William F. Warde

Roosevelt Fights on Two Fronts

(July 1941)

Source: Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 6, July 1941, pp. 177–179.
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006. This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

In order to wage their wars, the capitalist rulers require the collaboration of all classes no less than the complete co-ordination of national economy. The democratic imperialists first seek to obtain this national unity by persuasion and deceit. When these methods prove unsuccessful or insufficient, they use more forceful measures to crush internal opposition to their policies.

Totalitarian regimes have great advantages over the “democracies” precisely in this respect. Fascist governments “unify” the nation by smashing all organizations independent of their state, beginning with the revolutionary organizations of the working class and ending with religious institutions. Having concentrated all power within the state and made its apparatus obedient to the dictates of a single sovereign, the fascist regimes are enabled to move swiftly and decisively against their external foes.

Confronted with the blitzkrieg tactics of their foreign totalitarian adversaries and beset by the struggle of the working masses at home, the heads of the imperialist democracies find themselves obliged to move toward totalitarian methods in preparing and waging war. They adopt such methods piece-meal. First Blum became Premier and beheaded the rising revolution; then his successor, Daladier, put down the French workers by driving them back to the factories at the bayonet-point and depriving them of their gains. The French example also shows that, instead of winning national unity by such methods, the “democrats” succeeded only in further estranging the workers from the parliamentary regime, demoralized them and discouraged their resistance and were thereby responsible for the downfall of the Third Republic and the loss of national independence to Hitler.

The rulers of Great Britain have employed slightly different tactics; they are still in the stage of using the Blums. They have secured a measure of social peace by bringing Bevin and other trade-union and Labor Party leaders into the war cabinet and making them responsible for the conduct of the war and the good behavior of the workers. Churchill and his Conservative colleagues have thus far kept the British workers in line through the services of labor lieutenants of capitalism.

Now the government at Washington is confronted with the same problem of instituting social peace. Roosevelt has been wrestling night and day with the two-fold task of crushing opposition at home in order to crush the enemies abroad. This capitalist Commander-in-Chief recognizes that the job of suppressing working class opposition stands first in order of importance and he has been behaving accordingly.

The “Unlimited Emergency” Speech

May 27th the President decreed an “unlimited national emergency.” His speech was universally received as a virtual declaration of war against the Axis powers. So far as Washington is concerned, “it’s all over now but the shooting.” Only a fool could console himself any longer with the pacifist illusion that any possibility exists of our escaping involvement in the war. Roosevelt made this painfully plain to the whole world.

He also openly announced the existence of a military alliance with the British Empire and Chungking. This Washington-London-Chungking Axis has evidently concluded broad plans for joint military, diplomatic and economic action, which are unknown to all except the highest officials. Woodrow Wilson demanded that democratic governments act according to “open covenants, openly arrived at.” His Democratic successor as war-president proceeds according to the old rules of ruling class intrigue, “secret agreements, privately negotiated.” And, according to the Constitution, the Senate of the US is supposed to ratify all treaties!

It was no accident that Roosevelt delivered his address in the presence of the governing board of the Pan-American Union and the Canadian minister. He thereby sought to promote Western Hemisphere unity under the domination of the dollar. His speech was less an appeal for voluntary harmony than a blunt notice to the South American countries that Washington was ready to use armed force against any recalcitrants who refused to do its bidding.

Up to this point, the US had played a secondary role in the war. In this speech Roosevelt openly assumed command of the world struggle against the Nazi combination. Henceforward, England steps back into secondary rank, while China, the South American countries, and the various European governments-in-exile act as satellites of Washington which, under the terms of the lease-lend bill, will finance and supply them for the price of dictating their policies.

Roosevelt proclaimed the doctrine of the “freedom of the seas” as a pretext for intervention in the conflict. The US Navy is ready to seize such island outposts between the Americas and Europe as Greenland, Iceland, the Azores, Cape Verde Islands, even though these belong to neutral countries. This is only the beginning of operations involving the Navy in all seven seas and military action on every continent. Although his speech was pointed at Germany, it likewise embraced Japan. From the beginning of our entrance, the war will very likely extend from Singapore to Iceland. This can no longer be a local or limited war. It is a total world war, involving everybody, everywhere.

