Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

R. Lotta

On the Mensheviks’ Views of Crisis: “Capitalism Works After All”


First Published: The Communist, Vol. 2, No. 2, Summer/Fall 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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One of the hallmarks of the Jarvis-Bergman clique was their utter contempt for theory–at least Marxist-Leninist theory–and for the waging of the theoretical struggle by the proletariat and its Party. So narrow and petty was their outlook, so ensnared were they by the temptations of the moment, that the best they could do would be to muck around–here in Marx, there in some Party documents or, more often, documents from the old Communist Party (CP) or the Comintern, taken wholesale at face value, despite what has been learned by the international communist movement–to offer up some snippets to justify their putrid practice. Usually, they would make a show of agreeing with the Party’s line, even at times pretending to deepen it, all for the purpose of undermining it. It was almost uncanny how Jarvis in particular would read just the opposite of what was intended into Party documents and gut the life out of Marxist texts, reducing them all to a ceremonial paraphrase with which anything could be justified. For a pack of scoundrels who hardly did any study, who hardly ever made any useful theoretical contributions, their warped ability to deftly manipulate a narrow range of ideas and concepts does invite a certain comparison with not the worst of charlatans.

The hankering of the despicable duo of Jarvis and Bergman for the “good old CP” was certainly reflected in their insistence on making a virtue of many of its weaknesses. The CP’s failure to arm its membership with Marxist-Leninist theory and the overall failure of the CP, even at the highest levels and even in its best period, to be deeply rooted in the science of revolution resulted in it being buffeted about as conditions changed and new tasks confronted it.

In the early 1930s when it generally based itself on the goal of revolution, the CP was not able to correctly analyze objective conditions; this was revealed, for instance, in its erroneous assessment that a revolutionary situation had arrived. Later, in the late ’30s, the ’40s, and early ’50s, failing to grasp the underlying contradictions in society and their laws of development, the CP became awed by the temporary strength of U.S. imperialism and finally fell into complete reformism and revisionism. The Bergman-Jarvis bunch were never reconciled to making a break with the pragmatism of the old CP, and it was only a matter of time before they would lapse into the revisionism that they claimed to detest.

As recounted in the May 1978 issue of Revolution, these Mensheviks did not regard the formation of the Revolutionary Communist Party as any sort of advance. The Party-building process had been too principled for their tastes, geared as it was to ideological and political line. This precluded the sort of unholy alliances and opportunist compromises that might have resulted in some other forces coming in and which would have allowed Jarvis and Bergman to put another feather in their caps and provided more soil for their factional maneuverings. But the Party-building process constituted an advance because it concentrated the experience of applying Marxism-Leninism to the conditions of the U.S., and on this basis the general staff of the working class was formed, armed with a battle plan to lead the class forward. This concentration of the correct line was embodied in the Party Programme and Constitution and largely in the Main Political Report adopted at its Founding Congress. Of particular importance was the analysis made in this Report of the crisis, the international situation, war and revolution.

From the very beginning, Jarvis sought to twist the meaning of this Report to suit his own rightism. He would place an “independent” interpretation on it and subsequent documents which “deepened” its analysis. While he would waffle as the struggle developed, discernible trends emerged within the Party that enjoyed his unqualified support.


What was the analysis of crisis put forward in this Main Political Report? The heart of it was that U.S. imperialism has entered into a downward spiral. The current crisis, it stressed, was not simply a “downturn,” but a worldwide crisis of the imperialist system–the first such crisis since the ’30s and the war and redivision that followed it. This crisis would continue to deepen and bring with it both stepped-up attacks on the working class and masses of people and intensified resistance. The Jarvis-led forces seized upon this analysis and hoped to bolster up their economism by distorting it.

Essentially the view the Jarvis forces advanced at the time was that the crisis would develop in a straight line down. It would unfold in a linear sort of way–unemployment mounting, wages being slashed, bankruptcies spreading, etc.–and eventually (not so far off, either) the bottom would fall out, the whole edifice of the capitalist economy would collapse. It must be said that a certain tendency to view the crisis in this way was fairly widespread in the Party and existed on all levels, even among those who have continued to adhere to the Party’s revolutionary line. But among these latter, who never carried this as far as the Jarvis-led faction nor made it part of a whole reformist position, there has been a consistent attempt to sum up such errors and to carry out more consistently revolutionary work, based on a deepening grasp of the objective laws and a Marxist analysis of the situation and its development. The opposite has been the case with Jarvis and his cabal. Theirs has been a view that was not based on an understanding of a new spiral which had its beginnings in the late ’60s with the military reversals of U.S. imperialism in Vietnam, the intensifying competition within the U.S. led bloc-initially expressed in gold difficulties–and the full flowering of Soviet social-imperialism. Rather, this view was based on the precipitous decline of the economy in 1974-75, but it was left at the perceptual level. It did not see this overproduction crisis in its interconnection with the international situation and the longer-term trends affecting U.S. imperialism.

Now the decline of ’74-75 was indeed a watershed; this is reflected in its severity, as the drop in industrial production in January 1975 was the steepest one month decline since 1937. But it was not this alone that set this decline apart from the recession–and the very deep one, at that–of 1957-58. It was the international situation in which it was taking place and which, as mentioned, interacted with it.

But its seriousness did not lie in the fact that the U.S. imperialists, at that time or even now, did not have the reserves to avoid a total economic collapse, because they still have those reserves, though such a collapse and severe economic depression may well result from the further development of the present crisis–and will result unless world war, and more than that, a favorable outcome in that war for U.S. imperialism, precedes and prevents this. The seriousness of the present crisis lies exactly in the fact that these reserves–this maneuvering room of the U.S. imperialists–are diminishing and the only way for the U.S. imperialists to regain their previous strength, given this crisis and the international situation, is to redivide the world through war. The Jarvis forces never paid much attention to this question of war, the easier to fall in line with our own bourgeoisie when this war “unexpectedly” broke out.

At the Founding Congress the Jarvis-commanded forces, operating with this view of impending collapse, concocted a “left” economist line. It found its most systematic expression in an article on the role of intermediate workers organizations (IWOs) authored by several of Jarvis’ close cohorts in an internal Party-building journal. This came to be known as the “Clarify” article since it professed to “Clarify [the] Role of IWOs.” This article which contains in embryo the reformism and syndicalism now enshrined by these Mensheviks was written to counter the formulation in the Draft Programme that the overall role of the intermediate workers organizations was to apply the single spark method to take up major struggles of all sections of the people.

Ostensibly the Mensheviks were arguing against what they claimed was an artificial and too rigid separation, both politically and organizationally, of shop struggles and broader campaigns from each other. But this was just a ruse to make what was their principal argument: “The fundamental contradiction, and now also the principal contradiction, in America today is between the working class and the bourgeoisie. It is precisely because of this fundamental contradiction that struggle around shop issues is potentially revolutionary struggle.” (their emphasis)

These Mensheviks were not so much concerned with “correctly” taking up other campaigns and issues as they were with liquidating them, so they would not get in the way of building their “potentially revolutionary” struggles on the shop floor around shop issues. They were not so much concerned with turning the factories into fortresses–of all-around struggle against the bourgeoisie–though their ploy was to clamor about how the IWOs must be rooted in the shops–as they were with literally walling off the day-to-day struggles from others in society (since according to their circular and revisionist reasoning you could only fight around what the workers were already fighting around) and “building this struggle [the shop struggle] as a revolutionary struggle.” The cutting edge for these Mensheviks as far as the IWOs went was, always, whether they were leading the struggles in the plants and not politically the role they must play in developing the workers movement of today into a revolutionary movement, which of course includes leading these shop struggles–but leading them as part of the overall fight against the capitalist system.

