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Notes of the Month

After Pearl Harbor

(December 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 11, December 1942, pp. 323–327.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan.

One year has passed since the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s military participation in the Second World War. Theretofore, the nation was a non-belligerent supporter of Great Britain and her allies; today all the resources of the country, material and physical, are mobilized for the prosecution of the war.

There is a vast difference in the preparations of the country prior to entrance in the present war and 1917. Then it was necessary to build an army and to organize industry for war production simultaneously with and after the declaration of war. Thus, it was only at the Armistice that the country was fully mobilized to wage battle. The greater part of the time was spent in preparation.

On December 8, 1941, the Administration and its War and Navy Departments had two years’ experience under its collective belt – the experience of Britain and her allies. But more important than that, American industry had been largely converted to the production of war materials, or was prepared for a total transformation. In addition, the Roosevelt Administration was politically prepared for participation in the war and had in a measure readied the entire country for eventual entry. From the time that the President made his “quarantine the aggressor” speech until Pearl Harbor, it was a foregone conclusion that the United States could not stay out of the war. The only question that remained was the date and manner of such entrance.

When Roosevelt proclaimed that it was the task of American industry to act as the “arsenal of democracy,” he did two things: first, he provided the material basis for a continuation of the war by the Allies, and second, he provided the basis for an enormous extension of the productive capacity of American industry to a point where it could conveniently and quickly take on the added responsibility of producing for American armed forces. A great loss of time was therefore avoided, since the most important period of experimentation was carried through in the two years during which American industry produced for Great Britain, France, China, et al. Moreover, these experimentations carried on in the field of production were largely paid for by these nations. Thus, experience in the utilization of new materials and new methods of production were acquired almost without any cost to American financiers and industrialists.

Long before war became a reality for Americans, Roosevelt had successfully campaigned for a universal registration and conscription of manpower. Many millions were made available for military service. At the time of the declaration of war, the Army had almost two million trained and partially trained and equipped soldiers ready for battle. In addition, the other services were greatly expanded and strengthened, especially in the development of an enormous air force. No one really knows how large these forces will become. Estimates of the authorities range anywhere from seven and a half to fifteen million. Naturally, this question is entirely dependent on the fortunes of war on the numerous fronts; yet without a thorough knowledge of its needs, the Administration has an over-all armed force of more than six millions, twice as many as were employed in the First World War. This single fact has already had a sharp effect upon economic and social developments in the nation. The situation will be accentuated by the end of 1943, when an additional two to three million men will have been inducted.

What the Bourgeoisie Foresaw

The fundamental basis for the war preparations made by the American bourgeoisie was its recognition that the future of its rule was entirely dependent upon a victory of the United Nations, more properly, upon a defeat of Germany. It should be abundantly clear, and it was pointed out by Marxists long ago, that the fundamental antagonism between Germany, riding the crest of victory in Europe, and the United States, seeking to solidify its predominant world position, must lead to armed conflict.

The war has amply demonstrated the structural weaknesses of a declining Great Britain and its empire. The first shots in the war proved that while she could and would put up a magnificent defense of her particular world position, in the larger and fundamental sense she had lost the war before it began. British investors in Latin America, the United States and in the Far East have suffered enormous losses. The loss of important territories has materially affected London. Losses in the war, of men and material, and the heavy demands of the conflict which require England to defend an empire stretching around the globe have already had a disastrous effect upon her economic and political position in the world. Most important of all, she had lost her dominant place in the world market, a situation which can be repaired only by a future struggle against the United States.

But for the British Empire it was either complete annihilation at the hands of the Axis, or a bad bargain with a powerful ally. While Britain’s bourgeois leaders know there is nothing to be gained from the other warring camp except abject surrender, they still hope that the fortunes of war will permit her to circumvent the gains already made by her American “friends” and prevent a further diminution of her colonies, her investments, her material resources, in a word, regain her pre-war position.

