CLR James 1944
Source: New International, July 1944, pp. 225-230, C L R James under the name of J.R.Johnson;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
America has entered upon a new phase of relationship with the rest of the world. Its armies tramp and roll over the most remote corners of the globe; its navies scour the five oceans; every day its airmen blaze new “Santa Fe” trails over African jungles and the China Sea. American military and political leaders lay down the law in Casablanca, London, Chungking and Rome, and partition continents at Cairo and Teheran. Arabs, Hindus and Koreans, seeking the bread of independence, jostle one another along the stone corridors of Constitution Avenue. All the world has been converted and Washington is the modem Mecca. Within the White House, Roosevelt arrogates the right to O.K. rulers of empires as a merchant O.K ‘s prospective salesmen. Augustan Rome, the Pope sitting crowned upon the grave thereof, even imperial Britain, seem to have been merely successive anticipations of this monstrous, this incredible concentration of power. The American people are grappling with the change. The sales of Willkie’s One World, the greatest publishing success in history, is a political and not a literary phenomenon. Yet the true nature of the new relation remains obscure for the great masses of the people. How could it be otherwise? Day after day, year after year, it has heard American history past and present discussed in the following terms:
“It is not a coincidence ... that the United States and Russia, under the czars and under the Soviets, have always in vital matters been on the same side; that for more than 100 years Britain and America have in the end always found that against the mortal enemy of either, they would support one another, and that France, which did so much to liberate America, has twice in her mortal peril found us at last beside her.” (Walter Lippmann, Herald Tribune, July 8, 1944.)
We propose to expose the falsity of this interpretation of American history in its international relations. It is not the truth about American history and can be factually exposed. Left unexposed, it affords too fertile a soil for the organized deception of the people as to the true character of America’s foreign relations of today and still more, of tomorrow. We propose, however, to make a preliminary statement of our own principles, first because of the vastness of the subject and the danger of becoming lost in it; secondly, owing to the necessity of constantly counterposing Marxism to the bourgeois ignorance and superficialty of Lippmann’s method, which in bourgeois society seems as natural as the air we breathe; finally, owing to the reinforcement to this nationalistic empiricism, now being provided by the Stalinists in the name of Marx. This inexhaustible source of corruption celebrated the latest July 4 as follows:
The fact that our country was able to rally from the unclear national policy and the dark days of division of Munichism to play the tremendous part it has in the great anti-Hitler war of liberation is in large measure due to the democratic content which for 168 years, despite many vicissitudes, has continued to characterize our national existence. (“How America Got That Way,” by F.J. Meyers, New Masses, July 4, 1944.)
What are these but the historical method and the ideas of Lippmann dressed in a pink sweater? This deliberate and criminal falsification has a clear purpose. The political struggle of the proletariat in international relations now becomes a struggle as to whether “our country,” i.e., Roosevelt, will continue to play the role it has played “for 168 years,” i.e., in 1914, support Stalinist Russia. Under this potent but poisonous fertilizer, the advocacy of incentive pay and of the no-strike pledge become the continuation of the great traditions of the Declaration of Independence, not only at home but abroad.
Yet, in reality, the history of the United States, properly understood, is a clarion call to the masses of the people everywhere to raise the concept of the nation to a higher plane inseminating it with the concept of class. Dialectically handled, this history is a weapon to be used by and for the people and not against them.
Marx has stated that “as in the eighteenth century the American War of Independence sounded the tocsin for the European middle class, so in the nineteenth century the American Civil War sounded it for the European working class.” All Marx’s method is contained in that sentence. Not America in general, but the class struggle in America, the American Revolution and the .American Civil War. Not Britain or France or Germany in general, but the progression from the European middle classes in the eighteenth century to the European proletariat in the nineteenth. The method of dialectical materialism at one stroke clears its skirts from the hereditary stupidities of the bourgeois publicist and the criminal huckstering of his Stalinist hack. We today must bear in mind that logical class movement from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century and by projecting it, disentangle from complicated historical phenomena the class relations and international perspectives of the twentieth. It is precisely this logical connection that we wish to establish and precisely this that the Stalinists wish to destroy, because it is this more than anything else that the American people need.
