Max Shachtman

Now YOU Look HERE,
Seaman Walsh ...

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 2, 10 January 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

No human being can remain unmoved by the picture you draw, Seaman Walsh, of the conditions under which servicemen are living, fighting, dying. I know you have not overdrawn the picture. I know that when we get the full story of how the war was fought, your sketches will seem pale by comparison.

Nevertheless, your point of view is terribly mistaken. You are on the wrong track, and whoever follows you will end in disaster for himself and for all the things we cherish and, dream of in this country.

What are these things?

Our Ideals

The “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” you speak of. The “Land of the Free” you are proud of. The ideal of brotherhood, that scorn for racial and religious bigotry which you find, exemplified in the fact that there is a Jewish Star of David by the side of a pair of Catholic rosary beads in the Arlington Cemetery of the South Pacific, the corpse of a Negro boy from Georgia by the side of a white captain of the Marines. The wife of the twenty-two-year-old fighter he has not seen for so long, and the baby that is coming this week he may never see at all.

You think of all these things.

You think of the maimed and the wounded, of the nameless dead, and of the many, many others who may be dead tomorrow. You think of the fact that these men are getting only fifty dollars a month, room and board. You think of the fact that

the workers at home are getting more than fifty dollars a month. You think of the fact that some of these workers are striking for still more money in their wage envelope.

It makes you bitter and reproachful. You think you are being betrayed by these workers, and that they are betraying the memory of the men who died.

I don’t know you, of course, but I think I know how you feel, and how many like you feel. But, I must repeat, you are fatally mistaken in your reactions.

Look here, Mr. Striker, you say. I say, Now, YOU look here, Seaman Walsh:

Is it the workers who are responsible for the war that brings so much suffering and death and destruction, that separates men from home and family, from wife and child, and from the child unborn?

Is it the workers who, year in, year out, sent financial aid to bolster up Hitlerite Germany, scrap iron and oil to strengthen the Japanese imperialist war machine? Is it the workers who made millions in profit from these cold-blooded business deals that went on so long with the sanction of the governments involved?

Is it the workers who said, even after Pearl Harbor, that before the factories are converted to war production they want to be guaranteed vast profits with no risks, or is it the big business monopolists, who got their way?

Is it not the big monopolists who said to the government, to their government: YOU build us plants with public funds; YOU provide us with machinery, raw materials and labor; YOU provide us with cost-plus contracts, so that no matter what we produce, or when and how we produce it, no matter what we are fighting for or who is doing the fighting, our good and luscious profits will continue?

You have read, Seaman Walsh, of how the Army is sent in to take over railroads when the workers threaten to strike for a decent wage, after having exhausted all other means of gaining their legitimate demands, after having been exhausted by a run-around so outrageous that even representatives and senators feel obliged to denounce it.

What Does Labor Want?

What do these railroad workers want? What do the steel workers want, and all other workers in the country? What did the miners want before them? What is so monstrous about their demands? A miserable few more cents an hour – when the resources and wealth of this country make it possible for all of them, and all of you, to live in security and comfort!

But have you ever read of the government stepping in with all the force at its command to cut the enormous incomes of the bloodstained war profiteers and merchants of death?

In spite of high taxes, never have the profits of big business been so vast. Never before has it bathed in so deep a pool of gold (and blood).

Senator Walsh of Massachusetts said a few weeks ago that when the story of the huge profits is told after the war the American war veterans will be outraged and the people, will be dumbfounded. Right now, even that small part of this sordid story that does get into the newspapers is buried in the back pages by the capitalist press.

Don’t you find it significant that this same press gives the most prominent display to your article against the workers who want a few cents more per hour so that their families may be better able to meet the rising cost of living? How much space do you think they would give you if your article were addressed to the blood-profiteers of big business?

You think to yourself with bitterness: “There are no strikers in the foxholes. My buddies don’t say they want a raise before they agree to go into action against the enemy.”

In the Foxholes

Are there any war millionaires in the foxholes, Seaman Walsh? Are there any of your buddies who first demand a cost-plus contract from the government, guaranteeing them a good, substantial profit, before they agree to charge?

You seem to say that if the soldiers, sailors and marines can fight and die for fifty dollars a month, labor at home can work for that too.

Suppose you were to say that to General Motors, Ford, Bethlehem, duPont, Chrysler, New York Central, and the other corporation heads rolling in profit up to their hips. They would laugh themselves to death, or else demand that you be instantly committed to a madhouse.

What are you fighting for, you and your comrades? Just for the sake of fighting? Or just in order to suffer and die, in the horrible ways you describe? Or are you fighting for a good and decent world to live in, one that is free of the periodic curse of war, free of suffering, oppression and injustice, one in which man enjoys security and abundance and peace for himself and his kin and his fellow men?

If men are ready to fight and die for such a world, it is because they want to be able to live in such a world, and to have others live in it. Men do not want to come home to a world of a low standard of living, of tyranny and oppression, of exploitation and iniquity, of a mere interlude of peace in preparation for another war. They don’t want to return to a world such as the word “fascism” represents. Such a world is surely not what they had in mind when they went into battle to fill the cemeteries of the South Pacific and the ships “bringing in a cargo of human suffering.”

Do they want to return to a country in which the ruling class, partly with the aid of articles such as you have written, has succeeded in reducing the standard of living of the workers to fifty dollars a month, room and board? Is that the kind of life that your twenty-two-year-old comrade, and his wife, and the baby he has not seen, are looking forward to?

For Whom Labor Fights

Don’t you understand that “Mr. Striker” is not a selfish, treacherous beast, just fighting for a wretched penny or two, that the organized workers at home, in the AFL, the CIO and other unions, are not your cynical enemies? They are fighting for all of you and for your tomorrow, your future!

They are fighting for a better standard of living for the masses of the people, for the democratic rights that all the people should enjoy, for a better world for all of you to come home to. When they fight for their rights and standards, they are fighting now so that you will not return to a world of low wages, long and exhausting working days, long unemployed and relief lines such as we had after the First World War and for years after the depression set in.

They are fighting against the band of blood-suckers who are patriots only at so much per cent profit – the higher the better – against the small group of dominant monopolists who are coining unbelievable fortunes out of labor’s toil and out of the war.

We socialists are the deadly enemies of fascism, as of all oppression and despotism. And we have been its enemy not since yesterday but from the very beginning, because we are for labor, for the working class, first, last and always.

We too have our differences with the labor movement as it is today. But these differences are exactly the opposite of those voiced by you.

We do not think that labor’s demands in this country are exorbitant. We think they are too modest. We think they are too limited. Limited and modest though they are, we support them wholeheartedly and militantly. But we think labor should go much further.

We think labor should demand nothing less than control of the society in which it is the only useful citizen. It should take the big industries out of the hands of the monopolists, take over the government, and reorganize society on a rational basis so as to put an end once and for all to the dreadful mess into which we have all been hurled by capitalism.

Labor is fighting for too little, Seaman Walsh, not too much. It cannot fight for too much, because if it had everything it would only have its due.

If labor takes the destiny of our world into its hands – and it must do so if modern civilization is to survive – we can all proceed to organize society and our lives in it in such a. manner as to wipe out all social inequality and antagonism and bring into existence the new socialist man.

Then, Seaman Walsh, there will be neither the saga of death in the Pacific that you describe so movingly, nor the conflicts and wars that bring it about.

Such a world would be worth returning to. It would be worth fighting for. My defense of labor, and of your “Mr. Striker,” derives from the conviction that only labor can usher such a world into existence. Do not bar its road, Seaman Walsh, for it should be your road as well!

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