Communism and the Social Order
By Albert Weisbord
Published by the
COMMUNIST LEAGUE OF STRUGGLE
(Adhering to the Internationalist Communist)
133 Second Ave.,—Room 24—New York City
(In the summer of 1933 before the New York State Conference of the Presbyterian Church at Auburn, New York, Comrade Weisbord delivered a speech on “Communism and the Social Order". This was part of a symposium in which the other speakers were Professor Fetter of Princeton University, who defended capitalism, and Professor Taylor of Columbia University who was called on to defend the “New Deal". Although delivered a year ago, the speech of Comrade Weisbord is still timely.)
COMMUNISM AND THE SOCIAL ORDER
The Communist challenges not only the Social Order as it now exists but the Social Disorder which rages within it. The social system is a Social Order only because there is an armed force to enforce the “Order". Without the repressive mechanism of the state, society would be torn to pieces by the opposing forces within it. Actually we are living in a crazy, disordered, planless system, whose functionings lead to so many contradictions, and whose evolution leads to such an intensification of these contradictions that mankind must find a solution to the problems or go under. Driven between the despotism of the factory and the anarchy of the market, society can free itself of its convulsions only through the dictatorship of the proletariat leading to Communism. For the scientific Communist, Communism is not a happy Utopia, which we OUGHT to establish but a future system which we inevitably MUST attain. And what if this society must be born through the violence and carnage of civil war? Shall we fail to see the child because of the pollution and filth which form the waste products of its birth? “Dainty” babies have yet to be born in this world; “immaculate conceptions” belong to the dreamland of religion only. And let us not forgot that the failure to release the child can kill both the child and the mother.
A Communist looks upon the social order not as stationary but as constantly in evolution and he looks at the evolutionary process not as a smooth unilateral one, but at any given moment, as the unity of contradictory forces. Close to the scene of struggle we see the noise, the conflict, the violence. Only from a more profound perspective can we see that it is the very series of clashes and revolutions that go to make up the evolutionary process itself. From this point of view there is no sharp line between evolution and revolution. Evolution prepares the way for revolution; revolution is only a part of the grand historical spiral evolutionary process.
The social system is made up of a net of social relations, the most decisive of which are the economic, that is, those productive relations which result in the satisfaction of our basic needs, food, clothing, shelter. The production and reproduction of life—that is the great activity of the organic world, an activity that separates the animate from inanimate matter. And in the whole animal world there goes on a struggle with nature to wring from it the necessities of life. The struggle for life becomes the struggle for the means of life. And if man has separated himself from the ape it is in this that man, under the pressure of environmental forces, in the course of his evolutionary development, became a tool-making animal and through his tools changed from a victim of his environment to a controller of it. The struggle for life which had become a struggle for the means of life now more and more becomes a struggle for the means of production of the necessities of life. The development of life, then, must coincide with the development of the means (the forces) of production.
Here we have the basic factor of all society, the forces of production. It is in the conquest of the elemental forces of nature that life develops and a basis for freedom exists. Man, as a piece of matter organized and integrated in the peculiar way he is, endowed with a brain whose function is thinking and whose result is the increasingly accurate reflection of the outside world, can never be “free” of matter. Freedom can only come from the materialist control by man of the forces of nature of which he is part. Freedom must be not the flight from reality but the consciousness of necessity. Its criteria are the achievements of man in the control over the “blind forces” of nature. The index of emancipation is: How much matter can man move to his will and purpose with a given amount of energy?
Since the decisive factor is the given level of the productive forces, it is clear that the social relations that will be affirmed must be such as to advance and not to hinder the development of these productive forces. And upon these productive relations which form the economic structure of society are built the other social relations, political, family, religious, cultural, etc., as well as the general mores and customs of a people. Just as the economic structure of society depends upon the productive forces, upon the level of technique and praxis attained, so the general social and cultural relations depend upon the economic ones.
But the course of evolution never did run smooth. Each change in the technique of production changes the interests involved, brings forth new economic relations which challenge the old. Soon the old controlling relations hamper the forces of production. These relations must now be burst asunder. They are burst asunder by the revolution and with the social revolution come new relations, which are no longer in conflict with the development of production, of life and of freedom. Throughout all history we can see this process at work. The windmill gave us feudalism, the economic relations of lord and serf and all the political, religious and ideological trappings that went with feudalism. The steam mill gave us modern capitalism with its relation of capital and wage-labor, its Protestantism and individualism, etc., while more recently electricity ushered in imperialism, the last stage of capitalism, an imperialism breaking down and already giving way to a system of workers’ Soviets. Nor was the transition from the feudal relations to the capitalist ones brought about peacefully as Cromwell’s Rebellion, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War show. It is a fact that the old system always has been brushed violently aside when the new relations have sufficiently matured within the shell of the old.
