Detente: Superpower, SuperSham

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Detente: Superpower, SuperSham

by Chuck Garman

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 7, No. 6, November 1975, p. 15-19, 37

In mid-March the SftP office received a letter from the World Federation of Scientific Workers [an organization of scientists, research and technical workers, and teachers in more than fifty countries] asking whether we would care to send a delegate to the “International Symposium on the Role of Scientists and their Organizations in the Struggle for Disarmament”. The symposium was held July 15-19 in Moscow. Although the Boston Steering Committee recognized that the Federation was closely associated with the Soviet Union, they decided it would be worthwhile to send a delegate. A call went out for interested people through a notice in the newsletter and by contacting some chapters by phone. Three people applied and the steering committee chose Chuck Garman. 

A Discussion Meeting was called in order to formulate positions on some of the issues raised by this trip. At a subsequent General Meeting on July 9, two statements were passed by large majorities. They are: 

Detente is a policy on the part of the superpowers to suppress genuine liberation movements, and revolutionary movements, to better manage and exploit the working classes of their own countries, and to carve out spheres of interest between the two of them throughout the world. 

We support the real disarmament of the superpowers. This conference attempts to enlist the support of scientists for the policies of detente by appealing to their genuine desires for real disarmament and by hiding the imperialist nature of detente. True disarmament can come about only by mass movements of workers and the oppressed peoples of the world and not by the actions of the imperialists, the ruling classes of the superpowers. 

On the basis of these statements our representative wrote-up and had duplicated a one page statement that he took along in order to present our position. [See Box]

In the last few years we’ve been reading and hearing a lot about detente. The recent wheat deal with the Soviet Union was made possible by and helped to bolster detente. George Meany, the right-wing president of the A.F. of L.-C.I.O., says that detente is weakening America and making us a second-rate power. The Vladivostok agreement and the European Security Pact were considered a step forward for detente. What does detente between two superpowers really mean? How will it affect the people in the U.S. and U.S.S.R., as well as the rest of the world? Answers to these questions are essential, so that we understand detente in relation to the concrete situation in the world today rather than viewing detente as an abstract call for world peace. I hope that this report of my experiences before and during the W.F.S.W.’s symposium on disarmament, can begin to provide the answers.

Detente sounds very good! None of us wants the world to explode in a nuclear holocaust between the two superpowers. The question is whether detente is going to decrease the possibility of this hapening or whether it is only a sham to hide the true imperialist nature of both superpowers.

To answer this question we must first look at the two sides of detente. On the one side, detente represents the cooperation of the two superpowers to promote the imperialist system by trying to keep countries from gaining independence from their system. On the other side, detente is used to hide the real contention that exists as both of them attempt to enlarge their sphere of influence. Thus detente represents a temporary tactical alliance wherein the two superpowers can unite in their attempt to subvert true liberation struggles and at the same time hide their imperialist natures under slogans of “world peace” and achieving “a world without wars”. (See Position Paper)

As an example of how detente conceals their true character, consider the fact that recent bilateral agreements have in no way affected the aims race. The ceilings set by the Vladivostok “understanding” of November 1974 are higher than either countries’ present strength and the agreement puts no limitations on the modemization of missles, allowing for improvements in accuracy and maneuverability.1 Also, the U.S. is now developing subsonic cruise missiles capable of coming in under an opponents’ radar at fifty feet off the ground.2  In conjunction with this, the U.S. is developing a new guidance system capable of virtually perfect accuracy. What this all means is that the U.S. is developing  the capability for a first strike, and is no longer interested in deterence. My discussions with experts at the conference revealed that the arms race has not diminished and is producing greater instability. Detente has in no way slowed down the deadly competition between the two superpowers. We should popularize more information about the developments in the arms race and point out that in a period when unemployment is high, and welfare and municipal services are being cut back because of a lack of funds, the federal government is spending billions to develop the ability to strike first in an upcoming war.

Science for the People was provided an opportunity to take up the discussion of detente and the nature of the Soviet Union through our invitation to this symposium. Both my own study on these issues and the political discussion that took place prior to my departure were valuable to myself and the Boston Chapter. At a discussion meeting prior to the July 9th general meeting, much of the discussion centered around whether we should send a delegate. Since there was rather rapid agreement among those present that the Soviet Union was imperialist, some persons opposed sending a delegate to an obviously imperialist-dominated conference. Others put forward the position that although the symposium would be Soviet-dominated there might be many middle forces,3 who could possibly be won over to our position. After a lot of discussion a majority of those present felt that it would be appropriate to send a delegate, provided the Boston Chapter had agreed upon a position that would prevent our good name being used to support either the Soviet Union or detente.

