Max Shachtman

100 Years After the Communist Manifesto

The Nightfall of Capitalism

(February 1938)

From New International, Vol. XIV No. 2, February 1948, pp. 35–40.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The centennial of the Communist Manifesto, the hundredth anniversary of Marxism, has received an amount of attention in the bourgeois press which is amazing for a doctrine so often declared to be “dead” in the very same pages. That is proof enough of its vitality.

That part of the bourgeois press which has given its attention to the anniversary understandably preferred to lay less stress upon the brilliant analysis which the Manifesto makes of the developing chaos of capitalist society and more stress upon the lugubrious unfulfillment of the socialist aim in Russia. We shall deal with the first theme in this article. The second – which our movement alone has scientifically analyzed and often discussed – will be recurred to in a subsequent article; it is a theme whose meaning for socialists has been far from exhausted.

Only the Stalinists dealt with the anniversary jubilantly. Not only is capitalism disintegrating, more convulsively than the Manifesto predicted, but socialism is marching victoriously across the face of the earth. We have long ago triumphed in Russia. The flag of socialism has just been raised confidently over half of Europe and much of Asia. The organized partisans of the Manifesto are already, or are becoming, the principal political army of the rest of the world. The final disappearance of capitalism and the establishment of universal socialism is at last plainly in sight. The great vindication is actually at hand. Thus the Stalinists.

Not only would their characterization of capitalism be true, but so also would everything else, if only they could justify their socialist claims about the regime for which present-day Russia sets the pattern and its heralds and horsemen abroad conduct their fight. For these claims there is not and cannot be any justification. If the inevitable fall of the bourgeoisie, which the Manifesto so confidently and rightly forecast, has helped produce the victories of Stalinism, it has not yet been accompanied by the just as confidently forecast victory of the proletariat.

On the contrary, it is precisely in this period of the most shattering earthquakes in the bourgeois social order that the working class movement has suffered such heavy defeats in every critical battle as to make all the preceding defeats of the century seem trivial. A vast pseudo-revolutionary movement has almost everywhere and almost completely replaced the revolutionary movement which draws its inspiration from Marxism, which is authentically socialist, but which is now feeble and divided. It is isolated from the life-giving but disoriented working class; hemmed in by circles of skepticism, doubt, confusion and depression which penetrate to its innermost parts; disrupted either by over-anxious opportunism or by that peculiar self-intoxication by which the noble wish often seeks to master the ignoble reality.

In the past, Marxism was abandoned and its validity challenged primarily on the ground of the viability of capitalism. That capitalism is doomed is more widely understood and acknowledged today than ever before! But where, in the past, the doom of capitalism meant only (and, as it were, automatically) the victory of human freedom under socialism – in the literal sense in which the Manifesto speaks of “its fall and the victory of the proletariat [being] equally inevitable” – today this is no longer the case, at least not to the same extent or in the same sense. How greatly times have changed and how they have changed! The desertion from Marxism in our day takes place not so much on the ground that capitalism is viable as that the socialist perspective is not.

“Show me,” say, in effect, all those who, abandoning hope, are about to enter or re-enter the camp of bourgeois futility, “prove to me that socialism is inevitable and I remain a Marxist. If that cannot be proved, nothing is left of Marxism.”

What is asked here simply cannot be given.

Marx could not have been what he was if he held the view that is much too often attributed to him, nor would his socialism be worthy of the name “scientific.” The disappearance of capitalism is inevitable, regardless of what is done by this or that person or group, because it bears within itself the seeds of its destruction. The advent of socialism is, as it always was. something else again.

Precisely because it represents a new stage in human history, the leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom, it can be established only by conscious, deliberate, planned efforts. Here, above and beyond all his past efforts, man must make his own history.

A Program of Human Activity

If we can speak of the “inevitability” of socialism, then it is only in a conditional sense. First, in the sense that capitalism creates all the conditions which make the advance to socialism possible; and second, in the sense that the advance to socialism is a necessity for the further progress of society itself – even more, the only way in which to preserve society.

