Leon Trotsky

On the American Economic Crisis


Written: 1932.
First Published: From the thesis of November 26, 1932, Verité. Excerpted from The Key to the International Situation is in Germany.
Source: Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Vol. 2 No. 1, January 17, 1932.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

In the United States, the most powerful capitalist country, the present crisis has exposed terrible social contradictions. After a period of unprecedented prosperity, which astonished the whole world, a sort of fireworks of millions and billions, the United States suddenly passed to unemployment of millions of men, to a period of frightful poverty, of biological misery for the workers. A social upheaval of such formidable extent cannot but leave traces in the political development of the country. It is still difficult to determine just now – at least from a distance – what can be the radicalization of the American working masses. We can suppose that the masses themselves have been so taken unawares by the catastrophic crisis, of the general economy, have been so stricken and stunned by the unemployment or fear of unemployment, that they have not yet had time to draw the most elementary conclusions on the calamity which has befallen them. It takes time. But the conclusions will come. The vast economic crisis, which has taken on a social character, will be inevitably transformed into a crisis of political consciousness of the American working class. It is very possible that the revolutionary radicalization of large sections of the working class will take place not in the period of lowest economic conjuncture, but on the contrary, when there is a return to new activity, to a new upgrade.

We can expect new commutation and permutations in the leading groups of parties, new efforts to form a third party, etc. at the first signs of a change of direction in the economic situation from on top, the trade union movement will feel a great need of freeing itself from the clutches of the vile bureaucracy of the AF of L. At the same time, unlimited possibilities will open up for communism.

More than once in the past America has known violent explosions of mass movements, which were revolutionary or semi-revolutionary. Each time, these movements were quickly extinguished, either because America entered upon a new phase of economic upgrade, or because the movements which occurred were characterized by a vulgar imperialism, a complete lack of theory. Nothing remains now of these two circumstances. A rebound of economic life (which must not consider in advance to be impossible) must rest not upon internal “equilibrium” but upon the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism has entered upon an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of constant increase of armaments, of interventions in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflict and all sorts of upheavals. On the other hand, the masses of the American proletariat, who become radicalized have, in the shape of communism – or more exactly, can have, if there is a correct policy – no longer what they used to have, a mixture of empiricism, mysticism and charlatanism, but a scientifically founded doctrine, which would measure up to events.

Such radical transformations enable us to foresee with certainty that the inevitable and relatively near change in the revolutionary consciousness of the American proletariat will not any longer be a mere “flash in the pan”, which can be easily extinguished, but the beginning of a real and big revolutionary blaze. Communism in America can progress with assurance toward a great future.

L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 23.12.2013