Obituary: comrade Rayner Lysaght 1941 – 2021

Rayner Lysaght at the Frank Conroy Commemoration

Yesterday I attended the funeral in Dublin of life-long Marxist Rayner Lysaght, surrounded by over thirty of his old comrades who were members and supporters of the various embodiments of the Trotskyist movement that Rayner was a member of from the 1960s. Born into a well-to-do family in South Wales in 1941 he came to Ireland in the early 60s, graduating from Trinity College Dublin in 1964.

Always courteous and friendly he was a fountain of knowledge on Irish history and its labour movement: someone of whom it was always understood, without even having to consider, that would remain faithful to the socialist cause to the end.  From his early membership of the Irish Workers Group in the 1960s until his membership of Socialist Democracy in 2021, Rayner retained membership of a revolutionary organisation throughout the decades.

While his braces, refined accent and labarynthine locution often gave an other-worldly impression, his long contribution to the Irish socialist movement was widely recognised by the many tributes from members of the various socialist currents in Ireland, personified by the attendance at the funeral of the People before Profit TD Paul Murphy. The many tributes on Facebook testify to his honesty, integrity and openness to everyone on the left with whom he came into contact over the years, including young historians seeking access to his encyclopaedic knowledge. 

Much gratitude belongs to Anne Conway for her support to Rayner during his illness and also to his wife Aine, who followed the funeral on web cam while also in Beaumont Hospital.  Anne spoke at the service along with Jack McGinley from the Irish Labour History Society and John McAnulty representing Socialist Democracy.

 Anne recounted some of the many tributes from his former comrades.

From Michael Farrell – “there was hardly a radical or progressive protest or demonstration that Rayner was not at for the last 60 years or more and he played his part in bringing about major social change. He was a dedicated Marxist all his life and a fine scholar of working-class history when it was not popular and certainly wasn’t profitable. He was a comrade and friend from as far back as the 1960s, when anything seemed possible”.

From Joe Harrington from Limerick – “I met him in Dublin in 1972 when I stayed with him and Aine (and a few other notorious and not so notorious characters) in the place that I think was known as Parnell Road, in Harold’s Cross. Much later in Limerick the link to Rayner was persistent. He looked to us in the Treaty City for sorting the practical aspects of producing the six or so editions of his ‘The Story of the Limerick Soviet’ – aspects such as typing out his handwritten and long revised tracts of the narrative – on the old-fashioned typewriter, tippex and all.   Every edition had to be launched and to succeed in putting a time limit on Rayner’s speeches, on those occasions, was never easy.  As Pat O’Connor could tell and as Mary O’Donnell tells, there was always a story to tell after Rayner returned home.”

“Rayner saw the Limerick Soviet as extremely important, as a clear-cut example, in so many ways, of how workers can change society and the lessons from that effort – the strike weapon, the organisation of a society without bosses (if only for a short while), the impinging national question, the international aspect and the bureaucrats and the clerics’ sell-out.  Apart from his other work, Rayner Lysaght’s labours on the Soviet has ensured that he has made a difference.  Sure, that’s what legends of the socialist movement do.”

Anne also noted the other aspects of Rayner’s life that contributed to making him the valued friend and comrade that he was – “Rayner had an interest in so many things.  You wouldn’t associate him with folk music, but he knew about and could talk about the artists, the songs, the persons mentioned in them.  There was nothing unusual in Rayner reading a weighty tome by Marx or Trotsky, then proceeding to a comic or watching a TV detective series or reading a crime novel, a passion he shared with the Belgian Marxist, the late Ernest Mandel.”  

“Rayner had an unquenchable curiosity about just about everything. He was a remarkable man – an author and historian, an activist, he was witty with a wiry sense of humour and enjoyed performing his party piece often with his rendition I am an English Man. He was a devoted husband to Aine.”

“Above all he was a Marxist revolutionary and was committed to the Workers Republic of James Connolly, so to honour Rayner’s memory and his commitment a rendition of Where Oh Where Is James Connolly will be played as we leave the service.”

Anne noted that “he wrote the book The Republic of Ireland in 1971, it was his contribution to understanding the country and the struggles of the working class.  He wrote numerous other pamphlets some of them under pennames and I think, many will remember him for his work in uncovering the story of the Limerick Soviet, that briefly arose in 1919 following the Russian Revolution.  He never really got the credit he deserved for this and was always modest about his abilities and his achievements. But he was an important historian of working class struggles in Ireland.”

It was appropriate that, while his wife of 48 years Aine, and his brother and sister William and Priscilla, could not be at the funeral, his cousin thanked the congregation for the welcome Rayner received when he moved to Ireland and the many good friendships he had formed in his new home.

As a member of Peoples Democracy from 1978 and latterly Socialist Democracy until 2012, I attended many meetings, events and demonstrations with him over these years.  Like many of those who attended the funeral, who had not seen him for a number of years, his contribution to the socialist struggle in Ireland gave him a presence that will be missed by all.

He was always there, a seemingly permanent embodiment of the struggle that we were all a part of, from before we entered it to whatever difficulties we knew we would certainly face in the future.  Rayner was there and we knew that he would always be there.  Now that he has left us, as we all will do, we will remember with gratitude, fondness and inspiration his contribution to the great cause to which he devoted his life.

His RIP web site records the words of Leon Trotsky:

“Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence, and enjoy it to the full.”

Covid-19 Delta – ‘the biggest hurricane that has ever hit Ireland’

Ireland on cusp of fourth wave of Covid due to deadly Delta variant, NPHET  warns - Irish Mirror Online

The Irish State has reached the milestone of 5,000 deaths associated with Covid-19 at the same time as it controversially announced that there will not be a reopening of indoor hospitality on 5 July as planned.

Two weeks ago a government source had said that “the narrative that our reopening will slow down is not true.’ However that was before the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) presented advice to it that a pessimistic ‘scenario’ forecasted 2,000 deaths over three months, largely due to the new Delta variant of the disease, with advice that only vaccinated people and those who have had Covid should be allowed inside restaurants etc.

Such a measure was denounced as ‘absolutely bananas” by one opposition leader amid accusations that it was unworkable, discriminatory and potentially illegal, never mind the damage to the social bond that arises from everyone making sacrifices together.  Young people, it seemed, who predominantly serve in hospitality but are unvaccinated could serve, but not be served. Sinn Fein denounced the Government while more quietly accepting the decision; in this case talking more softly out of one corner of its mouth than the other. What would you do if faced with this dreaded forecast was the stock response from the governing parties.

While it was noted that NPHET had failed to factor into its assumptions newly allowed vaccination of younger people and there were calls for an independent audit of its modelling, plus claims that the Irish were an outlier in Europe in terms of indoor hospitality, by and large the figures were accepted without real challenge.  The Irish State has had one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in Europe but if many more people are no longer so scared as they were, there is no alternative critical view of State policy beyond making it harder.

There are a number of reasons for this including that the Irish State has done relatively well in relation to deaths:

State support payments to the unemployed and businesses have continued, and political opposition, including from the left, has been in favour of even tighter restrictions.  Such opposition as has declared itself, has been restricted to the far-right, including anti-Vaxxers who are easily dismissed but serve to make any other criticism easier to ignore.

The Irish economy is also set to grow by over 8%, according to the Central Bank, with this growth having less to do with base effects (the previous fall caused by lockdown making future growth easier statistically as well as economically) because the Irish economy has been hit less by Covid-19 despite the lockdown. The disproportionate presence of US multinationals, which includes companies in the pharmaceuticals, medical devices and IT sectors, has seen demand for their products increase.

An opinion poll in June reported that ‘fewer than one third of voters (32 per cent) agree that life should return “to the way it was before Covid” even after most people are vaccinated. Almost two-thirds (65 per cent) say that some precautions should remain in place, such as wearing masks in shops. Older voters remain significantly more cautious on this issue, with 79 per cent favouring continued precautions.’(Irish Times). The greater threat to older people goes a long way to explaining their particular concerns, as does the failure of the state to protect these people in its care or in private homes for which the state still has a responsibility.

