Hal Draper


Why This Profit System and Its Government Bar a Democratic Foreign Policy

Is the U.S. Defending Democracy
– or Capitalism?

(May 1951)

From Labor Action, Vol. 15 No. 19, 7 May 1951, pp. 4–5.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Marked up by A.Forse for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

When an Indian tribe went on the warpath to grab a neighbor’s choice hunting ground, it is not likely that the braves spent too much time convincing each other that the scalps were necessary to further an idealistic crusade. They knew what they were fighting for because the real object of the war was also in the interest of the entire tribe. There was no overweening need for sloganized deception.

Bewilderment and demagogy over “war aims” has been an accompaniment of “civilization” – that is, of societies divided into ruling and ruled classes. This is the kind of civilized society we have known up to today.

No ruling class has ever inscribed on its war banner: “We fight for the Greater Glory of Our Class Interests.” That is, no ruling class has ever done so if it expects the mass of people to do the fighting for it. It always wars, instead, for God, for country, for honor, for defense, for freedom – for an aim which is also shared by those who have to do the dying.

In the world wars of our modern age, there has been a pattern which cannot fail to provoke thought by those who are too ready to accept the current slogan used to explain why more millions must be slaughtered.

The First World War was fought to save the world for democracy – and there was less democracy left in the world after victory was won against Kaiserism. “Something” went wrong. There is plenty of evidence to prove that the war was really fought on behalf of one group of imperialist powers against another.

So they said the Second World War was different. It was different in many significant respects, but not in this: It was supposedly fought to save the “peace-loving democracies” from aggressive fascism, but the victors are now greasing the way for the return to power of the neo-Nazi reactionaries of Germany as well as preparing the rearming of Japan, rehabilitating the only fascist ally of Hitler still in power (Franco), etc.

“Something” went wrong again.

To lovers of freedom, the world picture is blacker today than before the second crusade for democracy. From the standpoint of a better world, both wars were tragic, useless butcheries.

Yet Kaiserism had to be fought. Nazism had to be fought. It was, indeed, the anti-war socialists who fought those despotisms more uncompromisingly than anyone else.

But the two world wars of our century were not directed against these as the enemies of freedom, peace or a better world. They were capitalist wars.

And now we face a third.

‘What’s Wrong’ – Right Now?

How can you doctrinaire socialists call this developing war with Russia a “capitalist war” on the part of the U.S.? Isn’t it clear that Moscow menaces the whole of the free world? Are we supposed to stand aside and let Stalin grab up country after country for fear of being called “capitalist warmongers” by you socialists? Does your opposition to capitalism blind you to the fact – this time, anyway – the U.S. is not at bottom fighting to defend capitalism, but to defend its very life and every possibility of progress against the most brutal regime the world has ever seen? What planet are you living on? etc., etc.

It ill behooves those whose sincere liberal intentions were twice deceived – who proved two times running that they understood little of what, was going on and who now retrospectively ask themselves “What went wrong again?” – to pour arrogant scorn on the socialists. They would do better to ask themselves, with a little foresight this time, ‘What is wrong now?

If the aim of this cold-war struggle, and of the big shooting war it is leading to, were really to crush Stalinist totalitarianism and ensure the blossoming of democracy, then we Independent Socialists would have no hesitation in getting behind it. But then many other things would be different, including the inevitability of that atomic war itself.

What is wrong is that this capitalist government cannot and will not wage either war or peace except in defense of capitalism and its interest. If you like the capitalist system, that may not trouble you – Russian expansion will be stopped anyway, won’t it?

There’s the rub: The only way in which this capitalist government can wage its war, cold or hot, is one which facilitates Russian Stalinist expansion on the one hand and offers, on the other, the possibility of stopping Russia only at the cost of destructive atomic warfare and only with the consequence of the intensification of every trend toward reaction, totalitarianism and a new barbarism.

Liberals may then no longer be able to write third-round articles about “What Went Wrong?” and “Why Did We Lose the Peace?”

It would be better to understand something about this social system of capitalism, which is going wrong right now, and about its relation to the war which the U.S. is preparing to fight.

Please, Make a Revolution!

Take, for example, the latest resolution on foreign policy adopted by the ADA (Americans for Democratic Action), the center of America’s organized liberals. Take, in fact, its best features.

