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Proletarian Revolution

[Hugo Oehler]

On the Proletarian Revolution in the United States

(September 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 37 (Whole No. 133), 10 September 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The accelerated pace of the decay of capitalism in the present period, regardless of the ebbs and flows, raises more sharply the question of the coming American revolution. Many workers dismiss this question with a sentence or two. It is either around the corner; a general strike will usher it in; or the revolution in America is decades away. Communists cannot leave this question unanswered. We cannot draw a blue print but we can define the general features of the coming revolution, to enable us to work out tactics and strategy leading toward revolution.

In the post-war period it was the duty of the Communists to settle the question of the state because the leaders of the Second International revised the Marxian concept on this fundamental problem. It was necessary to re-examine the state, explain what it is, and tell the workers that our road to power leads through revolution, to the smashing of the capitalist state and to the establishment of Soviets and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. For the vanguard this is a settled question, especially since the 1917 revolution. Under Lenin and Trotsky this abstraction was brought to life in Russia, but under Stalin the concept of Soviets and of the Dictatorship is kept in the abstract for all other countries.

Unless the Marxists proceed to clothe this abstraction with at least the general outlines of the American form we will be lost on the road between here and power. Up to the present we have not accomplished this task. Due to this shortcoming the Communist party, first under the leadership of the Right wing and now under the leadership of Stalinism has presented tactics and strategy leading in the wrong direction, a direction which will, if continued, prevent us from establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat.

American Revolution – When?

It is our task to explain the American form, its peculiarities as well as the relations to the first Soviet Republic, not only from the standpoint of the Dictatorship, but especially from the point of view of the process on the road to power. In this respect we can present variants which are possible and eliminate what is not possible. This will enable us to offset the incorrect, harmful, non-Marxian trend of Centrism today.

At one period in the development of the Marxian current in America, before the 1917 revolution, many “Marxists” were positive the revolution would proceed from the maturing highly developed capitalist countries rather mechanically, in their industrial order. The Russian revolution of 1917 and what followed corrected this non-Marxist theory, but in its place the mechanical materialists, parading as Marxists, have developed the theory that the United States will be the last to have the social revolution, because it is too strong, because it is so highly developed. Marxism gives no grounds for either concept, but some muddle-headed Communists do.

The idea of strong links and weak links of the capitalist chains does not flow mechanically from the idea of highly developed and under-developed capitalist countries. Backward countries are not strong links of the capitalist chain but it is false to think that developed countries are strong links of the capitalist world system. Such a concept does not explain the contradictions in this decay stage of capitalism. Germany as a highly developed capitalist country is the best example to refute such mechanical reasoning.

The World Position of U.S. Imperialism

In the present stage the American imperialists play a dominating role in world politics. From this world position flow the factors undermining this strong link of world capitalism. It is laying the basis, with coming sharp turns in world events, to America’s becoming a weak link of the chain.

Will the Communist party be equal to its task? Only we can answer this question. The economic foundation of American imperialism no longer rests upon the 48 states. Its structure rests upon the quicksands of world capitalism: in South America, Asia and Europe as well as the whole North American continent. The contradictions of the world capitalists have become the contradictions of American capitalism.

The re-division of the world markets becomes the burning problem of the world imperialists. The revolutionary storms of any nation become of utmost importance for the capitalists in America. American wealth and capital today require a world police force and a world outlook. The economic stability of the United States depends upon the economic stability of world capitalism. The internal contradictions of American capitalism are so great that the American imperialists are forced out into deeper water tor a solution, and this in turn shakes the whole structure.

The developing civil war in Germany, with the danger of a Fascist dictatorship hanging as a living menace over the Soviet Union and the world proletariat, looms as a military guarantee and a breathing spell for decay capitalism. The contradictions between the imperialist powers themselves and the contradictions between the imperialists and the Soviet Union are bundled up into a knot in the present German situation. The relation of the German situation to the U.S. will be taken up later.

