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A.J. Muste

Roosevelt’s “Revolution”

(8 November 1933)

From Labor Action, Vol. 1 No. 12, 8 November 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

ABRAHAM CAHAN, distinguished veteran editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, Socialist organ, said recently to a mass-meeting of garment workers celebrating gains made under the NRA (in this case real enough for the time being) that in view of the pro-labor policies being pursued by President Roosevelt, he “ought to be a Socialist.” A good many people hold to this view that Roosevelt, though cleverly avoiding somewhat unpopular labels, is really putting over a “revolution” in the U.S.

So far as Roosevelt himself is concerned, and those closest to him, the idea seems to be that we are having a real revolution but that we aren’t really having a revolution. It all depends on who is talking, and very often on when a given individual is talking and to whom. Labor is repeatedly assured, that it is a new deal and no mistake. Employers are assured that, of course, certain changes are being made which sensible employers themselves really want, but that they have nothing to worry about.

Not a Question of Well-Wishing But of Economic Forces

We cannot determine what is really happening or likely to happen until we break away from the common error of thinking it is a question of what kind of a man Roosevelt is and what he has in mind. Within the past week, I have heard two very prominent editors state that Roosevelt really has no policies, he is a supreme politician and opportunist, will be guided by the way he thinks the wind is blowing, and just because of that is likely to go “pretty far to the left.” We ought, therefore, to egg him on, so to speak, build him up, rather than criticise him.

This is the height of absurdity. It is about the same as saying that when you go to a Buddhist temple, it depends on the individual priest whether you will hear a Methodist, Baptist, Moslem or Buddhist service and sermon. The question is not what, kind of a man Roosevelt is. The question Is what are the economic forces at work, and what is Roosevelt actually doing about them.

By some the social measures of the Roosevelt administration are pointed out as evidences of the revolution. Child labor is prohibited, hours of labor are shortened, great sums of money are spent on relief, large appropriations are made for public works. Good enough in themselves, some of these measures, but they are not abolishing the capitalist system. There is nothing revolutionary about codes which set a 40 to 48 hour week when the average work week 19 down around 30 hours. It is claimed that two billion dollars annually has been added to the purchasing power of the workers by recovery measures. Two billion dollars has also been added to the public debt by the Roosevelt administration, on which the masses will be compelled to pay interest and principal. Relief is not even as good as unemployment insurance which many other countries have established The Federal relief authorities estimate that upwards of 20 million people in the U.S. are living on relief.

Much is made of the fact that millions of pounds of surplus meat, etc. are bought to give the unemployed. How noble of the administration! Noble to develop an army of unemployed accustomed to living on mere subsistence rations from government and constituting a perpetual threat to the wage standards of those who are fortunate enough to have jobs? Noble to set a $12 to $15 per week minimum wage, which tends to become a maximum, in the richest nation on earth?

A New Name for An Old Game

Take the government’s tax program. Flying in the face of its own NRA, the Federal government lays off employees and cuts wages. It must economize or tax big incomes and inheritances. So it economizes! In the last few years an income tax program which would still have left a lot of people with $5,000 or $10,000 or $20,000 incomes, would have raised forty billion dollars. The whole national debt could have been wiped out and an unemployed insurance scheme set up. Has the “revolutionary” Roosevelt proposed any such tax program? Not so you could notice. Instead the F.D.R. who “senses which way the wind blows” and who denounced the sales tax last winter has already In the guise of “processing taxes” imposed millions more in sales taxation than Congress proposed a few months ago!

Every measure of the Roosevelt administration is meant to maintain the price and profit system. The game is supposed, however, to have new rules, stricter supervision. What government regulation amounts to we have seen in the public utilities field. Meantime anti-trust laws are repealed, business is left free, indeed encouraged to organise on a big scale. The big aggregations of capital are bound to have more power than ever as against the little fellows. This process of “putting some order” into the capitalist system has taken place in other countries, as e.g., Germany. It has brought ruin, not salvation, to the masses.

He Tells the Big Bad Bankers

But Roosevelt is telling the bankers and big industrialists where to get off? When you go off the gold standard, try to turn your back on world trade, give up free exchange of goods and currencies, the international bankers become relatively less important, so you talk back to them. That has happened elsewhere too, and hasn’t saved the masses from misery. Radicals ought not to be fooled either by a big show of putting Myron Taylor or Henry Ford in his place – with the help of Teagle, Swope, Barney Baruch, et al.

The basic economic policy of the Roosevelt administration is cutting down production and raising prices. Scarcity and high prices cannot make well being for the masses. They are meant to maintain the value of mortgages, insurance, bank and industrial stocks, bonds, etc. They keep the load of debt, 250 billions of it in the U.S., on the backs of workers and farmers. They are an attempt to save the capitalist – the debt, price and profit – system.

Friend of Labor – By Necessity

But look at the chance he has given organized labor? He didn’t have to give labor the “right” to organize, did he? Yes, he did. We know now that the economic system In this country was a wreck last March. Collapse and revolt were at hand. Something desperate had to be done.

In western countries you have to make the masses believe that what is done is for them, for “the people.” You have to get their backing. So you must give concessions. You must make the very organizations which the masses regard as peculiarly their own do the job. In Germany, capitalism used the trade unions and the Social Democratic party to save it at a certain period. So Roosevelt is using the unions to put over NRA.

True, he is taking a chance. Capitalism damned well had to take some chances to save itself last March! Maybe the masses coming into the unions will use them some day to fight capitalism. Roosevelt will cross that bridge when he comes to it. Capitalism uses subservient unions and then turns Fascist and smashes them!

Possibilities Ahead

Four possibilities lie ahead. Capitalism in this country may weather this crisis temporarily, business experience an upward swing of some importance. In that case Roosevelt will “sense which way the wind blows,” stop “experimenting,” get re-elected in 1936 with the aid of that great revolutionist, Jim Farley, and go down in history with Teddy Roosevelt.

There may be no capitalist way out except war. In that case F.D. who does love the navy will go down in history with Woodrow Wilson.

The crisis may deepen, revolt brew, and no revolutionary workers’ movement be ready to press through to victory. In that case Roosevelt will become the Mussolini of American capitalism or make way for a Mussolini.

Or the crisis may deepen and the masses take things into their own hands. In that case they will find Roosevelt a Kerensky who will “go a long ways,” provided always they behave like gentlemen, talk things out around the table, do not “go too far.” They will have to put him aside for a real revolutionist.

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