By W. F. Warde (George Novack)

American Imperialism Grasps Its Manifest Destiny

Delivered: 1941
First Published: Fourth International, Volume II, No. 1, January 1941, 1/41, pp. 14-17.
Transcription/Editing: 2005 by Daniel Gaido
HTML Markup: 2005 by David Walters
Public Domain:George Novak Internet Archive 2005; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Under the impact of the spreading inter-imperialist conflict, the United States shifted over from a peace to a wartime basis during 1940. The militarization speedup today reaches into all departments of national activity: domestic and foreign politics, military affairs, industry, culture, entertainment, domestic life. The people of the United States are being dressed for the slaughter.

The tremendous force mustered behind the official drive toward total war confirms the following prediction made in the “Thesis on the World Role of American Imperialism” adopted at the Founding Conference of the Fourth International in September 1938.

“While the influence exerted by the United States in the past period has been more or less ’passive,’ formulated in the policy of ’isolation,’ its more recent trend has been noticeably in the other direction and foreshadows its active, direct and decisive intervention in the period to come; i.e., the period of the next World War.

"So world-wide are the foundations of American imperialist power, so significant are its economic interests in Europe itself (billions invested in the industrial enterprises of the telephone-telegraph, automobile, electrical and other trusts as well as the billions in war debts and post-war loans), that it is out of the question for the United States to remain a passive observer of the coming war.

"Quite the contrary. Not only will it participate actively as one of the belligerents, but it is easy to predict that it will enter the war after a much shorter interval than elapsed before its entry in the last World War. In view of the weakness, financially and technically, of the other belligerents as compared with the still mighty United States, the latter will surely play an even more decisive role in the settling of the coming war than in the last."

This was written before Munich when Europe’s statesmen were deluding themselves and their countrymen with promises of “peace in our time,” and official opinion held that our entrance into another European war was unthinkable.

At that time the Fourth International alone among the workers’ parties warned the workers that, unless imperialism was overthrown by the proletarian revolution, peace could not be maintained. Here the Marxist method proves in practice its superiority over that of rival theories (petty-bourgeois pacifism, reformism, Stalinism) which disregard the material basis and insatiable appetite of capitalist imperialism.

The imperialist rulers of the United States had a far rosier picture of their prospects at the beginning of 1940 than at its close. In January they were still entranced by pre-war illusions. The lull in the fighting after Hitler conquered Poland also lulled the heads of the “democratic” powers. The actual and prospective belligerents on the “democratic” side, where policies were still being executed by pre-war politicians like Chamberlain and Daladier, still hoped against hope for another compromise.

That international situation shaped Washington’s foreign policy. That sensitive microphone of bourgeois public opinion, the New York Times, wrote in its leading editorial on New Year’s Day 1940: “We have a role to play that is as crucial as that of any belligerent, more crucial perhaps. This role is one of constructive mediator . . . We can stand ready to do our part in building . . . a lasting peace.”

This same conception of the mediating role of the United States was presented two days later by the President in a message to Congress distinguished by its temperate tone and modest demands. “The world looks to us,” Roosevelt declared, “to be a potent and active factor in seeking the re-establishment of peace.” He requested army and navy increases, “based not on panic but on common-sense.” He still talked then of a “balanced budget” with deficits kept below the 45-billion dollar limit. Roosevelt promised to avoid “entangling alliances.”

He stigmatized “selfish and partisan groups at home who wrap themselves in a false mantle of Americanism to promote their economic, financial or political advantage.” Such was the President’s explicit attitude in the calm before the storm which burst with Hitler’s invasion of Scandinavia and culminated in June with the fall of France. Hitler’s swift subjugation of Europe upset Washington’s timetables and Wall Street’s perspectives.

The Transformation in Washington

The political atmosphere of Washington changed in a flash. Banished was all talk of arbitration in government circles. This was declared national treachery. “Anyone who talks of appeasement now,” announced Senator Wagner of New York, Roosevelt’s stalwart supporter, “is an enemy of mankind. Hitler has issued his challenge, and it is his world or ours.” The doves of peace which fluttered around the Capitol in January were reported in December to be under investigation by the Dies Committee for Fifth Column activity.

