Max Shachtman

Fascism and the World War

Article VI: How to Fight the Fascist Menace

(January 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 4, 27 January 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We are fighting for a new social order, says Hitler. We are fighting against the capitalist-plutocratic nations. We are fighting to establish a model socialism in which Labor is master and measuring-stick of everything.

In reality, the Nazis arc fighting to establish the domination of German capitalism over the entire world. They are fighting to make the peoples of every country the slaves of the German Empire, toiling in a vast concentration camp to pile up tribute for the rulers of the Third Reich.

We are fighting for civilization and Christianity, says Churchill. We are fighting against the servitude of Fascism, for the freedom of nations, their right of self-determination and self-government.

In reality, England is fighting to preserve the power and plunder derived from the threatened British Empire. She fought for that in the last World War and is fighting for it in this one.

We are fighting for democracy and for Our Way of Life, says Roosevelt. We are out to prevent Fascism from ruling the world and enslaving the peoples.

In reality, the rulers of the United States are also fighting for their power and profits, which are threatened by the world-wide expansion of their German rival.

In Whose Interest?

The second world war is an imperialist war on both sides of the battlefront, just as the first world war was. In this war, the deception of the peoples driven into the nightmarish horrors of the war is even grosser and more despicable than it was in 1914. In this war, the rulers of the “democracies” hold out even less hope to the people of a durable peace after the war, of security, of democracy. This time, the promises are vaguer than ever and more hesitantly made. More often than not, the democratic statesmen themselves do not know what the war will bring, either for them or for the masses of the people. And that, among other reasons, is why they have not yet put into clear language their “war aims.”

But the masses of the working people, who do the actual fighting and suffering and dying in the war, cannot be hesitant or indifferent about their war aims. The people did not want the war – nowhere. But the war is here. They have been dragooned and duped into it. They have no interest in keeping it going indefinitely, piling up mountains of corpses, spreading havoc and devastation, accumulating dreadful burdens to weigh down future generations, as we are today weighed down by the burdens of the last war.

The people, the working people and not the parasites, hate and fear Fascism, as we said before and as everybody knows. They want to see it defeated. They want to raise their standard of living and not have it debased under the rule of Fascism. They want to preserve what democratic rights they have, they want these rights extended, and not destroyed by totalitarianism. They want a world in which they can live in peace and comfort, and not a world of misery and suffering over which the threat of war hovers like a black cloud that never passes away.

In fact, the intense feeling that the workers have against Fascism – not against Germany or the German people, but against Fascism – is one of the factors that gives a different aspect to this world war, even if it does not change the character of the war from the imperialist conflict that it is. The war-mongers, the ruling classes on both sides, recognize this factor for what it is worth. That is why, in both camps, ninety percent of the war agitation is based on an appeal to the workers, to their class feelings, something that did not prevail in the last war, in any case not to such a great extent. It is an involuntary admission on the part of all rulers that, now more than ever, the fate of humanity, of organized society, lies in the powerful hand of labor.

It is, therefore, more than ever imperative that labor work out its own independent program in the war. That is why it must establish a complete political and organisational integrity, relying on its own organized strength, its own plans and programs, its own leadership. There is no other class in existence today that can preserve society from disintegration and barbarism, front Fascism and war in permanence. It is above all from this standpoint that the policies and activities of the “patriots” in the ranks of labor, who work day and night to subordinate labor to the capitalist war machine, are so criminal and reactionary. To subjugate the working class to the interests of the war-mongers and their capitalist government in the name of the “war against Fascism” is the surest way to facilitate the world triumph of totalitarianism by gagging and fettering the only organized social force capable of making the world safe for freedom, peace, and abundance for the people.

Labor and Capital Differ

Different people mean different things when they say the same thing! So it is with different classes.

When the capitalists speak of fighting against Fascism and for democracy and democratic rights, what do they mean? They mean their “democratic right” to exploit profitably the millions of workers and poor farmers over whom they rule. They mean their “right” to throw millions of workers on to the streets periodically, when it is not profitable to run the industries. They mean their “right” to control, directly and indirectly, by bribery and pressure, the government and the policies of the government, the newspapers, the movies, the schools, the radio, the churches. They mean their “right” to exploit and rule over hundreds of millions of colonial slaves, undisturbed in this rule by the genuinely democratic right of the slaves themselves or by the commercial and financial rival of other imperialist powers. They mean, in a word, their “right” to dispose of the bodies and minds of the millions of people who constitute the useful classes of society.

The workers mean something quite different. They mean their right to organize freely into their own unions and political parties so as to be able better to defend their own economic and political position. They mean their right to free speech, to free press, to free assembly, so that they can more ably and intelligently fight for more liberty, for a higher standard of living, for human dignity and security from want, from suffering, from war. They mean their right freely to elect their representatives to the government who can speak and fight for them.

