Jean van Heijenoort writing as Marc Loris

Washington’s “New Order”

Washington’s “New Order” Fourth International, July 1942, pp.108-110, under the name “Marc Loris”, (3,511 words) Transcribed Edited by Ted Crawford, HTML Markup by David Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL) in 2005.

The resistance of the Red Army has shown the limits of the power of the German military machine. The absence of a German spring offensive has started to relieve the “democracies” of the great fear, and some people already forecast the speedy collapse of the Hitlerian empire. What these hopes are worth we will not discuss here. They have, however, already produced their fruits in the literary and oratorical world. Yesterday fear of successful Nazi barbarism was the preoccupying theme of the political speeches. Today the “democracies” are starting to speak of the peace and its organization; Hoover reveals to us the secrets for establishing a “lasting peace”; reinforced by official authority, Sumner Welles sketches the future organization of the world. Moreover, all these speeches on the peace do not reflect merely premature hopes. Peace aims are war aims, and war aims are weapons. In their own way they contribute to the American mobilization for the world offensive. What the speed and success of this offensive will be no one yet knows. Nevertheless, whatever the military changes of fortune and the rhythm of events may be, the most likely perspective remains the defeat, sooner or later, of Germany followed by that of Japan. In any case, this is the perspective that we must accept now in order to discuss the peace of the United Nations, that is, the American peace.

A Question of Historical Fact One of the most authoritative statements on the future peace is that of Sumner Welles, Under-Secretary of State, before a memorial Day crowd, May 30, in Washington. On June 17 he expounded the same views in another speech in Baltimore. Welles first had to answer a rather embarrassing question : Why did he find himself posing the same problem a second time, less than twenty years after its solemn solution in 1919? Why has humanity found itself precipitated into a second horrible catastrophe twenty years after having gone through a first one? Welles answered this on May 30: “The failure of the American people to join in international cooperation after the last war played a large part in bringing about the present gigantic world struggle. “

At first sight the Under-Secretary of State’s declaration may seem surprising: the American policy “played a large part” in bringing about the present war!

The reason for this astonishing confession becomes evident when one listens to Welles on June 17:

“Have we all learned in this hard and perilous way that co-operation is no leas essential in maintaining peace than in winning war? . . . We can none of us again afford to forget the lessons we have learned—that cooperation to win the victory Is not enough; that there must be even greater cooperation to will the peace, If the peace is to be that kind of peace which alone can prevent the recurrence of war.”

If Welles does not hesitate to cast against his own country the grave accusation of having “played a large part” in bringing about the present war, it is because he desires to justify more and more direct intervention in world affairs by Washington henceforth ("international cooperation"). In the absence of America, the wretched peoples of Europe were unable to make peace among themselves. If Uncle Sam had been there, there would not have been war. In the future Uncle Sam must be “there,” that is to say, everywhere in the world.

It is worth while pausing a moment over this argument, because this point of history has an enormous importance for the future. Was the anti-Wilsonian reaction, in particular the refusal of the United States to enter the League of Nations, the radical defect which provoked the bankruptcy of the Versailles Treaty? During the first imperialist war the United States accumulated enormous wealth in a few years, and from a debtor country rapidly became a creditor country to which Europe owed many billions of dollars. Precisely because of the prodigious speed of this ascension, the consciousness of the American bourgeoisie lagged behind the new reality. This is rather frequently the case in history. In particular, the whole drama of the present epoch is in the difficulty which the proletariat encounters in adjusting itself to its historic task. But that which requires long effort for an oppressed class is relatively easy for a governing class: the American bourgeoisie rapidly adapted its political consciousness to its new economic power. The anti-Wilsonian isolationism of the immediate post-war period was only a short episode. As early as 1923, to use the language of Welles, the American people had joined in international cooperation. The “American people” was personified by General Charles G. Dawes, who presented to the European governments a plan of reorganization of German economy. And these debt-ridden governments, willy nilly, had to accept the General’s plan, for it was supported by a promise of an 800 million dollar loan from the American banks. From then on American finance did not cease to make its voice, irritating but none the less convincing, understood in impoverished and indebted Europe. Not only the bourgeois leaders, but also the small tradesman, the worker and even the peasant of Europe had to learn from the daily newspapers to pronounce the names of Owen D. Young, Charles G. Dawes, and Kellogg. For on them depended the stability of the mark, the franc, even of the pound sterling, that is, the preservation of the meager revenue and salaries of Europe’s masses. At the risk of contradicting Welles, one must recognize that America throughout played a not negligible role in “international cooperation"!

