From The Militant, Vol. V No. 13 (Whole No. 109), 26 March 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The stormy and more or less spontaneous opposition of the representatives in congress of the petty bourgeoisie to the new revenue bill has found a loud echo in the country at large. The House line-up on the revenue bill reveals a pretty thorough-going disruption of the old party lines. Democrats and Republicans of the middle class type joined hands in fighting against a big bourgeoisie coalition of these same parties, whose chief objective at the present is to put over a tax measure – a direct sales tax ranging from 2.25 to 5 percent – to balance the budget at the expense of the lower and middle classes. The official machines of both traditional bourgeois parties united in a defense of the money bags and revealed the absolute uselessness of maintaining their separation. Both showed that they represent one and the same class – the big bourgeoisie. The dispute on the sales tax crystallized a not unexpected and fairly deep rift in the political make-up of present day capitalist America.
The increasing difficulties of balancing the government budget, due to the rapid decline of foreign and domestic trade brought about by the prolonged world crisis, was bound to pose the problem sharply: at whose expense? The official party machines, after shedding a tear over the “financial principles” they had to drop, very quickly came to an agreement not to disturb big business with this problem, since, they argued, that would only cripple its investment power and thereby prolong the crisis. They thereupon came forward with an innovation in American methods of taxation: the sales tax. The whole burden of making up for the budget deficit was in this manner to be shifted to the smaller business men, and indirectly to the consumer as such. It could not help rousing the already impoverished petty bourgeois to action.
In congress itself, the perturbance of the small business men opened up great possibilities for the demagogy of such notorious tribunes of the people as representative La Guardia, who rallied an opposition of Democrats and Republicans against the machine coalition in a sortie on the revenue bill. The La Guardia opposition has already achieved several parliamentary successes. It has managed to muster a majority for two measures to counter the sales tax proposal, passing on a surtax for incomes of over $500,000 ranging up to 65 per cent on Friday, March 18 and on an increase in the estate tax up to a maximum of 45 per cent, applicable to net estates of more than $10,000,000 on Tuesday last. In addition, the opposition has defeated a measure relieving corporations paying taxes to foreign governments of regular taxation. La Guardia is talking radical, speaking of “conscripting wealth”, etc. The parliamentary movement has in addition, received wide-spread support from a great number of petty bourgeois organizations, which, according to one paper, include some 50,000,0000 people.
To get a picture of the petty bourgeois character of this movement, here are a few of the organizations that have rallied behind the congress opposition: The Farm Bureau Federation, the National Grange and Farmers’ Educational and Co-operative Union, the National Consumers’ League, the National Association of Retail Grocers and other retailers’ organizations; the American Federation of Labor, the Railroad Brotherhoods; the People’s Lobby headed by Professor John Dewey, etc. The scope of this movement is not to be underestimated, it signifies the first large scale attempt to give a political form in the America of the present epoch, to the differentiation within the ranks of the bourgeoisie. As was to be expected, the American reformists, the A.F. of L., find a prominent place in this movement of the Left wing of the bourgeois class. La Guardia, by the way, in his statements replying to his big bourgeois opponents, such as the Democratic House leader, leaves the door wide open for the participation of the labor misleaders through a flirtation with some social reforms.
It is an old axiom for Marxist revolutionaries, that the petty bourgeoisie cannot lead an independent political life. It can go only with the big bourgeoisie or with the proletariat – the two chief contenders for power under the present system of society. Where La Guardia and the other leaders of the current movement intend to go is indicated by the former’s answer to Rainey’s – the “Democratic” House leader’s – charge that the actions of the House opposition are a move in the direction of Communism. La Guardia replied that it is precisely in order to serve as a bulwark against Communism that the House opposition is carrying on its policy. There is no doubt that within a relatively short time, this “revolt” too will be harnessed to the cart of capitalism as a whole. With the prolongation of the crisis, the growing misery of the workers and the impoverishment of the middle classes, it is not excluded that the bourgeois regime will seek a new support for itself in a popular movement of petty bourgeois reform such as this. The events around the revenue bill will serve to raise false hopes in the petty oburgeoisie for a way out of its plight. The fading away of these hopes may well give way to despair and political reaction in the form of an American type of Fascist movement. In the meantime, the road is open for activities of a large scope on the part of the petty bourgeois demagogues. Their political transformation, the crystallization of these demagogues into distinct political types is bound to follow in short order.
For the Communists, this differentiation within the ranks of the bourgeoisie, represents a perspective for rapid growth, provided a correct policy is pursued. The half-measures of the petty-bourgeoisie and the reformists, once they are carried out, are bound to show up all their weakness, all their hopelessness, with especial clarity. It is in practice that the masses learn most quickly. By a clear and intransigent propagation of the working class issue out of the capitalist dilemma, by a correct utilization of the conflicts bound to develop in the future within the enemy camp, by pressing the demagogues to the wall, by forcing them to take a definite position, the Communists will be able to consolidate the more decisive sections of the masses and in the first place, the increasing sections of class conscious workers’ around their banner. To hammer out such a policy of revolutionary advance, to prepare the American masses for revolutionary action, it is, however, necessary to clear away all the eclectic confusionism of Stalinist theory and to bring the Communist movement back to the path of Marxism-Leninism.
Last updated: 19.5.2013