From The New International, Vol.5 No.2, February 1939, pp.35-38.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Drive Against the Unemployed is Begun by Roosevelt the Week After the Elections – How Roosevelt Tricks the Masses Into Putting the Blame Solely on Congress – What the New Relief Program Means – The Budget Proposes a Billion More for War and a Billion Less for Relief – Browder Leads in the Applause
PSYCHOLOGISTS HAVE explained to us how the old explanation for sleight-of-hand, that “the quickness of the hand deceives the eye”, is in error. What actually happens is that through misleading words, gestures and actions the magician distracts our attention and is able to carry out his wizardry unobserved. He plays upon the “mental sets”, the habitual response patterns of his audience in order to direct mind and eyes away from the coin or card or rabbit. This is why small children and idiots often see through the tricks: their mental sets are not hardened, their responses are not arranged in conventional patterns, and the magician has consequently nothing to exploit. They keep watching the card instead of the wand, and see it dropped into the pocket or shoved up a sleeve.
Perhaps it would be a good thing if we could all be again as little children while watching the smiling magician of the White House. Then we might be stupid enough to understand that the government, at the order of the bankers and the industrialists, is smashing relief and throwing the unemployed on the streets; and that he, Roosevelt in person, is the responsible head of the government and in charge of the act. But, like the intelligent adults that most of us are, we eagerly permit our wizard to capture our attention with a little bombast over Nazi persecutions, some mealy mouthed trash about religion, democracy and international law, and a spot of shadow-boxing with Congressional Committees. Meanwhile the rabbit slips down the trap door.
It doesn’t take any complicated “theory of the state” to prove that Roosevelt himself is leading the drive against the unemployed. Facts and figures can in this instance speak for themselves. The WPA rolls, by one of those happy coincidences that make New Dealers so angry when you mention them, reached an all-time high the week of the November elections: between 3,350,000 and 3,400,000. The week following the elections layoffs began, at a rate averaging around 40,000 a week. By the time Congress opened, the rolls stood at just over 3,000,000 – a drop of approximately 350,000.
But this decrease was counter-balanced by a corresponding increase of unemployment in private industry? Not at all: in fact, the general employment situation grew distinctly worse during the same period. Industrial employment remained about the same. However, youths in this country reach employable age at the rate of about 50,000 per month. At the same time, unemployed or part-time employed workers who had accumulated a few resources during the years 1934-37 were reaching the end of their economic rope at at least the same rate. The actual cut engineered during November and December against the unemployed as a whole therefore should be figured at well over 500,000.
Still more should be noticed. The WPA outlay during the [ ... illegible passage ... ] [sub]tracting administrative and material costs leaves an average WPA wage of no more than $52.50 per month, and probably less. This is the princely sum out of which the unemployed worker and his family are expected to provide for themselves rent, fuel, food, clothing, medical care. The Department of Labor calculates the minimum subsistence wage at about $123 per month.
From November 8th to January 3rd, election day to the opening of Congress, the story is thus one of a slashing drive against the unemployed, a deep cut in the WPA rolls, and the maintenance of those retained on the rolls at a sub-human level of existence.
What vicious Tory clique, what reactionary Democratic-Republican bloc put over this drive? During the period, Congress was not in session. The relief appropriation had been passed by the last Congress in such a way that there was no legal restriction on the rate at which it could be expended at the order of the Executive; the entire amount could legally have been spent by the time that Congress would have opened and been in a position to make a new appropriation. Sole and absolute power and responsibility for this drive against the unemployed belongs to Franklin Roosevelt. His orders brought it about; his orders could have stopped it. That is the plain and literal fact.
THE DRIVE AGAINST the unemployed begun during the last two months of 1938 was, of course, only a starter. Wall Street, the Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce, all the leading capitalist papers, continued howling for far sharper blows. The members of the Government, Executive and Legislative alike, Democrats and Republicans, Old Dealers and New Dealers, faced at the New Year a common task, dictated by their Wall Street masters: to batter down further the relief rolls and standards. They have proceeded to carry out this task through a remarkably effective division of labor. Congress is to make the direct frontal attack. Roosevelt, through a series of demagogic flank maneuvers, paralyzes all genuine resistance.
