America’s road to socialism
Printed below is an excerpt from America’s Road to Socialism one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for March. The book features six talks by James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the communist movement in the United States and national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party from 1938 until 1953. The talks were given in December 1952 to January 1953, a political period much different than what we face today. The U.S. military intervention in Korea was raging with no mass resistance to it. A radicalized labor movement that built the industrial unions during the 1930s was in retreat. Reaction fueled by the McCarthyite witch-hunt was rampant, and economic prosperity strengthened the belief of many in the perpetual reign of capitalism. The SWP pointed to the necessity and inevitability of coming labor battles to challenge capitalist political rule. Copyright © 1975 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY JAMES P. CANNON
In real life, when the social crisis strikes, and especially when it develops and deepens, the developments will be simultaneous, interacting on each other in all fields. This is what history tells us… .
The workers, under such conditions, must and will turn to militancy and throw up leaders of a new mold, just as the workers in the thirties threw up new trade-union leaders out of the ranks. And it is in just such a situation, when class collaboration is out the window and the class struggle is on the agenda, that the supreme expression of the class struggle, the revolutionary Marxist party, will get a hearing and become the mentor of the militant new staff of leaders arising out of the shops and the factories.
That’s the prospective change on the side of the working class—a change toward a new militancy, a new leadership, and the revolutionary political party rising in influence and power by virtue of its character and its program. And on the other side, the capitalists must and will discard all temporizing measures, cast off the democratic facade which they can no longer afford, and turn to wholesale violence against the workers.
Fascist bands will be subsidized and armed and hurled against the strikers, against the union halls and all other workers’ gathering places and institutions. The workers, for their part, will have no choice, if they don’t want to be defeated and enslaved, as the German workers were defeated and enslaved under Hitler—they will have no choice but to organize their own defense guards, meet the fascist bands on their own terms and carry the battle to them.
American capitalism is not in love with democracy. It’s no principle of American capitalism that we must maintain all the democratic forms—free speech, free press, free rights to organize, and all the rest. The only principle the American capitalists have is the exploitation of labor, the extraction of profits, and the enrichment of themselves at the expense of the workers. That’s their principle. If they can do it in an easy and smooth and quiet and peaceful way under political democracy, OK. That’s the cheapest way. But when that doesn’t work any longer, our wonderful, democratic capitalists will turn, with the savage fury of the German and Italian capitalists, to the bloody violence of fascism. They will finance and equip a fascist movement and check it straight up to the labor movement: “What are you going to do about it? There are going to be no more debates with you, it’s going to be fight.
“It will be a fight to a finish, and it will be fought on all fronts, from election campaigns to strikes and fights with fascist gangsters in the streets. Under the powerful impulsion of the social crisis which American capitalism cannot avoid, and which is already ripening within its body, all these developments predicted here, and many more, will erupt spontaneously, simultaneously, in one general process which cannot be arrested by any device. The irrepressible conflict will lead inexorably to a showdown in the United States of America, which will bear the name: The Struggle for Power.
The alternatives in this struggle will be truly terrible: Either a workers’ government to expropriate the capitalists, or a fascist government to enslave the workers. Those are the alternatives.
Now who will win? Upon the answer to that question, in my opinion, the fate of mankind will depend. Trotsky once referred to America as “the foundry where the fate of man will be forged.” That fate is going to be forged in the social crisis and the coming showdown battle between the workers and fascist capitalists for mastery of this land.
Who will win, in this greatest battle of all time, and of all places? That side, I say, will win which deserves to win. That side will win which has the will to win, and the consciousness that no compromise is possible. Power is on the side of the workers. They are an absolute majority of the population. And their strategic social position in industry multiplies the importance of their numerical majority at least a hundred times. Power is on their side. All they need is will, the confidence, the consciousness, the leadership—and the party which believes in the revolutionary victory, and consciously and deliberately prepares for it in advance by theoretical study and serious organization.
Will the workers find these things when they need them in the showdown, when the struggle for power will be decided? That is the question. We think they will. We think the workers and colonial peoples, in revolution throughout the world, will powerfully influence the American workers by their example. When all the world is in revolution, the American workers will remember their own ancestry and take fire too.
We think the American workers, who have never been Quakers, will demonstrate unexampled energy, courage, and decision when it becomes clear that their own destiny is at stake. We think they will find the consciousness, and therewith the leadership, for victory in the struggle for power.
And we think, finally, that it is our duty even now, in advance, in the period of preparation for the coming times, to contribute to this consciousness and leadership. That’s why we belong to the Socialist Workers Party. That’s why we’re building it up. That’s why we’re inviting you to join us in the great work of preparation for the great tomorrow.