Max Shachtman

The Hope of Humanity:

Workers Party May Day Statement

(May 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 18, 4 May 1942, pp. 1 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


On May Day, the world-wide holiday of labor for scores of years, the Workers Parry addresses itself to you with an appeal to take stock of your position and your problems, and to fortify your ranks in order to solve these problems speedily and correctly.

In a few months the Second World War will enter its fourth year of blood and tears and destruction, and nowhere is the end in sight. When the war began in 1939, the rulers of the countries on both sides of the war told their people that the war would not and could not last long, and that it would end quickly with the collapse of the enemy and the victory of the fatherland. But neither collapse on the one hand nor victory on the other is any closer today than it was when the war broke out. Instead, new forces have entered actively into the war on both sides, Japan and the United States and most of the countries of Latin America, and the war has spread its bloody pall over every continent and every land.

Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito call upon their people, already bleeding from a thousands wounds, to prepare for a longer war, and for the greater sufferings that prolonged warfare will bring. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin call upon their people to make greater efforts and sacrifices in order to fight the enemy, but even they do not speak of an early end to the war – the President of the United States only recently said that it will last another two or three years.

They Do Not Tell the Truth

They are telling the masses of the people only half or a fourth of the truth! The truth is that so long as they remain in power, so long as the destinies of every country are decided by the interests of the capitalists, monopolists and profiteers, the munitions makers and militarists, the imperialists and overlords of the colonial slaves – in other words, so long as this remains an imperialist war for the domination of the world’s wealth and power and for the preservation of the rule of monopolists and dictators – the war will continue to be fought for years and years, without any prospect of peace or freedom for the people. The earth will be soaked in blood; corpses will rise mountain high; the remaining liberties of the living will disappear, and along with them their old standards of living – but the war will continue because nowhere are the ruling classes able to bring, it to an end!

The Axis cannot bring the war to an end with a durable victory. Everywhere that Fascism has advanced and planted its sinister banner, it has not established peace or won the cooperation of the conquered peoples. Just the opposite has happened. The fear and hatred of the people for the barbarous monstrosity of Fascism has only been deepened and intensified. Germany and Japan are compelled to wage just as murderous a war against the enemy they have conquered as against the enemy that is still unbeaten.

The Axis cannot appeal to the peoples of the world to bring the war to an end, to stop fighting under the direction of their governments, because the masses know that so long as Fascism lives they will not be allowed to live as human beings but only as slaves. To conquer the whole world of its enemies by military force alone, the Axis will require nobody knows how many years, if it can do it at all.

But the picture on the other side of the imperialist war is not fundamentally different. The peoples of the United Nations do not want to become the serfs of the Axis. At the same time, however, the peoples – we mean the peoples and not the rulers – of the Axis fear the victory of the Allied imperialists. It is a lie that the long-suffering people of Japan want the war or support their war-mongers. It is a lie that the prostrated masses of Germany love Fascism or the bloodthirsty Fascist crew that tyrannizes over them.

The Horrors of Versailles

But these people remember the infamous horrors and humiliations imposed upon them by the victors in the last world war, in the form of the Versailles Peace Treaty, and they fear its repetition. They know that the imperialists and reactionaries in Washington, London and Moscow have said – that if they win the war they will reduce Germany to ashes and dismember the German nation arid the German people. They know that the only “peace-aim” of the Allies is a Super-Versailles. That is why these people continue to fight and to remain the victims of the Fascist warlords.

How can they be expected to listen to the “democratic” appeals of Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin when they see that even though the Allies are fighting desperately with their backs to the wall, British imperialism refuses to give the democratic right of independence to India, American imperialism refuses to give the democratic right of equality to the Negro, and the Stalinist bureaucracy refuses to give up the aristocratic privileges by which its despotism is maintained? The only road left the Allies is the road of a defeat of the Axis by purely military means; and here too, if it is at all possible it will require nobody knows how many years.

Nowhere do the ruling classes offer the people a way out of the nightmare of suffering that has been imposed upon it by the imperialist war. Nowhere can they offer a way out. Everywhere they are bankrupts.

A Way Out!

Yet there is a way out! There is a way out which means the early end of the war. There is a way out which means not peace with fascism, but its total destruction. There is a way out not by putting or keeping people in slavery but by freeing all those who are enchained.

As American workers, who live and work here, our main job is in the United States. It is here that the way out must be carved by us first. It is here that we must begin. If the American workers are able to show to the world that the United States is not an imperialist power, that it is not fighting an imperialist war, that it does not seek to impose iniquitous treaties upon other countries, that it is not fighting for the profits and power of profit-mad monopolists and merchants of death, that it does not tolerate Jim-Crow or any other form of racial discrimination – if we can show that, then the long-tormented peoples all over the world would break every chain that holds them to despotism and war and, almost over night, flock to the cause of peace and freedom!

That is what the American workers must do and can do. They have today the best and most strongly organized labor movements in the world. They have the gravest possible responsibility on their shoulders, but they also have the organized strength to discharge this responsibility to the full. They must draw up an independent program of their own, a program for wartime, and mobilize their full strength to carry it through to victory.

