Workers Councils Part 5. The Peace
1. Towards New War
Hardly had Berlin fallen, hardly had the German power been annihilated, when in the American press well nigh unanimously a new war cry arose, proclaiming Russia the new enemy. With all the armies still in the field, a panic of new war spread over the exhausted tormented world. The new weapon, the atomic bomb, that had turned into dust two big industrial towns and killed at one stroke a hundred thousand people, struck terror into the hearts of civilised mankind and made the Americans realize their own insecurity. "There is no secret, and there is no defence," was the verdict of the atomic physicists who had constructed the bomb; in a couple of years every government can have them made, and they can be carried across the oceans or easily smuggled into America. An intensive campaign in the "Security Council of the 'United Nations' " for eliminating the threat was started. America proposed to establish an international, supernational board or authority, sole master of dangerous material all over the world, qualified to inspect manufacture in every country. The Russian Government refused to admit such a committee with such powers into its territory and demanded that first America should destroy all its atomic bombs and give up its supremacy.
Why could not the Russian Government agree to an international control ? Russian scientists, speaking for their rulers, said that Russia, the only country free from capitalism, must keep strictly to its sovereignty, cannot take part in a capitalist world unity, cannot suffer its socialism to be corrupted by capitalist-minded inspecting authorities. One would say that to open up their happier and progressive way of life to the view of the rest of the world should only propagate their economic system. So the Russian rulers' true reason for shunning a close contact of their subjects with the peoples of freer private capitalism must be that there is, besides war secrets, too much to conceal. During and after the war so many more details have come to light about conditions in Russia : the general low standard of living of the masses, the wide divergence between low wages of the workers and high salaries of the political and technical leaders, the concentration camps, where ten or more millions of people are starved and worked to death under the most horrible working conditions. The existence of this immense army of slave-labourers testifies that besides the much praised highly technical sector of Russian economy there is a large sector consisting of unskilled forced labor of the lowest level of productivity. It means a state of economic backwardness, not suspected before beneath the glorifying figures of five-year plans and stackhanovism, an inner weakness beneath the apparent progress. Whereas organization and skilful planning, according to either admiring or hostile socialist opinion in the Western world should imply a higher form of production system, the effect seems to be frustrated to a high degree by the secret police, essential instrument of dictatorship, that ever endangers the security and state of life of any member of the technical and bureaucratic officialdom.
Russia and America are not only rivals in that they both are in need of the oil abundance in the Near East. Moreover, Russia has to fear the power of America. The yearly production of steel in 1945 for America was 80 millions of tons, for Russia ( after the fourth five-year plan ) 24 millions; for coal these figures are 575 and 250 millions of tons. This shows the relative industrial strength, that cannot be compensated by Russia having 170 millions against America 130 millions of people. And now America transformed its industrial power into military and political power. This political power finds its ideological expression in the call for world-unity. "One world or none" was the panic cry of the atomic scientists when aghast they saw the consequences of their work; if this terrible new power is not fettered through international unity, it will destroy mankind itself. But it stands to reason that in any world organization of "united nations" the most powerful will dominate the others. The Russian rulers fully realize that to consent to the establishment of a superpower with large competencies means subjection under the most powerful of the associates, under American capitalism. They refuse.
So both prepare for war. Is it inevitable ? All we can see and consider is what deep-seated forces lie at the root of this threat. It is to America in the first place that we have to turn. Here private capitalism is in full development, here socialism is insignificant, practically absent in politics, here planned economy and State direction of production was only a short-lived war necessity, soon replaced by free enterprise. All the conditions and phenomena of former free capitalism in Europe, especially in England and Germany, repeat themselves here, now on a far bigger scale. In 1928 already American production exceeded that of total Europe; at the beginning of the war, notwithstanding nine millions of unemployed, it produced more than in any former year. Then during the war the production increased enormously, as well on account of the greater number of workers as of a rapid rise in technical productivity; so that, despite the tremendous production of war materials, it was not necessary to impose strict limitations on the people's consumption, as was the case in European countries. War is always a golden time for capitalist profit, because the State, as buyer, pays willingly the highest prices. In America it was a gold rush as never before; war profits were not in terms of millions, but of billions of dollars. And the end of the war that devastated the production apparatus of Europe, sees America with a production apparatus more than fifty per cent. larger than at its beginning, with an industrial production twice as large as that of the rest of the capitalist world. For this increased capacity of output a market must be found. This is the problem facing American capitalism.
An inner market might easily be found : by giving a larger share to the working class, thus increasing their buying capacity. But this course, a cutting of profits, capitalism cannot take. It Is convinced that the workers, if they can provide a fourth-hand car and a refrigerator, are well off and have nothing to desire. The essence of capital is to make profit.
