Economic Life and Nationalism

In a 1934 essay, Leon Trotsky envisioned a Europe imprisoned by its capitalist institutions during the interwar period, with economic nationalism feeding the growth of fascism and fascism threatening to bring 'nothing but catastrophe.'

The single creative component, according to Italian fascist, is national "holy egoism." Following the reduction of humanity's history to national history, German fascism reduced nation to race, and race to blood. Furthermore, in those countries that have not yet risen—or rather, descended—to fascism, economic issues are increasingly being driven into national frameworks. Not all of them have the confidence to proudly display the word "autarchy" on their flags. However, policy is being geared toward as hermetic a separation of national life from the global economy as feasible. Only twenty years ago, all school textbooks taught that the most powerful force in generating wealth and culture is the global division of labor, which is embedded in the natural and historical conditions of mankind's evolution. It has now been discovered that global trading is the cause of all tragedies and hazards. Homeward sailor! Back to the hearth of the nation! Not only must we repair Admiral Perry's error, which resulted in the breach in Japan's "autarchy," but we must also correct Christopher Columbus's even larger error, which resulted in the immoderate expansion of human culture.

Mussolini and Hitler found the lasting value of the country, which is today pitted against the false values of the nineteenth century: democracy and socialism. Here, too, we find ourselves in irreconcilable conflict with the ancient primers, and, even worse, with the unmistakable realities of history. Only virulent ignorance can make a clear distinction between the nation and liberal democracy. In truth, all liberation movements in contemporary history, beginning with the war for independence in Holland, have both a national and a democratic character. Without a struggle for political liberation, the downtrodden and dismembered countries' awakening, their struggle to reconnect their divided pieces and cast off the alien yoke, would have been unthinkable. At the end of the eighteenth century, the storms and tempests of democratic revolution solidified the French nation. In the nineteenth century, the Italian and German nations arose from a succession of wars and revolutions. The victory of the North over the South in the Civil War ensured the powerful development of the American country, which had gained its baptism of freedom in its revolt in the eighteenth century. The nation was not discovered by Mussolini or Hitler. Patriotism in the current sense—or, more correctly, in the bourgeois sense—is a nineteenth-century invention. The French people's national identity is possibly the most conservative and stable of any, and it continues to draw strength from democratic traditions to this day.

However, humanity's economic development, which toppled mediaeval particularism, did not end at national borders. World trade increased in lockstep with the development of national economies. This trend, at least for sophisticated countries, manifested itself in a shift in the center of gravity from the domestic to the international market. The nineteenth century was defined by the merger of a nation's fate with its economic life; however, the primary trend of our century is a growing tension between the nation and economic life. This paradox has become intolerably stark in Europe.

Germany's capitalist development was one of the most vigorous in the world. The German people felt imprisoned in the cages of several dozen feudal fatherlands in the mid-nineteenth century. German industry was suffocating inside the framework of the national state little than four decades after the German Empire was founded. The desire of German capital to break into a larger field was one of the fundamental reasons of World War I. In 1914-1918, Hitler fought as a corporal not to unite the German country, but to forward a supranational imperialistic program encapsulated in the famous phrase "to organize Europe." Europe, once united under the dominance of German militarism, was to have served as a proving ground for a much larger task: the organization of the entire planet.

Germany, on the other hand, was not an exception. She simply expressed the propensity of every other national capitalist economy in a more fierce and violent manner. The war came from the clash of these tendencies. True, the war, like all colossal upheavals in history, sparked a slew of historical problems and, in the process, sparked national revolutions in Europe's backwaters—Tsarist Russia and Austria-Hungary. However, these were simply echoes of a bygone era. The war was essentially imperialist in nature. It attempted to address a problem of progressive historic development—the difficulty of managing economic life over the vast arena that had been created by the world-wide division of labor—using violent and brutal techniques.

Needless to say, the conflict failed to provide a solution to this issue. On the contrary, it further atomized Europe. At the same time as it deepened Europe's and America's reliance, it also deepened their animosity. It accelerated the autonomous development of colonial countries while simultaneously increasing urban cities' reliance on colonial markets. All of the historical contradictions were exacerbated as a result of the conflict. During the early years after the war, when Europe, supported by America, was busy mending its destroyed economy from top to bottom, one could half-close one's eyes to this. But, in order to revive productive forces, all of the evils that had led to the war had to be resurrected. The current crisis, which encapsulates all previous capitalist crises, denotes, above all, a crisis of national economic existence.

The League of Nations endeavored to transfer the task left unfinished by the conflict from the language of militarism to the language of diplomatic pacts. Briand intended to construct "the United States of Europe" with sugary diplomatic eloquence after Ludendorff failed to "organize Europe" by the sword. But the never-ending succession of political, economic, financial, tariff, and monetary conferences merely revealed the ruling classes' insolvency in the face of our epoch's unavoidable and searing responsibility.

