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World in the Grip of an Idea: 23. The Cold War: Revolutionary vs. Evolutionary Socialism

NOVEMBER 01, 1978 by CLARENCE B. CARSON

In this series, Dr. Carson examines the connection between ideology and the revolutions of our time and traces the Impact on several major countries and the spread of the ideas and practices around the world.

The United States emerged from World War II as the preeminent military power in the world. That preeminence was symbolized by the development of the atomic bomb, two of which were dropped on Japanese cities inducing that country to surrender. The great world powers of the interwar years had either been crushed or were very nearly impotent. Germany had been as absolutely defeated as possible. About all that remained to make the devastation complete would have been to sow the bombed out cities with salt. Japan saved a shred of honor by being permitted to keep its emperor. The weakness of France had been decisively demonstrated by the Nazi conquest. Only the swaggering and boasting of Mussolini had made Italy appear to be a great power. Britain emerged victorious in the war but was shortly reduced to minor power potential by the nationalizing zeal of the Labour Party, China faced, as it had, incipient civil war and was hardly in position to play the role of a major power.

The Soviet Union, too, emerged victorious in World War II. How that empire would rank as a military power is still a controverted question. The devastation wrought by the German armed forces on that country had been great. Stalin had so disrupted agriculture with his efforts at collectivization that production was far from adequate for the population. Forced industrialization had succeeded only in getting produced what the political powers considered most urgent. But the Soviet Union had something beyond ordinary military powers; its leaders had the will and know how to use terror. Terror was used both in the subjection of the peoples of Eastern Europe and probably more extensively than ever the peoples within the Soviet Union. The combination of military power, terror, and deception made the Soviet Union a major power in effect.

At any rate, most of the powers that had been were no longer major powers. Western Europe was largely a power vacuum, as was the Far East. This had repercussions in many other parts of the world, for the former great powers had carved much of the rest of the world into spheres of interest and colonies. Many of these colonies broke away or were turned loose to fend for themselves. The British Empire hardly deserved the name any longer after a few years of Labour rule.

The United Nations was supposed to fill this power vacuum, or at least, to stand guard while old nations recovered and new nations took shape and emerged. It did not work out that way. Such authority as the United Nations had was vested in the Security Council. The permanent members had a veto power over any action, and the Soviet Union began quickly using this power to forestall unwanted action. This was especially disruptive because, as it turned out, the major threat to the peace was the Soviet Union and the international communist movement it spawned. Wherever they could, Soviet leaders fomented civil war to advance Communist Party takeovers anywhere the opportunity occurred.

Some Moments of Doubt

The world was not as clearly in the grip of an idea at the end of World War II as it has since become. The defeat of Nazism and Fascism discredited those particular varieties of revolutionary socialism. West Germany and Japan were not only freed from the control of totalitarian regimes but also given great impetus by the occupying forces to adopt institutions more in accord with freedom. It is true that the United Kingdom went headlong toward socialism for a few years after the war and that India’s leaders were under the spell of socialism, but the course of many countries was unusually uncertain. The United States bent away somewhat from the collectivist path of the 1930snot for long, no doubt, but enough to illustrate the possibilities.

Television had not yet taken hold as the shaper, molder, and decider of opinions. The sway of the intellectuals was still largely dependent upon the influence they could wield upon politicians. College_ education had. not become so common a possession, and it is perhaps the single most important way that intellectuals fasten their ideas upon people. Intellectuals were still marginal in many lands, and the lines between ideologies rather more clearly drawn than in a later day. Many people still lived mainly by custom, tradition, and within the framework of family and religion, a much larger percentage, at any rate, than would so live thirty years later. It is difficult to grasp how drastic the changes have been, facilitated by technology and guided increasingly by ideologies.

