Arne Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Arne Swabeck

Labor’s Perspective in the Struggle for a Respite

(September 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 25 (Whole No. 84), 26 September 1931, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With ever sharper turns and jerks American capitalism is endeavoring to find its way out of the present crisis. The convulsions already recorded by its efforts give eloquent testimony to the explosive character of the present epoch.

To what extent it can gain a respite from the general crisis period and to what extent it can take advantage of the possibilities still open for further expansion on the world market should not be judged a priori. Moreover, it cannot be judged at, all on the mere basis of such possibilities without regard to the problem of class relations. But for purposes of determining the general direction and to work out a correct strategy it is necessary to examine the economic and political processes.

While even the “best” of the bourgeois experts have not as yet succeeded in establishing any concrete evidence of a change in the cycle, there is evidence a-plenty of preparations for the shifting of its burden. None of these so far point to acceptance of a condition of “stabilization” on a lower plane for American capitalism. This is not yet the general direction of the economic and political processes.

To be sure, the general declining character of capitalism cannot be overcome. And any respite even for American capitalism will necessarily implies the lowering of the present level of the American workers as well as the reduction of the ration of other capitalist powers in world economy. This process is already in operation in both directions.

The American bourgeoisie is definitely aiming at replacing the bourgeoisie of Europe and particularly that of England, primarily, in order to take possession of their markets. But what this implies comrade Trotsky has so aptly pointed out:

“It is precisely the international strength of the United States and its unbridled expansion resulting from it, that compels it to include powder magazines throughout the world among the foundation of its structure – the antagonisms between the East and the West, the class struggles in Old Europe, uprisings of the colonial masses, wars and revolution.”

We have witnessed, as ominous signs for the European bourgeoisie, a series of convulsive economic and political crises coupled with direct intervention of American capitalism within the most recent period. Notably so in England and Germany, with France not escaping pressure from both the American colossus which in every instance emerged the victor, further strengthening its hegemony. Behind the apparent international action to assist the financially hard pressed powers, there develops the sharpened antagonisms across the various state borders and keener competition for armaments. There have been rapid, frenzied swings from the rule of social democracy as an instrument of capitalism to that of open reaction, as these powers, each struggling more desperately for their diminishing rations in world economy, attempt to put ever heavier burdens upon their own proletariat and reduce its standard. Unquestionably there has been an immense sharpening in existing class relations. The objective situation is becoming increasingly revolutionary. These results, which express the contradictions of capitalism in general, are made so much more turbulent by America’s ruthless advance in Europe.

What are the prospects of development within the United States in this struggle for a respite? While the further ebbs and flows of the economic cycles may take place in strong leaps, some of the important aspects of the course for the immediate period are already indicated. And most likely, within these leaps the attitude and the actions of the working class will become a factor of far greater decisiveness than during the past decades. The sharper and deeper the changes in the future cycles as well as in the general economic and political conditions, the sharper the actions of the masses will be. Its outcome, however, depends decisively upon the extent and ability of Communist leadership.

The process toward the reduction of the working class level is definitely in motion. That is also one of the signs of efforts toward an economic revival of American capitalism which, of course, holds possibilities of success in so far as another upward conjuncture is concerned. But depending, as it does, in a large measure upon the degree of the reduction of this level, the attacks upon the workers can be expected to reach yet a much more acute stage. It is therefore logical to assume a tenacious growth of resistance in this upward conjuncture, when the workers find more solid ground under their feet, when the threatening clouds of large scale dismissals from factories and shops seems to disperse and when the demand for Labor power begins to increase. This is so much logical to assume in view of the fact that the working class has experienced a rude shaking from its false sense of security, induced by the capitalist “prosperity” alone and, not having exhausted its forces in serious defeats, finds itself compelled to meet attacks formerly not dreamed of. Unquestionably the prospects of such broad economic struggles also holds prospects of new life to the labor movement in general as well as possibilities for a rise in the level of class consciousness.

Growing resistance of the workers at the beginning of this crisis or during its first rapid progress downward could not be expected. That was the period of mass dismissals from the factories with the prosperity illusions still strongly imbedded. How false was the party leadership’s analysis when, already prior to the crisis. It proclaimed the ‘’mass radicalization” of the workers and in its seventh convention thesis, in attempting to analyze the crisis, stated: “Its effects are broadening and deepening the counter-offensive of the exploited working masses.” And further to make sure of no misunderstanding, it proceeded to list the evidences (?) of “the revolutionary upsurge of the working masses of the United States”. How equally false were its strategical conclusions for the “conquests of the streets”.

