Hal Draper


F.D.R. and the Industrial Mobilization Plan

(July 1939)

From The New International, Vol. V No. 7, July 1939, pp. 203–207.
Transcribed &marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

OF ALL THE PHASES of war preparation undertaken by the government, it is the Industrial Mobilization Plan which has met with the most widespread opposition and condemnation. The cold-blooded manner in which it blueprints an American dictatorship on M-day has brought a flood of protest – from trade unions, including AFL and CIO conventions; from liberals and church groups; and even from the NY Times. It is the only phase of the government’s war preparations which the ex-Communist party has thus far refrained from overtly supporting. Since 1937, when the CP peripheral press was still printing articles explaining the sinister character of the IMP. it has followed the general policy of the bourgeois press – silence.

But as might be expected, this protest has been directed at individual Congressmen, subordinate officials, anonymous “Tories”, etc. The man who has supplied the real drive behind the IMP has escaped unscathed amidst this avalanche – and this has been almost as true of the radical press as the others. That man is Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt has rather successfully managed to conceal his hand and throw all public responsibility on his “fall guys”. But the extent to which the fall guys are taken as the real culprits becomes desperately absurd in a recent article in the New Republic by one of its editors, Jonathan Mitchell. Mitchell is a liberal New Dealer and a Washington “observer” – a term, by the way, which ignores Sherlock Holmes’ celebrated distinction between seeing and observing – and his subject is Louis A. Johnson: M-Day Man (Feb. 22, 1939). His thesis is simple: The idea that Roosevelt is militaristic is “plain nonsense” and “fantastic”. But there is a man in Washington with dangerous militarist proclivities – the Assistant Secretary of War, Louis Johnson. Johnson, it has been “discovered”, has a plan for wartime regimentation – the IMP; he also wants to replace Woodring, the Secretary of War. As a counterweight to Johnson’s sinister intentions, Mitchell looks to – Woodring! “The New Deal group that looks upon Mr. Johnson as a symbol of a war economy is praying that Mr. Woodring never resigns,” concludes Mitchell.

One could understand a demand for documentary evidence to verify this quotation. Not only is St. Franklin guiltless of harboring ideas resembling the IMP, but our bulwark against the M-day dictatorship is the same Wood-ring who, when he was Assistant Secretary under Dern, was himself the government’s “M-day man” (since that is the Assistant Secretary’s job); who, in that capacity, publicly boasted that “the industrial mobilization plan formulated in my office” had been tested in the CCC mobilization, which was “a great military achievement” and “a dress rehearsal of the Army’s ability to intervene ... in combating the depression”, that the IMP had prepared the Army to suppress disorders attendant on social breakdown and to “organize the veterans of the World War, the CCC men, and through them the system of emergency relief, into a system of economic storm troops”, “to coordinate our economic life”, etc. To look on Woodring as the “lesser evil” as against Johnson is to carry even that celebrated theory to extremes.

The fact is that Roosevelt is not only responsible for the IMP but for Woodring and Johnson as well. Mr. Mitchell himself will shortly help to demonstrate that for us.

The IMP, to be sure, goes back long before the Roosevelt administrations. Mobilization planning began in this country in 1916, when the Council of National Defense was set up as direct preparation for entrance into the war. The Advisory Committee of the Council, including Bernard M. Baruch and Hugh Johnson, was making detailed secret plans for mobilization (and the draft) while Wilson was still “keeping us out of war”. During the War, the War Industries Board, headed by Baruch, elaborated these still further. In 1920 Congress entrusted the Assistant Secretary of War with the job of developing a blueprinted mobilization plan for the next time, and the Industrial Mobilization Plan is the result of the War Department’s activity since that time.

Roosevelt played a modest role in these activities even then. From 1912 to 1920 he was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, with duties analogous to those of Louis Johnson today – procurement of supplies, planning for mobilization of the resources required by the Navy, purchase and sale, the business end of the Department’s work. His biographers proudly state that while the war was going on in Europe he was acutely aware of the necessity of preparing the Navy for M-day and that he performed this task by his own efforts before 1917. Publicly he was one of the leading advocates of preparedness, including industrial preparedness. One of his proposals was the storage of 20,000,000 barrels of fuel oil. During and after the war he was an ardent advocate of peacetime conscription – a measure which even the authors of the IMP did not dare put forward, limiting themselves to planning the wartime draft.

