Friday, March 14, 2014

Joseph Hansen on Wall Street's war moves: Reading notes

In the seven weeks starting 24 August 1953, Socialist Workers Party leader Joseph Hansen wrote the series "Is World War III Inevitable?"

Hansen's use of the Marxist method to analyze the class basis of Wall Street's war drive - it's advances, retreats, and vicissitudes - is instructive.

I do not mean to imply that today's context is identicle to 1953.  Hansen's method, however, is indispensible.

My notes/excerpts are below.


14 March 2014




1.  The reasons for this are clear enough. The Wall Street masters of destiny would prefer to win their desperate gamble. Consequently, they estimate world political forces, calculate the probable consequences of policies, take into account new developments—many of them surprising and unforeseen to them—and have shown that they are capable of making considerable tactical adjustments.


2.  They continue to view war as inevitable, of course; and this determines their strategic course. But they also consider that the initiative and therefore the timing rests in their hands. This, they feel, gives them a measure of control. Through that control they hope to lower the risks and strengthen the possibilities of coming out on top.


3.  ....this flexibility amounts to hesitation, indecisiveness and even procrastination. Tactical adaptation at a certain point affects the strategic aim, can even undermine it and prove to be the Achilles heel of the war plotters. With each postponement the question arises—has not the strategic moment been missed? Have not the odds risen so high that war means a more swift and certain doom than temporization?


4.  The question at once arises: How much time is granted the working class to perform this task? The answer is: Not long if we look at the rising curve that marks the tempo of war preparations and compare it with the tempo between World War I and World War II, but longer than might have been expected if we look at Wall Street’s blueprint. The fact is that America’s Big Business has shoved the projected date ahead several times.


5. ....they were fully aware that their economy at a certain stage requires war if it is to avert depression....


6.  Within a few short months after Marshall had bared the Pentagon’s plans [Oct. 20, 1945], American troops around the entire globe began demanding immediate return home. Their demands were not uncertain in tone....  The soldiers sent a flood of protests home at being held overseas. They protested intervening in the affairs of other countries. They collected money for advertisements stating their position in U.S. papers. They even elected joint committees in many areas to fight for a “Get-Us-Home” program. They staged militant demonstrations. And here in the United States their folks backed them up wholeheartedly.... American people were busy dismantling the forces needed to carry on a new war. The soldiers needed to “come to close grips with the enemy” were shaking themselves free from Wall Street’s own grip.


7.  ....Even before the troops began their stormy demonstrations around the world, the factory workers had launched a symmetrical movement for higher wages. The auto workers hit the bricks, then the steel workers, and along with them countless others. January 1946 saw the opening of the most powerful strike wave in the country’s history.



8.  ....1946 strike wave and the “Get-Us-Home” troop movement, have haunted the capitalist war-mongers ever since.....  And the labor movement, 17,000,000 strong and ready for battle at any major threat to living standards, hangs over their calculations like a nightmare.


9.  The capitalist class in our time.... is capable of leading only a certain kind of people.... They are not able to lead masses accustomed to think for themselves, concerned about preserving their liberties and willing to fight for their rights. In fact, to the capitalists, masses of that cast of mind are not only thoroughly undependable in wars of conquest but a deadly danger....


10.  ....(1) Try to convince the American people that the Soviet Union is an aggressor power like Nazi Germany, plotting to attack America; (2) Try to stamp out freedom of thought and hamstring the unions.....

(1) Try to convince the American people that the Soviet Union is an aggressor power like Nazi Germany, plotting to attack America; (2) Try to stamp out freedom of thought and hamstring the unions.


Anti-union legislation culminated in the Taft-Hartley Law and an epidemic of similar slave-labor measures on the statute books of the states. The drive against freedom of thought began with Truman’s “loyalty” decrees and rapidly mushroomed into the worst witch-hunt America has ever seen. The end result was the ominous rise of McCarthyism.


11. ....The crimes of Stalinism, accommodatingly covered up during the war years, were hustled into the limelight. The press, the radio, the pulpit and later TV began an even more sustained campaign than that waged against Nazi Germany. The moralists joined in the attack—many of them with what turned out to be the best credentials, former sycophancy in the camp of Stalinism.