“In this sense,” wrote Bukharin, along with all those who understand Marxism, “we may also speak of the historical necessity of socialism, since without it human society cannot continue to develop. If society is to continue to develop, socialism will inevitably come. This is the sense in which Marx and Engels spoke of ‘social necessity.’”

What is asked for, by those whose intellects and vertebra] columns have succumbed to the brutal assaults of our time, is not a scientific demonstration of the “inevitability of socialism” but the consolation and assurance of religion. There is no room for the God-intoxicated man in Marxism, nor for those who seek relief from the present wretchedness in even the most enlightened form of superstition.

Marxism started with an analysis (“criticism”) of capitalist society and, one hundred years ago, it proclaimed the death sentence already passed on capitalism by its internal contradictions. Capitalism never was an alternative in the eyes of Marxism. From the time of the Manifesto, the idea of preserving capitalism was dismissed as utopian nonsense.

Marxism ends with a program of human activity: fail to carry out the program, and mankind sees doomed capitalism followed by a general decline whose vileness and gloominess we can see much more clearly today than did Marx and Engels; carry out the program, and mankind takes the step necessary for that “association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” The choice is not one between capitalism and socialism. The choice must be made between socialism and barbarism.

The character of the final decision does not lie in an exercise in logic or dialectical thought, and certainly not in some reassuring (or tragic!) arrangement obligingly provided by an act of providence or a law of nature. It lies in the outcome of the conflict between living human forces, the class struggle. More, much more than this can be found in the treasure chests and armories of Marxism. But anything less than this or different from it is alien to what the authors poured with such compact, dynamic and explosive force into the most significant political document of all time, the Communist Manifesto.

Bourgeois society in all its fundamental aspects continues to exist, to develop chaotically and therefore to decay essentially in the way in which it was analyzed by the Manifesto a century ago. All the attempts to represent present-day capitalism as fundamentally different from the capitalism of Marx’s time are due to a misconstruction of Marx’s analysis or a misconstruction of capitalism today. In some circles, not only proletarian but also capitalist speculative abstractionists have made it almost a new fashion to speak of a “new capitalism,” a “state capitalism,” and even an “organized capitalism” which differs in its foundations from the “old capitalism” or has eliminated it, and is exempted in one way or another from the merciless laws to which the Manifesto and above all, afterward, Capital found it subject. These new theories, derived more from thumb-sucking than from a dissection of society, need not be taken too seriously.

Changes Since the Manifesto

But if the foundations of capitalism remain what they were in the Manifesto, capitalism as a whole has undergone tremendous changes which, while occurring primarily in its economic and political superstructures, have not been without profound effects upon the foundations themselves. To understand these changes as exactly as possible, to distinguish as clearly as possible between what they are and what they very much seem to be but are not, and to be precise about even so second-rate a matter as the terminology to employ with regard to them, is vitally important. In fact, it is so important that a failure here involves the possibility of a fatal mistake in choosing between the doors directly confronting society, one of them opening into socialism and the other into the abyss.

The two outstanding changes developed in capitalism since the Manifesto are the rise of the immense superstructure of imperialist economy upon the classic capitalist economy of free competition; and the rise of totalitarianism (Fascism and kindred political forms) not upon bourgeois democracy but in place of it.

The Manifesto gives only the barest hints of both phenomena. Even if it is assumed that it was at all possible for it to deal extensively with them, the very circumstances under which it was written precluded such treatment. As Trotsky pointed out a decade ago with regard to the absence from the Manifesto of any reference to the colonial problem, the authors expected an imminent social revolution in the principal metropolitan countries and its success would have solved the then still incipient colonial problem in passing, as it were. If that problem has assumed the dimensions and central importance it has today, it is due only to the prolongation of the life of capitalism. On their own plane, the same holds true of present capitalist imperialism and totalitarianism. If Marx’s lusty optimism of 1848 had been confirmed, mankind would have been spared these developments.

But the basic tendency of the now declining capitalist world is unmistakable. The rise of monopoly in the economy gives us imperialism; this process is preceded or followed and in any case is always accompanied by (although it is not the sole cause of) the rise of monopoly in politics which gives us totalitarianism.