Irrespective of the outlook of the British ruling class, the American bourgeoisie has never been concerned with how to cope with that country. But the power of a renascent German imperialism was an entirely different story. On the basis of a conquered Europe and a defeated England, Germany would have become a most formidable foe, and the outcome of a struggle with her would have been in great doubt. It became an urgent necessity for American capitalism to enter this war to insure the defeat of the Third Reich.

The Role of the Pacific War

The war with Japan, important as it is, remains secondary. The American bourgeoisie understands this perfectly and will brook no departure from its present strategy of concentrating the main fire in the European theater of the war. A victory over Germany would guarantee an eventual victory over Japan, no matter how difficult that struggle might be. But the concentration of the war effort against Japan might well exhaust the American war machine to the point where victory over Germany would become impossible. The tactics in the Pacific and the Far East therefore are calculated as delaying actions to keep Japan from further expanding and exploiting its present gains until such a time as the full force of the United Nations can be directed against her. This general strategy has always been implicit in the conduct of the warring staffs of the two leading members of the United Nations, Great Britain and the United States.

The Allies suffered enormous defeats in the initial stages of the war with Dai Nippon. In steady sequence they lost out in Indo-China and Thailand. They lost Malaya and that “impregnable” fortress, Singapore. They lost Burma and suffered the dosing of the Burma Road. They lost the Netherlands East Indies and a number of Pacific islands, including the Philippines. Hawaii, Alaska and Australia were threatened and it was even believed time that the Japanese might chance an invasion of the Pacific Coast. No matter how rapidly and far the Japanese advanced, the strategists of the Allies would not change their fundamental outlook.

As we look over the multiple fronts of the greatest war in history we are struck by its magnitude in the employment of men and material, by the extreme distances traversed by the military machines and by the number of countries ravaged in the seeming endlessness of the whole senseless and destructive venture. When will this bloody holocaust end? This is the question which everyone asks. Yet there is nothing on the horizon to warrant any justification in believing that this war can be brought to a close in any foreseeable future.

It is true that the involvement of the United States as a military factor in the war has greatly strengthened the Allied camp. It has brought to its side many millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen. The growth of production on the Allied side is giving it a material preponderance which it had only in a potential sense when the war began. But the war will not be brought to an end in a substantially shorter time. No one can foretell its length, and the judicious leaders of the warring countries evade giving any reply to this question.

The invasion of North Africa and the rout of General Rommell’s Afrika Korps have strengthened Allied arms, improved the Allied position in the Mediterranean Sea and prepared the basis for a possible invasion of Europe from the South. But the victory in North Africa only presages a more intensified stage of the war, the preparations on all sides for spring offensives. The outcome of the offensives of 1943, whether it will be recognizable or not, may determine the length of the war, and it may point to the eventual victors. But whatever the result of this intensified warfare, it will unquestionably be followed by a long period of warfare by attrition. The principal reason for this lies in the inability of the United Nations to fight any but a purely military war against the Axis.

Prospects in Europe

The continuation of the war will only add to the terrible misery of the suffering millions in many countries. Its intensification will bring the war to new areas and new peoples, as it has already done in North Africa. Even without this prospect, large areas have already been devastated. Casualties in soldiers and civilians have run into millions. Many more millions are starving and homeless; they are without adequate clothing and housing. Yet, there is literally nothing they can long forward to except the continuation and intensification of the war, a worsening of their already low material level of existence.

For Europe, the war is well in its fourth year. Hitler’s armies dominate the whole Continent. On the basis of this domination and enslavement of Europe, his regime has been able to retain itself in power and carry on the war. All the material resources of this great area, its industry and agriculture, its manpower and the many points at which an invasion of the Continent is possible are at the disposal and under the control of the Gestapo and the German general staff.

