William F. Warde

The Roosevelt Regime in Crisis

(August 1943)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.4 No.8, August 1943, pp.242-245.
(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 Roosevelt regime which has successfully sailed through ten years of stormy weather is now undergoing its most serious crisis. This many-sided crisis has already involved Roosevelt’s relations to his own party, to Congress, to the capitalist class, to organized labor and to the Negro people.

One infallible symptom of the inroads made by the crisis is the dissension in the topmost ranks of the administration which has exploded in public rows and resignations. Most important of these is the brawl between Vice-President Wallace and RFC Administrator Jones. While the President appeals for “national unity,” his Vice-President accuses one of the most influential members of his cabinet with obstructing the prosecution of the war by refusing to buy essential materials.

The dispute involves issues of greater consequence than Wallace’s charges against Jones. It must be viewed as an episode in the struggle being waged within Democratic ruling circles to decide who shall control the Democratic Party and what shall its policies be?

The heterogeneous Democratic Party mirrors the social structure of the country within its sprawling framework. Through the Southern poll-tax politicians and representatives of Wall Street it is directly connected on its right with the big capitalist interests. Roosevelt’s faction is propped up on one side by the Boss Hague, Kelly-Nash and similar machines and on the other side by the New Deal liberals. Its popular support has been derived from the leftward-inclined middle class elements and especially from organized labor which constitutes the left wing of the Democratic Party.

There are no fundamental differences between these three main groupings on foreign policy. All are united behind Roosevelt’s war program. Their oppositions arise and their conflicts have developed over domestic affairs. The big-capitalist Democrats want to remove all restraints upon profiteering and to speed the administration’s anti-labor drive. While bound to the same program, Roosevelt and his entourage want to proceed more gradually, and cautiously in order to keep their labor following in line.

Wallace is a spokesman of the New Dealers and the union officialdom, their favorite candidate as Roosevelt’s successor. His attack upon the Texas banker Jones is a defensive blow struck on behalf of these forces in their life-and-death fight against the Bourbon bloc. It was an act of futility and despair. Squeezed between the reactionary right wing and the restless laborites on their left, the New Dealers have been suffering continual setbacks. They no longer exercise decisive influence in formulating government policies.

Now, in the midst of battle, they have been deserted by their chief. Roosevelt has capitulated to the Bourbon bloc which is virtually dictating national policy through him and his Assistant-President Byrnes and plans to regain complete control over the Democratic organization by 1944. This was demonstrated by “Roosevelt’s settlement of the Wallace-Jones controversy. While ostensibly rebuking both, in reality Wallace was stripped of all authority and a conservative banker-friend of Jones was given charge of the foreign purchase of strategic materials.

Interlinked with this struggle for supremacy between the factions within the Democratic Party is the conflict between the President and Congress. In nine months there has been a sharp and sudden reversal in the relations between the executive and legislative branches of the capitalist government. For the past decade Roosevelt has ruled Washington like an absolute monarch. His waning authority was bolstered and heightened by the declaration of war. Last September Roosevelt was ordering Congress to pass wage-freezing legislation within thirty days or else he would institute the necessary edicts by decree. This is the language of Bonapartism.

“The Victory Congress”

Since January, however, the tables have been turned. Congress has been laying down the law to the President, ignoring or violating his recommendations, overriding his vetoes. The Senate, for example, rejected his nominations of Democratic National Chairman Flynn as Minister to Australia and of ex-Governor of Texas Allred as Circuit Court Judge. Congress cut the appropriations of the OWI; held up the salaries of New Deal appointees suspected of “communism” that is, liberalism and Stalinism; abolished the National Resources Planning Board, the National Youth Administration and other pet projects of the New Deal reformers. The general aim of these actions was to strike at Roosevelt and to cut down the influence of his liberal supporters. Many right-wing Democrats joined with the Republicans in this effort.

This reassertion of Congressional reaction is directly attributable to the November elections. The sweeping victories of the anti-New Deal Democrats and Republicans in these elections were taken by Big Business and its political agents as the signal for launching a broad offensive against the working masses. They were further emboldened by the passivity and servility of the AFL-CIO leaders and their treacherous policies of economic surrender to the employers and political subservience to Roosevelt.

