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Irving Howe

Exposing the Merchants of Death:

Their Profits Born in Blood

(May 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 18, 4 May 1932, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We do not know for certain, but we suspect that only a small portion of the story about the financial deals of America’s Merchants of Death has yet been told. The cartel agreements of Remington Rand, Standard Oil, ALCOA and General Electric have shocked the American people; their cynical deals with the German trusts have shown once and for all that all this double talk about “wars for democracy” which the capitalist class uses is just so much camouflage for profiteering.

Yet, shocking as these revelations are, annihilating exposes of the true nature of American Big Business as they are – how much is being held back? It took, you must remember, 15 years for the truth to come out about the last war – that it was a deliberate profit swindle in which thousands of American lads died to make the world safe for Morgan.

Thurman Arnold, Assistant Attorney General, has said that “in most basic war materials we find similar cartel agreements ...” A pretty serious statement. It says, in effect, that all of American Big Business has been playing the same nefarious game as Standard Oil. But if that is so, why aren’t the American people told about it? Let us have names and dates and places; let the American capitalist class – the master of our destinies thus far – stand exposed under the glare of truth. Let us see these profit-hungry, greedy murderous profiteers as they really are.

If and when more information is supplied about our native Merchants of Death, we are certain that they will be shown to be just as competent in their gruesome game as their European brothers.

Don’t you remember the story of how, during the first crusade to make the world safe for democracy, English soldiers would pick up bits of shell fired from German guns and identify them as made in Britain. (Today, American troops can have the consolation of knowing, likewise, that they are being shot at by bullets made ... from New York’s 6th Avenue El.)

It gradually became common knowledge in recent years that the Germans and French had an agreement in the last war that the Germans wouldn’t bomb the Dombasie iron basin and the French in turn wouldn’t bomb the Briey iron basin in Germany (which was owned by French capitalists!).

After all, business is business.

And in this Second World War the same thing was repeated.

Trade Between Enemies

In a remarkable article which Frank Hanighen wrote in the March, 1940, issue of Harper’s Magazine, he described in detail how, while the present war was being fought (yes, this war “to make the world safe for democracy and to destroy fascism”) the French and German industrialists were continuing their profitable trade, supplying each other with ingredients necessary for war production.

Hanighen wrote:

“German coke has been shipped to France via neutral Belgium. German coke has been shipped to French industrialists in neutral Luxemburg.

“French iron ore has been shipped to Germany via neutral Belgium and Luxemburg.

“French industrialists in Luxemburg have been shipping Germany iron ore from their Luxemburg mines and steel from their Luxemburg mills.

“French and German directors three months before the war (and today too, so far as it is known) are sitting on the same banking board in Luxemburg.

“Tools, machinery and implements have also been exchanged between Germany and France via Belgium.

“A Franco-German agreement, tacit or otherwise, to refrain from shelling each other’s factories, seems to be in force.”

And all the while French and British lads were bleeding on the battlefields to “save democracy” and the German boys were dying to “smash the plutocrats.”

The Real Winners

But it was the giant plutocratic capitalist cartels – the ARBED and HADIR – which had interests in steel and munitions factories on both sides of the fence that were really winning.

It was the Banque International de Luxemburg with four Frenchmen (representing the Schneider munitions interests) and three Germans representing the Dresden bank and the Nazi munitions cartel that were cashing in on both sides.

This is the picture of the capitalist world gone mad – profits, profits above all. Everything else is just so much hogwash designed to trick the unwary into surrendering their lives for these profits.

And cannot the same be said for Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, for du Pont’s Remington Arms, for Mellon’s ALCOA?

They are the Merchants of Death, the traders in blood who pile their fortunes atop mountains of skeletons. They are the true representatives of this wretched capitalist system – the capitalist class in the ugly nude.

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