This economist and syndicalist view of the IWOs dovetailed with and was conditioned by their view of the crisis at the time. As a corollary to the notion that the economy was going straight down the abyss, the forces led by Jarvis held out the prospect of the working class moving straight forward to revolution by militantly prosecuting its economic struggles. In the context of this economic crisis such struggles would become revolutionary on two counts. First, the bourgeoisie could not meet the basic demands of the workers and this would have the effect of raising the ante and consciousness in the process. Second, these struggles would aggravate the crisis; that is, to the extent that workers won such demands or waged fierce struggle in pursuit of them, this would make the crisis that much worse and bring the impending collapse that much closer. The economic struggles of the working class would resolve the crisis in a revolutionary way. This is why in their view the day-to-day economic struggles of the workers were, as these Mensheviks described them, “potentially revolutionary.”

This was a conscious distortion of a point underscored in the Main Political Report of the Founding Congress about the importance of recognizing the revolutionary potential in the day to day struggles of the workers. This referred to the potential for a revolutionary movement indicated in the battles of the working class, in the tremendous sacrifices and hardships endured by the workers in struggling for their most elementary interests, and the great responsibility of the Party to lead these struggles and develop this potential into reality as part of developing the overall movement of the working class. Nowhere was it suggested that these struggles were themselves revolutionary or that even if led in the most correct way by communists they would lead to revolution. In fact, combatting just this error became a point of struggle and rectification in the year following.

For these Mensheviks-in-the-making there was no need for specifically revolutionary work. These economic battles would pass over to revolution automatically as the economy teetered toward collapse. So there was no need to wage all-round struggle against the capitalist system nor to develop the working class into a vanguard fighter against all oppression and raise its overall class consciousness. The fundamental contradiction in society was reduced to the struggle over the terms of the sale of labor-power rather than to the system of wage slavery itself. And this was a line that refused to educate workers to see that the basic contradiction of capitalism–between socialized production and private appropriation–gave rise to others in society and to struggles over which the working class had more than a passing interest. Political struggle was very low on their scale of priorities. What an annoyance and distraction, these other questions and issues, when we could be setting up militant trade union councils, they blustered in almost so many words. They treated these political issues as the province of a handful of the advanced, which even they should only take up when time permitted.


During this period, Leibel Bergman placed himself in opposition to Jarvis’ “left” economism–though not in revolutionary opposition. Bergman propagated the incredibly short-sighted and reactionary thesis that the bourgeoisie could offer the masses–and these were his words–“bread and circuses.” The U.S. working class could be bribed, he declared, for who knows how long, maybe indefinitely. U.S. imperialism was, in his estimation, swollen with reserves; actually, according to Bergman, echoing the likes of Paul Sweezy, U.S. imperialism had come up against a problem that Marx did not foresee: how to dispose of a vast pool of surplus brought on by automation and other such niceties–a surplus it didn’t need to continually reconvert into capital to continue the exploitation of the workers here as well as in other countries. In line with this Bergman also postulated that the costs of maintaining the U.S. empire were greater than the benefits that accrued to it, implying with his characteristically mysterious manner that the imperialists had some choice in the matter, and once they woke up to this realization they would cast off imperialism. And with characteristic arrogance he stubbornly refused to study–Marxism-Leninism, especially–when it was pointed out to him that this “theory” of his was completely opposed to, and thoroughly refuted by, Marxist-Leninist political economy in general and its analysis of capitalist crisis in particular. And he even refused to recognize that his reactionary fantasies were refuted as well by the very developments of the present crisis.

Bergman did not fail to draw the appropriate conclusions from his “creative” political economy. There was nothing much of great importance that could be accomplished in the economic sphere–at least not in the way of building a revolutionary movement–so he contented himself with the most narrow trade unionism. He saw any hack with the faintest glimmering of militancy as a worthy leader of the working class and would habitually urge Party members to chase after every last one of them. Any kind of shop newsletter would be just fine–if it merely mirrored where the workers are at, so be it.

But what really counted with Bergman, what was of undeniable and enduring significance, was whatever trend happened to be in vogue among the petty bourgeoisie. Earlier it had been petty bourgeois adventurism, but this soon yielded to more staid and respectable reformism. Here the old CP in Bergman was brimming over. He saw no problem with joining up with the petty bourgeois radical stampede to McGovern in the 1972 Presidential elections; in fact, it was an urgent necessity. He was fascinated with Coleeman Young, the bourgeois liberal Black mayor of Detroit, and even suggested that he could be part of the united front. It was the classical economist viewpoint–trade unionism for the workers coupled with reliance on petty bourgeois and even “enlightened” bourgeois forces to carry on reformist political struggle.

At the same time Bergman declared the importance of what he called “the superstructure”–i.e. the importance of “changing the minds” of the masses and persuading them that capitalism was no good even though it could provide for their material needs and even continue to improve their lot materially. This may seem ironic in light of the fact that Bergman is now playing a leading role among the philistines who attack the RCP because we give any emphasis to struggle in the ideological realm, even though we do not treat it as the main arena of class struggle overall. But there is an underlying unity between the line of Bergman at that time and the vulgar materialism in which Bergman and Jarvis have found common cause. Both are fundamentally idealist and metaphysical; both pose material reality against consciousness and make a break between the two. The first–Bergman’s earlier line–denies that consciousness is rooted in the material world, and in particular that the revolutionary class consciousness characteristic of the proletariat has a material base in the position of the proletariat in society, including in advanced capitalist society like the U.S. The second–Jarvis’ crude determinism–denies that consciousness can be transformed into matter, that revolutionary theory and line can be grasped by the masses and become a powerful force changing not only the material world but the masses as well in the process.

Thus, even at the time of the founding of the Party, though embracing logically opposite positions–and though it can be said for Bergman that he was consistent in his revisionism–Jarvis with his “left” economism and Bergman with his trade unionism basically combined with liberal reformism hewed to the same stupidity. Each in his own way was taken in by appearances, Bergman by U.S. imperialism’s ability to overcome the recessions of the ’50s and undergo its most rapid period of post-war growth in the ’60s, and Jarvis by the contraction of ’74-’75. The latter saw a fateful collapse approaching soon, the former saw the eternal rule of the bourgeoisie. Both wrote off the need for revolutionary work–one because it was not necessary, the other because it was not possible. Neither understood the real nature of the crisis and the new spiral and neither knew nor cared to know a whit of what communist work was all about. Both would be in each others arms as the two-line struggle in the Party came to a climax, with Jarvis actually embracing Bergman’s entire revisionist program.

