Tag Archive: marx

Join-The-SWPThe Socialist Party Debates: The Tendency For The Rate Of Profit To Fall Vs Underconsumptionism.

The VOAG can’t help but notice the growing debate inside the Socialist Party (SP). The VOAG’s inbox had just quietened down following an avalanche of emails during the recent SWP splits. Now it seems it’s the Socialist Party’s turn to spam the living daylights out of us all.

The VOAG has already heard rumours of people being banned from the Socialist Party’s International Summer School, now I understand the SP’s NC is removing members from the SP Facebook group and banning all discussion relating to Marxist economics. (1)

As Bruce Wallace, one of the leading dissidents put it: “Under the pretext of agreeing to comradely debate, the critical material of oppositionists is being censored and repressed while public attacks on us are made by the leadership”. How SWP. (2)

And just like the SWP debacle, the argument is being conflated with a general dissatisfaction with internal party democracy. One dissident quotes Lenin: “Criticism within the limits of the principles of the Party Programme must be quite free, not only at Party meetings, but also at public meetings. Such criticism, or such “agitation” (for criticism is inseparable from agitation) cannot be prohibited”

What’s it all about.
 At the root of the argument are different perspectives regarding the relative importance in Crisis Theory (why capitalism goes into cyclical recessions) of “The Tendancy For The Rate Of Profit To Fall” (TRPF) and “Overacculation /Underconsumption”. Another SP dissident, calling himself Crucial Steve, writes on his blog:

“According to Lyn Walsh [editor of the SP’s monthly Socialism Today], the current crisis is one of over accumulation and lack of demand. Peter Taaffe writes in issue number 157 “The capitalists refuse to invest because there is no ‘profitable outlet’. In this sense, it is a crisis of ‘profitability’. Not because profits have dropped or there is a ‘tendency’ for the rate of profit to decline. Both the rate and the absolute amount of profit have increased it seems, even during this terrible crisis”.” (3)

Crucial Steve (Steve Dobbs) counters: “Marx was very clear that the accumulation of capital and the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall were in fact “two expressions of the same process”. As capital accumulates, the organic composition [fixed capital over variable capital] rises and the rate of profit tends to fall. Thus to speak of over accumulation without reference to the rate of profit is somewhat “one-sided”, shall we say.

Cde. Crucial sets out his stall: “According to the statistics, the rate and the absolute amount of profit have not increased as the SP would have it. As anyone who has worked with management in the private sector will tell you, capitalists are concerned with the rate of return. So naturally, the projected rate of profit will determine investment. A fall in return and a subsequent fall in investment can also lead to a drop in the mass of profits. We can see empirically that the fall in the mass of profits precedes a fall in investment prior to a recession”.

Crucial quotes Walsh in Socialism Today No.161: “How, as socialists, should we regard a stimulus package or programme of public works? In the face of mass unemployment and the prospect of prolonged economic stagnation, the leaders of workers’ organisations should indeed be calling for a massive programme of public works to provide jobs and stimulate growth. Effective economic stimulus would require a big increase in social spending, increasing pensions and other benefits. Tax rates for the wealthy and big corporations should be substantially increased, with a levy on the uninvested cash piles of big companies. Effective measures should be taken against tax evasion and avoidance”. (4)

The SP’s official position, that the current crisis is one of over accumulation and lack of demand, implies that the answer is to inflate the economy by increasing salaries and public spending, in order to spend ones way out of crises. In other words, classic Keynesianism. We at The VOAG reject this approach and agree with Marx, that capitalism has structural contradictions that cannot be resolved by keynesian economics or reformism.

Socialist Fight breaks it down.
To get some help understanding this argument, let’s visit the pages of this month’s Socialist Fight:
Let us first of all set out the proposition according to Marx: “The progressive tendency of the general rate of profit to fall is, therefore, just an expression peculiar to the capitalist mode of production of the progressive development of the social productivity of labour. This does not mean to say that the rate of profit may not fall temporarily for other reasons. But proceeding from the nature of the capitalist mode of production, it is thereby proved a logical necessity that in its development the general average rate of surplus-value must express itself in a falling general rate of profit. Since the mass of the employed living labour is continually on the decline as compared to the mass of materialised labour set in motion by it, i.e., to the productively consumed means of production, it follows that the portion of living labour, unpaid and congealed in surplus-value, must also be continually on the decrease compared to the amount of value represented by the invested total capital. Since the ratio of the mass of surplus-value to the value of the invested total capital forms the rate of profit, this rate must constantly fall”. Karl Marx, Capital vol. 3, chapter 13.

TFRP is the central plank of Marx’s revolutionary economic theories. He formed his theory in opposition to the closely related theories of the so-called “iron law of wages” and underconsumptionism, and sharply counter-posed TFRP to them. The Iron Law of Wages is a proposed law of economics that asserts that real wages always tend, in the long run, toward the minimum wage necessary to sustain the life of the worker. Karl Marx attribute the doctrine to Lassalle (notably in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875), but credited the idea to Thomas Malthus in his work, An Essay on the Principle of Population.

Marx did not have several theories of capitalist crisis, he had one: TFRP. Marx attacked the “iron law of wages” in two lectures to the international Working Men’s Association in 1865. The argument was that the “iron law” meant the absolute immiseration of the working class which led to a lack of demand for commodities and hence a crisis pushing prices below the value of commodities finally squeezing profits.

This is closely allied to underconsumptionism. Of course it has an immediate reformist implication; there is a Keynesian solution to the crisis of capitalism. All we need to do is raise wages and pump more money into the economy and the crisis will be solved. The underconsumptionist tells us there is plenty of money available but the capitalists just won’t invest. So implicitly all we have to do is force them to do so or get the government to do so on their behalf. It is this reformist conclusion that Bruce Wallace has correctly identified in the line of both the CWI and the CPGB. The notion that they won’t invest because the rate of profit is too low is beyond them.