In two words, imperialism is monopoly capitalism. Capitalism has moved irresistibly from small-scale to large-scale production; from large-scale production, requiring vast concentrations of capital, to vertical and horizontal trusts, syndicates and cartels; at the same time, to fusion of huge industrial enterprises with bank capital; at the same time, to the closest integration of finance capital with the state which, in one way or another, to one degree or another, is directly involved in the process of production, the expansion and protection of the market at home and abroad and the realization of the maximum profit. The centralization of capital into the hands of fewer and fewer monopolists gives them a colossal economic power and, however disguised, an even more colossal political power. “Pluto-democracy” is no mere journalistic catch phrase; it is justly applied to such countries as France, England and the United States.

False Conceptions of Capitalism

Imperialism does not exist universally or in pure form, and there is no reason to believe that it can. If a “pure imperialism” can be conceived of, the basic contradictions peculiar to capitalism would be eliminated, which means that capitalism itself would be eliminated (not without the “pure imperialism” suffering from contradictions of its own).

It is well to note these seeming mere abstractions. No one contributed as much to an analysis and understanding of imperialism, “the latest stage of capitalism,” as Lenin. Scientifically disciplined and without a trace of ecclesiastical orthodoxy, he rigorously maintained the basic Marxist analysis of capitalism while he developed it, because he found no reason to abandon it. He found it necessary more than once to warn, and sometimes with urgent solicitude, against false conceptions of imperialism.

“Pure imperialism,” he said in 1919, and not for the first time, “without the fundamental basis of capitalism, has never existed, nowhere exists, and never will exist. This is a wrong generalization of everything that was said of the syndicates, cartels, trusts and finance capitalism, when finance capitalism was depicted as though it had none of the foundations of the old capitalism under it.”

And again:

“Nowhere in the world has monopoly capitalism existed in a whole series of branches without free competition, nor will it exist. To write of such a system is to write of a system which is divorced from reality and false. If Marx said of manufacture that it was a superstructure on mass small production, imperialism and finance capitalism are a superstructure on the old capitalism. If its summit is destroyed, the old capitalism is laid bare. If one holds the point of view that there is such a thing as integral imperialism without the old capitalism, the wish is father to the thought.”

Imperialism, therefore, does not eliminate the contradictions of capitalism; it not only adds to them but in so doing it sharpens all the others and gives them explosive violence.

Lenin flatly rejected any notion of exclusive monopolism, pure imperialism or “ultra-imperialism,” in the same way that Marx, in settling accounts with Proudhon shortly before the Manifesto was written, insisted that if competition generates monopoly, monopoly generates competition. Capitalism cannot free itself of the curse of anarchy and remain capitalism. Even when it extends the anarchy of production and the fierce competitive struggle on the world market, it does not and cannot abolish the competitive struggle for the market at home and the anarchy of production at home. When Bukharin wrote in one of his studies on imperialism, after the Bolshevik revolution, that “finance capital has abolished the anarchy of production within the big capitalist countries,” Lenin emphatically noted on the margin of his copy: “has not abolished.”

Capitalism has extended over the entire world the crises that are peculiar to it without overcoming the problem of crises at home. On the contrary, the crises of the world market reverberate through the home market and accentuate and deepen the shock. Imperialism only widens the dimensions of the crises in breadth and depth and intensity. The gulf between production and the market is bridged for ever shorter intervals; the disproportions in production have become greater and greater because the market itself has become less and less reliable as a regulator of production; the dislocations in the economy are more abrupt and extensive.

Meaning of “State Capitalism”

Under these conditions, all talk about the “return to free enterprise” is Utopian, and all talk about “that government governs best that governs least” is anachronistic. With the best will for self-effacement, the modern capitalist government cannot confine itself to running the post office and the public toilets.

Every crisis, large or small, demands the intervention of the public power – the state – on a scale never before required. If the economy as a whole collapses in a national crisis, the state must rush in with an effort to restore it, if only to prevent the economic crisis from immediately becoming a social crisis that threatens the foundations of bourgeois rule. If one or another branch of industry collapses, the state must come to its rescue, either in the form of outright subsidy or subsidy concealed behind heavy compensation during the momentary “nationalization” and cheap sale at the time of “reprivatization.”

