From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 39, 28 September 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Labor Action has already analyzed and explained in detail the economic proposals of FDR contained in his Labor Day speech and the effect these propositions will have upon American living standards.
Here we want to consider the speech in its broader sense, particularly its POLITICAL meaning as related to the, war effort and the growth of totalitarian forms and techniques in the United States.
As everyone knows, war – particularly modern imperialist war against a highly organized and determined totalitarian opponent – can only be conducted in the most centralized manner possible. A democratic capitalist nation, combating a fascist capitalist nation such as Hitler Germany or Hirohito Japan, must adopt, one after the other, the methods, manners and practices that prevail in the country of his opponent, This is what we are witnessing now; this is the pattern, into which the Roosevelt attack upon Congress falls.
Reporters, like Arthur Krock of the New York Times can cite previous wars (the American Civil War and the First World War, under Wilson, for example) to prove that the centralization of supreme authority under Roosevelt is quite a natural thing, during wartime, with numerous precedents in American history. Supreme Court decisions can be quoted from now to doomsday to prove that everything the President does – from his first to his latest war decree – is quite “constitutional.” But all this citation of past history misses the MAIN point, the reason why the speeches and acts of FDR are different in kind from those of his predecessors.
When Lincoln made himself a wartime presidential leader, he was fighting a war to establish progressive capitalism’s right to rule over the whole of the United States. Capitalism, at its birth, was eager and rarin’ to go. After THAT war was over, the military rule (except over the conquered South) vanished and a wave of capitalist prosperity accompanied by the growth of democracy came to America. In the First World War the military and dictatorial powers granted to Wilson likewise proved to be temporary wartime measures which were gradually relinquished in the post-war period. Both these wars took place at a period when American capitalism was still going forward and progressing. The measures taken during the two wars were TEMPORARY and could be abolished by the ruling class once victory had been assured, because capitalist democracy is based upon concessions made to the people by a happy, profit-making capitalist class.
However, the analogy with Roosevelt’s powers and demands is false because his measures are not and cannot be temporary. They are a PERMANENT FEATURE of every capitalist nation, to a greater or lesser degree, today. They represent steps and measures that capitalism MUST adopt if (1) it is to win the war against its fascist opponents and (2) if is it to establish its rule and maintain ITS idea of peace once the war is over.
For instance, instead of the ruling class talking about liquidating its huge standing conscript army once the war is over (as it did the last time), we now hear ONLY talk about its permanency and perpetuation for the purpose of policing the world arid keeping “law and order” throughout the universe! Just this one fact alone shows the DIFFERENCE between today and yesteryear.
Consider the Roosevelt message to Congress, even the FORM in which it was cast. FDR bluntly told Congress (as well as the American people, to whom he held Congress up as an object of ridicule, delaying and hampering the war effort) that if it did not take certain measures he proposed and give him certain powers he demanded, he would take those measures and assume those powers by himself, under his own responsibility. Clearly, this had nothing in common with the traditional powers of Congress, which is supposedly the origin and source of r all Presidential legislative powers.
But how does this represent a growth and step toward totalitarian institutions? Have not previous Presidents threatened and fought with their Congresses? Yes, but again this is different, First, in the magnitude of the powers demanded by the President (right to control wages, prices, etc.). Secondly, in the fact that a GENERAL, authority, rather than a specific bill, is demanded. In other words, the President demands that certain Congressional powers of legislation be handed over to HIM, and removed from Congressional control. And thirdly, no President ever delivered an ultimatum in the form that FDR did – namely, give me what I want or else I take it!
But has not Labor Action maintained that this particular Congress is a pro-capitalist and anti-labor Congress – in fact, the most anti-labor body for many years? Why should not the ruling class be satisfied with this Congress? Why strip it of its powers?
It is, of course, quite true that this is a viciously anti-labor Congress and FDR has not failed to play upon this demagogic note in his efforts to ridicule Congress before the people. But this is not the point, the rulers of American imperialism are well satisfied with Congress’ anti-labor bias. It is rather the fact that, the growth and development of authoritative and military methods of rule DEMAND the sacrifice of such democratic bodies as Congress, which are products of liberal, growing capitalism.
For the dictator, Congress, with its open discussions and investigation committees and public hearings, can prove mighty embarrassing and annoying. It handicaps rapid, determined political and military decisions of the imperialists; it is an annoyance, a luxury that a militarized capitalist regime can no longer afford. The whole tendency of modern society – that is, of modern CAPITALIST society – is to become centralized and fascist in its method of rule. Congress, especially a Congress with the teeth of independent legislative powers, might stand in the way to the extent that it reflects pressure from below. Therefore, it must be shorn of these powers and reduced to Reichstag-like puppetry.
Does this mean that FDR aims, at abolishing Congress and imposing a fascist war dictatorship upon America? Not at all – FDR is not prepared for such measures, as yet. Congress can exist – quietly; Congress can legislate – as FDR’s representatives dictate to it; but Congress must have less to say about the war, war economy and how the war is run. That belongs in the hands of the President, his close advisers, the Army and Navy authorities.
Last updated: 7.1.2014