The point about TFRP is that it is a revolutionary theory; capitalism is in crisis because it has these fatal structural flaws; private ownership of the means of production and a system of production for individual profit which has this inescapable tendency to fall and halt production through lack of investment. Only a rationally planned socialised economy based on production for need will overcome the ever recurring [and increasing] crises of capitalism. War on a global scale is the only thing that will temporarily solve this crisis for the capitalists; a much smaller group of monopoly capitalists will now have their profits rates restored before they fall again and the next conflagration is prepared. That is the history of the twentieth century. The same iron laws apply to the twenty-first. (6)

1. http://howiescorner.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/is-shttp://howiescorner.blogspot.ocialist-party-heading-fo-split.html
3. http://socialismiscrucial.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/ted-grants-notes-on-marxist-economics/
4. Ibid
5. https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/socialistfightno14.pdf
6. Ibid

Acknowledgements and Thanks
Many thanks to Ray Rising for providing a selection of print-outs regarding the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall.

The VOAG would like to acknowledge Socialist Fight for their article “Ticktin, Taaffe and Underconsumption” in Socialist Fight No.14 some of which is reproduced here.

Thanks also go out to Socialist Fight for their excellent Open Meeting on the “Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall” which The VOAG attended. For details of future Socialist Fight meetings contact: Socialist_Fight@yahoo.co.uk.The Voag


A Marxist Critique of
“A Scientific Critique of Unscientific Marxism”

A Marxist Critique of “A Scientific Critique of Unscientific Marxism”
Reply by Gerry Downing to Steve Ballard’s “A Scientific Critique of Unscientific Marxism”

Gerald Downing, Editor Socialist Fight.  2012
This short document is a synopsis of a much longer one by Steve. However in neither document does he use actual quotations from Marx and Engels. He makes assertions that they ‘recognised’ this, they ‘hypothesised’ they ‘elaborated’, etc. but makes no attempt to prove these assertions. Supplying an academic apparatus would make his “scientific critique” far more scientific. His original text is in bold in quotation marks and this is followed by my reply.

Steve Ballard writes: “Marx and Engels were the first to recognise how:- The essence of capitalism is a system oflaws, created by dynastic owners of surplus property, which ranks their self-aggrandisement above all other socialobligations, including the obligation to nurture all life, human and otherwise.”

The essence of capitalism is not a “system of laws” but, in common with all forms of class society, the private ownership of the means of production. Wealth is privately owned under capitalism but socially produced. The conflict this creates between capital and labour, the means of production and the social relations of production is the class struggle and according to the first sentence of the Communist Manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing (class) society is the history of class struggles”

Already we are on the wrong idealist track, Capitalism rests not on a “system of laws” but on this objective relationship, independent of will and consciousness. We might  therefore acknowledge that whilst Marx and Engels regarded “historical processes as law-governed processes” these laws are derived from a study of the evolution of capitalism and are the laws of Historical Materialism.

It is the task of the revolutionary party to make this historical processes a conscious process, we must become the “conscious expression of the unconscious historical process” (Trotsky, My Life). “Marx determined that the concealed essence of capitalism could be found in its history, and that this essence and history were then preserved in disguise within its existing institutions and beliefs. History thus was the entry point for the study of capitalism. This is the materialist interpretation of history, based on the view that what gives history its meaning is material life, meaning economic forces. From this standpoint, Marx was studying classical political economy, but the method he selected is what married this study to Hegelian philosophy. The dialectical element, derived from Hegel, emerged from the realization that there is extreme tension caused by the unequal relations between the superior and inferior classes within society. The main driving force of historical change is thus seen to be the class struggle, and this is associated with a dialectical view because it reveals a contradiction located within all modes of production, a contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production.”(Marx on Historical Change & Capitalism) http://www.lotsofessays.com/viewpaper/1702624.html)

We really do not know what “surplus property”, might be, the expression is found nowhere in Marx or Marxism and can only refer to a reformist notion that the rich have too much property and we should take some of it off them because they do not need it all. This is in line with the current thinking that if only we could retrieve the bankers’ bonuses and invest that all would be well with the capitalist economy. Such notions are pushed by the SWP and the World to Win in their LEAP stuff for John McDonald and the Labour Representation Committee. Feldman performed a like service for Ken Livingstone in his WRP days. There is, of course, “surplus value”, an entirely different concept which forms the bedrock of Marx’s study of Capital.

And really the notion that the owners of this supposed “surplus property” are very nasty  and irresponsible beasts which, “ranks their self-aggrandisement above all other social obligations” and could not give a hoot for their “obligation to nurture all life, human and otherwise” is simply another reformist moralist gripe about the nastiness of the ruling class. And anyway some of them do give a stuff; that nice Mr Gates gives away untold millions to help the poor, surely  he takes his “social obligations” seriously? Even if that is true that he does he is, of course, amongst the foremost defender of the system that starves a great proportion of humanity materially and whilst the world obviously has the capacity to feed, cloth, give proper healthcare, education, etc. to every individual on the planet. But that capitalism can never do, with the best will in the world.

But here we really need to go into some detail about the effects this private ownership of the means of production has on humanity in general; the details of how these social relations distorts and deforms the human psyche of the whole of humanity (including the capitalists) via the four forms of alienation analysed by Karl Marx’s in his Theory of Alienation:

(1)There is the alienation of the worker from the work s/he produces, from the product of his/her labour. The product’s design and the manner in which it is produced are determined not by its actual producers, nor even by those who consume the products, but rather by the capitalist class, which appropriates labour – including that of designers and engineers – and seeks to shape consumers’ taste in order to maximize profit.

