Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(4 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 21, 4 April 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At bottom, the dispute between the so-called “isolationists” and the advocates of “collective security” is either meaningless, unimportant, or entirely beside the point with which workers are really concerned, namely, stopping or fighting war.

Where it is not a patent absurdity, isolationism in the modern world is a patent fraud. In so far as the negative criticism of that position goes, it is easily accomplished. The idea that the United States, with its tremendously powerful position in world economic and political life, can. or does, or will remain isolated from any important conflict is preposterous. The Seminole Indians of Florida’s Everglades or the Piutes of Utah may have been able to pursue an isolationist life a hundred or more years ago. Modern American imperialism, regardless of the statesmen at its helm, simply cannot, does not, will not.

Nobody Likes War

The “collective security” advocates are simply the traditional defenders of imperialist booty, in new guise and with strange recent recruits. No more or less sane person, however reactionary – and this goes also for Fascists – is in favor of war for its own sake. Even the Fascists, we repeat, because however mad they may seem to be, they are not unaware of the fact that a large-scale modern war is a risky and expensive affair. That is why, in their own way, the Fascists too are for “collective security.” Thus, Mussolini and Hitler are for “collectively, securing” the Blackshirt conquest of Ethiopia. They are for “collectively securing” the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia. They would not object for a moment to having England and France and all the other “Democracies” join them in the “collectivity,”

The “democratic” advocates of the policy merely want to secure “collectively” not their conquests of 1938–1939, but the booty they acquired in 1918–1919 and in the preceding decades. There, fundamentally, is the difference between them and the Fascists on this point.

Why the working class should fight to “secure” England’s rule over, let us say, South Africa, or Belgium’s over the Congo, any more than the German workers should fight to secure Hitler’s rule over the Czechs, is not intelligently demonstrable.

The “isolationists” differ from the “collective securityites” – as the last war showed – in that they refuse to assist either one of the two sets of their imperialist rivals: the Anglo-French or the Germano-Italian. “Let them fight it out to the point of exhaustion, so that if we intervene later on it will be as indisputable masters of them both. Why should we now tie ourselves down to helping one of our competitors against another one?”

To take either of the two positions is, therefore, to take a stand for imperialism and, consequently, for war.

Democratic Rights Do Matter

Is there, then, no way in which to stop Fascism, to stop Hitler’s advances, to stop the war which we all realize is so imminent? Can we, then, take the position that it doesn’t matter a particle whether we live, so to say, under Hitlerism or Rooseveltism, Fascism or capitalist democracy?

There is a way to smash Fascism and war! There is a difference, an important one, between Fascism and bourgeois democracy. Those who attribute to the revolutionary Marxists the view that it doesn’t matter to the workers which political regime they live under, is deliberately distorting our position.

The democratic rights which the workers enjoy, in part only, to be sure, but nevertheless in part, under capitalist democracy – they are deprived of altogether by Fascism. But the whole point is that these rights not only cannot be extended and made more genuine, but they cannot even be preserved in their present vitiated form, if the workers continue to support in the slightest degree the power, the rule, the state of the bourgeois democrats.

Wherever we look today, we see that these gentlemen are interested first and foremost in the preservation of capitalist private ownership. Roosevelt, for example, reiterates his allegiance to Capitalism on all occasions. “Democracy” interests them only in the second, tenth or fiftieth place. And when and where such democratic rights as the right to free speech, assembly, press, the right to organize, strike and picket, conflict with the interests of capitalist property, the former are nonchalantly – more often, brutally and cynically – suppressed for the sake of the latter.

This elementary and ever so important truth, the professional democrats in the labor movement systematically conceal from the masses.

But War Ends These Rights

Take the democrat Daladier. He is against the German dictators. Good. To “fight” them, to preserve French imperialist interests, he asks for the powers of ... a dictator! In his war for democracy, he starts out by refusing to guarantee in any way the democratic rights of free speech, free press and assembly. And under modern capitalism, this is absolutely to the order of things. Tomorrow, it will be Roosevelt’s tarn to do the same. The bourgeois democrats thus pave the road for Fascism! Fascism can be stopped only by fighting these spurious “democrats” – and this is precisely why the workers need an independent class movement, an independent class struggle.

What holds for the struggle against Fascism is doubly true for the struggle against war. If Daladier – the bourgeois democratic type – tramples so rudely upon democratic rights even before war breaks out, how many of these rights will he allow to be exercised after war breaks out? We have seen and we know enough to say with complete sureness that the political regime of the “democracies” during the war and that of the Fascist states, will be as different as two eggs.

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