William F. Warde

Roosevelt After
the Battle of France

(August 1940)

Source: Fourth International, Vol. 1 No. 4, August 1940, pp. 91–94.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

ROOSEVELT’S SPEECH on June 10th at Charlottesville marked a step forward in the involvement of the United States in the Second World War. On the day Italy became a full-fledged participant in the armed combat, by his pledge of material aid to the Anglo-French allies, the president publicly adopted the “non-neutral but non-belligerent status” just discarded by Il Duce.

Let us note, in passing, the disregard for democratic procedure with which so momentous an action was taken. The President did not consult Congress or the people to ascertain their will. He did not even bother to consult his own cabinet (the non-interventionist Woodring was still in it). Once he and his State Department junta, Hull, Welles, etc., decided to throw the nation’s resources into the war, Roosevelt simply communicated this news to the country and to the world as an accomplished fact. Congress, the supposed representative of the people, accepted the announcement with no more than a little theatrical growling from the isolationist doghouse. The forms and institutions of the democratic process remain, but the real power is wielded by the Chief Executive who flouts them at his pleasure. So very incompatible is bourgeois democracy with personal dictatorship!

The determination of the Administration to press forward the struggle against Hitler by all means short of direct armed warfare was shown by such actions as the proposed sale of fifty torpedo boats to England, the multi-millioned arms budgets, the drive for universal conscription, and the appointment of the Republicans, Knox and Stimson, to the military posts in the cabinet. Roosevelt’s command: “Full speed ahead” signified “full speed ahead – toward war.”

Hitler Upsets Roosevelt

“The best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.” Roosevelt had evidently expected to use England and France as advance guards in the struggle against German expansion, just as England had calculated on using the ring of states surrounding the Reich. While its continental partners bore the brunt of the war, England counted on arming itself and exhausting its antagonist in a prolonged conflict.

But they reckoned without the might of the German military machine in both cases. The swift successes of Hitler’s legions, the surrender of Holland and Belgium, the knockout blow to France, and the prospective invasion of Great Britain hit Washington with the impact of so many time-bombs, smashing all its previous calculations.

The American imperialists were caught off guard by the speed of Hitler’s advance, the sudden revelation of his military prowess, the weakness of his opponents and the sweep of his dominion. The entry of Italy into the war coupled with Hitler’s subjugation of Europe sharply altered the international relationship of forces to the disadvantage of the United States. The old balance of world power was upset and a new order was in the process of formation. Every government from Moscow to Madrid and from Tokyo to Buenos Aires was compelled to reconsider its policies in the light of this new stage in the development of the war.

Not last among them was Washington. The American imperialists were placed in the same predicament as the British and French after Munich. Hitler forced Roosevelt to .pause and reconsider his course, to alter his plans, and to improvise new tactics. The German victories made the task of crushing Hitler a thousand times more urgent and more difficult. The executive directors of America’s ruling class were called upon to devise drastic measures for meeting this terrible threat to their international interests.

Problems of American Imperialism

After the collapse of France, American imperialism faced the prospect of fighting victorious Germany and its satellites single-handed. In any case, it would have to concentrate the leadership of the struggle in its hands. But the fact remained that the United States was in a weak position to launch a world-wide offensive against so formidable a foe.

The United States was unprepared to wage the war from the military standpoint. Its armed forces were inadequate and unequipped for the job they would have to fulfill. Even if the military machine were far more perfected and powerful, the strategic problem of finding a suitable base of military operations against the German coalition had to be solved. With Germany in possession of the European mainland, how and where could American expeditionary forces attack with any fair prospect of success ?

The Far East added further complications. Japanese expansion had been held within bounds by the diplomatic and naval collaboration between the United States and the Anglo-French partners. Now this division of labor was being brought to an end. The American fleet by itself was not yet ready to dominate both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Would not an adjustment have to be made with Japan regarding its conquests and claims to mastery in the Far East?

The South American states provided the same headaches for American diplomacy as the Balkans for England. How could the dollar diplomats ward off the economic, political and military encroachments of its enemies and weld the diverse Latin countries into a single unit under Uncle Sam’s hegemony? This tremendously difficult problem had to be solved in a hurry and far more effectively than England had done in respect to the Balkans.

Internally the United States was little better prepared. Every division of the armed forces had to be raised to unprecedented and unbeatable dimensions. Every department of domestic life had to be reorganized for total war. Industry had to be geared to produce for the military machine. Labor had to be regimented and taught to subordinate and suppress its demands for the sake of “national defense.” All dissenting opinion had to be placed under suspicion as treasonable.

