Introduction by the Saker: regular readers of the blog will have noticed the extremely interesting contributions by the guest author Straight-Bat (if not, see here, here, here or here). Since I noticed that Straight-Bat identified himself as a Marxist, I decided to ask you the following question: In your recent submission to the Saker blog, you referred to yourself as a “Marxist”. What is a Marxist anyway? Is that different from “Communist” or “Socialist”?
What follows is Straight-Bat’s extensive and most interesting answer. Now, before the inhabitants of the left side of the Bell Curve accuse me of being a crypto-Commie or something equally insipid, I want to clarify that I do not consider myself a Marxist at all. In fact, I outlined my personal views about this ideological system in two separate articles (see here and here). Personally, I will just say that the best intellectual tooklit to understand the nature of the US society and history is class warfare as desribed by Marx and his successors (including Lenin on imperialism). I can find the “diagnostic” part of Marxism-Leninism very useful while not at all agreeing with the “prescriptive” parts. Needless to say, the militant atheism of Marxism-Leninism is deeply abhorent to me: the blood of innocent Christian (and other!) martyrs will forever stain the Marxist ideology. But that is already changing (as seen in Cuba or Venezuela). Furthermore, I expect that other Marxists might disagree with Straight-Bat’s views and I hereby invite them to reply to him in the comments section.
I am deeply grateful to Straight-Bat for taking the time to discuss such a overlooked and almost totally misunderstood topic.
PS: this is only the first part of my Q&A with Straight-Bat, the next one will be posted after Straight-Bat and myself read the comments below. I also add might add some follow-up question
First of all, thank you for providing me this opportunity to discuss about socialism, communism, and Marxism on The Saker blog-site. Allow me to start the discussion with an apparent digression. I would like to draw your attention to few historical realities of European societies, to start with, and then respond to your questions directly:
(A) Voice against Exploitation and Inequality – Echoes from the Past
Ever since the human civilization ‘invented’ exploitation and inequality and applied it against sections of a society, the exploited and discriminated section of the community rebelled against the powers that be. In the ancient world, slaves and peasants (the poor marginalised classes of ancient society) repeatedly revolted in every region of the known world [refer links https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_peasant_revolts , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_rebellion].
Among the organisers of such rebellions, Spartacus (111 – 71 BCE), a Thracian gladiator, has been considered as the most remarkable one. In the Third Servile War, Spartacus organised a major uprising against the Roman Republic – the failed uprising was the most prominent symbol of oppressed people fighting for their freedom against the Roman oligarchy. Voltaire, the French philosopher described the Third Servile War as “the only just war in history.”
Between 300 and 1500 CE, the Christian Church promoted a ‘communitarian’ living and ‘egalitarian’ lifestyle for its institutionalised team of monks and clergy. Apparently, the Christian religious leaders felt the ethical necessity of going down to the standard of living of the plebeian and serf population (the majority population who were either destitute or impoverished in terms of income and living standard), before approaching them for religious discourse. Eventhough in reality, most of the clergy led a quite comfortable life (owing to the fact that, the Church owned more than 30% of total arable land in the then Europe).
During the late Feudal era in the early 16th century, when the European society was still comprised of three social classes – the Nobility, the Clergy, and the Serfs/Commoners – an English humanist Thomas More raised voice against poverty and extreme inequality of largest part of the population i.e. commoners. ‘Utopia’, the book published by More in 1516 CE became the first of its kind – in the book he proposed, almost everything except personal items should be owned by the community, and money would be abolished. During the English Civil Wars, a group of peasants claimed land was common property (and not for personal profit), and they engaged in digging and planting on land that was not legally owned by them – they were called ‘The Diggers’. An English political party was formed during the Revolution of 1648 CE – ‘The Levellers’ demanded the abolition of aristocracy, and proposed the foundation of a ‘Republic of Equals’, under the name of ‘Christian Society’. Oliver Cromwell executed the principal leaders of the group to obliterate the ideology. Around 1524 CE, a German protestant clergyman Thomas Müntzer became a leader of peasants’ rebellion who fought and died alongside a ragtag army of around a hundred thousand peasants – Müntzer pointed out that the control of all resources by the Nobility was the root cause of poverty among the commoners.
(B) European Activists against Capitalist Exploitation – Rise of Socialism and Communism
At the beginning of 19th century, the economy of the UK and West European mainland states functioned not only with a modest ‘agriculture’ that generated surplus produces for towns and cities, but also a booming ‘trade’ within Europe as well as trade with European colonial empires across the world. In parallel, ‘Industrial economy’ (including mining) grew at a fast pace churning out textile, other consumer products, and industrial machineries and other products all of which had ‘market’ in Europe as well as colonies across the world. By the mid-19th century, the West European powers had well-established colonial empires all over the world (with the exception of East Europe and contiguous land controlled by Russian and Ottoman empires); while only a few countries like Ethiopia, Iran, and China still maintained independent state administration (with their economy under total influence of the major West European colonial powers). However, different European countries had different degrees of dependence on ‘agricultural economy’ (and industrialization), and hence actual labour employed in agriculture and surplus employable labour varied widely. As per Eric Hobsbawm (refer his book, ‘The Age of Revolution’), “Thus it was estimated in the early 1830s that the pool of surplus employable labour was I in 6 of the total population in urban and industrial England, 1 in 20 in France and Germany, I in 25 in Austria and Italy, 1 in 30 in Spain and 1 in 100 in Russia”. Hobsbawm wrote, the rural population ‘had to be torn away from their roots and allowed to move freely’ ‘by liberating the peasant from non-economic bonds and duties like villeinage, serfdom, payments to lords, forced labour, slavery, etc’, only then ‘would they migrate into the towns and factories where their muscles were increasingly needed.’ But, when the free labour migrated to the industrial towns of Europe, what lifestyle they had to get adjusted to? Engels wrote in his ‘Condition of the Working Class in England’, “One day I walked with one of these middle-class gentlemen (new bourgeois – added by interviewee) into Manchester. I spoke to him about the disgraceful unhealthy slums and drew his attention to the disgusting condition of that part of town in which the factory workers lined. I declared that I had never seen so badly built a town in my life. He listened patiently and at the corner of the street at which we parted company, he remarked: And yet there is a great deal of money made here. Good morning, Sir!” And, the new bourgeois as well as old aristocracy felt that those industrial workers in towns, peasants in villages, and surplus unemployed population are destined (by God, so to speak) to remain destitute. Henri Baudrillart, the French economist argued during his inaugural lecture at the College de France in 1853 CE that “INEQUALITY was one of the three pillars of human society, the other two being PROPERTY and INHERITANCE” (refer the book, ‘The Age of Revolution’ by Eric Hobsbawm).
Soon, ‘Industry’ became the prime mover for the growth of economy in not only West Europe, but also in East Europe, as well as Anglo, French, Dutch colonies across the world. If the employment and income profile of any of these societies in the first half of the 19th century is even vaguely outlined, its components can be identified as:
- Aristocracy, State officials, and Clergy;
- Rich landowners reigning supreme in the rural agrarian economy;
- Most of the rural people belonging to agrarian economy where small (landed) peasants and unemployed (landless) labour coexisted;
- Merchants of the mercantile economy, utilising their surplus profit to create new industries (as a result of which, industrial economy developed);
- Burghers like shop-owners, professionals in law-medicine-education, erstwhile guild-members etc. leading traditional urban life;
- New category of townspeople, the poorly-paid workers in the industrial facilities (90% of them migrated from villages) and unemployed labour who were forced to live in squalor;
I guess, combination of category (i), (ii), (iv), (v) would have represented maximum around 5 – 7% of the total population (higher figure in UK and lower figure in other countries of West Europe), most of whom were wealthy due to family wealth by inheritance plus income from own initiatives. The brute majority of population were actually leading a wretched life in rural and urban regions. The social activists, philosophers, and thinkers across Europe raised their voice against such travesty of natural justice!
French Enlightenment era thinker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is credited with influencing the socialist thought a century before 1848 revolutions broke out in Europe. In ‘Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men’ in 1755 CE he said, “The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race have been spared by the one who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men, ‘Beware of listening to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one.’” In a response to M. Bordes, Academician of Lyons titled as ‘having to do with the discourse on the sciences and the arts’, in 1758 CE Rousseau wrote “Before these terrible words mine and thine were invented; before the existence of this cruel and brutal species of men called masters, and of that other species of rogues and liars called slaves; before there were men so abominable as to dare to have too much while others were dying of hunger; before mutual dependence had forced them all to become cunning and jealous traitors… I would like someone to tell me what their vices and crimes could then possibly have consisted of… I am told that people have been long disabused of the chimera of a golden age. It should be added that men have been long disabused of the chimera of virtue!” Through his theory of ‘Social Contract’, Rousseau suggested to define a civil society where all persons will be voluntarily united by a general will, (volonté générale). Encyclopaedia Britannica states, “More than the sum of individual wills, it is general in that it represents the public spirit seeking the common good, which Rousseau defined as liberty and equality, the latter because liberty cannot subsist without it.” Rousseau’s republic is a result of the general will – he, interestingly, adjusted the concept of ‘natural rights’ suggesting that, the republic hence formed, represent an exchange of rights whereby people give up natural rights in return for civil rights (representing the ‘collective force of the community’). Rousseau described the abstract idea of ‘political man’, “Whoever dares undertake to establish a people’s institutions must feel himself capable of changing, as it were, human nature, of transforming each individual, who by himself is a complete and solitary whole, into a part of a larger whole, from which, in a sense, the individual receives his life and his being, of substituting a limited and mental existence for the physical and independent existence. He has to take from man his own powers, and give him in exchange alien powers which he cannot employ without the help of other men.”
Other Enlightenment thinkers and social-activists in France like Étienne-Gabriel Morelly (who proposed that, “nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for either his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work”), Abbé de Mably (who suggested equality as the law of nature and made argument that the introduction of the concept of property had destroyed the golden age of humankind. To him, private property serves to one’s belligerent or selfish instincts, hence abolition of private property is justified), and Jean Meslier (the French Catholic priest was the first declared atheist of modern era; Meslier proposed creation of a commune for all the people of a region in which everybody would work and wealth would be held in common) basically assumed that abolition of private property and redistribution of wealth could solve the inequality in society. Nicolas de Condorcet thought lack of land and capital were the reasons of suffering of poor people – however, Condorcet was inclined to believe that, a future rational society where human rights and justice would be maintained could be developed only through scientific knowledge.
During the French Revolution, François-Noël Babeuf and Sylvain Maréchal advocated egalitarian distribution of wealth, abolition of private property, and collective ownership of land. Maréchal composed the ‘Manifesto of the Equals’ in 1796 CE that primarily reflected Babeuf’s political ideas, “The Agrarian law, or the partitioning of land, was the spontaneous demand of some unprincipled soldiers, of some towns moved more by their instinct than by reason. We lean towards something more sublime and more just: the common good or the community of property! No more individual property in land: the land belongs to no one. We demand, we want, the common enjoyment of the fruits of the land: the fruits belong to all. We declare that we can no longer put up with the fact that the great majority work and sweat for the smallest of minorities. Long enough, and for too long, less than a million individuals have disposed of that which belongs to 20 million of their kind, their equals. Let it at last end, this great scandal that our descendants will never believe existed! Disappear at last, revolting distinctions between rich and poor, great and small, masters and servants, rulers and ruled. Let there no longer be any difference between people than that of age and sex. Since all have the same faculties and the same needs, let there then be for them but one education, but one nourishment. They are satisfied with one sun and one air for all: why then would the same portion and the same quality of food not suffice for each of them?” Babeuf was executed in 1797 CE for coordinating insurrection against the then French government. ‘Babeuf’s Defence’ that was written during his trial, immortalised his thoughts: “ By its origins, the land belongs to no one, and its fruits are for everyone.
“ The institution of private property is a surprise that was foisted upon the mass of simple and honest souls. The laws of this institution must necessarily bring about the existence of fortunate and unfortunate, of masters and slaves.