The ADA sharply criticizes U.S. aid to Franco; calls for wheat grants to starving India; urges the U.S. to “become the chief proponent of the revolutionary aspirations of the Asian peoples”; supports Indo-China’s independence from France; is “alarmed by the growing power of reaction and militarism in Latin America” and cautions that “any American military aid given to these countries ought to he dependent upon guarantees of essential political freedoms”; notes that German “economic recovery has been accompanied by the resurgence of the power of the industrialists who aided Hitler”; complains that, outside of Britain and Scandinavia (“where government is in the hands of strongly progressive groups”) a result of the Marshall Plan has been that “a disproportionate share of the benefits has accrued to the already rich or well-to-do.”

A long list – is it not? – for a group which supports U.S. foreign policy as a whole ... But not long enough, even in ADA terms. The White Paper breaking with Chiang Kai-shek is now a piece of paper, and Chiang now is rehabilitated on the U.S. dole on an equal status with Marshall Plan countries. In Korea the U.S. supports the assassin regime of Syngman Rhee. In the Philippines the infamous Quirino is the U.S. stooge ...

In every hot spot of the world, there never has been a time when U.S. policy has been so overt in support of every reactionary force it can muster, so long as that force is anti-Russian.

Read the ADA resolution, and a startling omission appears. Nowhere in the long document can one discover that these reactionary policies are being carried on – not by the Republicans, not by the Dixiecrats, not by MacArthur, none of whom happens to be in the White House – but by Truman and his Fair Deal colleagues!

Are these things merely regrettable mistakes and deplorable errors in an otherwise progressive foreign policy? The list of “mistakes” and “errors” cover the whole globe and every continent!

Nowhere is it asked “Why?” Why are Truman-Acheson deliberately propping up the leading fascist in the world, in the very face of anti-Franco revolts among his people? Why did Franco get his grain in a twinkling, while India has so long been left to starve in the face of famine? Why has the U.S. occupation countenanced the return to power of Krupp and the cartels in Adenauer’s Germany? Why does the U.S. support Rhee, under whose regime Robert Taft would be considered a dangerous subversive? Why? Why? Why?

It would be easy to reply that Truman and his fellow policy-makers simply dote on fascists and reactionaries – but that would not only be false, it would miss the main point. The fact is that a creature like Syngman Rhee, with his semi-feudal landlord clique, for example, is a pre-capitalist fossil repugnant even to a self-respecting capitalist reactionary. Acheson no doubt shuddered the last time Rhee ordered the murder of a political opponent. But –

He had no choice. The only other social force in Korea, besides the landlord clique, is the nameless lowly mass of the peasantry who, for generations, have been straining from below to rise up and throw off their semi-feudal exploiters in mass revolt. In a country like Korea, the only alternative to Rhee is: going to the people, supporting their rebellion in mass revolution from below against “law and order” and “established authorities.”

That does not stop more than one good liberal from advocating that the U.S. do what is necessary – that it, “foster the Asian revolution,” that is, become the vanguard of the world revolution. But it does stop the capitalist government of the U.S.! Washington is interested in preserving the states quo in the capitalist world, not in fostering revolution ... How naive is a liberal permitted to be?

There is no effective middle ground in Korea between the anti-capitalist, anti-landlord revolutionary strivings of the people at the bottom, and the corrupt Rhee dictatorship on top. Between these two, the U.S. chooses reaction – holding its nose.

But that precisely is the type of choice all over Asia, and all over the world! If the “industrialists who aided Hitler” are coming back in Germany, under the Adenauer regime whose victory in the last German election was hailed by U.S. capital, it is because these are the people whose comeback is necessary if German capitalism is to be propped up. (As Henry Wallace once naively put it, the difficulty with the program of “progressive capitalism” is ... the lack of progressive capitalists.)

Test case: In Germany the U.S. occupation policy was faced with the choice of sacrificing German capitalism to the “war for democracy,” or sacrificing democracy to the need of organizing Western capitalism against its Russian imperialist rival. The U.S. chose the latter because the interests of capitalism are its first and only basic concern. Hence the character and consequences of this cold war and of the war to come.

In sharper or more muffled form, this same type of choice is behind every U.S. “mistake” in plumping for the deepest-dyed reactionary scoundrels everywhere on the earth. There is less and less middle-ground between these, and the anti-capitalist, revolutionary and socialist aspirations of the peoples all over the world, in a world where U.S. capitalism remains the only one in which the old system has still a bit of fat around its belt, still at any rate a going concern. The increasingly open reactionary character of U.S. foreign policy has developed with the decay of world capitalism itself.

The revolutionary strivings of the peoples are left wide open to the demagogy of the Stalinists, who are able to ride the anti-capital ist wave because they have no stake in capitalism themselves, being representatives of a rival exploitive system.

The U.S. cannot carry out a democratic foreign policy as long as capitalism holds sway at home.

