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One Year of New Deal

Arne Swabeck

One Year of Roosevelt’s New Deal

The Technique of Serving the Exploiters and Fooling the Masses

(March 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 12, 24 March 1934, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Demagogy of Roosevelt Program

On the first anniversary of the New Deal four thousand gentlemen in control of industry and finance gathered in Washington to be harangued and cajoled. “We must consider immediate cooperation to secure increase in wages and shortening of hours”, said President Roosevelt. Verily, that must have been spoken entirely in defense of the forgotten man – at least so it appeared.

Before the same gathering General Johnson argued against the company union. But he made his reasons perfectly clear.

“We know”, he said, “something about what is toward in this country – the worst epidemic of strikes in our history .... I would rather deal with Bill Green, John Lewis, Ed McGrady, Mike MacDonough, George Berry, and a host of others I could name, than with any Frankenstein that you may build up under the guise of a company union.

“In fact – take it from me and a wealth of experience – their interests are your interests and under the law and in this modern day, it is the best and quickest way to economic peace.”

Fear Collapse of System

That is the rub. Essentially these statements are all motivated by the fear of decay and collapse of the capitalist system. They mean to convey the idea that it is time to do some serious patching of the kind which will reinforce its basis, consolidate its most essential parts and strengthen its whole structure. This, at times, can be accomplished most effectively by means of apparent concessions, presented in the terms of glamorous demagogy. Keep the workers at a level where they can endure exploitation without too convulsive revolts. Work closely hand in hand with your agents in labor ranks, the respectable labor leaders, and discard your company unions lest you actually pave the way for new and more serious strikes and for militant unions. Such was the real character of these admonishments.

To say bluntly that these statements are motivated by fear of the decay and collapse of the capitalist system may seem entirely unsubstantiated. Are not the authors of the New Deal enjoying the confidence of the vast majority of people from all walks of life? Is not the President still extremely popular even in the humblest of working class homes? Does he not seem to represent their fears and their desperate hopes? Undoubtedly this must all be answered in the affirmative. But it does not in the least settle the question of what the New Deal is, for whose benefit it operates, and the motivation behind it.

The Ballyhoo Technique

One of its brilliant critics has said that it is suggestive of an adventure on a rocking horse, that it is unreal, and that it does not remove the causes of “social injustice” Standing alone, that is of course not sufficient as a characterization The New Deal is not intended to remove the causes of “social injustice”. Only the successful conclusion of the class struggle can remove this. And here is the important question: What does the New Deal mean to the workers? To understand this it must be examined in its economic aspect, from the point of view of its function in social and class relationships, as well as from the point of view of its ballyhoo and demagogy, expressed both in words and action, which is intended to maintain illusions in the workers’ minds. Each one of these aspects requires separate treatment. In this article we confine ourselves to the demagogic as pect, leaving the others to subsequent articles.

While the New Deal machinery creaks and groans as it is put into motion, there is a certain revolutionary flare attached to its basic philosophy. It is acclaimed by some as “a new social order”, by others as “disciplined democracy” President Roosevelt calls it “an economic constitutional order”. It has even elevated to a basis of respectability the method of abbreviation of names by initials, formerly considered to belong only to the Bolsheviks. We have now the NRA the AAA, the PWA, etc. An ingenious middle-class mind has suggested the addition of a tax-payer’s SOS.

Not a “Revolution”

Donald Richberg, the counsel for the New Deal, says that it is “a revolution not in purpose but in method.” Such statements are intended to catch the gullible worker discontented with things as they are. The New Deal could, of course, not be a revolution in purpose, a revolution which does away with capitalist property rights and the power of exploitation. This is the only revolution which means some thing to the workers. Such a revolution is not engineered by the capitalist rulers themselves. They are its bitter opponents. Nor do revolutions come about peacefully Those in possession of the capitalist property rights and the powers of exploitation do not yield them without a struggle.

President Roosevelt declares that social conditions had previously been permitted which allowed vast sections of the population to exist in an un-American way, which allowed a mal-distribution of wealth and of power. In his book Looking Forward, he says:

“I believe that the government, without becoming a prying bureaucracy, can act as a check or counter-balance or this oligarchy (the ‘few hundred corporations’ and ‘fewer than three dozen banks’ which control our economic life) so as to secure initiative, life, a chance to work, and the safety of savings to men and women, rather than the safety of exploitation to the exploiter, safety of manipulation to the manipulator, safety of unlicensed power to those who would speculate to the bitter end with the welfare and property of other people.”

Wall Street Not Really Disturbed

And so we have the New Deal, supposed to check and counter-balance the oligarchy. Moreover, has not Wall Street been investigated? Was not a whole section of this crew of capitalist pirates headed by J.P. Morgan summoned to appear before a senate investigation committee and tell why they had evaded tax payments to the government? That is perfectly true. But it is one thing to investigate Wall Street and dress the investigations up in radical sounding demagogy in order to catch the uninitiated. It would be quite another thing to attempt to dislodge Wall Street from its economic power.

This, of course, is not at all intended by the investigations. On the contrary, we shall be able to prove that in every respect Wall Street has been strengthened, and its power and all it stands for has been consolidated, by the advent of the New Deal. President Roosevelt said in his anniversary address: “No one is opposed to sensible and reasonable profits.” This means that profits are to be rationalized. In other words, the right of exploitation is to be stabilized on a basis which will insure it against too violent disturbances and shocks.

The Big Interests and the Codes

We are not unmindful of the fact that the big fellows, the steel trust, the automobile corporations, and others like them, resisted the industrial codes of the New Deal. But they resisted them in order to obtain the modifications they desired, to insert their company union clauses and merit system clauses, by which they could more securely maintain their power of exploitation and prevent counter-action by the workers. Even now the apparent pressure put upon them to give up their company unions presents the substitute of reliance upon their own agents in labor’s ranks – the Greens, the Lewises, and the Berrys – as a more effective means of keeping the masses in subjection.

On the whole the demagogy woven around the New Deal policy has a distinct purpose. It is under its cover that the real measures to salvage the badly dislocated capitalist system of production are being put over. In the make-up of this policy and amongst its executors, including the ‘ brain-trust’, there is very likely a mixture of various currents. One of them is made up by the traditional radical liberalism which becomes so indignant at the effects of “social injustice” when they fear that this may bring retaliation from the workers, but fight might and main against the abolition of its causes. They believe in the soundness of capitalist economy, but want to save it from the few “bad” and “greedy” men who have brought it out of gear. But another, and far more important one, is the hard-headed current of aggressive capitalism, of ruthless capitalist expansion ready to crush all opposition which stands in the way of a greater capitalist empire. That is the current which, in the final analysis, determines the policies of the New Deal. In this sense its main features are of a permanent character and will count in the shaping of the future economic developments. But as the realities of life remove its demagogic smoke-screen, the working masses will become entirely disillusioned. That process began already during the first year of the New Deal.

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