The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx
This is the second and final part of the introduction toMarx’s Living Thoughts . The full text of this book contains Trotsky’s selection of the most cogent sections of Marx’s Capital. It is still being transcribed and will appear in the electronic version of this magazine, www.socialistviewpoint.org, when completed.
Fascism and the New Deal
Two methods for saving historically doomed capitalism are today vying with each other in the world arenaFascism and the New Deal. Fascism bases its program on the demolition of labor organizations, on the destruction of social reforms, and on the complete annihilation of democratic rights, in order to forestall a resurrection of the proletariat’s class struggle. The Fascist state officially legalizes the degradation of workers and the pauperization of the middle classes, in the name of saving the “nation” and the “race”presumptuous names under which decaying capitalism figures.
The policy of the New Deal, which tries to save imperialist democracy by way of sops to the labor and farmer aristocracy, is in its broad compass accessible only to the very wealthy nations, and so in that sense it is American policy par excellence. The American government has attempted to shift a part of the costs of that policy to the shoulders of the monopolists, exhorting them to raise wages and shorten the labor day and thus increase the purchasing power of the population and extend production. Léon Blum attempted to translate this sermon into elementary school French. In vain! The French capitalist, like the American, does not produce for the sake of production but for profit. He is always ready to limit production, even to destroy manufactured products, if thereby his own share of the national income will be increased.
The New Deal program is all the more inconsistent in that, while preaching sermons to the magnates of capital about the advantages of abundance over scarcity, the government dispenses premiums for cutting down on production. Is greater confusion possible? The government confutes its critics with the challenge: can you do better? What all this means is that on the basis of capitalism the situation is hopeless.
Beginning with 1933, i.e., in the course of the last six years in America, the federal government, the states, and the municipalities have handed out to the unemployed nearly 15 billion dollars in relief, a sum quite insufficient in itself and representing merely the smaller part of lost wages, but at the same time, considering the declining national income, a colossal sum. During 1938, which was a year of comparative economic revival, the national debt of the United States increased by two trillion dollars past the 38 billion dollar mark, or 12 billion dollars more than the highest point at the end of the World War. Early in 1939 it passed the 40 billion dollar mark. And then what? The mounting national debt is of course a burden on posterity. But the New Deal itself was possible only because of the tremendous wealth accumulated by past generations. Only a very rich nation could indulge itself in so extravagant a policy. But even such a nation cannot indefinitely go on living at the expense of past generations. The New Deal policy with its fictitious achievements and its very real increase in the national debt is unavoidably bound to culminate in ferocious capitalist reaction and a devastating explosion of imperialism. In other words, it is directed into the same channels as the policy of Fascism.
Anomaly or Norm?
The Secretary of the Interior of the United States, Harold L. Ickes, considers it “one of the strangest anomalies in all history” that America, democratic in form, is autocratic in substance: “America, the land of majority rule but controlled at least until 1933(!) by monopolies that in their turn are controlled by a negligible number of their stockholders.” The diagnosis is correct, with the exception of the intimation that with the advent of Roosevelt the rule of monopoly either ceased or weakened. Yet what Ickes calls “one of the strangest anomalies in all history,” is, as a matter of fact, the unquestionable norm of capitalism. The domination of the weak by the strong, of the many by the few, of the toilers by the exploiters is a basic law of bourgeois democracy. What distinguishes the United States from other countries is merely the greater scope and the greater heinousness in the contradictions of its capitalism. The absence of a feudal past, rich natural resources, an energetic and enterprising people, in a word, all the prerequisites that augured an uninterrupted development of democracy, have actually brought about a fantastic concentration of wealth.
Promising this time to wage the fight against monopolies to a triumphant issue, Ickes recklessly harks back to Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson as the predecessors of Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Practically all of our greatest historical figures,” said he on December 30, 1937, “are famous because of their persistent and courageous fight to prevent and control the over-concentration of wealth and power in a few hands.” But it follows from his own words that the fruit of this “persistent and courageous fight” is the complete domination of democracy by the plutocracy.
