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Dwight Macdonald

Off the Record

(4 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 21, 4 April 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Things They Don’t Talk About

Already we are getting a pre-view of what is in store for the labor movement in the next war. They don’t talk about these things much in political speeches, they don’t print much about them in the papers, and so you very probably don’t even know they are happening. You might think, for instance, that an army fighting for democracy would accept Negroes on equal terms with whites. You might think that when a nation goes off on a holy war for democracy, the rights of its workers at home would be scrupulously guarded. You might think that, in such an idealistic enterprise, business men would not be allowed to make money out of their fellow citizens’ blood. But what happened last week in Congress when the Army Air Corps Expansion bill was passed shows that you would be wrong on all three counts. To itemize:

  1. The bill originally provided that at least one Army air school should train Negro pilots. “Much distressed,” reports Time, “the Air Corps quietly went to work on Capitol Hill to get Negro training killed ...”
  2. The bill originally forbade the award of contracts for Army planes to all firms which had been convicted of violating the Wagner Act. The C.I.O. and the A.F.L. had joined forces to get this provision inserted. But as the bill was going through its final stages, the War Department “emphatically demanded” that this protection for labor be removed from the bill. It was.
  3. There is a lot of talk in Congress about “taking the profits out of war.” Just what the honorable Congressmen mean was clearly enough shown when the Air Corps bill “limited” profits on all Army contracts to ... 12%!

Those idealistic liberals who want us to act as policeman for the world seem to be forgetting – as they did in 1917 – that to fight a war, whether for democracy or not, you must turn the nation over to those experts in death: the munitions makers and the War Department. The next war will be a crusade for democracy – somewhere else.

Tom Girdler, Dove of Peace

“The steel industry abhors war and fervently hopes for peace,” Tom Girdler, of Republic Steel Corp. and the Memorial Day Massacre, recently told a gathering of mining engineers. “The impression prevails,” he said sadly, “that the steel industry looks eagerly at profits from war. That is not true. War brings no genuine prosperity to the steel industry.”

It would be interesting to get Girdler’s definition of “genuine prosperity.” In 1917 Bethlehem Steel earned $54,000,000 and in 1918, $57,000,000. U.S. Steel earned $333,000,000 in 1916 and $530,000,000 in 1917, declaring in the latter year an extra dividend of 18%, Coming down to the present, I see by the papers that the Navy Department has signed contracts for $24,000,000 worth of armor plate with three steel companies – this being merely one of many such contracts involved in our current preparations to save the world again as we did so nobly in 1917.

In a certain sense, however, it is true that the steel barons don’t want war.

“We have seen the effects of war,” said Tom Girdler, “as written in the social, economic and political upheavals since 1918. These stresses and strains have brought civilization near the cracking point. Another world war might well result in the complete’ collapse of civilization.”

Neither Tom Girdler nor any other responsible member of the ruling class wants war now if it can be avoided in any possible way – short of giving up their profits, that is. As any one who has seen his gun thugs in action knows, Tom Girdler is no humanitarian. When he expresses fears lest the next war may mean “the complete collapse of civilization,” he really means “the complete collapse of capitalism?”

This is what is behind the concessions made by Chamberlain and Daladier to Hitler at the Munich Conference last fall. To quote the London correspondent of the N.Y. Times:

“The real motive of ‘appeasement’ is the fear of a war that might crack the political, economic and social structure of this country beyond repair, whether Britain won the war or not. Mr. Chamberlain and his colleagues feel sure that the British Empire could survive a war with Germany at the cost of untold human misery, but they are not so sure that the men and the system that have ruled the country for so many years would still be ruling it when the war was over.”

Moral: the more militancy the workers show, the less chances of a war.

Business Is Business

Business men overwhelmingly approve of President Roosevelt’s imperialistic foreign policy; and/but you don’t find them passing up any chances for profits. If a dictatorship wants munitions and can lay cash on the line, it gets them – and from the same business interests as support so enthusiastically the New Deal’s war drive to save “democracy.” Thus, the Department of Commerce has announced that the biggest foreign purchaser of American steel ingots and scrap iron in January of this year was Japan. In 1937 Italy got 63 per cent of its scrap iron imports from this country. Last year the United States supplied 68 per cent of Italy’s scrap imports.

Not long ago, a friend who had just returned from Pittsburgh told me of an interesting married couple there. The husband was president of a big firm of scrap iron dealers, and his best customer was the Japanese government. His wife was a leader in the Stalinist stooge outfit, the League for Peace and Democracy, and at the time was especially active in getting the women of Pittsburgh to boycott stockings made of Japanese silk.

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