From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.1, January 1944 pp.3-8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Abetted by the US Supreme Court, Roosevelt-Biddle have brought to a triumphant conclusion their campaign to railroad the 18 defendants in the Minneapolis ease to prison. To their December triumphs of secret diplomacy abroad – at Cairo and Teheran – the forces of capitalist reaction were able to add the triumph of their class justice at home: Besides the trade union militants of the Minneapolis Teamsters Local 544-CIO, the Roosevelt administration has placed behind bars the outstanding leaders of the Socialist Workers Party, particularly James P. Cannon, Albert Goldman, Vincent R. Dunne, Farrell Dobbs, editor of The Militant, and Felix Morrow, editor of Fourth International.
For decades these Trotskyist leaders have been the most consistent protagonists of socialist ideas and ideals, the staunchest fighters for workers’ democracy. They were the first in this country to sound the alarm over the danger of fascism.
When Mussolini seized power in Italy, Cannon, Dunne and the movement they represented insisted that unless socialist revolution intervened, fascism would inevitably appear in other countries. Smug apologists of capitalism proclaimed at the time that Mussolini’s regime was not without its good points, at worst – a purely Italian phenomenon.
Again during the rise of Hitler, the Trotskyists strained every means to cry out the danger. They were ridiculed. Hitler, claimed the liberals, would never succeed in overthrowing democracy in Germany; if he did come to power, said the Stalinists, his regime would be shortlived; and finally, the workers were told, it, too, was a purely German phenomenon.
When the Coughlinites and other native American fascists together with the German-American Bund wished to hold a provocative demonstration of 18,000 Brown Shirts in New York’s Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939, they were given permission by Mayor LaGuardia, and his police were mobilized to protect them from the wrath of workers. It was the Trotskyists, and only the Trotskyists, heedless of the smallness of their forces, who leaped into the breach with a call for action against the fascist vermin. This fact can never be erased from the record; it remains indelibly in the memories of 50,000 workers in New York who responded to the call of the Socialist Workers Party.
Now the Roosevelt regime, still cynically insisting that it wages war in order to spread “democracy” to the four corners of the earth, has disclosed just what kind of democracy it plans for the people of the United States. Its Congress has passed laws directly contravening the Bill of Rights; its Supreme Court has refused even to consider whether the Smith Gag Act violates the Constitution; its Department of Justice has locked socialists and militant trade unionists in prison cells.
Meanwhile such notorious avowed fascists arid fascist sympathizers as Father Coughlin, Gerald Smith, Charles Lindbergh, their wealthy sponsors and friends holding high offices in government roam at will, organizing steadily for the day they will attempt to impose fascism on America.
Roosevelt may indeed boast of having found common ground with Stalin at Teheran. Yes, Roosevelt has found common ground with the most ferocious enemies of democracy: not only Stalin but Mussolini and Hitler as well. It is true that the rulers in America have not yet reached the stage where they resort to the firing squad or hired assassins, but their shocking acts in the Minneapolis case disclose a tendency that can be viewed by workers with only the gravest foreboding. A strong movement of protest against the imprisonment of the 18 can give halt to the march of reaction in the United States. It is the duty of every working class organization and all honest defenders of civil liberties to help build such a mass movement of protest; for should it fail to materialize the road will be left wide open for the further triumphs of blackest reaction. We Trotskyists have supreme confidence in the American workers. We are certain that our call for aid will not go unanswered. We know that capitalist reaction will not triumph as easily in this country as in Italy or Germany.
To our comrades in Roosevelt’s penitentiaries, we of the staff of Fourth International express our warmest sympathy and strongest solidarity. They stand among those banner-bearers of socialism throughout the world who have been thrown into concentration camps, confined in dungeons, inflicted with torture solely because of their fight for a better society. Opponents of the second imperialist slaughter, they belong to the magnificent tradition of Eugene V. Debs, outstanding American oppositionist imprisoned during the first World War. Like Debs, they are today’s living arguments, living examples and models in the crucial battle against all the betrayers of the world working class – the current crop of social-chauvinists, the Social Democrats, the Stalinists and the rest.
