From Fourth International, Vol. I No. 2, June 1940, pp. 35–38.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
CAPITALISM IN ITS DEATH AGONY is now visiting upon society one of the most terrible of all its scourges – mass slaughter. The millions of toilers who were herded into the German imperialist army have been hurled against the fortifications of Belgium and Holland. The millons of toilers who were herded into the Allied imperialist armies have been thrown head on to meet the offensive. Mussolini waits but the signal to plunge the Italian workers into the blood bath. And in the Pacific, the Japanese and American imperialists glare at each other over the rich colonial booty at stake.
The second World War which opened with but relatively minor military activity led many superficial observers in the bourgeois press and elsewhere to conclude that this war was completely different from all previous wars. They even went so far – whether through design or stupidity – as to confound Stalin’s invasion of Finland, for example, with the major struggles that were then still in the offing, and they utilized this “strangeness” and the Finnish events to whip up a great hue and cry against the Soviet Union in the hope that the warring camps would turn in that direction. Events themselves have now shown that this war is different from the last one only in its increased violence, its swifter tempo, and its more profound involvement of the masses.
On the technical side, the imperialist armies are in every respect armed with greater destructive capacity than in the last war, particularly in the air. In the last war the development of the air force received its first great impetus. Now the war has become “three dimensional.” The air force in conjunction with tanks and armored cars has given war a swiftness and destructiveness hitherto unknown. Great swarms of planes drone over the populace. The loads of bombs they drop are followed by mechanized troops who destroy railways, buildings, homes. Hitler in this respect exercises a dominating position, one of the consequences of the first World War, for the Allied capitalists at the close of that conflict stripped the German military machine, thus compelling the German capitalists to implement a new one, completely modern in every respect. Its enormous striking ability already demonstrated in the Polish events and in Scandinavia, has done much to counteract Britain’s traditional naval power, especially where the fleet is used in conjunction with land forces. It has given the German imperialists an immense advantage which Hitler has utilized to the utmost.
Events have succeeded each other with a rapidity that bears out all the Marxist predictions concerning the tempo of the second World War. Having thrown up safeguards on his eastern flank by putting his signature to a pact with Stalin and by crushing Poland, Hitler turned to his northern flank and invaded Scandinavia. The Allies attempted to meet the Germans on the battlefield of Norway only to suffer a disastrous defeat that had immediate repercussions in the British government and which led to the downfall of the Chamberlain cabinet. With both flanks thus taken care of, free to turn his major forces to the Western Front, Hitler followed up his military victory in Scandinavia by launching an attack through the Low Countries.
Now millions of men, as in the last World War, are marching at the command of their imperialist rulers into the withering fire of each other’s weapons. In all the warring nations every available man has been conscripted into the army; and those at home, the old men, the children, the women, are being sent into the factories where the decrees of the military dictatorship are backed by the threat of the death penalty.
The last war was ended by the masses themselves. The new war has assembled them again, armed them, and has now begun to loose upon them the horrors which led to their revolt once before. Still in reserve are the threatened mass bombings and mass gas attacks. All that is required to turn these horrors loose upon the people is a single word from Hitler, Reynaud, or Churchill.
In order to crush each other, the imperialists are compelled to call up such forces, so deeply to involve the masses, to hound and harry them, that in the end, no longer able to endure the suffering inflicted upon them, they rise up and destroy the very capitalism which set them in motion. The violence and extent of the struggle now going on is a measure of the certainty of the socialist revolutions which will end the second World War.
The Netherlands, caught between the contending powers will inevitably be desolated. Upon the same day that Hitler advanced into the Low Countries, two members of the Dutch Cabinet fled to London in a seaplane which they had comandeered, the Foreign Minister Dr. Van Kleffens, and the Colonial Minister C.J.M. Welter. Not only the Dutch government, but possibly other governments of the Allies will have to seek refuge before the dynamic expansive force of the German military machine is spent. But aside from the immediate military objectives, the crushing of the Netherlands places at stake not so much the gold reserve at The Hague or the corporate holdings in Rotterdam, as the super-exploited and fabulously rich Dutch East Indies.
These islands, lying between Australia on the one side and the Philippines and French Indo-China on the other, export 53 percent of the world’s pepper, 37 percent of the world’s rubber, 16 percent of the world’s copra, and 3 percent of the world’s oil palm products. Of the strategic war materials they possess valuable deposits of tin and oil. This wealth under the domination of the Dutch enabled the Netherlands to retain its status as a creditor nation to the present day.
