From Fourth International, Vol.13 No.3, May-June 1952, pp.69-71.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Like other serious political people, the editors of Monthly Review (which they describe as an “independent socialist magazine”) are gravely concerned with the “outlook for American socialists.” We find this to be quite understandable. Faced for a number of years with an unrelieved growth of reaction combined with a steady drift to war, in which the forces of opposition, intimidated, persecuted and isolated have been reduced to the courageous handful, American socialists are naturally asking: What is the perspective in view? When and how will this all end?
The answer to such questions as these is a test for Marxists who, while never claiming scientific precision for their predictions, have always prided themselves in being able to foresee the general line of developments. This quality is even more important in a time when the workers’ movement is in a blind alley. The first need is to look the facts, no matter how grim, straight in the face. After that, by analyzing all the factors in their totality and in their evolution, it is possible to get a perspective of what lies ahead. You won’t get better answers – not in life anyway – by disregarding unpleasant facts or by inventing your own.
But this is just what the editors of Modern Monthly (May 1952) do, and what emerges is one of the most fantastic daydreams since The Life and Times of Walter Mitty. They begin by saying in one paragraph that there is no outlook whatever for American socialists if there is a World War III. At any rate, anything that might be said about it “would be in the realm of pure speculation.” However, they in effect admit this to be the most likely course of development. For in the remaining five pages of the editorial they proceed to discuss a variant which is acknowledged time and again to be “possible” but not “probable,” and one which “might sound unrealistic, perhaps wildly optimistic.”
The whole matter could be dismissed as a self-avowed flight into fancy if the authors had not made it the basis for a program of “main tasks and responsibilities of American socialists.” But before entering the conclusions let us briefly recapitulate the daydream from whence they flow:
The “cold war,” they say, will soon reach a climax. The Acheson-Truman foreign policy – of “peace through strength” – will prove to bankrupt because the rifts will grow in the American camp and the Soviet Union will not accomodate them by quietly capitulating. Then will ensue a crisis in the American ruling class which will be divided into two factions – a “preventive war” faction and the followers of Hoover’s program for a retreat into the Western Hemisphere, Since neither will be strong enough on its own to command the support of the bourgeoisie as a whole, a third Rooseveltian-type force supported by workers, farmers and large sections of the middle class will come to the helm in the midst of the confusion and crisis. The new administration would inaugurate a “New New Deal.” In the field of foreign policy, it would pursue a policy based on the “coexistence of capitalism and socialism.” It would naturally call a halt to the cold war, come to an agreement for disarmament, admit China into the UN, neutralize Germany and Japan, expand east-west trade, initiate an elaborate program of Point Four investments. And at home, it would naturally undertake a new lound of social reform measures.
Don’t rub your eyes! All of this, in more expanded form, is actually in print. What makes it all the more fantastic is that all past experience and especially the events which have transpired since the “cold war” began some five years ago have proved the direct opposite. Far from backing down in the face of innumerable obtacles such as the strengthening of the Soviet bloc of nations, the rise of the colonial revolutions, the hesitations and weakness of its capitalist allies, American imperialism has proceeded undaunted step by step with its war program: first, the Marshall Plan, then the North Atlantic Alliance, then the virtual closing down of East-West trade, then the war in Korea, then the separate treaty with Japan and now the treaty with western Germany and the moves to speed up the creation of North Atlantic army. And all the while it has been building a globe-encircling ring of military bases from Formosa and Okinawa to the Middle East and North Africa. Is it conceivable then that this monster military power will flinch and run at the decisive moment? Not very “probable,” to borrow an expression from Monthly Review.
Certainly a crisis may arise at this point in ruling circles. But it would be an error to exaggerate its magnitude, because it would be a continuation and the last flicker of an old crisis. Differences on foreign policy have existed among the capitalist rulers for some time but they are being eliminated less by debate than by the force of economic facts. The dominant weight of the arms program in the economy has led to a shifting of the center of political power to that group of heavy industry monopolists, in alliance with the swollen military machine, who profit the most from. the war drive and hence favor the most aggressive foreign policy. Judging from all past experience, it .is this powerful combination which will cast the die.
Who can alter this trend, change this balance of power? Not any other section of the ruling class – only the organized masses of workers, poor farmers and Negro people. In that case, what need is there for a “New New Deal” coalition? But that is another matter, to which we will return later.
But even granting the strange premise that American’s rulers will voluntarily commit hara-kiri as the dominant world imperialist power, that they will permit the eruption of a far worse economic and social crisis than that of 1929 which will also shake the rest of the capitalist world to its foundations, what fabulous nonsense it is to draw the idyllic conclusion of the emergence of a “New New Deal.” Just the contrary. Faced with a precipitate and absolute decline in its profits, the ruling class, far from being in the mood for new social reforms, would begin a savaage onslaught against the living conditions of the people, against the trade unions and to eliminate all existing social legislation. It would turn not to Rooseveltianism but to fascism.
