Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, December 1945


The Editors

Review of the Month


From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.12, December 1945, pp.355-361.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The French Elections and Their Significance

REFLECT DEEP SOCIAL CRISIS The October elections in France and the constituent Assembly arising from the elections reflect the continuing deep social crisis in that country. The crisis itself had its origins in the gaping contradiction between the relatively weak economic position of French capitalism and its tremendous imperialist ambitions on the European continent as well as overseas. The Second World War laid bare this contradiction for everyone to see. Capitalist France was reduced overnight to a secondary power, a satellite of the mightier imperialist blocs.

The collapse of its military establishment in 1940 aligned French capitalist economy within the framework of German imperialism. Under the Nazi occupation the bulk of the French bourgeoisie, rallying to the regime of Marshal Petain, revealed itself as thoroughly, “collaborationist” while the masses came into constant and growing conflict with the invaders. When, after Stalingrad, the Nazi military machine in 1942-43 began to reveal symptomatic cracks, the bourgeoisie, particularly its decisive finance capital sector, began a turn-about-face: the switchover to the side of Anglo-American imperialism. Shortly after the Allied invasion of North Africa, French capitalism proceeded to shift its support from Petain in Vichy to de Gaulle in Algiers.

D-Day in 1944 found the French masses in open revolt against the police-dictatorship of Marshal Petain. The Vichy regime evaporated into thin air. Faced by the armed mass movement of the people, the Anglo-American invaders at once gave up as hopeless the idea of utilizing the Vichy government apparatus which they had previously contemplated. While the treacherous Stalinist and Socialist parties with their People’s Front “Resistance” policy prevented the workers from seizing power, the Allied militarists quickly installed de Gaulle, who had previously appeared too independent to them, at the head of the de facto government in Paris in August 1944.

DE GAULLE’S DICTATORSHIP Resting on Allied bayonets and aided by the perfidious leaders of the workers’ Parties in disarming the masses, de Gaulle proceeded step by step to lay the groundwork for his own military-police dictatorship. The General began to rebuild the French Army with Vichy officers and American materiel. He reconstructed the French police system and its secret service. The goal of all these undertakings was to establish a regime whose first loyalty was to de Gaulle. For its part the French bourgeoisie has been quite content to abdicate its political prerogatives to the General as the surest means of continuing its profits.

In the sphere of foreign policy, de Gaulle attempted for a time to play off the major powers in the Allied camp against each other in an effort to revive the imperial “grandeur of France.” But the pact with Russia only obtained for him limited domestic gains, the uncertain support of the Stalinists under Thorez. At the diplomatic conferences, however, the Kremlin showed no inclination to favor his imperialist aims. On the other hand, his overtures to Anglo-American imperialism against the USSR gained him only one place among many in the “Western Bloc” it is anxious to build up in Europe. Thus, in actual effect, de Gaulle has merely replaced Petain as a tool of the big imperialists. The French bourgeoisie has exchanged “collaboration” with Nazi Germany for “collaboration” with the Anglo-American imperialists.

In the domestic field, de Gaulle’s provisional government has not solved a single one of the harrowing economic problems. Industrial production shows only slight gains and still remains in a state of chaotic paralysis. The transportation system, although the complete breakdown created by the havoc of the war has been repaired, is still far from serving the needs of the country. Agricultural output, in turn, has suffered a further decline. The toiling masses, facing hunger, cold and disease, are in a state of constant unrest.

MASSES WANT SOCIALISM It is against this background that the elections to the Constituent Assembly must be viewed. Although his military police state apparatus has advanced considerably since August 1944, de Gaulle has as yet no stable base among the masses. The overwhelming majority of the latter follow the Communist and Socialist parties. More than five million workers have flocked into the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), the revived trade unions. The Communist Party itself numbers close to a million and virtually controls the CGT. Such a mass force cannot be put down by the routine action of a military-police apparatus. A stable organized following among the masses is necessary for the General, if he is to carry out the domestic program – the preservation of capitalism – well as the foreign policy – the “Western Bloc” – of the bourgeoisie. That is why the Bonapartist regime has been obliged to play around with parliamentary maneuvers.

