An Introduction to Marxist Political Economy
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. – K. Marx 1852 ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire’
These notes are to serve as an introduction to working class political economy or Marxist economics. They are to explain in modern language the very basic terms, phrases, method, and implications of the scientific study of economics, of working class slavery and ultimately our freedom. They are to serve as a basic guide for the further study of original materials and as a useful introduction to other materials and commentary on this website. It is for this reason that there are extensive quotes from Marx and Engels to introduce the reader to the style and language used. The notes also quote from Lenin and use Lenin as a guide as he better than any writer and activist has developed Marxism and explained Marxism to working people.
The economic analysis of history as a whole and of capitalism in particular, is essential to the understanding of society today. Indeed, it forms the basis upon which we can understand the crisis, make sense of the establishments response to the crisis and struggle to change society. By economy I mean the manner in which society creates and divides goods, wealth and services. Marx called this the method of production and means of distribution and exchange. Political economy recognises that the economic system cannot be separated from the politics or ideals of a society.
Historical events thus appear on the whole to be likewise governed by chance. But where on the surface accident holds sway, there actually it is always governed by inner, hidden laws and it is only a matter of discovering these laws. – F. Engels, 1888. ‘Ludwig Feuerbach’
Historical Basis and MethodAn honest study of history will show the form society takes i.e. our relations to each other within society, is determined and developed by the dominant method of production, by the way in which society as a whole creates and exchanges goods. So for example, going back thousands of years before the ability to plant crops, or the technology to harvest, before we had the tools and knowledge for this, man and woman were what we now call ‘hunter gatherers’. They moved around picking up whatever food they could from where they were, and after they had exploited or used the resources there they would move on. From this very basic example we can see how their lives as a whole were conditioned by the tools they had and the manner in which they created the means to live by.
Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them. – K. Marx, 1867. ‘Capital Volume I’
With the ability to create fire, tools, to preserve food, in essence with a change in technology, society as whole changed drastically. ‘Hunter gatherers’ began to settle down and form communities of common wealth and goods. Animals were able to be farmed, crops grown and development began to be predicted, science in a very rudimentary form was applied to production. Here we also see the beginning of exploitation of person on person through the economy, the beginning of classes.
In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing their way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist. – K. Marx and F. Engels, 1848. ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
Where previously there was a gender division of labour, due to physical and social differences between men and women, it was non-exploitative as neither labour produced anything extra. Everything produced was consumed or used. Property was common and labour was not exploited. With the changes in technology that enabled peoples to settle down, animals to be housed and crops to be grown, suddenly the male side of the division of labour had the capacity and did indeed produce surplus and exchangeable goods whereas the female’s labour did not.
Here the domestication of animals and the breeding of herds had developed a hitherto unsuspected source of wealth and created entirely new social relations. Up to the lower stages of barbarism, permanent wealth had consisted almost solely of house, clothing, crude ornaments and the tools for obtaining and preparing food … Food had to be won afresh day by day. Now, with their herds of horses, camels, asses, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, the advancing pastoral peoples … had acquired property which only needed supervision and rudest care to reproduce itself in steadily increasing quantities … All former means of procuring food now receded into the background; hunting, formerly a necessity, now became a luxury. – F. Engels, 1884 ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’
Men now dominated in the economic process and very soon they dominated in every aspect of life. Economic, political and social exploitation had begun on the basis of the dominant economic system.
Slave Society, Private Property and the State
The technological advances made also created the ability of settled communities to keep slaves, house and feed them. Thus marks the beginning of slavery and the slave trade. Slaves now became the major source of labour upon which wealth and goods were created. Slave society existed, the first fully classed society. All this was created by technological advancement and the relations it created within society, the method of production and exchange.
The family did not multiply so rapidly as the cattle. More people were needed to look after them; for this purpose use could be made of the enemies captured in war, who could also be bred just as easily as the cattle themselves.
F. Engels, 1884 ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’
It was now desirable to bring in new labour forces. War provided them; prisoners of war were turned into slaves … From the first great social division of labour arose the first great cleavage of society into two classes: master and slaves, exploiters and exploited. – F. Engels, 1884 ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’
Private property, the basis of all class societies, as a whole came about not through entrepreneurship or hard work, despite what modern ‘economists’ might have us think. Its origins are in the ability of peoples to settle from hunter-gatherers, to farmers and slave owners. Private property on a large scale and as the basis of society came about through violent pillaging, robbery and plunder, through genocide and murder. Private property as a basis of society amounts to accepting robbery as the basis of your state.
In a very basic form we understand a State as being the ruling and governing force in a given territory. This force was developed by slave owners to control slave society and maintain slavery as the institution of exploitation upon which their wealth and positions of privilege were maintained.
The state is … a product of society at a particular stage of development … As the state arose from the need to keep class antagonisms in check … it is normally the state of the most powerful ruling economic class, which by its means become also the politically ruling class, and so acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave-owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is the instrument for exploiting wage-labour by capital. – F. Engels 1884 ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’
Within slave society there was conflict, conflict between those who owned the producing ability and those who worked it, conflict between the slave owners and the slaves. We all now heroic stories or have seen films of slave revolts. Slavery as the dominant method of production through the ancient empires soon found itself unable to sustain the very world it created. Empires, most famously the Roman one, came crashing down. It could not continue as a system. Slavery was no longer sustainable as a dominant means of creating.
We must note the role played by slave revolts in not only bring down the system but also in winning demands and in shaping slave societies replacement; feudalism. It is also important to note that even within this new society, the remnant of the old still existed slavery was still widespread and is still in existence today.
In contrast to Greece and Rome, feudal development therefore extends over a much wider field, prepared by the Roman conquests and the spread of agriculture at first associated with it. The last centuries of the declining Roman Empire and its conquest by the barbarians destroyed a number of productive forces; agriculture had declined, industry had decayed for want of a market, trade had died out or been violently suspended, the rural and urban population had decreased. From these conditions and the mode of organisation of the conquest determined by them, feudal property developed … – K. Marx and F. Engels, 1846 ‘The German Ideology’
Feudalism and Conflict Feudalism, as best exemplified by the monarchy states across Europe and the Far East, was based upon the large estates owned by a Lord or other title and worked by the peasant or serf in return for a small bit of land to farm himself. The peasant was therefore tied to the Lord, dependant upon the Lord for his families very survival. The peasant therefore was not free. Similar relationships between peasant and lord existed in the small scale industry in towns. This was the localised means of producing, the land however quickly became owned more centrally.
