From New International, Vol. 6 No. 4, May 1940, pp. 83–87.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The fundamentals of Marxism have not changed. But the German blitzkrieg has radically altered the political situation. For years all informed persons, from Roosevelt to Trotsky, believed that the Germans would be defeated in the second imperialist war. Revolutionaries looked forward to this defeat as initiating an era of socialist revolution. The imperialist perspective was not very different. The bourgeoisie dreaded the exhaustion of both sides, followed by the revolt of the millions in Central Europe against the long drawn out slaughter and privation. Today the world faces the possibility of a Germany victorious in a few months, unexhausted, possessed of enormous military force, with the morale and prestige of the most brilliant military victory in all history.
The American bourgeoisie is beside itself with fear and rage. And for those who consider the socialist revolution an idle illusion, an early Hitler victory makes real and immediate the threat – not of invasion; that is pure fakery – but of German world domination. Millions of workers everywhere see and see rightly that the unchecked victory of Hitler means: the abolition of collective bargaining, the regimentation of labor, the abrogation of every democratic right fought for during a century and a half.
For those who have no perspective except an endless continuation of capitalism, the prospect is dark and terrifying. Britain and France defeated, Hitler will be in a position to reorganize the whole of western Europe, in the image of Nazism and the interests of German economy. Fascist governments will rule in Britain and France, and bourgeois democracy will be wiped from the face of Europe. In the Near East; Egypt, Turkey and the Arab world will be dominated entirely by German influence with Italy as junior and hungry partner. In the Far East, Chiang Kai-shek or some successor will be forced into submission, and with the support of Germany, Japan will overrun Australia and reorganize Asia on the model of Hitler’s Europe. Indian landlords and capitalists will dessert Gandhi and Churchill for Hitler and the swastika. The hundred million Africans will exchange “democratic” slave-masters for fascist. In South Africa pro-British Smuts will be routed by pro-German Hertzog, whose opposition to the support of Britain in the war was defeated only with difficulty. Germany will carve out a great African empire for herself.
There remains the Soviet Union. Russia will be at the mercy of Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia. The only hope of survival for Stalin would be complete capitulation, not only economically but also ideologically, to Hitler. Molotoff has already informed us that fascism is merely “a matter of taste,” and between a question of taste and the blitzkrieg Stalin will not hesitate long. The Soviet has traveled a long way and will take the difference between National Socialism and socialism in a single country in its stride. The Third International will disappear, and prodigies of casuistry will be performed in redefining the workers’ state. The stage will then be set for the conquest of the United States of America.
Such is the immediate perspective. And given the premises of all those bound to capitalism, the perspective is not only a probability. Without the socialist revolution, it is a certainty. Therefore from extreme right to extreme left in the capitalist world reinforced by millions of workers the cry arises: Stop Hitler.
American imperialism needs no stimulus from workers to organize for the defense of its profits and perspectives in Spanish-America and China. Its world domination is at stake. But the liberals and social-democrats, after drawing a terrifying and accurate picture of the consequences of Hitler’s victory and the spread of fascism in Europe and Asia, stop short. Their prescience, analytical power and creative imagination, come to an abrupt end as soon as they approach America. They imagine, or pretend, that the great conflict will be a conflict between a “democratic” America and a fascist Europe and Asia. They live as always in a world of illusion, compounded of fear, hypocrisy, and lies. What we are witnessing in Europe is merely the acceleration of what is inherent in a rotting social order.
Allied victory or Allied defeat, three months’ war or three years’ war, the age of bourgeois democracy is over. In Europe, in Asia, and in America as well. It is quite true that Hitler, if victorious, will mold the economies of all the smaller countries completely to the economy of Germany. Economically and politically he will dominate Norway and Sweden, Holland and Belgium, Switzerland and the Balkans. But a victorious Britain and France will have either to break up Germany into a group of small states and themselves dominate Europe or, if Germany is left with the merest possibility of becoming dangerous again, she will have to be encircled and kept in subjection far more openly and nakedly than was attempted at Versailles. In either case no nation that emerges triumphant in the present struggle will again take the risk of allowing its enemy the possibility of doing what Germany has done to Norway, Sweden, Holland and Belgium. No one speaks today of a war to end war. Power will rule naked. The independence of small nations has disappeared from Europe. For the economic and military domination demands of necessity political and cultural domination as well. In the same way as the Catholic governments of medieval times could not tolerate religious heresy in their dominions, the modern imperialist nation will not tolerate outside its economic orbit any small nation likely to be of service to the enemy or allow any deviation from the previous ideological shibboleth.
