Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 901-20
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
1.) The revolutionary movement toward the end of the imperialist war and in the postwar period is marked by a momentum never before seen in history. In March 1917 tsarism was overthrown. Beginning in May 1917, a tumultuous strike movement swept Britain. In November 1917, the Russian proletariat won state power. In November 1918, the German and Austro-Hungarian monarchies collapsed. The strike movement gripped a number of European countries and, during the following year, became exceptionally broad in scope. In March 1919, the soviet republic was born in Hungary. At the end of the year, the United States was shaken by turbulent strikes by metalworkers, miners, and railwaymen. In Germany, following the January and March battles in 1919, the movement reached its peak during the Kapp Putsch of March 1920. In France, the moment of greatest internal political tension occurred in May 1920. In Italy, the movement of the industrial and agricultural proletariat, growing continually in strength, led in September 1920 to the workers’ occupation of factories, mills, and estates. In December 1920, the Czech proletariat wielded the weapon of a political mass strike. In March 1921, the workers of Central Germany and the miners of Britain began massive strikes.
The movement was particularly extended and intense in the countries involved in the War, and especially in the defeated countries. However, it also extended to neutral countries. In Asia and Africa, the revolutionary indignation of millions of colonial peoples was awakened or intensified.
This mighty wave, however, did not sweep away either world or European capitalism.
2.) During the year between the Second and Third Congresses of the Communist International, a number of working-class uprisings and struggles ended in partial defeats (the offensive of the Red Army toward Warsaw in August 1920, the movement of the Italian proletariat in September 1920, the uprising of German workers in March 1921).
The initial phase of the postwar revolutionary movement was marked by its elemental power, a lack of definition in its methods and goals, and the extraordinary panic it inspired among the ruling classes. This period now seems to be essentially over. Without a doubt, the bourgeoisie has recovered its self-confidence as a class and its state structure has regained the appearance of solidity. The panicky terror regarding communism has not vanished but has certainly abated. The leaders of the bourgeoisie even boast of the power of state institutions, and everywhere they have launched both an economic and political offensive against the working masses.
3.) Consequently, the Communist International poses both to itself and to the entire working class the following questions: To what extent does the new political stance of the bourgeoisie toward the proletariat express the actual relationship of forces? Is the bourgeoisie really close to restoring the social equilibrium that was disrupted by the War? Are there grounds to project that political tremors and class struggles will now give way to a new and prolonged epoch of capitalist consolidation and growth? Does it therefore follow that the Communist International needs to revise its programme and policies?
4.) The two decades before the War were a period of particularly forceful capitalist development. The periods of boom were marked by their long duration and high intensity; the periods of depression were brief. In general, the curve sloped decidedly upward, as the capitalist nations enriched themselves.
Those directing the world’s fate, having taken a close reading through their trusts, cartels, and consortiums, concluded that the rapidly expanding production could not escape a collision with the limits of the capitalist world market’s capacity. They therefore sought to break free of these limits by violent surgery. In place of the imminent period of extended economic depression, they substituted the bloody paroxysm of world war, two methods with a single result: massive destruction of the productive forces.
The War, however, combined the exceptional destructive power of its methods with the unforeseen length of time during which they were applied. In the end, the War not only destroyed the economically ‘superfluous’ productive forces, but weakened, undermined, and ruined Europe’s entire productive apparatus as well. At the same time, the War boosted the mighty capitalist expansion in the United States and the feverish rise of Japan. The world economy’s centre of gravity shifted from Europe to the United States.
5.) The bourgeoisie quite rightly considered its most dangerous moment to be the time when the four years of slaughter were brought to an end, the time of demobilisation and transition from wartime to peacetime conditions. Given the exhaustion and chaos resulting from the War, this transition necessarily resulted in crisis. Indeed, the countries devastated by the War did witness mighty proletarian movements during the two years that followed.
The bourgeoisie nonetheless preserved its ruling position. One of the main reasons for this was the fact that what began a few months after the War was the onset – not of the crisis that seemed inevitable – but of an economic upswing. It lasted for about a year and a half. Industry almost completely absorbed the workers released from the army. Although workers’ wages did not fully keep pace with the general increase of prices for consumer goods, wages did rise continuously, creating a mirage of economic accomplishment.
It was precisely this boom of 1919 – 20 that eased the most acute postwar period of liquidating the War, giving a sharp boost to the bourgeoisie’s self-confidence and raising the question of whether a new period of organic capitalist development had begun. However, the upswing of 1919 – 20 was not at bottom the beginning of postwar restoration of the capitalist economy, but rather only a prolongation of the artificial prosperity created by War.
