Joseph Hansen

How To Build An Anti-Monopoly Coalition

2. What the Job Takes

(Summer 1957)

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.18 No.3, Summer 1957, pp.89-95, 103.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Can an anti-monopoly coalition succeed in the United States? Marxist theory offers an answer in the light of a problem that a socialist noticed and began considering in England in 1839

HISTORICAL experience in America demonstrates, as William F. Warde shows in the foregoing article, that no matter how desirable or necessary the struggle against the monopolies may be it is not so simple to defeat them. Despite the repeated efforts of “trust-busting” coalitions for almost three-quarters of a century, the giant corporations have continued to grow in industrial, financial and political power. Today these goliaths dominate American life.

It would seem that a new effort at constructing an anti-monopoly coalition might well profit from a study of the lessons offered by Marxist theory on the subject. Otherwise the risk, if not the certainty, of repeating previous disastrous errors of such coalitions would appear to be high, especially since the latest proposal as advanced by the Communist party of the United States centers the field of work in the Democratic party. On the other hand, a clear appreciation of the theory could prove decisive in achieving a successful solution of the difficult problem. The following considerations are offered as a contribution to this side of the discussion.

The key question faced by any anti-monopoly coalition is its aim. In other words, what do you propose to do with the monopolies? What’s the coalition for? The specific answer will indicate which class – workers, farmers, or small businessmen – is leading the coalition. The answer will also say what means of struggle, what political tactics, will likely be used. These in turn will prove ultimately decisive for defeat or victory.

Under middle-class leadership, the characteristic aim of the coalition is to “curb” or “reform” the monopolies. This aim, we recognize, appears important and even vital to small farmers and businessmen hard hit by exorbitant interest rates, loaded price structures and the cutthroat competition of the billion-dollar combines. But suppose this type of anti-monopoly drive were to succeed? Suppose the big corporations were shattered, making it possible for the small-time operators to engage in “free” competition with the pieces. All that would have been accomplished is to turn back history. As before, a new set of monopolies would rise out of the “free” competition, and the anti-monopoly movement would have to say, “This is where we came in.”

The possibility of such an achievement, however, is purely speculative. It has never been done in the past and is far less likely to be done in the future. There are three reasons for this:

  1. The technical organization of the giant industries does not permit them to be sawed into bits. To take an industry integrated around the belt line or automated processes and cut it up like a hog in a butcher shop would destroy it.
  2. The historic trend in the development of the industrial complex is not toward atomization but toward increasing integration. What impels industry in this direction, and not the reverse, is the heightening of labor productivity that integration assures. To buck this trend leads to lower labor productivity and consequently a lower standard of living, an aim that is both reactionary and delusory.
  3. To aim at no more than “curbing” the monopolies plays the political game of the monopolies themselves. The anti-monopoly movement becomes ripe for the first influential public figure who winks at the monopolies while taking over the leadership of the crusade against them. Since the monopolies control the Democratic and Republican parties, the legislatures, the executive agencies and the courts, the “reform” measures that are passed never affect their fundamental interests and in any case are beyond enforcement. The career of Theodore Roosevelt, the first “trust-buster” to be elected, is a perfect example. Under his Presidency, the trusts prospered as never before despite his demagogic fulminations in behalf of the anti-monopoly coalition. His record was surpassed only by that of the second Roosevelt who eloquently inveighed against the “economic royalists” while they rose to new heights of power during his terms in the White House.

In contrast to middle-class leadership of an anti-monopoly coalition, working-class leadership puts as the aim of the movement expropriation of the trusts. The word is not as bad as it may sound to some ears. It means converting them into public utilities. The aim corresponds with the economic interests of the working class which are to retain the industrial achievements of capitalism and to open up the possibility of their rapid expansion by transcending private ownership of the means of production.

At first sight this appears to contradict the interests of the middle class, since it enlarges and vastly strengthens the sectors of industry with which they are in competition. But under a Workers and Farmers Government, the immense surge forward which society as a whole takes actually widens the field for middle-class enterprise.

