Joseph Hansen

On The War Fronts

(May 1942)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.3 No.5, May 1942, pp.149-152.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

In the first great stage of the second World War, the German military machine uncoiled like a huge spring, crushing and driving out the armed forces of the “democracies” from the satellite nations which constituted the Allied outposts on the European continent. The spectacular speed with which this phase of the German drive for world power was accomplished resulted not only from the careful preparation of the German militarists, the superiority of their military machine and the advantage of operating from inside lines, but from the internal decay of the Allied powers. By June 1941 the only bastions remaining in the hands of the Allied camp were Great Britain-Iceland on one flank of Europe, North Africa-Middle East on the other. Conquering either of these outposts would have given Germany an immensely strengthened military position. However, separated by barriers of water from the continent, with Britain unprepared to launch an offensive, neither outpost constituted an immediate threat to intrenched Germany. German imperialism was faced, on the other hand, with the pressing necessity of securing a vast granary to feed subjected Europe and oil fields to supply its industrial and military machine. In the absence of sea power with which to break through the Allied blockade, the German armies were forced to turn eastward. In addition was the threat of socialist revolution – if suppressed temporarily inside Germany through the instrumentality of fascism, still present externally in the shape of the Soviet Union. If the Nazis succeeded in conquering this great fortress of the proletariat with its vast natural resources, they would thereby strike a terrible blow against the threat of socialist revolution, break the Allied blockade, succeed in joining forces with Japan and thus attain a pre-eminent world position. The military challenge of America through Great Britain and the Middle East area could be met from enormously strengthened vantage points.

The second great stage of the conflict began with the German attack upon the Soviet Union.

In the third stage of the war, which brought in the United States and Japan as active military participants, the Japanese military machine in a series of operations paralleling those of Germany expanded with explosive speed. The same general factors which gave Germany military superiority in the west likewise gave Japan military superiority in the Orient, the previous German victories constituting an additional advantage. The “democracies” were driven from their strongholds in the Far East. Only the outposts of Australia, New Zealand, and India remain to them on the periphery of the new Japanese empire. The much more threatening outpost of eastern Siberia is held by the Soviet Union.

Throughout the war the “democracies” have been forced to remain on the defensive in the military field. The Axis powers are on the offensive. They are still expanding upon advantageous internal lines of attack.

If we grant an indefinitely prolonged world imperialist struggle uninterrupted by uprisings of the oppressed (a possibility that exists only in the abstract), and grant that in such a struggle the American colossus should secure the time to achieve ultimate superiority because of its great productive capacity, it is clear that on the military side such a victory could be attained only at the cost of unimaginable suffering and bloodshed. The Anglo-American powers must launch their offensive in both Europe and East Asia from difficult and costly outside lines in contradistinction to the inside lines from which the Axis powers operate. They must cross oceans to reach even the periphery of the Axis circles. They must land on distant coasts that will undoubtedly be desperately defended, recapture their lost outposts, and then step by step compress the expanded opposing military machines until they are driven back and finally shattered in the industrial centers from which they uncoiled. A clearer idea of exactly what such plans of the imperialist strategists will mean in misery and death to the workers can be obtained from a more detailed examination of the various war fronts.

In the Pacific

What will it take to conquer Japan? Economically Japan was, next to Italy, formerly the poorest great power. Yet this weak power crushed the remnants of the Dutch empire, smashed the British strongholds, defeated the American forces in the Philippines, and is now intrenching herself in one of the richest colonial areas of the world. She has knocked aside the Allied bayonets and placed her own bayonet at the throats of more than 137,000,000 people inhabiting approximately 1,385,000 square miles of territory. This does not take into account her seizures in the richest prize of all, China, which has yet to be conquered, although all the supply routes except the one through Mongolia are now in the hands of Japan.

Tokyo has conquered virtual monopoly of the world’s supply of rubber, tin, quinine, manila (used in the manufacture of rope). She has secured oil fields more than sufficient for her needs and along with it important ores such as bauxite from which aluminum is derived. The immediate booty which can be shipped to Japan includes rice, cattle, hides, tobacco, spices, etc. The March 7 issue of the Army and Navy Journal declared Japan now “virtually self-sufficient in her war economy.”

