Speech by James P. Cannon
The following talk was delivered at the Friday Night Forum of the SWP [Socialist Workers Party] in Los Angeles on January 16, 1953. It was the fifth in a series of lectures by Cannon on “America’s Road to Socialism”.
At this time the United States was in the depths of the Cold War: Eisenhower was beginning his first presidential term, the Korean war was raging, the anti-communist witch-hunt was at its height, the labour movement was conservatised and passive and the left small and isolated. Yet—despite heavy losses—the SWP tenaciously held on and remained true to its revolutionary program. In his talks Cannon reaffirmed his confidence in the socialist perspective, in particular, the ability of the American working class to successfully challenge US imperialism in a struggle for power and to create a new society.
Cannon’s lecture was serialised in the Militant, March 23 and 30, 1953. We have added the subheads.
Last week we discussed the coming struggle for power which will decide the question: Who shall be master in the American house? Our analysis showed that the advantages in this coming struggle lie on the side of the workers, and that their victory can be expected. This victory of the workers in the showdown struggle with the capitalists and their fascist gangs will culminate, at a certain point, in the establishment of a workers’ government to rule the country.
Differences with anarchists
Right at this point our differences with the anarchists are brought out most sharply. We don’t hear so much about anarchism now as we did in my early days in the movement. Anarchism was then taken more seriously as a revolutionary tendency, but it made a miserable showing under the actual tests of war and revolution. Anarchism, in essence, is nothing but opportunism turned inside out, but it sometimes appears to be its opposite; and impatient workers, recoiling violently against a pusillanimous and compromising leadership, are often attracted to the high-sounding verbal radicalism of anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists and mistake it for the real thing. It is possible, therefore, that in the course of coming developments in America, anarchism could experience a certain revival. That could cause a great deal of confusion just when clarity of program will be supremely important.
The differences between Marxists and anarchists are very serious and caused many polemical disputes and splits in the past, ever since the days of Marx and Bakunin in the First International. There were many points at issue in this great historic controversy, but the central point was the question of the state. The anarchist theory was that capitalism and the state would be abolished at the same time, in one operation. For them the revolutionary victory was synonymous with the abolition of the state.
The Marxists said, no, you are running ahead of yourselves. Marxism also envisages a society in which there will be no classes and no state, but does not agree with the contention that the state can be abolished in one step at the moment of the workers’ victory. A transition period will follow when the workers will need a state for their own historic class purposes. Marxism regards the state as the instrument of class rule. It is not the general, impartial representative of all the people, as it is represented to be and as, unfortunately, many people think it is. The state, in its essential features, is the instrument of one class for the suppression of another.
That’s the character of the present state in this country. Marxism gives the same basic definition to the state that will be set up following the workers’ victory. The workers’ state—in the transition period between capitalism and socialism—will have the same characteristics, in some respects, as the one that exists today. It will be a class instrument; its chief purpose will be to suppress one class in the interests of another. So far, it’s the same thing as the Eisenhower state, with this slight difference: The state we envisage after the victory of the workers will be a governmental instrument of coercion in the hands of the working-class majority to suppress any attempt of the capitalist minority to re-establish their system of exploitation. The workers’ state will be like the present state only turned upside down and put to the service of a different class.
The main features and role of this new state in the transition period are not for us a subject of imaginative speculation. The nature of society in the transition period between capitalism and socialism, and the kind of state, of government, it would require, were clearly foreseen and elaborated theoretically by Marx and Engels a long time ago; and the theory was applied in practice in the Russian Revolution of 1917 by Lenin and Trotsky. We have both Marxist theory and serious experience to go by in stating confidently what the general characteristics of the new state will be and what its tasks will be.
In drawing up their conclusions from the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871, the first attempt of the workers to set up a state of their own, Marx and Engels stated their theoretical conclusions on the nature of the state in the transition period with absolute clarity. Between the capitalist society of the present and the communist society of the future—they said—there lies a transition period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. During this period the corresponding political state can only be the rule of the workers, the dictatorship of the workers, as every state is, in essence, the dictatorship of one class over another.
That is precisely the way Lenin and Trotsky, who were orthodox disciples of Marx and Engels, understood the question and proceeded resolutely to apply it in practice in the Russian Revolution of November 1917. The theory of Marx and Engels on the question of the state and revolution has been powerfully reinforced by the experience of the great Russian Revolution.
So we can sum up this point by saying with absolute certainty that the working class, victorious in the showdown struggle with the capitalists and their fascist gangs, will not disband all government forms. On the contrary, it will take hold of society and set up its own government, its own state, and use all the concentrated power of this state to suppress any attempt at counterrevolution by the capitalists. At the same time it will use the power of the new state to reorganise the economy and direct it into new channels and new forms.
Certain things have been demonstrated in the Russian Revolution which prior to that time were maintained, and could be maintained, only theoretically.
On the positive side of that great historical experience, we can put down first, the demonstration that it is possible—as previously asserted by Marxism, but unproved—for the working class not only to remove the capitalists from power, but to set up a governmental machine to serve their own purposes and to maintain their power. Today, if anyone says, “It can’t be done”, the answer is: “It has already been done, and done successfully even under the most unfavourable conditions.”