All these rights are brutally and summarily wiped out by Fascism. But even under capitalist democracy, these rights exist only in restricted form. For example, in the United States, these rights do not exist for the Negroes at all, or scarcely at all. And further, the right of free press exists on paper for the masses, but it doesn’t mean very much when the paper and ink and printing presses and newspapers are owned and virtually monopolized by the big capitalists. And not only are these rights restricted in the most democratic of capitalist countries, but the deeper they go into the war the more ruthlessly do the “democrats” themselves wipe out these rights for the people! That is how they are all talking now. They argue, “the way to fight fire is with fire.” They mean: “The way to fight totalitarianism abroad is to establish totalitarianism here!”

That’s how a military dictatorship was established in “democratic France” right in the middle of the war. That’s how the “democratic’’ government of England is going over step by step to totalitarian measures with the consent and approval of those rotten “labor leaders” who are only lickspittles of British imperialism. That’s how the “democratic” United States, before it even formally enters the war, is already proceeding at an ever faster pace to foist a military dictatorship over the people.

What good will it do labor in the democratic countries if Germany is defeated in the war at the price of establishing a totalitarian Fascist regime at home? What progress will be made in smashing Hitlerism in Germany if Fascism wins in the Allied countries and uses its armed might to prevent the German people, at the crucial moment, from overthrowing Fascism by means of a socialist revolution – which the ruling classes of France and England and the United States hate and fear a thousand times more than they do Hitlerite Germany itself?

That is why it must be repeated again and again: Labor must have its own class independence, its own independent program, its own independent leadership. Iz cannot and must not rely on any other class or program to direct its activities. If it does, then all its devotion and sacrifice will be exploited not to smash Fascism and preserve its democratic rights, but rather to advance the reactionary imperialist interests of the ruling classes.

A Program For Labor

What does an independent working class program mean in the present crucial situation in the United States?

It means strengthening the power and militancy of labor, which is a force for progress, which is the only class genuinely concerned with fighting against Fascism and for democratic right. Consequently, it also means weakening the power of the capitalists and imperialists, who are a force for reaction, who are not at all interested in democratic rights but only in their profits, in their ownership of properly which enables them to exploit labor, in the acquisition of colonies and new markets and sources of raw materials and cheap labor to exploit so that they can add more profits to the fabulous ones they have today.

An independent program for labor in the present war situation therefore means:

First: Conscript the war industries and put them under workers’ control! The government does not hesitate to conscript the lives of the people, without any compensation worth speaking of. It doesn’t and it cannot guarantee that these lives will be preserved during the war. But it does guarantee capital its “reasonable” profits! The arms, munitions, tank and airplane manufacturers say: “We’re good patriots, but we won’t turn a wheel without being guaranteed our ten and twelve percent profit” (in reality, it is twenty and fifty and a hundred percent profit). The “democratic” government replies: Okay, we’ll guarantee your profits. Labor should reply: “Nothing doing, gentlemen. You ask us to sacrifice the short working-day for which we have fought for decades. We must sacrifice our fight against the speed-up system. We must sacrifice the fight for a decent wage. We must sacrifice our right to strike. We must sacrifice our lives, as conscripts, in a war we bear no responsibility for. We are the ones, above all others, who suffer and fight and die in the war. Just to make sure that this isn’t a war for profit, we want the war industries taken over, taken out of the hands of the private capitalists, the reactionary munitions-makers. Just to make sure, we want to put them under our control workers’ control.”

Second: Expropriate the Sixty Plutocratic Families! They own most of the wealth of the country – the Morgans and Rockefellers and Fords and Mellons and the rest – and they have tremendous power. It was the same kind of all-powerful plutocrats, magnates of capital and magnates of industry, who brought Fascism to power in Germany, who put in a military dictatorship in France, who are driving towards totalitarianism in England. They want the same thing here and, given their tremendous economic and social power, they’ll get it, too. They must be stripped of their power to finance and promote totalitarian reaction in the United States. Roosevelt has been talking for years about the Economic Royalists but they are just as wealthy and powerful today as they ever were, if not more so. when Roosevelt conscripts labor into the army, he says: The government has the right to expropriate the life of the workers for the sake of the “war for democracy”. Let labor say in reply: Expropriate the monopolistic wealth of the Sixty Plutocratic Families!