The bourgeoisie wants a “strong” capitalist regime. The working masses want socialization. The peasants and the petty bourgeoisie cherish illusions about a “new” democracy, a Fourth Republic. Open police-dictatorship has been discredited under Vichy. Obviously, de Gaulle must pursue his aims with great agility. Elections to a Constituent Assembly had to be agreed to. At the same time the elections also had to be given a typical Bonapartist stamp. That is why the provisional government attached a “referendum” to the elections.

The referendum served in reality as a cover for a plebiscite. The first part of the referendum asked: “Do you want the Assembly to be a Constituent Assembly?” That is, do you want a new constitution as against a return to the old “Third Republic”? The second part asked: “If the majority has voted Yes on the first question, do you approve that – until the constitution goes into effect – public authority should be organized in accordance with the Government’s project?” The “project” called for an Assembly limited to seven months during which time the government is to retain a “certain” independence of the Assembly.

The second question was couched in purposely ambiguous language to dim its real Bonapartist character. In calling for a “Yes” vote also on the first question, government spokesmen camouflaged their references to the Assembly as a “sovereign” constituent. Thus, by urging a “Yes” vote on both questions, they made a verbal concession to the democratic sentiments of the masses while aiming to obtain a vote of confidence for de Gaulle.

ELECTIONS ARE CONTRADICTORY The results of the elections of October 21, held under this smoke screen were contradictory in character. While the de Gaullist version of the referendum, supported by the Socialists under Leon Blum, was carried by a large majority, the composition of the Assembly discloses an absolute majority for the traditional workers’ parties, with the Communist Party emerging as the strongest single party. Thus, the question of power has not at all been resolved by the vote. On the contrary, it has been sharpened by assuming “constitutional” form. The Communist Party, which agitated for a “No” vote on the second question, with its 152 mandates stands out as the biggest winner in the elections. Yet, a “Yes” vote on this question carried by an overwhelming majority. Both the Bonapartist regime of de Gaulle and the forces arrayed against it registered “successes.”

One thing, however, was revealed with absolute clarity. The so-called Radical-Socialist, the big liberal party of the French bourgeoisie associated with the entire history of the Third Republic, suffered a total eclipse. Out of an Assembly of 585 deputies, it elected only some 25. The Radical-Socialist party was the main force calling for a “Yes” vote on the first question, that is, a return to the Third Republic. The small support it received for this position shows how thoroughly the old-line capitalist politicians have lost their hold and how hopelessly compromised they are in the eyes of the masses.

The bourgeoisie rallied, instead, to a new label, the Mouvement Republican Populaire (Popular Republican Movement). The MRP was a relatively unimportant Catholic group in the underground movement. But its link with the Catholic Church imparts to it a deep-rooted conservatism which offsets the radical veneer lent it by participation in the “Resistance.” The bourgeoisie was quick to grasp the importance of both these facets in looking for replacements to serve for the shop-worn attractions of the Radical-Socialists. Within the past year it has concentrated all means at its disposal to build up the MRP as the heavy counter-weight to the mass parties of labor.

MRP GROWS RAPIDLY The story of the swift rise of the MRP deserves a quick recapitulation. Immediately upon being installed at Paris by the Allies, de Gaulle at once filled three important posts in his provisional government with leaders of the MRP, the Ministries of Justice, Information and Foreign Affairs. In the latter Ministry, the MRP’s outstanding “Resistance” figure, Georges Bidault, has been a permanent fixture.

The growth of the MRP, beginning with this government patronage, is most marked in the Paris region. According to Francisque Gay, editor of its paper L’Aube and now a Minister of State, here are the figures. In the municipal elections in April, the MRP got 14 out of 90 seats, or one-sixth of the votes. In the cantonal elections in September, it got 14 out of some 56 seats or one-fourth of the vote. Finally, in the elections to the Assembly in October, MRP got 17 out of 53 Paris mandates, or one-third of the vote. In the country as a whole, in the cantonal elections of September, only 234 seats out of 3,000 went to the MRP, while in the constituent elections in October 143 MRP deputies were elected out of a total of 585. While the Radical-Socialists virtually disappeared and other old capitalist groupings fell to a shadow of their former selves, the MRP grew into the third largest party in the country. Obviously all of bourgeois reaction was swept into support of the “new” party.