If anyone says: “This idea of a workers’ government sounds good but it wouldn’t work. The 62 million workers in this country wouldn’t be strong enough to supersede the capitalists in power and set up a government of their own; they wouldn’t know how to run a government; they have never been to school in statesmanship; they didn’t study civics in college.” If anyone says that, the answer is: Only four or five million workers—that’s all the industrial proletariat amounted to in tsarist Russia—four or five million workers were sufficient, at the time of social crisis, to overthrow the whole edifice of tsarism and capitalism and set up a government of their own. Moreover, they were able to maintain their power, not only against all the capitalists and landlords of Russia, but against the entire capitalist world which blockaded them and tried to overthrow them by military force.
Our programmatic statement that the workers will set up a government of their own in this country can hardly be dismissed as a utopian speculation—not after the demonstration of the Russian Revolution. Our confident assertion has the verification of practical experience as well as the scientific theory of Marxism behind it.
The second fact on the positive side of the Russian experience is the colossal achievement in the field of production. Tsarist Russia was the most backward of the big capitalist countries. Capitalist large-scale industry was only feebly developed there; it was far behind that of America, England, France, and Germany. But even with such a poor foundation to build on, it was demonstrated that production can not only be kept going without capitalists and landlords, but can be increased and multiplied. In the brief space of 35 years since the Russian Revolution, the most backward land of great capitalism has become the second industrial power in the world. That is attributed, and can only be attributed, to the elimination of capitalist private ownership, the nationalisation of industry, and construction of planned economy.
In these two achievements of the Russian Revolution we have the practical demonstration, first, that the workers can rule; and second, that nationalised industry and planned economy can increase the productivity of the people. That is the touchstone of all social systems. The social system which can raise the productivity of labour, so that more things are produced with less expenditure of labour power, is the more progressive system. It is bound to prevail and to displace any less productive social system.
The negative sides of the evolution of the Soviet Union since 1917 have been the product of specific Russian conditions. We have no reason whatever to minimise or ignore the deformations of the Soviet state under Stalinism, truly monstrous and revolting as they are. But we should try to understand the causes of these excrescences before jumping to the conclusion that a workers’ state in America would necessarily suffer the same degeneration.
There are great differences between the Russia of 1917 and the America of the present day, and these differences will all work in favour of the American workers when they come to power. In Russia the greatest difficulties began after the revolution. The overthrown minority of capitalists and landlords didn’t submit. They organised a counterrevolutionary struggle which developed into a civil war, before the new state had a chance to consolidate. While Lenin was reading those great history-making decrees in the first Soviet assembly after the Bolsheviks had taken power, the counterrevolutionists were already mobilising their armies, with the money and military support of the outside capitalist world. For five years—from 1917 until 1922—the main efforts of the new workers’ government in this backward country, further impoverished and ruined by the world war, had to be devoted to a military struggle to maintain the new regime.
The immediate result was not a development of the productive forces but a further disorganisation and disruption. Everything had to be subordinated to the demands of the war for survival against a world of enemies. There was a scarcity of the barest essentials of life. Daily life became a scramble for an extra piece of bread. Out of this economic circumstance, a bureaucracy arose, took shape, and crystallised into a privileged caste—as is always the case when there is scarcity. This bureaucracy, after a long internal struggle, eventually gained the domination of the country.
That is the negative side of the Russian experience, based on the economic backwardness of the country and its isolation in a hostile capitalist world. The attempt to march forward progressively and harmoniously, from the proletarian revolution to a socialist society, in a backward country surrounded and isolated in a hostile capitalist world, proved to be a rather difficult undertaking. It culminated, for an historical period, in the deformation of the workers’ state into a bureaucratic police state.
But even under these adverse circumstances—and this is the point to remember—the new system of nationalised industry and planned economy could not be destroyed. Over a period of 35 years the new system of economy—the greatest achievement of the revolution—has proved its viability and its capacity to develop and expand the productive forces at a rate and on a scale never equalled by capitalism even in its heyday. That is the touchstone.
Things will go differently in this country, and there will be both difficulties and advantages in the difference. The difficulties will come first. The capitalist class in this country is stronger than it was in Russia; it has more resources: and it will fight with the desperate fury of an outlived class in its last stronghold. But once the power has been taken by the workers in this country, everything will be changed in their favour. And for the same reason.
Where Russia was poor and industrially backward, America is rich and highly developed. Capitalism has done its historic work in this country, and for that we should be duly appreciative. You see, we’re not anti-capitalist 100%; we’re procapitalist as against feudalism, and chattel slavery, and industrial backwardness in general. We are procapitalist in recognising the progressive historic role capitalism played in developing the forces of production, as illustrated to the highest degree in this country.
But in making this acknowledgement, we add a postscript: Capitalism has exhausted its progressive role; now it must leave the stage to a higher system. Capitalism has done its work here, so that when the workers come to power they will fall heir not to a ruined, backward, hungry country, but to the richest country with the most highly developed productive plant in the whole world. That’s what the new government of the workers in America will have to start with.
