Chapter 2



"Hit 'em while they're down." Imperialists want detente--without real disarmament. Is a broader rapprochement possible? Effect on working class and oppressed people. Concessions and the class struggle. Lenin's attitude toward Brest-Litovsk. Conducting state relations with hostile governments. Separate role of communist parties. Blurring the distinction between party and state. U.S.-Soviet relations in the Bush administration. Return of Kissinger's influence. Arms treaties in the 1980s. The fate of detente in the Nixon administration. Playing the "China card." What happened to the 1972 trade agreement? The Jackson-Vanik amendment and the most favored nation clause. Behind the opposition of the "Israeli lobby." The Stevenson amendment restricting loans. Watergate and the abandonment of detente.

In the bourgeois view, the Gorbachev leadership has been making concessions of a military character--such as cuts in nuclear weapons, in the size of its military establishment, withdrawing from Afghanistan--as well as political changes such as glasnost, the freeing of Sakharov and so on, because the economic problems and the technological lag are so great as to have created a crisis for the leadership. Thus, they are making all these concessions in order to be able to get trade, loans and also technology to help them out of the crisis. Some in the bourgeoisie go further and say that the economic reforms are made with a view towards a broader rapprochement with the West.

There are varying views on this. None of them involves the least bit of sympathy for the USSR as a social system. They all see the reforms in the context of a struggle with the USSR in which the West has gotten the upper hand. One Wall Street firm, Kidder Peabody, put out an enthusiastic analysis to its customers early in 1989 summing it all up as a victory for the U.S. in the most expensive war ever fought--the Cold War. This was also the theme of a New York Times editorial of April 2, 1989, entitled "End of the Cold War."

Behind the flattery for Gorbachev, the imperialist attitude is no different than that expressed by Admiral Stansfield Turner, former head of the CIA, toward Iran. In the days following the downing of an Iranian plane with the loss of several hundred passengers, while peace overtures were being made by Iran toward Iraq as the last phase in their struggle, Turner was asked what the U.S. should do now in view of the conciliatory attitude taken by Iran. He put it bluntly, as a militarist would: "Hit 'em while they're down."

This is also the view of the U.S. military and the hardcore of the civilian bourgeoisie toward the USSR. But they may not be able to carry it off. They have gone as far as they can in nuclear brinkmanship. They've come dangerously close to creating a financial panic as a result of the huge military expenditures of recent years. This is haunting them day by day, notwithstanding the glowing economic forecasts. And the view of most bourgeois economists is that down the line, a capitalist downturn is inevitable.

Under these circumstances, the capitalist establishment, almost uniformly, from the most liberal to the extreme right, is for developing a second version of detente (while of course maintaining and strengthening the military establishment). In fact, Washington and Wall Street have never been so isolated in the international community. This was demonstrated by the vote in the UN that condemned Washington for failing to allow PLO chairman Yassir Arafat to come to New York to address the UN General Assembly, and moved the UN session to Geneva. The vote was a staggering 152 to 2, an all-time low for the U.S. The State Department was unable to line up even its closest allies.

The Gorbachev leadership saw as early as 1985 that the Reagan administration had reached the limits in its military preparedness for the period, and that a further deterioration in U.S. relations with the USSR was no longer profitable. It took the opportunity to open a new strategic outlook in relations with the U.S. Insofar as the initiative by the Gorbachev administration was involved with arms control and other foreign policy issues, it was a perfectly correct tactic to pursue. The Soviet government began by unilaterally ending some nuclear tests, and made a series of proposals which they realized would be in some measure acceptable to the Reagan administration. The summit meetings which followed, from Geneva to Reykjavik to Washington to Moscow and then the UN, dealt with the customary foreign policy issues which concern the U.S. and the USSR but naturally exert a significant influence on the rest of the world. This was all within the framework of legitimate state-to-state, and for that matter socialist, diplomacy on the part of the USSR.

Is it now possible for the USSR to take the initiative and embark on a period of detente, making a rapprochement with the U.S. which would have significant advantages for the USSR economically and politically while also tending to stabilize the nuclear relationship between the two? Certainly this would be desirable from the point of view of the world working class and the oppressed as well as the USSR. The problem, however, is how it is presented and how it would work out in practice.