“ The law of heredity is supremely abusive. It produces poor men from the second generation on. The two children of a man who is sufficiently rich divide up his fortune equally. One of them has only one child, the other has a dozen. Each of these latter children then has only one-twelfth of the fortune of the first brother, and one-twenty-fourth of that of the grandfather. This portion is not sufficient to provide a living. Some of them are obliged to work for their rich first cousin; thus emerge masters and servants from among the grandchildren of the same man.
“ The law of alienation is no less unjust. This man who is already the master of others descended from the same grandfather pays arbitrarily for the labour that they are obliged to do for him. This wage is still not enough to enable them to subsist; they are obliged to sell their meagre portion of the inheritance to him upon whom they are now dependent. Thus they have been expropriated; ……
“ A third cause hastens the emergence of masters and servants, of the overly fortunate and the extremely unfortunate: it is the differences in wage and esteem that mere opinion attaches to the different forms of production and industry. A fantastic opinion of this sort leads people to attribute to the work-day of someone who makes a watch twenty times the value of that of someone who plows a field and grows wheat. The result is that the watchmaker is placed in a position whereby he acquires the patrimony of twenty ploughmen; he has therefore expropriated it.
“ These three roots of public misfortune, all the progeny of property-heredity, alienation and the diversity of value that arbitrary opinion, as sole master, is able to assign to the various types of production and labour – give rise to all the vices of society. They isolate all the members of society; they make of every household a little republic consecrated to a murderous inequality, which can do nothing but conspire against the large republic.”
In post-Revolution France, Henri de Saint-Simon proposed reorganisation of society in a collectivist mode to solve the problems in society – different from every other thinkers, he proposed industrial class consisting of entrepreneurs, bankers, managers, scientists and, labourers should collaborate in productive work that would contribute to the wellbeing of society. For him, able people who benefit from the work of others while avoid doing work themselves form idling class, which is a threat to the industrial class. After Saint-Simon’s death in 1825, his followers led by Amand Bazard and Barthélemy Enfantin began to drift towards radicalism – they suggested abolition of private ownership of the means of production resulting in collective ownership of all “instruments of labour, land, and capital” and abolition of noble privileges and inheritance. Their socialist program was “To each according to his ability and to each ability according to its work.” The Saint-Simonists frequently referred to the opposition between the bourgeois and the proletariat. The word ‘socialism’ first appeared in France in 1832 in ‘Le Globe’, a Saint-Simonist newspaper founded by Pierre Leroux used the term. In a pamphlet ‘What is Property?’ published in 1840 CE Pierre-Joseph Proudhon declared that “Property is theft”. In ‘Confessions of a Revolutionary’ published in 1849 CE Proudhon wrote: “Capital” […] in the political field is analogous to “government”. […] The economic idea of capitalism, the politics of government or of authority, and the theological idea of the Church are three identical ideas, linked in various ways. To attack one of them is equivalent to attacking all of them. […] What capital does to labour, and the State to liberty, the Church does to the spirit.” Proudhon wanted a free association of individuals to replace the (coercive and vindictive) State, and was the first person to declare himself an ‘anarchist’. Proudhon’s followers separated into individualist anarchism, collectivist anarchism, Anarcho-communism and Anarcho-syndicalism. Étienne Cabet proposed replacing capitalist production system with workers’ cooperatives. Cabet’s book ‘Le vrai christianisme suivant Jésus Christ’ in 1846 CE described Jesus’s mission to establish social equality, he was the first thinker who said Jesus wanted to build a communist society. Cabet described a communist society with collective property, universal obligation of work, and ideal social life in ‘Voyage et aventures de lord William Carisdall en Icarie’ (‘Travel and Adventures of Lord William Carisdall in Icaria’) published in 1840 CE – the word ‘communist’ derived from a French word communaute which means common ownership of property. The socialist thinker François Marie Charles Fourier favoured the creation of ideal community (‘phalanxes’ established in buildings with four levels where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest had a ground-floor residence; wealth would be determined by one’s job; jobs people might not enjoy doing, would receive higher pay; basic needs of every individual would get fulfilled). He neither believed in abolition of property nor had faith in revolutionary movement. Another revolutionary socialist, Louis Auguste Blanqui favoured a just redistribution of wealth. He proposed that the revolution should be carried out by a small group which would establish a temporary dictatorship to permit the implementation of a new order, and after this political power would be handed over to common people. The insurgents who established the Paris Commune in 1871 CE elected Blanqui as the president of the commune. Since Blanqui was already under arrest by the Thiers government, he was prevented from taking an active part. Marx was convinced that Blanqui was the leader that was missed by the Paris Commune.
To promote social equality, British social-activist Thomas Spence propagated common ownership of land and welfare support for women and children among commoners. Spence delivered a lecture (published as a pamphlet ‘Property in Land Every One’s Right’ which was renamed later as ‘The Real Rights of Man’) in November 1775 CE at the Philosophical Society in Newcastle in which he proposed, “Hence it is plain that the land or earth, in any country or neighbourhood, with everything in or on the same, or pertaining thereto, belongs at all times to the living inhabitants of the said country or neighbourhood in an equal manner. For, as said before, there is no living but on land and its productions, consequently, what we cannot live without we have the same property in, as in our lives.” Charles Hall, a British doctor vividly described the effects of (industrial) civilization on the poor of that era in his book ‘The Effects of Civilization on the People in European States’ that was published in 1805 CE. According to Hall’s estimates, the rich one-fifth of society consumed seven-eighths of what was produced by the poor; he suggested that, “the wealth of the rich and the misery of the poor increase in strict proportion”. Hall deduced that exploitation of industrial labour was so severe that they “retained only the product of one hour’s work out of eight“; he was a proponent of progressive taxation to tackle the inequalities of society. Thomas Paine published ‘Rights of Man, Part the Second, Combining Principle and Practice’ in 1792 which detailed a representative government to remedy the distressing poverty of commoners through progressive tax measures. In the pamphlet ‘Agrarian Justice’ published in 1797 CE, Paine introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income through an inheritance tax on landowners. Robert Owen, British industrialist became wealthy by managing one of Britain’s largest textile mills at New Lanark, Scotland. Owen tested his social and economic ideas like youth education, child care, and 8-hour working at the mill before divesting his shares in 1813 CE. He published ‘A New View of Society’ in the same year to document the principles behind his philosophy of socialism and advocating industrial workers’ rights and child labour laws, and free education for children. He advocated small, local collectives/ cooperatives which would be the building blocks of socialist community – he and his sons set up a cooperative colony in New Harmony, Indiana, USA in 1825 CE. He believed that, “the members of any community may by degrees be trained to live without idleness, without poverty, without crime, and without punishment; for each of these is the effect of error in the various systems prevalent throughout the world. They are all necessary consequences of ignorance.” Even though he lost his wealth in the failed community experiment, he vigorously promoted industrial equality, free education for children and good living conditions in factory townships throughout his life. In his ‘Paper Dedicated to the Governments of Great Britain, Austria, Russia, France, Prussia and the USA’ Owen wrote in 1841 CE: “The lowest stage of humanity is experienced when the individual must labour for a small pittance of wages from others”. His tireless efforts culminated in the Cotton Mills and Factories Act of 1819 CE in Britain. ‘Socialism’, an English word was first time used in UK in 1827 CE in an Owenite Cooperative Magazine. John Stuart Mill, the British economist deviated from laissez faire theory and advocated limited interference (without rejecting liberalism altogether) – he proposed that, an ideal society should possess “a well-paid and affluent body of labourers, no enormous fortunes, except what were earned and accumulated during a single lifetime”.
Jean Charles Leonard de Sismondi, a Swiss economist coined the term ‘proletariat’ to refer to the working class created under industrial capitalism. Sismondi was not in favour of extreme social reform, but wished ‘technological advances’, ‘limited production’ (which means less ‘competition’), and ‘continuation of private property’ should be the way forward. Sismondi was the first liberal critique of the policy of laissez-faire economics, he said, “The Roman proletariat lived almost exclusively at the expense of society. One could almost say that modern society lives at the expense of the proletariat, from the share which it deducts from the reward of his labour.” A German socialist revolutionary Wilhelm Christian Weitling promoted the doctrines of communism with his activities and publications. Weitling’s work ‘Das Evangelium eines armen Sünders’ (The Poor Sinner’s Gospel) was published in 1845 CE, but the Swiss authorities arrested him and prosecuted for blasphemy on account of having depicted Jesus as a communist. Like Cabet, Weitling traced the concept of communism back to the early Christianity.
Chartist movement between 1838 and 1858 CE was the first organised labour movement in Europe. In 1837 CE, six members of British Parliament and six working men (one of them William Lovett from the London Working Men’s Association) formed a committee, which published the People’s Charter in 1838 CE. This set out the movement’s six main aims that included suffrage to all male adults, secret ballot, annual elections for Parliament etc. Chartist movement transformed into trade union movement for more equitable distribution of income, and better living conditions for the working classes. The earliest trade unions were those of printers, weavers, tailors and the like. It was noted that, the leaders of Chartist movement in Leeds city “consisted of a joiner turned handloom weaver, a couple of journeymen printers, a bookseller, a wool comber”. Such ‘artisans’, ‘mechanics’ and ‘handworkers’ were mostly the agitating union members. After 1848 Revolution the Chartist movement faded.
Until now, I’ve drawn a brief sketch of what is termed traditionally as ‘early socialism’ and ‘early socialists’. The above paragraphs which very briefly outline the key thinkers, significant thoughts, and significant movements during the period between 1500 and 1847 CE, clearly point out towards few definitive trends:
(1) Each of the individual thinkers had few commonalities even if their thoughts varied widely:
(a) Opposition to extreme inequality in the society, which was a direct fall-out of agrarian capitalism (that flourished with land ownership concentrated with a small land-owning class) and industrial capitalism (which flourished with ownership of means of production overwhelmingly with a small class of entrepreneurs)
(b) Opposition to total ownership of properties and natural resources by a small group of elites (land-owners, industrialists, merchants)
(c) Concern for better wage and income, as well as better living conditions of the poor section of society – industrial workers and peasants
(2) No two contemporary thinkers espoused the same set of beliefs and plans of action. For example, while Blanqui favoured armed insurrection followed by temporary dictatorship to create new egalitarian order, Blanc favoured gradual reforms carried out by the existing rulers; while Proudhon denounced personal property as ‘ theft ‘, Saint-Simon favoured continuation of private property
(3) There were thinkers-cum-activists who had even self-contradictory beliefs and ideology that would hardly make them eligible to be counted as a socialist – Fourier supported the institution of Monarchy, Mill was in favour of laissez faire liberal capitalist policy, Sismondi favoured continuation of private property but all of them would propose alleviation of poverty in the society (reasons of which could be traced back to the factors they support !!)
(4) Seven distinct categories of thoughts and movements can be noted as mentioned bellow:
(a) Philosophers who highlighted inequality and injustice, inquired reasons for that, and suggested private property must be abolished to redress the social grievances. [Rousseau, Morelly]
(b) Thinker-cum-activists who were perturbed with inequality and injustice, and organised revolutionary movements to seize State power (they believed, private property must be abolished to address social problems). [Babeuf, Blanqui]
(c) Thinker-cum-activists who highlighted inequality and injustice, and advocated going back to the early community-based Christian life where private ownership of property would be abolished. [Cabet, Weitling]
(d) Thinker-cum-activists who wanted all-round individual freedom and suggested that, State and private property should be abolished through anarchist revolution. [Proudhon]
(e) Economists who observed inequality and injustice, and suggested modifications in the existing liberal capitalist economy and private ownership of property (without renouncing it) to find ways to redress. [Sismondi, Mill]
(f) Thinker-cum-activists who observed inequality and injustice, and proposed that scientific progress and/or technocracy (without abolishing existing property ownership) would resolve those issues. [Condorcet, Saint-Simon]
(g) Thinker-cum-activists who hated inequality and injustice, organised cooperative communities and campaigned for reformation in State policies (without abolishing existing property ownership) for better life. [Owen, Fourier]
It can be concluded that, till 1847 CE, the early socialist activists were defined further in three sub-categories:
1. ‘Socialists’ – (f), (g), combination of (f) and (g)
2. ‘Communists’ – (b), (c), combination of (b) and (c)
3. ‘Anarchists’ – (d), combination of (d), (f) and (g)
It was also quite common to lump all the three sub-categories into ‘Utopian Socialism’ or ‘Utopian Communism’ ignoring the wide differences of opinion that occurred among them. However, the MOST FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SOCIALISTS AND COMMUNISTS SINCE EARLY MODERN ERA HAVE BEEN:
(a) FOR THE COMMUNISTS, ABOLITION OF PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF PROPERTY (CAPITAL ASSETS AS MEANS OF PRODUCTION) HAS ALWAYS BEEN INDISPENSABLE. They believed/ believe that, ‘equality’ (as far as possible) could never be achieved if private ownership of (capital) property persist
(b) FOR THE COMMUNISTS, REFORMATION OF STATE POLICY FOR BETTERMENT OF POOR PEOPLE HAS NOT BEEN A PREFERRED SOLUTION. They believed/ believe that, poor majority people could never attain ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ if State power remain with aristocrats and rich minority people.
