Workers Vanguard No. 1050

8 August 2014


A System in Its Death Agony

In a speech delivered to a meeting of students at New York University in 1951, American Trotskyist leader James Cannon laid bare the bloody workings of U.S. imperialism, which had emerged from World War II as the world’s dominant capitalist power. He underlined that only international workers revolution can put an end to the privation and war endemic to the decaying capitalist profit system.

Capitalism is an outworn social system. The First World War was the sign of its bankruptcy as a world order. Prior to that, for half a century, capitalism had grown and expanded. It had maintained an uneasy peace in the world, except for numerous local wars and colonial expeditions by which the great powers divided up the world. But things have changed since then. Just consider for a moment how much they have changed in thirty-seven years since the first shots were fired in 1914. Two world wars, devouring the lives of tens of millions of people, and wounding nobody knows how many more, and destroying so much of the material culture of the world. Two destructive world wars and a terrible worldwide depression with its unmeasured toll of misery and death. And now the mad armaments race toward another world war, the end of which no one can see or prophesy....

The workers of the United States haven’t said their last word yet by a long shot. The foreign policy of American capitalism is united with its domestic policy. The war program carries with it the program of militarizing and regimenting the country, already under way; of stamping out liberties, which is in the design; and of driving down the living standards of the workers, which is in progress with the wage freeze on the one side and skyrocketing inflation on the other....

There is an alternative. In my opinion this alternative is to recognize the social reality of our time, to see capitalism as a world system in its death agony, completely reactionary and beyond salvation by any means. The alternative to support of this doomed social system is to ally oneself with the future, with the socialist and labor movement, and with the great colonial revolutions in process and still growing. The alternative is to work for a union of the world’s workers and the colonial peoples, to put an end to imperialism and open the way for the socialist society of the free and equal. That is the way to secure peace and progress and a good life for all.

—James P. Cannon, “Youth and Foreign Policy” (April 1951)