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Notes of the Month

“The Struggle for Freedom”

(December 1941)

From The New International, Vol. VII No. 11, December 1941, pp. 291–3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan.

THE TIME INTERVAL between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the declarations of war which followed and the arrival of Prime Minister Winston Churchill in this country was exceedingly short. This is what his government had long awaited. The wily Briton wasted no time. He was on his way to work out with President Roosevelt the grand strategy of the Allied war camp. At last, American arms and manpower were to assist the bruised and battered Empire in its struggle for existence. The United States, too, was now fighting the same group of imperialist competitors.

In his haste to reach Washington, the British war leader epitomized Anglo-American relations. Washington has become the capital of the Allied powers and Roosevelt is its leader, a situation which was unthinkable in the last war. Thus are expressed, in an altogether unexpected way, the inherent antagonisms between the United States and Great Britain.

Admittedly, the present war is a peculiar way for these antagonisms to emerge. The world situation, however, altered so radically with the rise of Hitler, that the main characteristic of international capitalism, Anglo-American rivalry in the struggle for the domination of the world market and the world’s raw materials, never reached its final culmination in the characteristic bourgeois method of solving competitive economic struggle, war.

Moreover, the general world development of capitalism has been downward. There is not a single capitalist power which has not reached the zenith of its growth, nay, whose direction is not toward social disintegration. The very existence of fascism in Germany and Italy are descriptive of the utter inability of the bourgeois social order to exist by normal means. There (and in Japan, too) the bourgeoisie has resorted to economic, political and social barbarism to maintain its rule. Lacking the socially reinvigorating power of socialism, the other nations unmistakably traveled the historical road of the Axis. War between the two capitalist camps forestalled, at least temporarily, the rise of fascism in the democratic nations.

In what manner is the pre-war Anglo-American struggle now expressed? In the complete economic and military dependence of Great Britain upon the United States. Since 1939 this dependence was marked by the universally known fact that England could not prosecute the war without American assistance. And that assistance was forthcoming, first in the concretization of Roosevelt’s aim to make of the United States the “arsenal of democracy,” in the exchange of American destroyers for British naval bases, in the passage of the lease-lend bill and the decision of the President to convoy merchant marine to insure the steady stream of supplies to the Island Empire.

Britain’s secondary position in the Allied war camp is the result of economic inferiority. Conversely, the economic superiority of the United States, steadily increasing as a result of the war and the further subordination of British industry to American, asserts itself in a thousand and one ways. American export industries now dominate the South American markets. English protests were silenced by threat of diminution in the shipment of lease-lend materials. An attempt by British industrialists to utilize lease-lend materials to re-invade the South American markets was sharply rebuked. Their Yankee partners would stand for no nonsense in these matters. The two most important dominions in the Empire have moved closer to collaboration with the United States. They clearly understand that their safety lies with the leading nation of the New World and not with England.

It is not idle conjecture to speculate on the wild-eyed amazement of the Britishers (as of the rest of the world) on the aim of the Roosevelt Administration to produce in two years 185,000 airplanes, 120,000 tanks, 55,000 anti-aircraft guns and 18,000,000 deadweight tons of shipping. Here is your industrial colossus. It is upon this program that the entire Allied cause rests. Only this kind of production of war goods can supply the necessary weapons to the overwhelming manpower on its side and thus guarantee a military victory over the Axis.

The Nature of Allied Aims

There is, then, nothing strange about Churchill’s trip to Washington. Allied strategy is determined in the first place by the United States and Great Britain as the two senior partners of the firm. The strategy was thereafter discussed with the other powers in the order of their military strength and importance in the war. Even in this minor display, the over-weighing traditions of bourgeois social distinctions (wealth and power) is glaringly expressed. We shall observe in other parts of these notes how overpowering it is in the decisive aspects of Allied strategy.

Once the main line had been adopted by Roosevelt and Churchill, it was only a moment before the other partners indicated their support. The grand strategy for the prosecution of the war is simple enough. It is based on a single salient point: the Axis is far better prepared for war and extremely daring in the execution of their military policies. Therefore:

  1. The Allied powers must be prepared to suffer new losses of territory and men for another period. It is impossible now to conduct a world offensive against the Axis. Such an offensive must await the production of a far greater supply of all types of military weapons and the construction of America’s mass and trained army of upwards of 7,000,000 men.
  2. The core of the Axis strength is Germany. She remains the central Allied objective. It is recognized that a defeat of Germany would send the Axis crumbling to oblivion. The surprising military fact remains that the Soviet Union is the only nation effectively engaging the German war machine. Whatever the outcome of the battle on the Eastern Front, it is acknowledged that the depth of the struggle may so absorb the great shocks of Hitler’s military organization as to weaken it to a point where an Allied offensive on the Western Front, employing the British and American armies, could result in Germany’s decisive military defeat. In view of these facts, nothing must be done that will weaken the Soviet struggle. Thus, common agreement has been reached on the need of supplying material aid to the Red Armies to keep them in the field, while Stalin’s refusal to engage in any action against Japan on the Far Eastern Front is assented to.
  3. Since Japan has the jump on the Allies in the Far East and the Western Pacific waters, the ABCD powers must fight defensive and delaying actions until such time as the European struggle takes a turn for the better and Allied men, ships and planes reach parity with the Japanese.
  4. Northern Africa must be kept out of German hands. As an intimate part of this strategy great attention must be paid to any Germany attempt to march through Turkey as the most direct route to the Middle Eastern oil fields and the Suez Canal. Concurrently preparations must be stepped up on the Gibraltar end of the Mediterranean Sea to meet a German attack there.

What Does the Atlantic Charter Mean?

These, however, are purely military questions. They are only a share of the problems which confront the Allies and, since so many unknowables arrange themselves before the general staffs, they are only partly decisive.

Of even more importance than the purely military considerations involved in the above-described problems, are the political and therefore social issues of the war. The bourgeois regimes of America and England are not oblivious to these issues. Quite the contrary, they are completely aware of them, but they cannot solve a single one of them.

For propagandistic and military purposes, the Allied governments have described this imperialist war as a war against totalitarianism, against a world revolution or a world counterrevolution, in the interests of democracy, economic prosperity for the whole o£ mankind, the right of self-determination, etc. The “political” aims of the Allies, joined in the Atlantic Charter, were devised by Roosevelt and Churchill and subscribed to by all the partners, including the Union of “Socialist” Soviet Republics. The eight-point peace aims of the Atlantic Charter, drawn up last August, are:

  1. No territorial or other aggrandizement by the United States or Britain.
  2. Territorial changes only through self-determination.
  3. “All Peoples” have a right to choose their own forms of government those forcibly deprived of the right should have it restored.
  4. Free international trade.
  5. World-wide cooperation to secure “improved labor standards, economic adjustments and social security.”
  6. “After the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny,” assurances of a secure peace, of “freedom from fear and want.”
  7. Freedom of the seas.
  8. “Abandonment of the use of force,” disarming of aggressor nations, and lightening “for freedom loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.”

A series of conferences between the military staffs of the United States and Great Britain followed the Roosevelt-Churchill conversations. These in turn were accompanied by discussions with the representatives of the Allied nations. As a culmination to these meetings, the announcement was made that twenty-six nations had subscribed to the Atlantic Charter and were prepared to stand with the two great powers to insure their realization. Among the aspirants for a world in the image of the Atlantic Charter are such notoriously democratic nations as Yugoslavia, Guatemala, China, Nicaragua, Honduras and Poland. In response to a State Department declaration that it will recognize movements seeking the national liberation of their conquered countries, that eminent democrat, King Carol, has asserted that he is ready to lead a “Free Roumania” committee. The composition of the other “free” committees discloses that they are composed of a motley combination of aristocrats, monarchists, semi-fascists, racialists and a whole variety of anti-democrats. Their sole aim is a return to power, to continue where they left off before Hitler turned them out.

The purpose of the emphasis given to the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms in the propagandistic aspect of the Allied struggle is to avoid a real discussion of their peace aims. In replying to demands made by members of the Labor Party and the Independent Labor Party to state his war aims, or peace program, Churchill has stated that the first and foremost aim is to win the war! While the prosecution of the war and the projection of peace aims are indissolubly connected, the British Prime Minister has studiously avoided the latter question. It is better to speak in generalities! But the generalities do not cloak the obvious “peace aims” of the Allies: total dismemberment of Germany, the re-establishment of pre-war Europe and its system of national states, enlarged by the division of Greater Germany. Thus, the recreation of conditions which brought about the Second World War.

Secretary of the Navy Knox asserted that the United States must be the leader of an international police force to maintain “the peace and security of the world.” This imperialist concept clashes fundamentally with the unachievable Four Freedoms and is tantamount to the maintenance of a global state of war. Such an international police force is the basis for the world counter-revolutionary army which would prevent the peoples of the world from truly asserting their genuine freedom.