In 1920 the Wilson administration and its war-birds were swept out; new men who had not been faced with the problems of the war came in under the slogan of “Back to normalcy!” and without the same eagerness proceeded with mobilization planning. Writes Rose M. Stein [1]: “All the plans and schemes went into hibernation. Only in the office of the Assistant Secretary of War did the tradition live on, only there was it carefully guarded and nurtured as was guarded and nurtured the store of ancient lore in the mediæval monasteries.” This was not precisely accurate: the tradition lived on also in frequent speeches by Baruch, and in the campaigns of the American legion, under the cover of the fair-seeming slogan, “Take the profit out of war.”

From 1920–1921, the War Department carried on its paper planning work, unaided by appreciable stimulation from above but undisturbed, the paper plans mounting in the archives. The obscurity into which this work had fallen ended, however, with the decade of peaceful prosperity. In 1931 the Hoover administration bestirred itself to the extent of secretly preparing for the War Department drafts of bills based on the IMP, ready to be introduced on M-day. But all this was still on paper, an administrative affair.

The date of Roosevelt’s accession to office marks a complete change in the picture. As Miss Stein puts it: “For the general public the intervening decade of prosperity and inflated values had shoved the War far into the background, but to the people who came back into office for the first time since 1920, the war experience was of yesterday. The plans they had worked on were untouched and intact. They left at the close of one emergency and came back at the height of another.” Roosevelt picked up the threads where the Baruch-Johnson coteries had laid them down in 1920.

The change had consisted in this: Roosevelt has taken the IMP out of the field of routine paper work in a subordinate government bureau and made it a leading administration activity, giving it the full backing and attention of the administration.

Soon after Roosevelt took office, in 1933, the Plan was published for the first time. Not for the general public, however, Forty-eight hours after publication it found that the supply was exhausted, and it was thenceforward unavailable. While formally the same as the publication of any other government document, it was in actuality a limited edition available only to the proper people. the result was that details of the Plan, while no longer formally secret, remained comparatively unknown, even to the radical press. The decision of the new administration to print the Plan was taken in order to provide a basis for approaching industry on the next steps.

It is impossible within the scope of this article to describe in detail the flowering of the IMP and the expansion of the pre-war IMP machinery in the Assistant Secretary’s office that took place from this point on. The intensive survey of industry; the signing up of 10,000 plants for the production of specific quantities of specific materials on the basis of signed agreements; the administration-supported drive for legislative authority for the granting of “educational orders” to selected plants, which was finally put through against some Congressional opposition; the involvement of committees of “outstanding citizens” in the planning of certain phases of the IMP (e.g., the mobilization of woman-power); the organized effort to bring key business executives into the military machine as reserve officers; the numerous other activities of the M-day men today, which will have to be gone into at full length elsewhere – all this dates on a big scale from Roosevelt’s entrance into the White House. While it is an inference, it is hardly a debatable inference to state that this development was not due to the sunspot cycle but to stimulation from the top, from Roosevelt.

The 1933 Plan itself was officially approved by the new Secretaries of War and the Navy before it was published, and there is no question that this could not have been done by Roosevelt’s men in these posts without the prior OK by the President himself. This is even more obvious in the case of the 1936 draft of the Plan, which was approved and published after the Nye Committee had begun to make a political issue of the IMP.

From 1933 on, the connection between Roosevelt and the IMP can be traced under five heads.

1. Personnel. – When Secretary of War Dern died in August 1936, the man Roosevelt chose to succeed him as head of the War Department was his M-day man, Woodring, then Assistant Secretary. This was after Woodring had made himself notorious by such statements as that quoted above. Incidentally, Woodring is an American Legion man and a former Kansas banker.

Roosevelt appointed Louis A. Johnson as Assistant Secretary in charge of the M-day office. Johnson is a former National Commander of the American Legion (the second such to hold the Assistant Secretary’s post) and was the Legion’s candidate for the appointment. The NY Times reported that “the President had been advised against further appointment of former Legion national officers to governmental posts of importance”, but disregarded this. As a matter of fact, both the Times and Jonathan Mitchell stated that Johnson was slated to succeed Woodring after a short interval, and had accepted as Assistant Secretary only on assurance that he would not remain long in the secondary post. The American Legion pressed for this, but Woodring was militaristic enough for Roosevelt.

