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The New International, March 1944

Notes of the Month

National Service Act


From The New International, Vol. X No. 3, March 1944, pp. 67–68.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Long before the war broke out in Europe, the War and Navy Departments had been laying their plans for participation in any military conflict. Under conditions of modern society, consideration of the home front, i.e., the industrial and physical mobilization of the country, is, in many respects, even more important than the actual creation of the armed forces and the planning of battle strategy. That the bourgeois state understands this is revealed in the fact that since the close of World War I the military and naval staffs have been drawing blueprints for the total mobilization of the country for war. This was true for every power in the world.

A Plan Worked Out Long Ago

The United States had its “War Mobilization Plan,” all worked out in detail. An examination of these plans in the midst of the present war will show how startlingly realistic were the concepts of the planners. It will be discovered that in many important and decisive aspects the policies of the present war administration are merely the acceptance and application of a program long ago worked out by the War and Navy Departments. This is particularly true with respect to the draft, industrial mobilization, control of labor, control of raw materials, prices, wages and a partial control of profits, even though these are now the greatest in the history of American capitalism.

The pattern of national development is duplicated in all other countries of the world involved, in one way or another, in the war. In the Axis countries you have complete totalitarian organization of society; the same is true of Russia. In the other United Nations, there is a similar totalitarian organization of the home front, its degree dependent upon many factors, such as pre-war riches, raw materials, labor supply, industrial development, class relations, etc. But the longer the war goes on the more marked becomes the “leveling” process, that is, the tendency toward complete totalitarianization of all countries.

It is only with this background that one can understand the President’s message calling for a national service act to be enacted as law. At first glance, it appears that the principal need for such an act is as an anti-strike weapon. Roosevelt emphasized this point. The overwhelming majority of comments of the capitalist press, leading financiers and industrialists, likewise concentrated on this aspect of a national service act. Of all comments, those of the labor movement were nearest to the truth when it called national service a slave act, a measure for the totalitarian organization of the country.

While the President’s plea for the passage of a national service act appears to be unheeded in Congress and is possibly doomed at this time, we have not heard the last of it. It may come from Roosevelt again, or from some other administrative or congressional source.

Actually, the “anti-strike” character of a national service act is only one of its features. There are now many measures (most notorious, the Smith-Connally bill) which can be employed for this purpose. The experience in Great Britain, where a national service act exists, shows how ineffectual it is in preventing strikes. Strikes have repeatedly taken place in that country. The British ruling class was not, and is not now, too greatly concerned with this apparent breakdown of its national service act. Something more fundamental is involved in the demand for this sweeping measure of controlling the life of the country and it is revealed in the manner in which Roosevelt proposed a national service act for the United States.

Aside from the labor movement, what is the argument of American capitalists as to Roosevelt’s message? Such an act, say these gentlemen, should have been proposed long ago, at the start of the war. If we have been able to go along without it up to now, in the most crucial preparatory stages for war, it is not necessary at this late date. Surveys taken disclose that most congressional leaders are opposed to the act. It is even said that the majority of the Cabinet is against it. And, as we have pointed out, since it does not find a great deal of favor among financiers and industrialists who are willing to let things alone in their profiteering hey-day, what force is pressing for the passage of the act? The answer is: the War and Navy Departments! The military branch of the government has been most insistently in favor of the passage of a national service act as the means of realizing the total triumph of their long-laid war mobilization program.

Their demand for the national service act is connected with their more realistic appraisal of the war, its duration and forthcoming intensification. Thus it is possible to say that the military, as a result of its special position in the current life of capitalism, responds more sensitively to the needs of American imperialism. Whereas the turn in the military fortunes of the Allies has resulted in a far too optimistic appraisal of the future by the civilian rulers of American capitalism and has caused this optimism to be translated in a desire for relieving the controls created by the war, the military leaders realize that the war is first reaching its acute stages, where the destruction of men and material will heavily drain the home front.

