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The New International, October 1944

The International Communists of Germany

Capitalist Barbarism or Socialism

On the Development of Declining Capitalism, and on the Situation,
Tasks and Perspectives of the Labor Movement



Supplement to The New International, Vol. X No. 10, October 1944, pp. 329–352. [A]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.



We welcome the opportunity to publish the study of our German Fourth Internationalist comrades. It merits the closest attention of every reader who is interested in the question of the evolution of capitalist society and of the problems it raises for the working class and revolutionary Marxian movements.

In past issues of The New International, and in the political documents of the Workers Party, we have set forth and developed the theory that decaying capitalism, of which fascism is only the most brutal yet logical expression, is hurling society back to a new barbarism.

In this process, nations and peoples which long ago solved the problem of national independence and political democracy are once more faced with the need of fighting for national freedom and democratic rights. For millions of people in the modern parts of the world, class oppression becomes multiplied by national oppression, or, more accurately, becomes fused with it, and the economic and political status of these people is brought closer to the status of the peoples in the “classic” colonial and semi-colonial countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The relentless tendency in capitalism of a decreasing number of monopolists ruling over an increasing number of the oppressed, is coupled with the tendency of a decreasing number of imperialist nations ruling over an increasing number of oppressed nations. These tendencies manifest themselves in a general restriction and destruction of democratic rights and institutions, directed primarily at paralyzing the working class, or rather at aggravating a paralysis which permitted the development of these reactionary tendencies to take place without effective resistance.

However, precisely because class rule over the proletariat is intensified by the fusion of class and national oppression, it is not only galvanized into action once more but is able to proclaim a program which can rally all the oppressed classes around it more easily than ever for an assault upon the ruling state power. This tendency, too, has been amply and conclusively revealed in the growth of the revolutionary “underground national” movements of Europe during the war. The Marxian vanguard can be reconstituted and become a decisive force only in so far as it becomes part of such movements, becomes the most vigorous champion in the fight for democratic rights, infuses the masses in these movements with revolutionary class-consciousness, makes the proletarian class method of struggle prevail in them, and demonstrates in practice how the genuinely popular aspirations for democracy are fully realizable only in a socialist society.

The views of the German comrades, as elaborated in their document, are in fundamental solidarity with those summarized above. As the reader can see, the Germans present a motivation of their own. To be sure, the establishment of a common standpoint between us on the tasks of the proletariat and the revolutionary vanguard in the present period – and this is now decisive – does not necessarily imply literal agreement with every single word in the German document. Indeed, so far as the section on Russia is concerned, our differences with the views of Trotsky, which the German comrades still seem to accept, at least by implication, are too familiar to need special emphasis. However, as the authors write, they are not “proclaiming unassailable truths,” and, like ourselves, they are ready to participate seriously in a serious discussion.

The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party, which has found pretext after pretext, each less subtle than the other, for not bringing the German contribution to the attention of its membership and the readers of its press. We publish it gladly, and thereby maintain the tradition of The New International with respect to the discussion of the problems and tasks of revolutionary Marxism. Upon those to whom Marxism is a closed book – in both senses of the term! – the contribution of the German comrades may have as little effect as have other serious contributions to the development of Marxian thought and action. Happily, they are in a minority among the supporters of the Fourth International. One of our aims is to keep them in that state.

The New International


The reader will note that we reprint in this supplement the first section of the document, which was first printed in last month’s issue of The New International. This is done not only to make the entire document conveniently available, but because we have had the opportunity since last month to make a number of corrections in the translation that make for clearer reading.

Capitalist Barbarism or Socialism


The following study on the development taking place in declining capitalism and its significance for the labor movement was written between the end of May and the beginning of September 1943. The presentation revolves around certain opinions that we have of the essence of imperialism, and which (for the purpose of speedy mutual understanding among us and because everything must be given a name) we have called for the past twelve years “the theory of the retrogressive movement.” By this we mean: In the last stage of imperialism, the economy, the politics and so forth of bourgeois society develop backward in a peculiar manner. The course, the results, the perspectives of this “backward development” – these are the themes with which we deal.

Originally, this presentation was directly bound up with the discussion over the so-called “national question.” Two years ago (in the December 1942 issue) our Three Theses appeared in the Fourth International. Comrade Max Shachtman referred repeatedly to these Three Theses in The New International (they were reprinted here in London too by the then still “unofficial” group of the Workers International League). When they were finally published in the Fourth International (they actually date back to October 19, 1941) they were accompanied by a criticism of Comrades Morrow and Morrison. In his article, Comrade Morrow explicitly called upon us to answer his criticism and to think out pur position “to its ultimate implication.” Although belatedly, as a result of unfavorable conditions, we fulfilled his request gladly. In this sense, consequently, our work had its origin in the request of Comrade Morrow. After its completion, however, we abbreviated it considerably and eliminated the entire polemic for the most variegated reasons (obstacles placed in the way of its translation, difficulties encountered in publication, daily increasing gulf between the criticism and the reply, etc.). In so far as certain objections are still dealt with in general, they are of an anonymous, general, illustrative, and not particularly polemical nature. In brief: we confine ourselves here to presenting our position as a whole as well as we can. The entire document should be considered simply as an essay, such as may be written at any time in the interests of theoretical orientation.

That the questions dealt with here are of the greatest importance for the socialist movement, is beyond doubt. Naturally: we lay claim neither to the perfection of the presentation, nor to having proclaimed “unassailable truths.” Our views may be wrong, mistakes of fact may have occurred, etc. But on this score, we can be instructed only if we submit to open criticism. In this respect, a few words remain to be said:

Thirteen months – the period between the termination and the publication of our study – is a long time. The leadership of the Socialist Workers Party could not be persuaded in this period to assist us and to take over its publication. For our part, we have no intention of breaking out into loud complaints about the “bureaucratism” of the Socialist Workers Party leadership. Rather, we are of this opinion: Bureaucratism is always the symptom of a great political weakness and can be overcome only politically. Events are placing on the order of the day political decisions of the greatest purport. Whoever wants to remain behind must take the consequences upon his own shoulders. The SWP leadership’s superciliousness toward the stepchildren of the movement in Europe who are weighed down by “defeat,” is no proof of its ability to endure the trial by fire. In any case: we have no more time to lose and we hand this manuscript over to The New International all the more gladly because Max Shachtman was practically the only American comrade who (a) recognized the importance for the International of the questions raised in the Three Theses as far back as the time when they were written down (that is, in the autumn of 1942); and (b) pursued these questions energetically and worked out what is in our opinion a correct position. And that is all that is involved.


(International Communists of Germany)
London, September 1944

I – Declining Capitalism or ...?

Imperialism is declining, disintegrating, rotting, agonizing capitalism. The purely verbal acknowledgment of this definition is general. If, however, it is taken for what it is, i.e., a declaration that is concrete, well defined in content and weighty in consequences, substantial difficulties are most often immediately encountered. The most common objection that is then raised against a formula like “retrogressive development of economy,” sounds something like this: “Retrogressive development is nonsense – the development goes further and thereby creates ever new forms.”

Stagnation Equals Retrogression

The thoughtlessness that dominates this argument is obvious. Nobody of course conceives of the retrogressive development as a “dissolution” of capitalism into pre-capitalist forms of production. But taking this for granted, the mere assumption of a stagnation already embraces within itself a retrogression. With the famous grain of salt of the ancients, Marxists should speak of the “retrogressive development of capitalist economy” if only because the decay of capitalism in no wise takes place “without rule or regulation,” but is subject to the same laws that were immanent in its rise as well as in its highest development.

As a matter of fact, every organism, upon reaching maturity, brings along with it out of its midst also those conditions that disintegrate it, that bring about its decay and putrefaction, and “redevelop” it more and more toward its original state. In the course of this process, to be sure, it brings certain features more plainly into relief again; and while, on the one hand, these features had never left it, on the other hand they were more characteristic of the period of its birth, its early age or childhood. Such features (nothing more) sometimes even go back into the distant past, and that means here: back to already overcome economic forms. This is determined by the mere fact that there never were and never will be any pure economic forms in general and “pure” capitalism in particular. It is precisely from the impossibility of pure economic forms that arise the two laws regulating everything else and decisively influencing both the rise and decline of capitalism. We refer to (a) the law of uneven and (b) of combined development. For the moment, it suffices to say: It is unmistakable and most significant for capitalism that the violent-catastrophic character of the period of its origin predominates in it almost exclusively again in the period of its decay.

The Question of the Quality of the New Forms

In view of the neglect of economic questions, this point is important enough to scrutinize a little closer.

Lenin’s definition of imperialism is affirmed; the “overripeness” of capitalism is spoken of in a thousand articles and resolutions; documents (written by Trotsky) are sworn by in which may be read: “Capitalism has ceased to increase the material wealth of humanity; after the seizure of power, the proletariat will have to pay for the work of economic destruction of capitalism,” etc. This and much more already enjoys the status of the commonplace and – therewith everything apparently seems to be in the best of order. For when the attempt is made not to leave the “work of destruction” simply to itself but to grasp it as a retrogressive development or “retrogressive movement,” you run right into the pedantic-schoolmasterly forefinger in the shape of the “ever new forms.”

Due deference to the new forms. They nave their place and their significance. The question is what position do they occupy and can they alter the situation? If they could, then everything would be very simple.

“As is known,” however, the superiority of Marxism over bourgeois science is based precisely upon first disregarding apparent or real exceptions from the rule, upon considering the process as a whole, and only then showing how the observed deviations are nevertheless subject to the fundamental laws.

What is taking place before our very eyes and slipping into “ever new forms” is nothing but the “daily practice” (if you please) of the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation that Marx described. All that must be remembered is that this description, like all schematic illustrations, represents the so-to-speak “ideal” and not the real course of development. In reality, Marxism, in conformance with the dialectical method, is a doctrine of quality which explains the development as well as the decay of the capitalist mode of production by its internal contradictions. In doing so it endeavors constantly to fix the point where the quantitative growth of a phenomenon becomes decisive for the appraisal of the situation as a whole, that is, where quantity turns into quality.

Negative Definition

This other quality does not necessarily have to be of a “positive” nature. [1] If, in the investigation of a given organism – in our case, of imperialism – we come to the conclusion, anticipated in general by Marx and concretely drawn at least by all Marxists, that monopoly has become a fetter on the mode of production which bloomed with it and under it, that therefore the “productive forces have ceased to grow” (Trotsky), then we are obviously confronted with a turn of things on the “negative” or declining side. To put it differently: The definitive disintegration, putrefaction, stunting or “retrogressive development” of the organisms starts at the very moment when they have passed their highest degree of maturity. The antagonism inherent in them then experiences its uttermost accentuation and must destroy them.

Applied to capitalism this means: If in its “transformation period” it cannot be delivered at the right time from its antagonism and carried over into socialism, then its further existence must be considered and evaluated solely and exclusively from the standpoint of its inner decomposition. And what is then to be studied, and provided with practical conclusions, are only the forms in which the decomposition is carried through and consummated, despite the frequently contrary appearances. [2]

Retrogressive Development and Two Objections

In point of fact, there will be a great difference in conceptions, depending on whether the theory of imperialism as capitalism in decline is made one’s firm foundation, or one simply does without foundations altogether.

We proceed resolutely from the self-decomposition of monopoly capitalism and arrive first of all at the recognition of those economically and politically equally important phenomena of decay that were already enumerated (even if far from completely) in the Three Theses. To illustrate our position, let us take the following sentences from the first thesis:

“The prisons; new ghettoes; the labor, forced labor, concentration and war-prisoners’ camps are not only transitional political-military establishments, they are just as much forms of an exploitation which accompanies the economic development toward a modern slave state and are intended as the permanent fate of a considerable percentage of mankind ... The economic ruin is accompanied by a callous destruction of human lives and values and a migration of peoples of colossal extent. ‘Resettlements,’ transfer of workers, etc., which amounts to hundreds of thousands, follow the movement of armies of millions ... So mechanization with progressing capitalist application leads itself ad absurdum. The methods of destruction which are supposed to solve the crisis and lead to a solution, force production of further means of destruction and cause tremendous economic disproportions which subject the whole world. England and America answer German expansion with a rearming which is to surpass any previously known and again set back the production of consumption goods ... Uneven development is recapitulated in the whole world and along with it, agricultural production decreases constantly.”

Among this and other descriptions, it then says explicitly:

“... All this is the result of a process which began a long time ago and only increases in intensity in the present war. Far from being ‘planned organization,’ this process follows laws of compulsion and seeks to break through by force, where it cannot shake off, the competition on the international scale.”

First Objection

Against this one can raise two objections, the treatment of which carries us a step further even though they rest upon well-known quibbling. The first objection refers to the expression “slave state.” We are given lectures on the Egyptian slave state, which go right past the mark for the sufficient reason that, in distinction from the Egyptian and other slave states, we talk about the modern slave state. However, we will make a preliminary concession. Cross out the words “modern slave state” and simply read: “... forms of an exploitation which accompanies the economic development and is intended as the permanent fate of a considerable percentage of mankind.”

What has been altered by this manipulation? Nothing! A designation, for which one may find a better, has disappeared – the thing itself has remained. Here, too, the inherent difficulty will be overcome only if we think back upon the impossibility of pure economic forms. The minute the proletarian (for that matter, not he alone), who is rightly characterized under capitalism too as a “wage slave,” loses his right to strike, his freedom of movement and all political rights, he ceases to be the classic “free” proletarian whom rising capitalism required for its development and whom it “established” with the crudest methods of violence in numbers sufficient to its purpose. Although it continues to remain capitalism, putrefying capitalism nevertheless strengthens in its decline all the features which make up its “impurity” and point back toward its early stages. It transforms itself, the state and the proletarians to a substantial degree. Capitalism turns from progression to regression, the state becomes totalitarian, the proletarian becomes a modern slave.

The modern slave differs much less politically from the slave of antiquity than appears at first glance. Deprived of his political rights, robbed of his possibilities of organization, the lash-turned-revolver at his back, chained to a prescribed place, he no longer appears as the free seller of his labor power (this becomes increasingly the exception to the former rule). He is either barracked or subjected to direct state exploitation on a mass scale (and only because this is the case can the phenomenon of the modern slave tell us something about the character of the state and the economic development), or else “placed at the disposal” of private exploitation under state compulsion and at compulsory rates set by the state.

What is involved is an inescapable consequence of the whole preceding development. Do not imagine that this “feature of enslavement” that was long ago established in Europe will simply come to a halt before the gates of the U.S.A. The virginal American workers (and again, not they alone!) have already lost a great deal. They should be taught that within the framework of the general retrogression they are nevertheless being shoved along the solid, well-grooved European roads. In other words: the development toward the modern slave state is a world phenomenon which arises out of capitalist putrefaction. You can call this phenomenon whatever you judge best – but that will definitely not rid you of the matter itself.

Second Objection

The second objection is an attempt to get rid of it nevertheless. It is directed against the economic-political significance of the concentration camps, the forced-labor camps, the war-prisoners’ camps, etc., themselves. The existence, and even the “significance,” of these phenomena cannot be denied. But they are treated as what they are not: only transitional political-military establishments, simply measures and institutions for war preparation. They have nothing to do with economic development – at most only as war preparation. The contention that they are intended as the permanent fate of a considerable percentage of mankind, is ridiculous. As usual, an “exception” is discovered which, in the imagination of the naive, annuls all. The alleged exception is the word “war prisoners.” Because there were already war prisoners in the previous war; because they were utilized for labor at that time too; because the war-prisoners’ camps were nevertheless dissolved at the end of the war and the prisoners sent home ... therefore we are refuted, and the contention of exploitive forms as concomitants of the development to the modern slave state, including the contention of its “durability,” is absurd.

The story of the war prisoners is, to be sure, one which is promptly liquidated by showing that it does not terminate at the point where the schoolbooks give no further answer. We have seen how the development to the modern slave state takes place also quite independently of the particular phenomenal forms out of which we adduced it (as conspicuously concrete proof). In exactly the same way, the special forms of exploitation and enslavement exist now quite independently of whether we were mistaken about the “war prisoners” or not.

Cross out the war prisoners. What has been altered by this manipulation? Nothing! One of the forms has disappeared – the phenomenon and its significance for the “enslavement” remain.

It is known that the German “economic miracle” (primarily the elimination of unemployment) was accomplished as a preparation for the Second Imperialist World War, by means of the extension and construction of the so-called industry of destruction. It is known that America, in the course of the same endeavors since its entry into the war, has almost succeeded in making unemployment “disappear.” But on the one side, much too little attention is paid to the importance of the role that the German camp-system played precisely in the matter of eliminating unemployment. On the other hand, however, it would be a crass blunder to regard the German camp-system as a specifically German affair. On the contrary! Germany had many models (in Italy, in the Balkans, in Russia) for the modern methods of oppression and exploitation. It is a question of forms, appearing after the First World War and taking on an ever greater mass character, which have spread throughout the earth and like everything else only increase in the present war (as, for example, in America, where the measures taken against the Japanese appear as a direct consequence of the war).

We live in the epoch of imperialism, which is, par définition, the epoch of wars, revolutions and (unfortunately also) counterrevolutions. We can explain absolutely nothing and only move in the familiar “vicious circle,” if we deny the “permanent” character of the camp-system, as well as its growing significance as a future form of exploitation, and depict it as a measure taken for the preparation of the war or else as a purely war measure in general.

A fine circle indeed: to refer to the war for the measures, and to the measures for the war! It follows from the mere definition of imperialism why counter-revolution and war become ever more exclusively the “normal state” of humanity, the further the putrefaction goes as a consequence of revolutionary weakness. Right after the First World War, which sped the general breakthrough of the “great sickness,” imperialism reproduced and increased everything that could be explained up to then as mere war measures or as occasional, isolated political measures.

The social antagonisms are always operative, war is always their consequence; hence, measures and their abolition, pressure and counter-pressure, follow in constant succession. However, it is only imperialism that brings both measures and pressures into a special system (fascism as an international phenomenon belongs under this heading) and inundates the earth more and more with “phenomena” such as concentration camps, political prisons, solitary prisons, labor service, forced labor, forced migrations, punitive expeditions against workers and peasants, mass executions, extermination of all (and therefore also of bourgeois) opposition, eradication of all rights, bureaucratic command and bureaucratic arbitrariness, spydom and stoolpigeonry, police-military surveillance of the people, etc., ad infinitum. These phenomena may be distributed in accordance with the state of the (always uneven) development or the national coloration of the different countries. They are nevertheless omnipresent, and short of the socialist revolution they can no longer be conceived of as non-existent in the life of the modern nations. What were formerly “measures” or isolated cases now become lasting institutions and mass phenomena. They are equally significant from the political and economic, the social and military standpoints, and can be separated from each other, at most, in the “mind,” but no longer in the reality.

It is a veritable transformation of quantity into quality that has occurred. For just as the war becomes the “mode of existence” of the peoples and is ever more total, universal and intensive, so naturally also do the measures that prepare it, the consequences that accompany it, the far-reaching changes that it produces. “With reasoned understanding and understanding reason,” it will therefore be necessary also to count precisely the war-prisoners’ camps among those institutions that are becoming permanent and whose economic significance has been transformed profoundly in comparison with the First World War. The war prisoners nowadays are put at the service of total warfare in an entirely different manner than in the previous World War, when they were almost exclusively employed for mere auxiliary services.

II – The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation
in Putrefying Capitalism

The next step in the elucidation of our position consists in the treatment of a point which plays an enormous role in the Three Theses as the “quintessence” of our conception. This point is theoretically anchored in the question of capitalist accumulation. It will permit the basic tendency to appear clearly and so bring the “retrogressive development” and the feature of enslavement into the proper light.

In this we simply assume that the more specific problem of accumulation has been clarified. The dispute over this problem has, it is true, continued unabated since the appearance of Rosa Luxemburg’s book. But for Marxists there is good reason for this (regardless of the absolute necessity of participating in the discussion). It is a complex problem for all its simplicity, and the conscious and unconscious lackeys of the bourgeoisie (the Stalinists included) have been hard at work to muddle it up. We will yet strike the trail of the mystery when we turn to the “historical tendency of capitalist accumulation” described by Marx, and follow it concretely.