It is true that this widening of the field is only in comparison to what they formerly occupied; relative to the public-utility sectors the role of the middle class is reduced. Moreover, the long-range trend will certainly be toward an ever greater relative reduction. In return, however, a benevolent world of enduring peace, lifetime security and a swiftly rising standard of living is assured. As great new projects are undertaken we may realistically expect that the middle class will find the attraction of participating in planned economy irresistible. The exciting future opening before everyone willing to join in construction of the new society will make the former middle-class outlook seem circumscribed and outmoded indeed.

Besides that, if we may refer to something surely of interest to everyone who counts himself a genuine opponent of Big Business, in expropriating them there is the solid satisfaction of having definitively won the war against the monopolies.

Do-It-Yourself Politics

An anti-monopoly coalition whose basic aim is the expropriation of the monopolies must calculate the means required to achieve the goal. This is a question of politics.

First of all, it ought to be recognized that it is a middle-class delusion to hope that either of the political parties of Big Business can be captured and converted into an instrument capable of expropriating the monopolies. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are political machines owned, constructed and operated by Big Business. They are an integral part of Wall Street like the legal system that keeps the fortunes of America’s 60 ruling families from becoming public property. Labor might as well try to capture the stock exchange as the Democratic party.

Secondly, it ought to be recognized that, if it is fatuous to believe that organized labor can capture either the Republican or Democratic machines and turn them against the monopolies, it is at least naive to expect that an isolated “progressive” figure in these machines can do it. Personal integrity and sincerity are no match for a powerful, corrupt gang of political hatchet men. The “progressive” ends up in the election race with a Wall Street jockey on his back. “Progressives” are, in fact, assets to the machines, enhancing their vote-catching capacity. They are such necessary assets that if “progressives” do not turn up on their own, the machines deliberately create them as a matter of routine political strategy.

These facts of life impose upon any coalition that is genuinely opposed to the monopolies a policy of independent political action. The anti-monopoly coalition must stand upon its own feet, declare its own aims, run its own candidates for office to put these aims into effect, and in general practice “do it yourself” politics. Since the principal force in an effective anti-monopoly coalition can only be the working class (because of their numbers, their strategic position in society and the historic trend that favors their development), this signifies running working-class representatives against the candidates of both the Republican and Democratic machines. Neither theory nor historical experience discloses any other road.

Thus one of the primary jobs in building an anti-monopoly coalition is to arouse the labor movement to the need for breaking from the Republican and Democratic machines and constructing its own party. Such a party can bring a Workers and Farmers Government to power in America. And that is the only kind of government capable of expropriating the monopolies.

Let us sum up our conclusions thus far. An anti-monopoly coalition, to avoid the fatal errors of the past, must take as its aim the expropriation of the monopolies and, as the means for achieving that aim, independent political action. These conclusions have been derived from an analysis of the class forces behind the monopolies and those in opposition to the monopolies. Whether your politics incline in favor of the working class or the capitalist class is shown by your attitude toward these conclusions.

What is the correct name for conclusions of such crucial character? I think Marxists will agree that they should be called principles, basic judgments reached through materialistic analysis of the class struggle. Theory shows that it is a matter of principle for the working class to struggle for the expropriation of the monopolies through independent political action.

“Isolation of the Left”

At this point I hear the dissenting voice of a top official of the Communist party:

“We must, of course, not lose sight of the right opportunist danger associated with working in the Democratic party for an anti-monopoly coalition. But you disregard the concrete problem that faces the left, how to break out of the isolation in which socialists find themselves today. By disregarding the concrete problem you end up with principles we all know about and with which we can all agree and which, of course, we must all push for as our ultimate goal. However, by sticking to this abstract level your position becomes false and one-sided. Your insistence on such commonplace socialist abstractions makes your position sectarian and dogmatic. You refuse to fight for partial gains. This left sectarian danger is much greater in the concrete circumstances of isolation in which we find ourselves today than the right opportunist danger that disturbs you.”

Let’s see. We were talking about how to build an anti-monopoly coalition with some hope of achieving its goals, weren’t we? What’s that got to do with

  1. the isolation of the program of socialism or
  2. the isolation of the Communist party from the masses?

