Gertrude Shaw Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Gertrude Shaw

The Profit System – the Fly in Mr. Willkie’s Ointment

(9 November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 45, 9 November 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Wendell Willkie returned from his trip around the world and made what sounded like a very liberal – if not revolutionary – speech.

“Down with the Colonial System” – “Down with imperialism” – “Up with the Freedom of the Asiatic People” – these, presumably, are Willkie’s brand-new slogans.

Unless one believes in Santa Claus, he knows instinctively that there is a fly in this ointment – or two or three. There is no Santa Claus – and the would-be President of this imperialist nation does not come out for the end of world imperialism – that is, NOT REALLY.

Hand-Writing on the Wall

There are two reasons behind Willkie’s venture into “revolutionary” international politics. One is immediate, connected with the urgent need on the part of the United Nations to change the course the war has thus far taken. The other reason is more far-sighted and has to do with the future of American imperialism – in short, with feathering its nest.

As to the first point, it is obvious to Mr. Willkie, as to everyone else who doesn’t wear blinders, that the Far-Eastern colonial people will not fight to defend the status quo. To enslaved peoples it naturally does not seem worth while to give up their lives in the fire of war for the privilege of continuing to be exploited and tortured by the somewhat slower processes of imperialist rule.

If the colonial peoples fight the Japanese, it will be as independent peoples, battling to maintain and make secure their independence. Willkie is intelligent enough to see the hand-writing on the wall – and politician enough to pretend that the hand-writing is his own slogan.

His “Anti-Imperialism”

To understand the second reason for Willkie’s messiah-posturing one must know a wee bit about the history of American imperialism. It must be remembered that America is a comparative newcomer among the imperialist nations. It came upon the scene as an independent nation when the old capitalist systems of Europe were already well established – with their world empires seemingly locked in their safe deposit vaults.

As the United States grew in economic power, as it expanded and branched out into the world market, it had to batter down the closed doors of British, French, Dutch, German and other imperialisms. In that perverted sense, America has always been “anti-imperialist.” But this kind of “anti-imperialism,” when translated into realistic language, simply meant “ME TOO!” Strident, young Yankee imperialism was pushing through the closed doors barred to it by the old-time world-wide exploiters.

This is the explanation, for instance, of the open-door policy of the United States in China. On the face of it, it sounded like freedom itself – the open door. In actuality, it meant only freedom for the American merchants and investors to exploit the Chinese masses along with the British, German and French exploiters. When the American breed did ease into China, they grabbed the same kind of extra-territorial privileges that the other capitalist nations enjoyed, and merrily proceeded to rake in profits out of the sweat of the Chinese people.

Where the United States capitalists did not have to buck up against the superior forces of the European empires, its “anti-imperialism” was put under the mattress for safekeeping. That happened, for instance, when the “outposts of democracy” were established in the Philippines, in Hawaii and other Pacific islands. Also when, with the aid of the “keep off the grass” sign known as the Monroe Doctrine, the American strain of imperialism took roots in the Caribbean, in Central America, in South America.

“Me Too!” – “Me Alone!”

In a word, American imperialism is “anti -imperialist” when it is knocking at the doors to trade and profit lacked by other powers. But it forgets all about “anti-imperialism” when its own exclusive hunting grounds are involved. The determining force, in both cases, is lust for profits and interest, for investments, markets and expanded capital, for raw materials and cheap, exploitable labor.

Does Mr. Willkie’s fine-sounding speech mark a departure from this proved imperialist policy? On the contrary – IT IS RIGHT IN LINE WITH THIS POLICY!

American imperialism stands to gain only if British, Dutch, French colonial masters are permanently driven out of their colonies. The Japanese and German military machines have successfully attacked the European empires on the war front. The peoples of the colonies have themselves successfully attacked on the internal political front. European imperialism is caught in a vise. Mr. Willkie gives the screw a little turn. Now if, in addition, the upstart imperialist gang of Japan and the die-hard imperialist gangsters of Germany are licked by the “arsenal of democracy,” then, for the first time in history, all the doors of the world will be wide open to economic penetration and domination by American capital – without the bother of climbing over the numerous barriers set up by those powerful old-time competitors, the British. Dutch, French and German colonial masters.

The Spider and the Fly

To Mr. Willkie, representative of Morgan interests and would-be President of capitalist America, the vision of such limitless opportunities for exploitation brings high enthusiasm. Certainly, down with the BRITISH colonial system. Definitely, down with JAPANESE imperialism. And up with the freedom of the Asiatic peoples to be under the tender mercy of American capitalism alone. Once the “anti-imperialism” of American imperialism meant “Me Too!” Today it means “Me Alone!”

This is the correct interpretation of Mr. Willkie’s new-found “idealism.” His palm itches and his heart overflows with “friendship” for the Asiatic peoples – the kind of friendship that the spider has for the fly

Any AMERICAN who comes out with the slogan “Down with Imperialism” can be sincere only if he means to begin at home. “Down with Imperialism” coming from the mouth of an American must mean “Down with AMERICAN Capitalism” and “Down with the Profit System HERE.” Therefore, neither Mr. Willkie nor Mr. Roosevelt nor any other prophet of the profit system can be sincere about freeing the colonial peoples.

But the American working class can be sincere. It has no reason to exploit its fellow workers anywhere.

It can help the Asiatic peoples in their splendid struggle for freedom – but not by taking the slippery hand of a Willkie.

Socialism Is Freedom

The working class must make its stand against its own capitalist system – whose lust for profits and interest, for investments, markets and expanded capital, for raw materials and cheap exploitable labor, can mean only exploitation at home and abject slavery for the backward peoples.

At its best the “freedom” Mr. Willkie dangles before the nose of the Asiatic peoples could be what was promised the Filipinos under the false label of “independence.” The economic domination of those islands by American capitalism was so complete that any “independent” government could be nothing more than a puppet on the strings of American control.

Mr. Willkie is right about the progressive role to be played by America today – but not through the Willkies. Progress lies only in America’s working class. Yes, the American working class can he the pioneers of a new freedom – the freedom Which only international socialism can today bring.

The lead of the American workers will be eagerly followed by the workers of England and Germany, of France and Italy, or Russia and Japan. Then world imperialism will collapse. Then ALL the peoples of the world will indeed be free.

Gertrude Shaw Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 15 September 2014