For some inexplicable reason Ickes thinks that this time victory is assured, provided the people understand that the fight is “not between the New Deal and the average enlightened businessman, but between the New Deal and the Bourbons of the sixty families who have brought the rest of the businessmen in the United States under the terror of their domination.” This authoritative spokesman does not explain just how the “Bourbons” managed to subjugate all the enlightened businessmen, notwithstanding democracy and the efforts of the “greatest historical figures.” The Rockefellers, the Morgans, the Mellons, the Vanderbilts, the Guggenheims, the Fords & Co. did not invade the United States from the outside, as Cortez invaded Mexico: they grew organically out of the “people,” or more precisely, out of the class of “enlightened industrialists and businessmen” and became, in line with Marx’s prognosis, the natural apogee of capitalism. Since a young and strong democracy in its hey-day was unable to check the concentration of wealth when the process was only at its inception, is it possible to believe even for a minute that a decaying democracy is capable of weakening class antagonisms that have attained their utmost limit? Anyway, the experience of the New Deal has produced no ground for such optimism. Refuting the charges of big business against the government, Robert H. Jackson, a person high in the councils of the administration, proved with figures that during Roosevelt’s tenure the profits of the magnates of capital reached heights they themselves had ceased to dream about during the last period of Hoover’s presidency, from which it follows, in any event, that Roosevelt’s fight against monopolies has been crowned with no greater success than the struggle of all his predecessors.
To Bring Back Yesterday
One cannot but agree with Professor Lewis W. Douglas, the former Director of the Budget in the Roosevelt Administration, when he condemns the government for “attacking monopoly in one field while fostering monopoly in many others.” Yet in the nature of the thing it cannot be otherwise. According to Marx, the government is the executive committee of the ruling class. Today monopolists are the strongest section of the ruling class. No government is in any position to fight against monopoly in general, i.e., against the class by whose will it rules. While attacking one phase of monopoly, it is obliged to seek an ally in other phases of monopoly. In union with banks and light industry it can deliver occasional blows against the trusts of heavy industry, which, by the way, do not stop earning fantastic profits because of that.
Lewis Douglas does not counterpose science to the official quackery, but merely another kind of quackery. He sees the source of monopoly not in capitalism but in protectionism and, accordingly, discovers the salvation of society not in the abolition of private ownership of the means of production but in the lowering of customs tariffs. “Unless the freedom of markets is restored,” he predicts, it is “doubtful that the freedom of all institutionsenterprise, speech, education, religioncan survive.” In other words, without restoring the freedom of international trade, democracy, wherever and to the extent it has yet survived, must yield either to a revolutionary or a fascist dictatorship. But freedom of international trade is inconceivable without freedom of internal trade, i.e., without competition. And freedom of competition is inconceivable under the sway of monopoly. Unfortunately, Mr. Douglas, quite like Mr. Ickes, like Mr. Jackson, like Mr. Cummings, and like Mr. Roosevelt himself, has not gone to the trouble to initiate us into his own prescription against monopolistic capitalism and therebyagainst either a revolution or a totalitarian regime.
Freedom of trade, like freedom of competition, like the prosperity of the middle class, belongs to the irrevocable past. To bring back yesterday, is now the sole prescription of the democratic reformers of capitalism: to bring back more “freedom” to small and middle-sized industrialists and businessmen, to change the money and credit system in their favor, to free the market from being bossed by the trusts, to eliminate professional speculators from the stock exchange, to restore freedom of international trade, and so forth ad infinitum. The reformers even dream of limiting the use of machines and placing a proscription on technique, which disturbs the social balance and causes a lot of worry.
Scientists and Marxism
Speaking in defense of science on December 7, 1937, Dr. Robert A. Millikan, a leading American physicist, observed: “United States statistics show that the percentage of the population ‘gainfully employed’ has steadily increased during the last fifty years, when science has been most rapidly applied.” This defense of capitalism under the guise of defending science cannot be called a happy one. It is precisely during the last half century that “was broken the link of times” and the interrelation of economics and technique altered sharply. The period referred to by Millikan included the beginning of capitalist decline as well as the highest point of capitalist prosperity. To hush up the beginning of that decline, which is world-wide, is to stand forth as an apologist for capitalism. Rejecting Socialism in an off-hand manner with the aid of arguments that would scarcely do honor even to Henry Ford, Dr. Millikan tells us that no system of distribution can satisfy the needs of man without raising the range of production. Undoubtedly! But it is a pity that the famous physicist did not explain to the millions of American unemployed just how they were to participate in raising the national income. Abstract preachment about the saving grace of individual initiative and high productivity of labor will certainly not provide the unemployed with jobs, nor will it fill the budgetary deficit, nor lead the nation’s business out of its blind alley.
