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William Simmons

World Role of US Capitalism

(December 1943)

From Fourth International, Vol.4 No.11, December 1943, pp.334-337.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Due primarily to the successes of the Red Army the center of gravity in the Second World War shifted definitely some time ago in favor of the “United Nations.” But within this not-so-united combination the United States from the beginning moved forward to occupy the dominant position, militarily and politically as well as economically. The American ruling class is now preparing for aggression and conquests on a scale that will put all previous similar drives for expansion in the shade. From this point onward the spectre of American imperialism will haunt the entire planet.

The condition of world economy under capitalism with its furiously growing productive forces and its rapidly shrinking markets can no longer afford sufficient room for several major powers to exist in relative concord alongside one another. Henceforth there will be room for one only. Out of this bloody carnage a single power is seeking to emerge supreme and to defeat all challengers. How well this is understood in London is not entirely clear; but there is positive proof that it is perfectly well understood in Washington.

President Roosevelt and his collaborators have committed the United States definitely and unalterably to that one single objective. The vast economic preponderance of the US is to find its full and complete realization through this war.

The very nature of capitalist imperialist developments dictates such a course. Technological advance has reached its highest peak in the United States. Under the pressure of war economy it is making new and enormous strides each day. The strong internal market, sufficient for decades of capitalist expansion, is now entirely inadequate. On the one hand, the monstrous accumulation of capital, if it is to provide a continuous profit return, requires open fields of investment and exploitation embracing nothing less than the entire world. On the other hand, the vastly accelerated mass production presents here its most complex problems. All the vital natural resources of the earth, located in various parts of the globe, become essential raw materials needed to feed the huge assembly lines. Undisputed control of the source of these materials, and of the avenues of supply, together with the fields of investment and exploitation, has for American capitalism become an irreducible minimum of conquest. The Commander-in-chief does not hesitate. He aims to build the American armed forces to a point beyond challenge; their field of operation stretches across the seven seas.

Such unbridled expansion by one single power, however, can be accomplished only at the expense of all others. England in this case would be no exception. And so, while we have become accustomed to speak in terms of the United States putting Europe on reduced rations, as if it were already an accomplished fact, the policy that is now taking on definite shape in Washington would make this kind of ration system a monstrous world-wide reality.

We know well enough that economic preponderance is the decisive factor in present-day mechanized warfare. Not only that, but under conditions of capitalism this economic preponderance can find its full realization only through war. From this it follows quite logically that if the outcome of this war were to be finally decided solely by the military resources of the rival powers, American mastery of the world need not be questioned. But the war is by no means confined to the military questions involved. War itself is an integral part of the whole social structure; and as such it becomes a sociological problem of the highest order.

Our present epoch includes both wars and revolutions. And we, on our part, accept the unceremonious intervention of revolutionary upheavals as a foregone conclusion. But this is also quite well understood in Washington. To the President and his collaborators, victory of American imperialism presupposes not only the subjugation of the Axis partners, but also the strangling of any and all revolutionary interventions.

To illustrate this contention, let us cite the fact that the Washington government, immediately upon its entry into the war and in spite of the anger aroused in the country at the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, nevertheless declared Hitler to be Enemy No. 1 and concentrated its attention and the overwhelming part of the forces at its disposal to the European scene.

The greatest potential rivalry to world hegemony does, indeed, come from fascist Germany with its highly developed technology and its formidable military machine. It is equally true that the European battlefield is the most important because it embraces most of the major colony-possessing nations. Moreover, it also embraces the Soviet Union with its potentially superior nationalized economy. And, as is known to anyone but the Stalinist hatchetmen, the peaceful co-existence of the USSR alongside of capitalist economy is in the final analysis impossible. But there were other, perhaps weightier, and certainly more compelling immediate considerations motivating the specific course of America’s rulers. It is in Europe, above all, that capitalism faces the most serious and the most imminent dangers to its continued existence. The threat of the dreaded revolutionary intervention is the most acute, precisely in Europe. And, let there be no doubt about it, this very question will be the pivot of the war and all the imperialist machinations from this point onward.