Totalitarian Trends

The totalitarian nature of the war naturally has a totalitarian influence on the social order. The increasing intensity of the war merely accelerates the totalitarian sweep over the “civilian” nation. If we examine the home front we will easily see how, imperceptibly at first and more rapidly as the months go by, totalitarian measures have been enacted in this “most democratic of democratic capitalist nations.” In its recently adopted political resolution, the Workers Party summarized the real situation in the country when it said:

Under the conditions of modern total war, which requires the complete mobilization of all phases of life of the warring country, the outstanding feature is the state direction and control over the entire economy. Thus in the United States, growth of state-directed capitalism under the Roosevelt regime, made imperative by the bankruptcy of the entire system, was tremendously increased as the country became organized on the basis of a war economy.

Planning for war leads to state direction of capital accumulation and control over the allocation of the productive resources of the country, material and human. In the interests of capitalist society at war, the profit motive of the private capitalists had to be integrated with the needs of the war itself. The state, therefore, decides how much and what type of war goods must be produced; how much and what type of civilian goods are to be manufactured. The production of consumer goods is subordinated to the output of war goods. Through price controls, forced savings, taxation, loans, priorities, labor freezing and control, the Roosevelt government seeks to achieve a balance between production and consumption in such a way as to get the maximum materials for war and the absolute minimum of consumer goods necessary to maintain the population ...

The new rôle of the state in this war has been accompanied by the passage of subtle totalitarian measures, which, while they have not touched on the more prominent and spectacular forms of civil liberties, have been extremely effective on the economic field. Here the totalitarian direction has been unmistakable and is reflected in congressional anti-labor legislation, the no-strike pledge, the War Labor Board, the wage freeze and the hold-the-line order, and the direct interference in the affairs of the labor movement by the state and even more dangerously by the President as the personification of the state.

Every sector of economic, political and social life feels the increasing power and weight of the state. The bureaucratic machinery of government has grown to enormous proportions. There are not only the ordinary departments and bureaus which once constituted the apparatus of normal government; they too have expanded numerically. But there are new types of agencies and bureaus which have extended the arm of the state into reaches once regarded as inviolable. A glance over the expansion of the state machinery since the beginning of the New Deal revealed, even before the war, the intervention Of the state in industry, business and finance. The efforts of the New Deal to alleviate the crisis of the Thirties inevitably oriented the state machinery toward a new life, toward the “organization” of the social order under the limitations of the capitalist structure.

The war, as an abnormal and acute period of capitalist existence (we are not now discussing whether war is really a normal and integral feature of capitalism, which it is, but make the distinction for the purpose of distinguishing peacetime from wartime existence), made it obligatory for the state to assume direct charge of production and consumption, military preparations and execution of war policies, and to intervene increasingly in the social, economic and political life of the nation.

The extension of government bureaus in the economy of the nation, beginning with the long-ago established RFC, has reached a point which includes many more important aspects directly related to actual production and consumption. It not only says who shall produce, what shall be produced, but how much and for how much. It awards contracts, sets the level of production, provides for penalties and awards. In considering post-war conversion and planning, it is deciding through its WPB what companies shall reconvert, how much they shall reconvert, and who shall not be permitted to enter certain fields of production. It decides how much consumers goods may now be produced, who shall produce and who shall not. It governs foreign trade and is leading the struggle of American capitalism for control of new sources of raw materials, oil, rubber, minerals, etc.

But all of these manifestations of the totalitarianization of the economic, political and social life of the country are still haphazard in the sense that it is not part of a consistently organized plan and system. When all this is taken into consideration, it will be seen that the demand for a national service act is precisely for the purpose of meeting this requirement. The military staffs understand better the need for a national service act because the nature of their profession gives them a wider bureaucratic vision and penetration. They want a complete totalitarian organization in order to permit a conclusive control over the whole fabric of American capitalist society. Roosevelt’s demand, therefore, must be viewed, not from narrow considerations of it as an “anti-strike” weapon, but, more fundamentally, from the point of view of the increasing totalitarianization of life under capitalism, given impetus by the requirements of imperialist war.

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