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Dwight Macdonald

Who Are the Men Behind
the War Preparation Program?

We Present a Little Who’s Who of the Men Preparing the War
to Make the World Safe for Corporation Profits

(February 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 8, 24 February 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This is a struggle of “the American people” against Nazi autocracy, says President Roosevelt. Now you would expect a “people’s war” to be run by the people. But if you examine at all closely the list of the several hundred officials who are now in Washington directing the “defense” program, you will find that the closest “the people” come to being represented is in the person of Sidney Hiilman. jingoistic trade union bureaucrat – and that even Hillman has little real power and is there largely for window-dressing. Of his four chief aides, not one is from the ranks of organized labor; two – Lubin and Cooke – are New Deal officials, and the other two – Bransome and Dooley – -are top executives respectively of those great labor organizations, thi: Vanadium Corporation and the Socony-Vacuum Oil Corporation.)

The impression you get from scanning the rosier of “national defense” chiefs is that this is to be a war to make the world safe for – corporation presidents.

The Big Four of the “OPM”

In the recent reorganization of the war program, supreme authority went to a board of four men, known as the Office for Production Management (”OPM”): William S. Knudsen, production chief; Sidney Hillman, labor chief; Secretary of War Stimson; and Secretary of the Navy Knox. Hillman need not detain us longer: his background as “labor statesman” is well known and I have already indicated the decorative nature of his role. Let us begin our Who’s Who with his colleagues.

1. WILLIAM S. KNUDSEN, Roosevelt’s No. 1 straw boss in the whole “defense” organization, worked for Henry Ford from 1911 to 1922, most of the time as Ford’s production manager. (Then as now Ford had the toughest, most brutally efficient labor policy in the industry.) In 1922 he went over to General Motors, becoming president of the company several years ago. At the time of the 1937 sit-down strikes, Knudsen made his attitude towards labor well known. His responsibilities as No. 1 Champion of Democracy don’t seem to have changed his ideas any. When Attorney General Jackson last fall ruled “informally” that defense contracts could not go to companies which violated the Wagner Act (later he backed down), Knudsen exploded: “That’s going too far! The Defense Commission has not the authority and does not want to undertake the job of enforcing the labor laws.”

And to a recent interviewer (N.Y. Times, Nov. 3, 1940) Knudsen expounded his philosophy:

“Human nature doesn’t change. I’ve never run across a bum who didn’t blame his condition on the system or the times. If a young chap has energy and curiosity and a pair of good legs and a good stomach, I’m willing to bet he’ll get on. He’ll get on irrespective of time, system or anything else – that is, provided he is willing to mind his own business. It’s not hard to guess that Knudsen wouldn’t consider trade union activity a young man’s “own business.”

2. HENRY L. STIMSON, the man Roosevelt picked for Secretary of War last summer, is a 73-year-old Republican “elder statesman.” He was Secretary of War under Taft and Secretary of State under Hoover (where his many boners won him the nickname of “Wrong Horse Harry”). The profound gulf that yawns between the policies of the Democratic Party (the party of the “people,” of the “little man”) and the Republican Party (the parly of wealth, privilege and economic royalism) is well shown in the comment of the N.Y. Times (Dec. 23. 1940) on Stimson’s regime, under Hoover, in the State Dept.: “Students of foreign policy have noted a continuity between his policies and those of his succe’ssor, Cordell -Hull, and his political antagonists of the Democratic Administration often called him in to get the benefit of his experience during the early years of the Roosevelt regime.” The “national defense” program is now getting the full benefit of Slimson’s half century of experience as a corporation lawyer and a rock-ribbed Republican wheelhorse.

3. COLONEL FRANK KNOX, who became Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Navy last summer, is also a lifelong Republican. He was general manager of the Hearst newspapers from 1927 to 1931, When he resigned to take over the Chicago Daily News. During the more “radical” period of the Roosevelt Administration, the News was a violently anti-New Deal paper. In the 1936 presidential campaign, Knox was London’s running mate.

”OPM”: Division of Production

4. JOHN D. BIGGERS is chief of the Production Division of the OPM and Knudsen’s right-hand man. President of the huge Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co. of Toledo, which makes most of the automobile glass in the country, Biggers is considered by New-Dealers “the most formidable of the defense organization’s reactionaries” (New Republic, Feb. 3). He is described by the U.S. News (Jan. 31):

“A handsome, 52-year-old multi-millionaire, John Biggers has a background of practical business training and Chamber of Commerce research and statistical study. Also, he has had previous government experience, as a Republican member of the Business Advisory Council of the Department of Commerce.”

5. WILLIAM L. BATT, as deputy director, is No. 2 man in the all-important Production Division. He is president of S.K.F. Industries of Philadelphia (ball bearings) and he has long been active in the labor-hating National Association of Manufacturers.

6. W. AVERELL HARRIMAN is chief of the Industrial Materials Section of the Production Division. He is the son of the late E.H. Harriman, the railroad magnate, and is chairman of the board of the Union Pacific Railroad. Tremendously wealthy, Harriman is one of the “economic royalists” who have supported Roosevelt from the beginning of the New Deal. His interests extend beyond railroads to shipping, publishing and finance (also to polo playing).

