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Thoughts on Negotiating With Russia

IT MAY BE unrealistic to expect that the Communist powers could explicitly admit that their past record over observing agreements has been bad. In the present international system few governments would be willing to incur the loss of face involved in such an admission. It would, however, be possible for the Communist powers (if they are sincere in wanting negotiations to reduce world tensions) to admit implicitly that there is a lack of trust in the value of promises of future performance and to work for agreements which would go as far as possible in providing guarantees for performance. This would not involve any particular loss of face as the guarantees would apply equally to both sides. In fact, an important obstacle in negotiations has been the unwillingness of the Communist powers to accept agreements containing any effective system of guarantees that they would be observed. The negotiations on disarmament are an obvious illustration. In this bargaining a considerable proportion of Soviet proposals has been for schemes depending entirely on mutual trust whereas the non-Communist powers have repeatedly stressed the importance of guarantees of performance by an adequate inspection system.

For years the Soviet Government persisted in proposals for a general reduction of one-third in the numbers in the armed forces of the major powers without providing any machinery for establishing the actual size of these armed forces, though even from internal evidence it is clear that some of the statements of the Soviet Government about the size of its armed forces must have been untrue. Some years ago the Soviet Government replied to allegations that the Soviet Union was maintaining far larger armed forces than any of the non-Communist powers by claiming that the total number was only 2.5 million. Since then the Soviet authorities have announced two reductions in the size of the armed forces of 650,000 and 1.2 million which, subtracted from 2.5 million, leaves only 650,000. This is not only a very improbably small figure but also inconsistent with other statements by the Soviet authorities about their willingness to consider proposals under which the armed forces of both the Soviet Union and the United States would be limited to 1.5 million men.

During the last few years the Soviet Government has moved some way toward accepting the need for an inspection system to obtain the observance of any agreement on disarmament or the limitation of atomic tests. But a large part of the gap between Communist and non-Communist proposals is still that Communist proposals imply a considerable reliance on mutual trust while non-Communist proposals emphasize machinery for inspection and procedures to deal with possible breaches of agreement. There is, of course, a real problem that effective inspection measures would weaken the relative position of the Communist powers by destroying the advantage they enjoy at present from the greater degree of secrecy with which they operate. But this should not be a very serious obstacle to agreement if it were introduced explicitly as a factor in the bargaining. What is likely to make agreement impossible is a refusal to admit that any acceptable scheme must go as far as possible in providing for an effective machinery for inspection and an effective procedure for dealing with breaches of the agreement

There seem to be still greater difficulties in the way of negotiations which are not simply bargaining but which are an attempt to reach agreement about the best way to attain some common objective. If such negotiations are to succeed, there must be some measure of agreement about the objectives to be attained and about the standards by which various possible means of attaining these objectives should be judged. These conditions may be satisfied when the common objective is basically technical, such as cooperation in research for the International Geophysical Year. It is doubtful whether they exist over political questions.

It is true that some negotiations in recent years have done something to settle political questions. The Berlin blockade was finally lifted, an armistice was finally reached in Korea, and the Geneva Conference produced some sort of settlement in Indo-China. However, all these agreements were bargains involving simultaneous or nearly simultaneous performance. Both sides wanted to withdraw from an uncomfortable or dangerous position but to do so in a way which did not give too much advantage to the other side. The negotiations were successful insofar as they struck a bargain about conditions for mutual withdrawal. Insofar as they tried to reach agreement about how to settle the underlying issues they were a complete failure.

Communists often cite the period of inter-allied conferences from 1941 to 1945 as evidence that Communist and non-Communist powers can reach agreements for cooperation. However, subsequent developments seem to show that a large part of the agreement which seemed to have been reached at these conferences was simply misunderstanding. As soon as questions of implementation arose it became clear that the meaning attached to the agreements by the Communist powers was quite different     from the meaning attached to them by the non-Communist powers.


The main uncertainty about the possibility of finding common objectives comes from Communist statements which seem to imply that Communists give an absolute priority to the objective of socialism, and define socialism in terms of Communist power. For example, an article on "Independent Thinking" in the Chinese periodical Hsueh Hsi of October 3, 1957, said, "We should say that like democracy, independent thinking is a means and the building of socialism is an end." An article on "Party Leadership in Journalism" in the Peking Jen Min Jih Pao of January 4, 1958, began by saying, "Socialism can be built only under the leadership of the Party. There will be no socialism without Party leadership."

