Showing posts with label marxism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marxism. Show all posts

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Marx and Economix

Marx saw the aim of the working-class party as the preparation for and organisation of revolution – the overthrow of the ruling class of capitalist – and the organisation of a new system of production, socialism. A working-class party explains why, so long as capitalist production, continues, the struggle between classes must also go on, while economic crises and wars inflict terrible sufferings on the workers; but that the conflict and sufferings can be ended by changing the system of production, which involves the overthrow of the capitalist class.

Capitalism evolved out of feudal times. The typical feudal form of production was production for local consumption: food, clothing and other articles were produced by the serfs for themselves and for their feudal lords. Any surplus was sold in exchange for articles brought in from other countries or from other parts of the country. But the main part of production was still for consumption by the producers and the lord who had feudal rights over it.

When the feudalism began to break up that this form of production gradually gave way to production for profit, which is the essential mark of capitalism. Production for profit required two things: someone with enough resources to buy means of production (looms, spinning-machines and so on); and, secondly, people who had no means of production themselves, no resources by using which they could live. In other words, there had to be “capitalists,” who owned means of production, and workers whose only chance of getting a livelihood was to work the machines owned by the capitalists.

The workers produced things, not directly for themselves or for the personal use of their new “lord,” the capitalist, but for the capitalist to sell for money. Things made in this way are called “commodities” – that is, articles produced for sale on the market. The worker received wages, the employer received profit – something that was left after the consumer had paid for the articles, and after the capitalist had paid wages, the cost of raw materials and other costs of production.

What was the source of this profit? Marx pointed out that it could not possibly come from the capitalists selling the products above their value – this would mean that all capitalists were all the time cheating each other, and where one made a “profit” of this kind the other necessarily made a loss, and the profits and losses would cancel each other out, leaving no general profit. It therefore followed that the value of an article on the market must already contain the profit: the profit must arise in the course of production, and not in the sale of the product.

There has to be some factor in production which adds value greater than its cost (its own value). What is meant by “value.” In ordinary language, value can have two quite distinct meanings. It may mean value for use by someone – a thirsty man “values” a drink or a particular item may have a special  “sentimental value” for someone. But there is also another meaning in ordinary use – the value of a thing when sold on the market, by any seller to any buyer, which is what is known as its “exchange value.” What gives products their normal “exchange value” on the market? Why, for example, has a yard of cloth more exchange value than a pin?

Exchange value is measured in terms of money; an article is “worth” a certain amount of money. But what makes it possible for things to be compared with each other in value, whether through money or for direct exchange? Marx pointed out that things can only be compared in this way if there is something common to all of them, of which some have more and some less, so that a comparison is possible. This common factor is obviously not weight or colour or any other physical property; nor is it “use value” for human life (necessary foods have far less exchange value than motor cars) or any other abstraction. There is only one factor common to all products – they are produced by human labour. A thing has greater exchange value if more human labour has been put into its production; exchange value is determined by the “labour-time” spent on each article.

But, of course, not the individual labour-time. When things are bought and sold on a general market, their exchange value as individual products is averaged out, and the exchange value of any particular yard of cloth of a certain weight and quality is determined by the “average socially necessary labour-time” required for its production.

If this is the general basis for the exchange value of things produced under capitalism, what determines the amount of wages paid to the actual producer, the worker? Marx put the question in precisely the same way: what is the. common factor between things produced under capitalism and labour-power under capitalism, which we know also has an exchange value on the market? There is no such factor other than the factor which we have already seen determines the exchange value of ordinary products – the labour-time spent in producing them. What is meant by the labour-time spent in producing labour-power? It is the time (the average “socially necessary” time) spent in producing the food, shelter, warmth and other things which keep the worker from week to week. In normal capitalist society, the things necessary to maintain the family of the worker have also to be taken into account. The labour-time necessary for producing all these things determines the exchange value of the worker’s labour-power, which he sells to the capitalist for wages.

But while, in modern capitalist society, the time spent in maintaining the worker’s labour-power may be only four hours a day, his power to labour lasts eight, ten or more hours a day. For the first four hours each day, therefore, his actual labour is producing the equivalent of what is paid to him in wages; for the remaining hours of his working day he is producing “surplus value” which his employer appropriates. This is the source of capitalist profit – the value produced by the worker over and above the value of his own keep – that is, the wages he receives.

