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Fourth International, March 1949


Editorial Review

The Military Welfare State


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.3, March 1949, pp.69-71.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Since the “Big Upset” in the November 2nd elections, the people have been waiting with great expectation for the changes promised by the victorious party. They were told by Truman and associated liberals, labor leaders and social democrats that the “reactionary Big-Business” 81st Congress was effectively defeated and now the “common man” would be “restored” to his rightful place in Washington. To be sure, Truman was in no rush to get on with the “house-cleaning” and a couple of months passed before he would even reveal his plans. Questions and rumors began to circulate.

The doubting Thomases were quickly put to rout, however, when the President delivered his State of the Union message to the brand-new, “people’s” 82nd Congress. The new administration, he pledged, would inaugurate a “fair deal.” A middle course would be steered between Hoover’s “trickle-down concept of national prosperity” and the “tyranny” of communism and collectivism. Not only would the corporations be curbed for the benefit of the people who would enjoy the benefits of liberal labor and social legislation among other good things, but America would demonstrate to the whole world that private enterprise could serve the masses as well as the profiteers. In brief Truman was outlining his plan for what Chief Justice Douglas called the “social welfare” or ‘human welfare” state. And just to make sure that his services would be properly appreciated, the President put in right away for a $25,000 raise.

Sufficient time has now elapsed for the noise and excitement to die down to permit a preliminary investigation of what has happened. That Congress has only begun its deliberations is no bar to this review because its decisions will in no case exceed the limits of Truman’s message on the budget, in most cases they will not even come up to his proposals.

The first” striking impression of the “new” administration is its physical similarity – not difference – with the old one. With few exceptions the executive personnel remains unchanged. Forrestal – whom we were assured by Truman’s left wing would get the gate, if not for his Big-Business-Brass-Hat policies then at least for his political “disloyalty” in the election – Forrestal remains as he says “to serve his country” (read: investment bankers) as Secretary of Defense. Witchhunter Clark, millionaire Harriman, banker Snyder, Generals Clay and MacArthur, to mention but a few of the gold-braid-monopolist crowd which ran the last administration, are still doing business at the same official stand. The only notable exceptions are Marshall and Lovett, replaced by Acheson and Webb for reasons that are still obscure although we can guess that the new window dressing is presumed to be more pleasing to domestic and foreign eyes.

None are as perplexed and dismayed by the unchanging character of the administration as the labor leaders and social-democratic advisers, although they hasten to reassure their following that the program is decisive. A half-truth. Roosevelt junked the New Deal with almost the same “liberal” personnel that inaugurated it. But it is unlikely that Truman’s reactionary personnel can do the reverse. The physical composition of the executive power is symbolic of the unbroken unity of the government, the military and finance capital. It is not the program which determines Truman’s actions, but the omniscient trinity which determines the program. Let us see what – if anything – in the program has changed.

The militarization of the nation proceeds uninterrupted. Truman’s request for the appropriation to cover expenditures for past and future wars reaches astronomical sums and hogs the lion’s share of the budget. This fact alone should suffice to reveal the character of the administration for, in the first place, military expenditure strengthens the big trustified industries like steel, chemicals and oil while it weakens the competitive consumer goods industries and places intolerable burdens on the people. The placid reception of the stock market to Truman’s budget quickly confirmed that the “people’s” President had given Big Business no cause for alarm.

US foreign policy will undeviatingly follow the preelection design. This was made unambiguously clear in the inaugural speech where the President seized the occasion to proclaim that there would be no let-up in the “cold war” against the Soviet Union and its satellites. Two months after the election, by his brusque rejection of Stalin’s plea, he has shattered the peace illusion created by his vote-catching rumor that Vinson was to be dispatched to Moscow for talks with “my friend Joe.” The Atlantic Pact, the first military alliance in American history – an alliance moreover which takes the war-making powers out of the hands of Congress – is awaiting only a few correct legal formulas before it is rushed through the “people’s” Congress. What better atmosphere could serve such bellicose actions than the raging anti-Communist hysteria surrounding the Mindszenty incident!

The administration continues to foster the steady drift toward a police state. Only the form is changed to give the regime a “new look.” The notorious Un-American Committee is to be “civilized” a bit but not abolished – for this audacious move we can thank the “liberal” Democrat Holifield backed for re-election by Wallace and the Stalinists. The witchhunt has changed its locale and its methods, from the Klieg-light hearings in Washington to the trial of the Stalinists on Foley Square; but it continues just the same. The loyalty purges, minus screaming headlines, proceed as before. Despite the protests of some of Truman’s most ardent supporters in the labor bureaucracy, the “subversive” blacklist and James Kutcher’s dismissal stand as decreed. To complete the picture, Truman announced to a startled nation that regardless of the new labor law he reserves the right to invoke injunctions against the unions. The Murrays, the Reuthers and the Greens promised greater democracy if the Republicans were run out, government by the people; they are getting government by decree.

Running counter to its general program of undiminished reaction is the apparent liberalization of the attitude of the administration toward labor. Truman has proposed to remove the most baneful sections of the Taft-Hartley law, legislation for a government-subsidized health insurance plan, a public housing program, more federal aid to education, a larger old-age pension and a higher minimum wage.

Yet if these proposals are carefully scrutinized it will become obvious that they scarcely scratch the surface in meeting the needs of the people. The appropriations requested to implement this program account for the smallest share of the new budget whose major expenditures are intended for military purposes. It is precisely the ratio between militarization and social reform that contains the nub of the question. A change has occurred in the attitude of the ruling party toward the labor bureaucracy – but not toward labor.