Marx’s Presentation of the Question

In the famous, and therefore all the less understood, passage on the subject, Marx says:

“As soon as ... the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet ... the further expropriation of private proprietors takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the laborer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many laborers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalist production itself, by the centralization of capital. One capitalist always kills many ... Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital ... 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. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. 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.

As always with Marx, these apparently “abstract” sentences enclose a tremendous concrete content, and are formed by an incomparable genius which, on the one hand, constructs the definition of the tendency vaguely enough in order to be able to encompass all “unforeseen” intermediate links [3], but, on the other hand, definitely enough to exclude radically any other development but the one given. The center of gravity of the investigation lies, with Marx, in the following assertion: “Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation.”

Marx rightly sought to fix the “knell of capitalist private property” naturally, and placed the negation at the point where, in his own words, a handful of usurpers confront the masses of the people. And in the historical reality, the development has indeed long ago reached the point where not only does one capitalist kill off many, but where the point of negation “ideally” defined in Marx’s analysis likewise finds practical confirmation in the victory of the Russian Revolution.

The question arises: What happens if, in this stage of monopoly-capitalistic maturity, the world revolution is crushed or – regardless of what the reasons for it – cannot be accomplished? Does the development stand still then, or does it proceed in undefined directions?

The mere putting of this question is sufficient to show the absurdity of all attempts to resist the conception of the “retrogressive movement.” For it is then that the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation forces its way through in a new stage of development (which Marx was neither required to foresee nor to take into consideration in the theoretical analysis) with an even greater brutality and intensity which makes everything that went before it look like mere prelude, because everything that hitherto hampered its “blindly operating average” is now trampled under foot by a bourgeoisie conscious of its mortal peril.

In considering this new stage – it is the stage of imperialist putrefaction and agony that generally preoccupies us – we can less than ever overlook the fact that Marx traced the collapse of the capitalist mode of production to accumulation itself, by demonstrating that it is this accumulation that constantly narrows the living space of capitalism out of its own self (independently of the question of the extension of the market). It is therefore no foreign force that devours capitalism, but (to use a term from Hegel) “its own nature.”

Only when this is grasped and held to firmly can we avoid the most common mistake, which rests upon a complete misunderstanding of Marxism, and which consists in conceiving the negation of capitalism only as the task of the proletarian revolution (although capitalism “generates” it, to be sure). The creation of an industrial proletariat by capitalism, called upon to overturn it, is certainly part of the material premises, through which and with which the capitalist mode of production also generates its own negation. But this is only one side of the question. The expropriation of the capitalists that accomplishes itself through the interplay of the immanent laws of capitalist production; the monopoly of capital as a fetter on this mode of production, which flourished with it and under it; the natural necessity of the process of its own negation, etc. – these are the other sides, which must be understood entirely in the material sense as just so many premises of the self-negation.

This means: capitalism generates its material negation even if the proletarian revolution fails to take place. It is precisely this deepest aspect of the nature of capitalism (with the grasping of which we have also caught up with the mystery, revealed by Marx, of the specific problems of accumulation) that puts the proletarian class before the categorical imperative: Accomplish the revolution – or suffer the penalty of ruin! It is not arbitrariness, but an all-embracing perception that makes Marx emphasize in this passage, next to the growth of misery and exploitation, the growth of oppression, slavery, degradation.

Self-Negation in the Historical Reality

In the historical reality, the material self-abolition of capitalism is already prepared for concretely by that new form of the expropriation of the private proprietors which has as its content the centralization of capital and the killing off of the many capitalists by the few. Marx’s presentation can now be resumed from the start and followed up in correspondence with the new stage of development. Then it must be said:

As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed monopoly capitalism in depth and scope (and that has been taking place from the outbreak of the First Imperialist World War up to the Second), the further expropriation of the private proprietors once more takes on a new form. What is now to be expropriated is no longer the capitalist exploiting many workers, but the nation exploited by a handful of monopolists. This expropriation is accomplished by the interplay of the immanent laws of monopoly-capitalist development itself, by the centralization of the most important industries in the highly-capitalist countries. One capitalist nation kills off many. Hand in hand with this centralization or the expropriation of many nations by the few, the state-compulsory-regulated form of the labor process develops on a constantly growing scale. So does the conscious technical application of science for the purpose of limiting and destroying certain branches of production in favor of others, the planfully contracted exploitation of the earth (in the first place, by the devaluation, effected by the progress of science, of such sources of raw materials, and the industries based upon them, that make up the wealth of other nations; in the second place, by contracting, shutting down and destroying precisely those branches of production that threaten the maintenance of monopoly on this level at home and abroad); the limitation of means of work that can be employed only in common, only to means of work permitted by the state; the economizing of all means of production for the production of means of destruction, defense and domination; the entanglement of all peoples in the net of capitalist decomposition; and therewith the internationally destructive character of imperialist rule.

Accompanying the constantly declining number of monopoly-capitalist nations, which usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this transformation process, is a further growth of the mass of misery, of oppression, of bondage, of depravity, of exploitation, which are joined by the wiping out of political freedom, physical extirpation, subjugation and enslavement. The industrial monopoly of a few countries becomes the direct source of destruction of the mode of production, which flourished with it and under it. The masses of the people in these countries, like the masses of the other peoples, are violently thrust back by it into those conditions from which the development of capitalism once redeemed them (in great part by the use of violence): out of slavery, bondage, lack of national independence, industrial dependency and backwardness, into industrial backwardness and dependency, lack of national independence, bondage and slavery.

The rebellion of the working class, which has been hurled back by the mechanism of imperialism into a state of unorganization, dismembered, atomized, split up, counterposed to each other in its various strata, politically demoralized, internationally isolated and controlled (and whose organizations have been eviscerated, corrupted, paralyzed, decimated with the aid of their imperialistically-degenerated leadership, and which are finally smashed and extirpated along with every kind of bourgeois organization and opposition), likewise assumes a new form under the new conditions. It becomes more comprehensive and general; it finds a mighty prop in the rebellion of the peoples and nations who are suppressed, thrust back, oppressed, enslaved and levelled through the monopoly of the few nations, but by the same token also united against this monopoly and schooled by its mechanism; and it restores the shredded internationalism of the movement upon a more universal plane. Still more: it prepares the ground for the “classic ideal” of the labor movement, for the accomplishment of the proletarian revolution as a simultaneous world-revolution. The centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labor reach a point where they invade the foundations of the capitalist mode of production itself, where the capacity of accumulation collides with its internal limits and convulses the whole social structure from top to bottom. They become incompatible with the co-existence of developed capitalist nations. They burst their international integument and prepare a further step in the material self-abolition of capitalism by “transplanting” the important industries of the subjugated nations to the subjugating “motherland” and converting capitalist nations into a “hinterland” in a colonial and semi-colonial sense. The knell of monopoly-capitalist private property sounds. The monopolistic expropriators are expropriated. The capitalist mode of production begets its own negation with the inexorability of a law of nature even if the socialist revolution fails to come.

Next Perspectives

This is the deepest essence of the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation. It is from this essence alone that the alternative is derived: socialist revolution or barbarism. The end of all civilization is no puerile bugaboo; it is a scientific prognosis which has already assumed terrible reality and yet is merely at its inception. With every passing day it will only become a more terrible reality, for (once more to summarize in Marx’s way): the transformation of capitalist nations into industrially dependent countries, into colonies and semi-colonies, is of course a process that is incomparably more violent, sanguinary, cruel, destructive and difficult than the transformation of liberal capitalism into imperialism. It is a process that appears before us as the horrible battle for self-preservation of a society doomed to death, and harks back in reverse order to the end of the Middle Ages, the epoch of “primitive accumulation,” the Thirty Years War, the bourgeois revolutions, etc. In those days it was a question of smashing an outlived economic form and of winning the independence of nations – now it is a question of abolishing independence and of shoving society back to the barbarism of the Middle Ages.

It is not for nothing that the Three Theses begin and end with the assurance: “This is a war of long duration, which must completely destroy all human culture, if the rebellion of the masses does not end it.” The socialist revolution has always been placed before the proletariat as a task whose solution was to save humanity from ruin. As a result of the “half-way measures, weaknesses, paltriness of its first attempts” (Marx), impeded in its course, the socialist revolution receded before the counter-revolution and therewith did its share in paving the road for the putrefaction of society. But with the accentuation of the problem, and the international collapse of capitalism, there is also once more a sharpening of the conditions which contain within themselves the solution. Putrefying capitalism is counterposing itself to the entire world. It simplifies the problem of the proletarian revolution by its accentuation: it now appears as the saving solution, which is the direct task of humanity itself.

The war has “in ever-increasing tempo changed the economic, political and social face of the earth.” Thus the Three Theses. Profound convulsions follow profound changes. Woe to those who remain stuck in traditionalistic half-way measures, weaknesses, paltriness and who understand the living spirit of the times as if it were (in Goethe’s words) the miserable “Gentlemen’s own spirit, in which the times are reflected as in a mirror.” For the last time, guided by Marx: There it is a question of the expropriation of the monopolists of many nations by the few monopolists in the “usurper nations”; here it is a question of the expropriation of a few monopolists in the usurper nations by the masses of the people from India to America, from Africa to Norway, from Australia to Germany, from China to the Balkans, from Russia to England ...

III – The Economic-Political Background
of the Retrogressive Movement

In so far as we have followed the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation in decadent capitalism, we have also already described a part of the “retrogressive movement,” which is theoretically founded on the knowledge that the development of capitalism, on the grounds presented (the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production), inevitably returns to its points of departure. That is, despite all the alterations of the foundations, and the preservation of the connection with what has already been achieved, these foundations narrow. And from the attained (through which the whole process receives its peculiar lawfulness and its specific stamp) it must nevertheless create conditions in economics, politics, social relations, etc., which are like the conditions of the epoch of the origins of capitalism, at first in a highly condensed form, only to assume in its further development ever more explicit, ever more general, ever more backward-reaching features. The theory of the retrogressive movement, is therefore no more than the theoretical grasp of the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production at the point of transformation into their opposite, in the reversal determined by its contents, in which they become concretely demonstrable laws of its collapse independent of the proletarian revolution.

We have not separated the basic theorem for a single instant from the combined and uneven development. Hence, we have always conceived the retrogressive movement as being uneven and combined. Hence, we have made the proletarian resolution, as a factor which is both objective and subjective, both positive and negative (necessarily unleashing the counterrevolution, if it stops half-way), a part of the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production itself. Hence, we have fixed the beginning of the retrogressive movement quite concretely in the Russia of the victorious October revolution. Hence, we have incorporated the victorious October revolution in the retrogression, considering it in its inner contradiction as an isolated revolution in its counter-revolutionary transformation: Hence, we have explained the collapse of capitalism independently of the proletarian revolution as only a theoretical independence, which appears in its historical form as dependence upon the revolution. (To define it even more exactly: the capitalist mode of production breaks down independently of its overthrow by the revolution, but the revolution enters as an integral part in the historical process of its collapse.)

The bewilderment which in our experience usually overwhelms the reader confronted with such unusual formulations resolves itself as a rule into positive understanding upon more detailed observation.

Basic Direction of Capitalist Development

Historically, capitalist development begins with the compact unevenness which contains all the economic, social and political formations from primitive communism to feudalism, both in independently preserved and combined forms. Capitalism now continues to preserve them in part, and in part to develop them unevenly and in a combined form. Broadly speaking, capitalist development itself proceeded on these existing foundations from the West to the East, from England through France to Germany and Russia; just as in general the capitalist mode of production subjugated the world from Europe, and its destiny was decided in Europe.

For, what takes place outside of Europe – say, in America and Japan – is no more than a vastly-dimensioned epilogue of a drama which in its main outlines has been finished. The epilogue introduces no really original feature, not a single essential alteration, into the picture. It does not even reach the level of the new technological revolution in Germany; it imitates it. It only sets its seal upon the real drama and introduces itself from the beginning as a mixture of the most extreme unevenness and the most extreme combination, of the most extreme backwardness and the most extreme technical progress [4], of skyscrapers and caves, of high capitalism and semi- or complete feudalism, of man’s devastation of nature and national parks, of “complete” democracy and disfranchisement in practice, of agriculture and industry, of science and superstition, of swindling and bigotry, etc. – a mixture which, with all its social and political peculiarities (Negro question, etc.), had disappeared from the life of the advanced capitalist countries of Europe, except for comparatively trivial remnants, and which was once again reinforced in all Europe only after the great crisis of the system emanating from America.

The rest of the world, its largest part by population and area, was never “capitalist.” It was subjugated to the rule of capitalism as a colony or half-colony but was never able to taste the blessings of an independent industrial development – or else was forcibly repressed in this development (e.g., India by England). The further we go from the dominating advanced capitalist countries of England and Germany, and the especially favored countries like France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, the greater grows the universally persisting “impurity” (combination) or the mixture especially characteristic of America and Japan with its political-social infirmities, vanishing in ever greater backwardness and finally in purely pre-capitalist conditions.

The Role of the Undeveloped Countries

Political development, the development of bourgeois freedom (democracy) and of the labor movement naturally reflects everywhere the economic situation. The more undeveloped the country, the less the bourgeois tasks (agrarian reform, etc.) are solved – the greater the lack of political freedom, the greater the semi-legality or illegality of the labor movement, the more pronounced the medieval forms of rule. In Spam, Italy, throughout the Balkans, etc., the labor movement does not emerge from semi-legality or illegality at all, or else only for the short span of the revolutionary assault which is paid for by intensified misery. But all these countries are in no way decisive for the development. Their significance is episodic and is absorbed in larger processes (e.g., Poland and Czechoslovakia as independent political miscarriages by the grace of imperialism in its weak hours after the First World War). Or, they have more significance as “objects” in the very early capitalist efforts criss-crossing .with the still earlier “bequeathed” efforts to hinder the independent development of such countries and keep them down (here again Poland, Czechoslovakia, Balkans, etc.). On the basis of the attained imperialist decay which excludes any higher development on this foundation, all these countries fight the political vanguard battles for imperialist political reaction, in accordance with their position and significance as the rearguard (the retarded) of capitalist development itself. As we have repeatedly shown, the whole development preserves during its rise a complete connection with all the past (from the most primitive forms of society through slavery and feudalism) and it preserves during its decline the same connection with what is already achieved. This is why the assertion that nobody has conceived of the retrogression as the dissolution of capitalism into pre-capitalist forms of production, must be understood only as a denial of an absolute dissolution. The law that no connection can ever go lost is a general dialectical law of every development in general, which progresses through quantitative and qualitative increase (alternatively and simultaneously) and under certain conditions turns into its previous opposite.

Historical Limits of Capitalism

Thus imperialism finds already at hand the political prototype for rule over large masses in those places where its inner ability to disturb the economic “sleep of the world” has met its limit. We do not need to go far to seek this prototype. It is already there in the sphere of interests of British imperialism, in those parts of India which British imperialism could never actually subjugate, being restricted not least of all by the instinctive fear of unfettering forces which would prepare its own premature end. Here England and the other imperialisms have nothing to seek economically or only something very indirectly. Here (and in other areas of the world) nothing has changed economically qualitatively, and the old political forms remain which correspond to economic conditions of a thousand years ago. Nevertheless, these areas provide the general background for the retrogressive movement. They are the historical limits in which the inner limit of the capacity to accumulate, growing out of the essence of capitalism itself, runs its course and manifests itself, precisely historically, concretely and actually, as the inability to colonize the world thoroughly. As we have seen, the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation is the executor of the breakdown of the capitalist mode of production, which it carries out in historically concrete ways long before the abstract-theoretically conceivable extension of capitalism all over the world is reached. Thus these “untouched” areas are a symbol of the future of capitalist humanity. They are the reverse image of capitalist development which must lead to the same petrification in the forms of private property, if humanity does not find the way out through the abolition of private property which capitalism has for the first time made possible.

Undeveloped Countries as Precursors of Fascism

Against this general background of the retrogressive movement (its historical pivot in the framework of uneven development) its concrete forms stand out all the more distinctly, the closer we move from the prototype of economic-political petrification, to the highly capitalist countries. In the colonies and semi-colonies there persist the direct and indirect methods of suppression, or methods of suppression combined with the “primitive” forms of rule (they are strengthened according to need and often relaxed under pressure of the conditions, but never altered) which capitalism introduced there from the beginning for the purpose of petrification. Coming back from the colonies, the undeveloped capitalist countries, on the basis of the existing “mixture” and of what has been achieved at any given time, carry on the already defined vanguard battles for the form of rule which corresponds best to declining capitalism. Each in its way in a blind alley, each economically disintegrating with its peculiar conditions, they seek to stabilize the putrefaction and bring about the petrification by recasting the feudal-monarchical system, with or without royal approval, support and toleration, into open military dictatorship, into semi- and wholly fascist systems.

All the Balkans, Hungary, Poland, the Baltic countries and Spain are overlaid with such dictatorial systems. The noble “democracy” of Masaryk keeps to an intermediate course, living on Allied help and the suppression of the national minorities, until these minorities, like those in the Saar region, throw themselves in desperation into the arms of German fascism and the rest of Czechoslovakia can be annexed. In this way, profound devastations are heralded, forcing the ruling classes to “overcome” the hopeless economic situation by political measures which in their turn are again directed to the transformation of social and economic life, i.e., which allow of no other way out save by the road back.

The Position of Italy

In the chain of these countries, a country like Italy assumes a position highly characteristic of the lawful consequences of the retrogressive movement. It was the earliest precursor of capitalist production (which first became definitive and world-transforming in England) and then was thrown back by the further development and transformed into the eternal imperialist camp-follower. Too important to content itself with the pretensions of small nations, too insignificant to realize greater pretensions, this neck of land sticking out of the south of Europe leans like the index on the scales to the momentarily stronger with the purpose of getting an appropriate share of the booty. Always disappointed, always deprived of the fruits of its efforts, always the betrayer betrayed, always hurled back, like no other European great power, Italy was the first to face the decadence of capitalism in the post-war imperialist era. In this situation it again assumed among the great European powers the position of precursor of a development which this time flowed in the opposite direction, clearly backward, into the past. That is, Italy inaugurated the narrower or special retrogressive movement and typified the political system, which is, on the one hand, the political expression of economic decline in the advanced capitalist countries themselves; on the other hand, the special form of rule which imperialism now needs above all also for the solution of the actual imperialist problems. However, the second imperialist war did not yet stand in the foreground but rather the social question which arose before the ruling classes in a series of revolutionary uprisings and heralded the “natural end” of capitalism. It is the social question whose counter-revolutionary “solution” forms the lawfulness of the retrogressive movement down to the last detail.

IV – Fundamental Moments in the Transition
to the Retrogressive Movement

In order to be able really to understand the whole process, a simultaneousness of thought must be presupposed which is guaranteed only by the dialectic and the ability obtained thereby to see everything at any given moment and yet to select, to abstract and yet to generalize. In the preceding sections, we have practiced this kind of thinking, and we now add the attempt to sketch a simultaneous picture. The development in the period of rising capitalism and of imperialism “in its prime” is formed concretely by three basic moments.

Division of the World

First, by the necessity to divide the world among the capitalist nations. In this again, uneven and combined development plays the major role and gains for the stronger or especially favored nations (e.g., Holland) an appropriate cut. The division obviously does not proceed without force. In addition to colonial conquest and the economic arm of competition, the competition with arms appears from the beginning, asserting itself in a series of wars and building up the relation of the stronger nations among each other and toward the weaker nations. But, in this whole period, which lasts till the first imperialist war, there is a growth of the productive forces which increases the material wealth and the line of ascent is, on the whole, maintained.

“Regulation” of the Labor Movement

The second moment is the necessity of holding down and rendering innocuous the proletariat and its movement, produced by capitalism as the living negation of itself. In the ascending period this is achieved not so much by force but rather through a system of “accommodations” (concessions, social legislation) and by material and ideological corruption which, on the whole, advance capitalism, for up to a certain point the labor movement is as necessary for the development of capitalism as are national independence and political freedom. As soon as the bourgeoisie, with the help of the proletariat, has attained enough freedom of movement for itself and for the development of free competition, the problem is restricted more to liquidating the labor movement’s aspirations to political independence and power, and to confining the matter within administrative-trade-union limits.

