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The New International, May 1939


The Editor’s Comment


From New International, Vol.5 No.5, May 1939, pp.131-133.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The director of the “War Deal” is President Roosevelt who, after his inevitable failure to resolve the problems of American capitalism’s gigantic crisis on an “internal” basis, turned to an “external” solution which means an aggressive participation in the coming battle of world gangsters

WE HAVE AT NO TIME called Franklin Roosevelt either a socialist or a fascist. We use political and economic terms not as epithets of praise or abuse, but as scientific descriptions. Nor did we ever say that the New Deal was the beginning of fascism or communism in the United States. We have consistently explained Roosevelt and his New Deal for what they actually are. In 1933 US capitalism was caught in a gigantic crisis. Even a total collapse, as the banking shutdown proved, was not excluded. Roosevelt, a shrewd, demagogic, streamlined liberal-bourgeois politician, sailed into office with his New Deal with the aim of bringing US capitalism back to life, of saving it and its profits from destruction, of “making it work”, as he himself expressed it. He and his New Deal tried to do this chiefly through four means: huge governmental expenditures; governmental controls to reduce somewhat the competitive anarchy in business; open and disguised governmental subsidies to agriculture; and certain social concessions to the workers designed, from one point of view, to help lift purchasing power for the benefit of business, but more particularly to reconcile the workers to the continuance of the profit regime and the Roosevelt administration.

Of this program, we said from the beginning two things: We maintained, first, that even in its aim of making US capitalism work it would not succeed. We held that US capitalism, in common with capitalism internationally, had entered a period not of episodic but of general decline, and that the New Deal was incapable of arresting the fall. The prosperity and progress of capitalism depend upon the opening up of new opportunities for capital accumulation, new fields of investment, and the governmental expenditures would not be able to make good the gap left by the drying up of such new fields. Cyclical upturns would prove more uneven and of shorter duration than in the past. A large percentage of the vast army of the unemployed could not be re-integrated into the decayed “private” industry.

In the light of the impossibility of the re-consolidation of US capitalism on the basis of primarily internal measures, we concluded that, as time went on and this impossibility became apparent, US capitalism and Roosevelt as its state administrator would be compelled to seek an “external” solution, would turn to aggressive imperialist war as the only means left for “making US capitalism work”.

Second, we held that the concessions to the workers would turn out to be far less in the flesh than in promise, that they would be only shadows when compared with the very substantial gifts to big business, that they would not greatly lift the level of life of the workers as a whole, employed and unemployed, and that, most important of all, what concessions were made would be soon enough withdrawn under pressure of the continuing crisis. Here, also, Roosevelt, as the possibility for social concessions slipped away, would be forced to turn to the war.

We were, of course, correct in our analysis.

Happy Days that Almost Came

IN THE EARLY DAYS, we were almost alone in our estimate. We are not so much concerned here with big business, which welcomed Roosevelt as a savior for the first two years (an attitude which business has resolutely forgotten) and then in part, for reasons of its own, turned against him. The liberals, reformists, labor bureaucrats, and later the Communist Party set themselves the task of selling Roosevelt and the New Deal to the people, in particular to the workers. They became, unofficially and often officially, part of the Roosevelt machine. They joined hands with Roosevelt “to make US capitalism work”.

Not many of the workers believed us. This skepticism was not due merely to the modest size of our own organization or to our lack of propagandistic skill. It was partly caused by precisely the efforts of those numerous and powerful reformist agents of Roosevelt among the workers, who were believed by the workers. But they, in turn, were enabled to engineer their deception so widely and so successfully because during the first five years Roosevelt and the New Deal did, in truth, make a number of concessions, some important concessions even, to the workers.

Unemployment was not ended, but through the centralization of relief in the Federal government, and the work project programs, the condition of the unemployed was sensibly raised from the Hoover level. The trade unions did not grow to include the majority of the workers, but Section 7A of the NRA and the Wagner Act did aid in an unprecedented wave of labor organization which in a number of industries resulted in improved wage and working conditions. The TVA was spectacular, and improved the lot of many workers and poor farmers in the Tennessee valley. Twenty-five cents an hour is not much to grow fat on, but even so miserable a level for a Wages and Hours Act meant more money for several hundred thousand workers. Pensions, maternity care, and unemployment insurance are a long way from being provided for by the Social Security Act, but the Act at any rate is more than nothing.

