Part II: Words, Words, Words.
After Macdonald discusses more fully the steps leading to entry of America into the Europe of WWI, including the floating of “vast loans in the country, for the Allies, and that our industrial boom was based on the huge Allied purchases of goods and munitions,” he returns to the present approach of another war in 1939:
“Today, as in 1917, the intellectuals have one set of war aims, and the Administration they support, another. The intellectuals would rescue Western Civilisation from Fascism and restore it to the ways of progress and democracy. Their government however as a serious capitalist enterprise, of necessity takes a less romantic view of the affair. Its aims are the destruction of a threatening competitor in world markets and the defence of a status quo, both international and domestic, which is greatly to the advantage of the ruling bourgeoisie. The intellectuals in a word, want to crush fascism, the State Department thinks rather of Germany.
“The intellectuals are very articulate about their war aims, which are idealistic and inspiring. When the State Department, for that very reason, publicly echoes these aims, the intellectuals conclude that they are leading the world towards the light… For if the intellectuals provide their government with fine sentiments, the process also works the other way around. One might think that a group whose chief occupation is writing would offer resistance to the wiles of language. It has not been so. As the savage hopefully calls the dreaded volcano, ‘the blessed source of all good things,’ so the intellectual bathes in the power of the verbal formulae to sweeten the ghastliest realities. … Now once more, we have in the White House a statesman who knows well how to use the rhetoric of heart-warming abstractions and moral earnestness which attracts the intellectuals. The President speaks their language.
The great objection to the program of the intellectuals is not so much that it will get us into a war — the bourgeoise will decide that question for themselves… but that it is diverting us from the main task: to work with the masses for socialism; which alone can save our civilization. And so in all the current discussions nothing is ever said about the revolutionary alternative to capitalism, and its product, war. Social revolution is no longer thought about. The Lady has Vanished.
“It is hard to realise how our thinking has changed. How distant they seem, those early years of the depression, when the bourgeoisie was demoralised and discredited, when the Soviet Union and socialism were in the forefront of every intellectual’s consciousness? There has been a change in the weather. The success of fascist foreign policy, the unsuspected depths of decay and corruption in the Soviet Union, the failure of the New Deal’s reformist program and its replacement with business ‘appeasement’ and armaments, and above all, the right-wing reaction that is still gaining ground throughout the nation — all this has struck dismay into the hearts of the intellectuals. In the hot blast of such world events, the tender shoots of socialism have withered. As those who suffer some great psychic shock sometimes develop amnesia, so the intellectuals, retreating to the solid base of bourgeois democracy, have forgotten the very idea of socialism.
Macdonald’s essay now asks what would the defense of the Soviet Union mean in the event of this new World War?
“As a means of lining up the left intelligentsia, the Communist Party has manipulated the left with its usual skill. But are we to defend the present regime in the Soviet Union? Or the October Revolution, to the extent that it is still symbolised by the Soviet Union? It seems to me that the corrupt dictatorship that has arisen under Stalin is proof the correctness of Lenin and Trotsky that the holy spread of the October Revolution to more advanced countries could preserve its gains inside Russia….The problem of social revolution is an international one.
‘The major force that is pulling the intellectuals into the orbit of war, however, is not their sympathy for the Soviet Union, but their fear and hatred of fascism. For the next war, as for the last, Lenin’s: the only possible slogan for all who pretend to be o the side of the masses: “Turn the imperialist war into civil war!” This war is a purely defensive action. Far from being a crusade for a new world order, the coming war is at best an effort to turn the clock back and restore that fine old world order which the last war was fought to abolish.
Next Week: Final part of Dwight Macdonald’s discussion of the approach to a new war.