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Fourth International, March-April 1951


Paul G. Stevens

Labor Faces the War Drive

Foreign Policy and the Workers


From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.2, March-April 1951, pp.35-40.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Korean war, for all of its present indecisive military aspects, has already shaken up American society more than any development since the 1929 economic crash. At that time the collapse of the myth of permanent prosperity, so assiduously cultivated by the capitalists among the people, gave rise to a new level of class consciousness in the working class. This was translated from 1934 to 1937 into the stormy trade union struggles that established the CIO.

Today the deflation of confidence in American omnipotence on the world arena, as a result of the test of arms undertaken by the imperialists against the erstwhile colonial peoples, has led to repercussions at home and abroad which lay the ground for a further maturing of the workers’ class consciousness.

This new stage is bound to be translated into political struggles no less vehement than the preceding trade union struggles, and to extend the horizon of our labor movement to the entire international scene.

Korea is only the opening chapter in the social crisis unfolding in the United States, whose historical significance was set forth in broad outline in our January-February issue. The indicated general perspectives are already beginning to take on more concrete shapes and in this issue several articles take note of the most important developments in this regard. The overall picture of the maturing crisis is marked by a number of features, which disclose its great depth as well as its limits at the present stage.

Crisis in Ruling Circles

1. The conflict in the ruling class – dramatized by the “Great Debate” between the Truman administration plus the Dewey-Dulles wing of “internationalist” Republicans on the one side and the dissident powerful Taft-Hoover wing of the Republican party on the other – continues unabated. The latter denounce the Truman line of preparation for all-out war with the USSR, its partners and satellites as leading to bankruptcy and suicide. The former denounce as “isolationist” the Hoover line of limited air and naval warfare by retrenchment to a “Western Hemisphere Gibraltar” and reject it, above all, as leading to economic self-strangulation. The arguments of each side in this debate are equally effective in demolishing the proposals of the other, because each argument is grounded in unanswerable realities. Both sides disclose the two horns of the dilemma of US imperialism for which there is no foreseeable solution. Debilitation in war or the convulsions of economic collapse are the twin nightmares permanently haunting American capitalism and churning discord among its leading circles.

This conflict of opinion is compounded by the clash between the Executive branch and the Legislative branch over control of practical measures in war policy (allocation of troops, conscription, military commitments). This, as Taft has stressed, logically leads to a constitutional crisis.

Finally, there is continued dissension among the military leaders, the latest being over the extent and significance of operations in Korea itself. MacArthur presses for extending the war to China’s mainland, by publicly declaring that the best to hope for is a “stalemate,” while Ridgeway, the Pentagon’s field commander, speaks of a “victory” in assessing the possibility of stabilizing a front along the 38th parallel.

Labor Collides With Big Business

Where the ruling class remains united is on that main phase of its economic policy which aims to shift the entire burden of the war outlay onto the laboring population. It stands firm on a soak-the-poor tax program, on a wage freeze, on fake price controls and, above all, on stringent control of manpower with the whole Economic Mobilization set-up in the hands of Big Business. But here the ruling class as a whole comes into collision with organized labor; and the Truman administration collides with the union officialdom which, on other issues, particularly on foreign policy, serves as one of its main props.

2. The Labor crisis, marked by the decision of the United Labor Policy Committee to withdraw all union representatives from government defense agencies, is the first resounding announcement of mass resistance to the war program on the home front. When Truman tries to dismiss the walk-out of the labor leaders as a mere “disagreement” he is either whistling in the dark or displaying light-mindedness unusual even for him.

While the AFL and CIO leaders are, to be sure, concerned first of all about their own bureaucratic powers and privileges – threatened by the projected manpower controls – their whole existence depends upon retaining hold of the unions. The union ranks, as first indicated by the wildcat strike of the railmen, were stirring into action to resist the ruthless onslaught on their living conditions implicit in the economic mobilization program. The leaders, who only a few months ago were prepared to offer the administration a no-strike pledge, as a sign of their complete subservience to the rulers in the war effort, felt compelled to take a step which, with increased tension, could readily detonate strike struggles that would rock the whole war program.