The statement that democracy is only a means toward the building of socialism seems to show that the Communist objective is not limited by whether or not people want it. A great many non-Communists would say that the people of any country have the right to try any social system they like, if democratic procedures show that they really want to try it. They would also say that the people of any country have the right to resist any attempt to impose the Communist form of socialism if they do not like it.

So long as Communists give an absolute priority to the building of socialism, as they define it, any other objective they accept must always be limited by the implicit qualification "insofar as this can be realized without hindrance to the building of socialism," and this qualification must raise doubts about how far the Communists really accept the other objective.

On a common sense view, an obvious common objective for Communists and non-Communists is the maintenance of peace, but Communist statements never face the contingency that there may b e a conflict between t h e maintenance of peace and the building of socialism. How far would Communists be prepared to cooperate with non-Communists in the maintenance of peace if this cooperation involved some restriction on the expansion or consolidation of the Communist form of socialism? Until Communists have committed themselves on this question, which their statements so far have always evaded, the extent of possible Cooperation must remain doubtful.


More serious doubts about the possibility of negotiations producing cooperation arise from the difference be- tween Communist and non-Communist standards of judgment. One fundamental question which defenders of the Communist position need to answer is this: How can Communists and non-Communists agree if all thinking has a class character! Assertions that all thinking has a class character are very frequent in Communist publications of the more theoretical kind. It is argued that the class standpoint of an observer is a fundamental factor in determining his judgment about any situation (or at least about any situation with a political content), that it is impossible for anyone to form an objective judgment which abstracts from his class standpoint. Communists would also claim that the Communist and non-Communist representatives in negotiations will normally have different class standpoints. If these premises are granted how can Communist and non-Communist representatives possibly agree about anything?

The problem is raised in a slightly different form by Communist statements which claim that "truth is that which serves the interests of the masses." This definition is never combined with an attempt to answer the question. By what standards can it be determined what is or is not in the interests of the masses? On the contrary it is usually clear from the context that it is combined with the claim that the Communist Party represents the interests of the masses, which makes this definition of truth equivalent to saying that truth is what is asserted by the Communist Party. It would follow from this that the only cases in which negotiation can produce agreement between Communists and non-Communists is one in which the non-Communists end by accepting the Communist position.

If differing views are entirely determined by some factor, such as class standpoint, which is not changeable by discussion, then it is futile to hope that a process of discussion can do anything to produce agreement. Insofar as one party to a dispute consistently maintains a position which implies that their judgment of the dispute cannot be changed by a rational argument or the production of evidence, the dispute becomes one of which no agreed solution is possible. The most that can be hoped for under these conditions is some limited bargain on particular points whose terms will depend on the balance of bargaining strength.


All this may seem rather abstract and philosophical but it has very important practical implications. One good illustration was the negotiations for an armistice in Korea which were protracted for two years by the dispute over the repatriation of prisoners of war. The dispute involved a fairly simple and definite question of fact, whether or not certain prisoners wanted to be repatriated. And this question was unusual among political questions because it could be settled with a high degree of certainty by an experimental procedure, by allowing the prisoners to express their wishes under conditions which guaranteed that their choice was made with freedom from pressure and on the basis of adequate information. There was room for argument about the exact form of experimental procedure which could best provide these conditions but discussion on this point played a very small part in delaying agreement.

For a long time the Communists asserted that all expressions of desire to refuse repatriation were made un- der duress but refused to allow the truth or falsity of this assertion to be tested by any sort of experimental procedure. Admittedly, the Communists finally accepted the experimental procedure of the Indian proposals but even then they did their best to make it unworkable by taking advantage of the failure to specify any time limit on the period allowed for explanation before prisoners made their choice.

The Communist attitude on this question seemed to show that they were acting consistently in terms of the principle that truth is what is asserted by the Communist Party and refused to allow this definition of truth to be tested by any scientific objective standards. By contrast the attitude of the United Nations side was based on scientific principles. The assertion that many prisoners wished to refuse repatriation was presented as a reason- able deduction from the evidence already available and not as an unchallengeable certainty. It was accompanied by the offer to allow the issue of fact to be tested by any scientific experimental procedure which could provide really clear evidence, which implied a willingness to modify the original view of the United Nations side if new evidence showed it to be incorrect.