(2) This is coupled with the alienation of the worker from working, from the act of producing itself. This kind of alienation refers to the patterning of work in the capitalist means of production into an endless sequence of discrete, repetitive, trivial, and meaningless motions, offering little, if any, intrinsic satisfaction.

(3) There is the alienation of the worker from himself as a producer, from his or her “species being” or “essence as a species”. To Marx, this human essence is not separate from activity or work, nor static, but includes the innate potential to develop as a human organism.

(4) Alienation of the worker from other workers or producers. Capitalism reduces labour to a commercial commodity to be traded on the market, rather than a social relationship between people involved in a common effort for survival or betterment. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/Marxism.htm)

“Alienation (which) describes the separation of things that naturally belong together; and the placement of antagonism between things that are properly in harmony…Alienation (Entfremdung) is the systemic result of living in a socially stratified society, because being a mechanistic part of a social class alienates a person from his and her humanity… Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realised human being, as an economic entity, he or she is directed to goals and diverted to activities that are dictated by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, in order to extract from the worker the maximal amount of surplus value, in the course of business competition among industrialists.”(Marx’s theory of alienation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx%27s_theory_of_alienation, Wiki – our numbering)

“The capitalist system of secular laws must eventually overwhelm all pre-capitalist systems of religious laws, because of capitalism’s façade of freedom, its semblance of scientific neutrality and objectivity. Capitalism’s self-perpetuating, self-serving, quasi-scientific ideology of ‘survival of the fittest’ obscures the underlying oppression of whole populations, by owners of the greatest amount of surplus property, with complete disregard for the needs of any life that does not serve their self aggrandisement, human and otherwise”.

“Religious doctrinal laws oblige whole populations, including their most self-aggrandising clans, to nurture all life, human and otherwise, however imperfectly and inequitably; capitalism’s state-enforced repudiation of the socially-necessary obligation to nurture all life (a consequence of science’s repudiation of religion), must eventually cause the disintegration of all societies, pending the development of scientific socialism.”

Here again the problem is posed as if it was ideological and even on this level it is wrong. Only in a very few historical instances were whole societies governed totally by religious laws; Israel and Judea in Roman times, the reign of Mohamed, etc. Even the old Islamic Empire of the Ottoman Turks and modern Islamic Republics like Iran are mixtures of secular and Sharia laws. Already by the early Middle Ages conflict between church and state saw increasing secularisation of the state. And this was a progressive thing, an inevitable step in the preparation of society for the socialist revolution and the taking of power by the working class and so to the abolition of all classes. “Religious doctrinal laws oblige whole populations, including their most self-aggrandising clans, to nurture all life, human and otherwise, however imperfectly and inequitably;” seems to suggest that the development of
capitalism was reactionary and not progressive, this is surely a reference to noblesse oblige, a mere hypocritical principle to justify the jus primae noctis etc. And again we really do not know what “pending the development of scientific socialism” means if it does not signify some vague ‘raising of consciousness’ project and not the socialist revolution.

Look at how Christopher Hill describes this transformation in his great analysis of the intellectual and ideological conflicts that took place in the approach, during and after the English Civil War, The World Turned Upside Down (p242-3)

“One of the fascinating problems in the intellectual history of seventeenth-century England is the collapse of Calvinism. It was as though it had performed its historic task with the establishment of a society in which the protestant ethic prevailed. Before 1640 Calvinism had been attacked from the right by sacramentalist Laudians;[1] during the Revolution it was attacked by rationalist Arminians[2] of the left – John Goodwin, Milton, Quakers. Presbyterian discipline was unpopular both with the ungodly lower classes and with upper class anti-clericals. More serious, Calvinism had proved unable to sustain its defences against Antinomianism.[3] So long as the elect were respectable bourgeois Puritans, their sense of freedom through cooperation with God brought no fundamental danger to the social order. But it was impossible, once discipline brisk down, to decide who the elect were. The radicals rejected as hypocrites those Puritans whose faith did not result in works of love. Artisan Fifth Monarchists[4] proclaimed that they were the saints who should rule. Mechanick preachers and lower-class Quakers[5] were convinced that the Holy Spirit was within them. Some Ranters preached a dionysiac Antinomianism that would have subverted all the moral standards of a propertied society”.

Failure to agree who the elect were drove the men of property back to works — by their fruits ye shall know them. Standards and norms of conduct could be established and enforced by lay J.P.s with no danger of a clerical Presbyterian discipline. This was a very different theology of works from that of Catholics or Laudians; it was non-sacramental, in no “dependent on a mediating priesthood. It avoided both types of clericalism. And the sects themselves, once they had accepted the world and the sinfulness of man, cooperated in enforcing a morality of works on their members. We are all so Arminians now that it requires a great imaginative effort think oneself back into the pre-revolutionary society which Calvinism dominated.

The Catholic counter-reformation at the Council of Trent (1545–1563) decreed that an excerpt from the Gospel according to St John which begins; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” be read out in the vernacular (the only part that the mass of ‘the  common people’ could understand, the rest was unintelligible Latin and Greek until the 1960s) in all churches. It was very important for organised reaction to counter the rising materialist ideology which put men above God and welfare above that of the church.

In the Enlightenment it fell to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to demolish this idealistic reaction in the words of Faust: “This is how ’tis written: “In the beginning was the Word! Here now I’m balked! Who’ll put me in accord? It is impossible, the Word so high to prize, I must translate it otherwise If I am rightly by the Spirit taught. ’Tis written: In the beginning was the Thought! Consider well that line, the first you see, That your pen may not write too hastily! Is it then Thought that works, creative, hour by hour? Thus should it stand: In the beginning was the Power! Yet even while I write this word, I falter, for something warns me, this too I shall alter. The Spirit’s helping me! I see now what I need and write assured: In the beginning was the Deed!”  Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

All serious Marxists side unequivocally with Goethe, it is not “thought works, creative, hour by hour” but thought-driven practice, it was not the “battle of ideas” that determined the outcome of the great British miners’ strike of 1984-5 but the Battle of Orgrieve, which they lost. “Marx and Engels hypothesised that the only means to overcome the quasi-scientific ideology of capitalism would be science ­— the deeper and wider understanding of the unity and interdependence of all life, human and otherwise. They characterised their approach as scientific socialism to distinguish it from democratic or ‘utopian’ socialism, which disregards the particular significance of science’s discipline and methodology in the development of society.”

