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George Breitman

Major Fallacy in Wallace’s
Anti-War Campaign

(29 March 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 13, 29 March 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One reason why Henry Wallace will get a big vote next November is that he is telling the people a considerable number of truths and half-truths, especially about the responsibility of the Democrats and Republicans for the growing war danger. But at the same time he is propagating one of the most insidious lies of all – the illusion that it is possible for a party like his own to prevent imperialist war.

While Wallace is at his weakest (and most uncomfortable) when he trie’s to explain or justify the Stalinist policy in Europe, he is on his strongest ground politically when he attacks the bi-partisan war policy and manufacture of war hysteria. A good example was his radio speech answering Truman’s demand on March 17 for the resumption of the draft and the passage of UMT.

America’s mothers and sons ... rightfully believe that a draft and compulsory military training are not the way to preserve freedom at home or to guarantee democracy abroad ... The program to militarize America, if carried out, will impose a police state.”

These are the things a worried people want to hear, the things they know to be true. Wallace also gives them the following explanation of why this situation exists:

“We have reached this state because the men who are running our government fear the power of the common men and women the world over ... We have come to this world crisis because willful men with private interests are dictating our foreign policy. Their interest is profit, not people. They seek to protect and extend their foreign investments against the democratic actions of people abroad.”

That is an example of the half-truths spread by Wallace. It is correct so far as it goes. Properly understood and applied, it has a place within the scientific explanation of why the U.S. is being driven down the road to war. But because it is only a part of the broader explanation, it can and does lead to all kinds of false conclusions when it is presented as the basic reason.

Only Part of Cause

To understand this problem, it is necessary to begin by recognizing that war is an inevitable product of the capitalist system in its present monopoly stage. No big capitalist power can prosper within its own borders atone; it must expand or suffer paralyzing economic crisis; to survive, it must get new markets abroad, new sources of raw materials, new fields of investment, new spheres of influence. When it is blocked from securing or consolidating these objectives by the economic or political power of other nations, it resorts to military means.

It is not enough, therefore, to point an accusing finger at the greedy and evil men who are running the government today. Their individual avarice and lust for power are important factors in the situation, but not the decisive ones. In the first place, they are not acting on their own; they are the representatives and administrators of their class, the capitalist class. Without the consent of their class they would never dare embark on such a dangerous venture as war.

System Drives Them

In the second place, they are driven to desperate measures for resolving international disputes not merely by some quirk in their individual or collective minds or hearts, but by the very needs of the capitalist system itself. War represents a terrible risk for them, but an even more terrible prospect is the collapse of capitalism in Europe. Because of the very nature of the system, American capitalism could not long survive in an anti-capitalist world.

Within this framework, the Wallace statement quoted above has full validity. But separated from it, it becomes a snare, having meaning only as a “devil” theory on the cause of imperialist war. Used as Wallace uses it, it means wars are caused by “bad men.” And the obvious corollary is: Get rid of the bad men, put in good men. and then we won’t have to worry about war any more.

The main thing to remember about Wallace’s position on war is its denial that war is an inseparable feature of capitalism. Being a devoted defender of capitalism, he holds, on the contrary, that peace is possible under capitalism. Put in good men, reform or patch up the system, show the ruling class how much it stands to lose by going to war, build up some mechanism like the United Nations and – according to Wallace – you can have everlasting peace.

Wallace tried in his radio address to show how “reasonable” this position is:

“Shall we fight Russia because we are competing for the raw materials of the world? We shall dissipate more raw materials in such a war than they are worth to either the United States or Russia. There is no competition or raw materials which cannot be settled by peaceful means.”

In a rational world order there would of course be no war over raw materials, which would be accessible to all and collectively used for the common welfare. But a world dominated by capitalism is not a rational world. It’s a world whose very fate is based on such conflicts as the competition for raw materials.

This competition is costly and in the long run undermines the system it seeks to maintain – but that fact never prevented imperialist and commercial wars before, and it has no more effect on Wall Street today than it had on Hitler ten years ago. “Reasonable” arguments of this kind are shrugged off by the imperialists – like rain off a duck’s back – because it’s a dog-eat-dog system, where each dog is ready to undergo some suffering himself in order to remain or become the top dog, and where all the dogs are indifferent to the welfare of doghood as a whole.

Competition Breeds War

Moreover, Wallace’s contention that there is no competition which cannot be settled by peaceful means flies in the face of all capitalist history. Tragic experience has shown us too often that under imperialism, competition always leads to economic warfare, the precursor of military explosions. Was World War I just an- accident, due to unreasonableness? Was World War II a fluke that could have been prevented by an amicable conference to settle competition in a friendly kind of way? To imply that is to mock at the lessons of history and thereby to prevent the kind of understanding of modern world conflicts that alone can lead to peace.

History has also taught us to be on guard against capitalist reformism and pacifism. Wallace is not the first of his kind. There was Wilson before him, who was going to reform capitalism and keep us out of war, and Roosevelt after that, who sang the same sweet song. They, too, were “reasonable” men but in the end their reputation as men of peace served only to facilitate their efforts to drag the country into war.

There is no need here to enter into the question of Wallace’s sincerity – although it should never be forgotten that he was against World War II before it started and then became its busiest apologist once the guns began to boom. What counts in these big questions is program. And Wallace’s program for preventing war can have no different outcome than Wilson’s or Roosevelt’s or that of the pre-World War II isolationists.

Get Rid of Cause

Fundamentally, the reason is that you can’t end war without ending its cause, capitalism. No matter how fine his intentions may be, a man who clings to this decaying system can’t help misleading his followers who want to fight against war. As long as his influence is able to dissuade the people from replacing capitalism with a socialist system, just so long will the prospect of war be with us.

Many workers intend to vote for Wallace because he, like them, expresses opposition to the war now being prepared. But it is necessary, precisely in the interests of preventing that war, to warn them most insistently that no party dedicated to the maintenance of capitalism can prevent war. The exposure of Wallace’s big lie, the destruction of all pacifist illusions about his party being able to stop the war drive – these are important tasks in today’s struggle for a new socialist society, where war will be a horrible memory rather than an ever-present threat.

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