Roosevelt dealt with his internal opposition in his speech as well as his external enemies. He branded the opponents of war “enemies of democracy” and “echoes of Axis bureaus of propaganda.” While in one sentence he boasted of the solidarity of the people and the overwhelming majority behind his policy, in the next he demanded unconditional loyalty. In reality, the people have given Roosevelt no such vote of confidence. He is simply trying to use his official authority to terrorize and suppress all opposition to his robbers’ war.

Roosevelt centered his attack upon his loyal opposition in the camp of the isolationist imperialists: the Lindbergh-Wheeler-LaFollette-group. Loyal and impotent. How absurd and impotent was the isolationists’ “struggle” for peace before and after the President’s personal declaration of war! The “America First” Committee beseeched everyone to write and wire Roosevelt at the White House to repudiate the belligerent speeches of his cabinet members, Stimson, Knox, Hull, Wickard, which he had himself inspired! In like manner, Chamberlain used to appeal from the fire-breathing Goebbels and Rosenberg to the milder, peace-loving Hitler. When the Russian peasants used to appeal from the oppressive landlords to the benevolent Czar, they had at least the excuse of ignorance. The isolationist leaders, however, are fully aware of Roosevelt’s determination to fight.

The collapse of the isolationist attempt to preserve peace shows how impossible it is to stop war within the framework of the bourgeois system or under the leadership of its supporters. The struggle against war and for peace cannot be separated or conducted apart from the struggle of the working class against the capitalist system which breeds war the way a decomposing carcass breeds maggots.

At the very moment the President was summoning the nation to defend democracy, he was engaged in trampling upon democracy. Neither Congress nor the people gave Roosevelt any authority to declare war. Like any other personal dictator, he simply usurped this power. He counts upon confronting the nation with an accomplished act of war in the form of a belligerent “incident” and then forcing a formal declaration of war through Congress. Hitler and the Mikado are not the only rulers who can wage undeclared war.

Roosevelt’s edict decreeing an unlimited national emergency invests him with unlimited powers. Again, neither Congress nor the people gave him such sweeping dictatorial powers. He simply took them. The Democrat in the White House cares no more for democratic methods than the Czars who also ruled by ukase.

Roosevelt moves in this autocratic fashion because he dares not submit a full accounting of his actions or his imperialist program to the American people whose will he is supposed to be executing. The latest Gallup Poll shows that 80 per cent of the people are opposed to entering the war. That’s why Wall Street’s War-Lord has to sneak into the war behind the backs of the people without their endorsement or consent.

If, as Roosevelt contended, this is a struggle in defense of democracy, why does he enter it in so undemocratic a manner? The question of war or peace is too important to be decided by any one individual. It should be decided by the American people as a whole. The right to vote on this life and death question is certainly an elementary democratic right.

Roosevelt, however, has consistently refused to permit the people to have the slightest say in this matter. During the last Presidential campaign, when the electorate did have some power of decision, this hypocritical and lying capitalist politician posed as a Prince of Peace and promised American fathers and mothers that their boys would never have to fight in any foreign war. He has now extended the lines of domestic defense so far from our shores that by his definition there can no longer be any foreign wars. By such sleight-of-hand tricks does Roosevelt drag the country into war.

The materialistic motives behind Roosevelt’s program obtruded at several points in his address.

“Freedom to trade is essential to our economic life. We do not eat all the food we can produce; we do not burn all the oil we can pump, and we do not use all the goods we can manufacture.”

Roosevelt did not stop to ask why this was so, nor why it must necessarily continue when there are so many undernourished and impoverished people within our own borders. Nor did he add the vital point that our monopolists cannot invest at home all the capital they accumulate from the toil of the people. He was primarily concerned, not with breaking down the barriers which prevent the American masses from increasing their consumption, but with the barriers which prevent American capitalists from extending their sphere of exploitation throughout the universe.

Roosevelt’s Onslaught Against the Workers

The bourgeoisie, as we have said, always conduct their struggles on two fronts; one abroad, the other at home. So, in addition to threatening the Axis powers, Roosevelt also threatened war against organized labor. He warned the workers that they would have to yield the strike weapon and resort to compulsory arbitration in their disputes with employers. In one breath the President declared we must fight for democracy; in the next breath he demanded that the workers give

up the very democratic rights they are supposed to be fighting for. Roosevelt rightly remarked that under fascism “trade unions would become historical relics and collective bargaining a joke.” But his own ban on strikes would have exactly these consequences. Roosevelt is doing the work of reaction before any foreign fascist force lands on our shores.

