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Gertrude Shaw

General Marshall Overlooked Something

Merchants of Death and the Soldiers

(17 January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 2, 17 January 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Yes, how about THEM? General Marshall, President Roosevelt and the whole kit and kaboodle of capitalist spokesmen who have come out with so much vehemence in attacking labor, have never uttered a syllable of condemnation against, the merchants of death. Who are these merchants of death?

They are the giants of American industry. They are the pay-triots who are raking in “legitimate” war profits that must make even the gods of war hang their heads.

But they have earned the name of merchants of death for two special reasons:

For these two special reasons people hiss at American big business the well-deserved epithet: MERCHANTS OF DEATH.

Let us look into the record a bit.

Loyalty to Profits First

Back in 1942, when the housewives of the country were stripping their kitchens of aluminum pots and pans to build airplanes, the Department of Justice revealed that the Aluminum Corporation of America was deliberately, wilfully and with a plan entailing greater profits for itself, holding up production of aluminum and magnesium – without which planes cannot be built.

Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold in his testimony against the aluminum trust revealed just how this situation came about.

The Aluminum Corporation of America had a cartel agreement with the Nazi firm of I.G. Farben. By the terms of this agreement, Nazi Germany was permitted to double and triple its aluminum production. The American trust agreed to keep its production in status quo. The “inducement” was that the German trust would not export any of its aluminum or magnesium into the American market – as if the Germans wanted to, since they had plans of their own for the use of aluminum and magnesium!

Out of this arrangement the American aluminum trust reaped bumper profits, but the shortage of these metals in this country meant delay in building the air umbrella for the American armed forces, while the Nazis were enabled to maintain superiority for a long time.

No Pals of the Soldiers

Would any soldier, sailor, marine or airman call the Aluminum Corporation of America his pal? Hardly! But Alcoa is one of the powerful American trusts now behind the attempt to steam up the soldier against the worker. And why not? Better steam up the soldier against the worker than let him find but on his own who was really stabbing him in the back.

In giving testimony against Alcoa, Thurman Arnold said:

“throughout my testimony I have tried to emphasize the fact that this case is not unique. I do not think it is an extreme statement to say that in most basic war materials we find similar cartel agreements.”

Long after Pearl Harbor the American-armed forces were being hampered by cartel agreements which allowed the American captains of industry to get enormous profits but at the same time gave Hitler the advantage in building and accumulating war materials.

To cite only two other cases that come readily to mind, there is the Standard Oil trust, whose cartel agreement with I.G. Farbenindustrie prevented for a long time the production of synthetic rubber in this country, and the great General Electric combine, whose agreement with Krupp of Germany regarding tungsten was of the same general nature.

These are the “good friends” of the soldier, who are behind the anti-labor propaganda.

Yes, the pillars of American capitalist society don’t care how they make profits, so long as they are big enough. That is why they were also shipping, on government war orders, defective materials. How many soldiers, sailors, marine and airmen met with sudden death inflicted by “his own side” will; according to the Senate Truman Committee, never be known.

Profits Versus Death

There was the case of the Anaconda Wire & Cable Co., a subsidiary of the great Anaconda outfit, which cheated on inspections and shipped defective wire on government orders. The Department of Justice declared this to be one of the most reprehensible cases of defrauding the government and endangering the lives of American soldiers and sailors ever to come to its attention.

The United States Steel trust engaged in similar criminal fraud. The Truman Committee disclosed that the tanker Schenectady, which broke up during its trial on the West Coast, contained defective steel plate made by the Homestead works of the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Co., a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. It was discovered that this top capitalist concern made it a business to sell defective sheet plates. Some 28,000 to 38,000 tons were faked to meet the specifications of war orders going to the United States Navy and Maritime shipyards, and to lend-lease consignments – before the fraud was discovered.

How many seamen lie at the bottom of the world-circling oceans because of the greed of this merchant of death?

Do you know that the United States Cartridge Co., one of the largest manufacturers of small munitions in the world, was delivering thousands of defective cartridges for shipment to the arrned forces?

Do you know that another company was putting government inspection tags on defective shells after taking them from shells that had been okayed – then they would have the okayed shells inspected again to get more tags to put on more defective shells?

How many soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen would be alive now if not for these criminal frauds? But these are by no means all. In January 1943 there were hundreds of cases of such criminal fraud in various stages of prosecution.

Look at a partial list of the merchants of death: Aluminum Company of America, Standard Oil, General Electric, Anaconda Wire & Cable, United States Steel, United States Cartridge, and others.

This is representative American capitalism. Cruelly and relentlessly it functions to make profits. And its spokesmen want to get the soldiers, whose lives weighed as nothing against its profits, to be sore because American workers are getting tired of holding the bag of war burdens at home. The American workers are not only protecting present standards of living but will also be protecting the returned soldiers and sailors in their fight against unemployment after the war.

In many cases these merchants of death would have continued longer with their criminal fraud if it had not been that the workers in the plants would not tolerate stabbing in the back their brothers in the armed forces. This was true in the case of Carnegie-Illinois Steel Co. selling defective steel plates and in the case of the U.S. Cartridge Co. selling duds as good ammunition. In exposing their bosses, the workers, of course, risked losing their jobs.

The merchants of death do not offend the sensitivities of General Marshall and his crowd. But workers striving to make these capitalists relinquish some of their profits so that working people can live decently – ah, that’s a different story!

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