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Hugo Oehler

The Thesis and the Crisis

(September 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 22, 5 September 1931, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The thesis deals at some length with the crisis and presents many facts, but leaves unanswered a couple of important points which I desire to raise for discussion. One place, the thesis says “The present crisis is distinguished from many which proceeded it in the history of capitalist production by its virtually planetary character.” The universal character of the crisis is not new nor the distinguishing character. Marx and Engels of the last century pointed them out more than once. The universal character is an effect and not a cause. The above sentence explaining its scope nevertheless explains none of the basic difference in relation to past crises.

In another part, the thesis says, “The present crisis comes after the existence of an acute disruption of the ‘equilibrium’ between agriculture and industry, and only serves to aggravate the agrarian situation; it appears coincidentally with a contracting domestic market which gives no appearance of noteworthy extension in the immediate future; and, finally, it occurs in the period of declining world imperialism and is part of a planetary crisis which, precisely because American imperialism’s sources of power are spread all over the world, invest the disruption of American economy with highly perilous character.” Of the three points, the last is of vital importance, the basic but the first two are of no value. In other parts of the thesis more sentences are presented to show this differences but it does not negate the above question; however, such a vital point should not be scattered through the thesis. Speaking of agriculture and industry, the “acute disruption” is not new; American agriculture is a subordinated part of machine development and industry and the process of disintegration and centralisation has been the logical outflow of the general process of capitalist production in America, in relation to agriculture.

To say, “coincidentally with a contracting market” is to put the problem upside down and approach from the side of consumption rather than the point of production. This factor should be presented as an ABSOLUTE decrease in the number of workers in production, a fact Marx predicted in the last century.

Further, the most vital point, not only in regard to the world crisis, but particularly in regard to American imperialism – an excess of capital a new form of overproduction in the period of financial capitalism, is not even considered or presented in its proper light in relation to the crisis.

As to prospects, the thesis says, in a criticism of the Annalist perspective, that “A more objective estimation of the prospects for a decisive upward swing of the conjuncture would put the period for a commencement of recovery at an even later date.” Saying such without explaining what kind of a revival it can be is to leave hanging in the air the main point of the perspective. We may add that the date of recovery is not as important as the kind of recovery.

No blueprint can be given, nor asked for, but a Marxian group must at least present possible variants as well as what is not possible. The thesis takes up what is not possible but does not deal with what is possible.

It is possible for the crisis to develop into a war. Such a one would be not a mere economic crisis, but a new problem of higher dimensions. With it would proceed a negative revival of industry and production only to end in greater difficulties. At least there would be a flow before the next ebb, considering capitalist economy. It is most probable (as presented by the thesis) that American imperialism, at the expense of the other imperialisms, will come out on top. But on top of what, is as important as to specify: on top. Such a revival will not be the prosperity of the immediate past; however, this does not mean decline.

The Leninist analysis that we are in a period of decay capitalism means that capitalism as a WHOLE is in decay and from this approach American imperialism, from the absolute standpoint, is also in the decline. However, from the relative standpoint the problem is different. From the relative standpoint, American imperialism still has ebbs and flows because its holds the upper hand and all indications are that, in the downward curve American imperialism will be able to holds its upper position (at the expense of the others). The problem can only be considered correctly from its twofold relation of the absolute and relative.

To show that there will be a diminishing rate of profit and draw conclusions that this holds decay and decline for American production, is false. A diminishing rate of profit in the past has accompanied an increase in production and logically so. Profit is only a part of surplus value and such an approach will not settle the basic problem of capitalist production and its crisis.

We must have more discussion on these two points; difference of this crisis in relation to the past and the variations possible for the future in order to round out the thesis on this point.

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