We cherish no illusions. It will be difficult to carry on the work which our comrades have been forced to relinquish. Their guidance, their wisdom and long years of experience cannot easily be replaced. Nevertheless we know our tasks and our duties; and pledge ourselves to continue worthily in their tradition of performing both task and duty.
Our most urgent work is to do the utmost to warn the entire working class and all the oppressed of America – colored and white alike – that the primary task in the struggle for emancipation is freeing the 18.
As our comrades begin their prison sentences, let the entire Trotskyist movement take fresh courage. When the great wheel of history makes its next turn, those who now rule the destiny of mankind will themselves end in the prisoners’ dock facing the terrible accusation of all outraged humanity. Then those now suffering persecution will see Trotsky’s prediction fulfilled:
“From the capitalist prisons and concentration camps will come most of the leaders of tomorrow’s Europe and the world!”
The weeks of continued silence that have elapsed since the termination of “United Nations” conference at Teheran serve only to underscore the secrecy that shrouds this parley. The greatest public expectation was aroused; far-reaching plans and problems, it is admitted, were discussed, yet the people have been told nothing. In the face of this cynical silence, traditional atmosphere of secret diplomacy, the world is nevertheless assured that all has gone well and that bountiful blessings are to be showered upon mankind. Who but the gullible will believe a word of this? If this were true, what possible need could there be for secrecy?
Yet such was the secrecy surrounding the conference that even the capitalist press howled in protest against “the repressive measures taken against accredited American correspondents” who were kept away by barbed wire and bayonets from the Cairo conference and who were then held in Cairo under military orders to exclude them from Teheran. Churchill’s deputy, Field Marshal Smuts in a press interview at Cairo on December 8 not only acknowledged this secrecy but insisted that none should “pry into the secrets.” He said:
“A word dropped on the wrong side might cause great harm. By your silence you are helping victory.”
If their political decisions actually conformed to the noble purposes enunciated in the official pronouncements, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin would have no reason to conceal them. On the contrary, they could only gain by publishing them and proving to the peoples the sincerity and truth of their words. But they have very good reasons indeed for keeping their agreements hidden. They are engaged in a criminal cabal against the interests of the European, American and colonial peoples. At Moscow, Cairo and Teheran there was hatched a gigantic conspiracy to strangle and suppress revolutionary movements in Europe and Asia. That conspiracy requires silence, secrecy, double-dealing and deceit for its consummation. According to official pronouncements, the deep-going differences, problems and conflicts which made these conferences necessary have been solved and henceforth only unity and harmony will prevail.
“We are sure that our concord will make it an enduring peace…We shall seek the cooperation of all nations, large and small, whose people are dedicated to the elimination of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance. We will welcome them…into a world family of democratic nations…We came here with hope and determination. We leave here friends in fact, in spirit and in purpose.”
So says the Teheran declaration. What really lies behind this rhetoric? To answer this question correctly it is first necessary to understand the class character of the conferees and their motives and aims in this war.
The central and dominating figure at both conferences was President Roosevelt, leader of the mightiest industrial country in the world and spokesman for the American monopolists whose aim in this war is to acquire sovereignty over the entire world. In this vast undertaking these monopolists have expended hundreds of billions of dollars – while pocketing untold billions in profits. They have loaded a staggering debt and tax burden on the popular masses, but in return they have built in a few years the greatest air force and navy and an army of ten millions to batter down all obstructions to their plans for world domination.
The commander-in-chief of every capitalist state is entrusted with the execution of the program of Big Business. And so, for Roosevelt the Cairo and Teheran conferences are, like his other official actions, simply a means for furthering the war aims of his class. Washington’s most pressing immediate tasks are to defeat its main rivals, Germany and Japan.
On these points the conference declarations and decisions were categorically clear. From Cairo Roosevelt declared that Japan must be crushed and her empire destroyed. Japan is to be stripped of all her stolen and seized territories, Manchuria, Formosa, Korea, the Pacific islands, etc., and thrust back into the island position she occupied in 1853.
