Manipulation of Men for a War Economy

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Manipulation of Men for a War Economy

by Jeff Schevitz

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 3, No. 3, July 1971, p. 5 – 8

Evolution of a War Economy

World War II demonstrated to the class that rules America1 the advantages of a corporate-controlled military economy based on costly research, development and hardware. Whereas the piddling expenditures of the New Deal failed even to produce economic stability, the massive war spending generated a profit surge beyond the wildest dreams of the pre-War capitalist2. At the same time old-fashioned colonialism had gone into decline and Great Britain was battered beyond repair by colonial resistance, the War and international competition. The need for a replacement to defend Western Imperialism was eventually satisfied by the highly profitable American war machine.

Actually, Capital was slow to grasp the possibilities inherent in the military; the benefits of a fully coordinated economy dominated by the monopolies had already been demonstrated by World War I. During that conflagration Monopoly Capital found that it could mobilize and plan the entire economy, with each industry run by representatives from the appropriate mega-corporation — a system which guaranteed profits thru cost-plus contracts3. But after the traumas of the Great Depression which nearly shattered the whole scheme, war assumed a new and more central significance for the ruling class. War was the solution to stagnation, the “pump-primer” which could maintain the boom and keep employment sufficiently high to prevent open revolt.

World War I pointed the way, the Great Depression served warning that the system was in danger, and Keynes obligingly provided the necessary ideology. However, Keynes was palatable only if government invested in areas which did not compete with or threaten the monopolies or undermine the value system of Capital (eg., by providing too much security for the worker).

The details are now well known to everyone. Government military spending is large enough so that variations in it can provide economic stabalization. (Increases in government spending usually come conveniently enough in the areas of arms, while cutbacks are made in the less profitable realm of non-destructive items, eg., health and education). Military spending provides low-cost, risk-free opportunities for private investment, because most of the plants are provided gratis by the taxpayer’s money and because contracts are almost always “cost-plus”. Virtually unlimited opportunities for investment are opened up because new weapons are always “needed” as old ones rapidly become obsolete, or are used up in imperialist wars or sold to client states. Military spending makes possible the development of weapons that can be sold to lesser imperialst powers who pay in dollars thus tipping the balance of payments in the direction desired by the American rulers and insuring the hegemony of the dollar in the capitalist world. In this “permanent war economy”, first openly suggested by GE’s Charles E. Wilson in 19444, the rational, efficient training and allocation of manpower becomes important. Consequently, Capital has attempted to forge a “manpower” policy, culminating in the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962. This act was “to provide training opportunities for those whose unemployment resulted from a mismatch between the skills they had to offer and those demanded in the labor market5. In other words, the skills of men were to be shaped to serve an economy of destruction — the only profitable economy which the monopolies could spawn.

As a result there are today over two million people employed in the four war-industries of aircraft, electronics, instruments and ordnance — 10 percent of all manufacturing workers6. The spending of war companies for materials and services generated another 174,000 jobs outside the four war-industries in 1967. In addition, the Pentagon doled out 14.1 billion dollars in 1967 for procurement in “non-defense” industries such as construction and petroleum, creating roughly one million more jobs. Moreover, as of 1965 the federal government employed another one million civilians in Pentagon-related agencies before the giant escalation in Vietnam. These “civilians” plus those in uniform constituted 72 percent of the federal employment in 1965 7. The slaughter in Indo-china for the protection of foreign investments has undoubtedly raised that percentage.