....Provocative actions were organized, such as maneuvers by the armed forces in Antarctic and Arctic under conditions obviously simulating those in the Soviet Union in winter. A whole series of diplomatic incidents were touched off, all designed to display the Soviet Union as an “aggressor” power, although it is not, since its economic foundations do not require it to follow the policy of imperialist expansion at all.


12.  ....[The Korean War] which appeared to offer such a favorable opening for carrying out the sinister plans of American Big Business, turned into its opposite.


The fighting capacity of the North Koreans shocked America’s rulers. And when the Chinese Armies took up the challenge that Gen. MacArthur flung at the Yalu river, it quickly became apparent that Wall Street had taken on far more than it bargained for. Truman’s “police action” turned into a war of completely unexpected scope. In another article we will discuss the forces American imperialism ran into; right now we are interested in what happened to the effort to use Korea to psychologize the American people about fighting abroad.


Korea turned out to be the most unpopular war in American history. This is admitted by every serious observer. It became a key issue in American politics. It helped bring a landslide defeat to the Democratic Party.


13.  ....popular opposition to the war in Korea is a tremendous new fact in American politics. The Pentagon and its spokesmen indicate their awareness of it by their openly expressed fears about a new “Get-Us-Home” movement among the American troops.


....grass-roots bitterness over this “police action” is a new complication that America’s capitalist rulers dare not overlook in deciding whether to start World War III soon or to postpone it.

14.  Wall Street’s major line of world strategy since the close of World War II has been the preparation for World War III....

....the major diplomatic problem facing the capitalist class in the U.S. is to arm, inspire, and lead this vast coalition into war on the Soviet Union, China, and the colonial countries that are now seeking freedom from imperialist

....the standing rule of capitalist diplomacy to try to appear to be seeking peace when you are preparing for war.


15.  ....the weight of the American people as a force in world politics.


In the last century, Karl Marx made the rather startling statement that the sparsely settled United States was actually more populous than teeming India. He explained this assertion, which seems to fly in the face of the facts, in the following way: Populations, viewed from the standpoint of economics, must be weighted by relative development of their industries. That this is a correct way of viewing populations is dramatically shown when countries go to war. If political factors do not intervene, the war boils down to a conflict between their relative industrial powers. Thus, in Marx’s view, the high level of American transportation, agricultural and industrial production even in the last century gave the U.S. a greater population than India.


16.  ....provocative diplomacy abroad is designed to furnish one incident after another to inflame public opinion in America. The high-handed attitude toward the allies is likewise designed for its effect on the public at home. The witch hunt with its spectacular raids, trials and spy scares is part of the pattern.


17. ....Dealing with the mightiest power on earth—the American people—Wall Street understands very well that to simply launch World War III without adequate preparation could prove the shortest way to suicide. Precisely because of the power involved, it must move cautiously, test the ground again and again; not only advance when possible, but be prepared to make detours and even retreats if the advance proves to have been too precipitate. Dangerous as retreats may be, Wall Street feels it cannot afford to lose this game and a costly retreat is better than a suicidal advance.


18. ....if you look at the internal divisions, the separation of the country into opposing classes, then you can see that the colossal power of the U.S. also measures the power of the American working class and therefore the degree of its political explosiveness. The American working class, viewed politically, is like an H-Bomb lodged in the economic base that gives Wall Street its imposing world strength.


19.  ....counter-revolutionary war constantly risks touching off a force far more potent than military conflict. This force is revolutionary politics on a mass scale. One successful socialist revolution in any major industrial country could cancel out completely Wall Street’s industrial supremacy, could in fact, through a political chain reaction, turn it against Wall Street by bringing into play the revolutionary political power of the American workers.


20.  ....It is noteworthy that in the June uprising in East Germany, the Western powers refrained from giving any serious aid to the insurgents. By their course they demonstrated their capacity to give tangible support to the Kremlin against a common foe.


By way of reciprocity, in the August general strike in France, the Stalinists refrained from guiding the most promising movement since 1936 toward government power, thereby demonstrating their capacity to give tangible support to Wall Street against the class they both fear.


The lesson to the working class of these “peace’ maneuvers can be summed up briefly: No confidence whatsoever in the intentions of either Wall Street or the Kremlin. Even if a “peace” pact were signed, it could prove only shortlived. At most it would turn out to be not much more than the lull before the storm of World War III. To save civilization from the threat of atomic war, it is necessary to take the revolutionary road to socialism.


Hansen's full series of articles can be read here:









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