6.) The imperialist war broke out at a time when a crisis, which originated in the United States (1913), had begun to threaten Europe. The normal course of the industrial cycle was then interrupted by the War, which itself became one of the most powerful economic forces. The War created an almost unlimited market for the main branches of industry, which were almost completely protected from any form of competition and acted as a powerful and insatiable purchaser. Production of the means of production was replaced by production of the means of destruction. Objects of personal consumption, whose prices rose without let-up, were consumed by millions of people who did not produce but destroyed, a process that signified ruin. Because of the contradictions of capitalist society, escalated to extremes, this process took on the appearance and form of enrichment. The state floated one loan after another, flooding the market with paper money, reckoned not in millions but in billions. Machines and buildings wore out and were not replaced. The land was poorly cultivated. Important construction projects in the cities and along the transport routes were cancelled. Meanwhile, the quantity of government bonds, credits, banknotes, and treasury notes grew without limit. Fictitious capital grew even as productive capital was destroyed. The system of credit was transformed from a means of circulating commodities to a means of mobilising national wealth for the War, including the wealth of future generations.
Frightened by the danger of catastrophic crisis, the capitalist state’s postwar response was just the same as it had been during the conflict: new issues of currency, new loans, regulation of the most important prices, profit guarantees, bread subsidies, and other types of state subsidies for salaries and wages, plus maintenance of wartime censorship and military dictatorship.
7.) At the same time, the end of military operations and the restoration of international relations, even if on a reduced scale, facilitated demand for every type of commodity in every part of the world. The War left behind large stocks of unused goods. Suppliers and speculators laid out the money in their possession wherever they saw the promise of the highest immediate profit. This led to a feverish upswing in commerce. As for industry, although prices rose enormously and dividends reached incredible levels, not a single branch of production reached prewar levels.
8.) The bourgeois governments, together with the banking and industrial trusts, succeeded in postponing the beginning of the economic crisis to the moment when the political crisis, caused by army demobilisation and the initial assessment of the War’s consequences, had begun to abate. True, this was done at the cost of further organic disruption of the economic system (growth of fictitious capital, monetary depreciation, speculation rather than healing the economic wounds). Nonetheless, the bourgeoisie received a breathing spell and imagined that the danger of crisis had been postponed indefinitely. It was a moment of exceptional optimism. It seemed that the needs of reconstruction had opened up an extended epoch of expansion of industry, commerce, and especially speculation. These hopes were shattered in 1920.
The crisis began in March 1920, affecting first the financial sector, then commerce, and finally industry. It began in Japan, reached the United States in April (a slight fall in prices had begun in January), then extended in April to Britain, France, and Italy. It reached Europe’s neutral states, appeared in mitigated form in Germany, and, in the second half of 1920, extended over all regions embraced by capitalist relations.
9.) The crisis of 1920 is thus not a conventional stage in the ‘normal’ industrial cycle. It is a deeply rooted reaction against the fictitious upswing during the War and the first two postwar years, which was based on ruin and exhaustion. This is one of the most important elements in a correct assessment of the world situation.
The normal succession of boom and bust took place along the upward curve of industrial development. During the last seven years, production in Europe has not risen; instead it has fallen significantly.
Destruction of the economic foundation must also find expression in an inner consolidation of the entire superstructure. In the coming years, Europe’s economy can only shrink and shrivel, in order to achieve a degree of inner coordination. The curve of development of the productive forces will decline from its present fictitious heights. In such conditions, an upswing can only be brief and primarily speculative in character. Crises will be lengthy and profound. The present crisis in Europe is one of underproduction. This is a reaction of impoverishment in the face of efforts to produce, to trade, and to live on the same broad capitalist scale as formerly.
10.) Britain is the country of Europe that is strongest economically and suffered the least through the War. Nonetheless, even here there is no chance of restoring capitalist equilibrium after the War. True, thanks to its all-embracing organisation and its status as victor, Britain achieved certain gains after the War in the fields of commerce and finance: it improved its balance of trade, raised the exchange rate of the pound sterling, and achieved a fictitious surplus in its national budget. However, industry in Britain moved backward after the War, not forward. Both labour productivity and national income are considerably lower than before the War. Conditions in the main branch of industry, coal mining, worsen continually, pulling down other branches of industry. The persistent strike wave is not the cause but the result of the decline of Britain’s economy.
11.) France, Belgium, and Italy were economically ruined by the War beyond any cure. The attempt to restore the French economy at the cost of Germany is crude robbery combined with diplomatic extortion. It intensifies Germany’s devastation (coal, machines, cattle, gold) without saving France. The entire economy of continental Europe is severely damaged by this effort. France receives far less than Germany loses. Although French peasants, through a supreme effort, have restored considerable parts of the ruined landscape, and although certain industries (chemical, armaments) experienced new growth during the War, France is headed for economic ruin. The national debt and government expenses (militarism) have reached unbearable heights. At the end of the last upswing, the French currency had lost 60 percent of its value. Restoration of the French economy is hindered by the severe losses of human life during the War – losses that, given the low rate of population increase, cannot be made good. The economies of Italy and Belgium, with some variations, is in similar condition.