From Teheran there issued no appeals to the German masses to rise and overthrow Hitler and the German ruling class. Instead, all emphasis was placed upon the proposed crushing of Germany. Germany’s military forces and industry are to be destroyed. Germany is to disappear as a major power. There has been no lack of savage hints that the country will be occupied and dismembered; that the entire German people will be compelled to pay for the costs of the war, etc. Admiral of the British Fleet Keyes is quoted in the New York Times (December 9) as calling for “a post-war separation of the German states by a great army of occupation.”
At Cairo and Teheran Roosevelt was primarily concerned not with “democracy” and “four freedoms” but with the military defeat of the two rival powers now challenging the right of American capitalism to rule the world. For a defeated Japan, Hirohito is apparently a good enough “democrat” as witness the campaign in the capitalist press, initiated by former US Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew and indirectly inspired by the State Department, cautioning against “undermining” the Mikado. On January 2 the New York Times stated editorially:
“We agree with Mr. Grew that a campaign against the Japanese Emperor would not serve any useful purpose at this time.”
Beside Roosevelt at Cairo and Teheran sat His Majesty’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill who has arrogantly boasted of his government’s imperialist aims in this war. “I have not become the King’s first minister,” proclaimed this Tory chief, “to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” Churchill journeyed abroad to salvage the battered British empire, its privileges, its trade, its possessions, not only from his. enemies but also from his allies. His primary task was to bargain to retrieve the British possessions in the Far East.
It is no secret that the British lion has met its master in a more powerful beast of prey. In the future Britain can expect to have only so much of its former power and possessions as America’s monopolists deign to permit.
On November 25, while the conferences were still in progress, some of the real thoughts, fears, and projects of the leaders of British imperialism were voiced by South African Prime Minister, Field Marshal Jan Smuts. Smuts, who had been called to London to head the cabinet in Churchill’s absence, delivered a speech before the Empire Parliamentary Association with 300 members of the Commons and Lords, including 20 ministers of the government present.
“This war,” he said, “has taught us…that we cannot get away from the problem of power. Peace not backed by power remains a dream.”
But the trouble is that England’s problem of power will be rendered extremely difficult by the disappearance of three of the five great powers in the new Europe, France, Italy and Germany. Their downfall, Smuts lamented, will leave Russia as “the new colossus in Europe.”
Post-war England, he warned,
“from a material economic view will be a poor country. She has put body and soul and everything into it to win the battle of mankind. She will have won it, but she will come out of it poor in substance.”
“Then outside Europe,” he continued, “you have the United States, the other great world power. The question is, how are you going to deal with that world situation?”
In order to “strengthen her European position” Smuts proposes that Great Britain conclude a working alliance with “smaller democracies in Western Europe.” Such are the prospects of English imperialism as viewed through Tory eyes, such the problems Churchill and his colleagues are working to solve.
Smuts’ speech not only reveals the infirmities of British imperialism. It also serves to expose the absence of real unity among “The United Nations.” Amidst protestations of harmony they carry on incessant intrigues against one another.
Colonial possessions are among the chief prizes at stake. Neither Great Britain nor the United States have forfeited any of their pre-war claims to colonial territories wrested from their grasp. Churchill has not abandoned the British claim to Hong Kong, even though Hong Kong is part of China and China is his ally. Moreover, it is implicit in the Cairo decisions and the entire preceding policy that the “liberated territories” are to be returned to their previous rulers. Java and Netherland Indies will presumably go back to Queen Wilhelmina; Burma to King George of England; French Indo-China to the French bourgeoisie, and the Philippines to the United States. Besides, Roosevelt has his eyes already fixed on the Pacific islands grabbed by Japan in the division of spoils among the victors after the last war.
To be sure, at Cairo Korea was promised independence while at Teheran Britain and the US announced their intention to withdraw from Iran. But the postponement of these promises to an indefinite future provoked a sharp reaction from Korean and Iranian leaders. The president of the provisional Korean government in Chungking declared that “free Koreans in Free China are furious about the expression ‘in due course’.” Prominent Iranians have suggested that the uninvited protectors depart immediately rather than “after the war.”