Mars took over Washington. Before summer ended the authorized appropriations for military purposes grew greater than the total budget proposed in January, for 1940-41 exceeding the demands of the wildest alarmists. The legal debt limit was raised, and the old statutory limit was actually passed by December. The Big Boys stopped clamoring for a balanced budget. After all, the money was now being spent to protect their own fat hides and not for social services like unemployment relief.

The following figures show how the government’s military appropriations were made at the expense of relief projects. 1938 1939 1940 WPA spending(July to Nov. 30) $1,010,000,000 750,000,000 539,000,000 War Spending (July to NOV. 30) $574,277,000 571,108,000 1,481,000,000 In January Roosevelt had asserted: “We refuse the European solution of using the unemployed to build up excessive armaments which eventually result in dictatorship.” In October his Secretary of Labor Perkins boasted: “The back of unemployment is being broken by the defense program.” Roosevelt’s solution for unemployment turns out to be little different from the European!

Instead of denouncing patrioteers, the President placed the hired hands of Big Business at his right hand in the Defense Councils while the New Deal reformists were shoved off into a corner.

Alliances with Canada, Great Britain, the Latin-American governments, Greece, China were concluded or in progress. The United States was hastily converted into England’s arsenal. Instead of calm, panic and the utmost tension prevailed in high places. The Defense Commissioners are wielding the whip in a race against time. American imperialism must do more to re-arm in one year than Hitler did in seven.

Thus, from January to December, the United States took a tremendous step toward converting itself from a slothful, pacifist-minded plutocracy into a Prussianized military machine bent on world dominion.

The Blindness of the American Bourgeoisie

Unwittingly influenced by reaction, revolutionists are sometimes prone to assume that the present masters of capitalist society are virtually omniscient, that they are more firmly entrenched than they actually are, and that their leaders are capable of comprehending and protecting the vital interests of their class. If this were so, revolutions would be impossible. In reality, however, the commanding staffs of the bourgeoisie are infected with an incurable short-sightedness which arises out of the hopeless contradictions of their decaying system. They do not, and cannot, control the conflicting forces of capitalism; they are controlled, and often overwhelmed, by them. All Chamberlain’s efforts to avoid war were nullified by the insuperable antagonisms between German and British imperialist interests. So with the American bourgeoisie. However much many among them may wish to escape the costs and consequences of war, their material interests impel them along that course.

In fact, the official defenders of capitalist society are often far less conscious of the necessary outcome of their activities than the revolutionary vanguard of the working class, equipped with insight derived from Marxist methods of analysis.

How many times in the past decade have Trotskyists warned the petty-bourgeois democrats that their policies were not only designed to crush the proletarian revolution but would also result in the extinction of their beloved bourgeois democracy and the triumph of the Fascists! Yet the German and Austrian Social-Democrats, the French trade-union officials, the Spanish Stalinists, Socialists, Anarchists blindly persisted in their course, eventually losing not only their state sinecures and liberties but in many cases their lives.

The big bourgeoisie suffers from the same short-sightedness as the little. Marxists could forecast that the United States would willy-nilly be drawn into the approaching war; that the bourgeois democracies could not withstand totalitarian attack; and that American capitalists would have to police the world to preserve their profits and privileges. But these prospects were not so clearly discerned by the official leaders of the American bourgeoisie. They were caught napping by Hitler’s dynamic rise, by the fall of France, by England’s weakness. They suddenly found themselves unprepared to defend the international interests of their own class!

This episode in our national history contains two extremely important lessons for revolutionary workers. First, the “democratic” imperialists who cannot safeguard their own interests surely cannot be entrusted with the defense of the people’s interests for which they have no concern. Second, if the leaders of the big bourgeoisie could not foresee or forestall obvious consequences of their position and policies in the world imperialist arena, how will they be able to prevent the social revolutionary movements being generated around them?

