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Jack Weber

Our Stand on “Taking Over” War Industries

(June 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 23, 7 June 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The press has given space to the demand of Villard and the “Keep America Out of War Congress” that the government take over the war industries, including all the heavy industries. Oswald Garrison Villard says he also wants these industries to be run by the government “under democratic control.”

What should our attitude be towards this demand of Villard and the isolationists who hope that by taking the profits out of the war industries they will stop United States entry into the way? To many people it may seem almost obvious that we would support Villard. For don’t we also call for the expropriation of the war industries? And what difference is there between “democratic control” and “workers’ control”?

Villard looks upon the government as something apart from the classes in society, and to him the drive for war is a pressure on the government by special interests which the government finds it difficult to resist. Villard wants to withdraw the pressure and thus free the government to act once more in the “common” interest. By eliminating the profit-making in the war industries, it would no longer pay the individual capitalists to press for war; they will stop pushing the government into war. Such is Villard’s outlook.

Our answer is that the government is the executive committee of the entire capitalist ruling class. That class sees its whole future jeopardized by a redivision of the world not in accord with its basic interests. It is not a question of this or that industry, of profits of one group of capitalists as against those of other groups. What is involved in the imperialist war is the fate of the entire system of profit-making in the United States. Roosevelt speaks in the interests of capitalism as a whole.

Roosevelt May ‘’Take Over” Industries

Modern war calls for a tremendous concentration of power over the complete national resources and productive forces. The big bankers and industrialists are not at all averse to having the government exercise this power for war purposes. On the contrary, they call on Roosevelt to extend his power more and more, knowing that through him real control remains in their own hands, that his policies will be the policies of monopoly capitalism. If it were found necessary, Roosevelt would even take over certain industries in order to conduct the war more effectively. Thus in the last war Wilson took over the railroads.

The mere taking over of industries by the government is, therefore, no way to stop war at all. True, the bankers and the big industrialists never like the prospect of seeing the government actually take over and run industry. The reason they dislike to see this happen is because the working class may learn some valuable lessons from this experience as to the ease with which an industry can be run without the employers.

Why do we call on the government, the capitalist government, to expropriate industries and let them be run under workers’ control? Our first aim is to educate the working class concerning the nature of war and its relation to the profit system as a whole. We have no illusions about the capitalist government – but many workers have. Our object is to dissipate these illusions and hence we try to get workers into those forms of struggle which will help them to understand, the real nature of things. The workers are asked to sacrifice their lives in the war for “defense of their country.” At every turn the conditions and circumstances of war permit us to contrast the sacrifices demanded of the masses with the failure to demand sacrifices from the ruling class, particularly in the matter of profit-making.

The Aim of Our Slogans

As war becomes more and more burdensome to the masses, they more willingly listen to proposals to ease their lot and not to permit the capitalists to amass wealth at the expense of our very lives. But let the slogan for expropriation of war industries once take hold, and let the workers begin to put up a strong fight to see this accomplished, and the education of the working class speeds up enormously. They would soon learn that the government of the capitalists has no intention whatsoever to squeeze the profits out of war. On the contrary, even where an industry might be nationalized, the first care of the government is to insure the steady flow of profits to the capitalist investors.

The struggle of the workers to force the government to take over certain industries and to permit the workers to have a say in the running of these industries would soon develop into a wide-scale struggle between the two basic classes, the working class and the capitalist class. The government would reveal itself in its true light as the instrument of the ruling class. The, workers, trying to eliminate war-profits and to be in a position to see that this is done, would soon find out that the only way to do this is for the workers themselves to take over the government. Only a workers’ government could really carry carry out a program of taking over and running the war industries and the basic industries in the interests of the great masses.

Villard’s slogan implies a faith in the government as an instrument for the “common good.” Our manner of presenting the issue, on the contrary, is to dispel this illusion and to set the workers in motion on a path which leads to the proletarian revolution. Our slogan teaches that the only democratic control of industry is workers’ control and that the only way this can be achieved is by means of workers’ power over the government.

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