We decided in principle what is required to bring success to an anti-monopoly coalition. Now, if our critic is correct, aren’t we forced to say that we don’t care about its success, provided that we have been able meanwhile to utilize it temporarily to help strengthen socialism or – the Communist party? Wouldn’t it seem, then, that the real goals of socialism – or the real goals of the Communist party - – are one thing and the goals of an anti-monopoly coalition something else again? If this is so, people interested solely in building an anti-monopoly coalition would be justified, wouldn’t they, in concluding that Socialists and Communists are pretty treacherous allies who bear watching?

Something is evidently wrong here. What is it? Suppose we begin by separating things out. First let’s take the isolation of the Communist party. The major reason for this is the crimes and false policies inter-meshed with Stalinism. It is true that the prolonged prosperity has affected the entire radical movement, including the Communist party. The witch-hunt has also taken a heavy toll. But what has happened to the Communist party goes far beyond what can be properly ascribed to the prosperity; and the witch-hunt should have attracted a new generation of rebels to the persecuted party as witch-hunts have in the past. The fact is that most militant workers in America today simply do not believe that the Soviet Union is a workers paradise as Stalinist propaganda has made out. They know about the forced labor camps, the mass purges, frame-up trials and murder of political opponents. They associate these facts with the Communist party which practiced the cult of deifying Stalin for decades and they want nothing to do with it. Moreover, they recall the CP’s wartime support of the no-strike pledge, its years of backing candidates of the Democratic party and similar things marking its decline from the militancy that once made it attractive.

Can the Communist party somehow overcome the effect of this record by good work in building an anti-monopoly coalition, attractively packaged – in the Democratic party? The hope is delusory. In the end this course can only deepen the isolation of the Communist party. There is no way out except the truthful, honest way – to make a clean break with Stalinism, to explain from the Marxist point of view what is still worth defending in the Soviet Union such as the planned economy, how Stalinism could arise in the isolated workers state with its backward economy and Czarist heritage and, from the same point of view, how it can never arise in the United States with its tremendous industrial resources.

Now what about the isolation of the program of socialism from the working people? It must be clearly recognized, it seems to me, that a good deal of the responsibility here, too, lies with Stalinism. Unfortunately many workers do believe the propaganda of the Stalinist bureaucracy that socialism has been achieved in the Soviet Union. If that’s “socialism,” say these workers, they want to make damn sure it’s never “achieved” here. In the early years, when Lenin and Trotsky headed the first workers state, the Soviet Union enjoyed immense popularity among militant American workers as an example and an inspiration. After decades of Stalinist rule, the opposite is true. It is difficult nowadays to get recognition for even the big achievements clearly due to planned economy and just as clearly not due to the parasitic bureaucracy. In brief, the crimes of Stalinism have blackened the reputation of the Soviet Union and set back the whole socialist movement, including the Trotskyist vanguard who saw the danger of Stalinism from the beginning and who fought against it most consistently.

A socialist who thinks that not all is evil in the Soviet Union, but who finds disputes in the radical movement over such questions distasteful, hastens to intervene:

“Stalinism is really a foreign issue; moreover one that has proved highly controversial and divisive in the left. Besides that, it’s a dead duck. The fact that you keep raking over the coals of the past shows you’ve got a fixation on the old fight between Stalin and Trotsky. What difference does it makes today who was right or wrong or why? It’s about time we grew up and learned to drop things like that. What we need is to get down to American questions that affect American workers in their daily lives right here in the USA. Let’s get busy in our own backyard. Let’s build an anti-monopoly coalition.”

Can the question of the evil effects of Stalinism be left aside, at least in considering how to build an anti-monopoly coalition? I do not think so. The Communist party leaders themselves bring up the question of Stalinism by injecting the problem of their isolation in American politics. Isn’t it the truth that what they really mean by “isolation” is the isolation of the Stalinist bureaucrats from the liberal and social-democratic labor bureaucrats of the Democratic party? Reinstatement in Democratic party circles as in the good old days of Yalta, Teheran and Earl Browder seems to be the real goal, fitting in with the diplomatic drive of the Kremlin, as in Stalin’s time, for maintenance of the status quo in the international class struggle. The CP leaders seek to lift the quarantine imposed on them by the labor bureaucrats attached to the Democratic machine. They even go so far as to seek ties with the so-called “moderate” wing of the Southern white supremacists in the Democratic party, including a figure like Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas, as part of the prospective “anti-monopoly coalition.” (See Political Affairs, June 1956.) Success in this endeavor would no doubt signify to the CP leadership actual formation of the sought-for “anti-monopoly coalition.” But doesn’t that show that they haven’t really given up the Stalin cult? Their policy in relation to the Democratic party remains the same as it was before the unlamented generalissimo became a dead duck.