The state is driven to supplement the market, existing “over it and alongside of it” as a regulator of production, and like the market functioning necessarily as the benefactor of the big monopolies at the expense both of the working class and the small producer. At the same time, the “free” and “natural” development of the monopolies would lead to such savage conflicts at home, not only between the two main classes but in the broad ranks of the bourgeoisie itself, that the state must intervene as a “restraining” influence in the management of the monopolies themselves. On an international scale, the state must appear as the direct agent or at the very least as the open patron of the world-market interests of its bourgeoisie.

The state is irresistibly driven to participate directly, actively and universally in the “purely” economic life of capitalism, a process which is complemented by the direct participation of the monopolists in the political apparatus of the country. There is no reversing this process under capitalism. Centralization and concentration of capital, the growing interdependence of all branches of economy, urgently call for the organization and regularization of production and distribution which is rendered impossible, basically, by capitalism itself; that is, by private property and commodity production and therefore the anarchy of production. Monopolism is an attempt, rising out of capitalism itself, to overcome this anarchy. The mightiest and most “planfully organized” attempts are continually undermined, disrupted and exploded by the foundations upon which capitalism rests and cannot but rest.

That is why the famous “state capitalism” – a misnomer and a dangerously misleading one, which we consider usable “only in a manner of speaking” – never goes beyond what Trotsky, borrowing from the French, rightly described as “Etatisme,” or “State-ism” in the capitalist economy.

The capitalist state remains the capitalist state. It intervenes in the economy, be it under Hitler or under Roosevelt, essentially for the purpose of maintaining the crumbling foundations of the so-called “old capitalism,” the “capitalism of Marx’s time”; it intervenes, to borrow an image applied by Radek to fascism, as an iron hoop around the barrel of capitalist economy when the staves are falling apart. The notion that the capitalist state is replacing or will replace the capitalist class – that is, the owners of capital, that is, the private capitalist proprietors, which is the only capitalist class we have known, do know or ever will know – is preposterous. The myth – it is nothing more – was sedulously disseminated by the fascist bureaucracy in its time, and there is no need for others to lend it any credence whatever.

The capitalist state has always been a capitalist owner, but only of those enterprises (post office, railways, telegraph systems, etc.) which it requires for its own bureaucratic revenue or which, in specific circumstances, cannot be operated as private capitalist enterprises. The levers of high economic command have always remained where they will always remain under capitalism, whatever its form – in the private hands of capitalists, who have a state at their disposal precisely for the purpose of maintaining their property. All other “nationalizations” undertaken by the capitalist state take place under one of these headings: either to “socialize the losses” (this excellent phrase is Trotsky’s) of the capitalists in a bankrupted enterprise or branch of industry; or, what is tantamount to the same thing, to maintain at public expense an industry which is incurably sick or altogether unprofitable for private capitalist operation; or as the temporary owners of industry which is the immediate object of a revolutionary threat from the people in times of acute social crisis. Otherwise, the capitalist state continues and will continue scrupulously to fulfill its mission as faithful servant and guardsman of private property. The expropriation of the capitalist class by the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and exchange still awaits a revolutionary act.

On this score, one final word is not amiss. It may be said: “The assertions are too dogmatic, for after all it can be argued that a state capitalism is eventually possible, that is, the gradual discarding, in one way or another, of the private capitalists and the taking over of industry and finance by the state. Or, the monopolistic tendency persists to the point where there is but one effective owner of the means of production and exchange, the state. In that case, we would have an integral state capitalism, which is the direction in which, short of the socialist revolution, capitalist society is moving.”

But even if this were granted, it is hard to understand why it would be called “state capitalism” or capitalism of any kind. Capitalism is a commodity-producing society, or it is nothing. This much surely can be stated categorically. No product is a commodity unless it is produced by private producers, that is by a private individual for private account. Unless that is the case, the product is anything you want – but a commodity it is not; and therefore the society in which it is produced is anything you want except capitalism or even “state capitalism” (unless this is taken to mean a capitalism which is not capitalist, which would make it a fit companion for the “workers’ state” which is also a workers’ prison.)

