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Capitalism’s Crises: Well-known Communist Discovers Marx

Writing in the January Labour Monthly of which he is the Editor, the prominent Communist, Mr. R. Palme Dutt, recognises that the popular theory of the automatic collapse of capitalism is unsound, and that Marx was right in believing that capitalism will not end until the workers bring it to an end by their own conscious and organised action. Of course, Mr. Dutt does not admit in so many words—and possibly does not realise—that he has abandoned the official Communist Party standpoint.

In the December issue of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD it was pointed out that, as long ago as the eighties of last century, the late H. M. Hyndman fell into this error. At every industrial or financial crisis, to the day of his death after the War, he proclaimed the certain and immediate collapse of the system. The same idea was carried on by the I.L.P. and was swallowed whole by the Communists at the formation of their party in 1920.

Many of them picked up this fallacy from the writings of the American, Herman Cahn, who elaborated it in "The Collapse of Capitalism" and "Capital To-day." In the former (published by Kerr & Co., Chicago, 1919), Cahn said that the development of the credit system after Marx's death had brought a—

"most profound change . . . in the economic world since his time . . . a new force has grown up, which no longer leaves the downfall of capitalism to the vague future, or its earlier ending to the spread of a high degree of intelligence among the real proletariat, but makes the coming of that great event a matter of figures and entirely independent of even the collective will of men. The war has enormously hastened the development of this force, and the catastrophe is imminent."  (P. 9 and 10).

Writing while the War was still in progress, Cahn said that the downfall of capitalism,

"root and branch, will be positively assured by a continuation of the war for, say, another year. That downfall will then be like an act of nature, and not dependent on the mental and moral preparation of the peoples of the world for a new form of society."  (P. 38.).

He added, however, that whether the War went on or not, the downfall was assured (p. 118).

It was, of course, unfortunate that Cahn claimed his theories as Marxian and was believed by many who later flocked into the Communist parties. He failed to realise that modern currency and credit difficulties are no more fundamental than similar difficulties of capitalism in its less developed condition. We have been able to see since the War that temporary forced departures from the gold standard do not prevent capitalism from continuing.

The Communists, not understanding the working of capitalism, based their theories and actions on this fallacy. Mr. Palme Dutt, in 1921, debating with Mr. George Hicks, used the illustration that capitalism was like a house that had collapsed already about our ears. There was no time, he said, to carry on Socialist propaganda, and no point in discussing whether the capitalists could patch up capitalism, because it had already come to a breaking-point.

One prominent Communist at that time declined to debate with the S.P.G.B. because, he said, the time for talk had gone; the revolution was here.

Trotsky and Varga, the Communist theoreticians, writing in the Labour Monthly (August, 1921), "proved" the "impossibility of the economic reconstruction of Europe " (p. 130).

The Communist (October 22nd, 1921) said that those who founded the C.P.G.B. were "impelled by the conviction that the capitalist system had broken down."

At intervals between 1921 and 1931, the Communists went on announcing, with just the same fervour  as Hyndman had shown in the 'eighties, that capitalism had collapsed, or was just about to collapse.

In 1929, for example, the Workers' Life (May 31st, 1929) reported that "British capitalism is still on the decline."

Actually, the year 1929 was, from the capitalist standpoint, quite a good year.

In the October, 1931, Labour Monthly (i.e., just before the election), Mr. Palme Dutt was in a fever of excitement. He found that "the fight is here," "the crisis marches on relentlessly," "it is the whole basis of British Imperialism that is now beginning to crack," "the whole system is faced with collapse," "the hour of desperate crisis begins," and much more to the same effect.

This would, of course, have sounded better if it were not for the fact that the system which was now supposed to be facing "inevitable future downfall" had, according to Palme Dutt and the Communists, already collapsed ten years ago.

But in the January, 1932, issue, Mr. Dutt has had second thoughts. He says that—

"The  doom of world capitalism . . . was already pronounced by history in 1914 and renewed in 1917. . . . But in Western Europe the social roots of imperialism had struck deep within the proletariat, and had their reaction in Labour and social reformist policies. Therefore capitalism in Western Europe, despite its extreme chaos and breakdown, did not pass from the scene, but was painfully built up again after a fashion. (P. 10.).

He quotes Lenin as having said that "no situation for capitalism is without a way out," and says that Lenin meant that—

"Until the proletarian revolution overthrows capitalism, it is inevitable that capitalism, what ever the extremity of its chaos and breakdown, will drag on, will of necessity find its own ‘way out,’ from form to form, from stage to stage, with increasing misery and renewed contradictions—until the proletariat acts. " (P. 14)

Again Mr. Dutt says that until we have the necessary—

"action, organisation and victory of the working class . . . capitalism will still drag on from crisis to crisis."  (P. 8.),

This is all very true and is a welcome, even although a tardy, recognition of the truth of the Marxian case that the S.P.G.B. has been preaching for 27 years against the opposition of the I.L.P. and later of the Communists. But we must remind Mr. Dutt that he has come a very long way from the official position of the Communist Party in 1920 and 1921.

Can it be that the foundations of the Communist Party are giving way and forcing the Communists to do some original thinking to bring their policy into line with the actual facts of the world to-day?

H.