Writing in April Foreign Affairs, the military expert Hanson Baldwin says in an article America at War: Three Bad Months:

“The history of our first three months at war must be painted in somber colors. The United States Navy suffered the worst losses in its history ... As this was written the surging tide of conquest was imperilling India ... menacing Australia ... ship sinkings were increasing to totals which approximated those of the war’s worst months and freight storage yards were clogged ... awaiting merchant shipping ... Thus in less than 90 days the strategic picture of the war had been considerably altered. The United Nations had suffered their worst defeats since the fall of France. As spring approached, the short-range prospects were grim ...”

Such enormous military forces will be required to dislodge Japan, such a titanic navy and air fleet, such colossal armies, such slaughter of troops, that American economy and the American people must be strained to the breaking point. The truth about the propaganda that Japan is “weakening herself” was refuted by none other than Admiral Hart in the Hearst press of April 5. When asked the question, “Aren’t the Japs spreading themselves pretty thin, exposing their long lines of communication to attack?” the Admiral replied: “Our position is essentially the same. We, too, have long lines of communication not only in the Pacific but in the Atlantic. We too are vulnerable.” Hanson Baldwin adds that America has “convoy routes half as long as the circumference of the globe and three to twelve times as long as the Japanese communications.”

For years American imperialists talked of the Achilles heel of Japan, her lack of oil, while they supplied her with oil until she had stored enough, according to some estimates, to last for two years of all-out war. In the battles it turned out that the Dutch fleet itself was caught short of oil, although it was guarding the oil fields of the East Indies.

What is the truth about Japan’s alleged “weakness in oil” ? Not only does she still have the greater part of her war reserves but, if we are to believe the February Fortune magazine, Dr. Fritz Fetzer, a high German naval official, after a trip to Tokyo reported to Berlin as long ago as 1935,

“... that Japan ... depended on foreign crude oil reached only by sea, but conquerable; that therefore she was building not only extensive refineries but a large fleet of some of the fastest tankers in the world ... By 1941 Japan’s plants could refine about three-fourths of all her oil requirements.”

Apparently Hanson Baldwin would agree with this estimate, for in the January 19 New York Times he pointed out that on “Tarakan, the oil-rich island off the northeastern coast of Borneo, the oil is so pure that it can be pumped directly into a ship’s tanks without refining.” In his column of February 20 he declared that “Japan has now obtained access to great stocks of oil and raw materials in the Southwestern Pacific and is probably indefinitely blockade-proof.” In his article in Foreign Affairs he goes even further, pointing out that in the battle area it is the Japanese who are rich in oil, the Allies who are poor: “Now that the Japanese are in possession of Malaya and the Indies, their need for oil and other materials is largely met, whereas we must transport most of our oil supplies to Australia.”

Victories are likewise mapped in the bourgeois press, showing how it is possible to sweep across the Pacific from Hawaii and Alaska in a pincers movement for direct attack upon the Japanese islands. The slogan generally attached to these maps is “Bomb Tokyo!” The truth is, such slogans only cover up preparations for the most terrible slaughter of Allied armed forces. We see very easily the difficulties Hitler faces in making a ground assault across 20 odd miles of English Channel. But the distance from Pearl Harbor to Yokohama is 3,394 miles; from Dutch Harbor, 2,928. The decisive factor, air power, is not even mentioned in these newspaper plans except possibly in connection with agitation to use Vladivostok as the base for bombing Tokyo. Yet it was air power which enabled the Japanese to drive the American fleet away from the Philippines, to wipe out the battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales which sealed the fate of Singapore, and finally, as the Army and Navy Journal of March 21 puts it, “destroy” the United Nations’ fleet at Java.

The United States is manufacturing planes at many times the rate of Japan. However, it is not possible to manufacture in American plants bases for the use of these planes in the Far East. Where can these planes find a base well supplied with gasoline, armaments, food, replacements, etc. ? The ports of China are held by Japan. The Burma road has been closed by Japan. All the islands down to Australia are held by Japan. Long range bombers can be knocked off with relative ease if they conduct sustained bombings, unless protected by fighter planes. Airplane carriers to transport such planes, and tankers to supply the accompanying vessels are among the most vulnerable of naval craft.