At the general meeting two statements were passed (see below) pointing out the imperialist nature of the Soviet Union and also, that detente was a sham. Through my own study and my minimal observations in Moscow, I was lead to the position that the Soviet Union was not only social-imperialist4 but that capitalism had been restored in that once-proud socialist country.

We support the real disarmament of the superpowers. This conference attempts to enlist the support of scientists for the policies of detente by appealing to their genuine desires for real disarmament and by hiding the imperialist nature of detente. This is done by trying to show “the interdependence between detente and disarmament”; and present disarmament as the way of producing “a world without war”. (quotes from the program of the symposium)

It is our position that detente is a policy of collusion on the part of the superpowers; to suppress genuine liberation movements and revolutionary movements; to better manage and exploit the working class of their own countries; and to carve out spheres of interest throughout the world.

As ex-Premier Khrushchev said in an interview with C.L. Sulzberger on September 5, 1961: “We (the Soviet Union and the United States) are the strongest countries in the world and if we unite for peace there can be no war. Then if any madman wanted war we would but have to shake our lingers to warn him off.” What “madman” was Mr. Khrushchev speaking of? Science for the People does not consider struggles for liberation as acts of madmen, rather we support these struggles and reject the notion that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. should police the world.

Even if, through collusion, the two superpowers were able to suppress genuine liberation movements, will disarmament and detente bring about “a world without war”? Of course not! True disarmament can only come about by mass movements of workers and the oppressed peoples of the world and not by the actions of the imperialists, the ruling classes of the superpowers.

The superpowers may collude with each other in one form or another and create a false sense of “detente” but the contradictions between them have by no means disappeared. The policy of detente attempts to cover up the deep contradictions between the two imperialist powers in an attempt to deceive the people of the world. Competition between the two superpowers is a necessary condition of imperialism, and thus the policy of detente is put forward as a deceptive tactic.

The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are fighting each other for world hegemony, each out for its own narrow interests. They are engaged in a bitter struggle for oil resources and spheres of influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and in the South Asian subcontinent. Europe, the heartland of capitalism, has become a major strategic area of contention. Here they both have enormous economic and military interests and it is here that they directly confront each other.

The policy of detente is used to serve imperialist ends. But we will not be taken in by this sham, and we resolutely oppose imperialism in all of its forms. Our organization has supported genuine national liberation struggles throughout its history. Rather than call for “a world without war” we call for a world full of liberation struggles against imperialism.

Although I do not want to deal at length with the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, I would like to relate one of my experiences. While speaking with one of the Soviet scientists about the Soviet economy, he mentioned that they were instituting a new system of quality control. Goods would receive an emblem of excellence after being compared to Western products. The managers of factories producing goods of sufficiently high quality would then receive a monetary bonus. This is not surprising considering the already-known fact that managers receive bonuses in the U.S.S.R. for increasing profits. Although other countries building socialism have used material incentives at times, these policies have been scrapped when their negative effects were realized. There doesn’t appear to be any criticism of these policies in the Soviet Union, in fact, the power of the managers appears to be steadily increasing. This increasing reliance on material incentives and the increasing power of managers is one of the indications that capitalism has been restored.

It is very important that people in our organization take up the study of the nature of Soviet society. When speaking of socialism as an alternative, many people mistakenly think we are putting forward the Soviet system as a model. The Soviet model should not be considered an alternative to American capitalism. In order to oppose this model, we have to understand its nature. I’m including a book list for anyone interested in beginning this study. (See bibliography)

The Soviets use the W.F.S.W. to develop support among scientists for detente and other Soviet positions. It appears to me that the Federation is consistently following the Soviet line and should be considered a front for Soviet interests. Long ago it lost its credibility here in the U.S. We were invited to the symposium in order to draw us into naively supporting one of the superpowers in the battle for world control. If the Boston chapter had not formulated a position on detente before the symposium started, we would have implicitly supported that position.

It may have been a mistake for me to have gone, considering that we had explicitly taken an anti-detente position and anticipated that the conference was going to be Soviet-dominated. From what I could discern, there were very few middle forces to ally with; most of the delegates appeared to firmly support the Soviet position and in the future we should consider very seriously whether to send any more delegates to World Federation functions.

The Symposium

The conference was held in Moscow, July 15-19. As guests of the All Union Council of Trade Unions, we stayed in the Trades Union Hotel (Hotel Sputnik). Approximately 425 natural and social scientists attended the conference; one hundred and fifty-seven from capitalist countries, sixty-eight from Third World countries, fifty-eight from countries in the Soviet block, and one hundred and forty-two from the Soviet Union. Only a small percentage of these delegates were women.