2. This is no mere academic exercise. We can orient for the future only by comprehension of the present in the light of the past. This apparent truism, with the bourgeoisie mere “common sense” or sententiousness, for the Marxist has an entirely different significance, both logical and historical. Marx taught us that the very categories by which we distinguish the various phases of the social movement are fully developed and therefore fully comprehensible only in the maturity of bourgeois society. Today we can go further. It is in the decay of bourgeois society as it falls to pieces that concepts centuries old shed all social and traditional disguise and stand naked. When Jesse Jones, after Pearl Harbor, heard that stock-piles of rubber had been destroyed by fire in Boston and asked if they had been insured, half the country laughed at him. The fetishism of commodities-stood exposed as an idol of the market place. In every sphere of social knowledge contemporary developments reveal the past in truer perspective and show us our own great contradictions as merely the logical climax of embryonic movements maturing through the centuries.
The history of Bolshevism etches in sharper and clearer perspective the apparent hair-splitting of the early Christians and the Puritans and thus gives historical discrimination to the conflicts of today in the light of tomorrow. Only the October Revolution could extend our knowledge of the British and French revolutions and the three in sequence together constitute a statue of liberty that illuminates the whole contemporary darkness. This extension of American power to the remotest reaches is a dramatic climax to the role this country has played in international relations, lighting up the past of the whole of Western civilization and projecting its present contradictions into their future resolution.
Today, in American imperialism, the commodity has reached its most grandiose historical manifestation. All peoples are entangled in the net of the world market. We have only to examine carefully the historical development to see concretely posed the revolutionary socialist solution which Marx distilled by logical abstraction. It is necessary to do this so as not to be misled by the apparent ignorance and bewilderment of the great masses of the people. The masses do not learn history, they make it. More accurately, they learn it only when they make it. Even Washington had little conception of what tocsin he was sounding, and Lincoln had less. So, to-day the American proletariat, as it went into the factories to protect the birth of the CIO and now girds itself for the post-war struggle against unemployment, is, unawaredly, preparing international and economic transformations and social realignments on a scale comparable only to the elevation of American capitalism to its position as dominant world power. This for us is the objective movement of history which we attempt, by precept and example, subjectively to clarify and advance. Not forgetting, however, that the subjective movement, whatever its accidental chances, is in its totality the complement of objective necessity and cannot be separated from it.
In the last quarter of the eighteenth century bourgeois Europe needed to emancipate itself from that combination of feudalism and commercial capitalism which we know as mercantilism. Yet the protagonists of the new industrial capitalism, in Britain as well as in France, had been nourished on the famous “triangular trade” of mercantilism — Africa, America and the West Indies After the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, the up and coming industrial bourgeoisie began to find itself in conflict with the mercantilist commercial and political domination. Each class sought to solve its difficulties at the expense of the periphery — the thirteen colonies. But in the thirteen colonies the resulting economic and political crisis soon brought on to the political stage the artisans and mechanics of the towns. Says Beard: “They broke out in rioting in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston.... In fact, the agitation, contrary to the intent of the merchants and lawyers, got quite beyond the bounds of law and order.” (Emphasis mine — J.R.J.) Well might Gouverneur Morris remark: “The heads of the mobility grow dangerous to the gentry, and how to keep them down is the question.”
In the border areas the farmers, checked in the first agitation against the British, broke out into furious revolt against the American ruling class. A conservative historian (Miller, Origins of the American Revolution, 1943, page 319) sums up his research thus: “But this Eastern ruling class was at no time disposed to sacrifice any of its privileges in order to bring the Western farmers wholeheartedly into the revolutionary movement. Instead the aristocracy urged Americans to center their attention wholly upon British tyranny and not to seek to apply revolutionary principles to conditions at home.” The “no-strike pledge” and “incentive pay” have a long ancestry.
