The Holocaust Historiography Project

The Pro-Red Orchestra In the USA, 1941

The origins of 'second front' talk in the West, and the impact of Soviet aid production on American labor and business/ businessmen

By this time, however, those perspiring for Stalin’s safety were not entirely satisfied with the prospect of celestial intervention in his behalf, and were suggesting that such aid might be more promptly forthcoming if preceded by human action toward the same objective. A clamor had already risen, mainly in Britain, for a “second front” to be established somewhere in assistance to the floundering Red Army, which, though hailed by sustained and glittering eloquence in the English-speaking world, was still on the run. There apparently was a solid contingent in England still, who, despite the record of failing to supply Poland with any help at all prior to or during invasion by the Germans in September 1939, thought substantial military support could be furnished to Stalin. Those who disparaged this position in England in the late fall of 1941 were smeared as “Munich men,” frightened by “fear of a Russian victory,” by far the most contemptible attitude anyone might have in the view of the new legions of Communism’s adulators, high and low alike, in the Motherland of Parliaments. One of them was not the new Supply Minister in the Churchill regime, Beaverbrook, who had impressed even Time with his “spectacular verbal leap into bed with Russia,” and who was reported to be the principal voice clamoring for a British expeditionary force to be sent somehow to Stalin’s assistance, “in the Ukraine or the Donetz Basin."(152) Neither Beaverbrook nor Time nor anyone else suggested how this force was to be translated to such distant places, but nothing was said about consulting with David Lawrence on the matter. Some heavenly assistance might have been contracted for, perhaps.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere of geniality toward Stalin and the Reds continued to prevail, and the slow, piecemeal gains were more substantial than the impulsive and unrealizable projects which were hatched in more fevered minds. Diplomatically the story was one of uninterrupted success. In Washington, the 24th anniversary of the assumption of the Leninists to power in Russia was celebrated at a reception at the Soviet embassy that was hailed as one of the largest diplomatic functions ever held in the city,(153) to be followed shortly by the return of Stalin’s “greatest diplomat,” Maxim Litvinov, once more as the Ambassador of the Soviet Union to the U.S.A. His projected return to “the scene of his greatest diplomatic triumph,” the negotiation of U.S. recognition of the Soviet in 1933, was looked upon with much satisfaction, while Time, for reasons ungiven, chose to call attention to “his name at birth,” allegedly Max Wallach. (154)

Still other moves were considerably cloaked, especially the State Department’s pro-Soviet pressure on Finland, still at war with Stalin in the late fall of 1941. Once hailed as “gallant little Finland,” this unfortunate land was now the recipient of special malice for persisting in its hostility to the Russians. With Secretary of State Hull publicly testifying to his faith in the Soviet’s commitment to “its full part in standing side by side with all liberty-loving people against the common menace,"(155) it seemed to be only good faith to work with them in crushing an active military enemy. The argument seemed to be that with the joint commitment to defeat Hitler, there should not be a limitation upon indirect Soviet ties, including mutual action against Finland, since its continued belligerence only worked in behalf of German welfare.(156)

On the domestic material side a mixture of tendencies, developments, both slow and rapid, and an accretion of significant facts, reflected related circumstances. But the overall “defense” program masked specific aspects. One of the best sources in which to examine the week-by-week development in the U.S. of an American-style system rivaling those of the enemy and designed to combat them was Lawrence’s U.S. News. The disciplining and planning of industry and the increased state regulation of the economic system geared almost exclusively to the success of the national state in warfare are patently observable, and these did not take long to become institutionalized.

On July 4, 1941, Lawrence complained editorially, “The United States is on the threshold of national socialism,” adding that “In- roads of national socialism are unchecked by either Republicans or Democrats who have hitherto defended our system of private initiative."(157) Three weeks later he had already seen the light and changed his tune. “Every issue is a Defense issue,” he now announced, adding, “Every Defense item is actually a peacetime item, temporarily put to Defense use."(158) Peripherally he noted that nationwide, politicians were grumbling that their home areas were not getting enough “defense patronage.” Lawrence soon had joined those who used “defense” to dissolve the difference between war and peace and within weeks of his remonstrance against these developments, had emerged as a suave advisor to such sectors of the business world which had not yet caught on to the consequences of what was taking place. Coaching businessmen to be alert and cash in on the vast conversion of industry to war production, he uttered as an aside, “Government isn’t a respecter of individual interests, isn’t too much concerned about individual hardships so long as its own purpose is served."(159) This stood in strange contrast to his whooping en thusiasm for the political lace trimming and fancy filigree decorating the famed bogus “Atlantic Charter,” one of the very few at the time of its alleged promulgation to take it seriously. But Lawrence was not misleading the business community when he described what was going on in the late months of 1941. Arthur E. Burns, economic advisor to the Works Progress Administration, estimated on October 31, 1941, that 700,000 people working in the non-defense sector had lost their jobs in the months of August and September alone.(160) On the other hand, 75% of the total membership in the CIO electrical workers union in mid-September were engaged in defense work. One was able to understand without wonder why its leader, youthful James B. Carey, was, as Time described him, “an earnest supporter of the Roosevelt foreign policy and closely identified with the defense program."(161) U.S. defense spending in October, 1941 was already $50,000,000 a day, and $5,000,000,000 in various products and arms had already been sent to Britain, though there was no published breakdown of what part of this may have been transferred to the Soviet Union.(162) And all was catapulting at a pace relished by employers, marred only by a suggestion that same month by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., that profits should be limited to 6 per cent, a profit ceiling which was supposed to prevail in Hitler Germany as well, though the latter had nothing to do with the proposal by the former.(163)