Thus the chief form of property during the feudal epoch consisted on the one hand of landed property with serf-labour chained to it, and on the other of individual labour with small capital commanding the labour of journeymen. The organisation of both was determined by the restricted conditions of production – the small scale and primitive cultivation of the land, and the craft type of industry. – K. Marx and F. Engels, 1846 ‘The German Ideology’
Feudalism itself developed too, as nothing ever remains static or motionless, from principalities and loose connections to the large absolute monarchies of just a few centuries ago. This was again due to conflict, between warring states, revolting slaves, discontent peasants, and the rising power of the new trading class or the merchant class. It was this class that was the basis for the modern owning class we call the bourgeoisie. A more tightly knit and centralised state developed to keep the aristocracy and church in power and to tax the masses of people in a more efficient manner.
However the new merchant and trading class began to grow in wealth and power at the expense of lords who couldn’t compete with the wealth being created by ‘trade’. This ‘trade’ we should remember amounted to violent robbery of peoples and resources from the south, slavery and pirating. The manner in which wealth was created on farms, through peasant holdings and labour, was no match for the technology and exploitation of the ‘traders’. New ships brought robbery to farther fields and growing navy’s, protection for this trade, created new industry in coastal towns. Wealth and profits in this business far exceeded those of feudal farming. This in very simple terms is that conflict between rural and urban, country and town.
The separation of town and country can also be understood as the separation of capital and landed property, as the beginning of the existence and development of capital independent of landed property – the beginning of property having its basis only in labour and exchange. – K. Marx and F. Engels, 1846 ‘The German Ideology’
Trading companies began to dictate policy and legislation to reflect their interests for example the infamous East India Trading Company. They also began to push states into colonial and imperial policies for new markets and resources as the economic forces pushed growth and expansion. This merchant class was developing into the ruling class of the bourgeoisie, but a crisis was needed to spark revolt.
Feudalism, like slave society, came into massive contradiction and conflict with itself. The Lord and Estate were no longer the main producers of wealth. The merchant class and traders were soon creating the wealth and goods the state needed to survive.
The feudal or guild system in industry could no longer satisfy the increasing demand from new markets. – K. Marx and F. Engels, 1848 ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
However the political situation did not reflect this economic reality. The Lords and the Church still retained political power. Society no longer reflected the dominating method of production and so change was not just needed but inevitable. Revolution followed soon.
At a certain level of their development the material productive forces of society come into contradiction with the already existing relations of production, or in what is merely a legal expression for this, with the property relations within which they had previously functioned. – K. Marx, 1859 ‘Critique of Political Economy’
Capitalism, Religion and the State
A clear example of the ‘bourgeois revolution’, as in the collapse of feudalism as a social system and its replacement by capitalism, is the great French Revolution of the 1790’s. However, it is very important to remember this process had been taking place for hundreds of years. Capitalism had been evolving and developing within Feudalism. There were moments of very great advancement such as the French Revolution but there were also long periods of slow almost behind the scenes progress leading to revolution.
No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces, for which there is room in it, have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society. – K. Marx, 1859 ‘Critique of Political Economy’
Capitalism is the dominance of the method of production based upon the creation of goods through the exploitation of wage-labour as opposed to slave or feudal.
These goods then can be bought and sold on the market for money. Capital accumulation, the ever-increasing concentration of money and resources in fewer and fewer hands, is the necessary by-product of the capitalist production process.
It is a social system in the sense that it rules, dictates and governs all our social relations, our society. What time we get up at, what type of education we get, what sexual relations we have, our religious beliefs, the size of our families etc. are all moulded by capitalism. It more than any other method of production has subjected all else, human resources and natural resources, to its designs and its control.
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s forces to man’s machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentiment that such forces slumbered in the lap of social labour. – K. Marx and F. Engels, 1848 ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
…a law of capitalist society that not only the number of births and deaths, but the absolute size of families, stands in inverse proportion to the level of wages, and therefore to the amount of the means of subsistence at the disposal of different categories of workers. – K. Marx, 1867 ‘Capital Volume I’
The conflicts of capitalism with Feudalism, of bourgeoisie with aristocrat, happened at many levels most obviously at an ideological level over religion and at a material level over the state. Both these were necessary battles as religion represented the major ideological class force and the feudal state the major material class force at that time. The old hierarchical Roman Catholic religion (and then the very similar Anglican Church in England) with its feudal structures of tithe, loyalty, duty etc. no longer suited the interests or needs of the developing bourgeois class. In Germany, then England and then France, great conflicts were fought over what is said to be religion, the Reformation, the Cromwellian civil war and the French Revolution. However none of these were over religion as much as they were over the established Churches, their institutions and most importantly what religion reflected, the ideology of the ruling class.
Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, a reversed world-consciousness, because they are a reversed world.
It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality.
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. – K. Marx, 1844 ‘On Religion’
The bourgeois class needed its own ideology to suit its material interests. The religion needed to be based upon the individual. This is the basis of Protestantism and in particular Presbyterianism, similar but arguably more advanced class struggles led to the secularisation of France. As noted this conflict was very much an earthly material struggle however this was most often unknown to its participants. They did not know they were fighting a class struggle for a new social system. The bigger picture is often harder to see. While this ideological battle was being waged the material struggle for political control was also being fought.
For the new economic rulers and the new economic system to rule absolute it needed control of the state. We have seen how the feudal state had already come into conflict with the material forces, i.e. the bourgeoisie, so it was only a matter of time before a crisis erupted. This happened across Europe between the 17th and 19th century. This is the birth of, large C, Capitalism as the dominant economic, political and ideological force, of the complete dominance of the capitalist method of production.
