Max Shachtman


The Fight For Socialism


Socialism – The Alternative to Barbarism

SUPPOSE you do not join in the fight for socialism. Suppose you do not organize and work for its victory. Will the society we live in remain just as it is, will it move forward, or will it slip backward? This question is of vital concern to everyone, especially to every worker. It is most important to understand what will happen to capitalist society if it is not replaced by socialism. To answer the question, let us examine the direction in which capitalism is moving, why it is moving that way, and what are the consequences for society.

We have already seen that the natural trend of capitalism is to replace small-scale production by large-scale production, to replace competition by monopoly in the form of horizontal and vertical trusts, syndicates and cartels. The development of monopoly brings to an end the period of capitalism often referred to as “free enterprise” and introduces social changes of tremendous importance.

What are these changes? What do they mean? Where are they leading us?

The Growth of Monopoly Capitalism

The growth of monopoly capitalism brings about a profound change in the capitalist class itself.

First of all, its number becomes smaller and smaller and the power concentrated in its hands becomes greater and greater. At one time there was not so much difference between the small capitalist and the big one. Today, an unbridgeable gulf divides the big monopolist and the owner of the small store, small shop or small factory. Every capitalist country is now ruled by a tiny handful of enormously powerful monopolists. They dominate all economic life by a system of interlocking directorates. They dictate not only the industrial and financial life of the country but also its political life. They rule the life not only of the workers but of all the middle classes.

Secondly, the economic function of the big capitalists has changed fundamentally. At the beginning, the owner of capital was a man of enterprise. He was a founder of industry, an organizer of production, an active manager and superintendent of his establishment. He made direct and valuable contributions to industrial progress. This was not true of every single capitalist, to be sure, but it was true by and large. With the growth of large-scale production and of monopoly, this has all been changed. The actual work of management and superintendence is carried on by hired men, by trained and skilled workers and technicians. The big capitalist class itself has degenerated to the point where it now performs no useful function in any sense. It is now composed essentially of coupon-clippers, holders of stocks and bonds, receivers of profits. It is unproductive. The capitalist class has revealed how superfluous it is to society by openly becoming a parasitic class. It is a leech which systematically drains the life-blood of the economy.

The growth of monopoly capitalism brings about a profound change in production as well.

Competition for the market in which profit is realized has always been the hallmark of capitalism, and the greatest stimulant to capitalist production, as we have seen. But by replacing competition to a high degree, monopoly loses this main stimulant to production or, more accurately, the stimulant to expanded production. To maintain its power and to keep prices at artificially high levels, monopoly places all sorts of restrictions upon production. The big corporations enter into secret agreements to limit output so as to keep up prices. They suppress inventions which would mean the abandonment of old equipment in favor of newly-developed, more efficient equipment, and result in lowering production costs. Their lust for monopolistic profits stands in the way of economic progress. Monopoly leads to economic stagnation. Stagnation leads to decay.

There is another aspect to this development. Free competition meant the absence of organization and planning in production. It meant blind production for the blind market – what we call the anarchy of production. Production under monopoly capitalism is an attempt to overcome this anarchy. Within a given big trust it might be said that anarchy is eliminated, the blind market is eliminated, and planned production installed. If, for example, a big automobile producer owns all the sources of supply for his product – coal and iron ore mines, glass factories, tire companies, soy bean plantations, aluminum foundries, and the like – he can organize his production so that it is carried on as a planned unit. It does not follow that monopoly-capitalist production is planned production which really wipes out economic anarchy. In the first place, monopolies do not completely wipe out free competition. They dominate it, they rule over it, so to speak, but they exist side by side with it. In the second place, the big monopolies compete with each other not only on a national scale, but all over the world. The conflict among them is the fiercest capitalism has ever known. It is a conflict with the most devastating economic and social consequences, which are visible all around us.

However, to the extent that competition is eliminated or reduced, the blind market ceases to be any kind of effective regulator of production. Crises which disrupt and paralyze production become more acute and last longer than ever before. One of the important results of this is the tendency of the government to step in more and more as the substitute for the crippled market, as the regulator and director of production. Capitalist economy has reached the stage of such disorganization and bankruptcy that it can no longer hold itself together in a more or less orderly way. The government, the state, is compelled to intervene on a massive scale in order to prevent the total collapse of capitalism.

