From New International, Vol.5 No.11, November 1939, pp.323-324.
transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
WHEN WE REFLECT on the puzzlement, and even impatience, of very many persons that the second world war, in its first seven weeks, failed to get really going, we should begin by noting; what has nevertheless happened: One nation, of 36,000,000 inhabitants, has been wiped off the map. Three others have been reduced to satellites, provinces even, of a great power. According to some estimates, the destruction of buildings, railroads, highways, tilled fields, and so on, has equalled that of the western campaign during the entire four years of the first world war. The loss in ships has been at a rate above anything reached in the first world war until February, 1917. There have been, at a minimum, several hundred thousand casualties. To regard all this as mere preliminary by-play is simply indirect recognition of the universal understanding that this new war is the most terrible event in the history of humanity, compared to which the first world war was not much more than a dress rehearsal.
Nevertheless, the conduct of the war so far needs explanation. It is a fact that, with the exception of the Polish invasion – which was a secondary episode, as so clearly shown by the failure of Britain and France to make even a symbolic military gesture in connection with it – there has been no major action. Why not? There are two chief causes:
The first, and primary, cause for the temporizing is that no one wants the war; or, more exactly, that no government, no ruling class, no responsible diplomat wants the war. What has any of them to gain from general war now? Hitler? Why possibly should he want the war? He has most of Poland; he overshadows the Balkans. He needs a digesting period; he would wish to consolidate his base for the next stage in expansion. He must expand, of course, but war is the most expensive means and above all the most dangerous means. He knows – he said so in the Reichstag “peace appeal” – that in many wars there are only losers; he knows the chances that his internal regime will crack in a long war.
Stalin? He fears a long war most of all, for he knows by direct experience what the armed people can do to their tyrants in the course of war, and he knows the present hate of the masses. Chamberlain? Britain can only lose by war. The European battle-front is not decisive for England. The little island already has her hands much more than full with the vast territories of the Empire; it cannot even wish for more possessions. And England knows that it will not even retain much of these present possessions whatever the outcome. The immediate “declarations of war” by India, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand did not deceive Chamberlain. There is already every proof that the masses in India are not going to be swung behind this war after the lessons of the last; many indications, on the contrary, that in spite of Gandhi the Indian workers and peasants are getting ready to use the war crisis in order to strike out for freedom. And already in the United States Congress (half-joking today) there is talk about “independence” for Canada. Or Daladier? The position of France is only a soiled edition of England’s. France enters the war reduced to a second-class power by the events of the past six years; she can scarcely hope to hold even tin’s rank, however the war goes. And the workers in both England and France are unenthusiastic even in the beginning. Into what attitude will so negative a feeling change as deaths and prices mount?
WHY, THEN, IF THESE THINGS are so, do they not stop the war? Why do they let themselves be drawn, step after irrevocable step, into this war that nobody wants? Their fears make for the delay, all hesitate to begin fully, but no one says the word that would close the ever-widening breach.
Alas, they do not want war, but they cannot permit peace. Their dilemma is not a logical abstraction but a concrete blind alley. Consider it as Chamberlain must see it: all that is true about the war, but Hitler has shown fully by now that he cannot be content with less than a hegemony which would drive England out of the world-imperial sun; to give him his peace would mean only to admit, in advance, his victory. For Daladier, to make peace would be merely to give formal sanction to Germany’s dominance over the Continent, and France’s withdrawal to the wings of the imperial stage. And Hitler must (he, again, has himself told us) “expand or die”; since he cannot expand further by words, he must now do so with bombs. Nor is Stalin less rudely jammed against the wall. Begging only, from the depths of his provincial heart, that the “foreign” pigs should keep their snouts from his Russian garden so that his own may, without interference, grub more deeply, Stalin finds himself sucked into the imperialist vortex which he thought he could manipulate to his advantage from the outside. You must choose, said Berlin; fight with us or against us. London offered only the same choice. And, since long ago Stalin drew a line of blood between himself and the only other camp – the proletarian camp, opposed equally to both Berlin and London – Stalin has no third choice.
As imperialism comes to the last fork in its road, it sees that both branches lead alike to the abyss.
There is a second factor which has held off grand-scale military operations. War, we say often enough, is the continuation of politics by other means; perhaps we should rather say that war is continuous among the imperialist powers, and in this continuous war armed conflict figures as simply one – often not by itself the decisive – means among many others. The war has not, in reality, been idle during these first seven weeks. But its great battles have been fought in the chancelleries and in the offices of technicians and economic experts, not on the western front. The
oil of Rumania, the grain of Hungary and Yugoslavia, free passage through the Dardanelles are more important than a battleship. Repeal of the United States arms embargo weighs more heavily for Paris and London than the Saar.
