Chapter IX

Necessities and Frustrations

The new revolution is the product of necessities and frustrations rather than of opportunities and aspirations, as was so largely the revolution of capitalism. The Germans who put Hitler in power had no opportunities, as formerly—the Germans of the revolution of '48 for instance—to migrate. Nor were they able to achieve prosperity through foreign trade. American, British and French tariff and immigration barriers doomed Germans to seek expansion through war in Europe.

Also the new revolution was started by the first world war of this century and is by way of crystallizing into a fairly recognizable pattern in the second world war of this century. The period from 1919 to 1939 was one of transition from the capitalist revolution of the past two or four centuries, as one cares to date the beginning, to the new socialist revolution. The capitalist revolution may be dated from the Renaissance or from the rise of the factory system about the time of the American Revolution.

In any case, there is a definite unity to the pattern from the Renaissance down to the World War. And there is rapidly emerging a fairly definite unity to the new revolution. The capitalist collapse enters its third decade with the beginning of the forties. The twenties marked the era of spurious prosperity and unworkable arrangements. In October 1929 the lid blew off when the American stock market collapsed. The thirties were the decade of depression, social upheaval and preparation for war. The lid blew off again in September 1939 when the peace of Europe collapsed. The entire period from Versailles to Poland was one of the progressive deterioration of the old order.

To discuss, as is done in this book, a new revolution in terms of its causative necessities and frustrations rather than of its inspirational opportunities and aspirations is, in itself, revolutionary. Ever since the Renaissance, social change has been geared to opportunities and aspirations rather than to necessities and frustrations. Throughout this period dominant social thought has fairly consistently shown the influence of an irrepressible optimism which has been more often justified than disappointed. Of course, during all these centuries since the Renaissance men have had to bow to certain necessities of their situation. But, generalizing broadly, it may be said that the big difference between then and now is that opportunity and aspiration were then in the saddle, whereas necessity and frustration now rule mankind. And this is as true of rich Britain and France facing the Westwall or of rich America facing irreducible armies of the unemployed and federal deficits, as it is of Germany facing the blockade or Russia everywhere facing closed outlets to the warmer waters, or of Italy and Spain facing everywhere immigration barriers and shrinking foreign markets.

There was never an actual necessity to end feudalism but there is a necessity for the democracies to end unemployment. There was no real need to inaugurate democracy, capitalism and industrialism. There were just attractive opportunities for certain people to do so with profit to themselves. So these things were done with effects which, on the whole, were beneficial for all mankind. There is today a need to inaugurate socialism or some form of collectivism, call it what you will. Feudalism did not break down. It was overthrown by the emergent trading classes. Capitalism is actually breaking down. Contrary to Marxism, it is not being overthrown by enemies on the outside. If it is not to be allowed to die a natural death but has to be destroyed, it will be killed, not by its critics but by its warmest friends waging a war for its defense.

A book written in terms of twentieth-century necessities and frustrations cannot possibly prove as inspiring or appealing as one written in terms of nineteenth-century opportunities and aspirations. People do not like to have explained to them unpleasant and imperious necessities of their situation; nor do they care to be reminded of their individual and collective failures. Practically every present-day purveyor of a social message who desires or obtains a large audience still talks in terms of opportunities and aspirations. This is why most current talk about the problems of the hour is so largely meaningless. The aspirations may be there but the opportunities are lacking. The simplest proofs are unemployment figures, current trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange, money and interest rates, new capital issues, new construction and so on. Businessmen may laugh at this book but they cannot laugh off their present and future taxes.

It may be said that there are abundant opportunities to reorganize society for the more abundant life, or along lines of democratic socialism. But that is not what the American people now want done. They want to have brought back the prosperity of a young and growing capitalism; some want the security of the Haves, all want the damnation of the Have-nots other than themselves. Just now the German Have-nots are supposed to be the cause of all the trouble. Individuals want jobs for themselves, but do not give a hang about jobs for others. Farmers want twice the market price of their products and the unemployed to be left to starve so as to reduce taxes, and so on.

In a democracy, if the people want to be deluded, those who believe in and successfully practice democracy must try to delude them. American entry into the present war is probably necessary to shatter deep-seated illusions of the peoples of the democracies. A realistic approach to current problems on the eve of America’s going to war can be inspired by no hope of changing the minds of the masses, since the minds of the masses are wholly inaccessible to any realistic examination of the situation. The main purpose of a realistic approach to current problems must be to prepare the minds of the elite minority capable of leadership when the time comes for such leadership. The time is not yet ripe for leadership. The people now want crooners, not leaders; promises, not discipline.