The Rule of State Monopoly Capitalism

The planning and organization of production and distribution by one central institution would be a good thing. It would bring to an end all the social evils produced by capitalism. But in its intervention in economy, the government today only shows more clearly that it is at bottom nothing more than the executive committee of the capitalist class.

The government intervenes in economic life in the most decisive manner – the greater and sharper the crisis in a country, the more decisive is the manner of government intervention. In a sense, the government even takes the direction and management of economic life out of the hands of the private capitalists – thus once more emphasizing how superfluous the capitalist class is for the operation of industry. The government finds itself compelled to try to organize and plan the economic life of the country – thus once more emphasizing the fact that production under capitalism has become socialized and that socialized production is increasingly incompatible with private capitalist ownership and appropriation of profit.

Increasingly the government finds itself obliged to fix wages, by law and by decree. It seeks to fix prices in the same way. Similarly with profits. The government tries to establish the production schedule – this you produce, that you produce; this much you produce and that much you produce. As has been indicated, this development does not proceed at the Sang speed in every country. In some countries, it is faster and in others slower. In some countries it is more open and in others it is concealed under a dozen disguises. In some countries it seems to be a “purely wartime” trend, in others it is clearly a trend in peacetime as well. The speed and forcefulness of the trend depend upon any number of factors. But the trend itself is unmistakable and irrepressible in all capitalist countries. It can be slowed up here or there; it can be diverted in one way or another. But in the general crisis of world-wide capitalism it is an inexorable trend and it cannot be eliminated.

If you stop to think a moment, you will understand that this trend represents the natural requirement of capitalist society for socialist reorganization. The central planning and organization of production and distribution is the fundamental principle of socialism. The concentration of economic power, of production and exchange, in the hands of a few monopolies, shows that production has become socialized, while ownership has remained private. It shows how simple the reorganization of production on a socialist basis is for the working class today. It has only to take the big monopolies into the hands of its own government, and the foundations stones of socialism are laid. The capitalist class may delay for a time the victory of the working-class revolution and the institution of socialism. But it cannot halt the trend which undermines its own economic system, and which is represented by the intervention into, and domination of, all economic life by the government.

Does this mean that the government’s intervention is directed against the capitalist class and its interests? Not at all! Exactly the opposite is true.

The government, we repeat, is the executive committee of the capitalist class as a whole. If it fixes wages, prices and profits, it fixes them in the interests of the most powerful economic class in the country, the monopoly capitalists. That, is why, every time an economic balance sheet of government intervention in economy is drawn up, it is found that the monopoly capitalists are stronger and richer, and the masses of the people are weaker and poorer.

In normal times, or in times of crisis or depression, government loans and outright government subsidies are available to “all,” but actually the greater part by far of these loans and subsidies finds their way into the hands of the big corporations, the monopolies. For every law or decree or action taken by the government to maintain wages at a certain level, or to provide the unemployed with some modest insurance, it adopts ten laws and twenty decrees and takes fifty actions to guarantee the profits of the big monopolies. Even those capitalists or capitalist enterprises against which the government intervenes are usually those that stand in the way of the welfare and concentration of power of the big monopolists.

This trend does not depend upon this or that individual or group of individuals in the government. It is the natural trend under capitalism. In the first place, the government machinery, the government bureaucracy, from top to bottom, is tied up personally in a thousand ways with capitalist private property. In the second place, the foundation stones of capitalist economy, in war and peace, are not the small enterprises, but the big monopolistic giants, the big industrial and financial enterprises. What is more natural for such a government to do than to keep its very foundation stones intact and to reinforce them?

This phenomenon of increased government intervention into and direction of capitalist economy, in which the government machinery actually meshes with the monopolies and the monopolists themselves, we call state monopoly capitalism. But we are far from finished with all its aspects.

We have said that the deeper and sharper the crisis of capitalism, the more helpless the capitalists themselves erg to resolve the crisis – the more the capitalist government is forged to intervene for the purpose of organizing and directing economy. This process has been likened to a collapsing barrel. The rottener the staves become, the more they tend to fall apart – the greater the necessity of surrounding the barrel with tighter and stronger hoops. The capitalist state has to provide more and more hoops every day for the collapsing and decaying capitalist barrel.

Bureaucratism, Regimentation and Fascism

As a result, we have the phenomenon in every capitalist country of a stupendous government bureaucracy which is continuously mushrooming over the land. It is produced by the decay of capitalism and the helplessness of the capitalist class. Every time the barrel weakens, a new hoop, or set of hoops, is desperately pressed around it. The capitalists complain bitterly, but actually they cannot do without this growing bureaucracy.