However, the American imperialists have learned a great deal in the past year. The series of shocks they received have impressed upon them for the first time the magnitude and urgency of their world tasks. Our plutocracy is passing through a school of experience which is progressively disclosing to its most aggressive and advanced representatives its manifest destiny: the crushing of all rivals to acquire a monopoly over the planet.

The elements grouped around Roosevelt’s administration are the banner-bearers and organizers of the imperialist war program. They are arousing, instructing, mobilizing jingoistic sentiment, preparing the nation, as in 1917, to embark on an imperialist crusade. Under the cry of peace, they are girding for war; under the slogan of defending democracy, they are moving to rob the people of their liberties by instituting a reactionary wartime dictatorship; while calling upon the workers for sacrifices, they are helping the profiteers grow richer; under the cover of “national defense” they are aiming to subjugate, first South America and eventually the world.

The End of “Isolationism”

This process of growing awareness amongst the American bourgeoisie is evidenced in the collapse of “isolationism,” which at the beginning of the war seemed so strong a tendency in certain bourgeois circles and among the petty-bourgeois pacifists and semi-socialist sheep following them. The isolationist politicians failed to convert the convention of the Republican Party, its natural vehicle, to their position. They have since become steadily weaker as many of their captains have slid over to the interventionist camp. On December 21, to take a notable case, Representative Hamilton Fish, ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and charter-organizer of Norman Thomas’s defunctive “Keep America Out of War” Committee, renounced his opposition to the administration’s foreign policy and applauded Roosevelt’s provisional program of “all aid to Britain short of war.” It may be added that Thomas himself is today not far behind Fish.

There remain die-hard reactionaries of the Hoover, Ford and Lindberg type who cling to the former policy of aloofness and a possible deal with Hitler. But the “isolationist” wing of the imperialists constitutes a dwindling, subordinate, and relatively uninfluential segment of bourgeois public opinion. The appeasers are either echoes of the past—or omens of the future. They do not determine the current policies or immediate plans of the Washington-London Axis.

The main line of the war-party was stated by the New York Times in mid-December. “It has become the settled principle of American policy to give Britain the utmost possible help short of involvement in war.” Britain, says Roosevelt, is “our first line of defense.” The Empire (India included) is fighting our battle. On Christmas Day, Roosevelt’s pastor blessed this policy by calling for a “Holy Blitzkrieg against the tyrants.”

In conformance with this divine directive, the United States has become the central supply-base for England. Uncle Sam has agreed to underwrite the costs of the conflict for Great Britain, its dominions and allies. The intervention of the United States has almost expanded to the point where the flimsy reservation, “short of war,” must be discarded and its participation become open and unlimited.

Meanwhile the administration is forced to act surreptitiously in many ways, especially on the diplomatic field. What negotiations have been going on and agreements concluded with Great Britain, Latin America, Spain and others, the American people are no more permitted to know in 1940 than they were in 1916-1917. It was recently revealed by Pertinax in the New York Times that when Petain met Hitler on October 26, Roosevelt warned Vichy that any French military aid to Germany would bring into play the Havana agreement of last July whereby French possessions would be taken over by the United States as “trustee” for the Americas. It is not Japan and Germany alone who covet the colonies belonging to the weaker victims of this war! Here is a minor instance of the widespread secret diplomatic maneuvering which is paving the way for public entry into the war and foreshadows its imperialist designs.

The militarization program which will cost more than the total national debt of a year ago, conscription, a two-ocean navy, American warships blockading German vessels in Mexican waters, joint defense conferences with Canada, the exchange of destroyers for naval bases in the Western hemisphere, the gift of three billion dollars worth of arms to England, new loans to China—these events and a hundred more of the past six months show how close American imperialism is to plunging headlong into this war. Indeed, the New York Herald Tribune blurted out the truth in its editorial page on December 29: “The World War is already here.”

