Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(18 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 25, 18 April 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

President Roosevelt has made it fairly plain, by his endorsement of an editorial in the Washington Post, that in a war between the Axis Powers and the “Democracies” in Europe, the United States will be on the side of the latter, “whether or not the United States was at the outset physically involved.”

Virtually up to the eve of the declaration of war against Germany in 1917, not even Woodrow Wilson went so far in committing the United States so emphatically and unambiguously to participation in the war.

It would therefore be well to reflect, while there is still time, on what the American masses-in-uniform would be fighting and dying for.

“Western civilization” is imperilled, according to Roosevelt. Imperilled, presumably, by the totalitarian, Fascist states, by their brutal violation of the sovereignty and integrity of small nations, by their assaults, upon democracy. A war to safeguard the latter is a sacred and just war.

One Must Look at Realities

Now if that were really the case, a strong argument could undoubtedly be made for a war against the Fascist Axis, even for a war launched without, delay, without waiting for further steps by Hitler and Mussolini. But the truth of the matter is that the issues of independence of small nations and of democracy play no part whatsoever in the considerations of those who are talking about and planning the coming world slaughter.

There is a simple and easy way to test this assertion. One has only to look around at the realities.

Let us assume for the moment that Roosevelt, Chamberlain and Daladier, the spokesmen of the three great “democracies,” are really concerned only with such noble thoughts as the preservation of national independence in the small countries and of democracy and democratic institutions throughout the world. Obviously, Hitler and Mussolini are a living, pressing menace to their preservation. But it is reasonable to say that only those can honestly combat the Fascist threat who come into court – or to the battlefields – with clean hands, who have already demonstrated in practice and not only in words that they stand for democratic institutions and national freedom.

The Record of the Democracies

Hitler’s rape of Czechoslovakia and Mussolini’s rape of Ethiopia and Albania are indeed hateful and have aroused the genuine indignation of every honest person, to say nothing of every real socialist.

But the fact of the matter is that the two Fascist chiefs only acted in exactly the same manner – although on a much reduced scale – as England and France and the United States have acted in the past and, basically, are acting at the present time.

The last half-century, at least, records an uninterrupted series of British, French and American invasions and conquests, not one whit less brutal and brazen – more so, if anything – similar to those just accomplished by Germany and Italy. Down to the present day, the record of imperialist France in Northern Africa and in Asia is far more atrocious than anything done to date by Hitler and Mussolini. The horrible record of British imperialism in India, China, Africa, Palestine, Egypt and Ireland, makes the Albanian invasion look like a Sunday school picnic. One day’s bombing of Indian villages by England has produced more fatalities than Czechoslovakia and Albania put together.

The record of the United States is not purer There are Filipinos living today who recall the gruesome brutalities of “Hard-boiled Smith,” Sergeant of the United States army who practised the “water cure” on the natives who refused to submit to the American conquest of the Islands. Hitler has yet to match the American record in Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico and other fields of “our own” Imperialist expansion.

The Leopard Still Wears His Spots

”But that was in the past,” it may be – and is – said. Not at all! If that objection is meant to imply that the American leopard has changed his spots, it is false and worthless. It would be somewhat less dishonest if it reflected more reality. But it doesn’t.

If Roosevelt and his regime were really shocked at the violation of national independence (and not merely concerned with the profits and. power of American finance capital), they would take some corrective measures in their own back yard. For instance:

Withdraw from the Philippines and grant them full and genuine independence. “Then the Fascists will seize the helpless islands!” We have heard that scoundrelly imperialist argument before – long before the word Fascist was invented. That is always the way in which one imperialist gang seeks to justify its depredations and dominion.

Withdraw from and grant full and genuine independence to the Virgin Islands, to Puerto Rico and all the other islands of the Caribbean which are really under the heel of Wall Street and Washington. The argument that “we” are there “for their own good” is identical with Hitler’s argument for taking over Czechoslovakia, and not a particle improved thereby.

Stop the collaboration with and financial-political support of the vicious totalitarian dictatorships in Latin America, which are today part and parcel of Roosevelt’s own axis, or which he is attempting to win over to his side. Is the scandalous regime of Getulio Vargas in Brazil less totalitarian and more democratic than Mussolini’s merely because it works hand in glove with Washington? Or the regime of a dozen other Latin-American countries?

It goes without saying that Roosevelt will no more act in this way than will the spokesmen of imperialism in France, England, Belgium or Holland. And since we are not, like the liberals and Stalinists, in the futile business of begging the leopard to change his spots, we are not wasting our time in appeals to the imperialists to do what only a workers’ government can and will do.

And since Roosevelt, Chamberlain and Daladier will not and cannot act otherwise than as imperialists, all their pious talk, about the “small nations” and “democracy” remains what it has always been on their lips and the lips of similars: opium fumes for drugging the masses into acquiescing in their wars for profit and plunder.

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Last updated on 17 January 2016