It will be helpful to keep this in mind as we explore the impact of the Cold War. There was a time, at least for Americans, when the Cold War appeared to be simple enough and readily understood. The world was divided in two, or so we were told. One world was communist, and the other was free. The two worlds were engaged in an ongoing conflict which was not out-and-out war, but was not peaceful either. (The conflict was also often described as between communism and democracy.) The United Nations became the verbal battleground of this conflict, and nations were aligned there with one side or the other. Bench marks in the conflict were such events as Churchill’s "Iron Curtain Speech" at Fulton, Missouri, military aid to Greece and Turkey, the revelations of Soviet atomic spies, the fall of China to the Communists, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Korean War, among others.

The Cold War Reinterpreted

What was once clear and distinct, however, has since become fuzzy and indistinct. What was called a Third World emerged in the late 1950s and in the 1960s, aligned with neither side. The Soviet Union and Communist China became embroiled in their own ideological conflict. Revisionist historians began to reinterpret the Cold War. The more radical of these declared that the conflict was all a product of American hysteria, that communism had not so much fomented it as been victimized by it. Communism, in this view, was a bugaboo invented by Americans so far as its aggressiveness and threat to world peace was concerned.

While such revisionist history is sorely out of touch with reality, it may at least open the way to revision that is needed. The nature of the conflict has indeed been misconstrued, perhaps not so much as it was originally represented to be but as it turned out. The tyrannical character of communism has rarely, if ever, been exaggerated. Nor would it be easy to overstate the imperial aims of Soviet Communism. An international conspiracy has existed as long as the Soviet Union, and there are several of them now. That this movement has engaged in subversion, espionage, and terrorism is well-established fact. Whether it has posed an immediate threat to the United States, or what the nature of the threat was and is, may be open to debate, although there is no conclusive answer available.

Most of the misconstruction of the Cold War, however, has been over the nature, character, and tendency of the opposition. That the opposition has been between communism, on the one hand, and freedom, on the other, is certainly doubtful. This is not to question that there are many who are opposed to communism or that there are those who stand for freedom. It is rather to question that they have generally been in control of or directed the actual conflict. The actual events of the Cold War come into much clearer focus when we conceive of it as a conflict between revolutionary and evolutionary socialism. This takes into account the actual tendencies in the so-called Free World as well as the thrust of developments within the Cold War.

Varied Opposition to Communism

There are undoubtedly many angles from which communism may be opposed. Indeed, they may be as numerous as have been the abuses of power and atrocities of communist rulers. Some have opposed communism because the rulers do not permit freedom of speech and of the press and suppress dissenters. Others, because there is no freedom of religion but rather religious persecution. Some find it objectionable that there is no freedom of migration, and they are apt to see the Berlin Wall as the symbol of what they oppose. The slave labor camps have been more than many people can stomach. There are even those who find most deplorable the prohibition of jazz and experimentation with the arts in general. The ubiquitous bureaucracy has its articulate opponents. There are those who focus mainly on the economic wrongs of communism: the confiscation of private property, the state planning, and the absence of the free market.

But all opposition to communism that amounts to anything can be reduced to two headings. One is what will here be called Metaphysical Opposition to Communism, and the other Tactical Opposition to Communism. These can be employed in such a way as to subsume virtually every level and kind of opposition.

Metaphysical Opposition

The use of the term "metaphysical" may appear to be a poor choice of words. It is certainly the case that in the last century or so many have used the term as if it were synonymous with mystical, superstitious, something vague and imaginary, or evanescent. These are, however, misuses of a most valuable word for which there is no ready replacement. Metaphysics is the study of and refers to that underlying order in the universe which gives form and regularity to things and relationships. It is the source of natural law and normality in beings. If it is mystical it is so only in the sense that our sensual knowledge of this realm is indirect. Metaphysics is actually the foundation of precise knowledge. Without it, we are left only with a poor substitute statistics—whose precision is achieved only by distortion.

It may be objected, however, either that my phrase does not take into account religious opposition to communism or that what I am really referring to when I call it metaphysical is religious. An explanation of the meaning of Metaphysical Opposition to Communism should make it clear that neither of these objections is valid. I mean that the opposition to communism is based upon fixed and immovable positions, on the belief that communism cannot and will not work, that it can only be tyrannical and destructive. Why? Because it requires the transformation of human nature, something that is fixed and immutable. Because it requires the abridgement of the natural order of things, something that has not occurred and so far as we know cannot and will not occur. Because it requires that individuals no longer pursue their self-interest that they abandon what is essential to their survival. In brief, these things constitute the metaphysical opposition to communism.

