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Social Reformism in the United States

(December 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 34, 1 December 1930, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Those who hold the position that reformism must develop in the United States are wrong. Trotsky pointed out that America does not have to pass through a period of reformism but this does not mean America will not. When conditions cause a Leftward movement in America today both reform and revolution gain but the ratio depends to a large extent upon the tactics and strategy of the Communists.

Most likely a period of reform will develop but it will be distinguished from European reformism because historical conditions (decay of capitalism) will limit it to a short duration. Developing capitalism in the past could offer reforms through pressure of the workers and the reformist parties but in this period even American capitalism and its reformist parties have little of material value to offer the workers. Decadent capitalism, internationally characterized by keener competition, intensified contradictions, mass production, rationalisation, organic unemployment disintegration of the skilled strata, etc., are the objective conditions which narrow the material base of social reformism. But from this we cannot conclude, as the Stalinists do in their “third period” swing, that this proves the “fascization” of reformism [line missing] “socialist fascist” and that the road in America is a sharp line of demarcation of “class against class”, “revolutionary upsurges” and the radicalization is a continuous Leftward swing.

Reform Parties and Reform

Reform parties and reforms are two different things. Reform parties grow on reforms but the former can outlive the latter just like antiquated structures of the past exist today and will be carried over in the future. Their growth and living force depends upon material conditions but structures, customs and ideologies are used by reaction after the material conditions are swept away and before new conditions and new generations move on.

When Capitalism can not rule as a bourgeois republic it uses reform (Socialist, etc.,) as long as possible and when this is no longer possible, capitalism resorts to open dictatorship (Fascism). It is most likely, too, that American capitalism will try reform before using open dictatorship. In 1918, the German capitalists used the reformist parties and reforms to their advantage against the workers but in 1923 the material base for reforms in Germany was lacking and instead of reforms the workers were beaten down to a lower standard of living by a reform party without reforms. Today the new instrument of fascism is being shaped to take the helm in place of the reform party, the social Democracy, which must be discarded to fight the workers and the Communist vanguard.

In Russia in 1917 the breakdown of the economic system eliminated the material base for the reform party to carry out its reforms yet the reformist parties existed and thrived from February to October. The reformists without a material base were doing a good job for capitalism. They failed because of a Marxian party, the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. Capitalist reforms as a material concession in Russia had reached an end with the breakdown of the system and these reforms could only be fulfilled through a transformation (revolution) with workers’ reforms under the Soviets. The fast tempo of the Russian reformists from February to October was a reflection of the fast tempo of social changes, but nevertheless, the reformist parties played their role in spite of the death of the material base.

When the objective conditions are favorable and reform wins, as in Germany in 1923, Great Britain 1925, and in the United States today – the lack of success on the part of the workers falls on the shoulders of the party which calls itself the vanguard, the Communist). Today, with objective conditions so favorable, greater responsibility falls upon the shoulders of the Communist Party and this means primarily on the Left Opposition. We cannot skip necessary evolutionary steps toward revolution but we can, as Marxists shorten

their duration and even alter their quality. Since the objective conditions favor us, the battle between reform and revolution now primarily rests upon a Marxian party of dialectic revolutionists, not only to explain correctly the conditions but to present the program, and the program of action to remake them, connecting today’s activity with our goal. The Communist can only be equal to this task by basing himself upon the program of the Left Opposition and we of the Left must intensify our activity and concretize our program.

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