The American Road to Socialism

William Z. Foster
[section from History of the Communist Party of the United States,
International Publishers, New York, 1952]

The transition from capitalism to socialism involves a fundamental reorganization of the nation’s economy, from one based on the private ownership of industry for private profit to one of collective ownership for social use, and also a basic political shift from the tyrannical rule of a small group of monopolists to the democratic regime of the broad working class and its allies, which leads to the abolition of class society. Therefore, it is a revolution. Capitalism established itself in all the major countries by revolutions. These revolutions, accomplished in the youth and progressive period of capitalism, were constructive. In the United States there have been two such bourgeois revolutions: that which achieved national independence in 1776-83, and that which abolished Negro slavery in 1861-65. The workers' advance to socialism will be infinitely more progressive than the bourgeois revolutions, because it not only promises but realizes democracy and well-being for the broadest masses of the people.

Socialism is not an invention of the Communists, as reactionaries assert. Nor is the abolition of capitalism the fruition of a Communist conspiracy. On the contrary, socialism grows out of the long-continued everyday struggles of the workers, enlightened and organized by Marxist theory and guidance. It is the ultimate expression and climax of these struggles. The working class and its allies – the Negro people, small farmers, professionals, and others-making up a vast majority of the people, are oppressed by ever greater economic and political hardships under capitalism. They are especially menaced by war and fascism. These evils are greatly accentuated because the capitalist system is sinking deeper and deeper into general crisis. Inexorably the masses must unite ever more strongly and fight with increasing vigor to combat the growing disasters of economic breakdown, destitution, fascism, and world war. The daily struggles around broader and ever more urgent demands, led increasingly by the Communist Party, finally culminate in a mighty movement to abolish the capitalist system itself, as the source of the intolerable evils from which the people suffer. The struggles of the workers for immediate demands, in which they create the necessary economic organizations, build the Communist Party, acquire class-consciousness, develop a program, and win democratic rights for themselves, are an organic part of the historic struggle for socialism. This has been basically the course of political development in all those countries where socialism has been, or is now being established. The breakdown of the capitalist system makes socialism both indispensable and inevitable all over the world, including the United States.

The central task of the Communist Party, with its Marxist-Leninist training and in its role as the vanguard of the working class and the nation, is to give the elemental mass anti-capitalist movement the necessary understanding, organization, and leadership. Without this the workers and their allies could never arrive at their historic goal of socialism. The Communist Party is not an intruder among the toiling masses, as the Department of Justice alleges, seeking to thrust an alien program upon them. Instead, the Party is flesh and bone of the working class. It always marches in the forefront of that class, expresses most clearly its interests, and finally leads it and its allies in realizing the great objective of socialism, which is the culmination of the entire historic experience of the working class.

The Communist Party projects and works for a democratic conduct of the daily class struggle and also of the advance to socialism. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Party states this policy as follows: “The Communist Party upholds the achievements of American democracy and defends the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights against its reactionary enemies who would destroy democracy and popular liberties. It seeks to safeguard the welfare of the people and the nation, recognizing that the working class, through its trade unions and by its independent political action, is the most consistent fighter for democracy, national freedom, and social progress.”

Communists are the chief fighters against the two major threats of violence in modern society – imperialist international war and fascist civil war – both of which emanate from the capitalists. The Communist Party's democratic aims are in line with the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, with the course of the everyday struggles of the workers and their allies, and with their world experience in establishing socialism. The danger of violence in 'the daily class struggle and in the inevitable and indispensable advance of the workers and the nation to socialism could come only from the' capitalist class, which, seeing its profits threatened and itself being deposed from its rich dictatorship, then uses every means possible to thwart the democratic socialist will of the people. For as the great Marx has truly said, there is no case in history where a ruling class has yielded up its domination without making a desperate struggle.