One of the first things I did on arriving was to ask our representative from the Trades Union Council whether I’d be able to visit a factory. I was met with an incredulous question: Why would I want to visit a factory? After explaining that I was curious about how factories were run in a socialist country, he said that he would see what he could do. I was never told no, but I never did get to visit a factory.

Since I had arrived a few days early, I had some time to do some sightseeing and to make contacts with people. Moscow is extremely clean with wide boulevards and apartment buildings surrounded by trees. It appeared to me that there was a lot of sexism in Soviet society. There was the kind of sexism that allowed women to do hard work, while the men watched. (I saw women working on the roads while the men sat in trucks.) As well as the kind of sexism we’re more familiar with. (Consider as example a floorshow in a restaurant which was almost indistinguishable from an American nightclub or the first act at the circus in which scantily dressed women, waving flags, were lead around the ring by a man.) Although I was only in the Soviet Union a short time, it certainly appeared to me that there was no attempt to combat sexism.

By the time the conference began I had met some people, mostly from the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, who were also not being taken in by detente. The first day of plenary speeches set the tone of the conference: detente was the main trend in the world today; it was the only way to struggle for disarmament; it reinforces democracy; and it was symbolized by the Soyuz-Apollo spaceflight, conveniently (but not accidentally) taking place at that time.

Minority Report

Disarmament and the Way Forward for the W.F.S.W.

We meet at a moment of crises when all our hopes for a socially just and peaceful world are threatened by the arms race and imperialism. Our struggle for disarmament is an integral part of our struggle for a world free from oppression.

We must intensify our work for disarmament in the face of the threat of nuclear holocaust. At the same time we must expose and call for the destruction of weapons of counter-insurgency which imperialism is unleashing against the just struggles of national liberation.

The Task of Scientific Workers 

Science and technology are tools which can be used either to better people’s lives or to exploit and oppress them. The ruling class of many countries use these tools to maintain their position of power through exploitation and oppression of their peoples, as well as other countries. It is the duty of scientific workers to help to produce a society where science can serve the people. How can we do this? By taking up the struggles of workers, women, and oppressed national minorities in our own countries, and by supporting the struggles of Third World countries for national liberation and their right to self-determination. We can only win people to the active support of disarmament, which is abstract from the everyday reality of people’s lives, if we join them in their struggles.

Scientific work is a social activity in which all the conflicts of society are present, just as in any other social activity. Class struggle is present within the laboratory as well as within the factory. We must be conscious of this reality and must analyze the specific forms class conflict assumes within science. Thus we as scientists must cooperate with both the general working class struggle and also with movements of national liberation. We can and should offer our specialized skills, and any other support necessary, in pursuit of our common goals of social justice and a peaceful world. Examples are: questions of health and safety in the workplace and at home, the problems of human settlements, pollution, hunger, and utlization of natural and energy resources. The main task of scientific workers in this context is to provide technical information and assistance, but to leave decisions about the solutions of the problems to those who are directly concerned. We must play the part of skilled experts at the service of the people, not as new rulers of society. This is the way for scientific workers to integrate with the general working class movement and help create the conditions for the widespread popularization of the benefits science can bring in a peaceful world.

How Do We Go Forward? 

To achieve these aims we must strengthen the organization of the W.F.S.W. We must strengthen the links between the Federation and the scientists movements which are springing up in response to these changes. In the same way that the Federation stood up to the cold war and to nuclear terror it must now take up the struggle for national liberation and social revolution.

Signed: S. Siwatiban, Fiji; S. Vaghi, Italy; C. Garman, U.S.; H. Rose, U.K.; C. Posner, U.K.; F. Hussain, U.K.; J. Hanlon, U.K.; G. Solvo, U.K.; A. Costa, Italy; C. Ivaldi Mussa, Italy; J. Caraca, Portugal; O. Theophile, Congo.

The actual work of the symposium was to be done in the smaller commissions. I had chosen to be in Commission 2, entitled: “The interdependence between detente and disarmament: the role of organizations of scientific workers in promoting detente”. After three sessions of open discussion the commissions were then to make their report to the plenary. During the first meeting of Commission 2, some points in opposition to the Soviet position were raised. Questions about the success of the recent bilateral agreements as well as other points were voiced. The Soviets and their allies opposed any opposition to their position and appeared to be very well represented in the commission. It was obvious by the end of the first meeting of the commission that no opposition would be accepted.

