Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The New International, June 1940


Political Trends in America

An Editorial


From New International, Vol. VI No. 5 (Whole No. 44), June 1940, pp. 99–100.
Transcribed by Damon Maxwell.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Blitzkrieg and The Two-Party System

GENERAL Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army, recently stated to a Congress committee that for the first time in history the United States was “preparing” national defense before entering a war, and not during its course. What does that mean? It means that in truth the United States is already in the war. Walter Lippman knows this very well when he writes: “The decisions in foreign policy will in the present crisis have to be made in the very early stage of the defense program, long before the program has been carried out.” In fact, the conditions for American imperialists are different from those prevailing in fascist countries, and in the United States “preparedness” means a revolution in imperialist economy to transform it into a gigantic machine working for war, excluding everything else, that is, with the sacrifice of the immense majority of the population. It is therefore impossible to prepare the country’s “defense” beforehand for total war conditions. To prepare defense means to establish war economy, without which war is not feasible. That is why the allies were unable to prepare in time.

Once the economic reorganization toward “defense” is begun, stopping it would introduce chaotic conditions. Consequently, bombs, tanks and warplanes have to be “consumed” in order not to stifle the country under their volume. The main difference between the situation of the Allies and that of the United States is that the former have to “organize their defense” and to mobilize their economy under the devastating blows of the “stukas” while this country is as yet safe against German bombs. This strategic advantage, furthermore, will allow a much clearer internal political development here than in the European “democracies”, already facing extinction. It seems that the American bourgeoisie, with the heavy industry magnates at its head, has decided to cross the Rubicon: Roosevelt spoke on their behalf at Congress when he delivered his dramatic speech asking for 50,000 planes. This may be considered as the real declaration of war of the United States.

Meanwhile, the crisis exposes the extreme political immaturity of this country. The deepest desire of the masses and their feelings as well as the great dangers and problems of the present time find no political instruments to give them a national expression. Politicians understand nothing or mislead the people out of apprehension for the elections. The Baltimore Sun accuses the President of “underestimating the character of the American people.” Walter Lippman demands that knowledge of “the hard truth” be given to the people, otherwise we can not expect them to “withstand and endure the things that may now be in store for them.”

Bankruptcy of the Republicans

In this turn of the world’s destinies, both parties are almost ridiculous anachronisms. The candidates to Roosevelt’s succession. Republicans and Democrats alike, are in utter confusion. In the Democratic camp, the most popular candidates – Garner, McNutt, Farley, Wheeler – simply disappeared from the field leaving the road clear for the President. On the Republican side, the candidates are taken by surprise. They have just discovered, only now, that there is an external policy and that a war is going on in this world. Hitler’s spectacular victories in the Western Front threw them into such confusion that, in the crisis, they all rallied around the President. Later on they recovered their political balance, but not fast enough to keep the country from remarking their reaction.

It seems almost certain that the blitzkrieg has blocked the way to power for the Republicans. Their provincial strategy has proved inadequate in the face of events. They had two sources of strength: the confidence of Wall Street and the widespread isolationist sentiment. But the crisis has drawn Roosevelt closer to finance capital, whose more accredited representatives are beginning to join the President’s camp, attracted by his farsighted imperialism and his personal popularity. On the other hand, the isolationist Republican leaders, forced to drop their anti-war mask, have lost face at the eleventh hour. Now nobody believes in their isolationism.

Following Hoover, the Republicans had limited their internal program to demands that the big private enterprises be free to conduct their business, that national debt be reduced and that the New Deal’s social reforms be cut off. But even this program breaks down in face of the new necessities. Stettinius himself, it is known, asks, in his report on war resources, a much stricter control over the national economy, exerted by two virtual dictators, one for production and the other for prices.

Roosevelt’s Demagogy ...

The game of half-measures, of lies, continues to hold the political stage. Roosevelt, most accomplished of demagogues, pretends to be able to execute his gigantic rearmament program without altering the “great social gains” of the past years. He promises that “minimum wage regulation must not be changed”, and swears that there is nothing “to justify making the workers ... toil for longer hours than those now imposed by statute”. The liberal New York Times criticizes these patently false declarations and teaches us that “the gains of labor cannot be separated from the gains of the nation as a whole”. And with great magnanimity the Times pontificates that a worker is not a simple worker, but a “human being” for whom only “the freedom of his thought and his leisure” must count, and not his prosaic every day earning, his salary. This human being, explains the Times of May 28, must not sacrifice these gains to his immediate interest, as a mere union member.