12.) The illusory nature of the upswing is most clearly evident in Germany. While prices have increased seven times over during a year and a half, productivity has continued to fall. After the War, Germany appeared to take part in international trade successfully, but for this it paid a double price: national capital was squandered (destruction of the production, transport, and credit systems), and the living standard of the working class continued to fall. The successes of German exporters, viewed in terms of general economic criteria, signify pure loss. The exports actually represent nothing other than a clearance sale of Germany at low prices. Capitalist circles claim a steadily growing part of the national wealth, which is constantly declining. The German workers are becoming the coolies of Europe.
13.) The supposed political independence of the small neutral countries is actually maintained only by antagonism among the great powers. These countries subsist in the pores of the world market, whose fundamental character after the War is determined by Britain, Germany, the United States, and France. During the War, the bourgeoisie of Europe’s small neutral countries raked in enormous profits. The devastation of the warring countries of Europe, however, also entailed economic devastation in the neutral countries. Their debts increased; their currency sank in value. The crisis dealt them blow after blow.
14.) The development of the United States during the War is, in a certain respect, exactly opposite to that of Europe. The participation of the United States in the War was essentially that of a supplier. It was not subjected to the direct destructive force of the War. The War’s indirect destructive force on transportation, agriculture, and the like was much weaker than in Britain, let alone France or Germany. On the other hand, the United States benefited from the elimination or significant weakening of European competition, and brought several important branches of industry (petroleum, shipbuilding, automobiles, coal) to a level of development it had never anticipated. Today most of the countries of Europe are dependent not only on American petroleum and grain but also on American coal.
Before the War, the United States mainly exported agricultural products and raw materials, which made up two-thirds of its exports; now industrial products account for 60 percent of exports. Before the War, the United States was a debtor; now it is the creditor of the entire world. Approximately half of the world’s gold reserves are now located in the United States, and gold continues to pour in. Before the War, the pound sterling played the leading role in world markets; this role has now passed to the dollar.
15.) But American capitalism, too, has been thrown out of equilibrium. Its vigorous industrial upswing was made possible by an unusual coincidence of unusual circumstances in the world situation: the elimination of European competition and, above all, the demands of the European war market. Following the War, devastated Europe is unable to regain its previous role as a competitor of the United States on the world market. Moreover, it is also unable to retain more than a small part of its previous importance as a market for American products. Meanwhile, to a much greater extent than before the War, the United States is an exporting country. The productive system that overdeveloped during the War cannot be fully utilised because of an absence of markets. Certain industries have become seasonal in character, offering employment to the workers during only part of the year. The crisis in the United States is the beginning of its profound and continuing economic dislocation as a result of the European War. This is the result of the destruction of the previous worldwide division of labour.
16.) Japan also took advantage of the War to expand into the world market. Its development, however, is incomparably more limited than that of the United States; in several branches of industry it has a hothouse character. When competitors were lacking, its productive forces were sufficient to conquer a market, but they will be inadequate to maintain this market in struggle against the more powerful capitalist countries. That is why the acute crisis began precisely in Japan.
17.) The overseas countries, including the purely colonial countries (South America, Canada, Australia, China, India, Egypt, etc.), for their part, utilised the breaking off of international relations to develop domestic industry. The world crisis has gripped these countries as well. The development of national industry in these countries, in turn, is also a source of additional trade difficulties for Britain and Europe as a whole.
18.) A survey of production, commerce, and credit not only in Europe but in the world market as a whole provides no grounds to identify even the beginning of a restoration of stable equilibrium.
The economic decline of Europe continues, and the devastation of Europe’s economic foundations will be fully felt only in the coming years.
The world market is devastated. Europe needs American products but has nothing of value to offer in exchange. Europe suffers from anaemia; the United States from excessive growth. Gold has been destroyed as a world currency. Devaluation of the currency of European countries (up to 99 percent) poses very serious obstacles to the exchange of goods on the world market. Incessant and sharp currency fluctuations transform capitalist production into chaotic speculation. The world market is left without a universal equivalent.
Restoration of the gold standard in Europe would be possible only by expanding exports and reducing imports. But that is exactly what devastated Europe is unable to do, while the United States, for its part, protects itself from the dumping of European products by raising its tariffs.
Moreover, Europe is still a madhouse. Most countries are enacting export and import bans and multiplying their tariffs. Britain has introduced tariffs. A gang of Entente speculators, especially in France, has gained control of German exports and its entire economic life. The former territory of Austria-Hungary is now criss-crossed by a web of tariff barriers. The system of peace treaties grows more and more tangled.