Form of government
What will be the form of the new workers’ government? I wouldn’t undertake to say positively, any more than I would undertake to say positively just how the transfer of the governmental power from the capitalists to the workers will take place. The two questions are connected, to a certain extent. Many variants are possible, depending on the strength of each side at the time of the showdown, and the disposition of the capitalists in particular.
If somebody says: “I would prefer to see the change effected by the workers’ getting the majority in a fair election and taking power peacefully”—well, I wouldn’t say I’m opposed to that. I would say, if it can be done, if the democratic forms are maintained and it can be done peacefully, that would probably be the most economical way of transforming the government.
Of course, even in such a case, you would have to do a very serious job of fixing up the constitution to make it fit the new needs. But that could all be done, provided the capitalists, contrary to the disposition of all ruling classes in the past, will agree peacefully to submit to the will of the majority.
But if history tells us anything, it is doubtful, to say the least, that they would agree to that. As the workers approach a position of political strength, where their majority in a fair election becomes a threatening prospect, it is possible, and even probable, that the capitalists will disregard democratic processes, organise fascist gangs and try to settle the question with armed force. The workers then will be obliged to set up their own defence battalions. In such circumstances it is quite possible, due to the stupidity, arrogance, unfairness, and historic blindness of the capitalists, that there will be some scuffling before the government is changed.
But it will be changed just the same, and however it may be changed, the new government will probably approximate the occupational or workers’ council form; or will eventually be remodelled along that line. The present form of representation in the government by territorial units will probably be replaced by representation of occupational units. The delegates in the congress will directly represent the workers in the shops, the factories, the farms and so on; not to omit the military units, which will also have a hand in the new regime as long as they continue to exist.
The workers’ council form of government will be preferred because it is more representative and more democratic than the present form of American government. The new government will be primarily concerned with the problems of economy. The workers will have a means of exerting direct pressure and influence through their own delegates in the occupational councils all the way up from the local to the regional and to the federal assemblies.
The council form is more representative than the present form of government. For example, I don’t think there are many sitting in this room who ever saw the congressman from their district, or even know his name. But there are very few of you who don’t know the name of your shop steward in the factory where you work, and the delegates in the central bodies of your unions. They have something to do with your daily work and welfare and you have to see them almost every day. They are not something remote, like the government in Washington, but directly connected with the workers whom they represent. You can visualise the council form of government as just that sort of thing on an expanded scale.
The workers in factories elect their delegates to a local council, the local units combine in a regional body; the regional councils elect their delegates to the federal body. Control comes directly back, not to an election that takes place every two or four years, but to a shop council whose members can meet every day if they want to, right on the ground, and let their representative know what they want. Certainly the council form of government is more representative, more flexible and more democratic than the present form of government could ever be imagined to be. That’s why I think it is reasonable to assume that the workers’ government in this country will take this form.
Nationalise banks and industry
What will be the first tasks of this new workers’ government? Again, this is not speculative; it is not a mystery. The Marxists face this problem with an answer which was first theoretically outlined by our great masters; which has been demonstrated already in practice; and is now incorporated into the program of every revolutionary party in the world. The first task of the new government, once it has established its authority and its power, will be to abolish private property in the means of production. This will be done by one law, or by one decree, declaring that the banking system and all the key industries—all the big factories, mines, and factory farms; all the means of communication and transportation, public utilities, etc. are henceforth public property.
I don’t mean every little shop, corner store, and small farm. I mean the great industries which have already been organised on a colossal scale. They will be maintained and operated just as they are, with one small difference. Instead of a clique of non-producers directing them for private profit, as at present, they will be nationalised and made the property of the workers’ government, to be operated for public use and need, and not for anybody’s personal profit.
Will these industries be acquired by compensation to the present owners, or by confiscation? This question used to be debated very heatedly in the socialist movement in the old days, but it is not really a question of principle; not in this country, at any rate. We say today: “It all depends.” It is not necessarily more radical to say: “We won’t give them a cent, we’ll just confiscate.” It is not necessarily wiser to say: “It would be better to compensate.” I take a position in the middle and say that whether the capitalists receive any compensation for the industries they claim to own—but which in reality they stole from the people—whether they get compensation or an order of expropriation without compensation—will depend on how they behave themselves.
If they want to submit to the majority and be reasonable, I think the government could easily agree to give them a certain compensation to avoid further trouble. America is rich enough. The workers’ government could afford to hand out a few million, even a few billion, in order to prevent the development of a civil war. The government could do that, and might do it. It depends on the capitalists.
If they get nasty and continue fighting against the sovereign will of the majority, then they won’t get anything. I take it for granted that once the workers have been victorious in a revolution and have set up their own government, they aren’t going to be fooling any more. Everything is going to be serious and decisions will have to be carried out.
The next day after the nationalisation of industry, or maybe on the same day, the new workers’ government will lay official hands on all the gold buried in the ground at Fort Knox, and use this gold as the basis for American money. This will be the ironic paradox of history: that it took the workers’ government to establish a sound dollar in the United States, based on gold reserves, of which, thank God, we have plenty in Fort Knox and other depositories. We can also thank the present rulers for accumulating them for us. Eventually, money will be dispensed with altogether. The fully developed socialist society will have no use for it. But in the meantime, the workers’ government will have a sound dollar regulating the national economy, and no inflation.