It is instructive to note that the Cairo conferees did not appeal to the Japanese people to overthrow the Mikado nor did they summon the colonial natives to rise in revolt. Churchill, the oppressor of India, and Roosevelt fear the slightest independent action of the Eastern masses.
“We look to the day when all peoples of the world may live free lives untouched by tyranny, and according to their various desires and their own consciences,” reads the Teheran declaration. That day will be long in coming to Asia if the Anglo-American “democracies” have their say. The peoples of the colonies are accorded neither voice nor vote in their homelands. They are supposed to accept supinely, and even to struggle for, a return to their former servitude.
This policy of keeping the colonial peoples in subjection may appear to be contradicted by the homage paid to Chiang Kai-shek and the concessions granted – on paper – to China. Roosevelt and Churchill, however, have “promoted” Chiang and permitted him to sit in on their hitherto exclusive sessions in the same spirit as Executive Chairmen of powerful trusts appoint a superintendent to the post of assistant vice-president. The Anglo-American rulers require China’s services in their struggle against Japan. The consequences of over six years of war have so enfeebled Chiang’s regime that in their own self-interest the Allies are compelled to take certain measures to prop up Chiang’s prestige. Economic conditions in China are catastrophic. Inflation is unbridled: the cost of living is today 164 times what it was in 1937. The sufferings of the workers, peasants, intellectuals and white-collar employees are intolerable. There is increasing hostility toward the profiteers, hoarders, speculators, corrupt government officials, new land-owners. Defeatism is rife among ruling bourgeois Kuomintang circles. The breach with the Stalinist-dominated forces in the North remains unrepaired.
External considerations provide supplementary reasons for immediately bolstering Chiang’s position. The British need something to cover up the stench of their rule in India; Washington seeks to offset Japanese propaganda and influence which has not been without effect upon the peoples of Burma, Malaya, and the Philippines.
If Roosevelt and Churchill really wanted a strong China, instead of lavish gifts promised for the future, they would proceed to arm and equip millions of Chinese to drive the Japanese invaders into the ocean. But this they carefully refrain from doing. Here they reveal their real attitude toward the progressive struggle of the Chinese people for national independence.
The Anglo-American capitalists are not only concerned with smashing their rivals, preserving their acquisitions, aggrandizing their power and profits, and keeping the colonial masses in subjection. They are just as worried about their position and prospects in Europe where revolution has already erupted in Italy and is ripening on a continental scale.
Stalin comes as a godsend to their counter-revolutionary plots to try to crush that revolution. Stalin’s policy in this war is determined above all by the needs and interests of the degenerate Soviet bureaucracy which he incarnates and heads. Stalin seeks to maintain the usurped power, the privileges, and aristocratic pretentions of this layer of Soviet society. The Kremlin’s completely nationalistic program and perspectives have recently been exemplified in the official revival of the vilest Russian feudal traditions, heroes and customs; by his cynical burial of the Third International and the substitution of a new national anthem for the revolutionary battle-song The Internationale.
The capitalist politicians and press have appraised and approved these actions:
“This is important testimony,” exults the reactionary New York World-Telegram (December 22, 1943), “supporting Russia’s sincerity in her retreat from the classic Bolshevist goal of world revolution and in her new preoccupation with the sort of patriotism that world revolutionists used to despise.”
What kind of haggling went on between Stalin and Roosevelt-Churchill as the price of his services to them, what Stalin gave and what he received or was promised, humanity is not privileged to know. The President, the Prime Minister and the Marshal prefer to keep mum. Stalin practices the same vile secret diplomacy as Czar Nicholas Romanov, with the same allies, and incidentally, as in the case of Churchill, with the same individuals.
Assuredly, in return for his pledge to aid them in their counter-revolutionary plots Roosevelt and Churchill will give and promise many things to Stalin. The Allied leaders feel sure that they can muster the force to crush German and Japanese militarism. But they feel far less confident of their ability to crush the coming European proletarian revolution. They remember what happened to the attempt to put down the Russian revolution in the last war!
