From Fourth International, Vol. II No. 2, February 1941, pp. 36–40.
Transcribed & marked up by David Walters for ETOL.
What is bourgeois democracy and how does it manage to maintain itself? Capitalist democracy, answer its upholders, is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. It must survive and be supported because it is the only form of government responsive and responsible to the will of the masses.
This is a pernicious lie, say the Marxists. There cannot be any full realization or further development of democratic freedom under capitalism. Bourgeois democracy is a screen behind which a small group of bankers and big business men dictate national policies. Roosevelt’s administration, which claims to be democratic, is really the representative of these piratic plutocrats who exploit and tyranize the working masses. Capitalist democracy rests upon fraud and force. The fable that the regime at Washington consults and fulfills the wishes of the American people is in itself an essential part of this elaborate mechanism of deceit.
These truths have been newly demonstrated by the conduct of the present rulers of this Republic in the past six months. According to the knights of bourgeois democracy, during the presidential campaign the candidates of all parties are supposed to present critical issues to the nation, bring forward all relevant information, state their program and honestly discuss their differences so that the electorate can then make its free and informed choice among them.
Let us skip over the limitations that make a mockery of this idealized democratic process. Everyone knows that because of poll taxes and other restrictions only part of the people vote, that the twin capitalist parties control all the main avenues for reaching the masses (the press, radio, halls, etcetera), that they collect millions from their wealthy masters and spend them to bamboozle the public and buy elections, that in many states the minority parties are kept off the ballot.
Despite this virtual monopoly of the material means for influencing public opinion, the representatives of the capitalist parties dare not divulge their real policies to the people. For, if they told the whole truth about their intentions, they know that the alarmed electorate would repudiate them and turn elsewhere for leadership.
So they are compelled to lie systematically and cynically, to mask their aims, to say one thing and do another, to shadowbox over minor matters and to slur over their fundamental unanimity on major issues. Thus do the Democrats and Republicans work together to dupe the people.
Consider the President. Knowing how the masses fear another imperialist adventure, he posed as a prince of peace throughout the campaign. Three weeks before election he stated: “We will not participate in foreign wars.” He boasted that, unlike the dictators, he was unafraid to consult the will of the people and be guided by it.
No sooner were the elections over than Roosevelt and his associates began to unfold their real policy and purposes. They dropped all pretenses to neutrality, scrapped the paper prome: “short of war,” and stepped forth as a fullfledged military ally of the British Empire in its struggle against Germany and Italy.
Through the “lendlease” War Powers Bill Roosevelt deminded dictatorial powers which would enable him to use the military forces and resources of the United States for any, imperialist purpose anywhere in the world, when and as he so ordains.
Roosevelt must have planned these moves before November. Yet he deliberately refrained from disclosing them to the American people until after the election.
Such methods of deception are not new. Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt’s predecessor as Democratic Party war-president, was returned to office in 1916 in precisely the same way. In the biography of Claude Kitchin, Democratic Leader of the House, published in 1937, it was revealed that Wilson was anxious to enter the war against Germany as early as February 1916. But the Democratic leaders prevailed upon him to delay until after the elections. “During the presidential campaign that followed, while the country was ringing with the slogan: ’He kept us out of war,’ Kitchin and his circle were saying among themselves: ‘We kept him out of war’.” 
Nor is all the duplicity on the side of Roosevelt. Wilikie, his Republican opponent, accused Roosevelt of leading the nation blindfolded into war and plotting to assume dictatorial powers. But the moment Roosevelt actually launched these plans, Willkie abandoned his opposition, endorsed the President’s proposals, visited the White House, flew to England, and, like the Republicans Knox and Stimson before him, became an integral cog in the imperialist war machine.
What did that bulwark of democracy, Congress, do? It agreed to abdicate. Like the British House of Commons and the French Chamber of Deputies, this “representative” institution collapsed in the first hour of crisis and assigned its powers to a superBoss in the White House who can hereafter rule by decree unencumbered by any popular check upon his imperialist war aims.
