Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 19, 2010

Trotsky predicting the rise of the USA

Filed under: financial crisis,Trotskyism,war — louisproyect @ 1:16 pm

28 Comments »

  1. Thanks for posting this clip, Louis. It compelled me to re-read the original text from which this came. Leon Trotsky left an admirable legacy of accomplishments and writings from which we can learn much and about which we can reflect often. As Europe seems to be falling apart, and the Euro falls in relation to the dollar, Trotsky’s look at the relationship between Europe and the United States certainly does seem prescient for today’s conjunture.

    Here’s a transcript of Trotsky’s comments, making them easier to contemplate:

    The war, (in the) post-war developments, including the Russian revolution, have [totally?] changed the economic, political, military and diplomatic face of our planet. The present crisis will mean a new era in history, new face is not a stable one, the equilibrium of Europe has become a bitter reminiscence (…?)

    – Europe, in general, has ceased to be the centre of the world, it is foolish to hope that Europe as it is will again occupy that position. The present terrific crisis, inspite of its devastating effects on the United States, will change the relation of forces still futher not in favour of Europe, but in favour of the United States and the colonial countries.

    To see far it is best to see stand on the roof of a skyscraper, the most suitable point for observing the world panorama in every respect I consider to be New York” […]

    Walter continuing:
    It’s really a shame that Trotsky’s ideas haven’t inspired a political movement which could try to bring his admirable conceptions to life in the years since his death.

    Where is the complete text of his comments? I looked without success.

    Thanks again.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — May 19, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

  2. Don’t know where it’s from, but here’s something related: “While the romantic numbskulls of Nazi Germany are dreaming of restoring the old race of Europe’s Dark Forest to its original purity, or rather its original filth, you Americans, after taking a firm grip on your economic machinery and your culture, will apply genuine scientific methods to the problem of eugenics. Within a century, out of your melting pot of races there will come a new breed of men – the first worthy of the name of Man. One final prophecy: in the third year of soviet rule in America you will no longer chew gum.” IF AMERICA SHOULD GO COMMUNIST (1934).

    The marxists.org page (http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1934/08/ame.htm) lacks that crucial parting sentence, which I found in THE AGE OF PERMANENT REVOLUTION: A TROTSKY ANTHOLOGY, a great 95-cent Dell paperback from 1964, edited by Isaac Deutscher. Page 221.

    Comment by Jim Holstun — May 19, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

  3. Weren’t Marx and Engels predicting this in the 1870’s and 1880’s?

    Comment by Steve — May 19, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  4. Yeah, it seems to me that the Moor and Engels predicted it earlier on, also Trotsky alluded to this possibility at a few different points in his first five years of the commie intnl. But it’s interesting to see this footage, which documents as other small sections of footage do his unsurety with English. I’ve wondered if this very often stood in the way of his understanding of the U.S. labor movement, particularly in regard to questions of race and caste.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — May 19, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

  5. Was this really an unusual prediction circa the 1930’s? I can’t say I’m impressed.

    Comment by Wookie — May 19, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

  6. Marx has some quotes predicting the dominance of US-Pacific trade in the world economy, and the importance of the Gold Rush in furthering that by quickly settling California. It actually took longer to develop than he thought because of World Wars and the Racial Exclusion Act which ended in ’65. Pacific-US trade overtook Atlantic-US trade around 1980 and of course has gone up exponentially since then.

    Comment by purple — May 19, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

  7. [“Was this really an unusual prediction circa the 1930′s? I can’t say I’m impressed.”]

    As early as 1933 or 1934 in Trotsky’s writings he predicted the slaughter of WWII, since clearly, he argued, the Versailles Treaty solved none of the contradictions that lead to WWI. In the same paragraph (or article) he predicted WWII in, he then predicted that unless the workers stopped it, the outcome of WWII would be the domination of the globe by the United States.

    Insofar as the hallmark of science is predictive success, that’s pretty impressive political science!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 20, 2010 @ 5:22 am

  8. Well wookie lets not forget that the US was in some serious economic decline at that point, meanwhile a big chunk of Europe ie Germany seemed to be on the up and up. I dont think it was so obvious what would happen.

    Comment by SGuy — May 20, 2010 @ 6:04 am

  9. @2. What, you can’t walk tall and chew gum at the same time?