In England, the question was resolved more easily because of the material wealth of the Empire, i.e., by virtue of the politically-corrupting participation of broad sections of the workers in the so-called surplus profit: present and future seem equally assured and exert a debilitating political effect.

In France, after the war with the stronger rival, Germany, and the heroic intermezzo of the Paris Commune, the situation was likewise stabilized on the basis of agriculture and the luxury industries which opened up a broad perspective and also infected the labor movement with the petty-bourgeois “ideal of the coupon-clipper.” Socialism in France is more a rhetorical threat (the prevailing syndicalism) than a politically organized power.

In Germany, on the other hand, the problem was already more difficult. After the overcoming of the initial obstacles on both sides (founding years and anti-socialist law), the problem was mastered by virtue of the imperialist perspective that appeared at the time, mastered mainly ideologically, with the help of revisionism. German revisionism was predominantly a post-dated note on what was current exchange in England. The corrupting kernel of this ideology was: capitalism will grow and with it the power of the labor movement, which, in the person of its leadership (for the most part also already materially corrupted), will grow into the state and conquer it peaceably (guarantee: freedom of suffrage). It was the invasion of petty-bourgeois thinking into the labor movement and, as such, a typical reflexion in the heads of the labor leaders of young German imperialism at its optimistic beginnings.

German revisionism was the theoretical culmination and systematization of all other “methods of paralysis,” done with German thoroughness and joyfully greeted internationally as the “supplementary” method for the “regulation” of the labor movement. Everywhere it found its corresponding expression: In Russia in “economism,” in France in Millerand’s “ministerialism,” in England among the Fabians, who, with deeper significance, called themselves a “society.” [5] But only in Germany did it have a decisive and fatal function. In Russia, neither the one nor the other method caught on. There all relations were so sharp that the revolutionary method of the proletariat could rout all other forces from the field and make the solution of the problem impossible for the ruling classes.

Free Competition Among Workers and Capitalists

The third moment is generally determinant: Free competition among the capitalists and workers. Competition among the workers is used both as a means of paralyzing and of splitting the labor movement, but it is temporarily decreased both by further development (which produces leveling as well as differentiation) and with the aid of trade unions, until it rises again in its most horrible form in the world crisis following the First World War, when the million-headed army of the unemployed splits the working class into, so to speak, an active and a passive section. Under mass unemployment, competition among workers already assumes the form of a split of society as a whole. For wide layers of the petty bourgeoisie, of the independent artisan, of the intellectuals, etc., are drawn in and confront society threateningly. Out of the declassed elements of the intellectuals, petty bourgeoisie and workers, out of the slum proletariat, fascism recruits the storm troops with which it threatens the demands of the workers, strikes down their movement and stabilizes, organizes and systematizes the decay.

Free competition among the capitalists is likewise temporarily mitigated by the formation of monopolies, i.e., so long as the development progresses upward. But free competition persists by the side of and above monopoly (nationally and internationally, as on the other hand it is further constituted above and by the side of free competition out of which it grows).

From the co-existence of free competition and monopoly, from the competition of monopolies among themselves, develops a “series of especially crass and harsh contradictions, frictions and conflicts” (Lenin), which react powerfully upon all social institutions. For the anarchy of social production under the rule of free competition is deepened by the devastating economic disproportions which monopoly creates.

The highest expression of such disproportions is the armaments industry whose development becomes compulsory with the development of monopoly because the whole capitalist development, propelled by free competition, drives toward the most violent conflict of monopoly, the imperialist war. The relation of the stronger nations to one another is shifted by the course of industrial development, especially in heavy industry, which becomes obsolete in the “more saturated” countries and therefore makes their industrial basis too weak for their foreign possessions.

The disproportion which arises in this way is extended by the industrial camp-follower, Germany, which utilizes all the advantages of its position, immediately speaks the last word in industrial development, and, paradoxically, becomes rich and powerful enough as the “armaments factory of the world” to be able to climb up the back of its English competitor equipped with the most modern weapons.

Intervention of the Social Question

The social question, in its modern form, not as bourgeois reform, etc., but as proletarian revolution, is already essentially involved in the constitution of this inherently unavoidable development. England regards the growing power of Germany with mixed feelings, but its forces remain bound by the question which henceforth is a weighty element of its “balance of power” policy. What will the now revolutionary party of the proletariat and the strong German working class, in general, do, if its immediate demands cannot be satisfied and its “taming” is frustrated? The answer is clear, and wisdom of class interests demands that the day of reckoning be postponed to a more favorable time. Growing tolerance of German industrial and military armament is the price which England pays for the taming of the German labor movement.

Meanwhile the disproportions grow in length and breadth throughout the whole world. The industrial and agricultural development in North and South America press down upon conditions in Europe and deepen the industrial and agricultural antagonisms. The undeveloped and dependent countries, especially the Balkans, groan and ache under a development which makes them the football of imperialist interests and involves them in the armaments race as dependents of the great powers.

All the especially crass and harsh contradictions cut into and cut across the Balkans – all the frictions and conflicts stemming from industrial monopoly with a compactness which has justifiably given them the name “power keg of Europe.” When the sparks catch fire and England, with the knife at its throat, decides to fight, it is, however, already certain that the German working class will not intervene. This main danger temporarily excluded, the war itself makes the disproportions unadjustable and incurable.

Depending on the social question which rises again revolutionarily as the result of the especially crass contradiction between possible well-being and actual destruction, the disproportions become autonomous and drive in the direction of the Second World War which is to solve all of the now intensified problems on which the First World War broke down internally. They bear down again upon the whole of economic life, upon competition among capitalists and workers, and create that situation which splits the population into employed and unemployed (including the rural population and even the peasants). The epoch of war, revolutions and counter-revolutions is opened, the impossibility of capitalist society is proved: Marx’s prophesy has been fulfilled that it will bring itself to the point where it must feed its slaves instead of being fed by them.

V – Ascending Development in Contrast
to Retrogressive Movement

The historic limit for the ascent of the capitalist mode of production was supplied by the building up of the British Empire. The position of England as the classical country of the capitalist mode of production in agriculture and as the early industrial monopolist (a position which for its part it attained in the framework of uneven and combined development) influenced the whole development of capitalism. This occurred in a manner which proved decisive in the last analysis, in all spheres of economic, social and political life, if we disregard all modifications, setbacks, interludes, etc. The latter were engendered by the English development itself and introduced concrete ramifications into the whole line of development. By that very fact, they prepared the collapse of capitalism in its seed, or better, contained it embryonically.

Question of Method

Here, where we are considering all sorts of concrete facts and forms almost only in so far as they are important for knowing and presenting fundamental characteristics, for the rest deriving the concrete forms (deductively) from the general laws, let us disregard all correlative phenomena. Let us present the scheme of the retrogressive movement as a result of a general development, which occurred actually and historically in this manner and in no other.

Thus, in the presentation, we derive the general lawfulness not so much from the historical result, as we do the particular historical result from the general lawfulness. It may take this or that historical phenomenal form but in the essential result it is always inevitable. The so-called inductive method, however, much as it belongs with the deductive, tells us little about the tendency of development because it is lost in a mass of details and accidents. The deductive method, however, derives the tendency from the laws of motion themselves, puts the details in their proper place and works them in as unessential modifications of the one basic tendency.

The historical result of the retrogressive movement is, to be sure, realized in the concrete ways which capitalist development has once taken. Therefore it has the ascending development of capitalism as its historical premise and its exact counterpart.

We summarize the ascending development in a series of historical facts which need not be proved anew. What the adducing of such facts makes necessary and fruitful for our investigation is the simple fact that in their mere succession they yield qualitative variations in the basic moments which lead to the transformation and call forth the retrogressive movement.


In this sense: Only one drop of genuine capitalist blood sufficed to permeate the world organism and to establish the reign of the new mode of production on land and sea, in the air and under the earth. An island realm, a spot in the seas and oceans, stretching before the European continent like a watchdog, came by means of that capitalist blood to attain an empire of unprecedented dimensions and to assure itself strong points, spheres of influence and markets throughout the world.


A second drop of the same blood was already enough to saturate the organism. The French attempt to get the upper hand over British imperialism went to pieces. Thereafter, France’s role was limited essentially to filling the gaps which the previous development had left and no longer to endanger seriously England’s interests. From the fall of Napoleon to the second imperialist world war, France can no longer escape dependence on England and must – bon gré, mal gré – rest content with playing second fiddle to English politics.


The third drop already brought the world organism to the fever stage of super-saturation. Industrial competition found the important channels clogged and permitted no other significant sideline development (as in France). A sideline remained – industrial armament on the basis of the arms industry. The products were taken by the whole world, not least of all by England which needed them to consolidate its world domination and thought she would utilize them one day against their dangerous producer.

Thereby the fever rose. The side-line became the main line and posed the problem of imperialist capitalism for the first time in history, i.e., war on the basis of industrial competition. Germany faced this problem from the time of national unification on (which incidentally was accomplished almost simultaneously with Italian unification and permitted Italy to appear as third or fourth ranking power among the imperialist countries). Her entire domestic and foreign policy revolved around the way out by means of capitalist expansion through imperialist war.


The fourth drop, as a capitalist country, is far less the product of its independent development than a product of capitalist saturation and super-saturation. The developed capitalist countries (primarily France) forced the development of Russia through capital export which “acquired outstanding significance” and for that reason also was already up against the practical limits of capitalist accumulation. The most, powerful survival of medieval Europe (itself the product of a development which was uneven and, besides, combined with Asia) is combined through uneven development with industrial development; its industry is grafted on to it in more centralized form than in Europe itself. The whole development is led into a blind alley. The only way out is the proletarian revolution: capitalism is exploded for the first time and destroyed over a wide area of the earth. This area is now likewise transformed into one of the historic limits and is withdrawn from total capitalization.


It is self-evident by now that the same picture may be drawn for the development of political freedom, of the labor movement (it is undeveloped in England, second-rate in France, threatening in Germany, decisive in Russia), political economy, theory, etc., etc. Summarizing the sequence presented here: From whatever side we may regard the life-course of the capitalist mode of production, its laws of motion are always and everywhere also the laws of its collapse. Of the large industries especially, we can say: Industrial monopoly, from which modern capitalist development proceeds, appears as the predominance of one country over all the others. In it is imbedded therefore from the beginning, “like a nut in its shell,” the ultimate problem of capitalist development, to which it must return after full development. We shall see later what form the return takes, following the temporary dissolution of monopoly.

VI – Inner Contradiction of the First Imperialist War

When the imperialist war is placed on the order of the day, further qualitative alterations appear which are all affected by the mass of preceding processes. “The division of all the territory of the earth among the greatest capitalist countries” is practically concluded. [6] This division, no sooner completed, is already outlived. It is economically “unjust” and corresponds in no way to the industrial and other significance of the four strongest capitalist countries, which have the economic leadership, and direct the war with their allies (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, etc.) for the notorious re-division of the world which could not but be the logical result of the war.

However, here logic strikes a snag. The course of the war shows that in the general state of things the problem can not even be attacked, let alone solved. The contradiction of industrial monopoly which rests upon free trade and free competition, is at the same time the contradiction of free competition. It thus abolishes the industrial monopoly of one country over others and leads to the formation of monopolies in industry in other countries. The result was the international contradiction of monopoly, and it led to the imperialist war. So far everything is in logical order. But now at one stroke the war reveals that monopoly has called forth a new contradiction, which is more essential than the old, and has transformed the war for the re-division of the world into a contradiction in itself, into an absurdity par excellence.

Effect of the International Division of Labor

On one hand, capitalist economy had long outgrown all national boundaries and thereby first established the international capitalist world market in all its scope. In strict dependence upon the old forces, which lie at the basis of all class society and operate to the fullest extent in capitalist commodity economy, the social division of labor has been broadened into the international division of labor and has become its ruling form. Moreover, the anarchy of social production and uneven development assume the explicit form of industrial and agricultural disproportions, and drive the national economies into all the greater dependence upon the international division of labor, or what is only another term for it, upon their international connections.

On the other hand, the transcending of the national boundaries which has practically taken place, raises the distantly visible sign of international trusts. The indubitable progress which lies in the formation of a super-national economy through trusts, with its increase of the productive forces, shows a catastrophic converse side when private property is maintained in the means of production The international trusts have the peculiarity of organizing the disproportion to the utmost, of which the disproportion arising out of the arms industry is the most prominent. Scientific progress is the direct servant of this disproportion. Through the changed significance of the so-called basic industries (coal, for example), it produces another disproportion which operates in favor of the war industries. As soon as coal becomes scarcer instead of a plentiful article (and it becomes such through the development of heavy industry, particularly the chemical industry), a struggle flares up for this industrially vitally important substance.

The competition for coal ends naturally in a victory of the most powerful heavy industrial and chemical enterprises which monopolize this “article of use,” thus establishing a particularly profound disproportion in its consumption and driving forward the disproportions in heavy industry, etc. The whole process reveals its effects in the international trusts which thus, first, reproduce the contradiction of competition on a higher level (competition of international trusts among themselves, running vertically and horizontally through all countries), and second, disclose the incurable contradiction between the international character of the economy and the national-state character of the war today.

False Posing of the Problem

“The entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market and therewith the international character of the capitalist regime,” are so great in this stage of complete imperialist maturity which brings the line of ascension to an end, that the economy, like the conduct of the war, is already wrecked on the very premises on which it is based. All countries are in large degree dependent upon one another, and the international trusts are the personification of this dependence. The re-division of the world among the strongest capitalist nations is under such circumstances a utopia. For it is posed practically as the problem of the final “division of the world among the international trusts,” which, with all the will in the world to gain the upper hand, must see to it that their material bases within the individual nations are not undermined.

How is this problem to be solved in the framework of the national state without abolishing the national boundaries? In the nature of things this would be the only “logical result” if there were anything else in capitalism besides the logic of contradictions and their disastrous admixture. For this is how absurdly the whole problem is posed: The war of economic competition is to be fought out within the framework of the national states, without eliminating the economic domination of the international trusts in the individual countries. In practice this is the attempt to solve the economic problem of monopoly capitalism with predominantly military measures (predominantly military because while the military machine, the economic measures and pressure of blockade, etc., also paralyze the opponent economically and force him to his knees, they are not intended to destroy his economy). It is war on the borderline dividing maturity and collapse, a mixed form of war which already foreshadows all the elements of the transition to total war but does not yet itself have, nor can it have, the radical character of total war. It is the squaring of the economically self-enclosed circle – an impossible problem whose impossibility is proclaimed in certain striking features.

First Characteristic

Whichever may be the areas “intended” for annexation by the warring countries, conquered capitalist terrain can, in reality, not be incorporated completely into the economic life of the conqueror. What is certainly beyond serious discussion is reorganization, industrial transplantation, shutdowns in the interests of industrial centralization, resettlement of the population in remote areas, production changes in industry and agriculture, etc., over and beyond war measures.

By and large, the aim of conquest is the achievement of superiority; there is no a priori aim to change for the sake of destroying and to destroy for the sake of change. By and large, the efforts are confined, with the necessary “excesses,” to extracting what can be extracted under conditions of war. This apart, the hallmark of the war is forbearance (especially industrial) – the whole status is “provisional,” “pacts” are concluded in the midst of the war – the “peace-dictate” will make the final decision. Everything still rests too much on “normal” international economic, legal, and financial relations, on the gold currency, the creditor-debtor relation, etc., whose destruction would cut off the countries hopelessly from imports, shatter the whole apparatus and result in the immediate collapse of economy.

Second Characteristic

In consequence, nowhere is a serious effort made to abolish the national-state boundaries. The national boundaries are to be shifted but not eliminated; the national, political, social, economic, juridical and societal situation is maintained in general – the “rights of war” and the military administration alone concern themselves with the encroachments which are necessary but which are not at all organic to the goal set. And just because this is so, and because the war cannot in any respect jump out of its economic skin, it is conducted chauvinistically and is felt by the people chauvinistically (despite “racism” the Second World War separates the “peoples” from their “leadership,” is characterized more by complete economic “practicality”). It ends, regardless of the aims of all participants, with a substantial increase in the economically and politically effective national-state boundaries.

Third Characteristic

The labor movement as such remains intact even in the conquered areas; it remains a factor that cannot be eliminated. (We give this point a special mention, because it has capital significance which speaks for itself. In the second world war German imperialism “solves” the question of the labor movement in those countries, as in France, where the bourgeoisie, due to its internal weakness, could not itself destroy it. In different forms, America seeks to maintain the German achievements wherever it comes as “liberator.”)

Fourth Characteristic

Despite the blockade the international economic interdependence expresses itself by a regular commerce between all countries. Country supplies and trades with country; business remains in full swing; there are no business interruptions but only interruptions of delivery as a result of – torpedoing. The international trusts in the warring countries enjoy a boom. Here the “sharing of the market” may best be perceived. Across the mass of neutral countries (more important at such a moment and in a different position than they are today) moves direct and indirect trade between the belligerents, bringing to a head the phenomenon that has scandalized humanity under the name of the “bloody international of the armaments industry.” Toward the end of mutual “holding-out” which yields enormous profits and strengthens the international trusts, they supply each other in the very midst of the war with fabricated and raw materials for the direct conduct of the war. This prolongs the war and most certainly postpones the military decisions. Therefore, the war very soon becomes static, stagnant and reflects perfectly the stagnating character of monopoly in the stage of its maturity (on this point see the next section), where it can have neither the courage nor the possibility to make radical decisions. It should be noted in addition that the trusts are no less active in the almost “normal’ activity of diplomacy (namely, secret diplomacy).

Victory of Economy over War

Nevertheless, the war and the productive forces do not develop in accordance with the logic of the capitalist magnates and the stock exchange; they bring everything to the point of collapse. War is above all the destruction of the sources which nourish it, a sharpening of all contradictions and disproportions which unleash it. Following its own unfettered lawfulness and succumbing to the dynamic of its own premises, it must nevertheless tear apart the carefully preserved international connections and turn against its own foundations. For a time it stagnates, hangs “in mid-air” as if it were an end in itself, without perspective, and exhausts itself in its own inner impossibility.

Nothing is more characteristic of the dependence of Europe upon international economy than the fact that all countries at the end of the war were also at the end of their resources and on the brink of the abyss (e.g., Russia, bled-white, was able to defend itself successfully against the attack of the whole world). There is some truth in the statement that Germany emerged from the war militarily “undefeated.” That has so penetrated into the general consciousness that Americans speak with great assurance of this day of the breakdown of the German people which “tore the heart out of the military resistance of Germany.” A clear military decision was lacking, and the actual victory fell to the country that best understood how to take advantage of the economic problem of the war.

America, strengthened by the “war prosperity,” by supplying needy Europe, held off from the battlefield as the primary world economic power – oddly enough without participating in the problematic “re-division of the world.” It was a victory of definite economic relations over the war itself, which in a few years changed America from a sorely indebted to a great creditor nation.

When America entered, the war was already in full disintegration. Russia had already withdrawn and had set a definite limit to the war. The principal participant, Germany, withdrew a year later, leaving the “victors” in a situation and an entanglement of interests which forced them to keep her alive at any price and to give in to her constantly. The absurdity of the way the problem was posed by the first world war cannot be shown more clearly than this. To be sure, the “incident” that touched it off – a conflict of subordinate significance in itself – automatically broadened into the question of the “redivision” of the world. But the economy was more surprised by this than prepared for it.

Result of “Re-division”

The result therefore corresponds exactly to the premises. The incident that occasioned the conflict, entangled in the fight for national independence of the oppressed nationalities in the Balkans (with the dissolution of the Turkish Empire as a background) has a greatly disproportionate weight in the imperialist result. In the Versailles treaty, Europe appears less divided up among the most powerful and developed capitalist states than “splintered” within itself. There are now more “new” states, boundaries and problems in East and South Europe than before.

In this way the economy revenges itself for the violation of its laws through the dismemberment and weakening of Europe. The arena for monopolistic competition is made smaller by the withdrawal of Russia. What is more, two dangerous non-European competitors, Japan and America, are loaded on its neck.

