The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

1917:
The U.S. Enters WWI

Jul 31, 2017

While Trump was in France this month, he celebrated the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I, in April of 1917. He could have been celebrating Woodrow Wilson’s trickery. Wilson brought the population into war in the interests of the big companies, after being re-elected just a few months earlier by promising to fight against the big monopolies and to oppose U.S. entry into the world war that had already been raging for two and some half years.

Presenting the U.S. entry into World War I as the move by the whole people of the country to defend “freedom” is a bald-faced lie. In fact, there was ferocious opposition to U.S. participation. The big majority of the U.S. population did not want to sacrifice their lives in the butchery that was bloodying Europe and a whole part of the world, for the interests of some big corporations. In fact, in order to get re-elected in 1916, Wilson had proclaimed that thanks to him, America had stayed out of the European conflict.

But just a few months later the same Wilson conspired to provoke the U.S. entry into the war. U.S. imperialism, having already taken Central and South America under its wing, had grand planetary ambitions to increase the power of its giant companies. It wanted to be in on the division of spoils that would come with the end of the war. It also wanted to speed up that end because the war had begun to provoke revolutionary movements throughout Europe.

The big U.S. bourgeoisie had made huge profits selling to all the warring countries. But it needed more, and this was why Wilson wanted this declaration of war. The most ferocious opposition to his policies came from the working class, launched by the two most famous socialist leaders of the country: Eugene Debs and Bill Haywood. Debs had been a socialist candidate for the presidency, and Haywood was a leader of the revolutionary union called the IWW. The two had led many memorable working class struggles.

Unlike the immense majority of socialist and working class leaders in Europe, these two fighters never capitulated. Eugene Debs declared: “I do not know of any foreign buccaneers that could come nearer skinning American workers to the bone than is now being done by the Rockefellers and their pirate pals. The workers have no country to fight for. It belongs to the capitalists and plutocrats.” Debs and Haywood paid a heavy price for their dedication to revolutionary socialist ideas. Each one was condemned to years in prison at the behest of that “grand democrat” Wilson.

The population paid a heavy price too: 120,000 deaths to defend the interests of the bourgeoisie. At the end of the war, after having gotten a Nobel Peace Prize, Wilson declared war against the “reds.” He outlawed the young Communist Party, and during his presidency Attorney General Palmer led a witch hunt for anyone who was communist, anarchist, socialist, or just in opposition.

If there is anything the working class can take from this bloody history, it is that in this time, in the United States, the workers had leaders who stayed true to the interests of their class.