But will not Britain and France continue to be “democracies” after a victory? Another illusion in the mouths of some, and in the mouths of others, lies. The establishment of a dictatorship in Britain is an event of outstanding importance in the history of the country and the world. Yet, despite the passing of the emergency law, the British workers cannot be considered to have lost in one day what they struggled for during 150 years. The government has been given authority and it has the power, but that power has not yet been enforced. There will be desperate battles, even during war time, before the British working dass is entirely subordinated to the will of the ruling class. But in the same way as the destruction of working class liberties is a process, so their restoration will be a process also. The idea that Parliament will meet in a post-war world and pass a bill that will automatically restore the lost rights to British labor, is a vicious stupidity. Britain has embarked upon a reorganization of its economic and social life from which it will be impossible to return to the old order. Should the war continue over a period of years, even though ending with an Allied victory, the economy of both Britain and France will have been developed into a system of huge government-controlled monopolies, great trusts, state-administered, with profits guaranteed for the largest firms, and the smaller producers subordinated or squeezed out. In such an economy the idea of collective bargaining is a myth. Labor will have been regimented and will remain regimented or fight for socialism. A quarter of a century ago, Lenin pointed out that bourgeois democracy was the political form that most closely served the necessities of free competitive capitalism, but that the age of monopoly capitalism would bring with it the political dictatorship. We are witnessing today the completion of that process on both sides of the Channel and of the North Sea. In such a world the antiquated economics of Roosevelt’s antiquated Secretary of State, restoration of world trade, have as much prospect of realization as the restoration of chattel slavery in his native state of Tennessee. Autarchy in economics and fascism in politics: that is the future without socialism.
Is the American bourgeoisie aware of these inevitable developments? Most certainly it is. And the necessary ideological pointers have been appearing with remarkable speed. Let us take one, the most instinctive, and therefore all the more significant. Dorothy Thompson, the NY Herald-Tribune columnist, is a hysterical woman whose writings have been distinguished by a fanatical hatred of Nazism. She has recently been to Europe and spent some days in Paris, where we can be sure she met the best people, including the best democrats. On her way home, on May 19, she wrote a column for her paper entitled Awakening. In it she makes the following points: there is no such thing as purely defensive warfare; the independent small nation is a myth; neutrality is a myth. And most important of all, the totalitarian state alone is capable of effectively waging the totalitarian war. She concludes “What does this all mean? That we must all be Nazis or accept the Nazi rule?” And here we take the liberty of interpolating, “What else can it mean?” She knows that the answer is Yes. In reply to her own question she writes, “No.” But here her reasoning makes a great jump from politics to mythology and from earth to heaven. “Not unless Lucifer won the war against God.” We can refer the authenticity of Lucifer’s victory to the same category as the miracle Reynaud announced as necessary for the salvation of France. But Reynaud reorganized the high command and warned the French that there would be death for anyone who did not obey orders. We can be certain that the American bourgeoisie will take only an academic if any interest at all in the question of the war between Lucifer and God, but will act with no less vigor than Reynaud in the establishment of its own dictatorship in America. Others beside Dorothy Thompson know that the independence of small nations is a myth. A Hitler victory will create immediate pro-Nazi movements in Spanish America, and the American bourgeoisie will impose its will on Spanish American countries as ruthlessly as Hitler imposed his on Norway and Holland.
The downfall of bourgeois democracy in Europe did not begin with Hitler. Hitler is a result not a cause. The crisis of Europe first showed itself in the Russian revolution of 1905. That it was a world crisis and not a European crisis was proved by the course of the war in 1914. That war neither ended nor made the world safe for democracy. The characteristic feature of the period 1918-39 was the destruction of democracy in country after country, with or without the violent defeat of the socialist movement, and the steady preparation for the second imperialist war. Without socialism, the war of 1939, Hitler victory or no Hitler victory, must inevitably mean the complete destruction of democracy all over Europe, the development of the totalitarian state in America, and still further battles for the re-division of the world.
The question that faces us, therefore, as Marxian socialists, is to estimate soberly, at this critical moment, what are the possibilities for the socialist revolution, the only force that can check the descent into the abyss and reverse the process of disintegration. The possibility of an early Hitler victory, the tremendous power displayed by the German military machine, the inevitable demoralization of the anti-Hitler forces in Germany by his uninterrupted march of success – these things undoubtedly have altered the former perspective of a long drawn-out war ending in immediate revolution. Let us, however, before we speculate on the future, examine the past.