This is how it works. In his annual message and budget message Roosevelt told Congress that under the Constitution its was the responsibility for making appropriations, and Congress would therefore have to make up its own mind about how much should be allotted to relief. By this Pontius Pilate act, Roosevelt aimed to deflect away from himself all popular resentment against the relief cuts which he had already inaugurated on a huge scale and those even vaster cuts scheduled for the future. Even more than this, he aimed to jockey himself into a position where he, the main culprit, could seem to assume leadership in the popular [ ... illegible passage ... ] can put one’s own general at the head of the opposing army.
Budgeted relief funds were to be exhausted by the first week of February. In a special relief message, Roosevelt suggested a deficiency appropriation of $875,000,000 to cover the five last months of the fiscal year. This sum, far from maintaining WPA rolls and wages at their current utterly inadequate level, according to the government’s own figures envisaged a progressive reduction of the rolls to a maximum of 2,630,000 by the end of June: that is, a further reduction of 370,000 in addition to the 350,000 reduction achieved in November and December. In point of fact, Roosevelt’s plan was to make the cut even deeper, as is proved by his statement in the relief message that $125,000,000 of the $875,000,000 could very likely be held over against the new fiscal year, thus leaving only $750,000,000 for the months up to June 3rd.
The House of Representatives, acting on the relief message, simply wrote into law what the relief message suggested. Its lopping off of $150,000,000, bringing the deficiency appropriation down to $725,000,000, subtracted only $25,000,000 from what Roosevelt had himself said would be sufficient. In the typical cowardly manner of the legislative harlots of capitalism, the House acted on the bill while sitting as a “Committee of the Whole”: a parliamentary move which dispenses with a roll-call vote and thereby gets the Congressmen out of the awkward need of having their names recorded on the measure. After sustaining the lower figure overwhelmingly, the bill passed the House with a negative vote of exactly 16.
The figure of $725,000,000 means, when translated, that the WPA rolls will have to be reduced progressively until they reach a maximum of 1,950,000 at the end of June – a drop of more than 1,000,000. The amendments currently being debated in the Senate do not alter the end result. By prohibiting a cut of more than 5% before April 1st they merely require a more rapid rate of cut thereafter.
IN SPITE OF THE trivial concessions forced from the Senate by the threat of mass protest and the complaints of Governors and Mayors with deflated treasuries, the Roosevelt maneuver has up to the present succeeded. He has shunted aside the opposition to the relief cuts and smothered any positive movement for a real improvement in the workers’ condition. John L. Lewis and the Workers’ Alliance had timidly proposed a billion dollar deficiency appropriation; Mayor LaGuardia made it 915,000,000. Neither of these miserable sums comes within shooting distance of answering the needs of the unemployed. But, miserable as they were, as soon as the sham battle between Roosevelt and the Congress began, Lewis, Lasser and LaGuardia immediately forgot about them. Their plea became only: stand by the President and his $875,000,000; in other words, support the firing of at least 370,000 men and the maintenance of starvation wages for the rest.
Lewis and Lasser and LaGuardia could not do otherwise. They have no independent politics. Their serious politics is support of Roosevelt and his New Deal. But since on the issue they now confront the conflict between the New Deal and the Tories is only a conflict over ways and means for putting across the drive against the unemployed, since all sectors of capitalist politics are committed to the drive against the unemployed in one form or another, Lewis and Lasser and LaGuardia can in a showdown only go along with Roosevelt. That is, they can only collaborate with Roosevelt in his manner of smashing the unemployed; their function becomes that of persuading the workers to accept passively the lowering standards.
The fuller outcome of such a course already shows on the horizon. Roosevelt’s – Roosevelt’s, mind you – budget message for the next fiscal year proposes a total relief appropriation of one billion dollars less than this year’s, immeasurably disastrous as this year’s is proving to be from the point of view of the unemployed.
How can the unemployed stop the drive against them? More generally – for unemployment is a problem for the entire working class employed and unemployed alike – how can the workers fight effectively for jobs at decent wages? This brief survey is enough to make at least one pre-requisite irrefutably dear: they must break away from Roosevelt and New Dealism, and conduct their own independent fight on their own independent program. Today the struggle cannot even get started precisely because the workers permit the Lewises and Greens and Lassers and LaGuardias to keep them tied to Roosevelt and the New Deal. But it is Roosevelt who is the cleverest leader in the drive against the unemployed. Going along with Roosevelt in any way at all means accepting without a murmur the 350,000 cut of November and December, Roosevelt’s 370,000 cut between now and June, the starvation average wage of $52.50 a month, and the 1,000,000,000 cut for next year. Going along with Roosevelt means putting the enemy commander at the head of our own army.