US-British Partnership

Insofar as American world conquests are concerned the British empire is bound to suffer the most. The rich colonial possessions with their abundance of essential raw materials and cheap native labor are the prize objectives in the present struggle for the redivision of the earth. England holds most of these cherished possessions. Hitler has none. England has something worth taking. Hitler has nothing at all.

England apparently now enjoys a solid partnership with the United States. But, in regard to this, it is well to remember what Trotsky told us in his introduction to Whither England:

“The United States and Britain,” he said, “may be regarded as twin stars, one of which grows dim the more rapidly as the brilliance of the other increases.” And to make this even clearer, Trotsky added: “The powerful and constantly growing influence of the United States on world affairs is rendering more and more impossible and hopeless the situation of British industry, British trade, British finance and British diplomacy.”

This process is now being accelerated. England is today already reduced to the status of junior in the partnership. Tomorrow the senior will demand and collect payments from the junior partner by lopping off whole chunks of the empire. This is known of course to the sardonic Goebbels, who declared at the time of the first Hopkins visit to England that “the new heir to the estate had come to claim the property before the former owners were properly buried.”

The fall of Singapore marked the turning point in the history of the British empire, the beginning of the loss of its colonial possessions. This does not mean to say that this fortress will remain henceforth in Japanese hands. Far from it. It is much more likely that Singapore will be retaken – by American armed forces – not, however, to be returned to England, but to remain an American springboard to the fabulous riches of Asia. Washington’s policy leaves little doubt on that score.

While questions of proletarian revolutions in Europe and independence for Asia’s colonial and semi-colonial peoples still hang in the balance this policy envisages the total exploitation of these fabulous riches of Asia, which are the colossal stakes in the struggle for the redivision of the earth.

Tapping Asia’s Resources

It is not the oriental splendor of gold, precious stones, ornate palaces and exotic gardens – the mystic lure of the past – that is now attractive. Asia is a rich storehouse of raw materials. But, above all, in these parts of the globe, India, China, the Dutch East Indies, etc., lives half of mankind. The majority of this population, numbering hundreds of millions, still subsists on a primitive basis of natural economy. The extent to which this large segment of mankind can be turned into producers and consumers of capitalist goods holds out an enticing prospect indeed for capital investments at a higher rate of profit.

The all-important question, however, arises: Is capitalism in its present stage of decay capable of converting Asia’s teeming millions into producers and consumers of capitalist goods? In the final analysis such a transformation would actually mean the industrialization of these backward regions. But the fact is that industrialization in the sense of a corresponding progressively rising standard of living for the masses can be accomplished only on a socialist basis.

Capitalism is no longer progressive, and cannot function as a progressive force anywhere in the world, not even the American brand of capitalism, which is still the most vigorous. But the latter, owing to its industrial development, faces most acutely the dilemma of finding some avenue of expansion regardless of all rival powers, or else perish. Any attempt to extricate itself from this dilemma can very well presuppose a certain expansion of the feeble industrial bases of backward regions. Theoretically that cannot at all be ruled out. Moreover, such is the aim of American imperialism. Expressed in terms of dollar diplomacy this foreshadows new methods of imperialist exploitation.

India is the classic example of the golden era of crude colonial rule. Industrial and technological development was in the main retarded in favor of more immediate and more direct looting. In return for heavy levies, archaic systems of feudal landowners or princely domains were retained and hundreds of thousands of peasant communities kept deliberately within their century-old isolation. Social and economic backwardness has, of course, remained. Extreme poverty is its outstanding feature. During the year 1939 the per capita income for the country as a whole is reported to have been no more than $18.00. In contrast to this policy, the American imperialist exploiters aim to pour in funds from their superabundance of capital available for lucrative investments accompanied by exports of tools and implements of production. There are raw materials to be tapped, refined and manufactured at the source; plants, railways, highways, airways to be built. Of course, this will mean industrialization – at least to a certain extent. Dollar diplomacy, in its final analysis – that is, if it should really find an opportunity to unfold – cannot possibly mean anything else. But we can be sure that it will mean, above all, more intense exploitation of cheap native labor on a colossal scale.

We can speak today only of aims, of policy and of preparations that are in the course of development. Actual accomplishments are an entirely different matter. The extent and scope of this projected new and fiercer exploitation is directly and intimately connected with the sweep and power of the coming revolutions.

