Women may be attracted or forced into the labour force when there is a shortage of mostly low-paying labour. The rate of profit affects the business cycle. As the economy expands again, after the last downturn, the rate of profit first goes up. But once the cycle reaches its peak, the rate goes down. New machinery has increased the organic composition of capital overall, which causes the rate of profit to decline.
Meanwhile, the capitalists have been forced to raise the pay of at least part of the working class. This is due to the increasing shortage of workers as production expands, including bottlenecks caused by lack of skilled workers. Workers are more likely to strike for better wages and conditions, and the capitalists are more willing to give in.
This too lowers the rate of profit. To keep their profits coming in, capitalists borrow money from banks and each other. Debts pile up. They are bought and sold with little relationship to the actual workplaces and work processes where the value is created. Finally there is a crash. And a good thing too. The recessions are essential for the profitability of the capitalist economy. Weak companies, with old-fashioned technology, will go bankrupt. Their technology will either be junked or bought-up cheaply by better-run companies.
Machinery in general will be cheapened during the downturn. So will labour power. There will be more unemployed; workers will be forced to accept lower pay. Debts and speculations will be wiped out in bankruptcies. Stronger companies will buy up resources from weaker ones, creating larger corporations. All these factors clear the way for a more profitable economy. And so there will be a new upturn, moving toward a new period of prosperity. The collapse of the crisis was essential for clearing out the deadwood and preparing for the new and bigger upturn. There are counter-tendencies to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.
The business cycle, particularly the downturn, mobilises these counter-acting tendencies and restores profitability. There are a number of such counter-tendencies. For example, the rate of turnover, from investment to the sale of products to reinvestment, varies from industry to industry. In itself, this may cause disproportionality. But the more rapid the turnover, the higher the rate of profit. Imperialism, in its various forms, also increases profits. It brings in commodities with lower costs and bigger profits than can be produced at home.
The main counter-acting tendencies are caused by the very expanded productivity which due to the increased organic composition of capital causes the rate of profit to fall in the first place. Expanded productivity makes cheaper less valuable commodities. If this becomes widespread, then the constant capital bought by the industrial capitalist the machines and materials become cheaper. Whether or not the capitalist goes out and buys the cheaper machines, the ones the capitalists keep will lose their value, become cheaper. If the capitalist makes the same profits as before, it is now compared to cheaper investment costs, and therefore the rate of profit goes up.
The same is even more true for the other costs of the industrial capitalist, the wages of the workers. As productivity increases in general, the goods which the workers buy to maintain and reproduce themselves become cheaper. The use-value of the goods they earn remains the same while the exchange value of their pay goes down. This lowering of pay may be done by directly cutting it or — less provocative to the workers — by inflation.
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The use-values the workers can buy may stay the same — or even increase! So surplus value increases, without necessarily lowering the standard of living of the workers. This trend also makes it difficult to tell if the workers in a more industrialised country, with a higher standard of living, are being more or less exploited than workers in a poorer country.
Further, capitalist firms get larger and larger, more and more concentrated see below. This does not directly counteract the fall of the rate of profit. But it does produce larger amounts of surplus value in one place. This goes far to counter the immediate effects of the falling rate.
On the other hand, the larger enterprises get, the more capital is needed for investing in them, which a falling rate of profit makes it harder to acquire. The tendency of the falling rate of profit is a major factor in the business cycle, behind disproportionality and over-production. Historically it is countered and set right by the downturn phase of the cycle, which restores capitalism to profitability. So the system lurches forward. Does this mean that the counter-acting effects can so compensate for the falling rate of profit that over the long run it becomes meaningless?
It is observable that, over time, the organic composition of capital including the value composition has increased, despite counter-acting tendencies. John Henry may have used a sledge hammer but he was beaten by the steam drill, which has since been replaced by gigantic automated mining equipment. Shovels have been replaced by earth-moving machines as big as houses. Steel puddling by almost-automated factories.
Horses by trucks, railroads, and airplanes. Paper and pencils by computers. True, the difference in value between a pickaxe and an earthmoving machine may be less than their difference in weight. Yet the tractor does cost much more than the shovel. And the number of workers it takes to dig the same size hole has gone way down. This should lead to a long term trend toward a lower rate of profit. For Marx, capitalism has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What was that beginning like? To the classical political economists, when they dealt with the question at all, capitalism began with small businesses in the nooks and crannies of feudalism.
Gradually they made more money for their owners, until they could afford to hire some employees. The first workers were available to be hired because they had not been as industrious as the original businesspeople. As in the fable of Aesop, the workers had been lazy grasshoppers while the original capitalists had been hand-working ants. Eventually the capitalists became rich enough to displace the feudal lords. To begin with, this pretty story overlooks the violent upheavals of the Cromwellian British revolution, the US revolution, the French revolution, the South American and Caribbean revolutions, and the failed European revolution.
But some of this story was true, no doubt. There were blacksmiths and artisans who did build up their original capital; there were merchants who carried goods between widely separated markets until they decided to directly invest in production here or there. However, this misses the main dynamic of the beginning of capitalism. For capitalism to begin on a large scale, even in only one country, it needed two things: the accumulation of masses of wealth in the hands of a few people who could invest it capital , and secondly, free workers who were available for work in factories and fields under capitalist discipline.
In Europe, these two things were achieved through violence, legally and illegally: driving peasants off the land, replacing them by sheep; taking away the common grazing lands which had been open to all peasants and giving them to the lords; forcing poor people to wander the highways; cutting the benefits to the poor and unemployed, and so on. On a world scale, the European rulers seized continents and subcontinents — in the Americas, India, other parts of Asia, Australia, and Africa.
Black people were forced into slavery far from their homes while Native Americans faced genocide. European people were settled on land once owned by others. The Asian-Indian economy was destroyed by foreign imports, even as natural resources from gold to cotton were robbed from them. Marx was fully aware of the interaction of class, nationality, and race in the origins of capitalism. Sometimes Marxists, and even Marx himself, criticised anarchists for supposedly under-emphasising the role of economic forces and over-emphasising the power of the state.
But when discussing primitive accumulation, Marx was quite clear about the key role played by the state and other forms of organised violence. While capitalism may be said to have created the modern state, the state may also be said to have created capitalism. Marx did not directly discuss the effects of primitive capitalist accumulation on gender.
This was concentrated in the 16 th and 17 th centuries, and somewhat before and after. Led by the church, but including state authorities, a hue and cry was raised against women who were accused of following a heretical sect, composed almost only of women, which supposedly worshipped the devil. Special tribunals were set up, methods of torture were standardised, and witch hunting manuals were published. The numbers of women so persecuted is unknown. Some estimates run into the millions, but the best estimate is that, over three centuries, about thousand were accused of witchcraft, of whom thousand were killed Federici, It is impossible to know how many of these people were just women whom someone disliked, how many were midwives or herbalists, how many were practitioners of pre-Christian religions, and how many were genuine worshippers of the devil.
If any were. The witch hunt was an attack on half the population, mostly focused on poor women in the cities and countryside. The campaign against supposed witches was part of general misogynist sentiments promoted by the church and state. It divided working people, causing men to cling to male privileges even while their general conditions were being undermined. It drove women out of the traditional workforce. While Marx does not discuss the role of women in the capitalist economy, it is implicit in his theory.
Of course, women may work in paid jobs, as do male workers, and Marx describes their actual conditions in the factories and mines. In that case they were paid less than men for the same work, being more vulnerable. Female paid labour is common now. That women workers are directly exploited does not cancel out that there may be positive effects also, such as increased individual independence.
