Max Shachtman

Fascism and the World War

Article Four

(December 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 36, 16 December 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

With the possible exception of the Stalinists for a certain period of time, none of the radical labor groups in the United. States has had greater pretensions to “practicalness” in politics than the Lovestone group. To all left-wing criticisms of its opportunism, its spokesmen have always replied, in effect: “Principles! Principles! They’re all right in their way, but they must not be allowed to stand in the way of an effective practical program. We are not a sect – we want to keep our roots in the mass movement, and for that one must be practical.”

The result of unprincipled practicalness has been most instructive. Starting out with fairly imposing forces, and an even more imposing name (“Communist Party Majority”), the group has lost one of its leaders after another (Bertram Wolfe is the latest to withdraw), one of its trade-union leaders and connections another (the priceless Zimmerman found friendship with Dubinsky to be more practical and profitable than friendship with Lovestone), one of its members after another. It has been reduced to the most pitiable of all the labor sects. Now, in the course of the debate on wart policy occurring in its midst, it is deciding to give up, simultaneously, its organisation and the last shred of its formal radicalism.

Lovestone Joins the War Patriots

The Lovestone group has joined the parade of the war-patriots. But not boldly and forthrightly, as befits men with serious and sincere convictions, but shame-facedly and cravenly, as is characteristic of opportunists to whom principles are an unbearable burden.

During the “Popular Front” period of Stalinism, Lovestone covered more than one sheet of paper to demonstrate – which was not difficult – that the coming war would not be a struggle between democracy and fascism, that to support the former would only facilitate the spread of the latter, that the complete, internationalist independence of the working class was the pre-condition for any effective fight against fascism and for the preservation of democratic rights.

At. last, the war broke out. Fascism, nurtured and fattened and armed by imperialist democracy, registered its initial military successes. As it advanced on the war front, Lovestone, like so many ex-revolutionists, fled in panic like a French general, leaving all his equipment behind. With the war scarcely a year old. Lovestone completed his race to the patriotic camp and began writing just as vehemently against what he once stood for as he used to write when he stood for it.

In a series of articles beginning with the Sept. 28, 1940 issue of his paper, Workers Age, he announces his conversion to the war camp. Above his tent he hoists a not unfamiliar banner: “All aid to England!”

“Without taking a single syllable or soft-pedalling a single note of condemnation of British imperialist traditions, motives, interests or practices in the colonies or in the metropolis, I am for aiding England in its fight to defeat Hitler imperialism.” He is for it “without any maybes, perhapses, buts, ifs or even howevers.” What is more, “to refuse the speediest, best and maximum aid to England is at best nothing else but unconscious sabotage of the war effort being made so heroically by the British people against the savage hordes of Nazi imperialism.”

It should not be imagined from these quotations that Lovestone has ceased to be a socialist. Oh no, nothing of the sort! “There is no difference in our ranks over the greatest desirability of socialism triumphing as a result of the war.” Or that he is an admirer of Churchill and Roosevelt. Far from it. “There is no problem here of confidence in or collaboration with either Churchill or the Roosevelt Administration.” Or that he considers the war noble – no, it is an imperialist war “rooted in the aggravation of capitalist contradictions, in the decay of the bourgeois system.”

But – while a Nazi victory would postpone the revolution in Europe for ever so long, a British victory would “at least provide some elbow room for a mighty struggle for social liberation, particularly in the heart of Europe – in Germany.” Hence, the speediest, best and maximum aid to England.

Against Whom Does He Argue?

Against whom is Lovestone so bellicosely addressing his demand, to which he evidently will not take “No” for an answer? What foes of labor stand so determinedly in the way of all aid to England.and England’s victory that Lovestone feels compelled to raise his voice so loudly for this aid and victory, and to make them the axis around which his whole policy revolves? Winston Churchill, Samuel Hoare, Lord Halifax and other distinguished representatives of democracy and the struggle against dictatorship? No. The reports seem to be that they were actually among the initiators of this revolutionary working-class demand. Perhaps labor’s enemies at home – Franklin Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, J.P. Morgan, William Allen White, Edward Stettinius and other patrons of freedom? No. They seem to be doing a fair share of the work of aiding England. What’s more – we record it as a fact – they seem to have the support of the overwhelming majority of the American people, labor included.

Against whom, then? Can it be against what Lovestone calls “impotent ultra-leftism”? It can be, and is. For surely, Lovestone’s fight is not directed against the direct Hitlerite agents in the United States, or against the handful of “appeasers” in the capitalist class, whose influence among the workers is fairly tiny. Our first conclusion can therefore he legitimately stated: Far from seeking to rally workers in struggle against imperialism and its politicians, Lovestone is seeking to popularise the slogans and demands of imperialism in the ranks of the workers and to discredit the revolutionary anti-war opposition to imperialism.

