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Jamse [sic!] Burnham

Their Government

(7 April 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 22, 7 April 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the past two months both Houses of Congress have passed, and Roosevelt has signed, a regular Naval appropriations bill totalling over $600,000,000. There has also been passed and signed a $350,000,000 bill for the increase of the Army air force.

At the present time, joint committees of the two Houses are ironing out certain minor conflicts in two other bills, both of which are assured of passage within the next week or two: the regular Army appropriation, reaching more than $500,000,000; and a bill making available approximately $50,000,000 for the expansion and construction of naval bases.

Two further bills are also being prepared in committees: one allotting about $50,000,000 in “educational orders” for war supplies; another for from $50,000,000 to $100,000,000 to buy up and store essential military supplies which must be brought in from abroad.

These that I have listed add up to $1,600,000,000.

The Good Provider

But this is by no means the total to be spent on armaments during the next year. A number of military and naval items – for example, construction of military posts and encampments, airplane landing fields, Coast Guard, military roads, etc. – are carried in the budget under a variety of non-military headings: Treasury Department, C.C.C., W.P.A., and others. Such expenditures would add another several hundred millions.

Then there must be taken into account the sums appropriated during previous sessions of Congress which are now being used for the construction of hundreds of warships and airplanes. The present session will undoubtedly make a number of “deficiency appropriations” before it adjourns.

The grand total for armaments, directly for armaments, to be spent during the next fiscal year will be far more than $2,000,000,000. Indeed, since it is certain that a later session of Congress will add vastly to this sum before the next fiscal year is over, it is hard to place any limit on what will be spent. Three, four bilions, even more, are entirely probable.

They are generous fellows, these Congressmen and this President. No one can charge that when they really take something seriously they stint on pennies. The instruments of death must be of the best quality. No battleship but the fastest and strongest will do; no machine gun but the most rapidly death-dealing; no gas but the most horrible in its effects.

And what a happy family they are when they get together to vote armaments! Nearly everyone of the armament bills has carried unanimously; Democrats and Republicans, New Dealers and Old Dealers, President and Congress, Marcantonio and Ham Fish and Carter Glass, all joining hands.

Nor has their innocent pleasure been marred by any jarring notes from “business.” Every section of business, every one of its newspapers and magazines, have remained discreetly silent or loudly praising while these billions have been voted.

The Picture’s Other Side

During these same last two months, 88,000 men have been dropped from the W.P.A. rolls. That means about 400,000 persons who have been left with no means to get adequate food or warmth or housing or medical care.

The order has gone out to drop several hundred thousand more this week, twice as many next month, about the same number in June.

Congress is debating whether to advance $100,000,000 or $150,000,000 more to W.P.A. The $50,000,000 difference can be translated into terms of food or hunger for a million or so persons. In the House of Representatives, where the lower figure carried, no one even dreamed of suggesting anything higher than $150,000,000. But $150,000,000 means dropping an average of at least 150,000 a month from the rolls.

Many members of Congress have explained that they consider it an outrage to vote a single additional dollar to W.P.A. In this opinion, “business” finds itself largely in agreement.

Appeasement for Whom and for What?

A naive observer from Mars or a South Sea Island might be a little puzzled if he should study this record of the last two months of Congress.

He might ask himself: Why is it that so many billions can be unanimously voted for one purpose, and then such haggling and bitterness over a measly fifty or a hundred million for another? He would discover, to his surprise, that the fifty million which divided the House on the W.P.A. deficiency bill is just half the price of a single battleship.

But he would soon be enlightened. Any Congressmen or any businessman could easily explain this confusion.

Don’t you realize, he would be told, that the government debt is so high and the yearly deficits are so large that we are headed straight for bankruptcy? Don’t you understand that business is getting nowhere because it is strangled with so many taxes? Don’t you see, then, that the only way in which the country can be saved from destruction is through a rigorous program of economy and more economy? W.P.A. has got to be cut to the bone or we’ll go to pieces in no time.

And if our visitor replied: So that’s how it is? I didn’t understand about economy. Now I would suggest that if you need some real savings you could get even further by lopping a billion or two from these armament bills ...

But, naturally, our Congressman or businessman would not be going to carry this type of conversation further. He would turn away, muttering: So, on Mars or the South Seas they don’t even know the difference between economy and patriotism! He’s an alien, by his own admission, and I’ll see that he is deported, as he ought to be, for spreading subversive doctrines.

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