From Fourth International, Vol. II No. 3, March 1941, pp. 67–69.
Transcribed & marked up by David Walters for ETOL.
For years we warned the American workers of the imminence of war, of its inevitability if the capitalist class was permitted to remain in power. The lend lease law is an enormous step toward total participation in the war. But every worker must understand this the lend lease law has not yet plunged us into the war.
Between the lend lease law and complete participation in the war there is a gap, ever narrowing but still a gap which it is extremely important to understand. The Gallup polls continue to show that large sections of the population which supported the enactment of the lend lease law remain opposed to actual warfare. There will be many a sleepless night for the rulers of this country before they risk the plunge. The temper of the organized labor movement does not enable Roosevelt and Wall Street to go confidently to war.
The anti-war sentiments of the population and the attitude of the labor movement are not the sole determinants of this situation. American imperialism would like now to use the tactics that Great Britain used when it was the dominant power in the world supply the money and armaments and let other countries do the actual fighting. Undoubtedly Roosevelt and those he represents would like to attain their objective of defeating Hitler without sending troops and even, if possible, without having the navy participate in the conflict. They would prefer to have others do the fighting and dying. Likewise the ever deepening conflict in the Pacific, which George Stern describes in an article in this issue, may hold off for a time. A short time but that means so much more time in which to organize the American proletariat for the tasks that lie ahead.
The foregoing considerations dictate a precise under standing of the debate over the lend lease bill. Of course no fundamental principles separated the debaters. They all agreed on the principle of helping Great Britain and thus protecting the interests of American imperialism. The American capitalists prefer the victory of British imperialism be cause the British is the weaker and the less dynamic of the two imperialist camps and consequently represents less in fact, no danger to the interests of American imperialism. A victory of British imperialism means, in reality, a victory for American imperialism, for the British empire in the course of this war is certain to come more and more under the dom ination of the United States.
Hence there is no difference within the ruling class on whether to help toward a British victory. The difference arises on the question, to what extent the United States should go to assure a British victory. A section of the capitalist class, main ly represented by the mid western Republican leaders, prefers a victory for Britain but are not prepared to go the limit to prevent a German victory.
These “isolationists” the name is really a fraud are confident they can thwart Hitler’s attempt at achieving hegemony in South America. They believe they can enter into some arrangement with the Nazis over other questions and thus avoid a war with Germany for the time being. They would like to see Britain win, but its defeat, they feel, is not an unmixed evil: that defeat would immediately throw Canada, Australia and other sections of the British empire into the clutches of American imperialism.
It is quite natural that this position should be championed by the Republican Party, which has its main strength in those sections of the country farthest removed from the Atlantic seaboard. Not the least of the motivations of the Republican politicians is that they are an opposition party anxious to find an issue upon which they can regain control of the government.
The “anti-war” arguments of this group merit nothing but contempt from the workers. Class-conscious workers can scarcely get excited over the “isolationist” idea that Roosevelt is about to strip “our” defenses for the sake of helping Great Britain. The ones who use that argument show that they differ with Roosevelt only on the question of how best to defend American imperialism.
When the lend lease bill was passed, one after another of the “isolationist” leaders arose to swear fealty to Roosevelt in executing the law. Where differences are deep-going, there can be no such round of camaraderie and handshaking as “isolationists” and interventionists joined in. And if the interventionist arguments did not convince these “isolationists” then the development of the war has done so for many.
For, the fact is, if you accept the imperialist premises which the “isolationists” and interventionists both agree to, then the interventionists have logic on their side. A victorious Nazi Germany would menace the interests of American imperialism throughout the world. Europe cannot solve, even temporarily, the needs of German imperialism. It requires immediately the raw materials and natural resources of Asia, Africa, South America, it must reach out for them and collide head on with American imperialism.
As this perspective becomes ever clearer, the ranks of the “isolationists” thin away rapidly.
But the struggle against the entry of America into the war never depended on these people anyway. Unanimity in Congress does not change the real relation of forces outside the artificial and distorted atmosphere of Washington. Tens of millions still do not want entry into the war; and their ability to fight against entry is objectively favored by the plans of American imperialism, which seeks to delay if possible total American involvement.
The next phase of the struggle against American entry into the war can be organized against the use of the navy to convoy war material to Britain. Propaganda to prepare the people to accept convoys began even before passage of the lend lease law; some of it was astonishingly brazen, for ex ample, the speech of Commander Edward Ellsberg, USNR, at the Overseas Press Club on March 1st.