The complete absence of dialectics in the approach of these Mensheviks brings to mind a certain kind of thinking which is described well in an article from a 1974 issue of the Peking Review: “To see things in a straight line way is in fact a metaphysical way of thinking and is like ’eating without emptying the bowels’ and ’sleeping without getting up.’ Anyone using this way of thinking in observing things inevitably fails to see what is the essence and what is the appearance, which is the mainstream and which is the tributary, which is the part and which is the whole. This way of thinking leads to blind optimism and loss of vigilance when revolution develops successfully, and to indolence, helplessness, pessimism and despondency when revolution faces difficulty and twists and turns.”


By 1976 the growth rate of the U.S. began to approach its postwar annual average. This was a partial and halting advance, a small bubble of recovery that showed every sign of bursting as it continued through 1977. Not even the bourgeoisie was taken in by this. But when the collapse which Jarvis had been banking on failed to materialize and when some of the initial outrage and struggle of the masses subsided as the situation underwent partial and temporary stabilization, he flipped over to a new sort of determinism. Whereas before his camp had alleged that the economy would come tumbling down, making it possible to move straight forward to revolution by waging the economic struggle, now in their view the relative stability of U.S. imperialism determined that very little–except the most narrow economic work–could be undertaken. The U.S. working class had been beaten down over the years and it became necessary to adapt working class politics to a working class saturated with reformism and anti-communism. The vision of the self-destruction of U.S. imperialism was now superceded by an imperialism which had effectively stupefied its working class and which had, for the time being at least, weathered the storms of economic adversity. Ironically enough, this was a view that was initially draped in some militant garb.

At the Second Plenary of the Party’s First Central Committee in 1976, a paper, which formed the foundation for what came to be known as the “high road” Report, was presented by Comrade Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee. This Report further developed the Party’s analysis of crisis, war and revolution. The Report emphasized that despite partial and temporary ups within the crisis, it would continue to deepen and that things had entered a specific downward spiral–not a straight-line down, as it pointed out. This spiral could only give way to another one through war, revolution, or most likely some combination of the two on a world scale. Moreover, though it was not inevitable, the process of development of this spiral would “raise the prospect of proletarian revolution” in the U.S. and other countries. Yet, this Report continued, at the present time the struggles of the masses were not at a high pitch and, generally speaking, there was much confusion among the broad masses. This was due to the fact that we are in the beginning stages of this spiral.

Precisely because these underlying trends were not so evident but would, at a certain point nevertheless result in a rapid and qualitative change in the conditions of society and the mood of the masses, thereby opening new opportunities for the conscious forces, the Report laid great stress on understanding the nature and unfolding of the laws which operate in society. The new spiral spoken of referred to the objective conditions that the working out of these laws have given and will continue to give rise to. A spiral is exactly that–a course of development with a definite direction, though marked with twists and turns, zigs and zags, which results in things moving to a new and qualitatively different stage. This movement is towards deeper crisis and world war, and this latter in particular was seen as a likelihood for the decade of the ’80s. It was with this perspective of sudden and big changes occurring and the possibility of a revolutionary situation developing that the Party’s work must be carried out.

The Mensheviks would have none of this. They wailed and whined that current conditions were being made out to be more difficult than they were. They charged that the Report limited the gains that could be made, while they tried to salvage what they could from the Report by suggesting that its main point was not doing our work in such a way as to promote revolutionary struggles and prepare ourselves and the masses for the big changes that would take place, but simply to wage big battles with small forces. They posed this in opposition to the Report’s emphasis that all our work, including waging these big battles, must be linked with our final goal and that in all of today’s battles we come straight up against the fact that there are laws in society and how these laws operate. To leave things at the level of fighting the effects of the underlying contradictions conditioning the development of capitalism in general and the current crisis in particular is not fundamentally going to change things–so we must help the workers to consciously direct their struggles at the cause.

For all their bravado and self-proclaimed militancy, what the Mensheviks objected to in this Report was precisely its revolutionary outlook. What bothered them was the Report’s indictment of a tendency to narrowness and economism in much of the Party’s work. According to their twisted logic, if you couldn’t do economist work, you couldn’t accomplish anything. After all, with the working class so backward, what more could you do? The worst possible thing would be for us to separate ourselves from the workers by engaging in activities that do not promise palpable results, which might, heaven forbid, arouse some controversy, but which would raise consciousness as well.

These Mensheviks became preoccupied with the question, how do you get things going or, in their lexicon, “spinning.” It was like some religious test of will or wits. It wasn’t even the bourgeoisie in their eyes, but the working class, that was an immovable object. And when it was moving or you could get it to move, never mind giving revolutionary leadership, just keep things going, take up each battle as it comes and just make sure that you’re at the head of things.

Hence their fondness for gimmicks and stunts. They had no sense that there were big forces at work in society that would propel millions into motion, and that the essential point is not getting things going, but leading people forward toward revolution. For the Mensheviks there were no forces operating in society and pushing things in a certain direction; rather objective reality was just there, kind of like a brick wall, with no laws of development. The changes and development of the objective situation matter for little; in fact, the only thing that really counts is how hyped-up people can get.

The ludicrous proportions to which all this has been taken can be gleaned from the May Day speech of their “Revolutionary Workers Headquarters” excerpted in their so-called “Worker.” In place of any real politics and any real analysis of the context in which people are fighting we are simply told that “In 1968 people thought big. Thinking big in 1968 meant building organizations, building movements. . .” And once again we are implored to do likewise today, “In 1978 we again have to start thinking big.” As though all that stands between the masses and revolution is lack of ambition and sheer nerve. But this crude exaggeration of the subjective factor is nothing more than a thin cover to get some narrow and economist work going. Because, naturally, all that can happen is what we can make happen.


It was not beneath the Mensheviks to revert to the doomsday prognostications of their earlier period, though now it was for decidedly more limited ends–to get things “spinning.” Take their campaign against the cuts in unemployment benefits which has been analyzed in the March 1978 issue of Revolution (p. 2). They built this campaign like a pack of Chicken Littles: “the sky is falling, we’ll all be in $2.00 an hour jobs, it’s now or never, either we beat back the ’Carter Offensive’ or we’re finished.” But they gave people no real understanding of why these cuts were coming down and how they related to the development of crisis. Instead, it was Carter, evil incarnate. They portrayed the industrial reserve army as the handiwork of the capitalists, something they had cooked up or consciously decided to swell in order to depress the wages of the employed. The reserve army was not, as they saw things, an objective outgrowth of the anarchy of capitalism and the inevitable crises it leads to; no, it was just another aspect of Keynesian fine-tuning–add a little unemployment here, subtract a few wages there and, presto!, you have the “Carter Offensive.” But, we were assured, with the right combination of pressure group and crowd-pleaser tactics we could beat back this “policy” of cuts and slave labor jobs.