Johnson’s influence in the administration is not that of a subordinate official. The best testimony on this comes from Jonathan Mitchell himself, whose heart bleeds as he states the facts.

It is Johnson who is behind Roosevelt’s drive for a tremendous expansion of the air force. Says Mitchell:

If Mr. Roosevelt wishes to continue a “show-Hitler” policy, Mr. Johnson’s influence can scarcely help expanding. If Mr. Roosevelt, for example, wishes three thousand new airplanes and a revamped aviation industry, the job is that of the Assistant Secretary of War. In point of fact, Mr. Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for a great air force apparently explains such intimacy as exists between himself and Mr. Johnson ... During the Munich crisis, Mr. Johnson was apparently an administration oracle ... The industrial-mobilization section [Johnson’s office] seems also to have inspired Mr. Roosevelt’s announced plan to have the NYA train twenty thousand young men as airplane mechanics and pilots.

Mitchell continues:

In Mr. Roosevelt’s armament message to Congress, nearly $150,000,000 is set aside for the program recommended by the industrial-mobilization section. If the sum is voted it will be a monetary monument to Mr. Johnson’s enterprise. [P.S. The money was voted.]

Mitchell wails that Johnson has made the M-day activities of the government “fly up above the New Deal horizon.” The Times for December 2, 1938, describes Johnson as “one of the President’s principal advisers on the present rearmament program”.

2. Most of the protest against the IMP has been directed at the notorious Sheppard-Hill and Sheppard-May bills, designed to give blanket authority to the President and the War Department for the operation of the IMP in event of a “national emergency”. Senator Sheppard and Representatives Hill and May were respectively chairmen of the Senate and (House Military Affairs Committees when they introduced the bills – members of Roosevelt’s party of course – and committee chairmen are normally regarded as acting for the Administration in such matters. The War Department openly espoused the bills, its representatives acting as their chief advocates at the hearings. These bills were generally accepted as Administration measures by the press and political commentators. They were formulated chiefly by Louis Johnson, Baruch and Taylor (the American Legion’s Washington agent) and presented to Congress with the cachet of the War Department.

3. In 1934 and again in 1938 Roosevelt came out more openly in support of the IMP We have mentioned that the propaganda of the American Legion and Baruch, as well as much of the propaganda of the War Department, on behalf of the IMP has been carried on under the demagogic slogan of “taking the profit out of war”. Their concrete answer to how to “take the profit out” is – the IMP. This was Roosevelt’s approach also.

On December 12, 1934, Roosevelt startled his regular press conference with the remark: “The time has come ta take the profit out of war.” He further revealed that the same day he had held a conference with members of the Cabinet plus two other gentlemen: Bernard M. Baruch and Hugh S. Johnson. The Times reported:

As the upshot of today’s steps, Mr. Baruch, who in 1922 prepared a non-profit industrial mobilization plan for the War College ... was designated to draft a legislative program with the assistance of General Johnson. He will be chairman of a committee composed of those who took part in the White House conference ... [Roosevelt] acknowledged efforts had been made heretofore along the same lines by such individuals as Mr. Baruch and by committees of Congress, but he expressed a determination to see these efforts take form in the next Congress in concrete legislation providing a definite method of operation in the event of another war.

Now note this. The conference stressed, the Times continues,

the personnel problem which, due to mistakes made during the World War, is credited with having brought on the demands for payment of a veterans’ bonus. This demand is credited by the White House with having arisen from the fact that soldiers who enlisted or were drafted into service served the US in a hazardous manner for $1 a day while munitions workers received possibly $10 a day.

This remark about the 10-to-l gap between soldiers and the munitions workers was the signal for a little propaganda campaign. A few days later, Arthur Krock, the Times Washington columnist, paraphrased Roosevelt’s words in his own name, and added: “If and when the New Deal is obliged to wage war, that disparity will not be allowed to exist.” Shortly after, the War Department representative at the Nye Committee hearings used the same gag (and the press reported the Committee members as agreeing with him!). So – the worker at home is not to be allowed to make more than the doughboy’s dollar-a-day, in the name of “equalizing the burdens of war” – this is Roosevelt’s idea of “taking the profit out of war”!