So foreign markets have to be found. First there is devastated Europe. Its production apparatus has to be restored by American exports made possible through big loans. Part of it is already American property, and for what nominally remains European property heavy interest will have to be paid to American finance. European economy stands under direct control of American supervision agents who will see to it that the loans are spent in such a way that Europe cannot develop into a serious competitor. In Europe American capital finds a working class with much lower standard of life than that of the American workers, hence promising bigger profits than at home. But this is only possible if first of all its labor power is restored by sending as relief gifts of food, clothes, fuel, to the hungry impoverished peoples. It is investment at long, promising profits only in the long run. Moreover, it is here confronted with Russia trying to extend its exploitation system over Central and Western Europe.
Then there is China, the most promising market for American products. But here American capitalism has done its very best to spoil its own chances. In the civil war it supported the capitalist government against the red peasant armies, with the sole result that the American officers and agents turned away with disgust from the incapable rapacious Kuomintang rulers; that the peasant armies could neither be defeated nor win entire power, so that the permanent civil war brought chaos and prevented recovery. The natural sympathy of American capitalist rulers towards exploiting classes in other parts of the world, and its equally class-born hostility against popular movements, makes them blind to the fact that only out of the latter the basis for strong economic development may arise. Thus an entire reversal of policy would be necessary. The fact that the communist armies are backed by Russia intensifies American antagonism towards the Chinese people's masses, thus preventing China from becoming a market for American export,
Then there is Russia, the U.S.S.R., in extension and population a continent in itself, after the U.S.A., the second realm of the world in industrial development under one State government, with immense sources of the most valuable raw materials, the second gold producer of the world, abounding in fertile land, with a rapidly increasing population estimated within twenty years to reach up to 250 millions. It is closed to foreign commerce; an iron wall isolates it from any foreign influence. American capitalism, so much in need of markets for its outpouring mass of products can it suffer such a wall to exist without trying to break it open ? It waged a war for "liberty"; liberty means free commerce and intercourse all over the world. It is not to be expected from the mightiest capitalist class that it should tolerate exclusion from a third part of the industrially developed world.
Moreover, American capitalists are confident that against the impact of even peaceful commerce Russian economy will not be able to hold out, but will gradually give way to private ownership. So, apparently, think the Russian rulers; they refuse to expose their skilfully constructed higher organisation of planned economy to the corrupting influences of private capitalism.
Thus the conditions for a deep-seated conflict are given. By its very nature American private capitalism is, fundamentally, the aggressor; Russian state-capitalism has to defend its position. Of course, defence often has to consist in attacking; in any war preparation each party imputes aggression to the other. So Russia tries to establish a protecting fringe beyond its borders and tries to extend its domination over Europe. Moreover, in all capitalist countries it has an organisation of devoted adherents and agents, allured by the revolutionary traditions of 1917, convinced that organized state-directed economy means socialism, firm in the expectation of an approaching economic crisis that will upset the system of private capitalism.
Among expert economists, too, there is a widespread opinion that world industry, that is, especially American industry, is to face a heavy crisis. Its productive capacity, its output of products is so large that there is no market for it. So, after the first peace boom supplying the deficiencies of the war years, there will come a heavy slump, with large unemployment and all its consequences. Strictly speaking, it is a continuation of the 1930-33 slump, after which no real recovery until 1940 took place. Then the war provided an enormous market for a rapidly expanding production, a market never choked because all products were rapidly destroyed. Now that the war is over the capitalist class again faces the pitiful situation that the world cannot absorb its products. Is it to be wondered at that once more its thoughts turn to those golden years of high profits when death and destruction of uncounted human lives brought in such a rich harvest ? And that even great parts of the workers, narrow capitalist-minded as they are, think of that time only as years of high wages and exciting adventure ?
War as a market can be partly substituted by war preparation as a market. Armaments already occupy a notable part of the productive force of Society. For the budget year 1946-47 America's military budget amounted to 12 billions of dollars. Compared with an estimated total yearly national product of 180 billions it may not look impressive; but compared with an American peace-time export of seven billions it gains in importance. The bulk of production is always destined for home consumption of food, clothes, tools, machinery, etc.; the fringe of export and extension is the active force that stimulates the entirety of production, increasing the need for productive apparatus and labor hands, who, in their turn, need commodities; under capitalism each extra demand from outside tends to raise, directly and still more indirectly at a much enhanced rate, the extent of production. The continued demand for war materials to be destroyed and to be replaced continually because in a few years they are superseded by new inventions, may act as a force postponing the impending industrial crisis.
It is highly questionable, however, whether such a rate of war preparedness can last indefinitely. Though theoretically it seems possible that two lots of slave-drivers, practising different methods, but not so very different in deepest character, when viewing the risks, may prefer to come to terms with one another, it does as yet not look probable. The American capitalist class, knowing that at the other side of the iron curtain war preparations go on in the same feverish tempo, trusting that at the moment America is the strongest in war technics, driven by the desire to have the entire world open to international trade, believing in America's mission to make the world into one unity, might in view of the allurements of war well be expected to overcome its fear of seeing its big cities turned into dust by atom bombs. And then hell again breaks loose over mankind.