19.) The elimination of Soviet Russia as a market for industrial goods and a supplier of raw materials has contributed greatly to the disruption of world economic equilibrium. However, Russia’s return to the world market in the near future would not greatly change the situation. Russia’s capitalist organism was highly dependent on the productive forces of world industry. This dependency was intensified during the War with regard to the Entente countries. The blockade cut off these vital interrelationships with a single blow. In a country devastated and ravaged during three years of civil war, organising new branches of industry was absolutely excluded. But without them, the old industrial structure was doomed to decay through the wearing out of its capital inventory. What is more, hundreds of thousands of the best and – in large measure – the most skilled proletarian forces were enrolled in the Red Army. Given the historical conditions – blockade, incessant warfare, the heritage of ruin – no other regime would have been able to maintain the country’s economic life and create conditions for its centralised direction. Beyond any doubt, the struggle against world imperialism had to be carried out at the cost of further decline of the productive forces in several branches of the economy. Only now, as the blockade weakens and with the re-establishment of appropriate forms of exchange between city and countryside, does the Soviet government achieve the capacity to strengthen, gradually but with increasing firmness, centralised leadership in the country’s economic revival.
20.) The War, which entailed a historically unprecedented destruction of productive forces, did not halt the process of social differentiation. On the contrary, during the last seven years, in the countries that suffered most from the War, there have been enormous strides forward in the proletarianisation of the broad intermediate layers, including the new middle classes (employees, civil servants, etc.), and in the concentration of property in the hands of small cliques (trusts, combines, etc.). Stinnes has become the central issue of German economic life.
In all the warring European states, prices of all goods have risen, while the currency’s value has plunged catastrophically. In itself, this signifies a redistribution of national income to the detriment of the working class, civil servants, employees, small-scale rentiers, and all those with a more or less fixed income.
With respect to its material resources, Europe has been thrown back several decades. Moreover, the aggravation of social antagonisms continues without letup. Far from being halted, it was markedly accelerated. This underlying fact is sufficient to banish any hope for enduring peaceful development in a democratic framework. On the one hand, we have progressive differentiation and Stinnesisation; on the other, proletarianisation and pauperisation. Economic decline lends the class struggle its intensive, convulsive, and bitter character. In this regard, the present crisis merely continues the work of the War and the speculative postwar boom.
21.) The increase of prices for agricultural production created an illusion of general enrichment of the village, while bringing the rich peasants a genuine increase in income and property. The peasants succeeded in paying off with depreciated paper money, which they had accumulated in large quantities, the debts they had contracted in undepreciated currency. But agriculture involves more than simply paying off mortgages.
Despite enormous increase in the price of land, despite unscrupulous utilisation of the food monopoly, despite the enrichment of big landowners and rich peasants, the decline of European agriculture is unmistakable. It is seen in the frequent regression to more extensive forms of cultivation: tilled land converted to pasture, disappearance of livestock, three-field crop rotation. This was caused in part by the shortage of labour, the shrinkage of herds, the lack of chemical fertiliser, high prices of manufactured goods. Also, in Central and Eastern Europe, production was deliberately reduced in reprisal against attempts of the government to take possession of agricultural products.
Large and, to some extent, middle peasants are creating strong political and economic organisations to defend themselves against the burdens of reconstruction. Taking advantage of the bourgeoisie’s distress, they are imposing on the government, as the price of their support against the proletariat, a one-sided pro-peasant tariff and tax policy that restricts capitalist reconstruction. A division between the bourgeoisie of village and city has arisen that saps the strength of the bourgeois class.
At the same time, a large segment of the poorer peasants are proletarianised and pauperised. The village has become a breeding place for discontent, and class consciousness is growing among the agricultural proletariat.
On the other hand, however, the overall impoverishment of Europe renders it incapable of buying sufficient quantities of American grain, causing a severe crisis of the farm economy on the other side of the Atlantic. We note an economic decline among peasants and small farmers not only in Europe but also in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, and South Africa.
22.) As a rule, the status of government and private-sector employees has worsened more severely than that of the proletariat, as a result of inflation. Torn out of their stable conditions of existence, the lower and middle layers of civil servants have become a factor for political unrest, undermining the stability of the state apparatus that they serve. In such a transitional period, the new middle class, which according to the reformists ought to be the pillar of conservatism, can become a force for revolution.
23.) Capitalist Europe has definitively lost its economic primacy, which was the very foundation of equilibrium among its social classes. The efforts of European countries (Britain and, in part, France) to restore previous conditions only reinforce chaos and insecurity.
24.) Property in Europe is further concentrated amid conditions of general impoverishment. In the United States, by contrast, feverish capitalist moneymaking has brought the concentration and sharpening of class antagonisms to a new peak. Sharp fluctuations of the business cycle, flowing from the overall instability of the world market, lend to class struggles on American soil an extremely tense and revolutionary character. Following a period of historically unprecedented capitalist expansion, revolutionary struggles will flare up with exceptional force.
