Memorandum by Mr. Elbridge Durbrow of the Division of Eastern European Affairs

Certain Aspects of Present Soviet Policy


Although many reports have been received regarding present Communist activities in other countries in Europe as well as in the Western Hemisphere, they have not been as numerous or as conclusive as those summarized below. It is believed, however, that these summaries covering six fairly different countries in Europe, all overrun by the Nazi, give a comparatively clear indication of one aspect of Soviet foreign policy which unless it is studied and correlated might not otherwise be apparent.

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While it is obvious to any observer of the present international scene that the only solution for a lasting peace must, in the interests of all, the Soviet Union included, be based upon a policy of general security and cooperation, the summary below indicates that there are strong forces still operating behind the scenes which may detract from or prevent the full attainment of this goal.

Although the Soviet leaders most likely realize that the Moscow and Tehran policy of cooperation is the only one which can assure wholehearted western aid for their devastated country, they apparently are not fully convinced that this policy will succeed. They are, therefore, fostering a rather extensive, pure Soviet, supplementary policy through the Comintern apparatus.

The following is an outline of this “new” Comintern technique and its results:

When the Soviet Union found itself fighting on the same side with the majority of the free nations of the world, it became apparent that the disadvantages of maintaining the Communist International with its site in Moscow, outweighed the advantages it could bring to the Soviet Government. This may have been one of the principal reasons for its dissolution in May 1943.36
Although the Communist International was officially dissolved, the resolution disbanding the organization indicated clearly that one of the reasons for its abolition was that the national Communist parties were now able to stand on their own without guidance from a central organization. They are now operating under this policy.
Through the Comintern techniques, refined over a comparatively long period of time, the various national organizations have been well schooled in the usefulness of the “front” organizations and how to utilize them in the common cause. Therefore it apparently proved expedient to announce publicly the dissolution of the Comintern and thus give greater opportunity to local Communist parties to work more openly as ostensible national political groups.
In this connection it should be emphasized that for over fifteen years the Comintern has been and still is used primarily as an instrument of Soviet foreign policy and not as an instrument for the attainment of world revolution.
Instead, as in the popular front technique of 1935, of encouraging coalitions among left wing groups in various countries, the present nationalist Communist policy is to back up and try to gain control of the most prominent and most appealing nationalist group, regardless of its political complexion.
The analysis given below indicates that the Communist elements are supporting directly or through their “front” organizations, such [Page 815] divergent political elements as the King and the Social Democrats in Norway, the trade unions in Norway, France and Italy, to antimonarchy groups in Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece and anti-social Democratic groups in Poland. The “front” organizations are controlled by a small percentage of Communist Party workers, while a large majority of the members often do not realize that they are members of a Communist-dominated group. All reports indicate that the same general tactics are being followed by all the Nationalist Communist groups despite the dissolution of the central organization in Moscow.
On the basis of many reports received from various sources it would appear that in all the countries studied except Poland, where they failed to build a strong organization, Communist elements have built up the strongest political group in the nation and hope that they will be in de facto control of many of the areas at the time of liberation.
The recent emphasis given in the Soviet Union to the revival of the successful Czarist Pan-Slav policy in the Balkans, the increased prominence given to religious activities in the U. S. S. R.37 which is at least partially for Balkan consumption, the conclusion of the Czech treaty, the break in relations with the Poles coupled with the Soviet insistence that it cannot deal with the “reactionary” Polish government38 as it is now formed, the favorable Soviet reaction to the establishment of Tito’s provisional government39 and the position of dominance gained by the Communist-controlled resistance movement in Greece,40 indicate that in Eastern Europe and the Balkans at least, some Soviet leaders may hope to establish more or less complete Soviet hegemony.
The rather considerable success gained by the Communist groups may be attributed in large part to their espousal of a more active resistance than preached by the Governments-in-exile who in general have little prestige among their harassed home populations. The activist policy of the Communists has gained for their organizations many members who are not communist sympathizers but who are disgusted with the conservatism, political bickering and passive resistance policies of the exile governments.

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The almost continuous Soviet and Communist plea for the immediate application of the full democratic process in all countries, is perhaps not unconnected with the efforts being made by nationalist Communist groups to strengthen their organizations particularly those of the “front” type. It cannot be excluded that the Soviet authorities feel that by encouraging the full application of the democratic process the Kremlin, through the dominant groups it is building up in most European countries, will be able in most postwar elections to win a substantial minority or majority and thus assure strong Soviet influence or even control over the new democratic European governments.
If the Communist policy in Italy is any criterion it would appear that they are insisting on the immediate application of all Democratic freedoms and elections in order to take full advantage of the political confusion which follows liberation and thus assure the most favorable outcome for the well-organized Communist-controlled elements before other less well-organized political groups can bring their programs to the electorate.
It would appear that one of the reasons for adopting this policy may be the realization on the part of Soviet leaders that their country will be so weakened after fifteen years of “pulling itself up by its bootstraps” combined with the loss of perhaps twenty million people during a war which has brought great devastation, undernourishment and debilitation to their country, that they wish to have their own cordon sanitaire and their own assurances, apart from any possible general security guarantee, that no country or group of countries will be in a position to threaten them until they can regain their strength.
In this connection it cannot be excluded that the recent Soviet constitutional amendments which tend to make a federation rather than a Union of the U. S. S. R., may not be unconnected with a possible plan to have other states which may be under Communist control, adhere to the new federation.
It would appear that the possible Soviet fear of the basic weakness of their country after the war gives us now our best lever with which to convince them they will have to drop their “Comintern foreign policy” if they want our aid and cooperation after the war.