That this number of people are so anxious is not a healthy sign, either from a psychological view or politically. A scared population is not one that is likely to be critical of state policy or seek to map out its own alternative. From a socialist viewpoint it is not conducive to independent thought by workers and rather affirms their social subordination.  In this case the attendant denial of very basic civil liberties emphasises it.

Given the current very low level of cases, hospitalisation and deaths, plus the summer season, the dire warning by the Minister of Health, that “the biggest hurricane that has ever hit Ireland is coming’ simply reaffirms all these negative effects of state policy. Although one must assume his remark excludes An Gorta Mór.

The Government’s decision rests heavily on the most pessimistic of four scenarios presented by NPHET:

The presentation by NPHET shows a wide variation between a central scenario of 187,000 cases in three months and 545 deaths, and the pessimistic scenario of 682,000 cases and 2,170 deaths.  Given the prevalence of the Delta variant, plus greater transmissibility by Alpha, it is the increase in social mixing that appears as the cause of the difference, but this is placing a big burden on indoor hospitality to make this the cause of such an increase.  It is the possibility of the pessimistic scenario that is nevertheless given as the reason, although no probability is presented and the message appears to be that no possibility is acceptable.

The Chief Medical Officer has admitted that advice from his Scottish equivalent is that the Delta variant presents less risk of hospitalisation even if it is more transmissible.  It is already well known that the virus is predominantly a threat to life to those who have other underlying health conditions.

The most recent figures published for the period up to 12 December 2020 report that 93.4% of deaths were of those with an underlying condition.  The figures for those who had Covid-19 and also had an underlying condition was 16.9% for those aged 25 – 34, 52.58% for those aged between 65 and 74, and 59.4% of those 75+.

Clearly it is older people who are most at risk and it is mainly older people who are dying.  The proportion of total deaths accounted for by 25 – 34 year-olds at 11 May 2021 was 0.81% while it was 15.5% for those aged 65 – 74, 33.75% for those aged 75 – 84, and 42.39% of those aged 85+.  In other words, 91.64% of deaths were of those aged 65 and over, but being over this age is not sufficient to have a severe risk posed, you also need to have a relevant underlying condition.

NPHET has reported that cases amongst the eldest has fallen and lower than younger age groups, as this heat map shows:

This is due in good part to the vaccination programme prioritising by age but also by considerations of those most vulnerable.  The programme has also prioritised health care staff although this was supposed to be targeted to front line workers.  In the North not so much pretence was made and back-office support workers with no interaction with patients were vaccinated before, for example, immunosuppressed cancer patients.  The mantra of ‘protect the NHS’ reached a logical conclusion when bureaucrats came before extremely vulnerable patients. While the Southern vaccination programme has been beset by some scandal in which relatives of senior executives and others favoured by them have been vaccinated out of priority, the existence of similar in the North has gone unreported.  

In both jurisdictions the unchallenged requirement for vaccination of health care staff arises because both health systems have been incapable of implementing effective infection control.  In part this is because of the large number of Covid patients hospitalised but this in turn has been mainly due to the failure to protect older people, including those in care and nursing homes.  The Irish Government Covid-19 hub reported, as an example, that on Tuesday 11 May over half of hospitalised cases were in the over 65 age group.

In any case, the vaccination programme has gone a long way to protecting those most vulnerable.  Among these the rates of full vaccination are very high – 94% of those aged 80 and over, and 91% of those aged 70 – 79.  Among the 60 – 69 age group 43% are fully vaccinated while 93% have had one dose. Around 68 per cent of all adults have had one dose of the vaccine, while 45 per cent have had full vaccination.  This compares with Scotland where the incidence of infection, and by the Delta variant, has dramatically increased but existing relaxation of restrictions, including on indoor hospitality, have remained.

However, the argument of the government and NPHET is that the vaccination programme has not progressed sufficiently to reduce the risk and that it is younger people who must be increasingly targeted by the vaccination programme.

However, it is openly acknowledged that the dire warnings and continued restrictions are based on uncertainty about the possible number of cases, the number that will be hospitalised and the number of deaths.  NPHET has forecast 2,170 in the next three months in its pessimistic scenario, but this would mean an over 40 per cent increase in the existing death toll in a very short period, one-fifth the time of the preceding pandemic.  This, when the most vulnerable have received some sort of vaccination, so protecting them to a significant extent against both hospitalisation and death, and against a dominant variant we are informed involves less risk of hospitalisation.

There is a final reason to be wary of attempts to frighten the population and potentially introduce discriminatory measures against those who face least risk.  Leo Varadkar has written ‘that Ireland is among a small number of countries that includes in our numbers suspected and probable deaths from Covid even when the patient did not test positive or was not tested at all.’ 

The Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency has reported that: 

‘There were 1,626 deaths registered up to 31st December 2020 where Covid‐19 was identified as the underlying cause of death (88.8% of the 1,831 Covid‐19 related deaths). For 157 out of these 1,626 deaths (9.7%), there were no pre‐existing conditions.’

‘In Scotland, 6.8% of deaths involving Covid‐19 from March to December 2020 had no pre‐existing conditions. In the same period, the Office for National Statistics found 12.5% and 17.2% of Covid‐19 deaths had no pre‐existing conditions in England and Wales respectively.’ 

‘The Health Protection Surveillance Centre in the Republic of Ireland found that those who died with confirmed Covid‐19 up to 12th December 2020, 93.4% reported an underlying medical condition. The differences in these proportions between countries could be due to differences in the methodology and demographic make‐up of each country.’ 

The definition employed by NISRA is that the ‘underlying cause of death’ is a ‘disease or injury which initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death’. On its own Covid-19 causes few deaths yet the virus has assumed unprecedented power to freeze social activity and civil liberties.

All the factors that might cause the Irish State to have a better outcome have received little attention, including it having by far the lowest proportion of its population in the EU in the over 65s.  As has been pointed out, 500,000 Irish people left for Britain in the 1950s and a further 300,000 in the 1960s. How many of these died in Britain who might have done so in Ireland?

There is no evidence that identifying those at risk and protecting them has been seriously considered or modelled.  As I have noted in previous posts, the state has in fact failed these people in the guise of protecting everyone.  That other states have also failed similarly has acted as some protection for them.  

The issue isn’t that indoor hospitality has been postponed to whenever, or the unemployment or business failures that will result, or even that it has involved justification through discrimination.  The issue is that it is yet one more example of an ‘abundance of caution’ ignoring the associated abundance of cost.  Where is the modelling of the health and social cost of lockdown?  Where is NPHET’s and the Irish State’s pessimistic ‘scenario’ for it?

The redundancy of the capitalist class

Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 40

While the socialisation of the capitalist mode of production, associated with the centralisation and concentration of capital, requires unprecedented cooperation in production, alongside the massively increased division of labour, it not only makes the potential for the working class to control such forces manifestly easier, it also progressively demonstrates the increasing potential redundancy of the capitalist class for the direction and management of this production.

The scale and scope of production becomes too big for individual capitalist owners to finance and manage.  Marx refers to the “enormous expansion of the scale of production and of enterprises, that was impossible for individual capitals.” (All quotations from Capital Vol III).

“Capital, which in itself rests on a social mode of production and presupposes a social concentration of means of production and labour-power, is here directly endowed with the form of social capital (capital of directly associated individuals) as distinct from private capital, and its undertakings assume the form of social undertakings as distinct from private undertakings. It is the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself.”

This means that there is a “transformation of the actually functioning capitalist into a mere manager, administrator of other people’s capital, and of the owner of capital into a mere owner, a mere money-capitalist . . .  (the salary of the manager is, or should be, simply the wage of a specific type of skilled labour, whose price is regulated in the labour-market like that of any other labour) . . . total profit is henceforth received only in the form of interest, i.e., as mere compensation for owning capital that now is entirely divorced from the function in the actual process of reproduction, just as this function in the person of the manager is divorced from ownership of capital.”