This task may theoretically be stated as follows: How can Europe's economic unity be ensured while allowing its citizens complete cultural freedom? How can a unified Europe fit into a coordinated global economy? The answer to this question can be found not in deifying the nation, but rather in entirely freeing productive forces from the shackles imposed by the national state. But, disillusioned by the failure of military and diplomatic means, Europe's governing classes now take the opposite strategy, attempting to submit the economy to the obsolete national state by force. The mythology of Procrustes' bed is being brought to life on a large scale. Rather than clearing a suitable area for contemporary technology operations, the rulers hack and slice the economy's live creature to shreds.

Mussolini proclaimed the demise of "economic liberalism," or the reign of free competition, in a recent program speech. The concept is not new. Free competition has been banished to the back yard since the era of trusts, syndicates, and cartels. Trusts, on the other hand, are even less compatible with confined national markets than liberal capitalism's companies. As the global economy subordinated the national market, monopoly devoured competition. At the same time, both economic liberalism and economic nationalism became obsolete. Attempts to restore the economy by injecting it with a virus from the corpse of nationalism culminate in blood poisoning known as fascism.

The desire to obtain the maximum feasible quantity of products with the least amount of labor has propelled mankind throughout history. This material base of cultural development also serves as the most comprehensive criterion for evaluating social regimes and political programs. In the realm of human civilization, the law of labor productivity is as important as the law of gravitation in the realm of mechanics. Outgrown social structures are disappearing as a result of this terrible law, which decided the triumph of slavery over cannibalism, serfdom over slavery, and paid labor over serfdom. The rule of labor productivity moves in a contradictory manner, with spurts and jerks, leaps and zigzags, surmounting geographical, anthropological, and social barriers along the way. As a result, history is littered with "exceptions" that are nothing more than unique refractions of the "rule."

The quest for the highest worker productivity in the nineteenth century mostly took the form of free competition, which maintained the dynamic equilibrium of the capitalist economy through cyclical variations. However, competition's growing role has resulted in a monstrous concentration of trusts and syndicates, which has resulted in a concentration of economic and social contradictions. Free competition is like a chicken that spawned a crocodile instead of a duckling. It's no surprise that she can't keep up with her children!

Economic liberalism has outlived its usefulness. Its Mohegans plead to the automatic interplay of forces with less and less conviction. To make skyscraper trusts correspond to human needs, new ways are required. The structure of society and the economy must be drastically altered. New methods, on the other hand, collide with old habits and, more importantly, with old interests. The law of labor productivity pounds convulsively against boundaries that it has erected. This is what the modern economic system's colossal crisis is all about.

Conservative politicians and theorists, caught off guard by the destructive tendencies of the national and international economies, tend to conclude that technological overdevelopment is the primary cause of current ills. It's hard to think of a more sad paradox! Joseph Caillaux, a French politician and financier, sees hope in putting artificial limits on the automation process. As a result, the most intellectual proponents of the liberal concept find inspiration in the attitudes of those stupid laborers who broke weaving looms over a century ago. The progressive job of adapting the economic and social arena to new technology is turned upside down, and it is made to appear as a challenge of constraining and reducing productive forces in order to fit them within the old national arena and old social connections. On both sides of the Atlantic, a lot of mental energy is expended trying to figure out how to get the crocodile back into the chicken egg. The regressive nature of ultra-modern economic nationalism is irreversibly doomed; it retards and diminishes man's productive forces.

Closed-economy policies involve artificially restricting those branches of industry capable of successfully enriching the economies and cultures of other countries. They also indicate the artificial planting of industries that do not have ideal growing conditions on national land. As a result, the fantasy of economic self-sufficiency leads to massive overhead costs in both directions. Inflation is also a factor. Gold, as a universal measure of value, became the foundation of all monetary systems worthy of the term during the nineteenth century. Tariff walls are less effective than abandoning the gold standard in tearing the global economy apart. Inflation, which is an expression of disordered internal relationships and disordered international economic linkages, exacerbates the disorder and helps to transform it from a functional to an organic state. As a result, the "national" monetary system crowns economic nationalism's nefarious job.

The most daring members of this school console themselves with the expectation that, despite becoming poorer as a result of a closed economy, the nation will become more "united" (Hitler), and that as the influence of the world market reduces, so will the sources of foreign conflicts. Such promises simply serve to highlight how reactionary and utopian the notion of autarchy is. The fact is that, like a hungry tiger, imperialism has gone into its own national lair to gather itself for a new leap; the breeding grounds of nationalism are also the laboratory of future great confrontations.