Roosevelt’s committee of Baruch and Johnson never drew up their own legislative program. They endorsed the one then before Congress, the notorious Sheppard-Hill bill itself. It was emphasized in the press that they spoke as experts appointed by Roosevelt to study the problem.

Roosevelt himself returned to the subject in his special message to Congress in January 1938, putting forward his armament program. “I believe also that the time has come for the Congress to enact legislation aimed at the prevention of profiteering in time of war and the equalization of the burdens of possible war.” (Incidentally, these stock phrases which cover the IMP were invented by the American Legion.)

The Times again added the exegesis. This statement, it said, “will stimulate action on measures long pending to this end”. That is, the Sheppard-May bill. “During the day President Roosevelt, at his press conference, was asked what he meant by equalizing the burdens of war, and replied that it meant having the whole nation engage in war if the country were so unfortunate as to become involved in one. It was a case, he later explained, of mobilizing men, capital and manufacturing.”

4. In the months following this message, and parallel with the intensification of the arms building program, came also a corresponding uplift in mobilization-plan work. I cite the testimony of several diverse observers at the end of 1938.

Business Week for October 22, 1938, carried a special article on the progress of the IMP in a congratulatory tone.

For the past 15 years the military has been skirmishing around the procurement problem [another of the IMP’s pseudonyms – HD] but support from higher up was-needed to put life into a lot of paper work ... Without playing on war hysteria the former National Commander of the American Legion [Johnson] is frankly taking advantage of the recent crisis in international affairs to put across his plans.

At a reunion luncheon of former members of the War Industries Board,

“President Roosevelt was praised in a resolution unanimously adopted for ‘his announced purpose of pushing forward a complete program of military, naval and civilian preparedness, including particularly industrial mobilization’. It was indicated that plans are already under way in Washington to create a committee of civilians to develop a thoroughgoing plan for coordination of industries in time of war.” (NY Times, Nov. 12.)

On November 25, Arthur Krock’s column reported:

For several weeks there have been daily meetings in Washington of top-rank government officials, before whom occasionally have been summoned the manufacturing interests chiefly concerned in rearmament. These proceedings have been held in strict privacy, but it is obvious their intention is two-fold: one, to work out the budgetary and revenue aspects of the “hemisphere security”, or “Fourth New Deal”, program; the other, to lay the basis for the industrial mobilization that will be required to carry it out. The participation on these meetings of two Presidential counselors, among others, indicates how seriously the project is regarded as a matter of Administration policy, aside from its importance as a matter of state. [These two counselors were Harry Hopkins and Thomas G. Corcoran.] There are two excellent reasons from the President’s standpoint why Mr. Hopkins should be one of the chief architects of the program. If the plan goes through to make him Secretary of Commerce, he will be a key figure in the accompanying industrial mobilization.

Hopkins became Secretary. (Incidentally, Krock’s own attitude toward the IMP is wholly laudatory.)

Hanson W. Baldwin is the Times’ military expert, known to be close to the War Department. On November 27 he wrote:

M-day – that dreaded “zero-hour” when secret mobilization orders herald the beginning of war – is the chief concern of Washington nowadays ... For Mobilization Day ... is now, and long promises to be, one of the most important problems of government ... The industrial mobilization plans of the U. S. are probably more advanced, comprehensive and efficient than those of any other nation (possibly excepting Germany) ...

And on December 11, discussing the character of the then-impending new arms program, he remarked:

... chief emphasis was to be placed on our serial defense. Increased attention also was to be paid to industrial mobilization on the “home front”.

Roosevelt’s role may be summarized in the words of Krock, commenting on his 1934 statement:

In making his announcement the President might have said that he proposed to energize a proposal that had never passed beyond the blueprint stage ...

We pointed out above that the men who came back to Washington in 1933 were picking up the threads where they had been laid down after the war. “They left at the close of one emergency and came back at the height of another.” And they decided to fight the depression emergency by the same methods that had been used in the war emergency.

For the famous NRA was inspired by and modeled after the Industrial Mobilisation Plan! This fact, fairly little known but admitted, gives perhaps the best slant on the psychology of the Roosevelt administration.

