Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Social Revolution

The Social Revolution refers to a fundamental change in social relations whereby one social class rises on the basis of new productive relations to become the new ruling social class. The change in productive relations arises spontaneously, or as Marx puts it “behind Men's backs” as a result of changes in the productive forces.

For example, the low level of the productive forces led to the need for primitive Man to work collectively and co-operatively to produce to meet his needs via hunting and gathering. These collective, and co-operative productive relations lead to the development of appropriate social relations based upon them, i.e. to a society which is itself based on co-operation. As Man finds means of improving his productivity in accordance with the Law of Value, so as to produce more use values with less expenditure of labour-time, and thereby to meet more of his needs, so this change in the productive forces leads to changes in productive relations, which in turn bring about a social revolution.

The development of more tools and more elaborate tools, brings the possibility for individual families to meet their needs, and for these tools to become private rather than communal property, which can be inherited. Alongside the development of settled agriculture in place of hunting and gathering, this means that specific pieces of land can become private property in the ownership of particular families. In place of social relations based upon primitive communism, arising from common ownership, and communal property, the social revolution establishes social relations based upon private property. Once production is sufficiently developed to enable one person to produce more than is required for their own subsistence, this opens the door for slaves to be owned to supplement the production of individual families. New social relations are thereby established based on production relations flowing from slave owning.

The same kind of process can be seen in the development of feudalism, and feudal social relations based upon agricultural production, and the role of land as the most important source of wealth. And, as Marx sets out, within feudalism, the development of the productive forces leads to the introduction of capital into the productive process, and this process arising naturally from commodity-exchange leads to a greater amount of production being carried out on a capitalist rather than feudal basis, and the increased economic and social significance of a growing capitalist class, which is forced to confront the political opposition of the feudal ruling class, by its own political organisation, leading to a political revolution.

“The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class; division of labour between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labour in each single workshop...

We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange...

Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

The social revolution that results in the working-class assuming the role of ruling class is, for Marx no different. It proceeds via a number of stages. In the same way that capital had expropriated the petty producers of feudalism, so within capitalism, the development of the productive forces leads to the need for production to be undertaken on an ever larger, co-operative and more socialised basis. That means that the initial forms of Capitalism based upon the monopoly of private capitalist property become fetters on the further development of Capital. Those fetters are burst asunder by socialised forms of Capital in the shape of the Workers Co-operatives and the Joint Stock Companies. By this process, is carried out, within capitalism, “the expropriation of the expropriators”, which is a fundamental stage in the gradual transformation of the productive relations from capitalist to that of the associated producer.

“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. 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.”

Capital III

But, of course, the capitalist class will not simply allow its social position to be undermined without a fight. On the one hand, it seeks to limit the extent to which workers can act collectively within the Joint Stock Companies. For example, although today workers have around £800 billion invested via their Pension Funds, they are not allowed to exercise control over that Capital. On the other, capital acts to limit the extent to which the workers' co-operatives can be developed in opposition to capitalist property. For example, in the 19th Century around 90% of workers were members of Workers Friendly Societies that acted to meet workers welfare needs. Capital undermined this workers self-government via the establishment of Welfare States and National Insurance, that drained workers resources away. The workers are thereby led to utilise their other organisations such as the Trades Unions to defend their co-operatives, and to establish political parties to challenge the political attacks of Capital.

“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...

Mondragon Jobs Growth
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. Remember the sneer with which, last session, Lord Palmerston put down the advocates of the Irish Tenants’ Right Bill. The House of Commons, cried he, is a house of landed proprietors. 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.”

In other words, for Marx, as with previous societies, the proletarian social revolution, based upon the development of socialised, worker owned-property necessarily leads to a political struggle, which must be consummated by a political revolution, whereby the reality of working-class economic and social supremacy is reflected in the establishment of a working-class democracy. As with the political development of the bourgeoisie, this change is dialectical. In other words, in so far as the workers create within capitalism a new reality for themselves, based upon this worker-owned property, so the ideas that guide them are changed, but as those ideas are changed, and the workers advance politically so they are enabled to change their material reality itself. The initial development of worker owned co-operatives might arise spontaneously as workers create them as an alternative to capitalist property, but as the workers develop their own political party to further their interests, so that party can guide the workers consciously to generalise those lessons, and to act purposely to achieve them. As Marx put it in his Programme for the First International.

