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A.J. Muste

President’s Speech Prepares
the Masses for War with theLie
of “Peaceful” Imperialist America

He Flaunts U.S. Slave Hold on South America

(11 January 1936)

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 2, 11 January 1936, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

President Roosevelt put on another good show when he made his annual address to Congress last week in person at nine o’clock in the evening. No president had ever addressed Congress at that hour in the entire peacetime history of the nation. It took a little parliamentary maneuvering to arrange it and the Republican politicians would have liked to chew our dear President’s ear off for thinking up this bright publicity stunt, for nine o’clock in the evening is a swell spot for a radio broadcast and one was arranged which took in every station in the good old U.S. and quite a few in some of the more benighted lands outside our borders

Under the circumstances we shall not be far wrong, and we shall also for once be in accord with everyone else in the country including the newspapers and the Republican party, if we assert that F.D.R. Was addressing the American people and not Congress and was firing the opening gun in the Presidential election campaign. This only makes it more important of course that the workers should look beneath the lovely, liberal surface of the President’s speech and behind his smiling face and analyze what he was really putting across.

A Cheerful Picture

The content of the speech was at many points as clever as the time and manner of its delivery. Not least the opening touch. In 1933 when I came into office, said Roosevelt, everything here in the U.S. was in a mess while abroad everything was quite calm and there was general hope that an era of peaceful settlement of disputes had dawned. Today everything is bright and smiling in the good old U.S. and look what a mess things are in elsewhere, what with war,armament building, etc. Fundamentally that picture holds good neither for 1933 nor for 1936, but on the surface it seems plausible and plenty of people will be fooled by it – enough in all probability to reelect F.D. next fall.

Nearly half, and this the first half of the speech, was devoted to Mr. Roosevelt’s views on the world situation and the relation of the U.S. toward it. This is in itself significant. In the same breath almost he says that this country is neutral, that it stands apart from embroilment in the quarrels of other nations and he must also say that “the people of the Americas must take cognizance of ... a situation which has in it many of the elements that lead to the tragedy of a general war.” In other words, Roosevelt gives warning that war is coming, that we will not and cannot stand aloof, we shall be embroiled.

Creating War Psychology

The President in all this first section of his speech tried to create a psychology which will prepare the American masses to take part in the next war and in the meantime permit American capitalists through his administration to continue their huge war preparations without interference. How is this done?

In the first place, he builds up the picture of the U.S. as a righteous, noble, peace-loving, irreproachable nation. We have “democracy,” not autocracy. We want to reduce armaments (sliding over the fact that we are increasing them) while others are building armaments. If a fight breaks out anywhere, we virtuously stay out of it and hope that this good example will persuade others to stop fighting. We as the big nation in the western hemisphere follow the policy of “the good neighbor” and just see the result compared to the frightful mess in Europe, Asia and Africa. Never “in four and a half centuries” has there existed “a greater spirit of mutual understanding, of common helpfulness, and of devotion to the ideals of self-government than exists today in the twenty-one American republics and their neighbor, the Dominion of Canada ... There is neither war, nor rumor of war, nor desire for war.”

False Pictures

The picture, again, is false to the core. It is only a few months since there was actual war in the Chaco. American capitalism is so completely dominant in the economic sense over both northern and southern continents, European nations so utterly unable to challenge it, that it can masquerade as the benevolent good rich neighbor in the same way as some individual steel, coal or textile magnate plays“the good neighbor” to his wage-slaves at the foot of the hill. Indirectly, but it may well be intentionally, Mr. Roosevelt when he draws his picture of the twenty-two “democratic” nations of the two Americas, arms all linked together and dancing the dance of brotherliness, is telling other nations that twenty-one of them are essentially satellites of the U.S., that the U.S. is not going to tolerate any other suitors, and that if any nation from the more barbaric continents steps on Uncle Sam’s toes it may have to fight the other American nations too.

But the picture of noble, peaceful Uncle Sam and his neighbors, as Mr. Roosevelt paints it, is plausible and touching and subtly insinuates into many minds the idea that if ever such a country as this should be involved in a war, it would be“purely defensive” or unselfishly on behalf of some great ideal – perhaps the missionary ideal of carrying to other lands the blessings of American peace and neighborliness. And of course when such a country now drills troops, builds military planes and war vessels, it is for the same noble, irreproachable ends! Only some nasty-minded Bolshevik could think otherwise.

The Certainty of War

Once again we note the tenseness of international relations today, the certainty of war and of our involvement in it, involuntarily coming to the surface. In the very act of picturing the peace-loving U.S. Roosevelt conjures up the enemy whom we are to fight in the approaching war.

“The temper and the purposes of the rulers of many of the great populations in Europe and in Asia have not pointed the way either to peace or to goodwill among men.”

The “twin spirits of autocracy and aggression” rule these nations. Roosevelt is not satisfied to charge the rulers of these autocratic and aggressive nations (obviously Japan, Germany, Italy, etc. are intended) with crimes. More openly than is customary in this stage of war preparation he tries [to] prepare the American masses to hate and therefore to fight the peoples of other lands.