Plans for Latin America

A very good indication of such aims, put into concrete terms, was afforded by the program of economic development for the Americas presented by the US delegation to the Rio Conference about a year ago. A grandiose plan of exploitation weaved into the alluring pattern of the “Good Neighbor” policy.

Stated briefly, some of the main features were: The United States proposed the removal of all trade barriers, including tariff, import duties and other regulations or restrictions which impede the free flow of war or civilian supplies among the American nations. This to remain in effect for the duration of the war. Envisaged was the creation of a free international exchange currency, on a gold basis, and in accordance with which the countries of Central and South America would peg their respective national currencies. Great Britain, the Netherlands, China, India and all British dominions would also enter into this currency agreement. Further, the plan provided for the pooling of all Latin American resources, agricultural and mineral, for a common stockpile of war resources; the US would provide finances and exports necessary for conversion. Among other projects the United States would agree to finance and build free trade ports throughout the Americas, provide transportation for exports and imports, underwrite and build storage warehouses, processing and refining plants for special conversion industries, as, for example, the conversion of the banana fields of Central and South America to production of industrial alcohol. The United States would further agree to complete the Pan American highway, and dredge a 60-mile canal to connect the Rio Negro river, a tributary of the Amazon, with the Casiguiare river, an Orinoco feeder. It would agree to extend to the east both the Amazon river route and the trans-Andean highway from Peru, as well as underwrite the cost and maintenance of airlines within the signatory republics. The manpower problem in this plan was to be solved through the establishment of an emergency civilian workers corps for the manning of war industries throughout the continent.

In return for the “generous” financing of all of these huge projects by the United States, the signatory South American republics were to lease the land necessary for 99 years. Moreover, they also were required to agree to forego their property rights under private ownership laws. But such properties, proposed the big “good neighbor,” could again be acquired – by purchase – by the respective governments, or citizens, after a period of 10 years.

At the Rio Conference, Argentina and Chile were recalcitrant. They were not yet ready to submit to the “magnanimous” plans of the big “good neighbor.” In order to bring them into line it appears that the United States will first have to demonstrate that it is the one supreme power.

Unquestionably, American capitalism represents today the strongest link in the imperialist chain. But it faces on the morrow the most convulsive interplay of contradictions growing out of its world position. Unbridled US expansion will operate to turn the elements of its present strength into basic factors of weakness.

In the first place, American capitalism now seeks to extend its foundation at a time when the capitalist system as a whole has passed its peak and is in decline and decay. The spiral of the capitalist business cycle is now definitely and irrevocably on its downward course. The fact that the youngest of the imperialist powers has forged ahead to assume the dominant position is proof, not of this system’s rising to new and higher peaks, but rather of its approaching doom.

An extension of the American capitalist foundation can be accomplished only at the expense of rival powers – by further reducing their rations in world economy. The result is inevitable. Such limiting of rations will in each case impel the popular masses so much more surely into revolts and upheavals.

Yet while their system is plummeting in a downward spiral, all the major capitalist powers are engaged in a terrific expansion of technology for war purposes exclusively – for destruction. Truly, a completely chaotic world!

And so, while American imperialism is attempting to overcome its rivals it prepares simultaneously for the much more momentous task of “organizing” this chaotic world in order to assure a conqueror’s peace. It is preparing to police the entire world. Without that all its aspirations to hegemony would come to naught. Primarily and above all, however, it is preparing to assume wholly and completely the task of defending the capitalist system as a whole against the oncoming proletarian revolution.

This is the basic conflict. One or the other must triumph. And any such active police intervention against revolutionary upheavals can serve only to aggravate the conditions from which revolutions spring and prepare the conditions under which the revolutions succeed.

Trotsky put this whole question in a nutshell when he said back in 1928:

“... 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 foundations of its structure.”

European Perspectives

But the fuses leading to these powder magazines are already lit everywhere. In Europe, in particular, the crucial stage is at hand both in regard to the military conflicts as well as to the imperialist political maneuverings. Moreover, the explosions have already begun.