Marxist theoreticians, while warning the workers against capitalist violence, have always pointed out possibilities for the peaceful establishment of socialism in countries where the democratic elements are strong. Thus, Karl Marx, three generations ago, before the advent of imperialism, with its highly centralized, heavily armed, and bureaucratic state, said that “If, for example, the working class in England and the United States should win a majority in Parliament, in Congress, it could legally abolish those laws and institutions which obstruct its development.”1 Lenin also, in mid-1917, outlined a peaceful perspective for the Russian Revolution. And Stalin, writing in 1928, while pointing out the danger of capitalist violence at that time, also said that with the strong growth of world socialism, “a peaceful path of development is quite possible for certain capitalist countries.”2 The C.P.U.S.A. proceeds upon the basis that such a possibility exists in the United States.

The Communist Party's orientation for a possible peaceful transition to socialism in the United States is based upon four elementary considerations: first, the fight of the working class for its immediate demands is the very substance of democracy, it strengthens basically the democratic forces in our country, and by the eventual establishment of socialism it raises democracy qualitatively to a new high level; second, the working class, led by the Communist Party, harmonizes its methods with its ends by fighting for both its immediate and ultimate objectives with the most peaceful and democratic means possible; third, the workers and their allies, constituting the vast majority of the people and possessing immense organizations, now have the potential power to curb, restrain, and make ineffective whatever violence the capitalists may undertake in their attempt to balk the will of the people and to prevent the establishment of socialism; and fourth, in recent years, on the international scale, there has been an enormous growth of power in the camp of democracy and socialism.

The fundamental difference between the Communist Party and right-wing Social Democracy (and its Browderite variant) is not that the Social-Democrats want to establish socialism by peaceful means and the Communists want to achieve it by violence. Instead, the difference is that the Social-Democrats everywhere have abandoned socialism altogether and are committed to an indefinite perpetuation of the capitalist system; whereas, the Communists have shown conclusively that, in line with the democratic will and interests of the workers, they are the ones that are resolutely leading the peoples of the world to socialism.

The Communist Party, although it does not advocate violence in the workers' struggles, cannot, however, declare that there will be no violence in the establishment of socia1ism in this country. This is because of the certainty of reactionary attacks from the capitalists. The latter might even be able, in case of inadequate resistance by the masses, to destroy democracy outright and to establish an American type of fascist-like regime. In such event there would result an entirely new political situation, where the masses would be faced with the need of militant struggle for the most elementary economic needs and democratic rights. In the United States there is a grave danger of such fascism.

The Communist Party holds the view that socialism in the United States, although inevitable in the future, is not now on the immediate political agenda. Therefore, the Party never has, and does not now, venture to predict the precise time, forms, and methods of the eventual establishment of socialism in this country. Those who state that the C.P.U.S.A. has a blueprint of same kind, or is organizing a conspiratorial “plot” for achieving socialism, are deliberate liars and perjurors. Any consideration that the Party, therefore, gives to this whole question at the present time, to refute the government's indictment leveled against it, can be only on the basis of an estimate of the eventual working out of general Communist principles in this country, in the light of world experience and American political conditions.

There is no timetable nor blueprinted route to socialism. The American people, led by the working class, will embark upon the road to socialism, all in their own good time and with their own specific methods. As Lenin says, “All nations will come to socialism, this is inevitable, but they will come to it in not quite the same way, each will contribute original features to this or that form of democracy, to this or that variant of the proletarian dictatorship, to this or that tempo of the socialist transformation of the various aspects of social life.”3 The experience of the workers in Russia, China, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other countries, in their advance to socialism, has borne out this statement by Lenin, and the ultimate course of events in the United States will doubtless give it further confirmation.

American conditions and world socialist experience make it realistic, however, to suppose that, in their march to socialism, the American people, as many others are doing, will take their path through the successive phases of the people’s front and the people’s democracy. But in so doing, they will doubtless reflect specific American conditions. That is, just as there have been in this country special adaptations of the people’s front slogan (examples, the farmer-labor party, the democratic front, the Roosevelt coalition, and now the peace coalition), so there will also almost certainly develop special American forms and applications of the people’s democracy and its slogans.