To see how our Mensheviks treat the question of unemployment in such a reformist way, the reader can turn to the second issue of the Menshevik “Worker.” There they try to breathe new life into their “Carter’s Unemployment Offensive” line in an article purporting to be a major analysis of unemployment. In this article the question of and basis for crisis and the basic contradiction between the forces and relations of production apparently escapes their attention once again. But apart from such “minor” omissions, we are treated to a rather blatantly social-democratic thesis, including such gems as the following: “So the record of the private economy in the last three years is not that of a dynamic job creator, as Carter would have us believe. The capitalists’ economy has failed to substantially create jobs and reduce real unemployment (even in the public sector, as shown before). Secondly, the jobs created by the economy are in low wage and non-union service areas, which has only pushed more and more people into an already crowded job market. Finally, instead of working to reduce the crippling effects of the laws of the capitalist economy, Carter’s policies are designed to increase the desperation of the unemployed by cutting benefits and intensifying competition for jobs. This serves to help the bosses drive down pay and benefits and enforce stricter discipline on the job.” (p. 8, emphasis in original)

What comes through in this paragraph and the article as a whole is not an analysis of a capitalist system, which because of its own internal contradictions is enmeshed in a deepening crisis; instead what we get is a picture where the “private sector” of the economy has a poor record for creating jobs and the “public sector”–i.e., Carter–won’t create them. And where the Mensheviks do touch on the laws of capitalism it is only to make a mockery of them, levelling the harshest indictment at Carter, who just hasn’t been doing enough to “reduce their crippling effects.” Instead of this, you see, he’s been trying to “increase the desperation of the unemployed.” The logical conclusion that flows from this is that if Carter can decide to increase this desperation he could just as well decide to decrease it–provided we can convince him. And this is precisely the kind of pressure group orientation towards the workers’ struggle that the whole Menshevik analysis leads to.

In the same vein, in the last issue of The Steelworker newspaper that was produced under their editorial direction[1] the Mensheviks emblazoned the front page with the headline “Industry Closing Down–Mills Closing Everywhere.” Once again the sky was falling. There was no attempt to analyze how the efforts of the steel capitalists to reorganize the industry were linked with the overall crisis, how the crisis has been unfolding, and how these shutdowns represented a challenge to the whole working class requiring more advanced forms of struggle to marshal the strength of the whole class. If you couldn’t scare the workers with this “industry shutting down” stuff into thinking big then you had to cast about for some gimmick to get things going. So one of these Mensheviks began advocating that a fight be taken up for Trade Readjustment Act (TRA) money. After all, what could be better than palpable results, even if the TRA is a protectionist act not only designed to strengthen the hand of U.S. industry but also to short-circuit and deflect away from its target the struggle of workers.[2]

The Mensheviks, therefore, were not entirely unaware of the seriousness of the crisis; how could they be, it stared them in the face. They just couldn’t reconcile themselves to the fact this is an inescapable feature of capitalism, rooted in its very nature. They would grasp at any straw to deny that the laws of capitalism act in a definite way which makes it impossible to win any but the most temporary concessions. And they needed some assurance that you could win something, here and now. Surely, they reasoned, conditions can’t be all that “tough” because if they were, how could we get the workers moving.

A fine example of this glossing over of laws was an article they submitted for publication in Revolution on the AMC shutdowns in Wisconsin. In this draft they negated the anarchy of capitalism, the fact that the capitalists cannot rationally organize and plan production. The press of competition forces each to produce and expand as though there were no limit, but there is a limit in the production and private appropriation of surplus value. And so there is disorder and dislocation, shutdowns and bankruptcies, and there is crisis, all of which happens independent of the level of development of the class struggle.

The Mensheviks, on the other hand, reduced the layoffs and shutdowns to the “profit drive” of AMC, presented in the most narrow terms. Ranged against this profit drive was the resistance of the workers. What you had was two opposed forces colliding with each other, the capitalists and their profit drive and the workers and their resistance. There is constant tussle in this view, but who eventually wins the particular battles depends on the balance of strength at any given time. The point they were trying to make was that if you fought hard enough you could beat back this profit drive and force the plant to reopen. It is not wrong to fight for a concession such as this and not impossible under all circumstances to win such a demand in the short run–but to present battles like this as essentially the sum and substance of the class struggle and to make such a demand the highest object of the workers’ struggle is to wallow in economism and reformism.

This line was based on a distortion of Marx’ observation in Wages, Price and Profit that the tendency of capital is to push the standard of wages down to its minimum limit, that is to crush and degrade the workers. Marx points out that the workers must fight back against this, that it would be the height of cowardice to renounce the fight against these encroachments and that unless workers wage this fight they will be broken, degraded and incapable of “the initiating of any larger movement.” But the fundamental law that he is describing is not that workers can resist these attacks and secure some temporary improvements which “retard” this downward movement, but that these everyday struggles are only over the “effects” of capitalism. No matter how hard the working class fights to limit this downward movement, the direction is still down–this is the law. What Marx emphasizes is that “the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate workings of these everyday struggles,” but must go over to the revolutionary struggle to abolish wage-slavery.

In the hands of the Mensheviks, Marx’s point about the necessity of resisting these “encroachments” got twisted into a strategy to “hold the line.” These Mensheviks bristled with rage when revolutionary Party leaders tried to help them understand these laws and the political importance of arming the workers with an understanding of them as a crucial part of building the working class movement. They wanted an instant game plan which would keep the plant open, the sort of thing Jarvis has–without any real justification–built his reputation on. Later for empty talk about laws.[3]

The Mensheviks would try to pose the question “can you fight layoffs and shutdowns?” in totally bourgeois terms. The bourgeoisie says no. We say you can–if you fight hard enough. This is how they approached it. The correct orientation is that the working class will not permit the capitalists to crush it and will resist the “encroachments” of the capitalists. But no matter how hard we fight there is no guarantee we can win any particular battle and, most fundamentally, we cannot eliminate layoffs and shutdowns from happening except by developing our fight into an all-round struggle to overthrow the rule of capital and carrying it through. So while striving to win what can be won, we must enter into all these battles with an eye towards building up our strength and understanding so we can eventually get rid of this system which gives rise to such evils.

Are there real difficulties in doing revolutionary work in this period? Yes, there are. Are bourgeois influences widespread in the working class? Yes, they are. Does this mean there’s nothing we can do? Absolutely not. But what we do now must be consciously linked to what is developing. The Mensheviks could not see that far ahead.

It is very important to recognize the cumulative effect and impact of the period of relative stability since the end of World War 2 on the position and consciousness of the working class in this country especially. There did occur improvements in the living standards of large sections of the U.S. working class as the ruling class was able to make concessions to many workers and, on this basis, sow illusions about continual improvement in people’s lives. But equally important to recognize is that this bourgeoisification is being undercut by the development of the crisis and that, in fact, this process of undercutting is now the principal aspect. The Jarvis-led forces borrowed, tampered with, and rendered reactionary this analysis. Again, after the bankruptcy of their imminent collapse line became clear, they did not see this spiral for what it was–in its motion and development–but latched on to a secondary aspect, the persistence of bourgeoisification and the remaining reserves of the U.S. imperialists.