The workers can struggle against the cuts, and fight for jobs and decent wages, only by conducting labor’s own fight with labor’s own weapons on both the economic and political fields. As soon as this is realized, it will no longer be a question of pleading tearfully with the White House or Colonel Harrington over a paltry $25,000,000. Then the workers can stand up and say with their own voice what they need: WPA jobs for all unemployed at trade union wages; an over-all weekly minimum wage of $30 and maximum work week of 30 hours throughout industry and public works and relief work; a $20,000,000,000 immediate public works program, at least half of it for low rental housing; throwing open of all factories that the owners refuse to operate, to run under workers’ control with the aid of government subsidies; expropriation under workers” control of all industries, like the railroads, that can’t or won’t provide jobs and needed goods and services under private management.
When, and not until when, labor begins to speak in its own voice and its own language, Congress and the President will on their side begin to listen.
THE PRESENT DRIVE against the unemployed, which will soon be accompanied by the attempt to amend the Wagner Act in the interests of the bosses and to lift the “restrictions on business”, marks the fact that the Old New Deal has ended and the New New Deal has begun. But these are only the negative side of the new New Deal. The positive side is the open and large scale preparation for the war. The two sides are inseparably bound together.
The old New Deal, as a set of internal social measures, though it squeezed through a temporary emergency, failed in the long run, as any scheme framed within capitalism had to fail, to provide a solution. The next step, inescapable if the life of United States capitalism is to be preserved, is to try the external measure, to try war. The present phase is that of concentrated preparation – military, economic, political and psychological – for the war.
There is nothing accidental or unforeseen here. Roosevelt seems to have realized himself from the beginning that war would have to be the outcome. His Chicago speech (October, 1937) made the realization public. A year ago (Roosevelt Faces the Future, New International, February 1938) we wrote of him: “his course is deliberately and consciously set toward war, and toward the creation of the most favorable circumstances for the conduct of the war. There is no other way to understand his policy.” Only a few weeks after that the Vinson naval expansion bill was introduced in Congress, and passed.
Hardly anyone seems to grasp how far Roosevelt’s preparations for the war have already advanced. Week by week all last year they were pushed steadily forward. Hundreds of millions were poured into the military machine. The “census of industry” was completed by the War Department, plans for the coordination of industrial plants drawn up, and the first “practice orders” distributed to key factories. Insolent and provocative notes and speeches continued to issue from the State Department. During the Munich crisis, Roosevelt entered at the zero hour in a manner to make the world feel the weight of the United States’ authority.
Month by month the rope of United States imperialism was drawn tighter around Latin America, all of which the government regards as its strategic base in the coming struggle against the rival imperialisms. The routes of Pan American Airways bind together the two continents. New subsidies were given to the shipping lines. In spite of all the scareheads about totalitarian propaganda, radio broadcasts to Latin America from the United States now exceed those of all European countries combined. United States trade with the Latin American nations is more than twice as great as that of its nearest rival. Batista, blood-stained butcher of the Cuban workers, was feted in Washington.
The Lima Conference reached a new high in cynical imperialist diplomacy. The fundamental class identity between the Democratic and Republican parties, the final ironic comment on the Popular Frontist conception of the battle between “progress and reaction”, was displayed by the appearance of Alfred Landon as the chief delegate next to the Secretary of State. The Conference “to defend democracy” met in the same hall from which Benevides, dictator of Peru, had two years earlier ousted his Congress after declaring the elections which had unseated him null and void. Hull promised the seventeen Latin American dictators the support of the long arm of the United States in return for acceptance of the United States war policy.
Not a day has passed since Munich without columns of copy being sent to the press from the publicity agents attached to the War and Navy Departments. The horror at the Nazi persecutions was shamelessly twisted into the service of the war ideology, without a single move to aid the refugees. A regular Army officer was appointed head of the WPA, and a bill introduced for the full militarization of the CCC – already staffed by the Army. Newspapers and magazines fill their pages with long illustrated articles on “defense needs”. Hundreds of movie houses are already ending performances with pictures of the flag while the Star Spangled Banner is played, the audience rising and singing – and woe to the man who remains seated. Hollywood has already launched a new production schedule in line with the war ideology. The fantastic spy trials in New York and Panama are used as forums for chauvinist declamation.
