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The New International, August 1941


The Editor’s Comment

In Spite of the “Blitzkrieg” Technique, the Second World War Is Already Two Years Old and Shows No Sign of Coming to an Early End – Berlin as the Boss of the Axis Camp and Washington as the Boss of the Democracies – Grandeur and Headaches of American Imperialism in Mobilizing an Effective War Machine – Danger Faces Workers

From New International, Vol. VII No. 7 (Whole No. 56), August 1941, pp. 163–7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE SECOND WORLD WAR is about to enter its third year. It has already lasted half as long as the First World War, yet, in spite of the lightning speed at which it was launched and, within brief periods, carried on (Blitzkrieg), no decisive victory is in sight for either of the belligerent camps, not even for the thus far successful Axis. Reviewing the past two years of the war, the following conclusions are clearly evident:

Three Conclusions About the War

a) The Blitzkrieg technique introduced into the war by Germany as a fundamental change from the method of warfare pursued between 1914–1918, calculated to avert a long drawn-out conflict and to achieve an early and conclusive victory, has thus far at least failed of its principal objective. The tempo of Blitzkrieg cannot be sustained for long periods of time. After each hectic offensive drive, an interval must be allowed for the re-accumulation and re-grouping of human and material forces for the intensive campaign that must follow. These forces are not inexhaustible; rather, the reservoirs of them tend to diminish in availability and in effectiveness. Moreover, the intervals between drives have tended to become longer, in the degree that Germany is compelled to face enemies of greater military-material resources than those she had to fight at the beginning of the war and in the degree that these enemies organize their resources and institutions after the Hitlerite pattern, including an intenser totalitarian control over economic and political life of the country.

b) The very depth of the crisis of German capitalism which brought fascism to power is what dictates to the leadership of the Axis the tremendous scope of its aims and ambitions in the present war and the desperateness of its determination to realize them lest in perish altogether. That is why small morsels could not appease it; that is why a peace now, even were that possible, could only mark a brief truce before the war was resumed on an even more violent scale. However, it is precisely the vastness and insatiability of German imperialist pretensions and the intransigence with which it must fight to satisfy them, that engenders no less desperate a determination on the part of its imperialist rivals in the war (as well as, up to a certain point, the fear of its allies and quasi-allies) to resist its expansion to the bitter end and to crush it to earth even more brutally than at the end of the First World War. It is not so much that world imperialism does not want peace as that it cannot have it! That is why Hitler now appeals in vain to be allowed to play the rôle of “super-Wrangel” for which his present adversaries in the war groomed him before and after he came to power in 1953. That is why his offer to stop the war with Anglo-American imperialism and confine himself to carving up the Soviet Union among all the big powers of the earth, has fallen upon deaf ears, so far as the decisive sections of the Anglo-American bourgeoisie are now concerned.

c) The prospects of the development of the war are thus indicated. As we pointed out on a previous occasion, there is no important sign of the war being brought to an early conclusion, with a strong victory for either imperialist side and the consolidation of reaction that would likely ensue. On the contrary, all signs point to the prolongation of the war, and even to its further degeneration into a terribly exhausting war of attrition. The fronts of the war do not decrease in number, but they do increase. The “islands of peace” of yesterday are the arenas of war of today or of tomorrow. One after another, every country of the globe is being sucked into the bloody maelstrom. Yesterday Yugoslavia and Greece, today Russia and Iran, tomorrow the United States and all the other remaining “non-belligerents.” Even subdued France will not be able to escape renewed belligerency any more than Japan will be able to confine her military activities to the “private war” in China. All over the world the people will have to pay with rivers of blood, with misery and devastation, for the crimes of the traditional leadership of the labor movement, the Second and Third Internationals, which had it in their power years ago to destroy the poisonous monster of world imperialism, along with its offspring, war.

Prospects of Revolution

These conclusions are of great importance in appraising the international perspectives of the social revolution. The notion that wherever Hitler sets foot the very possibility of popular movements, much less revolutions, is automatically wiped out, has nothing in common with our thinking, but is typical of the political mythology of the democratic intelligentsia and the turncoats from radicalism who turn to stone at the mere picture of a Panzer division.

The fact is that nowhere has Hitlerism been able to establish a régime in the countries it has conquered which has even the outward solidity of the régime in Germany. None of the Quisling or semi-Quisling governments set up by Germany enjoys the slightest mass popularity, and even such “old” and “established” regimes as Mussolini’s have had to be given military and police support at home by Hitler. In other words, all the indications available to us show that Germany has been and will continue to be unable to consolidate its victories in the conquered territories on even a remotely peaceful and “normal” basis, but rather that it will have to keep maintaining a rigid, intolerably burdensome and exhaustive police regime wherever it raises its flag.