Before 1848 CE revolutions struck Europe, two German thinker-cum-activists, who considered themselves as communists, met during 1844 CE while they were in Paris – thereafter, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels collaborated for rest of their life, in order to establish their thoughts that came to be known as Marxism (an unambiguous version of communism). The Communist Correspondence Committee (Kommunistisches Korrespondenz-Komitee) was an association of socialists founded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1846 CE with committees in Brussels (headquarters), London, Cologne, Kiel and Paris with the aim of politically and ideologically organising the ‘early socialists’ of different European countries to form a revolutionary proletarian party. The League of the Just (Bund der Gerechten) was founded in 1836 CE by Karl Schapper who was in close contact with Marx and Engels. The Communist League, the FIRST MARXIST COMMUNIST PARTY with an international presence was established in June 1847 in London, Britain through the merger of the League of the Just and the Communist Correspondence Committee. It was on behalf of this party that, Marx and Engels wrote the ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ late in 1847. The Manifesto declared (Translated by: Samuel Moore in cooperation with Frederick Engels, 1888) the demands of the Communists as:
“… in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c…”
Karl Marx, Karl Schapper, Heinrich Bauer, Friedrich Engels, Joseph Moll, Wilhelm Wolff were named as the members of ‘The Committee’ which represented the Communist Party in Germany. However, al revolutionary groups were smashed by European states, Marx and Engels were forced to flee Germany and they settled in England. The Communist League was formally disbanded in November 1852 CE, following the Cologne Communist Trial. Hence, even if Marx and Engels represented one of the ‘communist’ groups among the early socialists, both of them mostly used the term ‘socialist’ in their works – it helped them to avoid uncalled for legal problems. Socialism was the word predominantly used by Marxists until WW-I, after which Lenin made the decision to restart use of the term communism (renaming the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to the All-Russian Communist Party). In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels led a scathing attack on most of the ‘Socialist’ and ‘Anarchist’ thinkers and activists for lack of robust ideology, foresight, and plan of action:
Manifesto of the Communist Party – Chapter III. Socialist and Communist Literature
Feudal Socialism –
” In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy was obliged to lose sight, apparently, of its own interests, and to formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone. Thus, the aristocracy took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new masters and whispering in his ears sinister prophecies of coming catastrophe.
” In this way arose feudal Socialism: half lamentation, half lampoon; half an echo of the past, half menace of the future; …. The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner….
” One section of the ‘French Legitimists’ and ‘Young England’ exhibited this spectacle.
” In pointing out that their mode of exploitation was different to that of the bourgeoisie, the feudalists forget that they exploited under circumstances and conditions that were quite different and that are now antiquated….
” In political practice, therefore, they join in all coercive measures against the working class; and in ordinary life, despite their high-falutin phrases, they stoop to pick up the golden apples dropped from the tree of industry, and to barter truth, love, and honor, for traffic in wool, beetroot-sugar, and potato spirits. [Note by Engels to the English edition of 1888 — This applies chiefly to Germany, where the landed aristocracy and squirearchy have large portions of their estates cultivated for their own account by stewards, and are, moreover, extensive beetroot-sugar manufacturers and distillers of potato spirits. The wealthier British aristocracy is, as yet, rather above that; but they, too, know how to make up for declining rents by lending their names to floaters or more or less shady joint-stock companies.] “
Petty-Bourgeois Socialism –
” In countries where modern civilization has become fully developed, a new class of petty bourgeois has been formed, fluctuating between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and ever renewing itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society.
” In countries like France, where the peasants constitute far more than half of the population, it was natural that writers who sided with the proletariat against the bourgeoisie should use, in their criticism of the bourgeois regime, the standard of the peasant and petty-bourgeois, and from the standpoint of these intermediate classes, should take up the cudgels for the working class. Thus arose petty-bourgeois Socialism. Sismondi was the head of this school, not only in France but also in England…..
” This school of Socialism dissected with great acuteness the contradictions in the conditions of modern production. It laid bare the hypocritical apologies of economists. It proved, incontrovertibly, the disastrous effects of machinery and division of labor; the concentration of capital and land in a few hands; overproduction and crises; it pointed out the inevitable ruin of the petty-bourgeois and peasant, the misery of the proletariat, the anarchy in production, the crying inequalities in the distribution of wealth…..
” this form of Socialism aspires either to restoring the old means of production and of exchange, and with them the old property relations, and the old society, or to cramping the modern means of production and of exchange within the framework of the old property relations that have been, and were bound to be, exploded by those means. “
German or “True” Socialism (i.e. Petty-Bourgeois Socialism in Germany – by interviewee)
” The Socialist and Communist literature of France, a literature that originated under the pressure of a bourgeoisie in power, and that were the expressions of the struggle against this power, was introduced into Germany at a time when the bourgeoisie, in that country, had just begun its contest with feudal absolutism.
German philosophers, would-be philosophers, and beaux esprits (men of letters), eagerly seized on this literature, only forgetting, that when these writings immigrated from France into Germany, French social conditions had not immigrated along with them. In contact with German social conditions, this French literature lost all its immediate practical significance and assumed a purely literary aspect…..
” The French Socialist and Communist literature were thus completely emasculated. And, since it ceased in the hands of the German to express the struggle of one class with the other, he felt conscious of having overcome “French one-sidedness” and of representing, not true requirements, but the requirements of Truth; not the interests of the proletariat, but the interests of Human Nature, of Man in general, who belongs to no class, has no reality, who exists only in the misty realm of philosophical fantasy…..
” The fight of the Germans, and especially of the Prussian bourgeoisie, against feudal aristocracy and absolute monarchy, in other words, the liberal movement, became more earnest.
By this, the long-wished-for opportunity was offered to “True” Socialism of confronting the political movement with the Socialist demands, of hurling the traditional anathemas against liberalism, against representative government, against bourgeois competition, bourgeois freedom of the press, bourgeois legislation, bourgeois liberty and equality, and of preaching to the masses that they had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by this bourgeois movement. German Socialism forgot, in the nick of time, that the French criticism, whose silly echo it was, presupposed the existence of modern bourgeois society, with its corresponding economic conditions of existence, and the political constitution adapted thereto, the very things those attainments was the object of the pending struggle in Germany.
” While this “True” Socialism thus served the government as a weapon for fighting the German bourgeoisie, it, at the same time, directly represented a reactionary interest, the interest of German Philistines. In Germany, the petty-bourgeois class, a relic of the sixteenth century, and since then constantly cropping up again under the various forms, is the real social basis of the existing state of things….
” And on its part German Socialism recognized, more and more, its own calling as the bombastic representative of the petty-bourgeois Philistine. “
Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism
” A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society…..
“ We may cite Proudhon’s Philosophie de la Misère as an example of this form.
” The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems. In requiring the proletariat to carry out such a system, and thereby to march straightway into the social New Jerusalem, it but requires in reality, that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but should cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie.”
“ A second, and more practical, but less systematic, form of this Socialism sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change in the material conditions of existence, in economical relations, could be of any advantage to them. By changes in the material conditions of existence, this form of Socialism, however, by no means understands abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be affected only by a revolution, but administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations”
In the same Manifesto, Marx and Engels, however, categorized followers of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen, and others (like Cabet – by interviewee) as ‘Critical-Utopian’ and opined that “these Socialist and Communist publications contain also a critical element. They attack every principle of existing society. Hence, they are full of the most valuable materials for the enlightenment of the working class”, before pointing out that these Socialist and Communist utopians “want to improve the condition of every member of society even that of the most favored. Hence, they habitually appeal to society at large, without the distinction of class” and “they still dream of experimental realization of their social Utopias, of founding isolated “phalansteres”, of establishing “Home Colonies”, or setting up a “Little Icaria” – duodecimo editions of the New Jerusalem – and to realize all these castles in the air, they are compelled to appeal to the feelings and purses of the bourgeois”. Marx and Engels noted that these Socialist and Communist utopians, “violently oppose all political action on the part of the working class … The Owenites in England, and the Fourierists in France, respectively, oppose the Chartists and the Réformistes”.
In the ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ Marx and Engels wrote, “The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property.” Unlike other socialists, Marx and Engels determined, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another”. Before the 1848 Revolutions, Marx and Engels not only founded the world’s first Communist party and published the Communist Manifesto (identifying those ‘socialists and communists’ who were harming the proletariat with their ideologies and programs) with a list of demands on behalf of the proletariat class, but they also identified the bourgeois class as the ultimate enemy of the proletariat (except Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in other European countries bourgeois were still struggling against the combination of the feudal aristocracy and petty-bourgeois burghers). Marx pointed out in ‘On the Jewish Question’ published in 1844 CE that, the Jews (Marx meant the Jew bankers-merchants-industrialists) were at the forefront of bourgeois capitalism:
“ What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money…
“ The Jew has emancipated himself in a Jewish manner, not only because he has acquired financial power, but also because, through him and also apart from him, money has become a world power…
“ The contradiction that exists between the practical political power of the Jew and his political rights is the contradiction between politics and the power of money in general. Although theoretically the former is superior to the latter, in actual fact politics has become the serf of financial power…
“ Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities. Money is the universal self-established value of all things. It has, therefore, robbed the whole world – both the world of men and nature – of its specific value. Money is the estranged essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it…
“ The view of nature attained under the domination of private property and money is a real contempt for, and practical debasement of, nature…”
(C) Marx-Engels, and Marxist Communism
By now, the readers are clear about what is meant by ‘SOCIALISM’ and ‘COMMUNISM’ and how Marxism (founded by Marx and Engels) critically examined multiple strands of both the ideas. It is time to explore in detail the complete meaning of MARXISM (itself a particular form of communism that was not only theorised by Marx and Engels, but they founded the first Marxist communist party as well). Close scrutiny of the works, letters, and activities of Marx and Engels till their death reveal that both of them jointly and individually:
- strived to explore the ideas/concepts of almost ALL the preceding and contemporary thinkers in the fields of philosophy, economics, politics, and state governance, and pointed out their true intellectual and practical contributions as well as the reasons for their failure towards building a society free from exploitation
- strived to analyze the historical developments of (European) society, state, and economy and its impacts on the living conditions of different groups of society (i.e. class), and put forward a theory that, in essence, suggested the Modus Operandi how the majority population got exploited by the minority population within the existing framework of ‘State’
- drew from the ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ ideas born in the French Revolution, ideas of political economy disseminated by British economists, and German philosophical ideas, in order to develop a complete set of ideas which they called scientific socialism, commonly called Marxism. Interestingly, more often than not, Marx’s (and Engels’) ideas were in the form of ‘critique’ of existing theory and system
- put their best efforts to bring ALL contemporary thinkers-cum-activists under a single platform for a joint struggle against the states and bourgeois class; like true leaders, Marx-Engels duo always looked out for ‘opportunities’ to organize the toiling masses across Europe
A brief discussion on various facets of three theoretical constructs of Marxism follows below:
(1) Dialectical Historical Materialism
‘Dialectical’ ‘Historical’ Materialism had been defined by Marx in the preface of “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” in 1859 CE, “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.”