Industry will be nationalised and operated according to a plan. Will that apply to all kinds of private property, to small farms, to small businesses, little stores? We don’t think so. We don’t think the new government would have any interest whatever in expropriating all the little corners of American industry and production. It would be wiser to let the small farmer keep his farm and continue to work on his own hook, and to let the little shops continue to operate.
The government will be busy with the great problem of nationalising coal and steel and auto and rubber and all the rest of the big industries and the railroads. The small farms and businesses can fit into the new scheme and supplement it; fill in the crevices of the national economy. The new government would have every interest, not only in permitting it, but in encouraging it and helping out with credits, etc., until the small farmers and small businessmen decide of their own account that they can do better and live better by participating in the uniform national scheme and sharing in its benefits. It won’t take them long.
But there are farmers and farmers. What about the factory farms such as those we have here in California—the great mass-production ranches, where hundreds and even thousands of agricultural workers are exploited in virtual slavery? They won’t be left in the hands of parasitical bankers and absentee owners. They will be taken over by the state and developed as models of the new type of agriculture—the factory in the field.
The future belongs to this type of agriculture. In time, the historical anachronism of isolated, privately operated small farms will be preserved only here and there as relics of a backward age. Agriculture will be developed just as all other industry has developed, on the factory system with modern labour-saving machinery, with the scientific methods of soil culture, fertilising, and so on. The aim will be to produce the greatest amount of food with the minimum of labour. The people, including the present farmers and agricultural workers, will get the benefit of it in the form of a higher standard of living, less hours of labour, and more leisure for living, for culture, and just to fool around and have a little fun.
Must ‘deliver the goods’
The aim of the workers’ government from the very start will be to increase production, eliminate waste, and improve the living standards of the people. And it will have to make good on this solid, practical ground. It will not be enough to say in government bulletins: “The new regime is morally superior to the old one. The new officials are more honest than the others.” All this will be perfectly true, but, by itself, will not suffice. The new regime will stand or fall, like all social systems in history, by this basic criterion: Does it raise and improve the productivity of labour, or does it turn it backward? The new regime will have to “deliver the goods”.
The American people will not be satisfied with official propaganda. They are from Missouri and they will say: “Show me”. They will want better homes and furniture; more and better food and clothes; more tickets to good shows and circuses. Every citizen will want his own automobile and a good five-cent cigar; maybe also, for all I know, a better supply of fine wines and liquors. The new government will have to produce and deliver all that; that will be its first aim. And that’s why it will nationalise industry, and reorganise production according to a unified economic plan.
Will this be superior to the present system? Will production be increased with less waste? That’s for sure. After the Russian experience there can’t be the slightest doubt about it. Today American industry operates blindly, without a general plan. The sole incentive for the operation of each and every factory in this country is the private profit of the owners. There’s no general coordination. There’s no concern about what’s going on in other industries or in other parts of the same industry. There’s no concern about whether the people need this or that, or don’t need it. The sole driving motive for the operation of each and every individual corporation is the private profit of the owners.
The decisions on production are made, not by consumers, what the people need and want; not by the workers, what the workers would like to make; not by scientists and technicians who know best of all, perhaps. The main decisions on production under capitalism—what shall be produced, how, where, and when—are made by financial magnates remote from the factories, remote from the people, whose sole motive is profit in each case.
What are the results of this system, which Marxists call the anarchy of capitalist production? One result is wasteful competition. Another result is the preservation of obsolete machinery and methods and the suppression of new patents. Twenty years ago the technocrats exposed the shocking fact that some of the most important patents for labour-saving methods and new processes are locked up in the safes of corporations. They bought the patents and suppressed them in order to prevent the development of more efficient methods by competitors which would render some present methods and products obsolete and reduce the profits they now make.
Consider the waste represented by the conspicuous consumption of the capitalist social parasites. That is absolute waste. The huge share of the product of American labour that goes to these non-producers is all pure waste.
That’s not all. Consider the waste of militarism and war. Just think of it! Sixty billion dollars a year wasted on the military budget at the present time, under the present system, which they say is the best in the world and the best that can ever be. Sixty billion dollars a year, wasted on military apparatus and preparation for war.
There is the waste of advertising, which is not only direct waste, but also irritation, which is another form of waste. You get so mad listening to the phony commercials that it makes you nervous, sets you to quarrelling with your wife, and undermines your efficiency on the job. That’s waste of human energy. I would say, only 10% of advertising is useful—that 10% which comprises announcements, explanations of new processes and so on, which will be used under the new society. The other 90% of advertising is devoted to lying, ballyhoo, faking and conning the people, and trying to get them to favour one identical product over another, or to buy something they don’t need and that won’t do them any good, and then buy something else to overcome the effects. That is pure waste.
