Don't Echo Truman - Speak Up on War!
(Article from Labor Action's annual May special issue, 1951)
The failure of the American labor movement to develop a bold and independent foreign pol icy of its own has been costly. Its cost is to be seen in the bulging mail sacks that heaped support for Taft, Hoover and their colleagues during the discussion on military policy for Europe. It is to be seen in the frenzied cheering crowds that stamp over each other for a chance to greet the great man from Japan, MacArthur, the would-be leader of the crusade into death in the depths of Asia.
This hysteria will die down, to be sure; sobering months will intervene. But who can ignore the fact that world events are stimulating an ever-growing dissatisfaction among the American people and that every discussion on foreign policy has revealed a swing away from the so-called Fair Deal Truman Democrats and a shift toward the only powerful political force that seems to offer a change?
Ironically, the Republicans who profit from increasing discontent are dangerous hypocrites who would push us more abruptly into atomic war and who would leave the United States to carry on world war against Russia more isolated than ever before from friends and allies. But-
All over the United States, people seek a new road in foreign affairs. They want some way to defend democ racy, to beat back Stalinism and at the same time avoid terrible and un necessary shedding of blood and de struction of civilization. They fear that the Korean war is a continuing catas trophe. They begin to feel that the loss of life is useless and needless; and they begin to understand that a new policy must come. The tragedy is that these most natural and sensible feelings are twisted and distorted into sympathy for the reprehensible adventuristic line of Taft-MacArthur. And why? The people see no other way; they hear no other critical voices.
The labor movement has nothing to offer. It has no foreign policy of its own. It simply repeats in duller words and flatter intonation the apologetics of Truman.
Every once in a rare while, a union leader will startle himself by carefully phrasing a feeble complaint against some aspect of, Truman's foreign policy. A studious scholar can detect the note: but the ordinary citizen is left in the dark; for labor's objections are mildly put and humbly presented.
It is politely suggested that perhaps the State De partment should cease bolstering dictator Franco against the Spanish labor movement. Some unions hint that they find it distasteful when U.S. troops preserve the power of a reactionary landlord's man like Syngman Rhee in Korea. Others report with distinct annoyance that Marshall Plan funds in Europe go to enrich the rich; that the principal beneficiaries are not the workers of Europe but their employers.
Leaving America Leaderless
All this represents the first weak glimmerings of un derstanding of the true role of a capitalist United States in world affairs. But union leaders get no further. They continue to trust and hope that a gentlemanly word ut tered in the right bureaus will give a more liberal and democratic tinge to American foreign policy. And they continue to hope in vain.
Year after year, they make the same respectful pro tests and always with no results. But they learn very little from their disappointing experiences. They only skirt the fringes with their criticisms. On every decisive question of foreign affairs, they tag along docilely with Truman.
The labor movement does not fight aggressively for its own foreign policies. And this is the tragedy that leaves the American people leaderless in the greatest crisis of their international history.
Most humiliating was the abject obsequiousness of the powerful labor movement toward every nod from Truman during the Korean crisis.
Send troops to Korea, ordered Truman when the fighting first began. Thus he pushed the nation into war without even consulting Congress. A few mutterings of discontent are heard in the country. Perhaps Truman's actions are unconstitutional. . . . But no hesitation from the labor unions. Without a second's thought they piled onto the bandwagon. Truman's voice becomes the nation's call, the dictate of every patriot. Send troops to Korea, the labor leaders obligingly repeat.
Some months pass. The Chinese Stalinists have in tervened and the U. S. faces an unprecedented crisis. The American people are plunged into debate: Shall we keep fighting a useless war? Shall we withdraw our troops and bring the boys back home? These are the ques tions that begin to disturb millions.
But the unions have nothing to say, no doubting, no thinking, no searching for a new policy. Truman says keep the troops in Korea. The labor leaders echo, yes, it is the duty of every patriot to keep the troops in Korea.
Other months intervene. The war drags on futilely without prospect of conclusion. The same irresponsible petty political hacks, particularly the Republicans, who a few days before were demanding the withdrawal of all U. S. troops from Korea and the end of the war are now insisting upon extending the war to all China and demanding the mobilization of new thousands of troops for war in Asia. Another furious national debate on for eign policy begins.
