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Revolutionary Socialism vs Reformism

Initially, the Canadian members of the Communist League of America relied exclusively on The Militant, published in New York, to advance their views in published form, but in the fall of 1932, they began publishing their own newspaper on an irregular basis.

The first issue of The Vanguard, dated November-December 1932, featured the following editorial statement. Although the layout made it appear to be three separate editorials, by content it was one statement on the topic of revolutionary socialism versus reformism, which is the title we have given it.

At the time this appeared, the social-democratic Cooperative Commonwealth Federation was just being formed: it had not yet held its founding convention in Regina.

The Twilight of Capitalism

The Vanguard proceeds from the conviction that the fundamental problems of contemporary Humanity flow from the dissolution of capitalist society, and the development of the proletarian revolution. The platform of the International Left Opposition to which it adheres, derives from Marx and Lenin whose principles and methods constitute the only socialism the possessing classes need fear or the working classes cherish.

The world economic crisis torturing the countless millions is an inevitable phase of capitalism in its epoch of historic decay. A social order which divorces producers from their tools, which penalizes productivity by unemployment and fetters consumption by the wage system must always be rooted in insoluble contradictions. Conceived in blood and dirt, Capitalism did however once fulfill a progressive mission. Even the eruptions of periodic crisis were incidents of economic expansion. Stocks were consumed, costs were reduced and a fresh equilibrium established. The gold standard testified to stable exchanges. If the rate of profit declined in the imperialist West, it was compensated in super-profits from capital export to the colonial hinterland. The world market was, generally speaking, based on an international division of labor. Accordingly, the pre-war situation tended towards an armed peace of the "Great Powers" and an irregular truce between the classes.

The turning point, marking the twilight of capitalism, was the imperialist war of 1914. Under the increasing hegemony of finance-capital, competition was yielding to monopoly. Productive forces adjusted to the scale of world economy and based on highly socialized industrial technique, clashed with the confines of the national state and the title deeds of private property. The outcome of the ensuing struggle for the redistribution of the world market by force of arms was Versailles—and on the other hand, the Soviet Power.

The basic causes propelling 1914-18 are maturing a second world war. For scale and intensity, the violence of social antagonisms and the economic crisis, is unprecedented. International trade since 1929 has shrunk by sixty per cent. During the first three months of 1932, the value of the exports of sixteen leading countries was two-fifths of the corresponding period three years ago. The fall in wholesale prices has been greater than in any "depression" in the past hundred years; the international credit structure of capitalism is tottering; the debtor countries stagger under an impossible load of inter-governmental war debts and reparations; unemployment throughout the world is on a hitherto unknown scale; military armaments are in excess of 1914. With characteristic penetration, Engels had visualized this situation as far back as 1886.

"America" he wrote, "will smash up England’s industrial monopoly—whatever there is left of it. But America cannot herself succeed to that monopoly. And unless one country has the monopoly of the world, at least in the decisive branches of trade, the conditions, relatively favorable—which existed in England from 1848 to 1870, cannot anywhere be reproduced, and even in America the condition of the working class must sink lower and lower. For if there are three countries (say England, America, and Germany), competing on comparatively equal terms for the possession of the world market, there is no change but chronic overproduction, one of the three being capable of supplying the whole quantity required."

Failing the intervention of the proletariat, the crisis may be alleviated by the play of the market and yielding to a "revival" afford the capitalists a fresh breathing spell. But between the character of the precarious ‘stabilization’ that capitalism has experienced since the war and the ‘organic’ stability of capitalism when it was developing its productive forces there is a profound chasm. Considered abstractly, it may be that if the imperialists could destroy the Soviet Union, crush the colonial revolution and strangle the proletariat for long decades, capitalism would obtain a fresh lease of life. But this abstraction bears as little relation to realities, as Bucharin’s abstraction of ‘socialist construction in one country’ from the processes of world economy—or, say, Kautsky’s conception of an ultra-imperialist all inclusive world trust. The theoretical possibility of the latter Lenin never disputed, but its practical realization, merely ran counter, he pointed out, to the dialectic of the class struggle. History with its titanic upheavals is apparently one long conspiracy to thwart the visions of the Fabian Society. It has mocked the apostles of "gradualism" at every turn, those same "evolutionists" who found no difficulty supporting the ‘gradualist’ Boer War, the ‘gradualist’ British rule of India, the ‘gradualist’ war of 1914.

The material foundations of communism, the objective pre-requisites of the proletarian revolution, are available on a world-scale. The key to the further development of society is now in the hands of the subjective factor, the proletariat, its party and its revolutionary leadership.

      "In the German Revolution of 1918, the Hungarian Revolution of 1919, in the September action of the Italian proletariat in 1920, in the German events of 1923, in the English General Strike of 1926, in the Vienna uprising of 1927 and the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27 everywhere, one and the same political contradiction of the past decade, even if different in form and degree; was manifested. In an objectively ripe revolutionary situation, ripe not only with regard to social prerequisites but not infrequently also with regard to the mood for struggle of the masses, the subjective factor, that is a revolutionary mass party was lacking, or else this party lacked a far sighted and courageous leadership" (L: Trotsky—"Strategy of-the World Revolution").

