MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: FI: 1938-1949: World War II declarations, discussions, articles and documents

Editorial Comment

A New Stage in the War

Written: May 1940
First Published: May 1940
Source: Fourth International, New York, May of 1940, Volume 1, No. 1 pages 3-6
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido and David Walters, December, 2005
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskism On-Line, 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the address of this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

With a swiftness and precision which the Allies apparently had not expected, the Nazi war machine answered the British laying of mine fields across its iron ore route along the Norwegian coast by crushing Denmark in a few hours on April 9 and in a not much longer period of time invading Norway and capturing all the strategic cities. The British responded with a naval attack upon the German fleet, with bombings of the new Nazi bases in Norway, and the landing of Allied forces at Narvik. Torpedoed German troop ships sank with thousands of youths in uniform, high-explosive shells from both British and Nazi guns and planes burst in Norway’s main cities. With blood and desolation the Scandinavian peninsula was sucked into the widening vortex of the Second World War.

The first six months of the war were characterized by relative lack of activity between the major imperialist powers in the strictly military sphere. For that reason it was called a “strange” war. Pressed muzzle to muzzle behind formidable fortifications on the Western Front, the Nazi and Allied imperialisms turned to the satellite countries at their flanks, probing for weaknesses in the supply lines, jockeying for position, sparring for an opening.

At sea the Allied fleet skirmished with the hitherto untested German naval forces, British battleships feeling out Nazi bombers, mines, submarines, pocket battleships.

In the Balkans as in the Low Countries and Scandinavia, Allies and Nazis fought each other with diplomacy and gold. England attempted to buy all available supplies in the countries which normally supply Germany inside the circle of the blockade; Hitler attempted to divert the products of British and French-controlled industries into the third Reich.

Each of the rival imperialisms turned the screws tighter and tighter upon the non-belligerent satellite countries, attempting to squeeze them into one alliance or the other and thus convert them into battlefields. On the home front the Allies set up a military dictatorship that in its oppression of the workers, ending of civil liberties, and institution of death penalty for political opposition is scarcely distinguishable from the fascist dictatorships. They organized the censorship, propagandized and drilled the population into wartime regimentation, lined up the socialist and labor fakers, raced to cut down Germany’s lead in armaments, especially aircraft. Germany meanwhile consolidated her latest gains in Poland, stepped up still further the production of her industrial machine, tightened the rationing of food. Hitler organized his military forces for the next blow in the titanic effort of German capitalism to break through internal contradictions and the Versailles treaty to a major share of the world market and a new colonial empire.

The thrust at Scandinavia quickened the tempo of the war, brought closer major military struggles between the major warring powers, and by that token brought the United States visibly nearer to active military participation.

Who Is the Aggressor?

The juridical question as to which imperialism took the first step in converting Norway into a bloody shambles is of little concern to the oppressed masses. The legal experts in so-called international law will be arguing that question as long as capitalism endures, just as they have been arguing to this day the question of juridical responsibility in the last World War without coming one inch closer to any solution. The class-conscious worker understands, that like crises, wars are inevitable in the capitalist system. No matter what laws are enacted by the capitalists, wars and crises will occur as periodic explosions until the capitalist system itself is destroyed and replaced by socialism.

What is of interest is not such thin disputes in the stratosphere of international law, but the actual development of the war and its effects upon the class struggle. Armed with accurate information about the real forces in conflict, the class-conscious worker is better prepared to extend and organize the movement that will smash capitalism and thus end war forever.

Hitler’s lightning move northward can be accounted as a stiff setback for the Allies. Although in the long run the invasion will have a stimulating effect upon American industry, this setback found its reflection in a decline in the stock market which is very sensitive to such events. (There was a brief rise in those stocks particularly affected by the destruction of Scandinavian trade, such as the wood pulp industry.) The authoritative and ultra-conservative voice of America’s Sixty Families, The Annalist (April 11), explains this phenomenon as follows:

“Most investors have not expected any such developments as those that have occurred during the past several days. The rapid German progress in Norway is interpreted by most as an Allied reverse of some seriousness. This might be interpreted as a favorable development in one sense, as making for a longer war and for heavier Allied purchase of war materials.

“But a collapse of Allied resistance would probably not end German aggression but would simply be followed by further unsettlement of unpredictable character. As a development which impairs the position of the Allies, consequently, the German seizure of Norway is rightly interpreted as an unfavorable event.”

The strategists of the American military machine likewise interpret Hitler’s crushing of Scandinavia as a blow against the Allies and a move extremely favorable for Hitler both strategically and economically, since the “radius of action of his air force will be enormously increased, an uninterrupted supply of high grade iron ore assured, excellent advanced submarine bases provided, valuable shipbuilding plants made available, and needed foodstuffs supplied.” These experts also hold that the British fleet can do little in the situation, that the “decision in Norway is one for the land forces,” and that “every hour the Germans remain, their position is strengthened.” The new bases seized by the Nazis will likewise “enormously increase the British difficulties in maintaining their blockade in the North Sea.” At the same time, Great Britain will be cut from a convenient source of many needed supplies, principally bacon, butter, eggs, pulp, metals, fish, hides, whale oil, and merchant vessels. Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, in testifying before the Senate Committee considering new and larger appropriations for war is reported in the New York Times of April 18 as warning, “This nation must face the possibility of an Allied defeat.”