This is the first sense in which capitalist America’s war is neces sarily a capitalist war.

It’s Built Into Capitalism

To “contain” Stalinism, to prepare the war against Russia, the U.S. has to organize the West. It knows only one way to do that. The capitalist governments of Europe are split among themselves.

While all stand in fear and hatred before the upstart imperialism of Stalinist Russia, they are not too much more enthusiastic about ceding an inch of power and influence within the capitalist world than they are to lose all before Russian bureaucratic collectivist imperialism. They fight Stalinism not because it destroys democracy in the world but because it destroys their power along with their capitalist system. Their class interests are at stake within the tug-of-war of the Western bloc as well as in the tug-of-war over the globe.

The loose cooperating alliance through which groups of capitalist countries fought the previous world wars – ceding a little here, snatching a little there at the first opportunity – will no longer do. For one thing, the fate of their social world is at stake, not merely advan tage in imperialist rivalry. For another, the capitalism of the U.S. has developed in overpowering strength as their own has declined. The capitalism of the U.S. bestrides them as a colossus.

Such is the state of the old profit system that no one in Europe – not even the capitalist class – believes that even victory in war against Russia can mean much besides more destruction and decay for themselves. The U.S. can win the war – or Russia can win the war – but whoever wins, Europe loses.

These are the allies that the U.S. seeks to organize under its banner. It can marshal them into a fighting force only by imposing its own domination and control over them.

It is said that the U.S. “does not seek world domination.” This is as meaningful a claim as the companion-piece that the U.S. “wants peace, and not war.” Of course, the U.S. does not want war. Neither does Stalin. (Neither did Hitler.) They merely want that which can be gained, in the teeth of rivals, only with eventual war.

The U.S. does not “want” to control the world, if by that is meant some megalomaniac desire for power for its own sake. It merely is driven to seek effective domination over the world if it is to gain that which it does want.

It is perfectly true, in this sense, that the U.S. has accepted its “world responsibilities” reluctantly and in spite of national traditions against foreign entanglements and commitments. A good part of the

“great debate” on foreign policy represents the continuing struggle between that tradition and the increasingly clear necessities of capitalist “internationalism.” A good part of the internal inconsistency of the Republicans and the grossly hypocritical and double-tongued character of their foreign policy is due not merely to power-politics maneuvering but also to the fact that not all of them have entirely made the adjustment to American capitalism’s new world role and tasks.

No, American capitalism does not “want” world domination. It merely wants the fruits of world power. For decades it has been able to assert its preponderance in the world through the power of its economic wealth and industrial power, without direct political domination. It has been able to capture and control one market after another, one source of raw materials after another, on the basis of its economic weapons.

And its economic weapons are still its most powerful today, when it has to organize the capitalist world against its Russian imperialist rival. The Marshall Plan, with its retinues of supervising controllers, checkers and overseers in the countries which are the beneficiaries of its charity, becomes an instrument to guide and twist the economies of the West in the direction that will fit in with the needs of the grand war alliance.

With lordly objectivity – when it’s a question of the other fellow’s shoe pinching – the U.S. overseers complain about the narrow nationalism displayed by their fellow capitalists abroad, who do not relish having their economies geared to war according to blueprints which are engineered to benefit U.S. capital and not their own.

It isn’t a cold-blooded plot, of course. It’s merely something like this: an ECA administrator in Rome can see with complete clarity how absurd it is, from the common standpoint, for Italian capitalism to insist on building its own steel industry; and he can put the kibosh on it; and if, in turn, embarrassing questions are raised about the “narrow nationalism” of U.S. tariff policy, for example ... he can do nothing but write deploring letters to Washington ...

From the point of view of American capitalism, the Russian threat to world peace and democracy is no unmixed calamity. Without it, U.S. power could scarcely of extended to its present sway as the undisputed arbiter of the western world. Without it, the capitalisms of Europe – weakened though they are – would scarcely have been brought to submit in so short a period to the tender mercies of overseership by Washington.

For Europe, the cold war has meant: an unconscionable drain for armaments on their weakened economic structures; the distortion of their economies away from rebuilding the standard of living of their peoples and toward war outlays; the squeezing of their industrial structures by American monopolization of raw-material sources (as Aneurin Bevan pointed out in his speech in Parliament); the prospect of a war which can only drive them further toward complete bankruptcy.

But for America, sitting on top of the capitalist world, the cold war has meant: prosperity, and the highest profit ranges in history.

In the heyday of the British Empire, it was estimated that every Englishman had five colonial slaves working for him. That is, the poverty and misery of the people in the exploited colonies were the basis for the Englishman’s higher standard of living.

