Burnham Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

James Burnham

Their Government

(20 October 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 80, 20 October 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Since the beginning of the war, the isolationist Congressmen, especially the group of Senators headed by Borah, LaFollette, Nye and Vandenberg, have attempted to pose before the country as “the peace bloc,” the aim of which is “to keep the country out of war.” Several weeks of the Special Session provide us with new evidence upon which to judge their claim.

The isolationists continue their opposition to repeal of the arms embargo. On this particular point the Socialist Workers Party agrees with them. Nevertheless, agreement here or on any other single point does not in the least imply the slightest similarity in general policy toward the war. We must always ask what motivates the position taken on any given point that boils down to a “yes or no” question; and ask how this position is related to the whole policy pursued by any group or party.

The Nazi Bund and, today, the Stalinists also oppose repeal of the arms embargo. They do so for a clear and simple reason: because they favor the victory of Hitler, and, under the immediate circumstances, opposition to repeal happens to favor Hitler as against the Anglo-French coalition.

Why the S.W.P. Opposes Repeal

The Socialist Workers Party stands for the defeat of both sides in the war, of Hitler and of Britain-France. The S.W.P. is opposed to repeal of the arms embargo because the SWP is against the war, and because Roosevelt’s proposal to lift the embargo is a war act. This can be most obviously seen in the following two ways:

  1. Repeal of the embargo is a unilateral intervention by United States imperialism in the war, on the side of one of the belligerents. This is understood by everyone, and has been brought into the open during the Senate debates. Repeal will turn part of US industry into an armory for Britain-France. This intervention is necessarily a step,and a very important step, toward further involvement which must lead in the end to military entry.
  2. Even more important, however, is the fact that repeal of the embargo is a key part of the direct war preparations of the US military machine. The orders from Britain-France will enable the US armament industry to increase its plant and facilities and raise its capacity to war levels before formal declaration of war. From this point of view, opposition to repeal follows in exactly thesame way as opposition to any and all military appropriations by the US or any other imperialist government.

At the same time, the SWP does not regard the embargo issue as decisive for war or peace. It refuses to delude itself or the workers. Retention of the embargo would prove only a minor bump in the path of the war machine.

Why do the Isolationists Oppose Repeal?

A study of the conduct of the isolationists – not, of course, from the point of view of their psychological motives or moral ideals, but of the political meaning and function of their acts – proves that their opposition to repeal of the embargo has nothing in common with that of the SWP and of the militant anti-war fighters in general. On the contrary, their opposition can be correctly understood only as a demagogic exploitation of the anti-war sentiments of the people, and as a pacifist cover for the war preparations of US imperialism. Far from helping in the fight against the war, they are most dangerous – because deceptive – enemies of the anti-war fight, and allies of the war-mongers.

This judgment will sound harsh to sentimentalists, but no other conclusion is possible. Consider:

In other words and in general: on all major fronts the isolationists are in the vanguard of those who are pushing forward the aggressive war plans of US imperialism.

Jumping the Gun

In fact, the isolationists are often well in advance of their “opponents.” For example: it is on the initiative of the isolationists – specifically, Borah – that the present bill is now being amended to “relax the restrictions on shipping.” As drawn up by the administration, all shipments in US vessels to ports of belligerents were to be prohibited. The amendments will prohibit shipments only to “belligerent zones,” which will include only Europe, and will exclude the entire East – Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Indo-China, etc..

But this is exactly the major strategy of US imperialism, which, stretching out from a stranglehold on Latin America has as its next immediate aim dominance of the East.

And it was the isolationist Shipstead who a few days ago gave more of the show away by openly proposing in the Senate that the United States take over Canada and the European possessions in this hemisphere.

Borah, let us remember, not merely voted for the declaration of war in 1917, but made the most rabid of all the speeches supporting it.

Burnham Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 16 February 2018