In the close to 200 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution, modern capitalism has greatly developed the productive powers of society. But more and more capitalism is now choking these productive powers. The last world war and the present great economic crisis are two outstanding proofs of the fact that capitalism is played out and is hindering the development of humanity. What are the contradictions of capitalism which are now being developed to the breaking point? Briefly, the main ones can be enumerated as follows:
1. Capitalism is tremendously wasteful and destructive of men, goods, power, land. The ultimate destiny of all useful goods is to be consumed. Yet under capitalism goods are not produced to be consumed, but for profit, and if a greater profit can be made by destroying the goods, the destruction takes place. (See, for example, the warning of N.Y. City Health Commissioner Wynne to the dairymen of N.Y. that the amount of milk they were throwing away because of the low prices was so large as to kill the fishes in the river and clog up the sewers.)
2. While production is a social act, the appropriation of the product, under the present system, is individual. As capitalism develops, larger and larger factories are built, thousands of laborers co-operate in the production of a single article, yet the article does not belong to them but to the owner of the means of production. The laborers are merely paid wages for the use of their labor power, wages which constantly grow less and less an aliquot part of the total product as the total product ever increases. Simultaneously the owner of the industries becomes progressively more divorced from the productive process. As small partnerships become big corporations or are driven out of business by the trusts and monopolies, the original entrepreneurs and organizers become mere rentiers, mere coupon-clippers. The corporation also develops, becomes more and more a public utility. The state begins to take a hand, and to run the industry. The former individual owner now becomes a purely parasitic hanger-on, his dividends paid regularly by the state apparatus which he controls.
3. While the productivity of man is unlimited and increases in geometric ratio, the markets are limited, increase in arithmetic ratio, later do not increase at all and even decrease. The greater the productivity of labor, and the greater the amount of production, the greater becomes the surplus product in the hands of the owners, the greater the need for markets, the greater, therefore, the competition among the capitalists, and the greater the tendency to lower the rate of profit, the greater the lowering of the wages of the workers, the larger the army of unemployed and paupers, the more vigorous the drive for foreign markets and colonies for exploitation, and the more violent the military struggles to control the world.
4. The greater the internationalization of markets, the greater the need to have a military machine to defend the market interests, the greater grow the oppressive burdens of the state apparatus, the greater grows the necessity to transform the whole nation into an armed, economically self-sufficient, ruthless, chauvinistic state, that is to say, Fascism.
5. Finally, we can conclude by declaring that the greater the amount of wealth, the nearer we are to world wars and revolutions.
Thus is it not clear that although in the beginning capitalism developed the productive forces, as capitalism reached its maturity, capitalist relations throttle and destroy these productive forces. With what a system are the products we need and want produced? Within the factory a rigid dictatorship, a terrible “rationalization” where the dead machine rules living labor, where the man is transformed into a cog of the machine, where labor becomes wage-slavery. Outside the factory dictatorship is replaced by economic chaos, man is ruled by prices which he cannot control, by the wild forces of the market of which he can be only the victim. It is only through the hectic fluctuations of supply and demand, it is only through the frantic rush of “successes” and bankruptcies that society “decides” and “plans” the division of its labor.
Let us look at the situation in the United States. Decade by decade as America has grown, the contradictions have grown. Periodically crises and wars have struck the country, each one worse than the last. Today we are in an economic crisis more severe, more intense, more lasting, than any we have had. The only solution for capitalism is another world war greater than the preceding one. The motto “Bigger and Better” certainly prevails for capitalist wars and crises.
Even in “prosperity” the life of the American worker was not a very happy one. It was in the U.S., the most developed capitalist country, that the most intense “rationalization” of industry took place. It was here that the workers suffered the highest accident rate, the highest industrial disease rate of any country in the world. Vital statistics show a smaller percentage of the population alive over 40 years of age than in any comparable country. Here the relative wage is the lowest. While in “good times” over 500 persons paid income taxes on incomes over one million dollars, over 90% of the people lived below the government standards of decency. Nor did the real wages advance. Counter-acting the reported rise in real wages since the war was the increased wear and tear on the workers, the chronic unemployment and part time work, the complete lack of social insurance, the necessity to support “dependents” over 40 years of age who can no longer get work, etc. “Prosperous America” reported that the number of deaths was increasing faster than the number of births. The rapid pace that the worker had to keep up coupled with the break-down of family life under capitalism led to a great increase of nervous disorders, cancer, etc. and to a big wave of suicides. The malnutrition of the masses was evidenced by the thousands of deaths each year from pellagra. The public schools reported over 6,000,000 school children physically undernourished. Throughout America the racketeer and the criminal was everywhere apparent.