We were totally outnumbered and the number of middle forces there appeared to be minimal. On the basis of that evaluation, knowing what would be the final report of the commission, I read our statement at the second meeting of the commission, and made copies available. For the most part the response was that the Soviet Union has supported national-liberation struggles in the past and will continue to support them in the future.

That evening some of us had a strategy session and decided Commission 2 was totally packed, and had very few middle forces, whereas Commission 5 on “The specific forms of cooperation of scientific workers and their organizations with the broad movement for peace and disarmament”, had more middle forces some of whom we anticipated, could be won over to our position.

The next morning we all trooped into Commission 5, only to hear later that the President of the World Federation had come to Commission 2 in order to give a speech strongly supporting detente and to attack us.

Four of us spent the afternoon writing a minority report for Commission 5, (See Box) which we turned in to the committee writing the final report for the commission.

Although in the last section of the report we call for strengthening of the W.F.S.W., I now realize that this organization is totally incapable of taking up the program put forth in our report. At the time I had strong doubts about the nature of the W.F.S.W., but felt it was correct to phrase it in this manner. After talking with others and on greater reflection, I realize that the Federation is totally bankrupt.

That evening we had a meeting of potential supporters of the minority report. Some details were changed, but through simultaneous translation, agreement was reached and we had eleven signatures.

The last commission meeting was the next morning where the report of our commission was to be finalized, then passed on to the plenary. After the final vote on the majority report (thirty-six in favor), we presented our minority report and asked for support. The commission was immediately terminated for lunch, but one other person did sign. So our report now had twelve signatures.

That afternoon at the plenary session the major question on our minds was whether they would read our report. We had a very hard time finding out what its status was and had decided that if it wasn’t read, we would publicly condemn the symposium in a clearly disruptive manner and then walk out. Our report was read, but with one major revision. Before reading it, the speaker characterized it as having been foisted upon them at the end of the commission by a small group and failed to mention that one quarter of the commission had signed it. A nifty trick at appearing to be democratic! In a later conversation he didn’t respond when I asked him. about his inability to see signatures, but informed me that the report would be released with the other commission reports along with the signers’ names. Although I’ve since received copies of all the other commission reports our minority report was not among them.

By that time we were somewhat exhausted from late-night meetings, etc., but still had our anti-space flight party to look forward to. We had organized the party in reaction to a party given by a number of the Americans, who had wanted to meet with their Soviet counterparts to toast the historic handshake in space. Earlier in the week the Americans had met and this example of detente in action was proposed. I had opposed it, although it certainly was an excellent example of detente. (The Americans and Soviets meeting to toast their achievements and specifically excluding others.) The téte-a-téte was given a room with plently of liquid to toast with. Needless to say our party was not blessed with official sanction. We had to buy our own wine and hold it in one of our rooms. But in contrast to the detente party, ours, although small, had a truly multi-national character and we all had a great time!

The closing plenary session was the next morning and we expected it to be mostly back-slapping and congratulatory speeches. Because there had been no announcement of any new proposals, many of our meagre forces were not present. I was rather surprised at the introduction of an “Appeal to the Scientists of the World”. Discussion ensued about some wording changes, but it was obvious that the greatest majority of those attending the plenary were in agreement with the general thrust of the appeal. There was a lot of talk and pressure for consensus. The appeal did not take as strong a prodetente position as had been taken in Commission 2, but on the basis of my own position as well as that of our chapter, I knew I could not vote for it. I abstained, although I now feel this was a mistake and I should have voted against it. In the final vote there were no votes against the appeal, and two abstentions.


The main aspect of the entire experience has been positive. First foremost is that Science for the People (Boston at least) has taken up the question of the role of the Soviet Union today. This has stimulated discussion of social-imperialism, and made clearer to many of us the real danger of revisionism,5 a danger to those who want to defeat imperialism, including the liberal to radical people that make up SftP. That the Boston meeting (of July 9) came to unity on a position exposing detente, further demonstrates the deep anti-imperialist sentiment (and understanding) in the organization. From our anti-imperialist tradition, especially our experience in exposing the deceptive use of science and scientists in the service of imperialism, we were able, in a short period, to identify the present day Soviet Union as part of the enemy: imperialism.

A deeper analysis of this strength reveals its other side: the weakness of understimating the enemy, not seeing that of the two superpowers, the Soviet Union is the rising one. Also, not seeing that revisionism in the U.S., the agent of this rising superpower, is the main danger to our young movement because it cloaks itself in the slogans of socialism and revolution, and falsely claims the legacy of the great Russian revolution. We have to understand that unless we cleanse our movement of this poison, we will lose the battle against imperialism. To explain more fully these conclusions, I find it useful to break the total experience down into three periods: the pre-symposium period, the symposium itself, and the post symposium evaluation period.