Such is bourgeois democracy in the United States today, not in theory but in fact, not in the pages of the Nation and New Republic, but in real life. Deceitful, impotent, imperialist through and through. Not the servant of the people but the agency of the monopolists.
Fraud is one of the means by which capitalist democracy keeps itself in power; force is the other. Roosevelt camouflages himself as a preserver of peace and a democrat in order the better to wage war and inaugurate a military dictatorship. He is preparing to use force on a scale unprecedented in world history.
This force will be exerted along two different lines, both serving the same aim of reinforcing the power and extending the privileges of America’s monopolists. In the first place, the United States is being converted into an arsenal to crush all the competitors of American imperialism and to conquer the world for our monied masters. This policy involves war against Germany, Italy, and Japan, the subjugation of colonial peoples in South America and elsewhere, the smothering ci every revolutionary movement, and eventually the erasing of the Soviet Union.
The prosecution of this ambitious program of world conquest above all requires a docile working class at home. Where deceit fails to convince the workers that the imperialist program is likewise theirs, the government makes ready to apply more and more violent methods of persuasion. New watchdogs over labor, the Home Guards, are being trained to replace the National Guard. Congress requires all aliens to register. Efforts are launched to have everyone fingerprinted. Conscription gives the army control over all men from 21 to 36. As during the last war period, a flood of antilabor legislation is being ground out in the state legislatures: revival of “criminal syndicalism” statutes, laws aimed ostensibly against the Communist Party but broad enough to use against all workers’ organizations, “anti-sabotage” laws under which all strike activities can be crushed, etcetera. In short, all kinds of moves are being made to regiment the trade unions, to curb their independent activity, to deprive them of any real power to protect and promote the interests of the workers. The government’s ultimate aim is to obtain effective control over the lives, livelihoods and liberties of every citizen and thus to forestall any effective opposition to its utterly reactionary foreign and domestic policies. The freedom of the people is the first victim in this second crusade to make the world safe for democracy.
The bloodthirsty reactionaries and profiteering plutocrats determining the administration’s policies will stop at nothing. They see in the war program and the approaching military dictatorship their golden opportunity to place the workers in chains.
But the American working class is a tough lion to cage. The labor movement in the United States is far stronger than it was during the last war, or even five years ago. For the first time the majority of workers in the basic industries (auto, steel, rubber, mining, aircraft, aluminum, utilities, trucking, electrical manufacturing, maritime) are unionized. Over ten million workers are organized within the CIO, AFL, and the Railroad Brotherhoods. With their families, friends and supporters these millions constitute the most powerful force in the country and the strongest labor movement in the whole capitalist world. In view of the leading role of the United States in world affairs, it is no exaggeration to say that this working class now holds the fate of humanity in its hands.
This working force is the motor of American economy. That economy couldn’t operate a day, an hour, a minute without this labor power. The owners and operators of our system are well aware of this fact. Every stir among their workers, every demand they make, every strike, serves to remind them of it.
If the organized workers become fully conscious of their combined power and learn to use it in their own interests, no power inside this country or outside could stand up against them. Instead of the bosses dictating terms to the workers, they could, as they should, dictate terms to the bosses. Even today, in scattered strike situations, detachments of workers demonstrate their invincibility. They sweep forward against the bosses, against administration “troubleshooters,” against military men, and even against their own top leaders, to win their demands.
The employers feel the enormous power of the workers and often assess it more accurately than the workers or their leaders. The bosses know that, by themselves, they cannot curb labor nor deny its demands. From all sides now the employers are summoning allies to their aid: government officials, defense commissioners, arbitrators, preachers of patriotism, army officers and, most important of all today, their lieutenants in the ranks of labor itself: Green, Hillman, Murray, Tobin, Lewis, and their staffs.
The function of these labor lieutenants and their policy of class collaboration is to lower the self-confidence of organized labor, to underestimate its strength, to keep it from independent class action, and to weaken its will to struggle and to win.
