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The ‘American Approach’

A.J. Muste

The ‘American Approach’

How the Job Can and Must Be Done

(1 June 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 24, 1 June 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Ed. Note: This is the concluding article of the series of four by comrade Muste.)


Having pointed out the falseness or inadequacy of some of the means which have been proposed for overthrowing capitalism in the U.S., we must now state positively how the Workers Party believes the job can and must be done.

Fundamentally, as we have already pointed out, the W.P. way is the way of Marx and Lenin. We do not believe that we have a newfangled contraption with a U.S. 1935 patent for achieving the workers’ revolution.

The central position among the forces which must be depended upon to overthrow capitalism belongs to the working class, especially the workers in the basic industries. As the capitalist system declines and presently falls to pieces, presents the masses with growing hunger and insecurity, the threat or actuality of fascism and war, the fight of the workers for direct and simple things, about wages and hours, for the right to exist, necessarily becomes more intense. It has to be fought on a broader front. From a fight in a single-plant, it develops into a fight against a gigantic corporation, against all the corporations in an industry, against industry, the economic system, as a whole. The government, moreover, takes sides more and more openly against the workers, so in order to exist they wage the fight against the government too, that is, the entire governmental system, the State, which supports capitalism. In the course of these struggles the Workers (or Workers, Farmers, Soldiers) Committees or Councils (Soviets) are compelled to take on broader functions. Under the leadership of the revolutionary party, they presently overthrow the capitalist state and become the basic organs of the Workers State.

Allies of the Workers

By workers we mean the working class. It includes the miners, transportation, factory workers. It includes also the clerical workers, agricultural workers, many technicians and professionals who are also wage earners. These have to organize in their economic organizations, just as the factory workers. They will more and more engage in the same kind of struggles as the latter.

The workers must have the support of other oppressed and exploited sections of the population – the farmers, small business people, the persecuted Negro race, colonial peoples who also suffer under the yoke of American capitalism. A lot of people hold that the middle class cannot be gotten to support the workers in revolutionary action. We must not make the mistake of underestimating the problem. Farmers, for example, do in certain cases oppose the Unemployed Leagues because if relief rates or wages on public works are kept up, it is harder to get farm labor to work for a pittance. Small business people often line up with Big Business interests. This is true. It is the job of revolutionists to carry on skillful propaganda work among these and similar elements. But this is not an impossible task. These groups also suffer, and ever more intensely, under capitalism. Their leaders are as intelligent as are the workers’ leaders and some at least can be won to the revolutionary position. There have been many cases in the U.S. as well as other countries, where these groups have given substantial support to workers in strike struggles. We do not have to accept it as foreordained that they are going to line up with Fascism. It has been shown in Russia, Germany and other countries that they were willing in the war and post-war crisis to support or at least tolerate revolutionary workers’ leadership. It was only where socialist and communist party leadership had become bankrupt and these middle class elements sensed that the workers’ movement under this leadership had “shot its bolt” and offered no courageous and clear way out, that they rallied behind the fascist banner.

Here in the U.S. there is unquestionably among the masses resentment against restraint and regimentation. What fascism, the triumph of capitalist reaction, means in practice in Europe has been seen by the workers and farmers of this country. It would be absurd to assume that they are now immune to fascist propaganda; but it is certain that the European object lesson has made an impression. The country today is not fascist in psychology. In strikes, organizing campaigns, etc., popular sentiment is with the revolting groups nearly everywhere. (Of course there are exceptions.) The revolutionary Marxian knows better than to get panicky, lose his head completely and insist that the following, real or apparent, of a Long or Coughlin means that fascism is going to sweep the country next week and that only by some tour de force, some colossal exhibition of American salesmanship, some clever building up of a rival personality, can we stem the tide and achieve the workers’ revolution. We face indeed a hard fight; but the outcome is not yet decided.

Since the country as a whole has not passed through a feudal experience, as well as for other reasons, the American masses do not, as has frequently been pointed out, regard themselves as a class apart, they are slow in achieving class consciousness. This tends to make labor organization work more difficult. It keeps workers voting for republican and democratic tickets, etc. But this also means that at any rate large sections of the American working population do not have any feeling of inferiority. They are not habituated to oppression and servility. It is a fresh, very vigorous working class, capable of bold and defiant action, easily fooled as yet but nevertheless rapidly becoming more hard-boiled and convinced that “the whole thing is a racket.” It is, furthermore, a working class which has never suffered a major disaster. It has not lost confidence in itself. All this is to be kept in mind and used by revolutionists working in the American scene.

Nor is it merely that in the case of the American working class there is no feudal tradition to reckon with. The popular concept is that the United States was meant to be different from “the old countries.” It was “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” – a nation in which there were not to be rich and poor, oppressors and oppressed, exploiters and exploited: in which not merely a privileged few but all the people should have plenty, security and opportunity for self-expression. This aspiration or “dream” has had a real influence on the thinking and the emotions of the masses of this country. It is not an aspiration which they need to dismiss. It is not only permissible for revolutionists to make use of this factor in American psychology: they would be plain fools if they did not do so.