The term “exchange value” has been used, because this is the basis of the whole analysis. But in actual life things hardly ever sell at precisely their exchange value. Whether material products or human labour power, they are bought and sold on the market at a price, which may be either above or below the correct exchange value. There may be a surplus of the particular product on the market, and the price that day may be far below the correct exchange value; or, if there is a shortage, the price may rise above the value. These fluctuations in price are, in fact, influenced by “supply and demand,” and this led many capitalist economists to think that supply and demand was the sole factor in price. But it is clear that supply and demand only cause fluctuations about a definite level. What that level is, whether it is one penny or a hundred pounds, is clearly not determined by supply and demand, but by the labour-time used in producing the article.

The actual price of labour-power – the actual wages paid – is also influenced by supply and demand; but it is influenced by other factors as well – the strength of trade union organisation in particular. Nevertheless, the price of labour-power in ordinary capitalist society always fluctuates around a definite level – the equivalent of the worker’s keep, taking into account that the various grades and groups of workers have varying needs, which are themselves largely the result of previous trade union struggles establishing a standard above the lowest minimum standard for existence. The labour-power of different grades of workers is not, of course, identical in value; an hour’s work of a skilled engineer produces more value than an hour’s work of an unskilled labourer. Marx showed that such differences were in fact accounted for when articles were sold on the market, which, as he put it, recorded a definite relation between what the more skilled worker made in an hour and what the labourer made in an hour.

How does this difference in value come about? Marx answers: not on any “principle” that skill is ethically better than lack of skill or any other abstract notion. The fact that a skilled worker’s labour-power has more exchange value than the labourer’s is due to exactly the same factor that makes a steamship more valuable than a rowing-boat – more human labour has gone to the making of it. The whole process of training the skilled worker, besides the higher standard of living which is essential for the maintenance of his skill, involves more labour-time.

Another point to note is that if the intensity of labour is increased beyond what was the previous average, this is equivalent to a longer labour-time; eight hours of intensified labour may produce values equivalent to ten or twelve hours of what was previously normal labour.

What is the importance of the analysis made by Marx to show the source of profit? It is that it explains the class struggle of the capitalist period. In each factory or other enterprise the wages paid to the workers are not the equivalent of the full value they produce, but only equal to about half this value, or even less. The rest of the value produced by the worker during his working day (i.e. after he has produced the equivalent of his wages) is taken outright by his employer. The employer is therefore constantly trying to increase the amount taken from the worker. He can do this in several ways: for example, by reducing the worker’s wages; this means that the worker works a less proportion of the day for himself, and a greater proportion for the employer. The same result is achieved by “speeding up” or intensifying the labour – the worker produces his keep in a smaller proportion of the working day, and works a larger proportion for his employer. The same result, again, is achieved by lengthening the working day, which increases the proportion of the working day spent in working for the employer. On the other hand, the worker fights to improve his own position by demanding higher wages and shorter hours and by resisting “speeding up.” Hence the continuous struggle between the capitalists and the workers, which can never end so long as the capitalist system of production lasts.

 Also to be noted is that the “surplus value” created by the worker in the course of production is not all kept by his employer. It is, so to speak, a fund from which different capitalist groups take their pickings – the landowner takes rent, the banker takes interest, the middleman takes his “merchant’s profit,” and the actual industrial employer only gets what is left as his own profit. This in no way affects the preceding analysis; it only means that all these capitalist sections are, as it were, carrying on a certain subsidiary struggle among themselves for the division of the spoils. But they are all united in wanting to get the utmost possible out of the working class.

Then there is another most important factor in the development of capitalism – competition. Like all other factors in capitalist production, it has two contradictory results. On the one hand, because of competition to win larger sales of products, each capitalist enterprise is constantly trying to reduce production costs, especially by saving wages – through direct wage reductions or by speeding-up or other forms of rationalisation. On the other hand, those enterprises which succeed in getting enough capital to improve their technique and produce with less labour are thereby contributing to the general process described above – the reduction of demand owing to the total wages paid out being reduced.

