6-118 Speech to Congress of Industrial Organizations, October 15, 1947

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 15, 1947

Subject: Postwar

October 15, 1947
Boston, Massachusetts

This is my first opportunity as Secretary of State to discuss our foreign policy before a special gathering of American labor. You have an important part to play in the determination of that foreign policy, and especially in making it effective.

Everyone agrees, I think, that labor plays a vital part in the functioning of the modern state. If labor can be confused or embittered, if labor can be made to lose faith in the community of which it forms a part, then the core of any national society is threatened. The enemies of democracy know this; and it explains the efforts they make to undermine the confidence of the labor element in the stability of our institutions and the soundness of our traditions.

I am confident of American labor’s reaction to efforts made to disrupt the structure of our society in the domestic field. But the problems of foreign relations are in their very nature remote from the American scene and are more easily distorted. For this reason I wish to outline certain of the fundamental considerations which I believe are important to an understanding of the American position today.

There is a danger that the individual man, whose well being is the chief concern of all democratic policies, foreign or domestic, is being lost sight of in the welter of ideological generalities and slogans which fill the air. Generalities are frequently accepted as gospel truth without even a superficial examination of the validity of their basic tenets. Often they are intended to obscure the basic issue, which as I see it today, is simply whether or not men are to be left free to organize their social, political and economic existence in accordance with their desires; or whether they are to have their lives arranged and dictated for them by small groups of men who have arrogated to themselves this arbitrary power.

This issue is as old as recorded history. But in the world today it has assumed more menacing proportions than ever before. The great enemy of democracy has always been the concentration of arbitrary power in a few hands.

The particular theory used as a justification for the suppression and eventual elimination of civil liberties varies with the times. All such theories, however, contain within themselves the greatest of all historical fallacies, that in human affairs the end justifies the means.

I do not have to point out to this convention that the rights of labor and the hope and possibility of further gains for labor are absolutely dependent upon the preservation of civil liberties. The issue is not one of political labels, but whether or not civil liberties, the right of criticism and right of recall of individuals elected to governmental responsibility, remain intact. No section of the American population has a more vital stake in the preservation of free institutions in the world than has American labor. For, among the first victims of any dictatorial regime, and notably of the Police State, is the right of labor to organize itself for the protection of its interests.

It is rather trite to say that the world is now a small place but that is a fact and what happens in distant places affects our affairs and our lives inevitably, often very quickly, and sometimes most seriously. The present situation in Europe is definitely of the last-mentioned character.

The basic problem of world recovery is production. Production of course involves other critical factors—food, fuel, housing and communications, for example, not to mention political influences or controls. With reference to the situation in Europe, at the present moment the dominant factors are food and coal. Problems of foreign exchange, dollar shortages as now expressed, are heavily involved in the dilemma. I repeat that the immediate requirements at this time are food and coal.

Europe is entering on another long winter. As has already been described by numerous observers and authorities, the situation is precarious. Outside assistance is absolutely necessary to prevent a really dangerous deterioration in health and morals before any carefully determined long-range program can possibly be put into effect.

There now exists the urgent necessity for positive interim measures to prevent a fatal deterioration in Europe—political, economic and psychological—before Congress has sufficient time to consider and act upon a possible long-range plan for American assistance.

The present food saving plan is one such interim measure.2 The Committees of Congress, which are being scheduled to meet in November, will undoubtedly consider others. Meanwhile, the Administration will do all within its limited power to lend assistance.

These measures alone will not suffice. They are but a step—an all-important step to prevent a collapse this winter.

When I made a public statement at Harvard on June 5 last, it was plainly evident that a situation had developed where we must immediately choose between two lines of action—either to concern ourselves solely with our own internal affairs despite our heavy commitments in Germany, Austria and Italy, while Europe suffered a complete political and economic demoralization; or we must take action to assist Europe in avoiding a disastrous disintegration with tragic consequences for the world. Therefore, the suggestion was made that the European countries, under the pressure of the dilemma which faced them, should join together in working out a mutual basis of cooperation for their own rehabilitation and should determine, on a business-like basis, the degree and character of the outside assistance they calculated would be urgently needed over and above what was humanly possible for them to accomplish for themselves.