More Philosophic than Religious

It should be clear that this is not a religious opposition to communism. It is a philosophic or, mayhap, scientific opposition. True, there is religious opposition to communism, and for good and sufficient reason. Communism is atheistic and committed to wiping out all independent theism. But when the religious opposition is examined carefully it will be discovered that so far as it is a fixed and immovable position it is based on a metaphysics like position, namely, that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, that He has implanted in us our immutable human nature, and that He has ordained an order for things and for men. Take away the conception of God as Creator and man as Creature, with all that is implicit in this, and the religious opposition to communism tends to melt away. In short, the firmness of the religious opposition to communism has a metaphysic like base. For any who might have difficulty accepting the above formulation, let me put the matter another way: Metaphysics provides sufficient ground for an unaltering opposition to communism.

It still may be objected, however, that there are those who are apparently immovably opposed to communism who know naught of metaphysics. This is an objection, fortunately, which involves only semantics. For example, there are those who oppose communism on the grounds that it is contrary to human nature. This position, and others like it (the economic arguments, for instance), are metaphysically founded, whether those who use them are aware of it or not. Ignorance of philosophic terminology does not alter in the least the philosophic base of a position.

Even so, it may be useful to broaden somewhat those that might be included among the metaphysical opponents of communism. There is a sense in which all who are inalterably committed to an opposition to communism—as, for example, those who would maintain that if it would work they still would not want it, for whatever reasons—are metaphysical opponents. It is permissible to use the word in this way, for by so doing we embrace all metaphysic like positions, i.e., all that are firm, hard, rocklike, and underlyingly immovable.

Tactical Opposition

Tactical Opposition to Communism is of a quite different order. It is opposition to communism on the ground that one or more or many of its tactics or methods are wrong. (Those who oppose it on metaphysical grounds might be expected to find the tactics objectionable also, and they usually do. They may even make arguments against communism in terms of methods, but that is not the final ground of their opposition.) The position amounts to this: If communists would "clean up their act," they would be acceptable. If they would grant free speech, not persecute religion, provide due process of law, permit migration, allow opposing political parties, abolish slave labor camps, and so on, they would no longer be objectionable.

When they oppose communism, evolutionary or gradualist or democratic socialists are by the necessity of their position tactical opponents. Twentieth century liberals (who vary in the extent to which they are socialists) are also generally tactical opponents of communism when they oppose it. Communism in power has been a source of great embarrassment to other socialists. Indeed, it has been an embarrassment or much worse, to many communists as well. The violence, the terror, and the drastic action have raised doubts as to the validity of the socialist enterprise.

It is worthwhile to note that the most vociferous opposition of socialist intellectuals is class like. They object most strenuously—indeed, many reserve their objections—to the persecution of intellectuals. Thus, Stalin’s most heinous crime for many of them was the Purge of the late 1930s. Millions of peasants and Kulaks could be persecuted and die with never a whimper from Western intellectuals. But when a few thousand intellectuals came under the gun, many socialist intellectuals began to question Soviet Communism. The same play is still being enacted today, though the scene has changed. A few intellectual dissidents in the Soviet Union can bring the glare of publicity to bear on their persecutors, thanks to Western intellectuals, but the other persecution goes largely unnoticed.

However that may be, socialist opponents of communism have usually had to try to balance themselves on a razor’s edge. On the one hand, they have opposed communism. In its own way some of this opposition has been real enough. That is, evolutionary socialists do believe, often enough, that the revolutionary way is the wrong way, which drastic measures are harmful and unnecessary. Moreover, they may be as opposed to Soviet or Chinese or Cuban Communist expansion as anyone else. In fact, evolutionary socialists may go to war against communists, albeit reluctantly and limitedly.

