State support for the workers?


Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 45

The first premise to the rules of the First International, written by Marx in 1864 as the first clause, was that ‘the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves . . .’

In 1882 Engels in London wrote to the German socialist August Bebel:

‘The development of the proletariat proceeds everywhere amidst internal struggles and France, which is now forming a workers’ party for the first time, is no exception. We in Germany have got beyond the first phase of the internal struggle, other phases still lie before us. Unity is quite a good thing so long as it is possible, but there are things which stand higher than unity. And when, like Marx and myself, one has fought harder all one’s life long against the alleged Socialists than against anyone else (for we only regarded the bourgeoisie as a class and hardly ever involved ourselves in conflicts with individual bourgeois), one cannot greatly grieve that the inevitable struggle has broken out.’

One such famous internal struggle was against the draft programme of the United Workers’ Party of Germany. The Critique of the Gotha Programme is a document based on a letter by Marx written in early May 1875 to the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany (SDAP), with whom he and Engels were in close association. 

The Critique, published after his death, was among Marx’s last major writings and is named after the proposed platform for the new united party to be created at the forthcoming congress, to take place in the town of Gotha. At the congress, the SDAP (“Eisenachers”, based in Eisenach) planned to unite with the General German Workers’ Association (ADAV), followers of the deceased Ferdinand Lassalle.

The Eisenachers sent the draft programme for the united party to Marx for comment. He found it negatively influenced by Lassalle, whom Marx regarded as an opportunist, and Marx’s response offers perhaps his last extended summary on programmatic strategy.

In a letter to Wilhelm Bracke, Marx states that “After the Unity Congress has been held, Engels and I will publish a short statement to the effect that our position is altogether remote from the said programme of principle and that we have nothing to do with it.’  Describing it as a ‘thoroughly objectionable programme that demoralises the Party’, he vowed not to ‘give [it] recognition, even by diplomatic silence.’ 

The document discusses numerous questions but it is particularly useful in presenting Marx’s views on strategy before working class conquest of political power, including the two questions at issue in our latest posts – on the cooperative movement and the role of the state.

It should be noted that Marx was not against socialist unity but did not support the abandonment of political principle in order to achieve it:

‘If, therefore, it was not possible — and the conditions of the item did not permit it — to go beyond the Eisenach programme, one should simply have concluded an agreement for action against the common enemy. But by drawing up a programme of principles (instead of postponing this until it has been prepared for by a considerable period of common activity) one sets up before the whole world landmarks by which it measures the level of the Party movement.’

Marx prefaced these remarks by saying that ‘every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes’, and he undoubtedly saw the cooperative movement as involving just such steps.  Following the experience of the Paris Commune just a few years before he had also learned lessons from the real movement of the working class in relation to the role of the state.

The offending paragraph of the proposed united German Party stated:

‘The German Workers’ party, in order to pave the way to the solution of the social question, demands the establishment of producers’ co-operative societies with state aid under the democratic control of the toiling people. The producers’ co-operative societies are to be called into being for industry and agriculture on such a scale that the socialist organization of the total labour will arise from them.”

Marx notes sarcastically that:

‘Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of transformation of society, the “socialist organisation of the total labour” “arises” from “state aid”; that the state gives to the producers’ co-operative societies and which the state, not the workers, “calls into being”. It is worthy of Lassalle’s imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway!’

He goes on, quoting the programme’s own words:

‘Second, “democratic” means in German “Volksherrschaftlich” [by the rule of the people] But what does “control by the rule of the people of the toiling people” mean? And particularly in the case of a toiling people which, through these demands that it puts to the state, expresses its full consciousness that it neither rules nor is ripe for ruling! . . .  The chief offense does not lie in having inscribed this specific nostrum in the program, but in taking, in general, a retrograde step from the standpoint of a class movement to that of a sectarian movement.’

The socialist scholar Hal Draper has argued that ‘Marx’s objection to the “state aid” nostrum was not to “state aid” per se but to its place in the programme.’  What it had become in the hands of their ex-leader Lassalle was ‘a universal panacea’ and substitute for a rounded programme because the programme had no other socialist plank within it.  The state-aid plank was already in the existing Eisenachers’ programme but only as one of many measures.  On its own the demand was acceptable as part of a larger strategy as Engels argued:

‘that the universal panacea of state aid should be, if not entirely relinquished, at any rate recognised . . . as a subordinate transitional measure, one among and alongside of many other possible ones.’