The union officialdom is no doubt prepared to cooperate with the government in adopting conciliatory formulas to allay the tension already created, and some such compromise may be worked out. Meanwhile, the labor leaders are spelling out in the open what the working masses have been only feeling vaguely. In the February 28 statement issued by the United Labor Policy Committee, the defense set-up is castigated as completely controlled by Big Business and directed exclusively against the working people. Despite themselves, the class collaborationist labor leaders have thus helped to throw into the glaring limelight the anti-labor character of the government and its war program, and thereby help to raise the consciousness of the workers a notch higher. No matter how the “disagreement” between the union officialdom and the administration may be patched up in the coming period, this exposure will help further the development of the social crisis in the United States.

While working class resistance has assumed a distinct and very sharp character, on the bread and butter questions arising from the war preparations, the same does not yet hold true for the foreign policy which is paving the road for World War III. Most workers certainly do not share the views of the labor leadership, which on this score goes along with the Truman administration without a murmur of serious criticism. In January the AFL Executive Council meeting in Miami adopted a “ten point” program which included support of Chiang Kai-shek and made no mention of Washington’s projected deal with Franco Spain! The present attitude of the workers is still rather passive and perplexed on the whole. But changes are taking place in this respect as well.

The Crisis of Confidence

3. The mass of the people have lost confidence in the Trumanite leadership of the nation and its, conduct of international affairs. The public opinion polls, the newspaper surveys, and the letters to Congressmen show that the Truman administration no longer has support from the masses who voted it back into office in 1948. This is true particularly on foreign policy.

In the absence of opposition from the labor leadership, the “Great Debate” has channelized much of this mass discontent into support for the Hoover line. But this support is not accorded to the long-range “positive” proposals in that line – the “Western Hemisphere Gibraltar,” the limited air and naval warfare, the concentration on building up a huge navy and air force as against ground forces – so much as to the “negative” immediate ones: no all-out war preparations; withdrawal of troops from Korea; send no troops to Europe. The polls estimate that more than two-thirds of the people favor these last two propositions and that public sentiment is running equally strong against the draft of the 18-year olds and against universal military training. On other aspects of foreign policy, the pollsters either refrain from putting questions or else show inconclusive results – most of the people just answer “don’t know.”

Clearly the laboring masses have not had the opportunity to put two and two together as yet in calculating the domestic and foreign policies of the ruling class. But they are apprehensive and far from enthusiastic about military adventures of any sort.

While true of public opinion generally, a sharper and clearer conception of international politics is developing among the young workers and farmers who have donned the serviceman’s uniform. They are facing or are about to face the question of life and death on the battlefield. And they react to war strategy and foreign policy with as keen an awareness as the workers on the home front react to the policy of economic stabilization, to the labor-draft, etc.

The “Low Morale”

4. Among the servicemen the loss of confidence in the Trumanite leadership is most pronounced, doubts about the war aims of the rulers most widespread and the aspiration for an independent line of action by the American people in world affairs most ardent. In a sense this development is the most important feature of the current situation. For the moods in the armed forces, in critical periods, reflect most sharply the social currents in a nation, often anticipating civilian developments. And the soldiers have been among the first to realize that the “police action” in Korea was a full-scale war.

The mood in the army – its “low morale” – has been the subject of innumerable dispatches from the front in the daily press since the inception of the conflict in Korea. It was epitomized in the now famous letter of Marine Corporal John B. Moullette which Secretary of State Dean Acheson has publicized for reasons of his own. Moullette’s letter is worth studying as a highly important document illuminating this whole question and we shall return to it presently. But first let us turn to one other feature of the developing crisis.

5. It is becoming increasingly clear to the masses of American people that the policy of the ruling class has isolated the United States from other nations, even those where Stalinist influence is weakest and the dread of the totalitarian bureaucracy is strongest. The widely watched proceedings in the United Nations on the issue of a Korean ceasefire revealed India and the Arab nations openly bucking Washington by sponsoring a negotiated peace with China, while Great Britain, France and even Canada swung into line behind, the US State Department only with great reluctance and after terrific pressure. The emergency trip of British Prime Minister Attlee to confer with Truman after the latter’s threat to use the A-bomb has not failed to leave its impression, either.