The Communist position on Hungary seems to be another clear illustration. This was summarized in a form short enough to be quoted here in an article by Chen Chih in Hsueh Hsi of November 3, 1957, entitled "The Attitude Toward the Soviet Union Is the Attitude Toward Revolution":

The so-called "interference with internal affairs" [by the Soviet Union in Hungary] referred to by the rightists is a thorough bourgeois lie. Under this statement they are selling the bourgeois reactionary, hypocritical conception of nationalism. When the insurrection created by the imperialists and bourgeois counter- revolutionaries reached the stage at which it threatened the socialist cause of Hungary, threatened the basic interests of the working people of Hungary, and when the Hungarian Workers' and Peasants' Revolutionary Government officially applied to the Soviet Union for armed assistance, the only correct stand that the Soviet proletariat could adopt was resolutely to support and help the Hungarian working people to repulse the attack of the counter-revolution, to preserve the fruits of the revolution of the Hungarian working class, so that the independence and sovereignty of the socialist state of Hungary would escape the oppression of the imperialists. The Soviet Union acted accordingly, and this once more proves the powerful united strength of the international socialist camp headed by the Soviet Union, and inflicted on the imperialists a deserved lesson.

The obvious criticism of this statement is that its main assertions of fact are directly contrary to the weight of the     evidence. The very great majority of observers on the spot (including the correspondent of the London Daily Worker) agreed in reporting that the insurrection had general support from the "Hungarian working people' and that it was the working-class districts of Budapest which were most determined in resistance to the Soviet forces; that the part played in the insurrection by supporters of the pre-Communist regime or people with foreign connections was very small; and that the proclaimed aims of the insurrection were not opposed to socialism but only to the Communist form of socialism. It is also clear that the request for Soviet armed intervention was not an "official" request from the legitimate Hungarian Government of Prime Minister Nagy but came from a rival regime set up by Janos Kadar who was only one of the ministers in the official government. (It is interesting that the accounts given in the Peking press during the first days of the insurrection were markedly different from the version summarized in this later statement and that a sudden change in the line taken by the Chinese press occurred immediately after a visit of the Soviet Ambassador to Chou En-lai.)

It is also clear that the Communists are not prepared to allow their factual assertions to be subject to any sort of test. The communique issued by Khrushchev and Kadar on April 9, 1958, declared that a discussion of the affairs of Communist-ruled countries at an international conference would be "incompatible with the principles of the United Nations charter and a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states." And that, ''The USSR and Hungary resolutely state that the question of the state structure of the people's democracies as of any other sovereign state cannot be a subject for discussion at an international conference since it has long been decided upon by the people of these countries who have firmly and finally taken the road of building socialism."

But there is considerable evidence that the regimes of many Communist-ruled states were not "decided upon by the peoples of these countries" but were imposed by Soviet military intervention; and that they operate under a degree of Soviet control which makes their independent sovereignty largely formal. Thus the Khrushchev-Kadar Communique is, in effect, a demand that any top-level negotiations should accept without question the Communist version of the facts on one of the most important issues causing international tensions in which it is precisely the facts which are a matter of dispute.

The position taken in this Khrushchev-Kadar communique is, therefore, a dear practical illustration of the theoretical point made earlier, that the Communist theories about the nature of truth lead Communists to take positions which make it impossible for any negotiations to reach agreement except through non-Communists accepting the Communist view.


Is there then nothing to be gained by negotiating with the Russians? On the contrary. Although it is true that Communists have often been able to derive a propaganda advantage from contacts with non-Communists, this has been the result of non-Communist ineptitude rather than of any special cogency in the Communist case or exceptional Communist ability in debate. In official contacts there has often been no attempt at competition. In many cases the Communist representatives have dearly planned their strategy in terms of producing an effect on public opinion. The non-Communist representatives may have been well prepared for the traditional type of diplomatic negotiations but it has seemed that their whole tradition and training had made them reluctant to think in terms of an appeal to public opinion. They have obviously felt a strong sense of grievance that the Communists were not "playing the game" in terms of the conventions of traditional diplomacy, but they have not been willing to react by competing in a different type of game. The whole set of concepts and strategies which might be summed up as psychological warfare has been despised as somewhat disreputable, the sort of activity which a respectable diplomatist should avoid as far as possible. Under these conditions it is not surprising that the Communists should often have been able to score successes in propaganda. The contest has been one in which whole-hearted professionals have been opposed by half-hearted amateurs. Communist success might have been much greater if the general common sense of the masses had not limited the extent to which efforts in propaganda could win support for a rationally weak case. Here again the remedy for the situation is not to cut off contacts but to use them more effectively.

