Lewis Corey

The Decline of American Capitalism

The American Crisis

The Decline of Capitalism: General Survey

THE decline of capitalism was evident in Europe even before the crisis and depression which set in after 1929. A general economic crisis prevailed and cyclical prosperity was on a lower level than pre-war, while capitalism was crushed in the Soviet Union. Bourgeois economists, particularly in Germany, admitted and analyzed the elements of decline. In the United States, however, it was smugly assumed that economic decline was the lot of lesser breeds outside the law – the law of American prosperity everlasting. For hadn’t American capitalism solved the problem of prosperity? There would not and could not be any more depressions and hard times: prosperity was eternal, world without end, and a new world around the corner. But when prosperity crashed in the United States, and crashed more severely than in Europe, where the already existing economic crisis was aggravated by the new cyclical breakdown, the sentiment was general that “capitalism is on trial.” Some prophesied the crack o’ doom, others argued that capitalism might survive if it “reformed” itself. In Europe it looked like the end; American prosperity had seemed as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar, and now it was overwhelmed by the seas of depression. [1*] A German bourgeois economist thus voiced the feeling of despair:

“Is the capitalist system really any longer justified if, in the richest country in the world, it is incapable of shaping an order which shall guarantee to a comparatively sparse population, admittedly industrious and capable, a subsistence consonant with the human needs developed by modern technique, without millions being from time to time reduced to beggary and dependence on soup kitchens and casual wards? ... The crisis of economic policy may easily become a crisis of the economic system.” [1]

Underlying much of the American comment on the depression was the feeling that new and imponderable forces are at work involving a crisis, an economic decline, or at least its possibility. Some of the despair disappeared with the coming of manipulated and speculative revival. But the NRA was itself an expression and recognition of the crisis. And the feeling of despair reappeared after the breakdown of the revival. For the decline of American (and world) capitalism conditions recovery, limits its scope and dominates the future. Capitalist decline does not result in complete collapse, in an inability to function or to restore a measure of prosperity. The cyclical movement continues, but on a lower level, within the restricting circle of economic decline. This means a “depressed” prosperity, with increasing insecurity, unemployment, and instability; while economic, class, and international contradictions and antagonisms become sharper and more threatening. There may be spurts of unusual prosperity, but these will merely intensify the decline.

The decline of capitalism is the outcome neither of the depression nor of the World War. It was the fact of decline which gave the war its specific historical character – decline producing war and war reacting upon decline. The decline of capitalism is the outcome of general capitalist development and of the movement of social change. In longtime perspective, the decline of capitalism is determined by its having outgrown the historical necessity of its being. In the words of Prof. F.L. Schuman: “Western civilization is already old. It may already have run its course and be headed toward a long twilight of decline. In any case its problems are immediate, pressing, and threatening.” [2] This is a conclusion in terms of the future, not of a past compact of the wish-fulfillments of the agrarian-Junker reactionary, Oswald Spengler, whose lamentations, nevertheless, express the decline of capitalist culture. Minor social changes produce a situation where a major social change becomes necessary – the revolutionary substitution of the old order by the new. In short-time perspective, the decline of capitalism is determined by the high development of the productive forces and the relative exhaustion of the long-time factors of expansion. This imposes fetters upon the further development of industry, leads to a slackening rate of growth and eventually an absolute fall in production, and results in economic decline and social decay.