Nevertheless, the enterprise which improves its technique makes a higher rate of profit for a time – until its competitors follow suit and also produce with less labour. But not all its competitors can follow suit. As the average concern gets larger and larger, greater amounts of capital are needed to modernise a plant, and the number of companies that can keep up the pace grows smaller. The other concerns on to the wall – they become bankrupt and are either taken over by their bigger competitors or are closed down altogether. “One capitalist kills many.” Thus in each branch of industry the number of separate concerns is steadily reduced: big corporations appear, which more or less dominate a particular field of industry. Thus out of capitalist competition comes its opposite – capitalist monopoly.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Marxist Economic Theory

What is Capitalism

Much of the left today have abandoned Marx. Many people who are against certain aspects of capitalism snatch pieces of Marx to give themselves a progressive legitimacy but being anti-capitalist does not really say much. It only begs the questions: how do we describe capitalism and from what angle are we criticizing it?  Much of the Left chooses to divide capitalism between good and bad ones. They replaced Marx's criticism of capitalism with a host of reformist and even reactionary demands peddled under this name. Academics have tried to convert it into a scientific sociology or an alternative economic science for the left wing of the bourgeoisie. Pseudo-socialist presented workers with repulsive examples of despotic societies in the name of socialism, like the Soviet Union, China and Albania. The result is to alienate workers from communism and cut the connection between worker and communism.

 Terminology is important to discussion and bandying words around without fully comprehending their meanings won’t be fruitful. Capitalism is defined in many ways. Each of these definitions of capital leads to a specific political conclusion.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Imperialism: Plague on both houses

The Left-wing have just not been interested in any criticism of what has become a dogma in their circles: that socialists are duty-bound to support struggles for "national liberation". The "revolutionary" Left simply "trot" out the old anti-imperialism position of supporting the weaker country against imperialist aggression which refuses any real class analysis of war.

Lenin wrote a pamphlet which he entitled Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In it he argued that, through a process which had been completed by the turn of the century, capitalism had changed its character. Industrial capital and bank capital had merged into finance capital, and competitive capitalism had given way to monopoly capitalism in which trusts, cartels and other monopolistic arrangements had come to dominate production. Faced with falling profits from investments at home, these monopolies were under economic pressure to export capital and invest it in the economically backward parts of the world where higher than normal profits could be made. Hence, Lenin went on, the struggle by the most advanced industrial countries to secure colonies where such "super-profits" could be made. When, after 1917, Lenin became the head of the Bolshevik regime in Russia the theory was expanded to argue that the imperialist countries were exploiting the whole population of the backward areas they controlled and that even a section of the working class in the imperialist countries benefited from the super—profits made from the imperialist exploitation of these countries in the form of social reforms and higher wages, Lenin argued that imperialism was in part a conscious strategy to buy off the working classes in the imperialist countries. His evidence consists of one quote from arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes , and one from Engels to the effect that the workers of England "merrily share the feast" of its colonies.

Firstly his analysis is out of date when applied to the current situation. Perhaps more importantly Lenin's theory of imperialism Lenin's theory of imperialism pitted the working class of undeveloped countries against that of the developed ones. It led to upholding national interest against class interest. Lenin's position was not a mistake. The “labour aristocracy” theory had the political purpose of enabling the Bolsheviks to argue for the workers in the colonies to form united fronts with their local ruling classes against Imperialism. This in turn had the aim of dividing the working class internationally, and turning it into cannon fodder for capitalist war. Lenin's expanded theory made the struggle in the world not one between an international working class and an international capitalist class, but between imperialist and anti—imperialist states. The international class struggle which socialism preached was replaced by a doctrine which preached an international struggle between states.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The choice is ours to make

Marx’s motto was to “Doubt everything”.

In an age where the internet provides us with unlimited access to the direct sources there appears to be no limits to the misunderstanding and distortion of Marx. In books and articles there is continuous reference to Marx, attacking him from all sides for claims that he never made. Many critiques basically accuses Marx of a economic determinism which makes men puppets in the hands of economic forces and the Materialist Conception of History interpreted as economic determinism is found in a collection of Marx’s critics.

Marx’s approach to history is explained in his Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and in the Communist Manifesto. Marx’s scientific method was to proceed by simplifying concrete and complex manifestations into an abstraction, which becomes less and less complex until reaching the simplest conception. Then, by systematically adding complicating factors there is a return journey towards empirical reality. Marx was a believer in abstraction, systematic analysis, and successive approximations to a reality too complex to grasp directly. “Scientific socialism” was not so much the argument itself but the means by which the argument was first thought out and the habitual mode of thinking of the individual which was both open-minded and sceptical, willing to embrace or drop an idea depending on the evidence, willing to change the theory if the evidence demands it.