The MRP in turn, despite its long-time flirtation with the Socialists and the Communists in the “Resistance,” pledges its first allegiance to the apprentice Bonaparte, de Gaulle. It not only supported his plebiscite in the election. It has openly declared that it will serve only in a cabinet headed by the General. While it continues to pay lip-service, together with the two workers’ parties, to the “nationalization” program adopted by them jointly under the auspices of the People’s Front “Council of National Resistance,” it insists that such a program must be carried out only as the General sees fit.

As against the MRP and the remnants of the old bourgeois parties, the Socialists and the Communists have an absolute majority (nearly 300 out of 585 deputies) in the Assembly, with a popular vote of about 10,000,000 backing them. There is, therefore, not even the technical pretext of the pre-war social reformists for a refusal by organized labor to assume government power. The constitutional 51 percent, so cherished as a democratic token of sovereignty, has been handed to them. Why then, don’t the two workers’ parties form a joint government and nullify once and for all the Bonapartist game of de Gaulle?

STALINIST BARGAINING The 146 deputies elected as Socialists and the 153 as Communists know that the tremendous majority of votes cast for their parties are a sure indication that the masses want a labor government, that the masses want socialism and look to them for a solution of the social crisis. In other words, that the masses want a revolutionary change. But it is precisely the revolutionary action of the masses which could force a break with the capitalists that the reformists and Stalinists fear above everything else. That is why they cling so tenaciously to the coat tails of their bourgeois partners to the right.

The MRP will not serve in a cabinet unless it is headed by de Gaulle? Very well, the Socialists will not join a government without the MRP. As for the Stalinists, they bluster about a government without de Gaulle and without the MRP – but only as a bargaining point for a few ministerial posts. In reality, they are just as anxious to hold on to the government chain that begins with the Bonapartist General as Blum’s reformists.

The election results give an indication of the confusion wrought by the policies of the two workers’ parties. The Socialist Party openly supported the plebiscite for de Gaulle, while denying its Bonapartist character which even old-line bourgeois politicians pointed out. (For instance, Paul Bastid, writing from Paris for the New York French weekly La Victoire, Nov. 17, said: “There can be no doubt that a sort of masked Bonapartism pervaded this election.”) The Communist Party, on the other hand, while opposing the plebiscite, carried on its propaganda with such equivocation that in many cities the “No” vote on it was much smaller than the Communist vote. The people voted for de Gaulle, for Thorez, and for Blum, all at the same time.

Although the elections showed that the CP was the strongest single party in the country, and above all, the party supported overwhelmingly by the working class, an analysis of the statistics indicates that this result was by no means one-sided. Such an analysis appears in an article by Comrade Albert Demazieres in La Verité, organ of the French Trotskyists, in its Nov. 9 issue. It shows that there are numerous signs of great unrest and dissatisfaction with the Stalinist policy among important sections of workers. The real gains of the CP were among a diilerent layer of the population – among the peasantry, which elected 77 CP deputies.

In Paris and its industrial suburbs the CP even suffered a relative decline compared with the cantonal elections. Thus, in the Seine department, which includes this area, the CP vote, with a 20 per cent increase in the electorate, was 814,639 votes in October as against 750,869 in September. The SP, on the other hand, obtained a total of 509,949 votes as against 304,818 in September for the same area. The Socialist gain was therefore 204,947 votes as against only 63,790 for the CP in this citadel of French Stalinism. A similar development is noted in other proletarian districts of the country such as Lyons, the North, and the Pas-de-Calais districts. It is particularly clear in Lens, where the CP was recently engaged in breaking a miners’ strike.