Rather than easy victory, the March 7 London Economist sees the situation due to become worse, visualizing that Japan can advance still farther, raiding the coast of India as she did China and penetrating toward the interior; the review believes that Japanese control of the Indian Ocean looms. As for India resisting Japanese aggression, the Economist is not too confident:

“India is large enough to swallow the invader – particularly an invader thousands of miles from his main base. Another aspect, of course, is not so hopeful – the Indian people do not feel for the British raj what the Chinese feel for Free China.”

Yet in the face of this grim reality the bourgeois press announces with appropriate fanfare that MacArthur is preparing to use Australia as the springboard for an offensive that will not stop until “total victory” is gained over Japan. If we leave out the alternative of revolution and colonial uprisings – a specter which Wall Street fears above all else – this means taking and holding Java, Celebes, Sumatra, Borneo and the lesser neighboring islands, advancing into the blazing muzzles of the giant guns on Singapore (which is now being repaired and improved by the Japanese), advancing through the jungles of the Malay peninsula, taking Thailand, Burma, Indo-China, advancing along the coast of China, retaking Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai, etc., recapturing the Philippines, and then landing on the Japanese islands themselves. If this project is ever carried out, the western waters of the Pacific will be dyed crimson with the blood of the opposing forces.

The Battle of the Atlantic

The defeat of the Allied fleet in the Pacific, which necessarily resulted in greater dispersion of the naval craft patrolling the rest of the sea lanes, has enabled the Axis to wage large-scale submarine warfare on the Atlantic coast. Apparently about two merchant vessels a day are being sunk; that is, twice as many as are being launched, according to official reports.

The continued sinkings have seriously cut down on America’s ability to send war supplies to the battle areas. Docks and warehouses are jammed with goods awaiting ships. The enormous war production of the factories pours to the coastlines and there piles up in huge reserves separated by wide oceans from the battlefields. Tanker sinkings, for instance, have resulted in a growing oil shortage on the eastern seaboard since 95 per cent of petroleum products required there are normally transported by tankers. In the Gulf area, storage tanks are filled to capacity and refineries have been compelled to curtail operations by approximately 25 per cent because of the Shipping bottleneck. According to Arthur Krock in the New York Times of April 8,

“... the truth is that the United States has well under 50 per cent of the bottoms required to carry out its full commitments and the needs of general war. The further truth is that shipping production figures do not yet justify the belief that construction will fill this gap and that caused by submarine sinkings, any time soon.”

The situation in the Atlantic was indicated when, from under the very noses of the British, the German war vessels trapped at Brest, the Scharnhorst, the Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen, managed to make the perilous run through the English Channel and escape to Germany. Admiral Hart remarked dryly about this reverse:

“You noticed that the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst left Brest at the moment the Germans decided for their departure. And British air fields were only 130 miles away.”

In his funeral oration over this defeat, Churchill expressed “relief” that these vessels were no longer in a French port from which they could threaten Allied shipping. However, as the Army and Navy Journal of February 21 sarcastically points out:

“He failed to remind Parliament that when the vessels are repaired, they, in conjunction with the battleships Tirpitz, Suetzow and Scheer will make a powerful fleet, which this summer can operate against the Russian naval forces in the Baltic Sea, and move to interrupt Lend-Lease material proceeding from the United States to Murmansk.”

The German fleet may also attempt to effect a junction with the remnants of the French and Italian fleets in the Mediterranean. The European fleets of the Axis might also attempt to join the still largely intact Japanese fleet in the Indian Ocean, thus creating a formidable force that could be challenged only at the cost of untold slaughter. British occupation of Madagascar was to forestall a juncture of Germany and Japan at this strategic spot.

The Army and Navy Journal of March 7 pointed out:

“Hugh Dalton, president of the British Board of Trade, pointed out this week that the Tokyo government now has a great surplus of many vital war materials which Germany lacks, and there is a definite danger that those two allies will make .every effort to join their trade routes. Herein lies the importance of Madagascar to the totalitarian governments, for, in their possession, that island would serve as a base for the transfer of goods, as well as for submarine operations against the ships of the United Nations carrying supplies to Libya, the Near East and India. At present the exchange of rubber, tin, etc., by the Japanese for German machine tools, instruments, etc., would he limited to blockade runners, but if a juncture should be effected by the Japanese Navy with the German battleships, and the French and Italian Fleets, the trickle that is likely would become a stream.”