The Murray-Green-Hillman gang, together with the Social-Democratic snivellers and the Stalinist strike-breakers, exhort the workers to back up Roosevelt’s war program in order to ward off reaction, to maintain their economic and social gains, and to protect their democratic rights. In view of their totally false and fatal arguments, it is essential to note that the present Congress is a 100 per cent “Win-the-War” outfit. When it assembled on January 6th, it was hailed by the capitalist press as “The Victory Congress.” In the next six months this super-patriotic body appropriated 110 billions of dollars, giving everything demanded by the Army, Navy and Maritime Commissions. “On questions touching on the war and foreign policy,” remarked the New York Times on July 8th, “Mr. Roosevelt met with little opposition.”

Moreover, this Congress was controlled by Roosevelt’s own Democratic Party. All this did not prevent it from being the most savagely reactionary Congress in recent years.

These capitalist politicians know, what the trade union bureaucrats try to conceal from the workers, that profits make the war go. So, in addition to appropriating all that the armed forces requested, Congress voted for the rest of the capitalist program. After a fierce fight, Congress pushed through the Roosevelt-Ruml tax bill which wiped out 75 per cent of the 1942 tax obligations of the upper-income bracketeers and set the stage for harsher taxes on low incomes. It blocked any limitations upon corporation executive salaries and refused to touch tax-exempt securities. In the interests of the food profiteers, it further crippled the already feeble OPA; passed price-raising bills; forbade grade-labeling.

The anti-poll tax and anti-lynch bills were pocketed. Opposing any new social-security reforms, the Democratic-Republican coalition applied the axe to the pro-labor legislation and progressive measures enacted in pre-war days. The Smith-Connally Act outlawed strikes; deprived the unions of mutual aid; nullified their political rights. Congress introduced provisions for protecting company unions into the National Labor Relations Act as a step towards wiping the latter entirely off the statute books.

This “Victory Congress” gave one victory after another to the plutocrats and profiteers. It inflicted devastating defeats upon the workers and the mass of American people. This was the joint work of Roosevelt, his Democratic Party and its Republican collaborators. This is where grovelling acquiescence in Roosevelt’s “Win-the-War” program by the union bureaucrats has led the labor movement.

The Developing Social Crisis

While Roosevelt’s power was being challenged in his own party and curtailed by Congress, his administration has been still further shaken by two great events which broke out in the arena of the class struggle: the mine strikes and the lynch attacks upon, the Negroes. These outbreaks revealed, like lightning-flashes, the real nature of the forces which are upsetting Roosevelt’s regime. The political crisis of the administration can be seen in its true light as one expression of the nascent social crisis of American capitalism. The so-called “Battle of Washington” likewise takes its place as a political refraction of the class conflicts seething throughout the country.

The essence of this crisis consists in the fact that the war into which the capitalist class has plunged the American people is accelerating the decomposition of the capitalist system in its strongest sector. The ruling monopolists, here as elsewhere, are literally leading the nation into bankruptcy and propelling it into outright reaction. Roosevelt’s promises and phrases can no longer hide the realities of this situation. Instead of “The People’s Revolution” and “The Century of the Common Man” heralded by Wallace, since 1940 the American masses have experienced a bacchanal of war profiteering and the onrush of political reaction. They face increasing impoverishment, insecurity, bloody sacrifices, and ruin.

These economic and political consequences of the war are responsible for the fierce manifestations of class feeling which are beginning to break out with irrepressible force. As class antagonisms mount and sharpen, record quantities of explosives are being accumulated, not only in “the arsenals of democracy,” but also in the sphere of the class struggle. A grave social crisis is issuing out of the profound changes wrought by the war in the material circumstances, the mentalities, and the relationships of the contending class forces. This in turn is generating the various conflicts, crises, and realignments which are going on in Washington and transforming American political life.

