Saturday, 27 February 2016

Capital III, Chapter 27 - Part 9

In the same way that Marx and Engels moved away from the old Hegelian notions of their youth, which led them into the elitist, conspiratorial organisations, once they recognised the historical role of the working-class, so Marx's method of historical materialism led him away from the statist conceptions of his youth, which can be seen in The Communist Manifesto.

His historical materialist method led him to the conclusion that the function of communists was not to draw up schemas of how they sought to transform society, from the top down, but to codify and generalise the solutions that history itself was providing, and in particular the solutions that the workers themselves were providing to the tasks before them.

In his Critique of the Gotha Programme, this is apparent, because much of it comes down to a critique of the fact that Lassalle and his followers had not progressed from the old statist, and often elitist conceptions contained in The Communist Manifesto. Time had moved on, since 1848, and history had provided its own solutions to some of the problems it sought to address. Some of those lessons Marx had codified in Capital.

So, for example, Marx criticises the Gotha Programme for its adoption of a form of Lassalle's “Iron Law of Wages”.

“Since Lassalle's death, there has asserted itself in our party the scientific understanding that wages are not what they appear to be -- namely, the value, or price, of labour—but only a masked form for the value, or price, of labour power. Thereby, the whole bourgeois conception of wages hitherto, as well as all the criticism hitherto directed against this conception, was thrown overboard once and for all. It was made clear that the wage worker has permission to work for his own subsistence—that is, to live, only insofar as he works for a certain time gratis for the capitalist (and hence also for the latter's co-consumers of surplus value); that the whole capitalist system of production turns on the increase of this gratis labour by extending the working day, or by developing the productivity—that is, increasing the intensity or labour power, etc.; that, consequently, the system of wage labor is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment. And after this understanding has gained more and more ground in our party, some return to Lassalle's dogma although they must have known that Lassalle did not know what wages were, but, following in the wake of the bourgeois economists, took the appearance for the essence of the matter. 

It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!”

In fact, as Hal Draper sets out in “The Two Souls of Socialism”, Marx’s onslaught in the Critique is essentially his own manifesto in favour of this bottom up approach to socialist construction, as opposed to the statist approach of Lassalle and the Fabians, which was inherited by Kautsky and the Second International, but also through them, also inherited by Lenin and the Third International, and by much of today's left.

By contrast, Marx's historical materialist method, of identifying the solutions to history's tasks, from those already provided by history, and by analysing its processes, is not only described here in Capital, but was spelled out polemically by Marx in his debates with Weston.

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