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Why Join the Workers Party

A.J. Muste

Why Join the Workers Party

Letters to a Worker Correspondent – II

(16 March 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 13, 16 March 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Fellow Worker:

In my last letter I wrote about how the Workers Party came into existence, after many years of splits and disintegration in the radical movement, as a new unifying center for the revolutionary forces. I concluded by stating that we base our party on the teachings of Marx and Lenin which have been tested in the experience of the international revolutionary movement of the working class and seek to apply these principles to the realities of the American scene.

When we speak of our party as “revolutionary” we mean, on the one hand, that its aim is revolutionary and on the other hand that we believe in the revolutionary method. We do not believe that the masses can be delivered from poverty, unemployment, degradation, war, by any reform of the capitalist system under which we live. That system must be abolished, wage slavery must be done away with altogether. The workers must own and control the machinery of production.

We do not believe that the workers and their allies can overthrow the capitalist state, governmental system, and the capitalist economic system by purely legal, “democratic”, peaceful, parliamentary methods. They will have to take the revolutionary road to their goal.

An Example of Reform

As for curing the ills of the workers by reforming capitalism, we have just been living through two years of the Roosevelt New Deal which was to do just that. And you know only too well what that has got us. “Salvation” has been provided not tor the workers, but for the capitalist class. Factory pay-rolls are only 60 percent of the 1926 level, for example, but dividends and profits 150 percent. The average wage of the American worker who was lucky enough to have a job at all last year was around fifteen dollars a week. The citizenship paper of millions of “the proud American working class, sons and daughters of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln”, is a relief ticket – which entitles them to nicely calculated rations after snooping social workers have made sure that there isn’t an extra loaf of bread in the closet or a nickel in the pants pocket.

This takes place in a country where everybody could have a decent, comfortable home, plenty of attractive clothing, abundant food, educational opportunity, money for travel and amusement, if factories were not standing idle, food being plowed under, and so on.

There is always some one who promises the workers to fix things up. Hoover with his chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage. Roosevelt with his New Deal. Hooey Long with a house, automobile and radio for everybody. Isn’t it about time that the workers realized what Marx taught long ago that it does not make any difference how well-meaning these capitalist saviors may be, there is no way out for the masses under capitalism?

For example, you tell employers that we now have a New Deal, no one is to get below a certain minimum, everybody is to get high wages so “the masses may have purchasing power to buy the output of our mass production” and then turn around and tell the boss that he must run his business at a profit in competition with other bosses, and his chief concern is necessarily to put his prices up as high as possible and to keep his costs, including his labor costs, as low as possible. Thus all the chiselling on wages, the speed up, etc. under the codes and other New Deal rigmarole.

If for the moment the wage rates are maintained, the boss looks for some other way to squeeze out profit, as by putting in “labor-saving” machinery and putting workers out on the street. The steel barons have a new process with which 1,600 men can turn out as much as 32,000 do now. Out of every 320 now employed 304 can be fired and the other 16 do the work!

General Trend Today

Under capitalism, in this its period of decline, the general trend is toward greater misery for the workers. Capitalists make their profits by paying the worker in wages a smaller value than he creates by laboring. The capitalist thus gets what Marx calls surplus value. It is the only way profit Can be created. Under modern conditions expensive plants and equipment are increased, but the work is done with fewer workers. Thus they must be exploited ever more fiercely in order that surplus value – profit – may be squeezed out of their labor, the only possible source of profit.

At an earlier period capitalism found a way out by getting outlets for surplus capital, possibilities of exploitation, etc. in so-called “backward countries”. But as the situation grows more tense in the advanced capitalist countries and the “backward countries” also become industrialized, it is a case of bigger and hungrier dogs fighting for fewer and fewer bones. Terrific and awful wars break out We have had one world-war. Another is in the making.

Things might be better. Plenty and security can be had. But even if the American working class were willing to accept meekly the fifty percent cut in its standard of living since 1929, it will not be given the “privilege”. Capitalism will force the standard lower and again lower. It will lead the masses to slaughter unless they take things into their own hands.

Thus the workers become convinced that capitalism cannot be reformed, it must be abolished.

For the most part, however, the workers who have reached this conviction have been under the influence of the “Social-Democratic” philosophy of the Socialist parties and the Second International. According to this philosophy, we can gradually replace capitalism with socialism and we can do it by peaceful, parliamentary, “democratic” means.

Riding in Opposite Directions

What has happened in Germany and other countries since the war shows plainly enough that this philosophy of “Gradualism” means rum for the workers and their movement. The idea of running a capitalist and a Socialist, a profit and non-profit, system side by side is crazy. It is like trying to ride on two horses going in opposite directions. The capitalist system remains under all these “Socialist housing schemes” etc. and so the crisis is not resolved; it gets worse. There was a time when capitalism was able to make concessions to the workers, better the standard of living, without cutting into profits. Then the “gradualism” of the social-democratic parties and the unions brought certain results. Now capitalism maintains itself only by taking away concessions – wage rates, social insurance benefits, etc. – which it once gave. To stick to “gradualism” now means one retreat after another for the workers. furthermore, “democratic” methods accomplish nothing. For capitalism itself destroys every vestige, every pretense, of democracy and maintains itself at last by means or an open, brutal, Fascist dictatorship. Capitalism will inevitably do this everywhere.

Why? Because capitalism must drive the standard of living lower all the time. In face of this, if the masses have any freedom at all, any union or party no matter how conservative, meek, legal, respectable, peaceful, they will offer resistance. They will fight for mere existence. Therefore capitalism wipes out “democracy”, smashes every trade union, farmers’ organization, political party. The workers cannot save themselves or their movement by being humble and cautious.

Right here in the U.S. today workers are killed in strikes when they try to assert their right to collective bargaining under Section 7a of NRA. The militia is called out against them, not against the bosses! Radical parties are kept off the ballot. A big movement is on foot to deprive the unemployed of the right to vote.

Under these circumstances, to rely on “democracy”, to say that we will gain our ends by electing a president and a majority of congress pretty soon, is to disarm the working class while capitalism arms itself to smash us. That is what the Social Democracy has done.

History gives us no instance of a ruling class which voluntarily gives up its power. It took the English Revolution, the French, the American, to smash feudalism. It took four years of civil war in these United States to smash the slave-holding aristocracy of the South (even after a president and congress representing a new class had been elected by parliamentary methods) and to put the new capitalist class in power.

The capitalists will not quietly Land over their power to us, fellow worker. We cannot use the capitalist state, system of government, whose very purpose is to maintain capitalism, in order to overthrow it. We have to smash the capitalist state and put the workers’ state in its place. Then we can begin to build a new society on new foundations.

(A third letter will be published in the next issue of the New Militant)

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