Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(7 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 13, 7 March 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In a recent debate I had with a social-democratic spokesman, who defended the Roosevelt war armaments drive, he sought to play upon the anti-fascist feelings of the audience by referring to the fact that Senator Nye, “isolationist” leader, had been cheered to the echo by the Nazis at their Madison Square Garden meeting; and that, by implication I, an opponent of the Roosevelt program, stood on all fours with the Nazis.

This cunning device of identifying working class revolutionists with their extreme reactionary opponents is older than the labor movement itself, but it hasn’t improved with age. It is the favorite device of the essentially conservative liberal who, as has been said so well, has his two feet firmly planted in mid-air. When Ferdinand Lassalle was trying to organize an independent working class movement in Germany, the “Progressives” accused him of being an instrument of the reactionaries. When the British Laborites first put up their independent candidates, the “Liberals” accused them of being tools of the Tories.

So it has been ever since, down to the present day. And there are, alas, many foolish people who are impressed by this kind of argument, and many scoundrels at work impressing them.

That Vote on the Guam Naval Base

Take the case of the recent House of Representatives vote against the $5,000,000 proposal for a naval base at Guam Island. The proposal was defeated by a vote of 205 to 168. The reaction of the Stalinist press was most interesting.

“HOUSE TORIES AID TOKIO AGGRESSORS IN DEFEAT OF GUAM DEFENSE PROPOSAL,” shouted the big box-car streamer across the top of the Daily Worker (Feb. 24). The accompanying dispatch was written in the same vein.

What we have here is a first-class patriotic fraud. The truth of the matter is that brazen as the Stalinist sergeants are, they are nevertheless a bit embarrassed over the need of explaining away the fact that they are pretty solidly aligned not only with Roosevelt, but with Landon and all the Republicans, and big business in a war drive which, as usual, is given the name of “defense preparations.” In order to overcome this annoying difficulty, and to make it appear that there is something “democratic” about the war program, the Stalinists try to picture the situation as if all the “progressives” are for the super-armaments program and defense of American imperialism, and all the Tory Republicans and Democrats are against it. Once this is done, the Stalinists believe that it will be easier to denounce all working class opponents of the war campaign as allies or agents of the Tories.

But They Did Vote for the Program!

That’s the purpose of the Daily Worker headline. The naval base at Guam Island is a “defense” measure; only the Tories are against it; they oppose it because they are agents of the Japanese Mikado; and anybody else who opposes it is an agent of both the Tories and the Mikado.

Simple, isn’t it?

But if the Republicans, who represent the most reactionary section of American capitalism, are agents of the Mikado (why they should be, nobody ever explains!), then, by the same logic, Roosevelt, the New Deal Democrats and Earl Browder are also agents of Japanese imperialism.

For the same House of Representatives that defeated the $5,000,000 proposal for Guam by a vote of 205 to 168, adopted the Roosevelt bill for $48,800,000 for all the other naval bases by a vote of 268 to 4!

What’s more, according to a Washington dispatch to the N.Y. Times (Feb. 10),

“President Roosevelt’s emergency program for national defense as outlined in his message of Jan. 12 was approved today. In its main features, by the Republican Conference of the House of Representatives ... The action of the conference indicates that there will be little opposition to-the May bill, strengthening the air corps and otherwise enlarging the military establishment ...”

That is, the Republicans (who include, according to the Daily Worker, Tories, Liberty Leaguers, traitors and assistants of Japan) are in fundamental agreement with the Roosevelt-Browder program. Or to put it differently and more precisely: they are all United in a war program for the preservation and expansion of American imperialist interests.

But many Tories did vote against the Guam naval base, didn’t they? How can you account for that?

Their vote is not hard to understand; there is nothing mysterious about it. They were moved, just like those who voted for the base, by purely imperialistic motives. Only, they differed from them in what is essentially a technical question, very much like the technical disputes between military experts who put great faith in infantry while others emphasize aviation, or naval experts who stand for heavy dreadnaughts while others emphasize lighter and speedier vessels.

All Are in the Same Camp

This was made perfectly clear by the N.Y. World-Telegram (Feb. 9):

“We cannot think of a single good purpose to be served by this move – unless, of course, we wish to improve Guam for the benefit of Japan. Every informed naval and military officer admits that in case of war Japan’s first move in that area would be to take Guam. She could do that without much difficulty, and our expenditure of a mere $5,000,000 or so on Guam would not delay the process an extra forty-eight hours. Experts estimate that it would cost us from $50,000,000 to $100,000,000 to transform the station into anything like a decent naval base, and it would still be surrounded by islands fortified by Japan.”

As can be seen, the camps of both the advocates and adversaries of the Guam base stand solidly on the ground of what they consider the best interests of U.S. imperialism. Despite the frenzied efforts of the Stalinists to sink to the level of military advisers of American capitalism, labor will do well to shy clear of both imperialist camps.

* * *

March has been set aside by the Socialist Workers Party as the month for a concerted national drive to aid the New International, our monthly theoretical review. Social affairs are to be held throughout the country, and the proceeds will go to the magazine. Although the New International rarely calls for such aid, its modesty should not lead you to believe that it is a stepchild; it is one of the party’s proudest achievements. I urge all comrades and friends to give their warmest and most generous support to the March social affairs for the benefit of our review. If they do it in large enough numbers, they will help solve many irritating and even dangerous financial problems.

Shachtman icon
Max Shachtman
Marx icon
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 29 Novemember 2015