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Fourth International, July 1940


Editorial Comment


From Fourth International, Vol. I No. 3, July 1940, pp. 67–70.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Burning of the Books

TO CONDEMN to the flames the cultural creation of the fifteen years of the Weimar republic – that for many people bared for the first time the utter barbarism of Nazism. There is little likelihood of seeing that particular spectacle in this country in the next few years. But the attempt is already being made to wipe out from our minds the most thoughtful and creative contributions which literary men and historians have made in America during the period since the last war – and we are not thinking here of Marxist writing. We have had the spectacle of an Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress, addressing the American Library Association to deplore the creative writing of the last twenty years – he mentioned Hemingway, Remarque and a few others, but his remarks really applied to practically every worthwhile poet and novelist – which, by inculcating skepticism and distrust of fine phrases, had ill-prepared a generation to realize that there were things really worth fighting for, i.e., American capitalism. But MacLeish was merely a bit clumsy in blurting out what is quietly being done systematically: the schools and colleges, the liberal magazines, the press, the radio, the movies, are speedily divesting themselves of every particle of critical intelligence which may have adhered to them during the quarter-century since the last war. They are getting down to fighting trim by throwing away everything they once knew. Nor is this process an unnecessary one. Who can read the novels of a Hemingway or a Remarque about the effects of the last war and willingly go through another war of the same kind? They must get rid of even the better text-books. Consider, for example, the eminent and respectable, the late Professor Parker T. Moon’s, Imperialism, a book used for courses at many universities since it was published in 1925. That book is dynamite today as we approach the threshold of war. For any intelligent young lad can get enough out of it to establish conclusively that this war is but a continuation of the last war, both imperialist wars for re-division of the earth, that the decline of the British and French empires was envisaged on the basis of economic analysis, and that it was a foregone conclusion that the new challenger for world dominion would have to clash with the United States.

Professor Moon and hundreds of others explained to their classes, year in year out, the particular difficulties of Germany. Having failed to achieve the national unification of Germany before 1870, that power appeared on the international arena after the world had been parcelled out by the other great powers. Germany could get nothing remotely resembling the great empires which Britain and France had carved out by peaceful means, i.e., by subjugation of non-European peoples. There was not even left for Germany what the smaller powers, Belgium, Holland and Portugal, had managed to grab. Germany therefore pre-occupied itself with creating a first-rate industrial machine which, under the laws of capitalism, had to find new markets, new sources of raw materials and new fields for investment. Since there were none left, she had to try to take those which others had, a process which led to the first world war. Instead of solving her problems by that war, Germany was defeated, thanks to American intervention, and driven back into even narrower confines than before.

So much all the more intelligent professors told. Some of them also added that the constricting confines in which German industry found itself after Versailles led to the desperate resort to fascism as a means of atomizing the German working class and re-arming Germany. From that point the intelligent lad could finish the story for himself. MacLeish is perfectly right. If the American people are to fight this war with any morale at all, the elementary findings of American education must be abandoned.

The Difference Between Germany and the “Democracies”

There is a certain note of sincerity in the insistence that, for America, England and France are different than Germany. The real distinction of course has nothing to do with the “democracy” of the British and French empires. The genuinely friendly feeling for them felt by American financial and industrial interests is based on the inferiority of these empires in competition with American imperialism. Especially since the first world war, they were never a serious problem in any of the world’s markets. Living primarily off their colonies and with no driving need to transform their rather archaic technology, their industrial development lagged far behind America’s, which had not really come of age until 1914–18 when it expanded all the more quickly. But the dynamics of German development took a different course. Just because it had no empire from which to draw riches, German capitalism has been drive since 1870 to develop a technological plant far superior to that of England and France. Applying this plant to a Europe from which it has forcibly removed the main national barriers – the United States of Europe had to come, if not created by the workers whose slogan it was, then by the most reactionary nationalism! – Germany if it had time to organize on a continental scale would surpass the United States in industrial plant and, hence, outstrip it in the world’s markets.