... and the Stern Reality

It is good to contrast this hypocritical optimism of the President with the comparative sincerity of Willkie, the only one among all the candidates to the presidency who dares to indicate what is at stake. This gentleman has the courage to realize that the problem which Hitler had to solve some years ago to finance his gigantic rearmament program is not entirely different from the problem that the United States has to face now. And he explains that Hitler financed his rearmament in a very simple way “by taking it out of the hides of the people”, lowering “the German standard of living by one-third in the process”.

In the last war the United States was unable to cover by taxation more than one-third of the war costs. But everybody agrees that even this was possible only due to the extraordinary phase of prosperity during the years of neutrality and to the comparatively short period of the United States’ participation in the conflict. Under these exceptionally favorable circumstances, only one-fourth of the national revenue was lost in the war.

Today conditions are entirely different. Instead of prosperity, the country is in the deepest depression in its history and burdened with an astronomic national debt. The National City Bank Survey for June reveals that in high financial circles the conviction has prevailed for a long time that “if it became necessary to carry out a huge defense program on top of a debt approaching $45,000,000,000, the danger of inflation would be correspondingly increased, while the conduct of actual war without causing an inflationary debacle would be immensely difficult”.

In order not to reduce drastically the American standard of living Willkie proposes a typically Republican remedy: “What we need is an administration that will let capital flow into enterprise and increase the national in-come to the level it would be at today but for the repressive policies of the present administration”. This is answered with very solid reasonings by the bankers of the New York City Bank, who are also against Roosevelt: “The enormous burden of their cost must be borne directly or indirectly by taxes upon other productive activity, namely, the earnings of business and the people of the country. Whether in totalitarian or democratic countries this must be so.” Thus, capital may flow as it will, but in living social reality national income will not increase.

It is calculated that Germany has turned out at least 80 per cent of her production to war purposes. This is the maximum that the experts consider possible for the United States, in case of actual warfare. And, according to Turner Catledge (New York Times, June 1), it is calculated that even now 20 per cent more or less of American industrial plants will be used in the current defense program.

The Trend Toward Bonapartism

Because of the impotence of the traditional political parties to offer to the public satisfactory solutions for these problems, characteristic traits of Bonapartism, are more and more coming into evidence. First of all comes the instinctive search for a strong man who will place himself above existing political parties. People want “dictators” to control this and that. The constitution of “non-partisan” organs to assure the execution of the war preparation program is urged. The economic control which has to be extended over all the country in one way or another tends more and more to be coordinated by the military command. Intervention of the general staff in public affairs will be increasingly felt. The attempts at a “coalition” government, even though thwarted, are signs in the same direction. Finally, there is the Third Term campaign, which seems destined to triumph. In a certain sense Roosevelt’s election will probably turn out to be the first plebiscite of American Bonapartism.

From day to day Congress loses a little more of its authority. The pressure of events places new men at the direction of public affairs. In this country the businessman is still the prototype of the efficient man. (It must be admitted, by the way, that even in the United States the businessmen, the bosses, are generally more dear-sighted than their mouthpieces, the politicians.) In the serious crisis which we are facing, there is a very real danger that the big industrialists may get tired of the conservative and short-sighted politicians and seek other ways out of the blind alley. And it seems that at the present time, finding nothing better, they are content to try Roosevelt once more, for even his victory will be something unusual, out of tradition. In the historical situation now facing the country, the success of the third term movement may well constitute a fatal blow to the two-party system. It will be difficult for the Republican party to survive after this test, which will mean that Wall Street has abandoned it and decided to try something new. It will no longer be allowed to speak on Wall Street’s behalf, because of its plain inability to win back the masses. It will have no function in the political mechanism of the country. If it does not undergo a radical change, it will, at best, end up as the English liberals did, as no more than an echo of the past. Such a collapse of one of the two parties, furthermore, will decisively affect the internal balance of the other one.

The ruling class on the one hand and the masses on the other will seek feverishly for other means of political expression. The famous and almost mythical Third Party may then step into the stage. But its features may be entirely different from those the radical movement has long anticipated. Unless the masses listen in time to the revolutionary message, for peace, for liberty and for socialism, the Third Party, when it actually materializes, may turn out to be not a labor party but a hideous reflection of the face of totalitarianism.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 7.7.2013