But not as the strategy as a whole, which would make the working class dependent on state support: in effect with the same sort of result as today’s demands for widespread ‘public ownership’ and ‘nationalisation’; plus much of the approach to state redistribution of income. 

Draper turns the issue into an aspect of Marx’s support for reforms but not for reformism; a question of what place reforms have in the programme, and not of reforms being assigned a certain all-encompassing role as the be-all and end-all.  He also notes that holding up this single point in the programme is sectarian – holding aloft a particular demand that differentiates the Party from the working class movement.  An approach that does not seek to marry the understanding of socialists to the real struggles of the working class and its organisations.

Marx goes on to say in his Critique:

‘That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not proteges either of the governments or of the bourgeois.’

So, it is not the case that the Party’s support for workers’ cooperatives could routinely and always supplement support with calls for state assistance, rather in the way that today nationalisation is often accompanied with the call for ‘workers’ control’; but that such state support can be acceptable and may not on its own invalidate the workers’ efforts.  However – ‘they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers.’

This need for independence of the workers from the state is highlighted in the following section of the Gotha Critique, beginning by him quoting the programme that ‘according to [section] II, the German Workers’ the party strives for “the free state.” 

Marx says of this that:

‘Freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it; and today, too, the forms of state are more free or less free to the extent that they restrict the “freedom of the state.”

‘The German Workers’ party—at least if it adopts the program—shows that its socialist ideas are not even skin-deep; in that, instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases.’

This reminds us of Engels’ remark in an earlier post that the state represents society and the conclusion we drew that ‘In each case the state represented those classes that owned and controlled the means of production (at least of the social surplus), so that the capitalist state defends the ownership of the means of production of the capitalist class.  The analogous role of the workers’ state is not to direct and manage its own ownership of the means of production but to defend the ownership by the working class of the means of production.’

For Marx ‘the whole programme, for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the Lassallean sect’s servile belief in the state . . .’

The Critique of the Gotha Programme, published after his death, was among Marx’s last major writings but at the time German socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht, who supported the unity initiative, attempted to censor his criticism.  Only in 1891, after threats by Engels, was the Critique published.  Much of today’s Marxist movement gives every indication that this censorship was, in fact, successful.

Back to part 44

The role of the workers’ state

Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 44

In the previous post we noted that state ownership appeared an inevitable progression of the capitalist mode of production and could be read as a tendency to complete its development, with ‘the partial recognition of the social character of the productive forces forced upon the capitalists themselves. Taking over of the great institutions for production and communication, first by joint-stock companies, later in by trusts, then by the State. (All quotations from Engels’ Socialism Utopian and Scientific)

Such an outcome would not be socialism as some political tendencies might suggest with their programmes for widespread nationalisation: ‘the transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces.’ 

The state guarantees (including ownership in many cases) of the financial system after the financial crash in 2008 illustrated almost perfectly the growing role of the state in supporting the whole constitution of the existing mode of production.  The world-wide assumption of guarantees of employment and business survival during the Covid-19 pandemic has confirmed this.  It is unfortunate that rather than highlight this, much of the left has called for even greater state intervention, further sowing illusions in its potentially progressive role.

So, if Engels made it clear that capitalist state ownership is not socialism, a second question was nevertheless raised: is ownership by a workers’ state socialist even if ownership by the capitalist state is not?

Engels says: ‘Whilst the capitalist mode of production more and more completely transforms the great majority of the population into proletarians, it creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced to accomplish this revolution. Whilst it forces on more and more of the transformation of the vast means of production, already socialized, into State property, it shows itself the way to accomplishing this revolution. The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production into State property.’

So, it would appear that the seizure of the means of production by the workers’ state constitutes the decisive opening of the road to socialism, and some form of state socialism may indeed be the genuine article. (Although the wording here is rather peculiar, for while capitalism more and more transforms the ‘vast means of production . . . into state property’ the proletariat through its revolution is to turn it ‘into state property’–to complete the transformation?)