It is understandable that the people in the democracies still demand each day their daily delusion. The people in the capitalist democracies are used to a steadily rising standard of living and improving social order. Ten years of depression are not enough to shake a faith in progress acquired over prior decades if not centuries. As a matter of fact, the promises of capitalism and democracy were fulfilled to a much greater extent during the nineteenth century than have been those of Marxist communism in Russia or the Roosevelt New Deal in America. Capitalism promised prosperity and made good. Marxism promised a classless society, the democratic rule of industry by the workers and greater abundance for the workers than they had ever known before or could ever know under capitalism. These promises, obviously, have not been kept and do not seem likely ever to be kept, which is no reason why the Russian regime will collapse. There is no reason to suppose that any other regime would have done much better for the Russian people during the same period and under the same circumstances. The New Deal promised prosperity, full employment, the more abundant life and a balanced budget. These promises have been no better kept than those of Marxism, which, again, is not a reason for the early liquidation of the New Deal. As long as Sovietism and New Dealism can rely on war they are secure in power unless and until they lose a war. The Fascists and Nazis made fewer promises of Utopia and told their followers more truthfully that they were in for war and hardship, on which the Fascists and Nazis have made good. But it was not promises of Utopia which put the Bolsheviks or the New Dealers in power any more than the Fascists or Nazis. It was the breakdown of the preceding order or the necessities and frustrations of the situation.

The big point to remember about the new revolution is that it does not have to be sold in advance to the people. They will get it whether they like it or not. Their attempts to avert it will only hasten it. The quickest and surest route to an American Fascism or Nazism is a war to end Nazism in Europe; the next best route, perhaps, is vigilantism and witch-hunts against subversive movements at home. Only there are not enough and not important enough witches of this variety to make it possible for this route to lead very far. The so-called subversive movements in the United States are a joke. Their only social significance will be to furnish homespun demagogues easy targets for rabble-rousing and legalized or public opinion sanctioned violence and intolerance, all of which make excellent revolutionary preliminaries, if there is a revolution really in the making. These movements will make no ideological contribution to our revolution since most of their leaders and followers are well below the idea level. It would obviously be absurd to pretend that Americans will not take any ideas for a new revolution from Europe, whence we got most of our ideas for the revolution of 1776, but Americans will not take their ideas from Europe via German bus boys or New York East Side cloak and garment workers. In the sphere of action, no movement in America can be important, the majority of whose following do not have English names and are not of Protestant ancestry.

The new revolution the American people are going to have will not be sold to them. They will, instead, be sold a war to stop revolution in Europe, and in this way they will get a stiff dose of the same revolution in America. The American people are not in the market for a revolution. They are in the market for international righteousness, a war, prosperity with a balanced budget, lower taxes and sundry other crackpot schemes of the funny money or ham and eggs varieties. In the pursuit of various will-o’-the-wisps, the American people will get experience, disillusionment and a revolution they are now not bargaining for. The real leaders of the new American revolution will at some stage of the collapse have to sell themselves personally to a considerable number of the people. But this will be possible only after the necessities of the situation and the frustrations of the people have taken command.

Just for the moment it may be said that the more truthfully the facts of the present and the possibilities of the future are presented in discussion, the better it will be all around, except for democratic politicians who want to get on the public payroll immediately or to remain on it. An interesting difference between the patriot of today and his counterpart in the rise of the capitalist revolution of yesterday is that today’s patriot will really try to avert developments like American entry into the European war and to mitigate the anarchic practices of domestic politics which will produce the mature phase for the full inauguration of the new revolution, whereas the decent believer in the liberal revolution fifty to a couple hundred years ago, tried to hasten its coming or progress as much as he could. The patriot in 1776 did not mind burning British tea in Boston harbor, but the American patriot of 1940 is not eager to pour American oil on the European conflagration. It is the friends of democracy and capitalism who can be relied upon to land this country in war and thus to hasten the new revolution. Patriots who believe in the new revolution would retard its coming by preventing its coming through war. Those who do not believe in the new revolution would hasten its coming by going to war against it. The enlightened patriot in 1940 is an isolationist of the variety branded by President Roosevelt as an ostrich. If he is intelligent, he knows that the war party is bound to win the first round. Democracy and a commercial press and radio make America a push-over for Mr. Roosevelt and the British to take into war whenever it suits their interests.

So the enlightened and realistic patriots of today are for a time condemned to playing a passive and inglorious role. They cannot share the illusions of the masses and those who will lead them into the most futile and disastrous war in our history. But they will not be able to oppose effectively that war and, once it is declared, they will have no choice but to fight for their country right or wrong. As long as they can legally express an opinion about it, they will point out the futility of our fighting twice in one generation for the selfish interests and phony idealism of Great Britain and international capitalism. After war is declared, they will have but one thought, the coming of the day when those opposed to our entry into the war will have their innings.

American patriots of 1940 cannot check the follies of democracy on its last legs. Beyond the point at which war is declared they must help to exaggerate these follies. They must leave it to war to deliver the new revolution. The second world war will destroy democracy and capitalism to the pious prayers of its friends and the frenzied plaudits of the rabble in this country, where these plaudits will be wilder than they were in any of the European belligerent countries at the beginning of the conflict.