If banking breaks down, it can no longer be restored by the “normal course of the market”; it must be held together by a new government law or decree, and by a hugely staffed bureau to enforce it. The growth of radio transmission outstrips purely private control; so a heavily staffed government bureau, or more than one, is set up to regulate it. Agriculture is in a state of permanent crisis; so a dozen or more new bureaus, all well staffed and overstaffed, must be set up to try to prevent the complete collapse of agricultural production and distribution. Industries collapse or are on the verge of collapse; so a hundred and one different government bureaus must be set up to supervise, check, subsidize or eliminate production. At one and the same time, the crisis of capitalism sharpens and increases class conflicts, and makes them extremely dangerous to the existence of capitalist rule; so a hundred and one more government bureaus are set up to prevent or regulate or arbitrate these conflicts. The expenses of government are increased a thousandfold, ten thousandfold, as a result of this bureaucracy; so more bureaus have to be set up to collect revenue for the government. The unemployed grow in number; they must be kept alive for two reasons – to prevent them from disrupting the country by fighting for their lives, and to maintain them as a new kind of mass reserve, one available for the sudden military and industrial requirements imposed by modern warfare; so more and more bureaus are added.

The growth of the government bureaucracy is one of the most striking features of capitalism in decay. Millions of men and women are rendered unproductive by the requirements of government bureaucratism. Unnecessary in a rationally organized society, they are the indispensable parasites of decaying capitalism, feeding upon the capitalist class who feed upon the economy, leeches upon leeches. They are a permanent drain on society, a burden and curse upon the masses of the people who are compelled to maintain them at heavy expense to themselves, in order that they may in turn maintain capitalism itself.

Alongside this parasitic bureaucracy grows regimentation of all sorts. The concentration of economic power has brought with it the concentration of political power. The concentration of political power is indispensable to the concentration of economic power in the hands of monopoly capitalism. The life of capitalism has become so feverish, its internal contradictions so acute, each little problem at once so complicated and so urgent, the intervention of the state has become so immediately necessary, that important changes have been introduced into the political life and standards of capitalism.

Representative democratic government, even in the most democratic capitalist countries, has become more and more meaningless, more and more ineffectual. The sharper the crisis, the more urgent the problem, the less capitalism can wait for the government to intervene by the process of slow, lumbering deliberations in large representative assemblies like congress or the House of Commons or the Chamber of Deputies. In some countries, such democratic bodies never even existed. In other countries where they did exist, they are now tolerated only as formalities, their real rights and powers eliminated or reduced to zero, their actual powers being only “advisory to the executive.” In still other countries, they have been wiped out altogether. A well man can go around for weeks with a minor ailment and no harm will come to him. A decrepit man who is already ailing in every organ must get instantaneous attention the minute he feels a sharp pain, for one delay in treatment may mean his last. So it is now with decrepit capitalism. Hence, the rise of totalitarian government, of authoritarian government, of capitalist dictatorships everywhere. Hence, the decline of capitalist democracy and of democratic representative government. “Wait for Congress? Wait for parliament? No, it will be too late! The situation is urgent and desperate!”

That is why we see, even in the most democratic capitalist governments, the decline in the power and activity of the representative assemblies and the rise in the power of the executive – the Presidency or the Prime Ministry; the decline of government by legislation and the rise of government by executive decree. In this field, too, the trend of capitalist; evolution is inexorable, irrepressible. It can be halted for a while, or slowed down in the speed at which it is proceeding, but it cannot be eliminated. The crisis of capitalism, its decay, is too deep-going and too far-advanced for that.

The growing regimentation and oppression, the violation and elimination of democratic rights and institutions, affects all the classes, all the population, outside the ranks of monopoly capitalists themselves. But it is the workers whom it affects most heavily and adversely. In countries where the decline of capitalism has brought it to the depths of fascist rule, the workers are simply reduced to the level of a new kind of slavery. But here again, the trend is universal; under fascism it merely reaches its ugliest and most insufferable limits.