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Marx’s theory of alienation would refute this sentence. Marx never saw the objective as simply the raising of consciousness and enlightenment. We are revolutionaries because bourgeois ideology is constantly re-imposed on the consciousness of the working class by the social relations of production all workers are forced to enter into in order to make their living. They must sell their labour power to the capitalist; they must subordinate their will to the capitalist in a humiliating relationship as explained by Marx:

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

Capitalist Control – How do they do it

From the Kingston Socialist Workers Party – Smarter than your average swappys.
Capitalism, as we have seen, is a class divided society based on exploitation. Under capitalism a tiny highly privileged minority rules over the large majority and lives off their labour. How do they get away with it ?

The answer, as the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci pointed out, is by a combination of force and consent. In reality force and consent are very closely intertwined and mutually reinforce each other, but for the moment I shall discuss them separately.

The element of force is primarily exercised by the state, that network of interlocking institutions – armed forces, police, judiciary, prisons, government bureaucracies etc – which stands over society and claims general authority, including a monopoly of legitimate force.

This state apparatus claims, at every level of its operation, to represent society as a whole – the so-called national or public interest. Hence the perennial assertion by police, judges, generals and so on that they are politically neutral. But the idea of a common national or public interest is a myth. The nation consists of classes, exploiters and exploited with opposed interests, and the society which the state represents is not society as such but specifically capitalist society, based on capitalist property relations and capitalist relations of production. The first duty of the state is to secure the preservation of this capitalist order. and since this order embodies the supremacy of the capitalist class, the state is, in the words of Marx ‘ but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’.

The class character of the state is reflected in its composition. The upper ranks of the military, the police, the judiciary and the civil service are drawn overwhelmingly from the bourgeoisie and retain economic, family and social ties with that class. But the intrusion into this milieu of the occasional individual from the lower orders changes nothing. On the one hand the actual class position of such an individual is changed by the fact of their promotion and their outlook will tend to change accordingly. On the other hand acceptance of the capitalist mode of operation of the state is the condition of such promotion.

The consequence of the capitalist nature of the state is that force, or the threat of force, underpins almost every aspect of daily life. Consider some examples: a worker goes to work and makes some products. At the end of the day he or she tries to take all or some of them home. The worker will, of course, be forcibly arrested and forcibly detained in a police cell. Or the workers at a factory decide to go on strike, but only ninety per cent of them come out while ten per cent try to continue working. The law, in the shape of a substantial number of police, will immediately arrive at the factory to ensure the scabs’ ‘right to work’. But if the factory bosses decide to close down and make all the workforce redundant, the police will also arrive, this time to ensure that everyone goes home and no amount of appeals to the ‘right to work’ will move them in the slightest.

In all these cases the police will say they are ‘only doing their job’, but that is the point – their job is the enforcement of capitalist exploitation. The examples I have given may seem slightly strange precisely because they are so obvious, so taken for granted, but that is also the point. Capitalist exploitation would not last five minutes without state law, backed by state force, to sustain it.

Most of the time state force remains as far as possible low key and in the background but it comes to the fore the moment there is a real challenge to the interests of the capitalist class. If the challenge comes from abroad this takes the form of war; if the challenge is internal it is met with repression. If the challenge comes from an elected government it can take the form of organizing a military or fascist coup, as happened, for example, with General Pinochet in Chile in 1973 or as has been attempted recently against the Chavez government in Venezuela.

This last point – the potential use of state power on behalf of the bourgeoisie and against the government of the day – is very important. First it completely undermines the official constitutional view (and the view promulgated by political science and taught in the education system) that the state apparatus is subordinate to the elected government. Secondly it raises a key issue in Marxist theory which was ignored or distorted by most supposedly socialist or Marxist parties in the twentieth century.

The strategy of these organizations, beginning with German Social Democracy before the First World War, was to win ‘power’ by means of parliamentary elections, thus acquiring control of the state apparatus which would then be used to construct socialism. But Marx, on the basis of the experience of the Paris commune, had argued that it was not possible for the working class to take over the existing state machine and use it for its own purposes. The existing state was organically tied to the bourgeoisie and could not be used for socialism; rather it had to be broken up – smashed – and replaced by a new state apparatus created by the working class.

Marx’s genuine theory of the state was rediscovered and vigorously reasserted by Lenin in his great book, The State and Revolution. More than that it was put into practice in the Russian Revolution by means of soviet power, i.e. the power of workers’ councils. Later, however, the international communist movement, under the direction of Stalinism reverted to the idea of a parliamentary road to socialism and taking over the existing state apparatus.

But, the objection is often raised, the modern state, with its armies, tanks, bombs, planes etc is too powerful to be smashed, even by the largest mass movement of the working class. This, however, leaves out of the equation the crucial weakness of the state and of all the power of the ruling class which is the fact that for all its operations it depends on the collaboration of a section of the working class. Every gun needs a soldier to carry it, every tank a driver, every plane a team of mechanics. Almost the entire apparatus of the state is staffed, at its lower levels by workers and what happens in a mass revolution is that the pressure leads to many or most of these workers breaking from their officers and joining the people. This is how the state is broken. What this makes clear however is that the final analysis the rule of the bourgeoisie depends not just on force but also on a kind of acceptence.