IMPORTANCE OF TROTSKYIST VOTE Of great importance for the future was the Trotskyist vote, details of which are give: elsewhere in this issue of Fourth International. Under extremely adverse conditions the Trotskyist Parti Communiste Internationaliste, nevertheless registered 8,113 votes in the very heart of the Stalinist stronghold in Paris. Its main election slogan was “For a Socialist-Communist-CGT Government! Break the Coalition with the Bourgeoisie!“ La Verité reports that many posters carrying this slogan had been “corrected” by CP militants who crossed out the word “Socialist.” The Trotskyist vote, small though it is in relation to the figures obtained by the big parties, cannot be overestimated as a profound symptom. It signifies that among the most advanced workers in France there is a distinct shift to the left in the direction of a genuine revolutionary solution.

How the Stalinists react to these signs of revolutionary ferment among the advanced workers was revealed in the government crisis that broke out immediately after the convening of the Constituent Assembly. Since the elections, contradictory as they were in their results, left open. the key question of control of the State, the opening of the Assembly was a signal for a contest of power. In his radio speech on Nov. 13, the President-General cryptically remarked: “We are going to make a decisive test of the representative regime.”

De Gaulle, upon being confirmed as interim president by the Assembly without opposition from the CP, proceeded to the formation of a cabinet, meeting with the leaders of the three largest parties. The Stalinists immediately bid for one of the three major posts – the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, War, or Interior. The General refused to accede to this demand, tendering his resignation to the Assembly and broadcasting over the radio an explanation basing his refusal on the attachment of the Stalinists to the Kremlin and its foreign policy. In reaction to this move, the Stalinists, making a hullabaloo over the implied “insult” to their patriotism, for the first time openly denounced de Gaulle and called for the formation of a Socialist-Communist government.

Fevers ran high. In the United States, this line of the French Stalinists was given particular prominence by Paris dispatches to the Daily Worker. The whole Bonapartist course of de Gaulle became the subject of exposure and condemnation of Stalinist propaganda. As against the reported aim of the General to let a left wing government take power and discredit itself, the CP assured the country that a government of Socialist and Communists, together with the trade unions, could take power, hold it and do credit to itself. The cooperation of “all classes” in the “swift building of Socialism” was proclaimed as an illusion. The capitalist class, the workers were warned, would not give ground “one inch” without a fight. As a concrete proposition in the Assembly, the Stalinists put forward its Socialist president, Felix Gouin, as candidate against de Gaulle for the presidency of the Republic.

THE REFORMISTS CHOOSE’S DE GAULLE The pressure from below probably grew in the Socialist party as well. The reformist leaders could not fail to feel it. It was reported that they had decided to abstain in the Assembly when the candidacy of de Gaulle came up again. But, involved in the crisis was the question of foreign policy. The Stalinists had a pro-Kremlin orientation. In his speech of Nov. 17 de Gaulle explained that he could not place a Stalinist in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because “France was interested” in maintaining an “equilibrium between the two great powers” in the world. De Gaulle was oriented toward the “Western Bloc” desired by Anglo-American imperialism. The Socialists under Leon Blum were committed to the “Western Bloc.” In a joint government with the Stalinists a “Western Bloc” orientation was unthinkable. Their commitments to Anglo-American imperialism were weighed against the pressure of the worker masses who had elected them. The reformist leaders tacked and veered. Finally they made their “choice”: they voted for de Gaulle after all and the Gouin candidacy never materialized. De Gaulle was given a vote of confidence by the Assembly against the votes of the Stalinists alone and once again took up the task of forming a cabinet.

But in voting for de Gaulle and thus indicating that the “Western Bloc” was the paramount consideration for them, the craven reformists, fearing the loss of the worker support which invests them with importance, had to insist that they would not serve in a cabinet without the CP. De Gaulle was once again faced with the same thorny problem. However, the Stalinists came to his aid. Feelers were thrown out in their press that with a few face-saving concessions, they would not prove “unaccommodating.” De Gaulle was quick to take the hint. Taking over the War Ministry himself as a revamped Ministry of Defense, he gave the Stalinists a sub-ministry of “Armaments” in it, along with four other posts. The Stalinists immediately grasped at the concessions, capitulated, and the cabinet crisis was over.