Today, if the American people enjoy the highest standard of living in the world, it is not because of the magic beneficence of “free enterprise.” The reason is, if anything, precisely the contrary! When the Voice of America naively points to the television sets, refrigerators and automobiles which prove the happy lot of the American people as a selling point for capitalism, it can be under stood if Europeans fail to grow enthusiastic at this propaganda.

They, in the birthplaces of world capitalism, do not have television sets and refrigerators; capitalism and its wars have left their coun tries in shambles; and if America is rich, they have a right to suspect that it is because they are poor ...

Yes, the Russian threat is no unmixed calamity to American capitalism. One has only to ask oneself, as so many economists have done in fact: What would happen to U.S. economy if “peace broke out,” that is, if the U.S. had to return to a peace economy? ...

What is it that has held back the outbreak of another devastating depression and economic crisis such as raged in the ‘30s, until industry started gearing for World War II? What has happened to the galloping disease of capitalism which dooms it to recurrent spells of unemployment and breakdown in the midst of abundance – in fact because of an abundance of goods which cannot be purchased by the mass of people?

If the great productive machinery of the U.S. now in operation were to be used to produce the necessities and luxuries of life for the consumption of the people, the expected post-war depression would already be upon us. For as long as the extraction of capitalist profit stands before the people’s ability to buy back (with their wages) the goods which they themselves create, so long does the capitalist system periodically break down, choking in its own fat, as “over- production” comes into conflict with the restricted purchasing power of the masses.

No. It’s Not a ‘Plot’ ...

But – happy times that we live in! – an economy decisively geared to the production of cannon, bombing planes, and the instruments of war destruction in general, does not have to depend on the inadequacies of mass purchasing power. Its market is the government. As the cost of war and war preparation rises, the government squeezes its funds from the standard of living of the people. Instead of catas trophic economic breakdowns, we are due to see a steady downward pressure on the workers’ living conditions – while the capitalists draw their war profits unperturbed by possible stock crashes ...

Is this a diabolical plot to substitute war for depression? Of course not! This is simply the capitalist system in operation, following out its own trends behind the backs (and consciousness) even of its own “leaders.”

If, to keep this war economy going at full blast, the U.S. must distort and strangle the economies of its capitalist colleagues abroad, is this the result of an evil conspiracy by Wall Street magnates to achieve world empire? Of course not! This is merely international capitalist competition at work, the fruit of the blessed private-enter prise system ...

If, in order for itself to remain healthy, U.S. capitalism must muscle in on and squeeze out the older capitalisms of Europe, in control of markets and raw materials all over the globe, is this the heinous intent of rapacious imperialists developing a deep-dyed plan in a smoke-filled room? Of course not! This is merely the imperialism which is the very warp and woof of modern capitalism ...

And Stalinist Russia appears before the capitalist world, not merely as a challenger for the lion’s share in an inter-capitalist division of world markets and wealth, not as an imperialist rival whose victory would mean a mere restriction of the loser’s imperialist opportunities, but as an imperialist rival challenging the whole capitalist form of exploitation, in favor of its own form of exploitation and oppression.

Where it wins, capitalism is destroyed, and another section of the world is removed from any capitalist’s range of operation. As the Stalinist system spreads, as it has already spread over a third of the planet, capitalism is more and more forced back upon its home market alone, in a tightening squeeze. If “socialism in one country” is impossible, “capitalism in one country” is even less possible.

From the point of view of a capitalist government, the struggle to “contain” Stalinism is the struggle to keep the world open for its type of exploitation, without which it would strangle behind its own national boundaries.

This is why, for the U.S., “everything goes” as long as it stops Russia – even if it also means the bureaucratic militarization and totalitarianization of capitalism itself.

On the one hand, the capitalist basis of U.S. foreign policy makes a democratic foreign policy IMPOSSIBLE.

On the other hand, the capitalist basis of U.S. foreign policy makes a democratic foreign policy DISPENSABLE as far as the real aims of the struggle are concerned.

The only kind of government which can realize a truly democratic foreign policy is one which is ready to subordinate the interests of capitalism and imperialism to the necessary steps for defending the nation and the working people from the threat of Stalinist aggression and totalitarianism.

Only a government of labor could do this – a labor government which does not act like the AFL and CIO leaders today, who parrot the war slogans of the capitalist powers-that-be, but one which boldly accepts its task of remaking society as the “architects of the future.” Such a course, rejecting the downward paths of both capitalism and Stalinism, would be the path to a socialist democracy, a Socialist America, in a world of peace and plenty.

Last updated on: 23 February 2015