But there was another, and more fundamental role for women, which applies to women not as waged workers but as non-waged members of the working class. The working class — as a class — is broader than those who are immediately employed; it includes children, the unemployed, the retired, and wives and mothers who labour in the home. The commodity labour-power of the workers mostly male included what was necessary to recuperate them, to let them rest-up and be able to work another day.
The work of doing this also fell on the women. This included passing on the necessary social psychology and ideology to the children. In all this, the women at home were not directly creating surplus value but were producing reproducing the necessary labour power commodities of their husbands, children, and themselves. He speculated that class society grew out of the original oppression of women.
The above is not at all an adequate analysis of how women are oppressed; but it is clear that the oppression of women, in the family and in the workplace, is thoroughly intertwined with capitalist exploitation as it had previously been with pre-capitalist forms of exploitation. Marx and Engels noted the way early capitalism was destroying the biological environment. They saw human labour as the way humans interact with nature, satisfying human needs while maintaining a biological balance.
The most important factor, to them, was the split between city and country, between industry and agriculture, between town and farmland. Kropotkin and other leading anarchists several of whom, like him, were professional geologists and geographers were also to raise this as a problem, well before the modern Green movement.
What Marx and Engels noted was that the farms and the cities were increasingly separated. Agriculture drained the soil of nutrients, which had once been returned to the soil through local consumption of food and the use of animal and human manure. But now the animal and plant nutrients were shipped over increasing distances to cities.
Their eventual waste was not returned to the land, but polluted the cities and the rivers and lakes around them. Meanwhile waste products from production — coal dust, dyes, cotton dust, etc. Engels walked through Manchester, the centre of British industry, and noted the ill-health of the working class, the filthy conditions they lived in, and the diseases which spread through their quarters. Of course, since then we have learnt a great deal more about the ill effects which capitalist production has on the ecological environment and on general health.
But Marx and Engels saw this quite early. During the epoch of primitive accumulation, the capitalists were able to accumulate wealth by robbing the land of its nutrients and by not paying to keep their cities clean or their working classes healthy. These were not simply matters of indifference or ignorance; they were a way to accumulate riches, to increase values. That is, in the earliest stage, capitalism is weak. It must rely on non-market forces primitive accumulation for overall protection, in order to expand.
This process may be said to have begun as far back as the 14 th century, but reached its high point in the 17 th to 18 th centuries. In the 19 th century capitalism may be said to have really taken off, first in Britain and then as a world system. As this is the height of its well-being as a system, it relied mainly on market forces to batter down all obstacles to expansion. This was the hey-day of capitalism! It was also the time when the working class and socialist movements begin to grow. It was when Marx wrote his books and led the First International, and in which Bakunin started the anarchist movement.
Last is the final epoch, beginning in the early 20 th century, when capitalism has reached its limits and its contradictions threaten to tear apart all society. This will be discussed in the next chapter. There are no sharp divisions among the three epochs. They are just abstractions to help us conceptualise the history of capitalism.
They overlap in their traits and tendencies. Primitive non-market accumulation, including violence by the state, continued during the height of market capitalism and expanded again during the final epoch of capitalist decline. For example, in the epoch of primitive accumulation, there was a vast expansion of African enslavement in the Americas. This lasted into the 19 th century and was only ended through revolutionary violence in various countries Haiti, the US, parts of South America, etc.
However, the special oppression of African descendents continued. In the US, Jim Crow segregation laws not customs, laws continued through the end of the 19 th century and the early 20 th century and were not abolished until the late 20 th century. Even now, African-Americans remain oppressed, discriminated against, and mostly at the bottom of society. Capitalism does not seem to be able to end its racism. Every previous social system had reached an end and the same will be true of capitalism. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.
Production for value holds back the production of useful goods for all. Capitalism becomes less competitive; it revives older methods of non-market, statist, support; it returns to primitive accumulation. Of all the improvements in productivity, including automation, computers, and nanotechnology, the most significant which capitalism has created is the international working class. This class exists in concentrations in cities and in industries, working collectively and co-operatively unlike peasants who generally work their own farms and usually want to be prosperous businesspeople.
This class, with its hands on the highly productive new technology, could lead all the oppressed to create a new society, without classes, or states, or warfare, or ecological destruction. Marx and Engels did not live to see the actual epoch of capitalist decline beginning about or so. All of them had important insights, although only Rosa Luxemburg was influential in the development of libertarian-democratic Marxist trends.
However, I am going to stick as close as possible to the actual theories of Marx and Engels. That Marx had been correct in describing an epoch of capitalist decline was easily believed from onward. There was the historically unprecedented First World War. This was followed by the shallow prosperity of the twenties and then by the worldwide, decade-long, Great Depression. There were revolutions and near-revolutions throughout Europe, the Russian being the closest to successful.
Other revolutions failed in Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe. There were big labour struggles in Europe and in the United States, as well as national rebellions in China and elsewhere. Eventually all the revolutionary struggles were defeated and replaced by totalitarian regimes.
In the Soviet Union Stalinism wiped out the last remnants of the Russian revolution anarchists believe that it was Lenin and Trotsky who first betrayed the revolution by establishing a one-party police state. Fascism came to power in Italy, Germany, Spain, and other countries. Even slavery was revived, as a state measure, under Nazism and Stalinism. Finally the period ended with the destructiveness of World War II. I will discuss the post-war boom below.
What was the underlying nature of this epoch of capitalist decline? The political economists took for granted the continuing reality of a competitive capitalism, where many firms competed in a market and took the prices and rate of profit which the market enforced. Marx was one of the first to point out the drive of capitalist enterprises to grow larger and larger. That this has come to pass is well-known. The trend was toward merger of all the capital of one country into one, which would lay the basis for state capitalism.
However, this tendency was interfered with by counteracting forces as usual! Nor did the growth of huge firms end competition.
The huge enterprises still competed with each other. Even if they were monopolies in their fields, they competed with other monopolies for example, even a firm which monopolised aluminium would compete with the steel monopoly. Giant firms often found it useful to use smaller firms as the auto producers distribute through dealerships. New inventions arise which can force their way into the political economy as personal computers did. And there are international firms: for decades no US firm could break into the domination of the auto industry by GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
Then giant auto makers from Japan, Korea, and Germany with backing by their states were able to successfully compete with the former Big Three. This includes distortion of the law of value the tendency of commodities to exchange according to the amount of socially necessary labour they embody. But even distorted markets are still markets; even distorted value relations are still value relations.
Marx saw the growth of centralised big business as mostly progressive. He was aware that it caused great suffering for the workers, but he believed that it laid the basis for socialism communism , the end of classes and poverty. Anarchists had a more critical attitude toward the growth of big business. They agreed that it made possible someday a co-operative, non-profit, system of production: socialism. Often firms merged solely for financial reasons, or in order to increase their power over the workers, or to have better access to markets.
Such weak reasons often caused these semi-monopolies to break apart after a while. It is sometimes stated that Marx predicted that the growth of concentrated capital would end the existence of middle layers between the stock-owning bourgeoisie and the working class. This is not true. Marx did expect that small businesspeople, independent professionals, and small farmers would decline in numbers with the growth of big business. But he also predicted that huge firms would cause a split between the ownership of capital and the job of managing the firm.
As capitalist enterprises expand, the capitalists themselves become superfluous, at least to the productive aspects. The managers manage. The capitalists invest in the stockmarket. This new layer of managers and supervisors has basically two tasks. One is the technical co-ordination of the various work taking place. This is something which would have to be done in any economic system.
