From New Interventions, Vol.3 No.3, 1992
This present essay is a reworked and partly re-written version of a draft with the name "Towards The Twenty-First Century", which was published in three parts in New Interventions during 1990. Those who read the first version will realise that the biggest changes have been in the ordering of various sections and I hope this does not lead to confusion,
In my article on the collapse of the Stalinist empire in Europe, in the first issue of this journal (February 1990), I suggested that the year 1989 would be seen as a major turning point in world history. In this essay I want to explore some of the questions touched upon in the previous article, looking at probable consequences. I shall also pursue some themes not mentioned previously in that short article.
With the dramatic events at the end of 1989 and early in 1990 through to January 1992 with the collapse of the USSR, we have witnessed the final denouement of one epoch and the commencement of another. Certainly some of these changes were commented upon in my essay "Through What Stage Are We Passing?", written in 1978, and some of these changes had been in process since 1945. However, the focus of attention in that essay had been more on the internal changes in capitalism; for the old period in history to end and a new one to start there had to be changes that encompassed the whole world, and not just those areas under the immediate sway of capital. In this respect 1989/90 saw those changes on a global scale being put into motion. This means that the present situation is very complex, yet the main currents of historical change have now developed a definite, and new, flow of direction. To understand where we are at it is necessary to retrace our steps a little so that we may fully grasp the significance of what is going on around us. And before even looking at these changes it is necessary to set out some quite fundamental methodological propositions, since these will shape and determine our response to events.
Lastly, I should make quite explicit that this present essay is still essentially a draft, which will be worked upon in the light of discussion.
1.1 Necessity, Determinism and Essence
Harry Ratner wrote a contribution in the fourth issue of this journal (in 1990) entitled "Historical Determinism and the Role of the Individual". The role of the individual is, of course, an important question, since we are all ultimately responsible as individuals for our own actions. But it seems to me that Harry had started from a wrong premise. The Marxism of Marx is not and never was an historical determinist doctrine; certainly it was an historical materialist doctrine and method, but historical determinism and historical materialism are not one and the same.
There are two main streams of thought in vulgar materialism which basically can be reduced to seeing history as being wholly determined or a matter of pure chance. Both of these arise from the same philosophical seedbed of atomism. Marx’s thought was not atomist but rather organic and essentialist. The organic method sees life processes as being composed of totalities, contradictory ones but nevertheless having a unity in opposition.
It certainly is true, of course, that Marx argued that in the last analysis social life and politics were and are conditioned by the mode of production and therefore had a material basis. But this in not the same as arguing that such questions are determined, i.e. pre-determined, by those material bases. Chance and necessity can both play their role in the development of historical situations and in the development of individuals.
Let me put it in this way: the necessary development of an apple seed when it is planted is to grow into an apple tree, which in turn will bear fruit. Planting an apple seed will not produce an orange or plum tree, since one of the essential characteristics of an apple seed is that it can grow into an apple tree. It is this essential character which makes it an apple seed. The end result of the apple seed is the apple tree, it is its necessary development, its telos. All the essential elements of the apple tree are contained within the apple seed. We know it is an apple seed by the fact that it has this ability to grow into an apple tree. However, as we all know, not every apple seed does grow into an apple tree, chance plays its part in determining whether any individual seed comes to full flower as an apple tree. Does this mean then that the seed can only be described as an apple seed when it does come to fruition as a tree? Certainly not, we recognise the potential of the seed even when it does not – because of chance – fulfil that potential. In other words there is no pre-ordained determination that each seed will actually come to fruition.
Looking at matters in this way we can see that, although there may be circumstances which have the potential to develop in a certain direction, and without certain essential characteristics they cannot develop in that direction, there may be certain chance or accidental events which prevent these circumstances from developing along the lines of their essential characteristics. There is no inevitability about how any situation will develop. What we can say is there is no possibility of certain developments without the presence of certain essential characteristics, There can be no proletarian revolution without a proletariat. There can certainly develop social tensions which reach explosion point resulting in revolution in certain societies, but without a working class being present, and having a pivotal and dominant position, there can be no working class revolution. Call it what you will, the reality is that without a working class constituted as a class-in-itself there cannot be a working class for-itself and therefore no working class revolution.
If we examine capitalist society we can see that one of its essential characteristics is that it contains workers and capitalists. And by workers I mean that class which owns no means of production and only has its labour power to sell. Similarly by capitalist I mean that class which owns and controls the means of production and extracts surplus from the labour process by means of the purchase of labour-power and its application in the production process. In other words what I am positing is that the working class and the capitalist class combine in a symbiotic but contradictory unity to provide the essential characteristics of capitalist society. Without these formations both being present we do not nave a fully capitalist society. As Marx said: "Proletariat and wealth are opposites; as such they form a single whole. They are both creations of the world of private property. The question is exactly what place each occupies in the antithesis".1
The contradictions of this society are well known to us all, so I need not dwell upon them at this point. However, I should make the point that this society has a peculiar form of equilibrium, one that is constituted from moments of disequilibrium, i.e. boom and slump. (I have dealt with this question at some length in my book Bukharin’s Theory of Equilibrium.2 I have said that one of the essential characteristics of capitalist society is the contradictory unity of workers and capitalists, in other words this contradiction is one of the defining necessities of the society, just as the society itself defines the classes. The fact that this contradiction does not always show itself in open conflict does not lessen the actuality of that conflict. Latent conflicts can be, and often are, displaced to other places in time and space, but only to reappear in a more concentrated form.
1.2 The Working Class as the Universal Class
Let us now consider some of the above points in relation to the working class. The first thing we have to acknowledge is that although Marx saw the working class as being the revolutionary one within capitalist society this in no wise means that this revolutionary potential will inevitably be brought to full development. The only thing we can say is that one of the essential characteristics of the working class, for all the reasons Marx advances, is that it has this possibility of making revolution within it as a constituent part of its defining characteristics.3 However, chance or accident can play a role in the outcome of many situations. The fact that revolutions have been aborted, derailed or failed does not therefore tell us that revolutions are impossible, only that they are difficult to bring about. The century of revolution which I shall discuss later is compelling evidence that revolutions, or revolutionary situations, have occurred although most of them were unsuccessful. What cannot be said with any certainty is that such situations will not occur again, rather all the historical evidence suggests that such revolutionary explosions are almost inevitable. To argue that because most revolutions have failed therefore it is unlikely that they will occur or be successful in the future is to fall prey to the same type of ideology which proclaimed the end of economic cycles after 1945. Moreover such an ideology is narrowly Eurocentrist, since it assumes that what has happened for a relatively short historical period (about 30 years after 1945) in Europe (and the North American continent) will continue into the indefinite future.
Human beings are social creatures; their very humanity is determined by society and in the creation of society humanity creates itself. In its struggle to improve material wellbeing it is the development of the means and methods of labour which is decisive. In this respect we could say that the productivity of labour is the key to human progress. However, this increase in productivity is also the basis for the development of classes. Without a sufficient surplus, the material basis for the existence of a ruling class would not subsist.
The development of the means and methods of production also enables humanity to extend its control over external nature and of its own nature. Human nature is an evolving process, not a fixed set of characteristics. The first steps along this path were taken when human beings began to produce their own means of subsistence and thereby began to produce themselves.4
This mastery of social existence can only be developed, extended and brought to its highest level by the extension of social interaction, interconnections and the division of labour. The more complex society becomes the greater becomes social control over nature and the more developed becomes social relations. The highest form of this interconnection between social beings up to now has been the world division of labour developed by capitalism via world trade. However, just as the simplest commodity carries within it the contradiction between value and use-value, the contradictions of capitalism are brought to their highest pitch upon the world market. (However, the internal contradictions of individual countries may, for a certain time, be displaced to the world market.)