“It is the business of the International Working Men's Association to combine and generalise the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever.”

The workers will always tend to develop these solutions for themselves whether they are guided to them by a political party or not, but the existence of such a party, that acts in the way Marx describes, will shorten the process, and make it more likely to succeed. So, for example, despite the fact that the ideological mentors of the workers have abandoned Marx's teaching in this regard, and in respect of the establishment of co-operatives, the workers have continued to recognise them as the way forward. Whilst membership of trades unions, and of political parties has declined, for example, the number of co-operatives, and the number of workers employed in co-operatives has continued to grow, as those workers have learned for themselves the lesson that Marx himself observed, when he wrote,

“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.”

Ralahine Agricultural Co-op
Those material conditions and social forms were precisely the drive of capitalist production itself towards increased co-operation, and the establishment of the worker owned co-operatives, and their extension on a national and international basis using credit as a means to achieve it.

But, the workers will always have to struggle with the contradiction faced by every previous revolutionary class, that they are attempting to make these advances in conditions where not only does the ruling class act consciously to frustrate its efforts, but more problematically, the ideas of that ruling class dominate the society, including the workers own organisations. Some of those organisations, for example the Trades Unions, are necessarily imbued, from the beginning, with bourgeois ideas, because their purpose is not to change the productive and social relations, but merely to bargain within the existing system for a higher price for the workers labour-power. To the extent that the trades union bureaucracy develops as a powerful social strata, whose whole existence depends upon a continuation of this bargaining, the trades unions act indeed as a conservative force.

That was most clearly demonstrated in Britain where it was the trades unions which created the Labour Party as the workers' party. Not only did the trades unions enshrine within the ideology of the LP this bourgeois ideology of accepting the continued existence of, whilst bargaining within, the existing system, but they specifically opposed any reference in its objectives to such a socialist transformation of society. The domination of the labour movement by such bourgeois ideas, therefore, holds back the development of the workers and the transformation of their material conditions, by continually sending them down the blind alleys of industrial struggle for higher wages, and reformist political struggles aimed only at a similar bargaining within the system for additional crumbs from the table. Instead of the trades unions acting as an organising force to assist and encourage the development of worker owned property, and workers self-government, it instead tells the workers to simply accept a less harsh exploitation, either in the form of higher wages and better conditions, or else via some vain hope that nationalisation by the capitalist state might be not so severe. In fact, as Kautsky points out the capitalist state is a far more powerful exploiter of the workers than any private capitalist could ever be.

But, these ideas are also replicated within the workers' parties, where a similar elite and bureaucracy arises to that in the trades unions, whose social position is closer to that of the lower reaches of the bourgeoisie than it is to that of the workers, and whose social function also depends upon a continuation of capitalism, and their mediating role between capital and labour within it. The workers must, therefore, contend not only with the difficulty of changing their material conditions, in the struggle to establish worker owned property and workers self-government, but they must also contend with these bourgeois ideas that permeate the labour movement itself, and continually press on workers not to engage in any attempt to change the productive relations, but simply to accept the present arrangements, only with modifications. The role of Marxists is then to act to counteract those bourgeois ideas, by encouraging every forward movement of the workers in changing their material conditions, to generalise the lessons of that struggle, and to expose the bourgeois nature of those elements within the workers movement who would have them accept the current productive relations either on the basis of simply negotiating a relaxation of their exploitation, or on the basis of some future nirvana to be provided to them after a political revolution, by some benevolent future state.

The Marxist position is clear, the social revolution can only be brought about by the workers themselves, and the social revolution must precede the political revolution. The Workers State, as with any state, can only arise out of a society where the workers are already the ruling economic and social class, not vice versa.

“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.”

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