And then, there’s another waste connected with advertising, as with so many other non-productive occupations—the waste of human material, which really shouldn’t be squandered. Just think of all the people prostituting their personalities in the advertising racket. Writers concoct slick copy, artists draw false illustrations, and radio announcers wheedle, deceive, and lie to promote crooked advertising campaigns. That is a waste of human personality, causing neuroses based upon the justified conviction of the individual that he is an absolutely useless person.
There are millions of such people, engaged in all kinds of useless, non-productive occupations in this present society. Advertising is only one of them. Look at all the lawyers in this country. What are they good for? Look at all the landlords, lobbyists, salesmen, promoters, ward-heelers, thieves, and swindlers—the million-headed horde of non-productive people in all kinds of rackets, legitimate and illegitimate. What are they good for? What do they produce? All that is economic waste, inseparable from the present system.
Costliest of all the results of the anarchy of capitalist production is the waste of economic crises—the periodic shutting down of production because the market has been saturated and products cannot be sold at a profit. This is what they euphemistically call a “depression”—an unavoidable cyclical occurrence under capitalism.
I wonder what the future man, the really civilised man, will think when he reads in his history books that there was once a society, long ago, where the people might be hungry for the products of farms and factories. And the workers in the factory might be eager to produce and needing the work so that they could live. But because the hungry people couldn’t buy the products, the workers weren’t allowed to work and produce them, and the factories were shut down, and agricultural production was artificially restricted.
What will the people of the future think of a society where the workers lived in constant fear of unemployment? There is hardly one sitting in this room tonight, I venture to say—there is hardly a worker anywhere who knows for sure whether he will have a job six months from now or not. He can work all his mature life, 40 or 50 years, and he’s never free from that fear. His having a job depends, not on his willingness to work, nor on the need of the people for the products of his labour; it depends on whether the owners of the factories can find a market for the products and make a profit at a given time. If they can’t, they shut down the factory, and that’s all there is to it.
The workers’ government will put a stop to this monstrous squandering of the people’s energies and resources, which is the direct result of the anarchy of capitalist production. Just by cutting out all this colossal waste—to say nothing of a stepped-up rate of productivity which would soon follow—the socialist reorganisation of the economy will bring about a startling improvement of the people’s living standards.
The first condition will be to eliminate all private profits of non-producers; to eliminate all conflicting interests of private owners of separate industries; to stop production for sale and profit and organise planned production for use.
When Marxists used to adumbrate the future along these lines, there was always some wise guy to say: “Ha! Blueprint! Utopia! It can’t be done!” But that’s precisely what was done in Russia, which had been the most backward of the capitalist countries. First they nationalised industry. Then they set up a central plan, and by means of planned economy they eliminated the wastes of capitalism and developed production faster than any other country in the world, until they became the second industrial power. And now the same thing is being done in China and in Eastern Europe. It is no longer a speculative prospect. What has already been done in other countries, can and will be done in our own country.
As one of its first acts, the new workers’ government will appoint a central planning board to organise and regulate the entire economy of America according to one general comprehensive plan. What will be the composition of this planning board? Certainly no loudmouthed politicians, no bankers, no lawyers; I doubt whether there will be any preachers. But I would say, representatives of the unions, farm cooperatives, economists and statisticians, scientists, technicians, and consumers will be appointed as a matter of course.
What will be the aims of the plan? The central planning board will concern itself with the problem of the maximum utilisation of all the resources and productive capacities in the country for one single purpose, according to one single criterion: what the people want and need.
The new workers’ government, no doubt, will call in the atomic scientists and ask them to develop this new power for useful productive purposes. The prospect staggers the imagination. But from what has already been demonstrated in the field of destruction with the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb, we can easily recognise not only the possibility, but the probability that the atomic scientists will show the economic planning board how to take this new discovery and put it to work for the production of power for peaceful uses. It is easily conceivable that the whole problem of power will be revolutionised. We can visualise a great system of power stations generated by atomic energy, taking the burden of labour from the shoulders of half a million coal miners and transferring it to atomic-powered machines.
All science will be pooled and directed to a single aim: production for the benefit of all—in agriculture as well as in industry. There will be a revolution in the production of food when the economic side of it is lifted out of this terrible backwardness of private ownership and operation for profit and handed over to the direction of agricultural scientists, seed specialists, soil experts, and so on. They will go to work in earnest, unfettered by any private interest, and learn how to refertilise soil, and increase its yields. An army of chemists will be mobilised to attack all problems of economical and abundant food production. They will solve the problem of converting salt water into fresh water cheaply, and make the deserts bloom. One thing is absolutely certain, from what one can read of the scientific advances already made in this field and experiments in progress: The productivity of the farms, of the land, can be increased many times and there can be food in abundance for all.
There will be a great expansion of scientific and technical schools in this country where every talented youth will be entitled to go, free of charge, at the expense of the state. The opportunity to acquire a scientific or technical education will not be simply a privilege of one whose father is well-to-do, but will be the natural inheritance of any talented young person who wants to pursue a line of science to serve the people.