The long tradition of American and British naval superiority still blinds people to the fact that the Axis is now close to turning the tables on the high seas. On April 17 Hanson Baldwin disclosed in his column: “The tenuous naval superiority that the United Nations enjoyed last December has now been whittled down by losses and damages to a serious extent ... the margin of our present naval superiority is small ...” The loss of another naval battle could mean a shift in the balance of sea power in favor of the Axis.

The conquest of Singapore has not only given Tokyo the possibility of offensive operations in the Indian Ocean but has greatly increased the danger to China. Besides the direct military threat there is the possibility that Chiang Kai-shek will doublecross London and Washington. His price as ally of the United Nations has already gone up.

Chiang Kai-shek, however, will not find it easy to shift into the camp of Japan, should he actually be considering such an alternative. The prestige of the Allied powers, dealt a terrible blow in the Far East debacle, has not thereby automatically been transferred to Japanese imperialism. Throughout the Orient the colonial movement has received a tremendous impetus. The Chinese people can see for themselves that the allies of Chiang Kai-shek were not so powerful as tradition and propaganda had made them out to be, and are speaking with a new note of self-confidence. The slogan “arm the people” will gain in popularity throughout China as the realization sweeps the land that they must depend upon their own forces for victory. Chiang Kai-shek’s bureaucratic conduct of the war has resulted in the slaughter of millions of people without dislodging the Japanese forces. An armed populace, inspired by an agrarian revolution in China, would consume the Japanese forces in short order and free China. Such an event could electrify the oppressed of the entire earth.

The Danger to the Soviet Union

The class-conscious workers are defending the Soviet Union as a mighty fortress of the proletariat. A Soviet victory over Hitler’s armies would mean the opening of a new dynamic stage of the world socialist revolution. To the danger from the Nazis has now been added a new and imminent peril in Siberia.

Strategicus, whose opinion seems to hold considerable weight with the American staff as well as the British, stated in the Army and Navy Journal for January 3:

“The Soviet Army in Siberia has been greatly weakened in recent months by the transfer to Europe of most of its tank brigades, a number of infantry divisions, and a large part of its air-forces. Japan, therefore, possesses for the time being military superiority along the Manchurian-Siberian front ... it may be predicted that active hostilities between Japan and Russia will break out as soon as Spring weather permits large-scale military operations. Indeed ... unless the Malaysian offensive consumes too much of Japan’s military strength, it will be Japan which will take the offensive and invade Siberia; and this offensive will he launched in conjunction with a German assault in European Russia.”

Washington speaks of an offensive against Japan. It is possible, as hinted in Chiang Kai-shek’s paper, that the plans envisage the launching of this offensive not only from Australia but from Siberia.

The winter campaign of the Red Army does not seem to have greatly impressed the strategists who control the armed forces of the Allies. The Army and Navy Journal of January 10, for instance, expresses this attitude succinctly:

“What the Russian soldiers are doing in the defense of their homeland is the envy and pride of all fighting men ... There are still experts who fail to get enthusiastic over the Russian progress, who point out that the retreats of the Germans have been from their advance salients and have had the result, probably planned, they say, of straightening out the German line. There has been no break through, they point, nor have any great bodies of German troops been cut off.”

Strategicus likewise declares:

“Despite recent successes in the Moscow and Rostov sectors, Russia will probably continue to be hard pressed by Germany. A revival of the Nazi offensive should occur in April or May, when winter has passed, and mechanized armies can operate once more. This offensive will almost certainly be just as violent and just as widespread as the attack of last June.”

Hanson Baldwin on March 16 declared that although the German losses had been heavy during the winter, they had given up only about one-fifth of the conquered territory. Moreover:

“The Germans have clung tenaciously – and on the whole, successfully – to key strong points which, because they control important communication networks in Western Russia, the Nazis hope to use as springboards for a summer offensive ... The Germans have waged during the winter a campaign of careful and calculated defense: They still have what is probably the world’s strongest military machine. They will strike with relentless and increased power against a Russia that, like her enemy, has suffered from attrition.”

