Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Politics And Programme Of The First International - Part 2

Limitation of the working day

A preliminary condition, without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation must prove abortive, is the limitation of the working day.

It is needed to restore the health and physical energies of the working class, that is, the great body of every nation, as well as to secure them the possibility of intellectual development, sociable intercourse, social and political action.

We propose 8 hours work as the legal limit of the working day. This limitation being generally claimed by the workmen of the United States of America,'40 the vote of the Congress will raise it to the common platform of the working classes all over the world.

For the information of continental members, whose experience of factory law is comparatively short-dated, we add that all legal restrictions will fail and be broken through by Capital if the period of the day during which the 8 working hours must be taken, be not fixed. The length of that period ought to be determined by the 8 working hours and the additional pauses for meals. For instance, if the different interruptions for meals amount to one hour, the legal period of the day ought to embrace 9 hours, say from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., or from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., etc. Nightwork to be but exceptionally permitted, in trades or branches of trades specified by law. The tendency must be to suppress all nightwork.

This paragraph refers only to adult persons, male or female, the latter, however, to be rigorously excluded from all nightwork whatever, and all sort of work hurtful to the delicacy of the sex, or exposing their bodies to poisonous and otherwise deleterious agencies. By adult persons we understand all persons having reached or passed the age of 18 years.

Its necessary to ignore the rather sexist or at least patronising tone of the last section given the time it was written. The section follows rationally from the previous one in that it uses the evidence of working hours in the US, as the basis of demonstrating that such a demand could be conceded by Capital. That is also another aspect of Marx's political method. In the Grundrisse he had set out how Capital, in its need to expand, and because of its continual drive to reduce the value of Labour Power by cheapening wage goods, is also led to expand the range of Use Values it produces and sells to workers, who increasingly form the majority of consumers. In other words, it is led by its own development to raise the living standards of workers, and this does not extend just to physical goods, it extends to things such as education and culture. He calls this Capitalism's “Civilising Mission”. No individual capitalist seeks to voluntarily raise their workers wages, but each wants the wages of the workers of other employers to rise so that those workers can buy more of their goods. It is a contradictory process, and the actual raising of wages arises through a combination of means including strikes, and the simple action of Supply and demand for Labour Power, particularly in periods of rapid Capital Accumulation. In short, what Marx calls the production of Relative Surplus Value, that is increased Surplus Value within the same duration of working day, as a result of increased Labour productivity, allows each capitalist to grant higher real wages, whilst at the same time increasing their profits through a higher rate of exploitation. The limit of how much those real wages can rise, however, remains constrained by the factors he outlined in his debates with Weston, that is the needs of Capital Accumulation, the ability of capital to introduce machinery, reduce investment etc. if wages rose beyond those limits.

“But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant. This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries.”

Value, Price and Profit

Marx, recognised that it was necessary for workers to engage in such struggles, because it was possible for capital to make such concessions, and if workers were not to degenerate, if they were to build up their resources then such struggles were essential. More than that, workers WERE engaging in such struggles, and if socialists were to take them forward, they had to support the workers in those struggles. But, he was at pains to point out that a) there were limits to what Capital COULD grant at any particular stage, and b) even where workers were succesful in winning such battles, it took them no closer to a fundamental change in society. On the contrary, it could in fact, tie them even closer to the existing social relations.

On the first point his writings above in Value, Price and Profit illustrate those limits within, which Capital could grant concessions. But, he did not restrict that analysis to just wage struggles, he extended it to what we would today refer to as the “Social Wage”. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx states,

“Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

He is speaking here about the fact that even in a socialist society inequality would exist, because choices would have to be made, and distributions would be on the basis of equality. But, as he says human beings are not equal. Some are stronger others weaker, some more, some less skilled. Equal distributions would, therefore result in inequality. Only a Communist Society, where abundance meant that the Law of Value no longer applied, where choices over the use of resources were no longer needed, could introduce real equality on the basis of the principle - “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

But, if that applies to a socialist society, it applies all the more to a capitalist society! And in the other parts of the Critique he makes that clear. He writes,

“"Equal elementary education"? What idea lies behind these words? Is it believed that in present-day society (and it is only with this one has to deal) education can be equal for all classes? Or is it demanded that the upper classes also shall be compulsorily reduced to the modicum of education — the elementary school — that alone is compatible with the economic conditions not only of the wage-workers but of the peasants as well?”


“A general prohibition of child labor is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish. Its realization -- if it were possible -- would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labor with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.”