In respect to the membership of the Communist party, at least those in intimate touch with the working class, matters are different. It is not difficult here – since Khrushchev’s famous revelations about Stalin’s paranoia and the crimes of his regime – to get agreement about the need for a break from Stalinism. However, the question of “isolation” from the masses and how to overcome it still disturbs these convinced anti-capitalists. They feel that it will certainly take more than a break from Stalinism and opposition to its policies to win the working class to the program of socialism. They wonder if it isn’t possible that the action of building an anti-monopoly coalition would help provide the positive approach that is needed.

The content of these considerations about breaking out of isolation are, we note, the opposite of those of the CP leadership. The Stalinist bureaucracy seeks a bloc with the social democracy, liberal capitalists, and “moderate” white supremacists to slow down the development of the class struggle. The CP rank and file who have transcended Stalinism seek working-class acceptance of the program of socialism to intensify the development of the class struggle. Their desire to leave aside, at least for the moment, the question of Stalinism and to consider in and of itself how building an anti-monopoly coalition might help to end the isolation of the program of socialism, is, therefore, completely legitimate; it demands the most serious response.

Before getting into this, however, two observations should be made:

  1. Among the rank and file, CP leaders will, of course, speak about the ultimate goal of socialism and how building an anti-monopoly coalition is a step in that direction. In fact their assurances may have been what started many members thinking along these lines. However, the insistence of these same leaders on working in the Democratic party and in helping to elect Democrats shows that their talk about socialism is nothing but a diplomatic formula, a way of voicing the aspirations of the membership while inveigling them into supporting one of the political machines of monopoly capitalism.
  2. We began our discussion by considering what socialism had to offer toward the success of an.anti-monopoly coalition. Now we are asked to discuss what an anti-monopoly coalition has to offer toward the success of socialism. This is really a different subject. But the two subjects are interrelated, I will admit. Moreover, those primarily concerned about an anti-monopoly coalition are entitled, certainly, to know what socialists expect to get put of the movement by participating in it, and why they would like to see it succeed.

Theoretical Basis of the Socialist Approach

From the socialist viewpoint an anti-monopoly coalition can help solve what has become the most pressing problem of our times – how to overcome the disparity between the objective need for socialism and the readiness of the working class to lead society forward. That members of the Communist party could find their way to this problem testifies to the integrity of their socialist consciousness. It also testifies, unfortunately, to the low educational level in the Communist party, for the problem is not a new one nor one unknown to Marxist theory. As a general problem it was, in fact, considered even before the days of Marx and Engels.

In 1839 John Francis Bray, an English communist, published a book Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy in which he drew radical conclusions from David Ricardo’s economics. He saw the possibility of organizing society in a better way than that of capitalism. He also saw difficulties in reaching the superior form. One of them is that people are trained and indoctrinated by the current system. How are you to overcome this shaping of the human mind and get people to see the possibilities in better organization of the economy? Bray realized that a series of transition measures would be required, measures based on the capitalist system yet extending beyond it, a kind of economic ladder on which to climb from capitalism to socialism. [1]

Marx, writing in 1846-47, disagreed with Bray’s specific proposals, considering them Utopian, but he noted that Bray “far from claiming the last word on behalf of humanity, proposes merely measures which he thinks good for a period of transition between existing society and a community regime.” Marx considered Bray’s book a “remarkable work.”

Bray’s merit is to have seen both the problem and the general outlines of its solution. To recognize that the human mind lags behind the possibilities opened up by the development of the productive process and to conceive of a transitional period as the way to bridge the gap shows a thinker of rare talent. That Bray went wrong on the actual transitional measures he thought up (“general and local boards of trade” to assure “equality of labour and exchange”) does not detract from the credit due him. The theoretical basis for sounder measures had not yet been provided. This was to be the work of Marx and Engels.