Altogether there at least seven million jobs which are war-related in that they contribute directly to the various activities of the Pentagon. These seven million workers exert a profound influence on the economy when they spend their wages and thus create other jobs. To determine the magnitude of this “induced” employment a “national employment multiplier”, as the economists call it, must be calculated. Let us assume an employment multiplier of 3.0 (other research puts the multiplier between 1.33 and 5.0 so that 3.0 is a moderate estimate). The multiplier is so-called because the number of jobs which are newly created by an investment need only be multiplied (sic!) by it in order to get the total number of jobs eventually induced by that investment. To avoid any overestimate in our computations, we can eliminate the men and women in uniform from our estimates. Then 4.1 million non-military, war-related jobs “induce” 8.2 million additional jobs for the 71 million people in the labor force. Thus 12.3 million jobs or 17.3 percent of the civilian labor force is directly or indirectly dependent upon military spending. Since, to be on the safe side, we assume that the expenditures of those in uniform have no “multiplier” effect, then we can simply add another 3 million jobs to the total number of jobs dependent upon military spending. The result is that over 15 million jobs are generated by the war machine, that is, 20.3% of all those employed.

The Proletarianized Professionals of the War Economy

To continue the enormous military outlays, a large scientific and engineering work force was necessary to create rapidly and reliably the innovations that would render the previous year’s weapons obsolete. This work force was already being assembled in the mid-fifties8 when it received an outside boost. The Soviet Sputnik illustrated to the American ruling class the scientific capabilities of a planned economy; and the media went to work generating an even more intense cold-war hysteria which provided suitable background for another surge in military spending. Every high school with the aid of federal advice and monies upgraded its science programs. The National Defense Education Act was enacted to support the training of minds for a military economy. Secure careers in great quantity seemed to be available for everyone who possessed the appropriate aptitudes. The want ads were full of notices offering scientists high starting salaries.

But much was never mentioned. A war machine was generating a military ethos, a “crackpot view of reality” based on military ideas. This, of course, was very convenient for the American rulers who saw their empire threatened by the rising tide of world socialism. These facts meant that the new scientific careers would eventually contribute the technical means for crushing some popular revolt within the empire. Vietnam was the logical result of the entire process. Nor were the actual working conditions of these new scientists and engineers ever mentioned. The frequent layoffs went unpublicized as did the slow salary increases and the factory-like working conditions. The myth of the day was that these proletarians of the military economy were actually members of the “middle class”.

To ensure the existence of large numbers of these new workers, capitalism used the dual pressure of enticement and threat. The enticements were to be laid out in detail by the President’s Committee for the Development of Scientists and Engineers appointed by Eisenhower. The committee held conferences around the country at which educators, industrialists and personnel executives received instructions in the methods of coopting scientists into the economy of destruction. Direct economic incentives as well as emphasis on the creation of a “professional environment” for technological workers were major recommendations made at these regional conferences. In addition, the President’s committee established the Local Action Program which sponsored local demands and activities to improve education in mathematics and the sciences.

The threat was provided by the Selective Service System which applied its “channeling” or “pressurized guidance” procedures. According to the Selective Service, “Many young men would not have pursued a higher education if there had not been a program of student deferment. Many young scientists, engineers, tool and die makers and other possessors of scarce skills would not remain in their jobs in the defense effort if it were not for a program of occupational deferment…” “One reason the Nation is not in shorter supply of engineers today is that they were among the students deferred by the Selective Service in previous years.”9 In other words, young men had either to wield the weapons of destruction on the battlefield or create them in the factories and engineering laboratories.

The bits of status offered by the President’s Committee and the prods applied by the Selective Service had the desired effects. Between 1954 and 1960, the number of scientists increased sixty-eight percent while the labor force as a whole expanded by ten percent. Between 1960 and 1963, when the labor force grew only three percent, engineers increased twelve percent and scientists increased twenty-two percent.10

Because they are trained to work for and satisfy the demand of the profitable military economy, scientists and engineers remain highly dependent upon that economy. Their jobs, professional development and recognition and career stability are all tied in with the economy of destruction. Today nearly half of all scientists and engineers in all American business are employed in the war-aero-space industries. These workers, taken together with the engineers and scientists in the Department of “Defense” and with those in the universities performing war-related research and development, make up a grand total of over more than 240,000 technological and scientific workers. This is 30% of all engineers and scientists in the country.

