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Frank Demby

After the War, What?

(September 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 35, 1 September 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One of the most significant of recent developments is the publication by the National Resources Planning Board of a pamphlet entitled After Defense, What? Its contents are summarized in the New York Times of August 13.

The board, in outlining its post-war economic program, based itself on the assumption that World War II will end in 1944, at which time it estimated that the U.S. will be using 23,000,000 workers in war industries, plus 3,500,000 men in the armed services. As an indication of what is in store for us for the next three years, the report is very interesting. Its real value lies, however, in two extremely important things:

It does not require much imagination to picture what will happen if the usual post-war depression is allowed to develop. Whether it be in 1944 or later, the questions asked by the board are of fundamental importance and are in the mind of every thinking person today: “What happens to the demobilized workers and veterans and their families? Will they be without work? Will they stop producing? Will the national income drop fifteen billion dollars or so as soon as the pent-Up demands are met? Will the succeeding drop in consumption throw others out of work and reduce national production and income another ten to twenty billion dollars?”

“If so,” says the board, “we shall be back again in the valley of the depression and a terrific new strain will be thrown on our whole system of political, social and economic life. The American people will never stand for this. Sooner or later they will step in and refuse to let matters work themselves out.”

In plain English, then, these learned intellects are telling the bosses: “If you don’t want a revolution after the war, you’ve got to take steps to prevent it now; continuing your usual policy of doing nothing will prove fatal.”

Let me put the matter another way. The era of free, competitive capitalism is over. It is not merely dying. It is dead. It cannot be resurrected, no matter how many pious declarations Messrs. Roosevelt and Churchill issue. The National Resources Planning Board – let credit be given where credit is due – at least recognizes this incontestable fact. But the real problem is HOW TO PLAN for maintaining maximum production, full employment and rising standards of living in peacetime. Here the capitalist statesmen and economists, when they don’t show annoyance at the posing of such far-off problems (peace aims), are hopelessly confused and bewildered. And no wonder! They sense only too well the terrible longing of the masses for peace, security and freedom. But all they can offer the people under an outworn capitalist system is the peace of the graveyard, the security of regimentation and the freedom of the concentration camp. The difficulty lies in the fact that the only type of planning possible under capitalism is the fascist type, which inevitably means more wars and widespread misery and starvation.

How to plan the abolition of poverty in the midst of plenty – that is the question. The National Resources Planning Board would have government, business, workers and farmers cooperate now in the establishment of a planned transition to peacetime activity. Among their suggested plans are: a dismissal allowance for all demobilized men; gradual liquidation of government contracts, priorities and price controls; public works projects, particularly transportation and housing; research to develop new industrial products; plans to expand the service industries – more medical care, education and entertainment; new forms of social security and work relief; new financial plans for covering the costs of these projects; and lease-lend aid for the peoples of Europe until they can get on their feet.

Let us grant that all of these are worthwhile aims. Can they be achieved under capitalism? Not in any genuine manner, such as will guarantee full employment and a rising standard of living. Why haven’t we had genuine slum-clearance and low-cost housing projects prior to the war? Why, in spite of all the New Deal reforms, does one-third of the nation remain ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clothed? As soon as the government tries to respond to the pressure exerted by masses of discontented people by instituting a few reforms, what happens? Big business, through its control of all the avenues of propaganda, turns loose its high-paid publicists, who unleash clever campaigns to show that such reforms are too costly and will bankrupt the government, or that they are illegal and unconstitutional, or that they undermine the system of free, private enterprise.

If the government sells electricity at cost, which can easily be done, as demonstrated by the TVA, this is government competition with private business. Private business must operate at a profit. To get its profits it must sell things at two or three times the rates charged by government-owned enterprise. Further, monopolies have arisen in every industry for the simple reason that, through monopolies, production can be restricted, prices can be raised, wages can be lowered – and thus profits can be maintained at a high level.

Unfortunately for the National Resources Planning Board, the problem begins where they end. The wheels of industry will not turn, under capitalism, unless the manufacturers, bankers and landlords can get their profits. Is there any reason why manufacturers who refused to manufacture war materials under the “defense” program until their profits were guaranteed by the government, should suddenly manufacture the necessities of life once the war is over – unless they can likewise get their profits? Countless inventions have long been suppressed by big corporations because releasing them would interfere with their profits on existing investments. Why should they now develop new industries on a large scale so as to give employment to everyone?

There was a time when the capitalists, in their pursuit of profits, did bring about a general improvement in living conditions – although millions still lived in poverty. But, as the saying goes, “Them days are gone forever.” Profits can be maintained today only by having the masses suffer a steadily declining standard of living. This soon makers all reforms a luxury and an expense that the capitalists cannot afford. Once the monopoly capitalists are confronted with such a situation, they finance the fascist gangsters to power. The recent history of Europe leaves no doubt on this score.

But even if a schoolchild could propose more concrete and realistic plans than those of the National Resources Planning Board, this does not mean that the workers must give up all hope of a decent life. The Brookings Institute, a very conservative institution, long ago estimated that the U.S., with its abundant resources and technical skills, can give everyone the equivalent of a $5,000 a year income.

The trade unions must take up the problem and the suggestions of the National Resources Planning Board. They must establish their own planning boards. They must bombard Washington with concrete, realistic plans for producing enough food, clothing, shelter and other things for everyone. They must educate the country so that the masses understand how the good things of life can be distributed to everybody. And if profits have to be sacrificed (AS THEY MUST) in order to achieve a decent, rational and democratic existence – well, then let profits be sacrificed. Why should the selfish interests and privileges of a mere handful of people condemn the overwhelming majority of the population to perpetual hunger and misery?

And we are confident that once the workers start thinking about these problems – which are immediate and practical problems – they will find that only a workers’ government, democratically organized and controlled, producing for the use and needs of the population, can solve the manifold problems that confront us today.

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