What distinguishes Marx is the universality of his genius, his ability to understand phenomena and processes of various fields in their inherent connection. Without being a specialist in natural sciences, he was one of the first to appreciate the significance of the great discoveries in that field; for example, the theory of Darwinism. Marx was assured of that pre-eminence not so much by virtue of his intellect as by virtue of his method. Bourgeois-minded scientists may think that they are above Socialism; yet Robert Millikan’s case is but one more confirmation that in the sphere of sociology they continue to be hopeless quacks.
Productive Possibilities and Private Ownership
In his message to Congress at the beginning of 1937 President Roosevelt expressed his desire to raise the national income to 90 or 100 billion dollars, without however indicating just how. In itself this program is exceedingly modest. In 1929, when there were approximately two million unemployed, the national income reached 81 billion dollars. Setting in motion the present productive forces would not only suffice to realize Roosevelt’s program but even to surpass it considerably. Machines, raw materials, workers, everything is available, not to mention the population’s need for the products. If, notwithstanding that, the plan is unrealizableand unrealizable it isthe only reason is the irreconcilable conflict that has developed between capitalist ownership and society’s need for expanding production. The famous government-sponsored National Survey of Potential Productive Capacity came to the conclusion that the cost of production and services used in 1929 amounted to nearly 94 billion dollars, calculated on the basis of retail prices. Yet if all the actual productive possibilities were utilized, that figure would have risen to 135 billion dollars, which would have averaged $4,370 a year per family, sufficient to secure a decent and comfortable living. It must be added that the calculations of the National Survey are based on the present productive organization of the United States, as it came about in consequence of capitalism’s anarchic history. If the equipment itself were re-equipped on the basis of a unified socialist plan, the productive calculations could be considerably surpassed and a high comfortable standard of living, on the basis of an extremely short labor day, assured to all the people.
Therefore, to save society, it is not necessary either to check the development of technique, to shut down factories, to award premiums to farmers for sabotaging agriculture, to turn a third of the workers into paupers, or to call upon maniacs to be dictators. Not one of these measures, which are a shocking mockery of the interests of society, is necessary. What is indispensable and urgent is to separate the means of production from their present parasitic owners and to organize society in accordance with a rational plan. Then it would at once be possible really to cure society of its ills. All those able to work would find a job. The work day would gradually decrease. The wants of all members of society would secure increasing satisfaction. The words “poverty,” “crisis,” “exploitation,” would drop out of circulation. Mankind would at last cross the threshold into true humanity.
The Inevitability of Socialism
“Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital . . .” says Marx, “grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. . . . Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” That is the Socialist revolution. To Marx, the problem of reconstituting society did not arise from some prescription, motivated by his personal predilections; it followed, as an iron-clad historical necessityon the one hand, from the productive forces grown to powerful maturity; on the other, from the impossibility further to foster these forces at the mercy of the law of value.
The lucubrations of certain intellectuals on the theme, that, regardless of Marx’s teaching, socialism is not inevitable but merely possible, are devoid of any content whatsoever. Obviously, Marx did not imply that socialism would come about without man’s volition and action: any such idea is simply an absurdity. Marx foretold that out of the economic collapse in which the development of capitalism must inevitably culminateand this collapse is before our very eyesthere can be no other way out except socialization of the means of production. The productive forces need a new organizer and a new master, and, since existence determines consciousness, Marx had no doubt that the working class, at the cost of errors and defeats, will come to understand the actual situation and, sooner or later, will draw the imperative practical conclusions.