Vast sums will be set aside for medical education, research and experiment. Not the grudging donations, here and there, from conscience-stricken philanthropists; not the present stingy appropriations from dollar-conscious legislatures. Just take all the money we spend on militarism and wars, and try to imagine what could be done if we spent only a small part of it on a program for health; a program to educate more doctors, and to make the doctors better; to enable them to live better and to get out of the moneymaking “business”, which most doctors are in, and attend to the business of healing the sick alone. The workers’ government, in its earliest period, will put a stop to this monstrous social crime of a shortage of doctors, while millions of ailing people go without proper medical attention.
The workers’ government will open up new medical schools and research laboratories and put vast sums at their disposal. No shaking of tin cans and asking people to “give a dime” to fight infantile paralysis. The government will appropriate billions and send an army of eager and devoted scientists into battle against polio, cancer, heart disease, and other enemies of the human race. A comprehensive program for public health will come under the head, not only of humanity and of morality, but also of economy. When the people’s health is taken care of better they will be more productive at work, and more goods of all kinds will roll out of the factories and farms.
We can say positively, on the basis of experience already accumulated under unfavourable conditions in the Soviet Union, that the early, the first, results of planned economy—eliminating all private profits and other waste, consciously employing more scientific methods, safeguarding the people’s health—will be to double the present income of the workers, if they want to take it all. Or they may, and probably will, elect to take part of it to make a 50% improvement in their living standards and devote the other 50% to rebuilding and modernising the factories and expanding the productive plant.
I’m not speaking now of the socialist society. I’m speaking of the first years, maybe of the first five-year plan of the workers’ government. The first five-year plan will work such miracles in the field of production as to raise the problem of “superabundance”, and what to do about it. The result of superabundance, or overproduction, as it is called, under the present system, is “depression”: idle plants, and idle men; hunger; misery; homes broken up; children’s education arrested; hopelessness for millions of people. The superabundant production resulting from the operation of planned economy, very likely in the period of the first five-year plan, will appear to the people as a blessing, rather than a threat. They certainly will not even think of shutting down the factories and throwing people out of work.
The “problem” can be dealt with in various ways. The first and most natural reaction of the workers will be formulated in a question: “If we’re all doing well and living good, producing more than we really need in an eight-hour day—then why the hell should we work so long?” This question will arise in the councils of the workers in the shops at the bottom, and will be carried up through their delegates all the way to the top of the government.
And the logical answer will go along with the question: “Let’s shorten the working day. Why should we work eight hours when we can produce all we need in four?” That may appear to be a simple answer to a complicated question, but many things will be simplified when the anarchy of capitalist production for profit is replaced by planned production for use.
That’s only the beginning. You can count on a shorter work day, and there will still be abundance and superabundance. Then another question will logically arise in the minds of the enlightened citizens of free and prosperous socialist America. They will not be narrow-minded, ignorant, and selfish isolationists, but will regard themselves as citizens of the world, concerned with all the affairs of the world and all its peoples, and will seek fraternal association with them on the basis of equality.
It goes without saying that they will grant immediate independence or statehood to the Puerto Rican people, whichever they prefer, and renounce all imperialist privileges and concessions extorted from other peoples by the deposed capitalist regime. They will go farther and say: “We’ve got human kinfolk in South America and Central America and in foreign lands, who haven’t had the benefit of the great capitalist development of industry before they came to power. They’re still working with inadequate machinery, tools, and implements. Why shouldn’t we help them to rise to our standards, not only as a simple act of human solidarity, but also to put a firmer foundation under the world system of socialist cooperation?”
The American workers will so decide, freely and voluntarily. I can see them doing that out of the generosity of spirit and the world outlook which the vision of socialism has given to them. I can see them deciding, freely and voluntarily, to work, say, an extra hour or two a day, for a certain period, to produce agricultural machinery, fertilisers, automobiles, trucks, machines to make machines, and other things to speed up the industrialisation of the undeveloped countries. And this will not be a loan or a piddling “Point Four” with strings attached. They will simply say to their kinfolk in less-favoured lands:
“This is a little donation from the workers of the Socialist United States of America to help you catch up with us, and put a firmer foundation under the Socialist United States of the World.”
“Missionaries” will be sent along with the machinery; not sky pilots this time, flanked by soldiers, but scientists and technicians accompanied by doctors. Such a gesture of solidarity, manifested practically in the voluntary labour of the workers for an extra hour or two a day, for a certain period, as a free donation to help industrialise Central and South America, Africa and Asia, will be one of the means whereby the workers in this country will take care of their “superabundance” during the early period of the new workers’ government.
The American way of life, which we hear a great deal about, will certainly begin to change under the workers’ government. The people will not occupy themselves only with the economic side of things. The government will consider the welfare of the people in all other respects too. Again, I’m not talking of socialism. I’m talking of the first period of the workers’ government in this country.
The government will enact a program of social legislation which will make the Roosevelt reforms appear as mere handouts in comparison. The new government will not offer a miserable pension to a worn-out work horse, if and when he reaches the age of 65, if he has worked steady all his life up to then. It will not offer the worker a small dole against absolute starvation when his factory shuts down without asking him what he thinks about it. No, the workers’ government will have nothing to do with such mockeries of social welfare. In workers’ America—from the beginning of the workers’ government, without waiting for the full development of socialism—no child, not one, will be born under a cloud of fear as to whether he is going to have enough to eat or not; or dependent upon whether his parents are in good health; or if they have some accident; or if the old man falls out of work.