The most powerful labor movement in Europe today is the British labor movement led by the British social-democracy. These bureaucrats are patriots all, ready to die for it in practice. But in 1933 the Labor Party, at its conference in Hastings, unanimously passed a resolution to resist any imperialist war, even to the extent of a general strike. Immediately after the resolution was passed, the labor leaders showed great energy and ingenuity in their efforts to prove that the. resolution did not mean what it so dearly and precisely said. Anti-war sentiment was very strong in Britain and the students of Oxford University, the stronghold of the British bourgeoisie, took the famous Oxford oath. The British bourgeoisie replied by a wave of enthusiasm for fascism. The Daily Mail and the Evening News, one with a circulation of a million and a half, and the other the largest evening paper in Britain, day after day published not pro-fascist but actually fascist articles, many signed by Mosley himself.
Then the Soviet Union joined the League in May, 1934, and the Hitler purge followed in June of the same year. These events caused a retreat in both camps. The Hitler purge discredited fascism in Britain. Lord Rothermere dropped Sir Oswald Mosley and refused to allow him to write any longer in his papers. The labor leaders seized the opportunity of Soviet entry into the League to reverse the anti-war policy they hated, and in October, 1934, at the Southport conference, they endorsed a League of Nations war. This policy, however, was opposed by the powerful Miners Federation, 700,000 strong. In 1935 came the rumblings of the Ethiopian crisis. Eleven million people voted in a popular plebiscite for action by the League of Nations. By this time the British government was quite aware of the German threat, the necessity for a tremendous rearmament program, and all the sacrifices for the workers that this involved. But, as Baldwin told the House of Commons quite frankly afterwards, such was the temper of the British people that if he had made any such proposal at the election, his party would have been defeated. So set were the British people on what they believed to be “the collective organization of peace” that the Hoare-Laval pact in December, 1935, nearly caused the fall of the Baldwin government. The labor party leaders continued to be torn between the pressure of the bourgeoisie on the one side and of the workers on the other. In 1936, at the Edinburgh conference, a resolution was carried, which within a few hours was interpreted by two sections of the leadership in two, exactly opposite ways. It took nearly four years before the social-democracy could feel sure enough of itself to support the government arms program.
Today the proletariat of Britain, which constitutes 70% of the British population, is still intact. The British ruling class dared not take any steps against it until fortified by the threat of actual invasion and the inclusion of labor ministers in every important post in the government. Labor has an influence and power in the Cabinet today out of all proportion to its parliamentary strength. There are no more important ministers today in Britain than Bevin, Minister of Labor; Morrison, Minister of Supply; Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty; and Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare. This is no question of superior personnel. Morrison is a very brilliant organizer, and Dalton is a man of great ability. But labor’s two representatives on the five-man war council are of very low quality. Attlee is a notorious nincompoop, whose leadership has been repeatedly challenged within his own party, Arthur Greenwood is a notorious drunkard. They owe their dominance in the Cabinet to one fact and to one fact only: it was the only way to mobilize the British working class, even in the hour of obvious peril, and compel the sacrifices necessary for the preservation of capitalism. If even we grant an early victory by Hitler, there is no room for pessimism when the British working class, undefeated, still remains to settle accounts with an impoverished, defeated, and discredited ruling class. The British king, aristocracy, and ruling class, to maintain their position at all, will have to associate themselves openly with German fascism, whereupon the class struggle will reach a pitch of intensity unequaled in British history. George V believed that he would be the last king of England, and Neville Chamberlain, that the second world war would result not only in the destruction of the British empire but of world capitalism. These gentlemen had every opportunity to know the strength and weakness of what meant so much to them.
The French working-class movement has carried on heroic struggles during the last four years. It is cowed, but not yet defeated. Some believe that Hitler, by means of flame-throwing tanks and thousands of airplanes, will be able to hold in subjection Poles, Czechs, Dutch, Belgians, Austrians, and at the same time crush powerful revolutionary movements in Britain and France. Such a conception of the superiority of military force to the dynamics of revolution has been proved false again and again.
Besides the workers of Britain and France, there is the great colonial revolution. Gandhi, his industrialists and landlords, have managed to hold the Indian revolution in check by the material force of the British government and the ideological threat of victorious fascism. The defeat of Britain in Europe would strike down both of these at one blow. The British government in India will be crippled, and the breakdown of authority will supply one of the indispensable elements to a revolutionary situation. The victory of fascism will then become not a danger against but an urge towards the struggle for national independence.