The interpretation of the 1859 Preface has been one of the most controversial issues in Marxism. While Lukács (1971) and Gramsci (1971) focussed on the ‘dialectical’ method thereby losing much of the ‘historical’ perspective, Cohen (1978) and other analytical Marxists discarded the dialectical method for a determinist historical reading. A balanced analysis is the need of the hour. It must be mentioned that the concept of historical materialism completely demolishes belief-system theories like creationism and intelligent design, which base their concepts on religion and god but do not conform to concepts of biological evolution.
Hegelian philosophy was the starting point for Marx. Hegel’s dialectical idealism – evolution and development of idea/ spirit and human consciousness in history happened through conflicting intellectual forces that interacted (famously described as ‘thesis’ + ‘antithesis’ == ‘synthesis’), and these continuous dynamics shaped the historical process – was turned upside down by Marx. Marx replaced idea/ spirit by the real world, and intellectual forces with social forces, thus arguing primacy of matter over mind. Thus Marx’s conclusion that material conditions dictated history radically differed from Hegel’s belief that national ideas and cultures act as driving force of history. In view of Marx, in each historical epoch economic production and exchange involve a different set of ‘forces of production’, ‘relations of production’, and accumulation of capital – the change in mode of economic production and exchange in each epoch instigate the change in social behavior and human character. In ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’ published in 1880 CE, Engels succinctly described Historical Materialism as, “The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.” An important point that may be noted – it was Feuerbach who first critiqued Hegel by insisting that philosophy should begin with the material world, and suggested that existence preceded thought. Feuerbach argued that religion and God diverted human beings from realizing their own (humanly) capabilities. Hence religion is such a form of alienation, which separates human beings from their ‘species essence’; Feuerbach believed that religion is an intellectual mistake and through persuasion, it can be rectified. Marx accepted much of Feuerbach’s account, but he moved further and argued that since Feuerbach failed to understand the reason why people suffer from religious alienation, he couldn’t explain how it can be transcended. Marx told religion is a response to alienation in material conditions of people’s life, and ‘therefore it cannot be removed until human material life is emancipated’. (Interestingly, Aristotle explained in his book Metaphysics, “man begins to philosophize when the means of life are provided”).
Engels postulated three laws of dialectics from his reading of Hegel’s Science of Logic, in his work ‘Dialectics of Nature’:
- The law of the unity and conflict of opposites
- The law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes
- The law of the negation of the negation
As described by Marx and Engels, economic structure or foundation includes (i) the ‘material forces of production’ which contains ‘means of production’ and labour, (ii) the ‘relations of production’ that represents the social, political, legal arrangements that regulate production and distribution. (A ‘means of production’ whether ‘subjects of labor’ like raw materials, natural resources including source land, energy, water or ‘instruments of labor’ like tools, machinery, factory including land, other infrastructure which go into production of any material whether a grain of wheat or a car and service like electricity supply to 5G communication is drawn from natural resources, while the processing is done by a team of people and supervised by technical specialists – i.e. labor). Above the economic structure, grows superstructure, which completely and appropriately reflects the political, cultural and legal consciousness corresponding to the economic foundation. The relations of production – political, cultural as well as legal relations established by individuals or groups of individuals among themselves – squarely depend on the mode of production. Each of the historical epoch had its necessity in the development of the productive forces, and then after a stage each entered into contradiction with their further development, and finally, a new epoch emerged out of the preceding epoch. Engels, while writing to Borgius noted, “Political, juridical, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic, etc., development is based on economic development. But all these react upon one another and also upon the economic base. It is not that the economic position is the cause and alone active, while everything else only has a passive effect. There is, rather, interaction on the basis of the economic necessity, which ultimately always asserts itself.” (Refer ‘Marx-Engels Correspondence 1894’).
So, what are the historical epochs that are characterized by a different mode of economic production and exchange? Human civilization is not an old story, as described in Wikipedia, “Homo sapiens emerged in Africa around 300,000 years ago from a species commonly designated as either H. heidelbergensis or H. rhodesiensis …. The “out of Africa” migration took place in at least two waves, the first around 130,000 to 100,000 years ago, the second (Southern Dispersal) around 70,000 to 50,000 years ago. H. sapiens proceeded to colonize all the continents and larger islands, arriving in Eurasia 60,000 years ago, Australia around 65,000 years ago, the Americas around 15,000 years ago…”
“Until about 12,000 years ago, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers. The Neolithic Revolution (the invention of agriculture) first took place in Southwest Asia and spread through large parts of the Old World over the following millennia. It also occurred independently in Mesoamerica (about 6,000 years ago), China, Papua New Guinea, and the Sahel and West Savanna regions of Africa. Access to food surplus led to the formation of permanent human settlements, the domestication of animals and the use of metal tools for the first time in history. Agriculture and sedentary lifestyle led to the emergence of early civilizations.” [ Refer link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human ]
The first period of ‘hunter-gatherer society’ was characterized by extremely slow development of the means of production (stone tools), and a nomadic mode of existence. Societies didn’t have a state or property, neither money was used as a medium of exchange. A group of people was able to hunt and/or gather enough to sustain themselves, the concept of surplus didn’t arise. The hunter-gatherer mode of production was the original ‘universal condition’ of humankind – termed primitive communism. In certain parts of the world primitive society still survived. Richard Leakey wrote in ‘The Making of Mankind’ (pp. 101-3), “Hobbes’s view that non-agricultural people have ‘no society’ and are ‘solitary’ could hardly be more wrong. To be a hunter-gatherer is to experience a life that is intensely social. As for having ‘no arts’ and ‘no letters’, it is true that foraging people possess very little in the form of material culture, but this is simply a consequence of the need for mobility. When the Kung move from camp to camp they, like other hunter-gatherers, take all their worldly goods with them: this usually amounts to a total of 12 kilograms (26 pounds) in weight, just over half the normal baggage allowance on most airlines. This is an inescapable conflict between mobility and material culture, and so the Kung carry their culture in their heads, not on their backs. Their songs, dances and stories form a culture as rich as that of any people.”
For most of human history, the process of development of human society has been excruciatingly slow. ‘The Economist’ remarked on December 31, 1999 “For nearly all of human history, economic advance has been so slow as to be imperceptible within the span of a lifetime. For century after century, the annual rate of economic growth was, to one place of decimals, zero. When growth did happen it was so slow as to be invisible to contemporaries – and even in retrospect it appears not as rising living standards (which is what growth means today), merely as a gentle rise in population. Down the millennia, progress, for all but a tiny elite, amounted to this: it slowly became possible for more people to live, at the meanest level of subsistence.”
The second period of ‘slave-owning society’ after 10000 BCE witnessed production of a surplus above the need for everyday survival. The Ancient mode of production could get activated because of the advancement of forces of production that gave rise to agriculture and animal husbandry. With growth in production and productivity gains more surplus got generated (which would get appropriated by the leading families in a community), property relations and classes developed, and as classes developed political activities spawned and state formed. Starting from ‘tribal chief’ of a community the political landscape accommodated ‘monarch’ of a kingdom. These things emerged gradually – starting from an embryonic stage and finally consolidating as a class society. Slave society was considered as the first class society formed of citizens and slaves. Slaves were people either from the same community who were converted into slave by wealthy families because of convoluted commercial dealings, or from other communities who became prisoners of war. Both state and aristocratic wealthy families were large-scale patrons of slavery. Slaves were exploited intensely for most of the work whether non-productive household or productive work (agriculture or craftsmanship). Slaves were denied rights for property ownership and citizenship.
While Asia Minor and southern Europe became home to ‘slave-owning society’, Mesopotamia, Persia, Indus valley and Indian subcontinent, Huang Ho valley and mainland China exhibited a different type of social formation with the Asiatic mode of production. After 5000 BCE, there was rapid advancement of forces of production that improved productivity creating a surplus in agricultural produces above the need of everyday survival. Property relations and classes developed along with aristocratic families. State formation was almost always a function of economics which was driven by wealth accumulation of aristocratic families. Beginning with ‘head’ of a community the political establishments included empires with highly complex administration. But through all the political and military changes, subsistence agriculture of peasantry (at the bottom of social hierarchy) in the rural regions ‘survived virtually unchanged for millennia’ dominated by the seasonal cycles. The village commune, the basic building block of the oriental societies, was entirely self-sufficient because the lifestyle involved only bare minimum necessities. Towns sprang up along trade routes, either on the banks of rivers, or in oases – traders and artisans (like blacksmiths, carpenters, weavers, goldsmiths, shoemakers, masons) created ‘bazaar’. ‘People are taught to look up to the state with feelings of awe and reverence, as a force standing above society’. Money existed but had limited use. A primarily agricultural economy, which didn’t allow ownership of private property like land – the king/emperor of kingdom/empire was the ultimate owner.
The fourth period of ‘feudal society’ after 500 CE witnessed a very slow advance of productive forces (especially in harnessing water and wind energy) but the overall collapse of the productive forces across Europe. A new society with the feudal mode of production took shape (while Asiatic mode of production continued in Asia). Feudal society’s class relations were marked by the presence of serfdom. The majority of population (commoners) were serf tied to feudal lord and his estate, they performed the activities related to agriculture and animal husbandry. The lords swear their allegiance to the monarch (in lieu of monarch’s acceptance of feudal lords’ ownership of the land). Absence of centralized bureaucracy and standing army were key features of the era, which also saw the Church as the largest owner of arable land (about 30% of total) in Europe. Artisans (who organized themselves in ‘guilds’) using simple tools produced simple commodities. In ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’ published in 1880 CE, Engels wrote “Means of production adapted for individual use; hence primitive, ungainly, petty, dwarfed in action. Production for immediate consumption, either of the producer himself or his feudal lord. Only where an excess of production over this consumption occurs is such excess offered for sale, enters into exchange. Production of commodities, therefore, only in its infancy.” Merchants traded on (surplus) agricultural produces and cloth manufactured within Europe and imported spice and other exotic goods from Asia. This merchant class would grow in size and eventually form the bourgeois in the next era.
The fifth period of ‘capitalist society’ cohabited with the feudal mode of production since around 1400 CE, and finally, it replaced old society completely. In ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’ published in 1880 CE, Engels defined capitalist mode of production as “Concentration of the means of production, hitherto scattered, into great workshops. As a consequence, their transformation from individual to social means of production — a transformation which does not, on the whole, affect the form of exchange. The old forms of appropriation remain in force. The capitalist appears. In his capacity as owner of the means of production, he also appropriates the products and turns them into commodities. Production has become a social act. Exchange and appropriation continue to be individual acts, the acts of individuals. The social product is appropriated by the individual capitalist. Fundamental contradiction, whence arise all the contradictions in which our present-day society moves, and which modern industry brings to light.
A. Severance of the producer from the means of production. Condemnation of the worker to wage labor for life. Antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
B. Growing predominance and increasing effectiveness of the laws governing the production of commodities. Unbridled competition. Contradiction between socialized organization in the individual factory and social anarchy in the production as a whole.
C. On the one hand, perfecting of machinery, made by competition compulsory for each individual manufacturer, and complemented by a constantly growing displacement of laborers. Industrial reserve-army. On the other hand, unlimited extension of production, also compulsory under competition, for every manufacturer. On both sides, unheard-of development of productive forces, excess of supply over demand, over-production and products — excess there, of laborers, without employment and without means of existence. But these two levers of production and of social well-being are unable to work together, because the capitalist form of production prevents the productive forces from working and the products from circulating, unless they are first turned into capital — which their very superabundance prevents. The contradiction has grown into an absurdity. The mode of production rises in rebellion against the form of exchange.
D. Partial recognition of the social character of the productive forces forced upon the capitalists themselves. Taking over of the great institutions for production and communication, first by joint-stock companies, later in by trusts, then by the State. The bourgeoisie demonstrated to be a superfluous class. All its social functions are now performed by salaried employees.”
