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James Burnham

Their Government

(13 October 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 78, 13 October 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Not the least remarkable phase of the just concluded Panama conference and the Declaration which issued out of it is the minor attention which the whole matter has received in the general press. I have not found a single newspaper which gave its main headline to the Declaration. Indeed, very few even put the news from Panama on the front page. Why such modesty?

The explanation is simple enough: The publicists for United States imperialism – which means all of the bourgeois and most of the labor press – have got to keep the attention of the people focussed on the crimes of foreign bullies, and off the doings of the bully at home. Otherwise the people might begin to understand the real aims of the war into which Roosevelt is so democratically herding us.

Editorial hands are raised in horror when Germany and the Soviet Union conquer by arms or subjugate by diplomacy a few fifth and tenth rate countries. But the editors are most discreetly silent while United States imperialism utilizes the first weeks of the war to cinch up control over two entire continents.

What Washington Wants

The first of the minimum war aims of United States imperialism is domination of the Americas. Such domination involves control over trade, capital investments and raw materials in the American nations to an extent that will reduce the share of other powers to a negligible fraction, and will assure that this residue does not interfere with the subordination of American economy as a whole to the needs of the metropolis.

Such economic domination demands, in turn control over the foreign policy of all the American nations. But control over foreign policy necessitates, also, a decisive measure of control over internal policy. At the very least, the United States must be sure that the various governments are friendly” to itself, oriented toward Washington. This means that the United States must prevent these governments from being, as many have been in the past, tools of one of the rival powers (notably Great Britain); and prevent even more stringently the rise of popular, anti-imperialist revolutionary movements. Either dependence on another power or revolutionary mass struggle strikes at U.S. domination.

This aim has been among the guides of U.S. policy during the past quarter of a century, and comes to the forefront in the war. The Panama conference brings it a mighty leap toward realization.

Who Are the Rivals?

In spite of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States was a minor factor in Latin America before the last war. England had been by far the principal influence, with Germany moving up during the decade preceding 1914. The war and the reconstruction years which followed gave the U.S. Its first big chance; and money, goods, warships and marines were pumped south. England rapidly regained an important position while Germany was frozen out. In the last few years, however, Germany went ahead again, and overtook England in volume of trade – though both together have had less than the United States’ 36%. In amount of capital investment, England and the United States are probably now about even, with no other nation approaching. Indeed, from all points of view, the powers other than England and Germany hardly count.

As soon as the war began, Germany’s trade was virtually eliminated. In spite of her Navy, England’s must be seriously curtailed, both because of the difficulties of convoy and because of the scarcity of export goods which will be available from British industry.

The United States proposes that this withdrawal of her chief rivals shall be permanent. The Declaration of Panama was Roosevelt’s way of making this proposal known.

Some Problems Ahead

The Declaration was “adopted unanimously” by the conference. There was as much chance of an open negative vote as of Estonia’s rejecting Molotoff’s proposals. Sumner Welles was there to dictate, and the others to sign. But the sorrows that were hidden under the unanimous vote stretched all the way to Berlin and, above all, to London.

Argentina and Bolivia, for example, have for long been closely tied to London. They tried to object, but Welles granted them only a face-saving clause or two. And London must meditate bitterly about its plans for a Brazilian regime less wholly at Wall Street’s orders.

And then there is this: Britain and France have many possessions in the Americas. These are most valuable in war, not merely as sources of supplies but especially as bases for warships. The language of the Declaration can be interpreted to mean that these possessions cannot be used as such bases.

Of course, proclaiming the Declaration does not put it into operation. It is not yet accepted by the belligerent powers; and if it is accepted in words, this will not guarantee their acceptance in deeds. Acceptance will be ensured only by force; and the force in question can only be United States ships and planes. These however, are concentrated in the Pacific: for the second of the minimum war aims of U.S. imperialism is free entry into the Far East.

From this, by the way, it would seem to follow that “the principle of a two-ocean navy” will be adopted by the next regular session of Congress.

It is true that the Declaration is aimed primarily at Germany; and it is true that Roosevelt will enter the war against Germany. But at times England must be less than delighted as she watches her mighty ally.

Yes, and Canada too is in the Americas. Would it be so startling if Canada “declared her independence” from the Empire during the course of the war and its aftermath? On U.S. War Department maps of the war resources of the great powers, those of Canada are listed in the column of the United States.

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