When the victory was won, the bottom had been torn out of the “triangular trade” and the British industrial bourgeoisie came immediately into its own. The Treaty of Versailles which ratified the independence of America was signed in 1783. One year later, 1784, is the traditional date set as the “beginning” of the industrial revolution in Britain. In a surprisingly few years the trade with America on the new basis rivalled the old mercantilist prosperity to the confutation of the prophets of evil. Not only in the internal affairs of Europe did the loss of America create a revolution. Colonial relations underwent a radical transformation. One year after the loss of America came the first of the great India Bills which marked the beginning of the change from the old-fashioned robbery and plunder of India to the more systematic economic exploitation based on the developing textile industry. Three years after Versailles, Pitt personally asked Wilberforce to undertake the agitation for the abolition of the slave trade. This was accomplished in 1806 and marked the beginning of a new relationship between Great Britain and Africa. Mercantilist Britain, for a century the undying foe of colonial independence, by 1820 had become the champion of the freedom of the Latin-American colonies. Where George III had said of the struggle with the thirteen colonies, “Blows will decide,” Canning, with his eye on British trade in Latin America, declared: “We have called a new world into existence to redress the balance of the old.”
George Washington might preach isolationism and non-intervention. The revolution had set in motion great class struggles in Europe and given a new direction to international trade and colonial relations. Today we can estimate the relative values of the Declaration of Independence and the essential political document of the time, Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith had worked on it for ten years when in appeared in 1776. He wrote that the present system of management, i.e., mercantilism, procured advantage “only to a single order of men,” i.e.. one class. Great Britain (and Europe as well) “derives nothing but loss from the dominion which she has assumed over her colonies.” The problem was how to achieve the death of this system. In the opinion of this bourgeois, to propose that Britain “give up all the authority over her colonies .. . would be to propose such a measure as never was and never will be adopted by any nation in the world.” The American revolutionary leaders for years had been in close contract with the radical opposition in Britain. But all these politicians were, like Smith, unable to visualize the radical and complete break. It was the artisans, the mechanics and farmers who started the ball a-rolling and converted Smith’s theories into reality. Thus Washington’s “isolationism” was merely the appearance of things. Their essence was far different. We shall see this difference between the appearance and the essence constantly repeated on an ever more extensive scale until it reaches truly gigantic: proportions in the contradiction between the apparent power of Washington today and the underlying economic and social movement.
Technological discoveries are the spermatozoa of social change. The cotton-gin not only created the historical patterns of American capitalism. It laid an indelible impress on European development as well. In 1847 Marx, engaged in the congenial task of exposing the misuse of the Hegelian dialectic by Proudhon, took as one of his illustrations, slavery.
Without slavery you have no cotton, without cotton you have no modern industry It is slavery which has given their value to the colonies, it is the colonies which have created the commerce of the world, it is the commerce of the world which is the essential condition of the great industry.... Without slavery North America, the most progressive country, would have been transformed into a patriarchal country. Efface North America from the map of the world and you would have the anarchy, the complete decadence of modern commerce and civilization. Cause slavery to disappear and you will have effaced America from the map of nations. (Poverty of Philosophy.)
By 1847, however, this was the summation of an age which was dying. Its death was to change the social structure of America and signalize the coming of age of a new force in Europe.
Just one year before Manx’s book, the British bourgeoisie won its final victory over the landlords by the abolition of the “corn laws,” which brought the cheap wheat of the New World into Britain and lowered the value of the laborer. The South had calculated all along that the loss of its cotton would inevitably bring intervention by the European powers, particularly Britain. It miscalculated the interest of the industrialists in cheap wheat from the wheat belt, which was one of the most powerful supporters of the North. But the role of cheap wheat was a testimony to the fact that the special claims of the textile industry, always the first to mature in a nascent capitalist development, had already been superseded by the interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole. The varied and expanded accumulation of capital had brought with it a varied and expanded proletariat. In 1848 this proletariat appeared on the scene in France in the first proletarian revolution. Europe trembled, but in Washington, the White House, the government and the people in the streets rejoiced at the downfall of the monarchy. The ruling classes of Europe therefore hated the political system of America with its seam of aristocracy and monarchy, its emphasis on equality, manhood suffrage and popular government.
But in the United States, by 1848, forces were at work converting the bourgeoisie from the ally to the foe of popular aspirations abroad. In 1850, a desperate attempt was made to compromise the differences between North and South. But the economic conflict was irrepressible. The fugitive slaves and the Abolitionists would not let the question be forgotten for a moment. In 1858 economic crisis shook not only the United States but the whole of the now vastly extended world market. From then on the sequence of international events came thick and fast.