Obviously the fall of Hitler’s regime is now only a matter of very limited time. His “New Order” never even got started. What then? Is a restoration of bourgeois democracy on the European continent – a “democratic” regime – possible? For a limited time, yes – as an interim regime, because of the absence of an experienced, decisive, proletarian, revolutionary leadership – as an attempt to dam up the floodgates of revolution. Such a restoration may be imposed and supported from abroad; but it can never be invested with any degree of stability. Even the connivance of the Stalin bureaucracy in such an attempt would be impotent, for Stalin would be faced, only more sharply, with the same class contradictions that haunt the world capitalist rulers at every step.

Will a conqueror’s “peace” mean a return to the old state system of Europe – with Germany dismembered and with the multitudes of small, seemingly independent but rival nations, all attempting to exist under the authority of a brand new police force from across the sea? This is as impossible as would be a stable bourgeois regime. Neither could offer a social or economic solution to the masses of Europe.

In the modern era of mass production small nations, hemmed in within narrow national borders, with extremely limited sources of raw materials and dwarfish tools and machinery of production, have no chance whatever of surviving against the mighty competitor, not to speak of prospering or progressing. This, when considered together with the hard reality of diminishing rations in world economy, poses more clearly, more sharply and more inescapably, the alternative – the only alternative – a Socialist United States of Europe.

Any advance in industrialization by a victorious American capitalism penetrating colonial or semi-colonial spheres in Asia or Africa would bring its own deep repercussions. Instead of allaying the once awakened nationalist independence aspirations of the native populations it would add new fuel to the smouldering fires. Instead of suspending their struggle against imperialist exploitation it would lead this struggle to new heights of intensity.

The newest and most advanced in technological developments implanted in a social framework of backwardness, poverty and degradation could result only in giving these aspirations more positive content and rendering the struggle more explosive in character. Increasing numbers of backward natives would be turned into industrial and agricultural proletarians. Uprooted from their peasant surroundings of natural economy, their wants as well as their demands would grow. This quantitative change, that is, the numerical increase in the number of proletarians in the colonies, would, especially in this case, produce a qualitative difference; a change toward greater cohesion, greater consciousness and greater strength. These growing ranks of native proletarians would constitute an ever more powerful force in the anti-imperialist crusade. And the latter would merge directly with the class struggle, and thereby add greatly to its explosive power.

At the same time, the increased capital investments in these colonial fields of exploitation would of necessity imply an expansion of imperialist ownership and control of the sources and the means of production. Thereby the national bourgeoisie would become, if anything, only further reduced in its importance. The conclusion is inescapable. The role of leadership in the struggle against the imperialist exploiters falls exclusively to the native proletariat.

But the internal dynamics generated by these colossal efforts of expansion and conquests, we may be sure, will be most sharply reflected in social relations at home. This country will not remain the tranquil sector from which mass forces can be drawn leisurely in any attempts to squelch disturbances or crush upheavals abroad. Of course, there will be internal repercussions in the US as well. While the world is heading toward social crisis its main sector must become more and more deeply involved in all the convulsions.

Naturally, a total war for imperialist ends cannot be conducted by any ruling class without totalitarian means. Here, many of the methods are borrowed from the arsenal of fascism.

Totalitarian means are applied to one degree or another in war economy, in politics, in the armed forces; yes, in all social relations. In their practical essence they are all directed against labor. And this is not at all strange because these very means provide added protective armor for the possessing class against the dispossessed.

Owing to this salient fact all efforts to freeze class relations, for the sake of preserving the much vaunted “national unity,” come to naught. The actually existing, and growing, monopoly control of economy allows less and less room for negotiation or conciliation between classes. Up to now this has led to a greater organization and greater solidarity on both sides. In the crucible of conflict this equilibrium falls asunder. Henceforth the fierce desperation with which the ruling class strives to save its system will, under the impact of the oncoming world social crisis, produce its opposite: confidence, boldness and consciousness of strength on the part of the working class, and an unswerving resolve to realize the socialist aims.

One of the outstanding expressions of American capitalist contradiction lies in the fact that the period of preparation for its greatest conquests also became the period of greatest expansion and advance of American labor organizations. Thus, what we have hitherto known as a form of combined development, that is, a highly advanced technology existing alongside of a socially and politically backward working class, promises to level out. Tomorrow this backwardness will be transformed into its opposite. The American working class will begin to prepare itself with truly American speed to fulfill its historic mission.

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