The “mixed form” of this war in transition from capitalist maturity to disintegration is revealed best in what emerges from the “redivision.” All that is actually divided up – no, “apportioned” – is that which belongs to Germany. Of the German colonial empire, England and France pocket the lion’s share; Alsace-Lorraine and some important German areas fall to France, Belgium and Poland. Italy comes out empty-handed, America does not profit by territorial acquisition. Under Anglo-American pressure, Japan must relinquish a great deal of her booty in the Far East. And for this miserable result (doubtful “gains,” political-national differentiation, economic destruction, revolutionary danger, general weakening, a more unstable situation than before, greater dissatisfaction and ferment) Europe lost its political equilibrium and its economic mastery in the world. Never did an Esau sell his birthright more cheaply.

To be sure, such a result was neither desired nor foreseen: an insoluble economic problem seized everybody by the scruff of the neck and merely extended the “vicious circle” of capitalist economy to Japan and America. Glad to have emerged only slightly bruised, England and France move all the more inexorably to ruin in their “victory.” They are seized by a debilitating concern for their possessions, the more the real redivision of the world is subsequently conscious planned by Germany, planfully prepared, and placed upon the economic, political and social foundations necessary for this purpose; and the more, on the other hand, America and Japan accelerate the “vicious circle” by their specific gravity.

Historic “Mission” of America

We said earlier that America (the same goes for Japan) introduces no essential alteration into the picture, and can only seal the fate of capitalism which was already decided in Europe itself. “War prosperity” and the succeeding years of so-called “false prosperity” were therefore sufficient to upset the “relative stabilization” of the post-war years, to throw the world economy completely off its tracks, to bring about a crisis of unprecedented dimensions, to give the necessary impulsion to the dissolution and inversion of all previous relations and – to facilitate materially the carrying out of Germany’s task.

Although America, as a capitalist economy, is in no way “original,” it is still worthwhile to ascertain every deviation of the elements in the amalgam of which this terrible epilogue of capitalism is composed. We must keep in mind what has gone into the formation of this country: Joy of discovery and need for trade; adventure and greed; colonization efforts and emigration; all races and achievements; all advantages and disadvantages; all virtues and vices; all race and class antagonisms of Europe, Asia and Africa; all the advances, backwardness, combinations, unevenness, and – crimes, abominations, crudities and atrocities of the whole world.

For its part, America developed on a broad, existing foundation of unevenness extending from primitive communism to the old highly-developed culture of the Aztecs. Like a vandal it exterminated all these forms and the aboriginal population. Yet it dragged them along as the problem of the native population, in the form of the industrial and cultural backwardness of vast areas, of the national and economic oppression of South America, and not last, as an “import article” (the disgrace of the Negro question). It understood how to get rid of its former masters and to make itself independent.

On a continent by itself, suspiciously stalked by the watchdogs of Europe and Asia (England and Japan), the men of “rugged American individualism” were able to utilize the advantages of the situation more freely and decisively than any one else. Ever since America, in the first world war, again came into larger-scale direct contact with the rest of the world, it was clear that it would assume a key position in the coming imperialist disputes. The fact that America continues the work begun in the first world war, and again pours out the blood of the whole world over the whole world, is only part of the circle of capitalist life which, on the whole, is already closed. Whether as the rival or the “ally” of England – the “historic mission” of America always boils down to being the gravedigger of the British Empire and to intensifying the self-destruction of capitalism. It has, and can have, no other mission.

VII – The First Imperialist War as
a Premature Historical “Misfortune”

If we glance back at the first world war and the total constellation at the time, we must recognize that the first world war, despite all causal connections which led to its outbreak, was no more than a historical misfortune of capitalism, an accidental event which staged the collapse of capitalism within the framework of historical necessity earlier than historically necessary. Thus we defend the thesis: There was no inner or outer necessity which stood theoretically or practically in the way of the assumption that capitalism could remain for a considerable time on the plane of its “maturity” – or even expand.

Causality and Historic Necessity

If the “iron chain” of causal connections is taken for historic necessity, necessity is understood wholly and completely in the ordinary bourgeois sense which believed it was refuting Marx by the question: “And do dynastic ambitions, reason, knowledge, bad blood, crime, personality, etc., play no role in history?”

Naturally, the bourgeois does not know (or at least he does not want to know) that he is addressing himself not to Marx but to certain “Marxists” against whom, unfortunately, he is in the right. Statesmanlike wisdom, knowledge of the actual situation on the part of the Germans, insight into economic conditions, experience, perspicacity, etc., might have been able to isolate the “local incident” and postpone the world war without in the least altering the destiny of capitalism.

For Marx, only the collapse of capitalism was historically necessary, not this or that accidental or dispensable circumstance which concretely delays or hastens it. On the other hand, accidental circumstances, once operative, set a whole chain of causal compulsions into motion, which flow into the absolute necessity of the negation of capitalism and prescribe the future concrete course of its collapse. The German bourgeoisie at all events perceived the misfortune of the first world war so well that it introduced “guarantees” and conditions for the second which are already directly adapted to historic necessity in all its aspects. The guarantees and conditions of its “salvation” already coincide directly with its collapse. That is the tragedy of the bourgeoisie, which, for all its efforts to secure itself and ward off accidents, is the trailblazer of its historic destiny and is all the less capable of escaping it the more it drives itself within the narrow conditions of its own existence.

Decline of the Proletariat as a Politically Organized Class
and the Corruption of Traditional Consciousness

We would not, however, insist on our thesis if it did not have an important reverse side. What was a historic misfortune for the bourgeoisie, was a stroke of good fortune for the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie passed up an opportunity to prolong its life. The proletariat (or rather its leaders) likewise passed up a “series of opportunities to seize power” (Trotsky). The bourgeoisie thereby imposed upon humanity more gruesome suffering and bloodier sacrifices than ever before, for henceforth it declines under conditions which in their totality (economically from the standpoint of material wealth, politically from the standpoint of total social relations) are the conditions of its past. Socialism, however, is sucked into this past because of its guilt of omission: in a certain sense, the proletariat has already suffered the “penalty of its own destruction” because in most of the world it has been destroyed as a politically-organized, self-constituted and freely-associated class.

The proletariat has again, as formerly, become an amorphous mass, the characteristics of its rise and its formation have been lost. Politically and to a large extent also already economically, it lives under the conditions and forms of slavery. Its class-consciousness is now only class-consciousness in the sense of limitation, through belonging to a class. It is bourgeois consciousness and (not to speak of revisionism) is doubly reactionary in so far as it has received in Stalinism its most perverted, repulsive, detestable, vulgar, mendacious, hypocritical, disgraceful and perilous form.

The example of Italy shows, and will show more clearly with every day, the fatal results of the retrogressive development of the independent-political proletarian class-consciousness into the most corrupt bourgeois consciousness through Stalinism (on the basis of the Russian and other retrogressive development). In Italy the masses instinctively find their way to red flags and to slogans corresponding to their needs. It is striking how these slogans revolve around the organization of the masses, whose every step is made impossible without organization. It is characteristic how American imperialism bears down on everything that might lead to the formation of the class. But political consciousness, which can become genuine class consciousness only through the knowledge of all class relations, is lacking, or else is furnished by revisionism and Stalinism, which provide the scum of bourgeois slops, that is, the most falsified consciousness of these relations.

VIII – Good Luck and Bad Luck in History
and Recapitulation of the Development

Bad luck and good luck are in historic balance. We must recognize the one and will the other. The misfortune of the bourgeoisie was the salvation of the Russian revolution; the “salvation” of the Russian revolution was the tragic fate of the (missed) world revolution (and vice versa). The problem now is to assess the situation correctly and to exploit the new “good luck” which restores the historical balance.

The bourgeoisie must develop a new mode of production in the womb of the old society, and on the basis of this, accomplish a political revolution which makes the bourgeoisie master of the situation. The proletariat, on the other hand, must prepare a social revolution in the womb of the old society and make itself master of the situation in order to be able to develop a new mode of production. In so far, however, as the Russian revolution and bourgeois society degenerate and move to the brink of dissolution, they compress the development into the one from which they emerged: into the problem of the democratic political revolution, without which neither the Russian nor the European proletarian can advance.

History has here created one of those (already unavoidable) episodes which are a “stroke of good luck” for the revolution. The episode not only forces a return to what was “apparently accomplished” in the Russian revolution and the world labor movement, and to the opening up of a struggle for it again; it not only simplifies the problem by sharpening it and creating a situation which contains the solution in itself – but to the same degree it also supplies the indispensable formal means or the key to the solution of the whole question.

The situation of Russia, like the situation of the world labor movement, poses itself as if it were a matter of repeating all over again the bourgeois development and therewith (because this development included the labor movement) the history of the labor movement, on the basis of the decay of all. And in fact, it is nothing but a matter of this repetition in rapid tempo and telescoped form, i.e., in a form in which everything that was once achieved remains preserved in its essential contents, its quality and potentiality, and is reconquered in its breadth, its quantity and materiality. Thereby the road is first cleared for the higher development.

Formulation of the Task in Accordance
with the Retrogressive Movement

Before Europe can unite itself into “socialist states,” it must first separate itself again into independent and autonomous states. It is entirely a matter of the split-up, enslaved, hurled-back peoples and the proletariat constituting themselves again as a nation (”although not in any way in the sense of the bourgeoisie”); the devastated nationalities, just as the internationally and nationally devastated and disintegrated economic connections, just as the severed connection between scientific socialism and the labor movement (which now exists almost only as a spontaneous, but no longer as a politically-organized movement), must be reconstituted under new conditions.

We can formulate the task in the following way: To reconstruct the whole screwed-back development, to regain all the achievements of the bourgeoisie (including the labor movement), to reach the highest accomplishments and excel them. The re-coupling of socialism with the labor movement is the point here around which everything revolves.

Scientific socialism is in the same situation as at the time of its emergence, with only this difference: it has been enriched by the experience and the theoretical illumination of imperialism, the victorious October revolution and its degeneration, the defects and shortcomings of the labor movement and its downfall, etc. Otherwise there are only isolated and decimated propaganda groups, exactly as at that time (then emerging, now residual), which must endeavor to expand, to link themselves to the masses, and to arouse the political labor movement to life again.

Political consciousness lives only in these groups and individuals – the alleged tradition of the masses is (with qualifications for Russia) the true-bourgeois tradition of revisionism and its Stalinist perversion, under whose influence the masses have stood for more than forty years and which is responsible for today’s situation. Parenthetically: nothing of this is altered by the activity of the German Left – to say nothing of their miserable epigones! – who, as a result of their theoretical-practical failings, never actually broke through the revisionist ring.

However, the most pressing political problem is the century-old problem of the springtime of industrial capitalism and of scientific socialism – conquest of political freedom, establishment of democracy (also for Russia) as the indispensable precondition for national liberation and the founding of the labor movement.

International Application and the “Formal Means”

With appropriate modifications this problem exists for the whole world; for China and India, Japan and Africa, Australia and Canada, Russia and England. In a word, for all Europe, North and South America. Nowhere is there a country that does not have a powerfully intensified democratic and national question, nowhere does there exist a politically organized labor movement. In every one there are only fragments, splinters, remnants, appendages. England and America form only apparent exceptions, just as they are the apparent economic exceptions in the decline of the capitalist economy. As a result of the subversion of the October revolution, the reactionary bulwark of Stalin juts out everywhere against the proletariat and the, world revolution, as was formerly the case with Czarism. Everything and everyone has become retrogressive. England retains only a more privileged and favored position with regard to the labor movement precisely because of this retrogression. On the other hand, America, as the “epilogue,” has experienced a political labor movement even less than favored England. Even with the existence of trade unions (which keep everything in the framework of bourgeois, trade union consciousness), the socialist “propaganda group” there works, and rightly so, for the formation of an independent labor party.

The new “bad-luck” for the bourgeoisie and the unprecedented “good luck” for the revolution now consists in the fact that the retrogressive movement has on a large scale compressed all the problems posed in the rising development of the whole of bourgeois history and its prehistory, has fused them into an indissoluble unit, and has loaded them with irresistible revolutionary explosive force. Everywhere, the masses will have to, and will, get into revolutionary motion as never before. And the retrogressively provided, indispensable formal means for the solution of the world crisis of capitalism and socialism – the means for which the revolutionists need only stretch out their hands – is called: national freedom. By this, we mean to say: the national question is one of those historic episodes which necessarily become the strategic transition point for the reconstitution of the labor movement and the socialist revolution. Whoever does not understand this historically necessary episode and does not know how to use it, knows and understands nothing of Marxism-Leninism.

The Revolutionary Counterpart of Historical “Episodes”
in the Framework of Necessity

With reference to the revolution and “episodes” in general, Trotsky in the preface to his well known 1905 remarks brilliantly: “Whoever does not understand how to find elbow room for talent, initiative and heroism in the framework of historic necessity [we cite this from memory and add for ourselves: planfulness, organization, perspicacity, spiritual audacity, accidents, etc.] has not penetrated the philosophic mystery of Marxism.” There would, however, be no “elbow room,” and all that remained would be the empty mechanical unfoldment which the Philistine, finding in himself nothing but mechanical notions, considers Marxism, if the accidental and possible could not turn into the compulsory, inevitable and necessary.

To round out the present theme: Over and above all laws of motion and of compulsion of the capitalist mode of production, hovers the inner nature of capital itself, which creates many historical “episodes,” that can become doubly fateful to it if conscious socialism seizes upon them and sinks its teeth into the sore-points made by capital itself. The reader may well enjoy the brilliant presentation which F.J. Dunning (cited by Marx in Capital) has given of the inner nature of capital:

“Capital is said by a Quarterly Reviewer to fly turbulence and strife, and to be timid, which is very true; but this is very incompletely stating the question. Capital eschews no profit, or very small profit, just as Nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain ten percent will ensure its employment anywhere; twenty percent certain will produce eagerness; fifty percent positive audacity; hundred percent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; three hundred percent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both. Smuggling and the slave-trade have amply proved all that is here stated.”

It is – and what would Dunning say now if he were living in the day of the percentages of monopoly! – as if the dialectic incarnate had come among us and called to us; Turbulence and strife which capital encourages are breaches which it makes in itself. Turbulence and strife introduced in order to enslave humanity for a thousand and more percent, rebound as the turbulence and strife of hundreds of millions of slaves against capital. Conscious socialism has “only” – to widen this breach planfully, in order to bring capitalism to the gallows.

IX – Qualitative Changes
from the First Imperialist War to Today

We can appraise the development from the beginning of the first imperialist war to today only if we understand it as a reversal, prepared before and during the war, of all relations, foundations and conditions valid for the ascending development of capitalism. Of the qualitative changes in the total relations, we consider only those which are important for the question before us for treatment, and leave aside all the more specific problems (finance and currency questions, foreign trade, capital export, etc.).

The Law of Breakdown in Monopoly

The continental wars preceding the imperialist world war (“chemically purest” example, the wars of Prussia with France, Denmark, Austria) which established the boundaries of the European states in the fight for their independence, were conducted in far-reaching independence from international and (within generally valid limits) even from national economy. The army, its equipment, its training, the strategy and tactics of the conduct of the war, etc., reached a certain independence – the war remained “mobile” and always ended after a relatively short duration with a clear military decision, after which the economic development could start again. The whole development leads now to monopoly as the qualitatively prevailing phenomenon, which entangles itself in the “mixed form” of the first world war, stagnates in it, breaks, and here too forces through fundamental changes. More exactly: On the basis of the disintegration, the old relation is re-established in reverse. Why monopoly exactly?

The stagnating and parasitic character of imperialism has often been established; and – strange as it may seem at first glance – so has its “irritability,” its aggressiveness. Whence this aggressiveness? Does it arise out of monopoly itself? We do not think so. Aggressiveness cannot stem from monopoly, if monopoly is stagnating, parasitic and (indubitably in the cartel form) seeks peace, like someone who, after hard labor, want to enjoy its fruits in the greatest possible security. The “dual character” of monopoly capitalism must arise out of the inner nature of capitalism itself, it must have a common root. The explanation is simple, if we understand monopoly as a phenomenon in the transition from the maturity of capitalism to its decline, embodying and revealing both features within itself. In fact: It is the law of collapse of capitalism that is operative in the aggressiveness of monopoly capitalism, that robs it of its fruits and its “peace,” and that makes it transvaluate all values, transform all forms.

“Finance Capital”

For a time capital believed that it could “freeze” its essence and established its independence as bank capital in order to be able to control the economy and rule in security. The brilliant days of bank capital have passed, and it falls back into its role of industrial assistant just hen it had moved into its “dominating” position. It was the midwife of big industry and was able to raise itself temporarily to power during the transition from free to monopoly capitalism. But industry reconquered the mastery in monopoly capitalism and reinstated the old relationship which has as its basis industrial capital. In this “re-transformation,” so to speak, of bank capital into industrial capital, the transformation which it underwent itself is important: industrial bank capital became monopoly capital. As monopoly capital it gives capitalism a new dynamism and sets in motion the mechanism of the collapse which must follow the relative stagnation during maturity. The war and its consequences (inflation, plundering of the people) are important levers of the super-concentration which the new dynamism of the collapse produces.

Militarism and Nationalism

Militarism and nationalism likewise had an indispensable function. They were the midwife of progress, they created economic unification, cultural and political freedom, freedom of the capitalists and of the labor movement. In the course of development toward monopoly capitalism, they first became a permanent and ever more significant institution in the advanced countries (promoting industry and promoted by industry). Then they developed in the words of Rosa Luxemburg, “from motor of capitalist development into capitalist disease” (in pronounced form in the first world war). Finally these were converted into their direct opposite: they became the motor (cranked by monopoly in industry) of destruction of all (even their own) freedom, of all progress, of all nations. Just as important as in the case of bank capital is the transformation here of relatively independent militarism and nationalism into industrial militarism and nationalism, the re-establishment of their role of assistant dependent upon monopoly.

Social Factors (Primacy of Monopoly)

The relative independence of all social factors (art, science, religion, denial of religion, philosophy, ideology, politics, propaganda, organization, labor, conduct of the war, leisure, etc.), belongs to the past and coincides with the disappearance of parliamentary democracy. The state which in bourgeois democracy coordinated and adjusted the various interests in the interests of the ruling class and would occasionally set itself up as arbiter (Bonapartism), now centralizes but one interest: the interest of the monopoly capitalists. The primacy of politics over economics, proclaimed by National-Socialism, has no other meaning than this – to bring the whole machinery of the state into the possession of the monopolists and to make their economic policy the one and only political principle.

National freedom, the right of self-determination of nations and all other phrases which National-Socialism retains (preserving the connection with what was once achieved while leading society back, even ideologically, into the past on whose shoulders the bourgeoisie rose to its height), mean only the freedom and the right of this one industrial nation to rule over the world. Its racial superiority means only the superiority of this one industrial race, rationalized through and through, down to the leisure time of the workers, etc., etc.

Law of Life of the Bourgeoisie

The bourgeoisie, says Marx, cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and with it the production relations, and through them all social relations. [7] The “theoreticians” of state capitalism stand helpless before processes in which they see the “disappearance” of the bourgeoisie, but in which in reality one of the most important laws of motion of capitalist society takes its fatal course. We can also express it in this way. The bourgeoisie must complete what it destroys and it must destroy what it completed.

Let us take the changes which are presented to us as “autarchy” and “bureaucratic collectivism,” and which, along with other changes (overcoming of unemployment, enormous increase of production and development of new industries, disappearance of the “free proletariat,” etc.), are newly interpreted as “classless state capitalism.” To go into all the particulars would take a book and cannot be the purpose of a work which is limited to the fundamentals in order to find a political platform.

It should be perfectly clear,that the colossal economic, social and political changes that have taken place since the first world war and are constantly advancing, are nothing but those revolutionizing changes which Marx had in mind in the above-cited passage and without which the bourgeoisie cannot exist and not – go under. If we admit, for example, the astonishing increase of production (which is accompanied in Germany by an equally astonishing productivity of labor), then what Marx says elsewhere remains entirely valid: With accumulation and the concomitant development of the productivity of labor, grows also the capacity for sudden expansion of capital. [8]

With this capacity the overcoming of German unemployment may be explained quite “capitalistically,” if we understand the role of the “industrial reserve army.” On this, Lenin says:

“Inasmuch as accumulation accelerates the displacement of the worker by the machine, and produces wealth at one pole and poverty at the other, it also produces the so-called ‘industrial reserve army,’ the ‘relative surplus’ of workers or ‘capitalist over-population,’ which assumes extraordinarily variegated forms and creates for capital the possibility of exceptionally rapid expansion of production.” (Our italics)

We have already met the industrial reserve army in the form of mass unemployment and first classify its liquidation systematically along the line of Marx-Lenin when we say: In case there is a change in the method of production, it necessarily includes qualitative changes in the social Organization and social relations which are capable of “swallowing up” the capitalist over-population and giving it “new forms.”

