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War Deal

Dwight Macdonald

The War Deal

(13 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 78, 13 October 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“There is something phoney about this war,” remarked Senator Borah the other day. He was referring to the fact that France and England declared war six weeks ago and have not yet begun to fight. But he might also have noted something phoney about the war issue as it has been presented in Congress recently. The much-advertised and long-awaited debate on neutrality legislation, in which Borah himself is a leading participant, has turned out to be pretty much of a flop. Here, too, the battle has not yet been seriously joined. The Administration forces have said nothing of their real aims and interests, which center about bringing as much help as possible to the Allies. And their “opponents,” the isolationists, have strangely acquiesced in this conspiracy of silence. It is clear that neither side has much stomach for a real fight.

Friendly Enemies

The truth seems to be that there is still a certain amount of division among the big bourgeoisie as to just how much of a“forward policy” in respect to the war is right now advisable. The great bulk of Wall Street opinion is without much question already behind the President’s policy – although with the caution and reservations one might expect considering the big property interests at stake. But there still remain certain powerful sections of big business inclining more, for the present, to an isolationist line. In this category, E.T. Weir of National Steel, Henry Ford, and the DuPonts are outstanding. This explains why such Republican stalwarts as Senator Vandenberg of Michigan are leading the fight against raising the arms embargo. In Vandenberg’s own state, for instance, the split is clearly defined, with General Motors for raising the embargo and Ford against it.

The politeness and gentility with which the neutrality fight has been conducted is explained by the fact that the politicians in Washington understand well enough that this difference of opinion is by no means indicative of any disagreement as to the necessity of America’s final entry into the war, but is merely a friendly disagreement as to ways and means and, above all,timing. Both sides in Congress insist that nothing is further from the minds of their honorable opponents than dragging this fail-nation into the war. There are certain accusations, after all, that come too close to home to be bandied about in public.

1917 and 1939

As I pointed out last week, the relationship between the government and big business has become much more intimate in the two decades of development that American monopoly capitalism has gone through since the last war. This makes it easier in one way and harder in another to expose to the masses the imperialist nature of the War Deal.

It is easier to expose the Roosevelt Administration’s war drive than it was to expose that of the Wilson Administration because this time big business has channelled its war aims through the governmental apparatus, so that the War Deal acts in a much more aggressive and whole-heartedly belligerent way than did the Wilson regime. Thus the War Deal is forced to go ahead in a more determined way, and is also forced to take on more of a Wall Street coloration than was necessary for Wilson in the years preceding our entry into the last war. (Roosevelt set uphis War Resources Board headed by Stettinius of U.S. Steel before our entry, while Wilson called on Baruch to set up the War Industries Board only after the declaration of war in 1917.)

By the same token, however, the task of exposure is harder because this time Wall Street is not making the mistake of coming out in the open and acting as the business agents and ardent propagandists of the Allied powers. The pro-war propaganda of the Roosevelt Administration seems to be quite detached from any financial interests, to be the free-will act of an independent government body – while in the last war such propaganda was crudely and openly conducted by finance capital itself.

Casting Out the Devil

The complexity of relations between big business and government in this war crisis is demonstrated by the recent liquidation of the War Resources Board. When the WRB was set up last summer, headed by Stettinius of the Steel Corporation and composed mostly of DuPont and Morgan executives, there was aloud outcry from liberal, labor and left-wing New Deal sources. As the debate on neutrality opened in Congress, the WRB threatened to become a really serious talking point for the isolationists. Therefore, the day before Congress met, Roosevelt suddenly announced that the WRB would meet once more, draw up a report, and then commit hari-kari. He also went out of his way to publicly humiliate and repudiate Assistant Secretary of War Johnson, author of the WRB plan and the “man” of big business in the War Department.

Loud were the outcries of victory among the liberals and the left isolationists. Actually, no more had happened than that the President, for sound reasons of immediate political strategy, had decided that the WRB had been sprung on the public a little prematurely. He therefore quietly withdrew from this too advanced position, incidentally stealing a good deal of the thunder his isolationist opponents were preparing for him in Congress. As Time (Oct. 9) put it: “About all they had left to hit him with then was the reasonable supposition that Big Steel’s Stettinius will be back on the pre-war scene in Washington at some more politic time.”

“Reasonable” is a classic understatement.

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Last updated: 17 February 2018