The Peace Aims of Henry Wallace

The problem of post-war construction, however, is nightmarish to the real New Deal reformists who surround Roosevelt. Their unsuccessful efforts to lead the United States out of economic chaos on the principle of maintaining the bourgeois social order has only frightened them the more when they observe the gargantuan task of post-war reconstruction. They know that the weight of an international war economy absorbing the labor of all of mankind in the pursuit of economic and social destruction (war), cannot continue endlessly, somewhere along the road the chain must break. Naturally they are certain it will occur first in the Axis countries where the proletariat has been enslaved and the war economy has existed for a long time. The magnitude of war production is terrifying in the manner in which it has dislocated “normal” economy. No matter how adamant the war leaders remain in their refusal to concretely discuss “peace aims,” the social reformists cannot avoid projecting their views thereon.

In the January issue of The Atlantic magazine, Vice-President Wallace posed these questions through his article, Foundations of Peace. The program is a melange of reformist doctrine postulated in such a manner as to indicate that certain changes must take place in the economic and political life of bourgeois society upon the dose of the war and that these changes must be prepared now; otherwise the war effort will suffer. We shall have occasion to discuss these peace aims at another time, but a summary of the Vice-President’s views demonstrates the following key features of his post-war program:

  1. The paramount post-war problem is the re-establishment of the “world’s trade and of extending economic activity so as to improve living standards everywhere.”
  2. “The modern world must be recognized for what it is – an economic unit ... The foundations of democracy can be rendered safe only when people everywhere have an opportunity to work and buy and sell with reasonable assurance that they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their work.”
  3. There must be freedom of speech, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
  4. The United States must assume its rightful place as leader of the world, bring universal peace, happiness and security to it.
  5. The western world must be prepared now to supply raw materials, food, clothing and shelter to the war-torn areas of the globe.
  6. There must be established minimum standards for the physical well-being of all the peoples, through essentially New Deal methods.

Diplomatic Double-Talk

These propositions, vague as they are, indicate the trend of the New Deal ideology when thinking of the post-war stage. It is as general and vague as the Atlantic Charter. Moreover, none of the bourgeois leaders dare concretely discuss the vapid generalities that make up their program, for it is in their concretization that all the contradictions of capitalism become so clear as to establish the total unrealizability of the bourgeois democratic aims without a fundamental change in the social order.

The Atlantic Charter is not a charter for world freedom and economic security. It is a charter for the freedom and economic security of “white civilization,” that is to say, capitalism – a class freedom and a class economic security.

Churchill, as the British New Leader pointed out in its issue of December 6, was a pro-fascist, a great admirer of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. He is, above all, an imperialist. In his mind, and in the collective mind of his class, the Atlantic Charter does not apply to India. It does not apply to any of the colonial possessions of the Allied powers. They are to remain colonies, subject peoples, exploited by their present overlords.

In the United States the Four Freedoms is applicable only to the white race. The American Negro has always been discriminated and disfranchised socially, economically and politically. This is especially true since war reached American shores. Conditions in the South, in the Army and Navy, and the numerous services connected with the war effort, are not a hair’s-breadth removed from Hitler’s racial theories and practices.

The assertion, “no territorial or other aggrandizement by the United States and Great Britain” means exactly what? The freedom of the present colonial possessions of these two powers? Freedom of the colonial possessions seized from the Axis? Or is it perhaps a covenant binding Great Britain and the United States from seizing, in the event of victory, each other’s colonies – to maintain the colonial status quo?

“Territorial changes,” says the Charter, “only through self-determination.” Who shall have their right? Will it belong to all the peoples of the world? And who shall decide when and where it is applicable? To answer these questions is to give the whole show away.

The above is merely a restatement in one form or another of the Wilsonian program in the last war. The same is true of the other provisions of the Charter relating to trade, economic security and the Four Freedoms. They are aims which are in large part realizable only under socialism. But against socialism the war leaders will struggle even more desperately than they do against their current military enemies, for socialism would strike at the very basis of the present social structure, the existing system of national states and imperialism, the profit system and class and racial exploitation.

Churchill is quite right, the war is not new. It is the continuation of the war of 1914–1918. As the war lengthens the propaganda about a struggle for freedom against barbaric fascism recedes. As the war develops and the national governments assume greater dictatorial character, they speak with greater frankness. National interests, colonial possessions, material aggrandizement, raw materials, trade routes and profits – this is what the war is about. The Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter return to their rightful place as shibboleths to inspire the masses. And it is the old ideological baggage, too – old vintage in new bottles.

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