THE present war has been called not only a war but a revolution. If this were true, we should look for the revolutionary impetus to arise mainly from labor. Yet it is difficult to discern any such drive among the workers in any of the fighting nations. Of course, when the German armies have been defeated the populations of states subjected to Axis tyranny may be expected to overthrow Nazism, Fascism and their collaborators. In so far as Nazism and Fascism were violent revolts against twentieth century civilization this will be an anti-revolutionary movement. The peoples concerned may not want to restore everything just as it was: they will undoubtedly wish to resume their struggle for a world in which there will be a closer approach to security and abundance for all. But if they can adapt old institutions to that end, they will retain them. Once they get back their freedom they will want to go on from where they were, though perhaps in a different direction from that in which they have been led in recent years.

The labor movements of Europe have been crushed and scattered, so that it is difficult to know just what their programs are. To the extent that we have been able to keep in touch with the underground, however, it appears that they are far less concerned than before the war with the struggle against traditional domestic opponents except where these have aided the foreign conquerors. All elements from left to right seem to have united in France, for instance, to help throw out the Nazis. Their rallying point is not so much a new social order as the independence of their country; indeed, their devotion to national tradition is so fervent that it overshadows the customary prewar internationalism of labor, and may even become embarrassing in the task of world organization. A reversion to nationalism, not merely by the old European ruling classes but by labor itself, may be one of the immediate consequences of this war.

The influence of a victorious Soviet Union on the future of the workers, especially in Europe, will undoubtedly be great. One would have supposed that here one would find the chief source of revolutionary activity. Yet the Soviet Union seems to have become, in terms of its own culture, one of the most conservative forces in the world. Obviously it is concentrated on preserving and developing its own revolution of a quarter-century ago, and for this purpose has revived nationalist tradition and even is coöperating with the Russian Church. It must be free from the menace of foreign attack, and therefore wants Europe tranquil and stabilized rather than disturbed. Moreover, it must remain on terms of close coöperation with Britain and the United States, and to do this it must refrain from fomenting proletarian revolution anywhere.

The United States has received a startling proof of this tendency in the decision of the Communist Party in this country -- which was not affiliated with the Third International before that body was dissolved -- to end its organization as an independent political party and to support private enterprise. It will not even advocate nationalization of specific industries such as railroads or banks. However much one may suspect the intellectual and political integrity of the Communists, there can be no doubt that they fervently wish to follow the policy which they believe the Soviet Government has espoused.

They are not alone in this reversal. As Paul Wohl recently pointed out in the New York Herald Tribune, the French Communists, who had always opposed colonial imperialism, have declared for the preservation of the French colonial empire. A resolution which they have presented to the consultative assembly at Algiers proposes to "fuse the empire and France into a single economic unit." The Italian Communists, through their leader, Dr. Eugenio Reale, have refused to join the anti-monarchist movement sponsored by Adolfo Omodeo, of the University of Naples, and others of Count Sforza's Action Party. Similar conservative attitudes are observed among Communists in Jugoslavia, the Scandinavian countries, Latin America and Asia.

Mr. Churchill, though the ardent leader of resistance to the Axis challenge, is of course a conservative. Mr. Roosevelt is primarily a conservative too, strange as that statement may seem to his domestic political opponents. His rôle in this country has been essentially that of the more advanced Tories in Britain -- to give ground when popular pressure arises and to carry into effect the reforms which labor and agriculture demand, without thereby sacrificing the basic structure of our economic order. Chiang Kai-shek was, before this war, the hated enemy of the Chinese revolutionaries of the Left; he too, like Stalin, is now the conservator of a former revolution. Seen in the light of what these four are trying to do, this is an anti-revolutionary war and will not have a revolutionary outcome. Each of these leaders has, at least for the time being, the overwhelming support of labor in his own country.

II

British labor is, in politics, traditionally Socialist. Nobody expects, however, that it will be extreme in its demands, or that even if it should want sudden and sweeping changes it will be successful in getting them. Its leadership for many years has been roundly abused by the forces of the Left for lack of imagination and for its feeble opposition to the established régime; but there is little sign that it will either develop or support leaders of a more aggressive type. The economic structure of Britain has a curious way of becoming modified and adapted to new necessities while the strongest advocates of such modification suffer a series of almost uninterrupted political defeats. The Conservatives have held office in Britain for many years, with a few brief exceptions. Yet Britain is far in advance of the United States, as well as of most other countries, in such things as social legislation and public housing. It has even a sort of semi-socialization of industry, arrived at by schemes which merge private ownership with governmental control, or vice versa. Whatever Britain is, it is almost never doctrinaire, and one has to be a doctrinaire to be a successful revolutionist. The same process of important but almost imperceptible change will probably continue in Britain after the war, with the tacit consent of British labor. And Britain's enormous influence on international affairs will be exerted by the same means and in the same spirit.

