘International Communist Conspiracy’ and the ‘Cold War’ as elaborate fairy tales, grossly exaggerating the threat of Russian military intentions to instil fear and intimidate Western public opinion.
These fairy tales have their origins in the Russian Revolution of 1917 when the Bolsheviks seized power and established state capitalism masquerading as ‘socialism.’ This event made conflict between Russia and western capitalism inevitable and within months of this seizure of power fifteen countries invaded Russia in what was hailed as a heroic mission inspired by a desire to secure self-determination for the Russian people. But on examination the motive behind this invasion had little to do with altruism, being instead driven by pure self-interest epitomised in three principal concerns.
Firstly, the revolution had rendered a vast area – in excess of 15 percent of the world’s landmass – ‘off limits’ to Western capitalist expansion.
Second, the new Russian State represented a dangerous example of an alternative to free market capitalism that threatened to inspire people to engage in struggles to establish ‘communism’ in other countries.
Thirdly, the new Russian regime practising state capitalism would inevitably challenge free market capitalism in future spheres of influence.
Free market capitalism
The United States emerged from the Second World War as most powerful nation in the history of the planet and set about shaping a world in which capitalism and particularly US capitalism could flourish unhindered. The US State Department and Council of Foreign Relations constructed an image of the post-war world that comprised the regions “strategically important for world control” to be subordinated to the needs of free market capitalism. Each region was assigned a role with emphasis placed on Middle Eastern oil and on the economically underdeveloped countries to be permanently assigned the role of a source of raw materials, cheap expendable labour and markets. Vital to this vision was that post-war reconstruction should install foreign governments willing to embrace the ‘right’ business philosophy; a requirement that brought Western capitalism into conflict with the state-controlled capitalism of Russia and its newly-conquered Eastern Europe territories.
An expanded Russian Empire represented an unacceptable challenge to western capitalism and its plan for hegemony. The annexation of Eastern European countries barred free access of capitalist powers to whole regions expected to provide raw materials, investment opportunities, markets and cheap labour in precisely the same way as the 1917 Russian Revolution had frustrated earlier intentions to exploit pre-revolutionary Russia itself. State capitalism was an unacceptable constraint on capitalism’s free development, fostering an unwillingness to co-operate or complement capitalism in the established industrial countries. Its centralised ‘command economy’ was incompatible with western and particularly US plans to construct a global model based on private investment and ‘free markets’ dominated by corporations.
Free market capitalism prefers a stable, unrestricted world where countries are ‘open’ to the free movement of capital and conditions conducive to unfettered worker exploitation and the maximisation of profits.
The threat of ‘communism’
The existence of a ‘Soviet Bloc,’ claiming to be the ideological antithesis of capitalism was an anathema to the capitalist West. The source of concern lay not in Russian military strength, but rather the fear that working people might be seduced by the propaganda appeal of ‘communism’ and attempt to establish Russian-style state capitalism in other countries that would exclude Western capitalism and remove further territorial from their control. As US strategic planner George Kennan put it in October 1947: “It is not Russian military power that threatens us, it is Russian political power” (Strategies of Containment, pp.356-57). The ideological underpinning for a perpetual conflict was expressed by the United States National Security Council in its resolution 68, which constructed a vision of a world divided into two diametrically opposing forces representing ‘absolute evil’ on the one side and ‘absolute good’ on the other. ‘Communism,’ it asserted, was unimaginably evil, intent on world domination and must be everywhere challenged to defend the ‘free world’. The US was given responsibility for leading this struggle, thereby granting itself the absolute right to defend or advance the interests of free market capitalism anywhere in the world under the pretext that any intervention would be another phase in the struggle to prevent the ‘cancerous spread of communism.’
The ultimate objective of western governments was to force Russia and its satellites to return to their economically underdeveloped status, leaving vast new territories, raw material and cheap labour ripe for exploitation. But until this could be achieved the struggle for economic domination would continue in the undeveloped countries and the need to combat the evil of ‘communism’ would serve as a justification for action against any movement that might gain control over large masses of people, as happened in Vietnam. Such movements are dangerous to western capitalism if they are indicative of a preference for capitalist development independent of western control.
Limiting western aggression
Russia also represented one further challenge to free market capitalism. As well as excluding the ‘free market’ from its territories, Russia, like its western counterparts, seized every opportunity to exploit potential targets regularly using Warsaw Pact countries to offer support to targets of US subversion. These Russian ventures imposed unacceptable limits on Western aspirations in undeveloped countries, attracting widespread condemnation from Western politicians and media and excellent propaganda to sway public opinion against ‘communism’ and to reinforce the belief that US ‘protection’ was necessary to combat the Russian menace.
Essentially, the ‘Cold War,’ of which the Warsaw Pact and NATO were the visible symbols, set the parameters on a system of joint global management. The myth of the ‘Cold War’ enabled each of the two capitalist superpowers to control its real enemy – its own working people – by intimidating it with news of the transgressions of the other and as a justification for repression in its own sphere of control. But beneath the ideological rhetoric there was also a tacit understanding that each should be left to control its own sphere of influence. So while free market capitalism led by the United States would wage war and expand into what became known as the ‘Third World’, the Russians would maintain control over its East European satellites. This accounts for the West’s refusal to assist the people of Hungary and Poland in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, and explains why the Russians made no great effort to aid Vietnam or to assist the emerging nationalist groups that challenged US domination in Latin America. Despite the rhetoric, the alleged ‘war’ between the two power blocs was theatre, orchestrated to control public opinion.
Though the reasons for the final collapse of the Russia are complex, it was evident that by 1980 internal problems and economic stagnation were heightening and control over the Eastern European countries was rapidly dwindling. When the rotten edifice of Russian authoritarianism started collapsing in Eastern Europe in 1989 the facade of the Warsaw Pact shattered and officially dissolved in Prague on 1 July 1991.
The ‘Cold War’ ended in a perhaps inevitable victory of free market capitalism over state controlled capitalism. But while the ‘Cold War’ ceased to be a valid pretext, Western capitalism has been quick to discover new pretexts, of which the ‘war on terror’ is simply the latest, for a continuation of policies that are nothing more than an expression of its institutional needs. So though the justifications have changed the real struggle, driven by capitalist class interest, to secure the free movement of capital and unrestricted access to markets and raw materials continues unabated with working people everywhere the undisputed victims.