Is war inevitable ? Is not war an anachronism ? Why should man, able to discover atomic processes, not be able to establish world peace ? Those who pose this question do not know what capitalism means. Can there be world peace when in Russia millions of slaves are worked to death in concentration camps, and the entire population lacks freedom ? Can there be world peace when in America the kings of capital keep the entire society in subjection and exploitation without being faced by any trace of a fight for social freedom ? Where capitalist greed and capitalist exploitation dominate world peace must remain a pious wish.
When we say that, hence, war is inseparable from capitalism, that war can only disappear with capitalism itself, this does not mean that war against war is of no use and that we have to wait till capitalism has been destroyed. It means that the fight against war is inseparable from fight against capitalism. War against war can be effective only as part of the workers' class war against capitalism.
If the question is raised whether it is possible to forestall a threatening war, it is pre-supposed that there is a conflict between government, invested with power and authority on war and peace, and the masses of the population, especially the working class. Their voting power is without effect since it works only on election day; parliaments and Congresses are part of the ruling Power. So the question comes down to this : Have the workers, and in a wider sense the people's masses, at the moment of danger the possibility, by other than parliamentary means, to enforce their peace-will upon the war-preparing rulers ? They have. If such a will actually lives within them, if they are prepared to stand with resolute conviction for their aim. Their form of fight then consists in direct mass-actions.
A government, a ruling class cannot go into war with the people, unwilling and resisting. Therefore a moral and intellectual preparation is no less necessary than a technical and organizational preparation. Systematic war propaganda in the press, in broadcasting, in movies, must waken a bellicose spirit and suppress the instinctive but unorganised spirit of resistance. Hence it is certain that a decided conscious refusal on the part of the people's masses, demonstrated in outspoken widely heard protest, can have a determining influence upon the governmental policy. Such a protest may appear first in mass meetings voting sharp resolutions. More efficient will be the protest if the masses go into the streets demonstrating; against their ten and hundred thousands all riot acts and court injunctions are meaningless. And when these are not sufficient, or are suppressed by military violence, the workers and employees in traffic and industry can strike. Such a strike is not for wages, but to save society from utter destruction.
Government and the ruling class will try to break the resistance with all means of moral and physical suppression. So it will be a hard fight, demanding sacrifices, steadfastness and endurance. The psychological basis for such fight is not at once present in full vigour; it needs time to develop, and does so only under heavy spiritual strain. Since the middle classes always tend to vacillate between opposite moods, capitalist greed expressing itself in nationalist aggressiveness, and fear for destruction, from them stubborn resistance cannot be expected. The fight, therefore, takes the character of a class fight, with mass strikes as its most powerful weapon.
In the 19th century the idea of a universal strike at the outbreak of war, as well as that of a general refusal to take up arms, was propagated, especially by the anarchists; it was meant as a direct impediment to mobilisation and warfare. But the power of' the working class was far too small at the time. In the first decade of the 20th century, when an imperialist war became ever more threatening, the question of how to prevent it became urgent among European socialists. In the German socialist party there were discussions about mass strikes, and the idea gained ground whether mass actions could be used against war. But the party -- and union -- leaders opposed all such actions because they feared that in that case Government would suppress and annihilate their laboriously built-up organisations. They wished to restrict the workers' movement to parliamentary and trade union action. In 1912, when again war loomed near, an international peace congress was held at Basle. Under solemn bib-bam of the bells the delegates entered the cathedral, to listen to fine speeches from the most prominent leaders on the international unity and brotherhood of the workers. Part of the delegates wished to discuss ways and means how to oppose war; they intended to propose resolutions calling up the workers of all countries for discussion and mass action. But the presidium said no; no discussion was allowed. Whereas now the splendid demonstration of unity and peace-will, it said, would impress and warn the war-mongers, the discussions exposing our dissensions about the ways of action would encourage the militarists. Of course, it was just the reverse. The capitalist rulers were not deceived by this show; they at once sensed the inner weakness and fear; now they knew they could go on and that the socialist parties would not seriously oppose the war. So the disaster took its inevitable course. When in 1914, during the last days of July, working masses demonstrated in the streets of Berlin they felt uneasy, because the socialist party failed to give energetical directions; their calls were drowned in the louder national anthems of the bourgeois youth. The war started unhampered, with the working class organizations tied firmly to its chariot.
Basle had been a symbol, a test, a crossroad. The decision taken there determined all further events, the four years of murder over Europe, the catastrophe of all moral and spiritual progress, and then beyond, Hitlerism and the second world war. Could It have been otherwise ? The Basle result was not chance, but a consequence of the actual inner state of the workers' movement : the supremacy of leaders, the docility of the masses. Social developments depend on the deeper general power relations of the classes. But just as in geography small structure details of watersheds determine whether the water flows to one or to another ocean, so small hardly noticed differences in relative strength at definite moments may have decisive effects on the course of events. If the opposition in the socialist parties had been stronger, more self-confident; if at the time in the workers the spirit of independent action had been stronger; if, hence, the Basle congress had been compelled to discussion and thus had brought more clearness, then the war, surely, would not have been prevented. But from the onset, it would have been crossed by class fights, by internal strife within each country breaking up national unity, exalting the workers' spirits. Then the history of the later years, the state of socialism, the relations of the classes, the conditions of society would have been different.
