The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Bullitt) to the Secretary of State

No. 1537

Sir: I have the honor to submit my views as to the policies the United States should follow with respect to the Soviet Union and Communism. I apologize for the length of my observations.

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Today Stalin considers it sound strategy to support democratic forms of government in countries in which communism is still weak; but the meaning of that support was displayed by Dimitrov at the Comintern Congress in August, 1935, when he pointed out that at the moment the cause of communism could be promoted best by use of the tactics of the Trojan horse and warned his communist comrades that they were not good communists if they felt that it was indecent or unduly hypocritical to become the collaborators and pretended friends of democrats in order the better eventually to lead those democrats to the firing squad.

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The problem of relations with the Government of the Soviet Union is, therefore, a subordinate part of the problem presented by communism as a militant faith determined to produce world revolution and the “liquidation”, (that is to say, murder), of all non-believers.

There is no doubt whatsoever that all orthodox communist parties in all countries, including the United States, believe in mass murder. Moreover, the loyalty of a believing communist is not to the nation of which he is technically a citizen but to his faith and to the Caliph of that faith. To such men the most traitorous betrayals are the highest virtues.

In the history of the human race many nations have had to deal with citizens whose loyalty lay beyond the boundaries of their native land. To deal with such men by means of secret police and firing squads is traditional. But to deal with them while preserving the liberties which have been gained so painfully by western peoples since the Middle Ages is extraordinarily difficult. To adopt the methods of the Nazis is to sacrifice the freedom from fear of the State which is among the most precious conquests of civilization, and to slay our heritage in attempting to defend it.

Yet it must be recognized that communists are agents of a foreign power whose aim is not only to destroy the institutions and liberties of our country, but also to kill millions of Americans. Our relations with the Soviet Union, therefore, involve questions of domestic policy which can not be answered except on the basis of a careful estimate of the strength of world communism and the reality or unreality of its threat to our liberties and lives.

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Moreover, the time is not distant when the Soviet Union will become a dangerous factor in the field of international trade. The Soviet Government has not the slightest intention of abandoning its monopoly of foreign trade. It is attempting to make itself as self-sufficient as possible and it will use its monopoly of trade ruthlessly to undersell and injure its enemies and to assist its friends. It will not, in good faith, enter into any international agreements which have as their object improvement of the general economic condition of the world. It will, on the contrary, try to produce as much chaos as possible in the economies of capitalist countries in the hope that misery may beget communist revolution.

The standard of living in the Soviet Union is still extraordinarily low, lower perhaps than that of any European country, including the Balkans. Nevertheless, the townsfolk of the Soviet Union have today a sense of well-being. They have suffered so horribly since 1914 from war, revolution, civil war, and famine that to have enough bread to eat, as they have today, seems almost a miracle. Moreover, in each of [Page 293] the past three years, the quantity and variety of their food has increased and many varieties of merchandise which have been missing from Russia for years are now making their appearance in the shops.

The condition of the peasants has been but little improved; indeed, physically it seems to be worse than their condition in 1914. There are, of course, certain showplaces: highly successful and well organized kolkhozes16 and sovkhozes.17 But the peasants have not yet adjusted themselves to the system by which the leaders of the Soviet Union hope to “proletarianize” them. Moreover, all that is being done to improve conditions in the cities, to build up industries, communication and the war machine, is being done at the expense of the peasants. Eighty-one percent of the revenues of the Soviet Government in 1935 were taken from the peasants by the simple means of keeping the price paid them for their products atrociously low—the Government taking the resulting profit on sales. Nevertheless, the land itself is rich, the peasants have been given some education and have been encouraged to develop an interest in sports; and among the young, at least, there is hope.

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Russia has always been a police state. It is a police state today. The authority of the Kremlin rests on the strength of its army and the omnipresence of its secret police, no less than on the fervor of the convinced communists.

The secret police and the army are better fed, housed, and entertained than any other portion of the population. Their loyalty to the Soviet regime is unquestionable. And there is no longer reasonable doubt as to the strength of the Red Army. It numbers today nearly a million and a half men. Its material equipment in artillery, airplanes, and tanks is abundant in quantity though deficient in quality. It can not undertake offensive operations due to the fact that the railroads are still inadequate for the peace time needs of the country and to the equally important fact that there are literally no modern highways in the entire Soviet Union. But on the defensive, the Red Army would fight hard, well and long.

The only actual threat to the Soviet Union is the Japanese. All Litvinov’s propaganda trumpetings to the contrary, the Soviet Government knows very well that Germany can not be in a position to make war on the Soviet Union for many years. Every feasible route for German attack leads across Polish territory and the whole basis of Polish policy is never to permit the foot of either a German or a Russian soldier to be placed on her soil.

The Japanese threat is actual. But the Japanese have so bungled their relations with the Mongols, and the strength of the Soviet Far [Page 294] Eastern Army has increased so fast, that the Russians today are confident that a Japanese attack would end in destruction of the Japanese Army.

The single real fear of the communists is that their bureaucratic machine might break down under the strain of war. Dread of the Kremlin is so great that all Russian officials, except the highest, hesitate or refuse to make decisions. The life of the entire Soviet Union might well be clogged hopelessly in time of war by unsigned papers.