The basic difference between these two state forms is that whereas the people's front government still operates within the framework of the capitalist system, the people's democracy is a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In both of these types of government, judging from experience elsewhere, there would be several parties represented. In view of the basic tasks confronting the democratic masses, the influence of the Communist Party (or a broad Workers Party based on a consolidation of the most advanced elements among the workers, farmers, Negro people, etc.) would necessarily be of decisive importance, especially in the people's democracy. For only Marxist-Leninists can lead the nation to socialism.

Soviets are the highest form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but they are not the only form. The people's democracy represents a new and distinct type of proletarian rule. It has arisen particularly as a result of the radicalization of vast masses of the people, the great growth of the camp of world socialism, and the continued decline of world capitalism.

It is in line with the foregoing general principles and perspectives that the Communist Party has long proposed the regular election, under the United States Constitution, of a ,broad coalition government, an American variant of the people's front, made up of the representatives of the political and economic organizations of the workers, the Negro people, small farmers, intellectuals, and other democratic strata, who constitute the great bulk of the American people. In the 1948 election campaign the Communist Party, through its general secretary, Eugene Dennis, stated this political policy as follows: “For a people's government that will advance the cause of peace, security and democracy! For an anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly government! What is projected in this slogan, it should be made clear, is a political objective that reflects the united front program which is bringing into a broad coalition all the democratic and anti-imperialist forces including the third party movement.”4 Despite the dangerous threat of fascism in this country, the Communist Party holds that the workers and their allies could elect such a people's front government under the Constitution by vigorous action.

Beyond this point, in practical policy, the Communist Party has not planned. But it is clear that such a people's front government would be elected, probably, when the great masses of the people, facing conditions of a serious political crisis, would feel the urgent need of it in order to protect their most vital interests. Such a situation is definitely in the political perspective for the United States, resulting from the deepening of the general crisis of world capitalism, intensified by Wall Street's aggressive drive towards war.

A people's front government in this country would have as its great task to preserve the workers and the masses of the people from devastating crisis, from the consequences of the breaking down of capitalism and the reactionary policies of big capital. Its program, therefore, would necessarily involve vigorous measures to maintain or restore world peace, to preserve and extend popular democratic liberties, to keep the industries in operation, to improve radically the living standards of the people, and to realize the economic, political, and social equality of the Negro people, and their right to self-determination in the “Black Belt” of the South.

However, standing athwart the war and fascist policies of monopoly capital, such a democratic people's government, both in its election and in its functioning, would have to face a most determined opposition from the monopolists and their Social-Democratic tools. No one who knows the American capitalist class, with its long record of war aggression, brutality in strikes, slaughter of workers in industry, persecution against the Negro people, etc, can doubt but that the reactionaries would use every available means of Social-Democratic treachery and of outright violence to prevent or destroy any government that cut into their rule and into their robbery of the people. Consequently, the only way the people's government could be elected in the first place and could be enabled to live and to carry out its progressive program would be by defeating this Social-Democratic treachery and capitalist violence. This would also require weakening the economic and political power of the monopolists by the nationalization of the banks, the basic industries, the press, radio, television, etc., and eventually by the reorganization of the army, police, etc., and by beginning to lay the basis for a planned economy. All of which measures the legally elected people's coalition government would have the full authority and national mandate to carry out. This course would be the path to a people's democracy.

Failure of a people's government to take such necessary measures would surely result in its downfall and probably bring about the victory of fascism in the United States. It was, for example, the fatal mistake of the pre-war people's government in Spain that it did not, from the outset, proceed to weaken the capitalists basically, as indicated, and did not nip in the bud the potential military rebellion which finally destroyed it. On the other hand, the fulfillment of the above historic tasks by an American people's government would so strengthen the working class and all the forces of socialism, while weakening those of reaction, that a peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism would become possible through a people's democracy, in its American forms.

