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M.J. Michaels & Albert Gates

The War Mobilization Plan

(November 1938)

From New International, Vol. IV No. 11, November 1938, pp. 337–340.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS in the modes of production have revolutionized the instruments of warfare as well as of peace. The rifle, the bayonet and the man have lost much of their importance. In their place have been substituted heavy artillery, machine guns, airplanes, tanks and gases, all of which must be constantly replenished and fed with a continuous supply of munitions, and which, of course, requires a high rate of production on the part of industry. Throughout, and even before the war, industry must be organized and mobilized for this purpose.

Trotsky has described this problem in an article entitled, Disarmament and the United States of Europe, (The Militant, December 7, 1929) in the following words:

“The issue (the outcome of the next war) will be determined by the respective powers of production of the two camps. This means that the war fleets of the powers will not only be supplemented and renewed but in great measure created in the very course of the war ... We have seen how England and America in the very course of the war created gigantic new armies and armaments infinitely superior to the old armies of the European Continent. It follows that the soldiers, sailors, cruisers, cannons, tanks and airplanes, existing at the outbreak of hostilities only constitute a point of departure. The decisive problem will depend upon the measure in which the given country will be able to create under the enemies fire cruisers, cannons, soldiers and sailors ...”

It thus becomes evident that the arena of modern warfare extends from the battlefield to the industrial centers of the warring nations with every factory engaged in the production of war materials a sector of the battle front and every worker a soldier.

For these reasons the United States, with its vast industrial superiority over all other nations, has realized since the World War that it was better prepared for the next than any of the others. It could, at disarmament conferences, complacently agree to scrap many war ships which it had built during the last several decades and to limit the number which it would build, knowing that it could rebuild its fleets in a shorter period of time than its rivals. False too, is the notion propounded by Washington that America’s peaceful intentions are confirmed by the smallness of its standing army. As a matter of fact, it is technically better prepared than any other nation to produce almost instantaneously vast quantities of cannon, tanks, airplanes, machine guns and munitions. The army is maintained at a high standard of technical equipment at all times. A large standing army during peacetime, in the absence of frontier problems, would at present be an unnecessary burden on the capitalist class and would not materially advance war preparations. Moreover, American man power has become well-trained by its highly developed industries to make the most efficient use of mechanized war equipment. Mobilization of troops for the war is not the most important phase of the preparations.

With these things in mind the United States quietly began its preparations on the industrial front as far back as 1921. Since then, under the professed aim of taking the profit out of war, the War Department has been continuously engaged in perfecting an industrial mobilization plan. At various times these plans have been publicly announced. And at the time of the sinking of the Panay by the Japanese, when war feeling had been stirred up by the Roosevelt administration to such an extent as to insure the passage of the billion and a quarter dollar navy bill. The Shepard-Hill bill which had been pending in Congress for some considerable time, became the subject of congressional interest and nation-wide discussion. As the war scare subsided public interest in the bill also subsided. Nevertheless, the bill as well as the entire industrial Mobilization Plan lies ready for immediate enactment and application when war becomes imminent, and they therefore deserve the most careful consideration of the labor movement.

The Nature of the Mobilization Plan

The Industrial Mobilization Plan known as the preparation for M-Day (the War Department designation for the day of the outbreak of hostilities when the mobilization of all the national resources is to take place), consists of several parts. In the field of legislation there is the Shepard-Hill Bill introduced into the Senate and the May Bill introduced in the House of the last congress. There has also been prepared by the War Department a bill for drafting men which is ready for introduction in Congress whenever war is considered imminent. In addition, there is a detailed plan for the mobilization of industry which has been worked out by the War Department and is officially known as the Industrial Mobilization Plan. Finally, there are a great many orders and regulations which have already been prepared by the War Department and they will become effective immediately upon the outbreak of hostilities.

The Shepard-Hill Bill and the May Bill

For all practical purposes these bills are essentially the same, differing only in the method of taxing war profits. The former proposes a tax of 95% of all profits above the preceding three-year average, while the latter proposes in general terms “that taxes during the war shall absorb all profits above a fair normal return to be fixed by Congress”.

The bills are the result of intensive study and preparation by various committees and commissions working in conjunction with and most likely under the domination of the War Department. They provide the legal basis and general framework for the application of the War Department’s Industrial Mobilization Plan and are sufficiently innocent on their face to permit their introduction in Congress and a public discussion even before the outbreak of war, whereas the War Department’s Industrial Mobilization Plan, although not entirely a secret, is not designed for public consumption.

Upon the declaration by Congress of the existence of war or a national emergency, the bills delegate to the president complete authority to do the following: to regulate prices; to proclaim control, over the material resources, public services and industrial organizations; to license practically all business; to determine priorities of various industries and businesses in the resources of the nation; to register all persons engaged in the management and control of industry and place them in the government service; to reorganize, if necessary, all executive branches of government and create the necessary agencies and commissions, and finally, to draft into the military service all males between the ages of 21 and 31.