Here an analysis of how Engels had sought to explain the absence of a socialist movement among British workers in the second half of the 19th century will be helpful. He showed that Britain had been on the upward curve of capitalist development, especially during the years 1848-68 when it experienced unparalleled expansion. It enjoyed an industrial and trade monopoly ruthlessly upheld by its enforcement of free trade. It held the lion’s share of colonies at that time. Its superior position enabled it to build up a rather large and influential labor aristocracy and this resulted, also, in a slight betterment in the lot of other sections of the working class. But, Engels pointed out, this monopoly position, which was the “pivot” of the British social system, was being undermined by the very workings of capitalist development–as other countries started catching up with Britain and competed more viciously with her. Once again, Engels declared, a socialist movement would appear as the conditions of the British workers deteriorated. It was inevitable.[4]

Jarvis often stuck his nose in these writings, but never seemed to grasp the central point. His student acolytes took this question of bourgeoisification and made it the theoretical underpinning for the reactionary argument that the name of the Party’s youth group should not be the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade–that is, that it should not have “communist” in the name. In their notorious appeal to the Party Center[5] they claimed that it bordered on the suicidal to do open communist work in this period. After all, they whined, the working class had been without a vanguard for well over 20 years and the bourgeoisie has “been beating the s– out of socialism.” How could we possibly lead big battles with communism such a hated word? What these Mensheviks did was to take the Party’s analysis that we were in the beginning stages of a new spiral to drag things back to the “Life of Riley” and the ’50s. There had been no forward development of the struggles of the masses, the balance of forces internationally was unchanged, and bourgeoisification was as strong as ever. Pity the misbegotten and deluded communists.

They deliberately obscured the essence of the Party’s analysis of why this new spiral was an advance. It was not–as they would expect in their empiricist way–because right now, before your very own eyes, there was a high tide of resistance, but because this was a spiral whose further development “will lead to the real prospect of proletarian revolution.” Nowhere did the Party leadership suggest that being a communist was easy or popular–or that this was a correct criteria for communists in any case. What was insisted on was that doing communist work was the only way that the Party would be able to lead the masses forward now, and decisively forward when a revolutionary situation developed. When you got down to it, for the Mensheviks–who had no sense of dialectics as well as no grasp of materialism–nothing was turning into its opposite, like bourgeoisification, and most of all there was not nor could there be any communism, either as a social force in the U.S. working class today or as a social system in the world in the future.

The upshot of all this has been their total abandonment of revolution and, in essence, making everything a matter of whether or not you can get a raise under capitalism. When in 1975 it seemed like you couldn’t, then the question of revolution was posed–in the narrow way we have described. When later it appeared as though the bottom wasn’t about to fall out, then the working class was hopelessly bought off, though it was still possible to piddle around in the economic struggle. That being the case, now it became the Mensheviks’ turn to offer the workers some “bread and circuses”: “big battles” for a raise, winning union positions with promises of “palpable results” and periodically a public relations stunt to pressure the politicians to stop attacking and start helping the workers. War? That needn’t concern us now. Ideological and political work? We mustn’t separate ourselves from the workers. Revolution? Come on, you must be kidding.

For a glimpse of how far the Jarvis forces have gone in taking up Bergman’s general program one need look no farther than the second issue of their sham edition of “The Worker.” We are treated to the most incredible analysis of Mayor Frank Rizzo of Philadelphia, which rivals, if not surpasses, the CP’s ravings about Nixon a few years ago. We are told that “public outrage jolted Black members of the City Council into action, calling for his impeachment.” Rizzo has become more dangerous than the bourgeoisie. “His police are infamous for harassing, brutalizing and murdering minorities. . . while wrecking public transit, he channeled $300 million in tax dollars to build an 8 block subway spur” (for the well-to-do, emphasis ours). It’s Rizzo’s attacks. It’s Rizzo who’s responsible for a white racist movement. It’s Rizzo who is a “deadly enemy of the people of Philadelphia and the whole country.” It’s Rizzo who must be stopped. It’s Bergman’s petty-bourgeois outrage and reformism and, who knows, maybe it’ll be Coleman Young that these Mensheviks will be plumping for next.


The entire process of the Jarvis-Bergman cabal’s full retreat into the revisionism they bask in today certainly warrants study. In particular the path we have traced out from 1975 to the present is highly instructive. The trajectory traveled by Jarvis is not without precedent in the history of the workers movement in this country; in fact, he seemed bent on deepening the errors of earlier communists and the old CP.

In the early ’30s, when the CP had begun to establish its leadership in the growing mass movements against the attacks of the bourgeoisie, it put forward what was called the “revolutionary way out of the crisis.” In the book Towards a Soviet America, which contained a powerful indictment of the capitalist system and a compelling vision of socialism,, William Z. Foster, a former top leader of the CP, explained what was meant by this revolutionary way out of the crisis in calling for militant resistance to the onslaught of the bourgeoisie: “To escape the encroaching capitalist starvation and to emancipate themselves, the workers of the world, including those in this country, must and will take the revolutionary way out of the crisis. That is, they will carry out a militant policy now in defense of their daily interests and, finally, following the example of the Russian workers, they will abolish capitalism and establish socialism.” While the workers’ struggles were, at that time, defensive and scattered, Foster indicated that the increasing difficulties of securing even the most minimal and partial demands would encourage greater militancy and bring them into sharper contradiction with the capitalist state. Developing these scattered economic battles on to a higher and higher political level was at the core of this “revolutionary way out.”

The problem with this perspective was not the wholly correct emphasis on the antagonistic interests between the working class and the bourgeoisie, nor the insistence that the working class must resolutely defend its basic interests and begin to take the offensive against the ruling class, nor the recognition that the workers’ movement could make great strides in that period. This line had two related problems. It mistook the severe dislocations of the initial stages of the depression of the 1930s for a revolutionary situation–when, in fact, the bourgeoisie still had considerable room for maneuver and when the workers in their great numbers were by no means in a revolutionary mood. Still more, this line projected a strategy of intensified economic struggle, led by the CP, passing over to a revolutionary conquest of power.

The CP did put forward important political and social demands–for example, against war preparations and in support of the rights of Black people. But the Party’s strategy was anchored in the assumption that economic conflicts would, in Foster’s words, “develop into major political struggles.” Foster even went so far as to cite the example of the mutiny in the German naval fleet at the end of World War 1 over the cutting off of soap rations. But what was key about this was not what it was over but the fact that it was the product of a war that dragged on for years, of deepening crisis and tremendous social discontent. And whether or not the masses move forward to take up the struggle for power when the situation does ripen depends on whether the Party of the working class has carried on all-round political work, arming the masses with an understanding of the laws of society, imbuing the workers with a sense of their place and role in history, developing the movement of the working class into a conscious one to put an end to capitalism and all the oppression it causes. A revolutionary situation is prepared by an entire course of events that will, as a part of this, result in sharper economic struggles; but such a situation will result in a great and sudden change in the conditions facing the masses and will require that the consciousness and organization of the advanced be kept “tense,” as Lenin put it, so there will, indeed, be a revolutionary way out.

A revolutionary situation did not exist in the U.S. when Foster wrote his book, nor did it come to pass. As the bourgeoisie demonstrated a certain capacity to make concessions–based on its remaining reserves–the CP increasingly came to see the daily battles as ends in themselves. These struggles which were thought to be part of an arc leading to revolution were now separated from that goal; instead the CP aspired to jockey for position and influence at the head of these struggles.

Following World War 2 the CP predicted another economic collapse and once again put forward the idea that “the only way it [the working class] can protect and improve its living standards is by taking the road that eventually leads to socialism.” But this road came to be defined as going through a series of stages in which the power of the capitalists would be curbed and restrained. Awestruck by the temporary strength of U.S. imperialism–which strength could be understood by analyzing the outcome and settlement of World War 2, which itself was a product of the workings of the laws of capitalism, laws which continue to operate and will eventually lead to a revolutionary situation–the CP gave up the goal of revolution completely.