“This result of the ultimate development of capitalist production is a necessary transitional phase towards the reconversion of capital into the property of producers, although no longer as the private property of the individual producers, but rather as the property of associated producers, as outright social property. On the other hand, the stock company is a transition toward the conversion of all functions in the reproduction process which still remain linked with capitalist property, into mere functions of associated producers, into social functions.”

 Marx describes this process as “the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself, and hence a self-dissolving contradiction, which prima facie represents a mere phase of transition to a new form of production.” 

For Marx, this whole process demonstrates that profit is not the reward for the labour and skills of the capitalist but makes it more obvious that it is the result of the appropriation of surplus value derived from the labour of workers, including its managers in so far as these are exploited.

Individual capitalists, indeed the whole capitalist class, commands capital that they no longer actually own, the property of others, so that all justifications of profit as the reward for risk (with other peoples’ money) or, even more ridiculously, abstention and saving (through a finance industry notorious for excess consumption!), is exposed as absurd. 

Also created is “a new financial aristocracy, a new variety of parasites in the shape of promoters, speculators and simply nominal directors; a whole system of swindling and cheating by means of corporation promotion, stock issuance, and stock speculation. It is private production without the control of private property.”  “Conceptions which have some meaning on a less developed stage of capitalist production, become quite meaningless here.”

Today these phenomena are reflected in the widespread contempt for corporate executive pay and the culture of greed, incompetence and arrogance of bankers and others engaged in the finance industry. 

The sacred principle of private ownership of capital and associated caricatures of the heroic self-made entrepreneur less and less reflect any reality in the system, which itself carries out the crime of expropriation that is supposed to damn socialism:

“Success and failure both lead here to a centralisation of capital, and thus to expropriation on the most enormous scale. Expropriation extends here from the direct producers to the smaller and the medium-sized capitalists themselves. It is the point of departure for the capitalist mode of production; its accomplishment is the goal of this production. In the last instance, it aims at the expropriation of the means of production from all individuals.”

“With the development of social production the means of production cease to be means of private production and products of private production, and can thereafter be only means of production in the hands of associated producers, i.e., the latter’s social property, much as they are their social products. However, this expropriation appears within the capitalist system in a contradictory form, as appropriation of social property by a few; and credit lends the latter more and more the aspect of pure adventurers.”

“The credit system accelerates the development of the productive forces and the establishment of the world-market. It is the historical mission of the capitalist system of production to raise these material foundations of the new mode of production to a certain degree of perfection. At the same time credit accelerates the violent eruptions of this contradiction – crises – and thereby the elements of disintegration of the old mode of production.”

Over-expansion of credit is often blamed for the periodic crises of overproduction or financial crises, including the construction boom in Ireland when it became the predominant element of the Celtic Tiger, and the 2008 financial crash centred on unsustainable credit and its extension through derivatives.  For Marx such events are simply the aggressive manifestation of the essential dynamic of the capitalist mode of production which, as such, has a two-sided result requiring more than simple condemnation.

“The two characteristics immanent in the credit system are, on the one hand, to develop the incentive of capitalist production, enrichment through exploitation of the labour of others, to the purest and most colossal form of gambling and swindling, and to reduce more and more the number of the few who exploit the social wealth; on the other hand, to constitute the form of transition to a new mode of production. It is this ambiguous nature, which endows the principal spokesmen of credit from Law to Isaac Péreire with the pleasant character mixture of swindler and prophet.” 

All these developments have the potential to provide a transitional form out of capitalism and towards socialism:

“The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour.”

“They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage.”

 “Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale.”

“The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.” 

“Cooperative factories provide the proof that the capitalist has become just as superfluous as a functionary in production as he himself, from his superior vantage point, finds the large landlord.”

Back to part 39

The socialisation of capital

Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 39

Marx notes that a certain accumulation of capital is a precondition for the capitalist mode of production that it then develops accumulation enormously:

“The continual re-transformation of surplus-value into capital now appears in the shape of the increasing magnitude of the capital that enters into the process of production. This in turn is the basis of an extended scale of production, of the methods for raising the productive power of labour that accompany it, and of accelerated production of surplus-value.” (Marx Capital Volume 1)

This involves an increasing division of labour inside and outside the workplace; the introduction of machinery and development of large-scale industry; the application of science and knowledge to production; and the increasing transformation of the natural world, all of which can only be the work of many workers combined together.

While many Marxists have prioritised regard to the underdevelopment of imperialist dominated countries and the remaining industrial backwardness of many, they have been loath to also recognise the growth of capitalism which is a necessary feature of its existence. Instead of capitalist development being the grounds for socialism its relative lack of development is often considered to be the warrant for revolution.

This increasing accumulation of capital results in its concentration and centralisation, the former “only another name for reproduction on an extended scale.”  Centralisation of capital on the other hand allows the greater extension of capitalist accumulation: “a more comprehensive organisation of the collective labour of many people, for a broader development of their material motive forces, i.e. for the progressive transformation of isolated processes of production, carried on by customary methods, into socially combined and scientifically arranged processes of production.” (All quotes from Marx, Capital Volume III).

This centralisation accelerates accumulation and allows the creation of forces of production hitherto beyond the capacity of previous numerous smaller capitals, with Marx noting the example of the construction of railways in the 19th century.  These in turn add to the productive power of any particular capitalism, raising the standard of productivity required by any newly aspiring capitalist power; requiring it to match the already existing scale, division of labour and technology in order to successfully compete.  New capitalist enterprises or countries must aim to at least match this level of development in order to survive, even allowing for temporary protectionist measures it may adopt in then meantime.

The concentration and centralisation of production is but one aspect of the centralisation of capital, with capital in its money form also concentrated and centralised; through its expansion it becomes an enormous means for further development of production and accumulation.

As this accelerated accumulation becomes ever more powerful it heightens the contradictions of capitalism, including the elimination of smaller, or even larger, capitals by competitors, which becomes less and less acceptable to such capitals.

Cartels are formed that predetermine the level of production in order to support the prices and profitability of participating firms, and when even this is not enough socialisation goes further with the creation of monopolies.

“This is the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself, and hence a self-abolishing contradiction, which presents itself prima facie as more a point of transition to a new form of production.”

Marx notes that expropriation as the starting point of capitalism – through depriving of peasants etc. of their means of production by severing their ties to the land so that they must sell their labour power to capital – becomes the expropriation of other capitals and the creation of monopolies.

The scope and scale of capital no longer allows for the great productive powers created to be the product of individual capitals but the combined power of socialised capital.  The financial system becomes one mechanism through which this socialised capital is concentrated, centralised and distributed.

The scale of production – including huge monopolies – and the power of the financial system require the intervention of the state to secure and regulate their workings, while the monopolies and financial system in turn intervene into the state to defend and advance its collective and specific interests.

This socialisation of production comes more and more into contradiction with the appropriation of production by individual capitals and tiny class of capitalists at its apex.  The massive planning of huge companies with internal economies larger than many countries stands in contrast to the uncontrolled gyrations of the economy as a whole.  The product of socialised labour is inimical to capitalist appropriation of its product, resulting in greater or lesser, but nevertheless permanent, inequalities due to class distinctions. 

The socialisation of production continues today, reflected in the growth of the concentration and centralisation of capital in monopolies and growth of the capitalist state.  Even after decades of ‘neoliberalism’ that supposedly relegated the importance of the state, in the US government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product has reached around 40%, having been 34% in 1979 and 7% before World War I.

The expanding role of the state includes vital support for production as noted in the book of economist Mariana Mazzucato:

“Mazzucato lists twelve crucial technologies that make smartphones “smart “: (1) microprocessors; (2) memory chips; (3) solid state hard drives; (4) liquid crystal displays; (5) lithium-based batteries; (6) fast Fourier transform algorithms; (7) the internet; (8) HTTP and HTML protocols; (9) Global Positioning Systems (GPS); (11) touchscreens; and (12) voice recognition.  Every last one was supported by the public sector at key stages of development.” 