Under socialist democracy, it might be done by the workers meeting to plan their work, or the workers might elect a co-ordinator, or they might take turns. To the extent that the capitalist managers are doing necessary technical work, they are part of the collective labour that produces the commodities. On the other hand, they are agents of the capitalists and personifications of capital.
For Marx, the replacement of family-owned and managed firms by ever-larger stock companies points to the end of capitalism, its last phase. He thought that the growth of semi-monopolies would result in more state involvement in the economy as well as the growth of finance and speculation all of which came true. He did not think that all workers would be immediately and constantly driven to extreme poverty. He knew that workers could be relatively well-paid, while still being exploited. He expected that workers would earn higher pay during periods of prosperity in the business cycle.
For a time, this evolves into a relatively stable value of the commodity labour power. But the capitalists will continue to press the workers, especially when profit rates decline discussed further below and when the bosses feel stronger due to increased centralisation. Increased productivity permits the capitalists to keep or even lower the value of what they pay the workers, while maintaining their standard of living as judged by use-values. This is at least until the crisis gets so bad, the profit rate gets so low, that the capitalists have to attack the workers and drastically cut their wages.
The workers fight back to maintain the standard of living for themselves and their families-and, if possible, to improve it. This is good, but in itself, Marx said, it does not directly challenge capitalist exploitation as such. Nevertheless, their domination by the ever-increasing power of the capitalists worsens. Meanwhile, increasing productivity the increasing organic composition of capital continues to decrease the proportion of human labour which is needed in production. People lose jobs, which expands the reserve army of the unemployed, the pool of unemployed workers.
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Their poverty and misery does get worse over time, and threatens to pull down the standards of even the organised employed workers. How is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall affected by the tendency toward oligopoly, monopoly, and even complete unification state capitalism? Clearly, productivity continues to increase, which raises the organic composition of capital, which should decrease the rate of profit.
But does it? The giant firms can raise their prices and thereby their profits, without worrying that other capitalists will invest in their field and bring down the prices and profits. Because of their monopoly position, they can keep out other possible competitors by definition; this is what makes their position a monopoly. Their monopoly or semi-monopoly position may be due to ownership of patents or to their huge size. It takes a great deal of capital to break into the US steel or auto industries which is why it took foreign giants to do it.
Therefore the giant firms may get and keep a disproportionate amount of the surplus value produced in society. Which means that the weaker, smaller, firms are getting proportionately less the surplus value has to come from somewhere. Another effect of concentrated and centralised big businesses is that they produce large amounts of surplus in one place. While the rate of profit may not be high, the lump sum of any one corporation will be large. This does not change the actual rate of profit, but it changes the effects of the declining rate of profit.
A large, concentrated, sum of money can be used for further investment in a way that the same sum of money, scattered around in small firms, cannot. Large firms may also increase profits due to economies of scale in production. However, as anarchists and other decentralists Borsodi, Schumacher, etc. For example, a centralised factory which produces all the wickets in the world may produce them much cheaper than would local wicket-making workshops.
But the factory would have to import raw materials, machinery, and workers from great distances, and then to ship the finished wickets great distances. This creates costs which local production would not have. These diseconomies of scale may be one factor in the splitting up of overlarge semi-monopolies. Whether the costs of distribution balance the advantages of centralised production has to be determined empirically, but rarely is. But technology has changed a great deal since then, and he did not calculate for regional production.
Also, monopolies and semi-monopolies are under less competitive pressure and therefore may be less inventive and productive. Monopolies tend to stagnation. On the one hand this produces less surplus value. On the other hand, by slowing down growth in productivity, it slows down the growth of the organic composition of capital and therefore of the fall in the rate of profit. How this balances out is an empirical matter. But in the long run, the fall in the rate of profit cannot really be counteracted by other causes of stagnation.
However, the most important effect of the growth of large concentrated firms on profit rates is its effect on the business cycle. If the cycle goes all the way through to the final crash as it did in , under oligopolistic capitalism the crash will be very bad indeed. The businesses are huge so their fall will be huge. They owe huge debts, to other companies and to the banks. They employ large numbers. They buy and sell from each other as well as from many smaller firms. Their boards of directors overlap. So if any of them fall, the effect on the whole of the economy is enormous.
The problem of getting an oligopolistic economy back up on its feet is also enormous. While classical bourgeois economists claim that an economic slump will always cure itself, Keynes argued that this was no longer automatically true. In the age of semi-monopolies, he was right. It took a world war to finally end it see below.
Therefore the capitalist class and its economists and politicians have determined not to let another Great Depression happen. Governments and central banks will do all they can to prevent another Depression. The usual methods are economic stimuli and subsidies, tax cuts, and monetary manoeuvres which decrease interest rates.
Assuming these methods work, for a time at least, they may not completely banish the business cycle and its crashes, but they may modulate them, make them less disastrous. However, this has an unintended consequence. Lesser downturns cannot do their historical task of cleaning up the capitalist economy. As the costs of doing business do not decline, so the rate of profit does not get a boost, counteracting its tendency to fall. The shallowness of the business cycle in the s, which bourgeois economists were so proud of, was preparing the way for greater disasters.
Increasing wealth by non-market, or at least non-value-producing, methods never went away, even at the height of capitalist development. Now it has returned with a vengeance. This newer primitive accumulation applies above all to the looting of nature. The ruling class acts like the capitalist management of a firm which sells its commodities for the equivalent of variable capital, constant capital, and the average profit. After selling its commodities, it should put aside money from the equivalent of the constant capital to eventually pay for new machinery and buildings when the old ones wear out.
But instead, it does not. It counts its equivalent of constant capital instead as part of its profit, thus creating what seems to be a larger profit than it is really earning. A part of its profits is really fictitious. Perhaps it uses some of the constant capital value to buy off the workers with higher pay counting it as variable capital. The day will come when its machinery will wear out. Then this seemingly prosperous firm will fail because it cannot replace the machines. The bourgeoisie of the US and the rest of the world should have been putting aside wealth to prepare for a transition from oil, coal, and natural gas to renewable energy.
It should have been paying to clean up the environment and preventing global warming. Instead it has been counting its wealth as profit and buying off a layer of the working class with an apparently decent standard of living. Meanwhile our whole civilisation is built on carbon-based fuels oil, coal, and natural gas.
Not only our transportation system, but also our food which relies on artificial fertiliser and artificial pesticides, made from oil. And there are all the things we use plastics and artificial fibres for from oil.
But these are limited, non-renewable, raw materials, which sooner or later will run out-and meanwhile get harder and harder to get to. They pollute our foods, our land, our air, and our water. And they are causing global warming, which will cause a world wide catastrophe. Sometimes, when gasoline prices go up, liberals claim that the oil companies are deliberately over-pricing it. This may be immediately true, but in the long run, it is the opposite of true.
Because the oil companies do not include the costs they will eventually need in order to reach hard-to-get oil or to develop new energy sources once current oil sources run low, they are all under-pricing the real costs of oil production! The conservatives claim that to change to renewable energy and an ecologically sustainable economy would be difficult and expensive; the conservatives are correct. Nor is this looting of nature just a matter of oil and energy production. The oceans are being over-fished to extinction. Other species are being wiped out. Capitalism treats the world as though it were an inexhaustible mine.