In French Africa there are at the very least a quarter of a million highly trained Negro soldiers. And the breakdown of French authority in Africa by defeat in Europe makes an African revolution in the French colonies a real possibility. Should the British or French workers take the road of revolution an African revolution particularly in French Africa is on the order of the day.
Only charlatans and profession optimists can prophesy success or speak lightly of vast revolutionary movements overcoming Hitler’s victorious legions by revolutionary ardor and enthusiasm. Such is not our intention. But we point to the fact these immense revolutionary forces exist. They are undefeated, untested even. Their revolution is the alternative, the only alternative to the domination of Europe and Asia by fascist totalitarianism. Over and above all these remains the militant and virile workingclass movement of America. For those who have in their bones and in the texture of their minds, the enormous capacity for sacrifice, cohesion and achievement which have been shown by revolutionary masses in the past, there is to-day but one road – speed the revolutionary process!
The first three weeks of the Nazi blitzkrieg in the Low Countries have changed the face of Europe – and of American politics. Last fall the overwhelming anti-interventionist sentiment of the American masses plus the failure of large-scale hostilities to materialize, forced the Roosevelt Administration to slow down its war drive. But the outbreak of heavy fighting on the Western Front has given Roosevelt a chance to take up where he left off in October. This time the tempo is much faster, and the obstacles on the road much fewer.
The isolationist groups, once so large and so vocal, have melted away like spring snows under the hot sun of war. What has become of that imposing paper creation, the Keep America Out of War Committee, with its claimed membership of over a million? Where are the snows of yesteryear?
Since practically all the isolationists accepted the idea of a capitalist America, their political base has been removed. For it is now clear to all that the United States is an integral unit in world capitalism, and that a Hitler victory threatens its very existence as a capitalist power. The bubble of isolationism was pricked by such unmistakable signs of our economic interdependence with Europe as the chaos on the NY Stock Exchange in the opening days of the Nazi invasion, the increasingly unfavorable position of American farm production as the spread of the war removed one export market after another, the feverish boom in such “war baby” industries as steel, airplanes, shipbuilding, and machine tools, and, most significant of all, the sudden realization that a Nazi victory will probably mean the demonetization of gold as a medium of international exchange, with devastating effects both on our own financial structure and on the nineteen billions in gold bars (three-fourths of the world supply) now held by the US Treasury.
The collapse of the isolationists under the pressure of actual war is something we long ago predicted, on the basis of the conflict between their vague “anti-war” sentiments and their not at all vague support of a social system which breeds wars. Also easily predictable have been the reactions of the labor bureaucrats. The warmongering of Hillman and Dubinsky, the leaders of hundreds of thousands of advanced workers in the needle trades, has become more violent than ever. John L. Lewis, in his speech before the Amalgamated Clothing Workers convention, seemed to be preparing a road into the war camp and away from the anti-Roosevelt isolationist position he has held up to now.
The pressure of events has been so great as to force the Communist Party to throw a few epithets in the direction ot the Hitler war camp – though the great bulk of its jour-nalis’ic venom is still reserved for the Allies. The Social Democratic Federation reached something of a record low even in the shameful history of post-war social democracy by advocating the immediate entry of the United States into the war. Its paper, the New Leader, had the distinction of sharing this editorial viewpoint with the reactionary NY Herald-Tribune.
The reason for this change in the political climate is simply that, until the Nazi war machine went into action against the Allies, the matter of American participation in the war was usually posed in terms of aiding the Allies, of “saving the world for democracy”. To this, the answer of some 98% of the American people was a flat “No!” But now the question has come much closer to home, now it is coming to be considered a matter of saving, not the world, but the United States itself from Hitler. For the first time since the war began, the actual defense of the United States itself seems to be the main question.
We write “seems” advisedly. For what the Administration is preparing to defend is not the United States but rather American imperialist interests everywhere from Greenland to the Dutch East Indies. The war machine now being hastily created will be used overseas, in a struggle with Germany for world empire. When the war moved into its present crucial phase, the American battle fleet, scheduled to return to the Pacific coast from war games off Hawaii, received new orders to remain in mid-Pacific. Roosevelt, most far-sighted of imperialists, is using evidently the fleet to protect against Japan not the shores of the United States but of the Dutch East Indies.