Long before Hitler launched his offensive across the Dutch border, the question of the Far East had been posed among the imperialist bandits. In 1938 the Netherlands spent $11,800,000 in the United States for war planes to be shipped to the East Indies and in 1939, $10,600,000. In June of last year the commanders of the French forces in the Far East met at Singapore in conference with the general staffs of the British colonies and dominions in the Orient. This conference discussed “defense” measures in regard to Japanese “designs.”
The two imperialist powers most vitally interested in this booty are the United States and Japan. The naval wing of the Japanese government has long advocated a program of expansion toward the south – the direction of the Philippines, French Indo-China, British Burma, above all the Dutch East Indies, for these islands were held by the weakest of the European powers possessing colonies within easy striking distance. While the Japanese army waged an imperialist war of conquest in China, the navy looked on enviously and under cover of secrecy carried out an enormous program of expansion for the fleet. One of the reasons for the attempt to stabilize the present Japanese seizures in China may be ascribed to these ambitions for expansion into the rich islands south of Japan.
When Japan gave notice of her direct interest in the Far East – during Hitler’s invasion of Scandinavia – the Hague government promptly replied that it would not accept protection for its possessions. This was merely a diplomatic answer which in any other sphere than diplomacy would be called sheer bluff. This is proved by the fact that Secretary Hull immediately issued a statement setting out the claims of the United States in the Far East. (The United States Rubber Company in particular has large holdings there).
These declarations were followed by a highly significant statement by Rear Admiral J.K. Taussig in testifying before the Senate committee on naval affairs on April 22:
“I cannot see how we can ultimately prevent being drawn into war on account of the Far Eastern situation. We would be warranted in using economic and financial means and, if necessary force, to preserve the integrity of China.”
This statement is completed by the following words taken from his testimony before the same committee:
“The area of greatest concern to the United States at the present time is the Far East ... We need be under no delusions as to the aims and policies of Japan ... I’m confident if the Netherlands thought Japan was going into the East Indies they would ask for all the help they could get.”
The United States fleet is concentrating somewhere west of Hawaii. The air bases at Anchorage, Alaska, just north of the Japanese islands, are undergoing intensive expansion. The Japanese government has replied to these warlike moves of the Roosevelt regime by renewed declarations of her concern in the Far East, and her determination to “maintain the status quo,” that is, freeze out the other imperialist nations while she grabs the booty.
What concerns the American worker is the direct threat that Roosevelt will plunge this country into the second World War by a conflict with Japan over the colonies in the Far East. American imperialism, the most powerful and arrogant of all the bandits in the world market will brook no opposition in its drive to dominate the entire earth. The curtain may well rise in the very near future in the Far East with the United States locked in titanic battle with Japan over the Dutch colonies.
What of the colonial peoples over whose exploitation the imperialists are warring? In the colonial peoples the toilers of the world who have been dragooned into the armies will find genuine allies. In French Indo-China, despite the brutal rule of General George Catroux, who has suppressed all political opposition, there is a strong underground movement struggling for freedom from the unbearable yoke of French rule. In India the rumblings of revolt against the ruthless British rule are every day growing more audible. Despite all the maddened fury of capitalism in its death agony, its days are clearly numbered. The colonies required by capitalism in order to exist and armed by capitalism in order to fight off enemy imperialists, will themselves prove in the front ranks of those oppressed toilers who finally dispatch the dying capitalist system.
The external forces drawing the United States deeper into the world war have been greatly intensified by the successive defeats of the Allies, and by the threat of the Japanese imperialists to take over the Dutch East Indies. Roosevelt’s secret commitments to the Allies apparently at first called for military participation only in the Far East, participation on the Western Front being limited to supplying food and war materials. But this estimation hinged upon a sure Allied victory against Hitler, the prospects of which are none too bright at the moment. If the Allies should finally face a defeat, then Wall Street will be compelled to send over its expeditionary forces as it did in the last war. Every defeat of the Allies hence hastens the day the American worker will be sent overseas.
