William F. Warde

The Liberals and the War

(February 1942)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.3 No.2, February 1942, pp.49-52.
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
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.

The New Republic of February 2nd publishes a special 24-page supplement, written by one of the weekly’s editors, George Soule. It is entitled The Lessons of Last Time, and offers “tentative suggestions” for “mapping the future.” It is so typical of the outlook of the American liberals that it is worth analyzing in some detail.

The New Republic frequently criticizes the big commercial publications for their captivity to capitalist interests, but it differs from them only in the degree of its subservience. The New Republic is itself a pet of finance capital, only it is held on a longer leash. Originally subsidized by the late Willard Straight, a Morgan partner, it still depends upon the bounty of his widow, now Mrs. Leonard K. Elmhirst. Daughter of William C. Whitney and member of America’s Sixty Families, Mrs. Elmhirst keeps close watch upon the editorial policies and funds of the New Republic. After the war broke out in Europe in September 1939, the New Republic maintained its semi-isolationist point of view; then it sharply switched over to rabid interventionism. It is reported that Mrs. Elmhirst’s own intervention was responsible for this change. In any case, however, the editors of the New Republic have so profound an attachment to the capitalist regime that they would have volunteered their services for the duration, even if it were not a question of their bread and butter.

The Lessons of Last Time outlines a program for “avoiding the mistakes of the last war.”

The New Republic ardently embraced the First World War. After it was over the New Republic repented and confessed its “mistake.” And Soule now continues to condemn the war of 1914-1918.

“Neither the war nor the succeeding peace achieved the aims to which millions of Americans dedicated their lives and for which thousands lost them.”

But Soule now carefully refrains from discussing the causes of the First World War. This is all the more untenable since liberal journalism and scholarship were busy between the two wars investigating and exposing the economic roots of the imperialist rivalries which produced that conflict. The New Republic was not the least among those busy with this task. Why, then, does Soule deliberately suppress consideration of this vital question ?

The answer is close at hand. The Second World War so resembles the first that they must have common causes. And if the First World War was caused by imperialist conflicts, then its sequel cannot escape the same characterization – and condemnation.

Soule informs us in another connection that “domestic economic organization ... chiefly determines what is done, and what may be done, in the international field” and that “the international counterpart of domestic monopoly is imperialism.” According to the reports of authoritative government commissions, our domestic economy is dominated by monopolists – what then must monopoly’s foreign policy be? Mr. Soule shrinks from drawing the necessary conclusions from his own propositions.

To avoid dealing with the causes of the First World War, Soule performs a sleight-of-hand trick. Instead of considering the fundamental forces that precipitated the war, he concentrates upon the technical-political question of how the people were induced to participate in the war. At this point Soule leaves the earth where economic interests and class struggle prevail to ascend into the cloudy sky of pure idealism. “It was the ideals expressed by Wilson that led us to accept the war.” Furthermore, to believe Soule, these ideals proved to be more potent than American money, troops, supplies or battleships in winning the war. They moved the American people to keep on fighting and ultimately they persuaded the German people to stop fighting. Wilson’s 14 points was “the secret weapon” which brought about the downfall of Kaiserism.

If the 14 points were mighty enough to win the war, Soule is unable to explain why their potency ended forthwith and they turned out to be ineffective in winning the peace for the people. None of their promises were realized. Instead of the peace of reconciliation, there was the dictated Treaty of Versailles; “indemnities, barred at the front door by the 14 points, came in through the back door under the name of reparations”; instead of universal disarmament, there was increased armament by the victors and disarmament of the vanquished; instead of national self-determination of peoples, Europe was arbitrarily carved up into small states to safeguard the domination of France and Great Britain, etc.

Why He Whitewashes Wilson

Soule absolves President Wilson of responsibility for these post-war catastrophes. Wilson remains to him the stainless “political idealist.” He sets aside as trivial the facts that this “idealist” knew about the secret treaties before entering the war; that he agreed to the mangling of Central and Eastern Europe; participated in the dictated peace; determined the reparations, etc.