Stalin is indispensable to them. The Anglo-American rulers know that the European masses are gravitating toward the USSR as their hope of salvation; that they admire the Red Army and hail its victories; that they are moving with a keen class instinct toward the road of the October revolution. They also know that current circumstances invest Stalin and his crew with the prestige and influence without which it would be impossible to restrain, mislead, and divert the insurgent workers and peasants from the socialist revolution.
Roosevelt and Churchill are correctly banking on Stalin’s fear of the consequences to his regime of a successful proletarian revolution in Europe. The capitalists openly recognize that the Stalinist bureaucrats, conservative to the core, are qualified candidates for the job of hangmen of the revolution. After reviewing the reactionary features of Stalin’s regime, the New York Times (December 22, 1943) points out that:
“Its leaders are becoming conservative and opposed to any further revolution which might turn against them.”
The Stalinists are in mortal fear lest a revolutionary tidal wave resulting in a new workers’ state in Germany provide such an attractive pole for all the toilers that their own authority would wane and their privileged position be imperiled. These upstarts and usurpers have other plans for Europe. Their publications talk about converting millions of Germans into serfs, of transporting Germany’s industrial equipment into the Soviet Union, of making the German people pay billions in reparations, etc., etc.
The “democrats” are only too happy to publicize these Stalinist proposals. For they help foster hatred and hostility between the Soviet and German masses and to sow division and dissension among the international working class. Here again the reactionary policy of Stalinism plays the game of the imperialists. It even enables them to pose as humane protectors of the German people. Such anti-Soviet rascals as William Green have already taken up the cry originally raised by the friend of Mannerheim’s Finland, Mr. Wm. Philip Simms, that the American “democrats” must intervene to frustrate such aims of Stalin.
Despite all avowals of concord, the press continues to print rumors of dissension between the participants at Teheran. Even granting that all the matters discussed were amicably adjusted for the time being, there remains a fundamental antagonism which no amount of diplomacy can overcome or abolish. It is the irreconcilable antagonism between the Soviet Union with its nationalized property and the capitalist world. No matter how Stalin and Roosevelt-Churchill may strain to shove this contradiction into the background and to pretend that it does not exist, it lurks behind their every move.
Recent history proves that this basic incompatibility between the Soviet Union and the capitalist system is far stronger and more decisive than Stalin’s diplomatic machinations. In 1935 Stalin signed a military-diplomatic pact with Laval, the representative of French imperialism. Six years later Laval of Vichy recruited French legionnaires to fight against his former ally. Stalin concluded a pact with Hitler in August 1939. Two years later the Nazi warlord struck without warning. As for Roosevelt and Churchill, Wm. Philip Simms reminds in the New York World Telegram of December 16 about their rabid anti-Sovietism of only a few years ago. Mr. Simms cites the following facts which many have forgotten and others would prefer to suppress.
“The League of Nations expelled Russia. The Vatican sent funds. A $10,000,000 credit was opened by the US with President Roosevelt’s warm approval, and Prime Minister Churchill coined some of his choicest sentences on the subject of aggression. The British and French governments shipped 285 planes, 590 cannon, 100 antitank guns, 5,000 machine guns and 60,000,000 rounds of ammunition and other equipment. The United States came through with another $20,000,000 loan.”
Simms adds: “Today Finland remains the same Finland.” Yes, that is true, even though today Mannerheim fights with Hitler, and not with the Allies, against the Soviet Union. And it is equally true that the capitalists in the United States and Great Britain, including Roosevelt and Churchill, remain the same irreconcilable enemies of the workers state even in its degenerated condition and despite Stalinist subservience. Class interests and appetites are far more decisive than diplomatic combinations and agreements.
In the stormy developments ahead for Europe and Asia this fundamental class conflict between the different economic systems represented by the Soviet Union and the “democracies” must inevitably assert itself.
