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Labor Action, 17 May 1948


A Statement of Our Position

Socialist Policy on the Marshall Plan


From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 20, 17 May 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Elsewhere on this page appear two letters, by comrades Goldman and Farrell, offering views contrary to ours on the Marshall Plan. We propose in this editorial to state our position on the essentials of the issue, leaving elaboration on related matters – such as the problem of Stalinism and the impossibility of fighting it adequately, that is, without succumbing to the barbaric destruction of barbaric warfare by any other means than socialist policy – to future occasions.

Labor Action and, together with it, the Workers Party stand for and unequivocally advocate the fullest material, economic and moral aid to Europe and its people. This has always been our attitude and naturally this remains our attitude. It has been stated many times in our press. If it is not clear to our readers, we shall repeat it over and over so that there may be no possible misunderstanding.

A workers’ or socialist government in America, understanding its fundamental ties of solidarity with the workers and people of Europe, would pour aid and help into the war-ruined lands of Europe with a generosity and effectiveness that would make Marshall Plan aid a trifle by contrast! American capitalism spent $250 billion in three years of war, and now offers a piddling sum of $5 billion for one year of aid to Europe. A workers’ government of socialist planning and productivity could ship tens of billions worth of food and equipment to Europe, each year and really put the Continent back on its feet.

However, the urgency of aid exists now, while there is a capitalist and not a socialist government in Washington. We consequently favor exacting aid from this capitalist government for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Europe. Though the Marshall Plan embraces a measure of such aid, its essential nature is such as to make it impossible for socialists to support it.

Comrades Goldman and Farrell, have, so it seems to us, neither understood the nature and meaning of the Marshall Plan, nor – and this is more important – exactly in what sense Labor Action opposes it. Both seem to believe we are merely “against” the ERP, for example. This, as we shall indicate, is not the case. Perhaps this misunderstanding has been a shortcoming on our part. If so, we will, in this editorial, and in editorials and articles to come, leave no room for misunderstanding.

The Program of U.S. Imperialism

To begin with, what is the Marshall Plan? Both comrades give partial answers to this (which they then proceed to forget). Farrell says it is “... a plan for the capitalist reconstruction of Western Europe.” Goldman says that “Its basic aim is to reconstruct the economy of Europe as a weapon against Stalinist Russia ... make it more difficult for the Stalinist regime to gain control of Western Europe.” All this is true, but clearly not sufficient since we draw different conclusions. Why?

Perhaps the key mistake of those who urge us to support or, at any rate, “not oppose” the Marshall Plan lies in their tendency to think of ERP merely as a bill passed by Congress appropriating so many billions of dollars, signifying so much food, materials and machinery, for 16 nations of Western Europe. Unfortunately, this is only one part – and not the most important part – of what is known as the Marshall Plan. Now, surely no one thinks we are against the shipment of this actual food, material and equipment to Europe! For the benefit of those who may still have doubts, we repeat that we stand for full (more and more) economic aid to Europe. Knowing the absolute necessity for the European people to reconstruct their ruined economies, and knowing that this aid can only come, at present, from America, we would be absolute idiots (or worse, Stalinists) to urge the European workers to reject such aid. We do not belong to the school of thought which thinks that increased misery (“the worse, the better for us”) will bring socialism closer in Europe, or anywhere else. We know that economic revival is essential for the revival of Europe’s revolutionary socialist movement.

But this hardly exhausts the problem, because we are still opposed to the Marshall Plan, while Farrell is not and Goldman neither supports it nor opposes it. And our opposition is based on other grounds than those of the inadequacy of its economic aid. Our opposition rests on solid political grounds.

The Marshall Plan Is not a simple bill or a mere act of Congress. It is the strategic expression of American imperialism at the present stage of its development and, as such, embodies the aims, plans and intentions of this imperialism in clearly indicated political, economic and social terms. The Marshall Plan exists within a specific political framework of which economic aid is but one aspect. An attempt has been made to distinguish between the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine. The difference is one of time and place, not of purpose or direction. Both exist within the same strategic, imperialist framework. The Marshall Plan is simply the current implementation of the Truman Doctrine. Our opposition to the Marshall Plan, therefore, is nothing else than an extension of our general and consistent opposition to American imperialism, its plans and its aims. We oppose the Marshall plan, in principle, because of its political connotations and meanings. Any other course would obscure our opposition, in principle, to American imperialism.

That is the main thing. However, our opposition is not limited to the above political “abstractions,” valid as they are. We are also opposed to specific details, the conditions and“strings” attached to the concrete ERP Bill itself. A forthcoming article in The New International will analyze this in detail. Here we limit ourselves to indicating what we mean by “conditions and strings.”