The growing restlessness and even guerrilla warfare in the occupied countries, particularly in Poland, Serbia, Norway and France, contain the promise of mass popular and even revolutionary movements in the visible future, and no matter how bloodily Hitlerism may seek to suppress them in their initial stages or in their first open attempts, it is out of these irrepressible movements that will arise the forces that will sound the death-knell of all the imperialist warmongers and oppressors.

Considering the circumstances in which these movements are arising and developing, it would be a fatal mistake on the part of the revolutionary internationalists to ignore them or fail to influence them. These movements are deeply rooted in the conditions and thoughts of the masses, almost all of whom detest their foreign oppressor and some of whom are even shedding or have already shed the prevailing illusions about their pretended “liberators” in the camp of Anglo-American imperialism, that is, the “liberators” who continue to exploit and oppress the colonial peoples of the world as they have done for decades.

It is inevitable, particularly in light of the state of the labor movement today, that these elementary popular movements of discontentment and rebellion should take petty-bourgeois and patriotic forms in the first stages of their development. It is not surprising that the imperious exigencies of war should even impel Anglo-American imperialism to encourage and even initiate such movements (as by the “V” campaign); or that these movements should tend at the outset to come largely under the influence of imperialism. But because of the very nature and the inherent possibilities of these heroic and popular movements, this is only added reason why the Marxists in every country must not only pay the most detailed attention to their progress but seek, if possible in the very midst of them, to influence them and direct them along proletarian and internationalist lines, to free them from the reactionary grip of the imperialists who seek to dominate them, and to link them with the labor and revolutionary movements in the countries where the latter are still able to operate more freely.

This task, which is inseparably connected with the victory of the Third Camp in the war, cannot be accomplished by a disdainful or doctrinaire ignoring of these movements because of the primitive political state in which they are now to be found, any more than it can be accomplished by our abandoning the independent class line of the revolutionary proletariat and uniting with the impotent and perfidious bourgeois democrats in exile who pretended to be the chosen representatives of the suffering peoples and who, at any rate, try to keep the conspiratorial movements within imperialist, pro-war channels. Quite the contrary. It is only by keeping intact our independent class program and organization, the Workers Party and the Fourth International, that we can hope to influence these movements and help guide them to a struggle for true freedom and peace.

The Two Imperialist Camps

The war, meanwhile, is taking increasingly the form of a life and death struggle between the titans of German and American imperialism, in which the allies of each, no matter how strong, no matter how much they strive for an independent position in the alliance, are more and more compelled to play the role of auxiliary or satellite of their respective leader. Italy is already less than a second-rate element in the configuration of the Axis. The fortunes of Japanese imperialism are increasingly dependent upon the fortunes and military strategy of Berlin. As the war grows literally and truly into a world war, even China is threatened by submergence beneath the conflict of the big powers, and by becoming an integral part of the Anglo-American camp, having her democratic war of independence converted into a subordinate sector of the imperialist war.

What holds for the overwhelmingly dominant position of Berlin among the Axis powers holds for the dictatorial position of Washington in the rival camp. Among the latter, the continuation of resistance to Axis expansion for even a single day is now entirely dependent upon the decisions of American imperialism. This is substantially true even for Russia. Immediately upon being drawn into the war with Germany, the Stalinist bureaucracy, having lost any allies among the international working class, concluded a full-fledged military and political alliance with British imperialism, and in effect also with American imperialism. Although desirous of keeping as much independence as possible in the alliance (like Italy, in the other camp, but to a much greater degree and on a larger scale), the Stalinist regime is obliged in the course of the war to come under the dominance of Washington-London, not only in the form of dependence upon great volumes of war material, and even of direct military intervention and collaboration (in the Far East, in the Near East – Iran – and in the North) but politically and in the elaboration of a joint military strategy calculated to eliminate all distinctions between the Stalinist army and the armies of democratic imperialism. It is more evident every day of the war that where the shibboleth of “defense of the Soviet Union” is not equivalent to direct and conscious support of Anglo-American imperialism, it has the same objective effect.