Third: Not an eight or ten-hour day, plus speed up, but a six-hour day without any reduction in wages! There are millions still unemployed in this country, living below a decent subsistence level. A job and a decent living for all workers, must be labor’s demand. For ten million people to be forced to work eight or ten hours a day, while ten million do not get work at all, is absurd and criminal. Cut the length of the working day, and put all the unemployed to work at full trade-union wages. Meanwhile, not a single penny off the relief budget, but rather an increase of it until every man has a job and a decent living. Meanwhile, not a single penny off the housing budget, but rather an enormous increase in it. Homes are a million times more important than war coffins. “Guns, not butter” – that’s the slogan of the Fascists.

Fourth: For a People’s Army and Workers’ Defense Guards! Under cover of the ”war for democracy,” the American Legionaires and all other reactionaries are working to establish “Home Guards.” Every worker ought to know what this would mean – the establishment of a strike-breaking, liberty-suppressing gang at home. Against reaction at home, for the protection of labor’s interests, labor should establish Workers’ Defense Guards out of its own ranks and under its own control. That will be a force labor can depend upon, can trust to protect its rights while the “war for democracy” is going on. All the same, labor needs its own army. It can have it, too! Of all classes, labor is best organized. It has the most experience in fighting. It has the best discipline, not barracks-discipline, not tough-guy top-sergeant discipline, but democratic discipline. Tens of thousands of workers are already skilled in the use of arms. Many unions have had rifle clubs for years. These and similar groups can be the nucleus right now for a genuine People’s Army.

What about the “regular” Army? It is dominated officers conservative, bigoted, labor-hating, and already half-Fascist in its mentality and outlook. Every once in a while we read of another Army officer exposed as a supporter of Fascism. It is worth noting the lesson of the French Army, most of whose officer staff went right over to Fascism, “over night.” Labor needs and must have its own army, to fight against reaction and Fascism no matter where it appears, an army it controls completely, which is officered by it, which is trained and armed not to fight for colonies, not to fight for the extension of oppression and exploitation, but to fight for the rights and interests of the people, for the democracy of labor.

Fifth: Complete economic and political rights for the conscripts! The worker-conscripts in the Army which is supposed to be fighting for democracy, must have full economic and political rights. They must have the right to organize and bargain collectively! The soldiers must have the right to establish their own committees to present their grievances and demands to the officers. They must have the right to read their own press, and to publish a press of their own in the army if they so desire. The officer caste has its own press; the same right must be given the soldiers. They must have the right to meet, without let or hindrance from the brass hats. And the men who are conscripted to die “for democracy” while the munitions makers are given tremendous profits for their “services,” should have a minimum wage of twice what they are given now, namely, Sixty Dollars a month. Furthermore, at the end of his year in the army, the worker must be guaranteed his original job. These are the minimum that workers can demand of a government which is so careful to guarantee the war-profits of the big capitalists.

For a Workers’ Government!

Sixth: Complete social, political and economic equality for the Negroes. “Democratic” America treats the Negroes in the same spirit that Hitler treats the Jews. What a miserable mockery it is even to talk about a “war for democracy” when thirteen million Negroes in the U.S.A. suffer under the horrors and iniquities of Jim-Crowism. Labor, white labor, should take the initiative in a merciless, unrelenting fight to crush the infamy of Jim-Crowism. Against Jim-Crow in industry, in unemployment relief, in housing, in theaters and restaurants, on railroads and buses, in the polling booths, and – most revolting of all – in the Army and Navy! It has been rightly said that American “democracy” stinks with the odor of the slave market. Labor must wipe out that foul odor:

Seventh: For an independent Labor Party and a Workers’ Government! Hitler tells the workers he is fighting for them, for “socialism.” Roosevelt and Churchill and Bevin say that this is a holy war against Fascism and for Labor’s Rights. We think, frankly, that it’s a vicious fraud aimed at getting the workers to support the imperialist ambitions of the ruling classes. But millions of workers believe it. Well, if it’s labor’s war, then let labor rule! If it’s labor’s war, let it be fought under labor’s government. It’s utter foolishness to imagine that Morgan and Ford and Knudsen and Sloan and Stettinius and all the rest of them are friends of labor, that they hate reaction, that they really want to fight Fascism. They’ll all turn to Fascism the minute they feel they need it and can get away with it, as they did in Germany and France. Labor mast take over! It must first form a fighting labor party of its own, and take over power, lock, stock and barrel.

This is not a full program, but it shows the road the workers must take if fascism and reaction are to be smashed, if labor, the labor movement, the rights of labor are to be preserved, made more genuine, and extended in every direction. It is the only road.

The capitalists, the capitalist parties, the capitalist governments, are bankrupt. All they’ve been able to produce in the last quarter of a century is misery and suffering and crises and unemployment and reaction and Fascism and now the most dreadful of all wars. Labor and labor alone, allied with the poor farmers and the colonial slaves the world over, can save society from destruction. Labor has the destiny of the world in its hand..

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Last updated on 21.11.2012