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Frank Demby

Mr. Willkie Pulls a “Boner”

All of This Goes to Prove That, as Between Tweedledee and Tweedledum,
the Bosses May Have a Choice, But We Have None at All

(September 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 23, 16 September 1940. p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When Wall Street’s white hope, Republican presidential nominee Wendell L. Willkie, rushed into print a few weeks ago to denounce the Overton-Russell amendment to the conscription bill, which provides for the conscription of industry, betting commissioners in Wall Street announced that the odds favoring Roosevelt’s re-election had shifted from 6 to 5 to 9 to 5. Soon thereafter, Mr. Luce, boss of Time and Fortune magazines, (personal friend of J.P. Morgan), whose publications started the original Willkie boom, began to wonder whether Willkie wasn’t another “Fat Alf”. Even Walter Lippman has questioned the advisability of Willkie’s candidacy. Truly, politics is an unkind game, as Mr. Willkie is fast learning.

Since we were confident a long time ago that Mr. Roosevelt was the best man for the job of preserving American capitalism and preparing American imperialism for war, we cannot register any surprise now that his re-election for a third term seems more or less certain. But two questions continue to puzzle us. The first is: Why are Willkie’s backers greasing the skids for his downfall, thus facilitating Roosevelt’s victory? And the second, and by far the more important question is: What is the real meaning and significance of the Overton-Russell amendment?

It Takes a Really Skilled Hand

A superficial answer to the first question is easy. Conscription of manpower is none too popular with the American masses. Conscription of men without conscription of industry smacks too much of rank class discrimination. Not even Willkie’s subsequent “clarification” of his position to the effect that he is not against conscription of. industry on principle, but only wanted “adequate safeguards.” following the lead of a New York Times editorial to that effect, can remedy the effects of that rash moment when Willkie allowed his real sentiments and attachment for property interests to push him into one of the most colossal boners any presidential aspirant has ever made. Willkie is, therefore, a losing proposition. His backers, you may say, don’t want to back a loser. Hence, they are withdrawing their support while there is still time to withdraw. Simple? A little too simple.

Our own speculations run along the following lines. Both Willkie and Roosevelt, as we shall have occasion to prove in detail later on, are candidates of the House of Morgan in a most direct way. The knifing of Willkie is merely evidence of the fact that the Morgan interests prefer the victory of Roosevelt. This decision, in turn, is based on the strengthening of England’s resistance to Hitler. Prolonged British resistance, say into the spring of 1941, increases the probability of immediate American entry into the war. To facilitate this delicate job requires the touch and guidance of a master hand in fooling the workers. Who can do this job better, or as well as, Roosevelt? Wall Street may be for Willkie. But a very important section of the American ruling class is working in such a way as to increase the prospects of a Roosevelt victory.

A Very Clever Maneuver

When Willkie denounced the Overton-Russell amendment as “socialistic,” and threatening to “sovietize American industry,” he also denounced those who favored the amendment as sponsors of “a cheap political trick.” There is good reason for believing that the timing of the Overton-Russell amendment was a very clever political maneuver. Indeed, Mr. Arthur Krock, of the New York Times, claims that it was designed as a political trap to catch Willkie and the Republican senators. Be that as it may, Willkie was certainly caught, but a majority of the GOP senators voted for it! The question is clearly not a party issue. If there were any doubts about this, the overwhelming vote in the House for the Smith amendment (which corresponds to the Senate’s Overton-Russell amendment) should have dispelled them. Since all the members of the House are up for re-election this year, we can safely conclude that all but 31 members of the House want to be re-elected and don’t come from blue-stocking districts.

It is well to point out that the Smith amendment is more precise and not so sweeping as the Overton-Russell amendment although both are substantially the same – they both give the President the power to commandeer plants if the employer proves recalcitrant; that is, should the Secretary of War or of the Navy be unable to arrive at an agreement. In particular, it does not authorize permanent possession by the government, but merely the leasing of the plant by the Government during the period of emergency.

Obviously, the conscription of industry (as proposed in either amendment or in whatever compromise is finally adopted) will not sovietize American industry. So far as this aspect of the question is concerned, the measure is simply another step – and a long one, at that – towards the establishment of a totalitarian state in this country. Far from meaning any tendency towards socialism it will mean the exact opposite – a step towards capitalist totalitarianism.

Part and Parcel of the War Drive

Why, one is required to ask, is this amendment tacked on to the Burke-Wadsworth conscription bill? Here, the obvious answer is the only one. It makes a good political appeal (especially for votes) to point out to the workers that only only are they being conscripted but so is industry. As such, it is clearly “fairer.” And we are certainly in favor of drafting wealth. The workers, however, must understand that the entire conscription bill, including the amendment to conscript industry, is part of the general drive towards war and the establishment of a totalitarian regime in this country.

Moreover, it gives Roosevelt a chance to pose as the champion of the masses by favoring the conscription of wealth. To be sure, Roosevelt has so far allowed Wallace to do his talking for him. Nevertheless, the whole business, greatly aided by Willkie’s boner has strengthened the Roosevelt Administration. It should be obvious to everyone that Roosevelt’s fundamental ideas on property are basically the same as Willkie’s. Both are wedded to capitalism and the preservation of property rights.

The idea that industry is being conscripted is a pure fake. If that were the case, it would hardly be necessary to spend so much time discussing the excess profits bill. Industry which is conscripted, wealth which is drafted, won’t have to haggle about profit. IT WILL BE OWNED AND OPERATED BY THE GOVERNMENT. THAT IS REAL CONSCRIPTION OF INDUSTRY. To be effective, however, it must be under the control of the workers. As long as the capitalists own the means of production, and J.P. Morgan can make and unmake Presidents, any conscription of industry will safeguard property rights.

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