Written: 18 August 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 39, 12 August 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.
(This analysis by comrade Trotsky was written in August last year as an introduction to a discussion. It retains all its validity today except for the reference to the German trade union question. The demand contained, correct then, has now been obviated by events. – Ed.)
Business cycles in the post-war period have ceased to constitute the normal machinery of capitalist development, insofar as capitalism, in its entirety, is in a period of decay. But this does not mean that economic fluctuations belong to the past. Immediately after the war, it is true, they lost their cyclical and as to the recovery, at least, their universal character. Both these characteristics, however, up to a certain point, at least, are being revived before our eyes.
The present crisis is of world wide character. This means that world economy whose existence was interrupted by the war years, has made its way in spite of all tariff walls and has proven its powerful reality in painful form. There is every reason to believe that the coming reversal of the trend, in the direction of a business revival – not simultaneously and not with equal strength – will likewise, assume a world wide character. In other words, the cyclical movement of capitalism is restored by the present crisis.
Naturally, we cannot expect full-blooded cycles in the future. In the last two decades before the war, crises had the character of short and not too profound interruptions, while each new upswing left the peak of the preceding one far below. But now we must expect the reverse; profound, long and painful crises, while the upward movements are weak and short-lived. If the old cycles were the mechanism of the broad upward movement, the new ones can only be the mechanism of capitalist decay.
Only, the influence of cyclic changes on the life of the mass of people remains enormous. In a certain sense, it is now more far reaching than ever before. The whole present status of capitalism represents a completed not merely ripe, but overripe, prerequisite for the proletarian revolution. What lags behind is the consciousness of the proletariat, its organization, its leadership. Because of the general instability of the social equilibrium, the conjunctural fluctuations lead to enormous shifts of political power, to revolutionary and counter-revolutionary disturbances.
The bourgeois world, and with it, the social democracy awaits the new upturn in commerce and industry as a savior. The theoreticians of the Comintern are afraid of such a perspective and deny the possibility of an upward turn in the business cycle curve. To us Marxists, it is perfectly clear that a new revival of business activity would not open a broad avenue out of the crisis, but would lead into a new, still sharper and more painful crisis. On the other hand, the inevitability of a more or less nearby change in the business cycle is perfectly evident to us. We must equip ourselves theoretically for the next “post-crisis period” and assume correct points of departure.
The years of crisis have thrown and are throwing the international proletariat back for a whole historical period. Discontent, the wish to escape poverty, hate for the exploiters and their system, all these emotions which are now being suppressed and driven inwards by the frightful unemployment and governmental repression, will force their way out with redoubled energy at the first real signs of an industrial revival.
Because of the general situation of present day capital, even in the event of a substantial revival, the employers will not be in a position to make such concessions to the workers as to confine the struggle within the frame-work of the trade unions. We can predict with assurance that the industrial revival will leave no room even for a return to those conditions of labor which prevailed before the present crisis. The economic conflicts will not. only take on a wide scope but also inevitably expand into political movements of a revolutionary character.
The Comintern must strip off the last remnants of the theory of the “third period” must begin to investigate concretely, the economic and social terrain of the struggle, and no longer issue commands according to its own good judgment to the proletarian vanguard but through the latter, guide the real development of the class struggle.
In the very first place is the work among the trade-unions. Lozovsky’s “third period” must be discarded as well as the third period of Manuilsky. Put an end to the policy of self-isolation. With the greatest sharpness must be posed the question of the restoration of the unity of the German trade union movement, through the integration of all R.G.O. members into the mass of the “free trade unions”. Every party member who is able to must be obliged to join a trade union.
The development of the economic struggle will put enormous tasks before the reformist bureaucracy. The exploitation of the difficulties of the reformists can best be accomplished by a flexible and enterprising united front policy.
That the Left Opposition, in spite of its small numerical strength, can be in a position to occupy an honorable place in the mass struggle is shown by the experience of the Belgian comrades. In any case, It is the task of the Left Opposition to unfold the questions clearly before the Party, to outline the general perspectives, to formulate slogans of struggle. Now, less than ever, can the Left Opposition be permitted to remain a closed propaganda group, standing aside from the real development of the class struggle.
Every Bolshevik-Leninist must be a member of one mass organization or another, above all, of a trade union. Only under this condition will our organization keep their hand on the pulse of the proletariat and fulfill their role as the vanguard of the vanguard.
Last updated on: 27 October 2015