Now again society at large, and the working class especially, stands before the same question : can the war be prevented ? Of course, there are differences; then the bourgeoisie was mostly unaware of the danger, whereas now it is itself full of apprehension; then the working class was well organized in a socialist party proclaiming itself hostile to imperialist policy, and the deadly foe of all capitalism, whereas present day America shows nothing of the sort. It is not certain whether this is only weakness. The Russian workers are entirely powerless; they lack the liberties which the American workers enjoy and may use in their fight : freedom of speech, of press, of discussion, of organization, of action. So, in any case, it is up to the American working class to decide whether as obedient instruments they will help to make their capitalist masters all-powerful masters of the world, or whether, by making war against war, they will enter for the first time into the war against capitalism, for their own freedom.
2. Towards New Slavery
The second world war has devastated Europe. In Germany nearly all towns have been turned into ruins and rubbish by American bombers, where 60 millions of people, starving and naked, have to live as savages in their holes. In France, Italy, Holland, Poland, England, large parts have been devastated in the same way. More vital still than this visible lack of housing is the destruction of the production apparatus. Under the industrial system of capitalism the production apparatus, the factories, machines, traffic are the backbone, the basis of life. Under primitive, pre-capitalist conditions of simple agriculture the soil secures life. Under capitalism-in-ruins agriculture, retrograde as it is, cannot provide sufficient food for the industrial millions, and ruined industry cannot provide tools and fertilizers to restore agriculture. So Europe, after the war, as first and main task, faces the problem of recovery.
Recovery, reconstruction, was the watchword proclaimed and heard everywhere. It meant more than simply reconstruction of the production apparatus, the construction of new machines, ships, trucks and factories. It meant reconstruction of the production system, of the system of social relations between capital and labor, the reconstruction of capitalism. Whereas during the war ideas arose and were heard of a new world to come after the war, a better world of harmony, social justice and progress, even of socialism, now it was made clear that, practically, capitalism and exploitation were to remain the basis of society. How could it be otherwise ? Since during the war the workers acted only as obedient servants, soldiers to vanquish their masters' enemies, with never a thought of acting for their own freedom, there can be no question to-day of any change in the basic principle of society, capitalist exploitation.
This does not mean restoration of old capitalism. It has gone for ever. Conditions have changed. Capitalism is in distress. We are poor. Where productive force has been destroyed so thoroughly, it stands to reason that there must be scarceness of all life necessities. But there is more to it. Poverty is not equally distributed. As President Truman lately stated, wages had risen less and profits had risen more than the prices. The poor are poorer now, the rich are richer than before. This is no chance result of temporary conditions. To grasp its meaning we have to consider the deeper economic basis of the new' social conditions. Formerly, in ordinary times, the gradual renovation of the productive apparatus at the rate in which it was used up or became antiquated, took a certain regular percentage of the entire labor of society. Now the mass destruction demands a mass renovation in a short time. This means that a larger part of the total labor has to be spent on the production of means of production, and a smaller part is left for consumption goods. Under capitalism the means of production are the property of the capitalist class; they are renovated out of the surplus-value. Hence more surplus-value is needed. This means that a larger share of the produce has to fall to the capitalist class, a smaller share to the working class. As capitalist opinion in the middle class literature expresses it : For recovery of prosperity the first condition is production of capital, accumulation of profits; high wages are an impediment to rapid recovery.
Thus the main problem of capitalist policy since the war is how to increase the surplus-value by depressing the standard of life of the workers. Automatically this happens already by the steady rise of prices, a consequence of the continuous issue of paper money under scarcity of goods. So the workers have to fight ever again for increase of the nominal wages, have ever again to strike, without attaining more than that the wages slowly, at a distance, follow the increasing cost of living. Still there may be a willingness among individual employers -- in view of the shortness of labor power -- to pay more than the contracted scale of wages; so the State intervenes in the interest of the entire capitalist class. First by means of the institute of mediators. These state-appointed mediators, formerly designated to arbitrate in case of wage disputes, now have the function of imposing standard wages, maximum wages not to be surpassed by any employer. It now happens that in a strike the employer is willing to pay more wages, but the State forbids it. Or the government proclaims a general wage-pegging which, in view of the rising prices, means a continuous lowering of life standard. Thus the strike against individual employers or employers' unions becomes meaningless; each strike is directed and must be directed consciously against State power.
Trade unions, too, now acquire a new function. They are directly interposed as officially recognized institutions that negotiate and make treaties, in the name of the workers, with the governmental and capitalist bodies. Government gives legal sanction to the decisions of the union; this means that the workers are bound morally and legally to the contracts made by the union leaders considered as their representatives. Formerly it was the workers themselves who in their assemblies had to decide on the new working conditions; they could, by their vote, accept and reject them. Now this semblance of independence, of at least formal free decision in bargaining, is taken from them. What the union leaders in conference with government and capitalists arrange and agree upon, is considered law for the workers; they are not asked, and should they refuse, all the moral and organisational power of the union is used to force them into obedience. It is clear that unions as formally self-ruling organizations of the workers with chosen leaders are far more apt to impose the new bad working conditions than would be any power institute of the State. Thus the trade unions are made part of the power apparatus dominating the working class. The union is the salesman of the labor power of the workers, and in bargaining in conference with the State officials sells it to the employers.
