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A. Roland

Lessons of the Last War

(28 February 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 9, 28 February 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

American isolationism was defeated and permanently discarded not because of Roosevelt and his policies, nor because the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Isolationism was completely unreal in a world whose economy had been so bound together that United States capitalism was deeply affected by whatever happened in the most remote corners of the earth.

The present war – everybody recognize the fact – is the continuation of the first world war. The basic causes must therefore be the same, the attempt at redivision of the world. The United States, with its highly productive technology, and conditioned by the world economic crisis, could not possibly stay out of a war whose outcome was bound to influence, its entire future.

George Soule and his fellow New Republicans cannot stomach the unvarnished truth. They seize on more idealist grounds to motivate their support of the war. In his article, Lessons of Last Time, in the Feb. 2 New Republic, Soule says: “The issues of the present war are far simpler and clearer than those of the last one.”

These issues, he says, have to do with fascist brutality which threatens to destroy civilization. Soule is forced to admit that this was not seen as the menace it was from the very start. Soule skirts carefully around this historic truth. He does not wish to be led to the heart of the entire matter.

Fascist brutality was applauded and aided by the capitalists of all lands as the savior of civilization against Bolshevism. It was not Stalin, but Churchill who hailed “that great man, Mussolini,” and who spoke with respect of Hitler.

So long as fascist brutality was confined to the punishment of the working class, monopoly capitalism and all its henchmen in other countries made no complaints. Only when “fascist brutality” reached beyond its own borders to threaten the interests of the others, did the “democracies” discover its menace to civilization. Soule notwithstanding, we may cross off fascist brutality as the cause of the war.

The Deeper Causes

Simple and clear as the causes of the present war would seem to be, Soule is obviously not satisfied with his own explanation. He seeks deeper causes. He is forced to trace Nazism back to the frustration of Germany resulting from the peace imposed by the victors of the first world war. This is a partial explanation, a half-truth. Soule wishes to evade the question hidden in any discussion of social problems, whether the discussion concerns the war, fascism or democracy.

Was Nazism inevitable in Germany? An honest discussion of that question would show where one stands on the main issue of our epoch. The Weimar Republic was doomed by the forces playing within German society. Those class forces (how Soule skates around ideas to evade the class issue!) pitted the workers against the capitalists in the struggle for power. Let us ask a simple question. Since Soule hates fascist brutality, would he now say that looking back he would have preferred the workers to have carried through the proletarian revolution?

The capitalists of France answered this question for themselves in the present war. They preferred to capitulate to the brutal fascists than to have the workers of France come to power. Are the English and American capitalists different from the French? We venture to say that if they were faced with this same choice, that between defeat by Hitler and proletarian revolution, they would act no differently.

Let us pursue this analysis one step further. Soule says correctly that “Nazism is a social disease of gargantuan magnitude which ran its course in Germany with peculiar virulence but can infect others as well.” This is the disease of capitalism in decay. The health of the social system can be restored only by the advance of civilization to the higher stage of socialism. But rather than permit that, the capitalist, class prefers to see society infected by fascism. They prefer this even with the knowledge (and not all were so blind as Soule would have them appear) that fascism would bring on a new world war.

Fascism could not have come to power in Germany without the help of the capitalists both inside and outside of Germany. The French and English bosses thought they might be able to come to such terms with Hitler as to direct, his forces against Soviet Russia. They hoped that this would so weaken both countries that the democracies would then reap all the benefit. The second world war was thus inherent in the very rise of fascism. But it developed in somewhat different fashion than was hoped for by the capitalists.

Future Society

Soule states what he thinks ought to be the aims of the present war and the construction of a “New Order” of society after the war. The complete bankruptcy of his thinking is revealed here. His new order turns out to be no different from the old order. He takes for granted in his analysis that the democracies will win the war. This will mean victory for what he terms the “somewhat more gentle form of economic imperialism” of the United States and England.

What then? Why, then the soldiers who have done the fighting will never permit the same old world order to continue. They will see to it that power will never again be igiven to any “new Baldwins, Chamberlains, Daladiers, Hardings or Hoovers.” This means precisely nothing. Are Churchill and Roosevelt fundamentally different from those named? If so, in what way? Do not expect any answer from a man who is writing to order.

And how shall we characterize this man who has the effrontery to tell us that the second world war is already a revolution, that, it is being fought on two fronts! “First is the military fight against the Axis. Second is the construction of a democratic, rationally managed, fully productive world order, the military struggle cannot result in victory and without which the fruits of victory cannot be realized.” Not one single word to show this balderdash means!

Planned Capitalism

The liberals have always been the proponents of the idea that -capitalism can be planned. The visual evidence of the real world seems not to discourage them in any way. Soule tells us that after this war the raw materials of world economy must never again be exploited by capitalist imperialism of the old type. International trade and finance must be reorganized. Instead of imperialism “we must” attempt to create and direct a world economy, not merely for the benefit of a few in the older economic centers, but for the benefit of all. The backward corners of the earth must be industrially developed by a pooling of capital resources, if necessary even without profit. This means a far greater regulation by government of domestic economy. The capitalists will have to “reconcile” themselves to these new arrangements.

It is easy to dismiss all of this by calling it nonsensical and Utopian. But its function is not Utopian. It tries desperately to convince the inexperienced and uninitiated that Anglo-American capitalism is different from German-Italian capitalism, that Anglo-American capitalism is more genial and kindly and offers the possibility of a solution of the world’s ills. This prepares the way for the acceptance of worldwide policing by the democracies “for the benefit of all.”

Who is to inaugurate the “revolutionary” changes in capitalism that Soule feels to be necessary? Roosevelt and Churchill? Not a word is said on this vital score. Precisely here one can see the importance of Soule’s conscious omission of any class analysis. Only a socialist society could eliminate all forms of exploitation, could cooperate on a world scale for the real benefit of all peoples. Capitalist society is utterly incapable of accomplishing such ends. But socialism can be brought about only by the workers of all lands. If they do not usher in the socialist society, then the second world war can only «bring after it a new armed truce resulting after an appropriate period of gestation in a third world war.

Liberalism, Snare For Young Intellectuals

The role played by the Soules needs constantly to be pointed out to young intellectuals. The kind of writing indulged in ‘by these henchmen of capitalism is intended to snare young intellectuals into the capitalist fold. The use of apparently radical phraseology and “large” thoughts covers up the real core of things. Every great situation is rationalized one way or another to secure support for monopoly capitalism. The admission of social evils and the need for really radical change are just so much bait to throw young minds off the track. Nothing could illustrate this better than Soule’s long-winded cover for imperialism.

The solution for imperialist war can only be an international solution. Soule says of himself that he does “not think that the United States is just another Europe, or that all human problems can be solved by merging them in an undifferentiated internationalism.” He clarifies this, to show that he accepts and wishes to preserve American Economic predominance.

History presents us with many nations and countries at various uneven levels of development. Soule thinks that internationalism would mean the sinking of all lands to the lowest levels. But the international working class movement would raise the level of all peoples to that of the most advanced countries. And the effect of the second world war will be to lower culture and civilization everywhere. In fact, if capitalism continues to predominate after the war, there is every danger that civilization will sink into the abyss. The planning of worldwide production will become less and less possible in an impoverished world.

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