American labor is, of course, the least revolutionary movement of workers in any nation. It has never organized a national political party of importance, and when it has taken part in politics it has done so with a program which not only was non-revolutionary but also was non-Socialist. It concentrates traditionally on building up its own power as a collective-bargaining agency and on political and social reforms of immediate benefit. Though the split which led to the organization of the C.I.O. brought some changes in its internal structure and produced a far more inclusive membership, the newer industrial unions do not differ greatly from the older ones in political theory or action.

On the national scene, American labor is, on the whole, just as intent on preserving private enterprise as the owners and managers of industry themselves. As long as it is guaranteed the right to deal collectively with private employers, and can exercise that right, it looks with a good deal of suspicion on further governmental intervention. It cherishes freedom of action; it has found in many instances that government as employer is more difficult to influence than private corporations, because government contains that mysterious essence called "sovereignty" and can give orders to the police. It finds that even a liberal like Mayor La Guardia of New York, whom it has strongly supported, declares when he is involved in a dispute with the unions on city transit lines that workers have no right to strike against the Government. It is uneasy over the war restraints now imposed by governmental agencies, as well as over the scant representation afforded it in these agencies by an administration which has enjoyed its almost undivided loyalty at the polls. It is far from eager to have government play a rôle in its own jurisdictional disputes, or to exercise over its accounting or other internal affairs the kind of supervision which is being extended over large areas of business. And many of its leaders believe that one kind of intervention leads to the other.

Labor knows how to preserve private enterprise far better than does an organization like the National Association of Manufacturers. It continually presses for those modifications which can make private enterprise tolerable to workers who might otherwise wish to abolish it. Shorter working hours, better working conditions, better pay, a sense of freedom and independence through the backing of a powerful union in the adjustment of countless grievances in the shop, and finally, in advanced cases, a sense of partnership in the enterprise through a sharing of responsibility for production -- these are real and immediate values in the life of the worker. They forestall any keen desire for fundamental alteration in the system. Social security and labor legislation of other kinds help patch up the system around the edges, and do so to some extent even in the periods when it tends to fail as a whole in supplying employment. The labor movement is largely responsible for the introduction of all these saving instrumentalities and reforms, often against the bitter opposition of the loudest champions of private enterprise.

One would scarcely expect to find a movement so intent upon domestic reforms taking an interest in any international revolutionary movement. As a matter of fact, the American unions have always been distinctly cool toward close affiliations with foreign labor movements which have had a more radical outlook. Even during the period of greatest crisis and danger in this war, an effort made by the British unions to create a joint affiliation with American and Russian labor did not meet with approval from A.F.L. officials in the United States. In this case it was not the Communist philosophy of the Soviet unionists which constituted the chief expressed objection, but the fact that, according to the understanding of the Americans, unions in Russia are not free to engage in unhampered collective bargaining or to strike, but are in some sense an agency of the state. They consider the Russian state an undemocratic one. It makes no difference that this state itself is supposed to be an instrument of the industrial workers and has greatly improved their condition. The Americans like to take their freedom directly as unionists, and not as wards of a nominally proletarian dictatorship.

Sir Walter Citrine, who made the proposal for affiliation with the Russians on behalf of the British trade unions, did not include the C.I.O. in the invitation because of a fear that the A.F.L. would not coöperate with its great rival. If he had done so, he probably would have found a warmer reception, since the C.I.O. has gone on record in favor of an international trade union body, including representatives of the unions of all the United Nations. This is not to say that the C.I.O. unions are any less ardent supporters of free unionism than those in the A.F.L.; but their leaders have no tradition of aloofness to defend, and practise a somewhat less stiff trade-union etiquette in deciding with whom they will talk and vote.

The lack of international organization has not prevented certain sections of the labor movement, especially those with a background of European immigration or a substantial percentage of Jewish membership, from maintaining contact with the underground movements in the enemy and occupied countries, and extending help in their struggle against Nazi tyranny. Nor has it prevented a number of the more forward-looking leaders from making closer contacts with Latin American labor and exercising whatever influence they could in helping its efforts to improve its conditions. These efforts, incidentally, have found powerful aid in official circles in Washington.