X – Remaining Relations with Regard to
Alleged “State Capitalism”

Changes together with their entanglements and contradictions have occupied us throughout the preceding sections (the reading of which can simply be recapitulated from the standpoint of the revolutionizing activity of the bourgeoisie which cannot free itself from this condition of its existence). We observe them now in some remaining relations, which will definitely disclose their true essence.

With regard to those phenomena which disturb Burnham and consorts to the point of soothing flight to state capitalism [9] the summary declaration of the first section still holds: “Putrefying capitalism, although it continues to remain capitalism, strengthens in its decline all the features which make up its ‘impurity’ and points back to its early stages. It transforms itself, the state, the proletariat to a substantial degree, i.e., capitalism turns from progression to retrogression, the state becomes totalitarian, the proletarian a modern slave.” And particularly the greatest marvel that the apologists of “state capitalism” have produced, namely, the alleged replacement of economic exploitation by political (in which the exploitation of the workers is no longer supposed to be the result of the position he holds in the productive process as the seller of his commodity, labor power), is no more than a striking revolutionizing of the social relations and of the production relations by the bourgeoisie.

In tracing the course of the revolutionizing work of the bourgeoisie, we have especially classified the abolition of the freedom of labor (freedom of movement, freedom of labor contract, end of the “free” proletarian), the prisons, ghettos and the whole camp system, and characterized them as forms of the “development toward the modern slave state.” This development is an inherent tendency of capitalism, always present and always operative in it. Through imperialism it becomes ever more strongly pronounced in the capitalist countries themselves and must be evaluated as a characteristic of capitalist “contraction.”

The theory of state capitalism is worthily christened not only by its name (if the capitalist economy is dead, why then is it still “capitalism” at all?) but also by the mistake that one phase of capitalism (that of liberal or “free” capitalism) is confused with the whole of capitalism (imperialism, decline). Not only is the constant revolution in the social relations, in the social organization, etc. overlooked, but even more so the “extraordinarily variegated forms” which the industrial reserve army and its “sudden” utilization assume.

Thus we must once more underline: Under imperialism production is carried on in a capitalist manner from A to Z, but all relations from A to Z are qualitatively altered. The “camp system,” labor and forced labor service, prisons, etc., become, by the massive extent and the manner of their utilization, first, special forms of slave labor, and beyond that, imperialist forms of utilizing the capitalist overpopulation. Under imperialism, such labor becomes simple slave labor with all the emblems pertaining thereto, as soon as capital is able to expand itself “suddenly” in the midst of changed social relations, i.e., as soon as it has equally “sudden” use for it on the basis of changed methods of production.

Sudden Expansion for War

An opportunity for sudden expansion and for extraordinarily rapid expansion of production is afforded monopoly capital (which, as a result of unevenness, can at the same time be “stagnant,” saturated and timid), inasmuch as, after antecedent concentration, rationalization, establishment and construction of new industries, and in general after improvement of the methods of production, it alone usurps the state power, establishes the primacy of monopoly politics, and steers toward a way out in imperialist expansion through war. Precisely at this point arises the tendency to overcome competition among the workers (we have in mind the specific forms that split society and threaten its existence) by applying the same measures which are supposed to level competition among the monopolists.

The champions of “state capitalism” naturally and rightly proceed from Germany and Russia, where they perceive a puzzling change in things and then discover traces of it in every country. They rightly see here the establishment of a decisive quality (only they don’t know which) and the most “serious” among them do not even think of disputing that the German economic, political and social development coincides with the complete subordination of economic activity to the needs of the conduct of the war. They thereby implicitly admit that the methods of production in the old and new industries have been transformed for the war. They thus admit that the powerful concentration, monopolization, cartelization, etc., both in the economy and in the social relations and social organization, move completely along the line of disproportion, on the basis of such industries as are decisive for the conduct of the war and monopoly politics, i.e., by systematizing the disproportions, they make them catastrophic for society.

In the qualitative changes which we have considered, there are therefore necessarily also included quantitative changes in the individual branches of production. There is no end to the revolutions in every conceivable sphere. War and peace become a unity like politics and economy. War infects peace and peace war. That is no arbitrary play on words. It is the formula for the grim fact that imperialist peace declares war in permanence. What are the technicalized armies of millions in the economic system of imperialism if not the employment of the industrial reserve army for the “sudden” expansion of monopoly capitalism, in the course of which they “consume” themselves as well as the industrial product?

The Hunger for “Surplus Population”

If we realize how quickly England and America have ‘’consumed” their unemployed and yet are little satisfied, then we get an idea of what is actually going on. We must straightway say that imperialism creates a wolfish hunger for “surplus” population, which may be best compared with the hunger for the “free proletarian” in the epoch of primitive accumulation. The methods of satisfying this burning hunger are the same now as then: force, betrayal, enticement. With this difference, to be sure, that the movement always goes in the reverse direction and the field of recruitment has been broadened. This time it is not slaves and serfs who are led into unguaranteed and propertyless “freedom,” but the propertyless freeman, the expropriated and the coerced (in a word, all who can somehow be made “available”) are led into what is for the most part also unguaranteed and propertyless slavery. The field of recruitment is no longer any old “primitive” area, but, so far as the modern methods of force are involved (the transitional feature of free emigration, etc., is something else), the world.

Germany’s position in the retrogressive movement must assure it also in this respect (i.e., by the backward transformation of the surplus population, created by accumulation, into regimented serfs and slaves) the leading role which fell to England in the “classical” primitive accumulation. A “classical” country is always sufficient to give world capitalism its prevailing character, and one and the same thing has as many sides today as it had then. The backward transformation of the industrial reserve army and the increase of slaves through robbery all over Europe, etc., is for its part identical with the backward transformation of the industrial nations into agricultural countries with a colonial and semi-colonial status. In addition there are other aspects.

The “Migration of Peoples”

Although woven into the thick mesh of the other relations, the ‘’migration of peoples,” for example, is a complex of questions in itself. Foreign and native workers and peasants, who, by force or “voluntarily,” are sent all over Europe from their homeland or from the allied and defeated countries and are “resettled,” form the material substance in the system of Greater German imperialism of a procedure that consists in “establishing” (wherever necessary) surplus populations in certain areas and – in using them in other areas. The “Three. Theses” speak of resettlement, deportation of workers, etc., which involve hundreds of thousands. That is an incorrect point in the thesis. It should have said deportations and resettling of many millions. Operations like this involving millions are fully qualified to disintegrate disastrously the national composition of Europe. Nations are decomposed; minorities and majorities and their problems are “created” (and added to the old) as botanical species are bred in a laboratory. The pride, the wealth, the specific culture, the tradition of the peoples are thereby destroyed. The great flower and vegetable gardens, the vineyards of France, Holland, Belgium, true “cultures” of human labor, the experience of many generations, perfume and the solace of civilization, belong with the French way of life to the golden past which only yesterday was the living present. In place of the old splendor appear ordinary corn and potatoes – over and over again the potato, whose widespread use is the surest sign of the spread of poverty, of a sinking standard of living.

No wonder that the nations fall apart from within and a tendency grows up which can lead easily, in perspective, to a point where parts of the nation oppose each other, fight for their release from the national bond, just as if it were a matter of re-establishing the dismemberment that existed before national unification. But all processes start from and enter into the industrial process. As the concentration of capital and the centralization of the means of production develop to their highest point, they pull the development back. As capital drives self-expansion to its peak, it narrows down the expansion of its component parts and of itself, and keeps everything in the conditions of decomposition which it produces. We must understand how to follow it closely in the modern development.

“Managerial Dictatorship”

The advocates of state capitalism have obviously failed to offer proof of why the German economic system, which is characterized by all the peculiarities here described, is “not capitalist.” Practice has given their “system” many headaches and they are forced to degrade the undeniable “remnants” of capitalism to factors “without fundamental significance.” In so far as they refer to Marx in this connection, that is, construct a “model” of state capitalism which the raw reality of capitalism must – as they say – rapidly approach, their method is all topsy-turvy, Marx constructed “models” in order to explain the indubitable reality. He found at hand all the “tendencies” in the raw reality of finished capitalism but he never went beyond the capitalist reality. He strictly rejected on rigid scientific grounds (as Lenin after him so often stressed) the idea of opening up “specific [socialist] perspectives of the future.” And so (as up to now) the secret of the “managerial dictatorship” will be unveiled without state capitalism – in spe! – by capitalism itself.

Property in the means of production has always been power and the power which this specific property exercises over the workers, the consumers, the state and in all social spheres, increases to the degree in which the means of production and the productive forces grow. If the relations are shifted in the course of development from free to monopoly capitalism, and then, within monopoly capitalism, in such a way that the industries of destruction in an advanced capitalist country (which draws the others after it) gain the quantitative preponderance and becomes the sole determining factor, then all remaining relations must necessarily assume not only “another” quality but the definite quality which is integrated with destruction. All we have to deal with is a reality which brings to pure expression the self-purpose of the capitalist mode of production, and turns the quality of capital producing only for itself into the quality of self-destruction.

But under capitalism no one is “free”: neither the “reformer” nor the bureaucrat, the politician, worker or capitalist can “choose” his road. Whoever does not obey the laws of capitalism or “misunderstands” them, is automatically thrown overboard, finished, crushed, imprisoned, driven into exile – be he the “labor leader” most devoted to capital, Thyssen or Strasser.

Just as, however, the centralization of capital and of the means of production kills off many capitalists and monopolists, centralizes power and shifts the total relations by the transfer of preponderance, in the same way the make-up of the personnel of the ruling monopolist class can and must be “shifted” in part, without doing any damage to capitalism as an economic system. In the whole “managerial revolution” it is once more a question only of an inherent tendency of capitalism, which, in imperialism and with the help of Fascism, is driven to its climax and to its point of transformation. Conceived as a theoretical “ideal,” the whole capitalist class to the last man, could, for example, be strung up on the gallows and be replaced by the robber band which monopoly capital raised up and financed to save itself. That would only prove what was long ago deduced from capitalist reality and analyzed:

Intervention of History

In this process it is only and solely history which prevents the realization of any kind of “ideal model” (be it, to name a good and a bad example, Bukharin’s model for “state capitalism” which in his view remains capitalist, or Hilferding’s preposterous “general cartel”). History is always uneven and combined. Hence, it is only natural that competition also brings it about that (as a result of the division of labor) specialists and politicians who have performed “services” in behalf of production and the rule of capital, move up socially and use their position and their political power to make substantial industrial “acquisitions.” If social-democrats, former anarchists, even “communists” and other rabble have had no trouble reaching ministerial posts and directorships of banks and industrial enterprises (they also “fuse” with the nobility by marriage) – there certainly is no trouble for the “most meritorious” of the highwaymen, the Fascists!


The expropriation of Jewish capitalists in the interests of monopoly concentration is as if made to order for the “self-acquisitions” of the fascist führers. That is one of the reasons for the obdurately consistent anti-Semitism in Germany. Another reason is: Where monopolist development is as pronounced as it is in Germany, and where war preparations demand it, the residues of finance capital (in Hilferding’s sense), certain branches of industry, of trade, of small shops, of science, etc., must be ruthlessly eliminated.

The Jews everywhere have substantial positions in these branches. Fascism “storms” these positions and thus prepares the way to sacrifice other middle class strata. Hatred of the Jews ia further incited, kept alive and practiced mercilessly because the Jews (historically and politically conditioned) express more easily the ineradicable “impurity” of capitalism, i.e., they are traditionally more capable and more compelled to reproduce private property daily and hourly, and on a large scale (as Lenin says in another connection). Hatred of the Jews in general, and the crudity of German anti-Semitism in particular, are perpetuated by the irrepressible inclination of capital to reproduce its own history.

Anti-Semitism always has an economic function. Whenever developed capitalist countries, in which it has declined to insignificance because of the “blessed effects” of capital in the springtime of its life (it never could quite disappear, any more than all other features of class society), return to the practice of it in the gruesome forms of the Middle Ages, this too is merely a part of the retrogressive movement. It is a sure sign of economic retrogression which forces the political repetition of everything that took place before the nineteenth century.

Significance of the Change in the Personal
Composition of the Ruling Class

Since not even the most extreme expression of the alleged “state capitalist” features contradict capitalism, and history stubbornly refuses to admit “ideal cases,” we are only interested in the concrete opposite of what the “state capitalists” contend. It has long been clear that the so-called “managerial dictatorship” and the actual dictatorship of monopoly capital constitute the state which is identical not with progress but vast economic disintegration or retrogression. But it is not concrete enough – this state resembles that centralized, absolutist and uncontrolled power which the bourgeoisie and the proletariat marching behind it had to assault in their youth and against which they fought brilliant economic, ideological and political battles. What the “state capitalists” assiduously avoid analyzing is the skeleton of the social hierarchy corresponding to the “magnitude of the capital.” Capital itself remains divided into organizationally clearly distinguishable units; the position of the individual within this unity corresponds to the magnitude of the capital he represents. The whole social organization has a fatal similarity with feudalism, where within the same group of feudal lords the greater also towered over the smaller in plenitude of power.

In this connection, the shift in the personal composition of the ruling class has in turn a special function. The more a society disintegrates, the greater are the opportunities open to mendacious people ambitious for possessions and honors, blackguards of every kind, to offer their services to capital, to climb up into the ruling class, to occupy state positions. Not only this, the whole band of upstarts also substitutes fresh blood for the worn-out dynasties, parliamentary institutions, etc. With whatever “ideology” or demagogy they climbed up, once at the top, all ideology breaks down, is maltreated, and the erstwhile “opponent” becomes the “partner” in the firm he pretended to fight. Its goals are henceforth his goals, its reason for being is the reason for his being. The psychology which their rise produced in them continues to cling to them and makes them blind tools of history, which prepares in them the instruments, the human transmitting mechanism, for the new dynamism of the decline. Nobody hates the revolution and the claims of the class from which he “arose” more than an Ebert. Nobody has workers shot at more easily than a social-democratic Reichswehr or Police Minister. Nobody brings to the unfettering of the destructive energy of monopoly capitalism more unrestrained energy, less conscience, more resolute brutality, more unbroken will, more open cynicism, more colossal self-confidence, more concentrated drive for power and pelf, etc., than the fascist soldiers of fortune, who force the people into the organizational system of coercion of the rule of monopoly capital. They inspire fresh courage and new self-confidence in the functionaries of capital, rendered “cautious” and crippled by tradition, training, routine and experience.

Reproduction of the Historical Past

And here the retrogressive movement becomes compact: an apparent confusion of old and new features, of tendencies pointing simultaneously in different directions and criss-crossing, a combination of all characteristics and unevenness of previous class societies (of the history and prehistory of capitalism in particular) – in reality a strictly lawful disintegration of bourgeois society. In its downfall it can do no more than demolish its own history and kick up the checkered dust of the past – and do it all the more furiously, the more rapidly it sinks back into the past, i.e., the longer the death struggle, the more unequivocally must it assume the form in which all class society is brought to an end.

Because the development preserves its thoroughgoing unevenness, the disintegration appears on the one hand in highly condensed and combined form (for no feature of development, no attribute, no law, etc., can ever go lost) – and it appears on the other hand as a broad process of levelling (for it adapts everything to the conditions of those countries in which more primitive, original, older features of uneven development prevail). To use a metaphor: A building, resting on pillars, which collapses, leaves less empty space and compresses all the building materials in a dense heap. At the same time, it falls below the level of the pillars that bore the weight. As a place of human abode it is no different from a desert or a cave. Further, under certain conditions (the influence of long-lasting convulsions, etc.) the cave can sooner be the point of departure of a new development than a magnificent building can be reconstructed out of its materials.

Thus considered, the new tyrants honored in Byzantine fashion are called (in Russia and under fascism) Il Duce, the intuitively gifted Führer, the “Sun of the Peoples,” the Only One, the Great, and the Genial. They brutalize everything which is suspected of progress, freedom, culture and humanity. They surround themselves with their own Praetorian guard, in addition to an army, police, espionage and juridical apparatus. They have their St. Bartholomew nights, fratricides, pogroms of Jews, public burnings, their witch trials of enemies and accomplices. There is not a gloomy image out of the past that has not been conjured up by Stalinism and fascism and imprinted on the picture of present society as its most predominant feature.

The Masses and “Mass Psychology”

All this, to be sure, is “known” – it would not need special mention did it not have an unknown, falsified, misinterpreted, dangerous reverse.

The masses, those on whose backs and at whose cost the economic, social and political process of transformation is carried out, have become, because of what preceded the erection of fascism, even more than ordinarily incapable of defending themselves in the right way. As soon as fascism comes to power, the economy is “cranked up” for the imperialist aims of monopoly capital, the corresponding social changes are carried out – the unbelieving-hopeful, fearful-expectant, restless-trusting attitude of the masses must pass into the disillusionment of their belief in the former political and social institutions, only to be transformed finally, with all the waverings engendered by the process of transformation itself and faithfully accompanying it, into complete submission to an ineluctable destiny.

The power of economic facts is in Russia (on the basis of the nationalized economy and of the productive forces released thereby) and in Germany (through monopoly capitalism carried out to its ultimate consequences and the economic “security” which it not only seems to offer but which for a certain period of time it actually offers) – this power is so great that it allows the collective consciousness no other way than to pass through the cleansing fire of time, and then – whatever the aspirations of the various strata of the population may be – to see what “develops further.” The decline of the Russian Revolution, the collapse of the international labor movement, the state of world capitalism are, in addition to all other factors, first-rate factors which blockade the consciousness of the German, Russian and European masses in general into very narrow limits and deprive it of any “better” perspective. We can say with certainty that German mass consciousness will be turned in other directions only to the extent that Germany is economically destroyed and its economic power appreciably diminished. An investigation of the so-called “mass mood” is thus possible only on the general basis: When economic realities are established or evaporate, mass consciousness follows them for good of ill. The more overwhelming and pronounced the economic realities, or their atrophy, the more unequivocal the effect on the two basic forms of mass reaction to their social environment: active and passive support, active and passive rejection. Whoever does not understand this, still understands nothing; and whoever pretends to be able to say more about “mass consciousness” is (objectively) a charlatan. To express ourselves still more clearly: We must turn energetically against the “mass psychology” fraud and mischief which has become fashionable in recent years and to which certain “Marxists” also incline. We must not permit the shamelessness which falsifies the crimes of social-democracy, of Stalinism, of rotting bourgeois democracy, and unloads on the masses the guilt for the crimes of this whole gang. The longest whip should be reserved for those who make the masses responsible for their enforced behavior in a situation into which they have been driven by the blatherskiting sneaks of the bourgeoisie [10], who drape themselves, according to need and circumstance, as revisionists (neo-Kantians), “state capitalists,” mass psychologists, etc.

If we must use alchemist “psychology,” then it is this: Nobody has transformed the milk of the pious way of thinking into the fermenting dragon’s poison of fascism-Stalinism, and accustomed them to monstrosities more than those gentlemen themselves. [11] “Mass psychology” (even in Freud) is the last pseudo-scientific rubbish which the bourgeoisie in the democracies still tries to peddle. It is the worthy supplement of pseudo-scientific “racism” cut to the needs of Anglo-American imperialism, which finds in these “sciences” the ideological justification for the “re-education” of the European masses. It gives them the “psychologically” motivated pretext for world domination under whose wing the demoralized “leadership” of Europe thinks to reinstate itself. These people will and must deceive themselves. The most aggressive position conceivable must be taken against the latest attempt at fraud by the bourgeoisie who are the ideological trail-blazers for fascism in the “democracies.” The line of struggle is defined by the insight: There is and can be “no mass psychology” (with or without Freud) – there is only a political psychology, political behavior of the masses. What we can say about this behavior is completely exhausted by the recognition that a couple of differences in degree in the economic relations produces in every case a wholly different – soul. Whatever goes beyond that is (to put it precisely) swindle; more politely, self-deceit.