These actions by other governments have served to emphasize for American public opinion the even stronger sentiments of the peoples abroad against the swashbuckling war course of the US ruling class. There is a growing feeling that, as represented by their present leaders, the American people are out of step with the rest of the world. This vague feeling is preparing the ground for the clearer realization that the capitalist rulers of the USA are in league with darkest reaction in every country and that a common cause with the peoples throughout the world can be established only in joint opposition and struggle against the imperialists.

Most striking of the above features is undoubtedly the open break between the official labor movement and the government over the economic mobilization set-up. This is the most pointed warning that the laboring masses of America will not be beasts of burden in a war of world conquest for the benefit of Wall Street. They will not countenance a “defense” of America that is run lock, stock and barrel by Big Business. But both the inner logic of this incipient struggle at home as well as the lack of confidence still vaguely expressed in the government’s conduct of affairs abroad must inevitably lead to the question: What is the object of this “defence”? What is the cause at stake in this war for which Big Business seizes so completely the reins of economic mobilization on the home front? Can this government dominated by Big Business have more progressive aims in other lands when its policy at home is directed so sweepingly against the working people?

Unrest Among the Masses

All these questions are even now being linked up in the consciousness of the workers by the experiences of their sons and brothers in the armed forces. The industrial unrest at home has its counterpart in the political unrest among the youth in uniform. As these two phenomena unfold and fuse, the United States will be swept full force into the social crisis that has unsettled the rest of the capitalist world since the end of the last war. A preview of what is entailed was given in the GI “send us home” demonstrations that coincided with the opening of the postwar strike waves in 1945. At that time a critical turn of events was averted by rapid demobilization and by several rounds of wage boosts. But American capitalism’s objectives do not allow for similar concessions in the future.

There is a deep-going connection between the moods among the fighting forces and the class struggles in Detroit, Pittsburgh or Chicago. For that reason they deserve particular attention in assessing the perspectives of the developing crisis. Virtually from the beginning of the war in Korea, observant correspondents have reported that the morale of the GIs has been low. More thoughtful reporters have adduced a variety of reasons for this. First this was ascribed to inadequate military equipment and quartermaster’s supplies, as well as to the numerical superiority of the opposing forces. As long as the “US-UN” forces were held to the Pusan beach-head these superficial explanations had some currency. But they were completely dissipated when the September 1950 offensive that began with the Inchon landings revealed what a powerful build-up had actually been attained by MacArthur, not only on land but at sea and in the air as well, against a relatively primitive fighting force.

More serious explanations then stressed the guerrillas’ who struck from the rear and appeared to be everywhere. The atrocities organized under a “scorched earth” policy, with whole villages put to the flame and whole columns of refugees shot down in cold blood – let alone the bombings which left the US air force without further “worthwhile” objectives – were presumably undertaken to neutralize this factor of guerrilla warfare. There was certainly widespread distaste among the GIs for the atrocities before their eyes and an empty feeling when their victorious advances captured ruin upon ruin, but that alone could not account for low morale among soldiers, for whom the cruelties and bestialities of war become taken for granted. One N.Y. Times correspondent finally came up with a report which hit the nail on the head:

“The discovery that their superiority in weapons, transport, medical treatment, rations and a myriad of modern war devices,” wrote Richard J.H. Johnston from Tokyo on December 9, 1950 when the Chinese troops began rolling, “was no guarantee of victory has struck a hard blow at the morale of the United States troops fighting in Korea ... the GI’s faith in his weapons suffered a sharp deflation.”

They had found, the writer went on, “That the best they had in the way of equipment was not good enough to halt a foe willing and determined to drive forward ... This has raised a question in the GI’s mind that has yet to be answered.” There was no elaboration in this dispatch as to what that question was, but it is clear enough.