  1. The limited amount of aid to be sent – enough to stimulate only a recovery within the bounds desired by the American government, but not enough to really set Europe back on its feet. Even Administrator Hoffman has expressed grave doubts about the smallness of help to be given.
  2. The obvious dumping and getting rid of worthless or inferior goods which will and is being practised. The New York Times (April 21, 1948), for example, reports that “None but horsemeat is scheduled for shipment from this country under the program and the bulk of shipments would consist of canned beef from Latin America”! On the same plane is the victory of the tobacco lobby in including vast tobacco shipments as reported in LA some weeks ago.
  3. The demand, contained in the act itself, that each benefiting country set aside currency equivalent to the grants of America dollar aid “to be used in a manner mutually agreed between the two governments.” If this is not a move to tie each foreign currency to the American dollar and, as indicated elsewhere, to force the disgorging by these countries of raw materials in short supply in America, then what is it?
  4. The insistence that each of the 16 nations sign a declaration of intent to abide by all the conditions set forth in the act, to be followed by a detailed treaty providing for supervision of aid administration, a repayment agreement and, where possible, standardization of military equipment. The declaration of intent also gives Truman the right to halt aid at will, when he objects to anything.
  5. The elaborate administrative and supervision machinery which, in effect, gives American imperialism veto power – that is, absolute control – over the application of the plan.

These are but some of the specific objections we have. Does anyone doubt that, if the plan is effected exclusively as America would like to see it effected (something which we strongly doubt), the net result would be a Western European economy dominated – in market terms, in financial and commercial terms – exclusively by America? American imperialism has already advanced far on this road – five years of the Marshall Plan would complete the process.

Furthermore, there are problems that follow from support to the plan which those who urge us to endorse it cannot afford to ignore. Last week’s Labor Action (World Politics column) indicated the plans for military endorsement and backing which must inevitably come and which are now in active preparation. There is much we can learn in this connection from examining the nature of U.S. intervention in Greece (or China) where a foul, reactionary regime is propped by American dollars and military support. Greece, it is true, supposedly falls under the Truman Doctrine and not the Marshall Plan. But, as we have noted, the political distance between the two is easily spanned, and the plans for military additions to the Marshall Plan are proof of it.

Sherman tanks follow the Truman dollar. Here the bourgeoisie is perfectly consistent and serious. Since one of the objectives of the plan is the creation of a stable military base in Western Europe (based upon a rebuilt French army which, in turn, will be rebuilt by revival of the heavy industries of Lorraine, Northern France, the Saar and the Ruhr) in preparation for war with Russia, plans for military pacts are logical. Can anyone seriously propose that we, revolutionary socialists whose anti-war struggle is based on the slogan of “Neither Washington nor Moscow” endorse this military plan along with ERP? Whoever would do so cannot possibly have thought the problem over in all its implications – not merely from the point of view of socialist policy but simply from the point of view of humanity riddled by atomic war.

No Confidence in Capitalist Government

Comrade Goldman challenges us on the question of how we would have voted in Congress, if Labor Action had been fortunate enough to have a spokesman there. In the first place, it is to be assumed that had we socialist representatives in Congress, there would be a socialist movement big enough to put them there; hence, a socialist movement able to make its views known widely, able to interfere concretely and actively on behalf of the European working class. Suppose we overlook that, however. Goldman says he would have abstained. We would have made our own proposals based upon OUR motivations.

Why? In the circumstances, a vote for the bill itself would have been nothing less than a vote of confidence in the American government, in American imperialism and its intentions – veiled or alleged. Do we accept the alleged humanitarian declarations of the bill, or its proud boasts that it will reconstruct Europe and bring peace and order? We know this is cant and imperialist hypocrisy. Nor do we have the slightest confidence in the ability of this act to accomplish even what it claims it will accomplish. Thus we would wish to signify by our vote no confidence in the government of the American capitalist class, no trust in its proposals, no faith in its ability to maintain peace or resurrect the Europe it helped destroy.

But would not a “No” vote tie us up with Stalinist opposition to the plan? How would our representative distinguish himself from, let us say, Marcantonio? This is no serious problem. The Stalinists are “against” the Marshall Plan entirely – that is true. But their opposition and ours have literally nothing in common! They are against any kind of aid, in any shape or form, to Europe and they will conduct a campaign of deliberate sabotage to halt aid. Stalinism does not want the slightest European economic recovery since it plans to ride to power throughout the Continent by prolonging the present misery – in fact, intensifying it. Our point of view is exactly the opposite – namely, that economic recovery is of the essence if Stalinism is to he defeated by the working class of Europe. Farrell is absolutely right in saying that “The proposals of Wallace ... are merely demagogy which helps Stalinism.”