The Role of Ideology
As we have seen the dominance of the ruling class rests fundamentally on force, exercised first and foremost through the state. However, if it rested on force alone it would be highly vulnerable to overthrow by the working class who constitute the large majority of society. The power of the capitalist class and its state is greatly strengthened by the fact that most of the time it is able to secure an acceptence of its rule from the majority of the very people it oppresses and exploits.

It is the role of ideology to obtain and maintain this consent. Every society has a dominant ideology – a set of ideas, a worldview, which serves to explain, justify and sustain the existing social order and its institutions. It is part of the strength of the dominant ideology in modern capitalist society that, generally speaking , it does not name itself or even acknowledge its own existence . It does not say to people this is ‘capitalist ideology’ and you must believe it all. Rather it presents itself as a series of individual ‘common sense’ propositions which are supposed to be either self- evident or definitively proved by history, like: ‘ Management and workers should work together for the benefit of all’, or ‘ Nobody is above the law,’ or ‘ Obviously, firms have to make a profit’ or ‘There will never be complete equality, it’s against human nature.’

In reality these are not separate ideas but parts of a systematic ideology which, like the state apparatus, serves the interests of the capitalist class. Its basic principle is to depict capitalist relations of production as eternal and unchangeable, and every challenge to capitalism as hopelessly unrealistic and/or downright wicked. But why do those who are disadvantaged by these ideas, namely working people, frequently accept them, at least in part ?

Marx gave a clear answer to this question:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force in society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. ( The German Ideology)

The means of mental production – the schools, universities, publishers, press and media generally – are today enormously expanded (mass education, TV, radio, film etc) compared to Marx’s day, but they remain almost entirely in the hands of the capitalist class and its state. This means that for the large majority of people almost every item of news, almost all their knowledge of history, of economics, of science, and most of the teaching they receive on morality and religion is brought to them within the framework of capitalist ideology. This cannot fail to have a massive effect on their thinking.

In addition to this bourgeois ideology has the advantage of long tradition and of often appearing , at least on the surface, to reflect reality. For example, firms that fail to make a profit do go out of business and their workers do lose their jobs. And, crucially, just as capitalist ideology legitimizes the state, so the physical force of the state backs up the ideology. As I stated in the last column force and consent interact and reinforce each other. Put this way the real question becomes not why do so many working people accept bourgeois ideas but how can the hold of these ideas be broken?

The great weakness of capitalist ideology is that it fails to correspond to workers’ experience – their experience of exploitation, poverty, unemployment, injustice etc. As a consequence the grip of the ruling ideas is never total. Most working people develop what Gramsci called ‘contradictory consciousness’; they reject some parts of the dominant ideology while continuing to accept other parts of it. For example a worker may display a clear understanding of the class struggle in the workplace but hold reactionary attitudes towards women or migrant workers. At the same time there will be a small minority who break with capitalist ideology as a whole and adopt a coherent socialist and Marxist outlook. This minority is extremely important because in certain circumstances it can win the leadership of many or even the majority of workers whose consciousness remains mixed.

What are these circumstances? First, when the objective conflict of interest between the classes turns into an open struggle such as a strike, especially a mass strike. Second, in conditions of serious economic and/or political crisis, such as a major slump or disastrous war, when the gap between the dominant ideology and reality becomes so wide that its hegemony starts to disintegrate. But above all when these two sets of circumstances coincide. Then it becomes possible for the coherent minority not only to lead the majority of the workers in struggle – on the basis of the progressive side of their consciousness – but also to start to transform the consciousness of the majority into all out opposition to the system.

The element of mass struggle is crucial because the level of workers’ consciousness is closely related to their confidence. The less confidence workers have in their ability to challenge and change the system the more they are likely to accept the dominant ideology, especially those aspects of it , such as racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia etc, which divert their anger and bitterness onto scapegoats. The higher their confidence, the more their horizons widen and they become open to new ideas. In mass struggle they get a sense of their collective power and the advantages of solidarity prove themselves in practice.

Then what becomes decisive is the size, influence and organization of the coherent minority and its ability to give a clear political focus to the anger and aspirations of the masses. It is this combination of circumstances, ideas and action that break both the hold of capitalist ideology and the power of the capitalist state.

Leon Trotsky on the Sino-Japanese War – An Example of the Anti Imperialist United Front

Written: September 23, 1937
First Published: Internal Bulletin, Organizing Committee for the Socialist Party Convention
(New York), no. 1, October 1937. 

Dear Comrade Diego Rivera:
During the past few days I have been reading some of the lucubrations of the Oehlerites and the Eiffelites (yes, there is a tendency of that sort!) on the civil war in Spain and on the SinoJapanese War. Lenin called the ideas of these people “infantile disorders.” A sick child arouses sympathy. But twenty years have passed since then. The children have become bearded and even bald. But they have not ceased their childish babblings. On the contrary, they have increased all their faults and all their foolishness tenfold and have added ignominies to them. They follow us step by step. They borrow some of the elements of our analysis. They distort these elements without limit and counterpose them to the rest. They correct us. When we draw a human figure, they add a deformity. When it is a woman, they decorate her with a heavy moustache. When we draw a rooster, they put an egg under it. And they call all this burlesque Marxism and Leninism.

I want to stop to discuss in this letter only the Sino-dapanese War. In my declaration to the bourgeois press, I said that the duty of all the workers’ organizations of China was to participate actively and in the front lines of the present war against Japan, without abandoning, for a single moment, their own program and independent activity. But that is “social patriotism!” the Eiffelites cry. It is capitulation to Chiang Kai-shek! It is the abandonment of the principle of the class struggle! Bolshevism preached revolutionary defeatism in the imperialist war. Now, the war in Spain and the Sino-Japanese War are both imperialist wars. “Our position on the war in China is the same. The only salvation of the workers and peasants of China is to struggle independently against the two armies, against the Chinese army in the same manner as against the Japanese army.” These four lines, taken from an Eiffelite document of September 10, 1937, suffice entirely for us to say: we are concerned here with either real traitors or complete imbeciles. But imbecility, raised to this degree, is equal to treason.