25.) Emigration of workers and peasants across the ocean always served as a safety valve for the capitalist system in Europe. It increased in periods of extended depression and after the collapse of revolutionary movements. At present, however, the United States and Australia are placing increasing barriers in the path of immigration. The safety valve of emigration has been shut off.
26.) Capitalism’s vigorous expansion in the East, especially in India and China, created a new social foundation for revolutionary struggle. The bourgeoisie of these countries clings tightly to foreign capital, which wields it as a significant and compliant tool. Therefore, its struggle against foreign imperialism – as a very weak competitor – is inherently conflicted and feeble. In addition, the expansion of the native proletariat paralyses the national-revolutionary impulses of the capitalist bourgeoisie. Meanwhile, the numerous peasant masses gain a revolutionary leadership: the Communist vanguard of the proletariat.
The combination of national oppression imposed militarily by foreign imperialism, capitalist exploitation by both the foreign and native bourgeoisies, and the survivals of feudal servitude create favourable conditions for the young proletariat of the colonies, in which it will develop quickly and take its place at the head of the revolutionary movement of the broad peasant masses.
The revolutionary people’s movement in India and the other colonies has become just as essential a part of the world revolution as the uprising of the proletariat in the capitalist countries of the Old and New World.
27.) The general state of the world economy – above all the decline of Europe – causes lengthy periods of great economic difficulties and convulsions and both partial and generalised economic crises. In the wake of the War and the Versailles Treaty, international relations exacerbate the situation even further.
Imperialism arose from the drive of the productive forces to destroy national borders and create a unified European and global economic territory. The clash of hostile imperialist forces, however, has created many new borders in Central and Eastern Europe, with new customs authorities and new armies. In terms of its state and economic structure, Europe has been thrown back into the Middle Ages.
On this debilitated and devastated soil, an army is now being nourished that is half again as large as the army of 1914, the high point of armed peace.
28.) The policies of France, the leading force on the European continent, now combines two tendencies. First, we see the blind rage of a usurer prepared to strangle his insolvent debtor, and the greed of predatory heavy industry, which wants to utilise the coal fields of the Saar, Ruhr, and Upper Silesian districts to replace bankrupt financial imperialism with the preconditions for industrial imperialism.
The second tendency is directed against Britain. Britain’s policy is based on separating German coal from French iron, although their unification is one of the most important preconditions for the reconstruction of Europe.
29.) The British Empire now appears to stand at the summit of its power. It retained its old possessions and acquired new ones. However, present conditions demonstrate that the dominant world position of Britain stands in contradiction to its actual economic decline. German capitalism, incomparably more advanced both technologically and organisationally, has been overthrown by force of arms. But the United States, which has now economically subjugated both halves of the hemisphere, stands as a victorious enemy more dangerous than Germany. As a result of superior organisation and technology, productivity of labour in US industry is much higher than in Britain.
The United States now produces 65% to 70% of the world’s consumed petroleum, providing the gasoline on which the automobile and tractor economy, the navies, and aviation are dependent. Britain’s century-long monopoly in the coal market has finally been broken. The United States has taken first place, and its exports to Europe are increasing menacingly. In the merchant marine, the United States has almost overtaken Britain. The United States no longer tolerates Britain’s monopoly of overseas cables. British industry is now on the defensive, and under the pretext of combating competition from German dumping, it is arming itself with protective tariffs against the United States. The British navy, composed in large measure of obsolete ships, is stagnating, while the Harding presidency has taken over from Wilson a construction programme that aims to secure naval predominance within two or three years.
Thus Britain, despite its victory over Germany, will either be reduced automatically to the rank of a second-rate power, or it will be compelled in the near future to put the power accumulated in earlier times to the test in a life-and-death struggle against the United States.
That is why Britain is consolidating its treaty with Japan and making efforts, through concessions, to secure the help of France, or at least its neutrality.
The increased international importance of France during the past years is due not to any gain in its strength but to the weakening of Britain.
Nonetheless, Germany’s surrender in May on the reparations question represents a temporary victory for Britain, assuring the further economic decline of Central Europe without, however, excluding France’s occupation of the Ruhr region in the immediate future.
30.) The antagonism between Japan and the United States, concealed for a time by their participation in the war against Germany, is now developing with full force. Japan edged closer to American shores during the War by occupying a number of strategically important islands in the Pacific.
The crisis of Japan’s rapidly developing industry has aggravated once more the problem of emigration. Japan, densely populated and poor in natural resources, is forced to export either products or people. On either path, it collides with the United States, in California, in China, and on the small island of Yap.
Japan spends more than half of its budget on the army and navy. In the struggle between Britain and the United States, Japan will play the role at sea that fell to France on land in the war with Germany. For now, Japan gains advantage from the antagonism between Britain and the United States, but the final struggle of these giants will be played out to Japan’s disadvantage.