Marx and Engels did not foresee all this; they expected a socialist revolution well before humanity got this close to the edge. But their tools help us to understand it. Not to mention the existence of pre-capitalist imperialism, such as the Roman empire or the Chinese empire. Marx wrote a fair amount about the imperialism of his time in his political writings and anthropological notebooks — especially about the British rule over India, China, and Ireland, the Dutch rule over Indonesia, the Russian rule over Poland, and the French attempt to conquer Mexico.
But he did not write much about its economics. Marx regarded foreign trade by the industrialising capitalist countries of Western Europe as an essential background to their development.
Driven by the need to make profits, the original industrial capitalist regimes went abroad to exploit the labour force, the raw materials, and the consumer markets of poorer nations. Marx wrote that capital in the developed countries would take advantage of cheaper labour and the higher levels of exploitation in the poor nations. The directly capitalist methods were tied up with primitive accumulation, the looting of local peoples of their wealth by force and fraud. Although formal colonialism the ownership of other countries by the imperial home countries is mostly over, the looting continues today, through investments, high-interest-rate loans to governments including by the IMF and the World Bank , unequal trade, control over international patents, etc.
He saw it as laying the basis for industrialisation and modernisation in the poorer nations, a way to break them out of as he saw it the stagnation of pre-capitalist societies. Yet he was aware of the suffering which capitalist imperialism caused among ordinary people, the destruction of harmless ways of life. He was sympathetic to anti-imperialist rebellions, as in India and China. Today it is clear that once capitalism reaches its epoch of decay, imperialism is a completely reactionary phenomenon.
There are various Marxist theories of current imperialism, which I will not review in this introductory text. Suffice it to say, that the giant semi-monopolies of the rich countries dominate the world market, driven by the need to make profits and accumulate value. As such they also dominate the poorer, oppressed, countries, in order to drain them of their wealth. To maintain their power, the capitalists of the imperialist nations can use the military forces of their national states to invade and occupy the weaker countries. Implicitly, they also use them to warn off rival imperialist states.
This is most true for the rulers of the United States. In competition with other imperial states and needing to oppress poorer countries, the great imperialists have repeatedly gone to war with each other and with the oppressed nations. They have developed weapons of such awesome power that they could wipe out civilisation and perhaps exterminate life on earth.
They did not prevent many smaller wars by the imperialists against oppressed nations. Now that the Cold War is over and the Soviet Union as such is gone, nuclear bombs are more widespread than ever before. They are under the control of more, often unstable, governments, as well as the increasingly desperate imperialist states. This remains an extremely dangerous situation for human survival. The epoch of capitalist decline has a political effect. At its birth, the ideologues of capitalism developed the program of bourgeois-democracy. It was based on the nature of capitalism itself.
All people were supposedly equal, free, atoms in the marketplace and therefore they should be free and equal citizens in the state. Similarly, all citizens should be equal, with one adult person, one vote.
This implied representative governments, land to the peasants, national self-determination, and freedom of speech and association. There should be no oppression or discrimination based on anything but lack of money. Of course, capitalism has never lived up to its promised program!
Every expansion of democratic rights was won by the blood of the people fighting the capitalists. Yet over time, there was an expansion of bourgeois democratic rights and general freedom.
The right to vote was expanded in country after country. Absolute monarchies were replaced by either republics or, at least, constitutional monarchies. Slavery was abolished. And so on. The problem, as Engels and he came to see it, was that the expansion of capitalism meant the expansion of the working class. The bourgeoisie became more afraid of the proletariat than they were of undemocratic, authoritarian, rulers.
A successful revolution against the feudal aristocracy would inspire the workers to continue the revolution into one against the bourgeoisie. Increased democracy would be used by the workers to organise themselves against the capitalist class. This would threaten the bourgeoisie. In their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League March , Marx and Engels drew the lessons they had learned from the defeat of the — European revolutions.
They concluded that the workers should support the liberal democrats against authoritarian states, but never trust them; they will sell out the struggle for fear of the working class. The workers should organise independently of the bourgeoisie, even of its most liberal wing. In its epoch of decline, capitalism ceases to be a champion of even bourgeois democracy. To win stable, lasting, consistent bourgeois-democratic rights, it is necessary to go beyond capitalism all the way to socialist democracy.
Marx and Engels noted the rise of the semi-autonomous bourgeois state, with a bureaucratic-military executive, serving capitalism overall but not directly controlled by the capitalist class. It is therefore assumed to be part of the Trotskyist program a variant of Leninism.
Actually, permanent revolution was first raised by Marx and Engels. Trotsky and others picked it up later and elaborated on it. He changed his views on this later, but the other Leninists never accepted his or any other theory of permanent revolution. After the end of the Second World War, most economists predicted a return to depression conditions.
This included most bourgeois economists as well as almost all Marxist economists. This did not happen. In apparent contradiction to the theory of permanent revolution, fascism was overcome in Europe except for Spain and Portugal and bourgeois democracy restored. Increasing numbers of colonised nations won their political independence. To most people, it looked as if any notion of capitalism being in decline was preposterous.
Still there remained some problems. On the world scale, capitalism remained unable to industrialise the poorer nations. Even the Western European countries took decades to rebuild their prosperity. The imperialist countries continued to get into colonial wars the biggest for the US being in Korea and Vietnam. As mentioned, the existence of nuclear weapons was something to worry about.
The whole of the South was impoverished and held back by its vicious anti-Black laws. The unions abandoned their efforts to organise the South. Millions of African-Americans lived under a form of totalitarian repression. A right-wing anti-communist hysteria swept the nation, driving leftists out of the unions and out of employment, attacking freedom of speech and association. The economy as a whole still went through business cycles, from boom to bust, even if in a shallower, more moderate, fashion than before.
If, as I claim, capitalism has been in its epoch of decline, then it is necessary to ask some questions: What caused this post-World War II boom even with its limitations? Did it disprove the concept of the epoch of the decay of capitalism? My answer, briefly, is that what the Great Depression could not do to restore capitalism to apparent health, the world war could do. The Depression could not do enough to destroy the values of constant capital, but the world war destroyed constant capital itself — factories, machines, roads, buildings, and raw materials went up in flame all across Europe and Asia.
These were rebuilt after the war with the most modern, productive, technology. Similarly the value of variable capital — the commodity labour power — went down with the massacres and social destruction of the war around the world. It took decades for the educated and skilled workers of Europe to regain their pre-World War I standard of living.
In this case, though, capitalism also benefited from thirty years of working class defeats, of failures to make revolutions, and of successful counter-revolutions, with the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. That culminated in the period right after World War II, when social democratic and Stalinist parties held back working class struggles everywhere. The US economy was pumped up through the massive stimulus of military spending, far more than the New Deal had ever attempted.
High levels of military spending continued after the war, both of conventional armed forces and of nuclear-armed missiles and bombers. Concentration was increased on a world scale as international imperialism was reorganised. The British empire and the French, the Dutch, etc. The dollar became the dominant world currency.
In the US, the war was followed by an expansion of debt and speculation, particularly in the fields of FIRE finance, insurance, and real estate. Meanwhile there was an explosion of the automobile industry, which expanded the steel, rubber, and glass industries, highway construction, and resulted in the construction of suburbia. These forces countered the long-run tendencies of stagnation and decline.
They did not run out of steam until the middle of the s. From to the mid 70s, the world capitalist economy began to slide downhill again with ups and downs , deeper into stagnation. Liberals wondered, if the state could spend so much money on war and preparing for war, why not get the same economic effect by spending funds on socially useful causes: healthcare for all, new schools, the natural environment, houses for the homeless, etc.? In the most abstract sense, this could be done. However, there are class reasons why the capitalist state cannot provide vast funds for social purposes.