What lies immediately ahead? There are those who call themselves revolutionists and who, on the basis of a mechanical analogy with 1914–1918, take it for granted that, during the first period of American participation in this war, capitalist reaction and governmental repression will succeed in cowing the American masses. We categorically reject that perspective as false and pernicious. Individuals and parties with that perspective overestimate the power of the plutocracy and its state, and underestimate the vigor and fighting qualities of the American proletariat. They ignore the real relationship of forces in the present situation and do not comprehend the basic tendencies at work within American society.
Deeply contradictory processes are developing on the basis of the imperialist preparations for war. While the capitalist leaders are plotting their wars abroad and domestic dictatorship, the working class is being vitalized by the war boom. The war economy, contrary to the desires of the big industrialists, tends to strengthen the unions. Strategic new sectors of industry, such as the aircraft plants, are being invaded by the unions. The fortresses of Ford and Bethlehem Steel are being besieged. As the plutocrats anticipate superprofits, the workers are becoming ever bolder in their demands.
These opposing class forces are coming into sharper conflict. A new wave of unionization is in progress, a new strike wave is developing. Owing to the war crisis, these unfolding economic battles will be fought under conditions of sharper tension than ever before. The imperialist bourgeoisie and its agents cannot afford independence on the part of the working class. That’s why they need a president armed with extraordinary powers; that’s why they need preachers of patriotic sacrifice; that’s why they need Home Guards as strikebreakers.
“But the vast struggles you anticipate did not occur in Europe,” some people will be sure to object. These defeatists forget that circumstances alter cases. The objective and subjective conditions of the class struggle on this side of the Atlantic differ from those on the other. Neither France nor Great Britain experienced a war boom on the colossal scale projected by the United States; in Germany the preparations for imperialist lebensraum from 1935 to 1939 were made under the Nazi whip.
The working class of the United States faces the war today in an entirely different condition than the European proletariat. The workers of Europe had been exhausted by decades of incessant but inconclusive struggle, disillusioned by successive betrayals, demoralized by defeats, divided by national boundaries, and weakened by economic insufficiency and bloodlettings. They were drained of resources to wage victorious battles against their enemies or to overcome their treacherous leaders.
The American working class, on the other hand, stands today at the height of its powers. It has been unified on a continental scale, has tested and tempered itself in the past five years. Although it has gone through tremendous battles with the bosses, it has not known a debilitating or enduring defeat. The extent of its inner forces is shown by the speed and resiliency with which one battalion after another – such as the auto workers – recovers from each temporary setback, reorganizes its forces, and moves forward.
American labor resembles a rising young contender for the heavyweight championship who enters the arena, fresh, confident, in the pink of condition. What this young giant needs is a trainer and seconds capable of teaching him how to deal with his crafty and experienced opponent, how to counter his tricks, win every round and score a knockout. In this respect, too, the situation is favorable to the workers. Where formerly there existed a welter of confusion in the political labor movement, the arena is now clearing.
Yesterday those advanced workers who understood that the working class, including the trade unions, can go consistently forward only under the leadership of a political organization of the advanced workers, were more than likely to be confused by the spectacle of numerous groups claiming to be the workers’ party. Today that confusion is disappearing, and with it the false claimants to the leadership of the working class. The war is destroying the pseudoradical groupings which flourished in the armistice between the two world wars.
The segments of the Second International have now little or no life left in them. The political and social bases of the Social-Democratic Federation are narrowing to the vanishing point. It is a relic of the political past which can no longer find reasons for independent existence. Its prowar program has no appeal for the radicalminded youth or the militant trade unionist, while its ultra-patriotic lawyers and labor bureaucrats, aspiring Hillmans and Dubinskys, find that program just as well and with lusher rewards in the Democratic Party. Moreover, the source of the prestige of the Social-Democratic Federation – the Second International – after demonstrating its utter impotence, has been wiped off the map by Hitler. Indicative of the plight of the Social-Democratic Federation is the horde of bankrupt reformists who sought salvation through Kerensky, Hindenburg, Benes, Azana and Daladier and who now in London and New York serve Churchill and Roosevelt. These relics of European reformism mirror the only future of which the Social-Democratic Federation is capable. They are not an incentive for American workers to join up!