The development of social interconnections by way of commodity production and the market itself has contradictory aspects. Whilst this process emphasises the dependence of the individual upon the social, at the same time it isolates this same individual from the collective because of the mediations of the cash nexus, i.e. the money form of value dominates relationships. This in turn imparts an autonomous character to the market so that it controls the individual even when that same individual is a part of the social collective processes of production and other forms of interconnections. The fetishistic character of commodity production makes it appear as though material objects have relationships rather than the producers of these objects. This is the materialist basis of the alienation that Marx wrote about.5 This, in turn gives rise to the contradiction that the more free "free" people become under a market system, where supposedly the consumer is sovereign, the more the more unfree they become because their whole lives are dominated by and at the mercy of this self-same market which is uncontrollable.
According to Marx socialism requires the highest level of development of the material means and methods of production. This surely means that the market must have reached that point where it is a true world market. Thus the universalisation of social relations and interconnections can only be brought about by the universal world market. It is in this manner that the working class becomes universalised. This universalisation takes on two forms, the first is the actual world wide creation of a proletariat on an ever increasing scale, and secondly the proletariat assumes its universal form at the moment of its victory and dissolution.
Moreover, a world market requires a world money. And this world money is the means whereby all things and all people become exchangeable, dissolving local and national peculiarities and particularities. But the working class becomes the universal class only insofar as it strives to abolish itself. The victory of the working class over its capitalist exploiters can only be brought about by its own demise as a class and the inauguration of universal freedom. Marx was quite explicit on this point:
"Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination in a new political power? No. The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class, just as the condition for the liberation of the Third Estate, of the bourgeois order, was abolition of all estates and all orders."6
The first and most fundamental condition for the victory of the working class is the abolition of the division of labour. But this abolition does not mean a regression to petty commodity (hand-made) production where the individual seeks economic isolation; rather it is the abolition of the division of labour on the basis of subsuming that which has gone before in a higher form. The most fundamental division of labour is that expressed in the private ownership of the means of production, i.e. the division into the directors of the economic processes and those that merely obey. This is often expressed as the division between mental and manual labour. The abolition of the division of labour does not imply the destruction of the technical division of the labour process, but it does imply the destruction of hierarchical divisions between people within the production process.
Hence the victory of socialism presupposes the abolition of the market. To pretend, as some do, that there can be socialist markets is the purest bourgeois drivel. Markets will survive the overthrow of capitalist society to the extent that remnants of the old society still survive, but they will be a dying form of interconnection giving way to the new and higher forms as they develop on the basis of the creativity of the working class as it abolishes itself along with all other classes and the state, creating the society of freely associated producers.
This is why, paradoxically, political emancipation of the working class can only be brought about by its economic emancipation and political activities which do not address this fundamental question are trapped within the framework of bourgeois society, Only the greatest unity and cohesion on the part of the working class will enable it to pass from being a class-in-itself to being a class-for-itself and then onwards to its own abolition. Marx expressed the matter thus:
"Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of people of the country into workers. The domination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends becomes class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle."7
But under normal conditions the working class is divided and often fragmented by the very labour processes which constitute the characteristics of it being a class-in-itself. The very divisions of labour which enable productivity and material wellbeing (not necessary universal wellbeing) to move forward help to divide the working class nationally and internationally. Therefore it requires exceptional circumstances for the working class to overcome these divisions and move in a united manner towards a collective goal. These exceptional circumstances are to be found when bourgeois regimes undergo crises of authority, in the aftermath of wars or deep going crises arising from other circumstances. Such crises are themselves exceptional and do not automatically arise from even the most deep-going economic slumps. The fundamental equilibrium of bourgeois society has withstood many crises, and its final rupture will not be an easy task.
To raise the slogan of working class unity, on a national or international level in an abstract manner only means that those that do so will be marginalised. We cannot appeal to mere moral sentiment, there has to be a material basis for class solidarity and unity. And what the modern capitalists have been very adept at is producing divisions in the working class, partly based upon material interests, partly upon the dominance of its ideology and partly by law. In this latter respect we can understand why, for example, the Thatcher government was so determined to smash the British miners’ strike of 1984-85. It had all three of the above elements built into its strategy. It made very real the threat of job losses (material) not only to the miners but to all workers. It fought against the "enemy within", dividing worker against worker and splitting the NUM (ideological). And thirdly it has enshrined in
law the banning of solidarity actions (legal). None of these actions are peculiar to Britain.
What we must not do is to bow down to the ideological dominance of the bourgeoisie, accepting their view of reality, even if a large majority of the working class in advanced capitalist countries do so. When there arise further crises of confidence in the regimes of capitalist power the working class will once more demonstrate their own essential characteristic as a revolutionary class. However, it now time to turn to some historical questions.
2.1 A Century of Revolution
Undoubtedly the most significant single event of the Twentieth Century was the Russian revolution of 1917, both the February and October episodes. We should not however see this revolution in isolation; it had its precursors and successors.
If we look at the period since 1871 we can see that the Paris Commune was the first flash of lightning heralding a century of revolution. The fact that the Paris Commune was drowned In blood gave warning as to the tenacity and vindictiveness of the bourgeoisie in its determination to maintain its power and privileges.1 For the working class and bourgeoisie the Paris Commune was a harbinger of things to come. And come they did, not always in the places or forms that socialists expected, but from 1871 onwards there developed a challenge to the existing order of things on a global scale that continued down to our own times.
The period of capitalist imperialist expansion was both rapid and relatively short-lived, the British having grabbed most of the colonial loot by the time the other powers came on the scene. Although new territory was added, here and there, by the mid-1890s this expansion had been brought to halt. Nor was this expansion always such an easy walk-over, in North Africa the French were fighting for many years to completely subdue those they wished to enslave. The British met fierce resistance in the Sudan, Burma and West Africa. Nevertheless, those colonial revolts and resistances seemed to merge with working class struggles by the turn of the century. Again the most significant event was in Russia with the revolution of 1905, but this was followed by the Turkish revolution of 1908 and the Mexican revolution which spanned nearly a decade.
Closer to home in Ireland we saw the rise of militant Irish nationalism in the form of Sinn Féin culminating in the Easter rebellion of 1916, but before that there were profound working class movements in Britain, notably led by the dockers’ strikes of 1911 and 1912. Alongside this were the militant suffragettes.
In China there had been the so-called Boxer rebellion, closely followed by a revolution which overthrew the Manchu dynasty and installed a republic. In the USA the Socialist Party was making great strides along side the more militant Industrial Workers of the World, the socialist candidate Eugene Debs collected nearly a million votes in the Presidential elections 1912. In Belgium in 1902 there was a general strike demanding the adult franchise. The point I am making is that the Russian revolution of 1917 was not an isolated event; it was a part of a general, world wide social movement which had various manifestations and levels of intensity. But what all these events, movements, rebellions, and revolutions had in common was that they challenged the existing order, demanding a better life and often a more democratic form of rule.
However, there was one significant difference between the October 1917 Russian revolution and all these other events; namely that it was both an anti-feudalist and an anti-capitalist revolution. The Young Turk Party forced a constitution upon the Sultan, but as Trotsky pointed out in his essays on this question,2 this was a revolution doomed from the start, precisely because of the lack of possible working class involvement, since that class hardly existed; this indicated how weakly developed was the capitalist mode of production within the Turkish empire. Similarly, the Mexican revolution was almost wholly peasant based and led (although the urban intelligentsia played a significant role in the national unification of the revolt); the working class hardly existed in Mexico. And, of course, by contrast in Russia there had been the rapid development of capitalism, bringing with it a young, volatile and energetic working class which was at the forefront of the revolutionary struggle against Tsarism. It was this crucial difference in Russia, coupled with the creation of the Bolshevik party which gave the revolution of October 1917 its global significance.