Even in Western Europe, social services have been under fierce attack for some time, although they start from more benefits than the US population ever had. Quite simply, the capitalist class does not intend to let a large chunk of its collective profits total surplus value be handed over to the working class. This would cut down overall profit, and politically strengthen the workers.
With more social support to fall back on, the workers might be more willing to strike and to demand higher pay. Socially useful products, such as houses, food, medical care, etc. This would not do, from the viewpoint of the bourgeoisie. This is not why they have a bourgeois state! On the other hand, military spending is acceptable because it is a direct state subsidy to big capitalists. It does not compete on the market place no one makes nuclear missiles for private sale, not legally.
It channels value to some of the biggest corporations. I am focusing on the economic effects of military spending, but I do not deny that it does have its uses for the empire. The US does need materiel in order to invade little countries. But the economic basis of military spending becomes obvious every time the government considers adding new weapons or cancelling old ones. The companies which make them throw their lobbyists into high gear. They whip up the workers who make these products to demonstrate and organise. The politicians from the areas where they are made and even from completely separate areas demand the construction of this product, just as their capitalist masters donors to their re-election campaigns tell them to.
But armament spending has an inherent weakness. When tractors, for example, are produced, they can be used by farmers to grow things. If bulldozers are built, they can used in the following production cycle to make buildings. But what if the government pays businesses to produce tanks? Once in existence, the tanks either stay at home, producing nothing, or they are sent abroad, where they destroy things. This is even more true for intercontinental nuclear missiles. Much value goes into making them, but they are not to be used and hopefully will never be used.
Whatever their political or military significance, economically they are the same as paying people to dig big holes and fill them in again. Suppose the government decides to make some missiles. It has a fund of money, some from taxes ultimately from the pool of surplus value and most from borrowing selling bonds.
It pays a capitalist firm to make them including what the firm counts as profit. The firm buys necessary material constant capital , such as steel and machines. The firm hires workers variable capital to make the missiles. BUT while all this paper bonds, stocks in the arms company, money has increased and continues to circulate, there are no new products on the market!
It is sick enough to think of an economic system which sustains itself in large part by preparing for mass nuclear death. It is even sicker to have an economy which sustains itself by effectually producing… nothing. This is the epoch of capitalist decay. These represent past loans of money to the state, money which has been spent by now. Yet they can be bought and sold as though they were real.
Marx goes further:. Nor are arms production or other forms of public expenditure the only creation of fictitious capital. When houses go up in price in a housing bubble but nothing new has been added to the housing, and there is no new real wealth , this is fictitious capital. When oil is produced and the profits do not take into account the future need to pay for reaching hard-to-get oil, that is fictitious capital. Rent of land which has not been improved by human labour is fictitious capital. Wealth created by primary accumulation is fictitious capital.
When there is speculation on stocks and bonds, with increasingly remote relations to the real economy which they supposedly represent, this is fictitious capital. During times of prosperity, it is taken for granted that the paper wealth represents real wealth and can be turned into real wealth whenever needed.
Meanwhile the paper or blips on a computer screen is bought and sold, exchanged and rearranged, making everything look prosperous and profitable, despite the stagnation in the real economy. Especially when the profit rates of the real economy stagnate or decline due to the falling rate of profit and the growth of monopoly , then there is pressure to make money by investing in ever-more fictitious capital. This refers to the increasing investments in loans and exotic derivatives. What is true is that the banks have become semi-monopolies and are integrated with the rest of oligopoly-financial capitalism.
In a downturn, suddenly there is a dash to turn the paper into real products, or to make sure that they do represent real commodities e. The need for goods and services which have been produced by socially-necessary labour reasserts itself, as the economy goes from fictitious value to real value. It turns out that there is much less value than there has been fictitious value. As in a game of musical chairs, a lot of capitalists have nowhere to sit. A big crash, at the end of a business cycle, would clear away a lot of that fictitious capital.
But the long prosperity which has modulated the cycle has prevented such crashes. Therefore the amount of fictitious capital — of debt and financial speculative instruments — has continued to increase to mountainous proportions, of government and private forms. This continues to put pressure on the system for a real, big, crash to re-stablise the system. Marx divided the economy roughly into a Department I producing constant capital and Department II producing consumer goods. Mostly Department II provides for the working class variable capital.
The workers need their food, housing, healthcare, and entertainment, in order to re-enter the cycle of production — that is, to go to work the next day. The capitalists also consume commodities, of course. However, their gourmet meals, mansions, and yachts are luxuries; they do not re-enter the cycle of production, because the capitalists are not necessary for production.
Marx treated this as a sliver of Department II, unproductive consumption. It is distinct from the productive consumption involved in using up goods in the process of producing surplus value. The middle layers of society mostly work for the capitalists directly or indirectly and are paid for out of surplus value they do not create new surplus value. These are non-reproductive production , or unproductive consumption. Government arms production, fictitious capital, primitive accumulation, and financialisation went a long way to keep capitalism going after World War II. The apparent prosperity lasted for about 30 years.
Since then it has been downhill and getting worse. There is a reassertion of the underlying tendencies of the epoch of capitalist decay. That is what we are now living through and will continue to live through, I believe, until there is either a collapse of civilisation or a working class-led revolution.
My reason for discussing the post-war boom was not to lead up to an analysis of the current economic crisis or to predict the future. It was to demonstrate that the period of apparent prosperity did not contradict the concept of the epoch of capitalist decay. As previously quoted, Marx described a tendency of capitalism to develop larger and larger firms, in spite of counteracting tendencies toward breaking down into smaller units. The trends toward centralisation and concentration were due to accumulation growing larger , competition some firms beating other firms and absorbing them , the class struggle getting larger in order to better dominate the workers , and the use of credit and fictitious capital, among other factors.
Semi-monopolisation caused increasing intervention by the state in the economy, to support the giant firms. The overall trend, Marx noted, was toward a single, merged, firm he did not say whether he expected this trend to ever be completed. By implication, this did not end competition, since even a single national firm would be in the environment of the world market, in competition with other giant firms. Engels thought this passage so important, that he repeated it when he took parts out of Anti-Duhring to make his pamphlet, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.
Rather than criticize Marx for things about the historical Marxist movement which they dislike, they blame Engels. They claim to understand Marx better than did his long-time political partner and dearest friend! If true, this should raise questions about Marx; how come he could not explain his ideas even to Engels? Engels, after all, was a very bright person, even if not a towering genius like Marx. They reject the idea that dialectics should be applied to nature and physical science at all, rather than only to human society.
Unfortunately for their opinion, Marx is known to have read over Anti-Duhring and discussed all of it with Engels before its publication. Marx contributed a chapter to it — which he would hardly have done if he disagreed with major parts of it. The anti-Engelsian Marxists also blame him for the reformist development of the German Social Democratic Party and the other parties it influenced. By World War I that party supported the imperialist war and the monarchist government which waged it.
Perhaps, but only if we include that he had been unhappy with the rightward trends in the party for a long time, and said so. But he did not make a fight, hoping that the class struggle would straighten things out. On the other hand, it had been Marx who had advocated the policy of building working class parties to run in elections, independent of the bourgeois liberal and conservative parties. It had been Marx who had declared that it might be possible for such parties to come to power peacefully through electoral means, at least in Britain or the US.
