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Material conditions necessary for socialism, communism

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yoda's walking stick
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Apr 12 2011 23:15
Material conditions necessary for socialism, communism

Could anyone point me to some reading material on this subject, either by Marx/Engels, others, or both? smile

Thanks!

Alexander Roxwell
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Apr 13 2011 00:40

Wow.

I will be keeping an eye on this to see if anyone can point to anything where this is addressed straight on and definitively.

Frankly I cannot recall reading anything where this is dealt with straight on - it always seems to be addressed as a sidebar to criticize some rival "Marxist.'

Perhaps something that was an attack on Narodniks or anarchists.

But I think that this may be the fundamental question and one that has been "fudged" by alot of Marxists - including you know who !

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Apr 13 2011 08:09

The ICC has published a whole series of articles on the theme 'communism is not just a nice idea, but a material necessity'. The first volume has been published as a book and deals with the period of Marx and Engels. You can find it advertised on our website, and most if not all the articles have been published in the International Review. PM me if you are looking at specific issues or for particular links

Zeronowhere
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Apr 13 2011 09:22

You may be interested in Henryk Grossman. As far as I know, his work 'The Law of Accumulation...' hasn't been translated into English in full (there is an abridged translation, though), although there is at least a Spanish translation, which I am currently reading; if you can read a full version, you should probably do so, as the English version really is rather abridged, even in the sections which it does cover (and the polemics aren't nearly as fun as a result). I don't really have the time to elaborate that much at present, but essentially his fundamental point is that crises are caused by a low rate of profit, which is a natural result of the raising of the composition of capital. Crises take place, "in order to restore the correct relation between necessary and surplus labour, on which, in the last analysis, everything rests." According to Grossman, the development of capitalism sees, on the one hand, the reduction of the effect of some of the counter-tendencies which reduce the fall in the rate of profit, while on the other hand featuring a secular increase in the composition of capital, which can even accelerate during a crisis (Marx makes this point in volume III of Capital, commenting that capitalism continues to repeat its cycle after crisis, albeit now on a higher level. He puts things more directly in the Grundrisse, describing the fall in the rate of profit: "These contradictions, of course, lead to explosions, crises, in which momentary suspension of all labour and annihilation of a great part of the capital violently lead it back to the point where it is enabled [to go on] fully employing its productive powers without committing suicide. Yet, these regularly recurring catastrophes lead to their repetition on a higher scale, and finally to its violent overthrow," and elsewhere he refers to a "fatal crisis" of capitalism) As Marx also demonstrates in volume III, the rise of wages results, in fact, in a further fall in the rate of profit.

Under these conditions, it is clear that class struggle cannot end with simply the creation of a 'just distribution' of wealth, which, as Grossman comments, is more or less where the ideas of Kautsky and such that capitalism is more or less unproblematic in the sphere of production end up, leading to forms of reformism such as social democracy, mutualism and so on. Rather, the struggle of the working class in the interests of survival will be incapable of digging the economy out of its hole, creating the material conditions of revolution; revolution, of course, is the result of the proletariat struggling in its own interests as a class, rather than of consciousness raising, eloquent leftists, and so on (Marx had pointed out quite early on that the dictatorship of the proletariat, based around the imposition of the proletariat's interests rather than ideology, constitutes nothing more than a transition to a classless society, and as such the aim of the communists is no different to any other proletarian party, namely the political rule of the proletariat).

Of course, if capitalism did not have any problems originating from capitalist production itself and limiting it, then all that is left is the problem of distributing wealth to the workers and such in a manner capable of sustaining them (this, by the way, is where many Marxists end up as a result of not really knowing much theory beyond the fact that the workers are exploited, and this is bad, but very good for slogans), which should be even easier if the productive forces may be further developed unproblematically. In Grossman's understanding, however, "the problem of distribution is nothing other than the problem of production, only contemplated from another viewpoint." A 'just distribution' would simply result in a fall in profits and worsened crisis, due to the problem of production. In undeveloped capitalist countries, this may not be fully developed, but the spread of capitalism in its quest to secure further surplus labour, increasingly means that crises become internationalized, as well as leading to the phenomenon of capital flight. Grossman also points out that war is capable of extending capitalism's lifetime, although its effect is limited. Of course, as it happens, it has done so (albeit it took two world wars, and the world economy still went back down the drain in the 70s, with a persistent fall in the rate of profit during the post-war boom, as Kliman has shown, which has not been recovered from).