Again, nothing is heard from labor, until. . . Truman says: No extension of the war in Asia, no more masses of additional troops. The labor leaders now realize: Yes, it is the duty of every patriot to be against the extension of war in Asia and to resist the pouring in of additional thousands of troops.
The President Hath Spoken...
To send troops, to keep them in Korea, not to send any more - labor rallies to each slogan in turn, not on the basis of its own class interests, not on the basis of a sober estimate of international realities, but simply because the words of the administration is its highest law.
CIO President Philip Murray congratulated Truman for the removal of MacArthur. But until Truman acted, no CIO official presumed to criticize the mighty general. Quite the contrary.
When MacArthur led his troops across the 38th parallel and to the Manchurian border for the first time, a storm of protest broke out all over the world. One hundred British labor members of Parliament signed a petition denouncing this action and attacking the contem plated bombing of China. MacArthur was accused by world opinion of exceeding his authority. But not by U. S. labor!
Not for a moment. Truman, at that time, confirmed MacArthur's actions. Said the president: The general is merely carrying out loyally, and in the strictest legal ity the decisions of the United Nations. Of course, concluded our labor leaders, the general . . ., etc., and no loyal patriot will criticize him.
But now Truman has spoken and the CIO quickly discovers what became so obvious only after the fact: "Americans rightly have an instinctive resistance to any effort by the military to gain control of the policy-making powers of government."
Truman has cut down labor's old hero and now sets up a new one. All in the day's work, the CIO begins to worship the new idol.
The president turned MacArthur's command over to Gen. Matthew W. Ridgway, a first-class fighting man. After our crushing defeat in Korea last year, it was Gen. Ridgway who regrouped our forces and fought his way back to the 38th parallel.
Fortunate is the great genius whose prowess was over looked at the time but who now takes his rightful place. But what is this great man doing at the 38th parallel? What can democracy gain from this unending war? These questions are not raised by the labor movement . . . they are too important for union leaders to tackle.
And thus the labor movement abandons the leadership of the American people and surrenders the conduct of foreign affairs to the capitalist class.
The labor movement does fight inside the nation in the interests of the American people. It battles for price control. It strikes for higher living standards. It resists discrimination. It fights for pensions, for insurance. Its frequent militancy at home makes a sharp contrast with its submissiveness on foreign policy.
But even after fighting aggressively for its own policies at home, the labor movement cuts short its strug gle and elects the political representatives of its class enemy. It persists in supporting capitalist politicians who enact a program hostile to labor and counter to its expressed program.
Demand Real Freedom!
U. S. labor does not fight consistently even for itself. A labor movement which does not carry out its duty to itself can hardly be expected to fulfill its responsibilities to the peoples of the world. A working class which con signs its own political fate to capitalist politicians at home can hardly understand why it is necessary to resist the domination of the world by these same politicians.
American labor will take the first step in defense of democracy throughout the world when it begins to fight at home aggressively and without compromise in its own interests; that is, when it forms its own independent la bor party. .
But the converse is likewise true. American labor will not begin an all-out fight in its own behalf until it begins a real fight on behalf of the people of the world. It already understands that world labor must be defended from reactionary Stalinism. It must be ready also to de fend world democracy against American imperialism.
Labor will be asked to sacrifice to prepare for a Third World War. It will be pressed to work long and tedious hours; it will be compelled to pay higher and higher taxes. It will be asked to pour out not only its labor and money but its blood. What will be its reply?
If the American working class is to defend itself, its bitterly won standards of living and its cherished union rights, it will have to begin to understand the nature of modern war preparations in capitalist America. Let it in sist upon a democratic course in foreign affairs!
Let it demand real freedom and democracy for all people. Let it fight hard against supporting dictators and totalitarians. And it will discover that the very capitalist politicians that undercut the demands of labor at home slash away at democracy throughout the world.
It will discover that just as labor must take over leadership of the country in the struggle for a real Fair Deal at home it must take over leadership of the nation's foreign policy and lead the struggle for demo racy on a world scale.