Why is Soule so concerned with whitewashing Wilson and portraying him as a lamb fallen among wolves? To a certain extent Soule does so in self-justification. Just as the Second World War is the continuation of the first, so the current propaganda work of the New Republic editors is an extension of their activities in the last war when Walter Lippman, then a New Republic editor, helped draft Wilson’s 14 points.

But the main political aim behind Mr. Soule’s rehabilitation of Wilson is to throw a smoke-screen around the program of his Democratic successor in the White House. Roosevelt’s 8 points, a warmed-over rehash of Wilson’s 14 points, serves the same political purpose. Once the war is over, these promises will be just as cynically discarded as they are now disregarded. The lack of enthusiasm with which the President’s 8 points have been received everywhere outside of official circles demonstrates that the masses are suspicious of these claims. Were they not told all this and far more by Wilson in the last war? Was not that war “to end all wars” and “to make the world safe for democracy”? The instinct of the people is correct. Roosevelt’s shriveled caricture of Wilson’s program has turned out to be lifeless at the moment of birth.

Hence Soule is now seeking to infuse some life into this stillborn program. He urges us to accept the Roosevelt-Churchill Atlantic Charter, not only at face value, but on an inflated basis as “the germ of a program which is capable of transforming our economy” and the whole world for the better.

To do so, Soule must first lay the ghosts of the last war and the last “peace” which haunt him on every hand. He condemns the defunct League of Nations. It was, he says, “an instrument of imperialist capital,” designed “to support the status quo.” It was “chiefly a mask of the power politics of the great nations controlling it” and “the ruling powers were more afraid of the leftward revolutionary forces in Europe than they were of aggressive, nationalist warmakers.”

These same rulers remain in power. Yet somewhere along the line they changed into lambs. If Soule evades discussing the causes of the First World War, he has very positive patriotic opinions concerning the causes of the present war. The culprits are, of course, the Axis powers, and especially the Nazi regime. According to him, these governments have not been propelled into another struggle to redivide the globe by the imperialist drives of monopoly capital, but by their peculiar diseased national dispositions. Thus, Soule accepts and inverts Hitler’s own racial theory, except that he uses the word “national” instead of racial: “Hitler was the mirror-image of the German national neurosis.”

Soule’s Racial Theory of the War

Soule once used to know that, far from being “the mirror-image of the German national neurosis,” Hitlerism had to club down the great masses, smash physically the workers’ parties and trade unions of thirteen million proletarians to consolidate his power when Hindenburg made him Chancellor. Soule was aware of this in 1934 when he wrote his book, The Coming American Revolution. He knew then that fascism is not a national but a class instrument of decaying capitalism. He wrote then:

“Essentially, both the Italian and German brands of Fascism represent a reaction; a swing to the right during a revolutionary period ... they seem one of the most repulsive spasms of dying capitalism.”

He knew then that “Fascism in power still tolerates the fundamental contradictions of capitalism.” It is precisely the intensification of these very contradictions which renders the situation of the fascist regimes intolerable and propels them into wars of conquest. He knew then that fascism and wars arise not, as he says now, “from something latent in human nature,” but from the desperate attempts of monopoly capitalism to overcome the crisis in its decaying system. But Soule has to “forget” what he once knew in order to support this war.

Having fixed the major responsibility for the war upon the Axis powers, Mr. Soule can afford to assign minor shares of blame to their opponents. He points out that “the conditions which render possible German acceptance of leadership by Hitler ... are in large measure traceable to the victors in the First World War.” He recalls “the frustrating character of life under the Weimar Republic” and how “Hitler and Mussolini won the approval of British and French conservatives as they had won the support of reactionary forces in their own country, because they proclaimed themselves to be a bulwark against Bolshevism.”

