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Arne Swabeck

Problems of Our Perspectives

(September 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 23 (Whole No. 82), 12 September 1931, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Our thesis breathes not one particle of spirit of a coming “Victorian age” for American imperialism in the Lovestonian sense. Nor does it project the possibility of a “Victorian age” for American imperialism parallel to the development of British imperialism in the nineteenth century. But we do give the reasons which “are still effective enough to warrant its ability to extricate itself out of its present crisis by shifting the burden of it not only upon the working class at home but upon the nations of Europe,” without even excluding the possibility of another boom.

This we believe, is the most likely variant for the immediate future which can be quite well substantiated by the present economic and political trends.

But at the outset let us remember that this question is closely bound up with the perspectives of the world’s revolutionary movement. It will be of decisive importance whether it progresses toward new victories or whether it suffers new serious defeats.

Hence, our thesis does not at all draw any conclusions based upon the ability of American capitalism to solve its problems or to overcome its contradictions. It proceeds from the inevitable intensification of these contradictions to hold out “prospects of struggle which will increase in breadth and depth and militancy”. And precisely under the likely variant of an upward conjuncture of American capitalist economy.

Fundamentals of Present Crisis

The capitalist system of society as a whole has reached its period of decline. The crisis which followed the short speculative post-war “boom” marked a beginning of a period of crises for capitalism, within which the business cycles still operate but are changed to the degree that the general period has changed. This period also marks the beginnings of the development of a new system of economy represented by the Soviet Union which, of course, will play its serious part in any future perspective. Each new cycle becomes a historical step in capitalism, bringing it nearer to its end. The increasingly planetary character of the conjunctures of capitalist economy has become particularly expressed in the more uniform and more universal phase of the industrial cycle in each crisis dip, though not uniform in the rising “booms” This testifies to the growing intensity and scope of crises as a part of capitalist economy. At the beginning of this crisis, France was still to some extent an exception – to the extent, mainly, to which her economy is still made up of small scale and peasant economy. Also this crisis particularly records as a universal phenomenon within capitalism the growing standing army of unemployed on the one hand, and on the other, a growing abundance of credits seeking new markets for Investment. However, the latter in its overwhelming preponderance is in the hands of one imperialist power – the United States.

To substantiate the possible variants upon which our general strategy is based it must be proved whether, despite this general crisis period, room for expansion at least for single capitalist powers can still be found. One of Marx’s dictum reads: “There is no such thing as a permanent crisis.” Lenin never tired of emphasizing that: “There is no situation for which there is absolutely no way out for the bourgeoisie.” Both are still true today. And it depends decisively upon the maturity and actions of the proletariat to what extent capitalism can recover from the crisis or whether it will proceed more rapidly in its decline. In this respect, the proletarian vanguard unfortunately shows great weaknesses throughout the capitalist world.

The Basis of Possible Revival

The law of uneven development of capitalism holds no possibility, after the acute phase of this crisis is overcome, of a business revival comprising all countries. But this very uneven development, which is more pronounced under the imperialist epoch, holds precisely the possibility of the stronger power emerging from the crisis, passing through depression to revival, at the cost of the weaker.

Crises are the periods of capitalist forcible adjustments of the relative over production. They are manifested in the purely economic aspects by a restriction of output, diminution of stocks on hand by a falling price level, thus releasing money for renewal of fixed capital, which means production of means of production, factories, machinery etc., re-employment of labor and increases of variable capital. Apparently, however, there is as yet in this country no diminution of stocks on hand. According to Survey of Current Business for Feb. 1931, the following comparison of stocks on hand is shown:







Total Raw Materials





Total Ind. Finish. Products




Prior to the war, the American production cycles were based almost exclusively on the home market, by continuous expansion of national market, by extending the frontiers to tap new natural resources and by turning a constant stream of immigrants, in addition to the growing population, into producers and consumers. They became particularly expressed in the extension of railroads. The postwar boom of 1921–1929 was still based mainly on the home market. It became expressed mainly in the renewal of fixed capital for railroad material, machinery and building which had been practically at a standstill during the war, as well as by the spurt in the automobile industry. Meanwhile, however, American capitalism had entered the world market and world affairs on a large scale. It would therefore be incorrect to speak of prospects of American capitalism overcoming its crisis merely on the basis of the process of business cycles operating in the home market. This would entirely ignore the fact that its sources of power are spread all over the world. And it is precisely in the world arena that it will seek its further field of expansion.

Further World Market Expansion

The majority of the world’s population still consist of peasants (still mainly engaged in natural economy). To turn the peasants into elements of capitalist production, i.e., producers and consumers of capitalist society, is one of the important processes of capitalism and has proven one additional means of capitalist expansion throughout its history. From its very inception, It began by battering down barriers for this expansion set up by feudalism, first by “liberating” the peasants from serfdom, thus creating a new equilibrium. Immense areas and population can still be developed capitalistically once there are the apparently sufficient guarantees for return on capital investments.

The crisis releases enormous amounts of liquid capital seeking new fields of investments. Such are to be found primarily in these economically backward countries, colonies and semi-colonies. American imperialism is again gathering its breath from the first shocks of the stock market crash and the crisis. It is preparing to conquer new territories. Its most important weapon will be a combination of capital exportation with export of goods, granting of long term credits and outright loans for the purchase of industrial goods. American imperialism has long had its eye on China with its 420 million population, overwhelmingly peasant in its make-up, engaged mainly in natural economy. Of course, it would not pour in heavy investments merely to develop sources of production in competition with its own cotton fields, its own copper mines or its own steel mills. No: it would enter primarily to turn the vast field of peasants into elements of capitalist production, into producers and consumers; to first of all invest into fixed capital, which means building roads, railroads, factories, machinery, etc., thus making the investments for promotion of sale of its industrial goods and simultaneously for the extraction of surplus value – new super-profits. So far, the Chinese worker is already on a much lower level, making the super-profits possible. This prospect can well enough serve as a complement to a revival and a new upward conjuncture of American capitalism.

To develop such backward countries capitalistically, although offering a means of expansion for a time, does not at all solve the contradictions of world capitalism, nor of any of its component parts. On the contrary, it vastly increases these contradictions. But to draw from that a conclusion based upon the absolute inability of American capitalism to extricate itself from this present crisis is simply ridiculous.

America’s Role in the World Market

American imperialism won the war. It established its world hegemony. It intervened in Europe in 1923 to defeat the German proletariat and “stabilize” German capitalism. It intervened again in 1931 to postpone the German revolution and to put the screws on France. It is intervening now in England. In this process of interventions, it has poured millions upon millions into Europe because its hegemony demands a certain measure of “stability” of the capitalist equilibrium. While such capital investments are made also for the promotion of exportation of goods, they are above all designed to strengthen the Wall Street hegemony and thereby serve constantly to put each of the European powers on a more limited ration in world economy.

Evidently, Wall Street does not in the least fear the consequences to its own market within these competing powers by limiting their rations or even crushing them as competitors. That will not reduce the size of world market still available. But it will relatively strengthen further its imperialist hegemony and its struggle for re-division of the world.

So far, however, these forecasts have taken into account only the possibilities of American capitalism extricating itself out of the present crisis in connection with its possible further expansion on the world market. Yet each step in this direction inevitably produces the most furious conflicts of capitalist state relations as well as of class relations, and, as far as the latter are concerned – not the least at home. But this part of the problem – so important for our perspectives of coming sharpened struggles – it will be necessary to leave for another article.

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