War Profits

By giving the president the power to control prices it is claimed that war profiteering will be eliminated and the burdens of the war will be equally distributed between capital and labor! Even if war profiteering could be eliminated the burdens of a capitalist war could never be equally shared by capital and labor. The workers actually pay with their lives and bodies at the front and by a more intense exploitation in the war industries. Aside from this, however, is it true, as the proponents of the bills maintain, that war profiteering can be eliminated through the control of prices?

The experiences of the last war in which the government also attempted to control prices to some extent, particularly in the establishment of government contracts for war materials, have shown the utter impossibility of preventing profiteering through the control of prices. The tremendous fortunes amassed in the last war demonstrate this to be the fact despite any effort which may be exerted to the contrary. The War Department, to excuse its inability to curb excessive profits during the last war, has given the following reasons:

  1. the personnel which is to regulate prices comes from big business, owns stocks in the leading corporations and is inextricably interwoven with the owners of industry;
  2. accurate information as to costs lies largely in the hands of these industrialists and financiers;
  3. Capital had gone on strike and refused to invest in war industries unless it obtained the exorbitant prices it demanded, and
  4. the practical difficulty of auditing the books of all the companies whose prices must be regulated, is almost insurmountable.

The experience of the next war will no doubt be the same and these alibis, already manufactured in advance, will again be used to excuse huge profits. But price control will be rigidly exercised in relation to wages. Although the bills do not expressly give the president the authority to fix wages they could easily be construed to contain that power under the authority to fix “rates”, “compensation”, and the “compensation for services”. In addition thereto, the numerous war industries boards, arbitration boards and labor boards, together with the restrictions on the freedom of the labor movement which have been planned by the War Department and which we shall discuss later, will act as effective brakes on the rise of wages.

The cost of living will undoubtedly rise in the course of the war. Wages will also rise slightly, but by no means as rapidly or in proportion to the rise of the cost of living. During the last war the government made some attempts to regulate wages but its power to do so was not as firmly fixed as is true in the case of the present bills. Nevertheless, we found the cost of living rising much faster than wages, and real wages rising only slightly. For example, by 1918, although the cost of living had risen by 70% over 1914, wages rose only 63%. It is reasonable to expect that in the next war this will be true to an even greater extent because the war will be more expensive and American capitalism will be less able to pay the costs of the war than it was in 1917, so that the workers will have to bear an even greater share of the burden.

The Draft and the Unorganized Militia

No matter how great the hysteria created by the war propaganda machines, the masses do not respond in sufficient numbers to appeals for enlistment in the armed forces. To overcome this condition, bourgeois governments resort to compulsory draft acts. Although the bills with apparent innocence authorize the president to draft into the military service males between the ages of 21 and 31, the actual draft law which has been prepared, is much more drastic. It provides

  1. for the registration of all males over the age of eighteen;
  2. that all registrants between eighteen and forty-five be subject to military service and become automatically members of the “unorganized militia”;
  3. that the president may defer the military service of any registrant whose continued employment is essential to the national interests, and,
  4. that the president may, when in his discretion the national interests require it, call into the armed forces any registrant liable to service, no matter how classified.

Under the bills no male between the ages of eighteen and forty-five is exempt from military service. It is even likely, in the event of a long war, that the maximum age limit would be raised substantially above forty-five as was true in many countries during the last war and is also true for some countries at the present time. Instead of exemptions there are only deferments, which may be canceled at any tune if the individual should cease to be “continually and usefully employed”. This method of canceling deferments from the draft has been devised as a substitute for the conscription of labor and its full implications will be more thoroughly discussed below.

The extent to which the government intends to go in marshalling the forces of industry and business is demonstrated in the licensing provisions. Practically all business, with the possible exception of newspapers, will be subject to being licensed. The government’s power to regulate and prescribe the terms under which business shall operate is virtually unlimited. Only the veto of the Supreme Court seems to limit this absolute power and the likelihood of such a veto in a period of war, as our experience in the last war showed, is remote.

A war bureaucracy will be organized on a basis which may prove to be permanent. The reorganizations will make possible the constant surveillance of labor, business and military bodies, to insure the carrying out of the government’s war acts and to “unify” the country in pursuit of victory.

These essential provisions of the bills appear to represent the normal preparations of a capitalist government for war. They are however, as we have already indicated, the legal covering for the more drastic plans of the War Department. The full extent of the danger to the working class and its organizations becomes apparent only when considered in conjunction with the War Department’s Industrial Mobilization Plan.

The Industrial Mobilization Plan

The paramount aim of the Plan is to insure an adequate supply of labor during the war. By an “adequate supply”, is, of course, meant the continuous and loyal employment of workers in industry throughout the duration of hostilities and the stifling of the natural anti-war sentiment of the masses—to prevent its expression in an organized opposition to the war. How is this to be realized?

The instrumentality designed is the War Labor Administration, to be directed by an “outstanding industrial leader”, known as the War Labor Administrator, and appointed by the president. Labor is to be represented only in an advisory capacity, by four out of ten members of the Advisory Council. They are to be selected by the president, not by labor and are to meet only when directed by the War Labor Administrator. The type of “outstanding industrial leader” to be selected by the president can easily be imagined, and, although he cannot be named in advance, there can be no doubt that he will represent only the interests of the American ruling class. The War Department says he “should be an outstanding citizen who is thoroughly familiar with the problems entering into the relationship between employer and employee and who is capable of dispassionate (!) judgment in their solution.” This formula has often been used in the past to sell the working class a gold brick.