In the pre-symposium period, some people put forward incorrect positions. The general response to our invitation was that no harm would come from our participation and that we could make some good contacts. Another position was that the trip was only a junket: “Wow, a free trip to Moscow”. But when some people raised the question of whether we should go, what detente really is, and what kind of a front the W.F.S.W. is, we started reading, had an informal discussion meeting that drafted a position, and finally the excellent general meeting at which the position was adopted. This was excellent. However the few who argued against going at all, did not put forth a clear position on the special danger to everything that SftP has always stood for, of Soviet social-imperialism and revisionism. Basically we agreed that the Soviet Union’s pushing of detente was collusion with the U.S. imperialists’ use of the phony slogan of “peace”, in order to hold back revolutionary struggles for independence and national liberation. In fact, we saw the dying beast of u.s. imperialism as the danger! Now it is more clear that the problem with this position is that the imperialist Soviet Union also says that U.S. imperialism is the main danger and that the Soviet Union in pushing for detente, speaks for the aspiration of the worlds people for peace and the suppression of U.S. imperialism. Thus we correctly saw detente as a policy for the suppression of just revolutions but did not recognize it as a policy of rallying the world’s peace loving people to an alliance with one imperialist power against the other, while it undermined independence and socialist aspirations through its revisionist C.P.’s and prepared for a world war of imperialist domination.

Our strength at the symposium was based upon our position paper which was able to unite some of the genuine anti-imperialists into a block. But this was only a miniscule force among the participants who endorsed the blatent denial of the revolutionary right of oppressed people, as expressed, for example, by E. Burhop, President of the W.F.S.W., in his opening address. He  stated that the solution to the social injustices in the Third World “requires a veritable social revolution but this must be achieved without war”. In this heavy-handed, imperialist-dominated conference, the block was essentially impotent. It operated from a position of unpreparedness, ideological weakness, and isolation—not the way for anti-imperialists to take up the struggle. It would have been better if we had organized an international group of anti-imperialist scientists to openly boycott the conference and issue a strong exposure of Soviet social-imperialism and revisionism.

Finally there is the period since the symposium, at first I tended to focus on my subjective feeling of inadequacy as a public speaker and tactician. But through discussions with friends, more reading, and much reflection I came to realize that my lack of experience was not the decisive factor. I shared with many, a parochial understanding of imperialism and an inadequate assesment of the danger to everything we are fighting for, of such groups as the W.F.S.W. and the Communist Party U.S.A. Henry Kissinger, Rockefeller and Jensen are imperialists in imperialist clothing. But the C.P.-U.S.A. and the Soviet Union are deceivers, who dress up in the hostorical garb of the first successful taking of power by the working class. They are Quislings of our movement. Unless we fully discredit them and drive them and their ideas from our movement, we cannot win.

Study Guide on Soviet Social-Imperialism

1) On the Transition to Socialism—Sweezy & Bettelheim; Monthly Review Press
2) “Is the Soviet Union Capitalist?”—Nicolaus; Guardian series, soon to be a pamphlet from Liberator Press, Box 7128, Chicago, Ill. 60680
3) “Social-Imperialism”—Reprints from Peking Review; Yenan Books, 2506 Haste St., Berkeley, Ca. 94704
4) “How Capitalism Has Been Restored in the Soviet Union”—Red Papers #7; Revolutionary Union, Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, Ill. 60654
5) “Critique of Red Papers 7: Metaphysics Cannot Destroy Revisionism”—Nicolaus; Class Struggle #2, Box 1301, Paramount, Ca. 90723
6) “Interview with Swedish Communist: The Restoration of Capitalism and the Rise of Social-Imperialism in the Soviet Union”, Class Struggle #1, see above for address.

>> Back to Vol. 7, No. 6 <<



  1. Epstein, W., “The Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” Scientific American, Vol. 232, no. 4, April 1975, p. 25.
  2. Aldridge: R., “Cruise Missiles: More Pentagon Mischief’, The Nation, June 14, 1975, p. 711.
  3. Middle forces are people who have not taken a position on a particular issue, but may choose to do so as a consequence of debate.
  4. Social-imperialism means imperialism hiding behind a socialist cover.
  5. Revisionism in essence means abandoning the class struggle and ends up siding with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Calling for the peaceful transition to socialism is one example of this poisonous line. (Look at Chile for example).