Above all, the largesse of the New Deal was accompanied by promises, golden, ample, shimmering promises. Most men are normally, it seems, trusting optimists. They can live for some while on promises alone. And when the promises are joined by even a little, tantalizing taste of the fruit to come, men are pushovers. Roosevelt and the New Deal gave enough, just enough, to make their promises seem like more than wind. And the workers, like too trusting creditors of a near-bankrupt, fell for them.

The reformists and the labor bureaucrats were able to say: Look at the New Deal program, there’s a people’s program for you. And it means business, doesn’t it? Look what’s been done already. And that’s just a little, a tiny fraction of what is to come. It’s twenty-five cents minimum now; but it will soon be forty, and then we’ll get it up to a dollar. Relief is low, but it’s higher than Hoover, and soon we’ll all have jobs. Unemployment insurance is only a few dollars for a couple of months now, but after all that’s something, you can’t do everything at once, and in three or four more years it will be permanent, and high enough to live on. And even if all of it doesn’t yet add up to much when you put down the cold figures, remember the Republican bogeyman who will get you if you aren’t good New Dealers.

That is how it was done. And it worked. It was ninety percent demagogy that sold the New Deal to the workers. We understood that, and tried to explain it. But so long as ten percent of the genuine article remained, the consumer bought, and paid with his political allegiance.

Gone Are the Snows of Yesteryear

THIS IS HOW THINGS WERE. They are not the same anymore. The ten percent, that quintessential ten percent, has vanished. The substance of the New Deal, never very weighty, has gone, and only its demagogy remains. The New Deal, except as occasional words on the lips of Roosevelt and Lewis and Browder, has finished. It has been replaced by the War Deal, which is also a deal of social reaction.

This is not yet clear to the workers, but it is a fact, an enormously important fact, and it must be made clear. We, as a result of our Marxian analysis, opposed the New Deal from its beginning to its end. But let us grant, for a moment, that we were mistaken; that it was an “experiment” worth trying. Very well. The experiment is now over, absolutely, irrevocably over. There is no more gold in the hills. The reformists and bureaucrats still tell the workers to defend Roosevelt and his New Deal? That New Deal – which conceivably might, once upon a time, have been worth defending – does not exist any longer.

There is only the War Deal, and a new stage of social reaction. And Roosevelt, the New Dealer, does not exist any longer. There is only Roosevelt, the war-monger, the cleverest leader of the social reaction.

We mean this, alas, quite literally. The workers are being asked to defend not a reality but a memory, a memory of a past wholly dead. Even if it was worth defending while alive, it would seem to be a lamentable waste of energy to battle over the corpse.

The passing of the New Deal was foretold by Roosevelt himself in Chicago, in October, 1937. There he gave the first dramatic call to the war. For three months preceding, the business curve had been rushing downward, bearing witness to the complete failure of the New Deal internal measures to save US capitalism – the medicine of sixteen billion Federal dollars had been poured out in vain. The time was coming to begin serious preparations for external measures, for the war. A final shot of New Deal adrenalin was administered during 1938; the business curve climbed a slow, short distance upward and WPA expanded its rolls to an all-time high of 3,250,000. The patient relapsed. And, on the night when the November, 1938 election returns were counted, the New Deal was laid forever to rest.

The War Deal, painstakingly rehearsed for more than a year, took the center of the stage. The War Deal went, still goes, rapidly through its scenes: the Lima Conference; spy trials; annual messages; radio broadcasts; notes to Japan; armament budgets; sudden orders to the fleet; patriotic movies and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner; open letters to Hitler and Mussolini ... The cues are smartly taken up. And Roosevelt is the War Deal’s director, not Hoover nor Senator Taft nor even Thomas E. Dewey.

And the War Deal’s sidekick, social reaction, keeps up with his partner. The three and a quarter million on WPA were slashed – by Roosevelt, by Roosevelt alone – two hundred thousand before Congress even met. Another fifty or so thousand, including all non-citizens, were gradually lopped off – by Roosevelt and his administrator, Harrington – during the first three months of the year. Two hundred thousand more heads fell during April; two hundred thousand the first week of this month; at least two hundred thousand more scheduled for June.