All these events ran a course of some seven days, from November 15 to November 21. The deep aspirations of the masses for a labor government, for genuine socialization, for a revolutionary solution of the social crisis were merely exploited by Thorez and the Stalinist gang in the game of obtaining ministerial posts. Once the Stalinists obtained the desired ministries, the whole dangerous Bonapartist course of de Gaulle was immediately forgotten. “All classes” can again “cooperate” in the “swift building of socialism.” The capitalist class yielded more than “one inch”: a whole sub-ministry!

In spite of the craven role of the Socialists, in spite of the miserable capitulation of the Stalinists, this “solution” of the cabinet crisis is not likely to prove very enduring. The social crisis persists. The equilibrium of the present governmental combination is extremely unstable. Even in the distorted form of inner-government maneuvers, the clash of the contending class forces is bound to make itself felt continually.

Nationalization Measures of the British Labour Party

THE BANK OF ENGLAND IS “NATIONALIZED” The British Labor Party was elected to power on an ostensibly socialist program. Just how far has the Labor government proceeded in that direction since it took office four months ago?

This question is extremely important not only for England. The victory of the Labor party in July has been duplicated by the tremendous vote for the French Socialists and Stalinists in October. The programs of the victorious working class parties in France also call for the nationalization of credit, of the coal mines, of iron and steel and other key industries and services. Similar trends are observable in Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and other countries. Thus an examination of the actual policy pursued by the Labor government in regard to nationalization provides significant clues to the coming course of political events n the whole of Western Europe.

In line with its announced policy Britain’s Labor government has already passed through the House of Commons legislation nationalizing the Bank of England. The government has informed parliament that its civil aviation policy will be based on the principle of complete public ownership, that it has decided to nationalize British and Empire cable and wireless communications, and has promised that the coal mines will be nationalized before Christmas.

It is therefore clear that, albeit slowly, nationalization is proceeding from the stage of campaign promises to government acts. Does this mean that the reformist leaders of the Labor Party, who have so long served as faithful servants of British capitalism, have had a change of heart? Does it mean that, while they are continuing the murderous imperialist foreign policy of Churchill under Bevin and hurling tanks, planes and rocket bombs at the insurgent colonial peoples, they are at the same time undertaking an assault on the ruling class at home? Can it be that, at the very time they have done everything in their power to break the great Dockers’ strike, they have actually begun to carry out a workers’ program in industry?

NO REAL PARADOX IS INVOLVED This apparent paradox is dispelled at once when we scrutinize the one concrete measure of nationalization they have already effected, the legislation applying to the Bank of England. Since it is the first act in the nationalization program, it can presumed that it will serve as a precedent for the rest.

What does the legislation nationalizing the Bank of England reveal in detail?

In the first place it compensates the stockholders with four government bonds at 3 per cent interest for every bank share they hold at 12 per cent interest. The stockholders are thereby assured of the same rate of interest on their investment as before.

This provision is applied in the name of “fair compensation.” But since government bonds are quoted on the stock exchange at par, while Bank of England stock during the war years has been quoted at an average of 360 as against its par of 400, the stockholders stand to realize a handsome profit in the bargain. No wonder there was a boom on the stock exchange the day after these terms of the Act were made public. This kind of “nationalization” was indeed welcome to the capitalists. For it places the financial resources of the country, with its growing indebtedness, more completely at their disposal than ever before.

Secondly, the legislation provides that Lord Catto, the Governor of the Bank, remain as chairman of the Board of Governors. Thus the highest representative of British finance capital, with all his know-how of the secrets and tricks of monopoly swindling directed against the people, is kept at the helm to carry out the program of the “socialist” government. Small wonder the press reported that “the financial interests have been reassured.”

Thirdly, the “big five” Joint Stock Banks, the real money power in England, who direct a large part of the flow of capital, own a considerable share of British industry and draw dividends on “paper” loans which represent nine times the amount of actual cash deposited with them, are not covered by the act of nationalization. The nationalization applies only to the Bank of England, whose strength on the market is primarily due to its position as banker to the government. In other words, the measure is in actual effect tantamount to establishing a British equivalent of our own Federal Reserve System.