As for the “left” wing of the Second International in America, Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party, it is in a state of chaos and disintegration. Deprived of its chief material support by the split with the Social-Democrats, and of its powers of attraction of advanced workers by its expulsion of its Trotskyist left wing, the Socialist Party has been a hollow shell since 1937. The war has shattered that shell. The Congressional hearings on the War Powers Bill publicly disclosed the new split in its ranks. While Thomas criticised the Bill in terms indistinguishable from those of his host, Hamilton Fish, Thomas’ chief associates of recent years came out in full support of Roosevelt’s war program. It is noteworthy that even in its death-rattle the Socialist Party remains a reflection of bourgeois public opinion in the labor world: its isolationist and interventionist factions but repeat the quarrels within the bourgeoisie, and the voice of proletarian class struggle is conspicuous by its absence. When the split is complete, it is very likely that the formal majority in the Socialist Party will be in the hands of the interventionists. In any case Norman Thomas will be left with little more than his radio program.
The Independent Labor League of America, better known as the Lovestoneites, the American representatives of the London-Amsterdam Bureau and the Workers’ Front Against War (practically all the European sections of which became chauvinist when the war came), have preceded their friends of the Second International into extinction. Thirteen years after the Lovestoneites expelled the Trotskyists from the Communist Party, the old “Majority Group of the Communist Party” has given up the ghost. Its final Declaration called upon all others to join in a “new start for American socialism” by ... committing suicide like the Lovestoneites.
The demise of the Lovestoneites is the handwriting on the wall for those political grouplets – Oehler, Stamm, Shachtman – that still buzz around. They are vanishing like flies at the approach of winter. The times have room only for the major political tendencies in the labor movement which represent great historical forces.
Only the Stalinists and the Trotskyists exist as active contenders for the leadership of the class-conscious workers.
The Stalin-Hitler pact and its consequences inflicted heavy blows upon the Stalinists. But they maintain an influence over thousands of worker-militants through their activities within the CIO unions and by virtue of their fraudulent anti-war and anti-imperialist slogans.
Their present propaganda, centering around the American Peace Mobilization, is indistinguishable from that of Norman Thomas and other preachers of pacifism save for the additional demand of a Washington-Moscow pact which will have the same reactionary character and consequences as the current pact with Hitler or the earlier Franco-Soviet pact with Laval.
The main policies of the Communist Party are dictated in accordance with the shifting requirements of Stalin’s opportunistic diplomacy. Whereas the opportunism of the reformist parties of the Second International was an organic outgrowth of national conditions and could therefore count upon the support of a certain aristocratic section of the organized International, their opportunism is dictated by bureaucratic bosses in the Kremlin who care even less about the interests of the American workers than for those of the Russian workers. The Communist Party can thus clash head-on with the class whose leadership it claims.
The strength of the Stalinists today depends in large measure upon the present pacifist mentality of part of the workers and the lower middleclasses, a mentality which represents an inevitable stage in their political education. But this hold of the Stalinists cannot be indefinitely maintained. Both the advanced workers and the Stalinist line will change. The workers in a world at war will see more clearly the futility of pacifism as a panacea and will turn to our program – Lenin’s. And the further course of the war will undoubtedly cause an alteration in Stalin’s diplomatic strategy which must be reflected in another somersault by the Communist Party leaders here.
This shift, which may take place in stages but will in the end be revealed as open support of American imperialism, will provoke an even deeper crisis in the Communist Party than the Stalin-Hitler pact. It will open a wide breach between the radical-minded proletarian militants and the Stalinist leaders. Even now the members and sympathizers of the Communist Party are beginning to question the infallibility of their national and international leadership.