We have now reached the point where sixteen nations have submitted a preliminary plan, both as to their own agreed actions and as to what outside assistance they feel will be necessary in the next four or five years. At the same time, our resources have been reviewed in order that no step might be taken which would involve an unwise drain on our economy. The European plan is now under study by the various agencies of the Government concerned and by the special groups which were formed by direction of the President. Certain committees of Congress have planned to meet in a few weeks to consider first the measures which may immediately be necessary, and later the proposal soon to be submitted by the Government for assistance in the long-range rehabilitation of Europe.

Whatever form the proposal may take we must be assured that the participating countries will make every possible effort to reach the production rates they have set for themselves and that they will make the necessary fiscal reforms. We have great admiration for the fortitude displayed by the people of these countries under prolonged conditions of want and extreme hardship. But the present situation requires more than stoical, even heroic endurance. I repeat that basically the present problem of world recovery is one of production. And I add the comment that increased production emphatically demands harder work, and that in turn demands more, not less food.

The productivity of American farms and factories is of tremendous concern to the entire world. For that and other reasons we occupy a very special position in the world which carries with it a heavy responsibility which cannot be avoided, even if we might wish to do so. Therefore we must face the facts. The United States stands in the midst of a highly critical world period. The situation involves dangers which affect every American alike. It would be a great folly to assume that we can stand aloof or that we can straddle the issue. A very distinguished American recently stated that “no private program and no public policy, in any sector of our national life, can now escape from the compelling fact that if it is not framed with reference to the world it is framed with perfect futility.” What endangers the United States endangers all of us—labor, industry and agriculture alike. Because the economic stability of Europe is essential to the political stability of Europe, it is of tremendous importance to us, to our peace and security, and it is equally important to the entire world. We are faced with the danger of the actual disappearance of the characteristics of western civilization on which our government and our manner of living are based.

We are proceeding in a determined campaign which has for its purpose world stability, a condition absolutely necessary to world peace. It is a difficult business. It requires infinite patience and a constant effort to understand the other fellow’s point of view. But it definitely requires cool calculation and great determination. Hasty judgments and short range thinking need to be avoided. Above all things a regard for the American tradition is required, the typical American readiness to assist those in need of help, to discount vicious propaganda and outrageous criticism, and in the end to seek only to do what is right, so far as we can determine the right.


The following is an outline of my off-the-record remarks made following the reading of the prepared remarks:

I always regret the necessity for reading a prepared statement as I have just done, but in my position I must be careful to see that the meaning intended for every sentence is unmistakably clear. Otherwise the Government might possibly be seriously embarrassed. I would much prefer to talk to you informally and intimately because I am sure that I could be much more interesting, and I am certain that I could give you a much better understanding of the issues. However, that is not possible, and I can only venture this brief off-the-record statement.

(At this moment I requested the press to cease taking notes).

Referring to that portion of Mr. Murray’s remarks, when introducing me,4 regarding public debates and negotiations, I would like to say that there are quite a few people who are strongly of the opinion that the bitterness, which has been recently disclosed in the debates at the United Nations Assembly meetings, is so harmful in effect that they doubt the advisability of a continuation of such a public procedure. While I agree that there are moments when private negotiations are preferable, I am strong in my belief that the present procedure is a healthy one in the long run. And I also think that as time goes on there will be a lessening of the violent diatribes recently heard.

With reference to what I have just said this afternoon with respect to the entire international situation, I would urge that you be very much on your guard against the incessant propaganda efforts to imply evil motives for every generous action on our part,—duplicity for simple honesty, and world domination, when all we want is peace for the world and an end to human suffering.

G. C. M.

GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers (Secretary of State, Speeches)

1. Marshall flew from New York City to the annual convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in Boston, delivered his address beginning at 3:00 p.m., and returned the same afternoon.

2. See Marshall radio speech on food conservation, October 5, 1947.

3. This addendum is located in the file with the speech.

4. Philip Murray had been president of the CIO since 1940.

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Mark A. Stoler, Sharon Ritenour Stevens and Daniel D. Holt (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 2013- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 6, “The Whole World Hangs in the Balance,” January 8, 1947-September 30, 1949 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), pp. 225-229.