The industrial capitalist, these new potentates, had on their part not only to displace the guild masters of handicrafts, but also the feudal lords, the possessors of the sources of wealth. In this respect their conquest of social power appears as the fruit of a victorious struggle both against feudal lordship and its revolting prerogatives, and against the guilds and the fetters they laid on the free development of production and the free exploitation of man by man. – K. Marx, 1867 ‘Capital Volume I’
The victorious Capitalism immediately created its own class contradiction and indeed its own slave class, the proletariat, the landless and capital-less worker. Capitalism created the working class, it needs the working class. It cannot exist without a majority population that have nothing but there physical and intellectual labour power to sell on the market, as it is these men and women that create all exchangeable value, capital. As Marx explains in the Manifesto, Capitalism creates the class that will destroy it. It plants the seeds of its own destruction.
The roots of the modern worker are in the poorest of peasants forced off their land by the changes that took place in agricultural technology, the capitalisation of agriculture, the application of science in a more systematic way, and the need for workers in the newly emerging industries in towns. This forced millions of families off their small plots into a world of pauperism travelling to the major towns looking to sell themselves for any work. Here marks the growth of major urban slums, of which Dublin was one of the worst in Europe. Incidentally, we know see the decedents of these peasants being forced out of cities as they can no longer afford to live there as the wealthy get their pick of location and accommodation.
As capitalism develops so too does the working class. It grows more numerous as small traders fall victim to growing monopolies and peasant farmers are forced off their land, this we will discuss in more detail later.
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie to save from distinction their existence as fractions of the lower middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests; they desert their own standpoint to adopt that of the proletariat. – K. Marx and F. Engels, 1848 ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
It is also in the condition of the working class created by the capitalist method of production that their unity can be found. Unity is not achieved by moral arguments or utopian ideals it is part of the very system capitalism has created. As the system expands and production concentrates in larger monopolies workers are brought together and thrown into a common struggle. This is a constant theme within Marxism and is the basis upon which scientific socialism, as opposed to utopian or idealistic socialism, is built. Capitalism creates the class that ultimately will destroy it and replace it with socialism, if humanity is to survive.
Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance – combination … Combinations, at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups … and in face of always united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages … In this struggle – a veritable civil war – are united and developed all the elements necessary for a coming battle. Once it has reached this point, association takes on a political character. – K. Marx, 1847 ‘Poverty of Philosophy’
With the increasing scale and size of industries and business today, this unity and struggle is evident to see all around us, from workers out on strike and uniting in protest, to the grumbling and moaning at lunch that every worker does in ‘bitching’ about their bosses. The possibility of unity is not just there it is natural and instinctive; however we still must fight to achieve this in every office, every factory, and every community, in Ireland but also all around the world.
The status and condition of the working class must be seen in the global context. It is a global class and is subject now more than ever to global capitalism. Workers are pitted against workers all over the world as capital seeks to use the cheapest labour for its exploits. Countries are told by ‘the markets’ that they must be competitive against the cheapest producing areas in the world. The unemployed around the world are as Marx described a reserve army of labour who are used to keep wages low and workers divided. Unemployment is a necessary condition of capitalism. Rather than capitalist growth reducing unemployment it now stands today at an incredible 2.4 billion or 65% the global workforce.
But if a surplus labouring population is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus-population becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalist accumulation, nay, a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production, It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, that belongs to capital quite as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost. – K. Marx, 1867 ‘Capital Volume I’
The competition of labourer against labourer world-wide could be seen in the early days of development. ‘Free trade’ was the mantra of liberal politicians and broke down many of the ancient barriers of feudal states. Free trade however was hardly free. It was dominated by the colonial powers and was built on the back of violent plunder and slavery. Just as today’s ‘free trade’ is a lie covering protective barriers for western states and the robbery of resources, natural and labour, from the south.
To sum up, what is free trade under the present condition of society? It is freedom of capital. When you have overthrown the few national barriers which still restrict the progress of capital, you will merely have given it complete freedom of action … To call cosmopolitan exploitation universal brotherhood is an idea that could only be engendered in the brain of the bourgeoisie. All the destructive phenomena which unlimited competition gives rise to within one country are reproduced in more gigantic proportions on the world market. – K. Marx, 1848 (speech on free trade)
Today we are certainly witnessing this ‘destructive phenomena’ on a global scale in environmental destruction and constant war, threatening the very existence of human kind. Deforestation, species extinction, drought, desertification and the depletion of soil nutrients are all results of capitalist expansion and growth. And the system doesn’t want to stop. In fact, to survive it must continue to grow and expand and subordinate the environment to its pursuit of profits.
From the beginning, Capitalism developed from free competition to monopoly. It is indeed the very nature of competition that creates its opposite monopoly as individuals struggle to accumulate more and more capital to stay on top and maintain their position and privilege within society and avoid being gobbled up a rival company. A result of this is the number of workers get more and more and the number of owners fewer and fewer. Small family run shops or enterprises are put out of business by the more aggressive and rationally run large scale business, creating monopolies. This has and continues to happen in every industry.
Take one of Ireland’s newest industries of childcare as a current example of this in process. Originally there was very small scale business run often in someone’s home by what we would call self-employed, small scale capitalists. This however has all and is constantly changing. Now we are seeing larger scale creches and pre-schools, often parts of chains or franchises, beginning to dominate the industry and on a relative level the number of bosses has decreased in comparison to the number of wage workers involved in the industry.
Production, wealth and power is now dominated by only a few companies and behind them fewer and fewer individuals. Recent research found that of 43,060 transnational corporations analysed, a little over 730 entities control 80 per cent of these corporations, and a mere 147 control more than 40 per cent. Of these147 controlling entities, 75 per cent are financial institutions. The automobile industry is dominated by six companies, semiconductors by about twelve, music production four; there are ten big pharmaceutical companies, three soft drinks companies, and only two major commercial aviation companies. The top 1% own 44% of global wealth the top 10% 84%.
It is private property and the system that has developed around it by which society creates and distributes that causes such inequality but that also provides the conditions for progression, advancement and revolution. Below is an extensive quote to show these processes.
The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless vandalism, and under this stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious. Self-earned private property (of the peasant and handi-craftsman), that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent labouring-individual with the conditions of his labour, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labour of others … that which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the imminent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and, with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this to grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital become a fetter upon the mode of production which has sprung up and flourished along with it and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated. – K. Marx, 1867 ‘Capital Volume I’
So it is the very nature of capitalism that creates exploitation, monopoly, the rule of capital, alienation, individualism, war and environmental destruction. These are all fundamentals to Capitalism, ultimately inequality is a necessary part of capitalism.