In fact, notions of economic nationalism that appear to be based on "eternal" rules of race merely highlight how terrible the global crisis is—a classic example of constructing a virtue out of adversity. Passengers aboard a damaged train may stoically inform each other, shivering on bare benches in some Godforsaken small station, that creature comforts are corrosive to body and spirit. But they all wish for a railway to whisk them away to a spot where they can stretch their tired bodies between two clean blankets. The immediate concern of the business world in all countries is to hold out, to survive on the hard bed of the national market, even if in a coma. All of these unwitting stoics, on the other hand, yearn for the tremendous motor of a new world "conjuncture," a new economic phase.

Is it going to happen? The current structural disruption of the entire economic system has made predictions difficult, if not impossible. Like the heartbeats of a healthy body, old industrial cycles had a predictable pattern. We no longer follow the regular progression of economic stages since the war; the old heart skips beats. Furthermore, there is the so-called "state capitalism" policy. Governments rushed into the economic arena, spurred on by restless interests and societal risks, with emergency actions whose consequences they couldn't anticipate in most cases. Even if we ignore the possibility of a new war, which would disrupt the fundamental work of economic forces as well as conscious attempts at planned control for a long time, we can confidently predict the transition from crisis and depression to revival, whether or not the favorable symptoms seen in England and to some extent in the United States later prove to be first swallows that did not bring the spring. If it hasn't already, the crisis' destructive work must reach the point when poor humanity requires a new mass of things. Wheels will turn, and chimneys will smoke. When the revival has progressed far enough, the business world will awaken from its slumber, immediately forget yesterday's lessons, and scornfully discard self-defeating theories alongside their creators.

However, hoping that the scale of the impending revival will match to the severity of the current crisis would be the greatest folly. The heart beats at a varied rate in youth, adulthood, and old age. During the rise of capitalism, successive crises were only brief, and the temporary drop in productivity was more than compensated at the next stage. That is no longer the case. We've arrived at a point in history when times of economic recovery are fleeting, while periods of depression deepen. The thin cows eat the fat cows without leaving a trace and continue to bleat with hunger.

As soon as the economic barometer begins to climb, all capitalist states will become more aggressively impatient. The battle for international markets will be fiercer than ever before. Pious thoughts about the benefits of autarchy will be dismissed immediately, and wise plans for national concord will be discarded. This is true not only of German capitalism, with its explosive dynamics, or of Japan's late and selfish capitalism, but also of American capitalism, which, despite its new contradictions, remains dominant.

The United States exemplified the ideal form of capitalist development. The United States had a substantial technical and economic advantage over Europe due to the relative equilibrium of its domestic and seemingly endless market. However, its involvement in World War I was a reflection of the reality that its internal equilibrium had already been shattered. The war's modifications in the American structure have made admission into the global arena a life-or-death situation for American capitalism. There's a lot of evidence that this entry will take on really spectacular forms.

The law of labor productivity is crucial in establishing the future position of the United States in the world, as well as in the interrelations between America and Europe. Conveyor, standard, or mass production are the greatest forms that the Yankees gave to the law of worker productivity. It seemed that the location where Archimedes' lever would turn the world over had been discovered. The ancient planet, on the other hand, will not be turned over. Everyone defends himself against everyone else, surrounded by a customs wall and a bayonet hedge. Europe does not buy things, does not pay its obligations, and does not arm itself. Japan seizes a whole country with five dismal divisions. When confronted with difficulties that rely on a far lower method, even the most refined technique in the world appears ineffective. The law of labor productivity appears to be losing its force.

But it merely appears to be such. Inevitably, the fundamental law of human history will exact vengeance on derived and subsidiary occurrences. Sooner or later, American capitalism will have to find a means to expand its reach throughout the entire globe. What methods are you using? By any means necessary. A high coefficient of destructive force corresponds to a high coefficient of production. Am I advocating for war? No, not at all. I'm not trying to convert anyone. I'm just trying to figure out what's going on in the world and draw inferences from economic laws. Nothing is more deplorable than mental cowardice that ignores facts and tendencies when they contradict ideals or biases.

Only in the context of world history can we situate fascism in its proper place. It is devoid of anything innovative or self-contained. Its historical purpose is to bring the logic and practice of the economic deadlock to absurdity.

During its heyday, democratic nationalism was the driving force behind humanity's progress. It is still capable of playing a positive role in the Eastern colonial countries. But decrepit fascist nationalism, which is preparing volcanic eruptions and epic conflicts in the global arena, would only bring disaster to the planet. All of our previous experiences on this score over the last twenty-five or thirty years will seem like a mere overture in comparison to the impending music of hell. And this time, the stakes aren't just temporary economic decline; they're complete economic devastation and the annihilation of our entire culture, if toiling and thinking humanity fails to grasp the reins of its own productive forces in time, and to organize those forces correctly on a European and global scale.


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