This is indirectly certified by no less authoritative a body than the National Committee of the Communist Party, which has been compelled to launch a campaign “against Trotskyism” in its own ranks. This new drive was initiated by an internal document on The Struggle Against Trotskyism which has been reprinted in full with our reply in The Militant of February 8.
The real purpose of this witchhunt is to terrorize into submission and to silence all those thinking workers in the Communist Party and its periphery who are beginning tc grope their way toward a really revolutionary solution to their problems. This spontaneous development leads, often unconsciously, toward Trotskyist ideas. The Stalinist document points unmistakably to such militants when it complains of those who pose as “honest rank and filers spreading doubt,” attempting “to undermine the confidence of the membership in the leadership,” making “very left proposals,” “expressing doubts regarding various phases of Soviet policy.” The Stalinist document pretends it aims at discovering our agents within the Communist Party; but it is clear that it really is directed against the thinking workers in the Communist Party who as yet have no contact with us.
The Stalinist leaders are, however, compelled to conduct this “struggle against Trotskyism” under extremely difficult conditions. They have preached for years that the Trotskyists amount to nothing. Now they have to explain why the Trotskyists evidently do amount to something. They are compelled to try to explain to their members the important advances made by the Trotskyists. How do the Trotskyists manage to get proletarian support, such as 8,761 votes in Minnesota in the last election, 6,050 votes more than Browder got? The Stalinist leaders cannot answer such questions plausibly. They repeat all the old slanders against Trotsky, but Trotsky has been murdered by Stalin while the party of Trotskyism lives and flourishes. How is that possible? The Stalinists cannot explain, because the very last thing they will ever do is to discuss the actual program of Trotskyism by which it lives and grows despite the loss of Trotsky.
And at the same time that Browder is slandering the Trotskyists as fascist agents, he is compelled to permit Communist Party trade union fractions to enter into united fronts with the Trotskyists. The fractions are under the heavy fire of the war mongers in the unions, and seek allies in the struggle to defend themselves. But yesterday’s allies of the Stalinists are gone. The “People’s Front” friends are today in the camp of the war mongers, seeking the expulsion of the Communist Party members from the unions. The only allies against the war mongers turn out to be the Trotskyists. Rather than agree to united fronts with the Trotskyists, Browder is perfectly ready to see more than one union expel Communists, and more than one union destroyed in the process. Fortunately, the Communist Party members involved see the matter differently than Browder. They want to save themselves and their unions, rather than go down swearing by Browder. If Browder will confront them with a choice between remaining in the Communist Party or acting jointly, with the Trotskyists to preserve the unions, they are more than likely to part company with Browder. And where Browder, rather than face such consequences, permits a Communist Party fraction to carry out a united front with the Trotskyists, that united front becomes the most powerful antidote to Browder’s lies about Trotskyism. Thus Browder is on the horns of a dilemma either horn of which bodes no good for the Stalinist apparatus.
In its desperate fight against such united fronts, the Browder leadership brandishes as its chief weapon the very same one which the degenerate Second International leadership used against the united front proposals of the Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky. The united front proposals, cries Browder, are really a “policy of trying to disrupt our Party.” They are “designed to penetrate our ranks.” These words of the Stalinist document on “Trotskyism” merely echo what Kautsky used to tell the SocialDemocratic workers to persuade them not to support the Comintern’s united front offers. Kautsky used to prove it by quoting certain words of Lenin to that effect, and likewise Browder quotes the words of Trotsky and Cannon.