But all is not doom and gloom for workers, as we have seen, for Capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction. It created the class that can destroy it and it systemically creates crises that present opportunities for workers to overthrow the system. Repeated crisis are evidence of a system in decline.
Capitalism is already clearly on a downward spiral as it seeks to privatise everything to try hide its stagnation and stave off crisis. The collapse of the USSR gave it a momentary spark as new resources and new markets were opened up but this is only delaying the inevitable. Financial innovation and products were used to soak up hundreds of billions of surplus capital and provided a major avenue for growth and accumulation over recent years. Even all of this has failed to save the system from itself.
The German economy, the driving engine in the European Union, growth in GDP never reached more than 4 per cent over the last 15 years but was more often 1 or 2 per cent (and this is including finance-led growth). In the 80’s, average growth in Germany was 1.7% and 00’s it was 0.9%. In the US, average growth was 3% in the 80’s and 1.7% in the 00’s. In France, average growth in the 80’s was 2.3% and in the 00’s 1.7%. In Japan, 3.7% in the 80’s and 0.6% in the 00’s. This is a system in crisis stagnating. A long way from the dynamic and inovative system commentators would have us believe. We will look at this in more detail shortly.
However, we should be very careful not to make the mistakes of the past in being too deterministic this can cause complacency and allow us forget that humans make history. We have to organise to take advantage of Capitalisms crisis. We have to win working people over to the side of socialism, the side of freedom and democracy, the side of human development. For if we do not we have seen the horrors of capitalism in crises – Fascism. Already we can once again see its ugly head emerging around the world and we must be strong and stamp this out through education, organisation and agitation.
This introduction should have shown very briefly the growth of the system I now wish to look at it a little closer. It should also have shown most importantly the development of classes and the overall importance of class struggle as the motive force of history, as what drives history. It is in this context we understand Marx and Engels when they famously wrote;
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. – K. Marx. and F. Engels., 1848 ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
The Production Process
Modern economics, what is taught in schools or presented on the news, is less an actual study of economics, the way in which society creates and divides, as much as an ideological and politically biased presentation of facts for those in control of the production process. That is, what poses as economics today is in fact ‘bourgeois economics’.
It is by and large the study of supply and demand and not the manner in which everything around us is produced and who produces it. It is not a study of the production process. One example of this would be at the end of each news bulletin the reader calls out the latest figures on the ‘dow jones’ or the ‘isec index’. These represent an indication of a regions market performance based upon the top 100 companies in that region, largely determined by finance speculators and corporate giants. As a piece of news it is determined by and effects far less of us than say an industrial bulletin of union negotiations or the effects of environmental degradation upon our futures.
The point is, the economics we are presented with is not really economics and is purposely made so meaningless to our lives we ignore real economics. This purposeful management of our knowledge and education serves to distance us from the crucial study of economics and its everyday impact upon us. The actual scientific study of the production process is where Marx found his philosophical progress took him. However, he certainly was not the first to approach it. Ancient Athenian scientists had tackled the question of production and more recently the political economists of Ricardo and Smith in 18th century England or Thompson in 19th century Ireland had examined it.
Marx, with the invaluable help of Engels, was able to draw upon their analysis and experience to further the scientific study of our economic reality. From this lengthy study and practice Marx was able to draw some certain conclusions:
We thus see that the social relations within which individuals produce, the social relations of production, are altered, transformed, with the change and development of the material means of production, of the forces of production. The relations of production in their totality constitute what is called the social relations, society, and, moreover, a society at a definite stage of historical development. – K. Marx, 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
It is from the production process, how we produce, the technology available, the division of labour, and most importantly the ownership of the means to produce, society has its distinct forms, whether slave, feudal or capitalist. We are from here out concerned with the latter.
The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labour-power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. – K. Marx. 1875 ‘Critique of Gotha Program’
The inequality in ownership naturally results in the inequality in distribution and consumption. Owner and worker leads to rich and poor.
These notes have mentioned already that the masses of landless labourers were produced by the growth of capitalism and the disintegration of feudalism. They have nothing to offer but their bodies and minds to be used where and when necessary by those who own land, factories, companies, business’s, natural resources or capital resources. These facts of life develop the world around us. They ultimately shape and form our family relations from communal reproduction to our current form of monogamous marriage. They dictate the type education we receive or if we receive a formal one at all. The list does go on.
Before we spell out the most basic class definition a note on capital and labour is necessary.
Capital therefore presupposes wage-labour; wage-labour presupposes capital. They condition each other; each brings the other into existence. – K. Marx. 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
In physical science Newton declared, ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ This is true, by and large, across the world. Capital and wage-labour are each other’s opposite. They could not exist without the other, as Marx puts it they presuppose each other. One’s creation brought the other into existence. It is, we shall see, the exploitation of wage-labour by capital that recreates capital. The increase in relative strength of one is the weakness of the other. When wage-labour was strongest in Europe, through unions, communist parties, and the existence of the USSR, workers won broad social reform and a social democratic system. Now however, when wage-labour is at an incredible low in Europe we have constant attacks and rolling back of these reforms, our health system, our education, our 5 day week, our retirement age, our pension schemes, our wages etc. Capital is clearly dominating wage-labour. The bosses are dominating the workers. Engels definition below is the simplest expression of who the bosses are and who the workers are:
By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour. By proletariat, the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live. – F. Engels. 1848 ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
It should be very clear now that the working class is by far the vast majority of people on this planet. Most people do not employ others. Most people are actually unemployed such is the waste of the system but those ‘lucky enough’ are employed. We live in a world where there are two obvious classes, and they are antagonistic, they are in conflict. There are of course difference within classes. There are the owners of Nike and the man who owns the local corner shop, both capitalists. There is also the man on 200,000 a year wage and the man on 20,000 a year, both workers. However, important to note that this difference within wage-labourers is not like the conflict between classes, as this difference is not due to exploitation of one over the other. Wage differentiation will be explained in more detail later.
