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Shirley Lawrence

War Costs: One Trillion Dollars,
Sixty Million Men!

(June 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 25, 18 June 1945, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There’s nothing like a war for trotting out figures like billions, or even trillions! The following figures on war expenditures, based on the report of research experts of the American University at Washington, D.C., tell us a grim tale of the gigantic war costs that have accumulated thus far, used solely for destruction and killing.

Direct expenditures for the war have totalled so far more than $1,030,000,000,000, which still does not include figures for “the. destruction and damage of public and private property,” nor the expenditures of China. Of the total, Allied war figures were $558,090,000,000, and Axis war figures, $442,900,000,000. Listed by countries, we have:













Gt. Britain







Added to this picture of human futility we have the total of the European War, which, according to tentative War Department estimates, were about 60,000,000 – the, greatest recorded toll of any war in history. Of this number, about 14,000,000 were killed, or died from other causes, compared with about 8,538,000 killed or died from other causes in the First World War. We are becoming, more skilled in methods of death and destruction.

The War Department’s breakdown is as follows:


Killed in battle and dead from other causes



Permanently Incapacitated


Wounded, returned to duty




It is noteworthy that these figures do not include civilian casualties from bombings, nor the number of civilian deaths due to starvation, malnutrition or war disease.


These figures are extremely interesting and tell a story that is tragic in its implications. They tell us that billions have been and are still being spent on production for destruction and killing, with quite irreparable loss and waste of human lives. The figures also compel us. to explain a riddle: With such tremendous productive capacity, why could we not have a society planned on the basis of an equal distribution of the good things of life to the peoples of the entire world?

United States and Germany

War costs for the United States are seen to be above all others. The U.S. has reached an unparalleled peak of employment and production in wartime. Why, then, do layoffs, cutbacks, reductions in wages, unemployment, depressions and poverty become such terrible realities in peacetime?

Because our economy is capitalist, meaning chaotic and anarchic, based on competition, monopoly, producing not for public need but for private profit.

Capitalism, which was progressive in its beginnings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, because it overthrew the feudal method of production, has now become ah anachronism, with its depressions and wars standing in the way of progress and the intelligent, socialist planning of society.

The latter would have as its goal economic security for all, so that with this minimum requirement, “human” beings will have the potentialities for the full growth of their “humanity.”

We also see from the figures for Germany that net war costs neatly approximated those of the U.S., indicating that she was the greatest European industrial power, having the means for tremendous output of goods. This was demonstrated in this war when she almost won a world empire for German imperialism. But above all it showed what slave labor means to a capitalist economy; Germany was able to have this tremendous production by enslaving German and European labor.

But Germany is to be reduced to a vassal country and her industries smashed. The workers are to suffer alongside of the fanatical Nazis – still more evidence of the futility of capitalism. For the German workers, together with the American workers, and the workers in all other countries, could produce enough for a society that would supply “plenty for all” – food, clothing, houses, schools, even radios, automobiles and refrigerators.

It is no myth that there is plenty for all. Here are the facts: More food can be raised today than we could, possibly eat” – through widespread use of tractors, combines, fertilizers, improved seeds, irrigation, insect control; etc. Here is what the Yearbook of Agriculture, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has to say:

“Two billion acres (about five per cent of the earth’s land area, and 42 per cent of the present area under cultivation) would, under scientific agricultural methods, provide an optimum food supply for the population of the entire globe.”

Yet people starve in the midst of plenty and food is dumped overboard in peacetime when people cannot buy for they may not have the jobs or the money.

In industry, progress has been even more outstanding. Mass production increased the productivity of labor by fifty per cent in manufacturing industries for the fourteen-year period of 1923–37 alone, and everyone knows the miraculous feats of war production today.

We have the natural resources, the machinery, the labor. Modern science has made comfort and culture and leisure possible for all. Who will deny the great potentialities for good inherent in our advanced economy?

The owners of production have at their disposal all these wonderful opportunities, but have they used them to end poverty, maintain security and a high standard of living and keep the peace? No, for they have flagrantly and willfully mismanaged.

This is the record of average weekly wages for factory workers under capitalism in this age of mass production:

Where, then, does all the wealth go to? The Federal Trade Commission’s Report on National Wealth and Income showed that one per cent of the population owned at least fifty-nine per cent of the wealth; that twelve per cent (middle classes) owned thirty-one per cent of the wealth and that eighty-seven per cent (workers, farmers, small shopkeepers) owned a bare ten per cent.

Who Owns America?

In 1929, the big boom year of capitalism, 513 men each received over a $1,000,000 income; their combined income was equal to that of over a million ordinary workers. In the New Deal year of 1936, forty-two per cent of all families received less than $900 a year income. President Roosevelt was being overly conservative when he said that ONLY one-third of the nation is “ill fed, ill clothed, and ill housed.” The war has not changed this alignment of force either, for corporation profits have increased enormously.

That the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is always true under capitalism.

The war has a neat way of obscuring the failures of capitalism, for under peacetime capitalism it is inevitable to have crises and mass unemployment. The purchasing power of the people cannot increase fast enough to provide a market for the growing volume of production. When the capitalists realize there is no profit in selling their goods, there are layoffs and slashing of wage’s. Food is left to rot in the granaries and storage houses, and hungry people starve in the midst of plenty.

A Contradiction ...

The capitalist system won’t work, for the very root of capitalism is all wrong. It is based on a contradiction, namely, that the man who owns the tools of production (the capitalist) does not work them, and the man who works them (the worker) does not own them.

Before the coming of capitalism the owner of the tools and the worker of the tools were the same man, but with the industrial revolution, the product no longer belonged to the producer – the worker at the machine – but belonged to the capitalist owner of the machine, who sold it for the best price the market would pay, and gave to,the workers the smallest wage they would work for.

There is a way out of this chaos. The working people themselves should own and operate the industries cooperatively, through owning and operating the government.

This would end production for profit and the waste of competing corporations.

There would be planned production for the first time, increasing the output of wealth so that there would be plenty for all.

The big incomes would be eliminated and the income of a country would be more evenly distributed, to raise the living standards of the peoples.

Here in the United States, we have today more workers, more profits, more efficiency, more productivity, and more machinery than ever before, due to wartime expansion. We have more of all the means necessary to a high standing of living, shorter hours and certainly full employment for every able-bodied person. But the workers throughout the entire country are now experiencing the first fruits of the end of the war in Europe – cutbacks, layoffs and unemployment.

Thus far the government and its agencies, which were so capable of planning production and full employment for war needs have met this situation with words and nothing more. A solution to this threatening situation can be provided by labor, organized in an independent struggle around a realistic program for full employment at a living wage.

Labor’s Goal

To carry out this program, the] workers need a political party of their own, based on the millions of organized trade union members, free and independent of the capitalist parties and politicians. Such a party will fight for a real program of reconversion and full employment, and will aim at the establishment of a workers’ government. Only the Workers Party has presented a fighting program for the achievement of these aims.

The kind of planned economy we envisage would, for the first time, make possible an end to wars between nations. Because the planned economy would include all countries. The aim of the working class would be to end capitalism and all forms of exploitation everywhere; and everywhere introduce workers’ governments and planned economy. Its aim would be to create a socialist world.

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