Bukharin writes, we note with interest, that “were the commodity character of production to disappear ... we would have an entirely new economic form. This would be capitalism no more, for the production of commodities would have disappeared; still less would it be socialism, for the power of one class over the other would have remained (and even grown stronger). Such an economic structure would most of all resemble a slave-owning economy where the slave market is absent.” This brief passage commends itself to the theoreticians of “state capitalism” and even more to those who have made the theoretical error, so to speak, of confusing a slave state with a workers’ state.

Theory of War Economy

The rise of imperialism to unparalleled proportions further deepens the crisis of capitalism by precipitating wars whose preparation and prosecution introduce the most far-reaching changes in the economy of capitalism itself, to say nothing of political changes.

The Manifesto, and all Marxist writings following it, emphasized that the conditions of bourgeois property fetter the development of the productive forces of society, they are “too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them.” Yet not only did capitalism experience a tremendous development of the productive forces for more than half a century following the appearance of the Manifesto, representing the period of the greatest expansion of capitalism, but even if the opening of the final crisis of capitalism is dated from the beginning of the First World War the last quarter of a century or more has seen what appears to be a still further growth of the productive forces. How is all this to be reconciled?

Theoretical economics recognizes two great divisions, the production of the means of production and the production of the means of consumption. Modern warfare, as we have seen in our own time, makes stupendous demands on the economy. “Germany would put about five million armed men into the field, or ten per cent of the population, the others about four to five per cent, Russia relatively less,” Engels wrote to Sorge in 1888, when a European war seemed imminent. “But there would be from ten to fifteen million combatants. I should like to see how they are to be fed; it would be a devastation like the Thirty Years’ War.” Engels, alive during the Second World War, would have had the opportunity to see how many, many more than fifteen million combatants were fed. The stupendous demands on the economy were met, not only with regard to food but to weapons of such a kind ami in such quantities as Engels or any of hia contemporaries would hardly dare dream of.

What happens under such circumstances to the two great productive divisions of capitalism?

In The German Ideology, which in spite of Mehring’s severe strictures, is invaluable for the fullest understanding of the Manifesto, which it preceded by a couple of years, Marx writes: “These productive forces receive only a one-sided development under private property, become for the most part destructive forces and a mass of such forces cannot even be utilized in private property.” And further: “In the development of the productive forces a stage is reached in which forces of production and means of distribution are generated which, under the existing relations, can only inflict harm, which are not longer forces of production but forces of destruction (machinery and money) ...” And still further: “... the productive forces and the forms of distribution have developed so far that they have become, under the rule of private property, destructive forces ...” The Manifesto itself points out that the bourgeoisie overcomes its crises “by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces.”

Bukharin on the Destructive Forces

Imperialist war, on the scale on which it is now fought, gives a new, and more terrible significance – a double significance – to these words. Capitalism develops the productive forces only by turning more and more of them into destructive forces. To an extent which the authors of the Manifesto could not possibly have imagined, capitalism has added the production of the means of destruction to the two great divisions of production set forth by Marx in his later Capital.

Leaving aside for the moment all emotional considerations and moral judgments, the production of the means of destruction must first be considered from the strictly economic standpoint. In a study written by Bukharin after the First World War, that is, before the extensive and intensive “improvements” introduced in the Second World War, is to be found the following striking and valuable observation:

