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   Vol. 69/No. 23           June 13, 2005  

There Is No Peace: 60 Years Since End of World War II   

How bosses’ war profiteering
cost GIs’ lives in World War II
(feature article)
Reprinted below are excerpts from an article on war profiteering during World War II, titled “Wartime Crimes of Big Business,” which appeared in the December 1943 issue of Fourth International, a predecessor of the Marxist magazine New International. We are publishing this article as part of the column that appears regularly this year—the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II—to tell the truth about the second worldwide interimperialist slaughter. Copyright © New International. Reprinted by permission.

Big Business spouts patriotic speeches about “the boys in the foxholes” every time the workers ask for a wage increase to meet the rising cost of living. But Big Business patriotism is only a hypocritical cloak for self-interest. Profits always come first with the capitalists—even during a war which they want to win. To get profits and more profits they do not even hesitate to endanger the lives of the men in the armed forces of this country and its allies. Here is the proof:

On Jan. 17, 1943—more than a year after Pearl Harbor—the S.S. Schenectady snapped in half and sank off the West Coast, only a few hours after it had been delivered to the Maritime Commission. The American Bureau of Shipping reported the sinking was due to the steel plate on the ship which was “brittle” and “more like cast iron than steel.” The U.S. Senate’s Truman Investigating Committee took over the case and at a hearing before this body in Washington on March 23, 1943, the truth came out: The defective steel had been supplied by the Carnegie-Illinois Corporation, subsidiary of the giant United States Steel Corporation, whose officials had willfully and consciously delivered faulty material to the Navy, Maritime Commission and Lend-Lease administration and had falsified the steel test records to cover up their tracks.

Testimony before the Truman Committee showed that the faking of tests had covered at least 28,000 tons of substandard plate; that minor officials and employees who had complained to their superiors about the faking of tests had had their “ears pinned back”; that high corporation officials “instead of cooperating (with the Truman Committee)… attempted to delay and obstruct the investigation.” U.S. Steel officials naturally “deplored” the situation, describing it as “so unnecessary” and tried to put the blame on “a few individuals” with good intentions who had grown “lax.” This alibi, however, was decisively rejected by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh in May, which refused to indict four individual employees offered as scapegoats and indicted the Carnegie-Illinois Corporation itself….

[There was also] the case of the Wright Aeronautical Corporation, subsidiary of the huge Curtiss-Wright Corporation, holder of the second largest war contracts in the country. Wright’s Lockland, Ohio, plant (financed by the government)—was accused by the Truman Committee in July 1943 of falsifying tests on airplane engines, destroying records, forging inspection reports, changing tolerances allowed on parts, skipping inspection operations, etc. Inspectors who complained were intimidated or transferred. These activities were aided, abetted and covered up by Army inspectors and important Army officials influenced by the corporation. The result, according to the committee’s report, was:

Engines were built and sold to the government which were leaking gasoline…. Unsafe material has been discovered in completed engines ready for delivery. The company’s own reports from its field representatives indicate that these parts had failed in a substantial number of cases. A substantial number of airplanes using this engine have had crashes in which engine failures were involved…. More than 25% of the engines built at the Plant have consistently failed in one or more major parts during a three-hour test run. Spare parts were shipped without proper inspection….

Accused of exaggerating the gravity of conditions at the Lockland plant, Truman retorted: “The facts are that they were turning out phony engines and I have no doubt a lot of kids in training planes have been killed as a result. The Committee was conservative in its report, in order to prevent too much alarm over the situation.”