It was this revolution of 1917 which shook the foundations of bourgeois order on a world scale unlike any event before or since. The "echoes" of this revolution continued to reverberate through the bourgeois psyche long after its original impulses had been stifled. The first world war had disturbed the equilibrium of world capitalism and disrupted the world market, and it was the combination this disequilibrium coupled with the shock of the Russian
revolution which shaped world events in the inter-war period. Nor were the revolutionary impulses dissipated until well after the second world war. The post first world war period saw revolutions in Germany, Hungary, Spain and China. None of these were successful at that time. And in Italy the industrial and political convulsions of 1918-21 saw the rise of the first fascist regime. It was in this period – 1919 to 1939 – that it did indeed seem as though the words of the Communist Manifesto were fulfilled with the spectre of communism haunting the world. It was this continued perceived threat that shaped the attitudes and policies of the capitalist class in a most decisive way.
After the second world war there was a further round of rebellions and revolutions. In this respect the revolution in China was the most significant event, the victory of the Maoist Party in 1949 was a severe shock to US interests, which of course was by then the dominant capitalist world power. This was followed by revolution in Vietnam, and the break-up of the old colonial empires in the Far and Middle East, and the whole of Africa. In all of these events the main propellant was the activity of the mass of the people, but it should be noted that in the majority of cases it was the peasantry who were the main forces of revolution not the working class. That this should be so is not surprising since in most the countries the working class was hardly formed, and in most cases only formed a very tiny proportion of the population. This latter aspect indicated how undeveloped these countries were from a capitalist point of view.
I should also mention the overturn of capitalist property relations in Eastern Europe after 1945. There were undoubtedly social movements on a large scale in that area in 1944-47, but the decisive instrument of the overturn was the Soviet army. Only in Yugoslavia and Albania were there indigenous movements strong enough to seize power without the intervention of the Soviet Army. The so-called leaderships installed in the other countries were truly the Satraps of Moscow, and as we have seen once the support of the Soviet army was withdrawn these regimes collapsed like deflated balloons. From this point of view these regimes serve only as a footnote in my theme of a century of revolution.
The century of revolution has now come to a close. This can be seen if one examines the frequency and character of revolutions/rebellions since the mid-1970s. The 1950s saw the final defeat of colonialism in its old forms, with the withdrawal of the French from Indo-China and North Africa in the face of military defeat by the indigenous peoples, the British pulled down the Union Jack from its remaining outposts of empire; the Belgians withdrew from the Congo and in the 1970s the Portuguese acknowledged defeat in Africa. And in the Americas Cuba and partially Nicaragua are isolated outposts of the global wave of revolution. And now in South Africa it is clear that the white regime wishes to do a deal with Mandela and the ANC similar to that struck in Zimbabwe with Mugabe.
We should note that during this century of revolution the working class has played only a relatively small part in most of the revolutionary activity. And the only successful proletarian revolution that took place was in Russia. To this should be added Spain during the civil war 1936-39 and Germany 1918/19, but these were not successful.
I believe that the century of revolution constitutes a unique period in world history. Marx was always at pains to emphasise the revolutionary nature of capitalist society, and this revolutionary aspect was manifold in its consequences. However the most important way in which
capitalism is revolutionary is that it is the first society in which social revolution is possible and practicable which will be in the interest of the majority and the abolition of classes. This is not to deny that rebellion and revolts were possible under previous modes of production, but they were always localised and could not by the very nature of the societies involved lead to a fundamental change in class relations or the mode of production.
If we look at the ancient societies of the Middle East, the fertile crescent, the most single important characteristic is their stability and longevity. It is true that there was class conflict, between peasants and state/landowners and between the state and merchants towns. But in no case was there a revolution which posited the inauguration of new social order. Dynasties rose and fell, empires rose and fell, but the societies upon which they were based subsisted for millennia. Only capitalism gives the possibility of a genuine social and economic revolution which will be of a different and superior order than that which has gone before. And the reason for this is because only capitalism develops the productive forces in such a way that humanity has the possibility of leaping from the age of scarcity to that of material abundance. It is perhaps in this sense that we could say that the capitalist class is the first truly revolutionary class in world history.
But contradiction and conflict are at the very heart of capitalist society, indeed one could say that this contradiction and conflict is embedded within the simplest capitalist commodity, i.e. the dialectic of value and use-value. Thus capitalism was revolutionary in its birth and in the manner in which it revolutionises production methods and social relations.
It was thus no accident that capitalism first of all brought forth imperialism and its first attempts to create a genuine world market, and then secondly brought forth the multiple reactions to this in the century of revolution. Capitalism is therefore the product of a historical revolution in human society, comparable to the revolution in human society set in train by the conquest of fire and the development of metal working, and at the same time the producer of crises and revolutions.
Now it may be argued that to single out the period 1871-1971 as being unique in world history is flying in the face of the evidence, insofar as there were revolutions before that period. Certainly up to 1848 there were bourgeois revolutions, going back to the British revolution of 1649 through to the July events of 1848. That is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the nature of the period after 1871. After that date there were no further "classical" bourgeois revolutions, but what we saw was a mixture of social events reacting to the imperialist phase of capitalism. Some of these were pre-capitalist forms, i.e. feudalist or absolutist seeking to revolt against domination by capital and imperialism, Burma, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco; other revolts were peasant uprisings led by urban intellectuals, Mexico, Turkey, China, Iran; both of these types of revolts were often nationalist in character too. Alongside these were genuinely workers revolutions, Russia, Spain, Germany. But even in Germany in 1918 there was still an element of anti-absolutism of a bourgeois character mixed up in that revolution. Contrary to what many, if not most, Marxists assumed even before 1917, the age of revolution was not that of the proletarian revolution leading to the establishment of a new socialist society. How one interprets this period and the events therein decidedly depends upon ones characterisation of the imperialist epoch, and I shall deal with this question further along.
3.1 Imperialism and the World Market
In volume three of Capital, in the chapter entitled "The Effects of Price Fluctuations", Marx said: "The phenomena analysed in this chapter require for their full development the credit system and competition on the world market, the latter being the basis and the vital element of capitalist production."1
And in a letter to Engels in 1858 he said: "The specific task of bourgeois society is the establishment of a world market, at least in outline, and of production based upon this world market. As the world is round, this seems to have been completed by the colonisation of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan. The difficult question for us is this: on the Continent the revolution is imminent and will immediately assume a socialist character. Is it not bound to be crushed in this little corner, considering that in a far greater territory the movement of bourgeois society is still in the ascendant?"2
There are two aspects to the second quotation that would need comment, a) on the world market and b) the prospects for an isolated socialist revolution. Here I shall only deal with a), leaving b) until later. In 1858 Marx suggests that the creation of the world market in outline is a necessary task of bourgeois society, but in his draft for Vol.III of Capital he suggests it is necessary for a world market to be established for the full effects of his analysis of price fluctuations to be seen. It seems to be that we can see some development in Marx’s thinking on this question and that the role of the world market has taken on a deeper significance between the two quotations, I do not want to make too much of this, nor am I in the game of "exposing" contradictions in Marx nor in quotation mongering. What I am interested in here is to suggest that the question of the world market was not an aspect that Marx had fully dealt with. The world market remains rather an underdeveloped theme in Marx’s work; it is discussed or mentioned only in passing, as a subsidiary aspect. Undoubtedly he intended to pursue this topic at a later time, but did not live to do so. He was acutely aware of the role of the world market in the actual, historical development of capitalism, as can be seen from his discussions of the role of merchant capital as the precursor of industrial capital in Vol.I of Capital. And this merchant capital had been predominant in the 15th
16th and 17th centuries. This was the period of the voyages of discovery and the creation of a world trade particularly in luxury goods, spice, silks etc.