Time was required for these external and internal tasks. American imperialism preferred to wait a while – if it could – before plunging into the inevitable struggle for the re-division of the world.

Election-Year Conventions

Such was the general outlook for American imperialism at the beginning of summer when the two major capitalist parties convened to choose their presidential candidates. The war dominated the deliberations of both conventions as it did all other phases of national activity. The Republican platform makers included a mild statement against involving the United States in European or Asiatic wars as a concession to Republican isolationists and as a bid for the anti-war vote. But their real mind was manifested when they struck out of the platform a declaration that “the blood of American youth” would never be shed on foreign soil.

The isolationist sentiments expressed in the platform were immediately cancelled by the nomination of Wendell Willkie who, according to the authoritative NY Times, “is in fundamental agreement with Mr. Roosevelt’s policies regarding the great issues of the war.” Not since the Democrats nominated Morgan’s attorney, John W. Davis, in 1924, has any capitalist party had a candidate so closely identified with Big Business as this utilities magnate. Just as Wall Street chose Willkie to head the great Commonwealth and Southern combine when it was in difficulties in 1932, so now in 1940 the same interests have chosen him to be their representative in the White House.

A docile Democratic party nominated Roosevelt for a third term and likewise went through the motions of making concessions to isolationism while demanding unlimited armament.

Whichever candidate is elected, American imperialism is assured of a trustworthy executive of its aims and interests. Both parties are ready, as usual, to do the bidding of Big Business. There could be no serious differences between them on the fundamental questions of foreign policy. Wall Street prefers Willkie to Roosevelt only because its domestic policies would be safer under Willkie’s direction.

Transitional Differences Within the Ruling Class

The differences at the moment in ruling circles over questions of foreign policy are not fundamental, but concerned with certain secondary issues connected with the present problems facing American imperialism. These disputes over questions of tactics have, not a partisan, but an intra-class character. The differences of opinion exist in both parties, reflecting the conflicting considerations within the mind of the ruling class as it tries to determine the next steps in relation to the inter-imperialist war.

The disputes in the ranks of the American bourgeoisie engendered by Hitler’s advance are reminiscent of the divisions of opinion in England and France in the interval between the Munich settlement and the outbreak of the war. They are episodic disagreements revolving around the problem of how best to deal with the German menace.

The uncompromising pro-war party has unquestionably been consolidated and strengthened as a result of recent events. Roosevelt is the acknowledged leader of the “Stop Hitler Now” movement. In every way he has utilized his official position and powers to enforce the program of this most advanced and aggressive wing of American imperialism. His bold and even reckless words and deeds have helped Roosevelt to muster not only his own party behind his leadership but also a significant section of Republicans in the person of such figures as Knox and Stimson.

The unofficial organization of this tendency has been undertaken by William Allen White’s “American Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies,” which was launched with the President’s blessing, privately promoted by Wall Street financiers, and we may assume, the British propaganda service. Some individuals in this group have demanded an immediate declaration of war against Germany; others are typified by Stimson, who, shortly before his appointment as Secretary of War, proposed that American battleships convoy American shipments of war supplies to England. One queer expression of this tendency is the “Union Now” movement, which proposes to merge the USA and “the Six British Democracies” (Ireland included) into one Federal Union “before it is too late.” Of course, the United States is to have the majority of votes in this English-speaking union. The refect of the League of Nations in this regard has been remedied!

The isolationist camp consists of all those who are, for the time being, opposed to the full program of the interventionists for various reasons of expediency, military, political, financial, etc. Leading isolationists base their position upon grounds of military unpreparedness. Their most articulate spokesman is General Hugh Johnson who keeps shouting: “For God’s sake, let’s stay out of this war for two or three years – at least, until we’re ready to go in!”

Others within this group wish to defer decisive action until certain diplomatic realignments are consummated. Prominent among these are the editors of the Chicago Tribune and the New York News, who have suggested concluding a deal with Japan for the purpose of presenting a stronger front against Germany.

At the right wing of this tendency stand the American Chamberlains and Lavals who dream of effecting a compromise with Hitler and sharing the world markets together with him. In his speech to the Republican convention warning that, instead of insulting the dictators, we must be prepared to live together with them, Herbert Hoover outlined the ideas of the appeasers, who speak for the most conservative elements among America’s Sixty Families.

Senator Wheeler’s abject capitulation to Roosevelt in Chicago shows how small are the differences between the interventionists and the main body of “isolationists.”