The initiative in this situation has been taken by the agents of the capitalist class who have all the levers of power in their hands. After wrecking the living standards of the masses, the monopolists are obliged to place heavier chains upon them and rob them of all democratic rights in order to protect privileges, and profits from the indignant revulsion of the people. Above all, Big Business seeks to take advantage of the war and its mastery over the government to settle accounts with its main enemy at home: the organized labor movement.

Through the Roosevelt administration the capitalist rulers are conducting two simultaneous struggles. While engaged in crushing their imperialist rivals abroad and reaching out to conquer the world, they aim to cripple and, if possible, to destroy the power of American labor. The monopolists are heading for a showdown with organized labor not after the war but right now in the midst of the war. They have most compelling economic and political reasons for an immediate offensive against the unions.

The costs of the war are so enormous that, in order to safeguard their superprofits and finance their international undertakings and commitments, the capitalists cannot give further material concessions, reforms or even promises to the masses. They certainly cannot grant bonuses or inducements to the top layers of the industrial workers. As the revolt of the formen in Ford and other plants indicate, they cannot even afford to take care of their superintending personnel.

The big industrialists realize, far better than the workers, that wartime inflation has only begun. As the war is prolonged the conditions of the workers will be progressively worsened; the consequent suffering and privations will drive them to demand higher wages; these demands will lead to severe clashes on an ever-extended scale. The present offensive that Big Business has launched against the unions through Roosevelt, Congress, the state legislatures and the press is only the first big push in its war to the knife against the workers.

These are the fundamental motives and calculations behind the anti-labor drive and the intransigeance of the coal barons in their dealings with the miners. This is why Roosevelt is bent upon making his Little Steel starvation formula prevail; why he issued his “hold-the-line” order; why he has erected the WLB as a barricade against any economic advance of the workers.

Revolt of the Workers

While the plutocrats conspire, the workers are being hard hit. They entered the war without over-much enthusiasm, believing there was no other way open to them to fight fascism and to defend their gains. The majority trusted in Roosevelt and his policies. The war boom provided a substantial material basis for confidence in his regime and its security. These general conditions and the illusions bred by them enabled the union bureaucracy to hitch the entire labor movement behind Roosevelt’s war-machinery and to subordinate the workers to the program of the capitalists.

As their material circumstances have deteriorated and they have been battered about during the first eighteen months of the war, these illusions of the workers have been wearing- thin. Sky-rocketing prices, scarcity of goods and food, intolerable taxes aggravated by the ever-increasing harshness of Roosevelt’s labor policies (the no-strike pledge, the burial of grievances and denial of demands by the WLB, wage-and-job freezing, and, finally, the Smith-Connally Act have aroused vast masses of workers into indignant protest.

The strikes of the miners, rubber and auto workers must be regarded as the first mass economic actions against Roosevelt’s pro-capitalist labor policies. It was at the same time the first big open test of strength between capital and labor since the war started. The coal operators headed by US Steel and the House of Morgan utilized the negotiations with the miners to probe the labor movement’s powers of resistance; to determine how far they could push the President and Congress against the workers; and how far they could proceed at this time in slashing living standards and undermining the unions.

Despite the magnificent fight against overpowering odds waged by the miners, who had the employers, the whole government apparatus, the President, official public opinion, most of the CIO-AFL bureaucrats and the Stalinist scabs arrayed against them, the bosses and their government agents made advances in their campaign against the workers. The miners failed to win their demands while the furor whipped up against organized labor helped Roosevelt and Congress to put over the Smith-Connally Act.

But this is only the first encounter in a series of class combats which will take on wider and wider dimensions as the social crisis deepens and develops.

Significance of the Anti-Negro Attacks

The consequences of the war and the calamities of the social crisis weigh most heavily upon the thirteen million Negroes who are doubly oppressed by the capitalist exploiters and the Jim Crow system. This has intensified their determination to utilize the war crisis to fight for full social, political and economic equality.