In order to realize the benefits of this control over Europe, Hitler is compelled to enforce his demands at the point of the sword, to keep an eternal vigilance over the masses of workers and peasants lest the whole enterprise blow up in his face. He has had no trouble with big capitalists in the occupied countries. They reconciled themselves to his victories and made admirable adjustments, continuing to make profit even though the real orders and directives come from Berlin. But that is of little concern, say the European bourgeoisie, so long as we make a profit, and better a little profit with Hitler than no profit without him. Hitler at any rate has solved their labor problem; they do not have to dicker with the workers, they do not have to contend with the trade unions: the Gestapo has solved this little problem with the gun and the concentration camp.

The millions of peoples in the occupied countries, however, have never reconciled themselves to German rule. There are daily reports of clashes between the authorities and the workers or other sections of the population. These clashes take place in the shops, in the food lines, in rural communities. The wonder is not that the European masses have failed to revolt long ago, it is that despite the brutal regimes of German fascism, despite the stringent controls of a highly experienced and organized police regime, despite the betrayals of these people by their former governments, their political parties and their labor leaders, they are fighting desperately against their new oppressors.

The Rise of Nationalist Movements

What we see in Europe is a reawakening of the struggle for national liberation in the conquered countries. Thus, a phenomenon which appeared historically outlived at the close of the First World War has been replaced by the unforeseen developments in the years since the outbreak of the Second World War. These movements, as they seek to free their countries from the yoke of Nazi rule, are fighting for national independence and they involve all classes, including sections of national bourgeoisies. Despite their illegality, for they are entirely underground, and despite the absence of clarity, they are the only movements which contain inherent qualities of developing into a mass revolt against one camp of the war, at least in its first stages. The nationalist movements of liberation and independence are progressive movements under the given world conditions and out of them the organization and struggle for socialism and a United States of Socialist Europe can arise. Certainly the European masses, while they seek their liberation from Hitler, are not seeking to re-establish the pre-war status quo, the bankrupt régimes of the so-called “free” governments of incompetents who, when they had the power, were utterly impotent to solve a single one of the problems which faced them or their peoples.

The strategists of the United Nations would like to utilize these movements to bring a speedy end to the war. They are aware too, that the German masses are becoming war-weary, are losing their confidence in the invincibility of the Nazi regime and German arms and that a large residue of the socialist working class only awaits a more favorable conjuncture in the war to make their hatred of fascism felt in concrete ways. But they are in holy fear of these mass movements because they may take on a social character and bring about the real liberation of Europe. They fear these movements because their revolts may develop from anti-Hitler to anti-capitalist actions. While vocal support is given to the nationalist movements of the people, the leaders of the United Nations prepare post-war governments which, while non-fascist, are nevertheless reactionary.

Allied Policy in the Far East

We have already had a sample of the ideological war in the Far East. When the fight against Germany was completely defensive, when it was necessary to win the undivided support of a people unenthusiastic about the war, intensely suspicious of their governments, or even opposed to the war, it was necessary for Roosevelt and Churchill to lay heavy stress on the ideological war against Hitler, to emphasize that the struggle of the United Nations was a struggle for the freedom of all the peoples of the world. But when the first test of the Atlantic Charter came in the Far East, the Indian masses, for example, were informed that the Four Freedoms had no application to them. It also had no application to Burma, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. For the right to free speech, the right to free organization, the right of national independence, the right to establish one’s own government, would mean the end of the colonial empires of all countries, especially those which make up the United Nations.

Obviously this is not what was meant by the Atlantic Charter. The Atlantic Charter applies expressly to Europe, “to the white world,” as Lin Yutang has expressed it, referring to the imperialist powers. When representatives of the Pacific countries asked for a Pacific Charter they were told by the President that, in his opinion, it was unnecessary because the Atlantic Charter applied to them also. If it has any application to Asia, everything that has happened since the war broke out there belies that claim. The colonial peoples are fully cognizant that the war in Asia is merely the struggle between two powers for control of the great resources of their country and for the right to exploit them. Their vain hopes that a victory of the United Nations would free them have vanished and given rise to mixed feelings of doubt and anger. They realize that they have again been used against themselves, for the pretentious ideological war of the Allies, the much heralded war for “freedom and democracy,” has now settled down to its own level of a military struggle between imperialist rivals.