As regards crises themselves, other than Grossman there's also Marx himself, with the chapter on the development of the contradictions of the tendential fall in the profit rate (of course, this only gains its full development with the development of the credit system, which forms a necessary condition for the realization of the tendency towards equalization of profit rates, and hence makes individual industries less susceptible to the fall in the rate of profit by spreading it out, while on the other hand universalizing crisis among industries and nations). This chapter also draws quite a lot on the chapter in volume I on accumulation and the general law of capitalist accumulation, the reserve army of labour and so on (in fact, it's very similar; the basis of the fall in the rate of profit is, ultimately, simply the repulsive force upon labour described in volume I; that is, if the same amount of capital were to be invested in a higher composition of capital, then this would mean less labourers, which is the repulsive force, while on the other hand capital must consistently accumulate and increase profits, meaning an increase in the working force alongside this repulsive force (a fall in the rate of profits, a rise in the mass of profits)).

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waslax
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Apr 13 2011 09:36

Potential transcendence of scarcity of the means of life (for the whole of humanity) as a result of the development of the productive forces.

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 12:56

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yoda's walking stick
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Apr 13 2011 11:05

graco, if you're gunna post something that long, please bold the stuff that deals directly with the OP, thanks

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 12:57

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Apr 13 2011 20:57

In discussing the arrival of Communism, therefore, there is naturally no talk in Marx and Engels of a burgeoning economic system (for example, capitalism) replacing the old (for example, feudalism) economic system. The change from capitalism to communism is described as an ideological change. By this, I mean that the transformation from capitalism to communism will not be one whereby the (economic) base is transformed, it will be one whereby the (ideological, legal and political) superstructure will be transformed. Capitalism will not, in fact, disappear; it will only be managed differently. Instead of being a system connected to a legal and ideological conception of private property, communism will modify capitalism by changing that connection to one of a legal and ideological conception of common ownership.

The problem with Graco's post is not just that it's too long, but also that it seems to turn reality on its head. The above passage is an example: this has nothing to do with the transition from capitalism to communism, which is certainly not the management of capitalism in a new form, nor a merely ideological change, but a total social transformation. It could be that Graco is trying to grapple with the fact that the proletarian revolution begins as a political act - the destruction of the capitalist state - but that is only the first act and it has to rapidly transform the entire basis of economic/social life.

Regarding the material conditions, for Marx what was above all necessary was that capitalism should have created a global economy and a global working class, and that its inner contradictions would have reached the point where the latter was pushed to revolt against its situation and to transform it radically. And in fact, these developments are intimately related: the world proletarian revolution makes its first appearance in history at precisely the point where capitalism's global nature enters into catastrophic conflict with its national limitations, a conflict expressed in world war.

Alexander Roxwell
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Apr 13 2011 20:59

The title of this particular site is:

Material conditions necessary for socialism, communism

and "yoda's walking stick" specifically asked:


Quote:
Could anyone point me to some reading material on this subject, either by Marx/Engels, others, or both? smile

It would seem that Graco’s quotes and comments beg the question rather than answer it. They assert that there in fact are some material conditions necessary but do not say what they are.

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 12:59

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Alexander Roxwell
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Apr 14 2011 00:28

The way I would answer Yoda's question of what are the "material conditions necessary for socialism, communism" would be having passed thru the stage of primitive capital accumulation to build up the infrastructure and overcome material scarcity. This phase is usually accomplished in an early phase of capitalism. It was accomplished in the U.S.S.R. from the late 1920s up to World War II.

I do not have any ready citations but this sure sounds better than “socialization of production” talked about by Graco.