Fernand Braudel has devoted a three volume study entitled Civilisation and Capitalism 15th-18th Century3 to this period in which he discusses the trade of various European cities, each of which produced a new configuration of trade as it achieved predominance. Each of these new configurations produced a new "world trade" as he calls it. But these "world trades" are in fact severely limited, and for the most part take in only Western Europe. The world seen here is the world of those whose horizons are constricted, but within these constrictions that was the world.
Braudel actually pushes the development of trade much further back in time to the 13th or even 12th century, but it is clear that what is being discussed, particularly in the early part of the period, is capitalist trade of commodities produced in a non-capitalist manner. Therefore what he is suggesting is that even the relatively limited "world trade" of say, the 14th or 15th century, had been maturing and developing over quite a long time span. The significance of Braudel’s study is that it brings to the fore the long period of gestation of capitalism. Moreover, it confirms Marx’s view of the role of foreign trade in the development of capitalism.
In the 18th century we witnessed the rise of the plantation empires of England and France (and to a lesser extent the Dutch), particularly in the Caribbean and these were based upon indentured or slave labour. However, the goods produced in the metropolitan countries were by this time being produced in a capitalist manner, although very often only by means of manufacture rather than industrial means (machinofacture).
With the rise to dominance of British industrial capitalism in the late 18th and early 19th century we saw the true development of capitalist trade on a world scale, where merchant or commercial capital was reduced to a subsidiary role, and the production of surplus-value by means of capitalist production became predominant.4 The defeat of France in 1815 secured British dominance, not merely on the continent, but world wide. With this dominance Britain had no urgent need for a formal empire to secure its trade. Free Trade became its watchword, relying upon the cheapness of its exports to overcome local resistance (helped, of course, by its gunboats to force open doors). Indeed the Liberals in mid 19th century Britain were not well disposed towards any extension of empire.
However, whilst this was trade on a world scale, what I question is that this constituted a world market in the sense that Marx indicated above. Many of the recipients of the capitalist commodities produced in Britain (and increasingly in Western Europe and America) did not have capitalist economies. More particularly the commodities which were imported into the capitalist countries were, by and large, still produced in a non-capitalist manner.
Let us look at the matter in this way. During the period of the dominance of merchant capital the commodities exchanged had been produced, by feudal production (excess production), petty-commodity production, or in the towns by Guild Masters and journeymen. In this sense it was only the merchant capitalists who operated in a capitalist manner. The development of the Mercantilist system, with its closed trading areas, can be seen as a transitional stage between merchant capital and industrial capital, since Mercantilist trade was directed towards the development and protection of home (metropolitan) manufacture. The manufacturing system itself was a part of the primitive accumulation by the capitalists as they proceeded to concentrate the ownership of the means of production in their hands, dispossessing the journeymen and craftsmen as they were brought under one roof for production purposes, but without any large scale introduction of machinery.
With the rise of industrial capitalism in Europe one half of the exchanges were now produced in a capitalist manner, i.e. with wage-labour divorced from the means of production and the production of commodities being the prerogative of the capitalists who now owned and controlled the means of production, which had been turned into capital as Marx defines it. However, on the other side of the exchange non-capitalist production still overwhelmingly predominated.
It was the rise of capitalist production on an extensive scale in Western Europe and North America which gave rise to the imperialist phase of capitalism. The main drive of capital in this period was still the production of absolute surplus-value, although the introduction of various forms of legislation began to subvert this. Apart from the need to export capital, and thus maintain the rate of profit at home, there developed a scramble to convert large territories into closed markets plus the need to overcome the rising prices of raw materials experienced during the third quarter of the 19th century. It was this latter need that induced the creation of new types of plantation production in the colonial territories, i.e. plantations operated on fully capitalist lines with wage-labour, drawing upon the huge numbers of impoverished people created by the destruction of their natural economy by capitalism. But here the form of exploitation was still overwhelmingly that of the extraction of absolute surplus value.
This development did, in turn, create a new type of world market, but one that was destined only to last a relatively short time. The metropolitan countries of imperialism did secure cheap raw materials by the destruction of the natural economy and the substitution of a capitalist plantation economy. There was also secured for some, particularly Britain and France, the captive markets needed for their home production, and by implication outlets for
surplus capital. However, the subject territories did not provide the majority of markets for such exports.5
This period of the expansion of the world market was brought to a close by the first imperialist world war. With the Russian revolution one sixth of the world land area was cut off from capitalist exploitation, and the shocks delivered to the system during the inter-war period arising from further revolutions and above all the slump of 1929 indicated a decisive check to the capitalist system as a whole. In particular the world market was actually
contracted, with each imperialist power attempting to create its own exclusive trading bloc. And as the literature attests there was a dramatic collapse in world commodity prices for raw materials, hardly making for buoyant markets for the metropolitan industries.
What is of particular significance at this point is that the world market was actually fractured, and became a series of world markets having much the same character as the city based "world markets" that Braudel described in his account of the early merchant capitalism of the late middle ages.
However, even with the rise to hegemony of the USA after the second world war it became increasingly clear that the old imperialist world market based upon the production of raw materials by capitalist plantation methods could not survive. The problem with such an arrangement was that whilst it provided very cheap raw materials, based upon the super-exploitation of the cheap labour of the colonial and semi-colonial world, it failed to provide an adequate market for the goods produced in the metropolitan countries. Moreover, as early as 1950 world prices for raw materials began to drift upwards again, and for some of the materials price increases were accelerated by the Korean war and the cold war of which it was a part.
Therefore a new structuring of the world market became necessary, as once more the metropolitan countries attempted to break out of the strangle hold of increasing prices for raw materials. This took the form of the development of synthetic materials and the heavy investment in constant capital in agriculture which took place within the imperialist countries after 1945. This led to a new phenomenon, a decline in the share of the "third world" in world trade during the post-war period, as trade between the imperialist powers increased both relatively and absolutely. In other words it was the development of the "internal" markets of the imperialist states which provided the main element of the expansion of the world market after world war two.
This settlement was, in turn, brought to an end with the slump of 1974, and the downturn of the post-1945 long wave (which had actually begun in 1966/68). What I have been concerned to sketch out in this section has been the way the development of the world market has changed in various phases of capitalist development. However, what is of particular concern here is to suggest that the world market that Marx and Engels wrote about was not a fully developed one. The world market of the 19th century in reality only covered a relatively small part of the global economy; huge areas of the world had not been penetrated by commodity production, and more particularly capitalist commodity production. During the inter-war period this world market actually contracted, and then achieved a new burst of activity after 1945, but with even larger areas of the world being withdrawn from direct contact with the capitalist economy by the various revolutions etc. that took place during the same period.
It is this feverish burst of market expansion that is now closing and a new period of development of the world market is being opened by the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. As suggested earlier this will have consequences for the whole global economy.
