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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(13 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 69, 13 September 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

When President Roosevelt invoked wartime powers to order increases in the armed forces and to start a witch-hunt against “subversive” elements, he showed how soon and how swiftly democratic, rights will be extinguished in this country as its masters drag it into war.

Britain and France are already as totalitarian as their enemy across the Rhine. Parliaments have been thrust aside without ceremony. They weren’t even permitted to go through the motions of declaring this war as the sovereign will of the peoples they are supposed to represent. Chamberlain merely told the House of Commons that the country was at war. Daladier had his docile deputies vote to him in advance to declare war when he saw fit.

As their last acts these expiring “democratic” bodies turned over to the masters of the two governments unlimited dictatorial powers. These powers were swiftly used, to decree death to all remaining civil liberties, to choke off all remaining channels of independent opinion, and to dragoon the economy of the country – above all the workers! – into a totalitarian unit geared to the grim business of waging war.

And that is what “democratic rights” and Congress and its Congressmen will amount to when Roosevelt and Wall Street deem the moment has come to throw this country’s weight into the struggle for markets, colonies, and super-profits. Roosevelt has already issued the false cry for “national unity” – an end to political differences In time of crisis. For the Republicans and Democrats – tools in common of the Sixty Families who are the real rulers of the land – this “unity” will be easy to achieve. They will simply stop their shadow-boxing.

But hidden behind this cry is the intention of the government to lash all genuine opponents of the war into submission, to begin the campaign of hysterical propaganda that will lead our millions of youth straight into the holocaust.

That is why Roosevelt starts out with decrees aimed at “subversive” elements. That is why he is cannily waiting for the war boom to begin to make itself felt before he comes before a chastened Congress with a demand for abrogation of the war embargo provisions of the neutrality act – a feeble barrier against U.S. embroilment in war, but a barrier nevertheless. When Congress convenes in its special session we shall be treated to an advance demonstration of the process whereby the representative bodies in England and France were dispossessed of their powers.

Opponents of the war referendum have tried to tell the people that such decisions should be left to the divinely-inspired leadership of our elected representatives, elected, every one of them, by the corrupt political machines which are the real expression in life of the “democratic process”! But we already have before our eyes in the two great so-called “democracies” in Europe what happens when the people hand over their fate in such a crucial moment to these puppets of the big industrialists and financiers who pull all the strings of government.

Not even the highly-colored, censored dispatches from – not of the enemy but of the war-makers – across the sea can conceal the hatred, the reluctance, and fearful confusion of mind with which the masses of all the European nations have met the cruel fate of a second horrible war in their own time. They did not in time find their own voices and their own strength.

But they will, as the treachery of this war unfolds itself and all the fine phrases are unspun to reveal the greed of a few at the heart of all the destruction. Let us make our voices heard in time here. Let us demand the right for the people to speak for themselves and by universal vote proclaim their hatred of boss war and the war-makers!

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