Even the United States is not without blemish, he concedes. The economic policies pursued prior to 1929, high tariffs, insistence upon payment of war debts, etc. helped produce the crash which “gave Hitler his real chance for a rise to power.” When Soule comes to Roosevelt’s direct betrayal of democracy in Spain by throttling the Loyalists by embargo, he utters the feeblest of all his apologies: “Our shabby and short-sighted betrayal of Loyalist Spain when she was destroyed by Nazi and Fascist intervention was no worse than that of the other democracies.” When the Spanish example will be duplicated on a world scale, Soule will doubtless offer an equally sorry epitaph,

Soule seeks the causes of these betrayals of democracy by ineffectual excursions into psychology; the weakness and complacency of “liberals, laborites and leftists” on the one hand, the wickedness and blindness of reactionaries and conservatives on the other. For centuries Catholic theologians have tried to explain the course of history by recourse to “sinful, weak, vile, self-seeking human nature.” The enlightened liberal tells us in essence nothing more.

In 1934 Soule wrote a book full of extremely radical phrases, The Coming American Revolution. Capitalism bad just passed through its greatest crisis since the First World War. Left-liberal intellectuals like Soule were still uncertain of capitalism’s ability to survive. Before returning to the bosom of capitalism, these petty-bourgeois intellectuals reflected for a short time the sentiments and ideas of the proletarian revolution. Thus Mr. Soule wrote then:

“Just as feudalism was compelled in the end to give way to the rise of the middle classes and capitalism, so capitalism must in the end give way to the rise of the working classes and socialism.”

He was even more precise in his prediction:

“It is not at all unlikely that, after another major war, revolt against capitalism will become so general that a genuinely revolutionary crisis would begin, even in the United States.”

That major war is now here. The revolutions that Soule anticipated are also in the making. Now frightened at the prospect Soule hastens to divert these growing revolutionary sentiments into the channels of capitalist “democracy.”

“Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese militarists have proclaimed that the war is a revolution to establish a new order. This declaration is a propaganda device to mask sinister designs of conquest and exploitation. But it is successful in large measure because peoples everywhere feel a real need for a new order.”

But the Axis has no patent rights on this kind of propaganda. “The Second World War is ... already a revolution” Soule echoes. Of course the “revolution” of the Allied Powers doesn’t “mask sinister designs of conquest and exploitation.” According to Soule, the US and Great Britain have entirely different and democratic aims. The “revolution” they are now waging will “establish a democratic, rationally managed, fully productive world order.” What these powers failed to accomplish during peace, they are about to effect by means of the most destructive of all wars!

Thus Soule, in order to camouflage its reactionary aims with radical phrases, identifies imperialist war with revolution. Here “democratic” demagogy duplicates the Fascist.

Soule’s Program for the Future

According to him, there are good imperialisms and bad imperialisms. The new German imperialism which “seeks to establish a more terrible form of monopoly” is as intolerable to him as it is to Messrs. Rockefeller and Morgan. The old-fashioned imperialism of the British Empire, however, “has been much modified for the better.” Therefore, “if forced to choose between them, we must choose the modified and softened form.” The “we” presumably includes the 375 millions of India, the masses of Burma, Malaya, the British colonies in Africa, etc. But Soule knows very well that these great masses don’t appreciate how “modified and softened” their British overlords have become.

Soule assures us that “the present war is not a war for colonies” on either side. “Germany wanted primarily not distant and scattered possessions but expansions of her rule indefinitely over contiguous territory.” But territories conquered and held for exploitation become colonies whether they are located in Europe or Asia. On both sides the stakes are not simply mastery of the more backward countries but mastery of the whole world.

Soule admits that the United States might itself succumb .to imperialist temptation.

“If nothing is done to prevent it, and if no better solution is offered, nothing is more likely than that this country will employ the great power it will have after a victory over the Axis in order to try to exploit for its own profit the more backward and undeveloped regions of the earth.”