Capitalism appeared in history as a revolutionary force, waging war upon the economic, political, and cultural relations of feudalism. Profits are the heart of capitalism, markets its circulating system; capitalist enterprise consequently required the transformation of production for use into production for profit and increasingly larger markets. Capitalist production also needed a free labor market of propertiless workers distinguished from serfs and slaves by their “freedom” to work for wages anywhere, which was accomplished by expropriating peasants from the soil and artisans from their means of labor. These changes upset the old productive relations and their class, political, and cultural expression. Feudalism was based upon a static agriculture under the domination of the nobility; the growth of a dynamic capitalist industry undermined both agriculture and the nobility. Feudal “collectivism” imposed restrictions upon capitalist enterprise; the ideological and spiritual sanctions of feudalism had to be broken, which meant a struggle against the old culture and religion. This movement was bound up with the necessity for freedom of enterprise and competition, of laissez-faire, individualism, and democracy: the revolutionary representatives of the bourgeoisie, transcending immediate needs, invoked an ideal of individualism and democracy which is now completely repudiated by imperialism and fascism. The commercial revolution, with its new attitudes and its need for more goods and more efficient production, stimulated experimental science and its technological application. Out of foreign trade, colonial conquest, and settlements overseas arose the world market, creating increasingly larger markets and profits. Bourgeois development was being hampered by the political power of the feudal nobility; the upper bourgeoisie faltered and compromised, but action was forced by the pressure of the lower bourgeoisie and the downtrodden peasants and urban workers: the nobility’s political power was broken by means of violent revolution involving dictatorship and confiscation of feudal property. The social-economic changes were completed by the technical-economic changes of the industrial revolution. This revolution, alongside the brutal exploitation of men, women, and children in the new factory system, stripped production of its technical fetters (although capitalism imposed new fetters). Capitalism remade the world economically, politically, and culturally.

Once in power capitalism abandoned its revolutionary ideals: they now threatened its own vested class interests. These ideals had always had a limited practical application; thus laissez-faire was never wholly accepted by the bourgeoisie (except in England, when it was the workshop of the world) and capitalism resorted to protectionism, monopoly, and state aid. The bourgeoisie did not make a clean sweep of feudalism. The older relations lingered on in agriculture, while the nobility, frequently enriched by the industrial utilization of minerals in their estates, and exploiting the parvenu spirit and political ineptitude of the bourgeoisie, clung to a considerable measure of power. Democracy was limited to bourgeois democracy. While developing as a condition favoring the social relations of capitalist production, democracy had also been an ideal and practice remaking the world; it was now limited, an ideology insuring capitalist domination, with labor forced to fight for democratic rights. Capitalism developed unevenly; it produced recurrent economic crises and wars, limited expansion of the home market in favor of the larger profits of overseas markets, including colonial exploitation, and repressed or ruined agriculture. (New expropriations, direct or indirect, of peasants from the soil supplied the human raw material of industrialism. Large numbers of expropriated peasants were forced by uneven and restricted industrialization to migrate to the new world, particularly the United States: thus American capitalism also played its rôle in the expropriation of the peasantry – in Europe.) The class which had flamed forth in revolution used its heritage in a fashion indicative of coming decline.

But these are the contradictory and antagonistic conditions of capitalist development. There was economic expansion in spite of recurrent crises and limitation of the home market, as well as an increasing technological application of science in spite of an inability to utilize fully the conquests of science and technology. Production increased enormously, the productivity of labor multiplied. Industry organized itself in large-scale enterprises, mobilizing large amounts of capital and labor, developing an inner corporate planning which contrasted sharply with the outer social anarchy of production. Capitalist industrialism spread (unevenly, piratically) over the whole world, extending the world market and changing national and class relations. The prospects of capitalist expansion and supremacy seemed unlimited, eternal, and this dream underlay the smugly unreal assumptions of bourgeois economic theory and the “hopeful” proposals of liberal and socialist reformism.

The nature of capitalist production, however, makes its development a perpetual struggle between the forces of expansion and decline, because of three fundamental factors:

  1. Capitalist production depends upon profit, upon the accumulation of capital and increasing opportunities for its profitable investment. But accumulation tends to outstrip itself and limit the means of profitably investing capital, which results in a periodical overproduction of capital goods.
  2. The realization of profit depends upon increasingly larger markets to absorb the rising output of consumption goods, a necessary condition for an increasing absorption of capital goods. But capitalism tends to develop the forces of production beyond the forces of consumption; it cannot systematically and planfully balance production and consumption, which results in a periodical overproduction of consumption goods.