That socialization of the capitalist-created means of production is of tremendous economic benefit is today demonstrable not only in theory but also by the experiment of the U.S.S.R., notwithstanding the limitations of that experiment. True, capitalistic reactionaries, not without artifice, use Stalin’s regime as a scarecrow against the ideas of socialism. As a matter of fact, Marx never said that socialism could be achieved in a single country, and moreover, a backward country. The continuing privations of the masses in the U.S.S.R., the omnipotence of the privileged caste, which has lifted itself above the nation and its misery, finally, the rampant club-law of the bureaucrats are not consequences of the socialist method of economy but of the isolation and backwardness of the U.S.S.R. caught in the ring of capitalist encirclement. The wonder is that under such exceptionally unfavorable conditions planned economy has managed to demonstrate its insuperable benefits.
All the saviors of capitalism, the democratic as well as the fascist kind, attempt to limit, or at least to camouflage, the power of the magnates of capital, in order to forestall “the expropriation of the expropriators.” They all recognize, and many of them openly admit, that the failure of their reformist attempts must inevitably lead to socialist revolution. They have all managed to demonstrate that their methods of saving capitalism are but reactionary and helpless quackery, Marx’s prognosis about the inevitability of socialism is thus fully confirmed by proof of the negative.
The Inevitability of Socialist Revolution
The program of “Technocracy,” which flourished in the period of the great crisis of 1929-1932, was founded on the correct premise that economy can be rationalized only through the union of technique at the height of science and government at the service of society. Such a union is possible, provided technique and government are liberated from the slavery of private ownership. That is where the great revolutionary task begins. In order to liberate technique from the cabal of private interests and place the government at the service of society, it is necessary to “expropriate the expropriators.” Only a powerful class, interested in its own liberation and opposed to the monopolistic expropriators, is capable of consummating this task. Only in unison with a proletarian government can the qualified stratum of technicians build a truly scientific and truly national, i.e., a socialist economy.
It would be best, of course, to achieve this purpose in a peaceful, gradual, democratic way. But the social order that has outlived itself never yields its place to its successor without resistance. If in its day the young forceful democracy proved incapable of forestalling the seizure of wealth and power by the plutocracy, is it possible to expect that a senile and devastated democracy will prove capable of transforming a social order based on the untrammeled rule of sixty families? Theory and history teach that a succession of social regimes presupposes the highest form of the class struggle, i.e., revolution. Even slavery could not be abolished in the United States without a civil war. “Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” No one has yet been able to refute Marx on this basic tenet in the sociology of class society. Only a socialist revolution can clear the road to socialism.
Marxism in the United States
The North American republic has gone further than others in the sphere of technique and the organization of production. Not only Americans but all of mankind will build on that foundation. However, the various phases of the social process in one and the same nation have varying rhythms, depending on special historical conditions. While the United States enjoys tremendous superiority in technology, its economic thought is extremely backward in both the right and left wings. John L. Lewis has about the same views as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Considering the nature of his office, Lewis’s social function is incomparably more conservative, not to say reactionary, than Roosevelt’s. In certain American circles there is a tendency to repudiate this or that radical theory without the slightest scientific criticism, by simply dismissing it as “un-American.” But where can you find the differentiating criterion of that? Christianity was imported into the United States along with logarithms, Shakespeare’s poetry, notions on the rights of man and the citizen, and certain other not unimportant products of human thought. Today Marxism stands in the same category.
The American Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace imputed to the author of these lines “. . . a dogmatic thinness which is bitterly un-American” and counter-posed to Russian dogmatism the opportunist spirit of Jefferson, who knew how to get along with his opponents. Apparently, it has never occurred to Mr. Wallace that a policy of compromise is not a function of some immaterial national spirit, but a product of material conditions. A nation rapidly growing rich has sufficient reserves for conciliation between hostile classes and parties. When, on the other hand, social contradictions are sharpened, the ground for compromise disappears. America was free of “dogmatic thinness” only because it had a plethora of virgin areas, inexhaustible resources of natural wealth and, it would seem, limitless opportunities for enrichment. True, even under these conditions the spirit of compromise did not prevent the Civil War when the hour for it struck. Anyway, the material conditions which made up the basis of “Americanism” are today increasingly relegated to the past. Hence the profound crisis of traditional American ideology.
Empire thinking, limited to the solution of immediate tasks from time to time, seemed adequate enough in labor as well as in bourgeois circles as long as Marx’s law of value did everybody’s thinking. But today that very law produces opposite effects. Instead of urging economy forward, it undermines its foundations. Conciliatory eclectic thinking, maintaining an unfavorable or disdainful attitude towards Marxism as a “dogma,” and with its philosophic apogee, pragmatism, becomes utterly inadequate, increasingly insubstantial, reactionary and downright funny.