How does Soule propose to curb the irresistible imperialist impulses of our monopolists? The governments of the Allied nations are going to “create and direct a world economy ... for the benefit of all.” In fact, they are already working in that direction during the war. With the proper economic and “emotional adjustments” suggested by Soule, “the clause in the Roosevelt-Churchill Atlantic Charter promising economic security ... may become the germ of a program which is capable of transforming our economy.” Soule’s post-war Utopia is to be realized through such agencies as an International Investment Corporation, an International Commodity Corporation, and an International Labor Organization.

“Thus, for the first time, the world would have a positive and socially controlled substitute for financial imperialism of the old-fashioned, dangerous and played-out variety.”

But the capitalist world after the last world war had no lack of international conferences, international banks, international pacts, etc. Yet they led neither to abundance, security nor peace. The capitalist organism, weakened by another and far more destructive world war, will provide even less solid foundations for such institutions. So long as capitalist property is preserved and the monopoly capitalists remain in power, such international organizations are simply tools in the hands of the capitalist cliques who control them.

Soule’s “socially controlled” substitute for “old-fashioned financial imperialism” is merely a re-edition of the League of Nations controlled by the Anglo-American bloc. Soule makes it clear that the post-war world is to be governed by the “benevolent” dictatorship of the United States and Great Britain, in league with a Stalinized Soviet Union.

“The released nations and the defeated Axis countries must be policed ... the British and American authorities will in fact have the power of life and death over any new regime.”

Thus he amplifies Secretary Knox’s declaration that the United States must police the world for the next hundred years.

For defeated Germany, Soule recommends in essence a return to the Weimar Republic, although disclaiming that such is his intention.

“We should expect relief and reconstruction to be carried on in Germany so far as is necessary ... we should also expect the International Trustees to reserve control of the currency, foreign trade and arms manufacture ... it would be their first duty not to permit Germany to rearm or to exploit other people.”

But out of the Weimar Republic emerged Nazism, and out of Nazism came the initiative for the Second World War.

Will peace be guaranteed by Soule’s World Federations ? Soule is himself dubious.

“If a new Hitler should withdraw Germany from the European Federation and begin to arm, or an aggressive Japan should try to exploit colonies, then we should have to intervene as before.”

Thus he brings us to the threshold of the Third World War.

Soule threatens capitalism with extinction unless it mends its ways, abandons imperialist exploitation, and “achieves a continual expansion of production and increase in the standard of living throughout the world ... if the western world does suffer new and more severe depressions and imperialist wars, it is lost in any case.”

The Soviet Union presents the most ticklish of problems for Mr. Soule. Here Mr. Soule touches, if not the authentic flame, at least the glowing coals of the Communist world revolution.

“The threat (of world revolution) was temporarily allayed by the victory of Stalin over the Trotskyists ... nevertheless, the accompanying emergence of the Soviet Union as a great military power kept the uneasiness alive.”

Soule seeks a solution to this problem along the lines of Roosevelt’s and Stalin’s present policy. He proposes that after the war the Soviet remain a satellite of the democratic powers, under the guise of “entering a new International Federation.”

But the Soviet Union cannot remain fixed in the place allotted to it by the conservative outlook of Mr. Soule, who wishes to regulate the march of history and of the international class struggle in concordance with the designs of the Anglo-American imperialists. Either the Soviet Union, despite Stalin’s regime and against it, will participate in extending the base of the proletarian revolution throughout Europe and Asia or else it will be crushed by imperialism.

Soule’s “new order,” it becomes clear, in all its major features resembles the capitalist anarchy that led to the Second World War. Instead of enabling the American people to avoid “the mistakes that followed the last war,” his advice can lead only to their repetition on a larger and more catastrophic scale. One of the first “lessons of last time” that the masses must learn is to distrust liberals like Soule, who are setting new traps for them with the old poisoned bait.


Last updated on: 20 August 2021