Secret diplomacy has become the normal method of intercourse between the heads of the dominant powers, their vassals and agents. This infamous practice has reached a new peak at Cairo and Teheran. Those who now rule the destinies of society have grown so arrogant and ruthless, so power-drunk that they believe they can with impunity impose anything they please upon their own peoples and the rest of the world. They will find out however that there is a mightier power on this earth. This is the power of the awakening revolutionary working class and its allies.
The railway and steel wage disputes are straws in the wind. Under pressure of the ranks, the trade union leaders whine and complain about their difficulty in keeping their membership in line. The policy of deception practised by Roosevelt and his labor lieutenants is running its course. It’s becoming harder to satisfy the real grievances of the workers with fictitious promises of future relief. With palpitating hearts, a number of top union bureaucrats have been pressed into the uncomfortable role of “playing the game of opposition.” Even so pliant an instrument of the Roosevelt administration as George M. Harrison, president of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, ventures to speculate: “Maybe it pays to get tough.” The American workers are growing more and more indignant, they are in no mood for games. When John L. Lewis proclaimed that the “miners do not work without a contract” the men who dig the nation’s coal took him at his word: the four coal strikes were eloquent testimony to this. In his truly prophetic article, Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay (Fourth International, February 1941), Leon Trotsky underscored the predicament the union officials now find themselves in:
“The leaders of the [world] trade union movement,” he wrote, “sensed or understood, or were given to understand, that now was no time to play the game of opposition. Every oppositional movement within the trade union movement, especially among the tops, threatens to provoke a stormy movement of the masses and to create difficulties for national imperialism.”
The American bourgeoisie’s fear of oppositional movements in the trade unions and their determination to prevent them were brought forcefully to the attention of Phillip Murray in the recent steel walkout. The head of the CIO had feebly protested a WLB decision refusing to grant the steel workers retroactive pay from the date of the expiration of the steel contract on Christmas eve. Within a few days, 200,000 steel workers had walked out of the plants raising the slogan: “No Contract – No Work!” The chicken-hearted Murray hastened to “call off the strike” when Roosevelt intervened. The apprehensive pilgrimage of the Railway Brotherhood (“maybe it pays to get tough”) officials into opposition likewise found Roosevelt moving like a military dictator against the rail workers. He ordered the Army to seize the railroads. Railroad officials were given commissions as colonels, fitted out with uniforms and troops were ordered to stand by ready to run the trains in the event of strike.
Railroads, steel and coal – these are basic sections of the labor movement. The lessons of their struggles have a tremendous significance for the entire working class. The rising tide of resistance is a harbinger of things to come. There is good reason for the whining of the labor fakers about their growing inability to “hold the line” against their own membership. Their policy of support to Roosevelt’s “stabilization program” has led the labor movement into a dead end. They have no other solution than to plead with Roosevelt for a few morsels to appease the clamor of the ranks. The very thought of “playing the game of opposition” sends shivers of apprehension up and down the backs of the labor lackeys of American imperialism.
Under pressure of the increasing mass opposition to wage freezing, Roosevelt may be compelled to sanction an upward adjustment of the Little Steel formula. But this can provide only a fleeting solution so long as wages remain frozen, and prices continue to mount. When Roosevelt first projected the idea of price control, four months before the entry of the United States into the war, The Militant, (August 9, 1941) made the following analysis:
“Labor has no reason to ‘believe that the government will really prevent a rise in the cost of living. All signs point to the fact that the workers will be faced with a steady decline in living standards as the war progresses in spite of government ‘price fixing.’ The fact is that a government run for the benefit of the capitalists will not and cannot curb prices, for that means curbing the profits of the capitalists who really run the government.”
The Militant then concluded:
“When the prices go up, wages must go up. This is the workers’ answer to rising prices…Only in this way, through the automatic adjustment of wage scales to the rise in the cost of living, can the workers be sure that, regardless of what happens to government promises, they will avoid a repetition of World War I experiences when promises were given about price control, but only wages were frozen.”
While labor bureaucrats failed to understand this, Roosevelt, class conscious spokesman for the interests of American capitalism, saw far more clearly: He deliberately set about to head off labor’s struggle against wartime inflation. In April 1942, Roosevelt presented his “seven-point stabilization program” and tagged on this joker:
“I believe that stabilizing the cost of living will mean that wages in general can and should be kept at existing scales.”