If this was the case in “peak” years of “prosperity” what can be said today? At the beginning of 1933, production in the U.S. was down to near 50% of what it was in 1929. Using this index of production as a guide we can declare with conservatism that at the beginning of 1933 there were at least 20,000,000 constantly looking for work, 12,000,000 more working only part time while only 12,000,000 were actually working full time. And this out of the enormous population of 125,000,000. If the number of employed fell rapidly, the income of the toiling masses fell still more. Wages were cut drastically. Sweatshop conditions abounded everywhere. In the large cities we found woman and girls working for 40 cents a day, men working 78 hours a week for 10 dollars or even less. All the vice societies reported an alarming increase in the vice of the cities. A good part of the income which the masses received in the shape of schools, hospitals, etc. has now been taken away.
In a sense the situation is even worse among the farmers. Farm income fell from $12,000,000,000 to $5,000,000,000 at the end of 1932. While farm prices fell 55%, finished goods fell only 30% over 1929. Taxes have slightly increased, or now equal 2 ½ times what they were before the war; while the mortgage debt is almost 3 times what it was before the war, or near $10,000,000,000. When we add to this the recurrent calamities of drought, flood and insects, and the large number of rural bank failures which have cleaned out the reserve supplies of the farmers, is it any wonder that we see the farmers loot food stores in Arkansas, stage large scale riots in Wisconsin and place the noose around the neck of an Iowa judge?
If all this is true for the white toilers it is doubly so for the Negroes. The Negro population of the U.S. lives in conditions of stark misery and destitution that beggar description. Their death rate is double that of the whites. In the factory they are discriminated against, getting more everywhere much lower pay than the white workers. They are generally the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Many AFL unions bar the Negro worker. Among Negro woman nearly one half the married woman work as compared with 20% among the white women. Their living conditions are on the lowest possible level. They are crowded in segregated slum districts, nearly always near if not identical with the vice sections of the cities. Without political rights, Jim crowed, persecuted and despised, the Negroes stand truly as a pariah caste in America. And if we ask the basic reason for this it is because by such a system an extra profit can be made from the black man’s labor, because in this way he can be reduced to peonage. The present methods of oppression of the Negro were invented not by the slavery of the south but by the capitalism of the North and South.
What is the way out of these contradictions and who is to show the way? The present economic relations breed different classes, the capitalist class and the working class, with opposing interests. Inasmuch as our ideas rationalize our interests, the ideas of the ruling, capitalist class will be along the line of preserving their property and their right to exploit laborers, while the ideas of the working class will follow their interests and go along the path of solving the contradictions by removing their causes. The capitalists and their agents in the seats of government are blinded by their self interest, by the profits which they make as beneficiaries of the present system. The workers, on the other hand, having nothing to lose, are free to see that the present society must evolve into a new one; they see that nothing can free society from its convulsions save the change in the mode of production from a capitalist one, of private ownership of the means of production, to a Communist one, where the means of production are socialized and classes are no more.
Is capitalism able to find the way out? The crisis is now entering its fifth year. What solutions do the capitalist leaders propose? Let us examine the plans of the two capitalist leaders, Hoover and Roosevelt. What were Hoover’s policies? First of all, facts have already proven that they were absolutely powerless to stem the forces of the crisis. Secondly, it must be admitted that Hoover’s sole idea was to throw the cost of the crisis off the backs of the rich onto those of the poor.
Business was bad. The banks could not lend money to business which was not producing profits or dividends. On the one hand there was an overabundance of goods in the warehouses of industry and of labor in the streets, on the other hand there was a plethora of credit that could not be used. The government kindly issued loans, took up part of the credit of the banks and in return gave interest bearing bonds, thus providing a juicy investment field for the bankers. The fact is that during the crisis the interest bearing bonds on which the government must pay has increased enormously.
With the decrease in revenue and the increase in expenses the government had to increase its taxes. The recent Morgan investigation showed how the rich got away with paying taxes, putting to shame such pikers as Al Capone and other relatively petty racketeers. The government refused to tax government tax-exempt securities which were in the hands of the wealthy. It refused to tax the higher brackets of incomes and inheritances. Instead, it began a series of wage cuts for government employees. It put over a series of taxes on such things as theater tickets, gasoline, telephones and telegrams, etc.; it raised the postage rates, it taxed the sales of articles the value of which went into the goods needed by the masses. In short, the cost was to be laid onto the backs of the petty business man, farmer and worker, rather than on the wealthy. Is it any wonder that Morgan and Co. showed a larger profit in some of the years of depression than in other more prosperous years?
Business continued as bad as ever. The banks could not collect on their loans to business. The first question was how to help the banks. A Reconstruction Finance Corporation was organized with over $2,000,000,000 capital. This money went to the banks, the insurance companies, the credit companies and the railroads to help them overcome the crisis. The greatest rugged individualists now went flying to get aid from the federal government. The frozen assets were taken over by the government and liquid assets given to the banks. But of what benefit could the liquid assets be? The cause of the crisis was precisely too much commodity wealth which could not be exchanged or realized in the open market. Should the banks lend this money to business corporations this would only stimulate the corporations to new production, to new efforts to win an already glutted market, to artificial exports and more vigorous efforts to win foreign markets. In other words, it could only intensify the very causes that led to the crisis and made it so severe.