The violently expanding spring of the Nazi war machine has thus begun to show its tremendous power. With Sweden and Finland bottled up and virtually at the mercy of the Nazis, Hitler—if he succeeds in maintaining his position, as seems likely—may be said to have struck a stunning blow at the Allies.

Roosevelt’s Drive for War

Aside from Roosevelt’s public utterances which intimate secret commitments to the Allies, there are a thousand indications that the President is speeding up the war machine and that the recent events in Scandinavia bring much closer the day when American workers will be sent overseas to die for Wall Street’s profits.

This is not the view solely of war’s most indomitable opponents, the Trotskyist. The American military experts mentioned above, who for years have been consciously and deliberately planning for war, now view the butchery of American soldiers as very close:

“That the entire continent of Europe is on the way to engulfment in the war between the Allies and Germany is the conclusion inescapable from German occupation of Denmark and the invasion of Norway. That the President is fearful (!) that the struggle may involve the United States is shown by his suggestion that the American people should give careful thought to the potentialities of the latest developments. In other words there is not a neutral, large or small, that does not face, no longer the possibility, but the probability, that the interests of the belligerents will impel them to acts which will make the whole world a battlefield. . . .” ( Army and Navy Journal, April 13, reactionary semi-official organ of the United States military forces since the Civil War).

The journal goes on to list the steps which Roosevelt is doing to become more deeply involved: freezing of the financial balances of gold on deposit in our banks for the account of Norway and Denmark, raising the question of the Monroe Doctrine in relation to the Danish possession of Greenland arranging for Norwegian and Danish shipping companies to transfer their, vessels to American registry, increasing dependence of Holland upon Washington to protect her islands in the West Indies and in case Japan should join Germany, her possessions in the Far East— these experts have long predicted that Roosevelt will more likely take military action first in the Far East rather than in Europe. “Thus, the nation is being compelled to undertake responsibilities which bring us into greater conflict with German interests....” In addition to this, of course, Roosevelt is conducting with his usual demagogic skill a propaganda campaign designed to whip up the war spirit throughout the nation.

For the past years Washington has steadily pressed the preparations for active participation in the war on the side of the Allies to the utmost capacity of the rapidly expanding war machine. The National Guard has increased its drill periods to almost double the former time (without additional pay to the members) and increased its training period in camp by a third, the Army command strenuously aiming to whip the National Guard into full wartime footing in the shortest possible time. Supplementing the efforts to build up the National Guard, an intensive campaign of recruitment to the regular forces has been launched from coast to coast and is now busily engaged in clothing America’s unemployed youth in brass buttons and trench shoes.

The M-Day plans are being geared into action with almost daily orders to the various governmental departments connected with it, the design of this being to set the war machinery going with maximum efficiency the moment M-Day is made official—hence the spy scares, the intensified campaign of the FBI against labor, the “anti-trust” drive against the unions, the huge “trial orders” to different industries for war materials.

Shipbuilding is running at top capacity and yet is far behind the schedule laid out for it in accordance with the biggest peace-time appropriations ever levied by Congress. But in addition still more funds-—$963,000,000 is the latest proposal passed by the House of Representatives—are being diverted for the navy alone during the coming fiscal year.

The aircraft industry is mushrooming at a fantastic rate, yet is far behind orders.

The New York Times for April 18 reports that more than $6,000,000,000 have been spent by the Roosevelt regime for armaments. This is a low estimate. Gibson’s Monthly Forecast (March 15) estimates Hitler to have spent $40,000,000,000 for armaments during the same period, and estimates British war costs to be running at the rate of $9,600,000,000 yearly—40 per cent of the British national income—and French costs at $7,400,000,000 yearly. The expenditures of the United States, the strongest and most arrogant colossus of the world imperialist powers, cannot be far behind. The days of official U.S. non-belligerency are numbered.

After the War, What Next?

What prospects face American capitalism after the war? Continuously expanding production? Stagnation? Another war? Socialism? These questions are perhaps answered most graphically by the war industries themselves. Let us take just one industry, which has shown an unprecedented growth, that of the manufacture of machine tools.

These tools, indispensable to mass production, are the master tools on which all metal products, including machine tools themselves, are made. Before improvements in any mass production goods can be made, the machine tool builder must design the equipment needed for its fabrication. Progress in machine tools always precedes improvements in other fields. For this reason the machine tool industry has an importance out of all proportion to the monetary valuation of its products.