First, between 1857 and 1859, a series of great strikes and class conflicts broke out all over Europe, Britain included. In 1860 came Lincoln’s election. The South expected that the commercial capitalists of the North would as usual capitulate. But independent farmers of the Northwest could not for a moment tolerate the idea of a hostile power holding the mouth of the Mississippi and they were among the chief supporters of Lincoln. But even more important, the victory of the Republican Party was due more than anything else to the support of labor. And labor, though no lover of Negroes, was by 1860 conscious enough of the stake which free labor had in the struggle with slave labor. Thus labor and the independent farmers were the most powerful forces in the North while the general unrest and minor but repeated insurrections among the slaves completed the forces which pushed the unwilling rulers of the North and South to the final settlement by arms. The mechanics, the artisans, the frontiersmen of 1776 and the Negroes who had fought with Washington had now developed into the powerful force on whom Lincoln had ultimately to depend for political support and military victory.
But political activity, the concrete expression of social consciousness, though sometimes accelerated, sometimes retarded, must keep pace with social development. Even before 1848 the Abolitionists not only led an incomparable agitation in the United States. Garrison and Negroes who had escaped from slavery placed the case of the slaves before vast numbers of European workers. They enrolled supporters by the hundreds of thousands. One Negro alone enrolled 70,000 in Germany.
When war actually began, the European ruling classes were on the alert for an opportunity to intervene. Everything hinged on Britain. The British government was hesitant and hoped for an encouraging signal from the Lancashire cotton operatives, who were in great distress over the cessation of cotton exports from the South. The British textile operatives, however, denounced the intervention plans of the government and what took place in Britain was repeated on a lesser scale all over Europe. The British bourgeoisie was sneering at Lincoln’s repeated declarations that the war was not a war for the abolition of slavery. The European workers shouted across the ocean that it was, and called on Lincoln to say so. Lincoln, with the North in great danger, finally penned the Emancipation Proclamation, to take effect on January 1, 1863. The European proletariat celebrated a great victory. It came just in time. Marx tells us (Schlueter, Lincoln, Labor and Slavery, page 187; see also Marx and Engels’ Correspondence) that in April, 1863, “a monster meeting. .. prevented Palmerston from declaring war against the United States when he was on the point of doing it.”
In 1861, the Czar, fearful of rebellion from below, had emancipated the serfs. In 1862 had come the rebellion of the Poles. A great international mass meeting took place in London in July, 1863, on behalf of Polish independence. These two events, the American Civil War and the Polish Rebellion, brought to a conclusion the tentative negotiations long in progress and on September 28, 1861, the First International was founded. On November 1 the executive committee adopted the inaugural address by Marx. Nothing so contributed to the final consummation as the Civil War.
At the beginning of that same November, Lincoln was re-elected President. Marx, on the Council of the International, initiated a series of mass meetings in Britain protesting against the hostile attitude of the English ruling class and government to the Union. On the 29th, Marx presented to the Council the address to Lincoln. The International became the terror of the European governments. If in the eighteenth century the American Revolution had initiated the struggle for bourgeois democracy, the Civil War had set on foot the movement which ended its first phase in the Paris Commune — the dictatorship of the proletariat.
It is in revolutionary periods that the culmination of previous trends and the beginning of new ones appear. That is why they are so important.
Before we draw together the developing historical tendencies which meet in the colossal power of the United States to-day, we have to note briefly the temporary but symptomatic Far Eastern colonial adventure which spurted during the revolutionary crisis of 1850-1860.
In that critical decade the Northern industrial capitalists, unwilling to challenge seriously the combination of plantation owners and financial and commercial interests, seriously sought an outlet in the Far East. The low tariffs imposed by the mainly agrarian Democratic Party brought European goods into the United States, and already by 1844, American merchants in Canton had extorted a commercial treaty from the Chinese, granting them, among other things, “extra-territoriality.” Ten years later, Daniel Webster, Whig mouthpiece, sent Commodore Perry to open Japan, chiefly as a port of call on the long journey to China. The hapless Japanese had seen what Britain had done and was doing to China and knew, moreover, that British and Russian battleships were waiting to do likewise to Japan. They accepted the “gentle coercion.” American agents seized the Bonin Islands and Formosa. The U.S. was already ankle-deep in the bloody mud of the imperialist scramble. But the class struggle at home checked the adventure. The Southern agrarians had their own idea of imperialism — conquest of land for plantations in Cuba and Mexico. The Pacific islands were far and could not be defended except by heavy expenditure on a navy. The neo-imperialists began a dog-in-the-manger policy which they canonized as the defense of the “territorial integrity” of China.
