From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 51, 22 December 1941, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
If you own an airplane factory or some other factory producing materials needed for the prosecution of war, you may make a lot of money. If you own a lot of stocks and bonds, you may also make a lot of money. If you own some choice real estate, you may find it going up in value. In short, if you are a capitalist you may find that war CAN be profitable to some. But you must be a big capitalist. The small capitalists – the little business men and farmers – probably are going to be wiped out. Since, however, the vast majority of the population of these United States are workers, people who work for a living, let us examine, on the basis of past experience, what has been happening in other countries and what seems most likely to happen here: how your pocketbook will be affected by the entry of America into World War II.
“Guns – not butter.” This is the slogan that Hitler used to launch his so-called four-year plan in 1936. This was, in reality, his declaration of war to the world – a declaration that German imperialism was dissatisfied with its secondary position and was going to demand its “real place in the sun.” For the German workers, who already had had their trade unions smashed, their democratic rights violated, their leaders slaughtered and tortured in the concentration camps, there now began a period of unimaginable slavery. Hours of work were lengthened to at least 10 hours a day, and in many armament industries to 14 hours a day.
Wages remained stationary while prices began to creep up – not very much because the totalitarian government controlled them, but still enough in the case of essential products, like potatoes, to hurt. Then came the taxes and the “voluntary” contributions. On top of these came the ration cards, which meant one egg a week, when you were lucky, a half pound of meat and similar starvation rations. To make matters worse, most of the commodities that could be obtained were more and more of the “ersatz” variety – miserable substitutes that didn’t even take away the pangs of hunger or protect the body or the home against cold winters.
Malnutrition, disease, poverty became the daily lot of the German worker. Finally, the insatiable war machine demanded not only cannon fodder in various parts of Europe and Africa, but it demanded workers. Even Hitler, powerful as he is, cannot ignore the fact that without workers nothing can be produced – not even armaments. So the German workers were conscripted to work in any part of the country. And not only the German workers, but a recent estimate shows that at least 2,000,000 foreign workers, French, Spanish, Italian, etc., have been conscripted to work in German war factories. Forced labor is slavery, as the German workers and the workers of the countries conquered by Germany have discovered.
But war is still profitable for some. While the German workers have been starving, they have been watching the big bosses, the Nazi bureaucrats, government officials and leading manufacturers still getting fat on rich foods while the workers have been living in homes calculated to give pneumonia even to the strongest, they have had to watch their leaders living in palaces and thriving in relative opulence.
Pretty much the same story has been true in England. There the workers not only had to shiver in the subways during the air raids while the big bosses retired to well constructed bomb shelters that took on the appearance of night clubs, but they also had to suffer the indignity of working and slaving and starving while the rich lived off the fat of the land. Our returning travelers from England, the congressmen and college professors, love to expatiate on the new spirit of “equality” in England, of how everybody is made equal by the ration card and huge taxes, but they always forget to mention or slide over in silence the scandalous fact that if you have a large pocketbook, you can still get all the good things in life. For there still flourishes the “black market,” the illegal paradise of the speculator and profiteer, where, for a price, you can buy as many chickens as you want.
It has been estimated – and these are very, very conservative estimates – that the standard of living of the average German worker today is well below what it was in 1932 at the worst point of the depression. In England, it has been estimated that the standard of living of the average British worker has declined by one-third since the outbreak of the war. The chances are it is nearer one-half. This is the picture of every country at war. It is as true of Japan, or Russia as it is of Germany and England. Will it also be true of the United States?
Judging by what has happened under the defense program and by what the new Victory program calls for, there can be no doubt that the answer is “yes.” That is, as long as the industrialists and bankers are allowed to run the war, it is bound to be the same in this country as in every other country. The masses will suffer – a few will profit. After all, if everybody suffered from war, what sense would there be in having war? It is the fact that some profit and others hope to profit that makes war possible. Assuming, then, that the dollar-a-year men remain in charge of our war effort, that the brass hats keep making their incredibly stupid mistakes, let’s see how the picture shapes up.
First of all, this is going to be a long war. That we have already been warned about. Plans are now under way to build up an army of 7,500,000 men. It may easily reach 10,000,000 before the war is over. Fifty per cent of our production will go to the war. It may easily be 60 or 70 per cent before the war is over. All men between the ages of 18 and 64 are to be registered. This may easily be extended to include women. Shortages have already appeared in such key raw materials as rubber, tin, gasoline, etc. These will be rationed. It may be and will be extended to others. Prices in the vital wholesale markets have gone up more than 60 per cent since the beginning of the war. They will go up further.
The cost of living has gone up, according to government estimates, 11 per cent since the outbreak of the war. It will go up much, much further. There is an acute shortage of labor, particularly semi-skilled and skilled labor for the war industries. Other countries have drafted labor. The probability is that along with the outlawing of strikes there will come the conscription of labor in the U.S. – in spite of the fact that conscripting labor to work for the gain of a private employer is outlawed by the 13th amendment to the Constitution as slavery.
Goods are being standardized. This will continue and be extended to everything – that is, to everything except war materials. People are being urged to buy defense bonds and stamps. Soon they will be forced to buy them, as is already happening in some cases, “in the best interests of the workers,” simply deducting a certain sum from each worker’s pay check to go for this or some other type of forced savings. Substitutes are being introduced. This will be extended.
This picture is hot that of an alarmist. It is a very sober picture based on historical fact. The picture could be extended almost indefinitely to cover every last detail. The broad outlines are quite clear for anyone with eyes to see. But while the workers and masses are suffering a steadily declining standard of living, the same picture of the rich profiting by the war as exists in other countries will be duplicated here, only more so. Profits have gone up tremendously. They will still go up.
Last updated: 26.2.2013