‘Contradictions of Imperialist Capitalism’ by Nikolai Bukharin from Workers Monthly. Vol. 4 No. 9. July, 1925.
In his book on “Theories of Surplus Value,” Marx defines apologetics as a theory of capitalism that sees only the unity of capitalist relations, and not the internal contradictions of this order of society; it does not analyze them and cannot under- stand capitalism as a system of contradictions and consequently is unable to grasp the internal mechanism of capitalist development correctly.
Communist society is a body that is organized on a definite plan, is rationally developing and is capable of directing its own evolution. Capitalism prepares this society and creates the necessary conditions for future general organization. However, this historical mission of capitalism has its limit, not in an organized society, but in a great destruction of social contradictions, in revolution. Not only will class antagonism, the strongest explosive of modern ages, that at the present time has reached its utmost limits, be the motive force behind the destruction of capitalist society, but there will also be all the contradictions of capitalism—crises, com- petition, and wars—reproduced on the largest scale. The revolutionary Marxist theory considers all the movements of capitalist society from the point of view of an extended re- production of capitalist contradictions; this is the only method that can give a correct and actual picture of the bourgeois world.
At the present time, mankind—both its proletarian part and the bourgeois freebooters—is summarizing the results of the first world-wide imperialist conflict. The Social-Democratic apologists of capitalism, the ex-Ministers of bourgeois —imperial and republican courts, quasi-Marxist onlookers, are leading peaceful existences. Noske and Co., all carefully wrapped up in the soft cloak of a Wilsonized Marxism, besprinkled with the blood of victims of a “democratic” regime —all are feverishly engaged in writing up the results of the war.
Hilferding the Apologist.
Such a one is Rudolph Hilferding, who is rapidly ousting his teacher and mentor, Karl Kautsky, from the theoretical cemetery of social democracy.
In the first number of his journal, Die Gesellschaft (Society), Hilferding published a program and theoretical article, “Present-day Problems.” We are unable to pay attention to all the points in this article, especially as other comrades have written about it, but at the same time we should like to say a few words about several of Mr. Hilferding’s arguments.
First of all, a few words on the problem of “organized capital.” This is in truth one of the “present-day problems.” But what does the social-democratic theory have to say on the subject?
Mr. Hilferding quite correctly indicates the further concentration and centralization of capital, the growth of monopolist combines, etc.
He writes: “This is the transition of capitalism from free competition to organized capital.
“Simultaneously with this there is a growth of the conscious order and management of industry and its tendency to overcome the imminent anarchy of free competitive capitalism on a capitalist basis.”
What is remarkable in this? Was not this tendency immediately noted in our Communist literature? Of course, only in a different way from that of Mr. Hilferding.
The latter does not understand, does not seem nor wish to see, that this tendency to organization is also developing into antagonistic, contradictory forms. The apologist of capitalism keeps quiet over these contradictions which must form the first subject of a Marxian analysis.
Capitalist Anarchy Still Rampant.
Already Mr. Hilferding imagines that this era of organized capitalism, consciously managed without crisis and unemployment, with a steady and wisely regulated wage, etc., is advancing.
In reality, however, nothing of the sort is taking place, and—what is more important—cannot take place, since the elimination of free competition within capitalist countries and the overcoming of industrial anarchy at the same time means the intensification of “free competition” between different countries, the growth of anarchy in world production —in other words, an extended reproduction of capitalist contradictions.
Only such a limited point of view of “national industry,” which has become the provincial viewpoint of supernumerary, impoverished professors living in the “pluperfect,” can ignore world industry. Mr. Hilferding sees this world industry very clearly when he hears the gentle clink of American dollars, that extraordinary elixir which will revive the emaciated German mark that has “stunk three days” like the biblical Lazarus, and which the American Christ—in the form of General Dawes—must resuscitate now and forever. But Mr. Hilferding is blind in both eyes when he has to see the contradictions of world economics; he is deaf in both ears when these contradictions cry against these apologists of capitalism in voices that are anything but melodious.
Anarchy is “overcome!” Crises are “disappearing!” It is only necessary to consider realities just a little to dispel these truly miserable dreams. International industry is at the present time more disintegrated than it has ever been before. Absolutely every investigator states this. Everyone is talking of “The decay of world industry,” “the ruin of world economics,” etc., etc., while Hilferding is writing that anarchy has been overcome.
As a matter of fact, in reality the anarchy of production has not been overcome, but on the other hand has become intensified although actually changed in its form. It has changed from a disintegrated anarchy of innumerable separate, petty, industrial units into a concentrated struggle of imperialist monsters with the world as the battlefield. The losses caused by this fight are greater as it grows in magnitude. The same thing takes place with crises. Of course, anarchy is overcome in developed, enlarged trusts and internal “crises” are eliminated together. But it would be empty and unworthy foolishness to imagine that crises in general disappear. The world crisis that took place not so long ago and that was so devastating in its effects, should have “knocked dialectics” into the skulls of even the Social- Democrats; but, presumably, these skulls are so thickly crammed with obsequiousness that nothing else can penetrate.