IN THE PAST, THE LEGAL act of “declaring war” has had a great significance. It is true that this formality has seldom been crucial, since wars issue out of causes whose effects are recorded, not initiated, by legal forms. Nevertheless, the declaration of war as a rule marked a sudden shift and overturn in the organized life of the nation. Before the declaration there was “peace”, afterwards “war”, and the change was more than verbal.
We have learned from Manchuria, Ethiopia, China, Poland that wars need no longer be declared. This lack of traditional etiquette is thought by some to be another mark of the rudeness of the totalitarian “aggressor” nations. It is, however, more than this. It is an indication that today, in the agony of imperialism, the transition from “peace” to “war” is no longer so sharp as it formerly was, that in the total war of the present the organized life of the nation is put to a large extent on a war basis long before armed hostilities begin. Wars do not have to be declared because they have begun well before the soldiers are shooting on the battlefield.
This alteration has a vital bearing on the relation of the United States to the war. The mixed bands of idealists and rascals who are telling the people that the whole of the struggle against war in this country is summed up in the slogan, “Keep America Out Of War,” implicitly interpret this slogan to mean: keep the United States from declaring war.
Meanwhile, without consulting either Norman Thomas or Senator Borah, the United States has already entered the war. The formal declaration, when it comes, will be a mere incident.
Is this a mere figure of speech, or, as Lovestone accuses us, “defeatism”. It is a cold summing up of the facts. Consider:
Roosevelt held up the neutrality proclamation for twenty-four hours, in order to permit several boat-loads of planes to leave the Pacific Coast for England and France. The airplane companies continue to manufacture planes to Anglo-French order upon the administration’s assurance that the embargo will be repealed; and new orders for 5,750 planes await the clay of repeal. In other words: United States industry is being turned into an armory for one of the belligerent coalitions. Because the factory is located at Buffalo or Burbank instead of Manchester or Lyons does not alter its relation to the war.
Under the proclamation of a state of “limited national emergency”, Roosevelt is nearly doubling the army and adding tens of thousands of men to the Navy, as well as increasing the funds available for the National Guard and for elaborate training maneuvers in the field. These expansions require money to be expended which has not been authorized by Congress. In spite of the fact that Congress is in session, Roosevelt does not ask it for the money but appropriates it by executive decree under the legal formula of the emergency proclamation.
The War Department and the War Resources Board have recently completed their survey of industry and the plans for its war-time organization.
The Draft Boards have already been selected throughout the country, and their personnel is being trained in the (already prepared) draft laws and duties.
Roosevelt, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, has declared that the United States army and navy will defend Canada (as well as all British, Dutch and French possessions in the Western hemisphere) against attack. Canada is a belligerent power. Roosevelt’s declaration is therefore a direct act of intervention in the war, resting in the most immediate sense on the army and navy, arid altering the military scale.
United States planes and warships are in constant patrol of the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. Every day new batches of planes, guns and men leave for Panama, Hawaii, the Philippines.
These are only outstanding examples. To them could be added a hundred and one daily events: the delaying of the Bremen, the unilateral drive against Nazi and Soviet agents and propagandists, the constant flow of war-mongering pro-British propaganda, the behavior of the ambassadors to England, France and Poland, the White House conferences with the new British ambassador to Washington, the movies, the radio, the newspapers ...
A review of these facts reveals the following literal truth: the United States is already more deeply in the second world war than it was in the first world war several months after the formal declaration in April, 1917.
THE WAR, ALREADY DOMINANT OVER all other issues in the life of all nations, is already so in the labor movement of the entire world. In the United States, lines are being re-drawn with a sharpness which mirrors the battlefront. At the CIO and the AF of L conventions, just completed, the official leadership pledged itself again to its traitor’s role, and once more proved how literally true it is that the labor bureaucracy is the agent of imperialism. After a little pious rhetoric, Green and Lewis got down to business and jumped behind Roosevelt’s program to keep the wheel of the war machine of US imperialism.
But sterner battle is launched in the American Labor Party, with its resolution “against the Stalin-Hitler Pact” and by Lewis in his announcement that-the CIO is to be purged of Communists. What is at issue in both these cases? Simply a battle between the two war camps. On the one side, Hillman-Waldman-Lewis representing Chamberlain-Daladier-Roosevelt imperialism; on the other, the Stalinists, representing the Hitler-Stalin axis. There is nothing more than this. The democratic, anti-fascist pretensions of the one side, the new pro-peace, “anti-imperialist war” demagogy of the other, are equally lies.
And what of the third camp? Not much appears about it, yet, in the public press; but in this war it is the third camp – the camp of the revolutionary proletarian struggle against the war and the war-makers as a whole, implacably against London-Paris-Washington as against Benin-Moscow – that must and will in the end triumph. And the immediate fight of the third camp here must go head on against Hillman-Waldman-Lewis as well as Browder-Kuhn.
Last updated on 8.8.2006