1920s >> 1922 >> no-219-november-1922
Correspondence: The Collapse of Capitalism
Letter to the Editors
I read with great interest your article entitled “The Collapse of Capitalism.”
There seems a great difference between “Capitalism in Collapse” and “Capitalism in imminent Collapse.” As the Communist Party of Russia has pointed out—the collapse may be extended over a period of years; Lenin says ten years.
The final stage of collapse will not be caused by production of commodities ceasing, but by the lack of world markets. In fact, production will be on such a large scale internationally that the distribution of the products will cease owing to the small incomes and unemployment of the wage slaves, and lack of markets. The collapse of Capitalism in Europe would bring down Capitalism in the West owing to the internationalism of our modern economic and political systems. Former great wars, such as the Napoleonic wars, form a very bad analogy, as in that war the instruments of production were not nearly so great as to-day, and there were new and coming markets, and less countries so productive as to-day.
Again, your question of Russia seems remarkable, coming from the “S. S.” Russia is relying on Capitalism to a certain extent, because, as the “S. S.” has often pointed out, Russia before the Revolution was not a developed Capitalist Empire. Its wage slaves were not “educated” to mind machines and produce wealth, as the wage slaves of U.S.A., Germany and England. From 1914-1920, wars crushed Russia. There is no need for me to repeat the terrible story to the readers of the “S. S.” Then came the drought. Yes, Comrades, Capitalism is in collapse, but like a candle which is near burning itself out; it flickers and flickers for a very long time, every moment it is expected to “go out,” and yet lingers on. But a time comes when it does die. How like Capitalism it is in collapse—it may last even for ten years, but what is ten years in the history of the world?
Of course, Socialists cannot afford to wait for the system to collapse! As we look at the struggle between Capitalism and International Socialism, we become keener on convincing the worker of the need for the common ownership and control of the instruments of production and the need to organise politically by the vote to take power, and industrially to take economic control. Nor can we afford to remain outside the struggle like the S.P.G.B., merely content to write fine articles.
Every struggle of the workers must be ours, and we must stand by them, even in the smallest of battles.
” S. Warr.”
First our correspondent points to the difference between “collapse” and “imminent collapse.” There is a difference, but it is one of date only, and not, as he suggests, one of form. A process of disintegration spread over a period of years cannot, in my opinion, accurately be described as a collapse. In any event, Palme Dutt did not appear to mean this process, and it would, seem, therefore, that Mr. Warr does not hold his view.
Palme Dutt’s view is, I think, very well expressed by the following extract from Herman Cahn’s “Collapse of Capitalism” : “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 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.” (Page 8.)
In writing “the final stage of collapse will not be caused by production of commodities ceasing, but by the lack of world markets,” I gather that Mr. Warr intends to rule out the possibility of a physical collapse, but he does not show how the lack of markets is going to do what he assumes it will.
The restriction of markets is one of the series of difficulties which have arisen out of the contradictions of the system. The endeavour on the part of the capitalists to reconcile these contradictions has always been in evidence in some degree since the rise of capitalist society.
Mr. Warr, however, does not consider that there is an analogy between the present depression and that following the Napoleonic wars, because “the instruments of production were not nearly so great as to-day.” He overlooks the important point that the only useful comparison is between the powers of production then and the effective demand then. Relative to this country’s powers of production, there was an acute shrinkage of markets. In the February issue was an extract from the writings of Robert Owen, which dealt with this crisis. He wrote for instance:—“this very superabundance of wealth was the sole cause of existing distress.”
It is true the problems which arise become more numerous, and difficult to meet, and are for the capitalists insoluble: but it must be remembered that they are under no obligation to solve them.
The suffering falls on the workers, and while the workers are content to leave the ruling class in control, the suffering will remain. Only such minor adaptations are required and will be forthcoming as will allay any acute working class unrest. So long as the workers accept doles there is no unemployment problem which the capitalists are called upon to solve.
Even if the position gets much worse the choice before the workers is still the same; either to accept their condition, or rejecting it, to endeavour to remove the cause by overthrowing the system. To be effective they must, as Mr. Warr says, organise to “take power,”, but I fail to see that he has shown either that the problem is different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago, or that there is any method other than that advocated by the Socialist Party.
If Mr. Warr really believed that the “lack of world markets” would bring Socialism, he would not trouble about “convincing the workers.”
The Bolsheviks are depending on Capitalist enterprise because collapse or no collapse, there is no prospect of revolution in Western Europe. There will be no revolution because there are too few revolutionaries.
If by “struggle” Mr. Warr means strikes, etc.; it is news to me that emancipation would be hastened by our telling the workers that all would be well if only they refuse to work overtime, or insist on their right to wear a union badge in the employer’s factory. I am not aware that membership of this party makes a worker fight any the less vigorously in the day-to-day struggle, and finally as Socialist knowledge is necessary for emancipation, I have yet to be convinced that there is anything the Socialist Party can engage in more useful than propagating Socialism.