7. W.M. HARRISON is chief of the Ships, Construction and Supplies Section. In “real life” he is vice-president and chief engineer of the four billion dollar American Telephone and Telegraph Co.

8. E.F. JOHNSON is chief of the Aircraft, Ordnance and Machine Tools Section. He is also a vice-president of General Motors Corp.

9. GEORGE M. MOFFETT heads the Mining and Mineral Products Subsection under Harriman. He is president of the Corn-Products Kenning Co., which makes imitation maple syrup and other things and has long been a speculative favorite on the Stock Exchange.

10. R.R. DEUPREE, also under Harriman, is in charge of the Agricultural and Forest Products Subsection. In quieter times he is president of Procter & Gamble, big soap makers (Ivory, Lux).

11. MASON BRITTON, under Johnson, is head of the Machine Tools Subsection. He is Vice-chairman of the big business publishers, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co.

12. HAROLD S. VANCE, Britton’s predecessor, is now part-time consultant in the Machine Tools Subsection. He is chairman of the Studebaker Corp., automobile manufacturers.

”OPM”: Division of Priorities

13. E.R. STETTINIUS, JR., is Director of the Priorities Division (which decides which orders and products shall get right of way over others). Son of a J.P. Morgan partner, Stettinius is a “Morgan man.” He resigned the chairmanship of U.S. Steel Corp. last summer to head, with Knudsen, the original Defense Commission. Even more openly than other business men in the “defense” set-up, he has played the game of big business. He has been the chief defender of the aluminum and steel industries against critics who charge that their policies are causing or will soon cause shortages of materials.

14. JAMES F. TOWERS is assistant director of priorities. He is executive vice-president of the big New York firm of industrial engineers. Ford, Bacon & Davis.

15. CHARLES E. ADAMS is senior consultant to the division. He is also president of the Air Reduction Corp.

16. ARTHUR D. WHITESIDE, head of the Commercial Aircraft Subsection, is on leave of absence from the presidency of the well known New York financial information house of Dun & Bradstreet.

17. ERNEST M. HOPKINS, head of the Minerals and Metals Subsection, is president of Dartmouth College.

18. CARL CONWAY is a member of the Iron & Steel Priorities Subcommittee under Hopkins. He is also chairman of Continental Can Co. and a leading Wall Street speculator.

19. WALTER S. TOWER, another member of the Iron & Steel Subcommittee, is president of the steel industry’s powerful trade association, the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Miscellaneous War Agencies

20. COL. LEONARD P. AYRES is serving in the office of the Secretary of War as coordinator of statistics. He is nationally famous as the economic analyst of the Cleveland Trust Co.

21. NELSON ROCKEFELLER, brightest and most energetic of the present generation of Rockefellers, is chairman of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Inter-American Affairs. His job is to promote “better understanding” between the U.S. and Latin America.

22. JAMES FORRESTAL resigned the presidency of the big Wall Street banking house of Dillon, Read & Co. last summer to-become “administrative assistant” to President Roosevelt.

23. GANO DUNN, dollar-a-year man recently delegated to arbitrate the hot dispute between New Dealers and steel executives as to expansion of the industry’s capacity, in private life is president of the J. G. White Engineering Corp.

24. RALPH BUDD, president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, is defense commissioner in charge of railroad transportation.

25. DONALD M. NELSON, vice-president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., holds one of the most powerful jobs in the whole “defense” set-up: director of purchasing for the entire $20,000,000,000 program.

26. EDWARD BRANSOME is one of Sidney Hillman’s four aides. His job: director of labor relations in industry. His qualifications: president of the Vanadium Corporation of America.

27. CHANNING R. DOOLEY is another of Hillman’s aides: His job: director of job training. His qualifications: vice-president of Socony-Vacuum Oil Co.

Such is a partial list of the big business men now running the “defense” program. The list could be extended almost indefinitely. The individuals composing it change from month to month, as Businessman A has to go back home a while and see that his corporation is making money satisfactorily, yielding his Government post to Businessman B. In Labor Action for July 15 I compiled a list of businessmen who then occupied key posts in the “defense” organization. About half of these seem to have dropped out of sight, being replaced by other businessmen.

But however the individuals shift, the only general shift noticeable in the last six months is towards a greater preponderance of businessmen in the “defense” agencies. As the U.S. News (Jan. 31) describes the process:

“There is a new business ‘brain trust’ now in Washington, numbering in the hundreds, most of them big industrialists serving for a dollar a year, many of them in opposition to the New Deal’s domestic policies. When they first arrived in the capital, they were not given a cleat-cut sense of direction, or a right of way to follow the direction, but now all is different. The shift is away from control by the New Deal planning group. And these industrialists alone are being armed With authority to carry through the vast defense program. Now it is they who are on the inside – with almost complete control.”

It isn’t hard to guess whither these corporation executives’ “sense of direction” will lead them as the strain of an all-out war effort bears down on the national economic and social structure. The pressure of the American working class is the only power that can deflect the drive towards fascism these men will lead. Unless the great mass of working people of America take political and economic power into their own hands the course is all too clear. And Sidney Hillman is not the kind of leader American labor must have in this fight.

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