James P. Cannon

Henry Wallace and the Next War

(10 May 1948))

Published: The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 19, 10 May 1948, p. 2.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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There is no longer any realism whatever in speculation as to the possibility or probability of another world war. The power-drunk leaders of American imperialism, in their insane drive for domination over the people of the entire planet, have deliberately put war in the center of their policy. There is no other way to read the consistent development of American foreign policy, from the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine to the fantastic appropriations for new armaments already made and projected. These decisions of the bi-partisan coalition at Washington, supported by all the agencies for the manufacture and control of public opinion, spell only one thing: The decision has been made in the highest councils; war has been put at the top of the agenda.

The formal outbreak of the war, that is to say, the extension of American economic and political aggression into direct military action, may be deferred for strategic and tactical reasons. Or, the shooting war may break out at any moment. But in either case, those who count on the salvation of the human race by the independent class action of the workers must take the war – tomorrow or a bit later – as the fundamental reality. The continuing struggle for socialism must be conducted within the framework of this reality.

This war, as is already clearly indicated, will be simultaneously directed against the workers of America and the rank and file of the people of all other countries. The defense of the interests of the. American working class is inextricably bound up with the struggle against the war. All parties and all political people must be judged by their stand on this formulation of the question.

A Spurious Opposition

Given the advanced stage, of war preparations and the weakness of the revolutionary labor movement in this country, it must be acknowledged that the prospect of staying the hands of the warmakers is very slim indeed. Public opinion has been bludgeoned into a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitable. The entire labor bureaucracy is in .the war camp, not making even the customary token protest. The atom bomb fanatics who call themselves “Social Democrats” are the most hysterical warmongers of all. Outside the revolutionary party, whose voice for the time being is drowned out in the jingo clamor, the only sign of opposition to the war is that of Wallace and his new party. And this opposition has more sound than substance.

The completely bourgeois program of the Wallace party in the realm of domestic policy has been amply demonstrated by Marxist criticism, and this criticism has been sustained by the frank avowals of the head and front of the movement, the millionaire politician and businessman, Wallace himself.

To be sure, many workers support the Wallace party, believing that it represents the hope of something different and better than capitalist enslavement. Even some more advanced workers, who ought to know better, delude themselves with the idea that the bourgeois Wallace party in some mysterious way will or can be transformed into an anti-capitalist force. But Wallace himself, and others who speak for the party with authority, are doing all they can to correct this mistaken assumption. They insist on every occasion that they have no other design than to “make capitalism work,” to secure “fair profits” for businessmen; to return to the program of Roosevelt, which was capitalism in excelsis. The most that Wallace promises – if one is satisfied with promises – is to embellish American capitalism with “democracy,” fair treatment of the workers and removal of special discriminations against Negroes, etc. – all without touching the foundations of American capitalism.

But even those rigidly limited promises cannot be fulfilled by Wallace or anyone else. The very continuation of the capitalist social system in the period of its decay and death agony carries with it an increasing abridgement of democratic rights and a continuing assault on the living standard of the American workers. Almost from day to day, facts are confirming theory in this respect. The process is already underway, accelerated by the feverish preparations for war. Democracy and living standards are losing ground right now in the richest country in the world.

What, then, is to be expected when the war itself comes, with its iron necessity for a complete military regimentation of the country, its insatiable demand for uncounted billions, its disruption and subordination of the economy to military requirements? It would be most unbecoming for thinking workers to entertain any illusions whatever as to the possibility of balancing these loaded scales with the feather-weight promises of political demagogues out of office, promises which cost nothing under the circumstances.

Capitalism with democracy and prosperity is rapidly becoming obsolete. And capitalism without war is impossible. Those who support capitalism must accept its consequences whether they will or no. Nevertheless, there are people, and they number millions, who believe in miracles, who nourish the hope, better to say the illusion, that these consequences may in some way be avoided, that peace may be maintained and war avoided, without destroying the social system which breeds it. This mass illusion is the great driving force behind the Wallace, movement.

The real struggle against war, which is inseparable from the struggle against capitalism, requires a merciless exposure of this illusion and those who cultivate it. Far from being a serious anti-war movement, as demagogues proclaim and millions believe, the Wallace party is in fact a part of the mechanism preparing the people for war. By seizing hold of the mass sentiment against war, and diverting it from the struggle against the basic cause of war, the Wallace party sterilizes the anti-war movement and prepares it for collapse when the first shot is fired or the first bomb is dropped.