By the law and the constitution the workers’ government will guarantee economic security to every child from the moment of birth. The right to live securely; to have his health taken care of; to be removed from all fears of unemployment, of poverty, and of old age—will be automatically assured to every child by virtue of the fact that he was born in this country under a workers’ government. Not only a right to live and to have food and clothes and a snug roof provided; but to have education. Education, as much as he wants, and as much as his talent calls for. Each and every person, without any exception.
That will be a very simple and natural and easy thing to do, because socialist America will have the means, the abundance, the booming productivity—and all this will be produced for use, for the benefit of all. The system of planned economy under the workers’ government will provide the people with abundance, and what is no less important, the time to enjoy it and get the full good out of it. I have spoken of the four-hour day, but that would be only the beginning, the first step, which is more than possible with the productive machinery as it is today. But the productivity of labour under the new, more efficient system will be expanded all the time.
And since there will be no need to pile up profits for the benefit of non-producers; since there will be no need to find ways of wasting the surplus—the natural, logical, and inevitable conclusion will simply be to cut down the hours of labour progressively to the time actually needed to produce what is needed. The greatest boon, and the precondition for changing the American way of life into a truly humane, cultured, and civilised way of life, will accrue from the progressive shortening of the working day.
When the workers first began to fight for the 10-hour day in this country—I read in my histories of the American labour movement—the employers put on a tremendous campaign against it. They argued on moral grounds—“morality” of the capitalists is always happily married to their profit interests. They said: “If you cut down the hours of labour, if the worker doesn’t work 12 hours a day, he will spend all his spare time getting drunk. The workers need to be working from dawn to dusk in order to keep sober and keep out of trouble.” That’s what they said. We won’t hear such arguments in the future. When people get accustomed to leisure, they soon learn what to do with it.
The citizen of socialist America will gradually move into a new state of affairs where his main preoccupation is no longer his struggle for individual existence—as it is today—but what he is going to do with that wonderful gift of leisure, the greatest gift, I think, of all. Leisure is the premise for all cultural development. Without leisure you have no rights. What’s the use of being told you should do this, and you should do that, you should develop your mind and let your soul expand—when you’re so preoccupied with work and trying to make a living and keep your family out of the poorhouse that you have no time for anything else? What you need is time! And for that you need an efficient system of planned economy to shorten the hours of necessary labour and give everyone the time and the leisure to think and reflect and loaf and invite his soul, as the poet said. A big start in this direction will be made already in the early period of the workers’ government.
Democratic through and through
The regime of the workers’ government in this country will be a democratic regime—democratic through and through. The abundance which the planned economy will provide for all, plus the time for leisure, for education and cultural development in general, will be the surest safeguards against a usurping bureaucracy, infringing on the rights and liberties of the people as in the case today in the Soviet Union.
When there is plenty for all, there is no material basis for a privileged bureaucracy and the danger, therefore, is largely eliminated. That will be the situation in rich and highly developed America under the workers’ rule. From the very beginning, we will go in for real workers’ democracy in this country; because, among other things, democracy is not only better for ourselves, for our minds, and for our souls, but is also better for production. Democracy will call out the creative energy of the masses. When all the workers participate eagerly in the decisions, and bring together their criticisms and proposals based upon their experience in the shops, higher production will result. Faults in the plans will be corrected right away by the experience of the workers; misfits and incompetents in the leading bodies will be recalled by the democratic process; officious “bosses” will be given the boot.
An educated and conscious working class will insist on democracy. And not the narrowly limited and largely fictitious democracy of voting every four years for some big-mouthed political faker picked for you by a political machine, but democracy in your work. That’s where it really counts. Every day you will have something to say about the work you’re doing, how it should be done and who should be in charge of it, and whether he’s directing it properly or not. Democracy in all cultural activities. Democracy in all spheres of communal life from A to Z.
I say, an educated American working class that has made a revolution will not tolerate bureaucratic tyrants of any kind. Another thing. The tradition of frontier democracy is deep in the blood of the American worker. He thinks he was born with certain inalienable rights and, by God, no brass hat, fascist gangster, or Stalinist bureaucrat is going to take them away from him. That sentiment will be another powerful point of resistance to any infringements on democracy.
The monstrosity of Stalinism arouses fears of the same thing in this country. These fears, in my opinion, are progressive, provided they don’t lead to prostration before capitalism; because if you have capitalism you are going to have fascism, and that means a police state in its worst and most reactionary form. But that will not be a great danger, either—when the showdown comes. The American workers will take care of the fascists as well as the Stalinists. There will be no police state. There will be democracy, flowering as never before in the history of the world. But that does not mean that there will not be some repressions, if they are necessary. This workers’ state, while it lasts, will still be a state; and the state is an instrument of force, used by one class to repress another. The workers’ government must rule, and it is not going to promise anybody that it is something to fool with. Counterrevolution will not be tolerated. But outside that, the new workers’ regime will be easygoing and tolerant, make itself scarce and keep its nose out of people’s private affairs.