The internal forces pushing the United States deeper into the vortex likewise have been greatly intensified during the last period. The depression of the past months which has occasioned the American capitalists so much worry can be counteracted temporarily only by involvement in the war on a far greater scale than up to now. Last September the business index on the way up from the depths of the 1937 depression crossed the estimated normal. In February it again crossed estimated normal on the way down. Since 1887 there has been only one instance of the business index having remained above estimated normal such a short time. That instance was in 1895, just prior to the Spanish-American war. Considering that American economy is at a much higher stage now, this violent fluctuation can only be interpreted as an indication of the decline of economy as a whole. Neither “overstocked inventories” nor “cutting down of exports” – the explanations put out by the bourgeois press for popular consumption can account for this depression. Expanding inventories are a normal aspect of expanding industrial activity, especially in a war situation when industries increase their inventories in expectation of huge profits and because of shipping hazards. As for export trade, this is in no wise commensurable in importance with the domestic market as a factor affecting production. The simple fact that exports for March, which marked further decline of industrial production as a whole, also marked the greatest amount of exports in any March since 1930, shows that American economy is suffering from a most terrible internal sickness. Exports in March according to the government figures exceeded imports by an amount greater than that of any March since 1921.
Thus it is absolutely clear that if peace were declared tomorrow, American industrial production would be faced with the sharpest and most disastrous decline in all its history, a decline which would be far deeper than that experienced in 1929–1932. It is this prospect which will make so much easier the repeal of the cash and carry clause in the Neutrality Act and thus constitute another factor making Wall Street’s participation in the second World War on a tremendous scale inevitable.
In anticipation of United States entry, there has been a marked increase in steel orders in the past weeks which will most likely be recorded with an upswing in the business index – whether this will be only temporary it is impossible to say. The index is now linked directly with the development of war – its fluctuations measure the degree of American involvement in the conflict and the closeness of full military participation.
As is well known, the capitalists do not go out on the battlefields themselves. They trick or force the masses into fighting for them. They prefer, naturally, that the masses fight voluntarily; hence there has been a barrage of propaganda loosed in the bourgeois press for “national unity,” that is, carrying out docilely the will of the imperialist government.
In Great Britain, France, and the United States this campaign has reached huge proportions. It is impossible to pick up a single newspaper in which the editorial columns and the news reports themselves do not hammer on the “need” for “national unity.” Labor is asked to give up all its hard won gains for the sake of “national unity.” Vicious laws limiting free speech have been established in France and England. A censorship clamped down on all publications. The death penalty is invoked for “seditious activity,” that is, opposition to the war. Labor is in effect, gagged and chained. It has only one privilege – to carry out the boss’s orders or to die for his interests. Naturally the capitalists continue to take their profits, in war time at enormously accelerated rate; but that is precisely the purpose of “national unity” – to stifle the working class, to safeguard the profit system.
In France, whose “democratic institutions” are now being held up as intimately bound with American traditions which must be saved at all cost, “national unity” has been imposed so severely that it takes a keen eye indeed to distinguish the difference between conditions in France and Germany. Since similar restrictions have been outlined in the notorious M-Day Plans for imposition in the United States the day war is declared by the President, a brief resume of what happened to labor in France under “national unity” can provide something for the American trade unionist to think about.
As soon as the war started in France, every able-bodied man in the country between the ages of 18 and 49 was called into the army – 6,000,000 men. Later 1,500,000 were returned to jobs that were labelled “strategic” by government officials. These same officials have the right at any time to shift any man from the army back into a factory or vice versa. All those men who were exempted because of age or infirmities are subject, however, to military jurisdiction and to being called up at any time.
At one stroke, the prevailing wage and hour laws which labor had gained through militant struggles, were wiped out and working hours raised to 60 a week. In “defense” factories, 72 hours a week may prevail. No increased overtime pay is allowed until 60 hours have been worked, and out of all overtime paid, 40 percent is deducted immediately as a special tax. There are “safeguards” however. The daily working hours must not exceed 11 for men or 10 for women and children “except in extraordinary circumstances.” There are no other “safeguards.”
On February 28 a decree was announced which specifically forbade farmers, rural workers and peasants to seek different work elsewhere. On the same day another decree mobilized all women for war work, compelling them to register for compulsory employment in factories or wherever the government might designate.
On top of this, living conditions have been lowered enormously. Direct taxes eat up most of the pay which is nominally given the worker. In England, there are meatless days, and it is now planned to issue ration cards.
In addition to this the workers in Great Britain are subject to a “forced loan plan,” a plan evolved by J.M. Keynes, a British bourgeois economist, which strikes directly at the income of the workers under guise of a compulsory “loan.”
