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Dwight Macdonald

Off the Record

(28 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 19, 28 March 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Wallace Plan

Several months ago, in my New International column, I quoted a Washington “confidential News Letter” on an embryonic New Deal scheme. “Idea,” ran the report, “is to find ways of enabling more people to eat more food ... It appears to be a fact that ⅓ of our people, perhaps even ½, don’t get enough to eat ... So, step up consumption, eat up surpluses, thus aid farmers. That’s the basis idea. How? One way might be by socialism or communism. Another way is by improving existing distribution methods WITHIN the profit system.” What interested me at the time was the frank admission that (1) the American masses don’t get enough to eat under capitalism; and (2) communism would mean, for them, more food. But now the “other” way, WITHIN the profit system, has materialized. It makes a neat rounding out of the story.

The alternative to communism turns out to be Secretary Wallace’s ingenious orange and blue food card system, which was lately saluted in an Appeal editorial. On the surface, the Wallace Plan is designed actually to give the unemployed, in this seventh year of the New Deal, enough to eat. General Hugh Johnson, an admirer of the Wallace Plan, admitted recently in his daily column: “Government studies of W.P.A. wages have shown that, while the amount available for food for a family of four, for example, is enough to prevent starvation [Who says democracy doesn’t work? – D.M.] it is not enough to provide a minimum balanced diet, especially for children, in some of the foods of which there is a surplus – dairy products, eggs, fruit and vegetables.” (And let it not be forgotten that W.P.A. wages, just above the starvation level, are much higher than home and local relief.)

For their, above-starvation foodstuffs, the unemployed have had to depend on the erratic bounty of the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation, which buys up big lots of surplus farm products and gives them to the unemployed. The system is designed to stabilize farm markets rather than to meet human needs, and so the unemployed function as a sort of refuse dump for whatever our insane economic system overproduces at any given moment.

The Wallace Plan continues to use the unemployed as a dump for surplus farm products. But instead of the Government giving the food direct to the reliefers, it gives them blue cards, which are exchangeable at their grocers for whatever foodstuffs are officially designated “surplus” that week. The beauty of this new arrangement is that every one – except, of course, the ultimate consumer – gets his cut of profit, from wholesaler to retailer.

Nor is this all. Secretary Wallace has decided that the unemployed cannot be trusted to spend their nickels wisely, and so he also proposes that the amount of each relief check which he and the other New Deal supermen in their all-wisdom decide should be spent for food – that this amount be paid not in cash but in orange tickets. Like the blue tickets – which apply only to surplus commodities – these will be redeemable in any store for food. The same Washington News Letter from which I originally quoted, in a later issue revealed that the Wallace Plan will be tried out first in a few selected cities and then, if it works, will be extended everywhere. “Clothing and other necessities are not included in the plan now, but it is freely said they may be added later, IF the plan works on food.” I hope the unemployed workers of the country will show by demonstrations and by other suitable action that the Wallace Plan doesn’t “work,” that they are still adult enough to buy their own shoes and hats and food even if this cockeyed economic system prevents them from working productively. For their banners, I suggest two inscriptions: “Mother DOESN’T Know Best!” And this sentence from the Washington Letter: “Purpose of Plan is primarily farm relief, secondarily human relief.”

A Luxemburgite Objects

Some one who wants to remain anonymous writes in to endorse, on the whole, my recent remarks in this column on the S.W.P.’s handling of the Anti-Bund demonstration outside Madison Square Garden. But he also adds:

“I wish to register, as a Luxemburgite, that the comparison with Fascist showmanship goes a bit too far, because there are limits to left showmanship that do not restrict fascism. These limits relate to the degree to which a genuine social revolution is in its actual occurrence – as distinguished from demonstrations, meetings, etc. – a self-induced mass act, rather than something, as Rosa said, ‘led with a baton.’ The fascist coup d’etat is always accomplished under the baton, and this is one of the signs that it is not a social revolution. While the socialist revolution, no matter what role the Party plays as a gear, overflows the rim of the ordered and assumes a ragged, uneven character – with even the most conscious elements running around wild and improvising. And this has to be prepared for, too.

“So, while I agree with your general criticism, I suggest you add to it the thought that if all the Party members had been on their toes, thinking of the total effect of their act, they would, even without preliminary preparation, which would have been preferable, have thought of various improvised means for letting the crowds know about the S.W.P., the Appeal, etc. In short, I just want to strike one note for the individual side, along with your chord on the organizational. Both ought to develop together. Of course, this is a big subject, and I’m just poking around in it here.”

But I’d like to ask my Luxemburgian lover of spontaneity – and I’m all with him there, myself – just how the demonstrators, on their toes or not, could have improvised banners and placards out of thin air, or could have conjured up copies of the Appeal when none were sent from headquarters?

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