The scientists and technicians will easily be won over to enthusiastic participation in the great work of the new regime. For the first time they will be really free men, not only well rewarded in a material way, but respected and given their heads; not subjected to distrust and suspicion and not required to sign loyalty oaths; not regarded as second-rate citizens, mere hirelings at the command of some ignorant moneybag. The scientists will be honoured as servants of the people, heroes whom the youth will strive to emulate. The scientists and technicians will come over with great enthusiasm to the new regime. There can be no doubt about it.
I don’t think the new regime will have any serious trouble with religion. There may be some opposition from organised religion as an institution; the church bigwigs, especially the reactionary, fascist-minded Catholic hierarchy, will probably try to play a counterrevolutionary role in the actual struggle for power. But it won’t do them any good. The workers will know where their real interest lies and act accordingly. People have a way of reconciling their religious convictions with their class interests. Besides, if they want texts, they can find plenty of sanction in the Bible for revolutionary action against moneychangers who profane the temple and exploiters who grind the faces of the poor.
Bill Haywood used to say: “No matter what the priest says about turning the other cheek, an Irish Catholic is a handy man on a picket line. When he’s on strike fighting for his job and for his union, he finds a way of reconciling it with his religion.” That’s the way it will be in the revolution, and after. The communicants of the churches will find no difficulty in lining up with the mass of their fellow workers when it comes to a showdown fight for their own interests, for their own future.
And after the revolution, what interest will the workers’ government have in suppressing religion, in persecuting people for their religious beliefs? None whatever, as far as I can see. Of course, the churches, as institutions, will be deprived of the support of the capitalist interests. They will have to get out of the real estate business and the charity racket; nobody will need charity. Each church, each religion will have to stand or fall on its appeal to its communicants. It will have to defend its dogmas against scientific criticism, which will also be free. But the new society will have no interest whatever in any kind of persecution of religious sentiments.
Pension off capitalists
Counterrevolution can hardly be a serious threat to the workers’ government in America. The workers are an overwhelming majority in this country, and their strength is multiplied by their strategic position in the centres of production everywhere. How is there going to be any kind of a counterrevolution against a government with such a broad and solid social base? I don’t think the American capitalists will try it. The real exploiters are a very small minority. They couldn’t get enough fools to do their fighting for them, and they are opposed in principle to doing their own fighting. The defeated capitalists will benefit from their own helplessness, and Trotsky thought it would not be necessary or wise to treat them harshly.
The little handful of recalcitrant capitalists who don’t like what is happening will not have to stay and watch if they don’t want to. The workers’ government of rich America could easily afford to give them an island or two, for their exclusive habitation, and pension them off and get them out of the way. How big is Catalina Island here? That might be just the place for them. It will not be necessary to kill them off. Just send them to Catalina. Let them take their bonds and stock certificates with them—as mementos of bygone days—and give them enough caviar and champagne to finish out their useless lives, while the workers go on with their work of constructing a new and better social order. That’s what Trotsky said.
War, and the threat of war, which made Soviet Russia’s path so difficult, will be no problem for the American workers’ government. Where would the danger come from? In Russia the danger of war was real and actual. But what country could attack the United States? If we are not the last capitalist nation to join the march toward socialism, our coming in will seal the doom of capitalism everywhere. The remnants of the whole world system will fall like a house of cards. The world victory of socialism will put an end to all national rivalries and antagonisms and, therewith, to all national wars.
The victorious American revolution will not stop very long with the 48 states. All the countries north and south of our borders will follow the United States in revolution, if they have not preceded it. In a matter of months, the new workers’ government in the United States will join with Canada, with Central America, and with South America, in one great hemispheric federation—the Socialist United States of all the Americas. This new All-American Federation will work out a single economic plan for the entire hemisphere. This cooperative hemispheric plan will bring modern industrialisation and scientific agriculture to all the countries south of the border, and raise up all the hungry people to full participation in a new and more abundant life in a better, more humane, and more plentiful society.
These tremendous developments—beginning with increased production and plenty of material goods for all, and then spreading into all fields of human concern and endeavour, will bring the people, by progressive steps, to the threshold of a new stage of society, without classes and without a state, and without any form of compulsion.
As the victorious people approach that new and higher stage of society, all the repressive features of the state will wither away and die out for lack of function. There will be no class to repress. All will be free and equal. The state itself will wither away. The government of men will be replaced by the administration of things. The transition period between capitalism and socialism will merge—without another revolution and without social convulsions of any kind, but simply by an inexorable process of development—into the socialist society.
That is the indicated line of social evolution in the United States, my friends—speeded up, as it will be, by a timely third American revolution. That is America’s predestined road. We who see that, and strive to help it along, feel power and victory on our side, for we are in league with the future. In my opinion, to work for that future—with the sure knowledge that social evolution is working with us—is the most important, the most inspiring and the most satisfying occupation of all. The goal we strive for is worthy of anything we do for it or pay for serving it.