[Marxism] Trotsky on FDR and the New Deal

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 9 19:27:51 MST 2005

(Andy's article has generated discussion on pen-l as well. The Harold Ickes 
referred to below is the father of Harold Ickes Jr., one of Bill Clinton's 
top advisers.)

Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes considers it "one of the 
strangest anomalies in all history" that America, democratic in form, is 
autocratic in substance: "America, the land of majority rule but controlled 
at least until 1933 (!) by the monopolies that in their turn are controlled 
by a negligible number of their stockholders." The diagnosis is correct, 
with the exception of the intimation that with the advent of Roosevelt the 
rule of monopoly either ceased or weakened. Yet what Ickes calls "one of 
the strangest anomalies in all history," is, as a matter of fact, the 
unquestionable norm of capitalism. The domination of the weak by the 
strong, of the many by the few, of the toilers by the exploiters is a basic 
law of bourgeois democracy. What distinguishes the United States from other 
countries is merely the greater scope and the greater heinousness in the 
contradictions of its capitalism. The absence of a feudal past, rich 
natural resources, an energetic and enterprising people, in a word, all the 
prerequisites that augured an uninterrupted development of democracy, have 
actually brought about a fantastic concentration of wealth.

Promising this time to wage the fight against monopolies to a triumphant 
issue, Ickes recklessly harks back to Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, 
Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as the predecessors 
of Franklin D. Roosevelt. "Practically all or our greatest historical 
figures," said he on December 30, 1937, "are famous because of their 
persistent and courageous fight to prevent and control the 
over-concentration of wealth and power in a few hands." But it follows from 
his own words that the fruit of this "persistent and courageous fight" is 
the complete domination of democracy by the plutocracy.

For some inexplicable reason Ickes thinks that this time victory is 
assured, provided the people understand that the fight is "not between the 
New Deal and the average enlightened businessman, but between the New Deal 
and Bourbons of the sixty families who have brought the rest of the 
businessmen in the United States under the terror of their domination." 
This authoritative spokesman does not explain just how the "Bourbons" 
managed to subjugate all the enlightened businessmen, notwithstanding 
democracy and the efforts of the "greatest historical figures." The 
Rockefellers, the Morgans, the Mellons, the Vanderbilts, the Guggenheims, 
the Fords and Co. did not invade the United States from the outside, as 
Cortez invaded Mexico; they grew organically out of the "people," or more 
precisely, out of the class of "enlightened industrialist and businessmen" 
and became, in line with Marx's prognosis, the natural apogee of 
capitalism. Since a young and strong democracy in its hey-day was unable to 
check the concentration of wealth when the process was only at its 
inception, is it possible to believe even for a minute that a decaying 
democracy is capable of weakening class antagonisms that have attained 
their utmost limit? Anyway, the experience of the New Deal has produced no 
ground for such optimism. Refuting the charges of big business against the 
government, Robert H. Jackson, a person high in the councils of the 
administration, proved with figures that during Roosevelt's tenure the 
profits of the magnates of capital reached heights they themselves had 
unlearned to dream about during the last period of Hoover's presidency, 
from which it follows, in any event, that Roosevelt's fight against 
monopolies has been crowned with no greater success than the struggle of 
all his predecessors.

Although they feel themselves called upon to defend the foundations of 
capitalism, the reformers in the very nature of things prove themselves 
powerless to harness its laws with economic police measures, What else can 
they do then but moralise? Mr. Ickes, like the other cabinet members and 
publicists of the New Deal, winds up by appealing to the monopolists not to 
forget decency and the principles of democracy. Just how is this better 
than prayers for rain? Surely, Marx's view of the owner of the means of 
production is far more scientific, "As a capitalist," we read in Capital, 
"he is merely personified capital. His soul is the soul of capital. But 
capital has only one single aim in lifeÉto create surplus value." If the 
capitalist's behaviour were determined by the attributes of his individual 
soul or of the lyrical effusions of the Secretary of the Interior, neither 
average prices not average wages would be possible, nor bookkeeping, nor 
all of capitalist economy. Yet bookkeeping continues to flourish and is a 
strong argument in favour of the materialistic conception of history. 

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