This does not mean, of course, that now the unions and their leaders in every case consent to the capitalist demands. Thereby their authority would soon break down, as is actually the case to a certain degree now. Their attitude, moreover, often depends on political considerations, whether they stand entirely at the side of the Government, as in England, or are hostile against the Government, as in France. The trade union leaders in France, belonging to the C.P., hence agents of the Russian rulers, have not the least interest now to sustain the French capitalist class and its government, as they did some years ago when they took part in government themselves and stood hostile against the workers' strikes. Thus the fight of the workers against impoverishment is used by the political parties as a subordinate means in the struggle between the Western system of private capitalism and the Russian system of state capitalism.
The problem facing European capitalism, however, has a still wider scope. It is not only a matter of wages; it is the question whether, after this breakdown of the economic system, the working masses are willing to rebuild it. Capitalism knows that "labor only can save us." Hard work and low wages are the conditions for recovery. Will the workers, who remember the hard life under capitalist exploitation before the war, consent to a still harder life in order to restore that state of things ? They may, if they can be convinced that it is for a better world that they now exert themselves, for a world of freedom for their class, for socialism. Socialism is the magic word able to transform sullen rebels into ready co-operators.
In broad layers of the middle class the conviction awoke that socialism, in one way or another, was needed for recovery; in most countries socialist ministers took office, socialist and communist parties dominated the parliaments. In England the slogan read : "Labor only can save us"; a large combined middle class and workers' vote gave an overwhelming majority to the Labor Party that in former governments had shown its capitalist reliability. Where a downright capitalist government would have been unable to suppress forcibly the resistance of the workers and to enforce the new hard living conditions upon them, a Labor Government was the only escape.
England, indeed, was in a critical condition. The second world war had exhausted its capital of foreign investments, the interest of which formerly directed a stream of unpaid consumption goods into the country. Uncle Shylock had given his generous aid only after his hard-pressed Ally had delivered most of its assets -- notwithstanding the fact that the war essentially had served to destroy America's most dangerous rival to world domination, a Germany disposing of the resources of the entire European continent. England had to give up a large part of its colonies, it could hardly bear the expenses of playing the part of a Big Power any longer. Also we see the English bourgeoisie lose its old self-reliant feeling of confidence; its foreign policy, e.g., in the Near East, shows signs of diffidence. The privileged position formerly occupied by the British working class, having its share in England's exploitation of the world, had gone. Now the Labor Party faced the task of clearing the bankrupt estate.
Socialism, however, was not to be simply make-believe. A good dose of Socialism was really needed to restore capitalism. Some of the basic industries of capitalist production, as coal mining and railway traffic, as a consequence of private ownership encumbered with an entirely antiquated lack of organisation, constituted a ridiculous muddle of inefficiency. To a well-developed capitalist production good organisation of such basic branches as coal, steel, traffic, is just as necessary as that of post and telegraph; so nationalization is a capitalist necessity, to which the name socialisation is given. Though there is nothing revolutionary in it former governments were too full of respect for private enterprise to satisfy those general needs; a "socialist" Labor Government was needed to establish capitalist efficiency. When now the miners complain that they find no difference in treatment between the former mine owners and the new Coal Board they have to consider that the reform was not made for them, but for capitalism. It was not an attack on capitalist property; the coal mine shares -- of doubtful quality -- were replaced by Government Bonds; this manipulation has in no way lessened the exploitation of the workers.
The State has to assume functions in the production apparatus that formerly were the domain of private enterprise. This does not yet mean state-capitalism, as in Russia, but only state-directed capitalism, somewhat as it was in Nazi-Germany. And there are more points of resemblance. Capital is scarce in post-war Europe, as it was in Germany after the first war. The strictest economy is necessary. No more than under German fascism can it now be left to the free will of the capitalist class to spill the available national capital by importing luxuries or materials for the production of luxuries. To rebuild the production apparatus of the country Government has to take in hand the control and command of all imports and exports, of all transport of values across the frontiers. International trade then cannot be left to private merchants; the governments negotiate trade pacts, often strictly bilateral, on quantities comprising the bulk of food supplies and the industrial produce of the entire country. What Nazi-Germany introduced as the new totalitarian system of trade is now imitated by all the European States, an emergency measure here, just as it was there. But the character of the emergency is different; there it was to spare forces for a new assault toward world conquest, to prepare for world war; here it is to stave off starvation and revolution, a result of world war. Every government has to import foodstuffs from abroad -- grain production in Europe by deterioration of the soil and lack of hands having diminished to only half or two-thirds of its prewar amount -- lest the hungry population should revolt and bring the C.P. into power. But they must be paid by the export of industrial products withheld from their own people; or by loans from America, tying Western Europe with the bonds of debt slavery to the master of the world's gold.