Lenin said there would be periods of peaceful coexistence between the imperialist powers and the USSR. Among the imperialists themselves there are intervals of peace which, in Lenin's words, are more or less preparatory periods for the next war, given the congenital character of imperialist militarism.

So if the USSR were to embark on such a relatively long-range strategy, the question then is how it would affect the class interests of the Soviet Union and its socialist allies, as well as the interests of the working class of the world and the oppressed peoples, especially the national liberation movements. If this in turn means concessions with social and political significance from the viewpoint of the class interests of the workers and oppressed, as well as from the viewpoint of the USSR, then the first rule of Soviet diplomacy should be to call them by their right name: concessions.

As in the class struggle generally, concessions to the class enemy are on occasion necessary. There are both advances and retreats in the long, protracted struggle of the working class against the capitalist class. But it is fatal to the course of working class consciousness, the promotion of the class struggle, and the building of socialism to pass off a retreat as an advance, or a concession made by the workers as a victory.

Here is the nub of the issue. The USSR has made any number of agreements with the imperialists. But the Leninist conduct in this matter has always been to make clear the objective situation and not try to motivate the agreement in such a way as to pass off a defeat as a victory, or cover up an ideological surrender of the very tenets of revolutionary Marxism. How did Lenin explain the most onerous agreement, the treaty between the Soviet Union and Germany signed at Brest-Litovsk, under which the new workers' government was forced to surrender so much territory in order to get out of the First World War? In his "Letter to American Workers," and also in Left-Wing Communism, Lenin condemned the treaty as harsh and annexationist. His scorn was also leveled at the British, French and American bourgeoisie, who attacked the USSR for making a separate peace with Germany, but who had earlier refused to support Lenin's proposal for a general peace without annexations or indemnities.

A compromise is admissible or inadmissible, said Lenin, depending on whether it is truthfully explained to the workers. He did not paint up the imperialists because they had agreed to the Brest-Litovsk Treaty but called them imperialist robbers, as they have always been and will so remain. This was necessary in the interests of not deceiving the workers and the mass of the people everywhere about the intentions of the USSR or of the imperialists.

Lenin also made it a point to show that the USSR, as a socialist state, exists in a system of states and as such it is forced to conduct orderly, conventional relations with other states, whether they be bourgeois, feudal, or whatever; in other words, it must be able to conduct ordinary business, even though it is faced with a hostile imperialist environment. But just as important, the USSR must continue to promote revolutionary communist propaganda, to be able to assist national liberation movements and support workers' struggles everywhere. That was the main purpose for setting up the Communist International. In so far as foreign relations went, the Soviet Union would conduct its state-to-state relations in a businesslike manner. If it was selling oil or buying grain, if it had reached a limited agreement with the imperialist powers on military affairs, such as the Rapallo Treaty in the 1920s or the 1989 agreement on chemical weapons, that was proper and appropriate as long as it was kept strictly on the level of state-to-state business.

If there were political implications, these would be expressed by the Party as separate from the government. The communist view of these negotiations, the propriety of the socialist approach to these matters, whether they conflicted with Marxist or working class principles, this was to be made clear by the Party and the international communist movement. The whole point was to clarify the relationship between the broad socialist interests of the working class and the oppressed masses, and the episodic, temporary, state-to-state relations of a socialist country with the imperialist world. At a disarmament conference, for example, or in any diplomatic endeavor, the Soviet representatives were there to conduct business. In the give and take of arriving at agreements, this did not imply ideological or political concessions involving the tenets of revolutionary Marxism, the nature of the working class, the promotion of the revolutionary aspirations of the masses--that was not part of state-to-state relationships.

When the USSR made an agreement with England in the early 1920s, Soviet support for the Chinese Communist movement was very correctly not a topic of discussion. The relations of the Soviet Communist Party to the Chinese Revolution were a matter between the parties and not an object of negotiation or even discussion between the British imperialist government and the revolutionary government of workers and peasants in the Soviet Union.

Certainly, the Soviet Union was interested in having peaceful relations with the imperialist world. However, this did not entail any equivocation, any subordination or surrender of the ideological or political premises of revolutionary internationalism, which was one of the objective characteristics of the Soviet state in its early years and was carried out by the Party. What the Party leadership was bound to do as a communist party was one thing; what the Soviet state was obligated to do, particularly in its period of isolation in the early days, might be something different. But there was never to be any blurring of the roles. Even Stalin for a long time was secretary of the Party without formally taking on the title of premier or president. It was only during wartime that he took on the title of marshal of the armed forces.