Clement Attlee

There is, to be sure, a clause in the legislation imposing on the nationalized Bank of England the duty of insisting that the Joint Stock Banks carry out state financial policy. But Dr. Hugh Dalton, the Labor Chancellor of the Exchequer, was quick to assure the Commons that the application of this clause was completely at the discretion of Lord Catto.

It thus becomes clear that in practical application the nationalization program of the Attlee government is not as paradoxical at it seems. Undertaken to appease the workers’ demands for socialism, it turns out that the measures actually benefit the increasingly bankrupt capitalist class.

Why then do the capitalists evince so much concern over the wave of nationalizations? The Tories under Churchill fought bitterly against every nationalization bill introduced into the House of Commons. A dispatch to the Nov. 5 New York Times from Zurich reports that in regard to the nationalization of the Bank of England “apprehension is felt at what might be the ultimate consequences in Europe.”

First of all, the nationalizations threaten to reveal the true face of the capitalists as a completely parasitic social group. As Friedrich Engels pointed out many years ago in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific:

“If the crises revealed the incapacity of the bourgeoisie any longer to control the modern productive forces, the conversion of the great organizations for production and communication into joint stock companies, trusts and state property (our italics) shows that for this purpose the bourgeoisie can be dispensed with. The capitalist has no longer any social activity save the pocketing of revenue, the clipping of coupons and gambling on the stock exchange, where the different capitalists fleece each other of their capital.”

Ernest Bevin

This acknowledgement of their uselessness tempered the plutocrats’ joy at the exceedingly generous compensation they received.

In the second place, they fear that Labor government control over the banking system will lead to the exposure of their cherished “business secrets.” those carefully concealed mysteries which cloak their operations of robbing and fleecing the people. The Tories fought most vigorously against clause 4 of the Bank bill which empowered the Treasury to give the Bank instructions and to authorize the Bank of England to demand from commercial banks information about the conduct of their own business. The Times dispatch from Zurich explains why:

“Because through the Bank of England the Treasury could thus force the commercial banks to divulge information about the private affairs of their customers.”

But have not the accommodating Labor Ministers promised to leave the execution of this clause in the hands of the trusted Lord Catto? Here we penetrate to the heart of the question.

“Emphatic assurances from the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Dr. Dalton),“ the same dispatch continues, “that these powers would never be used except in an emergency are not reassuring except in regard to the near future. Any subsequent government might make very drastic use of the powers conferred by law.”

WORKING MASSES WANT SOCIALISM Pitiful, inadequate, restricted as the nationalization measures are, they are nevertheless initiated and enforced by a Labor government which has been swept into power by an overwhelming vote of the working masses. These masses want socialism. They want to impose their own class control over the country’s economic life instead of remaining at the mercy of the profiteers. If Attlee’s government doesn’t produce satisfactory results, these radicalized masses may force the installation of a “subsequent government” more in line with their desires. That is the danger the capitalists foresee and fear.

The working masses can transform the present sham “nationalizations” into real and lasting nationalizations only by awakening to their own power and forging that power into independent class action. The program of the Revolutionary Communist Party, British section of the Fourth International, points out the path they must take.

“Nationalization of the land, mines, transport and all big industry without compensation as the prerequisite for planned economy and the only means of assuring full employment with adequate standards of living for the workers; and the operation of the means of production under control of workers committees.

“Nationalization of the Bank of England together with the Big Five and all financial institutions without compensation, confiscation of all war profits, all company books to be open for trade union inspection; control of production by workers’ committees to deal with the financial and economic sabotage of Big Business and vested interests.”

Roosevelt’s Secret Preparations to Enter World War II

ROOSEVELT’S WAR-PLOTTING Now that hostilities have been concluded, significant facts are beginning to come to light concerning the hitherto hidden history of Roosevelt’s preparations for US participation in World War II. A considerable portion of the vital information about the secret actions of the administration remain under lock-and-key, withdrawn from public inspection. But even although many pieces are still missing, from those already in our possession it is possible to reconstruct the main outlines of the pattern of the war-plot perpetrated behind the backs of the American people by the former occupant of the White House.