31.) In terms of its causes and its main participants, the last great war was a European conflict. The heart of the struggle was the antagonism between Britain and Germany. The entry of the United States broadened the framework of the struggle, to be sure, but its central direction remained unchanged: the European conflict was settled by drawing on the means of the entire world. The War, in its own way, resolved the contradiction between Britain and Germany, and thus also that between the United States and Germany, but it left unresolved the question of the mutual relationship between the United States and Britain. Instead, it posed this question, for the first time, as the focus of world politics. It reduced the question of US-Japanese relations to second-rank importance. The recent war was thus a European prelude to a genuine world war to resolve the question of imperialist supremacy.
32.) But this is only one of the axes of world politics. There is a second axis. The recent war resulted in the establishment of the Soviet federation and the Third International. The assembled international revolutionary forces are arrayed in fundamental opposition to every imperialist alliance. From the point of view of the interests of the proletariat and the maintenance of peace, whether the alliance between Britain and France is maintained or broken off is no different from that of whether the British-Japanese agreement is or is not renewed or whether the United States does or does not join the League of Nations: the proletariat sees no guarantees in the transitory, treacherous, predatory, and disloyal combinations of capitalist states.
The conclusion of peace treaties and trade agreements between some capitalist countries and Soviet Russia does not indicate that the world bourgeoisie has abandoned the notion of destroying the Soviet republic. Rather the struggle has undergone only a temporary change in its methods and forms. The Japanese stroke in the Far East may already signal the onset of a new period of armed intervention.
It is quite clear that the slower the revolutionary movement of the world proletariat develops, the more inevitably will the bourgeoisie be forced by its international economic and political contradictions to seek a new bloody settlement of accounts on a world scale. In this case, the ‘restoration of capitalist equilibrium’ after a new war would take place amid economic destitution and cultural collapse in comparison to which present conditions in Europe would seem the height of well-being.
33.) Even though the experience of the last war showed with frightening clarity that the War was a miscalculation – this truth is recognised not only by socialist pacifists but by the bourgeoisie – the economic, political, ideological, and technical preparations for a new war are in full swing across the capitalist world. Anti-revolutionary humanitarian pacifism only assists militarism.
Social Democrats of every shading and the Amsterdam trade unionists tell the international proletariat to adapt to the norms of economic life and international law resulting from the War. By this they act as indispensable accomplices of the imperialist bourgeoisie in preparing a new war, which will threaten to destroy human civilisation once and for all.
34.) The prospect of reconstructing capitalism on the foundations outlined above poses basically the following question: Will the working class be prepared to make the sacrifices under these new and incomparably more difficult conditions that are required to re-establish stable conditions for its own slavery, more onerous and cruel even than what existed before the War?
The reconstruction of Europe’s economy requires both the replacement of the productive apparatus destroyed in the War and extensive new formation of capital. This would be possible only if the proletariat were willing to labour under sharply reduced living standards. This is what the capitalists insist on, and this is what the traitorous leaders of the yellow Internationals advise workers to accept: first help capitalism to reconstruct, and then struggle for an improvement in the status of workers. But the proletariat of Europe is not prepared to accept this sacrifice; it demands an improvement in its conditions, which is in direct contradiction to what is objectively possible for capitalism.
That is the cause of the interminable strikes and uprisings; that is what makes restoring Europe’s economy impossible. Restoring the currency signifies for many European states (Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and the Balkan states) above all ridding themselves of unbearable debts, that is, declaring bankruptcy. But doing so entails enormously escalating the struggle among all the classes for a new distribution of national income. Restoring the currency also means reducing government expenditures at the masses’ expense (abandoning regulation of wages and of prices for basic necessities), cutting off access to more inexpensive foreign goods for mass consumption, raising exports through reduction of production costs – that is, above all through renewed intensification of exploitation of the working masses.
Every serious measure to restore capitalist equilibrium damages even more the already devastated class equilibrium, providing new impetus for the class struggle. Whether capitalism can revive to new life becomes a question of the struggle of living forces, of classes and parties. If one of the two fundamental classes, the proletariat, should abandon revolutionary struggle, the bourgeoisie would doubtless establish a new capitalist equilibrium, one of material and intellectual decay – through new crises, new wars, further destitution of entire countries, and the death of yet more millions of working people.
But the present state of the international proletariat gives absolutely no justification for a prognosis of this kind.
35.) The forces of lethargy, conservatism, and tradition in social relations have been worn down and have lost most of their power over the consciousness of the working masses. True, the Social Democracy and the trade unions, thanks to the organisational machine inherited from the past, still preserve their influence on a good part of the proletariat, but this has already been deeply undermined. The War brought about major changes not only in the proletariat’s mood but in its composition, which is completely incompatible with the leisurely organisational progress of prewar times.