He usually added, though, that such an event would probably be followed by pro-capitalist military rebellions. In fact, this was the biggest practical difference between Marx and Bakunin in the First International. In my opinion, historical hindsight shows that the anarchists were right. I do not mean to argue here about dialectical materialism or electoralism.
Nor do I deny that Engels and Marx were different people with different styles of thinking or writing. In fact though, since trusts were based on distinct companies which got stronger or weaker over time, they tended to eventually break up. The more it proceeds to the taking over of the productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit.
The workers remain wage-workers-proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head. Engels was saying that the culmination of corporations, trusts, and monopolies, is state capitalism although he never actually uses the term. He did not say whether he expected this to happen or was just describing a tendency. They are the state and as such the personification of capital. That is, they would exploit the workers in a capitalist fashion as opposed to the methods of feudalism, or slavery, or of some new class society.
He expected that the bourgeoisie will still be there, living as stock-owning parasites, but not actually managing anything. By contrast, Bakunin predicted that a completely statified economy would develop a new ruling class out of better-off workers and socialist intellectuals. They did not connect this to their writings on capitalist statification.
They felt that these societies e. Under state capitalism, the proletarians will still be there not slaves or serfs but proletarians. They will be selling their commodity labour power to the collective capitalist, the state, and will work to produce commodities, including more commodities than their labour power is worth, that is, surplus value. He did not comment on the continuation of competition internationally, between the national state capital and other capitals either similar state capitalisms or other sorts of monopolistic businesses.
It has even been seriously suggested that the bankers and capitalists, instead of violently dispersing the protests, ought to go along and participate in the debates, thus establishing a friendly dialogue with the young dissenters, and show them that the exploiters are really not so bad after all. In this way the protest movement would lose its revolutionary character.
It would be gradually integrated into the system it is supposed to be challenging. Why, you almost convince me! You know, we need capable youngsters like you in business In order to avoid these pitfalls, an understanding of theory and the lessons of the past is an essential precondition for success. While most people will have to go through a painful process of learning by trial and error, Marxists base themselves on the lessons of the past. We can say what has worked and what hasn't and apply this knowledge to the present situation.
We will still make some mistakes, and it is not as simple as looking up the answer in a revolutionary cookbook, but we really have no need to reinvent the wheel; it was invented a very long time ago! In the past, the reformists were actually able to negotiate a few extra crumbs for the workers from the capitalists' table. However, the crisis of capitalism necessarily means the crisis of reformism. The way forward demands a serious struggle against reformism, a struggle to regenerate the mass organizations of the working class, beginning with the unions.
They must be transformed into fighting organizations of the working class.
Free association (Marxism and anarchism)
Marxists are not opposed to reforms. On the contrary, we will fight stubbornly for each and every reform that can help make life better for the majority. But under present conditions, no meaningful reforms can be won without an all-out struggle. The days when workers could get serious wage increases by merely threatening strike action are long gone. The bosses say they cannot afford even to maintain the present level of wages, let alone give additional concessions.
The days when the right-wing trade union leaders could reach a cosy agreement with the employers and the state have passed into history. In criticizing the present policies of the labour leaders, it is necessary to advance other, better policies. But the protest movement has not yet come up with a clear alternative to reformism. Attempts to limit speculation by imposing a tax on financial transactions is not an alternative to the capitalist system, only a half-hearted attempt to reform a system that cannot be reformed.
This is merely another type of reformism. That is sufficient to show that such a measure poses no threat whatsoever to capitalism. It will solve precisely nothing in the long run. Those who dream of solving the crisis through reforms are living in the past, in a phase of capitalism that has ceased to exist. It is they, not the Marxists, who are Utopians! What we need is a full-blooded militancy and a revival of the class struggle.
Under conditions of capitalist crisis, even the gains of the working class cannot be long-lasting. What the bosses concede with the left hand they will take back with the right, and vice versa. Wage increases are cancelled out by inflation or tax increases. Factories are closed and unemployment increases. The only way to ensure that reforms are not rolled back is by fighting for a radical change in society. Moreover, even the struggle for reforms can only succeed to the degree that it acquires the widest and most revolutionary scope.
All history shows that the ruling class will only make serious concessions when it fears that it will lose everything. Just as we need a viable alternative to capitalism, so we need a viable alternative to the old reformist leadership. We must fight against the right wing bureaucratic leadership of the labor organizations. We must fight for a break with the Democrats and the Republicans and the formation of a labor party based on the unions. But in order to do this, it is absolutely necessary to organize, educate, and train revolutionary cadres who have drawn the correct conclusions from the whole history of the class struggle nationally and internationally.
It is true that in the ranks of the anarchists there have been many courageous fighters. This was especially true of Spain in the s and 30s. But taken as a whole, the history of anarchism over the last hundred years shows clearly that it is a blind alley. The most striking fact is the stark contrast between theory and practice. Trotsky said that the theories of anarchism are like an umbrella full of holes: useless precisely when it rains.
This can be shown time and time again. As a theory, anarchism is confused and superficial. The ideas of Bakunin were cobbled together and plagiarized from the 19 th century Utopian socialists, particularly Proudhon. In his polemics against Marx, he did not hesitate to use the vilest methods, including anti-Semitism. This is further explored in the article Marx vs. Bakunin , included in this volume.
Of far greater interest are the writings of Peter Kropotkin, a man of ideas who wrote one of the best histories of the French Revolution, which was greatly admired by Trotsky. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that Kropotkin forgot all about his anarchist ideals in , when he supported the Allies in the World War I. He was not the only one. In France, before the World War I, the anarcho-syndicalists succeeded in dominating the main trade union confederation.
Their main slogan was for the general strike, which they regarded as a panacea. This was a mistake. Although the general strike is one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of the class struggle, it cannot solve the central question: the question of state power. An all-out general strike—as opposed to a one-day general strike, which is in effect only a demonstration— poses the question of power.
It raises the issue: who runs society; you or us? Therefore, it logically must lead to the assumption ofpower by the working class, or else end in defeat. If the working class does not take state power, then the entire coercive apparatus of the army, police, courts, laws, etc. This is something the anarchists could never understand, since for most of them, the question of state power is either irrelevant, or can simply be abolished from one day to the next. Unfortunately, the question of the state, of who rules society, cannot be so easily disposed of. It cannot be ignored. Let us pose the question concretely.
If the workers all go on strike, what will happen? All industry, transport, and communications will come to a halt. The factories, shops and banks will be shut. And then what? The capitalists can afford to wait. They are in no danger of starving. But the working class cannot wait indefinitely. They can be starved back to work. And if waiting the movement out does not suffice, the state has many reserves of repression that can be called on to complete the job. This has happened more than once in history. It is happening now with the Occupy movement.
In other words, if it is not linked to the perspective of the working class taking power, the question of the general strike is mere empty demagogy. So how did matters with the anarcho-syndicalists in France turn out in practice? This contrast between theory and practice, between words and deeds, was absolutely typical of the history of anarchism from the very beginning. It had its most tragic consequences in Spain in the revolutionary period of the s. In Spain, the anarchists had behind them the flower of the working class.
In their ranks there were many courageous and dedicated class fighters. The anarchist workers were outstanding for their courage and militancy. Yet the Spanish Revolution of demonstrated the complete bankruptcy of anarchism as a guide to the workers on the road to a socialist society. In the summer of , when Franco declared a fascist military uprising against the Republic, the workers of Barcelona, mostly organized in the CNT, stormed the army barracks.