When we said this at the inception of the Wallace movement, and branded his anti-war ballyhoo as a cruel deception of the masses, we were not inspired by factional prejudice and narrow-minded dogmatism, as some people thought. Our position flowed from an analysis of his social program. Theory and experience with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois anti-war movements of the past guided us in our characterization of the Wallace movement. We did not have to wait long for proof of the accuracy of this characterization. It finds complete confirmation now in the outspoken declarations of Wallace himself.

Promises to Support War

Wallace has made it clear that all the warmakers have to do to dispose of his opposition is to start the war. He said that in so many words to Penn Kimball of the North American Newspaper Alliance, who reports an interview with Wallace in the New York Times of Sunday, April 25.

If the United States should go to war I, of course, would withdraw.” Wallace told his interviewer.

The reporter pressed the question a little harder: “If there were a war, would you support the United States’ war efforts regardless of your opinion on the present United States foreign policy?”

Mr. Wallace answered: “Certainly.”

This unambiguous declaration of fundamental loyalty to American imperialism under conditions of war may shock and surprise some people who have taken his anti-war fulminations for good coin and thought him worthy' of support on that ground. But that’s only the result of a misunderstanding on their part. This latest clarifying statement of Wallace’s flows logically from his basic program. All the inconsistency is on the side of those who permitted themselves to expect that a party, pledged by its program to the support of American capitalism, could jump over its own head and withhold its support at the most critical moment, when the very existence of the regime will be staked on the issue of a war.

Experience teaches us that a bourgeois pacifist opposition to governmental policy in time of peace, regardless of subjective intentions, is just as much a means of mobilizing the people for support of the war as the agitation of the most rabid jingoes, and is even more dangerous, for it deceives and disarms the people. What is involved between the jingoes and the pacifists is not a fundamental conflict, but a division of labor. The specific task of bourgeois pacifism has always been to corral the anti-war sentiments of the masses by shouting against war in time of peace only in order to paralyze the movement and deliver it to the warmakers the moment war breaks out.

We have had striking illustrations of this procedure already in the two world wars in which America has participated. That experience ought to be sufficient warning against falling into the same trap in connection with the Third World War, in which the American imperialist government is the initiator and aggressor. By opposing the war before it starts, the leaders of the pacifist opposition gain the confidence of the masses, and then use the authority they have gained by their anti-war propaganda to lead the movement into the war camp when the shooting starts.

This game was worked to perfection in the preparation of the American people for the First World War. Wilson was re-elected to the presidency in 1916 in a campaign of pacifism conducted under the slogan: “He Kept Us Out of War.” A tremendous unofficial anti-war movement was led by William Jennings Bryan who resigned from Wilson’s cabinet in order to fill this role. Great hopes were raised that the anti-war sentiment, thus mobilized and registered, would be sufficient to preserve the neutrality of the United States. These hopes, however, did not reckon with the harsh realities and necessities of American imperialism, and the character of the leadership to which the anti-war movement had been entrusted.

Wilson was no sooner re-elected on his anti-war appeal than he found the necessary pretext to plunge the American people into the slaughter. No sooner was the decision made than Bryan, the trusted leader of the anti-war mass movement, reminded himself of his fundamental loyalties and used his great influence and authority to disorient the people and lead them into the war.

The same thing happened with the supposed opposition to our entry into the Second World War, which at one time had formidable proportions and highly influential politicians and statesmen at its head. Senator Wheeler was one of them. But the very day the shooting started Senator Wheeler and other leaders of the great “peace movement” (including Norman Thomas) called on their followers to cease all opposition and give 100% support to the “war effort” of the government.

In the face of this record of bourgeois pacifism in two world wars, what ground is there to think that Wallace, who is not even a pacifist, who was a bitter-end jingo in the Second World War, who just a few weeks ago advocated before the Senate Committee a standing army of a million men; and whose opposition is confined to diplomatic tactics and procedures – what ground is there to think that Wallace’s anti-war fulminations will serve a different purpose in the Third World War? There is no ground whatever.

Wallace himself has now made that crystal clear by his frank declaration, quoted above, that “if the United States should go to war” he would withdraw his candidacy and Support the “war efforts” of the Wall Street-Brass Hat combination. Those who mistakenly support the Wallace movement under a contrary impression will contribute, whatever their intentions may be, to the deception and betrayal of the people.

Last updated: 3 February 2022