We do not and never have put all wars on the same plane. Marx and Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great Britain, of the Poles against the tsar, even though in these two nationalist wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the bourgeoisie and even at times of the feudal aristocracy . . . at all events, Catholic reactionaries. When Abdel-Krim rose up against France, the democrats and Social Democrats spoke with hate of the struggle of a “savage tyrant” against the “democracy.” The party of Leon Blum supported this point of view. But we, Marxists and Bolsheviks, considered the struggle of the Riffians against imperialist domination as a progressive war.l77 Lenin wrote hundreds of pages demonstrating the primary necessity of distinguishing between imperialist nations and the colonial and semicolonial nations which comprise the great majority of humanity. To speak of “revolutionary defeatism” in general, without distinguishing between exploiter and exploited countries, is to make a miserable caricature of Bolshevism and to put that caricature at the service of the imperialists.

In the Far East we have a classic example. China is a semicolonial country which Japan is transforming, under our very eyes, into a colonial country. Japan’s struggle is imperialist and reactionary. China’s struggle is emancipatory and progressive.

But Chiang Kai-shek? We need have no illusions about Chiang Kai-shek, his party, or the whole ruling class of China, just as Marx and Engels had no illusions about the ruling classes of Ireland and Poland. Chiang Kai-shek is the executioner of the Chinese workers and peasants. But today he is forced, despite himself, to struggle against Japan for the remainder of the independence of China. Tomorrow he may again betray. It is possible. It is probable. It is even inevitable. But today he is struggling. Only cowards, scoundrels, or complete imbeciles can refuse to participate in that struggle.

Let us use the example of a strike to clarify the question. We do not support all strikes. If, for example, a strike is called for the exclusion of Negro, Chinese, or Japanese workers from a factory, we are opposed to that strike. But if a strike aims at bettering— insofar as it can—the conditions of the workers, we are the first to participate in it, whatever the leadership. In the vast majority of strikes, the leaders are reformists, traitors by profession, agents of capital. They oppose every strike. But from time to time the pressure of the masses or of the objective situation forces them into the path of struggle.

Let us imagine, for an instant, a worker saying to himself: “I do not want to participate in the strike because the leaders are agents of capital.” This doctrine of this ultraleft imbecile would serve to brand him by his real name: a strikebreaker. The case of the Sino-Japanese War, is from this point of view, entirely analogous. If Japan is an imperialist country and if China is the victim of imperialism, we favor China. Japanese patriotism is the hideous mask of worldwide robbery. Chinese patriotism is legitimate and progressive. To place the two on the same plane and to speak of “social patriotism” can be done only by those who have read nothing of Lenin, who have understood nothing of the attitude of the Bolsheviks during the imperialist war, and who can but compromise and prostitute the teachings of Marxism. The Eiffelites have heard that the social patriots accuse the internationalists of being the agents of the enemy and they tell us: “You are doing the same thing.” In a war between two imperialist countries, it is a question neither of democracy nor of national independence, but of the oppression of backward nonimperialist peoples. In such a war the two countries find themselves on the same historical plane. The revolutionaries in both armies are defeatists. But Japan and China are not on the same historical plane. The victory of Japan will signify the enslavement of China, the end of her economic and social development, and the terrible strengthening of Japanese imperialism. The victory of China will signify, on the contrary, the social revolution in Japan and the free development, that is to say unhindered by external oppression, of the class struggle in China.

But can Chiang Kai-shek assure the victory? I do not believe so. It is he, however, who began the war and who today directs it. To be able to replace him it is necessary to gain decisive influence among the proletariat and in the army, and to do this it is necessary not to remain suspended in the air but to place oneself in the midst of the struggle. We must win influence and prestige in the military struggle against the foreign invasion and in the political struggle against the weaknesses, the deficiencies, and the internal betrayal. At a certain point, which we cannot fix in advance, this political opposition can and must be transformed into armed conflict, since the civil war, like war generally, is nothing more than the continuation of the political struggle. It is necessary, however, to know when and how to transform political opposition into armed insurrection.

During the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 we attacked the policies of the Comintern. Why? It is necessary to understand well the reasons. The Eiffelites claim that we have changed our attitude on the Chinese question. That is because the poor fellows have understood nothing of our attitude in 1925-27. We never denied that it was the duty of the Communist Party to participate in the war of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of the South against the generals of the North, agents of foreign imperialism. We never denied the necessity of a military bloc between the CP and the Kuomintang. On the contrary, we were the first to propose it. We demanded, however, that the CP maintain its entire political and organizational independence, that is, that during the civil war against the internal agents of imperialism, as in the national war against foreign imperialism, the working class, while remaining in the front lines of the military struggle, prepare the political overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We hold the same policies in the present war. We have not changed our attitude one iota. The Oehlerites and the Eiffelites, on the other hand, have not understood a single bit of our policies, neither those of 1925-27, nor those of today.

In my declaration to the bourgeois press at the beginning of the recent conflict between Tokyo and Nanking, I stressed above all the necessity of the active participation of revolutionary workers in the war against the imperialist oppressors. Why did I do it? Because first of all it is correct from the Marxist point of view; because, secondly, it was necessary from the point of view of the welfare of our friends in China. Tomorrow the GPU, which is in alliance with the Kuomintang (as with Negrin in Spain), will represent our Chinese friends as being “defeatists” and agents of Japan. The best of them, with Chten Tu-hsiu at the head, can be nationally and internationally compromised and killed. It was necessary to stress, energetically, that the Fourth International was on the side of China as against Japan. And I added at the same time: without abandoning either their program or their independence.