By this courageous action, they prevented the victory of the fascists in As a result of this insurrection, the anarchist workers had complete control of Barcelona. The old bourgeois state had ceased to exist. The sole power was the working class. But the leadership of the anarchists did not do this; they refused to form a workers' government in Catalonia when they had the chance. Even when Lluis Companys, the President of the old bourgeois government of Catalonia the Generalitat , invited them to take the power, they refused to do so.
This was fatal to the revolution. Then what did the anarchist leaders do? There were actually anarchist ministers in the national bourgeois government in the Valencia and the regional government in Catalonia. These actions powerfully contributed to the defeat of the Spanish Revolution, and the people of Spain paid the price with four decades of fascist barbarism. Without a firm theoretical compass to guide you through the storm and stress of a revolution, decisions are improvised on the fly. And without a strong, centralized, democratic, and accountable organizational structure, the leaders are not under the control of the membership and the organization cannot act as a united, and thereby more powerful whole.
This army entered Aragon and waged a revolutionary war against the fascists, turning every village into a bastion of the revolution. But Durruti could only achieve these things to the degree that he broke from the old anarchist dogmas and in practice moved closer to revolutionary Marxism—to Bolshevism. Although the rank and file anarchist workers were undoubtedly sincere and courageous, the balance sheet of the whole historical experience of anarchism was completely negative.
The first problem was the refusal to accept majority decisions. It is an elementary proposition of democracy is that the minority must accept the decision of the majority. But what is the alternative? The only alternative is the politics of consensus. What does this mean in practice? If there are, say, a hundred people in an assembly, and 99 vote in favour of a proposition, and just one person votes against, what should happen?
According to the democratic principle, the view of the 99 carries the day and the one dissenting individual accepts the decision. He or she is not required to change his or her views, and may reserve the right to continue to argue their case and attempt to get the majority to change its mind. But in the meantime, the decision of the majority stands.
Apart from making good sense from a strictly democratic point of view, this procedure has the advantage of allowing us to proceed from talking to action. This is at bottom a class question. The democratic procedure is well-known to workers and trade unionists. It can be seen in every strike. The discipline that is imposed on the worker through the capitalist system—through the division of labour and regimentation of production—is the very same discipline that the workers turn against the bosses through organization into trade unions and political parties of labour.
In contrast to the workers, the middle classes are used to individualistic methods and have an individualistic mentality. An assembly of students can debate for hours, days, and weeks without ever coming to a conclusion. They have plenty of time and are accustomed to that kind of thing. But a factory mass meeting is an entirely different affair. Before a strike, the workers discuss, debate, and listen to different opinions. But at the end of the day, the issue must be decided. It is put to the vote and the majority decides.
This is clear and obvious to any worker. And nine times out of ten, the minority will voluntarily accept the decision of the majority. Once the decision to strike has been made, all the workers will abide by it. In most cases, even those who argued against a strike will support it and even play an active role on the picket line. What about the anarchist method of consensus? It means, in practice, that if even one person disagrees, no decision can be reached.
This signifies the tyranny of the minority over the majority , whose rights are being denied. It can even signify the dictatorship of a single individual—the very opposite of democracy from any point of view. This has absolutely nothing to do with democracy or socialism, but is a clear expression of petty-bourgeois individualism and egotism. To see where this can lead, let us return to the example of a strike.
There are always a few individuals who will try to go to work although their workmates have decided to drop tools. Here, in a nutshell, we have the difference between the proletarian-revolutionary standpoint, based on the collective will of the workers, and the standpoint of petty-bourgeois individualism. The recent experience of the protest movement provides many examples of the negative role of anarchist methods. To help illustrate this concretely, I have taken a random sample of comments written by participants in the Occupy movement, all of which I found on the Reddit website.
There I discovered that anarchists couldn't organize their way out of a box if their lives depended on it. We must discuss more! This is like a man who tries to quench his thirst by drinking salt water. It's completely undemocratic and holds back organizing and political development. All voices can be heard under democracy, but that a small minority disagrees strongly is not an argument for why they should be able to stall further decision making. This kind of thing naturally generates frustration among those for whom the protest movement should be more than a talking shop.
Sadly, the experience will be only too familiar to many participants in the protest movement. Here is another account, this time from Florida:. Capitalism isn't even discussed as possibly being the culprit. I interjected with "It's the system, stupid. I'm sorry but I don't think that fighting corporatism is enough when I had exactly the same experience at a local protest. We spent over two hours discussing the formation of work groups, and the majority of that discussion was a meta-discussion about how we should discuss the formation of work groups.
I ultimately ran out of time and had to leave, and I was kind of happy about it because that organization process was like pulling teeth. Has anybody else had a similar experience? The whole point of democracy is majority rule. There must be a full and free debate, with every viewpoint freely expressed. But if it is not to degenerate into a mere talking shop, debate must end in a vote in which the majority must decide, and the minority must accept the decision of the majority.
The imposition of consensus leads inevitably to inaction, frustration, time-wasting and eventually, to a falling-off of participation. Many people who took part the initial Occupy meetings drift away and leave the organizing committees because they are frustrated with the endless debates and discussions that are going nowhere. The methods that seemed so democratic, that were supposed to encourage the maximum of participation, in the end only succeed in alienating people and undermining the movement. A different method is needed, a genuinely democratic method which allows everyone to speak their mind freely, but which at the end of the day leads to clear-cut decisions and positive action.
The Russian Bolshevik Bukharin once joked that anarchism has two rules: the first rule is that you must not form a party; the second rule is that nobody must obey the first rule! Although in theory these anarchist methods are ultra-democratic, in practice they produce the worst kind of bureaucracy: the rule of self-appointed cliques. The contradictory nature of this position is clear to the more thinking elements among the anarchists:. Allowing everyone in a large group to have a veto is paralyzing. Mass assemblies, especially without a well-set agenda, tend to veer far off-topic.
There were problems, but the group tried very hard to be aware of these issues and they did manage to get things done. I learned a number of different things from this experience. There was even one person a white guy, surprise surprise who was particularly leading the group. There was a lot of drama over this, and I was actually happy that people were pointing out discussing the effects of race, class, and gender on decision-making and leadership, but nevertheless the group collapsed due to all of the discontent. It seemed like a lot of things passed simply because the younger, less confident members were too nervous to object or to stall a decision.
Again, I applaud them for trying to be aware of these problems but the problems still persisted, often unspoken of except for in small groups of members. The anarchist methods of organization invariably turns into their opposite. We have seen this many times. Behind the apparently democratic anarchy of a formless assembly with no rules, no structure, and theoretically no leaders, someone always takes decisions.
By majority vote? God forbid! This, in practice, is the worst form of bureaucracy — an irresponsible bureaucracy that can do just what it likes because there is no formal democratic method of control. Rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of 'order'; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state.
The modern state is a bureaucratic behemoth that devours a colossal amount of the wealth produced by the working class. Marxists and anarchists agree that the state is a monstrous instrument of oppression that must be eliminated. The question is: How? By whom? And what will replace it? This is a fundamental question for any revolution. In a speech on anarchism during the Russian Civil War, Trotsky summarized very well the Marxist position on the state:.
London: New Park, Marxism explains that that the state consists ultimately of armed bodies of men: of the army, police, courts, and jails. It is an instrument of the ruling class for the oppression of other classes. Against the confused ideas of the anarchists, Marx argued that the workers need a state to overcome the resistance of the exploiting classes. But that argument of Marx has been distorted by both the bourgeois and the anarchists. The Paris Commune of was one of the greatest and most inspiring episodes in the history of the working class. In a tremendous revolutionary movement, the working people of Paris replaced the capitalist state with their own organs of government and held political power until their downfall a few months later.
