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A. Roland

America After the War –
Golden Future or Chaos?

Professor Hansen Discusses Post War Problems
in a Pamphlet of the National Resources Planning Board

(14 March 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 11, 14 March 1942, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The mirage is not exclusively a desert phenomenon. A passing good imitation of the man dying of thirst in the desert who sees what looks like the saving oasis just ahead, is the capitalist economist. Past and present history present a searing experience of economic anarchy and crisis. The second World War is but the natural, inevitable consequence of capitalist anarchy of production. Yet the apologists of the present social system look ahead and dream of its golden future.

This is the vision seen by Professor Alvin H. Hansen of Harvard University. He writes the second in a series of pamphlets issued by the National Resources Planning Board, this one called War and Post-War Aims. It strives to comfort those who fear the aftermath of the war. Hansen admits that everybody expects a post-war economic collapse. But this need not be at all, at all. “We have to make up our minds as a Nation that we will not permit a postwar depression to overwhelm us.” Everything depends “upon our intelligence and capacity for cooperative action.”

We shall not permit the professor to discourage us right here. It is true that one might well ask just why our intelligence and capacity for cooperative action should have grown suddenly at this stage of things when capitalism is being pounded to pieces like a wrecked ship on the rocks. The question really at issue is: what shall we do with our new-found intelligence? Hansen gives his program. We must build a “full employment” society.

The picture of this society presented by the professor is completely lacking in conviction. Nothing is to be changed, and yet everything will change! Free enterprise (otherwise called the profit system), freedom for collective bargaining between employers and employes (but without allowing wages to go too high!), freedom for this and freedom for that are all to be retained, lord be thanked. The government must not be permitted to. run the whole show. We want no totalitarian state. But – “It is the responsibility of government to do its part to insure a maintained demand.”

Role of the State

This is the modern theory of the surrealist economists. The state is to be the balance-wheel in capitalist economy. When business blows hot and threatens to overheat itself, the government must blow cold; when business gets cold and threatens to freeze up, it must supply heat. All that the “planned economy” of this timid soul comes down to, is that the government niust so use its financial power as to stimulate business when depression threatens, and discourage inflation when the boom is on.

The professor might just as well have raised the slogan: Long live economic anarchy! He dare not analyze or touch the fundamental process of production under capitalism, the exploitation of the workers for the sake of profits. That is to go on unchecked except for the secondary regulation by the government. The thesis of government responsibility to act as balance-wheel is nevertheless an admission of the fundamental anarchy of this whole system. By acting as they please, pursuing their “free enterprise,” the owning class produces chaos which must be straightened out by the state.

The capacity for cooperation that the professor refers to is not social cooperation. It is class cooperation of the capitalists, their cooperation with their own government in its attempts to correct the constantly unstable situation brought about by the individual and monopoly capitalists. There is not one aspect of the future “democratic” society pictured by the National Resources Planning Board that calls on the working class to do anything but go on working docilely for wages.

But will they be able to earn wages? Will the government be able to control the situation at the end of the war? The pamphlet before us fails utterly tc be reassuring. It is forced to consider the demobilization of armies, the shutdowns of defense industries, unemployment, deflation, bankruptcies, hard times. The other possibility of a short post-war boom to make up for the shortages of all kinds of consumers’ goods, also carries with it the threat of a short postwar inflation later to end in depression.

The argument that the government can act to stabilize the post-war economy comes down to an analogy. “We have seen how it is possible to mobilize the productive capacities of the country for war.” That same argument was used in the last war. Its value may be judged by the history of our times after the first world war. But one must analyze even this uncritical assertion. The real mobilization of industry for carrying on the most dangerous war of all history, has been hamstrung; at every turn by monopoly capitalism. The United States cannot mobilize its full productive forces under capitalism. However a certain amount of “war socialism” is mandatory in modern war. The very fact that this war socialism is confined and limited as it is, by the fear of the capitalists of government control, is the guarantee that it will be swept away the moment the war is over.

“Full Employment for All”

Hansen sets up the aim for the war and the period after the war of full employment for all. We have had an excellent example of the government’s desire and ability to follow this aim in its handling of the workers thrown out of employment due to industrial change-over from peace to war production. It was recognized that these workers would be unemployed for only a brief time, since the demand for labor would become greater with every month of speeded-up war production. Yet Congress refused to set aside the comparatively small sum requested for these unemployed.

All that Hansen’s program comes down to is a pious wish, the wish that the one hundred billion dollar national income level reached during the war boom, will somehow or other be maintained after it is all over. The demand for the things of life is surely there to make this possible. There is plenty of work to do.

“We need improved manufacturing equipment to produce more and better goods at lower prices. We need to carry on extensive research in the laboratories of our great private corporations, in our universities, and in Government bureaus to create new products and develop new processes. We need – to rebuild America. We need –”

If needs and demand in human terms of need translated themselves automatically into production, as is basically assumed by the rationalizing professor, then nothing else would be necessary. But the capitalist system has never produced for human needs, but for capitalist profits. These profits depend not only on the national market, but on world economy as a whole. This fact is not even mentioned in the report. It assumes that somehow planning for “full employment” is possible solely on a national scale. The imperialist war gives the lie to all forms of “autarchy.” Capitalism seeks salvation from decay and from the slow but sure strangling of the productive forces, by fighting for an expansion of its markets abroad.

The Specific Proposals

The futility of Hansen’s kind of thinking for the salvation of a doomed system is shown in the final policies he proposes for bringing about a “high consumption economy.” It is incredible that such third rate stuff and nonsense should be dignified by the printing, even by a subservient government. During the war, he proposes high corporate-income and excess-profits taxes, sharply progressive estate taxes, broadening of individual income-tax base, sharp increase of excise taxes on commodities competing with the war program, part payment of wages and salaries in defense bonds, qualitative shift in the components of consumption.

The real pay-off comes in his proposals for the post-war period. Here the defense of monopoly capitalism becomes obvious. The burdens of the war are to be placed on the backs of the masses. He wants the retention of graduated taxes on income and the broadened tax base, “with major emphasis on the individual income tax and less reliance on the corporate income tax,” adequate plans by private enterprise for private investment projects in manufacturing plant and equipment, in railroads, public utilities and housing, a program of public-improvement projects, expansion of public welfare, and “international collaboration” for foreign investment, “to explore developmental projects in backward countries,” for the promotion of world trade and effective world-wide use of productive resources.

No, professor. You and your kind are interested not in raising the living standards of the masses, but in preserving intact the system of monopoly capitalism. To preserve that system, with all its wretchedness for the masses, you are willing to lower the standards of living of the working class. But the application of your pills and plasters will do the sick system no more good than would the incantations of a tribal medicine-man. The second world war is part of the death agony of the capitalist form of society. There is no remedy for it. Civilization cannot go on unless it passes over and beyond this form to a new form of society, to socialism. Then only will human intelligence and the capacity to cooperate be given a real chance.

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