Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 48
In the previous post I noted that Marx states that solving the problems thrown up by social revolution will be possible when the conditions are present or “in the course of formation” with the implication that if they are not present or insufficiently in formation they cannot be accomplished.
These tasks include the development of the forces of production and of the working class and its movement so that it takes into its own hands these forces. Only through the massive socialisation of production carried out by capitalism is it possible to make these forces the collective power of the working class. Individual production such as peasant holdings, guild production, or petty commodity production in general, cannot support collective ownership. In the terminology of the Preface of 1859, the new relations of production would not be appropriate to the forces of production.
The massive development of today’s socialised production could only come about through the huge accumulation of means of production and transport etc, which cannot now function without equal development of massive amounts of data and information. These have developed through accumulation of these means as capital by the capitalist class. This in turn is simply invested surplus value that could not have been accumulated without the massive growth in the exploitation of the working class.
All this entails certain characteristics that are important to understanding the prerequisites for socialist revolution, understood both in terms of the development of the productive forces, before and after the occurrence of working class political revolution, and for the political revolution itself.
The advance of the forces of production has involved the prodigious increase in the international division of labour with implications for their continuing development, and how they must develop further under working class control and direction. It also makes clearer than was the case in Marx’s time that political revolution by the working class cannot succeed on a purely national basis, something that would already be universally accepted had the working class movement succeeded in developing international organisation, which therefore remains a crucial task.
The existing forms of socialisation also inevitably involve enormous increases in the concentration and centralisation of capital, which assists the possibility and potential for collective ownership by the working class. This has necessarily involved an enormous increase in planning both within and between individual productive forces. Engels recognised this in his critique of the Erfurt Programme, when referring to paragraph 4 of that programme’s criticism of “the planlessness rooted in the nature of capitalist private production”
Engels suggested that this “needs considerable improvement. I am familiar with capitalist production as a social form, or an economic phase; capitalist private production being a phenomenon which in one form or another is encountered in that phase. What is capitalist private production? Production by separate entrepreneurs, which is increasingly becoming an exception.”
‘Capitalist production by joint-stock companies is no longer private production but production on behalf of many associated people. And when we pass on from joint-stock companies to trusts, which dominate and monopolise whole branches of industry, this puts an end not only to private production but also to planlessness.”
The opposition between capitalism and socialism is not therefore about a simple counter-position of market and plan, since development of the latter within capitalism also helps lay the ground for the new relations of production that define the new working class society. It is the class that rules, that carries out the planning and that determines its scope and character that makes the difference, not the existence of plans themselves.
This also means that whatever role market relations initially have in the transition to cooperative production – before and after political revolution – will arise from the existing planning within capitalism, its degree of development beforehand and the capacity to expand and advance it thereafter.
The material relations of production that herald socialism also therefore refer to the forms of ownership that exist before political revolution, that will serve to help bring it about as well as help progress its success thereafter:
“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.”
As Engels said in a letter to Bebel:
“Marx and I never doubted that in the transition to the full communist economy we will have to use the cooperative system as an intermediate stage on a large scale.”
It is not therefore simply a question of some quantitative development of the forces of production, which is the limited way that it is often considered, but the necessary characteristics of that development – including the social forms that it takes – that affect the sufficiency of the material preconditions for socialism and the associated requirements for successful political revolution.
So, Marx does not say that just because the forces of production have developed – to whatever level – the new society will emerge out of it. If it does not then it (the old society) may well continue to develop its forces of production. The creation of the new is a conscious act.
This is because it is the working class itself, as it is organised in production, that is the prime productive force, which comes into conflict within the prevailing relations of production, i.e. the class relations of subordination and exploitation, and which means the contradiction between the forces and relations is not a simple resolution in favour of the forces, as some bourgeois analysis might seek to contend. An early formulation by Marx appeared in the Poverty of Philosophy:
“For the oppressed class to be able to emancipate itself, it is necessary that the productive powers already acquired and the existing social relations should no longer be capable of existing side by side. Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself. The organisation of revolutionary elements as a class supposes the existence of all the productive forces which could be engendered in the bosom of the old society.”
In Value, Price and Profit Marx explains to workers that ‘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.’
Thus, the way the social forms of production have developed under capitalism are also part of the material circumstances that face the working class in its task of overthrowing and transforming it. This includes the international nature of the division of labour and of the classes necessarily based on it; the increased removal of the capitalist class directly from the greatest means of production with the substitution of professional and technical staff that shade into the working class; and the forms of socialised ownership arising, including development of its cooperative forms, which can all act as more direct preparation of the working class for its new role as master of society.
Marx presented no systematic view on how all these elements might come together just as he did not provide a blueprint about how the new society would be planned, as the latter grows out of the former and not from some prior schema. It has however been stated repeatedly that this would arise directly out of existing society and not from some invented first principles, whether that be a certain plan or state structure; especially as the latter must become subordinated to general society and not its master.
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