But the anticommunism of gradualists must always be restrained. It must stop short of being or becoming Metaphysical Opposition to Communism. If it should become metaphysical in character it would be tantamount to a repudiation of socialism. Another way to say it is to formulate it this way: Opposition to communism must not trace communist practice to the socialist idea—to the idea that has the world in its grip. Deplorable communist practice must be ascribed to an excess of revolutionary zeal, to evil men, such as Stalin (once he had passed from the scene), to persecution of communists and inhibition of their legitimate aims by others. It has been a most difficult task for evolutionary socialists to oppose communism, one that has frequently been made necessary by the communists but unpalatable at best. If communism would just become another political party, the difficulty would vanish, for evolutionary socialists could oppose it without any danger of the opposition becoming metaphysical. But that can only happen where communists have not come to power or have not consolidated their power.

The Opposition Performs a Double Reverse

One way that evolutionary socialists (which generally include liberals in the United States) maintain their balance on the razor’s edge is to focus their efforts on opposing anticommunism. Technically, they oppose communism, but this position can be made largely harmless by rigorous attention to the methods by which communism is to be opposed. The method that is generally proscribed in the United States and Western Europe is what goes by the name of McCarthyism (which takes its name from the late Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin). One dictionary defines McCarthyism as "1. Public accusation of disloyalty, esp. of pro-Communist activity, in many instances unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful or irrelevant evidence. 2. Unfairness in investigative technique. 3. Persistent search for and exposure of disloyalty . . ." Indeed, "McCarthyism" is the unpardonable sin in the American liberal ranking of evils. It ranks alongside if not above "Red Scares" and "witch hunts" for communists. Tactical Opposition to Communism turns into tactical opposition to anticommunism. The threat of communism is transmuted into the threat of anticommunism. This is an easy shift for evolutionary socialists to make, indeed, a shift difficult to avoid. The reason is that opposition to anticommunism has a metaphysical base or, if anyone prefers, an anti-metaphysical base. All socialism is premised on the possibility of transforming human nature. Metaphysics is the level at which this is found to be impossible. Hence, revolutionary and evolutionary socialists are at one at the metaphysical, or anti-metaphysical, level. They are irreconcilably opposed to metaphysical anticommunism.

I do not deduce this from the phenomenon of "McCarthyism," of course. It is deduced, so far as it is deduced, from the philosophical, or ideological, premises of socialism. But there is a great body of evidence which is explained by and supports this conclusion. When "McCarthyism" or a "Red Scare" is underway these occupy the center stage of tactical opposition. But once they have abated, then virtually any tactic by which communism might be opposed comes under fire. In the final analysis, all metaphysical or "hard core" opposition to communism is intolerable to socialists, though tactical opposition is permitted except by "hard core" communists.

Differences Not Understood

The depth of this division has not been generally admitted, if it has been understood. There are many practical reasons for not dramatizing or for not recognizing it. Evolutionary socialists cling to or at least profess many of the common values which derive from Western Civilization, such as representative government (which they tend to telescope into democracy), religious toleration, free speech and press, free elections, and so on. By their very evolutionary method they attempt to avoid arousing a metaphysical opposition to themselves. Anticommunists, too, have hoped to enlist them in a common cause against communism. Some anticommunists have portrayed social reformers and liberals as dupes of communists, as taken in by them. (Indeed, this was the general view of the matter as held by anticommunists in the 1950s.) They may have been, indeed may be, but if the above analysis is correct the affinity between them is not something skin deep as such a construction implied.

In any case, it is what has happened when common cause against communism has been made by metaphysical opponents and tactical opponents. The contest has been called the Cold War. The main contest has been between the United States and its allies on the one hand and the Soviet Union and its allies and satellites on the other. Communist China was formally excluded from the Cold War most of the time but was nonetheless a subordinate part of it. The contest was carried on in many ways—by diplomacy, by propaganda, by subversion and espionage, and in actual wars—but the examination of it here will be restricted to three levels: war, foreign aid, and espionage.