The Year at Home

The transformation of America’s rôle from the “arsenal of democracy” to belligerency has finally brought the real war home to Americans. One year has passed and already the war has been sharply felt by the people. American economy has been on a war basis for some time; now the transformation from peacetime production is complete.

The armed forces have already been engaged on several fronts. Their size has been greatly increased and now numbers over six million for the Army, Navy and Air Force. The nation-wide draft, drawing from a pool of many millions, will take an additional three millions in 1943. Industry is operating at full blast and there is a growing shortage of workers. The same situation obtains in agriculture. Everywhere a shortage of manpower manifests itself and results in a greater state control over the movements and activities of the people. Job freezing has already been inaugurated in certain areas of the country and it threatens to become a national phenomenon.

The New Deal has been partially dead for a long time; the WPA was buried with formal rites by presidential action. This was the final official notification to indicate that the War Deal cannot be a half-hearted effect. As a result of this economic transformation great social changes have taken place. The national market has greatly diminished since the government has become the main receiver of goods produced. A special kind of “planned economy” exists, i.e., production is planned and organized by the war administration on the basis of its military needs. As the arsenal for the United Nations, industry in this country is living through another technical revolution and has reached unprecedented heights of production. The most immediate effect of this intense economic activity has been the virtual liquidation of unemployment.

The great rise in employment has resulted in an enormous growth of the national income among all classes. But this very growth in the national income produced a sharp contradiction in economy. The disparity in the production of war and consumers’ goods lays the basis for an inflationary spiral which threatens to grow beyond control. Despite the many measures of the Administration to control the inherent “imbalance” of the war economy, it continues to pursue its logical way. Price controls, rationing and priorities have not been effective means to curb the widening contradictions created by the demands of the war. This is especially true since the organization of these controls have been essentially directed against the workers, that is, the mass of the people.

One cannot lose sight of the fact that the war economy has been achieved under the complete domination of the monopolist-imperialist big business men. They control production, they issue contracts, they set the percentage of profits in war contracts. The Roosevelt Administration is completely dependent upon big business to carry through the economic part of the war effort. Through the dollar-a-year men they have a death-like grip on the war economy. Moreover, the needs of the war make it inevitable that the powers of big business are strengthened and by its control over the production program its enrichment is insured.

The enormous costs of the war are already placed on the back of the American people. A heavy taxation program, rationing of consumer goods, destruction in the quality of existing goods, rising prices, completely out of line with wages earned, long hours of toil under deteriorating conditions of employment, are taking a heavy toll of the masses.

Concretizing the War Economy

Concretely, what the continuation of the war will mean at home can be ascertained from the following facts: According to the United States News, the war cost, which is currently $80,000,000,000 a year, will, beginning with the new fiscal year (July 1, 1943), rise to $100,000,000,000 out of a total national income now estimated to reach $135,000,000,000. From December 1941 to the end of the next fiscal year, July 1944, the cost of the war, at the present increasing rate of expenditures, will reach the astronomical total of $200,000,000,000. In order to realize its significance, this figure should be compared to the $26,000,000,000 spent from 1917 to 1919 in the First World War.

It can be readily seen that forthcoming expenditures will leave only a fourth of the total national income for the civilian population. Increased taxation to meet these costs, in addition to the existent heavy tax program, will undoubtedly be proposed by the Administration.

One must add to this financial burden the fact that the war will eat up two-thirds of the national economic effort. In one year it will absorb a hundred billion dollars’ worth of fuel oil, gasoline, food, clothing, metal, transport, rubber and kindred indispensable materials formerly used up by the people.

In addition to the precipitate decline in the production of consumer goods, inventories will be quickly absorbed. The net effect will be that the masses will have to divide what is directly left over from war production, with no further possibility of looking toward piled-up goods to reinforce then-needs. Widespread rationing must and will follow. Whereas the rationing of goods is as yet confined to several major products, rationing in the coming year will spread over many vital commodities necessary to the well-being of the population. There will be a more stringent control over all types of fuel and a reduction in the consumer’s share of gasoline and fuel oil. Drastic cuts in meat allowances are scheduled with the latest estimate suggesting that less than two pounds of meat per person will be allocated. Moreover, the trend will be downward. Rationing will take place with milk, butter arid canned goods.