So the State has a far greater power now than before. It is the consequence of war destruction. This does not mean, however, that it is a temporary abnormal state of things. Nobody believes that hereafter old private capitalism can return. The increasing size of enterprises, the interconnection of world economy, the concentration of capital demand planning and organisation; though now and then it needs catastrophes to enforce these tendencies. These post-war conditions form a transition, an introduction to a new world, the world of planned capitalism. The State rises as a mighty power above society. It dominates and regulates economic life, it directs planned production, it distributes food and other life necessities according to its judgment of primary needs, it distributes the surplus-value produced by the workers among the owners of capital; it directs more or less even the spiritual food, having distributive power over the paper needed for the printing of books. In its organization the political parties are its bickering office-of-publicity holders, and the trade unions are part of its bureaucracy. And, most important, the totalitarian State incorporates the working masses into its social organisation as the obedient producers of value and surplus-value. This is performed by calling planned capitalism by the name of socialism.
This is not simply usurpation of a name. A simple word, a deceitful name, has no such power. The name is the expression of a reality. Socialism was the watchword of the suffering and fighting workers in the past century, the message of their liberation, the magic word occupying their hearts and heads. They did not see that it meant only an imperfect liberation, the rule of their leaders as new masters, disposing over production apparatus and product. Socialism was the program of the leaders and politicians they sent into the parliaments there to fight capitalism and exploitation. The goal of socialism, after the conquest of State power, was the organisation of production, planned economy, transferring the productive apparatus into the hands of the community, represented by the State. Now that in the 20th century capitalism in emergency needs planned economy, direction and organization of production through State power, the old slogan of the workers just fits in with the new needs of capitalism. What had been the expression of their modest hopes for liberation becomes the instrument of their ready submission under stronger slavery. All the traditions of former aspirations, sacrifices, and heroic struggles, binding socialist workers to their creed and their party and condensed in the name socialism, now act as fetters laming resistance against the growing power of the new capitalism. Instead of clearly seeing the situation and resisting, blindfolded by the dear traditional slogans, they go into the new slavery.
This socialism is for Europe; it is not for America, nor for Russia. It is born in Europe, it has to save capitalist Europe. Why did Europe succumb into such utter powerlessness ? It has outside Russia, 400 millions of people, more than the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. together, it is rich in raw materials for industry, rich in fertile land; it had a highly developed industry and a well-instructed population disposing of an abundance of capital. Why, then, such a lack of capitalist power ? Because Europe is divided up in a dozen nationalities, speaking several dozens of languages, and so is driven by fierce centuries-old antagonisms and national hatreds. At the rise of capitalism these nations were the right size for economic units; now that capitalist efficiency needs larger units, of continent size, Europe is at a disadvantage against the new powers America and Russia. Its inner inextinguishable enmities and wars called in those mightier rivals who trampled it down, physically and economically. What at the end of the Middle Ages happened to the Italian towns, which had been the birthplaces of burgher power and early capitalism, but which, torn by their mutual feuds and hatreds, could not establish a larger national unity, and so were, as battlefield, trampled by the French and the Spanish armies and subjected to mightier foreign powers -- now happened to Europe on a larger scale. European capitalism is now the victim of that nationalism that once was its force. When after the first world war President Wilson, as the arbiter of Europe, proclaimed the principle of national self-determination this was the very means to keep Europe powerless, divided up into a host of independent, mutually fighting parts. It is quite natural that now socialist politicians propagate the idea of one consolidated socialist Europe; but they are too late; Europe is being partitioned already into an Eastern and a Western block. The idea itself of trying to make socialist Europe a third world power bridling the aggression of the others, belongs to the realm of middle class ideology that sees only contending nations, of continent size now; this ideology means the salvation of European capitalism.
Looking from a general point of view we may say that the development of the productive forces of society renders inevitable their social organization into one well-planned entirety. It may take place in two different ways. One is the way of capital, making State power the directing power of the production, making managers appointed from above the commanders of labor. It leads to totalitarianism in different degrees, the State extending its regulative power over ever more realms of human and social life. It leads to dictatorship, more or less camouflaged by parliamentary or sham democratic form. Such dictatorship does not necessarily assume the brutal forms we have seen in Germany and Russia, with an all-powerful secret police keeping all classes in its cruel grip. For the working class the difference between Western democratic and Eastern dictatorial forms of Government is not essential, economically; in both it is subjected to exploitation by a ruling class of officials that commands production and distributes the produce. And to stand over against the State as the all-powerful master of the production apparatus, means loss of a good deal of that limited amount of free action by which it could formerly resist the demands of capital.
The other way is the way of the working class, seizing social power and mastery over the production apparatus.
3. Towards New Freedom
The second world war has inaugurated a new epoch. More than the first world war it has changed the structure of the capitalist world. Thereby it has brought a fundamental change in the conditions of the workers' fight for freedom. These new conditions the working class has to know, to understand, and to face. It has, first, to give up illusions. Illusions about its future under capitalism, and illusions about an easy way of winning freedom in a better world of socialism.
