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The New International, January 1944

Notes of the Month

Long War – or Short?


From The New International, Vol. X No. 1, January 1944, pp. 3–5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Last year’s Christmas bells which rang out mockingly their “peace on earth, good will toward all men,” almost drowned out the latest official announcement of the war dead. The war had already lasted two weeks longer than the whole of World War I. The report declared that Allied military deaths on all fronts already totalled more than 7,500,000, compared with a grand total of 5,152,115 of Allied dead in the First World War; the estimated German dead in this war was given as 1,500,000, compared with 1,773,700 at the end of 1918. The figures seem to be an understatement of the facts which will be known in full and accurately only at the war’s end. But they are impressive enough. The destruction and grief they represent are emphasized when the maimed, the wounded, the prisoners and the “missing” are added. They do not, of course, include the civilian dead and wounded. In World War I there was some distinction between the civilian and the soldier; in the present war the distinction is all but lost.

Gruesome statistics! But there is more to the picture. The genius of the race and scientific endeavor have never been put to such destructive and abominable uses as in this war. The nations vie with each other to produce devastation compared with which the holocausts of older history look like littered picnic grounds. The wonders of construction of early capitalism to which Marx paid ungrudging tribute are now wiped out in blockbusting twinkles. Whole cities crash about Goering’s vainglorious boast of immunity from aerial attack. The “democrats” argue their superiority to fascism by comparing the ruins of Germany to the ruins of Rotterdam and Warsaw. Industry all over the world works as never before to produce the means of destroying industry all over the world. Food is served in scientifically compact tastelessness to soldiers charged with scorching the sources of food from the face of the earth. More ships have probably been sent to the bottom of the sea than sail its surface. Whole peoples are reduced to national shame. Whole peoples are imprisoned, enslaved; others are policemen and turnkeys. Whole peoples are torn from their lands and the lands of their fathers, and shipped to the farms and factories of slavers like cattle to the stockyards. The abolition of all liberty is jubilantly hailed by the degenerates of totalitarianism, its “suspension” casuistically justified by the apologists of rotting bourgeois democracy.

Capitalism once said that the many must toil and the few must rule so that society can expand and build, and slumbering millions be awakened to modern civilization. Capitalism is the builder and creator, however imperfect. It is building the cities, the industries, the roads, fertilizing the plains,

bringing riches from the earth, sending ships to the dark worlds, arousing the moribund, linking peoples, creating the world market. Now it is systematically destroying all that it built, and millions of people along with it. Now it is creating a world cemetery: farmer boys from Honshu and Wisconsin are buried in Guadalcanal; men from Berlin and Rome, from Melbourne, the Punjab and Scotland, traveled continents and seas to die in Bengasi; the dead in Stalingrad came from Vladivostok and Brest. Henry Wallace’s century of the common man looks more like the century of the common grave.

Not a shred of a claim to moral support of its rule has been left to capitalism. The limits of choice are clearly established before the world: “Socialism – or barbarism!” The barbarism of the old social order in decay does not lie ahead, it is already here. Only the socialist reorganization of society can prevent it from engulfing us completely.

Where Will Military Struggle End?

This ineluctable conclusion is pointed up by a consideration of the prospects on the two decisive military fronts and of the post-war plans of the ruling classes.

On the military front of the war, neither side has cause for lively optimism. If victory means crushing the enemy militarily, and then politically and economically, the Axis powers no longer have any realistic hope for victory. The best they can now expect is a stalemate, a division in the ranks of their opponents, and a compromise peace. It is a far cry from the confident fanfaronades of Hitler three years and a year ago and his anything-but-confident New Year’s address to the nation. There are no longer victors and vanquished in sight, he said, but only those who will survive and those who will be annihilated. All Hitler can now say, in effect, is: “Prolong the war against us with the idea of annihilating Germany and you will have no victory yourself but only chaos, a European revolution, on your exhausted hands. Better that we come to a reasonable agreement, as we did once before.”

The Allies, pouring endless streams of Russian manpower and American machinery into the battle, are imbued with more hope, especially now that the specter of a separate Russo-German peace has been laid, along with the living bodies of nations that put some faith in the Atlantic Charter. But their hope is, at bottom, restrained. In the first place, a military triumph in Europe, even if it is possible in the course of the current year, as the most uninhibited optimists expect, leaves the war in the Orient still to be fought and won. In the second place, the problem of the division of the spoils, already acute and generative of schism, can only become more difficult as the war wears on.

If the assumption is made that the war in Europe can end in Allied victory over Germany this year, the prospect of destruction, death, suffering, sacrifice and expenditure of effort, life and material positively staggers the imagination. (The assumption is a “purely” military victory, that is, of a defeat of Hitler not occasioned by revolution.) Exactly how greatly the imagination will be staggered must be left to the events themselves. A sufficiently impressive suggestion, however, is offered by an authority of the caliber of Major General George V. Strong, assistant chief of staff in charge of military intelligence (G-a) of the United States Army. As released by the California congressman, George E. Outland, the Strong report says:

That the Germans now have three hundred well trained divisions. This year alone they re-formed or re-equipped or raised more than sixty new divisions, each of which has approximately six hundred machine guns and three hundred heavier weapons.

