Leon Trotsky

The Road to Socialism


From the Series of Articles in the Forthcoming Book The Only Road

(September 1932)

Written: 10 September 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 42, 15 October 1932, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

KAUTSKY and Hilferding, among others, have declared more than once in recent years that they never shared the theory of the collapse of capitalism which the revisionists once ascribed to the Marxists and which the Kautskyans themselves now frequently attribute to the Communists.

The Bernsteinians outlined two perspectives: one, unreal, allegedly orthodox-”Marxian”, according to which, in the long run, under the influence of the internal antagonisms of capitalism its mechanical collapse was supposed to take place; and a second, “realistic”, according to which a gradual evolution from capitalism to socialism was to be accomplished. Antithetical as these two schemas may be at first glance, they are nevertheless united by a common trait: the absence of the revolutionary factor. While they disavowed the caricature of the automatic collapse of capitalism attributed to them, the Marxists demonstrated that under the influence of the sharpening class struggle, the proletariat would carry through the revolution much sooner than the objective contradictions of capitalism could lead to its automatic collapse.

This dispute was carried on as long ago as the end of the present century. It must however be acknowledged that the capitalist reality since the war, approached, in a certain respect, much closer to the Bernsteinian caricature of Marxism than anyone might ever have assumed, above all – the revisionists themselves: for they had only portrayed the spectre of the collapse in order to bring out its unreality. Nevertheless, capitalism proves in actuality to be closer to automatic decay the more delayed is the revolutionary intervention of the proletariat in the destiny of society.

The most important component part of the theory of collapse was the theory of pauperization. The Marxists contended with a certain caution that the sharpening of the social antagonisms need not necessarily be equivalent to an absolute sinking of the standard of living of the masses. In reality, it is this latter process which is experiencing its unfoldment. Wherein could the collapse of capitalism express itself more acutelv than in chronic unemployment and the destruction of social insurance, that is, in the refusal of the social order to feed its own slaves?

The opportunistic brakes in the working class have proved to be powerful enough to grant the elementary forces of outlived capitalism additional decades of life. As a result, it was not the idyl of the peaceful transformation of capitalism into socialism which took place, but a state of affairs infinitely closer to social decay.

The responsibility for the present state of society, the reformists sought for a long time to shift upon the shoulders of the war. But in the first place, the war did not create the destructive tendencies of capitalism, but only brought them to the outside and accelerated them; secondly, the war would have been unable to accomplish its work of destruction without the political support of reformism; thirdly, the hopeless contradictions of capitalism are preparing new wars from various sides. Reformism will be unable to shift the historical responsibility from itself. By paralyzing and curbing the revolutionary energy of the proletariat, the international social democracy invests the process of the capitalist collapse with the blindest, unruliest, most catastrophic and bloodiest forms.

Of course, one may speak only conditionally of a realization of the revisionist caricature of Marxism, applicable to a definite historical period. The way out of decaying capitalism, however, will be found, even if after a great delay, not upon the road of the automatic collapse but upon the revolutionary road.

The present crisis has swept aside with a final flourish of the broom the remnants of the reformist utopias. The opportunist praxis at the present time possesses no theoretical covering whatsoever. For in the long run it is pretty much a matter of indifference to Wels, Hilferding, Grzesinski and Noske as to the number of catastrophes that will still hurtle down upon the heads of the masses of the people, if only their own interests remain immune. Only, the point is that the crisis of the bourgeois regime strikes at the reformist leaders, too.

“Act, state, act!” the social democracy still cried a short while ago, as it fell back before Fascism. And the state acted: Otto Braun and Severing were kicked into the street. – Now, wrote the Vorwaerts, everybody must recognize the advantages of democracy over the regime of dictatorship. – Yes, democracy has substantial advantages, reflected Grzesinski while he made the acquaintance of prison from the inside.

From this experience resulted the conclusion: “It is time to proceed to socialization!” Tarnow, yesterday still a doctor of capitalism, suddenly decided to become its grave-digger. Well, where capitalism has turned the reformist ministers, police chiefs and lord lieutenants into unemployed, it has manifestly exhausted itself. Wels writes a programmatic article: The hour of socialism has struck! There only remains for Schleicher to rob the deputies of their salary and the former ministers of their pension – and Hilferding will write a study on the historic role of the general strike.

The “Left” turn of the social democratic leaders startles one with its stupidity and deceitfulness. This by no means signifies, however, that the manoeuver is condemned in advance to failure. This party, laden with crimes, still stands at the head of millions. It will not fall of its own accord. One must know how to overthrow it.

The Communist party will declare that the Wels-Tarnow course towards socialism is a new form of mass deception, and that will be correct. It will relate the history of the social democratic “socializations” of the last fourteen years. That will be useful. But it is insufficient: history, even the most recent, cannot substitute for active politics.

Tarnow seeks to reduce the question of the revolutionary or the reformist road to socialism to the simple question of the “tempo” of the transformations. Deeper a theoretician cannot sink. The tempo of the socialist transformations depends in reality upon the state of the productive forces of the country, its culture, the extent of the overhead imposed upon it for defense, etc. But socialist transformations, the speedy as well as the slow, are possible only if at the summits ,of society stands a class interested in socialism, and at the head of this class a party which does not dupe the exploited, and which is always ready to suppress the resistance of the exploiters. We must explain to the workers that precisely in that consists the regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Only, even this does not suffice. Once it is a question of the burning problems of the world proletariat, one should not – as the Comintern does – forget the fact of the existence of the Soviet Union. With regard to Germany, the task today does not lie in commencing a socialist construction for the first time, but in tying together Germany’s productive forces, its culture, its technical and organizatory genius with the socialist construction already in process in the Soviet Union.