People makes their own history. Nobody has everything predetermined for him or her. That is not Marxism. The Material Conception of History does not deny the influence of ideas and it sets out to explain where ideas come from, as against those idealists who say that ideas have an independent existence, and are the primary cause of social change. Marx presented a theory of social change that locates the ultimate causes of change within the material and economic conditions of life that we have to examine the underlying economic factors. This does not commit Marx to a form of economic determinism which falsely argues that only the economics is of significance, nor does it mean that he denied the importance of ideas in social change but it does mean to understand the complexity of any society, to understand the complex pattern of development of that society, then an understanding of its economic development is crucial to an understanding of its politics, its culture and its social development.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Real World

The materialist conception of history (or historical materialism or the economic interpretation of history) has never consisted of the crude view that hunger alone, the eagerness to satisfy the material needs of the stomach, is the driving force of history. But the materialist conception of history certainly arises out of the basic observation that people (as Engels said at Marx’s funeral) “must have food and drink, clothing and shelter, first of all, before they can interest themselves in politics, science, art, religion, and the like.”

The supporters of the materialist conception of history have never been so dogmatic as to declare that economic forces are the only forces that make history. What they have argued is that, among the factors of history, economic forces have the final say.

Those who advocate the materialist conception  of history do not deny the influence of the mind, never ignore the power of ideas, never under-estimate the importance of the mental or spiritual factor in the course of history. On the contrary, when recognising that history is made by human beings, they acknowledge in these human beings the importance of all human attributes, including, therefore, mind, intelligence, consciousness, and ideas. What they objected to was the concept of a purely mental world in the nebulous form of an “absolute idea” or in theological terms, “God”, should be interpreted abstractly as the essential factor of historical evolution. In their view, neither, the idea nor matter was “in the beginning.” However, "God" didn’t create the world and hasn’t been watching over the development of mankind. On the contrary, man created the idea of the gods as a fantasy to compensate for lack of real control over the forces of nature and of society.

The mistake of the philosophers was to separate ideas off from the material circumstances in which they had arisen, and then to see history as simply the history of a succession of different ideas. For the materialists, all life was an inseparable and eternally mobile interweaving and mutual conditioning of force and matter, combined into an integral unity. And the human being who constituted the core of this living whole was for them a social human being, one who had countless interrelations with  fellow human beings. The materialist’s contention is not that ideas do not matter. It is that ideas arise out of people’s material activity, and cannot be detached from that.

 The materialist conception of history showed that the forms of society, social institutions, human behaviour and human ideas, that show themselves in a particular epoch, are dependent upon the economic relations peculiar to that epoch. The materialist conception of history is that view of history which ascribes the driving power of all social change to the economic development of society in production, and exchange, with its creation of classes and the resulting class struggle. In this explanation of history the mode of production and exchange is taken as the basis of all social relations, and therefore private ownership of land and capital being general in historical times, all history is made up of contests between slave and slave-owner, capitalist and feudal-lord, and wage-slave and capitalist. History, then, is a record of class struggles, and these struggles occur over the ownership of the means of production and distribution. This period of class societies could not be ended until it had led to an enormous growth of the productive forces. Until then any attempt at getting rid of class exploitation was bound to fail. “This development of the productive forces is an absolutely necessary practical premise, because without it: privation, want, is merely made general, and with want the struggle for necessities would begin again, and all the old filthy business would be restored ...Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of the productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with them.” Marx wrote in Geman Ideology

Primitive peoples worshipped the sun and other physical phenomena because the natural laws behind these things were not yet known. The early sailor and the modern worker are very different in their mental outlook. One was often superstitious; the other is not. That is because the sailor came into contact with Nature under conditions which have not yet been fully understood and controlled. The vastness of the sea, the sudden storms and the great waves and winds, determined his ideas. In the modern world natural forces have been harnessed, and machinery start and stop at the wish of the operator. Modern men and women have grown less superstitious and increasingly secular.