If, however, we are not to slip into sentimentalism about “the American dream,” which would at best accomplish nothing and at worst serve to fan the fires of nationalism, we must point out how the rising capitalist class developed the concepts and slogans of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” in its own interest: how after luring the workers and farmers to back them in their fight against British merchants by means of such slogans, American merchants promptly turned around and wrote a constitution based upon Hamilton’s idea that “the people is a beast” rather than on conceptions of freedom and equality for the masses, and so on. We must point out that in the pre-industrial era the conception of plenty, security, etc. for large masses was to a great extent an unrealizable dream, that in the Machine-Age the dream can be realized, but only in a socialist economy in which private ownership in the means of production is relegated to the museum of history along with the ox-cart, an economy in which furthermore artificial national boundaries are wiped out and the international brotherhood of labor realized.

The “revolutionary tradition” of American history can also be utilized – not the romantic idea that Americans are inveterate crusaders prepared to shed their blood for ideals; but the fact that the history of the nation is one of constant and severe class-struggle, that the capitalist class did not hesitate to fight for its class interests whenever the situation required as in 1776 and 1861, that the working class today must be prepared to use all means to carry forward the evolutionary process and establish a higher economy and finer culture than capitalism could achieve.

While the growing impoverishment and insecurity under capitalism in its decline, as we have already pointed out, play a decisive role in bringing the masses to the point of revolutionary action, it is also true that the American standard of living has been comparatively high, that the American worker does not usually feel himself a member of “a poor, oppressed class,” and that the appeal to him must be based in a considerable degree on his outraged sense of justice over the things he might so easily have in this highly mechanized economy with its fabulous natural resources, and instead of which he is given a five to fifty dollars a month “security wage!” In other words, those who insist that revolutionary propaganda in this nation must paint the picture of what might be, must show concretely what the machine age could do for the masses if the fetters of capitalism were struck off the Machine, are entirely correct. In this connection, it may be observed that the many varieties of Technocrats are indeed vulnerable in their economics and romantic in their conception of the problem of political power – how we are going to get a chance to put a new economic system into effect – but as engineers pointing to the capacity of our productive mechanism they have made a contribution. And the lesson of the furore created among many sections of the population by their propagandizing of the vision of Plenty must not be lost sight of.

Very complex technical problems are involved in the problem of taking political power and likewise in the job of keeping the machinery of production and distribution going after power has been taken, in a highly industrialized nation. The capitalist story is that “after the revolution” chaos, distress and so on are inevitable because unskilled and inexperienced workers will be running the trains and power stations, making plans for bridges and ships, etc. The story is of course, absurd. It fails to take account of the great competence of the masses of the workers themselves.

Who has constructed this country’s vast productive plant anyway? Furthermore, this capitalist tale makes no mention of the fact that technicians and scientists aie constantly thwarted under capitalism. They are given scanty funds unless immediate profit is in sight from their work. Countless inventions and discoveries go unused because it would not “pay” the private capitalists who own them to put them to use. The revolutionary party will make it clear that it is well aware of the delicate nature of the technical tasks which the workers must carry out, and that so far from standing for inefficiency and anarchy, it is precisely the socialist economy under workers’ control which alone will give full scope to science and will effectively plan for human welfare.

Elsewhere the conception of a Leninist, i.e., a disciplined, revolutionary party (not reformist or not parliamentary) which the Workers Party holds, the role of such a party in the mass organizations today, and in the revolutionary crisis itself, has been set forth.

The Party, standing upon the principles already discussed in this series, must be created of course by the American workers. No one else can do the job for them. The Party must so root itself in and address itself to, the conditions under which the American working class lives that they will feel the Party to be their party – concerned about their problems, able to talk their language, intimately acquainted with their experiences, to be trusted in action, more and more to be looked to for guidance.

We heartily agree, furthermore, with the contention that the Party must know how to popularize its message and even more to dramatize the daily struggles of the workers and the revolutionary struggle as a whole. An emotional loyalty to the revolutionary movement must be developed. A movement which does not care or know how to march and sing and fling its banners to the breeze, is already dead.

This involves the use of symbols. The hold of capitalist, unscientific, nationalistic symbols upon the workers must, however, be broken, not confirmed. The revolutionary movement must, therefore, have its own. They must be such as to bring forward the idea and strengthen the emotion of class – the working class against the capitalist – and consequently the idea of labor internationalism against middle class nationalism. To break the hold of false ideas, is difficult enough at best. We should be foolish Indeed to make the task still more difficult by using symbols which might confuse the workers, which do not clearly and uncompromisingly suggest loyalty to class, oyalty to the world-wide brotherhood of labor, and not to any lesser cause!

The events of each new day, both in the U.S. and abroad, make clear the need in this country of such a revolutionary party as the W.P. More than in any previous period in modern revolutionary history the responsibility for leadership rests upon the American working class and its vanguard. If it is essential that this party have an international outlook and constitute a part of an international revolutionary force, it is equally true that such a party in the U.S., the very stronghold of capitalism and imperialism, will play a mighty role in the freeing of the workers in the Latin American nations, in Europe, throughout the world.

Therefore, for an effective American revolutionary party!

For the Workers Party of the United States, committed with its sister parties and groups to the building of the new revolutionary Fourth International!

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