This change was determined by the election which so to speak summed up the failure of the two-year Taft-Hartley era. The bourgeoisie found it increasingly difficult to rule without the active support of the labor bureaucracy. Not the least of the troubles to emerge from this iron-fisted regime was a tendency for the domestic discontent to coalesce with opposition to foreign policy. The danger was that the labor bureaucracy – fervid in its support of the Truman-Marshall doctrine and eager to acquiesce if shown the slightest consideration – would lose control over the workers or be compelled to take the road of active .political opposition to the government. The election provided the bourgeoisie with a happy solution to this problem.

Although labor’s votes were decisive in the Democratic victory, there was no independent mobilization of the masses on their own program and for their own party. Lacking a reasonable alternative the workers, without enthusiasm and without conviction, followed the road charted by the labor bureaucracy which once again harnessed labor’s strength to a capitalist party. It is therefore not without reason that the bureaucracy feels itself strengthened by the Truman triumph for which it takes a large share of the credit. The savage attacks on internal union democracy in the CIO convention, described elsewhere in this issue, give the measure of this newly acquired self-confident arrogance. On their side, the organized workers, by their failure to develop an insurgent movement to force the government to realize its promises and go beyond them, have indicated an acceptance of the self-glorifying analysis of the election returns made by the bureaucracy.

If the bourgeoisie looks more kindly on the labor bureaucracy it is because of the recognition of its role in saving the two-party system and preventing the emergence of a powerful and uncontrollable labor party movement. The concessions now being offered in Washington are only incidentally intended to alleviate the hardships of the people – and in fact they are too trivial to serve thai, purpose. These sops are primarily intended for use by the labor bureaucracy in maintaining and consolidating its control over the workers. They are intended for use by labor demagogues in. selling the Truman-Marshall doctrine to workers at home and in convincing the European proletariat of the virtues of American imperialism. In brief, these “concessions” constitute a thinly concealed bribe which the monopolists now feel obliged to pay out of their imperialist super-profits for the upkeep of a social-imperialist bureaucracy, as Lenin so aptly described it.

This bribery is not a new phenomenon, as Bert Cochran points out in his article on The New Union Bureaucracy appearing in another part of this issue. It is merely a continuation of the course followed by Roosevelt to insure support of the labor leadership for the last war. What is new however is the time and the conditions under which these new concessions make their appearance. The rearmament program instituted by the British bourgeoisie in the mid-Thirties was accompanied not by added concessions to the labor bureaucracy but by a gradual withdrawal of the old ones. The same development began earlier in Germany and was completed in a much more ferocious form under the Nazi dictatorship. There were not enough super-profits to divide between the military machine and the labor bureaucracy.

What is new in the United States is that the armaments-militarization program goes hand in hand with social reforms – however slight. There has arisen, to use a not exactly scientific expression, not a “social welfare” state but a “military welfare” state. The Keynesian theory, currently appearing as the “mixed economy,” so beloved by the would-be liberal saviors of capitalism, is being realized in a new and unexpected form. The government is spending, to be sure, to fill in the gaps created by diminishing private Investment. But its expenditures are going down the rat-hole of a destructive arms economy and not primarily for goods and services needed by the people.

That their theory has not been realized according to prescription does not lessen the ardor of the labor bureaucrats and their social democratic flunkeys for the “military welfare” state. What does it matter to them that America’s substance is wasted on the tools of mass murder, or that only a trickle of the vast wealth of this country reaches the poor and exploited, or that the world’s millions are groaning under the oppressive weight of the monstrous American military machine, or that the inevitable outcome of this course is an atomic war? It is enough for the Murrays, the Reuthers and the Greens that capitalism survives and above all that their privileges continue.

Unfortunately for them, however, this unique development is at best transitory. Favored by exceptional conditions, the American bourgeoisie, emerging from the war as the solitary capitalist world power, was able to use its position to accumulate tremendous surpluses, a fraction of which it is now turning over to “the labor bureaucracy for services rendered. But that surplus is rapidly being exhausted by an exigent, self-imposed obligation to preserve capitalism against revolution not only in Europe but on the planet as a whole. Trotsky wrote:

It is precisely the international strength of the United States and her irresistible expansion arising from it that compels her to include the powder magazines of the whole world into the foundations of her structure, i.e., all the antagonisms between the East and the West, the class struggles in Old Europe, the uprisings of the colonial masses, and all wars and revolutions. (Third International After Lenin)

This was written almost 21 years ago when relative stability still prevailed in the capitalist world, when Britain, France and Germany were still world powers, when the colonial peoples were reasonably quiescent and when the borders of capitalist Europe still extended to the Soviet Union!

These world contradictions, now immeasurably sharpened and steadily undermining American imperialism, combined with the impending crisis at home will force the monopolists to make a choice between the military machine and social reforms. The coincidence of the periods of social reform and the armaments economy – widely separated in time in Europe – is not a sign of American uniqueness. It is a reminder that the life span of the social-imperialist bureaucracy will be drastically abbreviated. It can be predicted with assurance that the American bourgeoisie will follow its European prototypes, and the labor bureaucracy, for all its cringing submissiveness, will be shown the gate.

With equal rapidity, American workers will learn from ihis experience that there can be only one type of “social welfare” state – the Workers and Farmers Government.

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