What Germany’s Victory Means To American Imperialism

The reorganization of Europe under German mastery unquestionably means a sharp drop in American exports to Europe itself – and that area has been accounting for 40–50% of American exports. Hitler, indeed, will bar American products from Europe as completely as possible, converting the continent into a private preserve. The loss of markets in Europe is however, the least of the penalties that American imperialism will pay for a Germanized Europe. In South America, important not merely for what imports and capital investment it has been taking, but for the far-greater market it can be if firmly organized by a great power, and even more important as a source of vital raw materials, a Nazi-dominated Europe will confront the United States on at least equal terms and will not submit to being shouldered aside. Meanwhile, on the basis of an understanding with Germany, Japan will wreak havoc with American trade and sources of raw material in the Far East; everything that Japan did not dare to do but was tempted to do against American interests she will now do, for now American imperialism cannot stop Japan so long as Germany is triumphant in Europe. A Japanized Asia will loom over the Pacific as a Germanized Europe will appear everywhere in the Atlantic. The liberal economists who used to scoffingly explain to Marxists that we did not understand the minor role that foreign trade played in American economy – a “mere” 10% or so of the home trade – and that therein lay the root error of our bugaboo tales about the dynamics of American imperialism, will now write books explaining that American economy cannot live confined to the Western Hemisphere.

Roosevelt’s New Authority

To prevent this, Germany must not be given time to consolidate the organization of Europe. Roosevelt has undoubtedly always understood this task of American imperialism ; he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the last war, which America entered to prevent the subjugation of Europe by Germany and a consequent German challenge to the new role of America as the premier world power. That America would very soon be called upon to attempt to repeat its crushing of Germany, Roosevelt has understood and has been making clear at least since his “collective security” speech of October 5, 1937.

But, as the Administration spokesmen, Alsop and Kintner, complain in the “American White Paper,” Roosevelt has been forced to limit his activities because of the “lag” of “public opinion.” It would be comforting at this point to say that by “public opinion” they mean the deep-seated hatred of war felt by the American masses. Accuracy, however, necessitates reporting that what they and Roosevelt were concerned about was the public opinion of the capitalist class. During most of the two and a half years that (Roosevelt has been striving to organize for war, he has not had the backing of a united capitalist class, and that was his concern. Given that, he was not, it must be said in all honesty, particularly worried about lining up the masses.

Given the support of the capitalist class, of its press, radio, movies and spokesmen, he could be sure of driving the masses into the war. That will be the case as long as the capitalist class remains in control of the economy of the country.

The most significant new fact about the situation in America is that now Roosevelt has the backing of a united capitalist class. That means that we are now on the road to war.

Basis of Capitalist Unity

The unity of the capitalist class has shown itself strikingly in the extraordinary majorities rolled up in both houses of Congress for every one of Roosevelt’s proposals since the Nazis overran the Low Countries. Armament appropriation bills, comprising astronomical figures, have been adopted by Congress with such rapidity that the average citizen, even if he closely followed the press, cannot for the life of him tell you how many bills, each for not less than a billion dollars, have been adopted. Congressional debate has been less than perfunctory; the few hours spent on each bill as a matter of form have found the House and Senate half-empty while speakers droned about everything under the sun except the major issues presented by the bills, then the members have trooped in and voted, with at most only a handful of mavericks casting nay ballots. One who gathered his information from the Congressional Record about the opinion prevalent in the country would be at a loss to explain the fact that the latest Gallup poll found 93% of the people opposed to American involvement in the war; but he would be naive. Congress is a forum for the capitalist class and not for the people.

The most formidable opposition during the last two years to Roosevelt’s orientation had come from that section of the capitalist class whose holdings were mainly bound up with this continent, with Australia and with the Far East. The “peaceful” nature of their “isolationism” was perhaps most glaringly revealed when their most vociferous spokesman, Senator Vandenburg, last July successfully sponsored the resolution to abrogate the commercial treaty with Japan and thereby plunged Japanese-American relations into a day-to-day crisis. Their “isolationism” consisted in a sharp difference of opinion over which war America would have to wage first. The liquidation of the differences between the “isolationists” and the imperialists represented by Roosevelt was signalized on June 9, when the same Vandenburg came out for signing a new pact with the Japanese because of “our new vicissitudes.” The pact with Japan, he said, would be worth “half a navy” – meaning, of course, that most of the naval forces based in the Pacific could then be transferred to the Atlantic, facing Germany.

Why No Coalition Government

Pulses leaped and hearts beat high when it became clear that the capitalist class now stood united. The idea of a coalition government and an end to two-party politics came to the fore. It is scarcely a secret that at that exhilarating moment Colonel Knox and other Republican leaders came to a tentative agreement with Roosevelt for the entry of Knox into the cabinet and others into government service. But after the first thrill of the embraces of comradeship had worn off, sober second thoughts brought forward very cogent objections to the entry of Republican leaders into the cabinet.

