Veterans Day is upon us, the annual zenith of the U.S. ruling class promotion of soldier-worship as a state religion. Beneath this ideological cover, which claims to go “beyond politics”, the official veneration of soldiers can disappear when real class interests are on the line. We reprint below an article from the Militant, newspaper of the Communist League of America (Opposition), reporting on the suppression of the 1932 Bonus March by President Herbert Hoover.
In the midst of the Great Depression 17,000 World War I veterans and 26,000 supporters and family members had gathered on Washington, D.C. demanding redemption of bonus certificates they were issued as compensation for their services in the Great War. They were swiftly repressed by force of 800 police, six tanks and a thousand infantry and cavalry commanded by General Douglas MacArthur and Major George S. Patton, a stark reminder of how imperialism’s bloody tactics wielded abroad are also wielded against the working class at home. Credit to the Marxists Internet Archive for transcription.
By order of the arch-reactionary, Hoover, amid clouds of tear gas, “gently prodded by bayonets”, struck by the flats of sabers, the veterans encamped in Washington have been driven from their billets by infantry, cavalry, tanks and machine gun detachments. Tear gas bombs were hurled into the midst of women and children standing on the sidewalks, booing the misguided soldier’s. It was a mopping-up sortie reminiscent of world war days, say the capitalist reporters.
This incident, foreshadowing what capitalism holds in store for the future revolts of its wage slaves, followed a skirmish earlier in the day in which the enraged veterans drove off the police and Treasury agents who attempted to evict them from their makeshift homes. In this affray a veteran lost his life, a number of others were injured, and several policemen received as well as they gave.
For hundreds of thousands of workers all over the country the true nature of American democracy has been revealed. Before their very eyes the views of the Communists have been proved. Capitalism rules by force. It spares nobody.
The veterans have reaped the only reward their capitalist masters will give them. This is what they get for their defense of “innocent, bleeding Belgium.” This is their reward for making the “world safe for democracy”. The gas bombs they once hurled at equally misled German workers have now been hurled at them by “their own countrymen”. The bayonets which they once used to rip and slash the bodies of “enemy” soldiers have been applied to their own skins by men wearing the same uniforms they wore in the Argonne and Chateau-Thierry. What a bitter education these workers are getting under the driving force of the class struggle!
The Veterans’ Progress
How far they have come on the road to class consciousness can be seen from the fact that these are the men whom the capitalist class had organized into the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars as instruments to smash strikes and working class demonstrations. Now, having learned by their own experience what capitalism is, they will no longer allow themselves to be used for this kind of capitalist dirty work.
But they still have a long way to reach the ranks of the class conscious vanguard. They must learn that the fight for the bonus must be made a part of the class fight for relief from the crisis at the expense of the capitalist class and its government; that their fight must be made a part of a united working class fight embracing with employed and unemployed workers.
It is the task of the Communists to teach them. They must advance the correct slogans, and work in the ranks of the veterans to raise them to class consciousness. The Communists must support the fight for the bonus – as a special measure of relief for a special section of the working class. In this connection it must be noted that the Daily Worker [Communist Party USA publication – Ed.] has made a profound mistake in relegating the fight for unemployment insurance and relief to a position second to the bonus fight. If the fight for the bonus is to yield results in relief and class consciousness the correct relation between it and the broader fight for unemployment insurance must be observed.
The Communists now have a splendid opportunity to take over the leadership of the bonus fight. Tn the crucial moment when the veterans needed leadership and direction their commander, Waters, turned out to be, as the Communists foretold, a coward and faker. The tide of battle swept him aside. The men are now leaderless. The prestige of the Workers’ Ex-Servicemen’s League will rise if it steps into the breach and leads. It has in this situation an opportunity to smash through the isolation into which its incorrect tactics led it. It can demonstrate that it is capable under Communist guidance, of leading not only isolated demonstrations of the vanguard, but the masses of the vets.
The Communists must rally the vets, draw for them the lessons of their fight for the bonus and the most recent actions of the Hoover starvation government, and raise the fight for the bonus to the higher’ plane of the general class fight for relief. If they will do this they will advance the vets toward class consciousness and raise the prestige of Communism in the eyes of the whole working class.