As long as it could be taken for granted that the vast superiority of the machine in the hands of America’s rulers could crush any resistance in the world like a steamroller, there was little need for serious thinking. The job would be done in this or that field of “police action” and then, except for the relatively few unlucky ones left behind, the draftees would return to their homes to take up once more the strands of familiar existence. But if the vaunted machine is not adequate to the task, if the men on the other side have a will and a determination that overcomes the superiority of the most modern equipment of destruction, then a situation arises that requires serious thought from every soldier. He must fight man to man. That means he has to ask himself: what is the cause that gives the foe such a will and determination? And from what cause can I summon resources to pit myself against him? This is the question in the GI’s mind that “has yet to be answered.”

“Fed Up With the Administration”

For the explanations given him about Russian “puppets” and “zombies” do not fit the picture before him. He knows that the men opposing him have made a revolution and taken over a huge country. This inexorably leads to a reconsideration of the whole past outlook and to a re-evaluation of ideas and policies formerly accepted without question from the leaders. Thus the GI’s criticism of weapons becomes transformed into a weapon of criticism.

The clearest expression of such criticism to date is the Moullette letter referred to earlier. This is an authentic paraphrase of the GI’s thought at the present time. Referring to the informal discussions among the men in their “slopshute” or beer hall at Camp Pendleton, California, the Marine corporal stresses that “not one or two, but the majority, were complaining about the way we were tricked into this ...” that is, the “police action” in Korea.

Moullette’s letter first of all confirms the more general state of mind in the country we have already dealt with:

“the American people, Democrat and Republican alike, are fed up with the administration and its foreign policy,” he says. And then puts his finger on one of the main immediate worries: “The way Truman is appropriating money (for war) is outrageous ... At present he is asking $71.5 billion which would cost each American $468.”

Moullette’s letter expresses the common view on the constitutional controversy which spotlights the present stage of distrust of the leadership: “I thought that only Congress could declare war.” And touching on the “Great Debate” Moullette reflects the confused groping for some tangible solution associated with a known name. He speaks vaguely as millions of others do today of the need “to adopt something similar to what Hoover suggests,” without specifying any single proposition.

When Moullette writes what his fellow soldiers think along the lines of positive action, he voices more radical thoughts which appear to have trjckled into the California camp from the battlefronts across the Pacific, just as the vague dissatisfaction elsewhere in the letter obviously echoes public opinion outside the camp gates at home. He asks: “What right have we to refuse Red China entry into the United Nations?” And he insists: “I think she has a right to voice her opinions about what is to take place in the Far East.” Here are views that have nothing in common with anything Hoover proposes, and certainly not with Truman and Acheson. They reveal the beginnings of independent thought on foreign policy arising in the depths of the people.

To be sure, these ideas are mixed with a good deal of unclarity and misunderstanding. “The only thing I can see is being proven in Korea,” Moullette says, “is ‘Might over what might be right,’ Red China being the ‘might’.” He feels, “The needless waste of life in Korea on both sides is shameful to the human race.” But he is sure about the future: “Fighting won’t settle anything ... The problem of Red China vs. the world, or the best part of it, has to be settled at the round table, and eventually it will be.”

“Disfavorable Thoughts”

This line of reasoning represents a break with the policies of all segments of the ruling class. It has found as yet no sponsors in official public opinion in this country. It more nearly resembles the prevailing policy in India, Great Britain, Europe, where mass anti-war sentiment is far more advanced and revolutionary ferment so close to the surface that the governments in control must reckon with it. This is the result of personal experience with the problems of counter-revolutionary war and of the social upsurge which up to now only the soldiers of America have confronted in common with the peoples of Europe and Asia.

There are isolated publicists and remnants of atomized American liberalism who share this view of a need to make peace with revolutionary China. But they are not prepared to do a thing about it. Matters are different when similar sentiments are expressed by men in uniform. This becomes particularly evident in the Moullette letter, which, after describing the “disfavorable thoughts” on foreign policy, goes on to say:

“These men aren’t afraid to fight; it’s just that they have no cause to fight. If ordered to, we will, but only because of the obligation we have to each other.” But their solidarity with each other, this “form of brotherly love,” as the writer of the letter calls it, seeks broader scope.

