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“Welfare State” or Garrison State?

Economic Development Committee Warns of Trend to Bureaucratization

(26 December 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 52, 26 December 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There has been a spate of editorials and speeches over the past year characterizing the Truman government as the “welfare state.” Whether this term is used as epithet or term of approval, it is. supposed to mean a Now Dealish or Fair Dealish government concerned with social security, old-age pensions, minimum wage laws,.civil rights, full employment, etc., etc.

Reactionaries of the stripe of Senator Taft change the phrase to “handout state” and charge that the country is “slipping towards socialism,” which in their lexicon is symbolized by the British Labor government, which in turn is “the same” as “Russian communism.”

The important progressive sectors of opinion – liberals, progressives, the labor movement – are, however, inclined to view the “welfare state” with unqualified approval. They claim: The government is concerned with social welfare and remains democratic; the big division in the world today is, between democracy and totalitarianism; therefore we should prepare to defend the “welfare state” against the Stalinist state.

One is supposed to assume that this war preparation is a democratic means for defense against a totalitarian enemy.

Whether for offensive or defensive purposes, war preparation today involves atomic weapons. In the UN debates over outlawing atomic armaments, the United States delegation insisted on on-the-site inspection of all atomic production. The Russians refused. Supposed conclusion: the United States is open and above-board, in consonance with its democratic welfarism, while the Russians, for totalitarian reasons, must insist on secrecy; we must therefore strengthen our allegiance to the “welfare state.”

Capitalists Warn

But last week, in the capital of the “welfare state,” a blast was aimed at “the present trend towards undue secrecy in the conduct of national defense policies” of the United States military. This warning, which said that the present state of affairs could lead to a “garrison-police state,” came not from “overcritical Marxists” but from top business and industrial executives who make up the Committee for Economic Development! Such men as Marion B. Folsom, treasurer of Eastman Kodak Company, Beardsley Rumi, Fred Lazarus, Jr., president of the Federated Department Stores, Inc., etc., – sober men and capitalists all.

The very bigness of the war expenditures – and their secret management by a few – was cited by the committee as cause for alarm. An estimated $20 billion a year of our national income currently goes for war preparation (“security” Is the genteel committee’s word), including non-military expenditures.

Included in the committee’s report was a description – not ours, but apt – of the trend to the garrison-state inherent in the present conduct of “national defense”:

“The soldier and political policeman rise to power while the institutions of civilian society and freedom shrink. In the name of security, channels of public information dry up; the press becomes a mere purveyor of official handouts. Cut off from significant information, editors, commentators and group leaders become less accurate in their judgments.

The process of public discussion atrophies. Political parties decline. The power of Congress dwindles. Administration by civilians shrinks, relative to administration in uniform. The courts weaken. Cut off from, information, the power of the citizen fades. Local plans are subordinated to central purposes.

“The free market is constricted. Labor is hedged in by special regulations. Consumers find their range of choice reduced. Decisions come to be made by an all-powerful Government. All freedoms suffer.” (New York Times, Dec; 15, 1949)

These citizens are too substantial to be characterized as alarmists. Their report only emphasizes that this trend, which resembles Hitlerite and Stalinist societies, against which the “welfare state” is pledged to defend us, is a demonstrable trend within the United States. Indeed, this totalitarian trend, as the committee report underscores, is in large part a result of the militarization of the country’s economy, the excuse for which is the threat of a foreign totalitarianism.

Other facets of this trend, which the committee ignored, are rife in the land. The press has devoted a small amount of space to the dwindling number of applicants for scholarships in the field of atomic research, where ‘’loyalty” inspections are so severe that they have discouraged or disqualified a large percentage of youth with talent, even in non-“security” fields. The talons of the witchhunters and loyalty-probers extend into every nook and cranny of American life. Even the labor unions, more dedicated to genuine democracy than other institutions, are not immune, both as victims and victimizers.

The United States happens to be still wealthy enough to be able to afford some “welfare” AND a $20,-000,000,000-a-year war budget – guns AND butter, as yet. Socialists are not against welfare – far from it: we think much too little welfare is provided, that ft is miserably insufficient when unions have to strike to obtain a paltry $100 a month pension for workers.

But the term “welfare state” is a misnomer. The type of government assistance to the economy practised by Washington bears a close resemblance to that practised by older European capitalisms when it became obvious that their systems, left to themselves, were subject to crises of such proportions that the rule of capitalism itself was threatened. It is not new in this respect. Everyone knows that the deadly fear second only to the fear of the Third World War, is that of another depression in this country. Thus the actions of the administration are conceived and carried out to bolster the economy and prop it up.

Add to this: secrecy in war preparation such as threatens the garrison state, the witchhunts, the loyalty probes, the “subversive” trials, FBI immunity, wire tapping, the over-all narrowing of academic and civil freedom, all of which have as their emanating source the selfsame “welfare state,” – and the conclusion must be forced on all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that the term is a fair-seeming mask for the actual bureaucratization and militarization of American life which is going on.

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