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Fourth International, March-April 1948


World in Review

Capitalism’s Choice: Ruinous War or Depression


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.2, March-April 1948, pp.34-36.
Transcription & mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


ALTHOUGH THE CAPITALIST SPOKESMEN hurled particularly rabid anathemas upon Marxism on the 100th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, they all seized upon one excerpt of the manifesto as proof of the continuing health and viability of the capitalist system. Marx paid tribute to capitalism in its prime as follows:

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal creative productive forces than have all the preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?

Now that capitalism is in its death agony its apologists go back 100 years to quote from the encomium of Marx. But even during the healthy and progressive stage of capitalism, Marx was able to forsee its doom. Three paragraphs following the above passage, Marx predicts the growing convulsions of the capitalist system.

The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by a more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.

No one can refute this accurate analysis today. The periodic crises during the rise of capitalism bear eloquent testimony to this keen forecast. But even Marx underestimated the depths of the eventual degeneration of capitalism. That was undoubtedly due to his belief that the working class would destroy the system before it reached the abysmal degradation in which it finds itself today. With the inclusion of the entire planet in the orbit of capitalism there are no longer any new markets to conquer. Thus the twofold operation of extricating itself from crises, namely, the conquest of new markets and the enforced destruction of mass productive forces, have 10 be limited mainly to the latter.

The First World War marked the end of the upswing of the capitalist system. By 1913, capitalism had achieved its destined function. Despite its vicious exploitation of the working class, and especially of the colonial peoples, the productive forces of society developed at an accelerated pace, adding to the wealth of the world. What the capitalists themselves admitted, and what the liberals and reformists hoped to rectify, was the concentration of this wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer monopolists. But once the limits of its markets has been reached, there was no alternative for the survival of capitalism except to embark on an orgy of destruction of the productive forces. Since the capitalists of one country could expand their markets and fields for investment only at the expense of the capitalists of a rival power, war now became the logical outcome of capitalism. For capitalism in general, and each national section of the capitalists in particular must expand or die. Thus the intensified international struggle for a diminishing market led to two world wars, with a third in the effing.

BUT EVEN THIS DISMAL SITUATION FAILS TO take full cognizance of the terrific crisis facing capitalism. So vast are the productive forces developed by capitalism and so limited has the world market become, that the utilization of the productive forces for unproductive purposes has become an integral part of the program of the capitalists in order to stave off their immediate doom, only of course to lead to a more bloody and cataclysmic death in the future.

Destruction of the productive forces is an inevitable attribute of war. War is also the means through which the victorious capitalists expand at the expense of their rivals. Destruction is brought about not by design but as the result of the struggle for mastery.

The devastation of the first world war produced scarcities throughout the world. During the first few postwar years the productive forces were utilized to meet these scarcities within the limits of a reduced purchasing power. The advantages accruing to American capitalism, which emerged for the first time as a creditor nation, enabled it to continue to accelerate its productive forces along orthodox lines after the scarcities caused by the war were eliminated. Put only for a brief period of time, ending in the 1929 depression. Even this short flurry was due to the fact that American industry aided Europe with loans which were never repaid. Once the depression was underway there could be no emergence from it in the usual pattern of the past. The productive machine was so huge and the faith in further capitalist expansion was so shaken that private enterprise no longer dared to invest its funds for the rehabilitation and growth of the productive forces. It required the preparation for the Second World War to permit capitalism to function without the existence of millions of unemployed.

World War II saw havoc on a far more devastating scale than World War I. The new engines of destruction required more labor power and more raw materials, thus bringing about tremendous scarcities and imposing huge new sacrifices on the people. The present post-war boom likewise depends upon continuing scarcity. But now more than after the first world war, the boom was made possible by the staggering amount of goods and dollars spent without any prospect of a return in the various countries of the world.

But the scarcities caused by World War II are practically filled within the more limited purchasing power now prevailing. The steep commodity decline six weeks ago was a warning signal that the post-war boom was Hearing its end. There is only one way left to stave off the evil day – as was done a decade ago – by preparation for World War III. Thus, less than three years after the end of hostilities, we are already in the midst of preparation for a new world slaughter.

The next cycle has already begun. It is now only a question of time before war becomes a reality, unless, of course, revolution breaks the chains of this vicious circle arid destroys the capitalist system.

War preparations today differ from those in the past. Previously preparation for war was not regarded as an integral part of preserving the capitalist system. It was a genuine preparation for the war itself. While there is as much desire for “preparedness” today, there is also a conscious realization that war preparation serves as a prop to keep the country from a devastating depression. It has therefore become an end in itself in preserving the capitalist system.

This was fully revealed by the action of the stock market following President Truman’s address to Congress. For a period of six weeks the markets and business were in a period of uncertainty as to whether the post-war boom was at an end. It was the conscious plan to step up preparations for the next war that gave the markets their stimulus. War hysteria was caused by Truman and Marshall for the purpose of panicking the country into supporting war preparation. Undoubtedly in addition to the unfolding demands of their “cold war” against the Kremlin they were motivated by fear of a depression which at this time would place this country in a less favorable position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM HAS COMPLETELY outlived its useful function. Today it can continue to survive only by producing larger and larger instruments of destruction. It can continue only by means of war, preparation for war and production to compensate for what it destroys. It can continue only by living off the wealth produced by former generations. The capitalists themselves have no faith in it. They must improvise war preparations – and then attempt to plunge the nation into another imperialist blood bath – in order to keep it alive although they are aware that the remedy is further undermining the very loundations of the system.

But even for the execution of these plans, the capitalist rulers are compelled more and more to rely on the industrial workers for productive capacity and military service. Here is their Achilles heel.

Devastating war or devastating depression! That’s the only real alternative left to capitalism. Either one will sound its death knell. One hundred years after its publication, the inexorable doom predicted by the Communist Manifesto hangs over this system in the most literal sense of the word. With the same irrefutable logic, Marx and Engels demonstrated in the Manifesto that the working class alone must become the gravedigger of capitalism.

To aid the working class in this task, to dedicate all energy to preparation for its socialist revolution is the only realistic perspective today. Socialism alone can save humanity from its present dilemma and open up new vistas of progress. On the hundredth anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, we have every right to be confident in the power of the working class and in its socialist victory.

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