But the employment of these men is not all that secure. Military products become obsolete rapidly so that they can be replaced by other profitable hardware. And the engineer or scientist who is closely tied to one kind of product may also find that he is obsolete, and so consigned to the junk heap by the value system of Capital. ”Today’s graduate engineer has a half life of about ten years. In other words, half of what he needs to know in 1974 has not yet been developed.”11

Engineers and scientists in the war industries are also highly vulnerable to the changes in American foreign policy and the imperialist politics which determine that policy. During 1963-1964 (the period just preceding a Presidential election), approximately 30,000 professional engineers and scientists in the war industries lost their jobs because of mass layoffs by firms throughout the country. It is estimated that on the average these individuals remained unemployed for a period of three months. Then, after the election, Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam and thereby created jobs for engineers and scientists as well as many other occupational groups. New jobs in the four war industries accounted for forty-four percent of the increase in manufacturing jobs between January, 1965 and January, 1966. Engineers and scientists benefited more than the average of all occupational groups. There was a 3.3% increase in manufacturing jobs during the period referred to above, but there was a 12.4% increase in jobs for scientists and engineers in R & D in the electrical equipment and communication industry.12

But now the large military expenditures and the war they demanded have together produced the inevitable inflation. To fight it, the ruling class is laying off workers- including military workers. For example, in the past year Pentagon cutbacks resulted in the loss of 90,000 jobs and 750,000 more are expected in the present year. An MIT administrator estimates that of America’s one million engineers, 60,000 are out of work, 6%. And as the anti-inflation crusade, fought to protect the international competitive edge of American Capital, proceeds, the crunch gets worse for all workers, including the scientific and technological workers.

Capital has created a proletarianized “professional” to serve its war-dependent profits. Skills and talents of potentially enormous usefulness have been bent to destructive ends to guarantee expansion and protect imperialism. For the sake of the ruling class scientists and engineers have been turned into creators of destruction by the mechanisms of an economic and social system over which they can exert no control. By themselves these scientific workers cannot alter their powerless position. To become an effective force they must stop focusing on the crumbs of privilege that separate them from other workers and develop a consciousness of their shared condition as servants of Capital. Only this consciousness of the real state of affairs will enable scientific workers to join with others in creating a new society. In that society the unbridled profit quest of the ruling class will exist no more. Human skills, talents and effort can then serve the real needs and satisfy the highest aspirations of the working people.


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  1. William Dornhoff Who Rules America, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1967; and Fred J. Cook, The Warfare State, Collier, New York, 1962, pp. 76–77.
  2. See Harry Magdoff, “Imperialism and Militarism Equals U.S.A.”, Monthly Review, 22 (February, 1970).
  3. See James Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, Beacon Press, Boston, 1968, Chapter 8.
  4. Fred J. Cook, The Warfare State, p.66.
  5. ”Toward Full Employment: Proposals for a Comprehensive Employment and Manpower Policy in The United States.” A report prepared by the Subcom-committee on Employment and Manpower of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, U.S. Senate, 1964.
  6. United States Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1967, Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1968, Table 322, p. 225.
  7. Ibid., Table 361, p. 255.
  8. For example, Richard V. Clemence, The Economics of Defense: A Primer o f American Mobilization, The Telegraph Press, Harrisburg, Pa., 1953; and Fredrick Harbison, “Utilization and Development of High-Talent Manpower”, The Technology Review, 60(January, 1958), pp. 3–8
  9. From a document distributed by Sel. Serv. System in July, 1965. Reprinted in Crisis in American Institutions, ed. Jerome H. Skolnik and Elliott Currie.
  10. Computed from Table, p. 14, National Science Foundation, “Scientific and Technical Manpower Resources”, 1964; see also Chart 11, p. 19, National Science Foundation, ”Trends in the Employment and Training of Scientists and Engineers”, May, 1956.
  11. I.I. Raines, “Engineering Obsolescense: A Challenge to the Professional Personnel Man.” Industrial Relations Seminar of the Cape Kennedy Personnel Association, Cocoa Beach, Fla., October 24, 1964, p. 4.
  12. National Science Foundation, “Research and Development in Industry, 1966”, 1968, Calculated from Table 36.