Max Shachtman

How “Practical” Is Capitalism?
How “Utopian” Is Socialism?

(28 October 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 46, 12 November 1945, p. 4.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The following is excerpted from a radio address by Max Shachtman, Workers Party candidate for mayor, over Station WQXR, Sunday October 28, 12:45 p.m.

On November 6 you have an opportunity to make your voice heard.

Your vote does not merely help elect the candidate of your choice. It registers the things you are interested in, the things you want. It registers the way in which you expect to get these things.

Now, what are the things that you and I want?

What we want is what the plain people all over the world want. They are simple things.

We want peace, instead of bloodshed and violence and destruction.

We want security, instead of insecurity, the terrible business of not knowing today whether or not we will have a job and an income tomorrow.

We want to be sure that we will be able to raise our families in decent homes and good schools.

We want comfort and prosperity, instead of low living standards, slums, child labor, unemployment, hunger and starvation.

We want democracy and freedom, instead of regimentation, bureaucracy, racial and religious and national conflict.

These are the simple things which you and I and all the plain people everywhere long for, the simple things we have always wanted for ourselves and our children.

But we don’t have them. We live in a modern civilization. We have huge industries all over the land. We have undreamed-of natural resources. We have millions of trained and skilled workers. We can produce in one day. what it took our ancestors years to produce.

Yet we do not have peace. We do not have security and prosperity.

Why No Security?

It is the social system that stands in the way, the system of capitalism or, as it is sometimes called to make it sound better, the system of “free enterprise.”

Under that system, a handful of capitalist monopolists control all the wealth and power in the country. This handful owns industry, banking, mining, transportation. It owns our jobs. Whoever owns all these things, controls our lives, the lives of you and me and tens of millions of others.

One of my opponents told me the other evening that the program of. the Workers Party sounded very attractive, but that it was impractical and unrealistic. We live in a capitalistic system, he said, and we must make the best of it. All right, let us see what is the BEST that capitalism offers you, and how practical and realistic it is. We will test how practical and realistic it is in the richest and most advanced country in the world, the United States. We’ll test it at its best.

Let us test it for security and prosperity.

The great economic crisis of 1929 broke out under Mr. Hoover. Millions were unemployed. People went hungry, ragged and homeless. Farmers starved in their own fields. Banks collapsed. Factories closed down and stayed closed. “Free enterprise” had every opportunity it needed to show what it could do. Nobody interfered with it, but it collapsed miserably. It couldn’t’ get industry going again. Mr. Hoover’s solution was to have the unemployed sell apples to each other.

That was Test No. 1, and capitalism failed completely.

After Mr. Hoover, we had Mr. Roosevelt. I don’t deny that things were better under Mr. Roosevelt. But I do claim that he did not and could not solve the problem. He set out to make capitalism work. For the first time on such a scale, people were paid by the government for NOT producing. Farmers were paid for the acres on which they DIDN’T raise food.

Under Mr. Roosevelt, producers were paid to plow under every third acre of wheat, of corn, of rice, of tobacco, of cotton. They were paid to destroy every third steer and hog and sheep and lamb. Are people hungry? All right, let’s destroy some of the food! Are people without clothing? All right, let’s destroy some of the cotton and wool!

That’s the stage of insanity capitalism reached under the New Deal. After six years, in January, 1939, there were still 12,000,000 unemployed workers in this country.

That was Test No. 2, and again no security and no prosperity.

The War Test

After the New Deal came the war. And, lo and behold, capitalism performed a miracle! Every factory began working full steam, some of them three shifts a day. Twenty billion dollars were spent in four years to expand old plants and put up new ones. Unemployment came to an end. Everybody was put to work. The United States produced twice as much as it ever did before.

But WHAT was produced? Homes to live in? Decent clothes to wear? Healthful food to eat? Schools for our children? Medical facilities? New automobiles and good roads? No, none of these things.

Instead, we produced the most terrifying means of destroying life, destroying wealth, destroying whole peoples and nations; bullets, bombs, tanks, planes, battleships, artillery and, finally, our proudest achievement, the dreadful atomic bomb.

Why couldn’t we have full production and full employment in peacetime? Why couldn’t all these plants be used then to produce the good things of life? Why is it that the only time they worked at full steam was when war came?

Because capitalism works very well indeed to wage war, to kill and maim, to destroy and devastate. Capitalism is at its best when it is at its worst. But it is no good for peace, security and prosperity of the people. The war was Test No. 3, and again it failed.

Full production was paid for with the lives, bodies and minds of more than a million American casualties, to say nothing of the ruin and wreckage caused all over the world.

And now we are having test No. 4. The war is over, and what do we see? Nothing was planned for the peace period. Eight million men will be out of work by the middle of next year. Overtime work is finished, and the take-home pay is cut heavily. The big monopolies, the big corporations, made billions in blood profits during the war.

What about you working men and women? Already you are without a job. Or if you still have a job, your wages have been cut. If you still have a job, how do you know you will have your job tomorrow, or next month, or next year?

The monopolists, the champions of “free enterprise,” what do they say about this situation? They say: We cannot guarantee everyone a job; we cannot guarantee an annual wage. That means that “free enterprise” cannot guarantee you security, it cannot guarantee you a decent living, it cannot guarantee that you will be able to raise a family the way it ought to be raised. No job means no income, and no income means no life.

That’s the best that capitalism offers you. That’s how practical and realistic capitalism is. Aren’t these tests enough for any thinking working man? If you test capitalism for peace, you find it is no better, but worse.

There was a bloody war in 1914, which we entered in 1917. We did not have even one generation of peace. The Second World War was a real capitalist improvement over the first. The death and destruction it caused stagger the imagination. We were solemnly promised a lasting peace’ after the First World War. But we did not get it. We were just as solemnly promised that after the Second World War there would, at long last, be real peace.

But you know and I know that there is no real peace. Why, even before the soldiers are out of the army that fought the Second World War, capitalism is preparing the army to fight the Third World War. We are to have permanent military training, a permanent army, a huge navy. And you know what armies are for. Our wounds are not yet healed and our tears not yet dried. Yet, before our very eyes, the big powers are jockeying for position for the next war,.

And what a war it will be! The war of the atomic bombs, the war that will slaughter us off like rats in a trap, the war that will reduce those of us who remain alive to a new barbarism.

Is that what YOU want?

Is this what our women are for – to produce war troops?

Is this what our men are for – to live in caves, to be torn to ribbons, or to be maimed or unsettled in mind for life?

Alternative of Socialism

That is what capitalism offers you. If that is what you want, you don’t even have to register yourself in favor of it by voting for a capitalist party. You can just stay at home and wait for the doom of civilization.

But we of the Workers Party believe there is an alternative. The alternative to a capitalist government and capitalist bankruptcy is a workers’ government and socialism.

We can have security, peace and freedom, If we establish a workers’ government, a government controlled and operated by YOU, the millions of American working men and women.

We want to take over the industries built by us – by us and nobody else. We want to take over the wealth produced by us – by us and nobody else. We want to, and we can, run industry to produce for peace, not for war. To produce for us, for the needs and comforts of the people, and not for the swollen profits of the monopolies and trusts.

Without capitalism and capitalist profit, we can put an end to these horrible wars. They are caused by economic rivalry and by the lust of every monopolist to dominate the wealth of the world. Our marvelous machinery performed the terrible miracles of war production. We can make it perform far greater miracles of peacetime production to provide plenty for all, homes fit to live in, comforts and prosperity, self-respect and human dignity.

Those are the things we all want. They are the things socialism stands for. They are the things that we, the Workers Party, stand for.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 29 January 2018