In the October issue of Fourth International Li Fu-jen gave a political analysis of the Pearl Harbor reports that incontestably established the following conclusions regarding Roosevelt’s policy in the Pacific.

  1. President Roosevelt, while proclaiming his love of peace and hatred of war, was embarked on a deliberate course of war with Japan long before Pearl Harbor as the conscious policy of his administration.
  2. Roosevelt systematically exerted diplomatic and economic pressure to force the Japanese imperialists to commit the overt act which would touch off the long-prepared conflict in the Orient.

Since then additional information has been made public showing that Roosevelt was no less consciously preparing to intervene in the impending European war as early as the fall of 1937. These facts, based upon a study of official government documents, were first published by Thomas F. Reynolds in the September 29 Chicago Sun and reprinted in the Congressional Record for October 15. They reveal the inside story of how Roosevelt and his underlings conspired and maneuvered to drag the American people into World War II without their knowledge and against their expressed will.

“QUARANTINE THE AGGRESSORS” The story begins in the fall of 1937 when Roosevelt began his propaganda preparation for the coming bloodbath with his Chicago speech on “quarantining the aggressors.” This bellicose proclamation, however, met with an apathetic response. It failed to inflame the people with the required degree of war-fever. Congress refused to vote the huge sums needed for the vast military budget envisaged by the plans of the administration.

Roosevelt, however, was determined to go forward with his projected military program regardless of the sentiments of the nation. Calling together his associates, he discussed with them his plans and perspectives. Here is how Reynolds describes what went on behind the scenes at the White House.

“A careful review of hitherto censored memoranda reveals that the late Herman Oliphant, then general counsel for the Treasury, first sounded the administration alarm on production difficulties inherent in the threat of war which Mr. Roosevelt had pointed out to the nation.

“That was in the spring and summer of 1938 – even before the late Neville Chamberlain, then British Prime Minister, had made his deal for ‘peace in our time’ with Hitler at Munich. Oliphant was encouraged to put a staff to work on those long range problems by Mr. Roosevelt and the then Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr.

“Key man on this staff was a young lawyer, Oscar Cox, who later was to draft the Lend-Lease Act. In the fall of 1938, Oliphant came up with data to show that if war did break out, this country would have to assume that sooner or later it would be involved. On this data, Oliphant concluded that the only possible insurance policy would be to step up airplane production to 50,000 planes annually.


“Morgenthau, Oliphant, and Cox, by memoranda and personal conversation, put the 50,000 plane idea before Mr. Roosevelt. He was impressed, and consented to permit work on it to continue. But he told the planners that it would be impossible for him to make any such proposal at that time to a Congress which even then was trimming minor defense appropriations.”

“The timing was wrong,” he said. Thus the war-mongering Roosevelt was obliged to postpone the realization of his unprecedented arms program until a more favorable opportunity for pushing it through Congress presented itself. He did not find that propitious moment until two years later. Roosevelt hesitated even after the war in Europe had broken out, so powerful was the resistance of the American people to participation in the conflict.

The long-sought-for occasion came with the alarm created when the German Wehrmacht ran wild through France in May 1940. This mounted to panic proportions in America’s ruling circles as France capitulated, leaving England open to invasion. Roosevelt extracted the ready-made project for 50,000 planes a year from his portfolio and rushed it through Congress. This and similar measures were pictured at that time by the capitalist press as masterful and ingenious improvisations and sold to the American people on that basis. In reality, however, the military, industrial and financial aspects of US intervention in the European war had been carefully worked out far in advance of the date when they were announced to the world.

The work done by Oliphant’s staff formed the genesis of Lend-Lease which was designed to service the Allied powers and build up US military might without open entry into the war. Roosevelt had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the First World War and was familiar with the problems his predecessor Wilson encountered in acting as a belligerent while technically remaining “neutral.” His subordinates devised Lend-Lease as a means of getting around these legal and financial difficulties.