A year after Marx’s comments on Bray, the transitional period and what measures will be required in it received the attention of Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto:

“... the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to establish democracy.

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

“Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.”

“These measures,” the authors declared, “will of course be different in different countries.” They felt, nevertheless, that in “the most advanced countries” certain ones “will be pretty generally applicable.” The list they drew up contained ten proposals. Monopolies, naturally, were not included; they did not become a major phenomenon until nearly the turn of the century.

The most significant difference between the measures advocated by Marx and Engels and those by Bray lies in the method by which they were derived. Bray started from a preconceived idea of what a model society should be like and then sought a bridge to it from the society in which he lived. Marx and Engels considered this method unscientific. In the final analysis, they held, such preconceived notions could not transcend the society of the times. At best they could only be Utopian dreams and at worst they represented efforts to return to an earlier stage of development, a reactionary enterprise. They showed that such an approach is typical of middle-class politicians. In contrast, they sought to find in the society of their times the forces causing its evolution. This method enabled them to discover from what previous economic forms and classes capitalist society had evolved, to what succeeding forms the evolution itself pointed, and therefore what class today represents the society of tomorrow. They therefore correctly designated their approach as both scientific and proletarian.

One of the major theses of the Manifesto is the difference between these two methods and the results they give. For instance, where Bray called for “boards of trade” to bring about “equality of labour and exchange,” Marx and Engels called for “centralization of credit ... centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state” and “extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state ...”

Thus along with the whole problem of the transitional period, Marx and Engels considered the relationship between the working class and the middle class in the struggle for socialism and determined the necessity for the working class to differentiate its politics from the middle class. This general need has been stressed by Marxists ever since. But along with the differentiation, Marxists have also stressed the need for an alliance with the middle class, for it is an integral part of the problem of winning the majority of the people to acceptance of the socialist program. We can see in the light of these facts that the issue before us today – whose ideology shall shape the anti-monopoly coalition? – is only a current instance of a general problem that goes back to the beginnings of scientific socialism.

We may judge, therefore, how remarkable it is that the Communist party leadership advance their idea of an anti-monopoly coalition dominated by the Democratic party as something novel. One may find cause for even greater astonishment at the impression they seek to create that a “transitional” approach to socialism has come up only as an “American” problem – and for the first time!

The theory of the transitional period remained pretty much at this point for another 25 years. Then in 1872, reviewing the validity of the Manifesto, Marx and Engels said that they laid no “special stress” on the ten proposals, since the “practical application of the principles will depend ... everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing ...” They added that the proposals “would, in many respects, be very differently worded today.” Referring to the “gigantic strides of modern industry,” the “improved and extended organization of the working class,” and “the practical experience gained, first in the February [1848] revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune [1871], where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months,” they concluded that “this program has in some details become antiquated.”

What “especially was proved by the Commune,” in the opinion of Marx and Engels, was the form political power could not take during the transition period if proletarian rule were to be stable. They also saw in the Commune “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of Labour.” Their intensive study of this political form has gained in importance, particularly since the Stalinist usurpation of power in the Soviet Union, for the democratic norms that Marx and Engels found in the Paris Commune stand in the most glaring contrast to Stalinist practices in the Soviet bloc.

The leaders of the Second International did not develop the theory of the transitional period. In fact they gave it a setback. They took the criticisms made of the Manifesto by Marx and Engels to mean that the ten proposals were completely outmoded, and they replaced them with a “minimum program.” The concept of a transitional period between capitalism and socialism and of transitional measures to bridge the two economic systems was brushed aside. The social-democratic movement as a whole confined itself to fighting for partial reforms of capitalism and of talking about socialism as a distant goal.

Leon Trotsky, writing in 1937, had this to say about the turn:

“... the ten demands of the Manifesto, which appeared ‘archaic’ in an epoch of peaceful parliamentary activity, have today regained completely their true significance. The social-democratic ‘minimum program,’ on the other hand, has become hopelessly antiquated.” (See 90 Years of The Communist Manifesto in The New International, February 1938.) [2]

It was not until the practical experience of the 1905 revolution in Czarist Russia that the theory of the transitional period received further development. Trotsky, the outstanding young leader of that revolution, advanced the hypothesis that in backward countries like Russia where the proletariat has become a powerful class before the historic tasks of capitalism have been accomplished, the revolution, when it comes, will confront the proletariat with the need to take power despite the economic unripeness of the country for socialism. A working-class government, however, in the transitional period opening up before it will have to carry out the tasks logically belonging to the bourgeois revolution, although through the socialist forms at its command.