The Eiffelite imbeciles try to jest about this “reservation.” “The Trotskyists,” they say, “want to serve Chiang Kai-shek in action and the proletariat in words.” To participate actively and consciously in the war does not mean “to serve Chiang Kai-shek” but to serve the independence of a colonial country in spite of Chiang Kai-shek. And the words directed against the Kuomintang are the means of educating the masses for the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek. In participating in the military struggle under the orders of Chiang Kai-shek, since unfortunately it is he who has the command in the war for independence—to prepare politically the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek . . . that is the only revolutionary policy. The Eiffelites counterpose the policy of “class stroggle” to this “nationalist and social patriotic” policy. Lenin fought this abstract and sterile opposition all his life. To him, the interests of the world proletariat dictated the duty of aiding oppressed peoples in their national and patriotic struggle against imperialism. Those who have not yet understood that, almost a quarter of a century after the World War and twenty years after the October revolution, must be pitilessly rejected as the worst enemies on the inside by the revolutionary vanguard. This is exactly the case with Eiffel and his kind!
L. Trotsky

“The choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism. … When Rosa Luxemburg made this statement, she was speaking of a relatively distant future. But now the situation of the world is so bad that the threat to the human race is not in the future, but now.”…..Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

 This month marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Rosa Luxemburg. This article, which draws on some of her most important writings, was first published in Socialist Voice in July 2008.

 From the first day it appeared online, Climate and Capitalism’s masthead has carried the slogan “Ecosocialism or Barbarism: there is no third way.” We’ve been quite clear that ecosocialism is not a new theory or brand of socialism — it is socialism with Marx’s important insights on ecology restored, socialism committed to the fight against ecological destruction. But why do we say that the alternative to ecosocialism is barbarism?

Marxists have used the word “barbarism” in various ways, but most often to describe actions or social conditions that are grossly inhumane, brutal, and violent. It is not a word we use lightly, because it implies not just bad behaviour but violations of the most important norms of human solidarity and civilized life.

The slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” originated with the great Polish and German revolutionary socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg, who repeatedly raised it during World War I. It was a profound concept, one that has become ever more relevant as the years have passed.

Rosa Luxemburg spent her entire adult life organizing and educating the working class to fight for socialism. She was convinced that if socialism didn’t triumph, capitalism would become ever more barbaric, wiping out centuries of gains in civilization. In a major 1915 antiwar polemic, she referred to Frederick Engels’ view that society must advance to socialism or revert to barbarism and then asked, “What does a ‘reversion to barbarism’ mean at the present stage of European civilization?”

She gave two related answers. In the long run, she said, a continuation of capitalism would lead to the literal collapse of civilized society and the coming of a new Dark Age, similar to Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire: “The collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration — a great cemetery.” (The Junius Pamphlet)

By saying this, Rosa Luxemburg was reminding the revolutionary left that socialism is not inevitable, that if the socialist movement failed, capitalism might destroy modern civilization, leaving behind a much poorer and much harsher world. That wasn’t a new concept – it has been part of Marxist thought from its very beginning. In 1848, in The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote:

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles…that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

In Luxemburg’s words: “Humanity is facing the alternative: Dissolution and downfall in capitalist anarchy, or regeneration through the social revolution.” (A Call to the Workers of the World)

Capitalism’s Two Faces
But Luxemburg, again following the example of Marx and Engels, also used the term “barbarism” another way, to contrast capitalism’s loudly proclaimed noble ideals with its actual practice of torture, starvation, murder and war.

Marx many times described the two-sided nature of capitalist “progress.” In 1853, writing about British rule in India, he described the “profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization [that] lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”

Capitalist progress, he said, resembled a “hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.” (The Future Results of British Rule in India) Similarly, in a speech to radical workers in London in 1856, he said:

“On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman Empire.” (Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper)

Immense improvements to the human condition have been made under capitalism — in health, culture, philosophy, literature, music and more. But capitalism has also led to starvation, destitution, mass violence, torture and even genocide — all on an unprecedented scale. As capitalism has expanded and aged, the barbarous side of its nature has come ever more to the fore.

Bourgeois society, which came to power promising equality, democracy, and human rights, has never had any compunction about throwing those ideals overboard to expand and protect its wealth and profits. That’s the view of barbarism that Rosa Luxemburg was primarily concerned about during World War I. She wrote:

“Shamed, dishonoured, wading in blood and dripping in filth, this capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics — as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity — so it appears in all its hideous nakedness …

“A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism.” (The Junius Pamphlet)

For Luxemburg, barbarism wasn’t a future possibility. It was the present reality of imperialism, a reality that was destined to get much worse if socialism failed to stop it. Tragically, she was proven correct. The defeat of the German revolutions of 1919 to 1923, coupled with the isolation and degeneration of the Russian Revolution, opened the way to a century of genocide and constant war.

In 1933, Leon Trotsky described the rise of fascism as “capitalist society … puking up undigested barbarism.” (What is National Socialism?)

Later he wrote: “The delay of the socialist revolution engenders the indubitable phenomena of barbarism — chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.” (In Defense of Marxism)

More than 250 million people, most of them civilians, were killed in the wars of extermination and mass atrocities of the 20th Century. The 21st century continues that record: in less than eight years over three million people have died in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Third World, and at least 700,000 have died in “natural” disasters.

As Luxemburg and Trotsky warned, barbarism is already upon us. Only mass action can stop barbarism from advancing, and only socialism can definitively defeat it. Their call to action is even more important today, when capitalism has added massive ecological destruction, primarily affecting the poor, to the wars and other horrors of the 20th Century.