Thus the accumulation of capital and the resulting prosperity themselves become fetters on the further movement of expansion, accumulation, and prosperity. This is the fundamental cause of cyclical breakdowns. In these breakdowns there is an element of decline; they indicate the incapacity of capitalism to develop all the forces of industry, they express a definite, if temporary, exhaustion of economic progress, and they tend to become constantly more destructive in their upsets of prosperity. But the real element of decline appears in the third factor:

  1. Capitalist production tends to exhaust the long-time factors of expansion and to limit, at first relatively, then absolutely, the possibilities of economic advance. Capitalist production must yield profits and these profits must be converted into capital by means of an increasing output and absorption of capital goods. This is the accumulation of capital. In its early stages, capitalist production seizes upon the most highly developed handicrafts, already producing for comparatively large markets, and destroys them by mechanizing their productive activities. The result is an increasing output and absorption of capital goods. Gradually all the older crafts are mechanized, which again means an increasing output and absorption of capital goods. Then the development of wholly new industries, the industrialization of new regions, and the mechanization of agriculture (although incompletely) create new and greater demands for capital goods. The working of these long-time factors of expansion results in an enlargement of the scale of production and in an increasing accumulation of capital. But as expansion is restricted or becomes exhausted, limits are imposed upon the possibilities of making profits and converting them into capital by means of an increasing output and absorption of capital goods. The resulting tendency toward economic decline is identified with monopoly and imperialism.

Capitalist monopoly arises out of the concentration of industry, which is accompanied by the massing of capital in large enterprises, overdevelopment of productive capacity, limitation of the possibility of any considerable new expansion, and the intensification of competition. Profits are threatened. Monopoly answers the threat with control of markets, higher prices, limitation of output, and relative or absolute restriction of progress in technological efficiency. This is an element of decline, as it emphasizes the incapacity to develop fully all the forces of production and consumption. Another element of decline is monopoly’s introduction of factors of rigidity (control of markets and prices, limitation of competition, resistance to liquidation in depression) into the structure of capitalism, whose basic requirement is the flexibility involved in the free play of economic forces.

Monopoly is identified with another aspect of capitalist decline: the export of capital and imperialism, the struggle to control foreign markets capable of absorbing surplus goods and surplus capital. This surplus of capitalist industry becomes constantly greater and more menacing as the inner long-time factors of expansion approach exhaustion. It becomes necessary to “industrialize” economically backward regions to absorb capital and goods (particularly the former) which are unabsorbable in the home market. Thus capitalism comes increasingly to depend upon exploitation of outer, the international, longtime factors of expansion. Where the older industrial nations of Europe once sought foreign outlets mainly for goods, the basis of the older colonialism, they began after the 1870’s to seek outlets mainly for capital, the basis of imperialism. An increasing amount of capital and capital goods, produced by the older nations, was absorbed by mining, communications, public works, plantations, and factories in colonial and other economically backward regions. These regions, as a result of industrialization, also increased their imports of consumption goods. But while the export of capital and imperialism in their early stages stimulated home industry, by offsetting exhaustion of the inner factors of expansion, the final result, particularly when the export of capital became primarily an export of interest “earned” on previously exported capital, was to slow down the rate of inner economic growth. Imperialism, moreover, tends quickly to exhaust the international long-time factors of expansion, and strengthens the tendency of capitalism to decline.

Capitalist decline appeared in Europe in the years 1900-14. One of the factors in the decline was the advance of industrialism in countries which formerly met with imports their needs for manufactured goods and capital. The situation was aggravated by the intensification of competition in the world’s markets. While economically backward countries increased their demands for goods and capital, there were now many more industrial countries and a larger mass of surplus capital and goods to supply the needs. This restricted the production of profits and their conversion into capital, and capitalist decline became more definite and threatening.

The economic upswing after the 1860’s materially improved the conditions of the workers (the basis of reformism in the trade union and socialist movements). Now the improvements virtually ceased, real wages were almost stationary, and permanent unemployment increased, a surplus population for which capitalist industry could not provide work.

As the output of surplus goods and capital mounted and markets became relatively still more limited, the struggle of imperialist nations for control of the world’s markets led inexorably to the catastrophe of the World War. The war clearly revealed the decline, decay, and reaction of imperialist capitalism. One hundred years earlier, the Napoleonic wars had an objectively progressive character, an expression of the lusty youth of capitalism, breaking down surviving feudal barriers and preparing an economic upswing. The World War expressed the decadent old age of capitalism. Never did a war have more progressive pretensions and a more reactionary character. As a result of the struggle for imperialist power, the war weakened all the European nations and intensified the decline of capitalism: its legacy was the post-war chronic economic crisis. The war’s progressive pretensions (“End war!” – “Make the world safe for democracy!”) were mocked by the general reaction it unloosed – including fascism, the most violent expression of the decline of capitalism, to whose support it mobilizes all the most sinister and reactionary elements.