If, as materialism holds, everything in the universe consists of matter in motion, then the human mind must likewise be a material phenomenon.  The mind of the individual does not and cannot exist except as a function of the brain and the body. The operations of the human mind, remembering, dreaming, learning, reasoning, etc., have the same material character as such functions as eating;  swallowing, digestion  and excreting. Many schools of thought make a mystery of the mind, treating it as some supernatural power. Although the activities of the thought process have their special features and peculiar laws they are in themselves no more enigmatic than other kinds of organic behavior. Human beings think as naturally as they work, eat and reproduce themselves. Through the brain and nervous system the mind is connected with the body, through the body with society, and through society with the rest of nature. These interactions of existence provide the mind with the materials and motives for its activities just as they furnish the stomach with the food. Every human mind remains permanently linked to these material foundations. The most extravagant speculations of thought, the wildest dreams, the most refined ideas cannot go beyond the boundaries of material suggestion nor find any sources of material for its productions outside of those given by the material forms and forces which encompass man on all sides. Nature is the mother of all things and all ideas, and to it they eventually return.

Of course, human reflection, intellectual and philosophical speculation are far more complex and highly developed modes of organic functioning than the simpler natural cited above. But to the materialist, to the scientific thinker, there are no impassable barriers. People do not  reason for the pure pleasure of thinking. Men think for practical purposes, in order to act properly and attain their ends. Man’s intellectual capacities; ideas, and philosophies have developed along with and out of man’s relationship with nature. If their thought did not more or less correctly represent objective reality, if it did not help them to function more efficiently, if it did not serve man’s ends and thus satisfy vital needs, mankind would long since have ceased to cultivate their mental powers. These would have withered away or diminished in importance like the appendix.

The materialists view matter as the primary reality, regarding sensation, consciousness, and reasoning as secondary and derivative qualities. Where the materialist states that mind is a product of natural evolution, the idealist asserts or implies that it possesses some sort of supernatural power. The materialist looks upon mental operations as functions and forms of biological behavior. Idealism segregates reason from the rest of human activity and endows it with a unique status and categorically different powers. Thanks to mysterious para-normal powers, idealism declares that the mind has insight into special realms of being, outside the real material world. This can take the belief in talking with the dead or claiming communication with “God” - the mumbo-jumbo of spiritualism and spirituality.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Socialism = Communism

The Socialist Party repudiates any differentiation between socialism and communism. Socialism is communism, and vice versa. The words socialism and communism have the same meaning. Both entail the total abolition of money, buying and selling, and the wages system, a complete breach, both in practice and in ideas, with capitalism. They indicate a condition of society in which the wealth of the community: the land and the means of production and distribution are held in common, production being for use and not for profit. The community will ascertain what are the requirements of the people in food, clothing, housing, transport, educational and cultural facilities. Food, clothing, housing, transport, sanitation — these come first. Then will follow the luxuries.

It means the community must set itself the task of providing rather more than the people can use of all the things that the people need and desire, and of supplying these when and as the people require them. Socialism shall satisfy material needs without stint or measure from the common storehouse, according to individual and social desires. Private property, beyond that which is in actual personal use, will disappear. Everyone will be able to have what he or she desires in food, in clothing, education and travel. The abundant technology now possible removes any need for rationing or limiting of consumption. None will desire to hoard commodities not in use, since a fresh supply may be obtained at will.
In socialism, people will be free to co-operate, producing, inventing, studying, not under the compulsion of law, or poverty, or the incentive of individual gain, but from deliberate choice and with a zest for achievement. Socialism will provide the material and spiritual conditions which will make voluntary co-operative labour possible.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Marx and Engels on the power of the vote

It's often pointed out that our political system is completely corrupted by money yet history teaches that people's influence on their governments is much more powerful than we usually imagine. It's weakened primarily by people's failure to do anything and the mistaken belief that we don't have the power to shape the world as we wish it to be.

Marx and Engels strongly supported political action in the sense of participating in elections. They stressed the importance of the vote. Engels explains that universal suffrage "in an England two-thirds of whose inhabitants are industrial proletarians means the exclusive political rule of the working class with all the revolutionary changes in social conditions which are inseparable from it." Marx argued along the same lines, for example, in 1855, he stated that "universal suffrage . . . implies the assumption of political power as means of satisfying [the workers'] social means" and, in Britain, "revolution is the direct content of universal suffrage."