In most countries, the proletariat is still dominated by an extraordinarily expanded workers’ bureaucracy. Welded tightly together, it has developed habits and methods of rule and is tied by a thousand threads to the institutions and bodies of the capitalist state. The bureaucracy enjoys the backing of:
Then there are:
These layers of the proletariat, so diverse in their origins and character, were not immediately and homogeneously drawn into the postwar movement, and that remains true today. This accounts for the fluctuations, the ebb and flow, the attacks and retreats that mark the revolutionary struggle. But in their immense majority, the proletarian masses will be rapidly welded together by the shattering of all the old illusions, the fearsome insecurity of existence, the omnipotence of capital united in trusts, and by the bloody techniques of the militarised state. This many-millioned mass is seeking a firm and lucid leadership and a well-defined action programme. It thus provides the foundation on which a firmly united and centralised Communist Party can play a decisive role.
36.) Unquestionably, the conditions of the working class have worsened during the War. Only isolated groups of workers made headway. Families in which many members were able to hold jobs during the War succeeded in maintaining or even improving their living standards. In general, however, workers’ wages did not keep pace with inflation.
In Central Europe, starting with the onset of war, the proletariat was subjected to constantly increasing deprivation. In the continental countries belonging to the Entente, the decline in living standards was, until recently, less evident. In Britain, the proletariat succeeded through energetic struggle in the final phase of the War in bringing to a halt the worsening of its living conditions. In the United States, conditions of some layers of the working class improved, while other layers maintained previous standards or suffered a worsening in their conditions.
The crisis hit the proletariat of the entire world with enormous force. Wages declined more quickly than prices. The number of jobless and part-time workers reached a level unprecedented in capitalist history.
Abrupt fluctuations in personal living conditions do not merely restrict the productivity of labour but exclude the possibility of restoring class equilibrium on the most important terrain, that of production. The instability of living conditions, reflecting the general instability of national and world economic conditions, is now one of the most important factors in revolutionary development.
37.) The War did not lead directly to a proletarian revolution. The bourgeoisie regards this fact, with some justification, as its great victory. Only a petty-bourgeois ignoramus, however, could view the fact that the European proletariat did not overthrow the bourgeoisie during the War or immediately after its end as evidence that the programme of the Communist International was bankrupt. The course of the Communist International is not based on predicting the onset of proletarian revolution at a dogmatically predetermined date on the calendar, or on the intention to mechanically carry out the revolution within a specified period of time. The revolution was and remains a struggle of living forces within given historical conditions. The disruption of capitalist equilibrium on a global scale creates favourable conditions of struggle for social revolution. All efforts of the Communist International have been and remain directed to taking full advantage of this situation.
The difference between the Communist International and both varieties of Social Democrats is not based on the fact that we have determined that the revolution must take place by a specific deadline, while they, by contrast, reject utopianism and putschism. Rather the difference lies in the fact that Social Democrats work against the actual development of the revolution. Whether in opposition or in government, they promote with all their strength restoring the equilibrium of the capitalist state. Communists, by contrast, utilise every path, every method, and every possibility to overturn the capitalist state and destroy it through the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In the course of the two and a half years since the War, the proletariat of several countries has demonstrated more energy, readiness for struggle, and self-sacrifice than would be needed for a victorious revolution, if the working class was headed by a strong, centralised, and battle-ready international Communist Party. However, for historical reasons, the proletariat was headed, during and immediately after the War, by the Second International, which served as an invaluable political tool of the bourgeoisie and still plays that role.
38.) In Germany, power actually rested in the hands of the working class at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919. The Social Democrats – Majority and Independent Socialists alike – and the trade unions employed their entire apparatus, their entire traditional influence, in order to hand over power to the bourgeoisie.
In Italy, the tempestuous revolutionary movement flooded over the country for a year and a half. Only the petty-bourgeois spinelessness of the Socialist Party, the treacherous policies of the parliamentary fraction, and the cowardly opportunism of the trade unionists permitted the bourgeoisie to repair its apparatus, mobilise its White Guards, and go over to an offensive against the proletariat, which had been temporarily disheartened by the bankruptcy of its previous leading bodies.
In Britain, the powerful strike movement of the past year was repeatedly repulsed by the government’s ruthless imposition of military force and the resulting intimidation of the trade-union leaders. If the leaders had remained loyal to the cause of the working class, the trade-union machinery, despite its defects, could have been utilised for revolutionary struggles. The recent crisis of the Triple Alliance provided the occasion for a revolutionary confrontation with the bourgeoisie, which was prevented by the conservatism, cowardice, and betrayal of the trade-union leaders. If the machinery of the British trade unions would accomplish only half the work in the interests of socialism that they have carried out in the interests of capitalism, the British proletariat could seize power with a minimum of casualties and could move forward to the planned transformation of the national economy.
The same is true, to a greater or lesser extent, in all the capitalist countries.