The British Empire too is gradually passing under the tutelage of American imperialism and the desperate position of England, confronted by her immediate enemy, prevents her from doing much more than slow down somewhat the inexorable process of disintegration at the hands of her overwhelming ally. The agitation of the American “isolationists” against the United States “fighting England’s battle” is at once demagogical and preposterous. American imperialism is doing no such thing and has no desire or intention of doing so. It is entering the war in order to prevent German-Japanese imperialism from becoming its successful world rival, and at the same time to reduce England to a very much subordinated power in world economic and political life. Weaning Canada from London and to New York and Washington is reaching the culmination of a process that has been going on for years. When the American press reports that Sydney, Hong Kong and even Bombay “are looking more to Washington than to London for their defense,” it is only describing the systematic replacement of Britain’s imperial power by America’s. The North and Central Atlantic footholds of British imperialism have been turned over to the United States, not without some muted opposition from the former.

Even in Latin America, domination of which is one of the richest prizes of the war, the increasingly successful joint campaign of Anglo-American imperialism to drive out German, Japanese and Italian imperialism, is being accompanied by a drive to substitute North American control wherever Britain, too, has established its economic and political influence. Indeed, London is reduced to appealing to the mercies of the merciless American bourgeoisie which is working to replace England altogether in Latin America, with the really baseless argument that “the American government understands that it is not in the interests of the war effort to deprive England of her economic power.” However, the remorseless crowding out of England by the United States is going on steadily and in spite of mutual efforts to conceal it, it breaks out from time to time in public “scandals.” The fraudulence of all claims that this is a war for democracy, the reality of the thoroughly imperialist character of the war, could hardly be given more cynical emphasis than this sordid conflict between the noble “allies.”

Problems of American Imperialism

If the United States has thus been able to establish its decisive and dominant position in the war without directly entering it, it is not difficult to imagine the position it will occupy or seek to occupy when it is able to throw the full weight of its industrial, financial and human resources into direct war participation. However, before this point can be reached, American imperialism has a multitude of complicated problems to solve which are of tremendous importance also to the working class movement. These problems belong to the order, first, of effective mobilization of the American industrial machine for war, and secondly, what is related to but not identical with it, the mobilization of popular morale, both inside and outside the army. In neither field, especially not in the second, has the Roosevelt regime recorded any sensational successes.

Victory in this most totalitarian of all wars is possible, all other factors being more or less equal (natural resources, industrial plant, man power, etc.), only for the camp that is able to establish “total” economic and political controls on the widest scale. At bottom, our confidence in the ability of the working class to triumph over fascism not only at home but even in any international war, is based upon the ability of this class to take over full control of the means of production, organize them planfully, and establish such a democratic regime as would, in the first place, give the masses of the people a real stake in the country and thereby engender a fighting enthusiasm which the governments of monopoly capitalism cannot arouse, and in the second place, make possible the utmost utilization of the economic resources of the country, unhampered by private-propertied interests, for the defense not only of the popular interests at home but throughout the world. It is the ownership of the means of production and exchange by the state of the workers, and their control of all social life that would establish a regime a thousand times more democratic than any known before. Fascism, on the other hand, mobilizes the masses for war at the point of a gun and with the threat of the concentration camp; at the same time, however, it subordinates the selfish interests of capitalist individuals or groups, especially of the small capitalists, to the general interests of capitalist expansion, especially to the interests of the monopoly capitalists. For a time, therefore, it overcomes with bureaucratic brutality the resistance of the masses as well as conflicting capitalist interests and ambitions. By a bureaucratic super-concentration of power, it submits all wills to the wills of capitalist monopoly and is thus able to prosecute modern war.

Basically, the comparative slowness of the American war mobilization thus far, and therefore the delay in America’s direct entry into the war, is traceable to the inability of the American bourgeoisie to establish totalitarian, fascist controls. This inability is in turn due to other factors which have contributed up to now to the slowing down of the tempo of totalitarianizing the United States: the unwillingness of sections of the bourgeoisie to submit to such controls; the absence of the same economic and political compulsions to which German imperialism was subject, or their absence in the same degree; the conflict in the ranks of the bourgeoisie over imperialist policy (”appeasement,” that is, leaving Europe for the time being to Germany and concentrating American expansion in Latin America and the Orient, versus the predominant policy of integral world expansion); the need of maintaining to some degree the ideological fiction of a “war for democracy”; and above all, the existence of a powerful, vigorous, growing, undemoralized and unbeaten labor movement.

But, against all these factors operates the insistent need of carrying the war to a successful conclusion for American imperialism, and this can be accomplished only by molding the “American Way” so that it takes on more and more of the characteristics of the “Hitler Way” – that is, of fascism. As pointed out by us before, the slowing down of the pace at which totalitarian controls are being instituted in the country has not done away with the basic tendency which is at work; it is precisely because the pace has thus far been slow that it may have to give way suddenly to a more frenzied pace.