In 1852 Marx wrote, concerning the Chartists:

“But universal suffrage is the equivalent of political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population, where, in a long though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but only landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired labourers. The carrying of universal suffrage in England would, therefore be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the continent. Its inevitable result, here is the political supremacy of the working class.” [Marx emphasis]
His meaning is clear - a working class majority in Parliament, backed by a majority of the population, can bring about the real transfer of power.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Marx and Engels on Ireland

Marx (and Engels) supported Irish nationalism and the Socialist Party’s position on Scottish independence is often criticised by those on the Left who claim to be Marxists because we ignore that fact. But to be a Marxist means, to apply the Marxian analysis to continually changing social conditions Too many so-called socialists are reluctant to apply the Marxist materialist conception of history in their thinking.
Indeed, Marx did support Irish independence, we do not dispute it, but he did so primarily because he thought it would hasten the completion of the democratisation of the British state. At the time the bourgeois democratic victory over feudalism was far from complete even in Britain, and on the continent of Europe what progress had been made was continually threatened by three great feudal powers, Russia, Austria and Prussia. In these circumstances Marx considered it necessary to support not only direct moves to extend political democracy but also moves which he felt would weaken the feudal powers of Europe. For instance, he supported Polish independence as a means of weakening Tsarist Russia and for similar reasons he opposed Slav independence movements which he believed would strengthen backward Russia (so he simultaneously supported and opposed the right of national self-determination).

His support for Irish independence was for it would weaken the position of the English landed aristocracy. The English landed aristocracy still enjoyed considerable political power. The majority of the working class were still vote-less, there were not yet secret ballots, the House of Lords could still reject any Bill it objected to as long as it was not financial.

As he put it in a letter dated 9 April,1870:
"Ireland is the bulwark of the English landed aristocracy. The exploitation of that country is not only one of the main sources of the aristocracy’s material welfare; it is its greatest moral strength. It, in fact, represents the domination of England over Ireland. Ireland is therefore the great means by which the English aristocracy maintains its domination in England itself. If, on the other hand, the English army and police were to withdraw from Ireland tomorrow, you would at once have an agrarian revolution there. But the overthrow of the English aristocracy in Ireland involves as a necessary consequence its overthrow in England. And this would fulfil the preliminary condition for the proletarian revolution in England"

Marx may well have been right about the effect of Irish independence in 1870. Since the English landlords only retained their power to exploit the Irish peasants by force of British arms, a British withdrawal from Ireland could well have led to their expropriation. But this was never put to the test and the Irish land question was solved in quite a different way even before Ireland got independence. The series of Land Purchase Acts introduced between 1885 and 1903 enabled the government to buy out the Anglo-Irish landowners and then lend the peasants the money to buy their farms. By 1921 Ireland was largely a country of peasant proprietors. In the meantime the political power of the English landed aristocracy had finally been broken by a series of reform measures .What this meant was that by the time Ireland was about to get independence after the first world war, the changes Marx had expected it to bring—land reform in Ireland and a weakening of aristocratic power in England—had already been brought about by other means. His particular case for supporting Irish independence was thus no longer relevant. Besides, the first world war destroyed the three great European feudal powers—Russia, Austria and Prussia—so making it unnecessary for socialists to support moves to weaken them.

In fact, once industrial capitalist powers had come to dominate the world, and once a workable political democracy had been established in those states, then the task of socialists was to advocate socialism alone, rather than democratic and social reforms that might make the establishment of socialism easier. This is the position the SPGB adopted .

Marx’s strategy on Ireland was concerned with furthering the establishment of political democracy in England. Marx realised that the struggle of the Irish Nationalists for Home Rule was bound to help the evolution in Britain of political democracy because both struggles were directed against: the same class enemy, the English landed aristocracy. It was not an anticipation of the Leninist theory of imperialism according to which independence for colonies will help precipitate a socialist revolution in the imperialist countries, though it is sometimes misunderstood to be this. Marx clearly wrote of independence for Ireland helping to overthrow the remnants of feudalism not capitalism itself in England. Both he and Engels knew full well that, in the political conditions then existing, socialism was not an immediate issue either in Ireland or in England.

Engels, stated clearly that socialism was not an issue in the Irish Question:-
"A purely socialist movement cannot be expected in Ireland for a considerable time. People there want first of all to become peasants owning a plot of land, and after they have achieved that mortgages will appear on the scene and they will be ruined once more. But this should not prevent us from seeking to help them to get rid of their landlords, that is, to pass from semi-feudal conditions to capitalist conditions" (Interview, 20 September 1888, New Yorker Volkszeitung)

But as an aside, Engels did recognise the primacy of political action over insurrection.The Fenian, O’Donovan Rossa,was elected (only to be disqualified), and Engels wrote to Marx:
"The election in Tipperary is an event. It forces the Fenians out of empty conspiracy and the fabrication of plots into a path of action, which, even if legal in appearance, is still far more revolutionary than what they have been doing since the failure of their insurrection" (29 November, 1869).