Roosevelt’s promise to stabilize the cost of living was a piece of deception to be used as a pretext for freezing wages.
A month later, in May 1942, the War Production Board held its national shipyard wage negotiations conference at Chicago. The AFL and CIO had signed an industry-wide zone stabilization agreement in 1941 at the insistence of the government. This agreement surrendered the right to strike in exchange for an “escalator clause,” providing for a five percent increase in wages for every five percent advance in the cost of living. Under this clause the shipyard workers were entitled to an increase of approximately 16 percent. Roosevelt, however, sent a strongly worded telegram to the conference stating:
“The situation that now confronts you is that the full percentage wage increase for which your contracts call, and to which, by the letter of the law, you are entitled, is irreconcilable with the national policy to control the cost of living.”
Roosevelt’s promise to stabilize the cost of living was utilized by the labor leaders to foist upon their membership a settlement of 8 cents per hour – and even this paltry increase was made contingent upon the surrender of the escalator clause! Roosevelt’s promise to stabilize the cost of living was thus exchanged for the good coin of the rising scale of wages, more commonly known as the “escalator clause.” On the basis of the same counterfeit promise of “stabilization” the Little Steel wage freezing formula was later promulgated by the War Labor Board. This formula was based on an estimated 15 percent rise in the cost of living from January 1, 1941 to May 1942. Appended to the formula was the lie that Roosevelt’s stabilization program would prevent any further rise in the cost of living after May 1942.
Fully aware that the inflationary process would – by widening the gap between prices and wages – inevitably lower the standard of living of the masses, Roosevelt’s agents on the War Labor Board issued General Order No.22 which provided:
“No clause in any labor agreement, commonly known as an ‘escalator clause,’ relating to wages or salaries subject to the jurisdiction of the National War Labor Board regardless of when the agreement was made, which provides for an adjustment in wage rates after October 27, 1942, because of changes in the cost of living, shall be enforced, where such adjustment would result in rates in excess of fifteen per cent above the average straight-hourly rates or equivalent salary rates prevailing on January 1, 1942.”
This decree deprived workers of the most effective means of maintaining their living standard – the rising scale of wages.
While wages remain frozen, commodity prices spiral upward. The cost of living continues its inexorable advance from month to month. Capitalist “stabilization” is a monstrous fraud. As long ago as 1938, before the outbreak of the war, the Founding Conference of the Fourth International forewarned the workers against the stabilization fraud in these words:
“Neither monetary inflation nor stabilization can serve as slogans for the proletariat because these are but two ends of the same stick. Against the bounding rise in prices, which with the approach of war will assume an ever more unbridled character, one can fight only under the slogan of a sliding [rising] scale of wages. This means that collective agreements should assure an automatic rise in wages in relation to the increase in prices of consumer goods.” (Founding Conference of the Fourth International: Program and Resolutions, Published by the Socialist Workers Party, 1939.)
The attempt of the workers to catch up with the advancing cost of living will give rise to intermittent conflicts over wage increases. The official trade union leaders offer no solution other than to disorient the ranks by leading them into Roosevelt’s labyrinth of Boards, Commissions and Panels where every avenue leads to the wage-freezing Little Steel formula. The patience of the workers is fast becoming exhausted, their nerves rubbed raw. For the militants in the labor movement there is an imperative necessity to show a way out.
Even where a correct method of struggle – the strike – results in gaining small wage increases, as in the case of the coal miners, the energy expended is out of all proportions to the gains won – gains no sooner made than lost through the rising cost of living. Moreover, the fixing of such wage increases in relatively long term contracts containing no “escalator clause” – the protection against increased living costs – becomes a veritable straitjacket. On the other hand, the slogan of: A Rising Scale of Wages to Meet the Rising Cost of Living does offer a prospect of a successful solution. Labor’s road out of the quicksands of inflation must be marked by that guide post.
Last updated on 12.9.2008