Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Daniel DeLeon - What Means This Strike - Part 3 of 3

DeLeon begins his argument by saying that the capitalist does not want to discuss where the primary accumulation came from. But, his presentation of this question is again subjectivist and idealist. The fact is, as Marx describes, the process of primary capital accumulation, does not involve an accumulation of additional capital, of more of the commodities that comprise constant and variable capital. All of the commodities that comprise means of production and means of consumption must already exist, because the peasant producers themselves require all these things in order to be able to produce themselves, and to be able to live whilst they produce. What the process of primary capital accumulation involves is the concentration of all these commodities that comprise the constant and variable capital in a limited number of places, so that they are available to be used by workers in the factories, which is the precondition for production itself to be undertaken on a large scale, which is the precondition for division of labour within the factory, which is the precondition for production to be undertaken more efficiently, to raise the level of social productivity, to create a larger social surplus, to facilitate greater accumulation, which is the basis of raising living standards, including those of the workers, and to create the basis for a shorter working-day, and so on, all of which are the material preconditions for the transcendence of the limits of capitalism, and the development of socialism. 

The point is, as Marx sets out, the primary accumulation could never have happened other than via this process of concentration, which requires that it takes place via the concentration of the means of production and consumption in the hands of capitalists. It was necessary that the individual capitalist had in their possession the factory, and the means of subsistence to be paid as wages to the workers so that factory production could get underway. It was an historical necessity, and is the historical justification for capitalism itself, without which that transformation of society's social production could not have been effected, and without which the transition to socialism is also impossible. 

“... if we consider the historical foundation on which this process develops, from which manufacture arises, the industrial mode of production whose characteristic feature is the division of labour, then this concentration can only take place in the form that these workers are assembled together as wage-workers, that is, as workers who must sell their labour-power because their conditions of labour confront them as alien property, as an independent, alien force. This implies that these conditions of labour confront them as capital; in other words, these means of subsistence and means of labour (or, what amounts to the same thing, the disposal of them through the intermediary of money) are in the hands of individual owners of money or of commodities, who, as a result, become capitalists. The loss of the conditions of labour by the workers is expressed in the fact that these conditions become independent as capital or as things at the disposal of the capitalists. 

Thus primitive accumulation, as I have already shown, means nothing but the separation of labour and the worker from the conditions of labour, which confront him as independent forces. The course of history shows that this separation is a factor in social development. Once capital exists, the capitalist mode of production itself evolves in such a way that it maintains and reproduces this separation on a constantly increasing scale until the historical reversal takes place.” 

Moreover, as Marx describes, it is precisely in the understanding of capital here, not as simply a collection of material objects, commodities, but as a social relation between capital and wage labour, that the historical case for capital resides, because it is, as capital, as self-expanding value, as the objective and necessary drive of capital to extract surplus value from the wage worker, to economise as much as possible on the expenditure of labour-time in the production of the maximum amount of surplus value, so as to maximise its potential for capital accumulation, that results in the revolutionising of social production, and thereby creates the conditions for that “historical reversal”, and the establishment of socialism. 

As Marx explains, and Lenin pointed out in his argument on these points with the Narodniks, capitalism is not a static system. Because, like Adam Smith and Ricardo, De Leon takes no account of constant capital in his schema he is unable to understand the process of capital accumulation, and expanded reproduction. The fact is that the determining feature of capitalism is the need for capital to expand, the investment of surplus value in increased production through the further employment of constant capital (machines, factories, raw materials etc) and variable capital (labour power). This very process of expansion means that there is an increased demand for labour-power, and as Marx sets out it is precisely this process that gives labour the best opportunity to raise wages, to increase the "historical, and cultural" component of the value of labour power

A simple glance of capitalist development demonstrates the point, and why De Leon's argument, and of various left reformists that capitalism creates poverty is false. As Lenin pointed out in relation to Russia the problem for the working class was not the development of capitalism, but its inadequate development. The more capitalism develops, the more it demands labour power, the more it expands production, the higher real wages rise, which is why workers in every capitalist country have seen rising standards of living, not just in countries like Britain, where living standards are demonstrably higher than they were even 50 years ago, but in almost every, even the most moderately developed, capitalist countries. Where that is not the case it is not a result of capitalist development, but as Lenin described, in Russia, its inadequate development usually due to the economy being distorted through colonial or semi colonial domination, and subsequently by a lack of foreign investment. 

This is not the basis on which Marx criticised the inadequacies of capitalism and the fundamental reason for the class struggle. Those today who try to present intelligent workers with a picture of capitalism creating poverty that is so clearly at variance with reality do no service to Marxism, or the task of raising the class consciousness of those workers. If capitalism creates poverty then clearly more capitalism creates even more poverty. The logic is clear, hamper the development of capitalism to prevent this increase in poverty. That was the perspective developed by the petit-bourgeois socialists, such as Sismondi, and by the Luddites. The same logic led the Narodniks to support restrictions on the development of capitalism in Russia, a position Lenin criticised in the harshest terms. 

Marxists, on the contrary, have always argued against such restrictions, we are not Luddites. Lenin in his early writings against the Narodniks refers to Marx's position given in speeches on the question of Free Trade. Marx was not prepared to call on the working class to support either Free Trade or Protectionism as an alternative to a struggle against capitalism, but he argued clearly that workers have an interest in supporting measures that allow capitalism to develop rather than those which try to restrict its development. But socialists argue within that context for the interests of the working class to be the guiding principle. If, for example, in the context Marx was speaking, the removal of the Corn Laws reduced the price of grain this would reduce the cost of food to workers. That is good, as socialists we are in favour of that, but we argue for that benefit to go to the workers not for it to be an opportunity for capitalists to reduce wages in line with the reduced cost of food. 

Similarly, although workers have no interest in being more intensively exploited through speed-up, they do have an interest in the introduction of new methods of production, new machinery etc. that makes their labour more productive. Not only can the introduction of such machinery make their work easier, but the expansion of production means that generally the cost of wage goods falls, opening the possibility of real wage increases - and general social development means that some of this becomes embodied in the "historical and cultural" component of the value of labour-power. 

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