The $3,300,000,000 which the Administration plans to spend in the next year on “national defense” is only a small beginning. Already the press is full of reports of the inadequacy of the army and air force to cope with the Nazi war machine. To bring them up equal will cost perhaps as much as fifty billions, more than the entire national debt. The chief of the air force. General Arnold, estimates that it will cost $3,500,000 to build the 50,000 war planes Roosevelt has asked for, and another couple of billions a year to keep them going.
There seems little doubt but that, if Hitler wins the war this summer, American capitalism will be forced to transform itself into a totalitarian system to prepare for the ultimate battle for world mastery. Already industrialists, backed up by high army and navy officials, are pressing for the repeal of the Walsh-Healey Act and similar laws protecting labor’s interests. General Marshall, chief of staff of the army, has publicly stated that, because of higher wages in this country, the US Army must spend $21 for every $1 spent by European nations to keep the same forces in the field. The NY Times, in a recent series of editorials on A National Defense Program put the case very plainly: “To compensate for defense spending, we must make drastic economies elsewhere.” It is not hard to imagine where the Times locates this “elsewhere”.
Already, as one disaster after another overtakes the Allied armies, the more far-sighted American bourgeois are beginning to draw the moral: “total” war cannot be effectively waged by old-fashioned democratic capitalism. Congressmen arc already beginning to draw ominous parallels between the reformist phases of the New Deal and the Popular Front in France. Much attention is being paid to a current Department of Commerce report on Germany, which shows that in the month before the war began, the German governmental apparatus was absorbing 47% of the national income, and that production of some branches of consumption goods was cut 50% in favor of war materials. “Under these circumstances,” concludes the report, “Germany’s entry into the war meant, from an economic and financial viewpoint, rather an accentuation of existing trends ... than the beginning of an entirely new period in the country’s economic life.”
In the terrible shock of the first few days of the Nazi blitzkrieg in the Low Countries, Roosevelt and his Republican opponents reacted violently, even rashly. It was clear that American as well as British imperialism was directly threatened by this ruthless new competitor. Hoover, Dewey, Vandenberg and other Republican isolationists hastened to purge themselves of this now treasonable doctrine and to publicly endorse the President’s “national defense” program. As for Roosevelt, he at once began to take the first steps towards totalitarian mobilization. From the White House came daily rumors and news reports of a coalition cabinet of both Republicans and Democrats, with a third term for Roosevelt; of a pending Administration campaign to get Congress to lift the Walsh-Healey Act restrictions on all war orders of a new War Resources Board, to be made up of the usual industrialists and bankers and to have M-Day powers over national production.
But after the first few days, the politicians began to think more calmly and, above all, to remember there is a presidential election this fall. The Republicans .began to criticize – though much more discreetly – Roosevelt’s foreign policy, while giving him complete support in all “defense” measures. Congress is hurriedly voting all the war funds asked for by the Administration, plus a few ideas of its own. But no action will be taken on how to raise these billions – whether by income taxes, sales taxes, bond issues, or relief cuts – until after the fall elections. As for the White House, the atmosphere has changed completely in the last week. Roosevelt now denies he ever had any intention of inviting Republicans to form a coalition cabinet. He has come out clearly for retention of all New Deal reformist measures, even in war industries. He has insisted that the new “defense board” he is creating will have labor as well as business represented and will be definitely “advisory” and subordinate to the regular Government departments.
Both Congress and the President hesitate to take the first steps towards that lowering of mass living standards, regimenting of the trade union movement, and delivering complete control of the national economy to the big bourbeoisie, which they know will be necessary in order to build up a war machine able to meet the Reichswehr. This hesitation will probably last until the fall elections are over.
The politicians don’t dare, as yet, advance along the grim road that must be travelled. What this road will be like it is not hard to forecast. The Daladier dictatorship in France, the newborn Labor-Conservative totalitarian regime in England – these are sufficiently clear signposts. As are, over here, the anti-alien laws now being passed by Congress, the “Fifth Column” hysteria, the increasing pressure for the lifting of all restrictions on business together with the crippling of the organized labor movement.
The only way Hitler can be stopped by any capitalist American government is by the introduction of what will amount to Hitlerism over here. The main enemy is still at home. The workers and farmers and unemployed millions of America must take over the government if the defense of the United States against the enemy across the Atlantic is not to mean simply the quick – and permanent – victory of the enemy within, the totalitarian class rule of the great banks and corporations of American monopoly capitalism.
Last updated on 7.7.2013