These dictatorial laws which prevail in “democratic” France and England, are now scheduled for the United States. The Keynes plan in a somewhat modified form has been proposed by Jerome N. Frank, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Frank’s plan, he believes, would raise almost immediately $20,000,000,000 for armaments. Frank’s proposal would compel a high proportion of every income to be paid directly to the government. This payment would be considered partly as a “loan,” partly as a direct tax.
When “national unity” is imposed in this country under the name of the M-Day Plans, the American worker will find that the war and military dictatorship has moved across the Atlantic. Prices of the elementary necessities such as food, clothing, housing, will skyrocket as in the last war, but all labor’s rights to organize and to strike for higher wages to meet these costs will be wiped out as in France and Great Britain.
“National unity” means nothing but suffering for the masses, their conversion into cannon fodder. For the capitalists “national unity” means unlimited opportunity to profiteer.
There are two sentiments which almost every worker feels in this country, a hatred of war, and a hatred of Hitler. Both these sentiments are progressive. Their hatred of Hitler reflects Hitler’s crushing of the labor movement in Germany, and his brutal suppression of all the national minorities within the Third Reich. Almost every worker longs ardently for the smashing of Hitler. Their hatred of war reflects the realization of the worker that imperialist war is waged only at his cost and only for the profit of the capitalist rulers.
In the United States the masses express their hatred of war by a desire for isolation, for staying away from the European conflict, for keeping out of war. They express their hatred for Hitler through acquiescence in Washington’s demand for “adequate defense measures.”
Clever demagogues exploit both of these progressive sentiments. The isolationist sentiment is seized upon by the Stalinists to implement the present foreign policy of the Kremlin. In the United States the Stalinist opposition to the war is pure demagogy. Occasionally they run a short article attacking Hitler in order to give a semblance of respectability to their line; but so far as the real opposition to war is concerned, they are no better than the bourgeois isolationists who likewise are “against war,” that is, against it until they get a sizeable following whom they can send overseas to the battlefields by unfurling the stars and stripes at the proper moment. The Stalinist policy follows Moscow orders so closely that they are unable to attract the huge following which is actually opposed to war. The Stalinists have been exposed so many times, they are so completely bankrupt, that it is common knowledge this fake anti-war line is only a temporary maneuver which will change again tomorrow should Stalin shift his allegiance from Hitler to the Allies.
The anti-war sentiment is very widespread throughout the country. The most recent Gallup poll lists 34 percent of the voters as not only opposing war but opposing further help to England and France. If “help for the Allies short of war” is disregarded, sentiment is almost unanimous in opposition to war. Such a powerful sentiment is almost certain to affect the presidential elections in view of the possibility of Allied defeat. If both the Republican and Democratic candidates avoid the war issue, or straddle it with ambiguous phrases, an Independent Labor Party with a militant anti-war program could profoundly affect the course of traditional politics in the United States and make Wall Street’s aim of plunging the country into the war immeasurably more difficult.
Those demagogues of every stripe – social democrats, labor fakers, bourgeois politicians, who advocate supporting the Allied imperialists as a means of crushing Hitler, are nothing more than agents of Wall Street. They used the same arguments in the last war in order to gull the masses into supporting the Allies against the Kaiser. The “war to end wars” brought nothing but another war on a far more violent and destructive scale. The fight to “make the world safe for democracy” brought nothing but the Fascist and Nazi dictatorships, and now military dictatorships in France, Great Britain and the United States.
These old rotted slogans of the bourgeois demagogues about “democracy,” the enemy “madman” who is “responsible for the war,” and “people incapable of choosing good rulers” cannot delude the masses for long. The experience of the last World War will help them immeasurably in seeing through the fraud. They will soon understand that supporting the Allies cannot rid the world of dictators such as Hitler, who are simply products of capitalism in its death-agony. They will soon understand that only by smashing the entire capitalist system itself can the world be forever rid of these monsters who march the people into one war after another.
The masses will then understand that to destroy the capitalist system it is necessary first and above all to oppose the capitalists of our own country, to first settle accounts with Wall Street. The first socialist revolution anywhere in the world will be followed almost immediately by a socialist revolution in Germany. The workers there, upon learning of a success elsewhere, will immediately take heart, and know that Hitler lied when he told them that the workers of the other nations supported their own capitalists and marched willingly against the Germans. In the explosion that will follow the news of the first socialist revolution in consequence of this war as the October revolution was a consequence of the last war, Hitler will be cast into the junk heap along with his fellowkind of the democratic countries.
Last updated on 26 February 2016