Marx and Engels viewed class struggle as the spontaneous outcome of the dialectical nature of history, which aggravated with the advent of capitalism. Two basic classes in the capitalist system – bourgeois (the owners of the means of production) and proletariat (the workers) – have an antagonistic relationship, and the ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ suggested that, “the fall of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable”.
Marx pointed out the key reasons of the class struggle as, “In agriculture as in manufacture, the transformation of production under the sway of capital, means, at the same time, the martyrdom of the producer; the instrument of labor becomes the means of enslaving, exploiting, and impoverishing the laborer; the social combination and organization of labor-processes are turned into an organized mode of crushing out the workman’s individual vitality, freedom, and independence.”
Under capitalism, the bourgeois class became the owner of almost all means of production and commoners (who lost all assets that has some significance as capital) became proletariat resulting in class struggle. In order to transform the relations of production completely in favor of their class, the bourgeois hijacked the revolutions in Holland, England, France, and British colonies in North America between 16th to 18th centuries CE.
Application of the theory of historical materialism to analyze capitalist society proposes the following:
- the modern state and legal system are part of the ‘superstructure’ that facilitate the accumulation of capital by the ruling capitalist class through loyal relations of production (economic policies, institutions, division of labour, and exploitation of labour class)
- Under capitalism the forces of production have experienced spectacular development. Marx and Engels in ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ wrote, “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. …. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.“
- In future, when the existing relations of production no longer support further progress in the productive forces (for further accumulation of capital), a major social turmoil will take place which should end up in revolution
To Marx, the higher-stage of communist society is a free association of producers which has successfully negated all remnants of the capitalist society. “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” Marx-Engels suggested: there would be a two-stage transformation of capitalist society into a communist society:
- The stage 1 transformation >> Capitalist society (bourgeois democracy) to socialist society (through dictatorship of proletariat)
- The stage 2 transformation >> Socialist society to Communist society (classless society)
“In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”, as mentioned in the Manifesto.
(2) Critique of Capitalist Economy
As a critique of capitalism, while providing insights into its working principles, and propensity to crisis, Marxism remains unsurpassed. Marx began with an indictment of the classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, exposed its limitations as well as the contradictions of capitalism itself, and expounded on the inevitability of its collapse. Das Kapital was the result of penetrating analysis of the economic system prevailing in mid-19th century England. It was a system of private enterprise and competition that arose in the 16th century from the development of sea routes, international trade, and colonial rule in America, Africa and Asia. Its rise had been facilitated by changes in the forces of production, the adoption of mechanization, and technical progress. The wealth of the societies that brought this economy into play had been acquired through an “enormous accumulation of commodities.” For Marx, ‘human being’ was the supreme agenda – he wrote in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, “Man is first of all a natural being. As a natural being and a living natural being, he is endowed on the one hand with natural powers, vital powers…; these powers exist in him as aptitudes, instincts. On the other hand, as an objective, natural, physical, sensitive being, he is a suffering, dependent and limited being…, that is, the objects of his instincts exist outside him, independent of him, but are the objects of his need, indispensable and essential for the realization and confirmation of his substantial powers.” He watched with horror the ultimate debasement of humanity in a capitalist mode of production. He stated in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, “Political economy, therefore, does not recognize the unemployed worker, the workingman, insofar as he happens to be outside this labor relationship. The rascal, swindler, beggar, the unemployed, the starving, wretched and criminal workingman – these are figures who do not exist for political economy but only for other eyes, those of the doctor, the judge, the grave-digger, and bum-bailiff, etc.; such figures are spectres outside its domain. For it, therefore, the worker’s needs are but the one need – to maintain him whilst he is working and insofar as may be necessary to prevent the race of laborers from [dying] out. The wages of labour have thus exactly the same significance as the maintenance and servicing of any other productive instrument, or as the consumption of capital in general, required for its reproduction with interest, like the oil which is applied to wheels to keep them turning. Wages, therefore, belong to capital’s and the capitalist’s necessary costs, and must not exceed the bounds of this necessity.”
Labour and Value: To describe how labor contributes to creating value, Engels stated in ‘Synopsis of Capital’:
“Just as a commodity is something twofold: use-value and exchange-value, so the labor contained in it is two-fold:
- on the one hand, as definite productive activity, weaving labor, tailoring labor, etc.- “useful labor“;
- on the other, as the simple expenditure of human labour-power, precipitated abstract (general) labor.
The former produce use-value, the latter exchange-value; only the latter is quantitatively comparable (the differences between skilled and unskilled, composite and simple labor confirm this).
Hence, the substance of exchange-value is abstract labor and its magnitude is the measure of time of abstract labor”
“The value of a commodity in the use-value of another is its relative value. The expression of the equivalence of two commodities is the simple form of relative value” in the equation x quantity commodity a = y quantity commodity b. Further, if z quantity commodity c can be exchanged with x quantity commodity a, that would mean:
x quantity commodity a = y quantity commodity b = z quantity commodity c,
which in turn means all three commodities are exchangeable among themselves.
“Here, the commodities are given the general relative form of value, in which all of them are abstracted from their use-values and equated to x quantity commodity a as the materialization of abstract labor; x quantity commodity a is the generic form of the equivalent for all other commodities; it is their universal equivalent; the labour materialized in it represents in itself the realization of abstract labor, labor in general.”
Stripping away the use-value from commodities leaves only one quality in them – they are all products of labor. Hence a commodity possesses value only because abstract/general human labor is embodied in it. And the magnitude of its value is measured by the quantity of value-forming material – labor hours – contained in it. Intuitively it might appear that the idler worker would produce a more valuable commodity – in reality however the labor effort being discussed here is not individual, but social labor.
The sentence very often ascribed to Marx: ‘labor is the source of all wealth’. It is wrong as we note Marx wrote in Capital volume I, “labor is not the only source of material wealth, of use values produced by labor. As William Petty puts it, labor is its father and the earth its mother.” Thus Marx didn’t overlook the role of Nature in the production process, but he kept it out of account in the determination of value (he wanted to deduce abstract/general human labor in commodities after chipping away all components of the use-value). On the contrary, Marx argued that the classical liberal economists treated the natural parameters of production (raw materials, energy, fertile soil, water etc.) as ‘free gifts of nature’ to capital which resulted in the exclusion of social and ecological costs from the costs of production.
British economist Adam Smith followed by David Ricardo first recognized that the value of a commodity was determined by the labor effort required for its production. However, Ricardo could neither distinguish between useful labor (for creating use-value) and abstract labor (for creating exchange-value) nor recognize the social character of the value. “Even its best representatives, Adam Smith and Ricardo, treat the form of value as something of indifference, something external to the nature of the commodity itself. The explanation for this is not simply that their attention is entirely absorbed by the analysis of the magnitude of value. It lies deeper. The value-form of the product of labor is the most abstract, but also the most universal form of the bourgeois mode of production; by that fact, it stamps the bourgeois mode of production as a particular kind of social production of a historical and transitory character. If then we make the mistake of treating it as the eternal natural form of social production, we necessarily overlook the specificity of the value-form, and consequently of the commodity-form together with its further developments, the money form, the capital form etc.” Marx stated in Capital, Volume I.
Exchange of Commodities and Money: In ‘Synopsis of Capital’, to describe how money came into being to enable exchange of commodities, Engels wrote, “A commodity is a use-value for its non-owner, a non-use-value for its owner. Hence, the need for exchange. But, every commodity owner wants to get in exchange specific use-values that he needs, to that extent, the exchange is an individual process. On the other hand, he wants to realize his commodity as value, that is, in any commodity, whether or not his commodity is use-value to the owner of the other commodity. To that extent, the exchange is for him a generally social process. But, one and the same process cannot be simultaneously both individual and generally social for all commodity owners. Every commodity owner considers his own commodity as the universal equivalent, while all other commodities are so many particular equivalents of his own. Since all commodity owners do the same, no commodity is the universal equivalent, and, hence, no commodities possess a general relative form of value, in which they are equated as values and compared as magnitudes of value..
“Commodities can be related as values and, hence, as commodities only by comparison with some other commodity as the universal equivalent. But only the social act can make a particular commodity the universal equivalent – money…
“Money, as the measure of value, is the necessary phenomenal form of the measure of value immanent in commodities – i.e., labor-time…
“Since all other commodities are merely particular equivalents of money, and money is their universal equivalent, they are related to money as particular commodities to the universal commodity. The process of exchange gives the commodity which it converts into money, not its value, but its value-form.”
Now, it is advantageous if a particular commodity assumes the universal equivalent form – the type of commodity to which the universal equivalent form will stick to, is determined by various circumstances. Eventually, precious metals like gold and silver served as the universal equivalent form, and that came to be known as money. It won’t be out of place to mention that, (a) gold and silver as ornamental materials, have been important articles of exchange since ancient times, (b) these precious metals maintain their quality under the normal environment of air-sunray-water, and (c) these precious metals can be worked upon to change its form and weight. As a matter of fact, gold and silver coins and bars became the money commodity in most of the capitalist countries during 19th century in Europe. Estimated value of the supplies of money in the industrialized countries was estimated in 1831 CE as Gold – £111,600,000 and Silver – £414,000,000 while in 1880 CE it was Gold – £658,500,000 and Silver – £420,300,000. Between 1880 and 1908 CE, £1500,000,000 worth of gold coins and £1000,000,000 worth of silver coins were coined in various currencies. Marx, in Capital, assumed gold to be the only money commodity for the sake of simplicity. The value of gold fluctuates, hence in practice the standard of price is fixed by law (in 19th century European countries).
Price is the money-nomenclature of the magnitude of value of a commodity (as a measure of value, money transforms the values of commodities into certain imaginary quantities of gold). At the same time, it is the expression of the exchange-ratio of the commodity with the money-commodity i.e. gold (as a standard of price it measures the various quantities of gold with a certain quantity of gold which is accepted as a unit, for example one gram of gold).
In ‘Synopsis of Capital’ Engels mentioned, “The circulation of commodities is the starting point of capital. Hence, commodity production, commodity circulation, and the latter’s developed form, commerce, are always the historical groundwork from which capital arises.” The elementary circulation of commodities functions as: Commodity Money Commodity (C M C), which denotes ‘to sell commodity in order to buy another commodity’. One sells a commodity, which is a non-use-value for him/her, in order to obtain money that would be spent for procuring other commodities that represent use-values for him/her – consumption is the purpose, ultimate object is use-value. Let’s discuss a simple C M C cycle depicting circulation of commodities that concerns a carpenter, a tailor, a butcher, and a baker residing in a town operating their small business:
The circulation of commodities imparts a continuous movement to money that pushes it farther from the starting-point, in order to make it pass from one hand to another. There exist two special instances in the above scheme – (a) there is no buyer for Coat, hence the tailor needs money to sustain in situations where commodity exchange doesn’t work due to lack of demand, and (b) there is a demand for carpentry tool box that is beyond the capability of any of the community members, hence it needs to be imported.
A second form of circulation of commodities exist: Money Commodity Money’ (M C M’), which denotes ‘to buy commodity in order to sell’. Final point of this cycle is not a commodity, but money – the purpose is not consumption, ultimate object is exchange-value. The money thrown into circulation at its beginning is not spent, but merely advanced. It returns to its original owner. Let’s discuss a basic ideal rice trader’s business:
Since sale value is more than purchase value, M’=M+∆m. This ∆m earning for the rice trader, is surplus-value. The value originally advanced remains intact in circulation, and adds to itself a surplus-value thereby expanding itself – money converted into capital. However, when the real world is considered (as against an imaginary society where a class of merchants sells commodities to a class of consumers which only buys and does NOT sell), sellers and buyers combine into a system where every family buys and sells (earning a surplus while selling and losing the same amount while buying) resulting in a scenario where “commodity circulation creates no new value”. Let’s go back to the rice trader’s case study, trace the realistic transactions, and sum up the total value across all protagonists – first, starting before the rice trader purchased from the peasant, second, ending after the rice trader sold to the carpenter:
The above case-study shows that, greater value with merchant at the end of commodity circulation cycle is NOT derived from an increase in values, but from a reduction in the values in the hands of the other protagonists. Thus merchant capital doesn’t create surplus-value in a society. The historical beginning of the appropriation of surplus-value occurred this way through the appropriation of alien values: (a) merchant’s capital by means of circulation of commodities – M C M’, (b) usurer’s capital by means of opportunistic extortion – M M’. Not only the economic system got distorted due to capital assuming the form of merchant’s or usurer’s capital, but it also created a conflict with contemporary moral conceptions in ancient and medieval era. Usury was denounced by ALL religious scriptures except the Jewish. Trading was also not treated with high esteem, except that the rulers needed tax receipts generated from trading.
