“The Russian-Communist Drive for Power,” by John C. Bennett
November 25, 1946
The division in American public opinion represented by the conflict between Wallace and Byrnes will do the greatest damage if it drives both sides to positions prepared, in the one case, by uncritical fellow-travelers and, in the other case, by those who for years have made a speciality of hatred of Russia and Communism. Conflict between these two extremes will cause grave distortions in American foreign policy and it will give great emphasis to false issues in our domestic politics. So far the Byrnes policy has, on the whole, preserved a wise balance and the attack upon it by Wallace has caused great confusion. But it would be disastrous if, in the course of political controversy, that balance should be lost and if the truth in Wallace’s warning about the need of disarming Russian suspicions and fears should be forgotten by our government.
The resistance to Russian expansion in Europe is right. The spectacle of American progressives supporting Wallace in opposing that resistance brings dismay to most European democrats. It is an astonishing fact that so many people, who in their hearts truly loathed ruthless totalitarian methods under Fascist auspices, are now quite complacent about them when they are used under Russian or Communist auspices. This is not to say, that Communism and Fascism are the same in ultimate purpose, or that we are necessarily faced with the same degree of aggressiveness in the Russian-Communist drive for power, that we were in the case of the Nazis. There was a kind of madness about the Nazis that was different from the cold realism of the Russian rulers and it may be easier for the latter to recognize limits as a result of external resistance, than it would have been for the Nazis to do so. But these limits must be there! To establish them will require the moral and material strength of America and Britain and it will require the presence in western and middle Europe of healthy democratic forces, especially in Germany. This means in practice, the support of Social Democratic parties and other leftist democratic movements that provide a workable economic alternative to Communism.
Opposition to Communism, while necessary, has its own moral difficulties and dangers. It may lead to the strengthening of reactionary interests, both feudal and capitalistic. At present the power of America is often felt to be a danger to the freedom of Europe. The American in Europe hears thoughtful people, who are not Communists, say, that they fear American capitalism more than they fear Russian Communism. They have in mind the power of particular American corporations; the financial pressure of the American government in making loans; the evidence that American influence is used to discourage European Socialism; and some of them have a vaguer fear of the vulgarization of Europe through forced importation of what they take to be American culture; the culture of the movies; and the culture embodied in the behavior of many American soldiers since the armistice. Moreover, the influence of the Anglo-Saxon powers in Greece or Spain does not give confidence, that the alternatives to Russian influence have much hope in them. Communism still appeals to the idealism of youth in many lands and, so far, Western democracy has been too aimless, or negative, or too closely linked with the abuses of Western capitalism to make any such appeal. These ambiguities make difficult the task of preserving central and western Europe from Communism, because they mean that we ourselves, and the impact of our own nation upon Europe, need to be purged in the process, but they do not make this resistance to Communism less imperative.
Along with resistance to the Russian-Communist drive for power must go a strong, continuous, and resourceful effort to disarm Russian fear that we intend to attack Russia and to destroy Communism in Russia in the end. The writer has talked with two very cosmopolitan and intelligent Russians, who are not Communists and who are not personally hostile to America or Britain, but who sincerely believe that America and Britain intend to destroy Russia, if they can do so. The fact that many Russians, both inside and outside of Russia, believe this, is a fact of the greatest importance, even though the belief is based upon illusions. Here much that Mr. Wallace has said in his letter to the President and in his Madison Square Garden speech is true, even though it was mixed with irresponsible statements about Britain and about American atomic policy. The Federal Council of Churches has taken the right line in calling for the abandonment of bases that seem to be a threat to Russia. Fear is one factor in the Russian drive for power, and though fear many produce an aggressiveness that is to all appearances the same as the aggressiveness that is controlled by a consciousness of strength, there is a better chance that it may be modified by what we do. It is as important as ever for Americans to see all that they do as it appears to the Russians.
Those who emphasize the need of removing the causes of Russian fear would be more convincing, if they avoided being drawn into the orbit of the uncritical supporters of Russian policy, and if they showed understanding of the problem created by the Russian-Communist drive for power, by the extension of the area of totalitarian rule in the world.
John Coleman Bennett was a co-founder of Christianity and Crisis with Reinhold Niebuhr and later served as the president of Union Theological Seminary from 1963 to 1970. His books include Christian Ethics and Social Policy, Christians and the State, and Foreign Policy in Christian Perspective.
1 See: Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945–1947 (W.W. Norton, 2018): 20-21.