Let us consider the real reproduction process in so far as the economy as a whole stands under the sign of war, that is, in so far as a redistribution of the productive forces has taken place in the interests of war industry and of work for the army in general. The labor employed for war requirements used to be designated as unproductive labor from the economic standpoint. What does this mean? The specific significance of this labor emerges clearly when we investigate its influence upon the conditions of reproduction. In the “normal” process of production, means of production and means of consumption are created. These are the two most important spheres of the economy as a whole. It is clear that the means of production are each time incorporated into the system of social labor. Their production is a condition for reproduction of mean: of consumption. These means of consumption in no wise disappear without a trace for the further cycles of the production process. For the process of consumption is at bottom a unique process of the production of labor power. Labor power, however, is an equally necessary condition for the process of reproduction. Consequently, both the production of the means of consumption and the production of means of production supply products which constitute the necessary condition of the reproduction process without which the latter cannot take place. War production has an entirely different significance: a cannon is not transformed into an element of the new production cycle. Powder is shot into the air and appears in no way in a new shell in the succeeding cycle. On the contrary. The economic effect of these elements in actu is a purely negative quantity. Nevertheless, it should not be thought that the economic significance is here absolutely linked with a definite type of the use value and the objective form of the product. We can consider the means of consumption with which the array is provided. Here too we witness the same thing. The means of consumption here do not create labor power, for the soldiers do not figure in the production process; they are excluded from it, they are placed outside the production process. So long as the war endures, the means of consumption thus serve in large part not as means of production of labor power, but of means of production of the specific “soldier-power” which plays no role in the production process. Consequently, with the war, the reproduction process takes on a “distorted,” retrogressive, negative character, namely: with every succeeding production cycle the real basis of production becomes ever narrower and narrower, the “development” unfolds not along an expanding but also a constantly contracting spiral.

Still another important circumstance must be emphasized here. The army, which represents an enormous demand, that is, wants to be sustained, gives no labor equivalent. In consequence, it does not produce but rather withdraws; in other words, we get here a doubled falling-out from the “reproduction fund.” This circumstance represents the most important destructive factor. In addition, consideration must be given to the direct war destructions (destroyed roads, burned cities, etc., etc.), as well as a whole series of indirect destructions (of labor power and more of the same). It is thus clear that the real basis of social production narrows down with every circulation of social capital. We have to deal here not with an expanded reproduction, indeed, not even with a simple reproduction; what we have here is an ever-growing underproduction. This process can be designated as expanded negative reproduction. That is war regarded from the economic standpoint.

It is sometimes forgotten that war is as much a part and product of capitalist economy as railroad trains. The development of the productive forces cannot be measured in some abstract way but in the way in which it actually occurs in the real capitalist society, and not just in one favored corner of the capitalist world but throughout that world.

The “tremendous development” of production in fascist imperial Germany, for example, gives only one side of the picture and therefore gives a false picture. The other side is the no less tremendous destruction of productive forces which this development was intended for and which it achieved, in the devastation not just of Polish “cities” but of Poland’s economy, of Russia’s economy and of the productive forces of other lands, including the most important productive force, labor. The United States doubled its productive forces over night during the war and everyone is still awed by this miracle of American capitalism. Only, the miracle has its inseparable counterpart in the outright destruction of productive forces which it made possible in Germany and Japan. One immense factory miraculously completed and put into operation within ten months produced in a short time the means of destroying ten equally huge factories in other lands in ten hours.

Capitalism in Extremis

The Manifesto unhesitatingly states the wonders accomplished in its time by the bourgeoisie, “wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals.” Today, capitalism reserves its wonders for the work of destroying everything handed down to us from the Egyptians, the Romans, the Goths or from its own immediate ancestors, and of devastating and razing what it itself builds with an inexorability and ruthlessness which makes the Vandals appear like mere mischievous children.

The aftermath of war differs from the war which is to follow as sowing differs from reaping. Everything is in a state ol dislocation. Order prevails nowhere. Security is an unrealized and unrealizable dream. Except for one superpower, it is not so easy to distinguish the victor from the vanquished. All are plagued by an irresolvable inflation, product of the universal underproduction caused by the preoccupation (still, in peacetime!) with war production, by the need to feed those who cannot produce because of the war destruction (the effects of which have barely begun to wear off in Europe and Asia), and by the vast supply of printing-press money with which the victors helped defray the stupefying multi-millioned costs of the war, a monster burden which oppresses the whole world and the world to be born. Since the war settled no more than it could settle, which was infinitesimal in comparison with the wealth, labor and blood expended upon it, a new war is inevitable and is being prepared and planned in the open.

