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James Burnham

Their Government

(9 December 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 92, 9 December 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Relief Crisis

The relief crisis in Cleveland, rapidly coming to a head also in other Ohio cities, serves to remind us in a very grim and dramatic manner that the war is not an isolated symptom of the frightful decay of capitalist civilization, and that the United States is in no way immune from the international spread of that decay. 16,000 persons, with no resources and no chance for any job, public or private, have been cut entirely off home relief. They and many tens of thousands more are subsisting on a diet, provided by the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation which is demonstrably unable to maintain a minimum health level, in many cases not even life itself.

The Mayor of Cleveland, the Governor of Ohio and the Federal government are engaged in a vigorous game of three-cornered buck-passing, each trying to get rid of the responsibility. It can hardly make much difference to the unemployed under whose auspices they are condemned to starve and freeze.

The fact of the matter, of course, is that during the past year, at the bidding of big business, a combined drive against the unemployed has been pushed steadily forward by federal, State and local governments, Republican and Democratic parties alike.

At the head of this drive stands Franklin Roosevelt, who, a little more than a year ago, began the rapid transformation of the New Deal into the War Deal.

Plans for the Next Congress

There is nothing to be astonished at in the Cleveland crisis. It is just one more blow in a long and linked series which is by no means ended. It ties up plainly with the way in which, last November and December, Roosevelt dropped 300,000 from the WPA rolls, and, in March of this year, threw 50,000 foreign-born residents into the streets. It is bound closely to this year’s WPA appropriation figure, which, at Roosevelt’s demand, is a billion dollars less than last year. It is related directly to Roosevelt’s slashing of WPA rolls by 1,700,000 between November 1, 1938 and September 1, 1939 (they have risen only slightly from the low point of 1,600,000 which they reached in September). It is comparable, plainly, to the dropping of all WPA workers who had been on the rolls more than eighteen months, to the elimination of the theater projects and most of the arts and cultural projects, to the smashing of the wage scales on the building projects.

And, when anyone actively resists the process, we know already what happens: the current Minneapolis trials, prepared by the F.B.I. and directed by Roosevelt’s favorite, Frank Murphy, are samples of the answers that the administration gives to its serious critics. According to Murphy and the Minneapolis judge, unwillingness on the part of the unemployed to starve and freeze constitutes: conspiracy.

Let no one imagine that what is happening in Ohio will suggest to Roosevelt that he has perhaps gone “too far” and that more adequate appropriations for the unemployed should be restricted. He hasn’t started yet. The present plan of the administration is to recommend to the next session of Congress a total WPA appropriation of one billion dollars – a further cut, from the figure of this year’s budget, of approximately half a billion dollars.

The size of the WPA and other public works appropriations is necessarily related to the home relief conditions in the cities, since less public works money means more home relief needed; and the bankers who control the city and State finances are not prepared to meet the additional financial strains.

Relief, WPA and the War

The cartoonists of the boss press are fond of showing us that the slogan of Goering and the other Nazis is ‘Guns, not butter”. That is what Nazism means, they tell us: you get armaments and war instead of food. They say this today in order to ask us to fight in their war tomorrow.

But the cartoonists, like Roosevelt, seem to be suffering from severe cases of far-sightedness. They can distinguish events much more clearly at 4,000 miles than in their own front yards.

And their far-sightedness seems to affect not merely their eyes but their feelings. Their horror, sympathy and indignation are most easily and immensely aroused at the plight of Marshal Mannerheim – murderer of tens of thousands of Finnish workers and peasants – and the plight of Polish colonels and landlords – inventors of modern pogroms (not to mention Chinese cities bombed by planes and ammunition constructed in their factories), but they have only G-men and cops for the conspirators in Minneapolis and Cleveland who want, of all things, a little food, and medicine for their children.

And while quietly preparing the new WPA bill with the half-billion cut, the administration announces – not so quietly – that at the least half a billion will have to be added to the armament appropriations. Somehow, when you stop to think about it, it’s not so easy to see just exactly where this whole policy differs from the Goering guns-not-butter principle.

Doubtless we should sympathize with Roosevelt: with all the mighty events in Europe and Asia to keep him busy, he probably has no time left to worry about a dozen million unemployed and their families at home. But the unemployed themselves, not having jobs to waste their energies on, can profitably devote some time to the question of how they are going to continue living.

In reply to Roosevelt’s weekly declarations to the world about democracy and humanity, the unemployed might well issue statements of their own on such subjects as “A job and a decent living for every worker”, “All war funds to the unemployed”, “A thirty dollar weekly minimum income for every worker, employed or unemployed”, “Expropriate the Sixty Families, and use the money for a gigantic scheme of public works” ... And if the statements did not receive the notice that Roosevelt is granted in the press, militant action under the banner of such statements will be sure to do so.

Nor will such action by the unemployed be separated from the struggle against the war itself. The fight against the war is the fight against the war-makers and their whole rotten system. The War Deal plans to reduce the unemployed to an outlaw, coolie caste. Successful resistance to these plans by the unemployed will be their heaviest blow at the war.

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