No Chance for Alliance

If the preceding analysis is correct, it is unlikely that evolutionary socialists and metaphysical anticommunists could make common cause against communism. They cannot effectively wage war, either hot or cold, against communism. They cannot, that is, if evolutionary socialists are to maintain their balance on the razor’s edge. To wage war effectively the enemy must be clearly identified, support for the war must be mustered, and force brought to bear sufficient to overcome the enemy. It is not possible to do this from a razor’s edge; it requires a broad base rather than a tenuous position.

It may well be that the animus behind the Cold War came from metaphysical anticommunism. The provocation came from the communists, of course. But the Cold War strategy was largely shaped by Democratic Presidents. Between 1933 and 1969 there was only one Republican President—Eisenhower. Nixon worked vigorously to defuse the Cold War, so he was not an architect of it, not as President anyway. The main outlines of the Cold War were shaped by President Truman. Eisenhower and Dulles continued it, as did Kennedy and Johnson.

It is significant in the context that Democrats were the main strategists. The Democratic Party has been by far the more deeply infected of the two major parties by evolutionary socialism. Liberal intellectuals have had their greatest influence within the Democratic Party, though they have exercised considerable influence on Republicans as well. The domestic programs of the Democrats since 1913 have been in the direction of centralizing power in the federal government, manipulating the money supply, regulating and controlling business, managing the economy and redistributing the wealth. True, they have only limitedly pushed for government ownership and have taken the route of control instead. But that has come increasingly to be the method of evolutionary socialism for the past several decades.

Democrats have tended to get the United States embroiled and entangled in international affairs in the twentieth century. Beyond that, they have tended to get us into wars. There is no particular mystery as to how this should be explained. Democrats have been enamored with the use of government power. Whatever they have been confronted with, they have inclined to the view that the solution lay in the exercise of political power. In international relations, this tends to lead to war or to involvement in whatever conflicts are taking place.

Hot Spots in the Cold War

Twice during the Cold War, the United States became extensively involved in an armed conflict: first in Korea and then in Vietnam. President Truman gave the order which brought Americans into combat in Korea. President Kennedy got the United States armed forces increasingly embroiled in Vietnam, and President Johnson made the war primarily an American responsibility.

The main point here is the kind of wars these became, not whether American involvement was justified or who was to blame for them. In both cases, they were what came to be called limited wars. Under General Douglas MacArthur’s command, American forces, along with such allies as they had, mainly South Koreans, were close to overrunning and defeating the North Korean army. At that juncture the Communist Chinese intervened with massive ground forces. MacArthur proposed the bombings of the Chinese access, but he was refused permission to do so. When he persisted by criticizing the policy behind the scenes, he was relieved of his command. The war zone was restricted to Korea, and the war was eventually ended without a decision having been reached.

In Vietnam, no American military commander attempted to win the war by invading North Vietnam. Even the bombing of North Vietnam was restricted, and major ports were not shelled by sea. The justification of the conflict, where any was given, was so narrow and subtle, with infinite attention given to subtle niceties, that Americans were confused and baffled by the whole affair.

After MacArthur’s dismissal, no grand strategy was devised to achieve victory at arms. None was ever inaugurated in Vietnam. The justification offered was that the war might be vastly expanded by any aggressive action. Actually, this might have been a sound argument for never becoming involved in the conflicts at all. After all, it was certainly possible to foresee that China might intervene in Korea. North Vietnamese intervention in South

Vietnam was a fact, and Chinese or Russian intervention a distinct possibility from the outset. What the enemy might do is hardly ever a foregone conclusion.

Why a No Win Policy?

