Chapter 11 – Results and Prospects
In the 17th century, in England, feudal production was dominant. Around 80% of the population was still employed in agricultural peasant production. But, a merchant class, in the towns and cities, was growing rapidly, and becoming economically and socially powerful; in terms of foreign ventures, the existing ruling class looked to it as a partner in developing colonial empires, and to finance its activities; and capitalist production was taking hold in agriculture itself. The bourgeois ideas that flowed from this, and the ability of this rising bourgeois class to mobilise the peasantry behind them is what determined the dominant economic and social power that challenged for state power in the English Civil War.
And, despite the fact that capitalist production still was not dominant, by the end of the 17th century, this bourgeois economic and social power was, by that time, dominant enough to provide the ruling ideas of society that flowed through its institutions, such as the universities, which then determined the consciousness of all those functionaries of the state itself. Its supremacy, and control of the state is signified by Locke's Second Treatise on Government, and practically by the Glorious Revolution. Yet, despite the bourgeoisie being the controlling economic and social power, and state power being in their hands, they were still not the controlling governmental power. The parliament, and thereby the government was still firmly in the grip of the old landed aristocracy.
Even at the start of the 19th century, only 2% of the population, in Britain, had the vote, and that is why, at events such as the Peterloo Massacre, the crowds comprised not just urban workers, but also the urban bourgeoisie. Only in 1832, with the Second Reform Act, does the bourgeoisie, as a whole, exert its influence, and only after 1848, does the industrial bourgeoisie, with the backing of the urban proletariat, exert its specific political power.
“The Reform Bill of 1831 had been the victory of the whole capitalist class over the landed aristocracy. The repeal of the Corn Laws was the victory of the manufacturing capitalist not only over the landed aristocracy, but over those sections of capitalists, too, whose interests were more or less bound up with the landed interest-bankers, stockjobbers, fundholders, etc....
Chartism was dying out. The revival of commercial prosperity, natural after the revulsion of 1847 had spent itself, was put down altogether to the credit of Free Trade. Both these circumstances had turned the English working class, politically, into the tail of the ‘great Liberal Party’, the party led by the manufacturers. This advantage, once gained, had to be perpetuated. And the manufacturing capitalists, from the Chartist opposition, not to Free Trade, but to the transformation of Free Trade into the one vital national question, had learnt, and were learning more and more, that the middle class can never obtain full social and political power over the nation except by the help of the working class.”
The state power flows from the economic and social power, which is its base. The state power is objectively driven to defend and extend the dominant economic and social relations, because it is on them that the existence of the state itself depends. And, it is that objective reality, which conditions the ideology of the state. Yet, a process of combined and uneven development is also at play here.
In his Preface to Capital I, Marx discusses the development of ideas, in this context, and in particular, the development of political economy in Germany. Even whilst capitalist production was in its infancy, in Germany, German political economy was able to skip over the stages of development, on the back of the development of political economy in France and England, where capitalist production was more advanced.
“Intrinsically, it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results. The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.
But apart from this. Where capitalist production is fully naturalised among the Germans (for instance, in the factories proper) the condition of things is much worse than in England, because the counterpoise of the Factory Acts is wanting. In all other spheres, we, like all the rest of Continental Western Europe, suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development. Alongside the modern evils, a whole series of inherited evils oppress us, arising from the passive survival of antiquated modes of production, with their inevitable train of social and political anachronisms. We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead. Le mort saisit le vif! [The dead holds the living in his grasp. – formula of French common law]
It is also in this vein that such societies find that they must catch up, and as Marx says they then suffer the iniquities of capitalism, and from its inadequate development. Lenin makes the same point about the development of capitalism in Russia that they were suffering not just from capitalism but also from not enough capitalism.
“And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism. The removal of all the remnants of the old order which are hampering the broad, free and rapid development of capitalism is of decided advantage to the working class.”
When the economic and social power in society is balanced or generally weak, this creates the conditions in which the state power itself can rise up, above society, and exert its influence. It is why conditions of dual power cannot last for long without one side or the other taking control. In such conditions, the state power becomes fused with the governmental power, usually via some kind of coup – Cromwell's dissolution of parliament, Bonaparte's coup, Lenin's dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and so on. All were the result of premature political revolutions, which arose before the revolutionary class, and the economic and social relations upon which it is based, were sufficiently developed, i.e. prior to the completion of the social revolution.
The economic and social power may be balanced because a new revolutionary class has become strong and exerted its influence – as with the bourgeoisie under Mercantilism, leading to the English Civil War. It may be weak for a variety of reasons. The society may be riven with a variety of other cleavages. As with the situation in 1917, in Russia, a weak bourgeoisie, dependent on the peasantry, may itself be overthrown, by a tiny and weak proletariat, itself relying on a Peasant War, to achieve its goals. The working-class in such a situation, being entirely feeble, becomes the ruling economic and social class effectively by default, as the material foundations of the other classes – landlords and bourgeoisie - are torn up, along with the economic and social relations that flow from them.