Thursday, April 14, 2016
Wobbly times number 196
Once more, I shall attempt to clear up some confusion with regard to the conceptual framework within which Marx, Engels and indeed, many communists were working in the 19th century. To accomplish this task, I shall refer the reader to what Engels wrote about their interchangeable use of the terms socialism and communism i.e. why he and Marx sometimes used the term "socialist" and why "communist" in their writings over the years of their lives. Both terms meant the same thing to them, however why they preferred communist identity at the beginning of their studies and organization whilst socialist at the end remains well stated in Engels’s Preface to the English edition of 1888 as well as his Preface to the German edition of 1890 of the Communist Manifesto:
“Nevertheless, when it appeared, we could not have called it a socialist manifesto. In 1847, two kinds of people were considered socialists. On the one hand were the adherents of the various utopian systems, notably the Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France, both of whom, at that date, had already dwindled to mere sects gradually dying out. On the other, the manifold types of social quacks who wanted to eliminate social abuses through their various universal panaceas and all kinds of patch-work, without hurting capital and profit in the least. In both cases, people who stood outside the labour movement and who looked for support rather to the “educated” classes. The section of the working class, however, which demanded a radical reconstruction of society, convinced that mere political revolutions were not enough, then called itself Communist. It was still a rough-hewn, only instinctive and frequently somewhat crude communism. Yet, it was powerful enough to bring into being two systems of utopian communism — in France, the “Icarian” communists of Cabet, and in Germany that of Weitling. Socialism in 1847 signified a bourgeois movement, communism a working-class movement. Socialism was, on the Continent at least, quite respectable, whereas communism was the very opposite. And since we were very decidedly of the opinion as early as then that “the emancipation of the workers must be the task of the working class itself,” [from the General Rules of the International] we could have no hesitation as to which of the two names we should choose. Nor has it ever occurred to us to repudiate it.”
Neither Marx nor Engels ever used the term "socialist State". Socialism yes. But socialism for Marx and Engels meant a classless democracy and the political State was always meant to describe class ruled government. Included in this description would be a workers' State--the now infamously used term, "dictatorship of the proletariat". A workers' State would not be socialism. It would be class rule by the overwhelming majority, in reality, a proletarian democracy. Marx and Engels used the word State to indicate the governing structure of class rule whether the ruling class was the slave owning class, the land owning class of feudalism or the modern day capitalist class. All political States were and would be class ruled. With the establishment of socialism by the working class, the State would die out because the social relation of Capital would no longer exist, common ownership and democratic control over the collective product of labour would necessitate the abolition of the wage system, commodity production and with it Capital as a social relation of political power.
A political State controlled by workers would include other classes. For instance, if the workers as a class controlled the State, they could get legislation passed which would tax the wealth of the capitalists and landlords in order to use that revenue to benefit people who had to work for wages in order to make a living. An example might be something like free healthcare paid for by the government using the aforementioned revenue. A proletarian democracy would be run by the workers in the class interests of the useful producers. The Paris Commune of 1871 was an example of a proletarian democracy or "dictatorship of the proletariat".
A worker controlled democratic republic is what Marx and Engels are proposing in section II of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. The reforms listed at the end of this section are general proposals which a workers' State might implement in 1848:
"Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.
"These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.
"Nevertheless, 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."
Further, it should be noted that even after the Paris Commune of 1871, Marx and Engels would speak in terms which many think they renounced after that workers' revolt. On September 8, 1872 more than a year after the Paris Commune was drowned in the blood of the proletariat, Marx said:
"But we have not asserted that the ways to achieve that goal are everywhere the same.
"You know that the institutions, mores, and traditions of various countries must be taken into consideration, and we do not deny that there are countries -- such as America, England, and if I were more familiar with your institutions, I would perhaps also add Holland -- where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means. This being the case, we must also recognize the fact that in most countries on the Continent the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must some day appeal in order to erect the rule of labor."
As for the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat", it was never Marx's or Engels' intention that it would be Lenin's dictatorship of a party. In fact, that's just what they were arguing with the anarchists about in terms of the interpretation of the concept. If there has been any doubt as to whether the USSR was a dictatorship of the party, as opposed to being a proletarian democracy after the 10th Party Congress of the CPSU (B) in 1921, then I would suggest reading the well documented work by Maurice Brinton titled, The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control .
The point of writing all this is to get people who "know" to understand what Marx and Engels actually wrote about the question of communism. Without reading what Marx and Engels actually wrote about socialism or communism, if you will, many, if not most people calling themselves "Marxists" have failed to grasp that they might be taking off from a conceptual base which does not correspond to the conceptual base Marx and Engels were taking off from. So, to reiterate:
1. A workers' State is controlled democratically by the workers. It is not common ownership and democratic control of the collective product of labour after the wage system has been abolished i.e. it is not the lower stage of communism/socialism. It is not a classless democracy. It is, like all political States, the dictatorship of a class, in this case, the still existing working class. Commodity production for sale can still exist in a such a proletarian democracy. A wage system can still exist. Under the wage system, labour power is a commodity.
2. Communism or socialism, if you will, signals a change in the mode of producing wealth from the capitalist mode which depends on wage labour and commodity production to the communist mode in which a free, classless association of producers democratically decide how to distribute the collective product of their labour. Socialism/communism means that commodity production for sale with a view to profit no longer exists, whether in its initial stages or in its more advanced stage. You can begin to see the outlines of this in various writings of Marx and Engels. Wobbly times number 88 contains some quoted examples.
"The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves...the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule." - Marx, 1864