A number of other and smaller companies were accused of the same crime during 1943: the Bohn Aluminum and Brass Corporation of Detroit, charged with fraud for willfully violating specifications for engine castings used in Rolls Royce airplanes; the Sandusky Foundry and Machinery Company of Sandusky, O., whose officials pleaded guilty to faking tests on propellor sleeves used on Navy vessels; the National Bronze and Aluminum Company of Cleveland, convicted for selling the government defective sand and aluminum mold castings which are used in combat planes; the Antonelli Fireworks Company of Spencerport, N.Y., indicted for deliberately selling the Army faulty hand grenades and incendiary bombs; the Collyer Insulated Wire Company of Rhode Island, indicted for conspiring to avoid government inspection and deliver defective wire and cable.  
Biddle’s admissions
Nor does this exhaust the list. In a speech in Chicago on Aug. 23, 1943, Attorney General Biddle reported that Big Business frauds in this war are “much bigger than they were in 1917 or 1918”; he declared that 123 federal indictments had already been filed, with 1,279 investigations pending. Biddle did not indicate how many of these indictments and investigations involve fraud endangering the lives of servicemen but there can be no doubt that a substantial number do….

The explanation for the policies and activities of the monopolies and corporations is always to be found in the profit motive. No employer keeps his factory running unless there is profit to be made from it. This is as true in wartime as in peacetime, with only one difference: in wartime there is usually more profit to be made and the capitalists, maddened by greed, sweep aside all restraints and obstacles in the way of ever greater profits. Rare indeed is the case of an employer who has said: “I have got enough.” The tendency of the ruling class is always to go after more and more. Billions are being made on war contracts, but even the most powerful corporations do not disdain to pick up a few millions extra by manufacturing substandard products and then palming off the defective material as the article for which they are being paid such generous prices.  
Critical shortages
There are shortages of aluminum, binoculars, critical chemicals, magnesium, tetracene, dyestuffs, tungsten, carbide, etc., all important materials in wartime. The reason? Because Standard Oil, du Pont, General Electric, ALCOA, General Motors and the other big corporations forged cartels with their fellow monopolists in Germany, Britain, France, Japan, etc. for the purpose of restricting production, maintaining monopoly and raising prices. More lives have been lost in this war because of these cartel deals than because of the sale of defective material.

Other shortages affecting the war program can be traced directly to the fact that the big corporations have hogged the great majority of the government’s war contracts. As Assistant Attorney General Tom C. Clark has reported:

“At the start of the war program in this country 175,000 companies provided 70% of the nation’s manufacturing output, while today, two and a half years later, the ratio has been reversed to the point where 100 corporations hold 70% of the war and essential civilian contracts. This group, he declared, has obtained the bulk of the fourteen billion dollars worth of new plants built at government expense.” (New York Times, April 23, 1943.)….

Other wartime blessings for which the workers can thank Big Business are: the speedup, which resulted in 1942 in a greater number of casualties on the industrial front than on the military front; an artificially created manpower shortage—due to labor hoarding by the manufacturers and big agricultural interests, discrimination against Negro and women workers, managerial inefficiency—which is used to justify freezing the workers to low-paid jobs; an aggravation of the housing crisis in many war production centers resulting in increased sickness, disease, child delinquency and disruption of family life; food shortages designed to force price rises.  
Government cooperation
Even after Pearl Harbor the government was still trying to get industry to discontinue illegal practices hampering war production. Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold complained in his report to Congress on Jan. 3, 1942, about:

“…the attitude of powerful private groups dominating basic industries who have feared to expand their production because expansion would endanger their future control of industry…. There is not an organized basic industry in the United States which has not been restricting production by some device or other in order to avoid what they call the ‘ruinous overproduction after the war.’”

The government pleaded with the corporations to cooperate, to discontinue their cartel deals and violations of the anti-trust laws, and to let other companies use their patents for war production; the corporations flatly refused. Early in 1942 the government—in order to prevent the complete breakdown of the war program, that is, in order to protect the interests of the capitalist class as a whole—was finally compelled to institute a series of suits against a number of monopolies, making public the damning facts about which the government had been aware for many years.