Hugh Johnson and Baruch, the executor and father of the NRA respectively, have admitted this military origin of the NRA in so many words. The Nye Committee’s Special Shipbuilding Report reveals this fact in the course of making an entirely different point: “General Hugh Johnson ... explained that the NRA had grown out of the plan developed directly from the war plans and was not shown to the industrialists for their approval until practically completed.” This was in his testimony before the Committee.

Baruch, lecturing at the Army Industrial College in June 1934 on the Industrial Mobilization Plan, explained:

It is from the crucible of our World War mobilization that we have drawn the present War Department plans and the assembling of our economic forces to fight the depression. Indeed, we have all the beginnings of a war effort from an economic standpoint.

Mark Sullivan, in the fifth volume of Our Times, corroborates one angle of this:

The technique of NRA in 1933 was a duplicate of that of conscription in 1917. The Gen. Johnson who administered NRA in 1933 was the same man who as Major Johnson had managed preparation for the draft in 1917.

In what sense was the NRA an adaptation of the IMP? This was explained in advance by Hugh Johnson, in a report which he made to Wilson in 1919 on the functioning of the government war boards. In this report Johnson insists that the lessons of the war mobilization could well be applied in peacetime.

Governments have participated in industry, and industry and government have become parts of the same system in a manner unheard of before the War. The advantage of thus joining power, for war purposes at least, is beyond question ... If there is unquestioned advantage in this government participation in national business ... as a planning and adjusting agency and a point of common contact, a force for coordination and cooperation and unification of American business in an efficient national system – then it would be a blunder to let this war experience pass into history with nothing more than a final word of commendation and farewell. In this belief, it is the purpose to discuss shortly our experiences in war administration of industry, with an eye to the application of some of them to the uses of peace.

Johnson then gives five “outstanding lessons applicable to peace”. Two deal with the gathering and use of statistics. The other three are: (1) Increase of industrial efficiency through systematic cooperation within each trade, directed from a central agency. Abandonment of the antitrust restrictions. (2) Welcoming attitude of American industry to governmental guidance in a “friendly, advisory and cooperative guise”. (3) Control of labor.

Johnson was given his chance to put his project into action 14 years after he made the proposal.

At the hearings of the Nye Committee, the representative of the War Department, Col. Harris, was questioned especially on how the NRA apparatus, then in operation, fitted into the mobilization plans of the government. He made clear that the War Department was using the NRA as a laboratory for the testing of the mobilization plans and for the training of army officials in this work.

SEN. VANDENBERG: If you had the NRA in existence during a war, you would have a tremendous clash of authority, wouldn’t you?

HARRIS: Well, sir, we have given, of course, very serious study during the last eighteen months to the effect on our plans of the NRA and its organization, its code authorities. We call for war service committees, and they are now code authorities. Having these code authorities is a great benefit in our industrial plan.

Harris explained further that 21 regular Army officers were serving as members of code authorities, involving 19 basic codes. They were paid by the Army, not as were the others by the NRA One reason, he said, for placing them there (on Army time, remember) was to permit them to make studies and observations of value in perfecting the industrial mobilization plans.

He explained that the NRA framework could fit neatly into the IMP set-up, because NRA administrators and code authorities would “unquestionably” aid the War Department’s plans; NRA labor administrators would in wartime fix a minimum wage for workers just as price-fixing committees or code authorities would fix industrial prices. Of course, he admitted, section 7a would be abrogated.

From the beginning of the Roosevelt administrations to the present; from the revivification of the IMP in 1933 to the 1938 drive which raised these activities to a higher level – the basic line of Roosevelt has been: mobilization for war. In this Roosevelt does not distinguish himself from the political heads of the rest of the world, from Hitler to Chamberlain. But Roosevelt, who during the Munich crisis warned the governments that the next war might well mean the collapse of the economic and social order in all countries, has gone far beyond all but (possibly) Hitler in his preparations for war on the HOME FRONT.

This is Roosevelt’s lesson to the American working class. For to the American war-mongers, as to us, the main enemy is at home.


1. In her book, M-Day, which is filled with valuable though rather fragmentary information gained through her work with the Nye Committee.


Last updated on 10 March 2016