The extent of the concentration and centralisation of capital is recorded in a database of 37 million ‘economic actors’ from 194 countries (the Orbis 2007 marketing database reported on by New Scientist).  The socialisation of capital is illustrated by the 13 million ownership links involving ownership of shares etc. between these agents.  The study of these identified 43,000 transnational companies in 116 countries, plus an additional 500,000 other corporations and 77,000 individual shareholders to which the transnational corporations have direct or indirect ownership relations.  A core of 147 firms controls 40% of the value of the transnational corporations while 737 companies or individuals control 80%.

Such integration is also illustrated by the chance that any two firms in the S&P 1500 US stock market index will have a common owner holding at least 5% per cent of shares in both is 90 per cent, up from around 20 per cent only twenty years ago (People’s Republic of Walmart

In another academic paper (from 2018) the authors find that:

“In the last two decades, over 75% of U.S. industries have experienced an increase in concentration levels. We find that firms in industries with the largest increases in product market concentration have enjoyed higher profit margins and more profitable M&A deals. At the same time, we do not find evidence of a significant increase in operational efficiency, which suggests that market power is becoming an important source of value.”  The paper thus appears as another example of the view that monopolisation is at variance with the essential operation of capitalism.

This growth of the forces of production has relied upon the development of the labour of the working class, even if its powers have been turned against it; illustrated by notoriously anti-worker companies such as Amazon that are to the fore in developing unheard of levels of planning in their operations.

Nevertheless, the growing concentration and centralisation of capital, with its increased planning and networking of production and distribution, makes the potential for the working class to control such forces manifestly easier.  As Engels notes in an addition to Volume III of Capital, when speaking of the chemical industry, “competition has been replaced in England by monopoly, thus preparing in the most pleasing fashion its future expropriation by society as a whole, by the nation.” 

Back to part 38

Forward to part 40

Irish Unity referendum: 50% + 1 < 50% – 1 ?

Jack O'Connor sets out his aims as new Labour Party chairman

The Irish press is full of news items and commentary on the possibility of a referendum on Irish unity and what a United Ireland might look like.  Fianna Fail and Fine Gael figures have ruminated on potential changes to the Irish flag and anthem to help accommodate unionists.

The national anthem – Amhrán na bhFiann – is usually taught and sung in Irish even though I believe it was originally written in English, and the Tricolour already has the colour orange to go with the white and green – to represent the peace and unity between Catholics and Protestants.  Unionists generally don’t speak Irish and they already have the national anthem and flag they want. ‘God save the Queen’ and the Union flag already suit them fine.

Irish Nationalist proposals regarding them are therefore really rather pathetic. Of more substance are proposals of political compromises that, for example, would allow the retention of British citizenship and of a Stormont Assembly with certain powers covering the current six-county area of Northern Ireland.

If it is not true, on this particular score, that unionists have already got what they want, it is only because many have not fully reconciled themselves to the current power sharing arrangements in the existing Stormont.  The DUP sends copies of the Good Friday Agreement to the President of France to inform him that Northern Ireland is inside the UK, but doesn’t inform him that the DUP opposed the agreement because they thought it was a route out of it.

More fundamentally, Unionists would not be Unionists if they would accept such power sharing as a definite minority in a unitary Irish State, something which they delight in pointing out.

So, when it was reported that Jack O’Connor would give a speech saying that there should be a guarantee that there will be a significant number of unionist ministers in any government formed in a united Ireland there might be a tendency to dismiss it as more of the same rubbish.  This time, for a socialist, this is not the case, since O’Connor was making a May Day speech and invoking the name and politics of James Connolly:

“It is imperative that we, who are informed by the legacy of Connolly, intervene to counsel against any proposition that a vibrant sustainable democracy can be constructed on the basis of a sectarian headcount, most especially one which results in a ‘50 per cent plus one’ conclusion.”

“Such a result would present the very real danger of a reversal into the ’carnival of reaction’, which he correctly predicted would accompany partition, to the power of 10.”

This is an extraordinary claim that is not supported by any evidence or argumentation that I have seen.  For it to be true Irish Unity would have to be accompanied by thousands of sectarian killings; the arming of thousands of Catholic paramilitaries by the state; the gerrymandering of political boundaries and systematic discrimination against Protestant workers on an enormous scale.  These workers would have to face massive intimidation and denial of basic civil rights for this prediction to be true.

Where does O’Connor think such a programme will come from and who does he think would support and carry it out?

It is not necessary to have illusions in the Irish State or in the existence of Catholic sectarianism in order to argue that this is nonsense.  We do not face a repeat of the effects, times ten, of the original partition through creation of a united Ireland.

On the contrary – just like the original – once again any violence that is threatened will undoubtedly come from loyalism, and what will matter is its strength and any potential support for it from the British state or elements of it.  This was the predicament 100 years ago and it remains so.

Of course, it is less of a problem today, given the growing weakness of unionism and potential disinterest within the British State in supporting any loyalist resistance to what would be a vote for unity within the North.  But it is a problem to be overcome and not legitimised and thereby strengthened.

So O’Connor is not standing against any future ‘carnival of reaction’ but stands deflecting from the real threat of political violence that would exist in the event of a vote for unity; and standing behind acceptance of the continuing results of the existing carnival of reaction.  He thus retrospectively endorses the original gerrymander and the original sectarian headcount that Connolly did indeed predict would be ‘a carnival of reaction’.  Worse, what he suggests is a continuation of politics based on it, as he must if he advocates the continuation of superior rights to be accorded to unionism.

This he also does by proposing a guarantee that any new constitution “should specify a significant minimum requirement in terms of the number of unionist ministers and the proportion of cabinet seats they would occupy, so as to avoid any suggestion of tokenism.”

No such guarantees are suggested for Irish nationalist representation, or any section of it, or representation by workers’ parties.  He might think the former doesn’t need it or that the latter shouldn’t have it but both considerations apply to unionism.

Unionism shouldn’t have it because it is simply a concession and legitimation of sectarianism that pumps life into what should be a dying political movement, and it doesn’t need it because unionism would indeed be a dying movement, one that should be left to expire.

Any worker’s leader should have recognised a long time ago that unionism has been based on sectarianism and could only claim disproportionate political representation in a united Ireland on the same grounds.

It has already been pointed out than unionism in the Southern State after partition 100 years ago had no future, despite the distinct political interests of Southern Protestant Unionists in the new confessional Free State.  There was no future in hoping for a return of British rule which would then have required enormous force to impose.  Whatever remaining economic and social privileges that still persisted for Protestants in the new state were left to wither or were really a result of class privileges.

In time many Protestant citizens in the Southern state became indistinguishable in their national allegiance from the rest of the population.  The growing secularisation of popular opinion in the Irish State provides no grounds for believing that a new eruption of Catholic sectarianism faces Protestants in a unitary state.  In such circumstances a policy of sustaining the powers of unionism would serve not to eradicate sectarianism but to sustain it.

If this unionist political representation had any real effect on Government and state policy it would most likely be reactionary and anti-worker, although it seems that the interests of workers are the furthest thing from O’Connor’s mind.  It would lay claim to political allegiance based on religion, which would prompt resentment and opposition in the rest of the population.  If it had no effect on state policy it would be a promise to unionism betrayed and thus satisfy no one.

O’Connor thinks 50% + 1 is undemocratic but won’t say what result would be.  He is left with the unfortunate view that 50% -1 is the greater mandate.

BBC, DUP & Brexit

BBC's Andrew Marr slammed for 'poor research' on Brexit NI Protocol -  BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

In last weekend’s Marr show the  BBC rallied behind those Brexit forces, which would appear to be almost all of them, who still can’t get their head around the idea that you can’t leave the EU without consequences and that these consequences are not a punishment but actually what they voted for.

This time it was the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Edwin Poots, who was allowed to forget that it was his Party that had helped deliver Brexit and in a form that didn’t allow Northern Ireland to join with the rest of the UK in its new relationship with the EU.  Such a deal, as proposed by Theresa May, was opposed by the DUP as insufficiently Brexity.

Marr appeared to labour under the impression that the Northern Ireland Protocol is solely the EU’s baby and not a joint production with the British Government. Perhaps to be regarded as another one of Boris Johnson’s unrecognised children?