Surplus-labour and Surplus-value: In the modern era, the commodity producer produces surplus-value by adding labor efforts, and by staying within the sphere of circulation – the whole process is driven by industrial capital in a gigantic scale. The above-mentioned representation M C M’ should therefore be modified as: M C … C+∆c M+∆m. Here the industrialist procures commodity C, he/she employ laborer who gives the effort to add surplus-value ∆c to the commodity, the modified commodity C+∆c is sold by the businessman/ industrialist at M+∆m thereby realizing surplus-value. So, labor-power has to appear in the market as a commodity. “But, for the owner of money to find labor-power in the market as a commodity, it must be sold by its own possessor- that is, it must be free labor-power. Since buyer and seller as contracting parties are both juridically equal persons, labor-power must be sold only temporarily — since in a sale, en bloc, the seller no longer remains the seller, but becomes a commodity himself. But then the owner, instead of being able to sell commodities in which his labor is embodied, must rather be in a position where he has to sell his labor-power itself as a commodity”, commenting on the process of how labor power converts money to industrial capital as analyzed by Marx, Engels noted this in his ‘Synopsis of Capital’. A person would sell his labor-power as commodity when he is divorced from the means of production like land, machinery, and tools.
In ‘Capital’ volume 1, Marx defined labor-power as “by labor-power or capacity for labor is to be understood the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.” Labor-power presupposes the availability of required quantity and quality of the means of subsistence (food and nourishment, clothing, dwelling, entertainment, etc.) in order to replace the energy expended during working and to be able to work on the next day. Engels noted this in his ‘Synopsis of Capital’, “Labour-power has an exchange-value which is determined, like that of all other commodities, by the (socially necessary – added by the interviewee) labor-time required for its production, and hence for its reproduction a well. The value of a day’s labor-power is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of its owner to keep the worker alive and well (in a state of normal capacity to work next day). This depends upon climate, natural conditions, etc., and also on the given historical standard of living in each country and for each particular epoch. Moreover, his maintenance includes the means of subsistence for his substitutes – i.e., his children – in order that the race of these peculiar commodity owners may perpetuate itself. Furthermore, for skilled labor, the cost of education.’’
Marx stated in ‘Capital’ volume 1, “The total labor power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labor power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labor power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary. The socially necessary labor time (SNLT) is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time.”
Suppose that production of commodities (as means of subsistence) takes five hours to produce. Accordingly the first five hours of any working day would be spent on producing value equivalent to the value of the wages (as payment to the worker) – SNLT. Next three hours or so for which the worker puts effort is known as surplus labor, producing surplus-value for the capitalist. For Marx, labor-power is the only commodity which can produce more value than it is worth – so, labor-power is called as variable capital. The instruments of labor (machinery, tools) do not alter the magnitude of its value in the production process, only pass their value on to the finished commodities – all of these are known as constant capital. The theory of surplus-value shows that profit is the result of the labor performed by the worker over and above that necessary to create the value of his/her wages. “Surplus value is produced by the employment of labor power. Capital buys the labor power and pays the wages for it. By means of his work, the laborer creates new value which does not belong to him, but to the capitalist. He must work a certain time merely in order to reproduce the equivalent value of his wages. But when this equivalent value has been returned, he does not cease to work, but continues to do so for some further hours. The new value which he produces during this extra time, and which exceeds, in consequence, the amount of his wage, constitutes surplus value.”
Let’s look into the following case study involving a handloom owner, and a weaver. The loom owner buys the means of production (subject of labor – cotton, instrument of labour – spindle), and pays the weaver (i.e. buys his labor-power) to work up the cotton at the loom to produce yarn.
Assumptions – (a) The means of subsistence necessary for the worker’s maintenance can be produced in 4 hours of SNLT. Such an amount of labor time is equivalent to a wage of 2 units of money. The capitalist buys the labor-power at its value paying 2 units for the working day; 2 working hour represent 1 unit, 1 working hour represent 1/2 unit of money
(b) 1 kilogram of yarn is spun out of 1 kilogram of cotton;
(c) Each kilogram of cotton represent 2 working hours labor, and would therefore cost 1 unit of money;
(d) 1 spindle is consumed in the spinning of every 100 kilogram of cotton;
(e) Each spindle embodies 20 working hours labor, and would therefore cost 10 units of money;
(f) In a working hour 2 kilograms of cotton are spun, therefore in 6 hours 12 kilograms spun under normal socially necessary conditions of production;
(g) Working day at factory consists of 8 working hours.
Under these circumstances how much value would be embodied in a pound of yarn? The value of the cotton and the spindle consumed in its production. This passes into the product without curtailment or augmentation. To this transmitted value is now added the value which the work of spinning imparts to the cotton
The value of 1 kilogram of yarn = the value of (1 kilogram of cotton + 1/100th of a spindle + 1/2 working hour)
= 1 + 1/10 + 1/4 = 1.35 units of money.
In 4 hours (SNLT) 8 kilograms of yarn are spun, the value of which is
= 1.35 x 8 = 10.8 units of money.
For 8 kilogram of yarn the capitalist spent
= 8 kilogram of cotton + 8/100ths of a spindle + 1 unit of labour-power (working-day)
= 8 + 0.8 + 2 = 10.8 units of money.
So far, the capitalist couldn’t create any surplus-value for him from the production process. He/she has bought the use-value of the labor-power for the whole day; and therefore he/she has the right to utilize the use-value to the utmost. After a further 4 hours, at the end of the working day, the capitalist reckons again.
In 8 hours 16 kilograms of yarn are spun, the value of which is
= 1.35 x 16 = 21.6 units of money.
For 16 kilogram of yarn the capitalist spent
= 16 kilogram of cotton+ 16/100ths of a spindle+ 1 unit of labour-power (working-day)
= 16 + 1.6 + 2 = 19.6 units of money.
Hence, the capitalist earned (21.6 – 19.6) i.e. 2 units of money as surplus-value. “As a value-creating process, the labor process becomes a process of producing surplus-value the moment it is prolonged beyond the point where it delivers a simple equivalent for the paid-for value of labor-power”.
Price and Profit: Marx clearly delineated value from price and profit, by pointing out the sharp distinction between production of surplus-value and realization of profit as net income. As it happened since 15th century CE, selling a product in a market itself would be a challenging task where competitors exist – so, the commodity may be produced containing surplus-value, but selling that output to realize that surplus-value is not an automatic process. Until payment from sales is received by the capitalist, it is uncertain how much of the (produced) surplus-value will actually be realized as gross profit. Finally, interest and tax would have to be paid from the gross profit to arrive at net profit. Marx stated in ‘Value, Price and Profit’, “Rent, interest, and industrial profit are only different names for different parts of the surplus value of the commodity”. The magnitude of net profit realized as money will differ from the magnitude of surplus-value produced in manufacturing depending on market demand and prices fluctuations.
Marx went into great detail to examine various factors which could affect the production and realization of surplus-value. He regarded three types of competition as crucial for the purpose of understanding the dynamics of realization -competition among capitalists, competition between capitalists and workers, and competition among workers. His conclusion was that employers will aim to ‘maximise the productivity of labor and economize on the use of labor’, to ‘reduce their unit-costs and maximize their net returns from sales at current market prices. The main method, as Marx suggested, was mechanization to raise the fixed capital outlay in investment and simultaneous reduction in variable capital i.e. labor-power.
How does the mechanism of the movement of prices operate in a capitalist society, as per Marx?
Let’s discuss a case study of a luxury car assuming the average selling price as $100,000. Enterprises working at average social labor productivity, produced cars at a cost of $85,000, realizing $15,000 in gross profit i.e. 17.6%. The possibilities are:
Option 1 – plants operating below the average productivity of labor:
Assuming expenses to produce a luxury car as $90,000, gross profit will be $10,000.
Option 2 – plants operating above the average productivity of labor:
Assuming expenses to produce a luxury car as $80,000, gross profit will be $20,000 which indicates 25%.
Average profit is an abstract idea, an average figure around which the gross profit rates of different enterprises and different manufacturing plants of an enterprise fluctuate. The capitalist competition favors those enterprises which realize more than average profits. Capital flows toward the enterprises and branches which realize more profits and flows away from those which realize profits below the average. This ebb and flow of capital is the way through which that equalization of the rates of profit is effected. This ‘abstract average rate of profit’ is the ratio of ‘the total mass of surplus value produced by all workers in a given year and in a given country’ to ‘the total mass of capital investment in that country’.
What is the formula for the rate of profit, as per Marx?
If surplus-value is denoted by S, constant capital is denoted by C, and variable capital is denoted by V,
(Gross) profit rate = Ratio of surplus-value and total capital = S/(C+V).
Another formula, surplus value rate = S/V, specifies the way in which the ‘produced value’ is divided between workers and capitalists. If, S/V equals 1, this means that the ‘produced value’ is divided into two equal parts – one part going to the capitalist (as gross profits which further breaks down into net profit, interest, tax), and the other going to the workers (in the form of wages, and bonus). When the rate of surplus value is 1, the 8-hour working day essentially means that a worker spends 4 hours of (SNLT) to produce the value equivalent to wages, and provides 4 hours of labor in which they supply free labor-power to create the surplus-value to be appropriated by the bourgeois capitalist.
Now, if S/V (i.e. surplus value rate) increases, both numerator and denominator S/(C+V) (i.e. gross profit rate) increase. Under certain conditions where the two increases occur in a certain proportion, the value of the fraction will remain the same. In other words, an increase in the surplus-value rate may neutralize the effects of an increase in the organic composition of capital (i.e. V). Let’s do a simple analysis on the effect of increasing constant capital:
Stage 1: Total value of production = 1C + 1V + 1S
Gross profit rate = 50%
Surplus value rate = 100%
Stage 2: Total value of production = 2C + 1V + 1S… after C is doubled
Gross profit rate = 33.3%
Surplus value rate = 100%
Further, if surplus value goes up from 1 to 1.5, gross profit rate rises back to original figure.
Total value of production = 2C + 1V + 1.5S
Surplus value rate = 150%
Gross profit rate = 50%
Hence, increase in surplus value rate can neutralize the effect of the increase in constant composition of capital, on gross profit rate. But, the question would be raised – if constant capital C is increased continuously, can surplus value go down continuously, so that the gross profit rate remains the same? No, while there is no limit whatsoever to the increase in the constant capital C, variable capital V can only go down up to a certain level (say, from 8 working-hour per day to 1 working-hour when total automation rules the capitalist economy). This indicates that, in the long run, the fall in the average rate of (gross) profit is inevitable.
Did Marx examine the relation between price and market?
Contrary to what Marxist scholars like Ernest Mandel, Ben Fine proposed (that ‘Marx advanced two different theories of market-value determination: a theory of market-value for sectors without rent, and a theory of market-value for rent-bearing sectors’), Fabian Balardini proposes in ‘Demand and Market-Value in Marx’s Theory of Rent’ that, “Marx advanced a unique theory of market-value determination that applies to all sectors (with or without rent) where market-value is determined during periods of market disequilibrium by the changes in production conditions in conjunction with changes in demand.”
