J.R. Johnson

The Invasion Reveals —

Labor’s Apathy to the War

(July 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 27, 3 July 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

The invasion lights up once more the unceasing warfare waged on all fronts and with all weapons by the Allied powers. They rain lead and steel against German imperialism. At the same time they plot to clamp military government on the European peoples for whose liberation they say they are fighting. At the same time in this country the ruling class launches an assault of unparalleled vigor, range and scope against the minds of the American people.

According to the capitalist propagandists, never since Lucifer was thrown out of heaven were such forces of light, of progress, of freedom, of liberty, of a better world, arrayed against such darkness, such criminals, such enemies of the human race. The climax was reached by the New York Times in an editorial which expressed envy of the young men who were dying in the full flush of their manhood, and would never know the pains and sufferings and disappointments of age. A truly wonderful sentiment!

Unfortunately we have not been able, by the most diligent search, to find in the Times since then any accounts of mass suicides by the capitalists in America, killing themselves off in order to avoid the sorrows and disappointments of the passing years. Bravely they bear up against the terrible evils of capitalist society while the tears run down their cheeks for the good fortune of those being killed on the beaches and fields of Normandy!

But, despite all this pressure, most observers have noted a very sinking and perhaps unexpected mass rejection of the invasion propaganda. The great body of the American people responded to the actual news of the invasion in a manner that does them remarkable credit. They were quiet, indulged in no heroics, but insofar as they expressed themselves, showed that they were more than anything else conscious of the young lives that were being destroyed or maimed in the tragic struggle in Europe. This widespread sentiment needs some examination.

What the People Want

First of all it is in harmony with recent developments. Masses of workers are beginning, to think their own thoughts about the war, and to act accordingly. They are not “defeatists.” They want victory. They want the war to end. They would like to see Hitler defeated. But they strike and keep on striking an increasing numbers. Thus they reject in action the “sacred unity” of the nation to which the capitalists give lip-service but which they violate at every turn. The workers protest against the class character of the conduct of the war in the field where they feel it most – wages and conditions of labor.

But they have shown their growing rejection of capitalist ideas in another field. When the propaganda about the bombing of Germany was at its height, the press had to devote columns proving that such bombing was not only necessary but just. In Britain a Gallup pell showed that a majority of the British people in the most heavily bombed areas had no wish to see the German people harassed by incessant bombing. The attitude, it is true, was not very logical. War is war. But the sentiment of revolt and disgust was against the terrible brutality to which men and women like themselves were being subjected. They felt that somehow it was wrong, that there was some other way in which people should be able to live without doing these things to one another.

Now comes the invasion. The American people have the greatest confidence in the sons and daughters of America who are shedding their blood on distant battlefields. But they refuse to delude themselves with dreams that the nation is engaged on a heroic struggle for a better world, a struggle in which sacrifices, though heavy, can be borne cheerfully in view of the noble aims, etc., etc. This is what the capitalist class tried to inculcate with all the power and ingenuity at its command. This is what it signally failed to accomplish.

This sober and realistic estimate of the invasion by the masses of the people should be seen for what it is – merely a continuation of the spirit which has characterized the people not only in America but in every country. From the hour that the Second World War loomed in view no longer as a distant threat but as an imminent possibility, the masses have hated it. From country after country came authentic information of the gloom, bitterness, resignation; no enthusiasm of any kind, no songs, none of the wild hysterical outbursts of military and nationalistic pride which have characterized many wars in the past.

Toward Class Action

Churchill in Britain capitalized on fear of German conquest of Britain and mobilized the British people on a basis of national defense, pure and simple. But Roosevelt and Wallace found it necessary to promise the American people “four freedoms” and “the century of the common man” to whip them not only into acceptance but into enthusiasm for the war. They have, for the most part, failed. Now comes this final proof of the stubborn refusal of the American people to see the war through the same rosy spectacles as their rulers.

The above should not be overestimated, but it should not be ignored. It is a sign of the growing sharpness of class relations in the country. Once the CIO was organized, it not only expressed but sharpened and clarified that fundamental incompatibility of interests which characterizes the relation between the various classes in an advanced society.

But this instinctive resistance to being propagandized and ballyhooed where serious questions are at issue cannot be allowed to dissipate itself. It must be organized.

For a Labor Party

At the present stage the workers need to have political expression for all the issues on which they have a point of view of their own. At the present stage, the road to this political expression and clarification is through an Independent Labor Party. It is only there that the workers can bring their ideas, desires and aspirations before leaders of their own choice, leaders who are responsible to them.

The workers may not for the moment have that clear penetration into the economic roots of their dissatisfaction and the drastic political re-orientation which this brings. That is not an argument against but for the formation of an independent Labor Party. They cannot think their thoughts to the end. They cannot even place their powerful instinctive reactions in organized opposition to the ceaseless propaganda the ruling class beats into their ears night and day. Yet their reaction to the invasion shows that they have something of their own to say, shows it as clearly as the strikes show that when Ford and a Ford worker say “We support the war” they mean different things.

Last updated on 15 December 2015