To a certain extent, this is already happening. The increasing magnitude of the task of defeating German imperialism (the U.S. has already become the “arsenal and larder” not only of England but of more than half the world!) dictates a speeding up of the tempo of totalitarianism. After years of contemptuously ridiculing the Goring war-cry, American capitalism is compelling the people here, too, to substitute guns for butter. Germany’s collecting of pots and pans has already been imitated; tomorrow, the iron fences will go the same way. The cost of living mounts steadily. The control of prices “except for wages” is being shifted over, under the pressure of the bourgeoisie and its war needs, to the control of prices including the “price of wages,” during all which time profits not only remain intact but reach new highs. The production of consumers’ goods is systematically reduced for the benefit of the production of means of destruction. Even where the war boom has increased the nominal purchasing power of the masses, or sections of them, the government intervenes, as in Germany, to cut down or prohibit the purchase of consumers’ goods (restrictions on installment buying, etc.) and to enforce compulsory “savings,” that is, to reduce effectively the standard of living of the masses by turning over part of their earnings to meet the astronomical war budgets of the government. The frantic attempts by this and other means to prevent inflation may postpone inflation, but will lead in the end to an inflation of monstrously onerous proportions. New taxes go lightly on the big bourgeoisie and bear down heavily on the middle classes and the working people.

To top it all, in the spheres of government there is an acceleration of the tendency to shift the legislative powers from the traditional representative institutions (Houses of Congress) to government by decree and by accomplished fact. The process of “submitting the will of all to the will of one” in the war is being carried through in the U.S. in the worst bourgeois tradition, that is, in a reactionary bureaucratic manner, to the advantage of the big-monopolist handful and at the expense of the economic and political position of the masses.

The Basis of War Opposition

However, the mighty labor movement, its remaining democratic rights, and the almost universal opposition among the people to entering the war, all these are a bone in the throat which cannot be plucked out by decrees alone. Neither the eloquence of Roosevelt nor the sinister activities of his labor lieutenants has succeeded in crushing the popular resistance to the war or in making labor the docile captive of the war machine. It cannot be denied, to be sure, that the imperialist war propaganda and the spirit of class-collaborationism is seeping wider and deeper into the ranks of the labor movement, particularly since there exists no strong center of conscious proletarian opposition to the war. Yet, it has failed to curb the organizing power of the labor movement or even its militancy. The pressure of the government, the servility of the labor bureaucracy, and now the frenzied chauvinistic turn of the Stalinists who are collaborating with the pro-war, anti-labor machine – all these notwithstanding, the economic conditions engendered by the war preparations continue to produce militant strikes (no longer “communist-instigated”!) and to swell the ranks, and therefore the power, of the unions, especially of the CIO unions.

It is these organizations and their struggles that constitute the only possible basis of resistance to the drive toward war and totalitarianism. The defense of the organized labor movement and its rights is therefore the key to the struggle against the imperialist war and social and political reaction. The establishment of this fundamental truth underscores, in passing, the criminal stupidity of the Norman Thomas alliance with the fascist, semi-fascist and reactionary “isolationist” forces whose “opposition” to war is connected with a thousand threads to a real opposition to the organized labor movement and to any form of democracy.

While the fascist and “isolationist” demagogues have made no appreciable progress among the workers, especially the organized workers, despite the latter’s opposition to the war, they are acquiring an increasing following among the armed forces, where opposition to conscription, to the lengthening of the service term and to entry into the war is widespread and deep-seated. It is in reality this opposition to which the democratic publicists refer when they speak deploringly about the “poor morale” of the army. It is an alarming fact, but one which cannot be disputed, that in the race between the militantly proletarian and the fascist or potentially fascist forces in the ranks of the army, the latter are now far in the lead. The reactionary elements in the officers’ corps, that is, 99 per cent of its personnel, are not behindhand in stimulating, promoting and encouraging the fascist or pro-fascist currents, either in the form of training exercises for the soldiers in dispersing “strike mobs” and of agitation against the “exorbitant wage demands of the unions,” or by not too subtle agitation in favor of the totalitarian “ideal.”

The failure of the labor movement to demand its elementary rights with regard to the armed forces – rights which at the same time imply the defense of the rights of the armed forces – rights which at the same time imply the defense of the forces – can only have tragic consequences both for the rank and file soldier and the labor movement itself, and that in the not distant future. The elementary rights of the labor movement include the right to defend itself and its principles from misrepresentation and defamation among those the professional democrats like to call “our citizen soldiers”; the right to be fraternally associated with the young workers in uniform, so that the military forces are not kept separate and in isolation from the people, and therefore in antagonism to them. This implies, as said, defense of the rights of the soldiers – the rights to free speech, free press, free assembly, the right to organize, the right to collective presentation of grievances and demands, the right to petition the government and intervene in questions of national politics (a right now reserved aristocratically only for the officers’ corps or its upper stratum), and the right to a decent standard of living. The warmongers call for “every citizen a soldier!” The labor movement must counter with the demand: “Every soldier a citizen!”