On the contrary, it is the traditional ideas of “Americanism” that have become lifeless, petrified “dogma,” giving rise to nothing but errors and confusion. At the same time, the economic teaching of Marx has acquired peculiar viability and pointedness for the United States. Although Capital rests on international material, preponderantly English, in its theoretical foundation it is an analysis of pure capitalism, capitalism in general, capitalism as such. Undoubtedly, the capitalism grown on the virgin, unhistorical soil of America comes closest to that ideal type of capitalism.
Saving Mr. Wallace’s presence, America developed economically not in accordance with the principles of Jefferson, but in accordance with the laws of Marx. There is as little offence to national self-esteem in acknowledging this as in recognizing that America turns around the sun in accordance with the laws of Newton. Capital offers a faultless diagnosis of the malady and an irreplaceable prognosis. In that sense the teaching of Marx is far more permeated with new “Americanism” than the ideas of Hoover and Roosevelt, of Green and Lewis.
True, there is a widespread original literature in the United States devoted to the crisis of American economy. In so far as conscientious economists offer an objective picture of the destructive trends of American capitalism, their investigations, regardless of their theoretical premises, look like direct illustrations of Marx’s theory. The conservative tradition makes itself known, however, when these authors stubbornly restrain themselves from definitive conclusions, limiting themselves to gloomy predictions or such edifying banalities as “the country must understand,” “public opinion must earnestly consider,” and the like. These books look like a knife without a blade.
The United States had Marxists in the past, it is true, but they were a strange type of Marxist, or rather, three strange types. In the first place, there were the émigrés cast out of Europe, who did what they could but could not find any response; in the second place, isolated American groups, like the De Leonists, who in the course of events, and because of their own mistakes, turned themselves into sects; in the third place, dilettantes attracted by the October Revolution and sympathetic to Marxism as an exotic teaching that had little to do with the United States. Their day is over. Now dawns the new epoch of an independent class movement of the proletariat and at the same time ofgenuine Marxism. In this, too, America will in a few jumps catch up with Europe and outdistance it. Progressive technique and a progressive social structure will pave their own way in the sphere of doctrine. The best theoreticians of Marxism will appear on American soil. Marx will become the mentor of the advanced American workers. To them this abridged exposition of the first volume will become only an initial step towards the complete Marx.
Capitalism’s Ideal Mirror
At the time the first volume of Capital was published world domination by the British bourgeoisie was as yet unchallenged. The abstract laws of commodity economy naturally found their fullest embodimenti.e., the one least dependent on past influencesin the country where capitalism had achieved its highest development. While relying in his analysis mainly on England, Marx had not only England in view, but the entire capitalist world. He used the England of his day as capitalism’s best contemporaneous mirror.
Now only memories are left of British hegemony. The advantages of capitalistic primogeniture have turned into disadvantages. England’s technical and economic structure has become outworn. The country continues to depend for its world position on the colonial empire, a heritage of the past, rather than on an active economic potential. That explains, incidentally, Chamberlain’s Christian charity towards the international gangsterism of the Fascists, which has so astonished everybody. The English bourgeoisie cannot help realizing that its economic decline has become thoroughly incompatible with its position in the world and that a new war threatens to bring about the downfall of the British Empire. Essentially similar is the economic basis of France’s “pacifism.”
Germany, on the contrary, has utilized in its rapid capitalistic ascent the advantages of historic backwardness, by arming itself with the most complete technique in Europe. Having a narrow national base and paucity of natural resources, Germany’s dynamic capitalism of necessity became transformed into the most explosive factor in the so-called balance of world powers. Hitler’s epileptic ideology is only a reflected image of the epilepsy of German capitalism.
In addition to numerous invaluable advantages of a historical character, the development of the United States enjoyed the pre-eminence of an immeasurably larger territory and incomparably greater natural wealth than Germany’s. Having considerably outstripped Great Britain, the North American republic became at the beginning of this century the chief stronghold of the world bourgeoisie. There all the potentialities implanted in capitalism found their highest possible expression. Nowhere else on our planet can the bourgeoisie in any way exceed its achievements in the dollar republic, which has become for the twentieth century capitalism’s most perfect mirror.