One even had sympathy with the EU representative who had to respond politely to the ignorant and repeated interruptions of Marr, including the latter’s injured innocence that the EU should seek to take legal action against the British for breach of their legal obligations under the Protocol.  Not for him the previous obvious and hardly avoidable observation that – for the DUP – it was “arguably your political incompetence that got you here.”

Marr pushed the incoherent unionist argument that they were so offended by the very temporary suggestion of the EU to invoke Article 16 of the Protocol in order to amend its operation that this was what was required, this time by the British Government.

While sarcastically referencing the ‘sacred’ Single Market, the one Brexit supporters want out of but also to enjoy its benefits, Marr pointed to an opinion poll in Northern Ireland which showed that ‘48% hate the Protocol’.  

‘Hate’ of course is a strong word; was not quite what the question asked, and presumably must mean that while 48% ‘hate it”, 46% also ‘love it’.  The numbers are within the margin of error, and repeating the unionist assertion that speaks of the people of Northern Ireland as if it consisted solely of unionists, the other assertion of Marr – that ‘the people of Northern Ireland have lost faith in the Protocol’ – was hardly justified by the poll.

The BBC, through Marr, appeared to adopt the view of unionism encapsulated in such mottos as ‘we are the people’ and ‘our wee country’, which may be properly understood as ‘WE are the people and ‘OUR wee country’.  That the majority in Northern Ireland voted against Brexit is ignored as unionism, and now the BBC, considers that the rights of the majority of unionism takes precedence.

But perhaps the BBC is also registering something else, which is the evolving strategy of its master – the British Government.

At the beginning of the year the incoherence of unionist rejection of the Protocol led the DUP leader Arlene Foster to point to its benefits (as the alternative to futile opposition).  Unionist hostility spoke of changes to the Protocol.  Now this opposition demands its complete removal.

A large part of this hardening of position derives from the encouragement of the British Government, in a cynical attempt to play the Orange card and support its own policy of seeking changes but not complete abolition.

Of course, British opposition is mainly motivated by the attempt to create leverage elsewhere in UK-EU relations and not any particular priority allotted to the North of Ireland.  So, when it is reported that ‘a senior ally of the Prime. Minister’ says that the Protocol is “dead in the water” this is simply playing to the gallery, in this case just after Lord Frost and the Tory Secretary of State had met loyalist paramilitaries represented by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC).

Similarly, Poots’ total opposition puts forward, as an alternative, checks on goods in other locations within Northern Ireland “including the ports.”  This however rather undermines his argument that the level of such checks makes them impossible and doesn’t carry any weight when it is to the checks themselves that is the objection.  The promise of any such alternative is about as trustworthy as a promise from Boris Johnson. 

Unionists want the Protocol destroyed and the British Government would like it filleted for other purposes.  Neither are acceptable to the EU.

The increased legitimacy given by the British Government to the paramilitary front organisation is illustrated by its providing a platform to the LCC at a Westminster Committee hearing, allowing a teenage loyalist to make the statement that he stands by previous remarks that “sometimes violence is the only tool you have left.”

That the Orange card is being played is made abundantly clear when the Tories reveal that the 12th July has been “privately set” by David Frost for the easing of Protocol checks.  The culmination of the loyalist marching season is now aligned with deadline for acceptance of the demands of the British Government.

Such recklessness by the Tory regime passes right over Andrew Marr’s head, while he accuses the EU of endangering the peace process.  He denigrates the EU Single Market, but is unwilling even to raise the question whether the vast majority of European States constituting the EU is going to roll over on account of teenage threats on behalf of criminal gangs; the pronouncements of creationist politicians, or as a result of the perfidy of the serial liars of the British Government.

Unionist opposition, backed by the British, may have hardened but the reality of their mistaken Brexit policy has simply compounded their frustration at their inability to push the peace process in a sufficiently rightward direction, a process many of them never supported in the first place.  As unionism has hardened it has also thereby divided.

The DUP is now irreversibly split down the middle.  The only question is what organisational from this division will take.  It is haemorrhaging support to the softer unionist Alliance Party and the even more uncompromising Traditional Unionist Voice.

It has attempted to protect one flank by making overtures to the loyalist paramilitaries in the LCC (by both sides of the current split) but this has proceeded to claims that the UDA has intimidated DUP members to support the new leadership.

The paramilitaries are themselves united in opposition to the Protocol but divided on everything else, so that what appear as marginal figures present as leading spokesmen of loyalist opposition.

On the other side of unionism, its moderate commentators denounce EU ‘intransigence’ while calling on it to protect Northern Ireland from the potential for unionism to finish off the Stormont Executive.  Unfortunately, the DUP has made promises in its opposition to the EU that it cannot keep and the EU has no interest in ensuring that they are kept.  The party may soon no longer be the largest political party or even the largest unionist party.

To expect the EU to capitulate to such a weakened and fractured opposition and a British Government flailing about for trade deals that won’t deliver is to live in an alternative universe.

The EU seeks to become a major political as well as economic power on the world stage.  It expects to be taken seriously by the likes of China, Russia and the United States.  Whatever ‘pragmatic’ changes it is prepared to make to the workings of the Protocol will not amount to accepting any significant risk to its Single Market. Such changes as are proposed will require the British Government to introduce all the measures agreed by it but not implemented.

The failing and weakening of the Good Friday Agreement institutions will continue as will the parallel confusion of unionism.  The Northern State will continue to hold together and no Irish unity referendum will come along soon to save everyone from the decay.  Out of all these processes it is ironically only the successful operation of the EU Protocol that promises some grounds for successful, if only temporary, stabilisation.

Capitalist cooperation and Socialism

Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism – part 38

recent book on how capitalism, through the socialisation of production, is preparing the ground for socialism makes a point made by many – that Marx left no blueprint for a socialist economy.

“Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels may have expertly described the political economy of the capitalist mode of production, but they left few specific descriptions of what their hoped-for replacement would look like.”

Not only is it just as well that they did, given the specific way capitalism has developed, but had they done otherwise it would have contradicted their view that socialism would be the creation of the working class, not the elaboration of ideas sucked out of the thumb of great thinkers.

In fact, the authors of the book do not repeat the error of others, who rebuke Marx for not leaving a ready-made solution, because their book is all about how modern capitalism provides the foundation for socialism (as Marx first described in his critique of the political economy of capitalism).  As the great man said, the task of socialists is only to make workers conscious of what is going on in front of their eyes in order to move forward.

Their criticism of lacking a blueprint is made more against the Bolsheviks in 1917, but then the Russian empire did not have the preconditions for socialism.  The development of the socialisation of production possible under socialism, made possible by prior capitalist development, wasn’t achievable because the latter’s development was insufficient. Other more advanced capitalist powers could not assist because they did not also succumb to revolution.  The fault was not in the heads of the Bolsheviks or the gaps in their programme but the gaps in reality between what existed and what had to be achieved.

The socialisation of production under capitalism that paves the way for socialism can be considered in a number of aspects – the concentration and centralisation of capital and production, created by the increase in cooperative labour arising from the expansion of the division of labour.  The first two provide the grounds for the fully cooperative labour of socialism just as the increase in cooperative labour has entailed centralisation and concentration.

As Engels said, quoted in the previous post, “Before capitalistic production . . . the instruments of labour – land, agricultural implements, the workshop, the tool – were the instruments of labour of single individuals, adapted for the use of one worker, and, therefore, of necessity, small, dwarfish, circumscribed. But, for this very reason they belonged, as a rule, to the producer himself.  . . . But the bourgeoisie . . . could not transform these puny means of production into mighty productive forces without transforming them, at the same time, from means of production of the individual into social means of production only workable by a collectivity of men.”

The point of socialism is for these means of production to become not only the product of the labour of the collective worker but also to come under its ownership and control.

Capitalism, properly speaking, only really begins with this enlarged scope and scale of production.  As Marx writes in Capital Volume 1:

 “Capitalist production only then really begins, as we have already seen, when each individual capital employs simultaneously a comparatively large number of labourers; when consequently the labour-process is carried on an extensive scale and yields, relatively, large quantities of products. A greater number of labourers working together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you will, in the same field of labour), in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically, the starting-point of capitalist production.”