The Militarization of American Economy

The imperialist program requires the complete militarization of American economy. Foreign commerce already subserves the government’s war plans. The granting of state loans through the Export-Import Bank to South American countries, China, and possibly Spain (to safeguard American corporate interests and ensure Franco’s neutrality), the blocking of funds belonging to Hitler-dominated nationals, the curtailing of essential military supplies to Japan, the subsidizing of British arms manufactures, even the administration of relief for the victims of the war is dictated by the requirements of imperialist policy.

The process of economic regimentation at home is still in its first stages but it is accelerating daily. Knudsen and Stettinius have been appointed by Roosevelt bosses of the “defense” drive. These representatives of General Motors and U. S. Steel, Morgan and DuPont, work hand in glove with the brass-hats whose toughness toward union labor is the reverse side of their humility before such open-shop corporations as Bethlehem Steel and Ford. While the government is given legal authority to take over industry, heavy industry has already taken over the government. With the third term, Roosevelt’s regime has entered a new phase. The Knudsen Deal has supplanted the New Deal.

The Knudsen Deal means that Big Business is in the saddle in Washington. Thanks to their privileged position and the benevolence of Roosevelt, his Generals, Admirals and underlings, the corporate monopolies are accumulating juicy contracts; extending their properties at government expense; obtaining priorities of materials, exemptions from taxes and relief from harassing regulations, especially the labor laws.

Labor, on the other hand, is being asked to forfeit its right to strike, to give up the forty-hour week, to refrain from asking wage-increases, to make all kinds of sacrifices for “the national welfare.” If the unions insist on maintaining their rights or demand a few cents more per hour, Congressmen snarl and the administration threatens to crack down on the workers as “saboteurs.” The Knudsen Deal aims to deprive the workers of all their social gains and to make them helpless cogs in the mechanism of production.

The regimentation of labor is being facilitated by the infiltration of army officers throughout the state apparatus and society. An army officer is dispatched to “settle,” that is, break the Vultee strike. For the first time in our history an Admiral is made Ambassador to France and sails on a naval cruiser to impress Europe with our might. Conscription has placed a powerful weapon in the hands of the reactionary military clique to interfere in all spheres of civil life.

The economic needs and costs of the war program have yet to be measurably reflected in the sphere of consumption but higher prices and rationing are on the way. The goods and facilities diverted to arms manufacture together with increased taxes will result in a shortage of consumer’s goods and a rise in the cost of living. The Financial News of London bluntly asserts: “The United States. . . could not exert its full weight in international affairs without a reduction of the high standard of living enjoyed by its citizens.” The democrats assailed Goering when he said that guns were more important than butter. Canada has just pegged the price of butter; England has rationed it. Soon the U. S. will have to give up one for the other. The peoples of all the belligerents face the same prospects of starvation and misery in this terrible imperialist struggle.

What Next?

As 1940 ends, the United States has one foot over the threshold of war. When will Roosevelt decide to take the final step? That decision depends not simply on his own will and initiative but also upon the next developments in the war, especially upon the actions of Germany and Japan. If Japanese forces penetrate deeper into the South Pacific, if Germany conquers Great Britain or undertakes some other menacing move, Roosevelt will come out in the open and declare for war. His bellicose “fireside chat” just before the New Year showed that the leader of the imperialist war party is set for the showdown.

Meanwhile a powerful current of resistance against regimentation is developing among the industrial workers. As the imperialists prepare to launch their offensive abroad and at home and impose their reactionary Prussian regime upon the people, the workers are surging forward on the war-boom.

The core of the proletariat in heavy industry is manifesting great energy, militancy, fresh confidence in itself. The friction between the opposing class tendencies keeps flaring up in acute conflicts which cannot be strangled by the brass-hats or their labor lieutenants, like Hillman, at least without serious and prolonged struggle. As in the Vultee Aircraft situation, the workers are even winning important victories.

Thus the workers are being forced to fight, not only for the bosses, but for themselves. To help the workers succeed in their struggles to defend their organizations, liberties, and social gains is our task for 1941.