“Our only hope,” he concludes, “is that our age throughout the world feel the same way and will state so to their leaders. By rebellion or other ways. I believe that the people of our level want only peace but that the leaders (including Truman) are afraid to admit they are wrong and are ashamed to admit it for fear they will lose face.”

In his own groping way, the young soldier adumbrates a whole program of action for an independent foreign policy of the laboring masses of America. Whether because overwhelmed by the publicity accorded to his simple letter, or for other reasons Moullette has nevertheless quickly stated to the press that Acheson’s .reply, which evaded every single basic issue, “convinced” him. But it is not Moullette’s alleged or real change of heart that is decisive. He was conveying the doubts and thoughts not alone of the soldiers around him, but also of their people back home. And these doubts, these thoughts, these searchings remain unanswered and cannot be answered convincingly by Acheson or any other capitalist spokesman. The aspirations of the people cannot be reconciled with those of America’s ruling class. They can only follow their course to fuller fruition in a rising political consciousness of that other America – the America of labor, of the toiling farmers, of all the poor. How far the official labor leadership now lags behind the thinking of the awakening masses on international politics can be gauged, for instance, by comparing the “ten point” program on foreign policy recently adopted by the AFL Executive Council with the views in the Moullette letter.

Reasons for Political Confusion

On the issue of China and the Korean war point 6 of the AFL “program” says: “Brand Communist dictatorship over China an aggressor; impose economic sanctions, and deny it a seat in the United Nations;” and point 7: “Generous moral and material support ... to the Chinese Nationalist government now in Formosa.” In other words, the AFL officialdom repeats word for word the views of the most reactionary imperialist elements in the government as well as in the Republican opposition. Not even the mildest criticism of administration foreign policy is voiced by these mossbacks at a time when this whole policy is being patently discredited with the ranks of labor. Not a shred of an independent proposal is put forward by them at a time when the thinking elements in the population are so obviously striving for an alternative to the foreign policy of the ruling class. The stand of the CIO leaders has little to distinguish it from that of the AFL.

The conservatism and subservience of the trade union bureaucracy on international affairs stands in sharp contrast at present to the unaccustomed boldness of its clash with the administration on the home front. This contrast reflects, in the first place, the uneven development of the struggle of the masses. The soaring living costs, the wage freeze, and a threatened labor draft are issues which directly affect their daily lives. Here the anti-labor character of these Big Business measures is easily recognizable; the trade union organizations to combat them are at hand and known to be powerful. The rank and file of labor have shown a readiness to use them with or despite their leaders – a fact highlighted by the railroad strike. Here the heat is on the officialdom from the ranks and this accounts in the main for the unaccustomed militancy of Green, Murray and their colleagues on the home front.

On foreign policy, the issues are not yet so directly or acutely felt by the labor ranks. And moreover, the decisive instrument for action on both the domestic and foreign fields – the independent political party of labor – has still to be built. The trade union bureaucracy itself has done everything it could to prevent the rise of a labor party precisely to avoid such lines of action. For while it has one foot in the working class, which gives it its unique position of power in the social system, the labor bureaucracy has the other foot in the capitalist system from which it derives its privileges. This likewise accounts for another disparity between AFL-CIO domestic and foreign policy.

Economic mobilization in the US which gives exclusive manpower control to the capitalist representatives in the government impinges directly on the source of the bureaucrats’ power. Domination by American capitalism abroad, on the other hand, opens up new sources of privileges for the bureaucracy. To mention but one recent example, there are the many fat, if subordinate, posts opened up for “labor advisers” in the worldwide Marshall Plan organization.

And finally, the privileged position of the labor bureaucracy, gives it a common ideology with capitalism to which it clings with characteristic narrow-mindedness and which it constantly strives to infuse into the whole labor movement.

