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War Deal

Dwight Macdonald

The War Deal

(13 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 69, 13 September 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is worth paying some attention to President Roosevelt’s letter of Sept. 9 explaining why he was cancelling his radio address on “Democratic Women’s Day.”

“A week ago,” he wrote, “I might consistently have spoken words primarily addressed to our Democratic women. But the events of the past few days render it imperative that every utterance of mine in these days of tension be addressed to all of our citizens, regardless of sex, age or political affiliation. We must all stand together in a firm resolve to bear witness before all nations to our unshaken patriotism ... Our plain duty now is to fulfill our obligation to the nation, regardless of political or partisan considerations.”

This is more than the usual star-spangled stuff about “national” interests coming before any “petty partisan” concerns. It is the most dramatic expression of a new major tendency in American political strategy.

In issuing a formal invitation to Republican leaders to confer with him on current state affairs, Governor Lehman of New York writes: “Partisanship and political interest must at this time be outlawed. I propose a truce on politics ... Political parties should combine their efforts for the good of the nation.” Addressing the heads of the National Youth Administration, Mayor LaGuardia expresses the hope that the youth of America would remain “calm and serene” in these stormy times and would join in the movement for national unity, which “would serve as a fine example” to Europe.

The President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce talks of “goodwill” and “great tolerance” as prime requisites for this crucial time.

Even Dies Joins “National Unity”

The sweet atmosphere of tolerance and brotherly love has even spread to the Dies Committee. When one unregenerate member the other day tried to infer from Browder’s testimony that the New Deal was “Communistic,” one of his colleagues angrily rebuked him for “playing cheap politics.” And Chairman Dies actually took some pains to lead Gitlow to admit that neither William Green nor John L. Lewis is a Communist. Furthermore – “Mr. Dies asserted that the committee did not want any implications drawn from the testimony that either the AFL or the CIO were Communist or Communist-dominated organizations.”

All this means that when an imperialist nation like the United States prepares to go to a war, the first thing that must be done is to cajole and browbeat the masses into suspending hostilities on the class-war front at home. Any sort of political disagreement becomes potentially dangerous, since it may open the door a crack for a working-class attack on the status quo. Hence the bourgeois politicians try to establish a sort of “moral disarmament” of all politicians, especially those with labor following. A truce in the class war is the required condition of a declaration of war abroad.

The Strategy of Disarming Labor

There are two main aspects to this strategy.

On the one hand, the forces of labor are crushed, gagged, or persuaded to keep silent. The Dies Committee’s new-found concern for the good names of William Green and John L. Lewis simply means that the Congressional reactionaries are beginning to see the trade union bureaucrats as, potentially, a means of easing the American workingclass into the coming war, just as they thus served in the last war. The iron hand concealed in the velvet glove of persuasion has already made itself felt. The day before the President wrote his little message to the Democratic women, he announced, in his decree of “limited emergency,” that the Department of Justice is to take on a number of extra G-men to help combat “subversive activity.”

There can be little doubt that, as the war crisis sharpens over here, the Administration intends to crack down more and more widely on any sort of labor and left-wing opposition to its war drive.

“We must, in these critical times,” said the President to the Democratic women, “maintain our old loyalties and the old ways of life upon which all of our happiness rests. To do this we must exercise a vigilant guardianship over our children. We must protect them from every evil force which would shake their faith in our fundamental institutions of democracy.”

It is pretty clear just what these “evil forces” are, and just what sort of “unity” the President wants to enforce on the nation.

The other arm of this “national unity” strategy is to turn the actual running of the government over more and more to the direct representatives of big business. In a capitalist society, “unity” means that the masses accept the status quo, which means in turn that a reformist government like the New Deal can increasingly dispense with the pretense of being independent of and even antagonistic to the ruling class.

Wall Street Moving into Washington

In my last article I described the beginning of the influx of Wall Street leaders into the government. In the last two or three days, the process has gone on faster than ever. The crucial post of assistant secretary of the Treasury in charge of customs and shipping (described as “the government’s chief neutrality officer”) has just been given to Basil Harris, vice-president of the U.S. Lines and a prominent shipowner. The War Resources Board has acquired a new member: John Hancock, a partner in the powerful Wall Street banking firm of Lehman Bros. Three more “dollar-a-year” men have been appointed to the Treasury: two conservative economists, and Walter W. Stewart, one-time aide to the late Ogden Mills and American adviser to the Bank of England.

Since the European war began, as I also noted last time, there has been a tendency for under-secretaries to shove aside the regular cabinet members. Another example is the fading out of Harry Hopkins as Secretary of Commerce and the rising star of his assistant, Edward J. Noble, a wealthy, energetic young manufacturer (Life Savers candy mints). In the words of Arthur Krock of the N.Y. Times:

“As the war offers new problems and perplexities to commerce, and the blockade of Germany offers opportunities to regain South American trade in this country, Mr. Noble’s function is steadily broadening and increasing.”

The President’s cabinet has been expanded to meet the crisis. From now on, three new men will take part in air cabinet meetings – though none of them is of cabinet rank. One is John Carmody, the mildly liberal head of the Federal Works Agency. The second is Jesse Jones, head of the Federal Spending Agency, a professional banker and a Garner Democrat. The third is none other than Paul V. McNutt, the semi-fascist Indiana politician whose appointment to the post of Social Security Administrator so shocked the President’s liberal supporters a month ago. McNutt is evidently becoming one of the inner circle of Presidential advisers.

And what has happened to the bright young liberals who used to have the President’s ear? What has become of Jerome Frank? Of Tommy Corcoran and Ben Cohen? Of Mordecai Ezekiel and David Cushman Coyle and Leon Henderson? The outbreak of war seems to have snuffed out their flame overnight. As Stephen Early, the President’s confidential secretary, put it the other day, when reporters asked him what had become of the “Brains Trust” – “That’s all out the window now.”

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