The capitalists for their part are equally adamant in denying equality to the Negroes in everyday life, in industry, or in the armed forces. They have received aid from Roosevelt, Congress and all the constituted authorities in keeping the Negroes in their place at the bottom of American society. But these agencies no longer suffice. They have accordingly decided to call forth their illegal lynch-mobs to terrorize and put down the colored people. This is the class aim promoted by the epidemic of assaults against the Negroes.

It was not accidental that the labor-baiting campaign of the bosses, the insults against the miners and the attacks upon the Negroes occurred simultaneously. All arise from the same basic social conditions and economic causes and serve the political purposes of the ruling class. Since the capitalists cannot prevent the ravaging discontent which flows from the social crisis like pus from a running sore, they strive to deflect the wrath of the people away from themselves and their system. They seek to involve the masses and exhaust their energies in bitter recriminations and reprisals against each other. Thus the conscious and unconscious tools of the American plutocracy are now zealously at work inflaming the middle classes against organized labor and inciting backward workers against such minority groups as the Negroes and Mexicans.

Every progressive and potentially anti-capitalist force is made the target of venomous and brutal attacks by the mouthpieces and agents of capitalist reaction. The miners are blasted with slander by the whole artillery of the capitalist press and radio because they dare fight for their rights. The Negroes are assaulted because they are trying to break through the iron ring of the Jim Crow system. The labor movement is assailed and blackened day in and day out. Anti-fascist revolutionary socialist papers like The Militant are denied second-class mailing rights.

Every worker ought to understand the underlying meaning and the inner connection of these official and unofficial attacks. They are concerted moves in the drive of the capitalist class to bludgeon the labor movement and impose their dictatorial rule upon the American people. The terrorist assaults upon the Negroes serve the same political ends as the Nazi pogroms against the Jews. The incitement of the middle-classes against the unions and the mobilization of sentiment against the miners likewise prepare the atmosphere for more direct and violent attacks upon organized labor. These are signs of the growth of those ultra-reactionary moods and movements which precede the rise and formation of fascism.

Broad layers of the middle classes are being expropriated, impoverished, ruined by the war. Many think or feel: things are going very bad for us and getting worse. And they are looking around for scapegoats to blame for their mastery.

Part of their resentment has been directed against Roosevelt as the author of their ills. Disillusioned with the administration and offered no progressive alternative by the labor leadership, they have returned in flocks toward the Republican Party. This was demonstrated by the November election returns. The anti-union agitators of the bosses find a receptive audience for their propaganda amongst the upper layers of the middle classes. The Peglers and Rickenbackers appeal to their prejudices against the unions, arouse them against the bungling bureaucrats in Washington, etc.

In their present reactionary moods the most desperate among them are becoming disposed to embrace even worse forms of reaction than Republicanism. The Fascist demagogues find their human material in such sections of the petty bourgeosie. From the most frenzied strata of the middle classes incensed against the Roosevelt regime and incited against the workers, from the most backward workers, from slum, gangster and hoodlum elements, the servants of the monopolist masters of America are beginning to recruit their first fascist legions and storm-troop squads. Detachments of these incipient fascist forces and formations are being propagandized and trained in these trial campaigns against the Negroes, against the miners, against the unions. These tendencies represent the gravest danger to the labor movement. It is necessary to warn the workers against them the moment they raise their heads.

Roosevelt and the Crisis

These are the underlying social processes which have bred the discords in Roosevelt’s regime and threaten its eventual collapse. How is Roosevelt behaving in this crisis and where is his administration going??

The Roosevelt regime is essentially a political instrument of monopoly capitalist rule. But it is a special kind of political agency of the big bourgeoisie. It has been a liberal-reformist government in the richest of bourgeois democracies with the strongest labor movement in the capitalist world. Hitherto Roosevelt has ruled by catering to the petty-bourgeois and proletarian masses, giving them promises and hand-outs. By such methods he was able to preserve their hopes in an improvement of the situation and to maintain himself in power.

Now the changed conditions and policies of American capitalism arising out of the war are compelling Roosevelt to change his course and his methods of rule. He can no longer dispense alms and favors to the middle-classes or make concessions to the unions. Nor can he continue to play the role of impartial referee in the conflicts between capital and organized labor and expect his decisions to go unchallenged.