In every country, the basic crisis of capitalism makes life harder for the workers to endure. The crisis therefore generates the workers’ resistance to the unendurable conditions of life. The greater this resistance, the more it disrupts the already precarious stability of capitalist production and capitalist rule. The capitalist monopoly state intervenes in this field, too, and it intervenes, in accordance with its function, on the side of capitalism. To an increasing extent, wages and working conditions are determined by the government. Silent obedience to its decisions is made a “patriotic” duty. In country after country, not only in wartime but in peacetime, the right to work has been converted into compulsory work under government orders or direction. The unemployed, “maintained” by the government, are at the government’s mercy; they are ordered to take any job, regardless of wages of working conditions, which it instructs them to take.

The unions, elementary defense organs of the workers, are sucked into the machinery of the government and become more the instrument of a capitalist government policy than of working class struggle. To check or suppress the struggle of labor for its rights and living standards, struggles which imperil the stability and sometimes the very existence of capitalism, labor must be regimented. The Samson must be shorn of his locks. At first, labor must submit to “voluntary” arbitration. If that is not sufficient to paralyze the strength of the workers, then compulsory arbitration is openly substituted. By legislation or decree, government restrictions are placed on one of the most powerful weapons labor has in its possession, the right to strike. By all sorts of blackmail, pious (lie connivance of the labor bureaucracy itself, the unions are induced to abandon the right to strike “voluntarily.“ If that is not sufficient, they are formally deprived of the right to strike at all. The chattel slave on the plantations had no right to strike, either; he could not leave his work or his place of work. Capitalism tends to reduce the wage worker to the abysmal level of a new kind of slave,

During war-time, which is a most critical period for any state, this trend is open and undisguised. In peace-time, it is at work in a somewhat slower manner and in a somewhat disguised form. What holds true for the right to strike, holds true with regard to every other political and democratic right which the people have enjoyed at one time or another. Decaying capitalism finds any form of democracy incompatible with its further existence. Fascism is the only the ultimate expression – ultimate only so far as we have seen up to now! – of this important truth.

The Bloody Race for World Mastery

The growth of monopoly capitalism does not eliminate competition or its evils. It intensifies them at home, but above all on a world scale. The more the home market contracts, the closer it comes to exhaustion, the deeper the crisis – the more frenzied is the hunt for markets abroad, for new fields of capital investment, sources of raw materials and cheap labor. Every one of the big countries and many of the small ones are engaged in this hunt. The competition is fierce and ruthless. It is all the fiercer and more ruthless because the area in which it takes place grows smaller and smaller. The capitalist world has become a sort of Black Hole of Calcutta. Each monopolist is prepared to trample all the others to death in the frantic effort to get closer to the air let in by the small window. The results for all mankind are appalling.

International cartels and agreements among monopolists are never more than a stop-gap. Each of them is driven by the urge to dominate all the others, and capitalism does not permit things to be otherwise. The interweaving of the monopolies with the capitalist state shows its most fatal consequences at this point. Abroad, each government operates almost openly and unabashed in the name of its own big monopolists.

To preserve the international power of these monopolies – their colonies, their spheres of influence, their protectorates and vassal states, their investments, their properties and profits – this is not enough. The power must be increased, expanded. There is no way of increasing it save at the expense of the monopolists of other big countries. The world must be divided among these insatiable wild beasts. And no re-division of the world will ever prove satisfactory to any one of them until it has reached the point where it monopolizes the entire world, without any effective rivals or competitors.

When the relationship of forces among these bandits seems to promise a favorable re-division, imperialist war breaks out. Each war is more horrible and more destructive than the last. Whole populations are now mobilized for warfare; whole populations are now destroyed in warfare. Devastation is wrought that will take generations to make good. The tax burden – to say nothing of the tribute burden on the defeated nations – becomes crushing not only for the generation in which it was incurred, but for generations to come. Even in peacetime, every country must bear the yoke of a large standing army, of a huge military, naval and aerial establishment. That is for those who are left alive. The dead in modern imperialist war are counted by the tens of millions. Monopoly capitalism buys life for itself literally by crushing out the lives of millions upon millions upon millions of people.

Still the story of the alternative to socialism is not told.

Monopoly capitalism long ago took over a world divided between slaves and slave-owners – the colonial and semi-colonial peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, on the one side, and the imperialist rulers of Europe and North America on the other. As we were taught in school, the colonial peoples were the “backward” peoples, and “we” had to carry the “white man’s burden” in supervising their development, under stringent control. In its agony, monopoly-capitalist imperialism goes further. To the “backward” countries long ago reduced to colonial slavery, it now adds independent countries with a modern civilization, which it seeks also to reduce to the status of slavery or semi-slavery. In the narrowing world of capitalism, no power is content with its share. It must needs seek to enhance it at the expense of others. Which others? The old colonies are already divided up. There remain the weaker of the colony-owning or other big countries. There remain the rivals and competitors for world power.