Barrier of Social Reformism

One of the principal barriers on the road of proletarian liberation continues to be social reformism, whether in the form of the "Socialist" or the Labor Party. If any more were required, the crisis has been fresh confirmation of the utter bankruptcy of social reformism and its practices of class collaboration. After cooperating with the German bourgeoisie in the prosecution of the War for Kultur, saving the tottering structure of German capitalism in 1918, helping Entente and American Imperialism to operate the Dawes Plan, the Social Democracy has led the German workers into the greatest depths of social misery it has yet experienced. "Socialist" coalition with imperialism and capitalism has split the forces of the working class and paved the way for the Fascist recruitment of the despairing middle classes. In Great Britain there have been two "Labor" Governments. The "Labor Party" which attracted the masses by the radical phraseology of its successive manifestoes and programs, its promises of a new social order and its threats of a capital levy, has proved—that it is a loyal and reliable Third Party of the bourgeoisie and its leaders are His Majesty’s most excellent lackeys. The second Labor Government was kicked out as ignominiously by the capitalists as the first. Macdonald and Snowden, the theorists of "Constructive Socialism," entered the coalition leaving George Lansbury as an oppositional decoy for the masses. There is not even a single important legislative enactment in the workers interests to the credit of the Labor Party, let alone any basic measure of socialization. It has governed in the interests of British Capitalism and the maintenance of "the Empire." In Australia, the record of social-democratic futility is farcically capped by a British official dismissing Lang’s Labor Government for embarrassing British bondholders as nonchalantly as if he were dismissing a class of naughty boys.

Before "the crash" the United States was an almost limitless object of social democratic adoration. If to-day "socialists" like the Webbs, praise Soviet economic planning to shame their "own" capitalists to go and do likewise, in the period of prosperity, the "American standard of living" was held up by the Brailsfords and others of the I.L.P. as an example of enlightened and efficient capitalism. Henry Ford loomed up as the supreme Marx-destroyer of all times. The chapter of illusions American Imperialism roused in the breasts of the "socialists" is now familiar to the proverbial schoolboy. Henry Ford’s marvelous ‘Economy of High Wages’ has been succeeded by Henry Ford’s hired constabulary assassinating unarmed workless demonstrators. The touching Arabian Nights tale of how the "Labor Banks" were amassing the workers’ wealth to buy out Wall Street, has been succeeded by the expulsion of the Bonus Army from Washington by torch and bayonet. As for the bureaucracy of the American Federation of Labor which almost took entire credit for the "American standard of living," it has not as much as raised its little finger to organize resistance to successive wage-slashes.

Canadian Social Democracy

The social reformists in the Dominion, the most prominent of whom is J. S. Woodsworth, M.P., are engaged in establishing their "Co-operative Commonwealth Federation," a neo-Farmer-Labor-Socialist Party. It already has received the endorsation of the United Farmers of Alberta and kindred organizations and as it rolls Eastward, the workers organizations are asked for their affiliation too. Messrs Woodsworth, Heaps, Irvine and the others, astutely speculate on the radicalization of the masses under the blows of the crisis and the natural desire of the rank-and-file for unity. Affiliation is to be in a federated basis, ostensibly the member organizations are to retain their organizatory autonomy. The aim of the movement is to obtain the "Co-operative Commonwealth." Meanwhile the C.C.F. proposes economic planning, security of tenure for the farmer, social insurance, etc. Many workers who have not thought it through, will no doubt favor affiliation.

The methods of Woodsworth are not at all novel. The social-reformists generally play "left wing" and "radical" when they are in a minority or in opposition. That is how they gain the support of the uncritical workers. To that extent the "Left" socialists are more dangerous than the Right, who discredit themselves in plain view. The masses must realize that Woodsworth is a little brother of the Mensheviks who opposed the conquest of political power by the Russian workers, of the German socialists whose history since 1914 has been a series of betrayals, of the leaders of the British Labor Government, who have administered the policies of British Imperialism. Woodsworth is not a young and inexperienced worker just coming into the movement—he is an opportunist of many years standing who was prepared by the ministry and "social service."

Following the precedent once set by Phillip Lord Snowden, Mr. Woodsworth introduced a resolution in Parliament last March "urging this House to take measures to get up a co-operative commonwealth." Good propaganda, his followers may say. No, a policy that is false to the roots and can result only in the sowing of dangerous illusions. It is easy nowadays to pay lip service to planning and socialization. But never once, characteristically enough, did he raise the issue of class power. Instead, academic speeches, plentifully strewn with quotations from bourgeois publicists who say something critical about social conditions:

"One of the best statements I have come across of the present situation is contained in the encyclical of Pope Pius XI" ... "I hold in my hand a book published thirteen years ago bv Sidney and Beatrice Webb—a Constitution for the British Commonwealth of Great Britain ... If anyone wishes to see the steps whereby this could be brought about in Great Britain I recommend that he read this book by Lord Passfield" … This book by the bankrupt Fabian Webb retains the British monarchy in the scheme of the "socialist commonwealth." And finally a confession from the statesman who is the candidate for Ramsay Macdonald’s position in Canada…. "We do not know just what the next development will be." (Hansard, March 28, 1932.)

The characterization of Woodsworth is necessary for the characterization of the new "Federation." The one thing the "new" party ignores is the issue of power. How will they get their "social planning." Will the capitalists plan for them? There is planned economy in the Soviet Union. But without the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leadership of the Communist Party, there would have been no "planning." Woodsworth and his new social Democratic-Farmers do not tell the workers that without the prior conquest of political power and the organization of the proletarian state on the ruins of "bourgeois democracy," there will be no abolition of private property or socialization of the means of production.

The bourgeoisie will not peacefully abdicate even though their title deeds have become a fetter on the forces of production. There will be no automatic collapse and whoever preaches that is lulling the workers into passivity. Only the most heroic, the most revolutionary struggle of the working class supported by the exploited stratum of the farmers can propel capitalism to its doom. Before it will think of yielding, the bourgeoisie will mobilize every resource of cunning and force. Experience shows that once they feel their props slipping, the representatives of "civilization, culture and religion" will abrogate every civil liberty, if necessary, the entire paraphernalia and mumbo jumbo of parliamentarism, and will unleash the very middle classes finance capital has ruined in the Fascist terror against the working class.

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