This hypothesis, which has many ramifications, became known as the theory of the Permanent Revolution. (Trotsky took the title from the same source as his original inspiration for the theory, an 1850 declaration by Marx and Engels.) Indelibly associated with the name of Trotsky, this theory brought new richness and insight into the wider theory of the transitional period, for it expanded the concept to include, in industrially backward countries, Capitalist tasks within the transitional period between capitalism and socialism when the working class is exercising what Marx and Engels called “political supremacy.”

The October 1917 revolution confirmed Trotsky’s theory, for its actual course followed his forecasts virtually to the letter. The revolution did more than” that. It offered for the first time the experience of the transitional period together with its influence on world politics. And this experience, which has lasted almost 40 years now, provides inexhaustible material for Marxist analysis. Trotsky himself was able to follow this development for more than two decades before Stalin succeeded in having him assassinated. Trotsky’s principal contribution in this field during these years was to analyze and combat the unexpected difficulties that arose in the transitional period in the Soviet Union, difficulties centered principally around the growth of a privileged caste. To go into that here would take us too far afield; I mention it only in passing, with the hope that the interested reader will check Trotsky’s numerous writings on the subject for himself. (See especially The Revolution Betrayed.)

In the light of the experience of the Russian Revolution and the workers state in the Soviet Union, plus the new phenomenon of fascism and the threat of a series of world wars arising from fresh delays in the proletarian revolution due to the social-democracy and Stalinism, Trotsky extended the concept of transitional measures to include the period before the working class wins political supremacy, and he made specific suggestions for both backward and advanced countries as well as the Soviet Union. A summary of his views is contained in a compact pamphlet The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, which has come to be known more briefly as The Transitional Program. Anyone concerned about building an anti-monopoly coalition in the United States will find it well worth studying.

Trotsky begins with the main characteristic of the world political situation today which is “a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.” This crisis is reflected in the disparate proportions between the socialist movement and the ripeness of the economic prerequisites for socialism. A bridge is required here, a series of transitional demands that will bring socialists with their program into living contact with the working masses as they are today, since the proletariat can assume leadership of society only if it is conscious of what it is doing. The general lines of this consciousness are expressed in the socialist program.

Two examples will illustrate the concept of transitional measures in the pre-revolutionary period:

(1) In the fight against inflation, which undermines the working-class standard of living through repeated price rises, Trotsky proposed, as one measure, a sliding scale of wages. Under this provision, wages would be tied to the prices of basic commodities and would follow their fluctuations. From a union point of view this is no more than a simple insurance measure, guaranteeing that a wage gain will not be dissipated by price boosts. As an insurance measure, it does not, of course, prevent the workers from increasing their real wages – that is a question of the class struggle. How well this proposal fits the objective reality of our times can be judged from the fact that many union contracts now include it to one degree or another in the form of an “escalator” clause.

The economic justification for the measure within the framework of capitalism lies in the fact that it safeguards the only commodity the worker has as a producer – his labor power. The justification from a socialist point of view is that the capitalist system today is incapable of providing a sliding scale of wages for the working class as a whole. But this incapacity demonstrates the need to transcend the capitalist system, to replace it by an economic system which can guarantee decent living conditions, and thereby the demand for the measure forms a bridge to the most radical political conclusions.

(2) Similarly in the fight against unemployment, Trotsky proposed that the workers should fight for a sliding scale of working hours. Instead of layoffs, let the available work be shared – reduce the number of hours in the work week, but don’t reduce weekly take-home pay. Again, within the framework of capitalism, this is a measure to preserve labor power as a saleable commodity and prevent its deterioration. However, the incapacity of capitalist society to grant this most elementary of all economic rights, the right to work, demonstrates, as in the previous example, the need to go beyond capitalism to a planned economy.

