Sunday, 28 February 2016

Capital III, Chapter 27 - Part 10

Marx, in sharp contrast to the narrowly economistic and also apocalyptic approach of some of today's left, notes the severe limitations of trade union struggle, whilst pointing out that capitalism itself provides the tools and social forms for resolving the workers problems, i.e. the development of worker owned co-operatives, and their extension via the mobilisation of credit.

“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. 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!"”

(Value, Price and Profit)

This was their approach of building socialism from the bottom up, on the basis of the direct action of the workers themselves, engaging in conscious action to create a new form of society, rather than simply rebelling against the existing form of society, which is all the politics of much of today's left amounts to.

Instead of offering workers simply a depressing outlook of continually repeated struggles against the existing order, Marx wanted to provide them with the uplifting prospect of creating tomorrow's society today, with their own hands. When members of their own party, in Germany, therefore, proposed instead the statist solutions of nationalisation and state control, Engels responded vociferously.

“Fourthly, as its one and only social demand, the programme puts forward -- Lassallean state aid in its starkest form, as stolen by Lassalle from Buchez. And this, after Bracke has so ably demonstrated the sheer futility of that demand; after almost all if not all, of our party speakers have, in their struggle against the Lassalleans, been compelled to make a stand against this "state aid"! Our party could hardly demean itself further.”

(Engels – Letter to Bebel March 1875)

And, he adopted the same opposition when the German socialists, in the Erfurt Programme suggested the creation of a welfare state.

“Here I want to draw attention to the following: These points demand that the following should be taken over by the state: (1) the bar, (2) medical services, (3)pharmaceutics, dentistry, midwifery, nursing, etc., etc., and later the demand is advanced that workers’ insurance become a state concern. Can all this be entrusted to Mr. von Caprivi? And is it compatible with the rejection of all state socialism, as stated above?”

Rather, Marx and Engels saw the process of social revolution as a rather prolonged affair during which time this co-operative production would be extended. For example, Marx wrote, in the Grundrisse,

"As the system of bourgeois economy has developed for us only by degrees so too its negation, which is its ultimate result." (p 712). 

And Engels writes,

“... as demanded by the Paris Commune, the workers should operate the factories shut down by the factory-owners on a cooperative basis. That is the great difference. And 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 must only be so organised that society, initially the state, retains the ownership of the means of production so that the private interests of the cooperative vis-a-vis society as a whole cannot establish themselves.”

(Engels – Letter to Bebel, 17th November, 1885)

This process, furthered by credit, leads, Marx says, to “... the implicit latent abolition of capitalist property — mainly with reference to industrial capital.” (p 440)

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