Unquestionably, then, the international interests of the Party as a working class organization, as a detachment of the worldwide proletariat sharing the same interests as and in harmony with the whole socialist movement, was, as far as possible, kept separate from the interests of the Soviet Union as a state within a system of states, as Lenin put it, from which it could extricate itself only by stages, depending upon the successful victories of socialism in other countries.

Of course, after many decades of deterioration in both the Party and the state, it became impossible to strictly adhere to this relationship and the two overlapped both in domestic and international affairs. Nevertheless, a certain distance was kept between them which, in the present era of negotiation between the USSR and the U.S., seems to have been entirely blurred if not altogether forgotten. Indeed, this has opened up an altogether new chapter in the relations between the USSR and the imperialist countries, in particular the U.S., and has called into question what the tenets of the Party stand for.

In the United States, the inauguration of President George Bush appears to have ushered in a new period of peaceful relations bearing a strong resemblance to the period of detente of the 1970s. And indeed, the new administration has two top foreign policy people recruited from among the associates of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger. Even before the confirmation of Secretary of State James Baker, Kissinger himself, with little press notice in the U.S., was dispatched to Moscow to brief Gorbachev and his aides on U.S.-USSR relations as seen by the Bush administration.

Certain conclusions can be drawn from this. Kissinger is not just an individual. He has been a representative of the Rockefeller empire in foreign relations. So many of its leading lights move in and out of government that the Rockefeller-dominated Council on Foreign Relations has been regarded as an alternate State Department.

For many decades, particularly during the election campaigns of Nixon and Reagan, there was no end of attacks on the Eastern or Rockefeller establishment. But once the elections were over, all the attacks stopped. During the Reagan administration, there was rarely any mention of domination by the Rockefeller group, or the Wall Streeters. In fact, many of them had offices in the White House, including investment banker Donald Regan himself.

This is something that should be taken into account, whether the change in administrations signals a change in policy or whether Bush merely continues the same foreign policy of more cooperative relations with the USSR which has prevailed since the mid-1980s. During both the Nixon and Reagan administrations, the U.S. and USSR were able to effectuate nuclear treaties. Besides the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (which became known as SALT I), ratified by the Senate on August 3, 1972, there was also the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty under Nixon and the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) treaty under Reagan.

Then, as now at the outset of the Bush administration, the question of reaching an accord on trade relations between the two countries to complement these arms agreements loomed very large, especially as it related to credit and loans. It is instructive to examine the period of detente during the Nixon administration in order to better understand these developments.

The fall of 1972 seemed particularly auspicious for achieving a significant step toward a full-scale accommodation with the USSR. For one thing, on October 3 Nixon and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko signed the final documents of the SALT I treaty. This seemed to set the stage for a complementary economic accord to round out relations between the two countries in a way that could properly be called a full-scale detente. This popular term, which had originated in France, passed into world literature as a synonym for easing tensions and normalizing diplomatic relations, if not widespread accommodation and cooperation.

For Nixon in particular the time was ripe. His prestige in the ruling class had soared, especially after his spectacular success in resuming relations with the People's Republic of China. The irony, as everyone knew, was that he had been among the most vociferous leaders in the anti-communist hysteria of the earlier decade. Now, however, Nixon had made a turnaround with his coup in China. The ruling capitalist establishment was ecstatic with his achievement. Even the most extreme rightwingers in the Republican Party applauded his diplomatic tour de force. The extreme rightwing opposition to diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China seemed to disintegrate overnight.

Nixon's diplomatic coup with China was all the more welcome in many circles of the capitalist establishment because it was widely perceived as an element in the struggle against the USSR. Playing the "China card," as it was called, was regarded by many as merely an anti-Soviet ploy and not as a positive step to bring about full recognition and reciprocity for People's China on the basis of equality, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It was seen this way especially because the question of Taiwan was left wide open to ambiguous interpretation, so that to this day Taiwan remains a separate entity, economically and politically dominated by the U.S.