At the last meeting of its Central Committee, the Communist Party came altogether into the open in support of super-armaments and national defense. The New Leader, organ of the Social-Democratic Federation does exactly the same, and calls for the holy war against the dictatorships. The Keep America out of War Committee, sponsored by the Socialist Party and the Lovestone group, in its latest public release, likewise accepts armaments – begging merely that they be used “for defense purposes”. Even the magazine Time found occasion a few weeks ago to comment on how the Stalinists and the pacifist organizations have swung over to the war.
Roosevelt’s annual message to Congress was simply a rabid exercise in war-mongering. He, who for five years, in direct and almost flagrant contrast to the time-honored tradition of American presidents and presidential candidates, scarcely even mentioned God or the Bible in any public address, made “religion”, along with democracy and international law, one of the three interlocked causes for which the nation is getting ready to fight: in this way aiming to cut off any possible opposition to his program from the churches. He is rewarded by the applause of the ministers and priests of all faiths.
Roosevelt’s budget message envisages the staggering total for the next fiscal year of more than two billion dollars in military and semi-military expenditures, $1,300,000,000 for the regular budgets of the War and Navy Departments, and the remainder in special appropriations. This is a billion dollars more than the budget-for the current year. A billion dollars more for armaments, a billion less for relief! Here is the new New Deal in a nutshell.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN Roosevelt’s drive against the unemployed and his war program, the two sides of the new New Deal, is not obscure. The proposed budget put it blatantly enough: a billion lopped off relief and a billion added to armaments. But more than this is involved.
We are not at this time going to analyze again the nature of Roosevelt’s coming war. Enough to recall that it is a war of outright imperialist aggression; far from solving any of the deep economic and social problems of the masses, it will exaggerate those problems at the same time that it massacres its millions. We wish here to make another point: We stated above that resistance to the drive against the unemployed, the fight for jobs and decent wages, can be accomplished only by breaking wholly with Roosevelt and the New Deal, only by the independent labor struggle against Roosevelt and the New Deal as well as against the Republicans and the Old Deal. But this applies with equal force to both sides of the new New Deal. To suppose that Roosevelt can be fought on the field of unemployment and at the same time supported in his war program is a fatal illusion. The war program is the crux and heart of the new New Deal.
We confront the same choice here as the workers of England and France. In all the great powers today the question of the war is the axis around which all other questions revolve. In England the Labor Party cannot carry through a program for internal social demands in the interests of the masses because the Labor Party supports the coming war of British imperialism as fully, in its own way, as does the Conservative Party. Similarly in France: the Socialist and Communist parties cannot resist the internal drive against the economic and social position of the French workers because those parties, in their own way, support the war as wholly as does Daladier.
So too in the United States. We cannot fight for jobs and decent wages without an independent struggle against the new New Deal; and we cannot conduct an independent struggle against the new New Deal without fighting first and foremost against its core, against the armaments and the war program. The perspective summed up briefly in the slogan, “All war funds to the unemployed”, is the required first plank in any platform that has any chance of getting anywhere in meeting the needs of the unemployed.
You can’t fight at one and the same time on two sides of the same war. The war of the workers, employed and unemployed, is the war against Roosevelt’s war. To get jobs and decent wages means to take away Roosevelt’s airplanes and machine guns. If we don’t learn this today, bullets will teach us tomorrow.
WHEN, MANY YEARS AGO, we pointed out that the policies of Stalinism were leading toward social-patriotism, toward support of the next imperialist war, we were, naturally, believed by only a few. The analysis seemed fantastic, incredible. How could even Stalin turn the Communist International, founded in the struggle against imperialist war, into its very opposite, into an instrument to serve imperialist war? How could a movement which was continuing on all occasions to protest its eternal opposition to the war be preparing to go over to the war? But it was not understood that the Communist International was no longer Lenin’s revolutionary center but only a docile tool of the Kremlin’s foreign office, nor that the gap between word and deed had become a permanent feature of Stalinism.