Those pre-war days are gone forever. The Roosevelt of today and tomorrow must come forth as the undisguised exponent and pitiless executor of the war-policies of America’s Sixty Families, which require patronage of the profiteers, regimentation of labor, impoverishment of the masses. Since the war began Roosevelt has been steadily shifting from his prewar policies of appeasing the masses to his present policy of appeasing the capitalists.

His greatest difficulties come from his connections with organized labor and coalition with the trade union leadership. Roosevelt finds himself caught in this contradiction. As the commander-in-chief of the ruling capitalist class, he must retain enough popular support to keep control of his organization and be reelected in 1944. Moreover, Roosevelt senses the mighty force contained even in the present subdued state of the labor movement. These factors restrain Roosevelt from proceeding too rapidly and ruthlessly against the labor movement.

This hesitancy was reflected in Roosevelt’s behind-the-scene maneuvers and waverings during the four-month coal crisis and by his refusal to take personal responsibility for the Smith-Connally Act. At the showdown he took a strong and sharp stand against the workers – but he tried to drag out matters, postpone decisions, becloud the issues. Roosevelt’s duplicity and vacillations inexorably flow from his efforts to administer an anti-labor policy with the aid of his labor lieutenants and without alienating the mass of workers.

The Roosevelt regime is now approaching the critical point in its transition from collaboration and compromise with organized labor to outright opposition and open combat against the unions. Roosevelt preserved supremacy and stability in the Democratic Party and in the government by checking his right wing against the left and balancing himself between the contending forces of capital and labor. Now the widening gulf between Big Business and the labor movement exhibited in the rifts between the factions in his own party and the pressure of a reactionary Congress leaves him less and less room for maneuvers and compromises.

Roosevelt must choose between incompatible alternatives: either retain firm and friendly ties with the unions or wholeheartedly and unreservedly embrace the ultra-reactionary capitalist program. Here, too, Roosevelt tries to evade and postpone a definitive decision But all the reactionary forces in the country, in his own party, and in Washington are bearing down upon his administration and forcing him to show his true colors. Roosevelt’s grip upon his own party and its apparatus is weakening. After his defeat by the Farley group in the key state of New York and then in the 1942 elections, he has had to yield more and more to his right wing and to the Big Business-Bourbon bloc in Congress.

Despite its zigzags, the main trend of the Roosevelt administration is unmistakably to the right, toward a break with the entire labor movement, or at least its progressive sections.

At the end of the road of reaction it is travelling lies the naked military dictatorship of monopoly capitalism over the American people. This has been foreshadowed by Roosevelt’s threat of military conscription against the striking miners and his conniving with Congress to rush through the Smith-Connally Act.

The previous social supports of Roosevelt’s regime are crumbling on all sides. Representatives of the monopolists inside and outside his party are seizing upon all the mistakes and weaknesses of his administration to drive it ever faster along the path of repression. They are plotting to dislodge and destroy the influence of Roosevelt’s New Deal supporters, and eventually to replace Roosevelt, if necessary, with an even more repressive agent. Discontented middle class elements are turning away from his regime. His northern Negro followers more and more resent his patronage and protection of Jim Crowism.

On the left the most progressive, class-conscious and militant workers, taking alarm at Roosevelt’s anti-labor actions, are also beginning to break with him. This revolt of a significant section of advanced workers against Roosevelt’s dictatorship over the labor movement marks a turning point in American political history. The introductory pages of this new chapter in the political development of the American working class are now being written in the growing trend toward independent political action.

As this development matures, it will generate deeper and more irreconcilable cleavages in the Democratic Party. That party and its leader cannot long maintain the predominance they have held since 1932. Along with the decomposition of American capitalism, the destructive consequences of its war, the decline in Roosevelt’s prestige, the Democratic Party must disintegrate and go down in disgrace, dragging along with it into bankruptcy all those associated with its deceitful and discredited policies.


Last updated on: 5.2.2006