In the past century, the first epoch of the workers' movement, the idea of socialism captured the mind. The workers built up their organisations, political parties, as well as trade unions, and attacked and fought capitalism. It was a fight by means of leaders; parliamentarians as spokesmen did the real fighting, and it was assumed that afterwards politicians and officials should do the real work of expropriating the capitalists and building up the new socialist world. Where reformism pervaded the socialist parties it was believed that by a series of reforms they would gradually mitigate and finally transform capitalism into a real commonwealth. Then at the end of the first world war hopes ran high about a near world revolution led by the communist party. By proclaiming strict obedience of the workers towards the leaders under the name of discipline, this party believed it could beat down capitalism and establish state socialism. Both parties denounced capitalism, both promised a better world without exploitation, under their rulership. So millions of workers followed them, believing they would defeat capitalism and liberate the proletariat from slavery.
Now these illusions have broken down. First about capitalism. Not a mitigated, but an aggravated capitalism faces us. It is the working class that has to bear the burden of capitalist recovery. So they must fight. Ever again strikes flare up. Though successful in appearance, they do not succeed in staving off want and misery. Against the formidable power of capitalism they are too weak to bring relief.
Not illusions about party communism. Such could hardly have existed; because the C.P. never concealed its intention to establish a despotic rule over a subordinate working class. This goal stands squarely opposite to the workers' goal of being free masters of society themselves.
There were, too, illusions about socialism and unions. Now the workers discover that the organisations they considered as part of themselves stand as a power against them. Now they see that their leaders, political and union leaders, take side with capital. Their strikes are wild-cat strikes. In England Labor holds the State office for capitalism-in-need, and the trade unions are inserted as part of the apparatus of the State. As in the Grimethorpe strike a miner said to a reporter : "As usual, we are united and every one is against us."
This, indeed, is the mark of the new time. All the old powers stand against the workers, driving, sometimes cajoling, mostly denouncing and abusing them : capitalists, politicians, leaders, officials, the State. They have only themselves. But in their fight they are firmly united. More firmly, more unbreakably than in former contests, their mutual solidarity forging them into one solid body. Therein lies an indication of the future. To be sure, such small strikes cannot be more than a protest, a warning, to reveal the mood of the workers . Solid unity in such small units can be no more than a promise. To exert pressure upon the government they must be mass strikes.
In France and Italy, where the government tried to maintain wage-pegging without being able to prevent a rise of prices, mass strikes flared up, now indeed consciously directed against the government; combined with stronger forms of fight, with shop occupation, seizure by the workers of the offices. It was not, however, a pure class action of the workers but at the same time a political manoeuvre in party strife. The strikes were directed by the central committee of the trade unions ( C.G.T. ), dominated by the Communist Party, and had to serve as an action of Russian politics against the Western governments. Thus from the onset there was an intrinsic weakness in them. The fight against private capitalism took the form of submission to state capitalism; hence it was opposed by those who abhorred state capitalist exploitation as a worse condition. So the workers could not arrive at real class unity; their action could not display as real massal class action; their great aim of freedom was obscured through servitude to capitalist party slogans.
The fierce antagonism sprung up at the end of the war between Russia and the Western powers has changed the attitude of the classes towards Russian communism. Whereas the Western intellectuals take side with their capitalist masters against dictatorship, large parts of the workers once more see Russia as their partner. So the difficulty for the working class to-day is that it is involved in the struggle of two world powers, both ruling and exploiting them, both referring to the exploitation on the other side in order to make them obedient adherents. In the Western world the Communist Party, agent of Russian state capitalism, presents itself as the ally and leader of the workers against home capitalism. By patient, petty work in the organizations it shoved itself into the leading administrative places, showing how a well-organized minority is able to dominate a majority; unlike the socialist leaders bound to their own capitalism it does not hesitate to put up the most radical demands for the workers, thus to win their favor. In countries where American capitalism retains in power the most reactionary groups, the C.P. takes the lead of popular movements, as the future master, to make them allies of Russia should they win dominance. If in America itself the working masses should come to mass actions against new war, the C.P. will immediately join and try to make the action a source of spiritual confusion. On the reverse, American capitalism will not be slow to present itself as the liberator of the enslaved Russian masses, hereby to claim the adherence of the American workers.
This is not a chance situation of to-day. Always capitalist policy consists in dividing the working class by making it adhere to two opposite capitalist parties. They feel by instinct that in this way the working class is made powerless. So the more they are alike, two lots of profit-seeking exploiters and office-seeking politicians, the stronger they emphasize their often traditional artificial differences into sounding slogans simulating fundamental principles. So it was in home politics in every country, so it is now in international politics, against the working class of the world. Should capitalism succeed in establishing "one world" it certainly would discover the necessity to split into two contending halves, in order to prevent unity of the workers.
Here the working class needs wisdom. Not solely knowledge of society and its intricacies, but that intuitive wisdom that is growing out of their plain condition of life, that independence of mind that is based upon the pure principle of class struggle for freedom. Where both capitalist powers try to win the working masses by their noisy propaganda and thus to divide them, these have to realize that theirs is the third way, the fight for their own mastery over society.
