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Irving Howe

Wallace and Hoover on the War Economy

(June 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 23, 8 June 1942, pp. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Which road for American capitalism – an open, frank espousal of the methods of fascism in order to conduct its total war; or an attempt to conduct the war on the basis of continued reforms, partial maintenance of the people’s living standards and at least platonic adherence to the shibboleths of so-called “free” capitalism?

This vital question is posed in two recent speeches made by two prominent spokesmen for different sections of the American capitalist class: former President Herbert Hoover and Vice-President Henry Wallace.

Hoover advocates the first road. In his speech of May 20, he frankly says:

“We must start our thinking with a disagreeable, cold fact. That is, the economic measures necessary to win total war are just plain fascist economics. It was from the war organization developed by all nations, including the democracies, during the first total war that the economic department of fascism was born.”

And again:

“To win total war, President Roosevelt must have dictatorial economic powers.”

While this provoked a howl of dissent and righteous abuse from such “liberal” papers as the New York Post and PM, as well as the New Republic and The Nation, it was a reaction based not really on a genuine disagreement as to how to conduct the war, but rather a belief that such things should not be spoken of so bluntly. It might give people ideas.

Yet, it is a fact, becoming as plain as Hoover’s stiff collar, that each day’s progress of the imperialist war indicates that it cannot be conducted in any way other than by the imposition of totalitarian economic and political controls on the mass of the people. In the economic sphere this is already quite evident: President Roosevelt’s seven-point program, the labor-freezing proposal, the no-strike agreement – to mention but a few of the more obvious ones. Capitalism cannot organize itself for total war on the basis of a planned, mass participation of the people to run the industrial and military machines; that would spell the end of capitalism. Its only other recourse, if it is to win a victory, is to gain efficiency at the price of freedom.

Productive Efficiency and Freedom

Genuine productive efficiency and real economic and political freedom can now be reconciled only under socialism. When the capitalist regime faces the need to choose between the two, there is ho doubt that it will, choose the kind of productive efficiency based on totalitarian fascist controls.

A virtue of Hoover’s speech is its frank – if cynical – recognition of the fact that the development of fascism is connected with the decay of the capitalist economic system. He sees the interlocking connection between the First Imperialist World War, the development of fascism and the Second imperialist World War. He sees that cause and effect are in this case inextricably interwoven; that the decay of capitalism, the rise of fascism and the outbreak of war are retroactive characteristics of our society.

Only, since he is a frank spokesman for the ruling capitalist class, he is ready to sacrifice the remains of our freedom in order to establish American imperialism as the dominant force in the world.

Hoover’s Pious Qualifications

True, he qualifies this proposal with a pious hope that political liberties will be maintained and that the fascist controls he advocates should not be frozen into our post-war economy. But neither qualification can be taken seriously. First, because it is wrong to believe (as the experience of Europe conclusively proves) that economic totalitarianism will not, sooner or later, bring in its wake political dictatorship; and second, because it is just as wrong to believe that once the war is over, the pressing contradictions and difficulties of capitalism will suddenly dissolve and permit of the lifting of fascist controls. If anything, the contrary is more likely.

This, then, is the advice of Hoover to his class: march on the totalitarian, fascist road.

Vice-President Wallace, however, is not quite reconciled to that proposal. His speech is an effective piece of rhetoric designed to paint the picture of the war which only a liberal can ee. It is a war to end want, to bring a new, more beautiful world into existence.

“The people are on the march,” says Wallace. “Everywhere the common man must learn to increase his productivity so that he and his children can eventually pay to the world community all that they have received. No nation will have the God-given [?] right to exploit other nations. Older nations will have the privilege to help younger nations get started on the path to industrialization, but there must be neither military nor economic imperialism.”

What Wallace Really Advocates

It is for these generalities that Wallace has received such enthusiastic plaudits from the liberal journals. But when one examines the speech concretely, it is seen to consist of nothing but well-meaning and empty platitudes. How can, anyone possibly believe that the capitalist nations will voluntarily cease their imperialist competition after the war? (Certainly no such sanguine hopes are entertained by the New York Daily News, which urges women to bear more children in order to have new cannon-fodder for the Third Imperialist World War!)

Who can really believe that after such a bitter, war fought precisely in order to determine which imperialist bloc shall dominate the world, the victors will voluntarily relinquish their booty? Wallace’s co-cabinet member, Secretary of the Navy Knox, more realistically envisages the need for American imperialism to patrol the world for the next century if it is to establish itself as the dominant force.

We said at the beginning of this article that Hoover and Wallace proposed two divergent courses for American capitalism. Roosevelt and Wallace desire to fight what they please to call a “people’s war.” Hoover, representing the most reactionary section of the American capitalist class, proposes the outright institution of fascist economic measures – an essential ingredient of which is the destruction of the present standards of the working class.

But Roosevelt and Wallace, because they are pledged in principle to the maintenance of a profit economy, find themselves in greater and greater contradictions. In practice, they find it ever more necessary to move toward the economic program proposed by Hoover. The gap between them is bridged by the economic dictates of a decaying capitalist order: its war needs require constant movement toward totalitarian economy. That is the price which the people pay for its survival. And the role of the Wallace program becomes increasingly that of rhetorical mayonnaise with which to dress up the bitter dish of total war economy.

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