Except Engels immediately goes on to say this:         

‘But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinction and class antagonisms, abolishes also the State as State. Society, thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the State. That is, of an organization of the particular class which was, pro tempore, the exploiting class, an organization for the purpose of preventing any interference from without with the existing conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage-labour).’

‘The State was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. But, it was this only in so far as it was the State of that class which itself represented, for the time being, society as a whole: in ancient times, the State of slave-owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, the feudal lords; in our own times, the bourgeoisie.’

‘When, at last, it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a State, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the State really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a State.’

‘State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The State is not “abolished”. It dies out.  This gives the measure of the value of the phrase: “a free State”, both as to its justifiable use at times by agitators, and as to its ultimate scientific inefficiency; and also of the demands of the so-called anarchists for the abolition of the State out of hand.’

How do we avoid the conclusion that what is being proposed is that upon the socialist political revolution the new workers’ state that has gained ownership and control of the means of production through that revolution begins to disappear?  Does this mean workers should struggle to enormously expand the power and scope of the state only in order for it to then more or less rapidly shrink and disappear?

To jump straight to a conclusion–the alternative is not to demand state ownership under capitalism, or to seek it under a workers’ state, but to struggle for workers’ ownership, that is for cooperative production by the working class and this ownership and control to encompass the whole economy.

It is the workers organised as producers that represents ‘society as a whole’, as required by Engels, and which can ‘openly and directly take possession’ of the productive forces and manage them, not any sort of state.  Even a democratic workers’ state is an organised body of repression separate from the working class; any other definition simply mistakes what a state is.  Whatever legal and administrative arrangements required to maintain the collective ownership of individual productive forces will either require a minimal role for the state or none at all, e.g. to prevent the alienation of particular productive forces owned by the class as a whole.

Capitalism has so developed the intellectual and social powers of the working class that it can direct the economy without capitalists; provided we do not stupidly restrict definition of the working class in such a way that it excludes its most educated layers, for example because they are normally significantly better off in terms of income than many other workers.

If we read Engels he speaks of ‘the State of that class which itself represented, for the time being, society as a whole: in ancient times, the State of slave-owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, the feudal lords; in our own times, the bourgeoisie.’

In each case the state represented those classes that owned and controlled the means of production (at least of the social surplus), so that the capitalist state defends the ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class.  The analogous role of the workers’ state is not to direct and manage its own ownership of the means of production but to defend the ownership by the working class of the means of production.

Only upon these grounds can the class nature of society be radically changed such that, as Engels argued, the working class abolishes itself and all classes and in so doing abolishes the state.  It makes no sense to believe that the state through its ownership of the forces of production will employ its political power to abolish itself, including its direction of society’s productive powers.

Socialism is not the granting of the productive powers of society to the working class by any sort of benevolent state.  In Engels terms, the workers’ state can more and more be the representative of society under socialism to the extent that it disappears, reflecting the disappearance of classes themselves.

The socialist political revolution is the capture of political power by the working class in order to defend, and to extend, its social gains as the rising class in society, with its own ownership and control of society’s productive powers central to this.  The struggle for workers’ cooperatives is the most direct way to make this a reality under capitalism, as both ideological and practical example of the power of the working class to create a new society.

Such a view is consistent with the other expressed views of Marx and Engels, including ‘seizing the means of production by society’, which we shall review in the next post.

Back to part 43

Forward to part 45

Socialism from the State

Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 43

Most organisations declaring themselves to be Marxist offer little or no role to the development of worker cooperatives as part of their programme. In one sense this is surprising given the striking declarations of Marx on their importance.  In another way it is not so unexpected.

The road to socialism was much debated in the 19th century with a number of currents putting forward a leading role for the state, including in sponsoring cooperatives.  Since that time the state has grown enormously, including for reasons that Marx and Engels set out. Its  prominence has often been obvious in less developed capitalisms where its role in industrialisation has been more direct from the start of its development.