The net conservative effect of the activities of labor movements like those in Britain and America has long been noted by scientific students of society as well as by revolutionary theorists themselves. The reasons for it are obvious. In so far as labor organizations establish themselves either as collective bargaining agencies or as office-holding political parties, they become, especially within democratic states, institutions with vested interests. In order to flourish they have had to make their gains within the limitations which the going social order imposes; not only their political techniques but their very basis would disappear with the collapse of that order. The usual union leader becomes a skilled politician, devoted to keeping power, protecting vested rights, and advancing a little today and tomorrow -- enough to prove his usefulness to his constituents, but not enough to upset the environment in which he operates. These facts are somewhat obscured by the revolutionary language inherited from the early days of struggle, when the hands of all other elements in society were turned against the pioneers of labor organization, and grandiose dreams took the place of tangible progress. But the relationship of the veteran labor leader of today to the revolutionary beginnings of the labor movement is much like that of the rector of a prosperous church to the early Christians -- he often uses the old language, but it takes on quite a different meaning in a less obviously hostile environment.

III

The real hope of the advocate of revolution lies not in anything that established labor movements may do, but in the chance -- which he usually believes is an ultimate certainty -- that the environment in which they operate will collapse of its own inefficiency. Of course this hope is identical with the fear of intelligent conservatives, who do not believe that the existing order is in any great danger of destruction by its professed enemies, but are concerned lest it destroy itself through failure to adjust to new conditions.

It is from a desire to make the present system operate satisfactorily that American labor is likely to influence the peace. Its leaders have been overwhelmed with the day-to-day problems brought by the organization of the war economy, and they have not yet had time to develop more than very general programs for the future. In tentative program making, as is usual, the pioneers have been those not tied to institutions, whether governmental or private. Those in the midst of affairs have little time for speculation, and are inhibited on every side by considerations of prudence. For the early stages of social invention, free minds are required rather than institutionalized ones. Nevertheless, the more influential labor leaders, like the more influential employers and governmental personnel, are conscious that in order to avoid the danger of cataclysmic changes in the future -- which history has shown them may adopt ugly and cruel as well as benevolent forms -- a pretty rapid jump in social evolution must be induced.

First of all, they are so impressed by the dangers emerging in the war economy that, like the peoples of all anti-Axis countries, they want reliable guarantees against its indefinite perpetuation, as would happen in a condition of isolated nationalism. Even more immediately, they are concerned about the terrific jolt to employment which is likely to occur with the demobilization of industry, the accompanying cessation of government orders and the return of millions of job-seekers from the armed forces. After that crisis -- if it is successfully passed -- they fear the possible results of a postwar inflation and depression like that which followed the last war.

Labor on the whole will vigorously support the kind of world organization foreshadowed in the Declaration of Moscow, though in this country it had little to do with the preliminary thinking which led up to this achievement. Its main energy, however, in so far as it has any time to divert attention from daily chores, is now devoted to the domestic problems of readjustment and the maintenance of a healthy, expanding economy after victory. Secondarily, it will pay attention to international economic institutions. In Britain and on the Continent labor is naturally more aware of the interdependence of national and international economic affairs than it is on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it is fortunate that attention to the domestic problem is paramount, since full employment in the great industrial nations is the essential basis of a healthy economy throughout the world.

Both the A.F.L. and the C.I.O. have postwar planning committees. The former is under the chairmanship of Matthew Woll, an extreme right-winger in labor politics, though it also includes such relatively progressive individuals as David Dubinsky, of the Ladies' Garment Workers, and Dr. John H. Childs, of Columbia University. The C.I.O. committee is headed by John Brophy, for many years a liberal opponent of John L. Lewis in the United Mine Workers. Neither committee has more than begun its work, but both submitted interim reports to their respective conventions last autumn. The A.F.L. in Boston and the C.I.O. in Philadelphia adopted several resolutions on this subject.

There is substantial agreement in their recommendations so far. Two subjects have occupied most of their attention -- extension of social security and the somewhat technical matter of reconversion of industry to civilian production. Both organizations support the Wagner-Murray-Dingell Bill, which changes the present social security law in numerous ways, principally by extending its coverage, increasing the benefits, federalizing the unemployment compensation system, and adding health and disability insurance. This is the present American counterpart of the Beveridge Plan, which of course is on the agenda of British labor. It is, however, considerably less sweeping, and differs in important details; for instance, it continues our practice of varying the benefits according to the previous income of the recipient, rather than attempting to establish a national minimum.