Unless the labor movement is aroused to demand and fight intransigently for the soldiers’ rights, that is, for “citizen’s rights for every soldier,” that is, for full democratic rights for the soldiers, the bulk of the army is sure to fall victim to fascist demagogues and to become one of the principal weapons in the destruction of the labor movement itself. Given even the present policy of the labor movement (that is, general support of the government), it can and must launch this elementary struggle on behalf of the soldiers. However, such a struggle could reach its maximum effectiveness only if the labor movement declared its complete independence of the capitalist government and its policies, including its war policy.

The Danger Before Labor

If American labor allows itself to be seduced or browbeaten or coerced into captivity to the war machine, to abandon its interests for the sake of prosecuting the imperialist war, to give up its rights so that the war may have the right of way, it is doomed to paralysis for the whole next period. It will be powerless to defend itself from the multitude of attacks upon it which are in preparation. It will be powerless to draw to the support of itself and its principles the tremendous reservoir of strength represented by the armed forces, who will be left at the mercy of reaction. It will be forced to bear the dreadful and back-breaking burden of the war in all its social and economic consequences.

The struggle against the war is therefore the struggle to preserve the integrity and fighting capacity of the working class. The struggle to preserve the independence and the rights of the working class and its organization is therefore the struggle against the war. Neither aspect of what is basically the struggle against the bankrupt capitalist social order itself can be effectively conducted from outside the labor movement, by observers who are no matter how benevolent.

The principal task of the Marxist in the shops and in the unions is to enhance the political class consciousness of the masses for the purpose of developing as speedily as possible the political organization of the masses that will put them in a position to claim their rightful place in society. The present situation in the United States is of such an unusual nature as to demand more than ever, on our part, an intensification of political activity.

The unusual nature of the situation consists in the following anomaly: the American labor movement is today more numerously and more strongly organized than ever before, at least in the history of the land; yet, it is almost totally unorganized politically, and this in a period when not only do all important questions of class conflict almost instantly become political questions that cannot be dealt with otherwise than by political action, but also when the working class cannot look forward to a long and gradual and comparatively peaceful period in which to develop its political strength. It must develop it immediately or, in the crucial days ahead, succumb completely for a long time to follow.

In the past few years, the American working class has displayed marvelous capacities for militant struggle in the economic field. Its strikes, both spontaneous and organized, have terrified the bourgeoisie, because, above all, they evoked the image of a working class which would not encounter the slightest serious difficulty in establishing its complete social power in the country once it determined to do so. However, the determination to do so involves as an indispensable preliminary the political organization of the working class, not as a mere supplement to its economic organization but as its primary instrument, especially in the present period. The wave of economic struggles which, roughly, inaugurated the CIO movement, is not yet at ebb by any means. But at the present time, particularly given the war and the tendency toward super-centralization of all economic and political power in the hands of the bourgeois state machine, the self-imposed economic limitations to the struggle of the American workers can have only the most exhausting and even paralyzing effects upon the immediate future of the labor movement.

More or less purely economic struggles (strikes, etc.) can yield only so much to the workers, and no more. As the war economy becomes more prevalent in the country, confinement to economic struggles may, and in all likelihood will, produce a reaction among the workers similar to the reaction that set in among the French workers after the defeat of their purely economic struggles of 1935–1936. Since such struggles by themselves cannot really improve the economic (much less the political) position of the workers, they will tend to pass over more and more to purely defensive actions, and even to passivity. The union movement will lose both its numbers and its vigor, and this will in turn only aggravate the situation of the working class. Given no working class way out politically, the masses will fall victim to conservative and even reactionary moods and movements, and that in direct proportion to the sharpening of the economic difficulties and the social crisis which is absolutely inevitable in the course of the war. How fast such a development would take place cannot, of course, be foretold with any accuracy. However, it is clear that a few dramatic events such as a crushing defeat suffered in a number of important strikes, would greatly accelerate this inexorable trend. Marxists, who cannot substitute their desires for an objective analysis of the situation and the perspectives, must not ignore the possibility of such a development.

Unless the American working class speedily develops an independent political party of its own, all its recent gains will be lost and it will itself be threatened with disintegration and impotence.

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