The misplaced role for the state now current among socialists (nationalisation, income redistribution, state welfare etc.) arises as a reflection in ideology of the massively increased economic and social power of the state within capitalism, and the weight of that ideology transmitted into Marxism through social democracy and Stalinism.  All these have been too powerful in their effect on weak Marxist currents.  When we appreciate the ideological influence of the Russian revolution, the dominance of the idea of socialism as an expression of state power is unsurprising.

For this reason, it is important in setting out Marx’s alternative to capitalism to address not only what he positively advocated but also what he fought against, and one of his recurring battles was against the idea of some of his contemporaries that socialism would issue from the state.  Against this he also had to address the views of anarchism, which argued that the state could quickly be abolished.

Given the hold that this ‘state socialism’ continues to have on a wide variety of socialist and generally ‘left’ opinion, it is therefore necessary to set out Marx and Engels’ views on the role of the state in the creation of socialism.  In doing so we will leave aside the actual experience of attempts to implement such a view in the 20th century and will come back to some aspects of these in future posts.

As we have seen, the development of the socialisation of production lays the grounds for collective ownership of the means of production by the working class.  This socialisation is expressed through the development of joint stock companies, workers cooperatives and state ownership, following the concentration and centralisation of capital.

Capitalism is therefore a transitional form to socialism but it is necessary to understand the forms of this transition and their unfolding.  It is therefore not the case that because state ownership is one of the most developed forms of capitalism, and therefore of transition, it is by this fact also an early form of socialism.

In ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’ Frederick Engels sums up the historical evolution of capitalism – from medieval society to capitalism – and the contradictions that lead to proletarian revolution:

‘Partial recognition of the social character of the productive forces forced upon the capitalists themselves. Taking over of the great institutions for production and communication, first by joint-stock companies, later on by trusts, then by the State. The bourgeoisie demonstrated to be a superfluous class. All its social functions are now performed by salaried employees.‘

Proletarian Revolution — Solution of the contradictions. The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialised means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property. By this act, the proletariat frees the means of production from the character of capital they have thus far borne, and gives their socialised character complete freedom to work itself out. Socialised production upon a predetermined plan becomes henceforth possible. The development of production makes the existence of different classes of society thenceforth an anachronism. In proportion as anarchy in social production vanishes, the political authority of the State dies out.’

This formulation leaves open the view that seizure of the mean of production by the state – once itself seized by the working class – removes them as forms of capital, becomes the form of socialisation under the rule of the working class, and initiates their employment as means of satisfying the needs of the vast majority of society.  The same proposition appears in Anti-Duhring, from which the short pamphlet is derived.

In an earlier section of  ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’ Engels addresses the Marxist view of the state in the transition to socialism by noting the planning that is involved in the development of Trusts and monopoly:

‘. . . with trusts or without, the official representative of capitalist society — the state — will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. [4] 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.’

In the footnote within this passage Engels states that:

‘4. I say “have to”. For only when the means of production and distribution have actually outgrown the form of management by joint- stock companies, and when, therefore, the taking them over by the State has become economically inevitable, only then — even if it is the State of today that effects this — is there an economic advance, the attainment of another step preliminary to the taking over of all productive forces by society itself.’

‘But of late, since Bismarck went in for State-ownership of industrial establishments, a kind of spurious Socialism has arisen, degenerating, now and again, into something of flunkyism, that without more ado declares all State-ownership, even of the Bismarkian sort, to be socialistic. Certainly, if the taking over by the State of the tobacco industry is socialistic, then Napoleon and Metternich must be numbered among the founders of Socialism.’

‘If the Belgian State, for quite ordinary political and financial reasons, itself constructed its chief railway lines; if Bismarck, not under any economic compulsion, took over for the State the chief Prussian lines, simply to be the better able to have them in hand in case of war, to bring up the railway employees as voting cattle for the Government, and especially to create for himself a new source of income independent of parliamentary votes — this was, in no sense, a socialistic measure, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Otherwise, the Royal Maritime Company, the Royal porcelain manufacture, and even the regimental tailor of the army would also be socialistic institutions, or even, as was seriously proposed by a sly dog in Frederick William III’s reign, the taking over by the State of the brothels.’

This footnote makes clear that Engels did not regard ownership by the capitalist state, often now euphemistically called public ownership, to be any sort of socialism.  As he goes on to say in the main body of the text:

‘But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists.’