Marx notes that: 

“When numerous labourers work together side by side, whether in one and the same process, or in different but connected processes, this form of labour is called co-operation . . . Not only have we here an increase in the productive power of the individual, by means of co-operation, but the creation of a new power, which is intrinsically a collective one.”

It is this collective economic power that must become conscious of its role and its interests, which necessarily must entail political consciousness.

Of course, with this development of capitalism, it is capital which combines the many workers, the social labour, that makes cooperation the productive force that it is, requiring greater and greater amounts of capital with person(s) whose sole role it is to wield this capital.  The technical division of labour is subsumed within a social division of labour marked by an increasingly hierarchical division of power between owners, Directors, managers and workers, within which there are other numerous lesser gradations of division.  Cooperative labour thus presupposes a capitalist class that grows in power as the scale of cooperative labour also grows.

This class performs the necessary tasks of directing, superintending and adjusting the performance of this cooperative labour.  This class also imposes the discipline and domination of labour which unavoidably arises, and suppresses the resistance that workers instinctively feel in response to external discipline and control.  Capitalist ideology then identifies the necessary role of direction of cooperative labour with the capitalist and its role of domination.  It does this even when the individual capitalist owner has been replaced by Directors and senior managers who might however be ‘incentivised’ by share options etc. and thus see a material basis for their role of enforcing the requirements of capital.

How easily this is done is demonstrated by Marx when he says that “it is not because he is a leader of industry that a man is a capitalist; on the contrary, he is a leader of industry because he is a capitalist.”

This ideology does not grant that the cooperative workers might carry out the direction of their labour themselves.  Marx quotes the ‘philistine’ Spectator magazine, unfortunately still with us, saying of workers’ cooperatives that:

“They showed that associations of workmen could manage shops, mills, and almost all forms of industry with success, and they immediately improved the condition of the men; but then they did not leave a clear place for masters.” As Marx says – ‘Quelle horreur!’.

The individual workers are only in the workplace because capital has employed them to be there and directs and controls their actions.  Their collective power appears as the power of capital and the capitalist and/or management.  While they understand that they do not ‘belong’ to either they also understand that they only perform their work because they have been hired to achieve both the objective of the company and the means to achieve it, neither if which is theirs.  This alienates them from their work and is a barrier to their understanding that their labour, like that of the rest of the working class, is the collective foundation of all production, and this being the case, they should both direct and control it.

Again, Marx notes the confusion created: that the power of cooperative labour created by capitalism is not seen as a particular form of such labour but only as the power of capital and its system. Capitalism is nevertheless necessary to bring this particular power of social labour into the world – “the capitalist mode of production is a historically necessary condition for the transformation of the labour process into a social process . . .”

Of course, cooperation has been a feature of all human society and often comes to the fore in particular circumstances, such as natural disaster, giving the lie to crude propaganda that people are naturally or spontaneously selfish or greedy.  Only the capitalist mode of production however raises this cooperation to unprecedented scope and sophistication and does so regardless of the subjective motivations of individual members of each class. 

It is capitalism which brings about the socialisation of production through increased division of labour allowing the concentration of capital, the application of machinery and development of large scale industry, requiring the most developed cooperation to make it work.

The ideologues of capitalism constantly assert the virtue of competition in its creation but fail to acknowledge and recognise the associated requirement for cooperation.  At best they seek to determine the limits of cooperation to within firms, in order to assert the primacy of competition in relations between them, but which even here is only partially true.

The unacknowledged role of cooperation can often be seen in references to Adam Smith’s famous pin factory, which required no new techniques or technology but simply required a single worker to devote herself to one of the eighteen tasks required to make a pin, as opposed to each worker completing all of them.  Where previously 200 could be made in one day by ten workers, this specialisation allowed production of 28,000 pins in a day.

No pin was therefore the product of a single worker, so we cannot measure output by adding up the number created by each worker as we would have before.  Labour has become a social activity requiring the cooperation of each worker so that every pin is wholly the product of all.

When we consider the incredible division of labour today, in order to create such things as cars, ships and computers, it has extended beyond a single workshop to a division of labour between thousands if not tens of thousands of production sites across the globe.  Even ‘simple’ commodities, that are usually taken for granted in the most advanced countries, are the product of tens of thousands of factories and offices.  Water requires treatment works, which requires cement, steel, computers and chemicals etc., which each require their own enormous separate production processes.  Electricity requires power stations and wind farms with thousands of separate components and an electricity transmission and distribution system to deliver it.

All these elements involve a massive division of labour both within production units and between them.  We can no longer even conceive how any of this could be the product of one worker or even single group of workers.

Such is the achievement of capitalism in creating the collective worker.  Its socialisation of production requires the cooperation of millions of workers across the globe, yet rather than unite to advance this cooperation to the benefit of all those involved we have drummed into us that we must compete with each other.  Not to develop the best products or techniques, but to crush and kill off competitors and potentially destroy the jobs of others.

As the division of labour has advanced so has the necessity for cooperation and so are the preconditions for socialism more and more established; all driven by capital’s own thirst for surplus value and profit.  The full potential of such cooperation can only be realised through its conscious extension by all those involved in the process of production, distribution and consumption, and the political arrangements that preside over it.  All aspects of it, including competition, then become the conscious and purposeful activity of the collective worker.

Back to part 37

Forward to part 39

The preconditions for socialism

Utopian socialism, such as this imagined image of Robert Owen’s short lived utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana was based on ideas. Karl Marx’s was based on existing reality and its development.

Karl Marx’s Alternative to Capitalism – Part 37

Marx said that “new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.”  (1859 Preface). So what are these material conditions that must have matured?

We have already seen that these involve sufficient development of the forces of production so that society is potentially productive enough to abolish the inequalities upon which class relations rest.  Such relations before the development of capitalism resided within and supported productive forces that hitherto could not be held in common, therefore providing the grounds for a class that owned the means of production and a class that did not.  In capitalism it is capitalists that own the means of production as private property, which is always the right to exclude others from ownership, and the working class that is so excluded. However, as we have also seen, capitalism provides the grounds to go beyond this division.

Ownership and exclusion in production necessarily entails ownership and exclusion of the products of that production, of consumption.  The growth in the mass of profit, distributed as profit of enterprise or as dividends, interest, rent etc. is obviously conditioned by ownership just as salaries and wages are also so conditioned.  The means of consumption cannot be equitably distributed because the ownership of the means of production entails ownership of what is produced. Insufficient development of production imposes constraints and restrictions on the distribution of consumption so that common ownership of the means of production is equally not possible.  

Such inequalities have developed historically through different forms of class society and utopian schemes to wipe the slate clean and impose a more equal society have been doomed to failure unless the material grounds for such equality can be created.  This involves a sufficient level of productivity of labour that everyone can have their consumption needs met, and that these needs can be developed without also developing gross inequalities in their distribution.

So what level is this?

While it is clear that pre-capitalist and early capitalist societies could not provide the grounds for common ownership of production and growing equality of consumption, it is also clear that capitalist development now offers such a prospect. ‘Clear’, not just because of the level of the productive forces already achieved in a growing number of countries but also because of the waste generated by capitalism and its potential for more rational organisation (and the fact that this more rational organisation is also taking place, albeit also disfigured by its own continuing capitalist irrationality).

It would however be unhistorical to state some absolute level, since needs develop historically as a function of the development of the forces of production which create them.  It is therefore the latter development that determines this level.

For Frederick Engels in ‘Anti-Dühring’ this level had been reached by the late 1870s:

“The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties – this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.”

The appropriation of the means of production is therefore key to the satisfaction of needs and its equitable distribution.  Appropriation by society as a whole, by its associated producers – the working class (those who work) – provides the grounds for the appropriation of the fruits of that production. 