“We are in the war now,” he insisted. “I have spoken to the government, and I know that we will be doing this convoying before long. We do not have to declare war now anymore than we did when we shelled Vera Cruz in 1914. At that time the Navy had orders to accomplish an objective. It did so even though it meant killing some Mexicans.”
Following his pattern (and Hitler’s) of whittling down opposition by accomplishing an objective in several stages, Roosevelt may begin with “partial” convoys: US destroyers and subchasers will “only” accompany freighters across the Atlantic to the Azores, and will not proceed into the “war zone” around the British isles. Needless to say, a sea battle between the US warships and German submarines can take place a hundred miles out of New York just about as well as it could twenty miles off Liverpool. But Roosevelt’s maneuver will serve its purpose: tens of millions of American workers and their families, who don’t want American entry in the war but who want to see Hitler destroyed, will half believingly accept “partial” convoys as the way to achieve both their desires.
Under these conditions, to fight against the use of convoys will be decidedly going against the stream. But the fight must be made. Many a worker who will now brush our arguments aside, will find them haunting his thoughts more and more often in the next period.
We must ask such workers:
“You want to see Hitler destroyed, you think that the Roosevelt government can be the instrumentality for that, yet you oppose entry into the war. Why? If you seriously believe what you say you do, you should be demanding entry into the war. Why should you and those like you be sheltered from the war’s consequences, if you believe that Britain is fighting your battle? You are being disgustingly selfish.”
Am I really selfish? such a worker will ask himself. He knows that in other matters he has demonstrated his ability to merge his personal interests in the greater good. He has risked bones, perhaps his life, on picket lines. Why, then, is he unwilling to do as much in the “war for democracy”? If he thinks his way through he will find that, at the bottom of this “selfishness” lies skepticism concerning the real nature of this “war for democracy.”
That skepticism will grow under the impact of the coming clashes between the workers on the one hand, and the employers and their government on the other.
In the period of peace, the American capitalists could af ford to permit Roosevelt to experiment with social legislation. The American ruling class was rich enough to tolerate the “social appeasement” methods of Roosevelt, rich enough to afford, grumblingly, the luxury of democracy.
Altogether different is the situation now, when the capitalists are preparing for a show down with German imperialism. Rights the workers exercised in times of peace now be come intolerable to the ruling class.
Especially is this so since the American workers do not seem to be swayed in the least by appeals to patriotism. They are now acting as they have always done in periods of economic upswing, when strikes become the order of the day. That the present economic upswing is due to war preparations, has not caused the workers to break this invariable rule. Without much theory, but hard-headed about what they want, the workers are continuing their class struggle.
In attempting to stifle these struggles, there is a nice division of labor between the “softs” and “hards.” Congressmen Smith and Vinson introduce bills to legislate the union shot out of existence in war industries, Knudsen proposes legislation compelling a 40 days “cooling off” period and a 60 per cent pro-strike vote of all employees (both union and non-union) before a strike can be legally called, and so on. The “softs” thereupon “save” labor by persuading the “hards” to agree to the more modest proposal of a special mediation board for the war industries. By the time this appears, Roosevelt will probably have issued an executive order setting up such a board.
We can predict with certainty that, whether this board is or is not legally endowed with compulsory powers, it will crack down on the unions. Roosevelt will follow the silk glove method as long as it gets results. But the rising cost of living, the legitimate anger of the workers at the contrast between the restrictions placed on them and the profiteering of the bosses, and the workers’ consequent militancy in protecting their interests, will in the end drive Roosevelt to an open clash with the trade union movement. The silk glove method depends on the effectiveness of Roosevelt’s collaborators in the unions, the top bureaucrats. They will, however, prove to be a weak reed for Roosevelt to lean upon. Already im portant strikes have taken place despite the top leadership. In addition the CIO leadership has not, and is unlikely to secure, the kind of grip on the new CIO unions auto and aircraft, steel, electrical manufacturing, rubber, etcetera that could make such collaboration with Roosevelt possible. It is more likely, that a section of the CIO leadership will go part of the way along the road with the militant workers. Roosevelt will find himself with no other weapons than naked governmental action against the unions.
Whatever time we have before total war envelopes the United States must be utilized to the full to strengthen the workers’ organizations, to prepare the workers to resist the tremendous pressure that the government and its agents in the labor movement will exert to prevent the workers from con tinuing their struggles for better conditions. Roosevelt’s mediation board and every other act of the government that tends to restrict any of the workers’ rights, must be fought. We must systematically expose the hypocrisy of every appeal to the workers to cease their militant activities as a patriotic duty to the country. We shall have one major aid in this task: the huge profits of the war industries will be an ever-galvanizing proof that the bosses sacrifice nothing while the workers are asked to sacrifice everything. It will not be difficult to demonstrate that excess profits taxes and other legislation “to end profiteering” will be but fig leafs to cover the continuing profiteering of the bosses. Government acts to “freeze” prices of consumers’ goods will be shown to be empty gestures; the worker’s wife will know that every day she goes to market. All these goads will impel the worker on the road of struggle.
