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Notes of the Month

Wallace and the People’s War

(June 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 5, June 1942, pp. 131–133.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan.

The speech of Henry Agard Wallace, Vice-President of the United States, was obviously made to strengthen the faltering ideological war of the United Nations against the Axis.

It has become clear to the New Dealers that up to now the war has been fought along purely military lines without evoking the kind of mass support which the Administration hoped it would obtain. Despite the studied references by the President to World War II as a genuine democratic revolution against militarism and fascism, no large sections of the population in this country took him seriously – certainly the powerful bloc of big business felt no compulsion to accept the presidential characterization of the war when, in fact, it knew and acted on the premise that the conflict, in the last analysis, is really fought to determine which country shall be the dominant economic power of the world.

Before December 7th and since, nothing in the conduct of the Allies warranted any belief but that the war is an imperialist conflict. There is no need to convince anyone that the aims of the Axis are imperialist, i.e., they seek a redivision of the possessions of the earth and economic domination of the world. The narrowing bases of their national capitalisms brought into existence the most frightful régimes of totalitarianism. Dominated by Germany, the Axis draws out of their ideological baggage the barbarous concepts and practices of economic, political and moral degeneration. They fight an economic, national and racial war, but it does not require a great deal of intelligence to realize that the basis of the existence of these totalitarian regimes is the poverty and strangulation of their national economies.

Just as there is no genuine unity in the camp of the Axis, there is none in the camp of the United Nations. They are bound together by the common need of defending possessions which are universally threatened by Germany, in the first place, and Japan and Italy. It is this common need of defense which holds together the Allies. Once this is understood, it becomes infinitely clearer why there is no great mass enthusiasm for the war. Moreover, there is nothing in the conduct of the war by the United Nations to lead to any other kind of mass reaction.

What Are the Allies Fighting For?

What kind of freedom is it the United Nations are fighting for? Economic freedom? Race freedom? National liberation and independence? Economic and racial equality? The ideological defenders of the United Nations would be hard put to explain themselves. As we have pointed out so often before, there is no need for the Axis to justify itself (even though it is sometimes attempted) since it does not cover itself with many pretensions.

In concretizing this point, let us briefly recount some of the main pretentious in the Allied camp and how they were actually carried out:

As a democratic war of the peoples against militarism and totalitarianism, the United Nations’ governments decreed that this will not be a war for profit under the slogan that “there shall be no new war millionaires.” The fact: the capitalists in all countries earn enormous profits, over and above all restrictions and taxes. Their living standards rise while the living standards of the peoples are precipitously declining. New war millionaires are being created in the very heat of the war!

The war in the Far East, where almost the entire population of a billion people live as colonial slaves of the big powers, was fought under the ideological and military concepts of conquerors. No offer of freedom was made to the colonials of the United Nations. No arms were given to the people to increase the possibility of their support in resisting the Japanese imperialists. On the contrary, the colonial peoples remained indifferent to the war. Why? Because in their eyes there was no fundamental distinction to be drawn between their present overlords and their impending conquerors.

Imperialist prerogatives ruled the conduct of the United Nations in Asia. Observe the results: Malaya lost, Burma lost, the Dutch East Indies lost and finally the débacle in India. The question can be asked: Would this have happened if the Allies were fighting a war of genuine freedom for the colonial peoples?

The War on the Home Front

Let us come back a little closer home. The United States is the leading power in the United Nations’ bloc. It is presumed to be the ideological leader of its allies. There is no doubt that Roosevelt is responsible for the promulgation of the “Four Freedoms.” Yet, in fact, none of these things operate at home. The antagonism to and discriminatory treatment of the Negro people has been intensified precisely since the outbreak of war. Big business enriches itself many times. It is not particular how it does so, whether on the basis of the exploitation o£ the American workers, evasion of taxes, or in league with the Axis big business. And so long as a monopoly, such as the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, can absolve itself of the “sin” of acting like a true capitalist business, by paying a fine of $50,000 for breaking the anti-trust and patent laws, nothing has changed.

The economic war is dominated by big business The ideological war is dominated by the big business press. Race discrimination is rampant. Congress is dominated by the most reactionary labor-haters, Jew-baiters and Jim Crow artists in its history. Moreover, it has given one example after another that it is nothing but the rubber stamp of big business and the most reactionary elements in the country.

We have not the slightest doubt that the real situation has caused no little worry to the genuine New Deal reformists, who have seen the New Deal vanish from sight with the opening shots of World War II. This is the real background to the speech by Wallace.

Wallace’s War and the Realities

What did Wallace say? “This is a fight between a slave world and a free world.” As a student with some knowledge of history, the Vice-President sought to generalize the war and give it world significance. “Just as the United States in 1862 could not remain half slave and half free, so in 1942 the world must make its decision for a complete victory one way or the other.” The trouble is that this high sounding phraseology has no relation to the reality of the world. Does Wallace propose that the United Nations give up their colonies? Does he condone or reject British colonial policy? Or the Dutch, the Free French, and even the United States?

Wallace places this war in history, as part of the continuous march of mankind toward freedom, as “derived from the Bible” and with emphasis that “democracy is the only true expression of Christianity.” But he will be hard put to prove his thesis. This Midwestern “populist,” speaking the language of an era long ago past, still lives with the thoughts of “good and evil,” the “common man” against the “demagogue.” The demagogue represents “Satan,” who would “change the signposts and lure the people back into slavery of the most degraded kind.” Hitler is really the “supreme devil.” But against the demagogue and the devil:

The people are on the march toward even fuller freedom than the most fortunate people of the world have hitherto enjoyed. No Nazi counter-revolutionist will stop it. The common man will smoke the Hitler stooges out into the open in the United States, in Latin America and in India. He will destroy their influence. No Lavals, no Mussolinis will be tolerated in a free world.