The Versailles Treaty is now blamed for all the misfortunes of Europe. But it was itself more a symptom than a cause. The cause is the economic and social stagnation of Europe. On the basis of this stagnation, the slightest problems become insoluble difficulties, just as a sick body turns the slightest scratch into a festering wound. Take even the question of reparations. After the war of 1870 France had to pay Germany, on very short order, a billion dollars. For that epoch it was an enormous sum, but the transfer was effected with amazing ease and long before the time-limit set by Germany. The payments contributed to the capitalist development not only of Germany, which is obvious, but also of France, by accelerating the development of its great banks and the transformation of its peasant economy. Ascending capitalism knew how to profit from even its mishaps to expand its empire. In 1919 the Allies fixed a ridiculously high total of reparation. But what Germany really paid for a few years were annuities of 300 to 400 million dollars. These amounts, although enormous, were not out of proportion with the indemnity of 1871, considering the great increase of national wealth in the meantime. However, the transfer of these sums, far from benefiting a single country, even France, provoked crises which menaced the stability of currencies, of governments, even of the social system.

In 1928 one of Dawes’ collaborators, George Auld, published a book to show the workability of the American plan and the capacity of Germany to pay. The book would be convincing, if only there was any truth in the hypothesis on which the whole demonstration rests: “with constantly expanding markets."[1]

Against this background the question of America’s entry into the League of Nations manifestly takes on an episodic importance. Only a legalistic mind could see in it one of the principal causes of the European crisis. This crisis is caused first of all by the impasse of European capitalism. And this impasse was due in great part to the appearance across the Atlantic of a rival, richer in resources and better organized, while the European continent was torn to pieces. The enormous material superiority Of the United States automatically excluded all probability of economic revival for capitalist Europe. In the absence of the proletarian revolution a new war was inevitable, sooner or later, whatever may have been the political combinations. Certainly we do not wish to deny Welles’ affirmation that the United States “played a large part in bringing about the present gigantic struggle.” However, it incurred that responsibility not by some episodic political abstention, but by an enormous economic participation.

Welles’ singular assertion of American responsibility is directed, naturally, against a new threat from isolationism, but it also aims to hide the real character of the present war. If the war is due “in large part” to a political error in the composition of the League of Nations, then it is not the product of a general decline of capitalist society and, consequently, once this unfortunate accident has passed, society will be able to proceed with its march forward. Promises to this effect are multiplying. Doubtless because the phrases about a better political order, about democracy and freedom, have lost their attraction for the people, assurances that the war leads us towards a new era of economic prosperity are becoming more and more numerous. Welles promises a “new frontier of human welfare” and “freedom from want” after the war. Lyttelton, British Minister of Production, assures us that “we have passed from an age of scarcity to an age of plenty.” Henry Wallace, Vice-President of the United States, affirms that “the object of this war is to make sure that everybody in the world has the privilege of drinking a quart of milk a day.” Donald Nelson, chief of the War Production Board, announces to the world that “poverty is not inevitable any more.”