Imperialist enterprise draws political consequences. By 1850 European industry and European plunder had thrown the subsistence economies of India and China into disorder. In that tumultuous decade the first of the great series of Oriental revolutions burst upon the world. The Taiping rebellion against the Manchu dynasty began in 1850, and it has been described as a mass movement of the propertyless against the corruption, inefficiency and capitulation to Britain of the old Chinese ruling class. By 1856 this revolution was at its height. In 1857 followed what the British call the Indian mutiny but which the Indians call the First War of Independence. The American representatives in China played their part side by side with the British and other imperialists in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion. From that beginning to this day American imperialism has never wavered in its unrelenting hostility to the democratic aspirations of the Oriental peoples. When, in the seventies, radical elements in Japan established a republic in one part of the islands, and again in 1894, when the Japanese Parliament was leading popular hostility against the throne and the bureaucracy, the administration in Washington gave every assistance, military, political and diplomatic, to save the monarchy and the militarists.
As the industrial bourgeoisie felt the struggle of the proletariat at home, so they became its enemy abroad. At the end of World War I, American food and diplomatic power had to be used to stifle the socialist revolutions in Europe. Today, American capital has had to take upon itself the defense of European capital and the defense of European interests in Africa and the Far East against their incorporation by Germany and the new contender, Japan. Hence its far-flung armies, navies and air force. But this war has brought with it an unprecedented disintegration of capitalist society in Europe and Asia. Never was there such destruction, such misery, such barbarism; never such disillusionment by the masses of the people in every continent with the old order. American imperialism therefore becomes the chief bulwark of the capitalist system as a whole. At the same time, ten years of the New Deal have shown the impossibility of solving the great economic depression. Therefore the United States hopes to restore its own shattered prosperity by substituting its own imperialism for the imperialism of Britain and France, its “allies.” It even prepares to “liberate” India in the interests of the “open door” and the “territorial integrity” of India. The Gandhis and Nehrus, however, seek the protection of this new patron to pacify the masses, satisfy their hatred of Japan and Britain and divert them from social revolution. The United States is the friend and ally of every reactionary government and class in Latin America except in so far as these for the moment assist the Axis.
This, in 1944, is “our country.” The colossal power of American imperialism is the apex of a process — the rise, maturity and decline of the capitalist world market. In the eighteenth century, “our country,” in achieving its own independence, released the great forces of the European bourgeoisie. In the nineteenth, “our country” in the triumph of its industrial bourgeoisie, released the great political potentialities of the European proletariat, the mortal enemy of the European bourgeoisie. Today “our country” can release nothing. Driven by the contradictions of its own capitalistic development and of capitalism as a whole, it is now the enemy of hundreds of millions of the people everywhere. The appearance of liberator of peoples is a necessary disguise for the essential reality of American imperialism, epitome of decadent capitalism, mobilized for the defense of privilege and property against a world crying to be free.
The laws of dialectics are to be traced not in metaphysical abstractions such as 168 years of “our country,” but in economic development and the rise, maturity and decline of different social classes within the expansion and constriction of the capitalist world market. The greatest progressive force in the eighteenth century, the nationalism of “our country,” is, in the twentieth century, the greatest of obstacles to social progress. In accordance with a fundamental dialectical law, the progressive “nationalism” of eighteenth century America is transformed into its opposite, the reactionary “internationalism” of American imperialism. The liberating “isolationism” of Washington is transformed into the rapacious “interventionism” of Roosevelt. The essence underlying each social order is exactly the opposite of its appearance on the surface. The power of Washington as capital of the world rests on no sound foundation. Except to those for whom a logical development of historical forces has ceased, or has never existed, the imperialist American grandeur is the mark of imperialist American doom. Imperial Washington, like imperial Rome, is destined to be cursed and execrated by the embittered millions. The liberating international tradition can and will have a new birth in this nation but, today, in accordance with historical logic, only in the service of the American proletariat, consciously using the great American tradition of the past and its present economic power as the pivot and arsenal of international socialism.