And this last point is also significant for understanding Marx's method. In the programme of the French Socialists, which Marx and Engels formulated with Guesde, they included a number of these “Minimum” demands, which Marx believed Capital was quite capable of conceding, and which would benefit the workers. There was no difference essentially in such demands fought for by the class as a whole, as there was in sections of workers fighting for higher wages or better conditions. There was no point Marx believed in including within the programme demands that Capital could not concede just for the purposes of propaganda against the existing State. Guesde disagreed, he argued that by raising such demands, the workers would be led to lose their faith in the Capitalist State. It is the same logic that some Trotskyists put forward today in calling for the Capitalist State to do this, that or the other, not because they believe it will, but because they argue it will lead workers to lose their illusions in that State. Marx called such an approach “revolutionary phrase-mongering”, and it was in this connection that he made his famous remark that if their politics represented Marxism, “ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste” (“what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist”).

But, what Marx most certainly was not arguing here was that workers could count on the Capitalist State to act as their friend, or even to act impartially in implementing any of these demands. It was not a demand for the State to act on their behalf, but only a demand that it make a concession in the same way that an employer is forced to make a concession of a pay rise. It is merely a demand that rather than one Capitalist make a concession that ALL Capitalists make that concession. As Marx, puts it elsewhere in the Instructions,

“In enforcing such laws, the working class do not fortify governmental power. On the contrary, they transform that power, now used against them, into their own agency. They effect by a general act what they would vainly attempt by a multitude of isolated individual efforts.”

Moreover, the nature of the concessions are such as to enable the workers themselves to better organise, to better educate themselves, and so on. In that respect, these demands are no different than the demands for bourgeois freedoms. Socialists do not advocate a struggle for them, because they have any faith in them as a solution to workers' problems, do not suggest to the workers that having agreed to them, the Capitalist State will stick to them, but merely argue that they facilitate the workers struggle to really make significant changes, to overthrow the power of Capital. That is why he says,

“A preliminary condition, without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation must prove abortive, is the limitation of the working day.
It is needed to restore the health and physical energies of the working class, that is, the great body of every nation, as well as to secure them the possibility of intellectual development, sociable intercourse, social and political action.”

But, he also goes on,

“For the information of continental members, whose experience of factory law is comparatively short-dated, we add that all legal restrictions will fail and be broken through by Capital...”

and so on.

In other words there is no suggestion that even if the workers were to win such a concession they would not have to continue to struggle for its actual implementation. In Capital, Marx relates how the demand for a restriction of the working day did not just come from workers. Employers like Wedgwood petitioned for such a limitation, because they recognised that competition between employers had meant that voluntary agreements between them, broke down, as each tried to obtain an advantage. Yet, the working days of 18 hours and more, were destroying the very working class, which was the source of their profits! He also goes on to demonstrate that after the defeat of Chartism, and a period of reaction set in, with the workers weak, the existence of such legislation was meaningless, because the employers simply ignored it, and the State connived with them to do so. The simple lesson Marx gives is that although workers have to struggle for such concessions, they can offer no solution to the workers problems. They have to rely on their own strength, on their own “self-government”, and where possible on their own forms of property. The discussions within the First International, in its requests for information are replete with questions about whether workers in different countries had established Co-operatives as a solution to the repeated attacks of employers.

As Marx put it in “Value Price and Profit”,

“At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. 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.”

And, in line with that approach he had set out the relative importance he placed on things such as the Ten Hours Bill compared to the workers utilising these “social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society.” In his Inaugural Address To The First International he said,

“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. The immense physical, moral, and intellectual benefits hence accruing to the factory operatives, half-yearly chronicled in the reports of the inspectors of factories, are now acknowledged on all sides....

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.”

And, in the end the extent to which workers could improve their position vis a vis Capital was not determined by their ability to win such guerilla fights. Nor could it be improved by measures of so called redistribution through the Tax system. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, he says in relation to the first,

“Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of nonworkers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labor power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?” ,

and criticising the Lassallean notion of redistribution contained in the idea of a progressive Income Tax, he writes,

“That, in fact, by the word "state" is meant the government machine, or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labour, is shown by the words "the German Workers' party demands as the economic basis of the state: a single progressive income tax", etc. Taxes are the economic basis of the government machinery and of nothing else. In the state of the future, existing in Switzerland, this demand has been pretty well fulfilled. Income tax presupposes various sources of income of the various social classes, and hence capitalist society. It is, therefore, nothing remarkable that the Liverpool financial reformers — bourgeois headed by Gladstone's brother — are putting forward the same demand as the program.”

The struggle for reforms that Capital could concede was no different than those other “guerilla” fights that workers had to engage in from time to time. But, their importance could not be exaggerated. The ultimate goal was not the achievement of these reforms of the Minimum Programme, but the establishment of a Socialist Society as set out in the Maximum Programme. The bridge between the two was the increasing development of the workers “self-government” within Capitalist society, the utilisation of Credit and co-operative production, to bring about those real changes in distribution and the economic and social relations that went with them, and alongside that the political struggle of the Workers Party, defending and advancing the cause of the workers property from Capitalist attack.