We come thus to the last point that interests us: the “theory of state capitalism,” which is no more than the pseudo-scientific supplement to the “millennium” and (like mass psychology) a true ideological precursor of fascism in the “remaining democracies,” a means of obscurantism, and as such a weapon against German competition. The point in question is the swindle of the economic “autarchy” of Germany or Russia, without which the “system” of state capitalism naturally cannot exist, and which therefore makes it in reality the theoretical nonsense that it is. Nothing could be more characteristic of the political psychology of the masses (especially in Germany and Russia), of the decline of capitalism, the retrogressive movement, the posing of the problem of the Second World War, etc., than what is hidden behind this alleged autarchy. In it, all rays are, so to speak, united as in a reflector which radiates them back to the rest of the world (under different conditions in Russia, but in the same way).

Capitalism has transcended the national limits economically, without being able to abolish them. The result was the economic disorder of Europe, marked by the socialist revolution in Russia and the shift of economic weight to America. The monopolistic tendency bound up with the once created disproportions drives with iron necessity further along this direction and attains, along with its most extreme consequence, also – it inversion. As a result, both Russia and Germany (there are reflexions everywhere) try to exploit the disorder of the international economy, i.e., to turn the international division of labor into quite definite directions. The constellation of the Second World War and its conscious posing of the problem announce themselves: Russia, which wishes to defend herself against attack, Germany, which wishes to attack and to expand, must both subordinate everything to the conduct of the war and therefore make themselves as independent as possible of the international division of labor. The conscious imperialist posing of the problem (whereby Russia, in defense as in economic construction, follows only the laws of the capitalist environment) means: to get absolute economic preponderance in order to conquer. Capitalist terrain, both in preparation for and during the war, is to be incorporated completely into the economic life of the conqueror – they wish in advance to change by destroying and to destroy by changing. Both Russia and Germany move thereby along the line of the greatest possible self-sufficiency and self-provisioning (the whole Construction and reconstruction is not “bought” from the people but squeezed out of it with enormous sacrifice and reprisals). But this is not accomplished “autarchically,” beyond the international division of labor, but by means of it: by planful hoarding of everything which establishes preponderance, by creating definite proportions in the international division of labor. “Autarchy” (so far as it can be reasonably spoken of at all) is thus only a planful method of preparing imperialist expansion, and as such the attempt to overcome the international division of labor without being able to abolish it.

Return of the National Question

Both sides of this effort are explicit features of the breakdown of capitalism, the historic road of the capitalist mode of production circulating within itself and progressively contracting. In these are revealed not the establishment of “state capitalism,” but the inversion of all relations which characterizes the decline of capitalism. The establishment of an economic unity useful for the conduct of the war (the absence of which caused the internal collapse of the first imperialist war) is accomplished by ways and means which present, as always, the direct opposite of the ascending development.

The creditor-debtor relationship is characteristic and essential for ascending capitalism, vice versa for declining capitalism. Whoever wishes to decline (cum grano salis: is called upon to achieve his ruin) must, contrariwise, become a debtor, force back the development in the weaker countries and precisely thereby bring them into dependence upon himself. The collapse of capitalism is introduced as a process of industrial concentration in a very few countries (moreover of very different specific weight), to which the industrial remodelling and disarmament in other countries correspond. It is not the bad politics of the “state capitalists,” it is the inherent nature of the “capital producing only for itself” which provides (to paraphrase Marx) that not only must the situation of the workers necessarily worsen but also the situation of all nations, however high or low their share of exports or imports.

The indestructible nature of capital shows itself precisely in the fact that its inner contradictions are carried over into the international arena with all the more explosive force the more they appear to be subdued on a national scale; thereby indicating how futile remains the attempt to abolish the international division of labor “autarchically.” The effect of the effort not to abolish it but to overcome it in a prescribed direction, i.e., to shift it, is its consolidation on the level of disintegration. With this consolidation, Russia, (whose revolution degenerates and whose economy gravitates toward the capitalist side) and Germany (which expands imperialistically) have abolished the political boundaries only to reestablish them as an economic-national problem (in Russia, e.g., the Ukrainian question). Seen in all its aspects, the development returns to its points of departure. The imperialist and Stalinist atomization of the individual corresponds to the national conglomerating of the impoverished, hurled-back countries, degraded to colonies or politically subjugated – and returns as the national question.

The “Correct” Posing of the Problem
for the Second World War

While capitalism thus proves to be absolutely incapable of removing a single one of its contradictions and of escaping its destiny (the sharpening of these contradictions in the retrogressive movement of the collapse), one thing is nevertheless sure: the problem of the imperialist war is this time at least posed correctly according to capitalist logic. The end-result of capitalist development, monopoly industry, becomes the foundation of the war and the military problem is now to be solved by it with economic measures (on economic foundations). Hopeless though the venture remains with regard to the solution of the capitalist problem itself – premises and conclusions now again coincide. Industrial militarism therefore regains its relative independence in strategy, tactics, etc., in a new way, because it is dependent upon monopoly: the war can be conducted totally; what is not conquered is ruthlessly destroyed.

The attempts of the “bloody international of the armaments industry” to pursue its activity as it did in the First World War are reduced mainly to England and America (due to their position in the retrogressive movement) and quickly lose significance. The war itself becomes “mobile” again. Fronts and alliances can be interchanged. The war assumes (like a falling body increasing in speed) the form of ancient expeditions of conquest in which clear military decisions also decided the enslaving of a population, the “use” to which they were put, the dragging off of the population and of wealth, political independence, etc.; and which always aimed at the destruction of the economic power of the opponent. The relatively short duration of former continental wars is in this war only the brief stage of the overthrow of weak capitalist nations (among them, France). Otherwise it is like the long-drawn-out and ever-renewed attempts of ancient kingdoms to conquer world mastery. Under such efforts, the “civil population,” both at that time and now, suffered more than the soldier himself. Nevertheless, the “grandeur” of the attempt and its material foundation is the reason why mass consciousness cannot escape it and the prospects are blocked up.

Historical Meaning and “Progress”
in the Retrogressive Movement

Our conclusion is: the “psychologist” is far blinder than the masses, who are another tool of the historic breakdown of the capitalist mode of production and follow its iron laws. History never makes “arbitrary” but always revolutionary jumps. And humanity, according to Marx, not only poses just such tasks as it can solve, but (as we have made clear in former works) it resolves upon their real solution only when all illusions have disappeared and no other way out is left. That is just as true of the Russian Revolution as of its decline, and the historical meaning of the retrogressive movement consists in exhausting the ultimate possibilities of capitalism – the historical-practical possibilities of its self-destruction. There is no other meaning than the historically developed meaning. If anyone asks us about the progress which must necessarily be contained in the historical retrogression, and whose disclosure is a political act, we would answer in this way:

The enormous progress which the retrogressive movement must bring into existence in the unfolding of its inner contradictions lies in the creation of a situation which drives the consciousness of humanity unavoidably to the last possible solution. The conditions which grow more intolerable each day press toward the revolutionary solution of the crisis of humanity and thereby also serve to collapse the last illusion of Stalinist revisionism, namely, that the world revolution can be avoided.

In the retrogressive movement there comes to an end the life’s course of revisionism, which accompanied the ascending development with the illusion of a capitalism having an unlimited capacity for expansion, and its complement, the illusion of “socialism in one country.” In both its forms, it ends with capitalism’s decline. The proof of this, and of the opening up of the revolutionary perspective, is obtained by investigating the special form of the retrogressive movement which, in addition to the features already observed, it possesses in strict opposition to the ascending development.

XI – Specific Retrogressive Movement

The disintegration of the British Empire supplies the historic framework of the retrogressive movement or the downfall of the capitalist mode of production.

The breaking up of the British Empire set in at the same time that it received its juridical coronation through the Versailles Treaty. England’s position as industrial monopolist belongs definitely to the past. Her economic and military basis is ultimately too narrow for her colossal possessions; her wealth (which, like France’s wealth, is co-responsible for the obsolescence of her industry in comparison with Germany and America) is the source of her weakness. Since America and Japan broke into her sphere of influence, she has taken up a line of defense in the post-war period from which she slowly but steadily retreats. This line in turn influences the whole development in a corresponding manner. In the English “balance-of-power politics” of the post-war period – the social question which shakes the world from Russia and Germany to China and India and back again to the Spanish Revolution, has become a dominating element. It now participates decisively in the shaping of the development.

It might therefore appear that it is not the British Empire but the rest of the world which provides the framework for the disintegration of capitalism. But that is a mistake. The rest of the world provides the framework for the construction of the British Empire as much as it does for its dissolution, and it is this dissolution which gives concrete ramification to the whole declining line of development. England’s strength is still great enough, in its retreat and defense, to exert influence upon the decline of the Russian Revolution (among other means by systematic strengthening of Germany and later the Stalinist bureaucracy), and to exploit for the “solution” of the social question the policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy in China, in the Anglo-Russian committee, in the victory of fascism in Germany and in the Spanish Revolution, etc. Without Stalin, no Hitler. But without the English policy there would not be so rapid a rise of Stalin and so successful a foreign policy for Hitler, which was made possible by the systematic weakening of France and the Little Entente. England, dominated on the other side by the antagonism to America, cannot do otherwise than contribute to the concrete history of the decay of capitalism which it contained embryonically in itself on the basis of its position as industrial monopolist. The point is that this is the historical result of the movement generated by the capitalist development itself. The point is not how the development might have occurred under other premises. The destiny of capitalism has been decided in Europe.

The Transition

We have said that a “classical” country is always enough to give world capitalism its prevailing character and the prevailing character of the ascending development was free competition, controlled by the industrial monopoly of England and the building up of its world empire. The development goes from West to East, and produces monopoly in industry out of free competition. Capitalism appears in the imperialist stage of its full maturity and poses the problem of the re-division of the world. Because the real situation was misjudged, this problem was falsely posed: Capitalism reaches its decline at an early date and goes under in Russia, which is especially a product of capitalist super-saturation and is the weakest link in the imperialist chain. In Russia the uneven and combined development of capitalism is broken, proceeds at first beyond it, and yields its highest historical product to date, the victorious October Revolution and the nationalization of the means of production as the basis of socialist economy. The last and weakest country in the rank of imperialist development had the most irresistible labor movement, the densest interweaving of the latter’s interests with the bourgeois-democratic interests of the whole people, especially with the interests of the peasantry, and the most conscious conjoining of all these interests for the victory of the proletarian revolution through the Bolshevik Party. Therewith the lifeline of capitalism is broken. History proves that it is the destiny of its mode of production to be overthrown by the proletarian revolution and to be the material premise of a higher mode of production, of a more human society. In England’s industrial monopoly, whose abolition threatens its empire and becomes the cause of the first imperialist war, the collapse of capitalism was included in advance.

But socialism can be achieved only if it builds further on the the basis of capitalist world economy, i.e., evens out the uneven development, draws all people into technical progress, brings material wealth and technical progress itself to a height at which it is possible to speak of overcoming the social division of labor in its class-producing and politically-oppressive effect and form. The problem of the proletarian revolution is therefore posed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks as the problem of the world revolution, and it is unmistakably asserted that the isolated Russian Revolution must inevitably perish. Apart from the fundamental consideration of the impossibility of a “national” socialism, the highest product of uneven development is at the same time the lowest product of capitalism, a backward country whose general level lies far beneath the level of the advanced capitalist countries.


Russia, after warding off all the imperialist attempts at intervention and ending the civil war, made allowance for the world situation and drew back to the NEP with full maintenance of the revolutionary line. New revolutionary crises ripened in Europe and the hopes of the Bolsheviks for help through the revolution in other countries (Germany is the most important) awaited fulfillment. During this period, Italy assumed the position of precursor of an imperialist disintegration which seeks in fascism the form or rule of monopoly capitalism corresponding to this disintegration.

Italy thus introduced the specific retrogressive movement into the imperialist countries, and laid bare a political vacuum unparalleled in modern history. After the murder of Matteotti, political power literally lay in the streets. Only after nobody else would take it did Mussolini seize it again. It was the vacuum in which capitalism and the labor movement turn somersaults and stagger back.

Nevertheless, it is Italy’s destiny to be in no way decisive, and always to be only a special case of the anticipated development. Having just leaped to the top, she sinks back again to fourth place and looks toward the stronger. This time she finds the stronger in Germany. But she enters the great conflict, in accordance with her tradition, only when the fortunes of war seem to be decided and the moment has come to assure herself of at least petty spoils. Mussolini’s expedition to Abyssinia and his expedition into the desert on the eve of the Second Imperialist World War are symbolic of Italy’s destiny. Her power is just about big enough for her to test out the effects of collapse in the desert. History avenges itself fearfully for the vacuum into which fascism leaped: it is Italy’s economic and political history which makes the Italian people skeptical, unsuited for employment in the service of foreign interests and makes them (in the mass) “bad” soldiers of capital. [12]

The war has not yet ended and already the Italian bourgeoisie sees itself rewarded appropriately for its effort to outwit history. It stands again as the betrayer betrayed. With this, the development in Italy is once again broken: she becomes the precursor of fascist collapse, and her whole body experiences, on one hand, imperialist decomposition in war, and on the other, the democratic-political problem.


Since Italy decides nothing, the development must leap from this precursor, not over to England again, but to where its main line was broken: to Russia.

The German revolution was shattered on the theoretical, political, organization and tactical mistakes and weaknesses of the German Left. They were incapable, during the war as well as later, of filling up the gaps torn by revisionism and making up for lost opportunities. The weaknesses of the German Left are, on the contrary, the direct product of the incompleteness of their struggle against Revisionism, which carried the day and left the Russian Revolution isolated.

Into the political vacuum thus created sprang Russia, where reaction to isolation after the defeat of the German revolution and Lenin’s death set in all along the line. This reaction is, in terms of its content, the result of inner difficulties and the pressure of capitalist surroundings to which the masses and a part of the Bolshevik Party succumbed. It is thus also the product of the inner contradiction of the Russian Revolution, to be an isolated revolution, especially in a backward country weakened by war and civil war. In the actual historical course, the Russian reaction is identical with “being lost,” identical with the downfall of the revolution, which Lenin had regarded as “certain” in the event of its isolation. Again, the Philistine can naturally picture the doom only as a “smooth” one, whereas history as usual decisively refuses to admit “ideal cases.” In historically concrete terms, the foretold defeat of the revolution takes on the form, therefore, of a process of degeneration which is long-drawn-out, full of contradictions, retrogressive, etc., wherein the inner difficulties and the pressure of the capitalist environment gain more and more influence and carry through the retrogression toward the capitalist side.

Therewith the uneven and combined development breaks in its highest historical product and demands corresponding ideological expression. The gap in consciousness is filled by the new revisionism with the “theory of socialism in one country,” which is put in circulation by Stalin himself as a direct product of the halfway-ness of the German Left immediately after the defeat of the German revolution and Lenin’s death. If German revisionism was the theoretical climax and systematization of all other methods for holding down the labor movement, and, as such, was the effort to avoid revolution in every single country, revisionism of the Stalinist observance is the climax of the halfway-ness of the German Left which permitted German revisionism to perform its fateful function to the full. This halfway-ness is the medium through which German revisionism is carried over into Russia and appears as the effort to avoid the world revolution on the basis of the revolution already accomplished.

With this, the theoretical development is broken in accordance with the economic development by inversion of the revolutionary concept (the “peaceful growing” of Russian society into socialism). And therewith is broken also the democratic and national development, whose broad line up to that point had moved upward and had stepped beyond bourgeois limits. Proletarian democracy, just achieved in the fight against Czarist absolutism, gave way to the most hideous absolutism history has ever seen. The national question, correctly solved for the first time in history, arises again in its bourgeois form as a consequence of Stalinist policy. An unparalleled disintegration sets in; the transvaluation of all values, which serves capitalism as decisive prototype, is utilized by it decisively and clears the road for its self-disintegration.

The revisionist “peaceful growing into” socialism is always identical in practice with the growing together of the labor bureaucracy with the bourgeois state, which it supports in the interests of the bourgeoisie, in order to unburden it of a more or less large part of its business of suppression. Where all capitalist development has landed in a dead end, has progressed beyond bourgeois accomplishments and has then been inverted on a revolutionary basis, the labor bureaucracy usurps the state and monopolizes political power for itself alone. It directs the state externally as well as internally against the proletariat and the revolution, and draws increasingly upon bourgeois elements for support against the proletariat and the revolution (as contrariwise, the bourgeoisie in the democracies draws the labor bureaucracy to its assistance).

Further: Since social consciousness permits no gaps and there is no middle ideology between socialist consciousness and bourgeois ideology, it is bourgeois consciousness which returns in the degeneration of the completely isolated revolution. And because all combinations and unevenness, including the revolutionary ones, are carried over from West to East and have broken in Russia, all fundamental features of the revisionist development also reappear in combination and inversion. Stalin’s revisionism has four aspects:

It remains or becomes:

  1. Impossible, in so far as it can come forward only as reaction and counter-revolution; can only suppress the proletariat and deliver it over to bourgeois atomization; can only intensify class differences; can only undermine its own foundation; can only worsen the situation of the masses as contrasted with the reformism of the ascending development.
  2. Theoretical, because it re-systematizes all methods of holding down the labor movement, is a post-dated note on the fruits of “growing into socialism” (from which the world working class is also supposed to profit), and therefore takes over the fateful function of German revisionism, to corrode the revolutionary will and spirit of the great movements by this “perspective.”
  3. Practical-political, because it is the direct state practice of the autocratic bureaucracy and is just as directly engaged in counter-revolutionary activity in Russia as in China, England, Germany, France, Spain and the whole world.
  4. Organic, because it is identical with all the wishes, goals and aspirations of the autocratic bureaucracy and the whole process of retrogressive development.

Historical Accomplishments of the Bolshevik Opposition
(On the acknowledgment and evaluation of the situation
of the labor movement and of conscious socialism)

Because, however, nothing can go lost in the development, not even with regard to the consciousness achieved; because the revolution was victorious and the revolutionary concept was sufficient, complete and consistent – a consistent revolutionary Marxist wing split off and the retrogressive movement of the revolutionary political emigration set in.

The actual Bolshevik emigration was, for Russia, diminishingly small in extent, overwhelming in quality, and restricted almost exclusively to the exile of the family of Leon Trotsky, which was the greatest obstacle for Stalin. He persecuted it with the parvenu’s burning hatred of the revolution, he hounded it westward with the support of the bourgeoisie from one country, from one “democracy” to another, and did not rest until he had killed every male member of this family; and finally, in a backward country on the other side of the ocean, he killed with a pick-axe the second genius of the Russian Revolution, the last political, literary and military genius, the last genius of socialism and of humanity. With Trotsky murdered, the whole elite of the Russian Revolution, the whole Bolshevik leadership, the flower of the Red Army, of the revolutionary working class and of the intelligentsia is physically murdered, imprisoned, exiled, cut off completely from the world, or else hopelessly corrupted – like Stalin himself – in the tiny and low-ranking remnants that survive. In connection with this, the history books are rewritten, the truth turned upside down, falsification, slander, intrigue and deception are organized into a system of which the most demoralized bourgeoisie before Stalin had not even a faint inkling, and compared to which Czarism was a highly civilized institution.

It is of the utmost importance to acknowledge and evaluate correctly the historical accomplishment of the Bolshevik Opposition in the struggle against Stalin and the new revisionism, for without this premise an acknowledgment and evaluation of the situation of the labor movement, or better still, of scientific socialism, are impossible.

Historically, there fell to the Bolshevik Opposition the enormous task of resisting the disintegration of the Russian Revolution, of explaining it theoretically, and of re-forming the forces of the world labor movement for its salvation. The conditions under which they had to accomplish this task were the following:

  1. Terror of the Stalinist bureaucracy; material and ideological corruption of the Comintern; isolation, falsification of history, slander, deception in Russia and in the International.
  2. Everywhere, defeated labor movements which had “missed” their opportunities; had never emerged from the inherited mistakes and weaknesses of both the revisionist and the revolutionary wing; could learn nothing from its defeats as a result of Stalinist theory, policy and tactics; standing as a mass wholly and completely under the influence of mutually complementary revisionism and petty bourgeois ultra-left or opportunistic sects.
  3. Capitalist disintegration which curbed the spirit of the labor movement and had the general effect of depression; (where the development, as a result of special conditions, still moves upward, the labor movement is still young, as in China, politically undeveloped as in England, improvised as in France, and in every case it is killed by Stalin’s long arm, which when other methods fail him, turns Russian weapons directly against the Spanish revolution and has the revolutionists butchered by his GPU).
  4. Continuing fascization of Europe, to which reformism and Stalinism render assistance and thereby permit the betrayal to be carried out to its end.