The corporations had been caught red-handed. But the government, once having gotten their promise to permit the use of the patents during the war, dropped the charges and let these corporations escape virtually unpunished. Standard Oil, for example, whose restriction of synthetic rubber production had blocked the whole war production program, was permitted to plead nolo contendere and was given a $50,000 fine (which amounts to about the average profit this corporation makes every hour). The other corporations got away even more easily. To make the government’s attitude unmistakably clear, Arnold, Biddle, Secretary of War Stimson and Secretary of the Navy Knox wrote Roosevelt on March 20, 1942, in the midst of the public revelations about the cartels, and said that “some of the pending court investigations, suits and prosecutions under the anti-trust statutes by the Department of Justice, if continued, will interfere with the production of war materials…. In those cases we believe that continuing such prosecutions at this time will be contrary to the national interest and security.” This was some more “blackmail,” a threat to hold up on production if the prosecutions were continued, with government officials covering up for the corporations. Roosevelt answered: “I approve the procedure outlined in your memorandum to me….”  
Labor must act
The trade union and liberal press have protested against most of the Big Business crimes and have often criticized government officials for their behavior. But they continue to regard each of the crimes and whitewash moves as a unique incident, isolated from all the others and caused by bungling or some other bad quality of individual capitalists and government officials. That is one reason why the union leaders and liberals are unable to work out a program to effectively combat such crimes.

The workers who are seriously concerned about the present situation must take another approach. They must learn to look at all the crimes of capitalism together as a whole and to understand that each individual “scandal” is part of and flows from the biggest scandal of all—Big Business domination not only of the war program but of the whole national economy. They must recognize that Big Business could not get away with its crimes were it not for the collusion or at best indifference of the government officials. Only on this basis can they determine on effective countermeasures….

To get to the root of the problem, the Socialist Workers Party advocates that the ownership and control of industry be taken out of the hands of the capitalists. This course of action will be regarded by Big Business as far more drastic than any bill providing the death penalty and it will be fought by them with every weapon they have, but it is the only practical answer to capitalist mismanagement of industry.

At its June 1943 meeting in Toronto, the international executive board of the United Auto Workers, CIO, drew up a series of proposals designed to ensure full employment in the post-war period. One of these called for government ownership after the war of “monopolistic industries and of industries strategically essential to the national safety.”

This is a sound idea, and offers the key to the solution not only of unemployment, as nationalized production has shown in the Soviet Union, but also of the criminal practices of the capitalist class. Let industry be owned by the government and operated under the control of committees democratically elected by the workers. The profit motive would be removed, and with it would be removed the incentive to produce and sell dangerously defective products. The costs of production would be lowered and the workers’ committees, having no interest in exacting profits from the blood of the soldiers, would guarantee production and honest testing in the interests of the masses of the people….

The question of who is to own and operate industry is a political problem. To make the change that is necessary the workers will have to conduct a political struggle against Big Business. The employers already have their political organizations, the Republican and Democratic Parties, and to fight them successfully the workers will have to create a political organization of their own. The capitalist parties are last-ditch supporters of the system of private property and private profit which enables the employers to do what they wish with the means of production. The workers need a party which will be just as firmly devoted to the program of government ownership and workers’ control of industry. That means an independent labor party, based on the trade unions and running its own labor candidates in elections.

The present government has already shown where it stands on this question. The billions of dollars worth of factories, properties and equipment now owned by the government are going to be turned over at bargain prices after the war to the employers, who will use them to swell their profits and to further strengthen their monopoly control. That is why the workers and their party must fight for the creation of a new kind of government, one which will aid, not oppose the struggle for government ownership and workers’ control, a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government.

The wartime production crimes have torn away the mask from the rapaciously greedy countenance of Big Business. Now the working people must tear out of the capitalists’ hands the power to continue their criminal activities.
Related articles:
Florida garment workers denounce war profiteering
Point Blank bosses sold faulty body armor to Marines
Oppose faulty gear for GIs
Previous article in the series:
Yalta pact aimed at crushing anticapitalist revolts
Imperialists used 1945 accord with Stalin to maintain domination of W. Europe  
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