If I am correct in what I have said so far this suggests that Moshé Machover’s thesis that the crises of the 20th century were the products of immature capitalism, not of capitalism in terminal decline, will illuminate our thinking much more than a clinging to any theory of capitalist decline or collapse.6
3.2 Catastrophism and its Consequences
For the last thirty years one of my concerns has been to counter the catastrophism that bedevilled the Trotskyist movement, and indeed most of Marxism. However, this has not been a consistent development, since often I was fighting against the symptoms of this bowdlerization of Marxism. Being acutely aware of the problems associated with catastrophism did not mean that I was actually conscious of the real roots of the phenomenon, on the contrary each step forward was taken hesitantly (and not without backsliding!) and while addressing apparently single issues.7) More often than not I was acutely aware of what I opposed within the revolutionary movement without being able to formulate precise and adequate reasons for this opposition which would have indicated a way out of the impasse. The process of unpicking or unravelling certain traditions, whilst at the same time not falling into despair or, to use a well-worn phrase, "throwing the baby out with the bath water" was often perplexing. Essentially the problem for me was twofold: a) how to reject the sectarianism and catastrophism of most of the revolutionary movement, and b) how to maintain revolutionary ideas in a decidedly non-revolutionary environment.
I am firmly convinced that Marx’s analysis of capitalism and his theory of history are essentially correct. The period since 1945 has amply confirmed that the essential nature of capitalism remains much the same as Marx analysed it. This does not mean, of course, that he was correct in every particular, life would be much simpler if he had been. Nevertheless we have seen capitalism move from a "golden age" spanning 1945-1974 to one of depression, crises and uncertainty through the latter 1970s and 1980s. The cyclical nature of capitalist economic development has been amply demonstrated in this time, just as the exploitative nature of the system remains obvious. But on global scale problems emerge faster than solutions. For Marxists the most pressing problem remains the failure of the working class to take the consistent road to socialism. Now, I am not denying that even within the metropolitan centres of capitalism there have been potentially revolutionary moments, nor that the working class have mounted very strong challenges to the existing order. One could list a whole series of class battles which are evidence of this proposition. BUT the fact remains that the only successful revolution that had any pretensions to being socialist and working class still remains that of Russia in 1917, and that is over 70 years ago. This should give us pause for thought to say the least. Was Marx correct in seeing the working class as the revolutionary class? That is the central question.
I have been struck recently by two very different trends within the left; on the one hand there has been the retreat from Marxism, as they misunderstood it, by large numbers of those who until very recently have called themselves Marxists. The "Communist" Party has now changed its name. And the editor of Marxism Today has fled to greener pastures. The other trend is one that seems to say, at least implicitly, batten down the hatches, soldier on and all will come right in the end. In other words this latter tendency singularly fails to think, it fails to recognise the nature of the problems socialists now face. It is this second tendency which still dominates what is left of the Marxist tradition.
This failure of thought is most evident in the reaction to two major events. The first is the collapse of Stalinism, in the main those who lay claim to the Trotskyist tradition adopt an almost triumphalist attitude in claiming that this event is a full vindication of Trotsky’s ideas. But even a cursory examination of Trotsky’s voluminous writings will show that nowhere did he expect such a situation as we now face. This of course is not surprising since Trotsky died 50 years ago and we should not attempt to fit the present into a mould that he prepared for a quite different world. I am sure that there will be those who will even now wish to produce quotations from Trotsky to "refute" what I am saying, rather like Evangelicals waving the Bible at an unbeliever. I would agree that there are many lessons to be learned from Trotsky’s writings and life’s work, but they have to be handled as critically as anyone else’s.
Trotsky, like Lenin, was firmly convinced that he lived in the epoch of capitalist decline and dissolution. The last decade of Trotsky’s life can only be understood on that basis. The very programme he wrote for the founding of the Fourth International in 1938 was entitled "The Death Agony of Capitalism", and believing this to be the case he worked feverishly to construct a new international working class revolutionary party. Given the information he had to hand he was undoubtedly correct. But the revolutionary wave that he expected to engulf both capitalism and Stalinism during the second world war was not sufficient to carry through the overturn. That a revolutionary wave did occur there can be no doubt, but it was not sufficient to establish one new socialist regime anywhere in the world. The party which Trotsky had hoped to establish never got off the ground. That there were extenuating circumstances cannot be denied, but they are not sufficient to explain the failure.
Yet the movement which Trotsky founded did carry out a vital historical task, i.e. it maintained a revolutionary Marxist tradition which fought against both capitalism and Stalinism, even if this was in a desiccated and sectarian manner. Trotsky hoped and expected the Fourth International to become a mass movement capable of leading the overthrow of capitalism and Stalinism. The fact that this did not happen could be seen as a complete failure, yet I would argue that Trotsky’s decision to found the Fourth International was the most correct "wrong" decision he ever made. The tenuous historical threat was maintained by these small, cantankerous isolated groups of people. This enabled new generations of young militants to acquire some of the basic, rudimentary Marxist ideas when the situation became more propitious.
But, along with the better traditions this movement also carried with it the seeds of its own ultimate destruction. The catastrophist view of the world, which lived in daily expectation of "the final crisis", could only become more and more irrelevant and self-destructive as time went on. It became self-destructive because it failed to use the Marxist tools of analysis which it had valiantly fought to preserve. The very struggle for survival meant that it often adopted the methods of those it had set out to overturn, and often ended up as Stalinist anti-Stalinists. (I have explored certain aspects of this in my essay "Marxism, Method and Revolution".)
Another road-block to genuine thought has been the idea that the Soviet Union was some type of "degenerated workers’ state". The political consequences of this theory have been incalculable in their negative effects. Many years after this society had manifestly trampled upon every shred of the 1917 revolution the Trotskyists clung to this idea as though it was a life raft, when in reality it has hung around their necks like a millstone. Perhaps even more bizarre are the numerous attempts today to reform the Fourth International by many of the small Trotskyist groups that now abound on the left. Unless they recognise that Trotskyism, in its historical meaning, is now a part of history they will be doomed to thresh around on the periphery of politics like many small Christian sects who leach off the mainstream churches.
Another aspect of this closed mind mentality is the failure of those who most loudly proclaim their "orthodox Marxism" to come to terms with the fact that capitalism was NOT on its last legs in 1938 when Trotsky wrote his Death Agony of Capitalism. On the contrary a great deal of energy and mental effort has been expended upon "proving" that the final crisis is just around the corner, or the next one, or the next one..... Acting more in faith than reason they have failed to come to terms with the world as it actually was and is. As capitalism evolved, changed and actually developed the forces and means of production, the mental universe of the "catastrophist" has remained unchanged and therefore more and more out of joint with those they seek to influence. This failure of thought, as Paul Hoggett pointed out, both as regards the changes in capitalism and the real nature of the Soviet Union, has its roots in the catastrophist view of the world which has dominated the left since 1917.
This catastrophism is rooted in the view popularised in Lenin’s pamphlet Imperialism – The Highest Stage of Capitalism. The bottom line in this work is that capitalism was in its final crisis, it was in dissolution AND that socialism was the immediate order of the day. The consequences of this simplistic message for the working class movement were of historical importance. If one accepted this message then there were certain consequences. First, if capitalism was on its last legs then there could be no question of a new period of growth and development. If one accepted this then there could be no question of analysing the post-1945 world in a way that actually fitted the facts. On the contrary all the signs of growth and development were seen as illusory, and the task of Marxists was seen as being one of exposing the "illusory" nature of the boom. In other words the facts were forced into a preconceived mould and if they couldn’t be they were ignored.