Millions of workers were in dire need. What was Hoover’s program? To deny federal relief, to deny relief to world war veterans, to deny the principle of social and unemployment insurance, to put all government works on a stagger system that would increase the number of unemployed, stealthily, through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and other agencies, to attempt to raise prices and inflate the credit of the country, this was the practice of the Hoover government. Against these facts was the talk of aiding the unemployed through “public works". Let us examine this theory of “public works” so much talked about by Hoover and Roosevelt, Al Smith and Senator Wagner and, after them, the liberals of all shades.
If there is a capitalist crisis it is because of “overproduction"; that is because the working class and toilers have produced such a large surplus over and above what they are permitted to consume that the owners cannot get rid of this surplus. So people starve and business goes bankrupt because there is too much wealth. How can public works help this situation? There are several kinds of public works. First there are prisons, jails, armories, battleships, etc., i.e. instruments of torture and slaughter for the masses in peace and in war. The masses can never be interested in such public works as these. The slogan “bigger and better jails will get us out of the crisis” will never appeal to the poor workers and farmers. As for schools, libraries, hospitals, etc., such public works from which the workers might benefit, it is precisely in these departments where the cuts and economies are the most drastic. Finally, there are the public works, which increase productive efficiency, dams, roads, and like projects. Such works make possible the production of more commodities than before, the lowering of the cost of production, etc. But the crisis was caused by the very overproduction of goods. To increase the pile of goods already undisposed of surely cannot do anything else but add to the basic causes of unemployment and lay the foundation for even greater and more severe crises in the future.
How many men can be employed through public works? Should the enormous amount of one billion dollars be spent yearly on public works, this could employ only half a million men and would still leave untouched the great army of unemployed. Indeed, it would take up only half the annual increase in the population looking for work! Let no one be fooled by the demagogy of “public works”, the grafters’ paradise, paid for by increased taxation upon the masses, run on a non-union starvation scale of wages, destined only to increase the base for the next crisis, a mere temporary stop gap for a few men. The fact is that far less public works have been constructed during the crisis than during the period of prosperity! Millions of farmers were facing ruin. What was the Hoover policy for them? A Farm Board was created with a revolving fund of one-half billion dollars. The idea was to buy up grain and cotton when prices were low and to hold on to the stuff until prices were higher. This policy soon proved bankrupt. The sole remedy that the Farm Board could give to the farmer was to curtail production, to destroy his crop and his means of production. But it is precisely in times of crisis that the farmer must work even harder than before and produce even a greater crop in order to pay his debts and in order to make ends meet. One of the effects of a crisis caused by overproduction and rationalized industry is to intensify the very causes by producing a still greater overproduction and still greater rationalization.
Imagine a government that tells the farmer to burn his corn, to plow under his wheat and cotton while millions are starving and in want. Yet this is the only way out of the crisis that capitalism can find. Here it becomes crystal clear how capitalism throttles the productive forces and how, if mankind is to develop and to grow, capitalism must be wiped out.
Finally, is there any hope for America to get out of the crisis through some foreign policy? But it is clear that America can get out of the crisis only by pushing some other countries into it. Shall America push her exports? Then, if she wins the market, how will the other countries sell their goods? How can these countries pay the debts which they owe to America? Should the other countries try to win the markets from America? Then this can only lead, on the one hand, to such desperate adventures as that of Japan in Manchuria or diplomatic deals leading straight to another war. Shall America demand payment of debts? This leads to a head-on conflict. In Germany it has led to a revolutionary situation which has been temporarily “solved” by Fascism. Shall America permit foreign goods to flood the U.S. market so as to enable these countries to pay their debts? Then, how will the local factories be aided? Capitalism creates such a tangle of contradictions and conflicts as to be absolutely insoluble save by the only logic capitalism knows: Force.
A world war is the real way out for capitalism. It will kill off the army of unemployed. It will destroy the surplus products. It will raise the prices. It will create fine profits for the wealthy. It may lead to victory of one country over the others. It is a fine way, the patriotic way out. Every grafter, every professor, every plutocrat, every preacher will be for it. Let war come and shall we not see them all, as we have seen them in the past, in the name of patriotism, pleasure, kultur, profit and peace, wave the flag and urge the workers to give up their lives for the glory of God and country?
We can only look at the Hoover disarmament plan, brought forth with such a flourish of trumpets in 1932, to see how America is preparing, under the guise of pacifist phrases, for the new imperialist war. The plan proposed no cut in big dreadnoughts but only in cruisers, submarines and aircraft carriers. But it is America which is strong in dreadnoughts while England is strong in cruisers and France and Japan are strong in submarines. There was to be a cut in the armies of the powers, but not in the army of the U.S. because there was only a “police army” and police armies are to remain in order to put down colonial revolts abroad and uprisings of the workers at home. America is for disarmament but not for the abolition of private manufacture of arms, or prohibition of arms exports, America’s strong points. Is it not plain to the most simple person who knows the facts that the disarmament plan of Hoover was to disarm the enemy but to arm all the better the forces of American capitalism?