“It is idle,” he says,“to preach that the masses of the people who constitute those nations which are dominated by the twin spirits of autocracy and aggression are out of sympathy with their rulers ... They follow blindly and fervently the lead of those who seek autocratic power.”

After more of this kind, he becomes positively truculent, challenging these wicked nations to knock the chip off his shoulder: “I recognize that these words which I have chosen with deliberation will not prove popular in any nation that chooses to fit this shoe to its foot” – the implication, if they don’t like it, to hell with them.

Let American workers, farmers and intellectuals make no mistake about it. Primarily, Roosevelt’s speech was an expression of American imperialism flinging defiance at its foes, seeking to engender a war spirit in the American masses.

“Good” and “Bad” Capitalist Powers

The Roosevelt speech gave support to the two rationalizations by means of which the imperialists – and, it cannot too often be pointed out, the Stalinist and social democratic misleaders of the working class – made use in duping the masses into participation in imperialist war. One is the idea to which we have already alluded, namely, that there are two kinds of big nations : the good, non-aggressive, “democratic” ones and the bad, aggressive, autocratic, Fascist ones. The fact that all alike are capitalist-imperialist nations, engaged in daily deathly competition with each other, which some day shifts into open, military conflict, this is pushed into the background. So is the fact that in the Fascist countries the masses are told that the “democratic” countries are pious hypocrites who have plundered and slugged their neighbors and now won’t let them get up and rehabilitate themselves. Thus as in 1914 the masses are to be duped, hypnotized by looking at an illusion so that they don’t realize the truth until they perish in agony in No Man’s Land.

And the other fairy tale is that of the small nations who “if left to themselves, would be content with their boundaries” and whose rulers “deep in their hearts follow these peaceful and reasonable aspirations of their peoples.” Poor little Belgium, noble, democratic King Albert, all over again!

After Roosevelt has thus foretold war, aroused the war psychology and indicated at whom the guns we are making are pointed (mainly Japan, of course) it is not hard to discern the real meaning of our “neutrality” policy over which pacifists, including socialists and Stalinists, wax so enthusiastic. There is no “moral” consistency about it certainly, for it proposes to withhold munitions equally from the “good” neighbors and the “bad” in case they are involved in war and to keep up “normal” trade if possible with both in other forms of merchandise which might be used for war purposes. For the present, while the preliminary skirmishes take place, we can hold aloof under this “neutrality” policy, go about our business of consolidating our economic power especially on the American continents, building our naval and military machine, letting other countries deplete their resources and energies. Even after the outbreak of large-scale conflict the U.S. may still for a time pursue the same superficially virtuous course, as in 1914–17, but in due time, unless the American workers under the leadership of the revolutionary internationalist party decree otherwise, when it has exhausted possibilities of gain from a “peaceful” policy will plunge again into war.

It is when we thus see clearly that the first half of Roosevelt’s speech for American capitalist imperialists, a pledge that the administration will look tirelessly after the national (capitalist) ‘defences,’ that we can see through the sham and demagogy of the last half which has been ecstatically hailed by liberal and all good Democrats as a fighting speech against autocratic and reactionary capitalism.

New Deal Served Capitalism

The New Deal, as Roosevelt points out in this very speech, holding it to be to his credit, saved capitalism and the capitalists. Business is on the upgrade. Stock quotations and profits are mounting. Relief funds are being drastically cut. Strikes were kept in bounds by Hugh Johnson and his successors. The basic industries are still unorganized. There are eleven million or more unemployed. But the capitalists are feeling chesty, now that profits are being made again temporarily. They want to takeaway from the workers even those concessions, mainly illusory, which Roosevelt realized had to be given to save the system. So there is to be a sham battle to divert the masses’ attention from the truth. Some Republican hack will run against Roosevelt, champion of the forgotten man.

Unwittingly he made it clear – and this is for us the most important point in the second half of the speech – that regardless of who is elected President, which old party is in power, the old age of individualism, of laissez faire is gone. Government will more and more throw off any pretense of being merely an agency to keep peace between individuals in the land or some higher essence “above the battle” of economic forces. More and more openly the economic system will function directly through government agencies. Government will “interfere” in every phase of life, including the labor movement.

“Our resplendent economic autocracy,” orates Mr. Roosevelt, “does not want to return to that individualism of which they prate ... They realize that in thirty-four months we have built up new instruments of public power.”

Of course, says Mr. Roosevelt, in my hands, “in the hands of a people’s government this power is wholesome and proper.” But Mr. Roosevelt used it to save these very capitalists whom he pretends to fight. “The new instruments, of public power” designed to save capitalism, point inexorably to – Fascism.

From that and from the war to which Mr. Roosevelt also pointed, the toiling masses of this and of all lands cannot be saved by pacifism or reform, but only by taking power into their own hands by revolutionary action, smashing the capitalist state and building a workers’ state and an ordered economic life.

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