As can be seen, such simple but really far-reaching demands are based on the contradictions of capitalism as manifest in the daily lives of the working people in the world of here and now, the world of the “transitional epoch,” as Trotsky put it. [3]

Enough has been said, I hope, to suggest where building an anti-monopoly coalition fits into the socialist perspective. The participation of socialists in such a limited and partial movement coincides with their efforts to overcome the crisis that the working class as a whole is experiencing in rising to the leadership of society in the transitional epoch to which capitalism has brought us.

Program for an Anti-Monopoly Coalition

Those who regard Marxism as a system of dogmas will, in all likelihood, expect me as a confirmed Marxist to proclaim a sure-fire recipe at this point for whipping up an anti-monopoly coalition. The sectarian recipe, they may feel safe in predicting, will include some exactly measured dogmas for success of both the coalition and the socialist movement. Unfortunately or not, Marxism does not happen to be that kind of system. Its theory can serve only as a general guide in actions that always have elements of newness – one might even say uniqueness – in which Marxists participate as members of the working class, most often with little choice as to the issues or the timing. As a general guide, however, Marxism is not at all vague or amorphous; it is quite definite in its indication of the main lines.

First of all, Marxism differentiates from the middle-class outlook and approach. Secondly, it brings to the fore the principal problem which, as I have sought to show, is to bridge the pressing objective tasks that the capitalist system has placed on the agenda and the lack of appreciation that the working class, especially in America, has for its own historic destiny in carrying out these tasks.

Within this context other broad lines can be indicated. For instance, socialists must center their activities in mass organizations of the working class – not the Democratic party!

Whatever the topical issues involving the monopolies may be – and these are not decided by the small minority in this country today who believe in socialism – socialists should raise the question of the country’s expropriating these anti-public combines. Two examples can be suggested:

  1. Certain monopolists have pressed particularly hard in recent years to get their hands on our remaining resources – oil, timber, water power ... Shouldn’t the holdings of these big-time predators, who have demonstrated what a menace they are to the welfare of the people, be converted into public utilities?
  2. Some of the main monopolists depend on armament contracts for super-profits. Shouldn’t the profits be taken out of these preparations for World War III? Wouldn’t that be an effective way to reduce the belligerency of these partisans of the cold war? If they object too strenuously to such an acid test of their patriotism, shouldn’t their enterprises be taken over by the government as a safety measure?

In both examples, socialists should, of course, explain that such measures affect only part of the capitalist class and alter only a portion of the capitalist economy. The main drives would still remain. For instance, taking the profits out of the armament contracts, even expropriating the major munition manufacturers, could at most only slow down the imperialist drift toward atomic war. Nevertheless, socialists could heartily support the good beginning.

The field of foreign policy is rich with possibilities. Abroad the monopolists seek to dominate the governments of the countries where they have investments. At home they view the State Department as an agency set up to trouble-shoot their interests. To help keep America from getting embroiled in new “little” wars that could touch off the atomic catastrophe everyone fears, these firebugs in the powder magazines of world politics should be expropriated and their affairs made of public concern in a way they never expected.

In domestic politics the issue arises naturally around every tough, drawn-out struggle between the unions and companies who insist on the open shop. It arises whenever the big corporations press for anti-labor legislation. Why let them range the country like gangsters with the law on their side? If the majority of the people are not yet convinced that they should be converted into public property, let’s at least have legislation requiring them to open up their books to public inspection. Publicizing company secrets should help considerably to demonstrate the need for expropriation.

Once you get the central idea of transitional phases, the specific manner in which the demand for expropriation is pressed depends only on what is timely.

Role of a Labor Party

But who is to raise such demands and fight for them in an organized way? The anti-monopolists need a party capable of meeting the political machines of the monopolists on the field of battle. Such a party can be built only through independent political action. Consequently, one of the main requirements in constructing an anti-monopoly coalition capable of accomplishing what it sets out to do is to press persistently for independent political action. Socialists can do this without any mental reservations, for the road is the same they are traveling on. They have just done a little advance scouting and understand better what’s ahead on the pike.