In those years we were not believed. Today, however, the truly astounding response of the Communist Party to Roosevelt’s war message comes as so natural a sequence of its course during the past years that it passes by hardly noticed. Nevertheless, this response is a new stage in the bottomless degeneration of American Stalinism, and should be marked accordingly.
Until this month, the support given by Browder and his gang to Roosevelt’s coming war has always been larded with one particular element of hypocrisy which is now outworn, and dropped. Browder has always allowed his advocacy of “collective security” to be given an ambiguous interpretation: when pressed as to how collective security would be “implemented”, Browder has replied that this should be done by “concerted economic actions of the democratic powers” – trade and financial boycotts of “aggressors”, economic aid to the persecuted nations. The interpretation was, of course, always a sham; but it served the purpose of enabling the implicit doctrine behind collective security to worm its way into the minds of pacifists, and gave Stalinist speakers an out when they were accused of war-mongering.
Today, in the tightening crisis, that particular ambiguity is too much of a luxury. It has to be discarded here, as it was two years ago in France. Two weeks after Roosevelt’s message, Browder participated in a radio debate on the Town Hall of the Air program. His speech, printed in the Daily Worker of January 20th, concluded as follows:
When foreign fascist powers cease to menace their neighbors with aggression, when our native fascists cease to undermine all democratic faith and pledge themselves to democracy, then we can say of fascist propaganda that it is no more a menace. But until that happens the American public will recognize the typical fascist foreign propaganda that really menaces America by one sign: it is always excited about a mythical menace of communism and denies those dangers which are forcing our country, for the first time with such unanimous popular support that even includes the communists, [our italics] to unprecedented armaments for defense.
Gone, then, is the last trace of tommyrot about “purely economic actions”. Collective security, when it has to get down to business, shows itself for what it is and has always been: support for the armaments and the war of American imperialism. By this open advocacy of armaments, the act at which in 1914 Lenin split from the Second International and proclaimed the Third, Stalinism in this country enters a new maturity of social-chauvinism.
When we connect up this declaration with the new Stalinist policy in Latin America, even more is indicated. During the past year, Stalinism in the Latin American nations has become the chief spokesman among the masses for Yankee imperialism, that is, for the main enemy of the Latin American masses. This is altogether literally the fact. To cite a single example, from the Daily Worker report of the convention of the Communist Party of Cuba:
After mentioning the sorrowful experiences of Cuba in the past with the “Dollar Diplomacy” of American imperialism, Roca [a leader of the CPC] declared that this policy is no longer followed by the Roosevelt Administration.
“The Roosevelt Administration represents to a great extent the growing democratic and progressive movement and the forward march of the awakening millions of workers who suffered in the past [our italics] from imperialist oppression as did the Cuban workers,” Roca said ...
“The struggle for liberation cannot be anti-United States.” [Daily Worker’s emphasis.]
There is a necessary consistency here. Supporting American imperialism and its war program at home means supporting it also externally. Stalinism in the United States is, thus, openly developing into a wing of American imperialism, which has as its main purpose the selling of the war program to the American workers and the Latin American peoples.
The social basis of Stalinism, here as elsewhere, is the Soviet bureaucracy. From the point of view of the Soviet bureaucracy, American Stalinism can function as a wing of American imperialism only on the gamble that in the war the United States and the Soviet Union will be allied and that the interests of the two in the war will coincide. But, even if allied temporarily in the war, their interests will not in fact coincide, since their interests flow from diametrically opposed socio-economic foundations. Thus today’s policy of American Stalinism tries to patch together two forces which are actually in conflict, and which at any moment may come into direct and open opposition. The advances of American Stalinism along the road of support of American imperialism in reality signify a shifting of balance in the specific weights of Moscow and Washington in determining the nature of American Stalinism. Washington, which was at first approached only as a manoeuvre, is now starting to exercize an independent pull of its own upon the Stalinist movement, and the strength of this pull can only increase in the months ahead. Smirking patriotism “for the sake of the Soviet Union” is beginning to be transformed into the plain, stinking, ordinary, bloody kind of patriotism. The Kremlin bureaucracy, which has already proved in practise that it cannot defend the revolution outside of the Soviet Union, which the whole world knows cannot defend the Soviet Union from its imperialist enemies, shows clearly now that it cannot even defend itself. It has dug what is turning out to be its own grave.
Last updated on 7.8.2006