Karl Marx’s Alternative to Capitalism – part 34
The previous post argued that capitalism continues to develop the forces of production while at the same time, in a contradictory process, continuing to fetter their development. This process opens the road to a new society of completely socialised productive forces, or socialism. In order to reach it a certain level of development of the productive forces is necessary, which requires that this transformation take place internationally.
This is so because capitalism has long ago developed not only a world market but also, through the continuing socialisation of production, developed an international division of labour. It therefore follows that the development of socialism in any single country cannot be achieved from an inferior level of development and cannot do so on its own. While the overthrow of capitalism may first occur in a single country, the creation of socialism will face insuperable barriers and without further international development will fail.
Many analyses treat the development of the forces of production as a technological question or from a purely economic perspective, separate from consideration of class struggle or politics, divorced from the latter to the extent that they form a purely background enabling condition long since achieved. This arises partly from the influence of Stalinism, for which purely national roads to socialism are already part of the ‘theory’, and partly from those Trotskyists for whom this constraint is no longer strictly binding because of a one-sided application of the theory of permanent revolution, positing that the tasks of capitalist development may and can, rather unproblematically, be taken forward by a working class regime due to the weakness of native capitalism.
The theory of permanent revolution is taken to have relaxed somewhat the constraint on possible socialist progress at a purely national level, while the decades of capitalist development since its first elaboration have actually tightened the constraint on the potential evolution of a country separated from the capitalist international division of labour.
In this theory the development of productive forces must be considered as a whole, at the level of the world, and at this level capitalism is ripe for socialism. It is correctly recognised that for any revolution in a single country to survive it must spread. However, because this revolution is considered mainly in political terms the grounds for socialist revolution as a social transformation engendered by the social power of the international working class is not fully appreciated. The social power of the working class includes its role in the international division of labour, which provides the grounds for its political as well as economic unity, and is the basis for overcoming the much more uneven and volatile development of political struggles across the world that might otherwise leave working class political revolution isolated in a single country.
For many, socialist revolution is wrongly considered as implying that the task is simply one of destroying a system that is already historically decaying without consideration of the implications of its continuing development for a working class that is far from being able to impose its own solution. This approach believes that capitalism is declining in a historic sense, evidenced by economic crises and general stagnation, along with other pathological conditions that are all held to be derived from decline.
Such conceptions become a dogma that is a given, and within which every malignant social and political phenomenon is interpreted and becomes an example thereof and not as more or less endemic expressions of the system. While the laws of motion of the capitalist system discovered by Marx have produced results, ironically they are treated as if they no longer operate, which means his analysis in effect no longer applies. So capitalism is no longer considered to revolutionise society by developing the forces of production and, despite all evidence to the contrary, is conceived as being in stagnation or perpetual crisis. What we are left with is a dogmatic Marxism that ironically facilitates a political practice seemingly at odds with such an approach.
The effect is to reduce analysis to the level of immediate political struggle with an empirical approach to events. As all the fundamental factors for socialism are considered to already be in place it encourages short-termism and an opportunist approach. This does not necessarily mean that the wrong position is taken on any immediate political question but it does mean that even when the right one is taken it is not securely grounded.
If we consider the reality of the continued development of the international forces of production, we are forced to reject the nationalist perspectives of earlier left conceptions and their more recent expressions and inspirations.
For example, in this corner of the world there is no ‘British road to socialism’ and no way forward through attempts to constrain the dynamic of class struggle within national limits through a ‘left’ Brexit. There is nothing progressive about some sort of Scotland of a ‘common weal’ that is common only to a select nationality and which believes social equality can be created within the boundaries of this small European country. There can be no emancipation and liberation of the Irish working class – through pursuit of some mythical ‘real’ independence of the Irish nation in a Workers’ Republic – that is not part of a successful international revolution.
What all these have in common is that the international development of the forces of production makes all their struggles for national separation on supposedly progressive grounds utopian, and if they are utopian they will fail. Whether they apparently achieve short term political success or not doesn’t matter in the end, fundamental economic and social forces will crush their promises, although these promises will long be abandoned by its sponsors before this happens. The apparent victory of nationalism in the twentieth century and its defeat of its great ideological rival socialism hasn’t prevented the continuing International development of capitalism against which nationalist measures are impotent. Only an international political arrangement can adequately address the governance of an international economy as capitalism already acknowledges (through the IMF, WTO, UN, NAFTA, G10, EU, ASEAN, BIS, OECD etc.) and the only consistent International ideology and political programme is socialism.
If the Soviet Union could not develop a superior society to capitalism despite its size and resources, and if Britain cannot develop a superior capitalism to the EU, today bleeding from a thousand cuts that are barely reported, then the idea, for example, of Ireland or Scotland creating oases of social equality are fanciful.
The conditions for social equality cannot exist because the forces of production necessary for them, for socialism, must exceed the development of these forces under capitalism. The productivity of labour and the most advanced techniques of production must go beyond that currently achieved by capitalism through its particular socialisation of production at the international level. It is not a question of resisting and turning back what is now called globalisation but transforming the relations of production and the political determinations of these globalised productive forces.
The productiveness of any single country can no longer encompass all the goods and services considered as necessary consumption in the most advanced capitalist countries, in fact in all countries. Inferior productivity than the most developed capitalism will see workers in any isolated regime buy goods and services from capitalist countries, so undermining their own economy and empowering capitalist industry to out-compete it. It will see workers seek higher levels of living standards in capitalist countries, which their higher productivity delivers, by moving to these countries.
Only increased productivity can undermine the requirement for differential reward as an incentive to work, while this incentive will meanwhile exacerbate inequality. Whatever the intentions, or the more democratic relations of production in any progressive departure from capitalism, superior capitalist forces of production will destroy such a departure if based on a narrow nationalist basis. This is but a negative formulation of the earlier posts in this series emphasising the role of the forces of production determining – by bringing about, or in this case preventing – the development of new relations of production.
Of course, attempts at preventing all this can be made by administrative measures. By curbing the entry into the country of cheaper goods produced by the more advanced capitalist countries and by reducing the supply of their new products and services. By preventing investment in the country by capitalist firms and by restricting freedom to move to these countries of workers seeking a better life. But how would this be possible if this society is ruled by the workers themselves? How could they restrict their own freedoms if they are in charge?
These administrative measures would have to be imposed from without, and the mechanism for doing so is the state. Since some workers would already have partially bought into this – if the project they supported was to create a new and separate ‘progressive’ state – they might at least initially support sacrifices and restrictions on freedoms, while others would not. Those who would support them would seek reward for supporting the new state. Either by compulsion or reward the new ‘progressive state’ would generate its own inequality and its own restrictions of freedoms required to support this inequality – all in the name of progress and equality! We have seen this film before and we know how it ends.
It is more than unfortunate that this understanding of the grounds for socialism elaborated by Marx and Engels have to be argued for again today, rather than having been forgotten, ignored of wilfully distorted or rejected by many of their so-called adherents. The importance of internationalism and of embracing the interests of the working class as a whole was set out over 170 years ago:
“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.” (The Communist Manifesto)