The deliberate limitation of these wars needs a better explanation than those that were offered. The framework has been supplied for a better explanation. It is this. Evolutionary socialism must prevent, even at very high cost, the opposition to communism from becoming metaphysical. Any all out war—any war to be fought through to victory—will become metaphysic like because of the ideological character of the conflict. Once the general opposition to communism becomes metaphysical, all of socialism is likely to be indicted. Undoubtedly, the motives that inhibited American leaders were complex. What persuaded any one of them to the limited war concept cannot, of course, be known. But that an extensive apology for limited warfare was prepared and disseminated by American intellectuals, aided and abetted by their counterparts in other lands, cannot be doubted. That these same intellectuals have bent their energies over the years to forestall the arising of an articulate metaphysical anticommunism can be demonstrated ad nauseam.

Intellectuals have worked diligently over the years to turn the Cold War into an internecine conflict between revolutionary and evolutionary socialism. A concerted effort was made to do that in Vietnam. They kept up a continual clamor over the alleged undemocratic character of the government of South Vietnam. Similar, though not as vociferous, charges were leveled at the South Korean government. That many South Vietnamese continued to pursue their individual self interest economically was considered shameful by these intellectuals. Efforts were made to turn the American army into a combination of Red Cross and Little Sisters of the Poor. They were set to the task of rebuilding Vietnamese villages, tending the sick, and feeding the hungry. Only if evolutionary socialism (usually described as democracy) could demonstrate its superiority to the claims of communism (revolutionary socialism) would the American involvement be justified, presumably.

A Smoke Screen for Communism

My purpose in discussing these matters is to describe the role that the Cold War has played in spreading the idea and fastening its grip upon the world. The initiative belongs to international communism. Communist lands are generally closed to foreigners except on a limited and supervised basis. Massive efforts have been made over the years to shield the rest of the world from the reality of communism. In effect, the attempt has been made to have communism known only as an ideal system. This ideal is spread around the world by whatever propaganda outlets communist powers have. The reality in other lands is measured against the communist ideal, to its detriment, as a rule.

Evolutionary socialists tend to take these criticisms seriously as, in a sense, they must. They are, after all, of a competing brand of socialism and must constantly demonstrate the superiority of their way. Hence, communist pressure is turned into a necessity for pushing socialist measures by the other camp. In short, anticommunism becomes prosocialism at the hands of evolutionary socialists.

This was nowhere better illustrated than in the foreign aid programs. When the foreign aid programs got under way under President Truman they were billed as an effort to stop or contain Soviet expansion. As such, military aid had top priority. Very soon, other kinds of aid became increasingly important. It became, in the course of time, a major international device for propping up socialist regimes in many lands. Actually, the above chronology is not quite correct. Some foreign aid programs propped up floundering socialist regimes from the beginning. In England, the Labour Government was in deep trouble by 1947, within two years of its installation, and was appealing, with success, to Washington for aid. The European Recovery Program was from the outset a venture in promoting collective efforts among nations. But foreign aid must be given closer examination later on.

The Points Summarized

The points here are rather general ones. They are:

1.       That the Cold War, whatever its origins, was turned into a contest between evolutionary and revolutionary socialism.

2.       The conflict between these two varieties of socialism is over means not ends.

3.       To prevent their common end from becoming apparent, as well as the probability that they would not ultimately differ much from one another, the whole attention must be focused upon methods.

4.       The common cause between Metaphysical Opponents of Communism and Tactical Opponents could not and did not survive the trial by fire. Truman’s conduct of the Korean War disenchanted those who deeply opposed communism. Foreign aid was subjected to withering criticism over the years by both sides. American intelligence and security agencies have now been subjected to such exposure and curtailment that it is doubtful they can perform any function successfully.

5.    In the conflict between evolutionary and revolutionary socialism, evolutionary socialists advance their own variety of socialism.

6.    Communists are thus enabled by their criticism to push toward more and more socialist policies in the world. In brief, the Cold War provided the occasion for the spreading of socialist ideas, even though it was supposed to contain communism.

This is the general framework from which the Cold War is to be viewed. It serves as a transition, too, from the more detailed examination of the application of the idea in a few countries to its general spread to countries around the world. It has been spread both by international communism and from country to country as socialism, liberalism, the welfare state, social democracy, or whatever. First, we will deal with the spread of communism.

Next: 24. The Cold War: The Spread of Communism.

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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