What links the earlier period of the CP with its later degeneration was this sort of pragmatism that prevented it from being rooted in an understanding of the laws of society and the science of revolution. Starting with the perspective that there would be a straight line development of the crisis to revolution, the CP then denied that there were any laws of capitalist society, or if there were any, not the sort that would lead to great disorder which places the question of revolution–violent revolution–on the front burner. Again, it is easy to be taken in by appearances, particularly in an imperialist country and especially in the spiral coming off World War 2 when U.S. imperialism temporarily commanded an unparalleled position of strength.

For Jarvis the existence of underlying laws was bound up with immediately recognizable changes. Where there were some changes, as in the downturn of ’74-75, then he would concede the existence of these laws. Where there were no changes of the magnitude which would constitute a revolutionary situation or even give rise immediately to a large upsurge then these laws either didn’t exist or were not of much consequence. As this ’74-75 downturn failed to play itself out immediately as Jarvis had wished, and as bourgeoisification did remain a factor in the struggle and outlook of the working class, Jarvis pretty much wound up with the view that the only trend was a succession of particular and isolated battles. There was only “today’s” conditions and the “actual” struggles of the masses. Nothing gave rise to anything else. There could be no sense of preparing for revolution by doing revolutionary work in a non-revolutionary situation. To understand and base ourselves on the forces at work internationally and in U.S. society leading towards deeper crisis, war and, perhaps, the prospect of revolution was, according to the Jarvis forces, “left idealist.” To grab hold of what was superficial and transient (the relative temporary stability of U.S. imperialism) was somehow profound and worthy of commendation. To tail behind the bourgeoisification in the working class was their highest ideal–a rightist ideal–since it was the only way to possibly link up with the masses in this period.

One would expect the reformist view of the crisis and class struggle of these Mensheviks to whet their appetite for populism which has been a major bourgeois influence in the history of the U.S. workers movement and the CP. And the Mensheviks don’t let us down. In the same issue of the bogus “Worker” referred to earlier we find yet another analysis–if one can be so generous–this time dealing with the farmers.

What is most revealing here is the manner in which they treat the farmers’ struggle. There is no analysis of the class position of these farmers, how this influences their outlook, and how the working class unites with the progressive aspects of this struggle–which are principal–but at the same time takes into account the contradictory character of some of the farmers’ demands. The refusal of the Mensheviks to do this reduces the united front to a coalition of the small people (essentially the same as the CP’s anti-monopoly coalition) and ultimately makes it impossible for the working class to unite with and give leadership to such struggles. Instead they adopt the outlook of the petty-bourgeois proprietor and in their customary “oops, we let it all hang out” way conclude with this: “The farmers’ experience in fighting the government, and the attention their bold actions have attracted have shone a bright light on the criminal absurdity of the whole capitalist system. Farmers, workers and scientists have given this country an incredibly efficient and productive agriculture, yet a man can’t even make a decent living growing food.” (emphasis ours)

This would be a priceless piece of Americana, if these weren’t alleged communists. Never mind the exploitation and oppression of capitalism. Never mind its inability to rationally organize production. It’s just that a man can’t make a good buck anymore, you know, like in the good old days.


The Mensheviks neither understand the general laws of capitalism, especially as they apply in the era of imperialism, nor the nature of this new spiral. Our Party holds that U.S. imperialism as well as the imperalist system as a whole is enmeshed in a major and deepening crisis. The more immediate causes of the crisis lie in the very means and measures taken by U.S. imperialism to stave off such crisis following World War 2. These things–like deficit spending, the rebuilding of Europe, military aggression to prop up the U.S. empire, etc.–have turned into their opposite. The unsuccessful attempts at tinkering with various fiscal and monetary stimulants or restraints over the last few years have forced the bourgeoisie to wonder aloud about the effectiveness of any sort of economics, and to predict a new era of no or slow growth.

A definite spiral of development occurred in the wake of World War 2. The U.S. had not only prevailed over its main antagonists in the war, Germany and Japan, but over the other victors among the imperialists as well, France, England, etc. U.S. hegemony rested astride two pillars–the penetration of the former colonies of the other imperialists mainly through the practice of neo-colonialism, and the immense restructuring and centralizing of capital in Europe and Japan, and in the U.S. itself. All this was backed up by U.S. imperialism’s military might which was dialectically related to its economic strength.

U.S. imperialism was able, on this basis, to ward off crisis in the U.S. and the other capitalist countries, though development proceeded unevenly. In fact, the expansion characteristic of the period of the ’50s and ’60s was interrupted with frequent recessions. Yet these recessions were not the dominant feature of the period, and they did not appear simultaneously throughout the capitalist countries. The counteracting forces–stemming from the pre-eminent position of U.S. imperialism in all but the socialist countries–made it possible for the U.S. imperialists to temporarily resolve overproduction crises by shifting the weight on to others. There was, in a word, room for maneuver, though this whole process was, as mentioned, turning into its opposite in the form of inflation, intensified inter-imperialist competition and rising struggles for national liberation and independence. And, of course, the restoration of capitalism in the USSR during this period was a most significant development which, especially as the Soviet Union fully emerged as an imperialist superpower itself, was increasingly to present a most serious challenge to the U.S. as the top-dog imperialist power and limit its maneuvering room.

The recessions of the ’50s and ’60s in the U.S. did not play their classic role of restructuring capital and laying the basis for renewed advance, as under conditions of competitive capitalism. This was for two reasons. One is particular to the period we are discussing, where the international position of U.S. imperialism and the advantages it temporarily derived significantly blunted the impact of these recessions. Second, is a point which is general to the period of imperialism. That is, while we are speaking of an interval of expansion following the war, this is occurring in the era of imperialism which is marked by the decline of the system of capitalism, by stagnation and decay. Such crises cannot have the recuperative powers and effects of crises in the same way as under competitive capitalism. They cannot in any but the most fragmentary way push things forward.

Imperialism is a definite stage–the highest stage–of capitalism in which the development of the productive forces is severely retarded and constrained by the relations of production. This does not rule out the rapid growth of certain sectors and new technologies or periods of expansion. But imperialism is not a vigorous capitalism developing through the boom/bust cycle. It is marked by violent outbursts of crisis and war, and it is the era of proletarian revolution.

Up until now we have been arguing with phantoms of a sort. Jarvis did not choose to pen his weighty thoughts, perhaps because they were so constantly blowing with the wind, but at least as much because his distinctive brand of opportunism left it to others to take the rap for his rotten lines. Bergman would let you know what he thought–but always off the top of his head. Nonetheless, the Mensheviks did achieve a certain division of labor as regards theory. Jarvis would specialize in treating it in a cookbook kind of way–how to get things brewing–while others were encouraged to treat it as some sort of academic exercise.

One of the Mensheviks’ “political economists” showed himself quite adept at this and several of his distortions of Marxist political economy ran parallel to the lines we have been criticizing, though not all of them at the same time. On the question of stagnation, for instance, this Menshevik denied that there was much to it. In an early draft on the crisis submitted for publication in The Communist he took Paul Sweezy to task for his distorted and one-sided view that stagnation was the normal state of affairs of imperialism and that this would lead to its slow and gradual death unless it was rescued by “external stimuli” like war expenditures. But in doing so this Menshevik denied the significance of stagnation in the sense that Lenin uses it–meaning the tendency to retard the introduction of new inventions, machinery, etc.–thereby covering up the fact that imperialism is a definite stage of capitalism.