If they are reluctant to drop this policy it could be pointed out to them that while they may gain a temporary respite, in the long run they will not only find it much more difficult to recuperate their lost strength but would have instead of our helpful assistance the dubious guarantee of perhaps temporary backing from various small states whose policies it might be difficult for them to control over a long period of time.

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In order to convince them that it is in their interests to enter into a sincere and full understanding with us we should make it patently clear now that it will be impossible for us to give our wholehearted, full cooperation and aid to them if they insist on taking unilateral actions which are not in conformity with the basic principles agreed to in Moscow and Tehran.

In other words if by firmness, friendliness and positive action we can convince them that it is not only in our interest but theirs as well to join the family of nations as a full fledged member, we may be able to cause them to drop at least the most odious aspects of their “back door” methods of interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

In any event it would appear essential to us to recognize that a basic revolution has been and is still going on in Europe and that we should therefore attune our policy to this fundamental reality. That policy might best be implemented by giving aid and encouragement to any and all truly liberal governments or groups which show that they can command the respect of a large part of the nation. By giving considerable economic aid we perhaps can not only assist such regimes but also prevent a state of complete chaos from developing which situation, if it should come about, would only play into the hands of the enemies of liberal democratic groups.

introduction to communist activities in the following countries

With the historic achievements attained by the Moscow and Tehran Conferences which laid the foundation for the inauguration of a new era of cooperation between the western powers and the Soviet Union, it is felt to be in the interests of all to watch carefully every development which seems to have a bearing on the implementation of this sound policy. Only in this way can we attain the goal we have set for ourselves.

While it is obvious that it is in the interests of the Soviet Union to guide its policy into new channels which will bring it into harmony with the democracies, it is also obvious because of the long-standing differences in points of view and particularly in political methods that this hoped for result will not be easy of attainment.

Because of the possibility that information pointing to some of the possible pitfalls ahead comes from various sources and therefore is not always correlated, it is believed a useful purpose may be served in giving an outline of some of the developments which have been reported prior and subsequent to the Moscow and Tehran Conferences which may portend an outcome other than that which we hope for.

The outline given below of some of these developments is based on reports from Department listening posts abroad as well as reports from the War and Navy Departments, Office of Strategic Services and [Page 818] British sources furnished by Office of Strategic Services. They refer primarily to moves made by various national Communist groups since the dissolution of the Comintern in May 1943.

In the latter connection it should be borne in mind that:

Since 1927 the Comintern has not been particularly active as the guiding spirit in World Revolution but its influence has been used as a most effective adjunct of Soviet foreign policy.
At the last Comintern Congress in 193541 one of the principal proposals discussed was the advisability of its dissolution, since it was argued that the various national Communist parties reputedly had been sufficiently indoctrinated so that they no longer needed guidance from a central organization in Moscow, which therefore should be dissolved. This was one of the principal reasons given in 1943 for the dissolution of the Comintern.
The American Communist Party was the first to sever its official ties with Moscow in 1940,42 although the policies it has since advocated have been very close to the “Party line” of the Comintern.
The Comintern with its site in Moscow has always been a source of embarrassment to the Soviet Government although it never admitted it had the slightest control over Comintern policies. This embarrassment became more intense when the Soviet Government found itself fighting on the same side with the great Democracies of the West. This as well as the argument of the 1935 Comintern Congress that national communist groups could carry on without the necessity of a publicly acknowledged central directing organization, may be assumed to be among the principal reasons why it was decided to dissolve the Moscow organization. In other words, the disadvantages of maintaining the central organization outweighed the advantages.
National communist groups operate not only under their own name but make, even today, effective use of “front” organizations which reputedly have no direct connections with Moscow or the national Communist parties.
In connection with point 5, it should be particularly borne in mind that since Lenin first inaugurated the system in 1903, Communist parties have always operated and with increasingly effective results, on a small membership basis. Only persons completely indoctrinated [Page 819] and willing to make any sacrifice and blindly follow the Party line as laid down by the directorate have been admitted to and retained in the Party. This accounts for the often mistaken idea that the Communists cannot represent any real important force since there are so few of them. This small group is often used to infiltrate into or operate the “front” organizations which they usually are able to control more or less effectively.
It appears possible that the Soviet Government, realizing that the brilliant action of the Red Army which has rightly increased Soviet prestige abroad, felt that national Communist Parties or their “front” organizations were in a most favorable position to seize the popular imagination in many countries and that the continued existence of the central organization would detract from taking full advantage of this situation; hence the dissolution of the Comintern.

With these preliminary thoughts in view the following outline of recent Communist activities in six Nazi-occupied countries may be of interest.

[Here follow six separate sections (not printed) which concern Communist activities in Norway, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Poland.]

  1. For correspondence concerning the dissolution of the Communist (Third) International, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iii, pp. 531538 and 542543.
  2. For correspondence concerning the interest of the United States in religious conditions in the Soviet Union, see pp. 1211 ff.
  3. For the attitude of the United States toward the establishment of a Soviet-supported government in Poland, see vol. iii, pp. 1398 ff.
  4. Josip Broz (Marshal Tito), military leader of the Partisan guerrillas in Yugoslavia, and chairman of the Committee of National Defence in the Provisional Government established by the Partisans on December 4, 1943.
  5. For United States policy with respect to the government of Greece following its liberation, see vol. v, pp. 84 ff.
  6. Correspondence concerning the protest to the Soviet Union against activities of the VII Congress of the Communist International in violation of the pledge of noninterference in the internal affairs of the United States is printed in Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 218268.
  7. The Communist Party in the United States took action on November 16, 1940, to withdraw from the Communist International to avoid the necessity of registering under the Anti-Subversive Activities Act (Voorhis Act), approved on October 17, 1940; 54 Stat. 1201. See the New York Times, November 17, 1940, p. 9, col. 1.