What Is the Workers Party?

The Workers Party is a militant workingmen’s political organization that stands irreconcilably opposed to capitalism, fascism and imperialist war, and works for the establishment of worldwide socialism. But the Workers Party understands that, due to prejudices, instilled into the workers of this country the majority of them are not ready to fight for socialism. But they are ready to work and fight for their immediate interests and needs. The Workers Party therefore suggests the following elementary program as representing these interests and needs.

1. A labor offensive to protect labor’s rights – no more appeasement of the capitalists! Labor is told to fight the Axis because Fascism means an end to democratic rights – and in the same breath labor is asked to give up its own democratic rights here. Labor is told to fight the Axis because Fascism means slave-standard of living – and in the same breath labor is asked to allow its standard of living to be cut to the bone. By hypocritical pleas and by ominous threats, the capitalists and the government, aided by spineless labor leaders, have already deprived labor of its most important weapon of defense – the right to strike. Now that this right has been frozen, the talk of freezing wages grows louder and louder. Freezing wages means, for the great majority of the American workers, a disguised wage cut in view of the rise of the cost of living. Labor has already been tricked into giving up overtime wages after 40 hours; prices are being “frozen” at the higher levels; forced wage loans are being prepared by the government.

Every time the labor leaders make a concession to the employers and the government, every time they practice their appeasement policy, the employers and the government ask for two more concessions. They are preparing to strip the shirts off the backs of the workers in the name of “sacrificing for the national emergency.” But all the workers do from the day of their birth is to make sacrifices. Every day they work in the mine or mill or plant to produce profits for their employer, they are. sacrificing their labor power to him. And: that is more than enough sacrificing!

Why Allow Profiteering?

The employers – what about them and their sacrifices? The big corporations are raking in profits such as they have not seen for years. The government talks a lot about reducing profits to “only” six per cent, which would be terrifically high in view of the inflated capitalization of every important industry. But why should anybody be allowed any profits during this “war for;: democracy?” Labor gets paid wages for its work. Any employer or manager who works should get a decent salary. But why should the parasitic monopolists be allowed to profit from war, from the sufferings and deaths of the people?

Therefore: full democratic rights to the people, including the right to strike. A minimum one-dollar an hour wage, and no wage taxes. Freeze rents and food and clothing prices at the 1940 level to stop the rise in the cost of living.

If labor insists on its rights, if it doesn’t let itself be bluffed or intimidated, if it puts a stop to the worse than futile policy of employer-appeasement, it will not be made the victim of the war.

2. Soak the rich to pay for their war! Who is going to bear the stupefying burden of the war costs? Already Congress has appropriated over 150,000,000,000 dollars for the war and it’s only the beginning. Should labor carry that burden, or the big part of it? Not at all! Labor did all the suffering and sacrificing it could stand even before the war began – in the ten unbroken years of the unemployment crisis, when millions were without work, and without food. The war costs should be borne and can be borne by those whose economic and financial shoulders are broad enough to bear them.

Let the government first expropriate the “Sixty Families” – America’s, plutocratic upper crust, the 3 per cent of the people who own 96 per cent of the wealth.

Let the government impose a levy on capital to cover the costs of the war. It did not hesitate to levy human life by imposing conscription on the country. It does not ask the permission of the people it is drafting – and it needn’t ask the permission of the capitalists whose capital should be drafted.

And in addition, all war profits should be confiscated. It is an inhuman disgrace that while millions are dying on the battlefields in the name of “democracy,” the .monopolists should be allowed to say that they will run the war industries only if they are guaranteed their blood-profits.

No Profits for Parasites!

Let the working managers, the skilled technicians, the actual production organisers – let them get a higher than normal salary to which skilled and experienced experts are entitled. But why should mere owners of stocks and bonds, parasites who don’t do a lick of work except hold gilt-edge paper or sit at directors’ meetings, be guaranteed profits in the war industries? 3. Conscript all war industries and put them under workers’ control. The government complains about the big monopolists sabotaging production; about secret cartel agreements with German trusts; about mismanagement, bungling, incompetence. All this is true, and only one percent of the truth. Capitalism is no better able to organize production in war-time than in peace-time; capitalism means anarchy of production; capitalism means profits come first, and patriotism is only a phrase to hide that fact; capitalism means a development to control of our lives by a handful of powerful, giant monopolists. The power of the monopolists must be broken! It can be done; it must be done. How? Conscript all war industries under workers’ control. The government, at one stroke, decided to conscript millions of human beings into the army. Is property more sacred than human life? Are monopolies immune where life is sacrificed? We must have a government that doesn’t hesitate a moment to conscript all the war industries – and it is these industries which represent the monopolies in the United States.

We Need Workers Control

Why workers’ control? Because, in the first place, they could not possibly do as bad a job of disorganization and mismanagement as the capitalists have done. Because they are the ones who do the actual work as it is, and they should have the further power to hire and fire, to direct the organization of production with the aid of the skilled technicians.

4. Labor must fight for the draftees and itself learn to fight! Unless labor becomes the active champion of the draftees, the soldiers will fall under the influence of reactionary militarists and eventually be used to beat down labor and the labor movement. It has happened before and may happen again. The vast majority of the draftees are workers and sons of workers, and are therefore blood brothers of labor. They are told they must “fight for democracy.”