Sweezy, who rejects value categories, denies that there is anything internal to the process of accumulation that can arrest stagnation, that is, he denies that capital can accumulate more or less rapidly at times, just as he denies that crisis is a result of the overproduction of capital. Yet, stagnation is a feature of imperialism, but not, as Sweezy held, because it somehow obeys new laws like the “tendency of the surplus to rise.” This comes about through the very operation of the laws of capital accumulation which manifest themselves in a tendency towards stagnation. This tendency is associated with the growth of monopoly which acts as a depressant against technological innovation.

This Menshevik in his submitted draft basically saw stagnation as being as much a feature of competitive as of monopoly capitalism, and not terribly significant at that. He took as his point of departure what Lenin said in discussing stagnation–that imperialism does not “exclude the possibility of the rapid growth of capitalism.” But this was put forward in such a way as to negate the specificity of imperialism, that it is parasitic, moribund and decaying, exactly what Lenin was emphasizing as the principal aspect, even though he noted the possibility of rapid growth here and there as the secondary aspect.

The crux of the correct understanding is that under imperialism the contradiction between socialized production and private ownership is heightened and is more starkly revealed in decay, crisis, and war. Imperialism is a system in decline that cannot develop relatively smoothly through the normal workings of the business cycle; it cannot “cure” itself through cyclical recoveries. The article as it appeared in its final version, after major corrections were made by the Party’s revolutionary leadership, points this out. Imperialism can only lunge forward and struggle for survival through the redivision of the world which is required by the unequal development between imperialist powers.

It was the terms of the redivision of the world following World War 2 that enabled U.S. imperialism to withstand periodic overproduction crises–and this is why stagnation was not the principal characteristic of the period of the ’50s and ’60s. But this tendency towards stagnation was present nonetheless, as evidenced in lower rates of growth than in previous historical periods, the gutting of certain sectors such as the railroads, the shortening of the cycle of recessions, and chronic underutilization of capacity. In sum, then, our Menshevik tended to answer Sweezy by going back to competitive capitalism and downplaying both the special features of imperialism which accounted for its underlying tendency towards stagnation and the ability, under the particular conditions we have described, of U.S. imperialism to temporarily ward off crisis.


Marx describes the rate of profit as the motive power of capitalist production. But this “driving force” is also “endangered by the development of production itself.” The international position of U.S. imperialism whereby it was the dominant exporter of capital, plundered Asia, Africa and Latin America, and imposed certain monetary and financial strictures on others, enabled it to counteract, for a time, the general tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

As capital accumulates there is an increase in the ratio of constant to variable capital–that is, as compared to the capital they exchange for labor power the capitalists lay out increasingly large sums of money on machinery, raw materials, fuel, etc. which themselves do not produce any value. This tends to depress the rate of profit since living labor–which produces value–figures as a smaller portion of the forces utilized by the capitalists in production. But this law acts only as a tendency because these changes in the composition of capital also bring about counter-tendencies, that is, increases in productivity which lower the value of machinery and raw materials–and labor power. Even as the rate of exploitation increases, however, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall cannot be permanently overcome since the ratio of constant to variable capital continues to increase.

So this falling rate of profit does not express itself as an absolute fall–at any given time this fall may or may not be observable–though it is an inherent part of the contradictory movement of capital. Our Menshevik economist declared that there was a straight line descent of the rate of profit and suggested that it could be quantitatively demonstrated to have fallen straight down since the end of World War 1. Besides being a statistical feat of rather impressive proportions, to prove such a dive, this conception corresponded nicely to Jarvis’ earlier vision of collapse and, in some ways, it was this economist’s answer to and equivalent of Sweezy’s slow dance of death view of stagnation.

In fact, the significance of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall does not lie in its precise drop–it is not usually the direct and immediate trigger of a particular crisis. More important is what this tendency forces the capitalists to do in order to raise their mass and rate of profit and how it limits their ability to do this. For instance, the growing reliance on outside sources of finance, the competition for loan capital, the slowdown in capital investment, the rapid outflows from one sector to another are all expressions of this in the recent period. In 1974-75 the rate of profit had undoubtedly fallen. In 1976-77 it may have risen a bit. But this hasn’t rescued the imperialists. This falling tendency is exerting its force within a new set of circumstances which no longer act in the main as a buffer against its effects.


It is possible to trace the main lines of development of this crisis. Its beginnings, as we mentioned earlier, were in the late ’60s, with important international changes occuring, the most notable of which were U.S. imperialism’s serious setbacks in Vietnam, the political and economic challenges from within the U.S. bloc, and the rise to superpower status of a Soviet Union where capitalism had been restored. But the crisis unfolds in the early ’70s with two nodal points. The first is in 1971 when the convertibility of the dollar into gold is cancelled as unprecedented pressures on the dollar mount and record deficits are incurred by the U.S. The next two years see a slight upturn in investment, but the period witnesses an enormous acceleration of inflation, with the wholesale price index increasing at a rate of over 10% annually by 1973. There is all manner of speculation in international commodity and credit markets; in late 1973 oil prices are quadrupled; pressures on the financial markets intensify and a number of U.S. banks, as well as others abroad, are in deep difficulties.

By the fall of 1974 the second nodal point is reached: a major contraction sets in. Industrial production plummets to post-WW2 lows, unemployment reaches its all-time high since the 1930s and international trade is drastically reduced. Over the next three years industrial production rises gradually, there are some spurts of activity, but only in the U.S. does production attain its post-war average, yet at the same time in the U.S. there remains considerable unemployment and idle capacity, devastation of certain sectors like steel, and fixed capital investment actually declines in the period 1973-77. This so-called recovery celebrated its 3rd birthday in 1978 with renewed currency and trade complications within the U.S.-led bloc.

As serious as this crisis is, there is not now a revolutionary situation. The ruling class still has reserves and is able to maintain its rule with relative stability. How is this related to the onset of the crisis and its future development? We are in the beginning stages of this downward spiral and while its general movement is down, it remains possible for some expansion to occur–as it has. But–and this is key–the conditions that counteracted the downturns of the past spiral, the means by which the imperialists have extricated themselves in the past, have diminished. Hence the feebleness of the partial upturns.

There are two aspects to this situation, neither of which can be ignored. On the one hand, forces still exist to buoy up the U.S. bloc and within this for the U.S. to push off some of the losses and difficulties onto others. An example is the dollar. Its battering in the late ’60s and early ’70s, which was a product, in part, of changes in the competitive positions of the lesser imperialists of Europe and Japan, also led to certain further temporary gains for them. But the breakdown of the monetary and financial framework established following WW2, with the dollar as its linchpin, has not given way to another. The U.S. can still force foreign central banks and governments to pile up dollars; oil, for instance, is still denominated in it. And since their economies are so tied into that of the U.S., they do not want to see their hoard of dollars decline in value, so they actually take measures to strengthen it even as they struggle over currency devaluations. Also, as this crisis deepens we see an increasing role being played by financial institutions dominated by the U.S. like the International Monetary Fund which, through loans both to developed and backward countries, like Great Britain and Peru, which are in dire straits, extends its control.