The trend of capitalist development in every country has been known and observed for many generations: the replacement of competition by monopoly, of small-scale production by large-scale production; the swallowing of the weaker enterprise by the stronger. The same process which took place among the enterprises of each country is now taking place among the countries themselves. The process began with the weak and defenseless backward countries at the edge of the world market. Now it has reached the heart of the capitalist world itself. The circle is narrowing. This was evident in the Second World War. If the peoples of the world ever allow a Third World War, the process will reach its ruinous climax.

Now it is not only backward peoples who are deprived of their most elementary rights, including the right to govern themselves, the right of national sovereignty. Now it is advanced peoples and nations who are involved, including nations which held colonies of their own in slavery up to yesterday, only to be reduced today to slavery or semi-slavery themselves at the hands of a stronger imperialist power. The strong imperialist power must seek to wipe out the weaker imperialist power.

The race among the big powers for mastery devours more and more of the peoples and wealth of the world. The period of peace between wars becomes shorter every time. During the period of peace, to say nothing of the period of war itself, more and more of the energies, the wealth, the productive machinery, the labor-time of every country are devoted to preparing for the outbreak of the coming war which capitalism makes inevitable. Capitalism devotes an ever-increasing part of its capacity to producing the means of destruction. Science and scientists are not allowed to perform the task of lightening the burdens of humanity and advancing the welfare of society; instead they are harnessed to the grisly chariot of war. At the orders of the state, science develops guns that will destroy hundreds where one was killed before, bombs that will destroy whole cities where only a building was damaged before. The atomic bomb is the horrible symbol of capitalism in its death-throes and of what its further existence means to the existence of civilization and humanity. Capitalism devotes itself increasingly to destroying the means of production.

The reduction of modern, independent countries to a state of dependency upon the conquering imperialist, only adds to instability and disorder. If the old and backward countries which have lain dormant for centuries are in almost continuous rebellion against foreign rule and for national independence, it is not hard to see that the peoples of modern countries, who have known independence and advanced civilization, will be even more rebellious against any attempt to deprive them of their freedom to rule themselves. Their struggle against foreign oppression is even more violent, more conscious and more advanced than that of the backward lands. To maintain foreign rule over them to suppress their battle for liberty, large armies of occupation and armies of spies are required. Turbulence and strife war and destruction, disorder and decay are becoming the normal state of capitalist society. Order and stability are impossible. Security is a memory. Peace is fleeting. War is an ever-present threat or a monstrous reality.

That is how capitalism drives society to a new barbarism.

From the great builder and producer, it has become the great destroyer.

From the bearer of civilization and culture, it has become the relentless devastation of civilization, the beast of unculture.

From the stimulator of production by free competition, it has become the swamp in which monopoly stagnates production.

From the bearer of democracy, it becomes the seed-bed of regimentation, totalitarianism and Fascism.

From the liberator of the feudal serfs, it becomes the ruler of tens of millions of modern slaves.

From the creator of modern nations, it becomes the enslaver of modern nations.

From the banner-bearer of progress, it becomes the trailblazer of barbarism.

Gone are all those things that once justified capitalism. To restore them, to add to them to arrange them so that society as a whole may benefit, to lift them to a higher social and historical level, require that capitalism shall go.

In the hands of the working class rests the greatest responsibility in history, the greatest possibility for human advancement ever known. It alone can restore order and progress to society. It alone can bless all humanity with freedom, equality and abundance. It alone can give labor fertility and dignity. It alone can release science from its fetters. Almost the entire world stands ready for the emancipating leadership of the working class: the peoples of the colonies, the little people of the middle classes, the small farmers and tenants and croppers, whole nations that are oppressed – all those who suffer in different degree under the iron heel of the super-monsters of modern imperialism.

The working class is the only consistently revolutionary class. It is therefore the only consistently democratic class. Democracy is inseparably linked up with the struggle for socialism. Upon socialism, depends the happy future of humanity and of civilization. The working class is called upon to save society from barbarism, the only alternative to socialism.

The conquest of capitalist monopolism, the rule of the working class, the inauguration of socialism-that is the aim of the Workers Party. That is the task of the working class. That is the road to human freedom.

Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 23.4.2005