However, it should also be noted that in his 1968 acceptance speech at the Republican Party convention, Nixon had said that if elected president he would "replace confrontation with negotiation" in regard to the USSR. This phrase was regarded as a mere election ploy and was viewed with skepticism and scorn, especially in the progressive and anti-war movements. Nevertheless, in October 1972 Nixon was in Moscow, together with Kissinger, putting the final touches on a trade agreement with the USSR which had been reached in principle in May of that year.

If the terms of this agreement had been executed between the U.S. and another capitalist country, it would scarcely merit more than a footnote in the economic history of the countries concerned. But there in Moscow, at a summit meeting between General Secretary Brezhnev and President Nixon, it signaled a far-reaching turn in relations. Some viewed it as a turning point in the Cold War. Others even saw it as ushering in giant economic deals between the two governments which would dwarf everything previously regarded as possible between them.

Thus, when the trade agreement was signed on October 18, 1972, there seemed no apparent reason why it should not soon become effective and operational. True, it would still need legislative acquiescence. However, not only did Nixon have the full support of his own administration, but there was eagerness on the part of the Chamber of Commerce and other elements of the capitalist establishment to move along in the field of trade and commerce with the USSR. It would seem there was no single significant constituency in the ruling class which could obstruct the execution of the treaty. Traditionally, the Democrats who were then in control of both houses of Congress were regarded as more liberal on the Soviet issue than the Republicans. Ordinarily that should make it easier to facilitate the passage of any necessary legislation.

However, while Kissinger and Nixon were in Moscow a significant obstacle was emerging. Both men seem to have taken it for granted that Congressional approval would be a certainty. They knew that the trade agreement would be opposed by a so-called Jewish lobby, which was concerned with the progress of Jewish emigration from the USSR, but it must have appeared to them that this was manageable and could easily be overcome.

The opposition took the form of a piece of legislation which had been introduced in both houses of Congress simultaneously, both versions containing virtually the same language. In the House it was sponsored by Charles A. Vanik (D-Ohio), and in the Senate by Henry Jackson (D-Wash.). Subsequently this legislation became an amendment to Title IV of the Trade Reform Act of 1974, known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

Representative Vanik was an altogether unknown congressman outside his own district in Ohio and wasn't known for playing a role in any significant legislation. It was otherwise with Senator Jackson. He had acquired a nationwide reputation as the most fervent supporter of the Israeli cause in relation to the Middle East and was one of the most prominent operators in the so-called Israeli lobby. "Senator Jackson," the Washington Post of June 7, 1974, was to say of him, "has shown himself to be in this matter [Jewish emigration] a man of great humanity as well as a political manager and legislative operator of rare skills. It is hard to recall another occasion when a single senator played such a sure and ample role in the shaping of an important aspect of the nation's foreign policy." Other capitalist newspapers were likewise laudatory of his role as a spokesman for the Israeli lobby and its interest in Jewish emigration from the USSR.

However, that was only one side of the senator. Jackson was also a chief sponsor of the B-1 bomber, the Trident submarine and virtually every other nuclear weapon system which the Pentagon was interested in. He was the moving force behind the effort to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for launching anti-ballistic missiles. He was also a friend of the oil and aerospace industries, particularly Amerada Hess and Gulf Oil. Most of all, he was known as "the Senator from Boeing."

What was the essence of the legislation which Vanik and Jackson had teamed up to push through Congress? It would prohibit the U.S. from granting "most favored nation" status to "any non-market economy" country that limited the right of emigration. The phrase "most favored nation" is a technical term used in trade legislation. What it really means is equal treatment in such matters as tariffs or the imposition of taxes on imported products. There could be no mistaking what "non-market economy" meant. The USSR was regarded as a non-market, that is, socialist, centralized economy. And it had prohibited the emigration of those who held "high academic degrees."

The amendment thus attached certain political conditions to the economic issue of trade with the USSR. The authors of the amendment could not but know in advance that it would be regarded by Nixon and Kissinger as an attempt to torpedo the trade agreement. Under the Nixon-Brezhnev trade agreement, the U.S. was required to annul any discriminatory trade restrictions against the USSR. This would mean a real breakthrough in Soviet-U.S. economic relations. It meant that the USSR would be treated equally, that is, on a par with all other countries trading with the U.S. No tariffs could be imposed on Soviet imports unless they were also imposed on other trading partners. If, for instance, the USSR were to sell agricultural tractors to the U.S., any tax or tariff imposed on the Soviet tractors would also have to be levied on tractors imported from West Germany, Japan or any other country selling tractors to the U.S.