In contrast to the enrichment of American financiers and industrialists, there is the steady but unmistakable destruction of small business and the middle class. Thousands of small businesses have been liquidated. The intellectual and professional groups are faced with similar prospects of elimination and ruination. But above all, it is the working class which carries the brunt of the war. In addition to the fact that it alone makes the war effort possible, high prices, the absence of indispensable goods, worsening conditions of labor, it is faced with the prospect of a reduction of its living standards, forecast by Leon Henderson, to reach the depth of the crisis in 1932. Thus, within one year, the pattern of American development, except in degree, approximates the course of development in other warring countries.

Big Business Threatens Labor

The American bourgeoisie, taking advantage of the war and a weakening of the organized strength of the labor movement, made possible by the abject surrender of its labor leaders, has chosen this occasion to open up an offensive against the workers designed to destroy their organizations, their wage levels and their working conditions. Through the kept press and with the aid of the political reactionaries in both parties, the National Association of Manufacturers and the United States Chamber of Commerce have mobilized their enormous resources to carry through their fight. Using the no-strike agreement imposed upon the labor movement, they have kept up a steady barrage against the workers and their unions. The labor-management committees have been employed for the same purpose.

The reactionary congressional leaders will seek to offset the mounting dissatisfaction of the people by turning the congressional halls into a meeting ground for organizing reaction against labor. Everything that is wrong with the war effort, i.e., the existence of capitalism, will be blamed on the union movement with its ten million members. The new Congress has not met but already the signs are unmistakable as to the intentions of these lackeys of big business. They are seeking two immediate things: control over the trade unions by control of their finances, and legislative cancellation of the forty-hour week. The passage of two such measures will lead to a witchhunt within the unions, the aim of which will be to destroy the effectiveness of organized labor. Powerful forces, led by the large daily newspapers, stand ready to unloose one of the most thoroughly organized anti-labor campaigns ever known.

The workers are fighting back in the form of a rank and file revolt. Where they cannot force their leaders to take action against the reactionary drive of the bosses, they act without them. The workers were never greatly enthusiastic about the war. But they accepted a fait accompli and were prepared to do “their share.” They do not, however, propose to allow the monopoly capitalists to use the war as a lever to destroy the labor movement and the gains won by it after years of long and difficult struggle.

The recent elections, which demonstrated this sharp right turn in bourgeois politics and a general resurgence of the reactionary forces of the nation, was accompanied by an almost total distrust and disinterest on the part of the working class. Although the desire of the workers for independent political action has again been stifled by their misleaders, they demonstrated their genuine feelings by refusing to participate in an election campaign to choose one or another of the reactionary candidates of the bourgeois parties.

Thus, in two important respects, economic and political, the American workers exhibit great unrest and a desire to march in an independent class direction. This will have important implications for the future of the American union and political movement of the workers. For the last word has not been said in the increasing conflict of the two main classes in American society.

Collapse of the “Free World”

The main offensives of the Allies are not yet in full motion, but the first casualty – for those who took the ideas, speeches and writing of the liberals seriously – is Vice-President Henry A. Wallace’s Century of the Common Man. No one doubts the sincerity of this liberal and mystic. But we pointed out, at the time Wallace was making his perorations about this war being fought to guarantee every man, women and child of this world a quart or a pint of milk every day, that his speeches were errant nonsense, that the real war had nothing to do with Wallace’s idealism, and that before long it would become clearly evident to every man, woman and child that even a modest quart or pint of milk was too much for them to expect from imperialist capitalism.

