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James Burnham

Their Government

(23 June 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 44, 23 June 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

According to the provisions of the Constitution, it is the function exclusively of the legislative arm of the Federal government – that is, of Congress – to appropriate money. The executive arm of the government – that is, the President and his subordinates – has charge of spending the money, but cannot appropriate it. It is part of the Constitutional task of the executive, however, to prepare and submit to Congress the governmental budget, which includes, the proposals of the executive for appropriations. From a Constitutional point of view, Congress may vote the budget as submitted, or may modify it in any way it chooses. The budget is calculated on the basis of a “fiscal year” beginning July 1st of each calendar year and ending June 30th of the subsequent calendar year.

About two months ago, President Roosevelt, in a special message, submitted to Congress his proposed total Federal relief budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st, 1939. It is absolutely essential that every worker, especially every unemployed worker, should understand that this relief budget was the product solely of Roosevelt and his appointed subordinates in the executive branch of the government, Congress had nothing whatever to do with it. Congress does not enter into the picture until after the budget is proposed. For everything in, or out of, the original budget, Roosevelt and Roosevelt alone is responsible.

Who Leads the Drive Against the Unemployed?

In his relief budget, Roosevelt proposed a total relief appropriation for the year beginning July 1st of $1,760,000,000. About $300,000,000 of this was to go to comparatively minor, though important, undertakings such as NYA. For the major and decisive federal relief activity, W.P.A., Roosevelt proposed exactly $1,477,000,000. Remember: this is Roosevelt’s figure, not the figure of Congress. This sum, proposed by Roosevelt, is more than $800,000,000 less than W.P.A. was allotted during the fiscal year now ending. It permits a maximum average of around 2,000,000 on W.P.A. rolls during the next year, as against an average of around 3,000,000 during the current year.

There is now going on in Congress a complicated fight over the relief bill. Some of the issues in this fight are of considerable significance to the unemployed – chief among them, perhaps, provisions that would automatically drop anyone, who had been on the rolls continuously for eighteen months or more and anyone who had “subversive ideas” about the government – but most of them are trivial.

There is no important fight at all on the point which is so basic that it completely overshadows all the rest: on the size of the W.P.A. appropriation.

In the House of Representatives, not one single member, either in committee or on the floor, has proposed the cut of a single dollar in the President’s figure.

How can this be? What has happened to the “champions of economy”, to the bitter enemies of the President, to all the Tories and right-wingers? The answer is simple: the President took the leadership in the drive against the unemployed. He proposed a cut in W.P.A. far more drastic than any of his so-called Tory opponents would have dared to propose. He took their breath away. With such a slash already contained in Roosevelt’s budget, there was, on the basic question, nothing further for even the bitterest reactionary to suggest.

How Can the Unemployed Fight?

What I have explained is so simple that a small child can understand it. It is not an “interpretation” or “guess” on my part; it is a clear direct fact. No one has to take my word for it. It is part of the public record.

But open and simple as this truth is, it is being deliberately hidden from the workers of this country. It is being hidden by the Stalinists and by the labor officialdoms. They hide it because in their politics they are committed to support of Roosevelt. They must therefore lie to the workers, attempt to make the workers believe that not Roosevelt but Congress or Republicans or “conservative Democrats” are alone responsible for the drive against the unemployed, and that Roosevelt is the friend of the unemployed.

No lie could be baser, more treacherous.

Not only does this lie hide a truth which every worker has a right and duty to know. This lie prevents the unemployed from struggling against the relief cuts. It is because the workers still believe this lie that there has been up to the present no effective struggle against the cuts; and there will not be until the workers stop believing the lie.

You cannot fight against the cuts when you put your reliance on the man who is chiefly responsible for making them, who is the leader in proposing them and carrying them through. Isn’t that the most obvious common sense?

The unemployed have lost the first big round. By all signs, the W.P.A. slash is going through at Roosevelt’s figure. It would have been another story if there had been a widespread, militant, mass-action fight by the unemployed. Roosevelt and Congress are in the last analysis contemptible cowards; they dare to put through the slash only because they do not have to face real resistance.

But the matter will not be closed when the bill is signed. A Roosevelt cut has the same effect on the food supply of the unemployed as a Tory cut You can’t eat pink slips, even when they are signed by Roosevelt’s administrators.

What of the next round? Will the lie of Browder and Lewis continue to strangle the unemployed? Or are the unemployed ready to cast off that lie, once and for all?

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