‘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.’

He goes on to say that ‘This solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the harmonising with the socialised character of the means of production. And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces which have outgrown all control, except that of society as a whole.’

This ‘open and direct’ taking into possession cannot be by the state since this is a separate machine apart from the class.  Engels follows up the above remarks by stating that the productive forces that ‘work in spite of us, in opposition to us, so long they master us . . .  when once their nature is understood, they can, in the hands of the producers working together, be transformed from master demons into willing servants.’

The tendency for the state to more and more take over production is therefore posited as the dynamic development of capitalism and not of society ruled by the working class.  The state is not the true representative of society, a point made very early in Marx’s political development, and is as Engels says: ‘essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital.’

So, if capitalist state ownership does not mean socialism, what does it mean for ‘society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces’, a phrase repeated by Engels a number of times.  How is to be done and once done does ownership by the new workers’ state mean socialism?

Back to part 42

Forward to part 44

Marx against cooperation?

Ernest Jones

Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 42

The Inaugural Address to the First International in which Marx expressed support for workers’ cooperatives, and the 1859 Preface to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, were both political interventions into the working class movement by the ‘Marx party’, understood as a current of thought in the broader working class movement rather than a separate centralised organisation.  The idea that the strong views expressed by Marx in support of cooperatives in the Inaugural Address were a concession to the Owenites and Proudhonists in the International is not credible and requires implausible arguments to dismiss, what are for some, quite uncongenial views.  However, as we noted in the previous post, the Address was not the first occasion when Marx expressed support for them, if previously at one remove.

In Volume 11 of Marx and Engels Collected Works the editor has a footnote to two articles nominally written by the English Chartist leader Ernest Jones. In it he says that:

“In 1851 the Chartist weekly Notes to the People published two articles by Ernest Jones, the editor, on co-operation: “A Letter to the Advocates of the Co-operative Principle, and to the Members of Co-operative Societies” (No. 2, May 10, 1851), and “Co-operation. What It Is, and What It Ought to Be” (No. 21, September 20, 1851). They were written at a time when especially close, friendly relations had been established between Marx and Engels on the one hand and Ernest Jones, the Left-wing Chartist leader on the other.”

“Marx and Engels constantly helped Jones in his fight for the revival of Chartism on a socialist basis, in his propaganda campaign and his work as publisher and editor of the Chartist papers . . . .  On November 4, 1864 Marx wrote to Engels the following: “I happened to come across several numbers of E.Jones Notes to the People (1851, 1852) which, as far as economic articles are concerned, had been written in the main points under my direction and in part even with my close participation. Well! What do I find there? That then we conducted the same polemic—only in a better way—against the co-operative movement, since in its present narrow-minded form it claimed to be the latest word, as ten to twelve years later Lassalle conducted in Germany against Schulze-Delitzsch.” 

The editor declares that the articles by Jones and the replies by a Christian socialist “show clearly the difference between the viewpoints of the Christian socialist and the proletarian revolutionary. The former saw the aim of the co-operative movement in distracting the workers from the class struggle and called for the collaboration of hostile classes and the reconciliation of their interests.” 

“Jones, supported by Marx, emphasised that from the viewpoint of the workers’ liberation struggle peaceful co-operation had no prospect and that under capitalism workers’ co-operative societies could not exist for long; they would not withstand competition on the part of big capital and would go bankrupt, or else they would turn into purely capitalist enterprises deriving profit from exploiting workers. The decisive condition, Jones said, for the workers’ co-operative societies to be really of use to the working class was that the latter win political power in order to reorganise the existing system in the interest of the working people.” 

“Of Jones’ many articles on co-operation the two mentioned at the beginning of this note are included in this volume because they most vividly reflect the influence of Marx’s views on Jones and show clearly that Marx in fact took part in writing them.” (Collected Works Volume 11) p. 57 

The spin by the editor would leave the impression that Marx, through Jones, was an opponent of workers’ cooperatives and that their existence was merely a prelude to the conquering of political power.  Their character, as described by Marx in the Inaugural Address to the First International, demonstrates a quite different view of their significance and prompts a wholly different reading of the articles.