Secondly, an acceptance of the catastrophist view which put socialism on the immediate agenda meant that there had to be found a reason why the working class was not actually fighting for this. This had two consequences: a) there developed the idea of "the working class suffers from a crisis of leadership", or b) "it is happening in another country and we shall follow later". The a) prong of this view meant that all efforts had to be bent to removing the "false" leaders of the working class and of constructing a new revolutionary leadership. And usually this was carried out in a rather frenetic atmosphere, since it was assumed that "the last battle" could be with us tomorrow. The b) prong meant that each and every struggle, particularly in the colonial world, had to be inflated in its significance and endowed with a "proletarian mantle". This meant that often the left in the metropolitan countries substituted revolution abroad for the lack of revolution in their own countries. Given that they adhered
to the idea that capitalism was on its last legs, the "natural" corollary was that all such revolutions had to be socialist. Therefore the countries that did have a successful revolution could not be anything other than socialist or on the road to socialism.
We can now see the errors that have been committed and compounded by the view that the "Century of Revolution" was an era of proletarian revolution. The view that the last 70 years have been one of capitalist decline is, in retrospect, grotesque. If, instead, we view this past period as one where capitalism was striving for maturity, then the revolts, revolutions, social disequilibrium can be seen as the disorders of protest as capital sought to impose its mastery on all other social forms.
The third consequence of the acceptance of the catastrophist view was seen in relation to the Soviet Union. The thinking went along these lines: if capitalism is on its last legs and socialism is on the order of the day then any "post-capitalist" society must by definition be socialist and worthy of support. In the case of the Soviet Union, since it was manifestly the product of a working class revolution led by a revolutionary communist party then, no matter how degenerated it was, the "basic gains" of that revolution had to be "defended". Moreover, in any clash between the Soviet Union and the capitalist powers the Soviet Union had to be supported. The other consequence of this view was the assumption that the working class would fight to overthrow the bureaucracy and install a cleansed socialist regime. It never seemed to occur to the proponents of this view that the workers might opt for re-installing capitalism! On the contrary it was assumed that it was pre-ordained that the "working class" in Soviet style regimes (just as in capitalist countries) were straining at the leash and only being held back by "bad" leaders. This is a part of the explanation for the incredible rancour with which much of what passes for political discussion is carried on with this closed world. If the situation is as urgent as the catastrophist theory suggests then anyone who stands in the way of "building the leadership" has to be pushed aside as quickly as possible, using fair means or foul.
There is another and more serious distortion arising from this view of the Soviet Union, i.e. that socialism would look rather like this society only a little more democratic, somewhat more humane etc. This prevented real, serious thought about the nature of socialism, essays such as Bertell Ollman’s on Marx’s vision of communism or Walter Kendall’s essay "State Ownership, Workers’ Control and Socialism" (New Interventions, Vol.3 No.2) are remarkable for their scarcity. The welfarist and statist conceptions of socialism still dominated most of the left’s thinking. Thus we can see the consequences of the catastrophist view of the world, which may have been justified in the period 1917 to 1939, has fatally crippled the Marxist movement in its attempts to intervene and shape events.
I am not suggesting that all thought was brought to a halt during this period, a look at the journals produced by the left and Trotskyist movement will show that large quantities of newsprint have been devoted to the problems. But, if I may use an analogy, it was rather like watching small animals furiously running in those small circular cages. The cage in this case was the catastrophist view of the world, and until one jumps clear of it one is running
on the same spot. (Lest anyone accuse me of smugness on this question, let me admit that I too spent many years on that treadmill.)
In this respect the Trotskyist movement has been by-passed by the real history of our times and has to be counted as a failure. The movement was in many respects a mirror image of the Stalinist world, being the creation of that world since it arose from within it even though in opposition to it. As Stalinism crumbles so too will the Trotskyist movement, since the political culture necessary for its survival will disappear. I am not suggesting therefore that Trotsky’s ideas are now irrelevant, rather that they have to be placed in the times in which they flourished and thus used far more circumspectly than up to now.
One particular lesson to be drawn from the above is the manner in which ideas develop a momentum of their own. A set of theories which seemed to fit the facts continued to have a powerful hold over people even when the material conditions to support them no longer existed.
The dissolution of Stalinism as a world ideology and the triumphalism of the bourgeoisie will further erode the basis for catastrophism, but will not thereby automatically ensure that it disappears. 11 will require a new period of social development and class struggles before such ideas can be finally put to rest. What is necessary is to demonstrate that the mechanical materialism of catastrophism is not a part of the legacy of Marxism, but rather an aberration.
3.3 Long Waves and the World Market
The changes in the market and the development of long waves of capitalist activity have, by and large, coincided. This would tend to confirm Trotsky’s thesis that these long waves are triggered by "external" factors, rather than being solely activated by endogenous factors. The changes in the world market, although having profound economic consequences, were the product of political and social factors. Moreover, as Paul Hoggett has suggested ("Long Waves and Forms of Capitalism", New Interventions, Vol.2 No.2) these changes in the world market have also seen the introduction of new forms of capital and capitalism corresponding to the long wave developments.
In this respect although we have seen the end of formal empire, and the consequent changes in "classical" capitalist imperialism, this has not meant that empire is dead, rather it now takes on new forms. This is why there are at the moment attempts by US capitalism to break down all trade barriers and the removal of subsidies – especially the European Community agricultural policy. What is being sought is the establishment of a true world market for the international mega-monopolies to operate in. This does not, however, mean that all the trade blocs will disappear, on the contrary the present situation is one where the large capitalist powers are manoeuvring to establish the dominance of one bloc over all others. There are now shaping up three distinct poles of power, i.e. North America, the Western Pacific rim dominated by Japan and the European Community which will be dominated by the newly re-unified Germany. In other words there is a contradictory process at work, i.e. attempts to form new trading blocs and attempts to form a new world market. However, what is of importance here is that the new world market that is being actively promoted by international mega-monopoly capital will be one that is overwhelmingly capitalist in form and content. With the need to reduce the turnover time of capital, plus the need to increase the rate of unproductive consumption (the reverse side of which is the decreasing rate of utilization of use-values) there is a need to extend the market for consumer goods. This means that the poverty of the less developed countries will stand as a barrier to this process. This, in turn, means that increasingly capitalism will have to turn away from the production of absolute surplus-value in developing countries to the production of relative surplus-value.
The collapse of the military and political challenge from the Soviet bureaucracy signals a new self-confidence on the part of the bourgeoisie. Economically the state-collectivist economies never did present a challenge, but they did prevent the global market needed by capitalism to come to its full maturity. This is being rapidly corrected, Eastern Europe will be brought into the orbit of the capitalist world market and the countries of the former Soviet Union will follow suite. China will follow, more rapidly or slowly depending upon the internal developments in that country, but follow it will. The initial impulses that gave rise to the state-collectivist economies are now historically exhausted, they have proven to be unable to meet the challenge of capitalism and to use Trotsky’s phrase they are about to be thrown into the "dustbin of history".
This means that large new areas are once more opening up to capitalist exploitation, Eurasia, Southern Africa (South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia) and even in South America. Thus the world market posited by Marx and Engels seems to be coming to fruition. This world market will be one of the exchange of commodities all of which are produced on a capitalist basis, and will therefore be the first truly global market for capitalism.
4.1 The Immediate Prospects for Socialism and the Working Class
No matter what we, as socialists and Marxists, may feel about the regimes that have disintegrated in the old Stalinist empire, for the mass of humanity these have been socialist regimes. This means that their failures are seen, and will continue to be for some time to come, as the failures of socialism. We may argue that socialism has not failed because it has never been tried, but the reality is that Stalinism and its collapse must be recognised as a defeat of historic proportions for socialism, even though its defeat was a necessary part of socialist renewal, Stalinism has been an unmitigated catastrophe for the prospects for socialism. The image of socialism that has been imprinted upon history by Stalinism is of brutal, dictatorial incompetence. This will not be wiped out overnight, on the contrary it will require a whole epoch of experiences before the mass of the population will once more willingly experiment with socialist ideas.