That the Germans have raised and equipped armored, motorized and infantry divisions to replace each of the twenty lost at Stalingrad last winter.

That the number of workers employed in war industries in Nazi-dominated territory has risen from twenty-three million at the outset of the war to thirty-five million at the present time, and that the weapons they are making are in some cases better than any the United Nations yet have.

That there is nothing in the German economic picture to justify confidence in the immediate downfall of the Nazi structure. For example, German food rations today are higher in caloric content than they were at the outbreak of hostilities.

That no serious break in German morale has been apparent thus far as a result of the bombing from the air, but increasingly long Allied casualty lists must be expected from this as well as from other types of attacks.

[And further] the vast network of fortifications which the Germans have prepared around their homeland proper has made the job ahead a tremendous one ... further advances will be contested yard by yard and foot by foot, and by well trained veteran troops.

Reflection upon these sober paragraphs does not conjure up a picture of an impending end of what has gone before, but more of the same, much more or it, with Dieppes, Stalingrads and Tarawas multiplied many times over.

As for the war with Japan, the Strong report describes it “to have only begun.” But for this intelligence the otherwise valuable and expert opinion of the major general was not needed.

How Can the War Be Shortened?

Can the length of the war be shortened? Is the question of interest and concern to the revolutionary socialist? Although he neither bears nor takes the slightest responsibility for the outbreak of the war, or the social system and the politics that brought it about, the socialist is decidedly interested in the question of the war’s duration. It is a problem he cannot, nor desires to, wash his hands of. The sufferings of the people are not a matter of indifference to him, nor is the appalling destruction of wealth and property. The new society cannot be built out of rubble and by corpses.

The bourgeoisie and its military leaders have a simple formula for ending the war quickly: Shut up, work hard and shoot hell out of the Hun. An equally simple formula provides for preventing war’s recurrence: Make the war-making Germans (and/or Japanese) pay and pay and pay for the war, and reduce them to tenth-rate positions in the world.

General Marshall’s attack upon “striking labor” for being responsible for delaying the victory – the attack was one of a thousand like it; this one was indirectly echoed by the President – breathes the spirit of the first formula. The Moscow, Cairo and Teheran conferences breathe the spirit of the second.

It would not be easy to figure out a more effective way of prolonging the war and all that goes with it.

We are committed, and have been for more than two decades, to an uncompromising struggle to destroy fascism, root, stalk and branch. Not being big financiers, we never loaned it money to bolster its precarious regime. Not being merchants, we never sold it oil and scrap iron. Not being Stalinists, we never sealed a compact of comradeship with it “in blood.” Nobody, and nothing, was needed in recent times to convert us to the ersatz that passes currently for anti-fascism.

But we are utterly out of sympathy with the idea of destroying Germany, or any other country, for that matter. We cannot too strongly condemn, as an antiphonic version of Nazi anthropology, the idea of the “blood guilt” of the German people. The imperialists plumb the very depths of hypocrisy when, after doing everything they could for years before the war to fasten Hitler’s hold more strongly upon the prostrate German masses, and to render these masses increasingly helpless, they now seek to hold these very same people responsible for the unspeakable crimes of their Hitlerian traducers.

That is not all that is wrong with the “strong” ideas of the Anglo-Russian-American imperialists. If Hitler is still able today, after the collapse of the castles in the air he built for the German people, to keep a hold upon them, to maintain a degree of morale, to keep them fighting with such bitter tenacity and against increasing odds – it is because the Allied statesmen and propagandists are providing him with his main weapon. The Allies are planning a super-Versailles, he tells the Germans, and there is ample material put forward in the Allied camp from which all he needs do is quote accurately. They are planning to strip our land of every ounce of its material wealth and power, he tells the Germans – and the memory of the promises he made to strip the lands he conquered does not alleviate either the bitterness or the apprehension of the average German. They are planning to send ten million or more Germans as slaves of Stalin, he tells the Germans, and to prove his point he has but to quote directly from authentic Stalinist declarations. And if Hitler is able to add to all this – all this which is enough by itself – that his regime cannot be so bad in prohibiting strikes, for example, when the “democracies” themselves are doing the same thing, or what amounts to the same thing, or are preparing to do the same thing, then, even though there is an element of exaggeration in the comparison, the effect upon the factor of “morale” should not be hard to estimate.

Hitler is of course prolonging the war. Allied imperialism does all it can to aid him in it.

Why Japan and Germany Fight On

Much the same can be said in the case of the war with Japan. Colonel Carlos P. Romulo, MacArthur’s former Filipino aide, has only recently repeated what others have seen more clearly and said more emphatically. The continuation of the traditional imperialist “white-man’s-burden” policy in the Orient is a godsend to the Japanese in tightening their grip on the conquered territories. British imperialism’s teeth dug firmly into the throat of India – they are worth at least twenty divisions to the Japanese. The Cairo conference’s conspicuous omission of reference to Hong Kong, with the implication that this former crown colony of England is to be restored to her, and not to China, by the joint efforts of the Most United Democratic Nations, is worth at least another few divisions to the Japanese. The positive declaration from Cairo that Japan is to be stripped of every single colony and possession, not in order to free them, but in order to divide them for exploitation, as colonies and possessions, among the Allies, is worth several more divisions.