Far from seeking to minimise their significance Jones argues, as does Marx in the Address, that they should be expanded.  As to the overall approach to their contemporary advocates Jones says that he writes as “the real friend of co-operation” and that:

“I am not the enemy of co-operation, but its friend—its true friend—I do not oppose co-operation, but wish to rescue it from that course, in which it is digging its own grave.”

He notes that the objectives of cooperation are to “destroy profitmongering. . . put an end to competition and . . .  to counteract the centralisation of wealth” but that in its present form it fails in all of these:

In the second article he states that

“Therefore, the present plan is not true co-operation; it is essentially hostile to the spread of associated labour; instead of ending profitmongering, it renews it; instead of abolishing competition, it recreates it; instead of abrogating monopoly, it re-establishes it, and is the death-blow to the hopes of labour’s emancipation.”

In the first he argues that “. . .  the co-operative system, as at present practised, carries within it the germs of dissolution, would inflict a renewed evil on the masses of the people, and is essentially destructive of the real principles of co-operation. Instead of abrogating profitmongering, it re-creates it. Instead of counteracting competition, it re-establishes it. Instead of preventing centralisation, it renews it—merely transferring the rôle from one set of actors to another.”

“Let us reflect, what are the great canal-companies, joint-stock companies, banking companies, railway companies, trading companies—what are they but co-operative associations in the hands of the rich?”

But, he states, “here again I admit that co-operation on a sound basis is salutary, and may be a powerful adjunct towards both social and political emancipation.”

“Then what is the only salutary basis for co-operative industry? A national one. All co-operation should be founded, not on isolated efforts, absorbing, if successful, vast riches to themselves, but on a national union which should distribute the national wealth. To make these associations secure and beneficial, you must make it their interest to assist each other, instead of competing with each other—you must give them unity of action, and identity of interest.”

Jones ends the first article by saying that “I have given the difficulties in the way of the co-operative movement—not with a view to discouragement—but that by seeing the dangers, we may learn how to avoid them.”

In the second article he explains a bit more what is meant by this:

“People imagine if a few individuals co-operate together to start a trading concern and make as much money as they can, that this means co-operation in the real sense of emancipated and associated labour.

Nothing of the sort! If that were so, every railway, banking, or shipping company would realise the true principles of co-operation.

By co-operation, a very inadequate word, by the way, we mean the abolition of profitmongering and wages-slavery, by the development of independent and associated labour. But this can be established only on the basis of the following principle already laid down in this article.’

No man has a right to take more from society, than the value of that which he confers upon it.”

In the first article the watchword is “Nationalise Co-operation”; not in the sense of seeking state ownership, but the extension of cooperatives to national dimensions through seeking their growth and development, not through competition with each other but through cooperation.  The further development of economic relations today requires that the corresponding demand would be to call for the extension of cooperation on the international level.

“This is co-operation. It is co-operation, because it establishes a community of interest—the success of each “branch” furthers the success of every other, and of the whole collectively. There can be no conflicting interests—no rivalry—no competition—for the greater the success of each undertaking, the more the stability and permanency of the whole is ensured”

The argument by Jones, and through him by Marx, is not that the conquest of political power is not vital but that cooperation would strengthen the unity and power of the working class and make it better able to resist the attacks of the capitalist class by the state.  It does not reduce the importance of the conquest of political power but illustrates the necessity for it to protect and advance the cooperative power of the associated producers, the working class.

Many of today’s Marxists understand none of these points, but on the contrary, routinely argue that the state that is the enemy of the growing power of the working class should be hailed as its benefactor, so that instead workers ownership should be discarded for the objective of state ownership!  Such is the degeneration of political understanding of much of today’s Marxist movement. 

Back to part 41

Forward to part 43

Marx and the “victory of the political economy of labour”

Meeting to mark the 200th birth anniversary of Karl Marx

Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 41

Nothing illustrates the difference between Marx’s view of how the capitalist system could be superseded and replaced by a society under the rule of the working class, and the view of most modern ‘Marxists’, than the role of workers’ cooperatives in their respective social and political programmes.