Of course Lenin, and Trotsky and Cannon after him, defined the united front as a tactic of struggle against the opponent to whom the proposal is made. Of course Lenin said that, the primary purpose of the united front with the Social-Democrats is to expose the false character of their leadership and the disastrous consequences of their policies, to raise the level of political consciousness among the workers and to make Bolsheviks out of them. Of course Lenin, and Trotsky and Cannon after him, do not view the united front as an end in itself, but as a means of winning the workers of the other party to the banner of Bolshevism. The united front becomes the arena in which the contending parties demonstrate which deserves the support of the workers. It becomes the testingground of the parties participating. All this used to be the ABC of Communism. It is a measure of the degeneration of the “Communist” Party under Stalin and Browder, that they, like Kautsky, argue against the united front on the ground that their opponent is attempting to disrupt their party and win its members.
In case Browder needs better, quotations to prove his point, we herewith provide him with one: In the united fronts which have taken place and those which will take place on an even greater scale, our aim is to win away from the Communist Party the worker-militants. Browder’s fear on this score is something he cannot explain to his membership. Why should he fear to appear in the same arena of the united front, side by side with the Trotskyists? Isn’t his fear an indication that he has no confidence in his ability to bear comparison with the Trotskyists before a working class audience?
We value every Communist Party member whom we recruit s worth, from the political standpoint, more than unattached workers of equal calibre. For in joining with us he not only augments our own forces, but thereby weakens our chief rival by an equal loss.
The war which destroyed others was also an acid test of our party. It was a test, however, for which our party had been preparing throughout its existence, and it met the test with flying colors. There was a group which succumbed to the pressure of bourgeois-democracy, attempted to stampede our party into abandoning our program and, failing, deserted the party. For a time the ideological leader of that group, James Burnham, pretended that he “merely” wanted us to abandon our stand for the defense of the Soviet Union; his full program, however, turned out to be the abandonment of all hope for the socialist revolution. For the next epoch of humanity he, Burnham, can see only a “managerial revolution”: power in the hands of an “elite” which may call itself fascist or by some other name. It was pure gain to rid ourselves of such bourgeois swine.
Scarcely had our party gone throught that test, successfully defending the banner of Bolshevism against these traitors, when Stalin succeeded in assassinating Leon Trotsky. There were friends who feared and enemies who hoped that our party would not survive the death of our leader; neither such friends nor enemies understood that Trotsky had built so well. He had built on a program, the ideas of Trotskyism. Trotsky could be murdered; his party would go forward as he enjoined it to in his last words.
And so it has been. We write some six months after he died. It would be a great deal to record that the movement has survived such a heavy blow. Yet what we have to record is something very much more than that.
Trotsky’s last words have entered into the very marrow of our young militants. The past six months have been least of all a period of mere survival. They have been a period of steady and considerable growth. Some of the signs of this growth have been evident to all; the new six-page Militant, the overfulfillment of the Trotsky Memorial Fund, the opening of new branches in key cities, the Minnesota elections, new successes and advances in the trade union movement. Other advances that we have made cannot yet be publicly discussed. But we are content to rest our case on the visible signs.
Our growth reflects not only the correct program and inherent strength of our party but also the vigor of the American labor movement. Our growth is the most mature expression of the proletarian activity sweeping through the nation in the teeth of the official and unofficial terrorism of the war mongers. The deeper penetration of our members into the trade unions and the proletarianization of our party could not have been so speedily effected were it not for the war boom. War industry has speedily absorbed our people and the classconscious workers, with returning selfconfidence as industry shows its need of them, have become the more receptive to our ideas.
Thus the new stage of Trotskyism is the product both of subjective factors – our success is meeting the tests to which we have been subjected – and the objective situation. That it is a new stage every day’s reports from the party branches testify. Everywhere we are going forward. Our young militants are pervaded with the most thoroughgoing optimism. They know, better than anybody, that the terrible ravages of the war make, in comparison, the ancient tale of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse a lullaby for children. But they also know, with the sureness of utter conviction, that this war is but the expression of the death agony of capitalism. That this epoch of death is the transition to the epoch of the world revolution. They know it, and they live by it.
1. See Claude Kitchin and the Wilson War Policies, by A.M. Arnett, p. 192; Little, Brown & Co., 1937.
Last updated on 27 February 2016