The non-Communist powers would have nothing to fear from contacts with the Communist powers, either official or unofficial, if they were prepared to devote to psychological warfare a small fraction of the mental and economic resources they have been ready to expand on military preparations.

On the Communist side one can find numerous official statements with claims of willingness to cooperate in discussion and negotiation, but there is a wide discrepancy between these claims and the actual record of Communist behavior. A hypothesis which would explain the record of actual behavior is that the Communists try to manipulate the actual situation to fit in with their theoretical model of the world. According to orthodox Communist theory the masses in all countries should be naturally sympathetic to Communist views and desirous of cooperating for peace on Communist terms though they may have been confused by anti-Communist propaganda. On the other hand, the ruling classes in non-Communist countries have a class standpoint which makes them inherently aggressive and opposed to peaceful cooperation, though they may be forced to act against their natural inclinations by mass pressure. In terms of this Marxist-Leninist model of the world. Communist behavior is fairly consistent. Official representatives of capitalist governments cannot be sincerely in favor of cooperation to obtain peaceful coexistence; if they profess themselves in favor of cooperation for peace, this is simply to appease pressure from the masses in their own countries.

Given this assumption it is quite reasonable to con-duct official negotiations with a great emphasis on publicity. Ex hypothesi, the representatives of capitalist powers do not really want peace and the more their in- sincerity can be exposed the greater the chance that the peace-loving masses will finally come to realize that peace can only be secure when they have replaced their inherently aggressive capitalist regime by an inherently peaceful socialist one. This long-term consideration is reinforced by the short-term one that the representatives of capitalist powers will only make agreements favorable to peace under mass pressure so that publicity designed to maintain mass pressure will increase the chance of negotiations reaching an agreement.

At the unofficial level the type of discussion which would be useful for peace would be with people representative of informed non-Communist opinion and able to make a dear statement of the non-Communist case. In fact, this is just the type ofdiscussion which Communists tend to avoid. There is a very marked preference for confining discussion of international issues to people from non-Communist countries who are already sympathetic to Communism or who know comparatively little about the subject. A good illustration of this was provided by two episodes in China. At the time of the Pek- ing Peace Conference in 1952 members of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party were pre- pared to spend whole nights in discussion with dele- ijates from non-Communist countries who were people of very little influence, but who were either sympathetic to Communism or lacking in any expert knowledge of international affairs. The visit of the British Labour Party delegation to China in 1954 offered the Chinese Communist leaders their first opportunity for unofficial discussions with representatives of one of the leading political parties in an important non-Communist country, some of whom had been members of the government and were likely to be so again in the future. But during the visit of 17 days only two meetings were devoted to the discussion of international issues, and there seemed to be no interest from the Chinese side in continuing discussion although several important and interesting questions had been raised. Other instances fit into the same general pattern.

My own experience has been that the normal Communist response to serious questions is evasion. In 1955, I wrote to the World Council of Peace asking them to explain why they refused to comment on East German rearmament while denunciations of West German re- armament played a large part in their publicity. This produced a very evasive and disingenuous reply, and when I wrote again indicating the point at which their explanation was obviously unsatisfactory I received no further answer.

When in China in 1954, I complained to the New China News Agency about their very misleading reports of Australian opinion. After a delay of two weeks a letter in reply was given me on the day 1 left China, but the reply showed a complete misunderstanding of my criticism. (It argued that the particular facts reported were correct whereas my criticism was that these particular facts were an extremely biased sample.) When I wrote again putting my criticism more dearly my letters remained unanswered.

On the same visit to China, I showed the manuscript of my book China and the Cold War to several people in the Chinese Communist Party and invited comments and criticism, and I suggested that if someone in the Chinese Communist organization would write a review, I would include it as a final section in the book. In fact no one was willing to discuss the manuscript either in conversation or in writing.

An earlier correspondence was started by a Communist sympathizer in China, Rowi Alley, but he also refused to continue the correspondence after I had stated the non-Communist case over the Korean War and other issues.

Other people's experiences point to the same conclusion. Some good illustrations have been provided by the cases in which people willing and able to state the non- Communist case have attended Communist-sponsored conferences. There has very seldom been a reasoned statement of the non-Communist case followed by a reasoned Communist reply. On the contrary the normal procedure of the Communist organizers of such conferences has been to find ways of preventing discussion, by putting a non-Communist speaker as the last item on the agenda or by using various strategems to prevent non-Communist delegates from expressing their views at all.

at all.

This article originally ran in the August 18, 1958 issue of the magazine.