The faulty analysis of the Monthly Review editors could be shrugged off as a poor job of thinking, if it were not also a wish-projection of theirs. They want this Alice-in-Wonderland “New New Deal.” And although they consider it only “possible” and not “probable,” they urge American socialists to adopt it as a perspective, to fight for it and to support it when it comes into being. But here history rears up its ugly head. What happened to the old New Deal. Did it not lead from reforms to war to reaction and now to war again? Our editors cannot but recognize this. They say correctly:
“The paradoxical quality of reform movements as a response to the crisis of capitalism is that their very success undermines their social and political foundations. The ruling class soon recovers from the fright and paralysis of the crisis and returns to the political struggle. The reform movement, on the other hand, tends to fall apart. The situation soon reverts to normal, that is, to a state of affairs in which the ruling class knows what it wants and manipulates all the essential levers of control.”
Recognizing this danger, our editors tell us that socialists cannot become “New New Dealers” and still remain loyal to their principles but yet they must support the “New New Deal” because the American people are not yet ready for socialism. Hold on: we’re about to square the circle! “... The only way,” they tell us, “to keep the New New Deal from suffering the fate of the old New Deal is to turn it into a socialist movement in good time.” Implicitly, we have here a criticism of the Stalinist policy of complete subordination of the workers’ movement to New Dealism during the Roosevelt era and at least up to 1947. But the remedy turns out to be a conscience balm not a corrective to a false and criminal course.
How can a “reform” movement be turned into a socialist movement if the masses are not yet ready to take that step? If they are ready, why waste your time with a “New New Deal” coalition in the first place? But what is “good time” for such a transformation? Is it at the beginning of the enterprise when it seems to be making progress and the socialists are expected to submerge their own program so as not to obstruct the movement from realizing limited aims? Or is it at the wind-up when the movement begins “to fall apart” but the “socialists” are still expected to keep their peace in order to maintain the common front when the blows of reaction are the worst?
Truly there is no way out of the trap which the editors have sprung for themselves. Their trouble is that they stand the problem, which is one of policy not of propaganda, on its head. Or to put it differently: it is not the general question of socialists advocating socialism but the specific one of socialists acting like socialists under given objective conditions. The organized workers may not be ready to accept socialism but they are prepared to advance in the political field. This means that the first task of socialists is the struggle for the political independence of the labor movement, to break up its alliance and subservience to the capitalist parties and to form a labor party. This first step, as Engels repeated again and again to the sectarian American socialists of the last century, is more important than a hundred programs. In a country where the workers have not achieved a socialist consciousness, independent working-class politics is the most fertile soil for the development of an independent class i.e., a socialist program. Witness the striking contrast between the British and the American labor movements today. Naturally, socialists will continue all the time to agitate for socialism – and not for “progressive” or any other kind of capitalism.
Any other course would be reckless and even criminal for socialists in view of the palpably clear experiences of the past. Let us accept the hypothesis of our editors – and we grant it is not impossible – that there will be a crisis of the ruling class on the very eve of the war and that concomitant with it there will grow up a big movement of resistance to the reduction in the standard of living caused by the war program. In that eventuality their proposals for a doomed-to-defeat “New New Deal” is doubly dangerous because in the best case the workingclass, possessing inadequate means of defense, will be dragooned into the war demoralized, its organizations shattered – as in France before the last war – or the “New New Deal” will be supplanted by fascism as the preliminary to entry into the war – as in Germany.
Monthly Review is right when it says that American socialists “must do everything they can to prevent World War III.” But everything does not mean anything, and it especially does not mean a program of “coexistence” which translated into practical terms means the organization of class collaboration movements which “fall apart” at the decisive moment. The “coexistence’’ movement didn’t stop the Second World War and it isn’t stopping the approaching one. All the Stalinists have succeeded in achieving through their “coexistence” program has been to demoralize and disorient the workers’ movement at the very point it should be the strongest, i.e., on the eve of war.
The real problem for American socialists is less one of how “to combine immediate and long-run goals” – as Monthly Review poses it – but of organizing an independent struggle of the masses against the reduction in their living standards, against the witch-hunt, against the war in Korea, for a people’s referendum on war and for the organization of their own party. Such a movement will be hound in the course of its struggle to gravitate toward the long range goals of socialism – but only on the condition that it steers clear of the quicksands of Peoples Frontism, coexistence, New New Dealism, etc.
A second prerequisite, not basically less important is that socialists adopt a Marxist and revolutionary outlook on the war. If they are paralyzed by fear then they are certain to drown and no straws or daydreams will save them. They must recognize, as Lenin long ago pointed out in his polemics with Kautsky, that war and peace are not in hermetically sealed compartments so far as the struggle for socialism is concerned. They must recognize from the world reality today that war and the revolution are not two arbitrarily distinct categories but tend to be part of one and the same process; in fact the war of imperialism is directed against this world revolutionary development in all its forms, as organized state power, colonial rebellion, revolutionary workers’ movements. From this, and especially considering their fiasco in Korea, flow the extreme unlikelihood that the American monopolists and brass hats can vanquish this movement on a global scale. But their attempt to do so can only bankrupt the country, impoverish the people and subject them to such terrible sacrifices as to produce a vast movement of social discontent.
We commend this analysis, based on all the trends and facts of contemporary world politics, for the consideration of the editors and readers of Monthly Review. An effective struggle against war today, in fact the very maintainance of socialist activity is possible only on the basis of such a perspective. Otherwise, one can only dream of “coexistence” and/or seek a place to hide ...
Last updated on: 26 March 2009