The Parisian workers strove, in extremely difficult circumstances, to put an end to exploitation and oppression, and to reorganize society on an entirely new foundation. The Commune was a glorious episode in the history of the world working class. For the first time, the popular masses, with the workers at their head, overthrew the old state and at least began the task of transforming society. With no clearly-defined plan of action, leadership or organization, the masses displayed an astonishing degree of courage, initiative and creativity. Yet in the last analysis, the lack of a bold and far-sighted leadership and a clear program led to a terrible defeat.
Marx and Engels drew a thorough balance sheet of the Commune, pointing out its advances as well as its errors and deficiencies. These can almost all be traced to the failings of the leadership. The leaders of the Commune were a mixed bunch, ranging from a minority f Marxists to elements who stood closer to reformism or anarchism. One of the reasons the Commune failed was that it did not launch a revolutionary offensive against the reactionary government that had installed itself at Versailles. This gave time to the counterrevolutionary forces to rally and attack Paris.
Over 30, people were butchered by the counterrevolution. The Commune was literally buried under a mound of corpses. The bourgeois and its apologists wish to confuse the workers and youth by attempting to identify the idea of communism with the monstrous bureaucratic and totalitarian regime of Stalinist Russia. Here it is! That is Communism!
The Berlin Wall is Communism! Hungary is Communism! The Soviet gulags are Communism! This is a stupid calumny. On the contrary, before the Stalinist bureaucracy usurped control from the masses, it was the most democratic state that ever existed. The basic principles of the Soviet power were not invented by Marx or Lenin. They were based on the concrete experience of the Paris Commune, and later elaborated upon by Lenin.
Here he lays down the following conditions for a workers' state, for the dictatorship of the proletariat at its inception :. These were the conditions which Lenin laid down, not for full-fledged socialism or communism, but for the very first period of a workers' state—the period of the transition from capitalism to socialism.
The transition to socialism—a higher form of society based on genuine democracy and plenty for all--can only be accomplished by the active and conscious participation of the working class in the running of society, of industry, and of the state. It is not something that is kindly handed down to the workers by kind-hearted capitalists or bureaucratic mandarins.
The whole conception of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky was based upon this fact. Strict limitations were placed upon the salaries, power, and privileges of officials in order to prevent the formation of a privileged caste. The Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies were elected assemblies composed not of professional politicians and bureaucrats, but of ordinary workers, peasants, and soldiers. It was not an alien a power standing over society, but a power based on the direct initiative of the people from below.
Its laws were not like the laws enacted by a capitalist state power. It was an entirely different kind of power from the one that generally exists in the parliamentary bourgeois-democratic republics of the type still prevailing in the advanced countries of Europe and America. This power was of the same type as the Paris Commune of Officials become not only elective, but are also subject to recall at the people's first demand; they are reduced to the position of simple agents; from a privileged group holding 'jobs' remunerated on a high, bourgeois scale, they become workers of a special 'arm of the service' whose remuneration does not exceed the ordinary pay of a competent worker.
The early Soviet Union was in fact not a state at all in the sense we normally understand it, but only the organized expression of the revolutionary power of the working people. The question of the state is naturally linked with the question of violence. The ruling class has at its disposal a vast apparatus of coercion: the army, the police, the intelligence services, the courts, the prisons, the lawyers, judges, and prison wardens.
This should not really surprise us. All history shows that no ruling class ever gives up its wealth, power and privileges without a fight—and that usually means a fight with no holds barred. Every revolutionary movement will come up against this apparatus of state repression. What is the Marxists' attitude towards violence? The bourgeoisie and its defenders always accuse Marxists of advocating violence. This is highly ironic, considering the vast arsenals of weaponry that the ruling class has piled up, the armies of heavily armed troops, cops, prisons, and so on and so forth.
The ruling class is not at all opposed to violence per se. In fact, its rule is based on violence in many different forms. The only violence that the ruling class abhors is when the poor, downtrodden, and exploited masses attempt to defend themselves against the organized violence of the bourgeois state. That is, it is against any violence directed at its class rule, power, and property. It goes without saying that we do not advocate violence. We are prepared to make use of each and every opening allowed to us by bourgeois democracy.
But we should be under no illusions. Beneath the thin veneer of democracy there is the reality of the dictatorship of the banks and big corporations. While the people are told that they can democratically decide the direction of the country through elections, in reality, all the real decisions are taken by the boards of directors. The interests of a tiny handful of bankers and capitalists carry much more weight than the votes of millions of ordinary citizens. The real meaning of formal bourgeois democracy is this: anyone can say more or less what they like, as long as big business decides what really happens.
This dictatorship of big business is normally concealed behind a smiling mask. The question is whether we, the People, have the right to fight against this dictatorship and strive to overthrow it. The answer was given long ago when the American people rose up, arms in hand, to defend their rights against the tyranny of the English Crown. The Communists know only too well that conspiracies are not only futile but even harmful. They know only too well that revolutions are not made deliberately and arbitrarily, but are everywhere and at all times the essential outcome of circumstances quite independent of the will and the leadership of particular parties and entire classes.
But they likewise perceive that the development of the proletariat is in nearly every civilised country forcibly suppressed, and that thereby the opponents of the Communists are tending in every way to promote revolution. Should the oppressed proletariat in the end be goaded into a revolution, we Communists will then defend the cause of the proletarians by deed as well as we do now by word. The fact is that once the working class is organized and mobilized to change society, no state, army, or police can stop it.
Nine times out of ten, any violence arising during a revolutionary situation is initiated by the ruling class, which is desperate to hold on to power. Therefore, the danger of violence is in inverse proportion to the willingness of the working class to fight to change society.
As the ancient Romans used to say: Si pacem vis para bellum— if you want peace, prepare for war. However, that does not mean that we advocate sporadic acts of violence by groups or individuals: senseless rioting, breaking windows, arson, etc. Such things sometimes reflect the genuine anger and frustration felt by people, especially the unemployed and dispossessed youth, at the sheer injustice of class society. But this kinds of actions achieve nothing positive. They merely alienate the broader layers of the working class and give the ruling class an excuse to unleash the full force of the state, in order to crack down on the protest movement in general.
There is a force in society that is far stronger than even the most powerful state or army: that is the power of the working class, once it is organized and mobilized to change society. Not a wheel turns, not a phone rings, not a light bulb shines without the permission of the working class! Once this enormous power is mobilized, no force on earth can stop it. Powerful union organizations exist that would be more than capable of overthrowing capitalism if the millions of workers they represent were mobilized to this end. The problem once again reduces itself to a problem of leadership of the working class and its organizations.
The leadership of the mass organizations, beginning with the trade unions, is in a lamentable state everywhere.
A panorama opens up not only of great battles, but also of defeats of the working class as a result of bad leadership. It is understandable that some young people, disgusted with the role of the current leaderships, look to anarchist ideas as a solution. In most cases, however, those who describe themselves as anarchists have no knowledge either of the theories or history of anarchism. Their anarchism is not really anarchism at all, but it is a healthy reaction against bureaucracy and reformism. These are sincere young people who desire to transform society with all their heart.
Many of them will come to understand the limitations of anarchist ideas and methods and will seek a more effective revolutionary alternative. The lack of an adequate leadership and a clear program for action is already being felt by an increasing number of activists in the Occupy movement.