Joseph Hansen

“Morality” in Indonesia War

Where Philip Murray Stands in Struggle Against Dutch Imperialism

(3 January 1949)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 1, 3 January 1949, p. 3.
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In his Dec. 23 letter to Secretary of State Marshall, CIO President Philip Murray declares that the attack of the Netherlands government on the Indonesian people “conforms neither to the morality of our civilization nor to the practical political needs of the people of Western Europe and the United States.”

The Dutch imperialists take a different view. They believe that practical political needs demanded their Nazi-style blitzkrieg attack against Indonesia; and they consider their action morally justified, as can be seen from the following:

On Dec. 24, Dutch Commander-in-Chief Spoor urged his troops to “live up to the Christmas spirit” so that “Christmas may be a symbol from which you may draw Strength to carry out your orders with the beautiful objective – to bring peace to Indonesia.”

And on Dec. 25, in her Christmas Day broadcast, Queen Juliana declared that the Dutch armies were merely carrying out the promise during World. War II “of assuring the Four Freedoms to Indonesia.”

Are these declarations pure hypocrisy? No, not entirely. The Dutch imperialists must be credited with a certain amount of fervor. They probably feel the same kind of moral glow that the Southern Bourbons feel in instigating lynch murder.

The Dutch capitalists are not suffering from a temporary aberration, a passing lapse from the “morality of our civilization” which they will rectify as soon as a sterling moralist like Philip Murray calls it to their attention. Their actions accord with capitalist morality.

Moral Practices

This is confirmed by the fact that the British, French, Belgian and American capitalists are aiding the Dutch in their war of imperialist conquest instead of calling them to account for their crimes against humanity.

They do this because they sympathize with the Dutch capitalists and share their views oh morality. The British are waging similar action on their ownaccount in Malaya; and the French in Indo-China. The Belgian capitalists are notorious for their, colonial brutality. And Wall Street, besides its own criminal record in Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Latin America, backs all the other colonial rulers with guns and dollars.

The truth is that capitalist morality is the very opposite of what most working people consider upright. In the moral world of the capitalist class a war of conquest is a crusade for “peace.” Mass murder is “pacification.” Plunder and rape and the smashing of an independence movement is “police action.” Broken promises, violated truces, the lies, deceit and treachery leading up to a Pearl Harbor attack are viewed by the capitalists as justifiable means “to save lives.”

Everything is turned upside down in their morality – that is, their real morality.

From this point of view, consequently, Philip Murray is wrong and the Dutch despots are light in the dispute over whether or not a ruthless colonial war conforms to the morality of capitalist civilization. However, it must be at once added that Murray is not completely off base in his statement. There is a grain of truth in what he says. The actions of the capitalists do not conform to the morality they profess.

They hate to admit their real moral views. First of all, they must pay lip service to the morality which the working people observe in their daily lives; otherwise they could not long remain in power. Secondly, although the capitalists actually live by cold calculation and a merciless drive for profits, they indulge in rationalization to salve their conscience. Many of them find the feeling of guilt resulting from their actions painful to bear. So they picture themselves as guardians of morality, in many cases actually coming to believe this delusion despite an occasional inner twinge!

This is true not only of the capitalists but of their agents in the labor movement, as can be seen in the case of Philip Murray. He no doubt is convinced that he is a paragon of virtue. Yet if his actions be compared with his professed beliefs, some unpleasant discrepancies emerge.

The contrast between his declamations on democracy and his actions in building a dictatorial bureaucracy in the CIO is the most glaring instance but not the only one.

In his letter to Marshall, Murray proclaims the lofty moral view that “The CIO has always felt that the peoples of the colonial countries should be given the greatest possible assistance in developing free, democratic governments”

To conform with this moral standard, what actions are required of Murray? As head of the CIO, shouldn’t he do something like the following: Call on the maritime workers to halt shipments of war supplies to the Dutch. Call for demonstrations and picket lines to put the spotlight on the sinister role of the Truman Administration in supplying the Dutch despots with arms, ammunition and dollars to carry on their war of conquest. Mobilize labor’s mighty power against the Dutch imperialists and their American backers through boycott and other means. Organize effective, direct aid for the Indonesian Republic.

Philip Murray took no action like that. It cannot be argued in his behalf that he was too stupid to think up such obvious measures. It so happens that the Socialist Workers Party wired Philip Murray, as it did John L. Lewis and William Green, proposing this militant course of action. The Socialist Workers Party follows Bolshevik morality, practising what it preaches about fighting in the cause of the oppressed and making its deeds conform to the views it proclaims.

Murray did something quite the contrary. He lauded the State Department on its cheap, facesaving gesture of stopping some $14 million in future Marshall Plan orders earmarked for the Dutch East Indies while continuing Marshall Plan aid to Holland.

Murray thus served the practical political needs of the Truman Administration by doing his part to cover up White House guilt for what is happening in Indonesia. Like the Dutch imperialists, Philip Murray professes a morality that does not conform with his actions.


Last updated on: i March 2024