The German Communist Party confines itself to the mere eulogizing of the Soviet successes, and in this connection commits gross and dangerous exaggerations. But it is completely incapable of linking together the socialist construction in the U.S.S.R., its enormous experiences and valuable achievements, with the tasks of the proletarian revolution in Germany. The Stalinist bureaucracy, on its part, is least of all in a position to render the German Communist Party any assistance in this highly important question: its perspectives are limited to one single country.

The incoherent and cowardly state capitalistic projects of the social democracy must be countered with a general plan for the joint socialist construction of the U.S.S.R. and Germany. Nobody demands that a detailed plan should be worked out instantly. A preliminary rough draft suffices. Foundation pillars are necessary. This plan must as speedily as possible be made the object of action by every organization of the German working class, primarily of its trade unions.

Into this action must be drawn the progressive forces among the Grman technicians, statisticians and economists. The discussions about planned economy so widespread in Germany, reflecting the hopelessness of German capitalism, remain purely academic, bureaucratic, lifeless, pedantic. The Communist vanguard alone is capable of drawing the treatment of the question out of the charmed circle.

The socialist construction is already in progress – to this work a bridge must be thrown over the state frontiers. Here is the first plan: study it, improve it, make it concrete! Workers, elect special planning commissions, charge them with entering into contact with the trade unions and economic organs of the Soviets. On the basis of the German trade unions, the factory councils and other labor organizations, create a central planning commission which has the job of entering into contact with the Gosplan of the U.S.S.R. Draw into this work German engineers, organizers, economists!

This is the only correct preliminary to the question of planned economy, today, in the year 1932, after fifteen years of the existence of the Soviets, after fourteen years of convulsions of the German capitalist republic.

Nothing is easier than to ridicule the social democratic bureaucracy, beginning with Wels, who has struck up a Song of Solomon to socialism. Yet, it must not be forgotten that the reformist workers have a thoroughly serious attitude to the question of socialism. One must have a serious attitude to the reformist workers. Here the problem of the united front rises up once again in its full scope.

If the social democracy sets itself the task (in words: we know that!), not to save capitalism but to build up socialism, then it must seek an agreement not with the Center but with the Communists. Will the Communist party reject such an agreement? By no means. On the contrary, it will itself propose such an agreement, demand it before the masses as a redemption of the only now exhibited socialist change.

The attack of the Communist party upon the social democracy must proceed at the present time along three lines. The task of demolishing Fascism retains all its acuteness. The decisive battle of the proletariat against Fascism will signify simultaneously the collision with the Bonapartist state apparatus. This makes the general strike an indispensable fighting weapon. It must be prepared. A special general strike plan must be worked out, that is, a plan for the mobilization of the forces to carry it out. Proceeding from this plan, to unfold a mass campaign. On the basis of this campaign, to propose to the social democracy an agreement for the carrying out of the general strike under definite political conditions. Repeated and made concrete at every new stage, this proposal will lead in the process of its development to the creation of the Soviets as the highest organs of the united front.

That Papen’s economic plan, which has now become law, brings the German proletariat unprecedented poverty, is recognized in words also by the leaders of the social democracy and the trade unions. In the press, they express themselves with a vehemence they have not voiced for a long time. Between their words and their deeds lies an abyss, we know that well, – but we must understand how to pin them down to their word. A system of joint measures of struggles against the regime of emergency decrees and Bonapartism must be elaborated. This struggle imposed upon the proletariat by the whole situation cannot, by its very nature, be conducted within the framework of democracy. A situation where Hitler possesses an army of 400,000 men, Papen-Schleicher, besides the Reichswehr, the semi-private Stahlhelm army of 200,000 men, the bourgeois democracy the half-tolerated Reichsbanner army, the Communist party the proscribed Red Front army – such a situation by itself lays here the problem of the state as a problem of power. A better revolutionary school cannot be imagined!

The Communist party must say to the working class: Schleicher is not to be overthrown by any parliamentary game. If the social democracy wants to set to work to overthrow the Bonapartist government with other means, the Communist party is ready to aid the social democracy with all its strength. At the same time, the Communists obligate themselves in advance to use no violent methods against a social democratic government insofar as the latter bases itself upon the majority of the working class and insofar as it guarantees the Communist party the freedom of agitation and organization. Such a way of putting the question will be comprehensible to every social democratic and non-party worker.

The third line, finally, is the fight for socialism. Here too the iron must be forged while it is hot and the social democracy pressed to the wall with a concrete plan of collaboration with the U.S.S.R. What is necessary on this point has already been said above.

Naturally, these sectors of struggle, which are of varying significance in the strategical complete perspective, are not separated from each other, but rather overlap and merge. The political crisis of society demands the combining of the partial questions with the general questions: precisely therein lies the essence of the revolutionary situation.

PRINKIPO, September 10, 1932

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