The establishment of a people's democracy in the United States would signify that the coalition of workers and their allies had won a decisive political victory over monopoly capital and that a government had come into power, committed to the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. Such a government, made indispensable under the severe pressure of the capitalist crisis, might evolve either from a people's front coalition government through an internal regrouping of forces, or it might be elected by the masses of the American people after the people's front government had served its historic function. In either event the working class and its allies, with the potential power to do so, would carry through their democratic program, curbing all violent and illegal efforts of monopolist reaction to defeat it and to set up a fascist state.

With the establishment of a Socialist government on the basis of a people's democracy, the American people would logically and necessarily proceed to re-organize and democratize the state. They would make such constitutional changes as the majority would decide. They would learn from Marx and from their own experience that the workers cannot simply take over the bourgeois state machinery and use it to build socialism. Within the framework of the people's democracy, the American people would gradually construct a higher type of democracy and democratic state, in order to build a socialized economy and to make the people the real rulers of the land. With the workers in power, the path from socialism to the higher stage of communism would be one of gradual and peaceful evolution.

This, very briefly, is “the American road to socialism,” on the basis of our country's conditions and of the socialist experience of the workers of the world. But this tentative outline is by no means a blueprint. When the American working class actually starts out to establish socialism, as an imperative necessity under the deepening crisis of capitalism, it will adopt the best, shortest, most fitting routes and forms for the American people. What stands out clearly in this analysis, however, is that, in its perspective for ultimate socialism in the United States, the Communist Party, as the Supreme Court, with a rare exhibition of objectivity, clearly stated in the Schneiderman case of 1942, always strives for a peaceful and democratic course to socialism, supported at all times by a huge majority of the American people. The great toiling masses of our country, as of all others, are fundamentally the builders and defenders of peace and democracy, and this elementary course they will strive to follow in their eventual advance to socialism.

Communist Parties in other industrial countries, facing conditions basically similar to those in the United States, generally have a comparable conception of the manner of democratically establishing socialism. Thus, the Communist Party of Great Britain, in its program entitled The British Road to Socialism, calls for the election of “a People's Parliament and Government which draws its strength from a united movement of the people, with the working class as its core.” On the question of eventual capitalist violence, the program states that “The great broad popular alliance, led by the working class, firmly based on the factories, which has democratically placed the People's Government in power, will have the strength to deal with the attacks of the capitalist warmongers and their agents.”

Lessons of Communist World Experience

In a capitalist world which is sinking deeper into general crisis, and in which the capitalists, as a matter of course, turn toward world war and fascist civil war in their desperate efforts to solve their insoluble problems, the great defenders of national and international peace and democracy, and the forces that make for the defeat of capitalist violence, are the workers and their allies, led by the Communist Party. The fundamentally peaceful and democratic policy of the Communists is now being dramatically expressed by their present fight all over the world to prevent the re-birth of fascism and the outbreak of a third world war.

This general policy of curbing capitalist national and international violence was well illustrated by the worldwide struggle of the Communists to defeat fascism and prevent war in the 1930's. During these years the big monopoly capitalists in many countries, under the pressure of the general crisis of capitalism and of their own ruthless imperialist drive for power, were pushing relentlessly towards the fierce violence of fascism and war. To combat these twin dangers, the Communists fought for the building of broad people's front governments in the respective countries, in order to strengthen democracy and to avert fascist civil war; and on the international scale the Communists worked tirelessly for the creation of a great world front of all the democratic powers, in order to restrain the fascist Axis aggressor states and to avert a world war.

This Communist course constituted basically a policy of striving to prevent both civil and international war, of holding intact and strengthening the democratic institutions in the respective capitalist countries, of compelling the wolf-like capitalist states to live together without devouring one another, and of assuring the peaceful co-existence of socialism and capitalism in the world. They were the basic democratic tasks of the time, in the workers' historic march towards socialism.