For Marx, they provide the material conditions upon which workers themselves become the agents of socialisation of production and agents of political change.  The revolution that achieves working class emancipation is not just political but social, one in which the relations of production are fundamentally transformed and in which the fetters on the forces of production are broken.  Since all this does not arise ex nihilo on the morrow of the revolution, from where else does it arise?

Marx is often criticised for not providing a blueprint of ‘what socialism would look like’ or ‘how it would work’, but for him the answer to these questions arises already within capitalism, in fact through its development its beginnings appear before our very eyes.  There is no point in speculating on what is not there or on future general arrangements beyond what is already developing.

‘We do not anticipate the world with our dogmas but instead attempt to discover the new world through the critique of the old  . . . This does not mean that we shall confront the world with new doctrinaire principles and proclaim: Here is the truth, on your knees before it! It means that we shall develop for the world’s new principles from the existing principles of the world. We shall not say: Abandon your struggles, they are mere folly; let us provide you with true campaign-slogans. Instead, we shall simply show the world why it is struggling, and consciousness of this is a thing it must acquire whether it wishes or not.’ (Marx to Ruge)

So the alternative already grows within capitalism and the working class must become conscious of it:

‘They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!’ (Marx, Value, Price and Profit)

“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”

“After the failure of the Revolution of 1848, all party organizations and party journals of the working classes were, on the Continent, crushed by the iron hand of force. . .  All the efforts made at keeping up, of remodelling, the Chartist movement failed signally; the press organs of the working class died one by one of the apathy of the masses, and in point of fact never before seemed the English working class so thoroughly reconciled to a state of political nullity. If, then, there had been no solidarity of action between the British and the continental working classes, there was, at all events, a solidarity of defeat.”

“And yet the period passed since the Revolutions of 1848 has not been without its compensating features. We shall here only point to two great factors”.

“After a 30 years’ struggle, fought with almost admirable perseverance, the English working classes, improving a momentaneous split between the landlords and money lords, succeeded in carrying the Ten Hours’ Bill . . . This struggle about the legal restriction of the hours of labour raged the more fiercely since, apart from frightened avarice, it told indeed upon the great contest between the blind rule of the supply and demand laws which form the political economy of the middle class, and social production controlled by social foresight, which forms the political economy of the working class. Hence the Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class.”

“But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the workingmen’s experiments tried on the Continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.”

“At the same time the experience of the period from 1848 to 1864 has proved beyond doubt that, however, excellent in principle and however useful in practice, co-operative labour, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries. . . To save the industrious masses, co-operative labour ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means.”

“Yet the lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defence and perpetuation of their economic monopolies. So far from promoting, they will continue to lay every possible impediment in the way of the emancipation of labour .  .  .  . To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes. They seem to have comprehended this, for in England, Germany, Italy, and France, there have taken place simultaneous revivals, and simultaneous efforts are being made at the political organization of the workingmen’s party.” (Marx, Inaugural Address of the International Workingmen’s Association)

Thus, Marx’s support for workers’ cooperatives is best known for its inclusion in the political foundations of the First International, but this was not the first or only occasion in which he expressed such views, which serves to rebut the idea that his support was somehow forced upon him as a concession to the other disparate forces within the International.  And what again is sometimes held up as a disadvantage — that he could not set out his ideas without constraint and in full scientific explanation — is also of some advantage, in that he had to speak to workers in a language that they would most easily understand.

The Inaugural Address to the First International has therefore been partially dismissed on similar grounds to those by which the 1859 Preface to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ has been heavily criticised.  Such criticism must be rejected for very much the same reasons as we have set out before.

The Preface of 1859 was part of a book that was seen as a publication of the ‘Marx party’, understood as a current of thought, as a broad political movement, and as a political statement:

Writing to Lassalle on 12 November 1858 he wrote that:

“I have a twofold motive for not allowing this work to be spoiled on medical grounds:

1. It is the product of 15 years of research, i.e. the best years of my life.

2. In it an important view of social relations is scientifically expounded for the first time. 

Hence I owe it to the Party that the thing shouldn’t be disfigured by the kind of heavy, wooden style proper to a disordered liver.”

Writing a few months later to Weydemeyer he stated that “I hope to win a scientific victory for our party.”

Back to part 40

Forward to part 42

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

Forward to part 41

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.