Labour Theory of Value
The labour theory of value is the very basis and foundation upon which economics can be understood. It is the key that Marx and Engels used and developed in their studies and is the basis to understanding exploitation in capitalist society. The scientific method of studying economics begins with the manner in which all things are created. Marx and Engels continued the study of classical economists by starting their analysis at the beginning, where we produce everything. What creates everything around us? What gives value to otherwise matter? Labour, work creates all value. The apple on the tree comes from nature but as a valuable object it is useless until picked from the tree by someone’s labour. Labour alone creates value. It is the application of our strength, tools and know how to material that creates food, objects, art, culture etc.
What is the common social substance of all commodities? It is labour. To produce a commodity a certain amount of labour must be bestowed upon it, or worked upon on it. – K. Marx. 1865 ‘Value, Price and Profit’
If labour produces all value then it is only those who labour that create worth. It is those who work that create what we need. It is workers who grow the food we eat, it is workers who provide the services we need and who makes the machines we use. Those bosses, capitalists, who employ us, who pay for our labour through wages, don’t actually create value themselves. They just own us who do.
… the working class alone produce all values. – F. Engels. 1891 ‘Introduction to Wage-Labour and Capital’
Commodities and Labour
We have said above that labour creates all value. It is only through labour that we can create commodities. What are commodities? Commodities are anything that can be bought and sold to create more wealth, more capital. Commodities, as such, have not always existed just as capital as we know it has not always existed. It is the capitalist method of ownership, production and exchange that creates commodities and the production and sale of commodities expands the system, soaks up profits in reinvestment and provides for more profits to be achieved.
The labour theory of value not only says labour creates value it always shows how labour is the measure of value. That is, when we ask the question how much does something cost we could really be asking how much labour went into its production. The more labour that goes into creating something the more it costs.
The value of a commodity is determined by the total quantity of labour contained in it. – K. Marx. 1865 ‘Value, Price and Profit’
Compare that of an apple and gold? Which one is more expensive, which one requires more labour? Later we will look at ‘prices’ of commodities because other factors of course play a role too. But labour is the dominant determining factor in the cost of commodities. It is the comparison of labour time spent in the creation of commodities that is reflected in their differing prices.
A commodity has a value, because it is a crystallisation of social labour. The greatness of its value, or its relative value, depends upon the greater or less amount of that social substance contained in it … The relative values of commodities are, therefore, determined by their respective quantities or amounts of labour, worked up, realised, fixed in them. – K. Marx. 1865 ‘Value, Price and Profit’
Labour too, however, is a commodity. It is the vital ingredient in the production of goods and services, and ultimately capital. Labour is the vital commodity
Labour-power, then, is a commodity, no more, no less so than is the sugar. The first is measured by the clock, the other by the scales. – K. Marx. 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
Labour is used by those who own capital to create more capital. Those who do not have the resources to buy and pay for the factory or office, the material resources, the training and education and most importantly the labour has only their labour to sell. They are forced by circumstances to sell their labour power to the boss.
What they (workers) actually sell to the capitalist for money is their labour-power. – K. Marx. 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
…precisely from the fact that labour depends on nature it follows that the man who possesses no other property than his labour power must, in all conditions of society and culture, be the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the objective conditions of labour. He can work only with their permission, hence live only with their permission. – K. Marx. 1875 ‘Critique of Gotha Program’
Prices, Supply and Demand
So if it is labour that creates value and commodities, the prices we pay at the cash register for the product or service are ultimately determined by the amount of labour involved in producing what you are buying. The more labour needed to make the thing the more you will pay for it.
Their price (a commodity) is thus determined by their cost of production. – K. Marx. 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
This seems common sense and it is by and large and yet it is not how economics is presented. If you are to watch business news, and get through the boredom of it, you would be convinced that supply and demand was the be all and end all of economics. What ‘supply and demand’ does is for periods increase or decrease the market price of a product above or below its actual value. It causes the changing prices, the fluctuations. The more people want something the price can be raised slightly, but it is raised from its actual value which is determined by the amount of labour needed to create it.
Supply and demand regulates nothing but the temporary fluctuations of market prices. They will explain to you why the market price of a commodity rises above or sinks below its value, but they can never account for that value itself. – K. Marx. 1865 ‘Value, Price and Profit’
Supply and demand plays a minor role in determining prices relative to the ultimate causing factor, the production process, and labour is the key to the production process. Fashion trends, fads, celebrities and most importantly the media also cause temporary fluctuations in prices but again they too only play a secondary or tertiary role. It is the ‘labour theory of value’ that should be news headlines as it is this which enables us to see and understand the exploitation that is inbuilt into the capitalist method of production, just as exploitation was built into feudal society and slave society before that.
Labour, as we have shown already, too is a commodity and so like every other commodity has a price that is determined by the labour needed to create it. We call that price a wage. It is what the owner must pay to use us, just like the office space or the raw materials they need. So what is our price or our wage?
Our price or value is also understood through the ‘labour theory of value’. What is needed to keep us working, to educate and train us in the required task, to raise more children to take our place in the workforce is our cost of production and so is our price on the market.
Like that of every other commodity, its value (labour) is determined by the quantity of labour necessary to produce it … A certain mass of necessaries must be consumed by a man to grow up and maintain his life. But the man, like the machine, will wear out and must be replaced by another man. Beside the mass of necessaries required for his own maintenance, he wants another amount of necessaries to bring up a certain quota of children that are to replace him on the labour market and to perpetuate the race of labourers. – K. Marx. 1865 ‘Value, Price and Profit’
Just as distortions and fluctuations are caused in the price of material goods and services by supply and demand so too is the price of labour, or our wage. In times of great unemployment where the market place is flooded with workers, like now for example, wages are kept low, little above starvation levels for most. But in times of ‘boom’ or where industry is growing more can be given and ‘concessions’ made to worker’s demands. Political influences, like the existence of socialism nearby, will also have an impact. And the trade union movement can play an important role in raising wages above their actual value.
Wages also differ across the working class according to different jobs. This is because more training is needed for some jobs and training and education is an extra cost as the person is out of labour for that period and needs to be sustained. So the cost of the third level education in a labourer most also be calculated into certain jobs.