The bitter-end fighting of the Japanese which has aroused such universal comment is not a matter of anthropology; it is not even primarily a matter of religious indoctrination and fanaticism, although they play their part. It is first and foremost a political question. It is the result of an imperialist and chauvinist fanaticism; its inculcation into the Japanese people and soldiers has been enormously facilitated by the racial-superiority theories and practices and the imperialistic policies and pretensions of the Anglo-American ruling class. If, after two years of war with Japan, the United States has succeeded, according to the recent statement of Under Secretary of War Patterson, in taking a total of less than four hundred Japanese prisoners – utterly astounding figure! – the fighting determination and capacities of the Japanese soldier are to be traced, not to Shinto and Emperor-worship, but primarily to cunning Japanese imperialist exploitation of the theories and practices of the Dutch Mynheers in the East Indies, the pukka Sahib in India, Standard Oil in China, and American imperialism in the Philippines and Hawaii.

The war can be brought to an early end, and to such an end as satisfies the universal longing for security and peace. Not by offering the German masses imperialist domination and dismemberment thinly covered with esatz-democracy to replace the ersatz-socialism which Hitler feeds them, but by offering them adequate guarantees of freedom and plenty. These are the basic objectives for which millions of German workers organized and developed their class movement for generations, for which they fought with all the strength at their command in the face of a leadership that thwarted them at every crucial moment.

How can these assurances be “offered” them, and who is able to do it? The ruling classes of the Allied countries, Russia notably included, are deeply discredited among the German masses, and for good cause. Hitler did not invent this discreditment; he merely distorted it for reactionary ends and exploited it with considerable success. It is from the working class of the Allied lands that the German proletariat awaits encouraging signs. The Allied labor leaders who haughtily demand that Hitler first be overturned by the German workers – workers who live under the most thoroughgoing and murderous police terror ever known in the world, with the possible exception of Stalin’s Russia – are beneath contempt. They inspire mighty little confidence or hope in the German workers, who are not unaware of the action of the British labor-imperialists who recently adopted a vicious Vansittartist resolution at their Congress. The working classes of England and the United States – that is a different matter. It is they, and they alone, who can bring the war to a speedy and happy conclusion which would permit a veritable rebirth of the world. No less a prospect is open to them! No smaller achievement is at their command!

A Way Out of the War

The most important single force bringing an end to the First World War was the revolutionary working class of Russia. Once they overturned the Czar and then the bankers, monopolists and landlords, the German workers-in-uniform could not be persuaded to continue the war against them for any length of time. Instead, they began turning their guns upon the Kaiser and the Junkers. How long would the Hitlerites and the Junkers last in Germany if the Reichswehr had to contend with a genuine workers’ government in England and the United States? How long would they last in face of a government that could and would say to the German masses, in all sincerity: “We are the intransigent enemies of Hitlerism, but we are the brothers of the German people. All we ask of them is unity with us, comradeship in the struggle for peace and against oppression, equality in a new world.”

Romanticism! Rhetoric! Utopia! That is what all the “practical” people, the “realists,” will reply. But it was just this sort of “rhetoric” that Trotsky employed at Brest-Litovsk in 1918 with such deadly effect a few months later upon the whole Hohenzollern dynasty in Germany. The “practical” and “realistic” statesmen brought us ... a Second World War!

The magnificent energies, and the doubly magnificent militancy of the American working class are being slowly frittered away by a band of labor leaders whose vision ends at the boots they lick, whose incurable romanticism leads them to pursue that most preposterous utopia of the reconciliation of irreconcilable classes in the hope of thus achieving that other most preposterous utopia – democracy, security and peace under decaying capitalism. This cannot go on forever. It must not. Labor must become aware of the immense social responsibilities resting upon it and which it alone is capable of discharging. How picayune the whole hide-and-seek game of lobbying in Congress and lobbying in the fourth antechamber of the President is in face of the huge task labor has to perform and is able to perform with its own forces!

Not the least important and pressing side of this task is the fight to end the war, to end it before much more carnage and chaos have been wrought, to end it on a progressive basis. For us, in this country, this means concentrating all efforts on those immediate steps that are required for the speediest establishment of a workers’ government. A workers’ government here that understands its job, that concerns itself not at all with maintaining the status quo or the property-interests of capitalist monopolism, can produce a genuine people’s peace virtually overnight.

Impractical! Remote! What, if not that, is “practical” and immediate? Such devastation, such tidal destruction of human life, such suffering as the world has never seen. There is the alternative. Right now the choice – “socialism or barbarism” – appears concretely as the fight for a workers’ government, indispensable step to socialism, or the continuation of the war, which brings us step by step deeper into the jungle of the new barbarism. Still more concretely, the fight for a workers’ government in the United States is now the fight for the organization and victory of an independent working class party.

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