If we look at the world situation today, there is not one mass working class party that adheres to socialist ideas, even of the old reformist variety. In other words, socialism does not play a significant part in world politics today. The retreat from collectivist solutions to social problems is a global phenomenon, and this is in line with the maturation of a new world market based upon wholly capitalist relations of production. Therefore I see no prospects of significant advances for purely socialist ideas in the immediate future.
On a global scale there are more proletarians than ever before in history, capitalism cannot but create a working class as it develops itself. This is a truism of Marxism, but what it means in practice is that the focus of working class activity, particularly trade union type activity, is being globalised. The urgent need in the coming period will be the creation of genuine international working class solidarity. In the heartlands of capital the trade unions have been defeated or tamed; this means that the solidarity needed will originate in the previously undeveloped countries as they become capitalised. In like manner the working class in the ex-Stalinist empire will be creating its own trade union and labour movement. However, we should not be surprised when such organisations reject contact with trade unions in the mature capitalist countries which have been influenced by "communist" or "socialist" leaders, since these usually have had close relations with the state unions created by the Stalinist bureaucracy which had more in common with the fascists’ Labour Front than genuine trade unions,
One of the consequences of the decline of socialism as a potent social force has been the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, This can be seen as the reaction of the poor and oppressed to the failures of the working class in the advanced capitalist countries to establish genuine socialist regimes, This ragbag of medieval practices and ideas has been given a new lease of life because of the ideological vacuum which had developed arising from the dominance of Stalinism. There can be no compromise between socialist ideas and fundamentalism of any religion. Fundamentalism is an attempt to impose simplistic universal remedies to complex, differentiated social, economic and political problems.
4.2 The Prospects for Capitalism
1 have argued in my essay "Monopoly Capital Revisited"1 that capitalism was poised for the start of a further long wave of development on the ascendant. I did, however, point to the instability of the period opening up before us. The introduction of the Permanent Innovation Economy means that investments will more and more be geared to the short term, which will have grave consequences for the working class involved in the industries affected by this phenomenon. With the opening up of large new areas for capitalist exploitation and the creation of a real global capitalist economy these effects will be spread over a much larger geographical area than hitherto. This means that the workers in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, along with the "Third World" workers, will feel the brunt of the new period. However, even in the mature capitalist countries the working class will be subjected to more restraints upon their fundamental rights to organise even on a trade union basis, the law and the threat of unemployment will be a dual whip in this situation. Mass unemployment is now an accepted part of the political topology of the advanced capitalist countries.
The logic of the new world market demands that there will be greater and greater pressure to reduce production costs, and production time, via robotics and computers. This means that the more developed an economy becomes the greater will be the reduction of productive workers as a relative and absolute proportion. This means that unproductive consumption must increase to allow the potential surplus-value to be realised. But the reduction in the circulation time of capital means that the increased unproductive consumption reinforces the tendency towards the diminishing rate of utilization of use-value, Hence the Huge increases in waste production, and use-and-throw-away commodities. As the value of individual commodities fall so the need to sell more and more units becomes greater, reinforcing the tendency for the rate of utilization to decrease more rapidly than the decline in the value, thus far from enriching the lives of those who consume these commodities they get caught upon a treadmill of running faster and faster to maintain a given standard of living.
Even with the enlarged markets provided by the new political situation capitalism will have great difficulty in expanding markets fast enough to provide the type of sustained growth seen in the thirty years after 1945.
One of the great problems is the precarious state of the international monetary system. There is already a very large overhang of debts that are not being serviced property, let alone repaid. The whole capitalist economy globally is today propped up by huge quantities of debt, and the only way to maintain this mountain seems to be by constantly increasing credit. Relatively minor shocks to the system can have far greater consequences than previously.
4.3 The Need for Social Control
I will not dwell upon the damage being done to the environment, I will only say that it has become such a global problem that even the conservative governments today pay lip service to the need to check and reduce pollution of all kinds. However, much of the waste and pollution arises from the operations of capital as capital. That there is an urgent need to prevent further environmental damage few would today disagree with. Yet there are those of the far-left who still attempt to downgrade the Green movement and the concerns that is espouses. Most of the issues raised by the Greens are only amenable to long-lasting solution by serious social controls, i.e. by planning. The farce that passed for planning in the state-collectivist economies has in most cases aggravated environmental problems. Yet the reality is that the concerns raised by Marx and Engels are at the heart of most environmental issues. Precisely because they were historical materialists and saw humanity as a part of living nature they would have understood that the continued rape of nature could not last without a decisive check to the wellbeing of all life on earth. Therefore I do not see any fundamental conflict between Greens and socialists. Where there is some conflict is about the means to solve the problems of pollution. However, we should understand that the strength of the Green movement is a barometer of the failures of the socialist movement, therefore socialists should not adopt an arrogant attitude towards the Greens. In many respects the Greens have a lot to teach us.
Can capitalism provide solutions to the problems of the environment? Yes, but in its own manner. It will seek to provide solutions only to the extent that it can be made profitable for capital, even if this is done via the state. What is needed in this case is that the political economy of the working class should prevail over that of capital in the same way as the struggle for the Ten Hours Bill was such a struggle. It is totally insufficient to repeat in a mindless manner that such and such a problem will only be solved under socialism. The solving of problems is the business of socialists here and now.
As we move towards the 21st Century we have to understand that in most of the metropolitan countries of advanced capitalism the old working class movement is being destroyed and there is a need to restructure the working class movement in conformity with the new shapes and contours of capital. The political and economic struggles are today even more closely intertwined and it is from this perspective that we have to see the way forward.
If what I have said seems to be pessimistic it because I have tended to stress the strengths of the capitalist system as it gropes its way forward towards the new long wave of prosperity. What must be understood however is that this new-found strength and its victories over the state-collectivist system will be bought at the price of greater instability. As I said before, the glue that held the US-dominated alliance together will rapidly evaporate in the new world situation. The struggle for markets will become greatly intensified as the new Permanent Innovation Economy takes hold. This means that whilst the formal democracy of capitalism is extended, the state will become stronger. There will be less and less tolerance extended to those who actually oppose the system from a radical socialist perspective. Terrorism is a necessary adjunct of this situation, not from the point of view of those who oppose the system but from the system itself. In this sense the IRA has been one of the best allies of those who are intent upon extending the repressive role of the state in Britain. And the same can be said for nearly all of the advanced capitalist countries, i.e. terrorism Is a function of the strong/repressive state.
Far from Marx’s "predictions" about capitalism being brought to naught, I see the period opening up before us as one where most of those things that he and Engels wrote about regarding the inner nature of capitalism will be coming to full flower.
4.4 Actions Tempered with Knowledge
The resolution of the problem of working class unity can only be brought about by a juncture of the strategic interest of the working class, i.e. its need to abolish the division of labour and exploitation, and the means and circumstances to achieve it. These do not always, or naturally, coincide.
The collapse of Stalinism and the consequential triumphalism of the bourgeoisie world wide has now set the scene for the creation of that world market that Marx predicated, but did not always make clear if he thought was actually in being or only in the process of being created.
My own view is that only now are we witnessing the creation of such a world market. This means that bourgeois society is now poised to fulfil its necessary nature in its fullest sense. If this is the case then the same applies to the working class.