As Frederick Engels again pointed out in ‘Anti-Dühring’:

“Before capitalistic production, i.e., in the Middle Ages, the system of petty industry obtained generally, based upon the private property of the labourers in their means of production; {in the country,} the agriculture of the small peasant, freeman or serf; in the towns, the handicrafts. The instruments of labour – land, agricultural implements, the workshop, the tool – were the instruments of labour of single individuals, adapted for the use of one worker, and, therefore, of necessity, small, dwarfish, circumscribed. But, for this very reason they belonged, as a rule, to the producer himself.”

“To concentrate these scattered, limited means of production, to enlarge them, to turn them into the powerful levers of production of the present day – this was precisely the historic role of capitalist production and of its upholder, the bourgeoisie. . . But the bourgeoisie . . . could not transform these puny means of production into mighty productive forces without transforming them, at the same time, from means of production of the individual into social means of production only workable by a collectivity of men.”

“The spinning-wheel, the hand-loom, the blacksmith’s hammer, were replaced by the spinning- machine, the power-loom, the steam-hammer; the individual workshop by the factory implying the co-operation of hundreds and thousands of workmen. In like manner, production itself changed from a series of individual into a series of social acts, and the products from individual to social products. The yarn, the cloth, the metal articles that now came out of the factory were the joint product of many workers, through whose hands they had successively to pass before they were ready. No one person could say of them: “I made that; this is my product.” 

Capitalism has thus developed the forces of production in such a way that they can be appropriated by society as a whole; in fact it has started this process itself:

“On the one hand, therefore, the capitalistic mode of production stands convicted of its own incapacity to further direct these productive forces. On the other, these productive forces themselves, with increasing energy, press forward to the removal of the existing contradiction, to the abolition of their quality as capital, to the practical recognition of their character as social productive forces.” 

“This rebellion of the productive forces, as they grow more and more powerful, against their quality as capital, this stronger and stronger command that their social character shall be recognised, forces the capitalist class itself to treat them more and more as social productive forces, so far as this is possible under capitalist conditions. The period of industrial high pressure, with its unbounded inflation of credit, not less than the crash itself, by the collapse of great capitalist establishments, tends to bring about that form of the socialisation of great masses of means of production which we meet with in the different kinds of joint-stock companies.”

“Many of these means of production and of communication are, from the outset, so colossal that, like the railways, they exclude all other forms of capitalistic exploitation. At a further stage of evolution this form also becomes insufficient: the official representative of capitalist society – the state – will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. This necessity for conversion into state property is felt first in the great institutions for intercourse and communication – the post office, the telegraphs, the railways.”

“If the crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces, the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies and state property shows how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist are now performed by salaried employees. The capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital. At first the capitalist mode of production forces out the workers. Now it forces out the capitalists, and reduces them, just as it reduced the workers, to the ranks of the surplus population, although not immediately into those of the industrial reserve army.” 

“But the transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces.” 

Of course, legions of socialists are able to see capitalism as wholly reactionary, of being in decline and permanent crisis while failing to recognise that through these crises and renewed periods of accelerated accumulation capitalism continues to play the role of preparing for socialism in this ‘positive’ fashion.

They sometimes make the further mistake, inconsistent with their first, that state ownership is not only positive in this sense but progressive in the sense of being the germ of socialism that only needs to continue its growth.  This is best summed up in demands to nationalise the top monopolies or whatever capitalist enterprise is currently failing.

But as Engels immediately goes on to say in Anti-Dühring:

“The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers – proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.” 

So the technical elements of the material conditions for the new superior relations of production have matured within the framework of the old society.

This leads Marx to say that:

“This result of the ultimate development of capitalist production is a necessary transitional phase towards the reconversion of capital into the property of producers, although no longer as the private property of the individual producers, but rather as the property of associated producers, as outright social property” (Capital Vol 3 Chapter 27)

Capitalism is thus transitional to socialism but this is also, like capitalism before it, the creation of human beings, and not just human beings as agents of some disembodied socialisation of capitalism.  For Marx, ultimately these material conditions require workers themselves being agents of socialisation of production and agents of political change that guarantees the new relations of production.

Future posts will look at this working class agency but the next posts will look in more detail at the socialisation of production and how it heralds the potential of socialism.

back to part 36

Forward to part 38

The Internationalism of Capital and Class

Karl Marx’s Alternative to Capitalism – Part 36

Whether we like it or not, the development of the capitalist mode of production has shaped the working class, its organisation and its movement.  It has done so in ways that, in a more or less immediate fashion, assists or retards the organisation of the working class.

In general, however, it is the argument of Marxism that the increasing socialisation of capitalism gives rise to a materially strengthened working class that needs to become conscious of its objective role, and of the potential alternative arising from it that reflect its objective interests.  In all these aspects the process is international, a global one that brings workers of the world together more and more and which must make conscious this mutual dependence through international organisation. 

So today we should be asking ourselves – would the increasing organisation of capitalism on an international basis, today called globalisation, not also be the grounds upon which the working class created should unite? Would workers unity across Europe be assisted or hindered by the increasing international organisation of European capital and its associated political development?  Would workers unity be easier or harder if faced with more and more similar economic, social and political conditions, including laws, institutions and common enemy?  In other words, for example, inside or outside the EU?  Does accepting the international development of capitalism not provide the basis to also organise workers internationally so that the EU similarly can be ultimately replaced by a workers’ alternative?

Far from ‘cosmopolitan’ workers, immigrant workers, young employees of tech firms, working class students who have travelled, part time ‘precariat’ workers etc. etc. being neglected, or worse, in the name of a ‘traditional working class’; these working class fragments are products of the constant reformation of the working class that has always been generated by capitalism and from which previous components of the working class movement have been built.

Only those who want to divide the working class will seek to pose this working class against a separate working class that is supposedly more authentic.  In some countries this ‘authentic’ class will be manual workers. In others those leftists professing such views will only have such workers as a historical reference, their movements in fact based on white collar state employees, for whom widespread state ownership is most congenial to their economistic view of socialism.

So, in digging up the commonplace notion – for a socialist – of internationalism it is not simply a question of ‘returning’ to Marx and Engels but of turning to face the development of contemporary capitalism through the understanding they gave of its laws of development.  This allows us to orient to the political choices, challenges and perspectives that face us.  It is necessary to quote Marx and Engels etc. in order to convey their general approach and remind those who consider themselves Marxists of what this was, while attempting to convince those who do not of its relevance. 

Marx and Engels explained in the fragments of their studies that have become known as ‘The German Ideology” that:

“ . .  this development of productive forces (which at the same time implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise, because without it privation, want is merely made general, and with want the struggle for necessities would begin again, and all the old filthy business would necessarily be restored; and furthermore, because only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established, which on the one side produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the “propertyless” mass (universal competition), making each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally puts world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones.”

“Without this, 1) communism could only exist as a local phenomenon; 2) the forces of intercourse themselves could not have developed as universal, hence unendurable powers: they would have remained home-bred “conditions” surrounded by superstition; and 3) each extension of intercourse would abolish local communism. Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with them.”

While we can question the precise meaning of the demand for “simultaneous” and “all at once” acts to establish communism, it is clear that it can only be the product of international struggle and international success, while it can only be posed given a high level of the productive forces that can only exist at a global level.

“Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historical task and justification of capital. This is just the way in which it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production. (Marx, Capital Vol. 3 Chapter 15).

‘The productive forces of social labour’ is the working class and the mass of fixed and circulating capital it works with.  These must be international so that they can reach the required level that makes a new society without the ‘old filth’ possible.  This therefore means that the relations of production also exist within an international framework, that capital and the working class are both international.  You cannot have international forces of production and purely national relations of production.  Globalisation is not therefore something from without but is a creation within capitalist development, including of its capitalist and working class.

This existence as an international class is not simply a question of workers having a political consciousness of their solidarity with the workers of other countries; consciousness of this as with anything else must reflect their material existence and not simply the apprehension of liberating ideas.  Marxists don’t believe that ideas in such a form can be generated simply out of people’s heads or from accepting the entreaties of others.  They must come out of their lived experience, or as is put in the paragraphs above – it must come from workers who are already ‘empirically universal beings’ and not merely ‘local’ ones.