His Very Concrete Program

Aid to England is not all Lovestone demands. In addition, he makes “the following concrete proposals for United States foreign policy, towards America’s averting and avoiding war: adequate national defense; the unequivocal rejection of all direct and indirect ‘appeasement’ policies towards the fascist powers; and proper non-imperialist economic, political and cultural relations with all the countries of the western hemisphere.” On the face of it, a most concrete program! Dignified, statesmanlike, and above all, both practical and concrete. And lest you think that Lovestone has become a full-fledged volunteer recruiting sergeant for American imperialism, he reminds you that, whatever else he is for, he asks that “labor face independently the issues of foreign policy as well as of domestic policy.”

Let us be a little more concrete about Lovestone’s “concrete” program.

What does the “speediest, best and maximum aid to England” – moral and material – mean, if we’re to be concrete about it and not wretched phrasemongers? Fifty destroyers or one hundred? Fifty per cent of U.S. airplane production, or sixty, of seventy-five? If it’s the war you want England to win, and not merely a shrewd Yankee business deal you want to put over on a helpless pal in need, you shouldn’t stand on ceremony – you should give till it hurts. As Paderewski pointed out the other day in an interview, America thus far has done a few good strokes of business with England. but it hasn’t given anything, it hasn’t sacrificed for the Great Cause.

Now, what about a bit of anti-aircraft artillery for our side in the war? (Our side is the “heroic British people”: the other side is the “savage Nazi hordes” – a contrast worthy of the newly-baptized chauvinist.) To be sure, you can’t ferry artillery across the ocean air like airplanes. To be sure, also, Britain is not the mistress of the seas she used to be, what with one convoy after another being sunk by the Germans. But that should offer no difficulties to a man who is boldly serious about his politics, in contrast to a journalistic dilettante. “Best, speedy and maximum” aid to England requires action, not words, audacious and timely action. Why not assign U.S. warships to help the British convoy purchases from the New World to England’s home ports? And while we’re at it. why not assign other U.S. warships to patrol Pacific waters, and guard bases like Singapore, in order that hard-pressed British imperialism (Beg pardon! We mean “the heroic British people”) may transfer its Asiatic squadrons for badly-needed service in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic? Speaking of Asia, reminds us of India, which we know we really should not mention, because it is considered to be so impolite nowadays, in such bad taste. If England cannot win the war without aid from the U.S., it certainly cannot win without the self-sacrificing aid of the Empire as a whole. If Lovestone means what he says, and does not confine himself to lolling in a safe editorial chair and writing noble articles, why doesn’t he use his influence to quiet the impudent and subversive stirrings of the Indian masses? How can England concentrate all its efforts in the war against Hitler, if she is compelled to send an expeditionary force to India to put down a revolution for national independence? Will Lovestone keep his “aid” slogan only for the U.S.A., or does it apply also to India? If the latter, how reconcile aid for the British victory with tolerance towards (much less support of) revolutionary “disturbances in India?

Of course, of course, we know that Lovestone does not retract a word of criticism of Churchill and British imperialism; he even promises not to soft-pedal his criticism. Then how about him using his modest influence (every little bit counts, you know) with the “heroic British” labor leaders now in the Churchill government to have the dirty British imperial boot lifted from the neck of India and northern Ireland – just as a starter, just to show that the heroic British, unlike the savage Nazis, do not oppress other peoples and nations, do not impose their rule and exploitation upon weaker countries against their will.

Why Be Mealy-Mouthed!

Either way, let him be a little more concrete about the aid he wants to give England. And let him be more consistent and less cowardly about the immediate and maximum aid the U.S. should give England. Only a miserable poltroon would keep his gang on the sidelines, merely sending notes of good cheer to a friend who is meanwhile being battered to a pulp by a tough-guy who threatens those on the sidelines too.