Hilferding the Ultra-Imperialist.
However, it would be an injustice to R. Hilferding to assert that he does not understand on which side his bread is buttered. Probably he just feigns blindness and deafness; he is simulating when he begs for alms from rich American tourists as they pass through the Berlin thoroughfares. Well, even this is in the order of things!
Mr. Hilferding admits that Anglo-Saxon capital was victorious: he is even prepared to reconcile himself to the political and “spiritual supremacy of the Anglo-Saxons,“ and here Mr. Hilferding reveals to us the real Social-Democratic paradise.
Until now, Marxism has asserted that wars were indissolubly associated with capitalism, but our “thinker” boldly destroys this “antiquated” view.
First of all, he crawls servilely along to the necessary deductions, all the while winking sagely at the “Anglo-Saxons” with their superb “political and spiritual habits”:
“The interests of Anglo-Saxon countries, and especially Britain, tend more to consolidation and organization of the fruits of victory already won, rather than to the extension of their territories. . . The interests of the democratic. masses. . . are in complete harmony with those interests.”
Further he is still more candid.
“Does capitalism really signify war, and can peace only be secured after its complete destruction? Or is it possible to establish new forms of a political world order, by a consistent (!) policy that would limit the sovereignty of separate units, to the benefit of a super-state organization? Will there not be more scope for evolutionary development here than has hitherto been supposed?”
Thus, Mr. Hilferding wishes us to understand that he is all for evolution against revolution, that he supports the League of Nations against separate sovereignties, that he supports “Anglo-Saxon supremacy,” habits, dollars and all other benefits against the events that occurred in “Eastern Europe” (which he contemptuously refers to in two words— for he is a “sincere, respectable investigator!”).
Mr. Hilferding belatedly resuscitates Karl Kautsky’s “ultra-imperialism,” which the latter preached even as early as the beginning of the war. The “irony of history” is remarkable! Before the war, Kautsky was also terribly enamoured of British political “habits”; he considered British imperialism an absolutely innocent babe, the mainstay of peace and the blessing of mankind. And now, when the Anglo-Russo. French preparations for the war have been documentarily established, when peace was nearly broken (no doubt, also a part of the Revolution) and drowned in blood, the thought of the Social-Democratic theoretician reverts back to its premises, dialectically enriched by the loss of its last traces of Marxism.
Thus, Mr. Hilferding puts the question (and mutters an answer in the affirmative) of “ultra-imperialism.”
Generally speaking, this imperialist “union of unions,” the “super state” organization, a single “world trust,” etc., etc., could be realized in two ways:
1. Either by agreement, or
2. By fighting and victory of the strongest group.
It is foolish to build hopes on the first method, since agreement is possible and real only when there is equality of power, when victory is uncertain or battle without issue. Who will maintain that there is equality of power at the present time?
The second method is that of victory. Hilferding takes the victory of the “Anglo-Saxons” as a basis: to him Anglo- Saxon “supremacy” is the real “League of Nations.”
But this, too, is an illusion because, in the first place, there is no unity within this “supremacy,” and secondly there exist a thousand and one other contradictions that make this “paradise” a complete illusion.
Of course, America is victorious, but there is infinite space between this victory and a world capitalism organized by America. It is possible that America even wishes to “place Europe on a ration,” to use Comrade Trotsky’s expression, but a “plan” is one thing and reality another. If there were no other contradictions, if there were no European conflicts, if there were no colonial movements that are capable of changing the map of the world in one sweep, if there were no East (the movement in China), if there were no opposition from the working class, if there were no American-Japanese differences, etc., etc.—in other words, if there were nothing that exists and were something that does not, (i.e., if there existed only one—and excessively stressed at that—a pan-American, tendency) then we should have an “American” League of Nations, a world-wide trust and European rations dictated by Uncle Sam.
Our tactics cannot overlook such a significant phenomenon as America’s supremacy, but at the same time it must primarily depend upon an analysis of contradictions. This analysis is the fundamental task of our theory. We shall be in a position to define our tactics only when the picture of reality will stand out before us in its entire concrete form. the most important component part of which is the existence of contradictory tendencies.
The Workers Monthly began publishing in 1924 as a merger of the ‘Liberator’, the Trade Union Educational League magazine ‘Labor Herald’, and Friends of Soviet Russia’s monthly ‘Soviet Russia Pictorial’ as an explicitly Party publication. In 1927 Workers Monthly ceased and the Communist Party began publishing The Communist as its theoretical magazine. Editors included Earl Browder and Max Bedacht as the magazine continued the Liberator’s use of graphics and art.
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