Too much has still to be done in breaking down the people’s opposition to involvement in war. That Gallup figure of 93% must be driven way down. A national atmosphere must be created in which it will be well-nigh impossible for so many trade unions to adopt anti-war resolutions – not to speak of such a spectacle as the Harvard senior class booing and hissing a class day speaker for telling the boys to “go out there and do the job again.” This very difficult task of pushing the people over the brink would not be facilitated by a coalition government. The danger is too great that the stark picture might be all too apparent: the people versus the parties that are supposed to represent them.

Having decided against a coalition government, all participants in the discussion proceeded to deny that the question had been discussed (Roosevelt, Knox) or to denounce the idea (Landon).

Then came the announcement on the eve of the Republican convention that Stimson was to be Secretary of War and Colonel Knox Secretary of the Navy. The flabbergasted delegates gathering in Philadelphia for the convention could only congratulate the president on picking two of the most eminent Republicans, and bitterly complain that it wrecked the party. The first draft of a platform criticising Roosevelt’s conduct of the preparedness program went into the wastebasket. Whatever the professional politicians might still do in the way of organizing a Republican campaign for the elections, a powerful section of the big bourgeoisie of the Republican party were certain to back the coalition, which would in one form or another endure into the coming war.

Why They Chanced the Coalition

Why was the coalition resorted to, after it had been abandoned? Its dangerous consequences remain: the spectacle of a united capitalist class, symbolized by a coalition government harmoniously working to drag this country into war, is the most outrageous provocation to the masses; hardly any other single act would be more likely to drive the working class into outspoken opposition to war policies of the government, and into great strikes and demonstrations to back up its anti-war feelings.

Two main factors account, we believe, for the final decision to go through with the coalition:

  1. There is no time for maneuvering. The speediness of Hitler’s victory in Europe forces an acceleration of the American pace. Considerations which were weighty two weeks before are now outweighed by the punctuality of the Nazi blitzkrieg timetable. If Hitler keeps to his timetable and is through with England by August 15, and if Roosevelt’s determination to give Hitler the least possible time to organize his European empire, is adhered to, then all secondary considerations must give way to the single aim of producing a war machine more powerful than Hitler’s. Then it is more important to mollify the remaining reactionary die-hards, to center all possible power in the government, to secure the most authoritative cabinet conceivable, than it is to worry about the sentiments of the people.
  2. The vast sentiment against American involvement in the war is leaderless.

The cold truth is that the coalition government has about as much to fear from the masses today as a powerful employer whose employees, despite their many grievances, have no union to oppose to the strength of their employer.

Since the coalition idea was first discussed, Roosevelt has had an opportunity to convince himself how completely leaderless the anti-war sentiment is. One has to take Gallup polls to find it, or carefully gather incidents here and there in trade union meetings and weigh their total meaning. No strong organization of any kind, no popular spokesmen express that vast but formless and chaotic opposition to the war perspective.

Those politicians in the two major parties who, like Senator Wheeler, voted for all Roosevelt’s major proposals but then made a few sharp speeches against the government’s orientation, have hastened to make clear how limited their criticism is. They would love nothing better than to go on drawing to themselves the attention of the great masses through anti-war demagogy; but the times simply do not permit it. The crisis of American capitalism is too deep, too near to an attempted solution by force of arms. Wheeler’s voice dies away in his throat…he objects to sending armament to the Allies because…the American armed forces need everything possible.

The Labor Movement Lines Up

Nor need the official leadership of the trade unions be taken into consideration by Roosevelt – except as recruiting sergeants. The AFL leadership is a sheep-dog which automatically leads the flock to its capitalist master. Scarcely less docile is the CIO leadership, including John L. Lewis.

He played longer the game of anti-war demagogy and as a result has more words to eat, but he is eating them. Hitler’s victory in the battle of Flanders put an end to the dramatic anti-war speeches of Lewis; forgotten was his resolution at the February convention of the United Mine Workers demanding that the government “withold the lending of any money, or the participation either directly or indirectly in the wars now going on in Europe and Asia”; his defense of the American Youth Congress “peace” resolutions against Roosevelt’s scolding, etc. Lewis cancelled the anti-war speech he was scheduled to make at the SWOC convention and instead his lieutenant, Phil Murray, put through the convention a jingo resolution built around the slogan “Our country right or wrong.” Lewis personally came to heel on May 17 at the Amalgamated Clothing Workers convention where he whiningly insisted that “It is publicly known that labor is fully in accord with the necessity of national defense,” and raised but one demand: “If the country wants the cooperation of labor to do the work of preparing for war, and in the event of war to do the necessary dying in the war, what is wrong with a little cooperation on policies?” This “demand” for labor representation was acceded to with alacrity by Roosevelt when he named Hillman to the Defense Council; the CIO executive board by resolution gave “appreciative notice” to the appointment. Then, in a sullen effort to show Roosevelt that he could still snarl, Lewis made that unbelievably fantastic speech in Philadelphia on June 18, denouncing Roosevelt as responsible for the depression and…defending Hoover!