Under such conditions history itself reduces the task of the Bolshevik Opposition (which, moreover, is really able to take up its international task only in 1929) to covering the retreat of the labor movement, to maintaining the consciousness of the interconnection of things and of the Russian reality, and to assuring the continuity of the movement in every branch of work. This problem absorbed Trotsky’s time and energy completely. Its carrying out is a life or death question for socialism. Without Trotsky, who embodies a whole epoch in himself, nobody would find his way, and there is no one who could have accomplished the colossal job in his place. He devoted himself to it with a spirit of sacrifice, consistency, fearlessness, devotion and a consciousness of responsibility which make him one of the sublimest prototypes in the history of all mankind. He saved the honor of the whole movement and its revolutionary incorruptibility under the most difficult circumstances. If ever there was a martyr to the cause who, despite a complete consciousness of the murderous danger, did not flinch for a moment, it was he.

The task itself is posed by the inversion of all relations in such a way that this time the revolutionary wing must begin with the demand for the reform of the Soviet state and the Comintern, in order to go over gradually to the recognition of the necessity for a political revolution for Russia, and the struggle for a new, the Fourth International of the world revolution. Also with regard to the International and the labor movement, the retrogressive development remains inexorable and does not rest until it has not only arrived again at the demand for a revolutionary international but has driven back the free labor movement to the place from which it once began: England. We will see this when we consider England. With regard to the Bolshevik Opposition, we conclude:

The last period of Trotsky’s life was filled in the main with a sharp struggle over the question of the character of the Soviet Union, and the writing of a biography of Stalin. Because of the harsh necessity to defend to the last the first workers’ state, in spite of its horrible degeneration, for the sake of its fundamental achievements, and to participate in the struggles for the consolidation of the Fourth International, what was perhaps his most important theoretical work, the biography of Lenin, remains unfinished. History awaits the day when the work of both is completed and millions lower draped flags in memory of the great dead.

Russia as the Political Model for Germany

The economic, social and other content of the Russian retrogressive development and its significance have been comprehensively presented, commented on and analyzed in the extensive literature of the Fourth International. At this point, where the economic development lies behind us, we need merely adduce what Trotsky, in June 1939, summarized as the political development of Russia:

“The realities of Soviet life today can indeed be hardly reconciled even with the shreds of old theory. Workers are bound to the factories; peasants are bound to the collective farms. The freedom of movement has been completely restricted. It is a capital crime to come late to work. Punishable as treason is not only any criticism of Stalin but even the mere failure to fulfill the natural duty to get down on all fours before the ‘Leader.’ The frontiers are guarded by an impenetrable wall of border patrols and police dogs on a scale heretofore unknown anywhere. To all intents and purposes, no one can leave and no one may enter. Foreigners who had previously managed to get into the country are being systematically exterminated. The gist of the Soviet constitution, ‘the most democratic in the world,’ amounts to this: that every citizen is required at an appointed time to cast his ballot for the one and only candidate handpicked by Stalin or his agents. The press, the radio, all the organs of propaganda, agitation and national education are completely in the hands of the ruling clique. During the last five years no less than half a million members, according to official figures, have been expelled from the party. How many have been shot, thrown into jails and concentration camps, or exiled to Siberia, we do not definitely know. But undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of party members have shared the fate of millions of non-party members. [13]

“It would be extremely difficult to instill in the minds of these millions, their families, relatives and friends, the idea that the Stalinist state is withering away. It is strangling others, but gives no sign of withering. It has instead brought the state to a pitch of wild intensity unprecedented in the history of mankind ... The party, the government, the army and the diplomatic corps have been bled white and beheaded. Things had gone so far that Stalin at the last Congress was forced, in order to calm his own apparatus, to promise that he would not in the future resort to wholesale purges. This is, of course, a lie. The Bonapartist state will find itself compelled likewise in the future to devour society physically as well as spiritually.”

It is sufficient to sketch again the situation of Germany after the war to recognize that this, and not inadequate Italy, is the political model that the German bourgeoisie must imitate in pursuit of its corresponding aims.


The industrial straggler, having become the most modern monopolist in industry in a world ruled by England, having got the short end in the dividing up of the world, and having been the first to overcome “finance capital,” saw itself punished by still narrower confinement for its attempt to dispute for place with England. Its collapse ended first of all, exactly as in Russia, with a victory of democracy and of the long-sought freedom of vote over the monarchy of Wilhelm – against the will of Ebert. The ascending line of democracy is brought to an end, and its “natural” sequence is established: bourgeois democracy in England, France and Germany, more far-reaching proletarian democracy in Russia.

The development now could have and should have proceeded back from Russia on an ascending line, i.e., the completion of the least bloody of all revolutions, or later at least, the proletarian revolution on the Russian model, were it not for revisionism and the mistakes of the German Left. The German working class was master of the situation in fact and possessed sufficient support in the rest of the population. But from the first day onward mastery was consciously wrested from it by its own bureaucracy which, from the outset, summoned to its support against the workers the bourgeoisie and the same reaction which was later to give it the deserved knockout blow. [14]

The German Left, although it had a correct knowledge of this aspect and was inspired with real revolutionary will, mistook the situation in the labor movement and did not understand how to destroy the illusions of the workers (who rightly felt themselves masters of the situation) by using these illusions as its point of departure.

The moral and political prestige of the German Left was great. They too saved the honor of the movement in a difficult situation – the names of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Leo Jogisches were legends around which new legends were spun every day. Their reputation was spotless and commanded the respect even of mendacious opponents. By misunderstanding the real situation, this prestige was squandered in a series of premature and artificially forced actions. “Radical” slogans and tactics took the place of what was organically necessary. The leadership was thereupon murdered [15], the movement was left in a state of hopeless confusion; the German working class was delivered to the counter-revolution all the more easily because the young Communist Party continued its “radical” practices, and also because it flung away the prestige of the October Revolution and soon thereafter landed in the swamp of Stalinism. Lenin’s attempt to help the German party and to transmit to it the tactics of the Bolshevik Party remained unsuccessful. Lenin’s Infantile Maladies was his most popular work, so far as its title goes, but in every other respect it was his most unpopular and least understood work.

Revisionism in Germany became for several years the organic and political practice, as a phenomenon of crisis and with explicit counter-revolutionary functions. Then, the retrogressive movement set in from Russia. Revisionism finally became impossible with the extension of the world crisis. The democratic development, the development of the labor movement, was definitively broken under the regime of Brüning, Papen, Schleicher, who finally yielded to fascism, which, as in Russia, broke every development, and in the very first place dispatched into the void the German labor movement, the mightiest in the world. In part, history at least avenges all crimes on earth: the reformist labor bureaucracy on the whole is treated by Hitler as offal despite its “readiness to collaborate.” The blood of the murdered falls upon the murderers.

Under Fascism

The German bourgeoisie, with the help of fascism and an extensive technical transformation, brought industrial monopoly to an unexpected height. In the conversion, i.e., proceeding from its own and no longer from the English development, German industry soon speaks the “last word” again and can be set in motion for the alteration of existing relations. On a broader industrial foundation the bourgeoisie again take up the problem at the point where the collapse of the first imperialist war had dropped it. The ambiguity of the earlier posing of the problem disappears: there is to be no re-division of the world, but only the dismemberment of the world under the leadership of German industrial monopoly by means of the destruction of England.

However much England and her allies or Germany and her allies tried to avoid this posing of the question – primarily at the expense of Russia – the logic of things remained stronger than all of them and at the end of countless efforts nobody was able to leap out of the framework set up by the rise and fall of the British Empire. The Versailles Treaty was treated by Hitler for what it was: a scrap of paper which certified England’s weakness. The “separation” of German areas established in it was annulled without danger, or else was over-compensated for by occupation and incorporation of more important areas. The ridiculous “re-division” was surpassed by the helplessness with which England had to look on while the “new division” was made and to countenance it.

The “re-division” had not been the result of a clear military decision but the result of the victory of economy over the war; it was thereupon corrected by the economy. This was shown most clearly in the Saar Region, which France didn’t even know what to do with and which strove with all its strength to return to Germany instead of voting for France. German monopoly rules capitalist continental Europe and subjects it economically (it is also extremely successful at the same time outside of Europe, in South America) before a conflict in the East, of subordinate significance in itself but no longer isolatable, again brings England to the limit of possible appeasement and, with the knife at her throat for the second time, she girds herself for war a second time. And again she is sure in advance that the working class throughout Europe cannot intervene; again Germany deceives herself about the limits of English appeasement.

It is truly amazing with what stubbornness the development remains retrogressive even in its details. In spite of all efforts, Germany does not succeed in avoiding the two-front war. While at first she heaps success upon success in the rest of Europe and completes the economic subjugation by the military, her impact is first broken, in contrast to the First World War, in Russia.

Only when the outcome of the Russian adventure begins to take effect does she fall back more to the defensive against the West – and clears the road for combinations which, like the inner development, go beyond the narrower retrogressive movement. The national question, latent up to that time, appears in the foreground, receives a mighty impulse from the successful Russian resistance, and is posed retrogressively as the re-conquest of national and democratic freedom. In practice, the national question contains all the elements of a break which is capable of inaugurating a new epoch and again reversing the retrogressive movement.


The side road which France was forced to travel in the capitalist development and through which it arrived at its relatively favorable second rank, is its fortune and its fate. This nation, which has endowed modern bourgeois society with dramatic effects, the fireworks of history, the Great Revolution and the Paris Commune, rhetoric and bourgeois criticism, the press and the parodical operetta, comedy and satire, irony and serene catholic sentimentality, pathos and passion, eroticism and the luxury industries, wine and the gourmet’s kitchen, spirit and fashion, naturalism and impressionism, military technique and the Republic – for all this and more France is “classical,” because economically second-rate – is imbued like no other with a feeling for life in which the consciousness of the evanescence of all earthly things vibrates perceptibly.

The feeling for life of the French nation is pessimistically grounded, but it has nothing of the burrowing despair of Northern pessimism or Eastern nihilism, nothing of the struggle of Faustian man over an eternally insoluble problem. [16] The plant grows, blooms and must die. On such crystal-clear grounds, which no brooding can surpass for depth and balance, sprouts the incomparable flower of French “sérénité,” a word so untranslatable that it can only be conveyed or paraphrased, like the transplanting of the French feeling for life into other cultures. The marvelous, and in its perfection unique, mixture of both components, the consciousness of the nothingness of all efforts, and the priority of existence that makes an active life obligatory, gives rise to the ideal of “clarity,” the living readiness of the “Qui vive?” to be bold and to fight, to guard life, to empty the cup in the even flow of life, but also to plunge into the stream and be consumed when the great hour has struck. The world for hundreds of years has rightly regarded France with admiration and pampered it disgracefully. Its vices and weaknesses are as emblematical as its strength and virtues. Nowhere has civilization borne a more beautiful flower on its broad vulgar stem, nowhere have liveliness of temperament and “laissez-faire, laissez-aller!” transmitted an inkling of better humanity than in France. Where sureness, composure, unaffected humaneness appear, one is on the trail of great traditions which – condition their naturalness.

It is only natural for the flower to wither before the stem is dried up; only destiny if France molders in the English embrace; only the broken energy of a people instinctively sure in good as in evil, if, though accompanied by the anguished cry of all its governments, it obdurately refuses to reproduce itself and increase its numbers. The “doom of the gods” of imperialism, which is ruining humanity, is not symbolically-musically anticipated by France but objectively felt, described in detail [17], and experienced physically as a shrinking of its population. That is as it should be for a great nation, which could never reach first place; which has exhausted itself in the dramatic effects of politics and precedes the doom of the British Empire; and whose fall is prepared by the merciless gods only to be accompanied by their own.

France Between the First and the Second World Wars

In the First World War, France bled itself white. Its reputation of having emerged out of the struggle as victor and as first military power on the continent, is benevolent legend and fiction. It is in reality the victim of England and lives thereafter more by the favor of circumstances than by its own strength. Exhausted as it is, it has but one need: recovery from the fearful blood-letting, protection from a repetition of the same operation. And the fear for its security makes it no wiser.

Hindered or called to heel by England in all measures which aimed at keeping the “favor of circumstances” and its security, it sought an understanding with all and reached it with none. Its will to understanding which extended right inside the general staff – for it was dictated by circumstances and was the only possibility of salvation – was utterly sincere. It was a national necessity, to avoid “radical” measures and to spare the people. Its capitalism stagnated in a manner which permitted the maintenance of the “rentier ideal”: it succeeded in avoiding the inflationary raid on a German scale because it lacked the corresponding economic driving forces. Revisionism became organic in France, in so far as everything was attuned to reconstruction, reform, appeasement, etc. The crisis remained latent until 1933 and first began to take effect after the victory of German fascism. From that time on, it acquired a convulsive character which accurately registered the spasms of the organism.

The number of unemployed grew in France, but that offered no special difficulties to the Jewish and political emigrants who were retreating further to the West. The Daladier regime even made a last grand gesture and granted Trotsky asylum. It did not at all lie in the “bad will” of Daladier that his courage disappeared with the untenability of his position and his democratic conviction capitulated before the growing difficulties. Nevertheless, the gesture was there, and he fired on those fascists – unthinkable for a social-democratic German minister – who ventured their first assault in 1934 with the help of the Communists.

In the crisis of 1936, the German situation of 1918 was repeated. The bourgeoisie sat in every mousehole. Police, army, farmers and petty bourgeoisie sympathized with the workers. A revolution could have been carried out almost bloodlessly and been made irresistible together with Spain. France could have been saved, the wheel of history turned. The Communists, and they alone, succeeded in strangling the great movement and the Spanish Revolution by the “Popular Front” policy. This all the more so as the Fourth International did especially badly on French soil. It remained politically maladjusted and without influence. The pressure was nevertheless so strong that France, on top of all this, was forced to take a spasmodic revisionist step forward and give itself something like social legislation.

Here we have another outstanding feature: the earlier the people achieve political democracy, the later they complete it in this or that respect (e.g., with regard to woman suffrage), and the later it is overthrown. Revisionism finally became impossible in France, too, but what to put in its place? The country literally rotted away on the foundations on which it had grown: they no longer sufficed for life, but they were still too stable for death. The labor movement was disoriented completely by the Popular Front policy, demoralized and robbed of its last hopes. A fascist movement cannot and will not thrive.

For the first time there is also announced among the claimants to the post of fascist dictator a parvenu from the “Communist” Party. He is Jacques Doriot, the mayor of the workers’ suburb, St. Denis, who, proceeding from the – Communist workers in his district, tried to call into life a fascist mass movement. The Comintern directly prepared this creature for his role with its “national-communist” policy; with Radek’s glorification of the anti-Semite Schlageter; the subsequent fraternization actions of the German Communists with the “Völkischen” (the later Nazis), the joint People’s Referendum of Nazis and Communists (to the honor of the German workers be it said that in practice it was supported only by the most stupid followers of Communist demagogy) against the Social-Democratic Prussian government; the action of the French Communists at the same time with the fascists against the the Daladier government in France, etc. Doriot arose organically out of this policy, for the political essence of Stalinism is fascism. The renegade Doriot met with no success either. He had to content himself in the end, after France’s fall, with concluding a little “Stalin pact” with Hitler, but France is delivered from its dilemma by the Second World War.

France is just about as well “prepared” for this war as a sheep that is led to the slaughter. The bourgeoisie is split, and its fascist wing – including a part of the military leadership, renegades of the labor movement like Marcel Déat, Doriot, etc., who had come out for an understanding with Germany – plays into the hands of Germany. The will of the whole country is paralyzed and an overwhelming majority of the people are no more friendly to the war than one would be to a strong dose of poison. Every Frenchman knows inside him, and every other one says it aloud, that England was ready to fight the First World War “down to the last Frenchman.” This time the war can “be fought down to the last Englishman – but without us” (without France [18]). This reversal is good, and the “soul of the masses” exactly reflects the general situation.

The Last Stage

Poor France! Horrible how it has broken up since the First World War, how its magnificent feeling for life has sunk to mere banal need for rest, how its balanced optimism has crept down to trivial affirmation of the status quo. The true war cry of France sounds: “Je veux mon beefsteak” (I want my beefsteak) and “Foutez-moi la paix!” (go to hell!). The French talent for improvisation, confirmed for the last time in the sitdown strikes of the workers in the 1936 movement, fails completely in the war and gives way to the slogan: “Débrouillez-vous!” (Get yourself fixed up!)

Débrouillez-vous!” – the negative turn of the winged verve of “Qui vive?” that is in fact the only possible slogan for France after every better solution has been rendered impossible for it through the betrayal of the Popular Front politicians.

What it was scolded for – its “pacifism,” its unwillingness to let itself be sacrificed once more for a hopeless cause, the cause of England – is what it should be praised for. Though it sank far – and its positive characteristics have become lost in triviality – yet in the refusal of the French people is preserved a remnant of these characteristics: in it is hidden political instinct and historic genius. Closely examined, its kernel is the formula of revolutionary defeatism: “The defeat of one’s own bourgeois is the lesser evil,” which at a certain point goes over quite of itself against the government. If France finds itself in complete disintegration, chaos become general, billions fly to the South, and the “Débrouillez-vous” expands into “Sauve qui peut!” (Save himself who can), France stands literally on the brink of revolution, which begins to flare up sporadically.

To be sure, it is true that democracy and the labor movement of France failed even more ignominiously than in Germany, and were not even exterminated by the fascists but simply decreed away. But capitulation is an affair of the leadership, which thoroughly corrupted the taste of the workers, flung them into the hopeless adventure of the war – in so far as it was “communist” – changed position from one day to the next, i.e., for the sake of the Stalin-Hitler pact transformed its previous war-baiting of Germany into the baiting of the “peace-disturbing democracies.” The French people, the working class, refused to follow this leadership anyhow, and gave it the negative answer which the masses always have ready for mistakes: passive rejection. Should they now, with the example of Spain and their own experience behind them, and in this hopelessly bungled situation – where was the “leadership”? – plunge on their own hook into a second dead-end adventure?

The whole truth is this: it was not to old General Pétain that democracy and the labor movement had to capitulate – his regime could only be transitional – but to Hitler. France itself was too weak for anything and could only preserve its sure instinct for historic necessity. The deed fell to German monopoly capital which cannot for long tolerate any democracy, any, even if only potential, labor movement, any opposition to itself.

The French people, the working class, felt and suspected where the real enemy, was, and that it must be beaten on better grounds and with better methods. What Germany had already demonstrated, namely, that the political mass party on the “classical model” is no good whatsoever for the political purposes of the proletariat, that the trade unions are questionable in the highest degree and that especially in critical times a one-sided orientation of political work upon them is catastrophic, etc., is, as always, practically experienced in France and carried out to the end. Scarcely beaten, the political genius of France is confirmed anew and gropes a way for itself beyond the old organizations and traditions, moving step by step to that form of struggle which is adapted to the new situation. It is the national question around which the political activity of France is oriented, and it is anything but an accident that France, as always in political history since the Great Revolution, should give the signal for Europe. It poses the national question as it must be posed today, and it would be disastrous not to see it: as a movement of the people and not nationalistic – whatever may be the phrases or ideologies pasted on it.

The old France is dead and will never be able to establish itself again “capitalistically.” It is this which the French people feel arid have lived through in the most inward sense. Whether in the Great Revolution, the Paris Commune, or Dreyfus scandal, at all historical turns it has been shaken from top to bottom. Again and again it has carried its conflicts to exhaustion, collectively and individually. Again and again it has wrenched from itself dramatic experiences which make its blood well up and leave behind the true taste of things.