Roosevelt’s decree forbidding strikes “in defense industries” – and all industries are today becoming war industries – would deprive labor of its main weapon against boss aggression. The right to strike is a democratic right which the American workers have won for themselves by generations of struggle. It is part of the law of the land. In forbidding strikes, Roosevelt is acting not as a defender of democracy but as an agent of profiteering employers.

The Ford workers would still be without a union and dominated by Harry Bennett’s thugs if they had been unable to strike. The mine workers would have a dollar a day less in their pay envelopes. Workers the country over would be helpless to cope with the speedily rising cost of living. Roosevelt contrasted the free labor of the US with the slave labor of totalitarian countries. But it is precisely in totalitarian countries such as Germany and Italy that the government forbids all strikes and enforces compulsory arbitration upon capital and labor.

Two weeks later Roosevelt passed from words to action against the workers. In his capacity as President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Roosevelt ordered troops to break up the picket line at the North American Aviation Plant in Inglewood, California.

What crime had the striking aircraft workers committed? Their union negotiators were asking for a 75 cent basic hourly rate compared with the prevailing 50 cent rate, and a ten cent an hour boost in higher-skilled classifications. Their pickets carried placards reading. “We can’t feed our families on 50 cents an hour.” These workers were asking for a tiny slice of the tremendous profits being made by this General Motor subsidiary.

Instead of exerting pressure upon the North American officials to grant these reasonable demands, the President, the Secretary of Labor, the Defense Mediation Board, the OPM together with AFL and CIO leaders had called upon the workers to return to work. When the strikers held their picket lines firm, the government at Washington mobilized the full forces of its entire machinery to break the strike. Roosevelt personally directed the movements of the troops, telephoning instructions to their commander, Col. Branshaw. After the strike had been smashed, Roosevelt was, according to his secretary, “delighted” at the results.

At Roosevelt’s instigation, the head of the Selective Service System issued an order requiring draft boards to re-classify for military service all registrants who, because of striking, were not working on the jobs for which they had been given deferred status. This order gave local draft-boards, which are mainly staffed by business men, a powerful weapon for breaking strikes, punishing and terrorizing militant workers. The same day Democrats and Republicans united in Congress to vote a $10,000,000,000 appropriation for the army which expressly withheld all funds from corporations dealing with strikers and picketers.

With the White House, the Cabinet, the Army, the Navy, the Mediation Board, the OPM, the Selective Service System and Congress acting in unison against the workers, the Roosevelt regime now stands forth as the nation’s No.1 Strikebreaker.

Roosevelt demanded billions to fight foreign fascism. He first used naval “convoys” to run strikebreakers into the San Francisco shipyards. He first sent troops against American workers. The President could have provided no plainer proof of Trotsky’s statement in his last Manifesto that:

“The bourgeoisie invariably and unswervingly follows the rule: The main enemy is in one’s own country.”

Desperation in Washington

Roosevelt’s acts of war against the workers indicate not confidence but a state of panic in ruling circles. The commanding staff of the American plutocracy feels weak in the face of its external and internal antagonists. Despite Roosevelt’s boasts of national unity and strength, the bourgeoisie, divided and hesitant, are striking out blindly in desperation. They feel that their lebensraum is beginning to contract. They no longer rely upon peaceful methods to solve their internal problems. Yet the very measures of force by which Roosevelt endeavors to enforce national unity results in further alienating the workers from his regime. The United States of America approaches war with the class struggle raging furiously from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

In his speech Roosevelt painted a terrible prospect of the Nazi “Shape of Things to Come.” The American workers will never lie down before fascism – and they have already shown that they do not propose to accept Roosevelt’s reactionary “Shape of Things to Come” without an all-out fight. “We can’t lose democracy by struggling to save it,” declared Roosevelt. The organized workers have interpreted this remark according to their own class intelligence by refusing to abandon the rights and liberties they already enjoy.

In their struggles to save democracy and free trade-unionism at home, the American workers can count upon the leadership, the membership and the fighting program of our party.


Last updated on: 22 May 2016