(3) Environmental Critique of Capitalism
The German scientist Justus von Liebig advocated an ecological critique of British agriculture capitalism between 1855 and 1865 – Liebig accused them of “’systematically leaching the soil of nutrients, thereby requiring that bones be imported from the Napoleonic battlefields and catacombs of Europe, and guano from Peru, to replenish English fields.” (Refer ‘Marxism and Ecology’, John Bellamy Foster published in Monthly Review, December 01, 2015). Foster also wrote in his book ‘Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature’ published in 2000, “With trade and expansion, food and fiber were shipped longer distances. The nutrients of the soil were sent to cities in the form of agricultural produce, but these same nutrients, in the form of human and animal waste, were not returned to the land. Thus there was a one-way movement, a “robbing of the soil” in order to maintain the socio-economic reproduction of society.”
Marx defined the labor process itself as “Labor is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces, which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature … It [the labor process] is the universal condition for the metabolic interaction [Stoffwechsel] between man and nature, the everlasting nature-imposed condition of human existence, […]”. Marx identified a rift in this metabolism and on this basis, he developed the theory metabolic rift, pointing to the “irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself.”
Beginning in the 1880s, the British zoologist E. Ray Lankester (Marx’s close friend) and his student, the botanist A. George Tansley proposed an ecological critique of capitalism, and founded the British Ecological Society. Marx’s concepts of the ‘universal metabolism of nature’, the ‘social metabolism’, and the metabolic rift have proven invaluable tools for modelling the complex relations between capitalist productive systems, and the ecological systems in which the productive systems are embedded. Marx’s environmental critique intertwined with his critique of capitalist economy offers historical materialism a unique perspective on the current ecological crisis.
Marx detailed the historical background of how capitalism impacted ecology by breaking down the traditional natural sustainability, he wrote in ‘Capital’ volume I, “Capitalist production, by collecting the population in great centers, and causing an ever-increasing preponderance of town population, on the one hand concentrates the historical motive power of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., prevents the return to the soil of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to lasting fertility of the soil. By this action it destroys at the same time the health of the town laborer and the intellectual life of the rural laborer. … Moreover, all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the laborer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction.” In ‘Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective’ Paul Burkett wrote, “Value and capital treat wealth as homogenous, divisible, and quantitatively limitless, thereby contradicting nature’s qualitative variegation, ecological interconnection, and quantitative limits.”
The most significant reality of nature is finite material resources and space. Power of science and technology, as harnessed by capitalist economy (primarily capitalist commodity production, power generation, infrastructure construction etc.) treated the limitations of nature as mere barriers to be surmounted – thus the ‘ecological foundations of human existence’ have been systematically undermined during past over five centuries. Central to this whole dynamics of ecology destruction was/is capital’s intrinsic characteristic of endless accumulation. Foster noted in ‘Marxism and Ecology’ article, ‘Capital as a system was intrinsically geared to the maximum possible accumulation and throughput of matter and energy, regardless of human needs or natural limits’. Hence, contradiction continues to grow between the imperatives of environmental flexibility and economic growth. Exponential growth in economic output across the world can’t occur without expanding rifts in the ecosystem.
Foster also noted in the same article that, ‘an “environmental proletariat” will almost inevitably emerge from the combination of ecological degradation and economic hardship, particularly at the bottom of society’. Alerting against that, Marx was extremely categorical regarding the ideal human-environment relations, “From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.” Marx proposed that in a future communist society humans could themselves govern their relations with nature through collective control, he stated in ‘Capital’ volume III, “Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilized man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production.… Freedom in this field can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of, their human nature.”
‘Environmental Critique of Capitalism’ as elucidated by Marx has been a prophetic standpoint. The environmental degradation and destruction carried out in 19th and 20th centuries by the industrial economy (mostly owned by the private capital, balance owned by the state capital) across the world has a lot to do with increasingly unbalanced ecology and weather (heat wave, flood, drought, rainfall etc.). The entire cycle of capitalist economy has been the key contributing factor for the overall ruin of the planet earth since the middle of 20th century.
The beauty of Marxism is that, at every step of each of the three theories, the historical evolution had been traced, a teleological view of historical change had been presented by both Marx and Engels ostensibly to transcend the barriers of past and present (and draw the future)! Pointing out to the history of commodity-money-labor and mode of production, Engels noted in his ‘Synopsis of Capital’, “the relation between money owner and labor-power owner is not a natural one, or a social one common to all ages, but a historical one, the product of many economic revolutions. So, too, do the economic categories considered up to now bear their historical stamp. To become a commodity, a product must no longer be produced as the immediate means of subsistence. The mass of products can assume commodity-form only within a specific mode of production, the capitalist mode, although commodity production and circulation can take place even where the mass of products never become commodities. Likewise, money can exist in all periods that have attained a certain level of commodity circulation; the specific money-forms, from mere equivalent to world money, presuppose various stages of development; nevertheless, a very slightly developed circulation of commodities can give rise to all of them. Capital, on the other hand, arises only under the above condition, and this one condition comprises a world’s history.
A brief discussion on three concepts that permeate across all aspects of Marxist theory and philosophy:
(1) Alienation of labor
In ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844’, Marx identified four dimensions of alienated labor in capitalism:
- The actual producers create a product that they neither own nor control; thus, immediate producers are estranged from the product of their labor;
- In reality, the worker is forced to work in ways that are mentally and/or physically sapping; hence, immediate producers are separated from their productive activity;
- In the capitalist society, economic relations drive individuals to view others as ‘merely means to their own particular ends’; hence, immediate producers are separated from other individuals of society;
- The capitalist society discourage individual human capacities for ‘free, conscious, and creative work’ by forcing him/her to adhere to capitalist economic relations; thus immediate producers are separated from their own ‘self’, from their human nature
The idea of alienation plays a central role in the whole of Marx’s work spanning across whole life. As per Marx, the life of the worker would depend on things that he/she has created but those are not owned by him/her; instead of finding his/her fair existence through labor efforts, he/she loses it in this environment which is external to him/her. Thus a worker is deprived of humanity. “The generic being (Gattungwesen) of man, nature as well as his intellectual faculties, is transformed into a being which is alien to him, into a means of his individual existence”. Nature, his/her body, his/her spiritual essence become alien to him. “Man is made alien to man”.
Marx, in ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844’, “Nature is man’s inorganic body – nature, that is, insofar as it is not itself a human body. Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.”…
“Man makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity distinguishes man immediately from animal life activity. It is just because of this that he is a species-being. Or it is only because he is a species-being that he is a conscious being, i.e., that his own life is an object for him. Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor reverses the relationship so that it is just because man is a conscious being that he makes his life activity, his essential being, a mere ‘means’ to his existence.”…
“From the relationship of estranged labor to private property it follows further that the emancipation of society from private property, etc., from servitude, is expressed in the political form of the emancipation of the workers; not that their emancipation alone is at stake, but because the emancipation of the workers contains universal human emancipation – and it contains this because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and all relations of servitude are but modifications and consequences of this relation.”
Through a process of losing their quality as human products, the products of labor become fetishes, that is, alien realities to which both the individual who possesses them and the individual worker who is deprived of them submit themselves. In the capitalist economy, this submission to things is disguised by the fact that the exchange of commodities is expressed in money. The fundamental economic alienation is accompanied by secondary political and ideological alienations, which offer a distorted rationalization of a material world in which the relations of individuals with one another are also distorted and, indeed, estranged. We can’t avoid going back to Marx – in ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ he stated in the preface as bluntly as possible, “The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”
(2) Primitive accumulation of capital
The capitalist converts at least a portion of surplus-value into capital. “Employing surplus-value as capital, reconverting it into capital, is called accumulation of capital.” Money is NOT in itself capital, but becomes capital ONLY when it acquires the capacity of self-expansion. When money functions as just the means of circulation of commodities, it doesn’t possess any power of self-multiplication; similarly if money is stored as an idle reserve, it can’t expand. Hence, Money becomes capital through a process of capitalist mode of production during which it expands in the course of its circulation – ‘Value therefore now becomes value in process, money in process, and, as such, capital’. (Capital, vol. I)
Marx not only exposed the true working principle of capitalist economy based on exploitation, but he also identified how the primitive (initial) accumulation of capital happened long before it could propel the industrial capitalism in 18th century. In Capital volume I, Marx wrote, “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre…
“The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organized force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.”
In a letter to N F Danielson the Narodnik economist, dated February 19, 1881 Marx wrote about the ‘drain’ of resources from India during British rule: “What the English take from them annually in the form of rent, dividends for railways useless to the Hindus; pensions for military and civil service men, for Afghanistan and other wars, etc., etc. – what they take from them without any equivalent and quite apart from what they appropriate to themselves annually within India, speaking only of the value of the commodities the Indians have gratuitously and annually to send over to England – it amounts to more than the total sum of income of the sixty millions of agricultural and industrial laborers of India. This is a bleeding process, with a vengeance!”
“The public debt becomes one of the most powerful levers of primitive accumulation. As with the stroke of an enchanter’s wand, it endows unproductive money with the power of creation and thus turns it into capital, without forcing it to expose itself to the troubles and risks inseparable from its employment in industry or even in usury … As the national debt is backed by the revenues of the state, which must cover the annual interest payments, etc., the modern system of taxation was the necessary complement of the system of national loans… Here, however, we are less concerned with the destructive influence it exercises on the situation of the wage-laborer than with the forcible expropriation, resulting from it, of peasants, artisans, in short, of all the constituents of the lower middle-class. (Marx, 1990: 919-921)”
Marx emphasized the centrality of dispossession (enclosure of agricultural land and expropriation of peasantry from farmland) in the genesis of capitalist social relations, and connected it to other events like public debt and the fiscal system contributed to the capitalization and accumulation of wealth. David Harvey prefers the term “accumulation by dispossession” to “primitive accumulation”. He argued (2003) that capital actively “creates” its outside at one point in time and space to destroy at another, when faced with a crisis of over-accumulation. Harvey and other Marxists emphatically made the point that accumulation of capital is a continuous process.
The fact of the matter remains same whether it was carried out in 16th century England, or 18th century France, or 18th century USA, or Russia during 1990s, or India during 2010s – manipulation, coercion, and force applied by the state apparatus enabled the oligarchy and wealthy capitalists to continue accumulation of capital:
- enclosure of agricultural land
- direct loot of precious metals from colonies
- plantation business in colonies using slaves
- skewed trading rules with colonies that favor export from occupying power
- genocide of aborigines to occupy agricultural land and mines
- skewed investment rules with former colonies that favor former occupying power
- acquisition of agricultural land for industrial and infrastructural projects
- privatization of government-owned large assets like utilities, mines, manufacturing plants
- privatization of essential services like education and healthcare
- change in fiscal policies by government to favor capitalists
(3) Contradictions of capitalist economy
Marx argued that there are fundamental contradictions within the capitalist system which will lead eventually to its being superseded by another system having a different mode of production. Thus if capitalism proves to be ‘the end of history’, the final stage of human society, as envisaged by Francis Fukuyama, then Marxism will be finally repudiated. In Marx’ view, the defeat of capitalism would be the natural consequence of capitalism’s success:
- The more vigorous the process of accumulation of capital becomes (through increasing mechanization and automation technology, minimizing the costs of labor in production) the less it needs workforce – an increasing part of the proletariat population would no longer be needed in capitalist production process, a ‘reserve army of workers’ would get created in industry and agriculture across all countries, finally this will result in low purchasing power of common people;
- In the long run, as the process of accumulation of capital continue unabated, there would be decline in the average rate of (gross) profit culminating in a crisis of capital accumulation; the average rates of (gross) profit in the advanced capitalist countries are much lower than they were 100 or 150 years ago, this is also true for interest rates, both David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill perceived this tendency of capitalism; that, in turn, would result in a sharp reduction in productive investments – mass unemployment would become a norm rather than the exception, restructuring of capital in terms of takeovers-mergers-closures will happen to restore profitability;
- The more competitive the process of capitalist business turns (through cost optimization, marketing campaigns) the monopoly capital becomes more pronounced – an increasing part of the petty-bourgeois class would become idle, and monolithic families representing monopoly capital would seek more direct control of the state apparatus across all countries;
- A logic of permanent exponential growth of business in order to achieve endless accumulation of capital, is the working principle of capitalism, but it can’t work out successfully in a planet which contains LIMITED land and resources – initially, there would be overproduction of finished commodities, and finally, a day will come when raw material and fuel won’t be easily available for endless production, by then the ecosystem would be completely ruined which in turn would adversely impact lifestyle of common people across all countries;
Periodic economic crises is an intrinsic feature in the capitalist system, and that remains insurmountable. Crises demonstrate the fundamental contradiction in the capitalist system. To overcome such crises, the capitalist system continuously tries to adjust and re-adjust – thus we notice only a slowing down in investment activity following a fall in the profit and interest rates, and on the other hand, hectic investment activity for rapid expansion when profit rate experience a rising tendency. However, such adjustments can’t resolve the inherent contradictions in the long run.
In ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844’ (translated by Martin Milligan from the German text) published in 1932, Marx stated, “In an increasingly prosperous society only the richest of the rich can continue to live on money interest. Everyone else has to carry on a business with his capital, or venture it in trade. As a result, the competition between the capitalists becomes more intense. The concentration of capital increases, the big capitalists ruin the small, and a section of the erstwhile capitalists sinks into the working class, which as a result of this supply again suffers to some extent a depression of wages and passes into a still greater dependence on the few big capitalists. The number of capitalists having been diminished, their competition with respect to the workers scarcely exists any longer; and the number of workers having been increased, their competition among themselves has become all the more intense, unnatural, and violent. Consequently, a section of the working class falls into beggary or starvation just as necessarily as a section of the middle capitalists fall into the working class.
Hence even in the condition of society most favorable to the worker, the inevitable result for the worker is overwork and premature death, decline to a mere machine, a bondservant of capital, which piles up dangerously over and against him, more competition, and starvation or beggary for a section of the workers”
Finally, who is a Marxist communist?
The idea that ‘theory and practice must be united’ sometimes gets misrepresented or misunderstood or both. Application of theory (or an appropriate derivative) in political activity is the correct way of life for a Marxist communist. This is NOT to say that every Marxist communist must be engaged simultaneously in interpreting theory as well as conducting street-corner meetings. Who does what where is something that depends on the roles and responsibilities of a Marxist organization. Every activity and each category of role has full potential to make important contributions to the cause of Marxism and can’t be simply dismissed.
A Marxist communist must fulfill five minimum basic criteria before he/she can be called as such:
- One who understands and accepts the Marxist philosophy of ‘dialectical’ ‘historical’ materialism, critique of capitalist economy, and environmental critique of capitalism. A Marxist needs to increase the horizon of knowledge throughout his/her life, and more importantly, share knowledge with the younger generation on a regular basis;
- One who believes and participates in the social and political movements organized around the basic tenets of Marxist communism. A Marxist needs to practice what he/she preaches, as a minimum become a compassionate human being who extends support to the cause of commoners;
- One who understands the background of significant criticisms against Marxist communism and knows how to handle the same. True Marxists need to accept the fact that, Marx and Engels didn’t get enough time to finish most of their planned thesis, neither had they done justice to all the subjects they touched upon:
(a) anti-God – in his book ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ written in 1843 and published in 1844 Marx stated, “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Only the last sentence of the quote would be used as a ‘proof of concept’ by every non-Marxist academician, media personality, politician, businessperson, apart from the people who belong to religious institutions to highlight how ‘evil’ Marxism can be. A Marxist needs to accept (rather than argue without robust logic and knowledge) that Marx touched upon the subject of God and religion as part of his socio-economic philosophy, but he didn’t intend to write in-depth about religion, and the existence of God, nor he insisted that one has to become anti-God in order to criticize the religious establishment (which was part of ruling oligarchy in every society in every era). Neither Marx nor Engels put a condition that one has to be an atheist to become a Marxist communist – on the contrary, Engels criticized the Paris Communards for their membership criterion which required one to be an atheist;
(b) bloody revolution – in ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ Marx and Engels stated, “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat”. Thus the founders used the word ‘revolution’ in two senses – firstly, a complete change of a system/society, and secondly, the overthrow of political order (which may become violent). In 1872 CE, in a speech at Amsterdam, Marx said, “We know that heed must be paid to the institutions, customs and traditions of the various countries, and we do not deny that there are countries, such as America and England and if I was familiar with its institutions, I might include Holland, where the workers may attain their goal by peaceful means. That being the case, we must recognize that in most continental countries the lever of revolution will have to be force; a resort to force will be necessary one day in order to set up the rule of labor.” (Article ‘Marx, Engels and the vote’ by Duncan Hallas, Socialist Review, June 1983). So, Marx never preached about the inevitability of bloody revolution – he was open about the possibility of both electoral means as well as armed struggle, depending on country and era;
- One who accepts that Marx, Engels, and Lenin developed robust concepts and theoretical framework that are ‘only general guiding principles that must be applied differently in accordance with the prevailing conditions and characteristics of a specific country in a specific era. Lenin wrote “we do not consider the theory of Marx to be a complete, immutable whole. We think on the contrary that this theory has only laid the cornerstone of the science, a science which socialists must further develop in all directions if they do not want to let themselves be overtaken by life.” (Lenin. Collected Works. Lawrence & Wishart. Vol. 4);
- One who would not inherit and/or own a business operation involving investment of substantial capital and significant sales turnover (quantification is difficult and debatable, but doable – say, total equity capital more than one hundred thousand US Dollars, total workforce more than ten persons, and annual sales more than two hundred thousand US Dollars) in any sector of economy: primary, secondary, or tertiary that will propel him/her into the bourgeois capitalist class. That sums up my position as, petty-bourgeois class is welcome to the Marxist communist movement. Indeed, ‘a provisional coalition between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie rebelling against a capitalism’ should be a long-term strategy for Marxists.
And, a true Marxist must be able to dream of a world where:
- The fetish of ‘private ownership’ will be buried and the concept of ‘community ownership’ will be resurrected (for assets/property that can be used as means of production). This has nothing to do with personal / family belongings and properties like flat/bungalow/car etc. A human being who has some privilege in society (due to whatever reason) tends to amass wealth through private ownership. It is against the fundamental reality of the earth and nature. Every means of production whether the subjects of labor (raw materials, natural resources including source land, energy) or the instruments of labor (tools, machinery, factory including land, other infrastructure) which go into the production of any material (from a grain of wheat to a battle tank) and service (from mobile communication to electric supply) is drawn from natural resources while the processing is done by a team of people with different skill sets (Labour). Hence, any enterprise (family, business, kingdom etc.) that uses such ‘produced materials’ and ‘produced services’ directly or indirectly utilize natural resources and social labor efforts. How then, can any human being claim ‘private ownership’ of anything on the earth?
- Yet another fetish, that of ‘state apparatus’ will be buried, and the concept of ‘community governance’ will be resurrected in the proposed ‘confluence of humanity’. It can’t be disputed that in spite of sincere efforts by few political outfits across the world to create a humanitarian facade of ‘state apparatus’ since many centuries, that resulted in the creation of benevolent despot (in few cases, in the desired form) and hypocrite monster (in most cases in the worst form, in most part of the history). So the introduction of a ‘community governance’ will do away with the recurrence of unpleasant memories. The theoretical edifice built for the super-structure of ‘state’ (on the basis of the idea of ‘social contract’ expounded by the humanist and rational thinkers of modern Europe) could never convert the wolf into a sheep. In reality, ‘State’ is that institution built over the base (comprising of the forces of production and relations of production) to ensure that the dominant class of bourgeois capitalists can (a) own the banking and other means of production, (b) appropriate the surplus generated from the prevailing mode of production, (c) pass on these positions to their next generation along with the accumulated wealth.
- The significant praxis of modern society and sophistry of modern civilization revolves around the ubiquitous idea of ‘capital’ and ‘commodity’. Without the ‘private ownership’ of means of production, ‘capital’ and ‘commodity’ would have already lost their sheen. In the new world, the cult of ‘capital’ and ‘commodity’ has to be controlled to such an extent that, apart from small producers and traders, there would be no private-controlled business that could create a scenario of monopoly capital in a sector or large accumulation of capital with a capitalist. ‘Money’ will be mainly used as a ‘medium of exchange’. The rigged system of capitalist commodity production has robbed mother earth of its resources and converted the vast majority of people into wage-slaves and debt-serfs – humanity needs a cessation of this insanity.
- The integrity of the natural ecosystem would be maintained in order to make it sustainable. The wanton destruction of the quality of land, water, and air for the short-term gains (of the modern industrial economy) at the expense of long-term sustainability must end. Measures like a shift away from power generation using polluting materials like coal and tar-sand oil to solar and wind, cutbacks in non-social expenditures like military, massive afforestation etc. should be promoted by UNO. The animal and plant kingdoms must be able to live without fear of extinction – it must be acknowledged that mother earth belongs to all.
- Every human being (irrespective of his/her background identity like age, sex, ethnicity, language, religion, region, state) will become free from hunger-disease-insecurity-injustice, will spend time in socially useful productive work, can indulge in literature-art-music-cinema, can do research in science-mathematics-social science-life science, can seek knowledge of ‘life’-‘society’-‘world’-‘universe’, can seek entertainment, travel and pleasure at leisure time, without any of these things being morally or physically harmful to any section or people of the society. In other words, an alt-world is possible where complete dignity, widest possible freedom, and maximum possible development for every citizen of this planet would become reality.
Even though Marxism cannot be defined by specifying few doctrines, or by identifying its practical method, Marxism does have ‘a distinctive and determinate identity’, and each of the aspects of the identity helps us to appreciate what Marxism is. Having said that, I must state that, Marxist communism has a consistent outlook about past history and society. Marx and Engels cautioned against becoming dogmatic and sectarian while looking ahead. There may be differences of opinion about ‘correct’ interpretation of a Marxist tenet – as long as the other opinion does NOT hurt overall Marxist philosophy, the same should be recognized as valid for the specific society at the specific time.
Another crucial aspect that must be mentioned here is: after Marx and Engels initiated the intellectual process of construction of the system what we call as ‘Marxist communism’ way back in 1840’s, dozens of socio-political leaders, and hundreds of economists, philosophers, and social scientists contributed to the development of the edifice in the long 20th century. Lenin and Mao paved the way following which Marxist communist ‘theory’ arrived at its intended destination of ‘reality’. Lenin followed by Mao dazzled the modern history with the most profound and fundamental contribution towards building the praxis of ‘Marxist communism’ – not only they sat down to write the ‘implementation manuals’ diligently, they organised the common people to struggle against the oligarchy, and they re-established their states with Marxist communism as the guiding principle.
Marx in ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844’ had a dream of humanist communism, “Communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being – a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species.”
No one summed up Marxism and its goals better than Eric Hobsbawm (refer The Age of Revolution), “But it was not until Karl Marx (1818-83) transferred the center of gravity of the argument for socialism from its rationality or desirability to its historic inevitability that socialism acquired its most formidable intellectual weapon, against which polemical defenses are still being erected. Marx derived this line of argument from a combination of the Franco-British and the German ideological traditions (English political economy, French socialism and German philosophy). For Marx human society had inevitably broken primitive communism into classes; inevitably evolved through a succession of class societies, each in spite of its injustices in its time ‘progressive’, each containing the ‘internal contradictions’ which at a certain point made it an obstacle to further progress and generating the forces for its supercession. Capitalism was the last of these, and Marx, so far from merely attacking it, used all his world-shaking eloquence to trumpet forth its historic achievements. But capitalism could be shown by means of political economy to possess internal contradictions which inevitably made it at a certain point a bar to further progress and would plunge it into a crisis from which it could not emerge. Capitalism, moreover (as could also be shown by political economy), inevitably created its own grave-diggers, the proletariat whose numbers and discontent must grow while the concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands made it more vulnerable to overthrow. Proletarian revolution must therefore inevitably overthrow it.”