Throughout the country reaction lifts its head higher. The courts – Democratic Party judges in most of them – crack down on labor’s rights in decision after decision. Witch-hunting Congressional committees “investigate” the relief set-up and the unemployed organizations. Coal and steel and auto drive their blows against the CIO. Infamous anti-labor laws are passed by referendum in Oregon, by the legislature in Minnesota, and introduced in a dozen or two more States. Fantastic laws, making illegal advocacy of any change whatsoever in the government, are debated in Congress – one of them even passes the (Democratic Party-controlled) House of Representatives. The movement to open the doors to the refugees is smothered – by Roosevelt and his administration. The overwhelming majority sentiment for a war referendum bill is brutally violated – by reactionary howls led by Roosevelt. A regular Army colonel is put in charge of WPA – by Roosevelt. The NLRB draws in its horns and the Wagner Act is undermined – with the consent of Roosevelt and his man, Wagner. Nothing more is heard from the anti-lynching bill. Exception after exception is granted under even the existing miserly Wages and Hours Act. The Treasury completes plans for lowering taxes on large incomes and profits.

Is all this just some temporary “strategic maneuver”? Are the New Deal and the old Roosevelt just lying low, waiting to catch the Tories off guard? Once again we repeat: the New Deal and the old Roosevelt are dead. This is nothing temporary, no smart maneuver; it is just as serious as Daladier’s decree laws – and Daladier, remember, was a Popular Front New Dealer until yesterday. And Roosevelt is the leader of the War Deal and the new stage of social reaction. Are we doubted? Examine the record. Look at the budget proposals for relief in the new fiscal year: the WPA rolls to be cut below 2,000,000, when Roosevelt himself simultaneously points out that relief needs during the past six months have risen, not lowered. Labor’s Non-Partisan League and the Communist Party and the Social-Democratic Federation, Lewis and Brow-der and Oneal, ask labor to continue its support of this man and his deal. How long will labor, living on memories of a buried past, listen? Could any policy be more disastrous, guarantee more firmly the crushing defeat of labor? The first task of labor today is to throw from its back the incubus of this ghost of the New Deal, to see the War Deal for what it is, to stand up on two firm legs and fight it to the end.

When Thieves Fall Out

IF TWO CLEVER GANGSTERS should be getting ready to fight it out with each other, and if they wished to win public support for their respective sides, each of them could make out a plausible case. All that each would have to do, in speeches and appeals, would be to concentrate all emphasis on the crimes of the other, and let the positive argument rest on vague and noble generalities that could never be pinned down.

Imperialist gangsters differ chiefly in scale from the Capones and Torrios. So we may see from reading and analyzing Roosevelt’s open letter to Hitler and Mussolini, and Hitler’s Reichstag speech of reply. Roosevelt and Hitler have each an excellent case to make – against the other, a case, moreover, with many true and mighty charges. When Roosevelt tells Hitler that his armaments and his threats, his aggressive actions against small nations and his signs of further actions, his flouting of international law and of treaties, shock the conscience of mankind and bring ever closer the unexampled destruction of a new world-wide war, Roosevelt is in no way exceeding the simple truth. And when Hitler replies that the iniquitous Versailles treaty bears a full share of responsibility for the present ills of the world, that he has done to small nations and races no more, not half so much, as the self-righteous democratic powers, that modern history gives no evidence that international laws and treaties and conferences ever solve any of the vital problems concerning nations, that he will not be ready to disarm until all others are – which will never be, Hitler is equally close to the truth.

For honest men, there is no real choice between gangsters. The fight has got to be against all gangsters and gangsterism. The exchange of messages between Roosevelt and Hitler could not possibly have helped the cause of peace. They are both men of war, and they use their messages as part of their build-ups for the war. They are making the record, and trying to consolidate more firmly behind them a national chauvinist spirit. But their messages may, without intending, have served one purpose: to expose more clearly on both sides the bare imperialist character of the approaching war, to show it a little more openly for what it is: a murderous struggle for a new division of the world and of the rights of exploitation among the various groups of imperialist gangsters. The two messages put together mutually cancel out both the lying claims to any sort of truth and freedom and justice. How pleasant if we could return for a moment to the Middle Ages and its Trial by Combat: and, while the rest of us watched from the stands, let the whole set of them – Chamberlain and Hitler and Roosevelt and Daladier and Mussolini – enter the ring to cut each other’s throats. Instead, they will sit comfortably, and send humanity to do the cutting.

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