21st Century Barbarism
That view has been expressed repeatedly and forcefully by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Speaking in Vienna in May 2006, he referred explicitly to Luxemburg’s words:

“The choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism. … When Rosa Luxemburg made this statement, she was speaking of a relatively distant future. But now the situation of the world is so bad that the threat to the human race is not in the future, but now.”

A few months earlier, in Caracas, he argued that capitalism’s destruction of the environment gives particular urgency to the fight against barbarism today:

“I was remembering Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg and the phrase that each one of them, in their particular time and context put forward; the dilemma ‘socialism or barbarism.’ …

“I believe it is time that we take up with courage and clarity a political, social, collective and ideological offensive across the world — a real offensive that permits us to move progressively, over the next years, the next decades, leaving behind the perverse, destructive, destroyer, capitalist model and go forward in constructing the socialist model to avoid barbarism and beyond that the annihilation of life on this planet”.

“I believe this idea has a strong connection with reality. I don’t think we have much time. Fidel Castro said in one of his speeches I read not so long ago, “tomorrow could be too late, let’s do now what we need to do.” I don’t believe that this is an exaggeration. The environment is suffering damage that could be irreversible — global warming, the greenhouse effect, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising sea level, hurricanes — with terrible social occurrences that will shake life on this planet.”

Chavez and the revolutionary Bolivarian movement in Venezuela have proudly raised the banner of 21st Century Socialism to describe their goals. As these comments show, they are also raising a warning flag, that the alternative to socialism is 21st Century Barbarism — the barbarism of the previous century amplified and intensified by ecological crisis.

Climate Change and ‘Barbarization’
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been studying and reporting on climate change for two decades. Recently the Vice-Chair of the IPCC, Professor Mohan Munasinghe, gave a lecture at Cambridge University that described “a dystopic possible future world in which social problems are made much worse by the environmental consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions.”

He said: “Climate change is, or could be, the additional factor which will exacerbate the existing problems of poverty, environmental degradation, social polarisation and terrorism and it could lead to a very chaotic situation.”

“Barbarization,” Munasinghe said, is already underway. We face “a situation where the rich live in enclaves, protected, and the poor live outside in unsustainable conditions.”

A common criticism of the IPCC is that its reports are too conservative, that they understate how fast climate change is occurring and how disastrous the effects may be. So when the Vice-Chair of the IPCC says that “barbarization” is already happening, no one should suggest that it’s an exaggeration.

The Present Reality of Barbarism
The idea of 21st Century Barbarism may seem farfetched. Even with food and fuel inflation, growing unemployment and housing crises, many working people in the advanced capitalist countries still enjoy a considerable degree of comfort and security.
But outside the protected enclaves of the global north, the reality of “barbarization” is all too evident.
*2.5 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, survive on less than two dollars a day.
*Over 850 million people are chronically undernourished and three times that many frequently go hungry.
*Every hour of every day, 180 children die of hunger and 1200 die of preventable diseases.
*Over half a million women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of them are in the global south.
*Over a billion people live in vast urban slums, without sanitation, sufficient living space, or durable housing.
*1.3 billion people have no safe water. 3 million die of water-related diseases every year.

The United Nations Human Development Report 2007-2008 warns that unmitigated climate change will lock the world’s poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats, and a loss of livelihoods.

In UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervi’s words:
“Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs.”

Among the 21st Century threats identified by the Human Development Report:
*The breakdown of agricultural systems as a result of increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition.
*An additional 1.8 billion people facing water stress by 2080, with large areas of South Asia and northern
*China facing a grave ecological crisis as a result of glacial retreat and changed rainfall patterns.
*Displacement through flooding and tropical storm activity of up to 332 million people in coastal and low-lying areas. *Over 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese, and six million Egyptians could be affected by global warming-related flooding.
*Expanding health risks, including up to 400 million more people facing the risk of malaria.

To these we can add the certainty that at least 100 million people will be added to the ranks of the permanently hungry this year as a result of food price inflation.

In the UN report, former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu echoes Munasinghe’s prediction of protected enclaves for the rich within a world of ecological destruction:

“While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives…. We are drifting into a world of ‘adaptation apartheid’.”

As capitalism continues with business as usual, climate change is fast expanding the gap between rich and poor between and within nations, and imposing unparalleled suffering on those least able to protect themselves. That is the reality of 21st Century Barbarism.

No society that permits that to happen can be called civilized. No social order that causes it to happen deserves to survive.Be part of the future: Join us on the March 26th, TUC National Demonstration against the cuts. Subsidised  transport is leaving from Guildford, Staines, Woking and Redhill. Only £2.00 RTN. Buy a ticket online, using a secure Paypal at www.saveourservic.es -OR- Email: guildfordagainstfeesandcuts@yahoo.co.uk

Hunter, Fisherman, Shepherd, Critic: Karl Marx’s Vision of the Free Individual.

A lot of nonsense is talked about Karl Marx, most of it from people who have never read him. Many consider his work to be discredited by the dictatorial regimes that were set up in his name. But what did Karl Marx actually have to say?  

Was he in favour of dictatorship? Did he think that the state should impose dull uniformity, rigid regimentation and boring work on its citizens? Did he think that human nature and talents should be suppressed in the name of equality and altruism and for the benefit of a collectivity?  

No. In fact, Karl Marx’s driving passion his whole life was the free development of the individual. Karl Marx was not opposed to the capitalist ideas of choice, liberty and individual freedom. He supported these ideas, but opposed the society that prevented them becoming a reality.  

He wanted to be able “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic”.  

This is the very essence of Marxism. Only through socialism can Karl Marx’s vision of the free individual be achieved.  

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