Yet, in this coming period of growing resistance and sharpened economic struggles, the workers, despite the false analysis and conclusions of the leadership, will move at an accelerated tempo toward the Communist party. And while the impact of the struggle may for a time, as far as the masses are concerned, relegate the questions of strategy to the backward there will nevertheless be a growth of the problems of correct leadership. Moreover, at each decisive turn, of changes of objective conditions, the questions of strategy will again be posed in full force – more so at each particular mistake and failure recorded. And from the Centrist bureaucracy now in control of the party there are no signs whatever other than those belonging to its career of false concepts and stupid blunders.

Unfortunately, however, the field for mass leadership is not left open exclusively for the Communists. There are yet the social reformists of various types and appearances to be taken into account. While in certain advanced European capitalist countries we witness many strong manifestations of disintegration of the social democracy, that process has not yet reached such a point here. To what extent the workers here will past a period of reformist illusions depends largely upon the objective developments and the ability of the Communists. It is therefore no accident that in recent strike struggles, as in the mine fields and in Paterson, where the party leadership failed in its greatest opportunities, the penalty became a strengthening of social reformist influence. It was to be expected that such would first be reflected in the trade union field and in economic struggles of resistance. But it is also a portent of serious consequences for the future. Particularly in the first stages of masses moving Leftward, the reformists also move Leftward, hoping to lead them. They bring forward their most effective “Left” coverings, but when the masses make more definite demands, when the tendencies to go beyond the bounds of reform appear and assume revolutionary implications, they change their tune. It is precisely in this situation, in these very first beginnings of such manifestations, that the party leadership has shown itself utterly incapable of utilizing the united front policy which would strengthen the Communist influence as against that of the reformists.

It can therefore not be too often asserted that with each step of development of present objective conditions, the position of the party and its policy becomes of ever greater importance. Commensurate with this grows the importance of the role and function of the Left Communist Opposition. Has the party spent itself in its “Third Period” assaults upon a “revolutionary upsurge”, existing only in the sphere of false evaluations of its leadership? This, of course, is what all the capitalist agents within labor’s ranks as well as the social reformists and with them, although in a different manner, the Right wing leaders of the Lovestone camp would like to have us believe. For us, however, it is pertinent to recognize the weakness of the party’s position despite the growing favorable objective situation. A false strategy running counter to the actual developments of the working class movement mulcts a heavy punishment. And all the protestations of the Centrist leadership of great disproportion between the party’s numerical weakness and its large ideological influence to the contrary notwithstanding, the workers have in many respects, since the early part of the crisis, cast an adverse vote In regards to the party. They have voted by their absence from its mass organizations, by their decreasing response to calls for demonstrations; their vote became decisively adverse in the mine fields and in Paterson after the party leadership’s failure to become the proponents of a united front struggle.

Forced by the pressure of objective developments and by pressure of our correct criticism and intervention, the Centrist party leadership has found itself compelled to relinquish its “Third Period” analysis and conclusions. Has It come to a position more in accord with the actual needs of the mass movement? Has it come to a correct understanding of the Lenin policy of united front, which In this developing period will become so particularly essential? There is no such evidence. But there is evidence of the continuation of the zig-zags of the past now turning toward the Right. The serious effects of Its adventurist position compel it to turn in the opposite direction. This is also expressed first in the trade union field. Above all, the Centrist leadership stifles the party’s ideological and political life; its continued tip-tilted position, in the opposite of the objective curves, keeps it from rapidly advancing the working class ideological level in a revolutionary direction. Because of this, it will be equally as unprepared when the masses move Leftward.

However, there will be new decisive jerks and turns also in the working class movement in the immediate future, perhaps of a convulsive character. This is clearly indicated in present perspectives, and at such decisive instances the questions of strategy will be posed in a forceful manner.

This imposes heavy obligations upon the Left Opposition. Our strength must first of all become the one of correct Marxian evaluations and conclusions. There will be plenty of decisive issues and situations and in all instances our direction must be the one of all efforts toward the restoration of the party to its revolutionary path. It is our party, and this is our task. A concentration on the decisive issues must first of all be our object, coupled with the most direct intervention. For that we still require an immeasurable development and strengthening of our forces.

Arne Swabeck Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 27.1.2013