“A New Frontier of Human Welfare” How to fulfill these extraordinary promises? The heads of the “democracies” have already declared in the Atlantic Charter that their countries “will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity.” What they mean by that, however, they will never deign to explain. One of their spokesmen, Viscount Cranborne, Secretary of State for the Colonies, has just stated in the House of Lords on June 2nd the government’s views on the “post-war problems.” The Atlantic Charter, he said, laid down the fundamental aim on which a peace settlement must be based. Then he refused to add anything: “Anything said today would not be merely useless but more likely to do more harm than good.” Let us listen carefully, the question is not the details of some practical application, the question is one of “fundamental aims” for which millions of men are killing each other, but speaking of these aims does more harm than good! A touch of bitter irony is added to this picture by Goebbels. As is known, the free access to sources of raw materials has been one of the demands of Nazi foreign policy. The peculiar position of German imperialism gives this demand a semblance of justification. At the end of May, Goebbels complained bitterly that the “democracies” had appropriated the slogan. “The Anglo-Saxon statesmen are plagiarizing,” he charged. Millions of men are being killed to decide, it seems, which camp has the honor of offering the world free access to raw materials!

In order to reach his “new frontier of human welfare” Welles repeats the Atlantic Charter’s assurances on the “free access” to raw materials; the only clarification he gives is that the United Nations will “provide the mechanism whereby what the world produces may be distributed among the peoples of the world.” What could this wonderful “mechanism” be? Until now, this “distribution” of what the world produces has been operated by the institutions called trusts, monopolies and banks. Where this “mechanism” has led the world, everyone knows. Does Welles propose another “mechanism"? There is none—except socialism.

Reading these fabulous promises of economic progress and well-being for all, one asks some questions: For a long time the “democracies” have had “free access” to raw materials ; how would capitalism be able to make such improvements? Why didn’t they undertake this before the war? Why must it be accomplished only after the war when all the countries will be considerably impoverished and some completely destroyed?

At the end of May, England has spent in this war nearly 9 billion pounds sterling, which was already 200 million pounds more than the total credits voted from 1914 to 1918. British expenses continue at the rate of 12 million pounds per day. In order to visualize what a flood of wealth is being hurled into the abyss, one must recall that in the most difficult moments of the last war, in 1917-18, Great Britain spent daily an average of 61/2 million pounds, that is, the tempo of the spending is today doubled. And how long this will last no one knows. In August 1941, before the difficulties on the Russian front, Germany had already spent more than 100 billion marks in the war, not counting a pre-war armament program of 90 billion marks, and its present total expenditures remain unknown. At the end of May, the United States had already spent 30 billion dollars for the war. The expenditures continue at the rate of a billion dollars a week. At the end of the last war the United States had a national debt of 25 billion dollars, about three months’ national income. Now, if the calculations of the administration are not upset by accidents such as inflation, the national debt in 1943 will be 110 billion dollars, more than twelve months’ national income. No one yet knows what the total will be at the end of the war. How will these enormous sums be paid? There are only two ways: taxation, a tribute paid from the income of the coming generations; or inflation, the impoverishment of entire layers of the population. Whichever method is used, the result will prevent a certain number of persons from drinking the daily quart of milk promised by Wallace.

Not only does the war destroy accumulated wealth. It also destroys the capacity of the system to recuperate. War greatly accelerates the centralization and concentration of capital, it ruins many layers of the middle class. It deepens and exacerbates all the contradictions of the system. It renders the system subject to economic crises always more profound, always more persistent; it reduces the possibility of a way out.

The End of Imperialism ... of Others The economic realities of the world of tomorrow are indicated by the political program of the “democracies.” Today this program is incapable of reviving the humanitarian and pacifist illusions of Wilson’s 14 points. Today no one speaks like Wilson of general disarmament. Welles, repeating the Atlantic Charter, proclaims the “disarming of all aggressors,” which is a simple measure of war. As for the “peace-loving” nations “and other like-minded states,” they will form “an international police power.” The Earl of Selborne, speaking to the House of Lords on behalf of the British government, affirmed that the United Nations “must keep armed for the maintenance of peace.” Secretary of the Navy Knox, it will be recalled, said the United States will police the world for a hundred years. If capitalism were capable of assuring the entire world an “age of plenty” and “freedom from want,” if it would put an end to “poverty,” then how does one explain the need of “international police” for a regime which would have such attraction for the masses?