But economic and social decline is a dialectical process. The forces of a new economic, class, and social synthesis appear alongside the forces of decline and begin a struggle for mastery. In the midst of feudal decline the new capitalist order shaped itself and began its struggle for power. At the basis of the decline of capitalism are the contradictions and antagonisms arising out of the new social relations of production, which clash with the old relations of private property and individual appropriation. These social relations of production, expressed in large-scale corporate industry and its accompaniments, produce monopoly capitalism and imperialism, but they are also an objective socialization of industry which is the basis for socialism and the coming to power of the working class. The World War led to the conquest of power by the working class in Russia, to revolutionary struggles in Europe and among colonial peoples an indication of capitalist decline emphasized and aggravated, particularly during the most disastrous of depressions, by the building of socialism in the Soviet Union. And to combat decline and revolution, the capitalist class resorts to fascism, the complete repudiation of all the ideals for which capitalism fought during its revolutionary youth ...

In its origins, growth, and decline, American capitalism has always been bound up with the capitalism of Europe. They have been different, yet the same; the peculiarities of American capitalism have merely (but this is important!) affected the scope and tempo of its growth and decline.

American civilization arose out of the revolutionary youth of capitalism. The colonial settlers were thrust forth by the mass migrations set in motion by the transformation of feudalism; they were overseas builders of the new order being created in Europe. (The early Puritans were not the sanctimonious weaklings pictured by the wishy-washy esthetes of to-day, but bourgeois rebels in whose blood was the iron of Cromwell’s revolutionary vigor.) Not only were the colonies a product of revolution, they secured their independence through revolution, and the capitalism of the new nation consolidated its power in the essentially revolutionary struggle of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

American capitalism, unlike the European, was not fettered by feudal hangovers or compromise with the nobility. The great colonial landed estates, which attempted to introduce feudal relations, were undermined by, because dependent upon, the commercial revolution; they could not survive in the new world of unrestricted freedom of enterprise (except in the South, where Negro slavery altered the situation and where pre-capitalist conditions were allowed to linger after northern industrial capitalism consolidated its political power in the Civil War and Reconstruction). Bourgeois individualism and democracy developed more freely and fully than in Europe. An almost “pure” capitalist ideology arose, which permitted and justified unrestricted exploitation and accumulation. Feudal hangovers, class and ideological, measurably restricted capitalist development in Europe; even in England, where the aristocracy, more than elsewhere, merged into the new ruling class. Feudal elements favored “reforms” in order to strike at their capitalist rivals; certain aspects of industrialism were condemned and regulated, and ideas of the absolutist state interfered with freedom of enterprise. (The earlier absolutist state, however, had aided the development of capitalism, and it later did so again in Germany and Japan.) American capitalism suffered from no such restrictions. The government let enterprise alone, except where it helped – with tariffs and with grants of money and public lands to railroads, turning over the nation’s vast natural resources to private enterprise.

The American economy and the American dream were greatly invigorated by the renewed expansion of the frontier. But there have been other frontiers in history, yielding other results. The frontier was one of the factors shaping the sectional forms assumed by some of the underlying economic and class interests and class struggles; this was important, but only in the peculiar forms it gave to the complex of interests and struggles in a capitalist economy. It is doubtful if pioneer life, except in the sense of personal enterprise and change, was marked by any great individualism; but the frontier strengthened the individualism of American life by its multiplication of economic opportunities – free land, the rise of petty industrial enterprise after it began to lag in the older regions, the impulse given to rising. While the frontier had some direct influence in shaping classes and ideology, its major significance lay in its influence on the growth of capitalism, in its contribution to the long-time factors of economic expansion. Exploitation of the inner continental areas and resources quickened the tempo and enlarged the economic basis of American capitalist development. Without this, however, the frontier would have been a totally different thing, restricted in scope and results. For capitalist development provided the markets for the agricultural (and mining) products of the frontier; and, incidentally, opportunities for farmers’ sons to rise in the swiftly growing urban centers.