Since such workers must exist within capitalism in order to overthrow it, its overthrow is not in the first place something to be taught to workers by socialists through ideas, propaganda or programme.  As we all know, the current system is oppressive and exploitative, but just as we need capitalist development before socialism can be a real possibility, so we need this capitalism to be international in scope and organisation before we can expect the working class equivalent.

This means, since the state reflects the dominant form of property relations, that the political organisation of international capitalism will also be oppressive.  However, to believe that we can have international production relations without capitalism seeking international political bodies is obviously wrong, which is why belief that we must destroy such institutions to go back to purely national ones is not only mistaken but reactionary.

The traditional reformist programme of most of the Left, adopted by many calling themselves Marxist, has no traction in these conditions.  Taxation of corporations for example, or of the wealthy, cannot be carried out on a purely national basis.  The current programme of Joe Biden and the OECD recognises what the Left does not – that this can only be carried out internationally.  Without this the resources required by the state to carry out the redistribution of income championed by this reformist perspective becomes impossible.

The idea that socialism is grounded on state ownership is equally adrift from the reality of international capitalism.  The role of multinationals and their operation in many countries with their global production and supply chains, makes seeking any sort of meaningful control at a national level impossible.  Seizing authority over one link does not give control of the whole chain.  At most it is simply destructive of this international division of labour: an ironically appropriate result of a programme that some may consider anti-capitalist but which is not thereby socialist.

The international development of the forces of production does not therefore give rise to merely historical theoretical questions but determines the potential for, and general perspective of, socialism.  Marx of 150 years ago has more to guide us than many of today’s left that claim his legacy.

Back to part 35

Forward to part 37

The International Organisation of the Working Class

Stating that Marx’s alternative to capitalism is an internationalist one should hardly be controversial were it not for the history of the movement laying claim to his legacy.  Unfortunately, this history includes ‘socialism in one country’ a la Soviet Union; national ‘roads to socialism’; ‘anti-imperialism’ that champions those opposed to (mainly) US imperialism but excuses its opponents regardless of their anti-working class character, not forgetting support for such reactionary projects as Brexit.

Quite happy (most of the time) to recognise that only capitalism creates a working class; that this has involved the organisation of workers in large factories (and now offices etc.) and that therefore that the shape of the class is determined by the particular shape of capitalism at any time or place, these ‘followers’ of Marx will oppose the EU and support Brexit despite the internationalisation of capitalism laying the groundwork for an international working class and therefore the potential for creation of an international movement.

The internationalism of Marxism should mean that opposition to national division of the working class is a cardinal principle, reflected in the history of the organisation of the Marxist movement, and as a precursor of the movement of the working class itself and the social system it seeks to create.

The First International, which Marx played such a vital role in, sought to organise the working class internationally and, despite its coalition of many political tendencies, established a political legacy much of which is applicable today.  It has been argued that this international movement had its basis in the particular nature of the working class, or at least a part of it, created by the stage of capitalism achieved at that time:

‘If we ask: what were the social bases of this International—and of the wave of popular urban insurgency in 1848—the answer is pretty clear. They did not lie in any factory proletariat, but overwhelmingly in a pre-industrial artisanate. This was a class in possession of its own means of production—tools and skills; which enjoyed high levels of literacy; was typically located close to the centre of capital cities; and, last but not least, was geographically mobile—a mobility symbolized by the famous tours of young apprentices within or beyond their own countries. In 1848 there were some 30,000 German craftsmen in Paris—Heine said you could hear German spoken on every street corner; in London, Marx and Engels were writing their Manifesto for German artisans working in England; Berlin had its scattering of Polish or Swiss craftsmen, Vienna of Czechs or Italians.’

This is, of course only partially true, as the International also had representation from British trade unions but it is much truer of the German workers’ movement in the 1848 revolution.

The Second International succeeded in building a mass working class movement on the back of a common expansion of capitalist industry, at least in parts of Europe, but its destruction by war was not just a reflection of the betrayal of a leadership that had abandoned Marx’s revolutionary politics, it also faithfully reflected the nationalist ideas that dominated the vast majority of the working class.  Since we understand that ideas are derived from the material reality of workers’ lives, we can see the basis of the dual character of working class consciousness in workers’ solidarity within the nation state offset by weakness of its equivalent at the international level.

The consciousness of being workers led not only to militant trade union consciousness and limited political consciousness but also nationalism that reflected the mainly national character of the capitalism that existed at that time; national capitals that were in rivalry and competition with other national capitals and states, which dragged their workers behind them.

The Third International regrouped the most militant and politically radicalised workers repelled by their common suffering in the world war, the experience of shared austerity and political reaction following it, and by the example of the Russian Revolution.

The isolation of the Russian revolution led to its degeneration, a degeneration experienced by the Third international as a whole, which became isolated from the rest of the working class movement.  The isolation of the Third International objectively needed to be repaired – the working class movement could not achieve its aims divided. One attempt was the policy of the united front, the unity of Social Democrat and Communist workers, which was an acknowledgement that a socialist programme was impotent without a working class to fight for it.

The division reached its tragic nadir when both stood separate in front of the rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany.  The defeat led to no regeneration of either Social Democracy or the Third International and both eventually ceased to exist for any practical purposes.

Many of those who continued to defend Marxism rallied to what became many versions of Trotsky’s Fourth International but these too became evidence of the paucity of programme separated from the working class.  The world-wide capitalist boom after World War II was not the grounds upon which a movement singularly fixed on the immanence of political revolution could build a mass organisation, except in displacing its hopes onto non-socialist revolutionary upheavals.

It can be no surprise that the degeneration of the Second and Third Internationals into nationalist and statist conceptions of socialism reflected the growth in the number of, and the role of, capitalist states in capitalism, or that this too infected many currents of the Trotskyist movement.  It too was a product of the capitalism in which it lived; reflected in its transfer of hope to the ‘third world’ and its ‘national liberation’ struggles, and accommodation with the growing role of the capitalist state through preaching nationalisation, state redistribution and general Keynesian policies as all key elements of the socialist programme.   It reached further extension in support for left-talking Latin American regimes that rely mainly on state mobilisation and support for Brexit or various ‘progressive’ nationalisms such as Scottish separation or Catalan independence.

In all these cases the Left has rallied behind what Marx called a ‘transitional form’ of the capitalist mode of production in which the ‘antagonism’ contained in the private ownership of the means of production is ‘resolved negatively.’ So, while its demands may be an advance on private capitalism, its demand for nationalisation is not a demand to positively overcome capitalism but to bring its forms of ownership more into line with its increasing socialisation. However, because such transformation of ownership does not supersede capitalism but merely extends its development those claiming it is socialist leave themselves caught up in unresolvable contradictions, such as demanding widespread state ownership as well as destruction of the same state.

However, even this programme increasingly became an ossified relic of 1930s protectionism and internationally agreed national-level capital controls.  As capitalist accumulation grew in Europe and further afield these controls were subverted by the changing role of the US dollar and relative US industrial decline.  The capitalist state itself, led by Britain and the US, led the way in openly deregulating and de-nationalising control of money capital while structures like the EU pointed the way to international industrial restructuring and a new international currency.  Freedom of movement, across the EU for example, opened up an important route by which an international component of the working class could grow and influence its wider national sections, undermining nationalist division.

State ownership became a step backward from the growth of global companies and the increasing international division of labour that lay behind these developments.  Much of the left however clings to the capitalist state as potential saviour and finds itself tailing behind various political expressions of the petty bourgeoisie, whether supporters of Brexit or of other fractions seeking new avenues for their advancement in the bureaucracies of newly created states.

State ownership is not a call to the working class to impose its own resolution to the antagonism of the property question through workers’ ownership as one preliminary step towards the whole economy becoming the activity of the working class constituted as the ‘associated producers’.  It reflects an increasingly outmoded mode of capitalist development for which an outmoded nationally limited socialist programme is redundant. It was not Marx’s alternative 150 years ago and there is even less reason to consider it one today.

Back to part 34

Forward to part 36