Jacob Richter said...

You forget that the Programme of the French Workers Party contained three sections and not two. The section in the middle is the actual pre-ortho-Marxist minimum program, which basically says that the working class has to take power in order to achieve the goals established in the Preamble. In light of the Paris Commune, that section wasn't as complete as it should have been, but demands like freedom of class-strugglist assembly and association, suppression of the state debt, militias replacing the standing ground forces, and local control over the police are mentioned.

---There was no point Marx believed in including within the programme demands that Capital could not concede just for the purposes of propaganda against the existing State.---

I'm with Guesde on this one actually: "I am a Marxist." The difference between so-called "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and the Trotskyist TP is that there shouldn't be *too much emphasis* on measures such as these:

1) Eliminating information asymmetry by first means of establishing full, comprehensible, and participatory transparency in all governmental, commercial, and other related affairs;

2) Matching the transnational mobility of labour with the establishment of a transnationally entrenched bill of workers’ political and economic rights, and with the realization of a globalized and upward equal standard of living for equal work, thus allowing real freedom of movement through instant legalization and open borders, and thereby precluding the extreme exploitation of immigrants;

3) Legally considering all workplaces as being unionized for the purposes of political strikes and even syndicalist strikes, regardless of the presence or absence of formal unionization in each workplace;

4) Enabling the full replacement of the hiring of labour for small-business profit by cooperative production, and also society’s cooperative production of goods and services to be regulated by cooperatives under their common plans;

5) Abolishing all public debts outright, suppressing excessive capital mobility associated with capital flights, ending the viability of imperialist conflicts and not just wars as vehicles for capital accumulation, and precluding all predatory financial practices towards the working class – all by first means of monopolizing all central, commercial, and consumer credit in the hands of a single transnational bank under absolute public ownership;

6) Applying not some but all economic rent beyond that of the natural environment towards exclusively public purposes;

7) Establishing an equal obligation on all able-bodied individuals to perform socially productive labour and other socially necessary labour, be it manual or mental; and

8) Extending litigation rights to include class-action lawsuits and speedy judgements against all non-workers who appropriate surplus value atop any economic rent applied towards exclusively public purposes.

There is indeed a crucial divide between education and agitation, and the Trotskyist "transitional" method is on the wrong side of the divide.

---It is the same logic that some Trotskyists put forward today in calling for the Capitalist State to do this, that or the other, not because they believe it will, but because they argue it will lead workers to lose their illusions in that State.---

Well, that is admittedly the logic of the "state aid" theme in my lesser demands, most notably "the wholesale absorption of all private-sector collective bargaining representation into free and universal legal services by independent government agencies acting in good faith and subjecting their employees to full-time compensation being at or slightly lower than the median equivalent for professional and other skilled workers."

Boffy said...


Its all a matter of what you demand, and when (under what conditions) you demand it. I do not consider the TP itself "revolutionary phrase-mongering". As I pointed out in a letter to the WW a few weeks ago on this point, when Trotsky developed the TP, he thought he was still in a revolutionary situation - it was after all only 20 years since the greatest revolution in history, and the intervening period had hardly been quiet! Communist Parties still mobilised millions of workers, and there were millions more workers organised in Socialist Parties who he believed could be won over too.

The TP was designed as a programme for such conditions, workers with a high degree of class consciousness, mobilied, organised already struggling for reformist demands etc. It was designed to take them from that situation to the next stage. He thought the demands WERE achievable, but as they were achieved they would hieghten the conflict with a collapsing Capitalism, and would mean that this mobilised class would have to engage in developing its own forms to achieve them in conflict with bourgeois forms. The Workers Government becomes the pinnacle of that development the last stage before Workers are led to the conclusion that they have to take power directly.

The reason I believe that the demands of many Trotskyists today IS revolutionary phrase-mongering is because a)they don't seem to understand this historical context of the TP, and so demands such as the establishment of a Workers Government are ludicrously unconnected to the actual situation we are in b)other demands such as the Sliding Scale of Wages amount to nothing but reformist demands c) others such as Nationalisation under workers Control are either Utopian (the bosses are not going to concede such control) or actually reactionary, they are demands for workers to look to the bouregois state for solutions, and for that state to expand its scope and control ove them, and finally d) are purely propagandistic calling on that State to undertake these latter actions only for the purpose of saying to workers "look it won't do what we want"! Our task as marx shows in these posts is rather to put forward practical solutions that workers can develop themselves or can win from the bosses, which strengthen their position to wage the real struggle to transform property relations.