Monday, April 15, 2013

The End of the State

Continuing to correct some misunderstandings about the ideas of Karl Marx.

Most of the misconceptions regarding socialism have been propagated by those who wish to emulate the Russian Revolution. It is unfortunate that when their so-called “marxism” became the official ideology of the ruling class in Russia the anti-state sentiments of Marx and Engels have been downplayed or downright distorted.

Workers State

The society which organizes production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong - into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax.” Engels

Neither Marx or Engels ever advocated a "worker's state". Both wanted to use the state's apparatus used to overthrow the bourgeoisie, at which point it would have served its purpose and would be dismantled.

Many on the Left are convinced that Russia was some sort of "workers state’ albeit some qualifying it as being deformed. A "Workers State" is not actually a state controlled by the workers, but a state controlled by a vanguard party in the name of the workers. The 'workers state’ meant governmental rule by a vanguard party, the Bolsheviks, and by adding control over the economy by nationalisation to the political control of the government, the totalitarian rule over all of society emerged in full.

“Workers State” is a contradiction in terms, but if it is to mean anything it would have to mean that the workers controlled the state; which could only be done through some democratic mechanism. But the workers never controlled the state in Russia. Within a few years of the Bolsheviks seizing power in November 1917 they had suppressed all other parties and established a one-party dictatorship.

Marx explains that although revolution the proletariat will be “raised to a governing class” this has nothing to do with creating a dictatorship of a political sect, but is rather a claim that the proletariat will use “general means of coercion” to remove the bourgeoisie’s power (by abolishing the private ownership of the means of production, disbanding the standing army, and so forth). It is the entire proletariat that is to exercise this power. In reply to a question raised by the anarchist Bakunin, “Will all 40 million [German workers] be members of the government?” Marx responds, “Certainly! For the system starts with the self-government of the communities.”

The purpose of seeking political action and capturing the state-machine is not to take office and form a government but simply and solely to take state power out of the hands of the capitalist class since it is through controlling this organ that the capitalist class is able to maintain its possession of the means of production.

“ In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they [proletarians] must overthrow the State” German Ideology

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Understanding Marx

David McLellan, formerly professor of political theory at the University of Kent wrote: “Marx’s writings have too often been reduced to ill-digested slogans… it is not surprising that Marx still remains so misunderstood.”

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

“No revolution can be made by a party, But by a nation [i.e. by everybody]” Karl Marx

The “dictatorship of the proletariat" is not a very useful term for socialists to use. It is unnecessary baggage for today’s socialists to carry. For a start when Marx was writing the term “dictatorship” didn't have the tyrannical connotations it does today. Marx didn't mean a dictatorship in the modern sense of the word. He meant a community in which the whole working class would set the political agenda and use the political machinery to act in it's interests. Writers like Hal Draper have addressed the authoritarian distortion of the term.

To-day it is loaded with prejudice and/or misunderstanding. Many now steer clear of employing the phrase because of the way it has been employed to justify despotism.

Marx writes in his Gotha critique “Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat."

So it is worth noting that he is not talking about an independent stage between capitalism and communism, but rather the period of revolutionary transformation of one into the other, rather than into some other system which is them transformed into communism. It is not yet socialism.

Perhaps the better term for socialists to use is “social democracy” which according to Rosa Luxemburg in Leninism or Marxism? pamphlet “begins simultaneously with the beginnings of the destruction of class rule and of the construction of socialism. It begins at the very moment of the seizure of power by the socialist party."

The dictatorship of the proletariat is the rule of the working class, not over the working class.
The Socialist Party does not seek the 'dictatorship of the proletariat', but the abolition of the proletariat!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An Anti-Bolshevik Approach to Revolution

The final talk in the Socialist Thinkers series by Stephen Coleman and a belated contribution to the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution . It is a discussion of Leninism and the Julius Martov critique of the Bolsheviks .

The download can be found via the link at Darren's blog

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Karl Kautsky

Once more the Inveresk Street Ingrate blogger has uploaded a Stephen Coleman talk on socialist thinkers , which can be downloaded via the link here .

The subject is Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Critique of Religion

Thursday, December 20, 2007