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A.J. Muste

Will NIRA Work – And for Whom?

(13 August 1933)

From Labor Action, Vol. 1 No. 9, 13 August 1933, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

OFTEN nowadays the men and women who do the ballyhoo for the Roosevelt administration’s recovery program try to make out that we have just got to believe that Nira will work and bring in the millennium. That in itself is a bad thing. Who has made Franklin Roosevelt and his advisers allwise so that it becomes unpatriotic to question their judgment? Has it come to the pass that in Italy you have to believe what Mussolini says, in Germany what Hitler says and in the United States what Roosevelt says? Does the middle initial in the president’s name mean that he is Franklin Dictator Roosevelt?

As a matter of fact, the President’s own closest advisers often use expressions which indicate that they are none too sure themselves. When, therefore, they tell us we have got to believe in the miracle it looks as though they were whistling to keep up their courage. General Johnson says that unless they bring purchasing power up, and so on, there will soon be another big crash, “and the country can’t stand another bad crash.”

Do Liberals and Professors Never Learn Anything?

He is right about that. And if Nira is the wrong way out, the sooner the masses know it the better. It would increase our respect for human nature, by the way, if a few liberals, economists, intellectuals publicists would maintain a critical attitude toward this whole Nira business. Have they already forgotten what shameful asses they made of themselves by climbing on the Wilsonian bandwagon and helping to lead mankind into the shambles of the World War?

There are reasons to doubt whether Nira will work even temporarily, whether there may not soon come that crash to which General Johnson referred.

As this is written, the business index is falling. Steel production and output of electric power are down. A very shaky situation exists on the wheat and corn market. Rules have been passed which forbid traders to lower prices more than so many points per day. Each day the price falls as low as it is permitted to.

This matter of prices for farm commodities is one of the most critical. as everybody knows. Yet the cautious and able financial editor ot the New York Times says: “No one really believes that the problem of commodity prices has been solved.” The farmer is still standing on mighty thin ice.

What Does Inflation Mean?

Sooner or later, if prices threaten to fail, the Roosevelt Administration will resort to open inflation as it has already resorted to disguised inflation. What does this mean in plain language? That the dollar will be cheapened and prices will go up. Furthermore experience of other countries with inflation has been that it can’t be controlled. Prices go sky-rocketing. Wages never sky-rocket so enthusiastically. So people cannot buy. Misery and starvation become widespread. That may come. It will come unless other measures are taken to really put money into the hands of the masses.

The Roosevelt administration has not given the consumers and workers any guarantee against the skyrocketing of prices. Mrs. Roosevelt sagely observes in a press conference that consumers must learn to protect themselves! When you go to a store and the price is too high, go somewhere else to buy and report the first store to dear old Nira! She knows that the individual consumer is helpless in these matters. Suppose there Is only one store in your neighborhood or all stores charge the same price, which has been known to happen!

The administration should take scientific measures to find out what fair prices are, but Prof. Wm. F. Ogburn, the great sociologist of the University of Chicago, recently resigned his position with Nira because the Board supposed to protect consumers and headed by a social welfare daughter of old E.H. Harriman, the railroad buccaneer, refused to do just that thing!

In spite of all the talk, money is not being put into the workers’ pockets. Some men are taken back to work. Millions are still unemployed. In some cases wages are raised, but in no case to such an extent as to make any degree of prosperity possible. The government has laid off workers and cut wages. People are being taken off the relief rolls. There is all sorts of bootlegging by employers under the code, such as speed up, putting on “learners” instead of experienced workers so as to cut down the wage bill.

We repeat, then, that the real sore spot – purchasing power for the masses and protection against high prices – has not been covered by Roosevelt. Therefore we have as yet no assurance that a big smash is not soon coming.

Suppose We Have a Partial “Recovery”?

Suppose, however, that Nira meets with some success and we have a temporary and partial “recovery.” It will still remain true that no fundamental evil of the capitalist system has been cured, and that inadequate living standards, slow misery for millions, eventually another depression, perhaps a great war driving millions to slaughter, are our lot.

Why are we so sure of that? Let us put it this way. Roosevelt is trying to save and reform the capitalist system, that is, to keep up profits and at the same time give the masses high enough wages to buy all that they produce. It would be a clever trick, as the boys says [sic!], if it would work. If wages go up enough for farmers and workers so that they can really buy the flood of goods our farms and factories turn out. then profits must go down. If they don’t, then you again have money accumulating in the pockets of those who can’t spend, the same vicious circle. If, however, profits go down, the value of investments goes down, prices on the stock exchange go down, the value of government securities.

From the standpoint of the workers, if they knew how to take advantage of such a situation, that would be fine. It would mean that the system which piles up a huge burden of debt in the form of stocks, bonds, securities, mortgages, etc., on which interest must be paid would collapse. The masses would go free.

This public and private indebtedness which is of the essence of the profit system amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars. That means that workers and farmers have to devote hours and hours of work to earning the wherewithal to pay the interest and dividends on these debts before they can work for themselves. They are literally debt and wage slaves.

Nothing Fundamental Being Done

Roosevelt is not overthrowing this burden of debt. The farm legislation is intended to keep mortgages good for the mortgage-holders. The railroad legislation is to save the railroad investments, and so on down the line. When Roosevelt issues bonds for public works to put men to work, these men must pay the interest on those bonds eventually. It is a new trap, like installment-buying, mortgaging the future income of the worker.

Because the Roosevelt administration is not taking the load of debt off the worker’s back and knows that in the long run war will have to be resorted to. to save the system, you have the spectacle of a supposedly liberal administration like his launching the biggest naval building program in the history of the nation!

Suppose you were sick and the one thing that could save you was e major operation by a skilled surgeon. Suppose that operation would certainly add years to your life. Suppose, then, that you called in your doctor and he gave you a shot of some stimulant which made you feel like a new man, and you walked out on the street only to collapse and fall dead. Or suppose the doctor went a little further, put ice on the festering appendix instead of taking it out. and enabled you to live on in periodic misery for a few more years. What would yon say of such doctors? The first would he a criminal quack The second would be well-intentioned but unequal to the real job Roosevelt is one or the other

There is more need than over of organization by all the workers on both the economic and the political field. If we organize now and act swiftly, with courage and Intelligence, we can use the resources of the country to give every family shortly an income of 125,000 per year instead of this picayune twelve dollars a week minimum and this crazy business of getting abundance by plowing under cotton, wheat and corn and killing little pigs, which Roosevelt and his brain trust are perpetrating.

We could have a real American revolution. Instead of the mock. “Just as good” substitute which the professors are trying to sell us. We could run the country, instead of the Wall Street bankers and industrialists who are still the real power, who still ride on our backs.

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