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Roosevelt and Wall St.

The Background and Future of a Third-Term President;
Bosses Use F.D.R. to Lure Workers to War and Reaction

(9 November 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 45, 9 November 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


The pay-off on a tremendous historical shell-game is now due. On November 5, the American working masses were lined up behind two empty walnut shells, labelled “Roosevelt” and “Willkie.” They were wagering not merely their rights and security, but their very lives.

They were certain losers whatever their choice. For the only winner in the “old army game” is the manipulator. The manipulator of the 1940 Presidential election was Big Business. The little pea, that is, the welfare of the American masses, was hidden under neither shell. It was “palmed” in the dextrous hand of Wall Street.

Every racket employs a “come-on.” During the past eight years, the workers have been placing their bets on Roosevelt. They were permitted to “win” a few small bets, – just enough to give them confidence in the game. Again they have staked everything on Roosevelt, – maybe this time they will gain some real winnings! But, by a sleight of hand called “war,” Wall Street is ready now for a grand “kill.”

“America’s Sixty Families” are already counting the take. The Magazine of Wall Street, September 7, informed its silk-hat subscribers:

“Tentative Washington guesses put it (immediate PEACETIME ‘national defense’ appropriations) at probably not less than $10 billion more for the Navy and $10 billion more for the Army – an aggregate ‘capital investment’ of some $35 billion.”

THIRTY-FIVE BILLION DOLLARS – just as a starter! For the “Defense of Democracy”? No! As a CAPITAL INVESTMENT!

But that’s just pin money to Wall Street. Barron’s, one of the Wall Street financial weeklies, August 26, declared:

“However, by close examination of the testimony before Congressional committees and other expert opinion it becomes evident that the total sum involved takes oh staggering proportions. Certainly it is much greater” than tiny that has been publicised so far. The minimum is perhaps 50 BILLION DOLLARS and the maximum may be as much as 75 billion dollars ... These ’figures, large as they are, ARE BASED ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT THE UNITED STATES WILL NOT ENTER THE PRESENT CONFLICT. (Our emphasis)”

A FIFTY BILLION DOLLAR MINIMUM TAKE FOR WALL STREET – IF THE U.S. DOES NOT GO TO WAR! That’s what every worker voted for when he voted for Roosevelt. 50 billion dollars – that’s not hay! And it’s coming out of the flesh and bones of the American workers. That’s the Old Army Game of 1940!

Wall Street’s Second Choice

If Roosevelt is really the tool of Wall St., why did so many of the bankers and industrialists and the big business press endorse Willkie?

The answer to that question is, first, that they regarded Willkie as a more tractable tool, not a different but a better instrument for their designs than Roosevelt.

But even more impelling than this reason, is the completely unvarnished reactionary character of the ruling class. Through the just completed election campaign the ruling class has served final warning on the workers that it is through with the nonsense of “reformers.” Its program, henceforth, is merciless warfare on labor. In “attacking” Roosevelt, Wall Street did not attack him as its tool, but as the symbol of “liberalism” which he represents to so many misguided workers.

For, in luring an unwilling people into war, Roosevelt has proved supreme in the art of deception. His liberal camouflage often appeared so realistic that it frightened many capitalists. They have always opposed yielding to labor even “in principle.” They have always preferred to address labor in a more direct tongue, the conciliatory end of a black-jack.

Although led by Roosevelt to the “kill,” Wall Street regards him with distaste. In the past, Roosevelt cleverly held the financial pack in leash whenever its impatience threatened to frighten off the labor quarry. Wall Street is used to free-ranging, and dislikes even the mildest restraints. Although the leash is now off, Big Business dislikes even the fact that it still dangles from Roosevelt’s hand. If only the leash could be destroyed altogether!

That is why Wendell Willkie was Wall Street’s first choice for War President. Willkie is one of the pack itself, who has tugged hardest at the leash. He would have been certain, had he been elected, to have led the assault on labor with undisguised ferocity.

Yes, it is true that the majority of Wall Street magnates preferred Willkie. But they are not greatly concerned about the re-election of Roosevelt. They understand fully well that Roosevelt has no choice but to represent them. And, after all, the bankers and industrial bosses can’t feel too harshly toward Roosevelt when profits for the first quarter of 1940, prior to the “shoot-the-works” war spending, were already 67 percent higher than the same quarter of 1939: in fact, higher than in 1928, a peak prosperity year.

“My Friends ....”

Roosevelt’s ability to make the masses think they are getting something has been his greatest contribution to the preservation of capitalism. For his primary objective ever since first taking office has been to save the American capitalist system. He attempted to do this by reconciling the workers to the interests of the bosses.

From the start, Roosevelt yielded to labor only “in principle,” not fact. His first act as President revealed this. He consolidated the leading finance capitalists through the bank moratorium, while wiping out most of the small independent banks and millions of small depositors. Next, through the National Industrial Recovery Act, he further entrenched industrial monopoly. Under this Act, the big industrialists exterminated a large section of competing small businesses by monopoly price-fixing and similar measures.

Finally, he attempted to stabilize the light, or consumers goods industries by “pump-priming.” Through farm loans, unemployed relief, etc., he tried to start the flow of profits once more. These funds were intended primarily as indirect hand-outs to the chain and department stores, and the textile, furniture, tobacco, chemical, radio, auto and other manufacturers. The meagre benefits from these measures gleaned by the workers were included in Administration costs under the headings. “Riot Insurance” and “Smart Politics.”

Labor “Appeasement”

While stabilizing capitalism, Roosevelt was compelled to “appease” labor. He affirmed verbally certain rights of labor, embodied in Section 7A of the NIRA and, later, in the Wagner Act. These measures merely endorsed an established right – so long as labor could enforce it by organized action – the right to collective bargaining by organizations of labor’s own choosing.

This grant in “principle” was gained in fact solely by labor itself. From 1933–1939 there were 17,862 strikes, involving 8,261,000 workers. (Labor Information Bulletins, U.S. Dept. of Labor) These strikes occurred in every single industry without exception, and were fought with a fury unequalled in American labor history.

The fury was required. During Roosevelt’s administration the National Guard, financed and equipped with federal funds and trained by Regular Army officers, has played its most active strikebreaking role. From 1933-35 alone, out of 42,737 National Guards who were called to active duty, 32,645 or 77 percent were used, to break strikes. In the one year, 1935, the National Guard was employed in 73 strikes in 20 states, a majority of them under “New Deal” state administrations. During the National Textile Strike, Roosevelt himself threatened to send Regular Army troops against the Rhode Island strikers.

In 1934, Roosevelt already clearly demonstrated that his labor “platform” was jerry-built. He permitted General Hugh S. Johnson, then his NRA administrator, to publicly denounce the textile strikers and the San Francisco general strike. New Dealer Paul V. McNutt, as Governor of Indiana, terrorized the Terre Haute strikers for two months with martial law. Roosevelt later rewarded him with the post of Social Security Administrator. F.D.R.’s New Deal governor in Ohio, Martin L. Davey, smashed, the Little Steel strike in 1937 with armed troops. The New Deal Kelly-Nash machine in Chicago murdered ten unarmed workers in the Memorial Day Massacre in 1937.

These are but a few of the endless facts which give irrefutable proof that Roosevelt “gave” labor just what labor has been able to take – without any boss politician’s blessing!

(To Be Continued)

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