The stage is set. “There are unmistakable indications that here is rapidly rising a truly popular demand for a cleaning of the Augean stable of modern international society and that it will not admit defeat.” The author of that is no Marxist but a man who for years directed the international policy of American imperialism, Sumner Welles. But history has proved again and again since 1917 that the agrarian revolution on which hangs the salvation of India, of China and of Latin America cannot be achieved without the conscious aid of the working class in each country. In our compact world, successful revolt in any area will sound the tocsin for the center more violently than the American revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth century shook metropolitan Europe. And the social crisis in America must bring unto the scene the American proletariat.
Yet it would be a grave error to mistake the twentieth for the nineteenth century and to believe that the American proletariat is dependent upon the tocsin from abroad to engage in relentless class struggles with American capital. Whatever may be the incidental occasion, that struggle is rooted in the inability of American capital to solve the problem of the industrial reserve army of labor. Significant action of any kind by the American proletariat will reverberate in every corner of our “One World.” Every Chinese knows that it is impossible to have great class struggles in China without provoking the intervention of American imperialism. The whole tendency of the modern economy shows that foreign trade will be increasingly a transaction under the aegis of governments. American imperialism cannot escape its entanglement in foreign class struggles even if it would. Revolutionary movement anywhere can release only the international proletariat and the hundreds of millions dependent upon it. And that too is a law of the dialectic, proving the ripeness of the organism for transformational change.
The American proletariat itself may view the tangled skein of world politics with faint interest or even with indifference. To judge the future of contemporary history by these subjective appraisals is to make an irreparable error, to forget that being determines consciousness and not vice versa. In our “One World” the first serious and prolonged struggle on which the American proletariat embarks with its own bourgeoisie will rapidly educate it in the realities of international politics.
This must be the theoretical basis of action. The masses who comprised the Sons of Liberty had little understanding of fact that they were sounding tocsins for the European middle classes. Lincoln, the leader, did not even know that he would have to emancipate the slaves, far less sound the tocsin for the organization of the first Workers’ International. The farmers, mechanics and artisans, the workers and Negro slaves, pursued strictly immediate and concrete aims and made world history.
The premises of international proletarian organization are here. The individual productive unit of early competitive capitalism found its political complement in bourgeois democracy where individual units of the bourgeoisie fought out its collective problems. The maturity of capitalist production drove the proletariat to international organization in the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century the size of the productive units had linked the national units of production so closely that imperialist war marked the final decline of capitalism. From the large-scale productive unit came the new political form of the future — the soviet. For the soviets are not merely organs of struggle but the political framework of the new society. To the soviets, instinctive rejection by the masses of the organs of bourgeois democracy, the bourgeoisie responded with the totalitarian state. The most glaring sign of the degeneration of the role of the workers in Stalinist Russia is the destruction of the soviets by the constitution of 1936. Stalinist totalitarianism, the historical result of the first proletarian revolution, its growing collaboration with American imperialism, the mischievous power of its satellites abroad, have disoriented those whose Marxism, based on emotion and superficial reacting, reject the dialectic in history. They work from Stalinist Russia and American imperialism back toward the possibilities of socialism. They see the absence of international organization, the acquiescence and indifference of the workers, the organizational power of the Stalinist corruption inside the working class, and draw the gloomiest prospects for international revolutionary action. Such was never the theory or the practice of Marx. Let us end this theoretical study with one of his most mature and pregnant sayings:
“The international activity of the working class does not by any means depend on the existence of the International Workingmen’s Association. This was only the first attempt to create a central organ for that activity; an attempt which from the impulse it gave is an abiding success that was no longer practicable in its first historical form after the fall of the Paris Commune”
It was in that reasoned faith that Lenin and his band of Bolsheviks worked and created the Third International. We who have seen the determination of the contemporary masses to cleanse the Augean stables of modern international society are not in any way dismayed by the power of Washington or of Moscow. In the contradictions and barbarism of world economy we see the soil from which at whatever remove, and through whatever corruption from without or within, must ultimately arise the Fourth International.
1. We say bourgeois advisedly. Lippman is intelligent, well informed and conscientious — but bourgeois
2. The neglect of this fact is one of the strangest features of radical propaganda and agitation in the United States.
3. They had also joined the British in large numbers, listening to their promises of freedom.