All these factions of the American bourgeoisie and their representatives from Roosevelt to Hoover are animated by the same aim of safeguarding the positions of American imperialism. They disagree concerning the ways and means of doing so. These episodic differences can easily vanish overnight with a change in the world situation. So unstable and shifting are the positions of individuals in both camps that radio forum program directors have complained that they can no longer tell from day to day to which one any particular person belongs.

The War Deal Develops

The Roosevelt administration has yet to recover from the state of alarm bordering on panic caused by Hitler’s onset. It is still in the process of laying out its new course. The strategical goal remains unchanged: to mobilize all available forces for the showdown with German imperialism. But a fresh set of tactics must be worked out to accomplish that end. The domain of foreign relations is full of question-marks which will demand positive answers in the near future.

The current confusion concerning foreign policy in Washington is reflected in the recent actions in respect to South America. The repeated warnings to Germany and Italy to respect the Monroe Doctrine and not to poach on the United States preserves, the hasty dispatch of two warships to Uruguay upon the report of a Nazi putsch, the proposed scheme for cartelizing the national economies of the Western hemisphere under Uncle Sam’s financial control, the convoking of a twenty-one nation conference at Havana which promises to be fruitless as its predecessor at Peru – all these moves betray an experimental and provisional character.

The fact is that the United States can no longer continue the conciliatory methods of the Good Neighbor policy toward South America. In its next phase American imperialism will have to treat the South American countries as brutally as Hitler has treated the countries of Europe. Recalcitrant governments will be whipped into line by armed force. There will be no room for independence or neutrality on the part of the South American nationalities. To date, however, the United States only stands upon the threshold of this policy; it still hesitates to put it into effect.

The net result of the new situation has been to defer the date of military intervention and to accelerate activities in all other directions. One military bill after another, requests for billions upon billions have been presented to Congress and passed overnight. The national industry is being transformed into a military workshop. Every word and deed in daily life, from applications for relief to the province of the arts and belles-lettres, is scrutinized and appraised by the official and unofficial patriots from the single standpoint of “national defense.”

Despite the vast scope of his preparations for war, the delay imposed upon Roosevelt enabled him to adapt himself momentarily to the isolationist wing of his own party, at least until his nomination was secured, and to maintain his pose as defender of the peace. On the opening day of the Democratic Convention Anne O’Hare McCormick pointed out in the NY Times some causes for Roosevelt’s “pacifism.”

“In the interval between Philadelphia and Chicago, there are signs that the Administration has receded from the attitude Mr. Roosevelt took in his Charlottesville speech. This is partly due to the French collapse, or perhaps to the realization, pressed home by Premier Paul Reynaud’s last frantic appeal for American help, that we are not able to back up fighting words with commensurate deeds. Up to that time we had been using words as threats, hoping to help the democracies and deter the dictators by speaking out; but when France fell, it finally became clear that broadcasts are not enough to stop bombers. Or it may be that the President retreated from his advanced position because of the imminence of the convention.”

Roosevelt’s tactical retreat is temporary and will be succeeded by a new step toward war with a new turn in the world situation or as soon as the military might of the United States is brought to the proper level. In any case, the era of “righting words” is giving way to the era of “fighting deeds.” The War Deal is entering upon its penultimate phase.

Workers Must Also Reorient Themselves

The new stage in the development of the war, which has led the government at Washington to revise its outlook, likewise dictates a change of tactics on the part of the American working class and especially its revolutionary section. The central fact in the new situation is the rapid militarization of the United States. This movement, arising from the deepest necessities of American imperialism, cannot under present conditions be arrested or reversed. The old days of relatively peaceful struggle are vanishing daily and with it the practices of burgeois democracy. This warring world can no longer tolerate either democracy or pacifism. Henceforward all the peoples must be regimented in totalitarian fashion for the imperialist struggle and all questions must be settled by armed force.

These facts have already been recognized by the rulers at Washington and guide their policies today. It is equally imperative for the advanced workers to understand these facts and to recast their tactics in accordance with them. American imperialism is mobilizing its resources and training its forces to accomplish the overthrow of its imperialist rivals and to conquer the world for itself. It has irrevocably staked its survival upon the power of its arms, though it is not yet ready to put them to the test.

The workers who are the victims of bourgeois militarism must learn to militarize themselves in order to realize their own class aims: the conquest of the world for Socialism. Universal military training we shall have in the United States in any event. To the proposals of the bourgeoisie we cannot answer with pacifist and isolationist arguments; those are finished since May 10. We can answer only by developing a program of universal military training under workers’ control.


Last updated on: 23 May 2020