Our Approach

We must approach the coming revolution in the United States from two angles. First, a theoretical analysis: to consider what kind of a revolution is in store for the United States. Second: a review of the line of march of the party under Stalinist leadership in order to find out if Stalinism is leading in the correct direction.

The American revolution of 1775 was a product of the birth stage of capitalism. The coming revolution will be a product of decay capitalism. The first American revolution was a struggle to establish the bourgeois system. The coming revolution in America will be a struggle to destroy the capitalist system in America. The first revolution was a war between a rising colonial bourgeoisie and its mother country.

The American colonies were unhampered by feudal carry-overs and were able to plow forward swiftly. But the American revolution did not settle all of the problems of the rising bourgeois class. The problem of state power was not entirely to their liking. In Europe, the capitalists were forced to share their power with the feudal landowners. In America the capitalists were forced to share their power with the chattel slave owners. Both groups of capitalists had to compromise with other exploiters because a new enemy, the proletariat, was developing from the left. The bourgeois revolution could not be considered complete so long as the class did not have the state power in their hands, as their own instrument of suppression.

No sooner were accounts with England, the mother country, settled, after 1812, than the struggle between the two American exploiting classes, the rising capitalists and the chattel masters, took on new and sharper forms. A struggle for state power, for example control developed. The carry-over in America was more backward than that which the capitalists of Europe contended with, a backward system warping the substance of the struggle with the race issue, cloaking the class problem in the race form.

The Capitalists and the Civil War

Every expansion move the American capitalists made met with resistance from the plantation owner of the South. Only by compromise and joint expeditions of conquest were the capitalists of the north able to push westward. Such conquests were planned and carried out. Mexico was defeated, land was “bought” from Spain and France and in all of these joint struggles the landowner’s of the South obtained more than their share of the robbery. However, the parallel needs of expansion soon crossed each other, became entangled, and finally led to the Civil War.

Texas was ‘’ceded” long before the final conflict and showed the uncompromising position t he two forces wore heading toward. They planned to divide it into three states that would send six senators instead of two to the Senate. In the race for the colonization of Texas, the landowners of the South had more than an even break. The fight for control of the government shifted more and more away from “peaceful” struggles into open conflicts. A struggle for the West followed. Bloody Kansas was a prelude to the Civil War to follow: Just like John Brown’s action, it also cast a shadow on the future from the class angle.

The Civil War was the second edition of the bourgeois revolution and settled the question as to who was master of the state. Following the let-up of the postwar dictatorship against the landlords in the South, the world crisis of 1873 ushered in a new period for American development. The capitalists moved for ward with rapid strides – towards monopoly capitalism.

A Third Edition of the Bourgeois Revolution?

The question must now be asked: Will America have a third edition of the bourgeois revolution? Are there still carry-overs, are there democratic demands the capitalists must fight for in America, as they did in Russia, in Spain, and in other countries? To say that all of the democratic demands have been realized for all the people of the United States is the height of ignorance but to confuse this with the question of the necessity of a third edition of the bourgeois revolution is even worse.

There are democratic demands and economic needs large sections of the workers and the farmers have which cannot be fulfilled under capitalism. We must fight for these demands as workers. The capitalists are not fighting for these demands. Whom are they struggling against for these democratic demands? The democratic demands and the economic needs of the Negroes, Mulattoes, Asiatic, Mexican, the foreign born and Indians are not even questions of a bourgeois stage of the coming proletarian revolution, no matter how short its duration. American conditions have not only passed beyond the February period of Russia in 1917 but have also passed beyond the bourgeois stage of the October revolution.

The capitalists of America do not share their power with other exploiters. Other exploiters obtain part of the plunder as subordinated flunkies. Sharing profits as subordinated plunderers does not in any way signify sharing power, as for example, the sharing of power by the landlords, in Europe and Asia. In America there are no exploiting classes preventing the “good progressive” capitalist from carrying out the democratic demands and economic needs. It is the capitalists who thrive and maintain their system by the prevention of the carrying out of the democratic demands and economic needs.

(To be continued)

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