It therefore had to be this way: Finished economically as an imperialist country, France could do nothing else but anticipate the fate of humanity in the capitalist disintegration and hold this mirror before the world. The hopelessness of all efforts becomes under imperialism the gray reality of the day, and burns in the consciousness of a people which has lived through history like no other and has learned from it. History is (to quote Theodore Lessing) “making sense out of the senseless,” or, better yet, the effort to purge the senseless of the demony which it bears within it in its crude natural state. It is the great misery of life under unmastered nature which sets history in motion, and through it seeks to restore the pure, unrestricted course of the senseless (waxing, blooming and waning) free from the demony of the unconscious. History is the formal means in the struggle for the freedom of humanity and must abolish itself with its completion. A great people, whom imperialism deprived of historical perspective earlier than it did any other, had to feel its actual essence earlier than any other people. France has proved authentically that imperialism ruins humanity, breaks its life’s energy, and drives out its spirit, will and instinct of propagation.


Toward midnight of the last July 14 which Paris celebrated, a taxi swung through the Place des Fêtes, one of the squares where the people amuse themselves. It was packed full of English sailors, members of the delegation which England had sent to the celebration in order to take part in the traditional morning parade. They stood in the taxi, these sailors, they hung on the sides, swinging on the running board. And while the car went slowly along, one of them, a young chap, his blond hair on end, swung himself, holding on the door of the car with one hand, his cap in the other; and, his face reddened by blissful drunkenness and his eyes sparkling, called out to the crowd of bystanders: “Vive la paix!”

Vive la paix! Seven weeks from that day the catastrophe will have broken over the youthful head, car c’est toujours la belle jeunesse qui tombe sur le champ de la bétise humaine. [19] The Anglo-French alliance seemed unbreakable – and in less than a year France is through with her dependence on England, England is chased back across the channel, the situation is fundamentally altered. Europe lies in fact at Hitler’s feet and the German armistice conditions are dictated to France under a painfully exact restoration of the same scenery which formed the stage for the conclusion of the armistice of 1918.

An interlude occurs which is worth dwelling on for a moment. Is it accidental or has it deeper meaning, a historical parallel or one of history’s tricks of imagination? We do not know and do not want to risk an interpretation. We see only the desired theatrical effect and what there is about it that meets the eye.

Hitler, the corporal of the First World War, enters the “Dôme des Invalides” and stands before Napoleon’s beautiful resting place. We note:

It is certain that the corporal, after the dictate in the Compiegne Forest, holds Europe in his power like the “Little Corporal” – whom France has laid out here in state – when he dictated the Tilsit Peace. (By the way: Napoleon dictated it to a reactionary Prussia, a reactionary Germany dictates it to France.) It is certain that Napoleon could counter the English plans for world mastery only by subduing Europe, and that Hitler could break England’s power only in the same way. Finally, it is certain that Napoleon did not conquer England, that the invasion of England was not carried out, that he proceeded against Russia and returned from there broken.

What is the corporal from Braunau doing at the grave of the Corsican? Does he seek “intuition”? Is he asking the Little Corporal whether to turn to England or Russia? All that is certain is that the new military tactics of Germany seem as irresistible as the Napoleonic, that the invasion of England is not tried, that Hitler turns to Russia and the new tactic exhausts itself before the gates of Moscow. On the purely military plane, the outcome of the war is completely certain after the first Russian winter. England-America win time to adjust themselves to the requirements of the conduct of the war and to learn the new tactics. Considered from a purely military viewpoint, America-England will triumph in alliance with revolting continental Europe, slowly releasing itself from German bondage.


Nevertheless, the purely military observation is inadequate – the interlude only brings two conquerors together, of whom one came forward at the cradle of modern bourgeois society, the other at its grave. History cannot simply repeat itself – from west to east, from east to west, in reverse sequence. At that time, England was in her capitalist youth and was on the point of building up her modern world empire. The French Revolution and Napoleon’s wars shattered feudal Europe and gave a mighty impulsion to bourgeois and national state development. Today, England is in her capitalist dotage and her empire is cracking at every joint. The fascist reaction and the war of Hitler are destroying capitalist Europe and are turning back the bourgeois and nationalist development. But having arrived in England, the retrogressive movement must come to a halt. On the same grounds which were valid for the upswing, the decline must get stuck politically, where the upswing began, not in order to begin the same game all over again but in order to give way to the socialist upward movement. It must, otherwise mankind can bury its hopes for a long, long time.

England had the earliest democracy and the earliest revolutionary labor movement, and she is becoming – beyond the epoch of the most organic revisionism [20] which lies between the rise and fall of the British Empire – the country with the last democracy and the last revolutionary labor movement. Up to here the “natural order” is strictly in line with the retrogressive movement and the movement itself is therewith at its end.

That revisionism has become impossible in England was shown unambiguously in the general strike of 1926. While the German working class is finally beaten and can no longer wrench loose from the hangman’s hand of Stalin, the disintegration of the Empire presses on the English working class and it wants to “go forward again” at last. Nevertheless, strict retrogression temporarily rules the field. Just as Russia degenerated because of the failure of the world revolution, so the world revolution degenerated step by step because of Russia. The Anglo-Russian Committee kills the general strike and Stalin reveals himself in all his breadth before the eyes of the world as – the direct savior of the bourgeoisie. From now on the bourgeoisie summons up new self-confidence. Its ideologists begin to regard Russia with wide-opened “different” eyes. The number of joyous discoveries, of “Friends of the Soviet Union,” of critical well-wishers, of articles and books about Russia, all grow to gigantic proportions. The bourgeoisie breathes with relief and feels itself saved. With lures and threats, with baiting of Trotsky and praise for the “unromantic, realistic,” Stalin [21], Stalin’s counter-revolutionary work is completed and he himself is incited to produce ever more proof of his reliability for the bourgeoisie.

England’s working class is beaten, but the radicalization process continues. It is caught up and braked by the “Independent Labour Party” – one of the reasons why the Fourth International has less favorable ground, produces no unified organization and consequently does not thrive. (How great an influence is exerted upon consciousness by apparently “unlimited” possibilities may be seen from the development of America. Today it has arrived, not at an Independent Labour Party, but at the demand for a – Labor Party.) The crisis in England remains latent and simmers under the surface.

She remains constantly on the defensive and under growing difficulties falls back once for all on America – Ireland, China, India, Japan, America, South Africa, Naval Conference, Munich, etc. Since the outbreak of the war, the sale of the British Empire to America is plainly palpable. Churchill may give assurances that he has not become Prime Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire, but he is doing it anyway. Canada, Australia, India, China, islands and bases which England sells or leases to America, or turns over for its use, etc., are living evidence against him. As a capitalist country, England has only one perspective left: to “win” on America’s side, to divide world mastery with America and – to divide miserably.

Evidently the English bourgeoisie decisively prefers this perspective to the “victory of bolshevism” with which Germany successfully frightened and blackmailed it, for above all considerations stands the international solidarity of interests of capital. Nevertheless, besides Churchill’s logic, the logic of things works unrelentingly. Much-feared Bolshevism established itself in England with England’s flight from France, and is eating away at its vitals. England is the only country of Europe that went into the war with an open opposition, and to this day she cannot get rid of it. The opposition is confused, petty-bourgeois-pacifist (ILP), contradictory, weak, cowardly, treacherous, but at the same time it is clear, decisive, energetic, unambiguous, revolutionary. The conditions are turning at last in favor of the Fourth International. It develops far better in wartime than in “peacetime.” It is heard, it has foreseen something, press and Parliament must concern themselves with it, it has defended the honor of the movement, other organizations must protect it in the interests of their own freedom. Its newspapers are read in many thousands of copies, it is uncompromised, it pillories the bourgeoisie unsparingly and more plainly than anywhere in America, it is gaining among the workers, gaining experience. In short, it is going forward, and the work of the Fourth International, which seems “hopeless” to the Philistines, fellow-travelers, the weak and faint-hearted, the obstinate and deliberate “swimming against the stream” – this Herculean achievement is bearing its fruits.

And powerful forces are working along with it. On one side stands ravished Europe which has drained the capitalist cup to its bitter dregs. On the other side stand Africa, China, India, the thrice-ravished colored peoples of the earth, who are passing quickly through their experiences with the new rulers, America and Japan. The development is retrogressive, but in return it brings new things to the surface and has also produced “unruly” offspring, which although afflicted, nevertheless stand outside the “narrow” family. For the first time in history a semi-colonial country is intertwined in the imperialist war and has offered an imperialist power bitter resistance for many years. It is impossible that China has forgotten the “Opium War” and does not remember the endless abominations of imperialism – whose last great act was the closing of the Burma Road by England, leaving China in a grave situation for three months without reinforcements. It is impossible that India and the colonial slaves are not waiting for the moment when they can shake off the gruesome, life-destroying yoke. It is impossible that Russia has lost the memory of the October Revolution. It is kept erect by its economic foundation, making it – despite Stalin – an “unruly” child for capitalism.

Yes, the disintegration of capitalism opens up a broad revolutionary perspective. There is much evidence that the English people themselves will get into motion when Germany wavers. Consciousness, will, clarity, boldness must see to it that the perspective is brought forward and acquires an irresistible attractive power. We have long held that with “classical” German fascism, fascism itself has reached its limit and lost its power of attraction. This is not contradicted by the fact that the enslavement of mankind is unavoidable if the revolution fails again. Around this point – the leadership – revolves everything. The birth of the new society is a difficult operation. It is not a matter of cheap optimism – in every crisis it is a matter in the last instance of the operating physician. Boldness and elasticity, the overcoming of paralysis and of habit-forming phrases without concrete ideas, are what the revolutionary movement needs most. A philosophy, a doctrine, an ideology which conveys no enthusiasm and no impulses is worthless and must fail.

It is not necessary to linger over the “frenzied epilogue” of imperialism, America. It is necessary that the American revolutionists arrive at an all-sided system of political propaganda and activity, that they thwart the “epilogue” and hasten to the aid of the English working class, the colonial peoples and Europe. Then there can be no doubt that:

Churchill will fall and with him the colossal structure of the British Empire. Then will the seed come up which England everywhere sowed and it will grow over its grave.

The Final Problem of Imperialism

In the general average the quantitative changes in imperialism mean: Significant preponderance of the use and production of means of destruction – preponderance of production for the sake of production – over the use and manufacture of means of life or necessities.

The proposition: “The bourgeoisie must complete what it destroys and destroy what it completes,” has as its content the history of the bourgeoisie and the law of the capitalist mode of production as self-purpose. They destroy the old society and are completed in their destruction. Arrived at their culmination, they destroy their completion and direct themselves against the society which they bury beneath themselves.

From now on all progress has ceased. Monopoly groups with their satellites confront other monopoly groups with their satellites. From this “height,” capitalism plunges down upon itself, upon its past, its social, economic, cultural, spiritual, political, national, international achievements, which it tramples under in the interests of its self-preservation. The final problem of capitalist development, which is contained from the very outset within industrial monopoly and toward the solution of which it now steers, is: Ride of the world through a single monopoly-capitalist country.

It is provided that the trees do not grow to heaven. This problem is certainly the squaring of the circle. An impossible task, which coincides on this historical plane with the self-abolition of capitalism. If it could at any time complete itself it would leave nothing of its wonder-structure save a single capitalist tower, rising in the desert of the same world in which all the slaves of the world worked together for its erection and ruined themselves.

The circle will never be squared. Independent of the completely identical plans of Berlin and Washington, which are distinguished only by more sincere or more mendacious language, capitalism must conclude the course of its life in itself. If capital comes into the world “dripping blood and dirt from head to toe, out of all pores” (Marx), it must go under despite all its illusions about human satisfaction, freedom and progress, its whole body rotting from head to toe, stinking from every pore, dripping blood and dirt. It is not, however, history which produces this result, it is the inner nature of capital which produces its historic course, and flows into the infinite fraction of the circle – eternal pi. This fraction consists in the fact “that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and closing point, as the motive and aim of production; that production is merely production for capital, and not vice versa, the means of production mere means for an ever expanding system of the life process for the benefit of the society of producers” (Marx).

Note by ETOL

A. Corrected in accordance with Corrections, The New International, Vol. X No. 12, December 1944, p. 386.


1. The ridiculous representatives of the “theory” of state capitalism hi the various emigrant groups are known particularly for their juggling with dialectics and the transformation of quantity into quality. The “transformation” is supposed to show that in countries like Russia and Germany (with some of them the United States, too), an economic form has come into power, a state capitalism which is free from economic crises and subject only to “political” crises, if any, and which is “classless” into the bargain. From their scribblings, which teem with solid thoughtlessness and absurdities, you cannot tell just what quantity is actually supposed to have been transformed into quality. In any case, it was enormously increased confusion that was transformed into the “theoretical” egg-dance and presented precisely these absurdities as the “contradictions” belonging to the dialectic.

2. Misled by the contrary appearance, an opponent may come forward at this point with a “better” argument and declare: The assertion of an “unequivocal,” unexceptional decomposition is “undialectical.” In retrogression is found also progression, as is demonstrated practically by a whole series of accomplishments (for example, the synthetics industry).

This argument has at least a glimmer of justification in so far as the decline, just like the rise, is not at every given moment a transparent, rectilinear, uninterrupted process, but a complicated, contradictory, relapsing and skipping process. Examined more closely, it stands exposed, however, as a tactically modified attempt at inconsistency and to save the “development in ever new forms” through a corruption of the dialectic. For, however much every advance can and even must be regarded as a retrogression in another connection, and In the same way every retrogression also is an advance, all this tells us very little about the self-movement of a thing itself. There is certainly more genuine dialectics than is dreamed of in the “common sense” of a Burnham, in an ordinary sentence like: “With his conception, Man takes the first step to his grave.” Such general knowledge has practical value precisely because it gives us a better approach to the essence of the becoming of Man (birth, maturity and death). How-every, anyone who is incapable of going beyond “outline knowledge” and keeping in strict touch with every step to the grave that only makes up Man as a whole – who does not understand how to concentrate upon the thing itself, upon the given stage of its development and its quality (embryo, child, youth, man, grayhead, gray bead turned child again, etc.), will also grope in the dark with respect to the tendency of his future development. He may succeed in making his way through daily life with great effort and difficulty, or without difficulty and by means of much routine. But faced with essential questions, he will remain just as helpless as the “common” Burnham.

3. In the first place, all those associated with “state-capitalistic” plunder.

4. It is highly interesting how America also reproduces the European structure. The further one goes from north to south the greater the general backwardness, in all its forms and concomitant phenomena.

5. The historical succession and the national peculiarities of revisionism agree exactly with the capitalist development in the four most important countries (England, France, German, Russia). In England the Fabian Society was founded, if we are not mistaken, between 1883–85. In England trade unionism is more characteristic of revisionism than the Fabian appendage. Revisionism in England is organic. In France, Millerand became Minister of Commerce in 1899. There revisionism is political-practical. In Germany, Bernstein began the revisionist campaign in 1896. There revisionism is theoretical. Then for the first time Russia followed, already under the direct influence of the Bernstein controversy. There revisionism is impossible.

6. “Practically” means: except for areas which are economically unassailable and inaccessible to capitalist division.

7. Citing from memory, we hope we have the exact sense of Marx’s thought, if not the literal quotation.

8. See footnote 7.

9. Just think of all the crude stuff about the alleged elimination of the private entrepreneur (by the “managerial bureaucracy”), the abdication of the profit motive (in favor of the “power motive”), the end of the technological revolutions transforming the social structure (”self-evident” with the retention of technical innovations which not only do” no go “so deep”), the annulling of the market, of prices, of wages (to be sure with unfortunate “relics” of all), the miraculous transformation of exchange values (into “pure” use values), etc.

10. Whoever, for example, considers the “forty-three per cent” of German votes, which was the highest Hitler ever received, as an actual measure, overlooks and has no idea of how this result was attained in a situation that was absolutely hopeless and issueless for the masses.

11. Note for the English reader: Schiller has William Tell say against Gessler: “Into fermenting dragon’s poison have you transformed for me the milk of the pious way of thinking, you have accustomed me to monstrosities.”

12. For Italy’s campaign against Greece, we can vary the beautiful anecdote which made the rounds after the First World War with regard to the war of Austria against Russia. “The brave Italians held out against the blows of the enemy until the arrival of ... troops.”

13. We have emphasized this issue in order to say another word about the development of the modern slave state. We know that Hitler and Stalin have used political prisoners and forced labor for canal-building, drying up marshes, building highways, etc., and that on a mass scale. It would be difficult to call these workers anything but state slaves. Under Hitler they are actually hired out to private entrepreneurs, taken back at the end of their work and given to others on the morrow. We no longer have here a meeting between the free worker and the “possessor of money ... in the market, entering into relations with each other as equal possessors of commodities” (Marx). Rather the worker is transformed from a “possessor of a commodity into a commodity.”

14. Whoever experienced German history of the post-war period and concerned himself with the “mood” of the population, including the religious-minded workers, can cite countless witnesses from all layers to show with what bitterness people spoke, even under Hitler, of the fact that the Social Democrats covered their betrayal under the phrase: We must proceed “humanely” against our foes.

15. Again: the grief for the murdered leaders was a true, popular grief. Whoever looked into the face of men at that time could read the Indescribable things in them. Voices were lowered in speech; the liberal, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish press bowed at least before the purity and the “noble purposes” of the murdered who had “not deserved” this death. Nobody except the blackest reactionaries displayed the crude, swinish opinion of the Vorwärts, which regretted in its renowned-notorious jingle that Liebknecht, Rosa Luxembourg and Radek had not been sent to join the murdered workers earlier.

16. When favorable circumstances permit, it would be highly revealing to write a study of how the uniqueness of the French feeling for life arises out of history and is consciously formed in literature from Rabelais through Diderot to Edmond Rostand (to mention arbitrarily some unequally noteworthy names). Next to Diderot’s Jacques le Fataliste the most genial, classical and freshest work of the French spirit is, in our opinion, the little novel by Claude Tillier, Mon Oncle Benjamin. We say this with openly “provocative” purpose against the bloodless, decadent snobs who at least in post-war France laughed pityingly at Tillier and called Mon Oncle Benjamin a “bétise.” Such snobs, who were also found In the French movement, have naturally done nothing which could give them a natural respect for an Immortal masterpiece. Tillier, born on April 11, 1801 – and if our memory doesn’t fail – died of consumption at the age of thirty-three, is a restorative for the living. His style is pure and, in the best sense of the word, popular; his temper, his humor are bubbling, his art of characterization masterful, concise; his wit cutting, his irony pertinent, his sympathy with the cause of the people undisguised, his serenity and the pessimism underlying it indestructible. No wonder he has “nothing to say” precisely to those literati grown lukewarm in the labor movement. The whole people has nothing to say to them and the best expression of their inner emptiness is Thomas Mann.

17. We refer to French impressionism, the brilliant autumn of art. This phenomenon should have its place in the study mentioned.

18. Literally: “Cette fois, on peut mener la guerre jusqu’au dernier des Anglais – mais sans nous.” That was the expression of a French soldier with whom we, as internee in the forest of Chambord, were making charcoal. It would naturally be absurd to cite him as symptomatic, if ninety out of every hundred Frenchmen did not think in the same spirit and – act accordingly.

19. A Belgian said during the flight to the South: “It is always the flower of youth which falls on the field of human stupidity.”

20. Lenin collects in his Karl Marx the “countless references of Marx and Engels” which are valid for this epoch as indications of “how industrial prosperity calls forth efforts ‘to buy the proletariat’ ... to distract it from struggle; how this prosperity in general ‘demoralizes the workers’ ... how the English proletariat is ‘bourgeoisified’ so that this most bourgeois of all nations (the English) seems to aim at finally getting to the point where it possesses a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat besides the bourgeoisie! ...; how the ‘revolutionary energy’ ‘evaporates’ out of it; how one must wait more or less until ‘the English workers free themselves from their apparent bourgeois virus’ ...; how the English labor movement ‘lacks the mettle of the old Chartists’; how the English labor leaders become a kind of in-between ‘between the radical bourgeois and the workers’ ...; how as a result of the monopolistic position of England, and so long as this monopoly is not destroyed, ‘the British working man just does not want to go further’.”

21. One should not forget this: Even Carl von Ossietzky incontinently repeated the miserable slander of Stalin that Trotsky, In the struggle against “Stalin,” was driven to the side of ... England.

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