But this is not a situation fundamentally characterized by stability, nor is it a situation that can last long. The U.S. has continuing strength to deal out some of the losses, but this is not hurtling things forward in any substantial kind of way. We find, for example, that while the U.S. imperialists can still rack up huge government deficits and expand their credit base, for the first time, earlier this year, the Federal Reserve was forced to directly adjust (upward) domestic interest rates because of pressures on the dollar. Fundamentally, the U.S. does not have the freedom to overcome this, the most serious overproduction crisis it has faced since the 1930s Depression. This is the principal aspect of the situation with regard to the stability and reserves of the U.S. ruling class.

The crisis is deepening and the situation must lead to a qualitative change, whether that is a major depression, a world war or some combination of both. This is so because this crisis is unfolding against the backdrop of and in connection with the increasingly fierce political and military rivalry with the Soviet Union, rooted in the imperialist economic foundation of both superpowers. In other words this urging towards a war for re-division is not dictated solely by the severity and duration of the crisis, but stems mainly from the intensifying contention with another superpower which seeks a realignment and re-division commensurate with its growing strength relative to the U.S. This contention, however, is caused by the same economic laws and, dialectically, the seriousness of the crisis also requires that the U.S. go to war to prevent a re-division unfavorable to it–and ultimately to make a new re-division more favorable to it.

This is the main feature of the new spiral. The contention between the two superpowers–each of whose blocs is the main barrier to expansion of the other–is driving things closer to a world war. It is not possible to predict whether there will be a major economic collapse before this war breaks out, though there will undoubtedly be convulsive developments like last year’s steel shutdowns, the worsening of monetary and trade difficulties, and gyrations in residential construction, for instance. Any recoveries will be all the more partial and temporary exactly because of the underlying and accelerating downward trend. But it is possible to predict that there can be no resolution of this crisis by the imperialists short of the re-division of the world. And while it is not possible to say for sure that this spiral will lead to a revolutionary situation in the U.S. itself, this does loom as a distinct possibility.

We have spoken repeatedly of laws and the need to grasp them. By laws we mean the expression and effect of the underlying relations and forces which govern the development of things, which define their movement. For the working class the significance of recognizing and understanding them is two-fold: these laws will result in qualitative leaps taking place, of the sort we have been describing, in the conditions of society and the mood of the masses, and we must prepare ourselves to seize the time when such a situation arises, even if it may appear a dim or distant prospect right now; and these laws stand as an indictment of capitalism and determine that only revolution can fundamentally change things. No matter what the intentions or policies of particular representatives of the ruling class, no matter what state the economy happens to be in at any given time, and no matter how sincere or earnest hopes for reform may be, capitalism is still capitalism–in fact in the U.S. today capitalism is in its highest and final stage, imperialism–and by its nature leads to crisis, war, and... revolution. Marx described capitalist production as the self-expansion of capital, precisely because there are such laws which make the capitalists the agents and not the initiators of the objective process under capitalism.


This helps to explain why the Jarvis-Bergman clique chafed at the thought of basing ourselves on such laws. They were so politically obtuse (dull and philistine) they couldn’t believe that big changes leading to the real prospect of a revolutionary situation might actually take place. But, also, they were never quite convinced that revolution was all that necessary to begin with. To admit the existence of such laws would imperil their fortunes as would-be saviors of the masses through reforms. The revolutionary line of our Party became their chief obstacle, and, failing to defeat this line, they tried to wreck the Party. Failing that, they took what they could and ran.

The path followed by the Bergman-Jarvis clique is extremely inviting, as we live in an imperialist country which is still powerful. What’s more, it is well-travelled, as their revisionist mentors in the CP have blazed a trail for them. Initially Bergman and Jarvis were united in their dedication to narrow economic work. What mainly separated them was Bergman’s penchant for liberal reformism in the political struggle while Jarvis generally took more of the ostrich approach, though he wasn’t above an occasional political gimmick and a consistent attempt to turn real political struggle into a plaything for petty-bourgeois reformers.

But driven by the logic of his position and the force of events, Jarvis eventually came around to Bergman’s view of crisis and the situation, and made the transition from “left” economism to all-round reformism as had the old CP, which Jarvis and Bergman took as their model.

Following in the wake of Khrushchev’s coup and counter-revolutionary betrayal in the USSR the CP finally degenerated into thoroughgoing revisionism in the late 1950s. This kind of degeneration on the part of some who claim to be communists is inevitable, these kinds of twists and turns in the development of the revolutionary struggle are bound to occur. But as Mao Tsetung pointed out: “The world is progressing, the future is bright and no one can change this general trend of history.” Such is another law that our Mensheviks will never understand.


[1] The Steelworker is a rank and file newsletter which, despite the considerable negative influence of the Mensheviks on it in the past, has played an important role in the struggles of steel workers. In recent months, as part of the struggle against the Mensheviks and their line and followers not only in the Party but in a number of mass organizations as well The Steelworker has broken with these opportunists and has more thoroughly broken out of the narrow confines which they tried to confine it within. Meanwhile, as pointed out in the July 1978 Revolution (p.20), “The Mensheviks, it seems, are putting out something they call ’The Steelworker,’ in a pitiful attempt to peddle their economism and syndicalism; but this should not be confused with The Steelworker, which having broken with the Menshevik line is playing an important part in building a class conscious movement of steel workers as part of the overall struggle of the working class, and its allies, against capitalism.”

[2] The July 1978 Revolution (p. 21) noted that “While it is not wrong in every case to join with a particular struggle involving the TRA, it is always the responsibility of communists and advanced forces to point out what the TRA represents overall and what the capitalists and their agents are attempting to do with it. But more than that, what these Mensheviks were trying to do by concocting a way to kick off struggle around the TRA in steel was to find some way to gimmick the workers into action by appealing to the most narrow and backward sentiments and playing into the hands of the steel barons and the capitalist class as a whole.”

[3] The 1976 Central Committee Report referred to earlier actually dealt with some of the questions arising out of this and similar struggles where plants were shutting down or going bankrupt and demanding that workers take wage cuts to save their jobs. It pointed out, for example, “there isn’t any way in the world that we can guarantee that American Motors isn’t going to go broke. We can do anything we want, in fact work for $1 an hour and we still can’t guarantee that American Motors won’t go broke. We have to explain to them [the workers] in a living way that there are laws that are much bigger than American Motors or even the auto industry. We have to take the stand that if they are going to go broke we’d rather have them go broke with us making $7 an hour than with us making $4 an hour–and with us in a stronger position to continue the fight against them as a class.”–see pamphlet Revolutionary Work In A Non-Revolutionary Situation, p. 37)

[4] In fact, as Engels had predicted, a socialist movement did develop within the British working class movement at the end of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century. But for various reasons, communists did not succeed in thoroughly breaking the hold of reactionary Social-Democracy on the working class. Such Social-Democrats, who joined the ranks of the social-chauvinists in World War 1 and have continued to betray the working class ever since, still hold a dominant influence over the workers in England and some other countries. In a number of countries, however, they have been replaced in their role as the primary props of reaction within the workers’ movement by the revisionist communist parties that were formerly part of the Third International.

[5] Reprinted as part of a RCP pamphlet, Communism and Revolution Vs. Revisionism and Reformism.