The chief weakness of the Soviet State today is, indeed, the inefficiency of the bureaucracy. The communist form of State requires a bureaucracy of exceptional ability. The Russians have always been and are bad bureaucrats. In consequence, extraordinary numbers of Jews are employed in all the Commissariats. Only one out of each sixty-one inhabitants of the Soviet Union is a Jew; but twenty of the sixty-one Commissars and Vice-Commissars are Jews.

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What then should be the policy of the United States with regard to the Soviet Government and the world communist movement?

We should not cherish for a moment the illusion that it is possible to establish really friendly relations with the Soviet Government or with any communist party or communist individual.

We should maintain diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union because it is now one of the Greatest Powers and its relations with Europe, China, and Japan are so important that we can not conduct our foreign relations intelligently if we do not know what is happening in Moscow. Moreover, in spite of all efforts to conceal the truth from foreigners, it is possible to obtain in Moscow considerable information as to the Soviet Union and the world communist movement.

We should use our influence quietly to oppose war in the Far East between the Soviet Union and Japan not only because of our moral opposition to war but also because, if there is a war, someone may win it. In case the Soviet Union should win, a Communist China would be inevitable. In case Japan should win, China would be completely subjected to Japan. If war comes between Japan and the Soviet Union, we should not intervene but should use our influence and power toward the end of the war to see to it that it ends without victory, that the balance between the Soviet Union and Japan in the Far East is not destroyed, and that China continues to have at least some opportunity for independent development.

We should instruct our diplomatic representatives in Europe to use all opportunities in personal conversations to point out the danger to Europe of the continuation of Franco-German enmity and to encourage reconciliation between France and Germany.

We should attempt to promote our trade with the Soviet Union by [Page 295] direct bargaining of the sort involved in our agreement of July 13, 1935.18 But we should have no illusion that our trade with the Soviet Union may ever be stable or permanent. It may be cut off for political reasons at any minute. Therefore, we should not make loans or give long-term credits to the Soviet Union and should advise American industrialists against putting in expensive machinery to produce for the Soviet market.

We should realize that with every year that passes the products of the Soviet Union and the United States will become less complementary and more competitive. Soviet oil and grain will compete increasingly with our oil and grain. The Russian market for our cotton will decrease as the new Soviet cotton plantations increase their productivity. The market for our machines may increase until Russian industry improves in quality and productivity and is able to produce complicated machines of the highest quality. For a few years we may be able to sell the Soviet Union more than we buy from her but in the long run a fairly even balance of trade will be insisted on by the communists, and if we are not ready to buy more than today we shall not be able to sell so much as we sell today.

Our Federal Government should inform itself as to the membership of the Communist Party in the United States and as to the relations between the American communists, the Soviet Diplomatic and Consular Representatives, and the other agents of the Soviet Government and the Communist Party in the United States: Amtorg,19 Intourist, Voks,20 International Red Aid,21 etc.

In our domestic policies, we should act on the realization that there is one fatal blow which can be struck at communism, not only in the United States but also in every other country in the world. The final argument of the believing communist is invariably that all the battle, murder, and sudden death, all the spies, exiles, and firing squads are justified because communist dictatorship is the only method which permits a modern economic machine to run at full speed and to find always an unsatisfied buying power, whereas the maldistribution of the national income in our system causes inevitably recurrent crises and unemployment. (The recent conclusions of the Brookings Institution of Washington as to the causes of our crises are, curiously enough, the same.) If we can achieve such continuous increases in the buying power of the masses of our population that our fullest possible production may find demand, the single effective plea of the communists will disappear. To turn a much greater proportion of our national income each year into the pockets of those who have little so that [Page 296] there may be effective demand for the products of our fields and factories is, therefore, not only the moral obligation of a democratic people but also the most certain method of destroying the single intellectual justification of the Communist Faith.

The keynote of our immediate relations with the Soviet Union should be patience. The communist movement in the United States today constitutes a potential danger but not an actual threat. We do not need to get excited about it. Our political relations with the Soviet Union are negative; but our trade is increasing. It is difficult to conduct conversations with the Soviet Foreign Office because in that institution the lie is normal and the truth abnormal and one’s intelligence is insulted by the happy assumption that one believes the lie. But patience and diplomats exist for just that sort of difficulty.

We should neither expect too much nor despair of getting anything at all. We should be as steady in our attitude as the Soviet Union is fickle. We should take what we can get when the atmosphere is favorable and do our best to hold on to it when the wind blows the other way. We should remain unimpressed in the face of expansive professions of friendliness and unperturbed in the face of slights and underhand opposition. We should make the weight of our influence felt steadily over a long period of time in the directions which best suit our interests. We should never threaten. We should act and allow the Bolsheviks to draw their own conclusions as to the causes of our acts.

Above all, we should guard the reputation of Americans for businesslike efficiency, sincerity, and straightforwardness. We should never send a spy to the Soviet Union. There is no weapon at once so disarming and effective in relations with the communists as sheer honesty. They know very little about it.

Respectfully yours,

William C. Bullitt
  1. A collective farm.
  2. A state farm.
  3. See pp. 192 ff.
  4. Amtorg Trading Corporation, 261 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y.
  5. Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries.
  6. A Soviet controlled “united front” international organization to aid in the struggle for the revolution (M.D.P.R.).