Such an equal treatment clause, known as a most favored nation clause, is contained in dozens of trade agreements arrived at between capitalist countries in the normal course of business. Making this condition part of an economic agreement with the USSR, however, was quite exceptional, because U.S. imperialism had imposed a virtual ban on trade with the socialist countries, most of all with the USSR, ever since the outbreak of the Cold War. Lifting the ban made it completely plausible that a whole series of commercial deals between the U.S. and the USSR would follow.

This was reinforced by the fact that another agreement having to do with loans and the extension of credit was signed between the U.S. and the USSR in Moscow at the same time. In this second agreement, the USSR pledged, in consideration of the nullifying of the trade ban against it, to resume payment on the lend-lease loans extended by the U.S. during World War II. These payments had been suspended once the Cold War began. However, if the discriminatory clauses were not removed, the agreement would not enter into force and the Soviet Union would not have to repay the balance of the World War II lend-lease debt of $722 million. The Soviet Union agreed to repay $48 million by July 1975, but the remaining debt would be deferred until the discriminatory clauses were removed. Also, the USSR could exercise its option to cancel either or both of the agreements if the U.S. found itself unable to guarantee the equal treatment clause in the U.S.-USSR trade agreement.

At first, everything went well. Both an arms agreement and two trade agreements had been signed, sealed and delivered. For all intents and purposes, a giant step had been taken in the direction of detente. However, while Kissinger and Nixon were in Moscow effectuating the trade agreements, the forces of obstruction had taken on a menacing momentum in both houses of Congress. Contrary to the expectations of the Nixon administration and clearly against its wishes, the Jackson-Vanik forces had set themselves the goal of completely frustrating the trade negotiations. Indeed, such was the momentum that they seemed virtually unstoppable.

Before they even went to Moscow, both Kissinger and Nixon had asserted that attaching any such condition to the forthcoming trade agreement would be an "unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of the USSR." Nixon had said, "We would not welcome the intervention of other countries in our domestic affairs and we cannot expect them to be cooperative when we seek to intervene directly in theirs." Apparently the administration forces had assumed that the opposition in Congress to the Soviet trade agreement would be confined to the so-called Jewish or Israeli lobby, and that it could be easily placated by some indirect assurances from the USSR on Jewish emigration, leaving the agreement free to sail through both houses of Congress.

However, what was also overlooked or deliberately not paid attention to was that phrase in the Jackson-Vanik amendment directed against "non-market economies," a veiled allusion to the socialist character of the USSR. This phrase was intended to sharpen the antagonism over the sociological difference between capitalism and the socialist countries. Nevertheless, in order to gain broader support, the focus of the legislation and its public relations steamroller was on the aspect of Soviet emigration.

If anyone in the Nixon administration should have known the extent of the Israeli lobby, it was Kissinger. He had spent most of the period before going to Moscow with Nixon on his "shuttle diplomacy." All Washington was said to be taken with his supposed achievements in stabilizing the Middle East. Among his most vociferous cheerleaders were the Israeli lobby. How could there be such a turnaround?

Vanik introduced his resolution to the House (HR 10710) on December 11, 1972, and it passed by a staggering majority of 319 to 80. He could not have put together such a powerful coalition unless he had a great deal of undercover support. When Jackson attached his amendment onto the Senate's version of the trade bill, he claimed that he had over 70 co-sponsors. This was enough to override a veto, should Nixon embark upon that course.

How could such huge legislative majorities have coalesced since May 18, when the trade agreement was first agreed to in principle? Could the so-called Israeli lobby have marshaled such a powerful force without one of its most important supporters, Kissinger, being aware of it? Or was the so-called Israeli lobby merely the front-runner for a huge undercover effort which quickly jelled while the two sponsors of detente were negotiating in Moscow?

Not long after the Jackson amendment was passed, another even more crippling blow was struck at the U.S.-USSR trade treaty. Adlai Stevenson III introduced an amendment in the Senate restricting the U.S. Export-Import Bank from granting the Soviet Union loans greater than $300 million over a four-year period. On the surface and to the uninitiated in trade matters, this limitation might not seem that significant. However, while $300 million may be very useful for a small, undeveloped country, when dealing with the USSR such a sum was "peanuts," as it was properly characterized by Kissinger. Soviet trade is normally reckoned in tens of billions, not in millions.

