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Emanuel Geltman

Truman’s Fair Deal: Gear for War,
Hamstring Labor, Promise Reforms

Budget Allots Billions
for War Machine

(17 January 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 3, 17 January 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The bare realities of administration program are revealed in the President’s budget message to Congress with a sharpness that is only assumed in the two messages which preceded it. Where the State of the Union message, and the economic report, concerned themselves with domestic program, with heavy emphasis on the President’s fulfillment of campaign promises in various fields of legislation, the budget message illustrates what is the unalterable framework of the over-all program: preparation for an atomic Third World War through explicit all-out prosecution of the “cold war.”

Proposing an unprecedented peacetime expenditure of $42 billion, the President allotted in his recommendations more than half of this staggering sum to what he called “our international and national defense programs,” with additional requests for special purposes under this plan indicated for the future. Specifically, the President asked for $14,268,000,000 for “national defense,” and $6,709,000,000 for “international affairs and finance.”

The implications of these requests are manifest. They establish the fundamental political and economic orientation of the whole United States system. The billions proposed in war preparation today are, so to speak, down payments on the war that the leaders of government and business expect in the future, however remote that fearsome future may be at the moment.

They are billions which condition the nature of economic activity, providing the only vital stimulus for a high production level and employment that a decayed economic system can find.

They are billions thrown into the wastefulness of production designed not to better the lot of man, but to destroy him – today in the “cold war” with despotic Russia, tomorrow in the “hot” war – while in both situations the peoples of the world serve as expendable pawns in a ghastly war that can benefit no rational part of humanity.

Other War Costs

Actually, far more than is stated by the actual allotment figures (and more or less, the budget will generally be legislated with few significant changes, at least in this sphere of expenditure) is slated to go to the various war enterprises. Thus, whatever other benefits may accrue to the people from the sums asked for improving natural resources, transportation, etc., it seems obvious that part of them fall into the pattern of military needs.

Further, we must add to the explicit billions asked tor “international and national defense,” and the hidden millions referred to in the above paragraph, those other billions which are payments on previous wars. Here we have a picture of the intolerable burden imposed upon us by capitalism – yes, that most comfortable, energetic, stable of all capitalisms, United States capitalism.

Approximately one eighth of the whole budget, or $5,496,000,000, is asked for veteran’s services and benefits. This is one item of war expenditure we heartily endorse! By all means, the men and women who bore the pain of imperialist war have every right to be remunerated, and far more adequately than is provided for in the budget. For example, there is no provision for a national veterans’ bonus. We favor the expense, but should we not at the same consider the cause of the expense?

Making a Comparison

It is in the light of these billions that other appropriations requested must be seen. The State of the Union message may have left one saying ... well, however narrow, however inadequate, however limited, the President was coming across in his proposals for social legislation, and the real job is therefore to see that Congress enacts at least as much as the President seems to be asking.

Increased social security, public housing, aid to education sounded tine, if not all that is required, in the State of the Union message. But read in terms of the budget statistics, they seem pitiful indeed.

These three items, plus others under agricultural aid, preserving natural resources, etc., are commendable requests. Compare them, however, with the multi-billion requests for the armed services, with the $800,000,000 for the single item of universal training, with the $740,000,000 requested for the atomic energy commission (of which $210,208,875 is to be directly allocated to atomic weapons.)

$144,000,000 for public housing is better than nothing. That is one way to look at it. But, compared with the billions for war preparation (all right, “national defense”), it is nothing! $144 million will help some. However, it can come nowhere near meeting the need, for which an appropriation in the neighborhood of $5 billions would make sense.

So too, on the other items. It is understandable that a rich nation such as ours should spend billions on behalf of its citizens. Billions for what, though? For housing, for education, for social security? That’s rational. That’s sane.

Irrational, Insane System

Capitalism is, however, neither. It is caught in the impasse of being unable to meet the challenge of totalitarian Stalinism, in any other Way than war, or the anticipatory skirmishes of war.

It cannot appeal to the people of Europe and Asia, and the United States, to withstand and crush the Stalinist advance by asserting themselves, by independence, by dictating their own future through governments of their own.

It cannot appeal to the people trapped in the monstrous slave camp of Stalinism by telling them to free themselves, so that they can exercise control over industry and politics themselves, in common striving for a world of peace and plenty with the workers and farmers of other lands.

It cannot, because what it has to offer is no kind of desirable substitute – only the chaos and misery of capitalist imperialism, which has, in fact, made possible the advance of Stalinist imperialism.

And so, today, pending more terrible days of disaster, it imposes a 42 billion dollar burden on the people of the United States more than half of which is intended in one way or another for, destructive purposes, in order that U.S. imperialism may assert its dominance over a shaky world.

Socialist Opposition to Budget

Is it unreasonable to request billions for housing and other useful purposes? We know that the legislators, confronted with such a demand would raise their eyebrows in horror. Where to get the money? Well, one source suggests itself immediately: from the war budget. Simple.

Unfortunately, there is no one in either House of Congress who will oppose the budget on a socialist basis. One or two Stalinist stooges will oppose it, but their purpose will be to facilitate Russia’s campaign, to strengthen Russia’s hand, and not to promote the welfare of the people. They too are preparing for war, but for the other side. Perhaps some left-over isolationists will quibble about the size of the amount. Their plaints will do nobody any good either.

A socialist could oppose the military appropriations, and put the whole thing in proper perspective. He could ask the billions for housing, etc., and give that lift to the confidence and wishes of the people which could serve ultimately to block the imperialist war makers on both sides by laying the groundwork of a mass people’s opposition.

There are no socialists in Congress to speak for us. We must therefore speak outside the halls of Congress, and press through our unions and other representative organizations, for those measures we consider essential – bigger appropriations for housing, education, and so forth. And educate everyone to understand the meaning of the budget which is the real presidential message.

Where the Money Comes From

How does Truman propose that all this money shall be raised? He is asking for a raise in taxes. His proposals, except insofar as they call for greater taxes, do not appear to affect the lower income groups.

He has not been specific, but it seems likely that taxes will not be raised on incomes up to $5,000. The increase is to come from higher corporation taxes, and increased taxes on high incomes. Very good. However, we note something most interesting. Truman, in his new, aggressive liberal mood, does not ask for as much as he requested in what might be called his less liberal, pre-election campaign days: namely, an excess profits tax. Why not?

Not to impose a greater tax burden on the low income groups is welcome escape. The fact remains that present taxes are in themselves a burden.

One forgets what is the contribution of the low income group. Of $18.5 billion in taxes to be contributed in individual income taxes in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1949, $9,500,000,000 comes from those who make less than $5,000, $6 billion from those making between $5,000 and $25,000, and $3 billion from those making over $25,000.

Obviously, the nine and a half billion is spread over a vastly greater number of people. Still, it is a burden, a burden which concretely cuts into the standard of living, a burden which in our opinion ought to be borne by the fewer people who make the big dough.

Our slogan has been and remains: Soak the Rich! By all means an excess profits tax. By all means, a steeply graduated income tax above $5,000 with a $25,000 ceiling on individual incomes.

The rich ought to be soaked, and in our opinion they ought to be soaked to provide the revenue for socially useful enterprises instead of the socially destructive enterprises for which the greatest part of the budget is now allocated.

In conclusion, the budget, and all those matters like taxes which relate to it, are things that require the closest study by labor. The budget indicates to what we are heading. It also indicates those demands which not only serve our immediate, special interests in housing and the like, but which can serve as well to head off the disaster that a “healthy” and temporarily prosperous capitalism is preparing for us.

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