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Dwight Macdonald

It Won’t Take Three Years to Drive
the U.S. into the War This Time

New Deal Transformed into War Deal as the Representatives
of Big Business Openly Take Over the Reins of Government
and Prepare the Rule of War-time Dictatorship

(9 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 67, 9 September 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It took almost three years for the United States to get into the last war. It seems safe to predict, that, if the present war lasts that long, we will be in it before it celebrates its first anniversary. Already the stage is set, and the Administration is waiting impatiently in the wings for its entrance cue. Social Security cards have been turned over to the War Department, to be used when the appointed time comes as a handy index of the nation’s man-power, complete with names and addresses. The Treasury Department, according to the N.Y. Herald-Tribune for August 31, has made all arrangements to print a new issue of Liberty Bonds. The Department of Justice has already begun an anti-espionage campaign. “There will be no repetition of the situation in 1917, when a democracy was unprepared to meet the espionage problem,” says Attorney-General Murphy. The War Resources Board, headed by Chairman Stettinius of U.S. Steel, has been set up to rule American economic life with dictatorial powers the day war is declared. The Administration is already working on plans to curb war profiteering and to lay in stocks of necessary war materials not produced in this country, such as tin, manganese, and rubber.

A paragraph buried deep in the N.Y. Times of September 2 reveals what is behind all this activity:

“President Roosevelt has been telling friends recently that the United States must be far better prepared for an emergency, if one comes, than it was in 1917, and the feverish activity among departments concerned with military, naval and industrial preparedness continued today. On several occasions lately, the President has pointed out the lapse of time between this country’s declaration of war in 1917 and the departure of the first troop ships for Europe.”

The actual outbreak of war has enormously speeded up the process of transforming the New Deal into the War Deal. By now, the vital departments in Washington are dominated by the trusted agents of the big bourgeoisie. These men are mostly assistant secretaries of this or that, members of the “Little Cabinet”. There is Louis Johnson in the War Department, creator of the War Industries Board, hard-boiled reactionary Legionnaire and friend of big business. There is Sum-ner Welles in the State Department, wealthy and aristocratic career diplomat, who has more or less openly shoved aside his chief, the mild, idealistic Cordell Hull. There is John W. Hanes in the Treasury Department, who made a fortune in Wall Street bfore he came to the Treasury last year, and who was in complete charge of the department until Secretary Morgenthau got back from his vacation a few days ago.

Messrs. Hull and Morgenthau are generally considered the extreme right wing of the Cabinet, but they are real liberals compared to Messrs. Johnson, Hanes and Welles. Not that it would make much difference since, in time of war, all secondary distinctions of “conservative” and “liberal” drop away and only the primary label, “bourgeois”, remains.

“Dollar-a-Year” Men Again

Morgenthau’s first act on getting back from abroad, for example, was to appoint three special assistants. They are: W.R. Burgess, vice-chairman of the great National City Bank of New York; Tom K. Smith, a St. Louis banker; and Earle Baillie, partner in the powerful private banking firm of J.&W. Seligman. Baillie was a Treasury official for a few weeks several years ago, until he resigned because of the New Deal’s “radicalism”. Now he gladly returns “to serve his country” at $1 a year.

Like their predecessors in the last war, these dollar-a-year men – and the imminence of our entry into the war is marked by their reappearance – are willing to give up high-salaried posts in order to protect their general class interests. In war, the supreme crisis of capitalism, the government becomes openly and without any fooling around what Marx called it: “the executive committee of the bourgeoisie”. And just as Earl Baillie would expect no pay for serving on the board of U.S. Steel, Inc., so he expects no pay for his services on the board of U.S.A., Inc.

A glimpse of what is happening in the upper reaches of the War Deal was provided in a recent column by Arthur Krock, chief political writer for the N.Y. Times. Mr. Krock, whose son Tommy lately returned from fighting for Franco in Spain, is a bitter reactionary. As the New Deal has been transformed into the War Deal, his attitude has changed accordingly, from hostility to suspicion to cautious approbation and now to something very close to enthusiasm.

“Lately,” he writes, “the President has been receiving, more and more, counselors of whom E.R. Stettinius Jr., U.S. Steel head, is a type. They have been calling at his request to discuss problems concerned with national security and defense. In any scheme of national unity such men must have that continuous access to Mr. Roosevelt which for some time has been confined to members of the one New Deal group which is always urging him to ‘fight’ one economic, social or political class on behalf of another.

“Ever since the threat of European war became acute, some observers profess to have noted a growing coolness at the White House toward this type of Presidential adviser, beginning with a rebuff of their protest against the Stettinius board. These observers say that consultants on the President’s radio speech last night did not include those makers of acid phrases, those buglers of class battle, whose contributions have often been found in White House oratory, but were headed by Secretary of State Hull and Under-Secretary Welles, very differently disposed counsellors indeed.”

Even before America’s entry into war, then, Wall Street has quite openly taken charge of the government. From that fact alone, even if we did not know the contents of the dictatorial Industrial Mobilization Plan, we know what “democracy” we are going to” get in the “war for democracy.”

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