Both labor organizations favor the establishment of an agency composed of representatives of management, labor, agriculture and government to supervise reconversion and the transition to a peacetime economy. The C.I.O. favors job seniority rights for discharged servicemen over war workers, dismissal wages for war workers, and the continuance of pay for demobilized soldiers until they can find jobs, together with educational opportunities. Both favor a strengthened federal employment service. Both stress the fundamental importance of maintaining a full-employment economy and abolishing poverty, not mainly through relief of the unfortunate but through large and expanding production. The statement in the annual report of President Philip Murray of the C.I.O. is typical: "The United Nations in war are conquering tyranny abroad. The United States in peace must conquer unemployment and poverty at home. . . . The nation has shown remarkable prowess in producing a Niagara of materials for war. This demonstrates that it has the knowledge, the skills, the machines and the resources to produce a 'gold standard of living' for every American."

An interesting lead has been given by the Labor-Management Planning Committee of the electrical construction industry, which represents equally the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. A preliminary report surveying the future possibilities and requirements of the industry contains the following statement, which though not particularly original is arresting when coming from such a source: "The difference which lies between the old and the new economy is principally a question of emphasis. In the old economy the emphasis was on production; in the new economy the emphasis is on consumption and distribution. In the old economy the goal is directed toward profits and in the new economy the goal is directed toward full employment. . . . The flow of money is the key to the new economy."

Both British and American labor are converted to the necessity of nationally planned production and a steady flow of purchasing power in the hands of consumers. The concept of laissez-faire is dead in Britain, as in most other countries, even among the leaders of private industry and finance. British labor is inclined to recommend public enterprise as an essential of planning, while other elements in the community would use it only in special instances, and elsewhere would substitute self-government in industry with a liberal admixture of governmental control.

In America, labor conceives of planning, not as a solely governmental process, though it admits the necessity of governmental participation, but as a democratic activity in which labor, agriculture and business are to play equal parts. In one notable pronouncement, issued jointly by the business, labor and agricultural committees of the National Planning Association, it is asserted that the major reliance for employment must be private enterprise, but the corpus of private enterprise is conceived as embracing not merely employers, but labor and agriculture as well. The rôle of government is regarded not primarily as that of employer, but rather as that of regulator in the traditional sense; and one of its duties is declared to be that of creating a favorable environment through a correct fiscal policy.

What fiscal policy is to be favored is a matter that is far from settled in the minds either of labor or of the employers who are willing to give thought to it. Few representatives of either understand in detail the theoretical reasoning behind the Keynes doctrine of over-saving and under-investment. One offshoot of this doctrine -- that taxes should be so arranged as to provide an incentive to venture capital -- will make a strong appeal to business and may be accepted also by labor. The usual remedy to which the theory leads is that investment by government shall make up for any deficiency of private investment. This of course is not popular with business, but is likely to appeal strongly to labor, especially in times of unemployment.

So far, international economic projects such as those for exchange stabilization, an international Reconstruction Finance Corporation or investment bank, or trade controls in the interest of equitable access to raw materials, have been discussed in such technical terms and by such limited groups of American citizens that they have made little impression on most leaders of either business or labor. However, the progressive forces in both seem to be convinced of the desirability of an expanding foreign trade, of higher standards of living and better nutrition especially in the more backward regions, and of the foreign investment and industrialization which can lay the basis for these advances. It is easy to demonstrate -- far easier than it was in the days of preponderant economic nationalism -- that these things can be achieved without detriment to our own standards, and indeed are necessary to maintaining them.

American labor has from the start actively sponsored and participated in the International Labor Organization of the League of Nations. It can be counted on to favor the strengthening of this type of activity under any scheme for world-wide industrialization, not merely from humanitarian but also from selfish motives, since it will not want to be subjected, on world markets, to competition from the exploitation of "cheap foreign labor." In recent years it has not been much attracted by the argument that high protective tariffs can solve this difficulty.

IV

Social forces are pushing the world rapidly forward -- labor, employers and politicians together. Reluctant as they may be to move, they cannot present a solid front against change because some among them can see that adaptation is necessary if a cataclysm is to be avoided. If labor is conservative, it is so in the sense of conserving as much liberty as possible by an adaptive process; it is not reactionary. In the past its function has been to persuade employers and the state to accept modifications necessary to popular welfare, including collective bargaining and labor legislation. So, in the future, it is likely to be in the vanguard of those who press for new changes on a broader scale.

In this labor will not be alone. History shows, however, that large elements among the chief beneficiaries of private enterprise are likely to fight bitterly against the very measures which are necessary for their own survival. The test will be whether they can be either convinced or out-voted before it is too late. If this war produces revolution, it will not be because labor now has revolutionary aims, but because under our social order -- which, after all, is more flexible than the dogmatists of either Left or Right would have us believe -- it is proved impossible to achieve the concrete objectives which the peoples of most nations now regard as essential.

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  • GEORGE SOULE, Editor, the New Republic, since 1924; author of "A Planned Society," "The Strength of Nations" and other works
  • More By George Soule