Some of the ideas advanced in this essay will, no doubt, shock certain people who have lived for much of their lives in the certainty that capitalism was on its last legs. What I am suggesting here is that capitalism is only now reaching its age of maturity. This means that it will be necessary to re-orient much of ones thought if one is to be able to cope with the world as it is and will become. However, this does not mean we start from year zero, we build our understanding upon what has gone before, incorporating, amending, refining and re-making as our own understanding grows. In particular we need to incorporate many of the concerns which have arisen outside of the traditional working class movement. The fight against pollution, sexism, racism must be incorporated into a Marxism for the twenty-first century. This does not mean abandoning class analysis or our explanations of the root causes of exploitation; rather it means that we sympathetically explain the interconnections of social existence within the capitalist framework. Unless this is done we shall only produce, once more, a fractured and irrelevant dogma.
As capitalism moves towards its complete world domination with the creation of a true world market it will come up against the barriers to accumulation that Marx outlined in the pages of Capital and the Grundrisse. Let me reiterate, the expansion of the Permanent Innovation Economy means that capitalism will have to run harder and faster to remain on the spot, let alone actually expand. The PIE presents problems of investment and realisation on a scale not faced before, since it means that to expand markets it needs to move from the production of absolute surplus-value to the production of relative surplus-value in those countries previously thought of as being "third world". The feverish nature of capitalist activity will accelerate in this coming period, and the struggle for markets will become more intense leading to explosions in many parts of the system. Many of these explosions will come about because of the strains imposed on social equilibrium by the nature and rapidity of change. The bourgeoisie will attempt to intensify and further the splits already existing within the working class both nationally and internationally. Further problems will arise from the environment because of the uncontrolled industrialisation and the huge waste of natural resources arising from the declining rate of utilization of commodities coupled with the need to increase the rate of unproductive consumption.
One of the main problems facing the working class in this coming period will be how to cope with the rapidity of change within capitalist structures which will make it difficult to construct durable and serviceable organisations of defence. The ability of the mega-monopolies to switch production from one country to another, hoping to play off workers, can only be defeated by international solidarity. But this platitude needs to be filled out into reality by the self-activity of the working class, not by tiny groups of "revolutionaries" proclaiming this need from the sidelines. Only when the material basis for solidarity has been created by the dynamics of the system can we hope to see this come about. It will be those socialists who are integrated into the working class in all its manifestations that will be in a position to assist in the creation of new working class international.
The task for Marxists in this situation will be to once more return to fundamentals, to argue patiently for the basic propositions of socialism. We need to once more create that socialist culture which fascism, Stalinism and the prolonged boom after 1945 wiped out, but on higher level. The catastrophism which has dominated so much of Marxist thought in the past 70 years has to be ruthlessly dispatched into the archives.
Notes to Part One
1. Karl Marx, "The Holy Family", in Marx-Engels, Collected Works (hereafter MECW), Vol.4, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1975, p.35. Marx continued: "It is not sufficient to declare them two sides of a single whole. Private property, as wealth, is compelled to maintain itself, and thereby its opposite, the proletariat, in existence. That is the positive side of the antithesis, self-satisfied private property. The proletariat, on the contrary, is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite, private property, which determines it existence, and which makes it proletariat" (pp.35-6). Thus we see that for Marx there cannot be either capitalist or proletariat without each being present.
2. K.J. Tarbuck, Bukharin’s Theory of Equilibrium: A Defence of Historical Materialism, Pluto Press, London 1989. In particular see Chapter 4 "Equilibrium and Crisis Theory", pp.72-83.
3. Marx’s argument on this point is that "... private property drives itself in its economic movement towards its own dissolution, but only through a development which does not depend on it, which is unconscious and which takes place against the will of private property by the very nature of things, only inasmuch as it produces the proletariat as proletariat, poverty which is conscious of its spiritual and physical poverty, dehumanisation which is conscious of its dehumanisation, and therefore self-abolishing. The proletariat executes the sentence that property pronounces on itself by producing the proletariat, just as it executes the sentence that wage-labour pronounces on itself by producing wealth for others and poverty for itself. When the proletariat is victorious, it by no means becomes the absolute side of society, for it is victorious only by abolishing itself and its opposite. Then the proletariat disappears as well as the opposite which determines it, private property." MECW, Vol.4, p.36.
Please note that Marx rates spiritual poverty as being equal to material poverty in this context. All the arguments about immiseration are meaningless unless this aspect is considered. Also from the above we can see that the proletariat only becomes truly proletarian at the moment of its dissolution.
4. Marx put the matter so: "Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their material life." From The German Ideology, MECW, Vol.5, p.31.
5. In particular see "The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844" in MECW, Vol.3, especially the section on Estranged Labour.
6. Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Martin Lawrence, London n.d., p.146.
7. Ibid., p.145. In contrast to the working class Marx suggests that the French peasants of the 19th century were unable to transform themselves into class for themselves precisely because of the material conditions of production under which they laboured. See The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, International Publishers, New York 1969, pp.123-4.
I should point out that in this particular section I have draw upon the ideas of Istvan Mészáros in Philosophy Ideology and Social Science (Wheatsheaf Books, Brighton 1986) and The Power of Ideology, (Harvester Wheatsheaf, Brighton 1989), plus Scott Meikle’s Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx (Duckworth, London 1985). Needless to say neither of these writers are responsible for any particular interpretations I may have placed upon what they have written.
Notes to Part Two
1. See The Paris Commune of 1871 by Frank Jellinek, Gollancz 1937, Part II, Chapter XI, entitled "The Restoration of Order" for the sickening details. Enough to mention here the 20-30,000 executions and a further 20-30,000 imprisoned or transported for life. Jellinek calculated that altogether there were approximately 120,000 victims of repression following the fall of the Commune.
2. See The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky: The Balkan Wars 1912-13, Monad Press, New York 1980. See in particular "The New Turkey" and "The Turkish Revolution and the Tasks of the Proletariat". Trotsky pre-1917 would have had very little trouble in analysing many of the military regimes of the post-1945 era in the so-called third world. "The insignificance of Turkish industry and the low level of development of urban culture left the Turkish intelligentsia with hardly any openings apart from service as officers or officials. Thus, the state organized within itself the militant vanguard of the bourgeois nation in formation; the thinking, critical, discontented intelligentsia" (p.10).
Notes to Part Three
1. Marx, Capital, Vol.3, FLPH Moscow, 1962, p.109.
2. Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence, p.111, Letter dated 8 October 1858.
3. Fernand Braudel, Civilisation and Capitalism 15th-18th Century, Vol.1, The Structures of Everyday Life, Collins 1981; Vol.2, The Wheels of Commerce, Collins, 1983; and Vol.3, The Perspective of the World, Collins 1984. These three volumes are a scholarly but very readable examination of the rise of capitalism. But in particular see volume three for his discussion of "world markets".
4. The history and development of political economy mirrors, slightly lagging, the various phases of capitalist development from the Renaissance onwards. See A History of Economic Thought by I.I. Rubin (Ink Links, London 1979) for a Marxist account of this development.
5. There is considerable evidence to indicate that, particularly with Britain, the formal empires during this period did not constitute a predominant place as markets for capital exports nor even of trade. See for example After Imperialism by Michael Barratt Brown (Heinemann, London 1963), particularly Chapter 2 and Table V of that chapter.
6. See "The Nature of this Epoch" by Moshé Machover, Critique, No.23.
7. These attempts go back as far as 1960 with my "British Economic Perspectives" issued for the RSL conference. Subsequently "The Prospect Before Us – Britain 1966-67", issued for the IMG conference 1967, and "International Liquidity and the Crisis of Imperialism – the Timebomb in the Engine Room", Bulletin of Marxist Studies, Vol.1 No.3, Winter 1968/69.
Notes to Part Four
1. See Critique No.23.