Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Albert Parker

New Boards to Control Seas and
Shipping Now – and After War

(28 February 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 9, 28 February 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Woodrow Wilson promised that the first world war would be followed by the establishment of a world order of economic opportunity and co-operation between all nations which, by doing away with the economic causes of modern war, would usher in a period of lasting peace.

This promise was incorporated in his “Fourteen Points”; one of these points guaranteed “absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas” and another promised the removal “so far as possible” of “all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace.”

Everyone knows today that these promises, designed to win the support of the war-hating masses for the war, were not kept, and that instead of the period of peace promised by Wilson there was ushered in a period of intensified economic warfare that was bound sooner or lifter to erupt into a new world war.

“Absolute freedom of navigation” was shown to mean absolute control of navigation; “freedom of the seas” was translated to mean freedom to rule the seas. Although the German people “consented” to the peace, by overthrowing their monarch and his regime, the German merchant marine as well as the navy was taken away, and German sea power destroyed by the victorious allies.

“Economic barriers” were extended instead of removed; tariff walls were raised everywhere in Europe and the United States; raw materials were seized and withheld from other nations.

Same Promises Again

The second world war version of Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” was the eightpoint “Atlantic Charter” adopted by Roosevelt and Churchill last August, and since endorsed by the others of the “United Nations”. Like it predecessor, the “Atlantic Charter” promises “freedom of the seas” and “trade equality” qualified with respect to the “present obligations” of the signatories.

The Marxists of the first world war predicted the outcome of Wilson’s promises, but it was not until the war was over that their "predictions were proved to be true. The exact outcome of the Roosevelt-Churchill promises will likewise not be revealed in full until after the war, for their outcome depends to a certain degree on the outcome of the war. But already, although this country has been in the war as a full-fighting participant for such a short time and has not even fully organized its war machinery, it is possible to see the trends of the future in the very organization of that war machinery.

James B. Reston, New York Times reporter, reports some interesting developments along this line in the Feb. 8 issue of that paper.

When Churchill came to Washington two months ago, he and Roosevelt had extensive talks about the unification of British and United States resources for the conduct of the war.

Two Boards Set Up

One of the results of this conference was the establishment of a Combined Materials Board to “plan the best speediest development, expansion and use of the raw material resources, under the jurisdiction or control of the two governments.” This committee, says Reston, “has authority to plan what is to be done for the duration of the war with approximately seven-eighths of all the strategic raw materials in the world.”

Also established was a Combined Shipping Adjustment Board to determine the use of the shipping of the “United Nations” for the duration of the war.

There is nothing unusual in the establishment of such boards for the conduct of the war; the difference between, these boards and similar boards established in the first world war, lies in the use contemplated for them after the war.

Churchill, according to Reston, was reluctant to discuss this aspect of the question. In fact, he “was a little cantankerous about doing anything about the post-war world, which he dismissed as ‘that unattractive jungle’.”

Roosevelt, however, felt that these boards have an important “future, not only in war but in the peace after the war.”

Reston, obviously expressing the views of the Administration, declares that

“... it may be that the post-war operations of the raw materials and shipping committees will prove to be more important in the long run than their operations during the course of the conflict itself.

“The Atlantic Charter ... clearly indicates that the anti-Axis coalition, if victorious, intends to control the distribution of raw materials so that only those nations who are prepared to cooperate in establishing and maintaining some kind of sensible new world order shall have access to the essential raw materials of the world.

To Control Shipping Too

“Similarly, high officials here who have been dealing with the post-war problem have made it clear that in their opinion it will be necessary for a considerable time after the war to control not only the raw materials but the shipping of the world for the good of those nations – and those nations alone – who are prepared in keeping the peace.

“Mr. Churchill has thus cooperated with Mr. Roosevelt in setting up machinery to control most of the strategic raw materials and shipping of the world, not only for the duration of the war but for the days after the war.”

Reston concludes his article by saying this plan for “Anglo-American cooperation” after the war has not been wholly and completely worked out, but that “the higher one goes in the ranks of the Administration the more talk one finds of this war-time machinery’s forming the basis of some kind of solid, practical, economic collaboration for peace.”

In short, it is already obvious that the promises of the Atlantic Charter are following the same path as the promises of the “Fourteen Points”, only perhaps at a more accelerated pace.

When Churchill spoke to Congress, he said that five or six years ago it might still have been possible to avoid the war if the United States and Britain had insisted on disarmament and if they had made available to Germany “those materials, those raw materials, which we declared in the Atlantic Charter should not be denied to any nation, victor or vanquished.”

But if the struggle over raw materials (and shipping to transport those raw materials) led to the second world war, is it not clear that the course now proposed for the “United Nations” will lead in the future along the path of renewed economic warfare that is certain to result in a third world war?

Why Churchill Is “Cantankerous”

It should not be assumed that Churchill was reluctant to discuss the post-war problem because he had a different program than Roosevelt’s. He was “cantankerous”, actually, because he realizes that Great Britain is fated to play a secondary role after the war, that United States capitalism will hold the upper hand in the event of a victory by the “United Nations”; he prefers to “wait and see” before committing himself.

Ray Tucker, a Washington columnist, gave a partial indication, in his Jan. 25 article printed in the Flint Journal and other papers, of why Britain hesitates to commit itself on post-war questions:

“The Mikado’s unforeseen eruption Dec. 7 spoiled the smartest game of international poker Uncle Sam ever hoped to play: The emperor’s subsequent successes may also have robbed us of chips we had planned to use at the peace table.”

“The inside story”, as he calls it, “reads like fiction”:

“William Yandell Elliott, an economic adviser at Office of Production Management, had framed the blue-prints for formation of an Anglo-American cartel dominated by the United States. The Elliott corporation would have obtained control of many key resources of the British, Dutch and Free French empires as well as those produced in this country – our claim to majority ownership, according to the Harvard professor’s formula, to depend on the billions of lend-lease funds we are advancing to our friends. Some return was forecast for our vast investment. Our post-war supervision over this pooling of the world’s gold, food, rubber, tin, oils, fats, sugar, petroleum, etc., would have provided us with some ace cards in any final dickering with the Allied victors and Axis vanquished.”

That this proposal was not an individual and isolated idea is shown in Tucker’s statement that “it tickled the fancy of materialistic and starry-eyed fellows as close to the White House as paper on the wall.”

Seed of Future Wars

Tucker concludes, “Now the deal is off because Messrs. Hirohito and Tojo occupy the lands to ‘which we hoped to stake a claim. And the ‘scorched earth’ retreat from that area may make them a liability rather than an asset after the war.” If the only reason that “the deal is off” is because Japan temporarily controls some of these areas, and because of a “scorched earth” policy which notoriously has scorched very little earth, then probably the deal is not off after all, and certainly not permanently.

But whatever the outcome of this particular “deal”, it is obvious from the way the war is being run, and from the conflicts between the “United Nations” themselves, that as long as capitalist policies and rivalries rule the world, the seed of future wars is present and will be nourished.

Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 22 August 2021