Upon the basis of the wages system the value of labouring power is settled like that of every other commodity; and as different kinds of labouring power have different values, or require different quantities of labouring power for their production, they must fetch different prices in the labour market. – K. Marx. 1865 ‘Value, Price and Profit’
Again we must understand these explanations as across the entire system and not reduce them to individual factories or offices. It is the system of production as a whole we are analysing. In this context we will see some of Lenin’s contributions to Marxism and most relevant to today his development of the theory of Imperialism as the highest and most developed form of capitalism, as capitalism in its monopoly stage.
Wages therefore are only a special name for the price of labour-power. – K. Marx. 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
Surplus Value and Profit
It is through the creation of surplus value, or profit, that capitalism keeps on running as a system, and that bosses maintain and extend their wealth and control over the world. If the system stopped creating profit it would be stagnant and not functioning. It is through the wage system, through the exploitation of wage labour by capital, workers by bosses, that this vast social order is maintained.
How is profit made, how is surplus value produced, but through the production process, through the controlled application of labour to the capitalists raw materials giving them their value as a good which they are then sold as.
The boss buys his materials he needs to create his product at their value (the amount of labour required in their production), the factory or office space, the raw materials (it could be paper, metal, chemicals or a license to provide a service like insurance). With this however he has nothing but a load of items that he cannot gain from, until he purchases the magic ingredient of labour-power (that is me and you). By putting labour-power to work he is able to create the good or service he sells achieving profit. But, and this is the key point, as we know from the labour theory of value the product is sold roughly at its correct value and he bought his raw materials at their value. The boss does not create surplus value or profit by selling his product at too high an amount. The boss doesn’t create surplus value through the sale at all, he only realises this surplus value in the form of profit. The surplus value has already been created by labour. It is labour’s value that the boss then pockets as profit. A few more sentences may be needed.
The boss buys all the things he needs to create his goods, including labour-power, for say 1000 euro. The worker then goes to work and creates the product that the boss then sells at its correct value for say 1500 euro, thus realising 500 euro profit off the labour of the worker. Let’s say of the original 1000 spent the worker received 300 of that as his wage, the rest went to buying the other commodities needed. That means the worker only received 300 of 1500, 1/5 of the value he created. So for every hour the worker worked and was paid he then worked 4 hours for FREE, for nothing but to create the surplus value for the boss that he needed to create profit to keep himself rich and the system going. It is this free labour or gratis labour that creates profit. It is this that is the source of exploitation in capitalism.
… the whole capitalist system of production turns on the increase of this gratis labour by extending workday or by developing the productivity, increasing the intensity of labour power, etc.; that, consequently, the system of wage-labour is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment. – K. Marx. 1875 ‘Critique of Gotha Program’
A few more points need to be mentioned that spring directly from this great discovery made by Marx.
First, is that as profits rise, as a per cent of the value of the product, wages fall at that same per cent. Wages and profit are in inverse proportion to each other. To increase profits the boss must exploit labour even more, the boss must either lengthen the working day, decrease the worker’s wages (the amount of hours the worker is paid for) or increase the amount of labour the worker does in his day (increase productivity of the worker).
Where possible new technology is implemented and far from easing our workload it actually increases our exploitation as we create more surplus value by producing more goods while receiving the same wage, or puts us out of work. This is why early in the development of capitalism many workers destroyed machines in a vain and hopeless attempt to protect their interests. To increase profit the boss must create more free labour. The worker must only be paid for 1 of every 6 hours, from the above example. And so logically from this for the worker to increase his wages he must eat into the bosses profits, he must get himself paid for 2 of every 5 hours worked.
They stand in inverse proportion to each other … Profit rises in the degree in which wages fall … – K. Marx. 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
Second, is that bosses are driven by competition and rivalry to make profits and so constantly seek out profitable industry or business, it is this that generally equalises the rate of profits across industries. If one business makes a higher rate of profit many capitalists will get into it, flooding the market, thus forcing the sale of product below the actual value and thus reducing the rate of profit. This battle between capitalists tends to equalises the rate of profit across industries.
That competition is sure to equalise the rate of profit in different trades, or reduce them to one average level, but it can never determine the level itself, or the general rate of profit. – K. Marx. 1865 ‘Value, Price and Profit’
This is just a snapshot of the great class struggle that is taking place worldwide. It starts in the office or in the factory, in the field of production and spreads into every area of life. It is the production process, of private property and wage labour, which is exploitative not just individual bosses or extreme cases of ‘sweat shops’. While production is social profits are individual. The value created by the social process of production is expropriated as the private property of the boss.
Capitalism, Competition and Imperialism
When Marx produced his major works, Capital, Capitalism as an all-encompassing social system, was still developing and progressing on its global journey of conquest. Despite this he discovered its fundamental laws. Marx and Engels discovered the contradictions that make it tick but that will ultimately lead to its downfall. It was up to another great Socialist, V. I. Lenin, to develop and update the analysis to reflect Capitalisms true nature in the 20th century. But to describe this I must first go back again to Marx and Engels.
Capital consists of raw materials, instruments of labour, and means of subsistence of all kinds, which are employed in producing new raw materials, new instruments, and new means of subsistence. All these components of capital are created by labour, products of labour, accumulated labour. – K. Marx. 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
As is mentioned in the introduction capitalism is a social system in the same way feudalism and slave society were before it and socialism will be after. That is, it, as a method of producing everything around us, dictates and forms every other part of our lives from our relationships to our education and ideas.
Capital also is a social relation of production. It is a bourgeois relation of production, a relation of production of bourgeois society. – K. Marx. 1847 ‘Wage-Labour and Capital’
It is the bourgeois form of society. What does this mean? Capitalism developed out of the growth of the merchant trading industry. From this money began to be used to purchase and produce. Money also began to be used as a method of payment as the growing working class could not be paid in their product in the way peasants could be. Money and those who controlled and owned money, the bourgeois or capitalist class, eventually revolted against feudalism and its political control, monarchy, and established themselves as rulers through varying forms of parliamentary democracy to fascist rule, favourably parliament but fascist if necessary.
We have seen the manner and method by which capitalism creates and exploits labour; we will now mention capitalisms most important trait, competition that actually then gives rise to its opposite, monopoly.