On almost every front, Wallace and his reformist Board of Economic Warfare face a fight for life. While he and his organization exist for the purpose of preparing plans for postwar reconstruction, the real powers in the war administration carry on an incessant campaign against the “expensive experiments” of this “visionary.” Thus, in South America, where hard-fisted American financiers and industrialists are seeking to organize production with what amounts to slave labor, Wallace and the BEW have to wage permanent warfare to prevent the complete ruination of the “Good Neighbor” policy. In the Far East, in Europe and in South Africa this body meets the cry of “military exigency” which frustrates every liberal plan that its representatives seek to enforce under the illusion that they are the ideological arm of the United Nations. Disillusionment sets in everywhere because the war itself has nothing in common with the aims of the BEW, and the real directors of the war will not countenance such liberal nonsense.

The war administrations, the military staffs, the Prince Ottos and the Admiral Darlans, these are the real figures in the war. Freedom and democracy mean exactly what Lin Yu-tang said it appeared to mean: freedom and democracy for the Occidental powers (read: freedom and democracy for the ruling classes in these countries). Pearl Buck, whose long residence in China has made her a champion of the independence of the colonial peoples, is neither a Marxian socialist, nor anti-capitalist, but she has already publicly declared, in vigorous speeches and articles, that the “war for freedom has already been lost” and that a third war for freedom will have to be fought.

The “awakening” of such liberals to the real state of the war merely reflects in modified form a situation that is far worse than appears on the surface and one which we indicated in the foregoing.

Nor is there a single force associated with the warring governments, the Soviet Union included, which offers the slightest hope that this war may, after all, turn out differently from the last. Stalin’s speech on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the October Revolution made little or no reference to the greatest event in modern history. The socialist aspirations of the Russian masses and the new Soviet state were little if at all mentioned. His speech, in the manner of a bourgeois diplomat, was merely an assurance that the proper revenge would be taken upon- Germany and that his Russia, the Russia of the counter-revolution, would join its British and American allies to restore pre-war Europe and the world, upon the defeat of Hitler. There is absolutely nothing to distinguish the Soviet Union from Great Britain or the United States. Only the most rigid reactionaries, the most ignorant and shortsighted of the bourgeoisie, still retain fears of Stalin and the Soviet Union. For this they are regularly chided by the “more far-sighted leaders of finance and industry” and the New York Times, which recognizes counter-revolution when faced with it.

On the other side of the coin we have tendencies within the workers’ political movement which are completely disoriented by false theoretical and political concepts, whose ideas are extremely harmful to the cause of international socialism. The most blatant violator of the best interests of the revolutionary socialist movement is the Cannonite group, which at its last convention adopted a resolution stating: “The war of the Soviet Union is our war, the war of the workers everywhere .... Only traitors to the working class can deny support to the workers’ state in its war against imperialism ...” The vigorous language employed in this resolution is merely subterfuge to hide the politically impermissible and factually false separation made between the Soviet Union and its allies. To these people the Russian front has no relationship to the war on the other fronts; the alliance of Stalinist Russia with Great Britain and the United States is a matter of convenience arising from the needs of the “defense of the Soviet Union” having no real significance, and finally, the Stalinist regime is an abstraction when measured against the “reality of the workers’ state.” Obviously, when compared to this tendency, the vision of the New York Times is crystal-clear.

Talk of Reconstruction

The new wave of confidence in victory by the United Nations has already led to a great deal of discussion about postwar reconstruction, and here again the dispute between the war leaders and the reformists will become extremely sharp. The pro-capitalist reformists are staking everything on a postwar international New Deal administered by the United Nations as a means of fortifying their military victory and bringing about a measure of economic revival through a “benevolent” exploitation of the peoples of the world.

The Beveridge Plan in England and the unpublished but oft-referred-to super-Beveridge Plan, which Roosevelt is said to have ready, proceed on what they consider to be an acknowledged fact: that capitalism cannot provide for the people and has outlived its progressive historical function. These plans are therefore predicated upon reforming capitalism by a world system of social insurance but retaining the basic features of capitalism, the private ownership of the means of production, i.e., the profit system.

We shall return to this subject in the immediate future.

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