    Trotksy also predicted that the Soviet Union would not survive the war, at least as a Stalinist regime. As Cliff quotes:
    Trotsky argued that Stalinism, as a form of Bonapartism, “cannot long maintain itself; a sphere balanced on the point of a pyramid must invariably roll down on one side or the other”; hence “the inevitable collapse of the Stalinist regime” would follow.http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1999/trotism/ch01.htm
    quoting from: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1935/02/ws-therm-bon.htm

    So he didn’t get everything right.

    Comment by skidmarx — May 20, 2010 @ 10:53 am

  10. My impression is that a lot of people predicted the second World War because of the Versailles treaty, including Woodrow Wilson.

    Comment by Wookie — May 20, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  11. That’s right Skid, Trotsky correctly predicted the collapse of the Soviets. It just took the Cold War rather than WWII to do it. Political science, because social relations necessarily have a certain indeterminany, never has the same accuracy as a moon shot.

    Here’s an intro from an amazingly perspacious article of Trotsky’s written in 1921!

    “In this brilliant report, Trotsky introduces the concept of the curve of world capitalist development and uses it to elucidate the revolutionary potential of the world situation. He details the titanic politico-economic shifts unleashed by World War I — the ruination of Europe, the development of industry especially in the US and Japan, and the unstable financial trickery which had permitted the re-establishment of a certain capitalist equilibrium in post-war Europe. Against those, both inside the USSR and outside, who drew pessimistic conclusions concerning the revolutionary potential of the world situation, Trotsky explained the tensions building up inside the capitalist system: the risk of a crisis of overproduction and the continued development of militarism — a remarkable anticipation of the twin crises of the Depression and World War II.”

    [Full Text linked below:]

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/oct2008/repo-o21.shtml

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 20, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

  12. Yeah, it seems to me that Trotsky telescoped events, predicted a more rapid shift of things than what actually took place. I’ve never been that crazy about the predictive side of his writings, which seemed to me, as ClR James used to say, given to great abstraction. On the other hand, his no nonsense but unapologetic defense of the right of the proletariat to make mistakes in our revolutionary experience is the thing I find most valuable in his writing. In that most difficult and needful contribution, I see him as far more methodical than that of most of his critics, and even many of his supporters. That he made so many errors in the context in which he was working most of his post-Russian years is unsurprising. What’s amazing about the cat is how much he got right. To me, it’s always been a very teling thing that as sharp as the discourse between he and Victor Serge often became, that Serge eventually came down on the side of both Lenin and Trotsky.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — May 20, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

  13. Being a staunch reactionary in regard to anything, excepting religious matters, did not make it impossible for Mustafa Kemal to play a decidedly short-lived anti-Imperialist role which proved very important in getting the British to succeed their presence from eastern-Europe.
    Reading that excerpt from Zinoviev’s speech just reveals how little the USSRians knew or cared about the national struggles that were underway in Turkey. That treaty with the Kemalists wasn’t something special in Soviet history or any nation’s history. It just happened that the critical immediate interest of both powers converged (the interest being survival), not unlike the Rapallo treaty.

    Comment by Michael T — May 20, 2010 @ 6:53 pm

  14. sorry, that was supposed to go to another article.

    Comment by Michael T — May 20, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

  15. To be fair, Hegel came first with the prediction of the raise of america and china.

    Comment by ron — May 20, 2010 @ 11:36 pm

  16. That interseting point may be true, ron, but unfortunately Hegel didn’t offer a scientific Diagnosis, Prognosis, & Cure the way that his best students did. If he’d done so then we’d likely be way ahead of the game at this juncture.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 21, 2010 @ 2:25 am

  17. Karl – he didn’t predict that the Stalinist regime would last another fifty years. In the Cliff article quoted above he deals with this a little later:

    Yet when Stalin continued to control Russia the conclusion of James P. Cannon, leader of the Trotskyists in the United States, was that the war had therefore not ended!

    “Trotsky predicted that the fate of the Soviet Union would be decided in the war. That remains our firm conviction. Only we disagree with some people who carelessly think that the war is over. The war has only passed through one stage and is now in the process of regroupment and reorganisation for the second. The war is not over, and the revolution which we said would issue from the war in Europe is not taken off the agenda. It has only been delayed and postponed, primarily for lack of a sufficiently strong revolutionary party.”
    Are you with Cannon on this?

    Comment by skidmarx — May 21, 2010 @ 9:47 am

  18. I never had much use for Cannon nor, for that matter, the SWP after 1956.

    The indeterminancy of social relations means political explosions don’t have the accuracy of ordinance.