Moreover, there's a difference between loans made to the USSR by the giant commercial banks or other nongovernmental institutions and those made by the U.S. government. Not only do loans made by the Export-Import Bank carry a lower interest rate, but it signifies that the loans are made in compliance with the "objectives of U.S. foreign policy." The granting of these loans to the USSR would, for congressional purposes, mean that they were in accord with broad U.S. foreign policy objectives. For Congress to put a limit on them would mean legislative disapproval of detente. That was the nub of the issue.

Stevenson's avowed interest in tacking on this destructive amendment was of course explained as "humanitarian concerns about Jewish emigration." But again, was Jewish emigration the real issue? Or was it detente?

On December 10, 1973, the Wall Street Journal, which, like the Washington Post, the New York Times and others, had at that time taken a more or less benevolent attitude toward detente, carried a significant editorial entitled, "The Trade Bill and Detente."

"While we have our own suspicions about the Soviets," it read, "we do not think that the U.S. ought to take the initiative in torpedoing detente with this sort of unlimited demand [concerning emigration]. If a break must come, let it come over SALT or the Middle East or something that bears on the security of the U.S. . . . The world risks stumbling even more, though, if the slim thread that holds together U.S.-Soviet detente is snapped by a gratuitous act of the American Congress."

The Journal in this editorial let the cat out of the bag. The real issue was detente, not Jewish emigration. The latter was merely a cover for far more formidable currents which had been driven beneath the surface during the stormy 1960s and early 1970s but were still just as powerful--if not more so.

What then killed detente? Was it the new setback in the Middle East as a result of the October 1973 war? Or the continuing Vietnam war? Was there a reconsideration in the upper circles of the military? Or was it fear of the "non-market economies" that was the underlying motor force in scuttling trade negotiations and along with them detente?

Detente did not just disintegrate. It was not killed merely by a "gratuitous" act of Congress, as the Wall Street Journal put it. It was the target of an organized and coordinated attack by the basic elements of capitalist industry, finance and the military-industrial infrastructure.

With the scuttling by Congress of the Soviet-U.S. trade treaty of 1972 came the realization that detente as a current phase of U.S. diplomatic and economic collaboration was at an end. The capitalist press, which on the whole had been surprisingly in favor of the trade treaty as a component element of detente, seemed jarred by the huge legislative opposition which the treaty had provoked.

How could Kissinger and Nixon, the two principal architects of detente, have gone so far in their pursuit of it as to have consummated both the SALT I treaty and the complementary trade treaty, only to be suddenly humiliated by a legislative juggernaut? Either of them with their political experience and insider information in Washington should have detected it long before setting out for Moscow. Only one explanation is plausible under these circumstances. There was a reconsideration in the higher circles of the capitalist establishment of how valuable to the fortunes of imperialism was the entire edifice of detente.

The trade treaty in particular, it can be said with absolute certainty, did not provoke opposition from any of the so-called economic interest groups in the bourgeoisie. No hidden, narrow grouping was pulling the whole bourgeoisie behind it in defense of a special economic advantage to be gained by the torpedoing of detente. Quite the contrary. At first most of the big business groups were all for it, and the rest were inarticulate or disinterested. The trade treaty succumbed not to any particular economic interest but to a politically motivated attack on detente.

Nor can it be said that the so-called Jewish or Israeli lobby was really the motor force behind it. Not at all. The lobby was merely the front runner, the front face for the gathering momentum of opposition in the bourgeoisie to detente.

A last-ditch effort was made by Kissinger and Nixon to save the treaty when they invited Senators Jacob Javits (R-NY) and Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) to the White House along with Henry Jackson--the three considered most concerned with Jewish emigration. Kissinger had a scheme to get the USSR to agree to the so-called free emigration clause in the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Kissinger would send a series of letters to Jackson affirming that the USSR had agreed to the free emigration clause, as long as it was not put in legislative form. A return letter by Jackson would restate the terms of the emigration clause in detail and another letter by Kissinger and Nixon would confirm the content of the letters. The idea was that the letters would not be published and that the correspondence itself would guarantee what was called for in the legislation. Of course, all this was to be kept absolutely secret. But the correspondence was leaked to the press. Shortly thereafter the USSR, which might not have agreed to this convoluted formula of diplomacy, angrily denied that it had agreed to anything of the sort.