For the same reasons that Marx preferred to base his exposition on English statistics, English parliamentary reports, English “Blue Books,” and the like, we have resorted in our modest introduction to evidence chiefly from the economic and political experience of the United States. It would not be difficult, needless to say, to cite analogous facts and figures from the life of any other capitalist country. But that would not add anything essential. The conclusions would remain the same, only the examples would be less striking.
The economic policy of the Popular Front in France was, as one of its financiers aptly put it, an adaptation of the New Deal “for Lilliputians.” It is perfectly obvious that in a theoretical analysis it is immeasurably more convenient to deal with Cyclopean than with Lilliputian magnitudes. It is the very immensity of Roosevelt’s experiment which shows that only a miracle can save the world-wide capitalist system. But it so happens that the development of capitalist production put a stop to the production of miracles. Incantations and prayers abound, miracles never come. However, it is clear that if the miracle of capitalism’s rejuvenation could happen anywhere at all, it would be nowhere else but in the United States. Yet this rejuvenation was not achieved. What the Cyclops failed to attain the Lilliputians are even less able to accomplish. To lay the foundation for this simple conclusion, is the sense of our excursion into the field of American economy.
Mother Countries and Colonies
“The country that is more developed industrially,” Marx wrote in the preface to the first edition of his Capital, “only shows to the less developed the image of its own future.” Under no circumstances can this thought be taken literally. The growth of productive forces and the deepening of social inconsistencies is undoubtedly the lot of every country that has set out on the road to bourgeois development. However, the disproportion of tempos and standards, which goes through all of mankind’s development, not only became especially acute under capitalism, but gave rise to the complex interdependence of subordination, exploitation, and oppression between countries of different economic type.
Only a minority of countries has fully gone through that systematic and logical development from handicraft through domestic manufacture to the factory, which Marx subjected to such detailed analysis. Commercial, industrial, and financial capital invaded backward countries from the outside, partly destroying the primitive forms of native economy and partly subjecting them to the world-wide industrial and banking system of the West. Under the whip of imperialism the colonies and semi-colonies found themselves compelled to disregard the intervening stages, at the same time artificially hanging on at one level or another. India’s development did not duplicate England’s development; it was a supplement to it. However, in order to understand the combined type of development of backward and dependent countries like India, it is always necessary to bear in mind the classical schema Marx derived from England’s development. The labor theory of value guides equally the calculations of speculators in London’s City and the money-changing transactions in the most remote corners of Haidarabad, except that in the latter case it assumes more simple and less crafty forms.
Disproportion of development brought tremendous benefits to the advanced countries, which, although in varying degrees, continued to develop at the expense of the backward ones, by exploiting them, by converting them into their colonies, or, at least, by making it impossible for them to get in among the capitalist aristocracy. The fortunes of Spain, Holland, England, France were obtained not only from the surplus labor of their own proletariat, not only by devastating their own petit-bourgeoisie, but also through the systematic pillage of their overseas possessions. The exploitation of classes was supplemented, and its potency increased by the exploitation of nations.
The bourgeoisie of the mother countries was enabled to secure a privileged position for its own proletariat, especially the upper layers, by paying for it with some of the super-profits garnered in the colonies. Without that, any sort of stable democratic regime would have been utterly impossible. In its expanded manifestation bourgeois democracy became, and continues to remain, a form of government accessible only to the most aristocratic and most exploitative nations. Ancient democracy was based on slavery, imperialist democracy on the spoliation of colonies.
The United States, which formally has almost no colonies, is nevertheless the most privileged of all the nations of history. Active immigrants from Europe took possession of an exceedingly rich continent, exterminated the native population, seized the best part of Mexico and bagged the lion’s share of the world’s wealth. The deposits of fat thus accumulated continue to be useful even now, in the epoch of decline, for greasing the gears and wheels of democracy.