How distinguish ourselves then from the Stalinists? Simple. We would offer our own plan – either as bill or amendment, depending upon parliamentary expediency, for full material and economic aid to Europe with no imperialist strings attached. Our bill would provide for Inspection of the program, examination of the books, so to speak, by the union movement. Our bill would make our purposes clear, and by so doing would encourage the people of Europe to seek control of reconstructed industry, to resolve their own destiny in socialist action.

Furthermore, we would introduce amendments to each “condition and string” attached to the bill actually adopted, the effect of which would be to negate these conditions. And we would seek to introduce clauses making it impossible to couple aid with any measures directed against the labor movement, such as a ban on strikes.

Let us not apply the formula of being against something simply because the capitalists are for it, urges Comrade Goldman. Well, even though this “rule of thumb” form of politics is often a pretty accurate criterion, we readily accept this advice and assure our readers that such is not our general method of deciding policy. In fact, if we had used this formula we might very well have been for the Marshall Plan, or at least had a divided policy on it. It is a well-known fact that considerable numbers of individual American capitalists, notorious for their blindness and narrowness even in their own behalf, were dead set against the risky proposition of pouring billions into Europe. If they had been consulted as individuals, we warrant a great many would have said “no loan.”

We’ll go even further and readily grant that American capitalism, as a whole, will not make money out of these loans; in fact, stands little chance of even regaining its capital! Except for individual corporations, shippers and exporters who will make enormous profits, the billions to be spent will be a dead loss. This is not the traditional investment of idle, surplus capital in richly rewarding overseas markets and backward countries. We know this, yet it does not change the imperialist essence of the plan one iota. Why? It is a sacrifice on the part of American imperialism, an unavoidable sacrifice, to achieve a greater and more vital goal than immediate profits – namely, control over the European market and a strategic base from which to conquer its one last obstacle to world rule, Stalinist Russia. It is in such terms that the plan must be grasped.

It will still be objected: there is no present alternative to this plan of American capitalism. Your anti-imperialist plan, good as it is, is an impossibility now and perhaps for a long time. Furthermore, on the other side of the Marshall Plan boundary looms the ever-menacing figure of Stalinist Russia, feeding on economic stagnation and hunger, ready to advance over prostrate nations. We recognize all this; in fact we say modestly that perhaps no other publication has posed the threatening catastrophe as clearly as Labor Action.

This is why, in our material on the Marshall Plan, we have always stressed our advocacy of full aid to Europe and why we say now, again and again, that every bit of aid that goes to Europe even under this plan should be accepted by the workers there; and that, accepting this aid, they should struggle to see to it that is made use of in their behalf. We reject the absurd position of certain Fourth Internationalist parties who, aping the slogans of the Stalinist movement, call for rejection of such aid. It would be absurdity itself for the European labor movement not to make use of the contradiction between American and Russian imperialism which compels the former to ship aid to Europe. Furthermore, we know that the effect of this aid will be to revive and re-stimulate the class struggle in Europe, since this struggle will take place over the question: Who shall benefit, American imperialism and its European allies or the proletariat?

Finally, then, let us summarize our attitude as tersely as possible in a series of propositions:

  1. We are for the fullest economic aid to Europe.
  2. We are opposed to the manipulation of this aid by the United States for its own imperialist purposes.
  3. We oppose the Marshall Plan which seeks to fix the nations of Europe within the American orbit and gain domination over their commercial, financial, economic and productive life, as well as to prepare to contest militarily rival Russian imperialism for mastery of the Continent.
  4. We oppose the Marshall Plan for its political connotations, imperialist in character, but we do not oppose the economic aid that goes to Europe as a part of this plan.
  5. We advocate the full utilization by the European people of whatever economic aid is given to them, regardless of the purposes behind that aid. We urge the European people, together with the American labor movement, to defend themselves against intervention by imperialism, while availing themselves fully of the aid that comes.
  6. We further urge the free trade unions of Europe to organize together for trade-union control of Marshall Plan expenditures, and to combat the use of this aid for war purposes and other purposes in the interests of capitalism.
  7. We urge the American labor movement to assist the people of Europe in this struggle by demanding the right to inspect the books of the ERP administration and to mobilize their unions against any effort to utilize aid for war preparations, intervention in the national sovereignty of any European country or any other measure that is solely beneficial to American imperialism.

This is our position on the Marshall Plan.


Two Letters from Albert Goldman and
James T. FarrellPresenting Their Views

From James T. Farrell

From Albert Goldman

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