In one of its most important aspects the frontier meant the expansion of agriculture. The exploitation of agriculture is inseparably associated with capitalist growth: it provided a labor supply, cheap food and raw materials, and markets, and it bore the brunt of the costs of industrialization and accumulation in their earlier stages. In the industrial nations of Europe (particularly England), the possibilities of expansion in agriculture were quickly exhausted, making necessary an increasing export of manufactured goods and import of agricultural products. In the United States, agriculture was continuously expanding, aided by the inflow of European labor. The number of American farms rose from 1,449,000 in 1850 to 5,737,000 in 1900, their acreage from 293 million to 838 million, and their value from $3,967 million to $20,439 million; the value in 1900 included $4,306 million of buildings and equipment. [3] This great agrarian development was a tremendous factor in the upswing of American industry and prosperity. In 1879 the large exports of wheat, the result of a serious grain shortage in Europe which created an increased demand and higher prices for American wheat, played an important part in the revival and upward movement of prosperity. [4] The farmers bought large amounts of capital goods in the form of agricultural equipment. They created new markets for manufactured consumption goods. And they provided the bulk of the exports to pay for the imports of capital and goods which stimulated the rapid expansion of American industrialism. The fact that capitalist industry gained more from the expansion of agriculture than did the farmers was the cause of the agrarian revolts in the 1870’s-90’s.

Another aspect of the renewal of the frontier and the resulting expansion of agriculture was the construction of railroads on a large scale. This was a most important factor in the movement of production, accumulation, and prosperity. Railroad mileage rose from 35,085 in 1865 to 177,746 in 1895; capitalization rose to $10,347 million. [5] Most of the increase was due to construction of the transcontinental railroads, which depended mainly upon the transportation of agricultural (and mining) products. Railroads absorb large amounts of capital goods. The construction of railroads in economically undeveloped countries is one of the main objectives of the export of capital and imperialism; it aroused the most bitter pre-war imperialist antagonisms (China, the Bagdad Railway, etc.).

Expansion of agriculture and construction of the transcontinental railroads were bound up with the growth of population and of cities, which proceeded on a much greater scale than in Europe. Population rose from 31,502,000 in 1860 to 92,267,000 in 1910 (including 23,000,000 immigrants). Cities rose from 141 to 788 and their population from 5,000,000 to 35,000,000, or from 16% to 38% of the total population. [6] This growth, which required construction materials, traction equipment, and other capital goods, and provided new markets, enormously stimulated the development of capitalism.

Thus the frontier, and its continental areas and resources, was directly connected with the long-time factors of economic expansion. It permitted an increasing output and absorption of capital goods because of the industrialization of new regions. The expansion of the frontier depended upon the development of agriculture (and mining), which in turn depended upon the markets of the industrial Eastern states and of Europe. And the frontier came to an end when industrialization was measurably complete.

But while it existed, the frontier was one of the major peculiarities of American capitalism. Its conditions of life renewed economic opportunity and progress. It provided almost unlimited possibilities for industrialization and the accumulation of capital and created constantly larger mass markets. The industrial Eastern states exported manufactures to the newly settled regions and imported raw materials and foodstuffs. This permitted an enlargement of the scale of production and an increasing realization of profit and accumulation of capital. Industries sprang up in the new regions, both local enterprises and branch plants of Eastern enterprises, which meant more absorption of capital goods, more realization of profit and accumulation of capital. The expansion of the frontier was a perpetual re-birth of capitalism, energizing its upward movement, strengthening capitalism economically and ideologically; and its continental areas and resources performed, up to the World War, the same economic function that colonialism and imperialism did for the industrial nations of Europe. The upswing of capitalism invigorated the ideal and the reality of the “American dream.” Elements of this dream, animating most of the early colonists, who were rebels against the feudal order, acquired new forms and vigor in the new world. They were consolidated by the American Revolution, vitalized by social-economic development on an almost wholly capitalist basis and by the “opportunity” and “self help” of the frontier and its influence in accelerating economic development. The American dream was an ideology compact of ten major elements:

  1. Liberty: The right of the individual to live his own life in his own way (of which the original expression was freedom of conscience); tolerance as a way of life.
  2. Democracy: The right of the people to decide their own destiny in their own interests and in their own way; faith in the creative initiative and action of free men and women.
  3. Equality: The right of all to an equal share in the fruits of progress regardless of origins; differences of racial or biological inheritance do not justify social inequality and class oppression or exclude any people from the highest forms of civilization.
  4. Mass well-being: The right of all to the good things of life, particularly the right of the mass of the people to share, and share increasingly, in the conquests of industry and civilization: the abolition of poverty.
  5. Opportunity: The right to an equal share in economic and political opportunity, whose perpetual rebirth was assumed, unrestricted by origins; in its more subtle forms, an aspiration after higher things.
  6. Education: The right to an education and faith in education as a means for personal improvement and progressive solution of social problems; the creator of new and finer ways of life.
  7. No class stratification: The right to move freely from one class to another, including a disregard of class distinctions which colored American life and made it impatient of traditional restraint.
  8. Limited government: The right to minimum interference by the state and faith in the creative action of the people; opposition to bureaucracy as a heritage of monarchy.
  9. Peace: The right to peace and the peaceful settlement of disputes; monarchical tyranny means war, while democracy moves toward universal peace.
  10. Progress: The right and possibility of unlimited progress, the synthesis of all the preceding ideals; a steady, inevitable upward movement to new and finer fulfillments.

Now these elements of the ideology of the American dream were not peculiarly American. They are easily recognizable as ideals of the bourgeois revolutions and of most of the liberal and socialist reformism in pre-war Europe. But there was one peculiarity of major importance: nowhere were the ideals more largely realized than in the United States, because of the relative freedom and mobility created by the rapid expansion of industry and the frontier. True, the realization was woefully limited, the ideals exploited by the ruling class in its own interests and degraded by the buccaneers of industry, finance, and politics. Yet the ideology was not mere make-believe, not wholly tawdry. It could not have arisen in a slave or feudal society. It expressed many real achievements and, still more, the possibilities of social progress. The ideology was real enough to dominate the labor and agrarian revolts of the 1870’s-90’s. But it must be remembered that, in one decisive aspect, the development of capitalism is a perpetual struggle against its early revolutionary ideals, as they are a temporary and not always an inseparable accompaniment of capitalism. Thus the development of American capitalism was a perpetual struggle against and increasing limitation and degradation of the ideals of the American dream. This appeared clearly after the Civil War and still more clearly in 1900-1914. For in spite of its great expansion and its peculiarities, which invigorated the American dream, American capitalism was not immune to the general laws of capitalist growth and decline. Around 1900, capitalist monopoly became ascendant, the frontier met its geographical and economic limits and was no more, and the export of capital and imperialism began to develop. There was a slackening and decline in the rate of economic growth and a corresponding restriction of opportunity, creating a minor crisis of the American dream, in which opportunity had been the unifying element. The crisis was not acute because of comparative agrarian prosperity, the growth of the new middle class, and the gains made by the privileged minority of skilled workers. It was acute enough, however, to produce a marked drift toward socialism. The crisis was overcome or evaded by the World War and the prosperity of 1923-29. But this prosperity not only produced the usual cyclical depression, it simultaneously intensified, while temporarily overcoming, the elements of the decline of capitalism. But the decline now creates a major crisis of the American dream. At the moment when the high development of the productive forces makes possible a fuller realization of the traditional ideals of the American dream, a condition arises which means a complete reaction against even the partial realization of those ideals, an increasing limitation of opportunity and progress. [2*]