That is so, it may be said, but the United States is unprepared for war right now. Lovestone has a “concrete proposal” on that score, too. He is for “adequate defense.” Is Roosevelt’s “defense” program adequate to Lovestone, or too adequate or not adequate enough? We are not told, for Lovestone is still too shy to tell. And what is it to be adequate for? For “defense” of the U.S.A., or the whole western hemisphere? And against whom? From Germany and Italy, or Japan, or all three? And why this mealy-mouthed, weasel word – “defense”? If good old Churchill beats Hitler, there wouldn’t be much talk of defense, would there? “Hemisphere defense” is presumably based on the possibility of an attack by Hitler, made possible in turn by his victory in Europe. But in that case, we repeat, why only defense? Lovestone is willing and anxious to have England beat the Nazis and bring liberty to all Germans at the point of British bayonets. This requires an offensive, it would seem. But suppose England doesn’t succeed, for one reason or another – failure of Lovestone to bring aid in time, for example. Will Lovestone then reconcile himself to Roosevelt and Nelson Rockefeller preserving autarchic, “non-imperialistic” democracy on the western hemisphere and letting the Old World go to hell under Hitler? Or will he have the courage and consistency to call for the United States doing what he now asks us to help England do? He is such an unterrified internationalist that he praises the British workers for fighting against Hitler and thus bringing nearer the day of liberation for the workers on the continent. Does his internationalism stop at the Irish Sea, or does he intend to have us take up where England, if she is defeated, was forced to leave off?

If he does, then let’s have an end to this miserly nonsense about “adequate defense” and proceed to the building of a super-force – one capable of dealing with Hitler, and with Hitler plus Japan, if necessary. And let’s have no more nonsense like strikes at the Vultee plant, and similar labor disturbances and excesses, which interfere with aid to England today, and with aid to our “defense” program today and tomorrow.

Silent on Some Totalitarians

Also, if we really want to help Churchill win the war against Hitler, let’s put an end to such pompous nonsense as Lovestone utters when he writes of no appeasement to fascist powers. If we’re going to subordinate everything to the need of defeating Hitler, let’s be consistent and honest about it, and drop this silly talk about dealing only with “democracies.” Take the case of Greece, for example, and its boss, General Metaxas. He is just as much – not more and not less – a democrat as Hitler. His totalitarian regime is smaller, but just as fierce in its hounding and persecuting and assassinating of revolutionists, workers, peasants and even bourgeois oppositionists, as Hitler’s regime. Should that stop Lovestone from supporting Roosevelt in his promise to aid little Greece?

Or take the case of Brazil, with its venomous totalitarian regime headed by Butcher Vargas, as he is tenderly known among genuine democrats. Or take any of the other brutal dictatorships of Latin America. Will Lovestone’s statesmanlike, but rather finicky, opposition of “appeasement” in these cases help win the war against Hitler, help “hemisphere defense” or not?

The war against Germany, conducted by imperialist democracy, cannot be fought except by totalitarian methods, with the aid of totalitarian and fascist states, and with the systematic abandonment of those democratic and working class rights and institutions that are still enjoyed, to one degree or another, by the masses in the capitalist democracies. That is the simple, unrefuted truth about the present war that our newly-baked recruiting sergeant deliberately conceals from his readers!

A Really New Proposal

Finally, Lovestone calls upon the U.S. bourgeoisie to develop “non-imperialist” relations with the Latin-American countries. The eyes refuse to believe what they read, even under the signature of Lovestone! After all, he knows something about American imperialism; he described and analyzed it well enough, time and again in his writings. Now he asks it to develop non-imperialist relations.

Why does he stop there? Why not raise similar demands in other fields of life? Why not ask capitalism to cleanse itself of its tendencies towards exploiting wage labor? Why not call for the elimination of superstition, supernaturalism and bigotry in the church? How about a petition to wipe out the sordid motive in racketeering, and violence in gangsterism, and prostitution in brothels? Or a firm post-card to Julius Streicher on the question of anti-Semitism? Or a campaign for a permanent celery-and-carrot diet for Bengal tigers and man-eating sharks?

If these are not as urgent as Lovestone’s proposal, let him at least make it more “concrete.” One idea might be the formation or the Society for the Prevention of American Imperialist Practices in Latin-America. For President, at least honorarily, we suggest Mr. Roosevelt; for Vice-President, Sumner Welles; for Chairman of the Policy Board. Nelson Rockefeller; for Military Advisor, General Pershing, of Mexican fame; for Economic Advisor, Dillon, of Dillon, Read. They are all for the “Good Neighbor” policy towards Latin America; they say so themselves. For the key post of General Field Secretary In Charge of Convincing Latin Americans That the Vulture Is Now a Dove, Lovestone is the indicated candidate.

It would not be an illogical position. Support of either camp in the present imperialist war means, for the working class, giving up its independence, shifting to the foundations of imperialism and becoming its main support, helping to undermine its own conditions and rights and abandoning the struggle for better ones, helping to keep the slaves of imperialism in servitude, working cheek by jowl with reaction, totalitarianism and fascism under the fraudulent banner of a “war against fascism,” and preservation of an outlived social order which breeds the horrors and monstrosities of our time. Lovestone’s “concrete” practical program is not an exception to this rule, but a demonstration of it.

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