This was the Hoover way. What of the New Deal? What of the Roosevelt Way? Let us state at the outset that capitalist Roosevelt only carries on the basic policy of capitalist Hoover. That if there has been any change it has been drastically to sharpen all conflicts. That Roosevelt shows the germs of Fascism in his policy and that if the forgotten man is remembered it is only to lay on new blows which Hoover forgot to give.
The Roosevelt New Deal contains the following policies:
1. Every effort is made to favor big business over little business and to accelerate the concentration and centralization of capital. The anti-trust act is pushed aside. The closing down of all the banks as the first act of the Roosevelt administration was an act also that led to centralization of the banking system and the squeezing out of the little banks. The Federal Coordinator of the Railways, the recent industry bill, the attempts at price fixing, all this is to favor big business.
2. The general financial policy remains the same and intensifies that of Hoover. Taxes are increased on necessities of life. Wages are further drastically cut for all civil service employees. The bonus for veterans is rejected. The pension system is completely revised with reduction of pensions.
3. The currency and credit of the country have been inflated violently. The immediate result has been a sharp increase in the cost of living for the masses. Within one month after Roosevelt was inaugurated the cost of living rose more than it fell in the whole first year of the general depression.
4. What is the labor policy of the New Deal? Worse even than that of Hoover. Not only have we all the vices of the Hoover regime but there is added that sanctimonious piety which is needed to cover a far more extreme policy. Labor is to be regimented. The unemployed youth are herded into army reforestation camps. With relief goes compulsory labor duty. The pay is reduced to one dollar a day. Thus the standard of living is driven down to the lowest possible basis.
The same old buncombe of “public works” is handed out. The New Deal consists in this: whereas Hoover, the Quaker, stressed pacifism and his public works were to be dams and roads, Roosevelt, the big-navy man, makes the public works new cruisers, new battleships, new destroyers, new submarines, etc. A new naval building program costing a quarter of a billion dollars to build thirty-two new ships has just been inaugurated. The unemployed are to be saved from death from starvation by building the weapons for their own mass murder.
The regimentation and militarization of labor, the smashing of the militant unions of labor and the substitution of compulsory labor arbitration, the driving down of the standard of living simultaneously with the drastic increase in the cost of living, here is the new deal for the forgotten labor man.
Nor has the new deal forgotten the poor farmer. The new farm policy also continues the Hoover policy in its basic ends which are the curtailment of production and the raising of prices. A tax is placed on agricultural products, the money to be returned to those farmers who curtail a certain amount of production. What will be the result? First, a new tax will be placed on the consuming masses. The cost of living will rise still higher. Second, the forces of production are throttled so that actually a bonus is given for destruction of goods. At a time when millions are starving we must watch mountains of the necessities of life deliberately destroyed before our eyes and paid for by the starving themselves. Can a crazier system possibly be imagined? Third, the rise in prices will cause a still further drop in the demand. The competition among the farmers will grow still more intense, the lowest layers will be submerged still more quickly. This will be further accentuated by the curtailment of production. The plantation owners of the South will evict perhaps a fourth or so of their share-croppers and tenants. The more prosperous farmers will fire so many more of their help. And let us not forget that the prices of the goods the farmer buys from the mail-order houses and trusts in the cities will rise still higher. Thus the agricultural laborer, the poor farmer, the share-cropper and the tenant, the city unemployed who went back “to the folks on the farm” to tide over the crisis, these will be the worst agrarian sufferers. Driven from the city back to the farm, driven out of the farm back to the city, a huge army of nomads, hundreds of thousands of homeless families, women and children will flood the highways and roads of the nation.
Finally, in regard to the small farmer and business man, the Roosevelt regime has declared a temporary moratorium on mortgage on homes and farms. What this means is that the government will pay the bankers directly the stupendous sum of four billion dollars and the government will take over the mortgages itself. We must remember that the bankers cannot collect or foreclose on these mortgages. The desperate plight of the farmer coupled in some places with his armed resistance forced the biggest companies, such as the Prudential Insurance Company, to declare a Moratorium. Now these bankers who could not collect are “saved” by the government. They will be paid in full. The banks will not lose a cent. The U.S. government now becomes the collector and creditor of the farmer. The economic fight of the farmers against the bankers now really becomes a political fight against the government. At some time, of course, the poor farmer will have to pay in full.
The New Deal of Roosevelt tries to cover its iron fist policy with the velvet gloves of liberal gestures. A social worker is put at the head of the Department of Labor. The masses are promised beer and the end of the prohibition amendment. There is some talk of recognizing Russia. But if the social worker is put at the head, it is only all the more to carry out the regimentation of labor. And if beer returns it is not because anyone really thinks we can drink ourselves out of the contradictions of capitalism but because alcohol serves the purpose of dulling and besotting the workers. Drunken workers are not so ready to fight. And if Russia is recognized, let us keep in mind the recent growing animosity towards Japan and France.