Then let them, at the very least, have such democratic rights as free speech, free press and free assembly. Putting on a uniform should not mean putting off democratic rights. Nor should it mean a drastic cut in living standards. That’s why, to begin with, the base pay of the draftees should be raised to a minimum of sixty dollars a month. The reactionary press whines and moans because draftees get twenty-one dollars a month while “labor gets more than that per week.” They don’t say a word about the fact that while the draftees get such low pay, capitalist chair-warmers and other parasites get tens of thousands of dollars of income per month! It is not labor’s pay that should be reduced but the soldier’s pay that should be raised.

Labor also has the obligation to organize militarily for defense from fascism and reaction. But labor, which should have learned by now not to trust any “Messiahs,” should do this independently. Labor needs to organize its best forces into Workers Defense Guards, trained and controlled by labor’s own organizations, the unions. Labor cannot meet and triumph over the armed and trained forces of reaction unless it is itself armed and trained.

Smash Jim Crowism

5. Wipe out the crime and menace of Jim Crow and anti-Semitism! All discrimination against Negroes or Jews in the Army and Navy, or by employers in industry, must be made a criminal offense. If labor allows its ranks to be divided against themselves along racial or national or religious grounds, it is ruined. Anyone who promotes such division, stamps himself publicly as a poisonous enemy of labor and democracy, and should be treated as such. The Negroes, in particular, must acquire complete social, economic and political equality, for how can they fight for genuine democracy when they have the rope of Jim Crow around their necks? How can the peoples of the world, especially the colored races in the colonies, take seriously any talk about “democracy,” and “freedom” when they know the revolting discriminations practiced against more than ten percent of the population of the United States, the Negroes?

Labor Needs Its Own Party

6. Labor needs a party of its own to form a government of its own. A labor program means nothing without a political party to fight for it. A political party is not worth the name unless it is working to take over the government in order to put its program into effect. Labor today confronts one of the most bitterly anti-labor Congresses in modern tiimes in this country. Every chance it gets, it strikes a blow at labor, and it is only fear of labor’s reaction that has prevented it up to now from adopting the most violent anti-labor legislation.

Even Roosevelt is compelled to try curbing the speed of the anti-labor advances of Congress. Even those workers who believe that Roosevelt is a genuine friend of labor cannot fail to agree that one man, even the best in the world, is not enough. Labor needs an organized political force to rely on. That force is a Labor party, and no man, however excellent, no group of men, can be a substitute for it. A Labor Party is nothing less and nothing more than labor organized politically on an independent basis. It means a party that speaks frankly and authoritatively for labor, because it is responsible to and controlled by labor’s own organizations. Big business has its political parties representing its interests. Labor must have its own political party!

A Government of Labor

Such a party can have real significance only if it aims at a workers’ government, the government of labor, that is, of the vast majority of the people of the country, of the toiling masses. The capitalist parties and politicians have been in power far too long. They have patched up a hole here and a hole there. But they have not begun to satisfy the real yearnings of the people. The people want such simple things as a decent standard of living amidst the abundance that modern life can give, and all they have received is poverty and insecurity. The people long for peace, and all they have received is the threat of war and the horror of war itself. The people want a change from the misery and uncertainty of the old system, the system of capitalist exploitation and profit, and all the capitalist parties can offer is a “fight for survival” – the preservation of the old, discredited and bankrupt system. A workers’ government means the workers in power, in control. Labor alone understands the needs of labor. Labor alone can satisfy these needs. By control of the government, labor can proceed to satisfy these needs in the best interests of the working people of town and country as a whole.

The realization of such a program as suggested here would deliver such a crushing blow to fascism and reaction, abroad as well as at home, that they could never recover from it. The people of the Axis would not tolerate the rule of their despots for a minute if they saw across the ocean the rise of the star of real freedom.

The Star of Freedom

When the German people saw the star of freedom rise in Russia in 1917 – at the time of the Bolshevik revolution of Lenin and Trotsky – they did not wait many months before they overthrew the despotism of Kaiser Wilhelm and brought the war to an end! If they do not revolt now, it is because the counter-revolutionary terror of Stalinism does not attract them any more than the Anglo-American imperialist ambitions to dominate them.

Let this May Day, the day of international working-class solidarity, mark a new point of departure for labor’s noble struggle for freedom and equality. Over the whole world now there hangs the dread pall of the imperialist war. It is the bloody payment we must make for not having won, before now, the world battle for socialism. But that battle is not over. So long as labor is exploited and oppressed, that battle will still be fought. Let us determine to fight it better and more strongly and unitedly and wisely in the days to come.

Unite, workers of America and of the world, unite in struggle for the cause of the oppressed and disinherited.

Unite to end forever the curse of Fascist barbarism, imperialist rule, and imperialist war!

Onward to the victory of the League of Socialist Nations, to the union of the socialist peoples of the world!


National Committee of the Workers Party,
MAX SHACHTMAN, National Secretary

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Last updated on 14.6.2013