The Vice-President knows that the ideological war will not greatly interest the mass of people, especially the working class which bears the brunt of the war, if it is not offered economic succor. Thus, he adds to his speech some economic aims. These are, briefly, the need for a vast increase in the post-war period, of the production of consumers’ goods to raise the economic level of existence of all mankind. At this point he quoted his remark to Madame Litvinoff, made “half in fun and half seriously,” that “the object of this war is to make sure that everybody in the world has the privilege of drinking a quart of milk a day.”

He turns next to the post-war century and regards it as one in which the “common man” will dominate; it will be his world of plenty. How? As in all the other cases, there is no answer. Wallace himself does not really know, or if he knows, fears to state it.

The aftermath of the Wallace speech, made with the sanction of the President, was interesting to observe. A handful of the great number of papers in the country printed the speech; a few more made reference to it. But the “democratic” press as a whole ignored it! Even the Vice-President’s harmless generalities were too much for the big business press. The fear that some of his vacuous phrases might infect readers by its veiled “class” character frightened the stolid thinking, profit-mad business rulers and their editorial office boys.

Ralph Ingersoll, the playboy editor of PM, screeched himself hoarse at the sabotage by the bourgeois press of Wallace’s speech. He opened up a one-man, or one-paper campaign to popularize it. This is just what PM needed in its general efforts to convince the country, despite the facts, that this is a “people’s war” for freedom, democracy and plenty. Yes, says Ingersoll, this is a war for a daily quart of milk to every man, woman and child in the world, thus believing that he had brought home the main aim of the war in such plain language that everyone might understand. But Ingersoll is regarded as a buffoon in the newspaper world. Except for the Stalinists, who have become his bosom pals since Hitler tore up his pact of blood with Stalin, and since he began to pursue the party line, Ingersoll has no great influence. He does have the reputation of being an outstanding muddle-head.

Two new warriors for the “common man” took to the podium. First we had that notorious “liberal” and fighter for the common man, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, of Cuba fame. Mr. Welles, in his Memorial Day address at the Arlington National Amphitheater said:

Our victory must bring in its train the liberation of all people ... Discrimination between peoples because of their race, creed or color must be abolished ... The age of imperialism is ended ... The problem (postwar) is rather one of distribution and purchasing power; of providing the mechanism whereby what the world produces may be fairly distributed among the nations of the world ...

Another person to come to the aid of Wallace is the great humanitarian, Donald M. Nelson. In his speech to the graduating class of the University of Missouri, the chief of the War Production Board uttered this epoch-making statement: “Poverty is not inevitable any more.” We can produce enough for the whole world, the good man said, and he called for “pliancy and resiliency of mind” to abolish poverty!

“Poverty Is Not Inevitable”

The thing that stands out in their speeches is the complete avoidance at stating facts and the imperious necessity they feel for speaking in generalities. The reason for this is clear: to match their phraseology with concrete illustrations of the general “theories,” to present a true program of economic, political and social democracy means to attack capitalism as a social order. This none of them will do.

”Poverty is not inevitable any more!” Since when, and why not? All that these men are saying is that capitalism is ready to do things in wartime that it will never concede to in times of peace. But whatever it is that big business does, such as allowing greater government interference in its operations, it makes certain that its profits are large and above all insured! It makes certain that nothing shall change the fundamental character of the existing social order.

Poverty is not inevitable; that is true. But it is inevitable so long as capitalism exists, so long as the profit-economy reigns. An improvement of the world standard of living is possible, but not on the basis of capitalism. Freedom of the colonial peoples is possible and necessary, but it cannot be achieved under the system of imperialism. The elimination of race discrimination is possible but not in a class society where the reality of the social order increases discrimination and racial antagonism as the means of keeping the ruling class in power. Genuine freedom of speech, assembly and organization are possible, but only in a free economic society. And not even these gentlemen are willing to say that we now live under a social order making these things possible.

The speeches of Wallace, the writings of Ingersoll and the speeches of Welles and Nelson only prove what we have been saying again and again: Capitalism is bankrupt! Its ideological war has a hollow ring when faced with the real war. Big business chuckles to itself as it observes these gentlemen describe this war which does not exist. So long as the “people’s war” is confined to the speeches of Vice-President Wallace and the writings o£ the enraged Ingersoll, there is nothing much to worry about. Let the “theorists” concern themselves with post-war problems. The only reality that exists for monopoly capitalism is the living present. They’ll concern themselves with the post-war period when they come to it. If, in the meantime, impractical visionaries want to talk about a new order of things to come, let them amuse themselves in their harmless enterprise.

Therein lies the crux of the matter. New Deal reformism sounds stale and impractical because it avoids striking at the root of the social problems of the present epoch. The generalities of a Wallace can be meaningful only on the basis of a fundamental alteration of the economic system, by the transformation of society into a socialist order, by the abolition of a private property in the means of production – the profit system – and the establishment of genuine economic, political and social equality.

The real subject matter which is the concern of Wallace will be considered in other articles devoted to the problem of the economics o£ the war and the post-war problems already discussed by the New Dealers through the pen of Alva Hansen. We propose to examine them and show that all the panaceas thought up by social reformism in the era of decay capitalism is so much badinage without an iota of concrete significance.

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