If all this is “liberalism” can we not say that beneath its snow-white garments we can glimpse a hint of the cloven hoof of fascism? Let us take a look at Roosevelt’s government and parliamentary practices. President Roosevelt has frankly stated that the country is at war and he must be given the same dictatorial powers as would receive if the country were really at war. These dictatorial powers he is receiving more and more. The recent constitutional amendment eliminating the “lame duck” sessions of Congress and the gap between election and inauguration of the President has centralized and sensitized the machinery of government so as to make it better equipped to deal with masses in ferment. The dictatorial measures assumed in the banking crisis, the dictatorial powers assumed over the railroads and in industry generally, the powers granted the President in regard to pensions, the regimentation and militarization of the youth and unemployed and of labor generally, the wave of deportations of aliens from the country, Roosevelt’s personal methods of handling foreign affairs, all these display the germs of fascism. They are to be seen even in Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust”, his gathering of professors around him. In appearance this looks like the return of the “liberal” days of Wilson. But let us remember that the liberal Wilson was our “war” President. And in practice this ‘’Brain Trust” resembles some of the theories of the Fascists who purport to stand above capital and labor and to give the people a government of the “elite". The fact of the matter is that the capitalists of America realize well that the contradictory forces engendered by capitalism are coming to a head-on collision, that decisive world conflicts are at hand and that America is at a great turn of the road.
The fact is America is at a turning point, a turning point as decisive as that of 1776, 1860, 1898 or 1917. With the force of an armored tank driven by a tornado, the crisis has ripped into the life of this country, scattering human wreckage on all sides and shooting into the air all those cherished notions that have been thought so basically American. Profound changes take place with a rapidity that has something stunning about it. The efforts on the part of most of the nation’s intellectuals to interpret the swift pageant of events become more and more helpless. What is the nature of this turn and where are we headed now? Are these the birth throes of a new order, the growing pains of youth or the last convulsions of a society outlived and senile? What is happening to America?
The United States was always considered a young country. She was the child of Europe, to some eyes an infant prodigy, to her mother, England, an enfant terrible, an unmanageable brat who, scarcely out of rompers, turned around and dealt the helpless parent an admirable punch in the nose. America was young, certainly, in the sense of being the newest edition of the old capitalist relations which had already long existed in Europe.
But what shall we say of the “youthfulness” of America today in comparison with Soviet Russia? There, life has reached an entirely new plane of development, a form actually never seen before on the earth. Hoary Mother Russia now appears metamorphosed into a flaming youth ready to do battle for his ideals before the whole world. A curious trick of history has turned quantity into quality! As long as differences were measured only quantitatively, America was really the youngest among the family of nations. But Soviet Russia has now attained a standard as different from that of present-day America or Europe as the Russian Revolution of October 1917 was different from the American Revolution of 1776. Measured by History and not by Time, America is older today than Russia.
Up to the twentieth century, America could be viewed as young in a double sense. First, in its external relations, America had been the instrument for the rejuvenation of Europe. It was America and the other “free” colonies that provided an outlet for the choked productive forces of Europe, taking in the latter’s surplus labor power. In turn, the existence of America with its rapidly extending market and above all with its great strides forward in technique, stimulated old Europe to fresh productive efforts. Thus, America postponed the decline of Europe, enabled it to enjoy a prolonged period of maturity. It was the grafted monkey-glands of American finance capital that revived European virility and delayed its era of decrepitude, just as it was the American “rations” in the shape of investments and loans since the world war that have enabled Europe partially and temporarily to stave off collapse.
In another sense, too, i. e. in its internal relations, America went through a period of youth side by side with the advancing age of Europe. America borrowed its history from the old countries, having none of its own. This country started out with class relationships that had long ago existed in “Merrie England” , but without England’s feudal encumbrances. Thus America became a sort of anachronism. The pre-capitalist relations of “Merrie England” came to life again in a world that had long passed this stage of development. For a long time handicrafts driven out of England found a place in America. Here the direct producer, such as the farmer or artisan, still controlled his own means of production. There was this difference: that instead of the peasants being torn from their lands and converted into proletarians, as happened in England at the beginning of the capitalist era when the conversion of thousands of acres of land into sheep-walks to supply the growing Flemish wool-industries flooded the English highways with mobs of homeless, property less people, potential wage laborers, here in America, on the contrary, proletarians were converted into farmers. The great free lands of the West (that West which began in the eighteenth century in Pennsylvania and finished at the end of the nineteenth century in California) afforded an escape to any laborer on the coast who was not satisfied. Only the trek to the frontier lay between him and land, the basis for individual prosperity. Although from the beginning there were slaves and indentured servants, the great bulk of the population was merged in one amorphous mass of small property holders and producers following a system of petty economy. Here lies the basis for that tradition of classlessness which has persisted so long after the basis for it has disappeared.