In the face of a rising labor movement the government’s strategy will undoubtedly include court prosecutions of various kinds against the weaker links in the labor movement. Each and every prosecution must be fought off by a united labor movement. The imprisonment of Earl Browder and the attempt to deport Harry Bridges are but the first moves of this kind. We must help all the workers to understand that such attacks against one section of the labor movement can be nothing but the beginning of attacks against the whole labor movement. The workers must realize that they should defend a Browder and a Bridges for the same reasons that they defend bureaucrats like Hutcheson of the Carpenters and Joseph Ryan of the Longshoremen.
We shall never tire of repeating that the labor movement must deal with those inside the movement who are enemies of working class progress the labor fakers, the racketeers, the Stalinists and all other servants of the capitalist class inside the unions. Only labor can clean the ranks of labor. The “help” of the government always turns out to be a dagger thrust against the workers. Against the capitalist class and its government, we must defend the Browders, as well as the Hutchesons. Otherwise we give the ruling class an entering wedge with which to disrupt the labor movement.
The militancy of the workers at the present time must be assessed for what it is and nothing more. They are not hostile to the war program of the Roosevelt government. They simply want to take advantage of the spurt in industry to improve their conditions. In pursuing this aim they are evincing a firm indifference to the cries that they are endangering “their” country. But they are by no means indifferent to the issues of the war. On the contrary, they very much want to see Hitler beaten, and for the present, they see no other way to achieve this except by Roosevelt’s program.
A realistic and precise understanding of this attitude of the workers provides the basis for a bridge from their present economic struggles to real political struggles against the imperialist war.
We must tell the workers plainly that it is not enough to fight for better conditions in the factories. We must tell them that whatever better conditions they will win will, in the end, be wiped out by the further development of the war, if they do nothing else except fight for these better conditions.
Far from telling the workers to be indifferent to the war, we must insist that the greatest of all problems confronting them is the war. This is not our war; it is not a war for democracy against fascism; it is a war between imperialist rivals. But we cannot stop with this thought, important though it is. We cannot if for no other reason than that the workers will not listen to us if we stop there. They want to see Hitler destroyed, and so do we. We must make central in the thoughts of the workers this single thought: this war must be turned in to a war for real workers’ democracy and that can be done only if the workers take over control of the government.
A fighting, positive attitude is what the situation de mands. And we have it, in our party’s military policy.
Our military policy impresses upon the workers two simple but decisive ideas. First, in this epoch of total war the workers must become adept in the military arts. Second, they must do so under the direction of their own class organizations.
All those in the labor movement, like the Norman Thomas group and the Stalinists, whose “anti war” agitation is essentially pacifist, are committing a terrible crime against the workers who listen to them. They are telling these workers to counterpose ballots to bullets, social reform to armed struggle, peace to war. Every word is false. What these workers must learn, and transmit to the great mass of the workers, is that they cannot, they dare not, surrender to their enemies the monopoly of knowledge of military means. Every thing in this epoch of war will be decided arms in hand. He who teaches anything else to the workers is helping to deliver them defenseless to their class enemies. As Lenin said in 1916:
“An oppressed class which does not strive to gain a knowledge of arms, to become expert in arms, to possess arms, deserves nothing else than to be treated as a slave.”
This military knowledge must become the property of the workers as a class. That is not achieved by becoming soldiers in the armies of capitalism. The unorganized workers, wearing the uniform of their masters, are in that situation tools of their masters, unable to determine what they should learn, how they should learn it, and what they should use that knowledge for. Let the drafted worker go, since he has no choice today, and let him learn as well as he can, so that he can serve his class so much the better afterward; but that is not the kind of military training we favor. We want military training of the class. We want our class separated from the capitalist class in military training as in everything else. That is why we demand military training of workers, financed by the government, under control of the trade unions. That is why we demand the establishment of special officers’ training camps, financed by the government and controlled by the trade unions, to train workers to become officers.
A class program of military training that is our positive approach to the workers today. It is the first answer to the question: how to destroy fascism, to really destroy it, not only in Germany and Italy, but here too.
Last updated on 27 Februar 2016