In January 1939 this industry was operating at a rate of 52.5 per cent of capacity. By August as a result of the fast approaching war it had risen to 72.6 per cent. By December it advanced to 93.3 per cent—and since then it has risen still higher. Its heaviest orders have come from the aircraft industry, the army arsenals, the navy yards, and the munitions industries. It is likewise swamped with orders for similar machine tools for the Allies, particularly France.

One would think that the executives of the machine tool industry would be overjoyed. They are—in a limited way. But the “farsighted” executives of this industry are “worried” about the “consequences of peace.”

“England and France alone will have hundreds of American machine tools of the latest design, which will be converted from the manufacture of wartime to peacetime goods. Those goods will be sold in world markets in competition with goods made in America. “More than one machine tool builder privately predicted that he will not be able to sell a single standard machine tool in England for five to ten years after the war. The same goes for France. For such markets as Russia and Japan, United States companies will have the severe competition of British, French, and German machine tool builders.” ( The Annalist, March 21)

It is with good reason that these executives are “worried.” This tremendous spurt of activity in the machine tool industry epitomizes the development of industry as a whole in war time. The terrific expansion due to highly profitable war orders drives industrial productive capacity to new heights and to new efficiency. Billions of dollars in profits are taken by the stockholders. But upon the end of the war, this same height of productive capacity in place of providing for the needs of the people is diverted solely into competition with other capitalists on the world market in the struggle for profits. The contradictions of capitalism are heightened and brought inevitably to new and more violent explosions. The stagnation of another and deeper crisis, a still more catastrophic war, or swift transition to socialism, this is what faces capitalism in its death agony.

It is this death’s-head visible on the dollar sign of their profits which explains the nervous flurries that disturb the stock markets each time “peace scares” circulate. The end of this war means the end of capitalism as surely as does the deepening of the war, although the latter alternative permits a brief and giddy final spurt of profits for the stockholders. Welles’ trip to Europe, for instance, with the rumor that he was testing the possibility for peace between Germany and the Allies, possibly at the expense of the Soviet Union, had a temporarily adverse effect upon the market. But the death agony of capitalism is even more fundamentally disclosed by the fact that despite the intensified activity in the industries mentioned above and steadily rising exports from the United States to the Allies, the index of industrial production as a whole has declined. The Federal Reserve Board index shows 128 for December, 119 for January, 109 for February, 105 for March. All the indications are for a steep depression, which can be flattened out or reversed only by much deeper involvement in the war. Stagnation or war—that or socialism, there is no other alternative before capitalism.

The Peace in Finland

Since our last editorial, sections of Finland have been added to the Soviet Union. But the military gains of the Finnish invasion were far outweighed by the political losses. Stalin’s conduct in the war was prejudicial in the highest degree to the real defense of the Soviet Union through its alienation of the sympathies of the oppressed peoples throughout the world. Stalin’s Finnish adventure was another blow against the world revolution.

It is true that the Allies counted the peace treaty as a defeat for them. Among other things, their campaign for military intervention in the Soviet Union had to be temporarily held over. That they felt this defeat not lightly was shown by the collapse of Daladier’s cabinet in France consequent to the peace, and by the fact that both Paris and London made diplomatic threats against the Soviet Union. Attacks against the Soviet ambassador to France caused his withdrawal and Chamberlain intimated that the Allies would return Polish and Finnish territory to these countries at the end of the war. But we do not gauge our actions by the ideas of either the Allies, Hitler, or Stalin as to whether the peace treaty was a gain or a 10SS. In our estimation the entire war with Finland was a blow against the Soviet Union, despite—we repeat it—the progressive feature of additions of territory to the Soviet Union.

On the military side, Stalin revealed grave and shocking weaknesses in the Red Army command and equipment. The generals who were left by Stalin after his purges displayed themselves as inept in their planning of the campaign and inconsiderate of the lives of the rank and file soldiers, SO far as offensive power is concerned, the army proved itself ill-equipped in comparison with the modern heavily mechanized forces of the Allies and the Nazis. This was generally known and conceded by everyone except Stalin, since the real strength of the Red Army is primarily of a defensive character; but Stalin revealed that matters are even worse with the Red Army than had been expected.

It is true that Stalin gained the military base of Hangoe, a railroad line across the waistline of Finland to the Gulf of Bothnia, freedom of travel across the Petsamo region, and liquidation of the Mannerheim line which threatened Leningrad. But these gains are small change indeed compared to the unfavorable reaction engendered in the world working class which is the real bulwark of the Soviet Union.

As the war with violent paroxysms approaches its climax, where one imperialist country or another facing defeat will resort to the most desperate methods, the danger to the Soviet Union heightens accordingly. As never before the working class must stand firm in defense of the conquests of the October revolution. In the U.S.S.R. they must work for the overthrow of Stalin, the revivification of the soviets, and the extension of the regenerated workers’ state through the methods of Lenin and Trotsky. In the imperialist countries they must devote all energy to preparation for the final struggle with capitalism. The socialist revolution is on the order of the day—the workers must gird themselves for action!


Last updated on 01.22.2006