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James Burnham

Their Government

FDR Is Thinking of Next November

(17 February 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 7, 17 February 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is a key principle of realistic political analysis that the foreign and domestic policies of governments are inseparably linked, that they are, in fact, for the most part simply two phases of the same policy. It could hardly be otherwise. The basic problem for each government is to run the state institutions, which it administers, in the interests of the ruling class of the given nation; to uphold against all enemies the social structure upon which the power of the ruling class rests. This problem confronts the government equally on the domestic and the international arena. Foreign policy (including war) is the attempt to solve this problem as it is posed externally, just as domestic policy is the attempt to solve the same problem internally.

Most liberals and reformists try to obscure the link between foreign and domestic policy. Up until recently some of them used to tell us that they “approved Roosevelt’s New Deal” (his domestic policy) but disagreed with his “aggressive” foreign policy. Now many of them are reversing. They say that they object to his internal measures (cutting down of relief, drive against civil rights, prosecution of labor unions ...) but are in accord with his “peace” and “neutrality” program in external affairs.

Social-patriotic support of wars is often founded upon a pretended separation between foreign and domestic policy. During peace, the social-patriot criticizes the government, even calls for ousting it and putting a labor government in its place. Internally, they admit, the government (Daladier’s, for example!) run by bourgeois parties acts for the bankers and the industrialists, and against the masses of the people. But beyond the borders the government changes its spots: there it acts as the representative of “the entire nation.” Consequently (as in France and England today) the social-patriotic parties vote unanimously for the government when it comes to prosecuting a war.

New Deal and War Deal

The general rule that foreign and domestic policies are linked applies, of course, to the Roosevelt government. Roosevelt was not a Dr. Jekyll when proposing New Deal laws to Congress and a Mr. Hyde when sending a note to Japan or intervening in Mexico. In both types of action, he proceeded from the same premise in the effort to solve the same problem.

The transition from New Deal to War Deal, which began in October 1937, swung into high a year ago, and will be completed with the entry of the country directly into the war, can be understood as a shift in emphasis. During the New Deal the emphasis, the weighting, was on internal measures as the primary mechanism for solving the problems of American capitalism; the War Deal means the realization that the internal measures have failed, and the consequent shifting of relative emphasis to external measures.

The shift is symbolized by the difference in the way that Roosevelt is looked upon by most people. Until a year ago he appeared primarily as a national reformer on the home front. More and more he now figures as the bearer of the country’s destiny on the international scene.

However, the linkage between domestic and foreign affairs does not stop merely because of the shift of emphasis. Major stress on external measures came about as a result of the breakdown of preceding internal measures; similarly the current external measures react upon the internal situation.

This is true for American society as a whole, and in relation to the government’s basic problem of upholding capitalist rule. It is true also for Roosevelt’s narrower problem as head of the governmental bureaucracy, as party politician and as an individual.

The enormous, swollen bureaucracy (Federal, State and local), the Democratic party and Roosevelt as a person have very important special interests of their own, in addition to and sometimes in conflict with the interests of the ruling class which they serve. Roosevelt knows that, just as formerly these special interests depended chiefly on the showing made internally, so now they depend first of all on the showing made externally. Roosevelt knows that his own political fate, and the fate of his wing of the Democratic party, and the jobs in the bureaucratic apparatus, are being decided by “foreign affairs.”

I believe that this background must be kept in mind if we are to evaluate correctly many of the recent moves which Roosevelt has been making in foreign affairs – including his flirtations with the Vatican, the particular manner in which he has been handling the Soviet-Finnish war, and the junket of Sumner Welles.

If the war had not started, Roosevelt would, I think, have been washed up by now. He took an almost unalloyed beating from the regular Congress last year, and from the opposition wing of his own party. But the war put him back on his feet. His rating in the Gallup Poll made an unprecedented jump in September and October.

At first his advisers apparently thought that the United States would declare war within six or eight months, and that he and his followers would ride back into office as the only adequate war leaders. With the war developing as no one expected, they have become puzzled. Will they campaign, in the party convention and the election, on a “he kept us out of war” platform or with a “unite to win the war” slogan? They can keep both roads open provided (1) the war increases in seriousness and extent and (2) Roosevelt is made to seem the only man who can handle the war crisis, whether or not this country is formally a belligerent.

The first condition will take care of itself, without any pushing from Roosevelt. The fulfillment of the second is a congenial task for so accomplished a demagogue as Roosevelt. He and his publicity staff constantly reinforce the impression that he is indispensable; his war moves and his “peace moves” are alike presented with that twist.

Some of these moves, like the armament appropriations, the pressure on Japan, the drive in Latin America, the munitions sales to France and Britain, are altogether serious parts of the general war preparations and would be undertaken by any administration, Democratic or Republican. In the case of others (the overtures to the Vatican, the trip of Welles, and even the policy on Finland), we observe a great gap between the grandiose words and the insignificant actions. (With all the talk, Finland has got next to nothing that it needs from this country, and probably is never going to get much.) It is reasonable to suppose that in these latter moves, at least one of Roosevelt’s eyes and maybe half of the other is on next summer’s Chicago convention and November’s election day to follow.

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