Will Russia Share in Reconstruction?

In answering the question of Russia’s part in postwar reconstruction, we must first of all understand that it will be impossible, after this war, to exclude Russia from participation in world affairs, as the Allies vainly tried to do after World War I. In 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, the Allies were so fearful of communism that they tried literally to quarantine Russia by isolating her from the rest of the world. One of the measures taken for this purpose was the encouragement given to a bordering belt of “buffer states”—Poland, the Baltic countries, Czechoslovakia, and an enlarged Romania. These were to serve as what the French call a cordon sanitaire to prevent both the spread of communism to the west and German expansion to the east.

Today the world recognizes that the Soviet Union is not only potentially but actually a great power and that it is bound to play an important part in postwar reconstruction. Soviet leaders have consistently emphasized the need of reorganizing economic and social conditions to improve the lot of the “common man.” They have, in certain measure, succeeded in achieving this in the Soviet Union. This accomplishment will give weight to their opinion in the negotiations that will follow the war. For it becomes increasingly clear that the peace negotiations will be concerned not merely with political boundaries or even with the problems of markets, raw materials, and colonies. The Four Freedoms are concerned above all, with the task of improving human welfare, which has so far been too often the forgotten quantity in international relations.

Many people in the West, however, still feel distrustful of the Russians. Here, again, we must look at the situation not only from the point of view of Britain and the United States, but also from the point of view of the USSR. It is true that Russia is fighting primarily to protect her own territory from German conquest and not to save other countries. Yet it must be admitted that Britain and the United States, too, entered this war not primarily to save Russia, but like Russia, to protect their own territories and interests. They will be equally concerned with these problems when making the peace. In other words, the Russians are not necessarily more selfish than the British or Americans.

It will be just as much to the interest of Russia, as to that of Britain, the United States, and other countries to build a world order which will assure all of us a decent standard of living and a measure of security from poverty and war. Such a world order may be especially important to Russia, which must recover from great losses of men and materials while continuing a policy of “building socialism” at home. To Russia also, after this latest and greatest invasion, frontiers and the policies of neighboring states will be more closely related to national security than are the island outposts of the Atlantic and Pacific to the United States.

Mutual adjustments

Critics of Russia, however, contend that when the war is over it may not prove to the interest of Moscow to assure peace and security for countries which have not, by that time, adopted a Soviet system. They believe that the Kremlin will take advantage of the disorganization and despair left in the wake of war to agitate for the spread of the Soviet system throughout the world.

This possibility cannot be flatly ruled out. We must bear in mind, however, that, the economic and social systems of Western countries—not only Germany, but also Britain and the United States—have also been profoundly altered. And the alteration is not a result of Communist propaganda, but of the need of consolidating national resources for the purpose of waging a “total” war. It may well be that when the war ends, economic and social conditions in Western countries may have changed more than could possibly have been foreseen in 1939.

Meanwhile, we must remember that the Soviet system itself is not standing still. Russia, too, has been profoundly affected by the war. To meet the manifold emergencies created by the German invasion, the Soviet government has had to place more power and responsibility in the hands of millions of civilians. World War I marked a violent transition in Russia from the czarist regime to the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It is within the bounds of possibility that World War II may bring about an equally fundamental, if nonviolent, transition from this dictatorship to a political system much closer to that of the Western countries than could have been foreseen in 1939.