39.) It is incontestable that there has been a slowing in many countries of the open revolutionary proletarian struggle for power. However, it was not to be expected that the revolutionary postwar offensive, having not led to immediate victory, would continue to develop uninterruptedly in an upward curve. Political movements too have their cycles, their ups and downs. The enemy does not remain passive, but struggles. If the proletarian offensive does not lead to victory, the bourgeoisie seizes the first opportunity to launch a counterattack. The loss of some easily conquered positions induces temporary discouragement in the ranks of the proletariat. Nonetheless, it remains indisputable that the curve of capitalist development is generally – despite temporary upswings – moving downwards, while the curve of revolution, through all its fluctuations, is rising.
The re-establishment of capitalism requires, as a precondition, an enormous increase in exploitation, the destruction of millions of lives, the reduction of the standard of living for millions below the survival level, and the perpetual insecurity of proletarian existence. As a result, the workers are driven again and again to constant strikes and rebellions. These pressures and struggles build the masses’ determination to overthrow the capitalist order.
40.) A Communist Party’s basic task in the present crisis is and remains to lead, broaden, deepen, and unite the proletariat’s present defensive struggles and, in pace with the developing situation, turn them into decisive political struggles for power. However, should the pace of these developments slow, and should the present economic crisis be followed in a greater or lesser number of countries by a period of expansion, this would not signify the beginning of an ‘organic’ epoch. So long as capitalism exists, such cyclical fluctuations are inevitable. They will accompany capitalism’s death agony just as they did its youth and maturity.
In the event that the proletariat is thrown back during the present crisis by the capitalist offensive, the beginning of an economic upturn will see it move back to the offensive.
In that case, its economic offensive will inevitably raise the slogan of revenge for all the betrayals of the war period and all the robbery and humiliation of the crisis. It would thus display a tendency to turn into open civil war, just as the present defensive struggle does.
41.) Regardless of whether the revolutionary movement in the coming period proceeds at a rapid or slow tempo, the Communist Party must in either case be a party of action. It stands at the head of the struggling masses. It formulates clear and direct slogans for the struggle, while exposing the always compliant and compromise-oriented slogans of Social Democracy. Through all the vicissitudes of struggle, the Communist Party strives to consolidate new bases of support, accustom the masses to active manoeuvring, and arm them with new methods, preparing them for a direct encounter with the enemy forces. It utilises every breathing spell to learn the lessons of previous phases of struggle. It strives to deepen and broaden the class conflict and to link it nationally and internationally through unity of action and purpose. In this way, the Communist Party, at the head of the proletariat, aims to break all resistance on the road to its dictatorship and to social revolution.
1. Hugo Stinnes was a German industrialist who built a vast economic empire after World War I, starting from the coal and steel industry, and moving to media, public utilities, banks, and other areas. ‘Stinnesisation’ or the ‘Stinnes question’ refers to the growing trend toward concentration and monopolisation under capitalism.
2. Three-field cultivation is a method of farming widely used in Europe during the Middle Ages. In this method one-third of the land was planted in the spring, one-third in the fall, and one-third was to lie fallow. By the twentieth century, it had been largely superseded.
3. On 5 May 1921, the Allies threatened to occupy the Ruhr district unless Germany agreed to pay 132 billion gold marks in reparations including one billion that month. Sixteen days later, Germany accepted this ultimatum.
4. Among the manifestations of tensions between the US and Japan were California’s 1913 and 1920 laws against Japanese immigrant farmers, and US-Japanese competition for economic and commercial opportunities in China.
Yap Island in the western Caroline Islands was a German colony and a centre for underwater cable communication from 1899 to 1919. Following Germany’s defeat, the island came under Japanese control. Yap’s role in undersea cable networks made it a point of conflict between Japan and the United States. It is currently part of the Federated States of Micronesia.
5. In May 1921 counterrevolutionary Russian forces backed by Japanese troops seized control in Vladivostok, then part of the pro-Soviet Far Eastern Republic. In October 1922 Japanese forces were forced to withdraw in face of the Red Army’s advance, and Soviet power was re-established the following month.
6. The Triple Alliance was an agreement for joint action between the mine, railway, and transport workers’ unions, dating from 1915. The alliance broke down in April 1921 when the rail and transport union leaderships rejected strike action in support of the national coal miners’ strike against wage reductions.
The strike had begun when coal owners locked out miners following expiration of a temporary wage agreement on 31 March. Some 1.2 million miners turned the lockout into a strike to protest the owners’ planned wage cuts and extended working hours. Authorities responded by declaring a state of emergency, moving police and the army into the coalfields. Leaders of the transport and rail workers’ unions had promised solidarity strike action. But in a move widely seen as a betrayal, on 15 April ('Black Friday’) the leaders of these unions called off the scheduled solidarity strike, leaving the miners in the lurch. The strike lasted until 29 June.