It is the constant need to create profit and increase profit that leads Capitalism and society into crises on a reoccurring level. World War One to the War in Iraq, to the environmental catastrophe we are currently facing can all be seen as consequences of capitalisms need to accumulate and create more and more profit to keep itself going.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. – K. Marx and F. Engels. 1848 ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
No capitalist wants to go bankrupt, they all wish to continue in their position of privilege in society and all want to live in as much comfort as possible (and why wouldn’t they), some realise it others don’t, it really doesn’t matter. To do this they must make sure they don’t get ‘knocked off’ as leaders of business and industry. They must remain, to use this favourite term, competitive. That is they must continue to create and maximise profit otherwise there is a hundred ‘wannabies’ waiting to take their place. This is what drives capitalism and creates crisis. This is what drives the current batch of resource wars we are living through, oil in Iraq, Venezuela, Sudan, East Timor, water in Lebanon, control over Africa etc.
That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. – K, Marx. 1867 ‘Capital Volume I’
These are more than just resource wars too; they are wars for control, for influence, for markets, for access to peoples to buy goods to continue the system recreating itself and for survival of monopolies.
Think for a moment about Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ according to him it was about democracy. Yet some of the worst and cruellest dictatorships in the world like Saudi Arabia were his allies. So you can scrap democracy as the aim. Who are in the ‘axis of evil’? North Korea, Cuba and Iran, very different countries but with one thing in common, capitalism does not have free access to their resources or their markets. This is the reason behind the war on terror. Today, the toppling of regimes in North Africa form part of the renewed scramble for Africa and for control of a continent that could represent millions of consumers and does valuable resources and contracts for the world’s biggest monopolies.
Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the people of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries. And this ‘booty’ is shared between two or three powerful world marauders armed to the teeth, who involve the whole world in ‘their’ war over the sharing of ‘their’ booty. – Lenin, V.I. 1920 ‘Preface to the French and German Editions: Imperialism’
We all here the media and politicians talk about competition as the great good and the god to be worshipped. Ireland must become competitive by slashing wages and making more profits for monopolies.
‘True capitalist’ competition existed in the beginning, and only in the beginning, of the capitalist era. The competition described by Adam Smith brought benefits for consumers in reduced prices. But very quickly, and in fact as a product of competition, monopolies emerged, to control and run their particular business or industry and then entirely new sectors.
Monopolies are the product of competition and so the modern talk of competitive capitalism is nonsense. Look across any industry and you will see between 5 and 10 companies controlling it. Where once there would have been hundreds now there will just be a few. The weakest those that were not ruthless enough in their search for increased profits through the exploitation of labour are taken over or defeated. This drives bosses to be as a ruthless as possible, sometimes legal but sometimes also illegal as we are seeing more and more like the Gama workers or mushroom pickers, in their production. This is the modern form of capitalism we are living under, Lenin described it as Monopoly Capitalism. In order for commodity producing businesses to sustain and grow they require huge amounts of capital and often external financing. It was this need that drove industrial capital to merge with finance capital to bring forth the modern world of monopoly corporations and financial speculation.
These monopolies combine across industries with banks, States, and armament companies and we have the global era of Imperialism we know live under. Many in the ‘west’ are taken in by all this as we are ‘bought off’ by the super exploitation of the southern countries. We receive some benefits. Lenin explains this as the root of the split between opportunist social democratic parties and communist parties, between small minded national short term interests and international class struggle.
Why does England’s monopoly explain the (temporary) victory of opportunism in England? Because monopoly yields ‘superprofts’, i.e., a surplus of profits over and above the capitalist profits that are normal and customary all over the world. The capitalists can devote a part of these ‘superprofits’ to bribe their own workers, to create something like an alliance between the workers of the given nation and their capitalists against the other countries. – Lenin, V.I. 1916 ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism’
These conclusions Lenin drew from his Marxist study of how capitalism was developing led him to correctly revise Marx’s opinion that revolution would come in industrially advanced countries. Lenin correctly pointed to revolution in the weakest links of imperialism globally, that is, in the colonies and super exploited countries. Hence it is easy to see why there was revolt in Ireland, India, and Lebanon, among other places, all in 1916, and also to view the national liberation movements across the world that were to follow.
However, increasingly in the west these ‘benefits’ of imperial exploitation are being taken away. Socialism is no longer seen as a real threat, the USSR is gone, and capitalism is once again in deep crisis and searches for avenues to invest and create profits. There is no lack of capital in the system today it is a lack of profitable avenues to invest in. Global wealth has in fact grown to $231 trillion in 2011 from $195 trillion in 2010.
The EU is driving a race to the bottom in term of wages and conditions for workers in the west as capitalists cost cut in their drive to remain ‘competitive’, i.e. stay at the top of their industry. The media constantly promote workers rights and conditions as a hindrance to Ireland’s profitability and competitiveness. All this in the last analysis is a product of the system of global rule we live under, that of capitalist imperialism.
Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental attributes of capitalism in general. But capitalism only became capitalist imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development … Economically, the main thing in this process is the substitution of capitalist monopolies for capitalist free competition … finally leading to such a concentration of production and capital that monopoly has been and is the result .. At the same time monopoly, which has grown out of free competition, does not abolish the latter, but exists over it and alongside of it, and thereby gives rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, friction and conflicts. – V. I. Lenin. 1917 ‘Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism’
Crisis is a constant and unavoidable feature of monopoly capitalism. As a result of the concentration of capital and production in monopolies, outlined above, production becomes increasingly disconnected from demand, and monopolies acquire the ability to produce more, cheaper and quicker. Any area of growth, reducing in number, is flooded with capital, leaving the market flooded, and production outstrips demand, causing a crisis of over-production, resulting in stagnation in the economy, massive lay-offs and unemployment, and a lack of investment opportunity for capital. Over-accumulation, or lack of investment opportunity, is a by-product of over-production.
The dominant features of the system today include:
- Extreme monopolisation
- Increased concentration of wealth and power and gross inequality
- Global internationalisation of production
- Continued growth in the number of workers
- Mass unemployment
- Increased impoverishment and indebtedness of workers in the global north
- Financialisation, debt and speculative bubbles
These are concepts you will see throughout articles on this website and statistics that will confirm the exploitative nature of the system.