The Stalinists Begin the Turn

If anything could be more absurd than Lewis’ pro-Hoover speech, it was its handling in the Stalinist Daily Worker. It got a front-page headline: “Lewis Hits Involvement in War; Demands Useful Jobs for All.” Sub-heads: “Makes Stirring Call for Negro Equality at NAACP Parley; Receives Ovation from (Negro) Convention at Philadelphia.” The startling statements on Hoover? They could be found in the Daily Worker account, uncommented upon even by a sub-head, in the fourth column of the story!

At about the point that keeping one foot in Lewis’ camp and one in Stalin’s field of German orientation became well-nigh impossible even for acrobats like Browder, Moscow ordered a re-orientation which, by degrees, will enable Browder to put his feet together again – in the camp not merely of Lewis, but of the coalition government. The pact which was to make impossible a Nazi war on the Soviet Union had played its role in the Nazi conquest of Europe, Stalin’s partner was now free to turn his atttention toward the Soviet Union and, with his policy in ruins, Stalin frenziedly prepared for a new turn. Whereupon Israel Amter told the Young Communist League convention that Russia’s move into the Baltic was “objective aid to France”; and William Z. Foster recalled suddenly that “The Communists always vote to furnish arms to such (genuine) democratic governments, as in the case of the first popular front government in France, and the democratic people’s governments of Spain, China, Mexico, Chile and Cuba.” (Daily Worker, June 20, 1940) Foster forbore to add the Roosevelt government of a year or so ago, but he will recall that too in a week or two. In a word, the problem which the Communist party is shortly to present the American government is the same one which they presented Roosevelt with in the last presidential election: the embarrassment of their support.

By the time this editorial appears the government’s war program may also count among its official supporters Norman Thomas’ Socialist party. Wisconsin, Massachusetts and other party sections are calling for a formal pro-Ally declaration by their National Committee. Thomas’ co-partners in the “Keep America Out of War Committee,” the Lovestoneites, have already come out for an Allied victory. In any event Thomas does not have to travel far. He has already adopted the slogan, “Rational, not hysterical defense.” Roosevelt could endorse that with both hands.

It is not a pretty picture we have drawn of the labor movement, but it is a true one. And we expected it. War, like revolution, burns away all ambiguities. It draws the line with utter clarity between the capitalist class and its labor lieutenants and choir boys on the one side, and on the other the real, Marxists, the revolutionists, small though they be in number when the war begins, but authentically expressing the real interests of the masses and certain to find the way to organize the masses’ opposition to the war in the course of the war.

We Do Not Fear This War!

We stand alone today. Our isolation is painfully apparent. The demagogy of Roosevelt, and of his labor lieutenants, has disoriented the masses and the process of their regroupment is a difficult task. But let there be no misunderstanding. Though irreconcilable enemies of imperialist war, we have no fear of this war. We accept battle on the arena chosen by the class enemy. The Fourth International is the only organization which correctly predicted the general course of world events, which anticipated the inevitability of a new imperialist catastrophe and prepared its cadres for it. We are welded together by iron discipline, a movement of tested revolutionists ready for anything and with an unconquerable will to victory. The overwhelming majority of our comrades in the different countries have withstood the first test of the war. In all the major countries the coming convulsions will find us ready.

Here as elsewhere the war will burn away the last vestiges of workers’ illusions and the passivity engendered by previous defeats. Our proletarian armies are soon to be mobilized by Roosevelt; the millions of youth hitherto locked out of industry and hence dispersed, will be organized into regiments and brought together in the armament factories. Inexorable historical necessity drives them in our direction, as it did during the last war. Then there was only the small emigre group around Lenin to begin the struggle for world revolution. Today, possessing in numbers and especially in preparation infinite advantages over its predecessors at the beginning of the last war, the Fourth International exists. As our comrades are firmly united across the national barriers and battle-fronts, so we shall unite the soldiers and workers on the opposite sides of the war. We shall bring peace to the cottages, war to the palaces.

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