In those years the Communists and their allies were able to prevent civil war and fascism in many countries, and if they were unable to avert World War II, this was primarily because Social-Democratic treachery disunited and weakened the workers’ forces of peace and democracy. But at the present time, vastly increased in strength over that period of the 1930’s, the workers and other democratic masses, in harmony with basic Communist policy, are in a much better position to push forward with their program of social progress and at the same time to prevent monopoly capital, which grows more desperate with the breaking down of the capitalist system and from the enormous worldwide strengthening of the democratic forces, from plunging the various individual capitalist countries into fascist civil war and from catapulting the world into a devastating atomic war.

The history of the various proletarian and people's revolutions since World War I also proves conclusively that the Communists in other countries, as well as in the United States, seek to accomplish by the most peaceful means possible the inevitable transition of society from capitalism to the higher stage of socialism. Thus, during the great Russian Revolution of 1917, Lenin called for the winning of the leadership in the Soviets, which were not yet led by the Bolsheviks, by a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation. On this matter Stalin said: “This meant that Lenin was not calling for a revolt against the Provisional Government, which at that moment enjoyed the confidence of the Soviets, that he was not demanding its overthrow, but that he wanted, by means of explanatory and recruiting work, to win a majority of the Soviets... to alter the composition and policy of the Government. This was a line envisaging a peaceful development of the revolution in Russia.”5 But Kerensky, like so many other capitalist agents, believed he could stamp out the Revolution by violence. The world knows the results of his folly. Lenin was the greatest of all champions of peace and democracy.

The establishment of the People's Democracies of Eastern Europe – in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Albania – demonstrated the basic Communist policy for a peaceful advance toward socialism. The puppet Hitler governments in these countries were overthrown in the war by the Red Army and these peoples. On the conclusion of peace, democratic governments based on coalitions of all the anti-fascist parties, including petty bourgeois, peasant, socialist, and other parties, were duly and constitutionally elected. These democratic elements put down such violence as the reactionaries were able to organize. By a democratic and peaceful process, these regimes became the People's Democracies, which then, with their peoples' national democratic mandate and with the Communist Parties in the lead, proceeded on their advance toward socialism.

In China, too, the responsibility for the civil war in the great people's liberation revolution, rests squarely upon the shoulders of the reactionary Chiang Kai-shek and the gang of foreign imperialists behind him. During the early 1920’s, the Communists, seeking the peaceful and democratic development of China, made a united front with Chiang's Kuomintang Party; but Chiang in 1927, after he had gained political power, violently disrupted this united front and tried in vain to drown the Communist Party in blood. Again, during World War II, the Chinese Communists, led by the brilliant Mao Tse-tung, developed a national united front with Chiang to fight the Japanese. This broad coalition the Communists persistently tried to extend over into the post-war period. But Chiang, in obedience to Wall Street, deliberately broke up the united front with the Communists and in 1946 he launched the civil war to destroy the Communist Party and to disperse its gigantic mass following. But having rejected the Communist path of peace and chosen that of civil war, Chiang, like Kerensky before him, wound up by having his own regime annihilated. Others who may try to block by violence the people's democratic advance to socialism will not fare any better than did Kerensky or Chiang Kai-shek.

The attempt of the Truman government to destroy the Communist Party, on the pretext that it advocates the forceful overthrow of the United States Government, is a lie and a political frame-up. There is no basis for such an accusation-in Marxist-Leninist theory, in the program and activities of the C.P.U.S.A., or in the world experience of the Communist movement. It is an irony of history that the Communists, who throughout the world are the great defenders of peace and democracy, should be condemned in the United States for advocating force and violence, and this by a capitalist class which helped bring about two world wars and is now trying to organize a third mass slaughter. The political purpose of the government's red-baiting attack upon the Communist Party is to cripple this valiant leader of the democratic masses and thereby to demoralize the people and to break down their opposition to Wall Street's ill-omened drive toward fascism and war.


1) Cited by Foster, In Defense of the Communist Party and Its Leaders, p. 22.

2) Cited by Foster, In Defense of the Communist Party and Its Leaders, p. 22.

3) Bolshevik, Moscow, Nov. 19, 1951.

4) Eugene Dennis in Political Affairs, March 1948.

5) History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, p. 186.

Click here to return to the index of archival material.