So as we can see the era of competitive capitalism and dynamic growth and investment opportunity is dead and buried, but monopoly competition (the need to grow and take over to stay on top) or rivalry stills plays a major role in capitalisms existence, it still drives down our wages and conditions and still causes war and famine, but it is imperialist or monopoly competition not free competition that prevails.
Socialism and Communism
Modern socialism, is in its essence, the direct product of the recognition, on the one hand, of the class antagonisms, existing in the society of today, between proprietors and non-proprietors, between capitalists and wage workers; on the other hand, of the anarchy existing in production. – F.Engels. 1892 ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’
We have no blueprint for socialism or communism, we cannot envisage perfectly how it will exist and we cannot expect perfection. Socialism and Communism will be created by those people, movements, parties in their given time, their given country and its given conditions.
Whether it is a peaceful transition or violent one, whether there is strong domestic opposition or international pressures, whether it has socialist states that can support it or it is alone, among many other factors will all determine the particular shape socialism and communism will take after the revolution of working people. To consider that overnight you can do away with all the evils of capitalist society, like inequality in material conditions and greed in human thought and action, is idealistic and utopian. Socialism develops out of capitalism and it must be built upon the ruins of capitalism.
What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundation, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. – K. Marx. 1875 ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’
It is here we can explain the key and major difference between socialism and communism. These words are often used interchangeably but there is a very important difference. Socialism, from a Marxist perspective, is the Workers State that emerges from Capitalism. It is what takes over the ownership of the means of production from the bosses. Socialism is the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, it is the state owned and run by the working people. But as it is a state it is still an oppressive force, it must oppress the former rulers so that a counter revolution does not win. It is the oppressive force of the majority of people instead of the oppressive force of a minority, bosses, ‘the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’. As this oppression is that of the majority for them it is a liberating force, one that they control and they can build upon.
Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing by the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. – K. Marx. 1875 ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’
The Socialist state, through a democratically planned economy, builds equality in material conditions, culture and education. But this again cannot be achieved overnight as it must be built from the vast inequality of capitalism. It is working class solidarity and unity that builds the revolution and the same unity that prevents counter revolution and progresses socialism to communism. Working class unity is not a dream or a desire it is a necessary. Only through class solidarity can ordinary people take control of their own lives and prevent the exploitation of wage slavery that we have explained above. It is the key that again enables us to understand why socialism is realisable fact not a fantastic dream.
Socialism seizes the property of bosses and does not allow the use of property to enhance one’s own wealth at the expense of others. It thereby destroys the capitalist class and creates just one class in control of their own lives and destines. This is an evolution though and should not be thought of as a leap or jump. It is a process of constant struggle against past and future capitalists and of struggle towards equality.
But these defects (inequality in wages as labour is exchanged for labour ignoring natural abilities) are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society, Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby. – K. Marx. 1875 ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’
As we mentioned, Communism exists only when there are no classes, when people are people and together they organise society upon their own lines. As there will then be no class rule there will be no state to oppress, the state will, as Engels put is, wither away. Labour, people, will organise, cooperatively, production.
This society organises production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers which will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong – into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe. – Engels, F. 1884 ‘The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State’
Through the application of science and of all our labour organised along rational lines, instead of for the profit of a few, we can produce enough to sustain us all, even in an era of population boom we are living through. Below is the above quote finished and best explains the organisation of production in a communist society.
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of individuals under the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished, after labour has become not merely a means to live but has become itself the primary necessity of life, after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be fully left behind and society inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. – Marx, K. 1875 ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’
If we all work not in competition but in cooperation we can all take from society what we need. This is only a utopia if it is separated from the struggle to overthrow Capitalism and the struggle to build Socialism, if it is separated from class struggle. Never before has it been so obvious working class freedom means the survival of life on earth as we know. Capitalism is destroying the world around us and is likely to lead us to nuclear disaster and environmental devastation. Capitalism is socialising its debt and placing it on labour’s shoulders while more and more wealth and resources are privatised and accumulated by the wealthiest. Socialism and then Communism is a must for us all.
The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties – this possibility is now for the first time her, but it is here … Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic definite organisation. The struggle for individual existence disappears. – F. Engels. 1892 ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’
Revolution and Freedom
We have seen how Capitalism developed within Feudalism, and how Socialism and then Communism, working class freedom, develop from and within Capitalism. With working class freedom will also come the fullest freedom of the nation as never before known in this country. This is what working class political economy is and what Marx’s greatest contribution was, the scientific basis for socialism. Socialism is no longer an ideal, a utopia or a moral choice. Socialism is growing and progressing within Capitalism.
The socialisation of labour, which is advancing even more rapidly in thousands of forms, and which has manifested itself very strikingly during the thirty years that has elapsed since the death of Marx in the growth of large scale production, capitalist cartels, syndicates and trusts, as well as in the gigantic increase in the dimensions and power of finance-capital, forms the chief material foundation for the inevitable coming of socialism. The intellectual and moral driving force and the physical executant of this transformation is the proletariat, which is trained by capitalism itself. The struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, which manifests itself in various and, as to its content, increasingly richer forms, inevitably becomes a political struggle aiming at the conquest of political power by the proletariat (‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’). – V.I. Lenin, 1914 ‘Karl Marx’
The contradiction of the few owning the means of production and the many producing will become too great for states to restrain. The cost of socialising private debt is bringing countries to the brink and is intensifying class struggle across the world. The constant need of capital to accumulate, to prevent stagnation, is an internal contradiction that cannot be solved by itself and is wholly unsustainable with the environment.
Once again the current method of production, the current way in which we create, has passed its sell by date. It no longer can apply technological innovation and advancement in a healthy way. It hangs on to fossil fuel dependence while alternative methods also scientifically based scream out for use. The internal contradictions within Capitalism create crises, we must be there to kick it in its weakest points, poke holes in it at every opportunity and ultimately destroy it to free ourselves.
We must replace Capitalism with the system of unity and co-operation, with socialised labour, that itself created. We must build Socialism, the co-operative and non-exploitative method of production that’s roots are developing around us. We must apply science and technology to lighten our workload and shorten our working day not to threaten our livelihoods. It is the common interest and self-interest of labourers to do this. That is the scientific basis of socialism and of working class and human emancipation, that is our political economy.