America thus became something unique, a promised land which stood for the “way out”, for the fountain of eternal youth. It became a utopia where life could break from the past and start anew. It became a new Jerusalem, taking the place of the old just as later American liberalism, in a way, took the place of Socialism. No wonder that religion could have such a hold upon the people here, that Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays should be followed so devoutly as they have been among us!
Alas for these illusions! If America reversed the life process of Europe and temporarily stepped back into the stage of Merrie England, it was only in order to obtain a longer running start before the leap. If here the domination of capitalist relations was delayed, this was more than compensated for by the fact that America finally developed the purest as well as the highest expression of capitalism.
Herein, then, consisted the uniqueness of America, in the fact that two contradictory processes were going on at the same time. At one time the anachronisms of our colonial origin were uppermost, at a later time, the forward urge of a lusty young capitalism. And, as ideas limp after events, we had here a most highly developed capitalist country with traditions of pre-capitalism, non-capitalism, anti-capitalism, a country of the most typical formation of classes with the ideology of classlessness. This is how the law of uneven development was realized in this country.
We have noted above the violent economic contrasts which were developed in capitalist America. The same violent contrasts took shape in the political and social spheres as well. America was at once the country of the “freest” labor and the country par excellence of forced labor. Indentured labor first built up the factory system of this country. As in England, the renting of little children wholesale from orphan asylums to factories to squeeze a few years of toil out of their frail bodies was not unknown. Slavery existed from the beginning and today the peonage and chain-gang of the Southern plantation system have taken its place. The country of the “Homestead” saw the greatest breaking up of the home. The Southland, land of the “sanctity of womanhood” witnessed the greatest development of organized rape against the Negro woman. The land of rampant individualism was the land where the individual was most of all but a cog in the machine. Translated into other terms it is these contrasts that give the “tempo” and the violence that have come to characterize America.
One of the effects of the present unprecedented crisis is that ideas are beginning better to catch up with events. The average citizen is coming to realize that the America of the nineteenth century with its frontier, its homestead, its free land, its petty economy and classlessness is no more. He may not be conscious of the full historical process but its results are hitting him squarely in the face and he knows that something has passed that will not come back. It is plain that the United States is no longer the land of opportunity but of bankruptcy and unemployment. In its pessimism, as before in its optimism, America is now outdoing Europe. No country shows as great an ideological change from the philosophy of “rugged individualism”, individual self-help and survival of the fittest, to the conception of state aid to help “ragged individualism.” A veritable flood of government loans, subsidies, subventions, tariffs and aids of all sorts has swept away the last pretence of the nineteenth century traditions. Has America been a new Jerusalem, a substitute for Socialism? Nothing could better illustrate the change in the situation than the fact that whereas formerly our population used to be increased by approximately one million immigrants every year, today the flow has turned the other way. “Aliens” are not merely being deported from these fair shores at a rapid rate, but they are leaving voluntarily, preferring to take a chance on the old farm back in Italy or Jugo-Slavia to standing on the bread line here. The sign-post at America’s gates no longer reads “The Way Out” but “This Way Out".
The destitute in the cities and on the farms have their complement in the wandering bands of people travelling up and down the country by foot, by hitchhike or by freight. Curiously enough, the last cycle of capitalism reproduces the hungry and homeless mobs which furnished it’s first labor-power. But now it is the factories that are disgorging the super-abundant man-power, and it is finance capital, not the woolen industry, that drives the farmers from their debt-ridden land. The United States always had a roving population to a certain extent. In fact, Karl Marx himself pointed out the mobility of labor power that is developed when skill ceases to be a factor in industry and the worker can shift easily from one job to another. But very different are the vagabonds of today. It is no longer a question of workers changing their jobs, nor of the adventure-thirsty seeking the road. Now the crews are composed of boys and girls who cannot get anything to eat at home, and of families,—fathers, mothers, children—who have no home.
Even the movies are beginning to reflect something of the deep social change going on (and changes must be pretty deep for the movies to reflect them). Such pictures as “Cabin in the Cotton” and “I am a Fugitive” disclose some of the most brutal features of Southern life to an extent that would be surprising did we not know that such pictures are shown only in the North where there is no cotton nor chain-gang, and if people are stirred up, they cannot in any case do much about it. Jazz has turned from “Ain’t We Got Fun?” to “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?”
The crash of the most fundamental American illusions will have deeper consequences than can be immediately foreseen. Here we have the basis for what Leon Trotsky aptly calls the imminent Europeanization of American politics. It means that for the first time open class lines will be generally recognized and class parties formed. This, in turn, means the rapid breaking away of the American working class from both the old parties and the establishment of an independent political party of Labor, with a consequent liquidation of one of the old parties, just as the liberal party has disappeared in England.