It is hard for a civilized mind to believe what it sees. The war of unprecedented destruction is barely over (the big peace treaties are not even drawn up yet and may never bel), but with statesmanlike coolness and objectivity the rulers of the world are at work in the sight of all for a war, this time of unbelievable atomic destruction, to be fought in the foreseeable not-too-distant future.

The preliminary skirmish wars are actually being fought already in several parts of the globe. The details of the destruction are discussed by the sportsmen, military and civilian, as if they were preparing for a trap shoot. The two big powers, the only ones capable of fighting a world war, openly jockey for position against each other. Each converts whole countries into rifle-rests and bastions against the other. Cannon fodder is publicly recruited. Armies are demobilized only in order to mobilize new ones. The war industry is not converted to the production of plowshares; it is merely reduced in size with the injunction, “Be prepared!” The merchants of death drool in anticipation of the coming emoluments of patriotism. The chauvinist and his twin, the witch hunter, are given their head. The blood brother of yesterday is baited today as the sworn historical foe; the irreconcilable foe of yesterday, whose neck still has the spiked foreign boot on it, is groomed as the blood brother of tomorrow.

So far has capitalism decayed, so desperate is it in its depravity, that it is compelled to change, if not the reality, then at least the form of its relations to its classical fields of super-exploitation: the colonies and semi-colonies it had in the past and the conquered, formerly imperialist lands which were to be converted into colonies.

In preparation for the earth-shaking and perhaps earth-extinguishing battle of the behemoths, the vassal states and lands are given the dubious benefits of imperialism’s peculiar “development of the productive forces.” Global war being what it is today, the big imperialist powers must have arsenals not only within their own reliable frontiers, but also abroad, wherever men live and work, wherever raw materials can be found and most conveniently converted on the spot into engines of death. So the lands that were colonies yesterday and those that were to be turned into backward agricultural hinterlands are being freely “industrialized.”

Suicide or Execution?

The conquered enemy, let us note again, is included in the benefactions. The bourgeoisie, wrote the Manifesto, “is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him.” The Manifesto was speaking of the relations between ruler and ruled in the capitalist nation. In its decay, imperialism reproduces these relations between ruler and ruled on an international scale, that is, in the form of

ruling nation and ruled nation, master nation and subject nation. The conquered nations, Germany and Italy, have to be fed by the conqueror instead of feeding him!

There is not a trace of humanitarianism in all this, it goes without saying. Behind all the pious talk of “reconstructing” Europe, of rebuilding its industry and making it “self-reliant,” stand the plans and charts of the organizers of destruction. This time all of Germany – and not Germany alone – must supply Hessians, dragooned and impressed into the coming holocaust for the service of foreign overlords – Hessians and supplementary means of destruction from its “reconstructed” economy.

No matter how disoriented the people, they watch the events unfold with mingled horror, fear and fury. They have felt the cruelty and futility of imperialist war, and they have an ineradicable hatred for it. They cannot be trusted with political freedom in the days ahead. They are not days of the blossoming of capitalist democracy.

The encroaching general barbarism drags along with it the barbaric regimentation of all social and personal life, authoritarian government, dictatorship, totalitarianism, the police state. It rots everything: bourgeois democracy, the classic liberalism, the middle classes, social-democratic reformism, the trade unions, the arts and sciences, and the whole economy.

The foundations of capitalism, along with the supports pushed under it as props, threaten to collapse. At the periphery of world capitalism, in its weaker sections, capitalism has already collapsed or has been collapsed by invading Stalinism, and even in its stronger sections it stands in fear not only of the proletariat but of this self-same Stalinism.

Now indeed is capitalism in its agony. It is no longer available as one of the choices mankind can make. It is almost pitiable to watch the hurryings and scurryings of the multitude of doctors – unwitting quacks – who attend its deathbed. Suppose it lingers on for a while? That will not matter much – a recovery is out of the question. What choice it has is limited to suicide or execution. It is only necessary to see to it that its death does not pull society down into an abyss with it. That is the task of Marxism today.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 27 December 2015