It was obvious that profit margins had not the slightest relationship to such figures, though the public at large rarely saw anything substantial in the fact department relating to the subject. One such occasion was the issuance of a preliminary report by the House of Representatives Naval Affairs Committee early in December, a few days before the Pearl Harbor attack, that some U.S. ship- building companies were making 150% profits on naval building defense contracts. A followup report by the Office of Price Ad- ministration of one unnamed defense industry indicated that 86 of the 88 companies in this venture were making 6% or better, that 44 of the 88 were averaging 42.6% profits and up, and one of the 88 was achieving a 112% profit margin.(164) Senator David I. Walsh, affronted by such disclosures, was quoted as predicting “an awful day of reckoning” “when the U.S. public got the figures” on the total situation, though in retrospect this might have been interpreted as an attempt at humor. There never was a “day of reckoning,” and the American public never “got the figures.”

The evolution of “aid” to Stalin had expanded the vision of some of the leaders of American defense industry, getting their first glimpses of the staggering possibilities which lay in expansion throughout the globe. Russia at the time of its revolution, 1917-1922, was a dream which had quickened even the World War I generation of businessmen, industrialists and financiers.(165) And there had always been the fantasies built around China’s “400 milllion customers,” as the title of Carl Crow’s book (1937) put it. The coming of a new war simply made it possible to erect even higher cloud castles upon the older ones. The spectacle which William Batt put together upon his return from the Soviet late in 1941 is in that class, Batt, president of the famous ball- bearing manufacturing concern, SKF, and recently appointed a director of the super-bureauracy created by Roosevelt to direct war production, the Office of Production Management (OPM), came back to America “as an outspoken advocate of the policy of bigger and better help for Russia,” a vibrant profile in U.S. News proclaimed on November 21. Batt went on to describe the complete reversal on his previous views about Soviet industry, and Russian ability to use machine tools. He confessed to be vastly impressed by the technical competence of Russian mechanics, “ingenious, intelligent, and technically trained,” a view which was contradicted by General John R. Deane, Roosevelt’s trouble- shooting liaison man in the Soviet later, during the war years, who in his book Strange Alliance described an entire tire factory shipped from the U.S.A. to the USSR which the Russians failed to put together though working on it the whole war. Batt passed encomiums to the Reds all down the line: the officers were “able, confident and brave,” and Stalin “intelligent and amazingly well informed” (fifteen years later Khrushchev and his colleagues berated Stalin as being personally responsible for the disasters of 1941-1942 through his abysmal personal ignorance). Batt concluded his amazing piece of special pleading by declaring that industrial management and organization seemed to be good, and that their inspection standards “compared favorably with our own.” All this was placed before the readership as the judgment of a nationally known industrialist, now a defense official.(166) Perhaps it was all a preliminary device to make palatable the issuance of Special Allocation Order No. 1 by the OPM a few days later, which instructed 35 U.S. machine tool plants to place Stalinist orders ahead of even American and British requests, on the order of $10-$15 million for the next calendar year.(167) The U.S. was still not a belligerent.

The aid program for Stalin had moved ahead on both ad- ministrative and practical levels. On the latter, Time pictured a formidable collection of U.S. manufactures intended for the USSR, unloaded at a Persian Gulf port, the photographer having made sure that the labels of the Ford and Youngstown Sheet and Tube companies were prominently displayed American free enterprise was now demonstrably at work making sure of the survival of Stalinist Communism.

On the former, a complication ensued which once more broke open the old religious sore. At the conclusion of the paper work which detailed the arrangements concerning the U.S. aid program, a Kremlin dinner was thrown to celebrate. An unnamed U.S. official involved in the labors was a guest at the feast and was quoted as describing Stalin as “a nice old gentleman.” But the explosion was created by Wallace Carroll, United Press correspondent in Moscow, who reported that Stalin proposed a toast to Roosevelt, which ended in the expression of the generalized entreaty, “May God help him in his task.” Stalin’s remarks were reported by Time to have been translated by the diplomat Oumansky, and certified to be correct.(169) Repercussions of this were muffled by the sensational Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii a few days later, preventing a repetition of the immense squabble precipitated by Roosevelt a few weeks earlier concerning the allegation of religious freedom in the USSR. But there were a few reverberations of this incident for some time thereafter, and incredulity was the principal reaction to this last effort at imputing godliness to Stalin prior to the formal belligerence of the U.S.

The Pearl Harbor disaster also diverted all but a few from another contemporary political event, the news that Willkie, famed corporation lawyer and 1940 presidential election Republican opponent of Roosevelt, had agreed to defend William Schneiderlnan, Russian-born secretary of the Communist Party in California, against a federal charge of having uttered a fraudulent oath of allegiance to the United States. Mentioned in Time in the issue which was dated the day after the Hawaii attack,(170) it caused a flush of pleasure in the New Masses of a day later, its lead editorial remarking, “The fact that a man of his [Willkie's] prestige and conservative outlook undertakes the defense of a leading Communist undoubtedly reflects the changed political climate in the country during the past few months."(171)

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