The truth of the matter was that there had been a reconsideration of the basic issue involved. Was an accommodation with the USSR, especially one that involved the resumption of large-scale trade and commerce, really what the capitalist establishment wanted? Was it really in the interest of expanding monopoly capitalism to promote such a course of development? Would not such a course really be more beneficial to the growth and development of the socialist economy? That was the rock-bottom issue being reconsidered. The legislative opposition was really an expression of the overriding class issue, that was manifesting itself in this peculiar political sleight-of-hand. In effect, it was a reflection of the inherent class incompatibility of the two systems.

One need only be reminded that the high prestige which Kissinger had attained in the summits of the bourgeois establishment with his 1971-72 shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East now lay in ruins since the mass Arab resistance had forced an unprecedented oil embargo. And in the Far East a military catastrophe of unprecedented proportions was looming as a result of the U.S. debacle in Vietnam.

It was not Watergate that undermined detente, as is sometimes assumed. That would be putting the cart before the horse. Watergate was the effect of the abandonment of detente, not the cause of it, and played an immense role in the resignation of Nixon. There were of course other significant domestic issues involved, such as the internal spy grouping that Nixon organized that was a near-fascist cabal. But this and Watergate are really piddling, especially compared to the recent Iran-contra affair, where Reagan got off scot-free on an issue which involved truly significant foreign policy differences within the ruling class.

There was little outcry and no press offensive over the shooting down of the treaty. It was as though there had been a fairly unanimous understanding to let detente die. Only much later, on January 27, 1975, Time magazine tried to discuss it in a serious way and hold out some hope, not for the treaty, but for detente as a whole. It was "a serious but not fatal blow to detente," remarked a lead editorial in the magazine. Finally, Gerald Ford, early in the 1976 election campaign, gave the coup de grace with his blunt campaign pledge that he would "no longer use the term detente."

How little this was understood by Soviet dissident proponents of detente was demonstrated by an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year of 1983 by Zhores A. and Roy A. Medvedev. The failure of detente, according to these authors, "was more the result of errors and miscalculations by the administrations of U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Just when Soviet international policy was predictable and consistent, U.S. policy was unstable." 1

This is precisely the kind of bourgeois historiography that confuses rather than sheds light on the problem. Marxism does not underestimate the role of the individual leader or his or her impact on political policies. What Marxism does is to explain the underlying material forces which dictate these policies. It unravels the deeper motivating factors and objective dynamics from which these policies flow.

Neither the errors nor incorrect policies of Ford, Carter, Nixon or other individual leaders adequately explain why the entire epoch that followed the jettisoning of the 1972 trade treaty was characterized by the abandonment of detente. What the Medvedevs ignore is imperialism's reaction to such world historic objective developments as the victories in Southeast Asia and the Arab struggle in the Middle East, the stabilizing of the Cuban revolution and Cuba's ability to extend support to the struggle in southern Africa, the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Brazilian peasant struggles, the overthrow of Portuguese fascism, the liberation of its African colonies and many other uprisings around the world.

Following the emerging revolutionary struggles among the oppressed peoples, and seeing its own impending defeat in Vietnam, U.S. imperialism dug in its heels and began a period of the most stupendous, utterly unprecedented military expenditures and aggressiveness. This precluded any kind of detente with the USSR, in spite of the fact, as the Medvedevs say, that Soviet international policy was predictable and consistent and indeed the Brezhnev administration went out of its way to promote its peace policy with energy and vigor.

The SALT II treaty that was signed in June 1979 in Vienna was never ratified by the U.S. Congress. Although it had a strong majority, it failed to get the two-thirds necessary in the Senate. The forces of unbridled militarism and blatant reaction demonstrated that, even when they had a small minority in the legislature, they could obstruct and indeed bulldoze the majority into abandoning a significant nuclear treaty, in the same way that they obstructed the U.S.-Soviet trade treaty of 1972.


1. Zhores A. Medvedev and Roy A. Medvedev, "The Russian Giant: 60 Years after Formation of the Soviet Union," Encyclopedia Britannica, 1983 Book of the Year (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1983), p. 19.

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