    Trotsky predicted Stalinism wouldn’t last through the biggest war of the 20th century.

    Turns out it made it through the war but not the century.

    That’s close enough for me.

    Arguing that Trotsky’s analysis of the fate Stalinism is wrong because he missed the date of its demise is like arguing that Lenin’s analysis of imperialism was wrong because he predicted the Russian Revolution would spark world revolution.

    V.I. Lenin was the single individual who had the greatest impact on the political trajectory of the 20th century.

    Without Lenin the Bolshevik Revolution wouldn’t have happenned.

    Without Trotsky the Bolsheviks wouldn’t have held power beyond the Civil War.

    Stalin needed only to commit a couple more of his many military blunders and Hitler would have won.

    If it weren’t for Stalin the USSR would still be around.

    If a non-Stalinist USSR were still around China wouldn’t have private property and Iraq wouldn’t be in ruins.

    But of course IF is a mighty big word.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 21, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  19. I’d also argue that if Trotsky were to have lead the USSR after Lenin’s death instead of Stalin, then Stalin today would only be remembered for one thing, opposing the Bolshevik seizure of power, and the USA would have already lost the Cold War, or at least the imperialists would be encircled and on their last leg without the 3rd World to extract superprofits from, since the 3rd World would all be communist by now.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 21, 2010 @ 11:09 am

  20. So 1945-89 was a significant period of time?

    Comment by skidmarx — May 21, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

  21. Sorry, “wasn’t”.

    Comment by skidmarx — May 21, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  22. Yes. With political & cultural life stymied by the ham-fisted Stalinist bureaucracy the Soviets not only had to subsidize full employment across more than a dozen time zones, but also provide cheap food, cheap housing, free health care & free education from cradle to grave for millions more people in East Europe during those years, not to mention subsidizing revolutions in China, Vietnam, Cuba & elsewhere, all the while forced by the threats of genocidal imperialist maniacs like Truman, Kennedy & Reagan to waste 25% of it’s GDP for things with no real socialist use value, such as tanks, planes, nuclear missiles & submarines that could have otherwise been spent manufacturing washing machines, panty hose & televisions, things that workers can actually use.

    It was only the unleashing of socialized productive forces by the revolution that allowed them to last as long as they did.

    If Kerensky had assumed power in 1917 then Hitler would have mopped them up in a year.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 21, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

  23. Yes it WAS a significant time for the reasons mentioned above.

    No it WASN’T a significant amount of time to render Trotsky’s remarkable prediction useless.

    He predicted an imperialist war would be their demise and it was — the Cold War.

    Nobody has ever sociologically summed up the dual nature of the Soviet state better than Trotsky: A giant trade union which has seized state power.

    Just as the capitalist bosses exert pressure on trade union bureaucracies that result in perfidy toward the workers so too did imperialist strangulation exert pressure on the Soviet bureucracy resulting in perfidy toward the workers.

    Revolutionaries still defend the trade unions just as they should have defended the Soviet Union.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 21, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  24. Well in the early days of the Nazi invasion many thought that the Soviet Union was a goner. Stalin played a major role in undermining Soviet defence (no not on purpose), I think it was quite reasonable at the time to assume a war could finish things. Although Trotsky did call for defence of the Soviet Union something which caused a lot of division in the trotskyist rank. Would he have done that if he felt that the writing was on the wall? He was never given a chance really to revise his views, he died before the invasion occurred!

    Comment by SGuy — May 21, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  25. Why would Trotsky revise his views about defense of the USSR just because Stalin’s enormous military blunders almost allowed the Nazis to overrun it?

    The answer is that he wouldn’t have revised anything except perhaps his rating of how incompetent a military planner Stalin was.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 21, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

  26. Well, as Karl said, “if” is a big word.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — May 21, 2010 @ 8:23 pm

  27. 23. Hardly the same imperialist war he was talking about.

    The soviet bureaucracy was in power, the trade union leadership plays a mediating role between labour and capital. There’s a difference between defending the organisations of your class and defending your oppressors and exploiters.

    Comment by skidmarx — May 23, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

  28. Of course but just as WWII was really an extension of WWI’s unfinished business so too was the Cold War really just an extension of WWII’s unfinished business.

    Just as “the trade union leadership plays a mediating role between labour and capital” so too did the Soviets play a mediating role between the imperialists and the the 3rd world. If the Soviets were around in 1991 the First Gulf War would have been unthinkable.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 23, 2010 @ 3:20 pm


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