As yet, the signs of recognition of class lines from among the ranks of the working class have not been numerous. But there have been some things. Wm. Green of the American Federation of Labor makes quite a drastic departure when he threatens recourse to “direct action” if relief for the unemployed is not forthcoming. The railway union official who stated he would no longer be responsible for the safe conduct of the railroads if the railwaymen’s plight were not remedied, must have given voice to a widespread discontent. The A.F.L. is going pretty far from its usual stand when it demands social insurance. The manifestations of the unemployed so far have been relatively mild but this cannot be guaranteed for the future. All the signs are pointing to a period of militant action on the part of Labor. There have been movements towards the formation of a Labor Party.
How then shall we characterize the present stage, and what lies ahead? America seems to be passing rapidly through its period of maturity. In some respects, though not yet a senile nation (we do not refer, of course, to the mentalities of some of its guiding spirits) it shows greater signs of decadence than Europe. The numbers of unemployed are greater here. No other country since the crisis has to such an extent reverted to barter and other forms of primitive economy. It is possible America may telescope the stage of reformist, socialistic government that both Eng1and and Germany have gone through and that the not distant future may see America confronted with the alternative that Germany faced in January 1933: Communism or Fascism.
Who, then, can provide the way out? Certainly, it is clear that it is not the capitalist class, the beneficiaries of the present system, and their agents. The fact is that capitalism does create a class which constantly grows in numbers, strength and intelligence, the working class, who bear the full weight of capitalism upon their backs and who are in a position to see that capitalism is played out. As the working class fights against its increasingly worsened position it comes to the realization that the only way out is for labor to take what it has produced for itself. To take over the means of production, the mines, mills, factories, resources, utilities and run them for their own benefit. Then we will have production for use and not for profit. Then we will end both despotism in the factory and anarchy in the market. Then society will allocate its resources and labor power according to a social plan that will benefit all.
It is capitalism which creates the working class, which places this class before its problems, which sharpens its intelligence and gives it its science. It is capitalism that arms the workers and gives them the strength to carry out their own interests. In short, capitalism as it grows out of date creates its own grave-diggers who begin to do their work.
But the interest of the workers is diametrically opposed to the interest of the capitalists and exploiters of the workers who, controlling the government and the social educational agencies, strive to keep the workers down. The productive forces have created capitalist relations, capitalist relations have created classes which have opposite economic and thus opposite political and cultural interests. The capitalists want to keep the old relations of exploitation. They fight the rise of the workers. But their only alternative is to plunge society into one crisis and one war after another. The victory of the workers cannot be forever delayed. The old relations must be burst asunder. And if the capitalists, blinded by their interests, try to stop the wheels of progress they are ruthlessly pushed aside by the workers just as in the past they themselves pushed aside the feudal lords.
No ruling class has ever given up its economic privileges and state power without a fight. If this was true for the weak ruling class of Russia it is ever more true for the powerful capitalist oligarchy who rule America. The whole power of the mighty capitalist state will be used to crush the working class and in its turn the working class will have to smash the capitalist state machine and build one of its own, which will take it on the Road to Communism.
Soviet Russia shows that the capitalists throughout the world can be pushed aside by the workers. There the workers have taken power over one-sixth the territory of the globe. During the present crisis they have demonstrated the superiority of the soviet over the capitalist regime. For once the masses have demonstrated that they can do without the millionaires and exploiters of society, and that there can be a successful rule of the workers.
Of course Soviet Russia is not Communism. It is not even Socialism, the lower stage of Communism. It is only a transition regime, the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is still an iron rule, their is still the class struggle. The workers cannot build Socialism in one country alone. But the Russian workers have broken the imperialist chain in its weakest link. Other weakest links are constantly appearing. In spite of everything capitalism since the war has been cracking in many places. From 1919 to 1923 a tremendous revolutionary wave struck capitalist Europe. Europe barely survived as a capitalist territory. Since then revolution and near revolution have shaken country after country from China and India to England and Germany. War, revolution, crisis, these things show that capitalism is doomed; only the process by which the workers conquer is not a simple or a single act. It is a long drawn-out one. Therefore since the capitalists are not overthrown all over the world with one stroke, since they use their state machines, their armies and navies desperately to maintain their property and their power, the workers too are organized into a state to crush and conquer the capitalist states. It is quite natural, therefore, that Russia, still isolated and alone as a socialistic state, should not have an easy time of it.
When, however, the workers of the world unite to take over power and to smash the capitalist regimes, then the rule over persons will begin to give way to an administration over things. The state, with its religion, will begin to wither away. There will be no exploitation. There will be no classes. Each will receive according to what he puts in, and as the productivity of labor will greatly increase, each will receive according to his needs and will contribute according to his ability.
When we have reached Communism we will have done away with both the Social Order and Social Disorder and humanity will have reached a rational system of society where development of mankind will no longer be choked by social relations, where, therefore, society will be a free one and man emancipated.