The crisis of the American dream is an expression of the crisis of the economic order, of the decline of capitalism. In one of its immediate aspects, the decline appears clearly in the program of the government to spend over $10,000 million to overcome the crisis and revive prosperity! The Hoover Administration added $4,000 million to the national debt, the Roosevelt Administration over $6,000 million in one year. By the end of the fiscal year 1934 the national debt had risen to the war-time peak of $26,500 million. Another $7,000 million will be spent in 1934-35, an estimate based on optimistic hopes of recovery. Public works will absorb $3,300 million, farm relief $2,000 million (including over $750 million to pay for acreage and crop reductions). On January 31, 1934 the Reconstruction Finance Corporation had outstanding $3,428 million, mainly in loans to corporations, including $1,000 million for the payment of bank stocks bought by the government. [7] Only a part of the money is spent on relief or “made work” projects. Most of it directly, and all of it indirectly, is spent to prop up the sagging foundations of the capitalist economy: to restrict agricultural production, to sustain tottering banks, to permit railroads to buy equipment, to aid industrial and utility corporations, to protect capital investment and profits, to allow payment of interest and other fixed charges. [3*] Is there an American crisis! The expenditures of public money, involving a tremendous increase in the burden of taxation, debts, and interest, is part of a program based on the conviction that industry cannot revive and prosper without the artificial stimulant of state financial aid. Even if prosperity returns on any considerable scale, and corporations repay the loans, the burden on profits will be great, and still greater on the people at large in higher taxation (for most of the money is spent outright). If, as is most likely, prosperity does not return on any considerable scale, and there is a lower level of economic activity and income, the burden of taxation will be heartbreaking, for corporations will repay little if any of the public money they now receive. It will be worse if inflation is resorted to. And most of the burden will be thrust upon the workers (including farmers and professionals): already there are sales taxes and lower real wages, and eventually there may be direct taxes on wages, as in some European countries.

State financial aid to sustain tottering private industry is the major aspect of the state capitalism represented by the creations of Niraism, but which may assume other institutional forms. This is definite evidence of the decline of American capitalism. It is exactly what governments have been doing in France and England, on a larger scale in Italy and Germany. In spite of differences in political forms, the same state-economic measures are adopted under the pressure of capitalist decline. Pre-fascist German governments poured public money into industry; the Nazis do the same. Fascist Italy issues state loans “for relief of private companies which find themselves in difficulties because of the depression.” The American Reconstruction Finance Corporation serves as an organizational model for the Italian Industrial Institute, but its policy was already being pursued by the fascist government. [8] A public-works program is the backbone of “recovery” efforts in Italy and Germany; to a lesser extent in France and England, where, however, it is increasingly urged. Highway-building is stressed, although new roads are largely unnecessary and include construction of “luxury” automobile super-highways. “In Germany the present roads might be able to carry ten times the present traffic. Only when viewed most optimistically does it seem possible that sufficient traffic will develop to liquidate the present cost of the scheme.” [9] And the “recovery” program of Niraism depends in large measure upon public works. Thus the American government resorts to the state-economic measures characteristic of the decline of capitalism in Europe. And this decline only a few years ago was considered the lot of lesser breeds outside the law – the law of American prosperity everlasting!


1*. American prosperity became a political issue in Europe. “Look,” said the capitalists and their apologists (including leaders of the British Labor Party), “look at American prosperity: universal, increasing, everlasting! It shows what can be done by organized, enlightened capitalism. American prosperity realizes the spirit and promise of capitalism; the European economic crisis is the result of non-capitalist factors, an aftermath of war. Why go communist? Why not go American?” This song is no longer sung. But some of the apologists (including leaders of the British Labor Party) later sang the NRA song! Hope springs eternal in the breasts of reformers.

2*. This subject is discussed more fully in Chapter XXV, The Crisis of the American Dream.

3*. In 1933 the von Papen government in Germany, in an attempt to stimulate revival, gave private industry what amounted to a subsidy of 750 million marks to be spent on capital goods. But most of the money was used by the recipients to pay debts. Gerhard Colm, Why the “Papen Plan” for Economic Recovery Failed, Social Research, February 1934, p.93.


1. M.J. Bonn, The Crisis of Capitalism in America (1932), pp.187-88.

2. Frederick L. Schuman, International Politics (1933), p.828.

3. Department of Commerce, Statistical Abstract, 1931, p.637.

4. Alexander D. Noyes, Forty Years of American Finance (1909), p.52.

5. Statistical Abstract, 1931, pp.413, 420.

6. Statistical Abstract, 1931, pp.3, 49.

7. New York Herald Tribune, November 12, 1933; New York World-Telegram, December 28, 1933; New York Times, January 4, 1934; January 5, 1934; Charles Merz, A Record Fiscal Year Ends and Another Begins, New York Times, July 1, 1934.

8. New York Times, November 10, 1933; November 12, 1933.

9. The Super-Highway Project in Hitler’s Recovery Program, Literary Digest, October 7, 1933, p.41.


Last updated on 28.9.2007