Recent historical experience, as well as theoretical analysis, attests that the rate of democracy’s development and its stability are in inverse ratio to the tension of class contradictions. In the less privileged capitalist countries (Russia, on the one hand; Germany, Italy, and the like, on the other), which were unable to engender numerous and stable labor aristocracies, democracy was never developed to any extent and succumbed to dictatorship with comparative ease. However, the continuing progressive paralysis of capitalism is preparing the same fate for the democracies of the most privileged and the richest nations: the only difference is in dates. The uncontrollable deterioration in the living conditions of the workers makes it less and less possible for the bourgeoisie to grant the masses the right of participation in political life, even within the limited framework of bourgeois parliamentarism. Any other explanation of the manifest process of democracy’s dislodgment by fascism is an idealistic falsification of things as they are, either deception or self-deception.
While destroying democracy in the old mother countries of capital, imperialism at the same time hinders the rise of democracy in the backward countries. The fact that in the new epoch not a single one of the colonies or semi-colonies has consummated its democratic revolutionabove all, in the field of agrarian relationsis entirely due to imperialism, which has become the chief brake on economic and political progress. Plundering the natural wealth of the backward countries and deliberately restraining their independent industrial development, the monopolistic magnates and their governments simultaneously grant financial, political, and military support to the most reactionary, parasitic, semi-feudal groups of native exploiters. Artificially preserved agrarian barbarism is today the most sinister plague of contemporary economy. The fight of the colonial peoples for their liberation, passing over the intervening stages, transforms itself of necessity into a fight against imperialism, and thus aligns itself with the struggle of the proletariat in the mother countries. Colonial uprisings and wars in their turn rock the foundations of the capitalist world more than ever and render the miracle of its regeneration less than ever possible.
Planned World Economy
Capitalism achieved the twin historical merit of having placed technique on a high level and having bound all parts of the world with economic ties. Thus it pledged the material prerequisites for the systematic utilization of all our planet’s resources. However, capitalism is in no position to fulfill this urgent task. The nidus of its expansion continues to consist of circumscribed nationalist states with their customs houses and armies. Yet the productive forces have long ago outgrown the boundaries of the national state, thereby transforming what was once a progressive historical factor into an unendurable restraint. Imperialist wars are nothing else than the detonations of productive forces against the state borders, which have come to be too confining for them. The program of so-called autarchy has nothing to do with going back to a self-sufficient circumscribed economy. It only means that the national base is being made ready for a new war.
After the Versailles Treaty was signed it was generally believed that the terrestrial globe had been pretty well subdivided. But more recent events have served to remind us that our planet continues to contain lands that have not yet been either plundered or sufficiently plundered. The struggle for colonies continues to be part and parcel of the policy of imperialistic capitalism. No matter how thoroughly the world is divided, the process never ends, but only again and again places on the order of the day the question of a new re-division of the world in line with altered relations between imperialistic forces. Such is the actual reason today for rearmaments, diplomatic convulsions, and war alignments.
All attempts to represent the impending war as a clash between the ideas of democracy and fascism belong to the realm either of charlatanism or stupidity. Political forms change, capitalist appetites remain. If a fascist regime were to be established tomorrow on either side of the English Channeland hardly anyone will dare to deny such a possibilitythe Paris and London dictators would be just as little able to give up their colonial possessions as Mussolini and Hitler their colonial claims. The furious and hopeless struggle for a new division of the world follows irresistibly from the mortal crisis of the capitalist system.
Partial reforms and patchwork will do no good. Historical development has come to one of those decisive stages when only the direct intervention of the masses is able to sweep away the reactionary obstructions and lay the foundations of a new regime. Abolition of private ownership in the means of production is the first prerequisite to planned economy, i.e., the introduction of reason into the sphere of human relations, first on a national and eventually on a world scale. Once it begins, the socialist revolution will spread from country to country with immeasurably greater force than fascism spreads today. By the example and with the aid of the advanced nations, the backward nations will also be carried away into the main stream of socialism. The thoroughly rotted customs toll-gates will fall. The contradictions which rend Europe and the entire world asunder will find their natural and peaceful solution within the framework of a Socialist United States in Europe as well as in other parts of the world. Liberated humanity will draw itself up to its full height.
End of Trotsky’s Introduction to The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx.
From The Living Thoughts Library, Edited by Alfred O. Mendel, published by David McKay Company, 1939, Washington SquarePhiladelphia.