According to a labor columnist of one New York daily, William Green complained to Truman that the wage freeze and the labor draft at home would make it very difficult to sell the European workers on the progressive role of the US in combatting “Soviet propaganda.” This incredibly insipid “argument,” reportedly made at a White House conference shortly before the “walk-out” of the labor leaders, has a familiar ring. For the past few years the stock-in-trade of these people has been palming off imperialist policy under the pretext of fighting Stalinist totalitarianism.

They Play Into Stalin’s Hands

The American workers do not have much use for Stalinism and are unquestionably prepared to fight totalitarianism anywhere, especially here at home where the danger emanates not from Moscow but from Washington. But their own experiences as well as international events will teach them that the labor officialdom’s way of “fighting” Stalinist totalitarianism – by supporting the imperialist policy of the ruling capitalist class – can only play into the hands of the Kremlin despots and never undermine them. They have already seen some examples which must have impressed them.

If China has gone Stalinist, as their leaders claim, that was not prevented by the billions of dollars Washington poured into the coffers of Chiang Kai-shek’s corrupt and brutal dictatorship. If, as some say, the Chinese Communist Party seems to have the confidence of the Chinese people and strives to be independent of Moscow, then how can its independence from Stalinism be possibly promoted by further “generous aid” to the discredited Chiang gang of grafters, usurers and militarists whom the Chinese people have driven out? Isn’t this whole policy, coupled with support to the no less reactionary regime of Syngman Rhee in Korea, responsible for the current war – which Washington alone pursues aggressively amid opposition from the masses everywhere, and with continued pleas for restraint from its allies in London, Paris, New Delhi, etc.?

The results of this kind of “fighting Stalinist totalitarianism” continue to multiply before the eyes of the American people as they begin to recognize the meaning and importance of international politics. They have seen the resumption of diplomatic relations with Dictator Franco in Spain – against which not a word has been uttered by the labor leaders – at the very time when, in the face of Fascist repressions, the workers of Barcelona, fighting inflation, spontaneously walk out in a heroic general strike. The American people are watching the campaign to rearm Germany and the freeing of the Nazi industrialists, including Hitler’s biggest backer Krupp, – again without protest from the labor officialdom – at a time when the revived German trade unions declare their unyielding opposition to a new course of armaments and wrest from their government an agreement to their demand for an equal voice in management of industry (“codetermination”) by the threat of a general strike.

Labor Needs Policy of Its Own

From many places on the globe these examples keep coining daily. And each brings proof that in every land Washington is making common cause with the oppressors of the people. Each living example adds to the mounting evidence that the absence of an independent policy by American labor is turning the masses abroad not only against the imperialist US rulers but also against the American people. So long as labor offers no foreign policy of its own, this acts only to turn the masses by default toward Moscow; instead of fighting Stalinism, it aids the Kremlin.

Event after event has made it clear that the policies of the administration abroad not only parallel but actually are extensions of the policies of Big Business at home. What the American workers have still to learn is that their struggle in the United States likewise parallels the. resistance of the international working class to the foreign policy of Big Business; and that the struggle against the anti-labor gang on the home front is, in the final analysis, likewise an extension of this world-wide anti-imperialist struggle. American labor needs an independent policy for foreign affairs just as imperiously as it does for the defense of its welfare at home.

From every point of view and in an increasing measure, the world crisis of American capitalism is increasing the pressures which make the class collaborationist, pro-imperialist policy of the AFL and CIO leadership less tenable.

Precisely because the collision with Big Business at home coincides with the expanding crisis in foreign policy, the working class is being impelled on the road to building its own labor party. An independent labor party could not only rally the people of the United States to wrest control of governmental power from Big Business. The party of the American working class could also tackle the task of welding together the struggles of the masses everywhere for the abolition of the entire system of capitalist oppression and for the socialist reorganization of the world. Every step on that road would genuinely deal a mortal blow against the monstrous totalitarian Kremlin bureaucracy, shake off the retarding hold of the parasitic-trade union officialdom and raise US labor to the level of its historic role: that of taking the lead in transforming the world from the capitalist hell with its threat of atomic destruction into the free socialist society of peace and plenty.

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