The offensive power of the Red Army lies primarily in revolutionary warfare, which Stalin has abjured, and not in restricting the struggle to the military arena. Has Stalin, in his desperation and his fear of conducting revolutionary warfare against German imperialism, vainly squandered on the winter snows of these vast and desolated plains the blood of hundreds of thousands of Soviet youth ? Such conduct would be quite in accordance with the previous career of this betrayer of Bolshevism who has brought the Soviet Union to the very brink of the abyss.

Japan is attempting to induce Stalin to make peace with Hitler, says the Army and Navy Journal of April 11:

“Arriving simultaneously at Kuibyshev ... were Admiral Standley, American Ambassador, and Japanese special envoy Sato. They will be opponents in a diplomatic game of vital importance to the result of the war. The Admiral is charged with the duty of keeping Russia on the battle line ... Sato ... will re-enforce German efforts to induce Stalin to make peace with Hitler, and in the background of his representations will be the threat that his government will order its strengthened divisions to march from Manchukuo into Siberia ... Sato may tell the Soviet Government that if the United States and Great Britain attempt to establish a second front in France, Italy or Norway, Tokyo will be required to act against it.”

The reactionary politics of Stalin has brought the Soviet Union into a desperate situation. Stalin paved the way for Hitler’s bayonet thrusts at the throat of the workers’ state. Stalin has given Japan the opportunity to bring down her raised dagger in a stab in the back. With imperialist cannon bombarding the workers’ state from all sides Stalinism is again demonstrating itself to be a terrible obstacle in the successful defense of the Soviet Union.

A Planet Writhing in Agony

The bourgeoisie has no other perspective but intensification of the slaughter. Millions of men have already been slain in the uttermost corners of the earth. Tens of millions more are now being prepared to follow them in the coming installments of the second World War. The bourgeoisie in the period of the death agony of capitalism is raising up all the forces of destruction. To maintain and extend their positions of privilege the capitalists are hurling all the acquisitions of mankind along with man himself into the inferno of war. The standard of living of the masses is being driven down to starvation levels in even the most productive nations. Mushrooming military dictatorships are tightening the straitjacket of internal passports, identification cards, regimentation of the entire population. Civil liberties are threatened with extinction. Labor organizations are faced with destruction and the loss of all the gains of centuries of struggle. If the bourgeoisie continues to have its way a new dark age will cover the face of the earth.

With each day of the second imperialist world war it becomes increasingly clear that there is no way out except that of socialist revolution. If the hundreds of millions of oppressed in the colonial areas, China, India, Malaysia, Africa and elsewhere were to rise up they could end the slaughter overnight. Likewise a successful socialist revolution in any one of the highly developed imperialist nations – the United States, England, France, Germany, Italy or Japan – could so inspire the hundreds of millions of oppressed throughout the entire world as to usher in a socialist peace.

The second World War is but the continuation of the first World War. All the festering issues and irreconcilable contradictions of imperialism that brought about the first World War are again projected in military struggle but upon a far more violent and bloody plane. The same forces, however, that ended the first World War will likewise end the second World War. The October revolution that flamed like a bright dawn over the battlefields of Europe in 1917, inspiring the oppressed of all nations with hope, will flame again, but far brighter and more brilliant than in its first flush. All the forces of destruction raised up by the bourgeoisie will end by turning upon the bourgeoisie itself as a class.

The final act of destruction will be the removal of this last obstacle to the establishment of a world society based on the brotherhood of man. The very violence of the present conflict is a gauge of the depth and thoroughness with which the coming socialist revolution will perform its task. Already the old society is bursting at every seam – in India, Burma, the Middle East and Africa the masses are seething; in the old capitalist nations the people are filled with a deep uneasiness that can at any moment turn toward political channels. The day is fast approaching when imperialist war will be forever ended, and its horrible instruments of destruction, like the capitalist society which produced them, will find their place in the museums of the future as savage relics of the barbarous beginnings of civilizations.


Last updated on: 20.2.2006