The functions of the War Labor Administrator in the subtle language of the plan are:

  1. To determine labor requirements;
  2. To fill the requirements of bringing together the job and the worker, and
  3. To keep together the job and the worker.

There is no doubt that the War Department has already substantially performed the first of these functions by having made a more or less complete survey of labor requirements for war industries, determining the number of workers necessary in the chief industries, the skill required, their location and their wages, hours and conditions of employment. As war becomes more imminent, the survey will become more complete and the WLA will have the task of completing and using the information.

The second function, that of bringing together the job and the worker, embraces the idea of the registration of all labor and virtual assignment to the various industries. The provisions of the draft law whereby all males over the age of eighteen (with no maximum age limitation) shall be registered already provides the WLA with its industrial census. Using these records, together with the survey of the War Department as to labor requirements, the WLA will be in a position to make its assignments.

And, lastly, the WLA will regiment the workers by “keeping the job and the worker together”. This means that the worker will be restricted from changing jobs, industry or location.

Naturally, the application will not be as forthright as we have indicated. Other divisions of the War Labor Administration have been provided to help realize these aims. For example, the Public Relations Division will have the task of manufacturing patriotism, war hysteria and atrocities stories. The employment service, unlike the employment agencies in peacetime, considers its task that of distributing workers into places in industry rather than making places available to workers which they may accept or reject. The War Department has already stated that in war time it is not possible to permit workers free movement and choice. The method will in effect be that of assignment. Cancellation of deferment from military service will also be a method used to “induce” the worker to take and keep a job.

The War Department has devised a fairly clever scheme to insure that labor will fulfill its tasks in the prosecution of the war. In the last war several of the European countries found it necessary, at least to some extent, to conscript labor. The American plan for the next war finds this a little too crude and wholly unnecessary. In place of conscription of labor the plan calls for a system of cancellations of deferments from military service.

In essence it will operate as follows: As a preliminary all males from the ages of 18 to 45 are made part of the unorganized militia by the draft law, which we have already discussed. This immediately subjects them to military service at the call of the president speaking through the various draft boards. However, all such males cannot immediately be taken into the military service, first, because this would too greatly disrupt industry and production and second, they would not be required immediately for military purposes. Nevertheless, no provision is made for any exemptions from military service as was the case in the last war. Instead the Plan provides that anyone’s liability to military service may be deferred by the draft authorities on the basis of their needs to industry, business or government agencies. This deferment, however, is subject to cancellation whenever an individual ceases to be continually and usefully employed. The War Department has stated, “A deferment once made is not final ... and any man can be reclassified and called when circumstances require.”

The bourgeoisie and their government require a state of class peace in war time to insure the prosecution of the imperialist war and the continuous war production in industry. Any outbreak of class struggle, strikes, sit-downs, or stoppages, tending to impede the progress of the war must be avoided by any means at hand. Cancellation of deferment is therefore held as a threat over the heads of militant workers as individuals or as members of revolutionary organizations.

Control of Public Opinion

For the purpose of enlisting mass support to the Industrial Mobilization Plan and the War, the Plan sets up a Public Relations Administration. Without going into the details of the methods which this Administration will use, it would be sufficient to recall the mass of propaganda issued by the infamous Creel Committee, organized by the Wilson Administration to obtain nationwide support to America’s entry and participation in the World War. The press, the movies, the radio, the schools, the churches and every other medium of propaganda at the disposal of the capitalist state will be chained to the war machine. As in the last war, the bourgeois press will be asked to assume a voluntary censorship of its publications. But a rigid censorship will be enforced upon all revolutionary and labor press. Antiwar propaganda, of course, will not be tolerated, and will be prosecuted by Espionage and Sedition laws.

What will be the nature of the capitalist state in the period of the war? Will it be democratic; fascist; military dictatorship; or perhaps some new form of state?

Regardless of the name ascribed to such a government, the general character of the regime and the methods it will employ have already been described. It will strictly control all labor organizations, deprive labor of its elementary democratic rights and at the same time exercise a certain degree of control over industry itself. In these respects, it will closely resemble the totalitarian states as we now know them. In fact, the strain of the war on the economic system and the necessity of the ruling class to maintain its power, already dictates the regime’s nature. In the final analysis, however, the outcome of the struggle between the classes will determine the nature of the regime. As the war becomes extended the opposition of the masses to the war must lead to organized revolt of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie itself in order to end the war. The tempo, the sharpness and the strength of this revolt will depend upon the power and program of the revolutionary organizations in the leadership of the working class. As such revolutionary organizations gain strength of their own and the following of the majority of the working class, despite the restrictions and repressions by the government during the war, the conflict must sharply take the form of a struggle for the workers’ state and socialism against fascism and capitalism. Thus the period of the totalitarian regime will be defined by this struggle.

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