However, Welles’ speech on the future economy of the world does not merely consist of empty phrases and false promises. Some of his declarations are much more serious than would seem at first glance. Thus he declares: “The age of imperialism is ended. . . . The principles of the Atlantic Charter must be guaranteed to the world as a whole—in all oceans and in all continents.” The last sentence is a direct and categorical reply to Churchill, who had declared that the Atlantic Charter should not be applied to India. Thus the meaning of the first part of the statement becomes clear: The age of imperialism is ended . . . for England.

Because of the peculiarities of its development, having vast resources on one continent at its disposal, the United States appeared late on the world arena, after the other imperialist powers had divided the rest of the world. So it was able to cover its imperialist expansion with liberal and humanitarian slogans such as “freedom of the seas” or “the open door in China.” Today this American imperialist method is at its peak: the most explosive imperialist expansion in history is being prepared under cover of the slogan “the end of imperialism"!

The United States now occupies the place Britain held in the Nineteenth Century, that of the first economic power of the world. But England still holds an enormous colonial empire from the past. The present war is the struggle between Berlin and Washington for the English heritage. If Germany is defeated the dominant feature of the capitalist relations of tomorrow will be the passage of the British Empire from the orbit of London to that of Washington. Australia and New Zealand are rapidly moving in this direction, while Canada has already preceded them. Tomorrow, America will “open the door” of India after having “liberated” China. England’s resistance will, of course, be hopeless. The whole question is merely one of form and time.

The peace of Versailles was a compromise between the conflicting demands of the victors. Among Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Wilson there was do great disproportion of power. Today, however, America’s superiority over England is much greater than that of England over France, or of America over Europe, in 1919. By the end of the war this American superiority will become still greater. The peace will be, above all, an American peace.

There is, however, a factor which is always present in the minds of all the imperialists and which they scarcely dare to mention: the revolution. That we are soon to enter a new epoch of revolutionary crises no one doubts, especially not the imperialist leaders. The appearance of the revolutionary proletariat on the scene will reveal the lies and emptiness of the imperialist peace plans. It is for this embarrassing situation that Welles has projected a “cooling off” period. The Under-Secretary of State did not reveal an abundance of detail on this period. He contented himself with making it understood that the United States would reshape the world as it pleased, before becoming immobilized in a peace treaty. Since the imperialist adversary will have collapsed, whom will this “cooling-off” period be directed against, except the peoples in revolt?

During the period between the two wars American intervention, especially in Europe, took primarily financial forms. While he carried the title of General, Charles G. Dawes’ arms were the billions of Wall Street, not tanks and planes. But that is now the pre-history of American imperialism. Tomorrow “the international police power” will attempt to enforce Yankee order in the entire world. In Europe the “second front” might be the prelude to military occupation of the continent. On the wasted, starving countries, America will seek to impose its will by the blackmail of food, then loans, and if necessary it will employ the still more convincing argument of bombing planes.

Until lately democrats of all shades were fond of contrasting the German economy, prey of the vampire state, to the American economy, paradise of free initiative. These were two conceptions of the world, two radically opposed philosophies. After a few months of war, the American economy is not easily distinguished from the German economy and will be less and less so in the future. The fundamental difference was that Hitler was five years ahead in his preparation for war. And America must now work twice as hard, both in the war and the organization of the world. Today Hitler’s “New Order” has already shown its real face. It is something old—oppression, misery, exploitation. But the “democracies” as well have nothing else to bring to the world. American imperialism is unable to develop the wealth of the globe by making fantastic promises. Far from raising China and India to the material level of the advanced countries, it can only reduce Europe to the level of India.

But if the democratic “New Order” cannot bring more than the Nazi “New Order,” it will clash with the same obstacle : the revolt of the workers. Even though prepared by a “cooling off” period, the pax americana will be, in the final count, as unstable as the pax germanica. The union of the workers will be the peace of the world.

[1] George P. Auld,The Dawes Plan and the New Economics, 1928. These four little words which underlie the whole reasoning of the book are written a single time, as by chance, page 168. The author does not discuss them at all, as though they were a natural truth.