William F. Warde

Norman Thomas Does Not See
‘Practical’ Alternative 4o War

(14 February 1942)

Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 7, 14 February 1942, p. 4.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2021 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2021. This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

“Try as I may, I can see no practical political alternative today to the war as a means of stopping the worldwide triumph of fascist totalitarianism.” This is the conclusion arrived at by Norman Thomas in his subsidiary statement on the Socialist Party’s official declaration on the war published in the Jan. 17 Call.

With these words the leader of the Socialist Party announces his political bankruptcy, casts off his last pretense of opposition, and openly joins the partisans of the “democratic” war of defense against fascism. The struggle of the working class for socialism, he says in effect, is “practical” only during peacetime; it must be abandoned when the capitalist government declares war. Thus Thomas provides the capitalist regime with a sure-fire weapon against the working class: it need only become involved in a foreign war for this “practical” politician to advise workers to cease the struggle for socialism.

Thomas gives two chief reasons in justification of his “critical” support of Wall Street’s war.

(1.) “Most of us believe that it is romantic to think that Hitler and the Japanese can be stopped today by some mass rising of the peoples outside of the organized military forces which are locked in combat.”

What Thomas’ Position Results In

Like all the others who separated the struggle against war from the struggle against capitalism, Thomas sees only the opposing armies as the determining forces in the present war. But behind these armies in all countries, yes, and within them, are the working masses. Without the support, voluntary or coerced, of the workers and farmers Who produce the means of warfare, these armed forces could not function. Today they constitute the decisive factor in carrying on the war. It is not surprising that those who do not understand this wind up by deserting the struggle for socialism.

Thomas believes that it is “romantic” to think that Hitler can be stopped by a mass rising of the German people. It is true that the Roosevelt-Churchill call for a second Treaty of Versailles, for the destruction of the German people and the dismemberment of the German nation, makes the mobilization of the German people for the overthrow of Hitler all the more difficult, for it provides Hitler with his strongest internal propaganda weapon and helps him to keep the fires of national hatred blazing.

The fears of the German masses can be removed and mash opposition stimulated and strengthened in the Axis countries only if the workers on the other side set the example of class struggle against their own oppressors. Is this “romantic”? No, this is precisely the way that the revolutionary workers and peasants of Russia supplied the impetus for the revolutions in Germany and Austro-Hungary during the last world war.

But Norman Thomas cannot even think in such terms. The policy of a worldwide class struggle against imperialist oppression is as alien to him as it is hateful to the, rulers he serves:

By his declaration that Hitler cannot be stopped “by some mass rising of the peoples outside of the organized military forces which are locked in combat,” Thomas contributes to the idea that the class struggle in this country must be abandoned or at least curbed because Hitler can be stopped only by “the organized military forces which are locked in combat.” He thereby helps enchain the workers to the capitalist regime and weakens their struggle for socialism and the abolition of the causes of war and reaction in this country. This in turn makes it all the more difficult to arouse the German masses against Hitlerism.

Measuring the Depths of Hell

(2.) Just as Thomas can see only the opposing imperialist armies locked in combat, so he can envisage only the victory of one side over the other as a conclusion of this war. “We are in a literal hell, but the deepest pit of hell out of which the climb would be hardest, would be a victory by Hitler and the Japanese militarists.”

Thomas cannot surrender to the Axis ... therefore he, surrenders to Roosevelt and Churchill as the lesser evil.

Victory in this war for the Anglo-American allies would halt the slide into hell even less than their victory in the last war. The root-cause of all political, social and economic reaction today lies in the decomposition of world capitalism. The war is causing so much destruction that the capitalist system can only go from bad to worse, from one degree of reaction to a deeper one, whichever capitalist coalition comes out on top. Hitlerism is not necessarily the most frightful phenomenon capitalist degeneration can produce! Nor is a victory for Britain and the U.S. any kind of guarantee against the establishment of fascism in these countries!

The workers are lost if they have no alternative but to choose between two different degrees of capitalist hell on earth, as Thomas insists. Despite Thomas, it is both possible and necessary for the workers to take an entirely different course and to fight in their own way and under their own class leadership for the victory of socialism over capitalism and all its evils.

In this statement Thomas strips himself not only of socialism, but also of the pacifist phrases with which he duped his followers before the war. “Politically, the NEC was unanimously convinced that under present conditions the demand that the government stop fighting now, and at once begin peace negotiations would do more harm than good.” He now stands forth for what he really is: a mealy-mouthed hypocrite, who drags in the rear of the social-patriotic procession headed by the Stalinists, Social-Democrats and official labor leaders.

“I am not a capitalist soldier; I am a proletarian revolutionist. I do not belong to the regular army of the plutocracy, but to the irregular army of the people ... I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the worldwide war of the social revolution.”

This is the attitude Eugene V. Debs took toward the first world war. The difference between his position and that of Norman Thomas provides a precise measure of the degeneration of’ the Socialist Party and its leadership.


Last updated on: 21 August 2021