The appearance in America of a union-based labor party in opposition to both Democrats and Republicans would signify the first great victory of an anti-monopoly coalition, for it would be a major step in constructing the means for ultimate success. The labor party would become the pivot for rallying the allies of the working class in the struggle, and the whole problem of cementing a solid coalition would be transferred from the field of talk to the field of party program and its translation into action. In other words, responsibility for political leadership in the anti-monopoly coalition would now be in the hands of the working class. Demonstration of its capacity to meet that responsibility would begin with the remedies that the labor party proposed for the evils that brought the middle class into action against the monopolies.

On the economic level, the labor party would have to guarantee that its demand for expropriation of the monopolies would in no case apply to the small farmers or small businessmen. In fact it would have to assure them that for a considerable time to come, perhaps several generations, their opportunities would increase under a nation-wide planned economy. In this connection the labor party would do well to underline its opposition to the disastrous policy of confiscation of small merchants and commodity producers practiced by the Stalinist bureaucracy in other lands.

On the social level, the labor party would have to put at the top of its program the struggle for full equality and demonstrate in its own internal regime the seriousness of its attitude toward the rights of the Negroes and other minorities, women and the youth.

On the political level, the labor party would have to do everything in its power to demonstrate the sincerity of its offer to share government responsibility, when the time came, with whatever political parties its allies created to participate in the anti-monopoly coalition. The internal democracy within the labor party would, of course, be a powerful demonstration of its real views on this question.

Would the middle class follow vigorous working-class political leadership of the type indicated? Theory answers in the affirmative, for it is characteristic of the middle class to vacillate between the two fundamentally powerful classes in capitalist society and to follow the one that seems to be the strongest. Theory declares that there is no other way for the working class to bring the middle class to its side except by displaying more dynamic leadership than the capitalist class. There is no other way, in fact, for the working class to organize its own tens of millions into the mighty crusade needed to really meet the challenge of the monopolies.

However, we do not need to rely on theory alone in this matter. On the positive side we have the historic experience of the Russian Revolution where the working class, offering a most radical program, did succeed in leading the peasantry although vastly outnumbered by its ally. On the negative side we have, among others, the instructive experience of the catastrophic defeat in Germany where a policy of passivity, followed by both the Communist party and the Social Democrats, ended in pushing the middle class into the arms of the Nazis. Both experiences have much to offer in the way of lessons to American socialists interested in building an anti-monopoly coalition.

We also have the instructive experience of the British Labour party. At the end of World War II, the middle class turned toward the working class for leadership and proved decisive in giving the Labour party a winning majority in a general election. However, in office the middle-class leadership of the Labour party vacillated and procrastinated, doing everything to avoid carrying out the mandate they had received from the people to expropriate all the major industries and institute the planned economy of socialism. In foreign policy they carried on for imperialism as if they were pinch-hitting for Churchill who had been kicked out of office. The result was a shift of the middle class away from the Labour party, the loss of the next general election and a comeback for the capitalist representative Churchill with his denationalization policy. The experience demonstrates pretty conclusively that it takes something more than a reformist leadership to win a lasting victory for an anti-monopoly coalition.

All those who have felt the importance of building an anti-monopoly coalition should make it a duty to examine what Marxism has to offer on the subject. I hope I have been able to indicate enough to invite further study and discussion.



1. “If then a changed character be essential to the success of the social system of community in its most perfect form – and if likewise the present system affords no circumstances and no facilities for effecting the requisite change of character and preparing man for the higher and better state desired – it is evident that these things must necessarily remain as they are, unless ... some preparatory steps be discovered and made use of – some intermediate resting-place, to which society can go with all its faults and its follies and from which it may move forward, imbued with those qualities and attributes without which the system of community and equality cannot as such have existence.” (Quoted by Karl Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy)

2. Trotsky did not mean that every point in the old “minimum program” of the social democracy is so “antiquated” that it must be rejected. The question goes deeper than that. What Trotsky stressed is the concept behind the ten proposals in the Manifesto, a dialectical concept in contrast to the rigid, pragmatic view behind the “minimum program.”

3. Besides such measures, Trotsky included certain planks from the old “minimum program.” These are primarily democratic demands that logically belong to the bourgeois revolution but have either not been achieved in some countries or, in decaying sections of the capitalist world, are under attack. The need to fight for such capitalist demands before coming to power parallels the need of the proletariat in backward countries to carry out capitalist economic tasks after they are in power.


Last updated on: 2.7.2006