LEND-LEASE OPENS WAY Oliphant’s staff pioneered the way into purchasing by Anglo-French air missions which began buying planes here when the war broke out in September 1939. It went to work on problems of standardization of certain plane models to enable producers to swing toward mass production. It took up the problem of ammunition for small arms.

When Great Britain was in desperate need of arms in 1940 and was running short of dollars to pay for American-made weapons, Cox dug up an old 1892 statute which permitted the Secretary of War to lease certain properties for five years. Although that made certain limited types of war materiel available to Britain, this country’s neutral status still blocked the way to large-scale aid.

The State Department ruled that the United States could not provide arms to Britain because this country was still neutral and to do so would violate international law. But the same State Department obligingly pointed out that it was perfectly legal for private firms to sell arms to another country. So the supplies of weapons in the government arsenals were turned over to the munitions corporations who shipped them at a handsome profit to England.

This scheme served additional purposes. Since many of the guns on hand were growing aged, the War Department was pleased to have the material replaced with new ammunition and weapons. The supplies of weapons in the warehouses were therefore traded in to private companies such as United States Steel Export and others, which undertook to replace them for the War Department with new weapons.

US SPEEDED INTO THE WAR This arrangement satisfied everyone concerned. Britain obtained much-needed arms; the War Department ‘as enabled to modernize obsolete military equipment; the armament corporations received lucrative new contracts. But even this proved insufficient to meet the demands of large-scale warfare. In the fall of 1940 Roosevelt ordered Morgenthau to move full speed ahead in arming the United States to the teeth and eliminate all remaining restrictions upon the shipment of arms and ammunition.

The original Lend-Lease Act was thereupon drafted in twenty minutes and hurried from department to department by messenger within a few hours in one day.

“Then,” relates Reynolds, “it was rushed to the White House. President Roosevelt studied it for ten minutes, then leaned back in his chair and slapped his desk. ‘Boy – that’s it,’ Mr. Roosevelt said.”

After all preparations had been made to line up Congress, Roosevelt personally took over the task of selling Lend-Lease to the American people on the false pretext that it was insurance against American participation, although he was well aware it meant complete commitment to the war. In December 1940 he called the correspondents to the White House to launch the final drive which led a year later to full-fledged participation in the world conflict.

This account of steps taken by Roosevelt from 1937 to 1940 – a full year before Japan’s attack upon Pearl Harbor – serves to demonstrate how his administration proceeded toward war behind a veil of secrecy in brazen defiance of the people’s will for peace. When imperialist purposes dictated, the governmental deputies of Wall Street did not hesitate to violate the laws they had been sworn to uphold or to unscrupulously get around them.

ROOSEVELT BETRAYED AMERICAN PEOPLE These officially verified facts brand Roosevelt as a double-dealer and betrayer of the American people. While he ran for a fourth term in 1940, declaring his hatred of war and promising not to send American boys to fight overseas, he not only knew that full-scale American intervention was inescapable. Since 1937 he had stealthily and steadily steered the United States along the road toward war and by 1940 had already heavily committed the nation to participation in the slaughter.

Roosevelt had to lie and deceive in this fashion in order to overcome the opposition of the American people to the imperialist war and to camouflage its real reactionary and predatory aims with phrases about “the Four Freedoms.” Washington propelled the country into World War II under relentless pressure from Wall Street which sought to amass colossal profits, crush its imperialist rivals, and gain mastery over the world and its wealth.

It is true that Hitler, Mussolini and the Mikado dragged their helpless countries into war for equally reactionary ends. But the Allied rulers cannot absolve themselves from their rightful share of war-guilt by unloading all responsibility upon the Axis leaders. The butchers of the second imperialist war will not succeed in transforming Hitler and his gang into scapegoats for their own sins. Both sides were equally responsible for unleashing the bloody conflict. Both must answer to the peoples for their crimes. Not least among the war-conspirators must be placed the arch-hypocrite in the White House who preached peace while preparing for war.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Last updated on 12.9.2008