This fight arises as an extension of their present small attempts of resistance. Up till now they struck separately; when one factory or industry went on strike the others looked on, apparently uninterested; so they could only worry the rulers who at most appeased them with small concessions. Once they perceive that the first condition to enforce their demands is mass unity of action they will begin to raise their class power against State-power. Up till now they let themselves be directed by capitalist interests. Once they understand that the other condition, not less primary, is to keep the direction in their own hands by means of their delegates, their strike committees, their workers' councils, and do not allow any leaders to lead them, they will have entered the road to freedom.
What we now witness is the beginning of breakdown of capitalism as an economic system. Not yet visible over the entire world, but over Europe, where it took its origin. In England, in Europe, capitalism arose; and like an oil-spot it extended ever wider over the world. Now in this centre we see it decay, hardening into despotic forms to stave off ruin, showing the now flourishing new sites, America, Australia, their future.
The beginning of breakdown : what was supposed to be a matter of the future, the limitedness of the earth as an impediment to further expansion of capitalism now manifests itself already. The slow increase of world trade since the first world war indicates the slackening tempo, and the deep crisis of 1930 has not been vanquished by a new prosperity. The slackening at the time did not enter into the consciousness of man; it could only be made out afterwards in statistical figures. To-day the breakdown is conscious experience; the broad masses of the people feel it and know it, and in panic try to find a way out.
The breakdown of an economic system : not yet of a social system. The old dependencies of the classes, the relations of a master and a servant class, the basic fact of exploitation as yet are in full vigour. Desperate efforts are made to consolidate them. By transforming the chance economy into planned economy, by increasing State-despotism, by intensifying the exploitation.
The beginning of breakdown of an old system : not yet the beginning rise of a new system. The working class is far back, compared to the master class, in recognizing the changed conditions. Whereas the capitalists are active in transforming old institutions and adapt them to new functions, the workers stubbornly adhere to traditional feelings and actions, and try to fight capital by putting their trust in agents of capitalism, in unions and parties. Surely the wild strikes are first indications of new forms of fight. But only when the entire working class is permeated by the new insight into the significance of self-action and self-rule, the way to freedom opens out.
The breakdown of capitalism is at the same time the breakdown of the old socialism. Because socialism now turns out to be a harsher form of capitalism. Socialism, as inherited from the 19th century, was the creed of a social mission for the leaders and politicians : to transform capitalism into a system of State-directed economy without exploitation, producing abundance for all. It was the creed of class struggle for the workers, the belief that by transferring government into the hands of these socialists they would assure their freedom. Why did it not happen ? Because the casting of a secret vote was too insignificant an effort to count as a real class-fight. Because the socialist politicians stood single-handed within the entire capitalist fabric of society, against the immense power of the capitalist class being master of the production apparatus, with the workers' masses only looking on, expecting them, little squad, to upset the world. What could they do otherwise than run the affair in the usual way, and by reforming the worst abuses save their conscience ? Now it is seen that socialism in the sense of State-directed planned economy means state-capitalism, and that socialism in the sense of workers' emancipation is only possible as a new orientation. The new orientation of socialism is self-direction of production, self-direction of the class-struggle, by means of workers' councils.
What is called the failure of the working class, alarming many socialists, the contradiction between the economic breakdown of capitalism and the inability of the workers to seize power and establish the new order, is no real contradiction. Economic changes only gradually produce changes in the mind. The workers educated in the belief in socialism stand bewildered now that they see that the very opposite, heavier slavery, is the outcome. To grasp that socialism and communism now both mean doctrines of enslavement is a hard job. New orientation needs time; maybe only a new generation will comprehend its full scope.
At the end of the first world war world revolution seemed near; the working class arose full of hope and expectation that now its old dreams would come true. But they were dreams of imperfect freedom, they could not be realized. Now at the end of the second world war only slavery and destruction seem near; hope is far distant; but, a task, the greater aim of real freedom looms. More powerful than before, capitalism rises as master of the world. More powerful than before the working class has to rise in its fight for mastery over the world. More powerful forms of suppression capitalism has found. More powerful forms of fight the working class has to find and use. So this crisis of capitalism at the same time will be the start of a new workers' movement.
A century ago, when the workers were a small class of downtrodden helpless individuals, the call was heard : proletarians of all countries unite ! You have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a world to win. Since then they have become the largest class; and they have united; but only imperfectly. Only in groups, smaller or larger, not yet as one class-unity. Only superficially, in outer forms, not yet in deep essence. And still they have nothing to lose but their chains; what else they have they cannot lose by fighting, only by timidly submitting. And the world to be won begins to be perceived dimly. At that time no clear goal, for which to unite, could be depicted; so their organizations in the end became tools of capitalism. Now the goal becomes distinct; opposite to the stronger domination by state-directed planned economy of the new capitalism stands what Marx called the association of free and equal producers. So the call for unity must be supplemented by indication of the goal : take the factories and machines; assert your mastery over the productive apparatus; organize production by means of workers' councils.