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Apr 14 2011 04:24

I don't have any heavy weight theory or quotes to add (though I appreciated Alf and Graco's) but I thought it would be worth mentioning that the Analytical Marxism trend tried to do what the thread starter asked for. In particular Cohen's 'Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence' seems to address the question fairly full on. (I'm mainly reporting from conversations with an extremely well read (on the topic) comrade rather than my own knowledge, though)

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 12:59

[[Off topic for a moment - in reply to RedEd: GA Cohen and the Analytical Marxists, in my opinion, do something slightly strange with historical materialism. They seem to discard the notion that 'people do not make the world, but the world makes them', in order to argue that the whole of human history has been one of progress towards making life 'easier'. Thus new economic modes replace old ones because the new modes make work easier. There are two problems with such a view of history. Firstly, it is not true that life is easier now for the mass of the population than it was in Feudal times, for example (see EP Thompson for information on this); and the onset and establishment of Industrialisation was particularly murderous. Secondly, the view points to a belief in the progress of 'humanity' towards a better life, a faith in the benefits of civilisation.]]

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Apr 14 2011 07:51

My questions to Alf, then, are: Where in Marx and Engels is it outlined that communism is ‘not the management of capitalism in a new form’

Graco, I don't fully understand your question. When Marx talks about communism he certainly means a total social transformation - a transformation of humanity no less. This is most evident in his early writings (eg the 'Private property and communism' section of the 1844 manuscripts) but I don't think he ever abandoned this overall vision. Regarding the more directly 'economic' side, it is clear that capitalism only creates the preconditions for the communist transformation: the actual capitalist social relations of production, based on wage labour and commodity production, have to be got rid of in order to arrive at an association of free producers. I can't for the life of me see this as a mere change in the superstructure. The confusions about the communist programme arise mainly because it was not yet clear to Marx and his successors what transitional measures would have to be taken on the first days of the revolution, and many of the first solutions they came up with did involve a kind of state management of capital. But even then Marx was striving to go beyond this - for example in the Critique of the Gotha Programme with his idea of replacing money with labour time vouchers.

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 13:01

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Alexander Roxwell
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Apr 15 2011 01:40

Is this conversation about the material conditions necessary as a prerequisite for communism or is this conversation about "a shift from one form of consciousness to another" ?

I believe that Yoda was asking about the one question and that Graco is answering another. Am I wrong Yoda?

Graco
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Apr 15 2011 02:06

If the conversation on this thread is developing in a way that you object to then could we create another thread and delete all the objectionable text from here?

The new thread could start with my original post and be followed by posts 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15 - and it could be titled something like: "Materialism and Consciousness - Revolution in the Base or the Superstructure."

I do not know an easy way to do this - I think it involves splitting threads, etc - maybe you, or someone else knows how to do this?

Zeronowhere
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Apr 15 2011 08:33

Capitalist production is not "genuinely social." (Capital vol. III) It is also private, as is inherent in commodity production. I think that the only problem here seems to be looking at the individual workplace and the form of the concrete labour within it, namely collectivized labour, while disregarding its social context. Social labour not only brings the labourer into relation with nature, but also with society as a whole, as the labour itself functions as the creation of a social relation, of which the product itself becomes the form of existence. What is relevant is not simply whether or not people co-operate within workplaces, but, as their labour in fact forms part of the total social wealth inasmuch as it is social, how society co-operates to form the total social labour.

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Apr 15 2011 09:18

Perhaps what Graco is getting at is the difference between the proletarian revolution and previous revolutions, in particular, the bourgeois revolution. The bourgeoisie, as an exploiting, property owning class, built its economic power inside the old feudal society and its political revolution was more like a coup de grace to sweep away remaining feudal economic and political obstacles. In making a revolution, it needed a certain level of consciousness, but this could not be a lucid, unmystified one, and the bourgeois revolution is 'backed up' by a kind of economic automatism carried along by the laws of capital. The situation of the proletariat is totally different: it's an exploited, propertyless class and does not have any form of economy of its own inside capitalism. Its revolution will not happen 'automatically' even though there is a huge conflict between capitalist social relations and the 'development of the productive forces'. The only things it has going for it are its capacity to organise and its ability to arrive at a clear revolutionary consciousness. The proletarian revolution is therefore the first fully conscious revolution in history - presaging a mode of production in which 'economic' processes are entirely subordinate to human consciousness and need.

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 13:02

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Spikymike
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Apr 15 2011 11:11

I think Alf is right to refer to capitalism ''only creating the preconditions for the establishment of communism'' ie a a sustainable global system.

That is the creation of a truly global social and economic system and a global working class faced with the need to struggle against the increasingly crisis ridden effects of that system on it's material existence and in turn influencing the course of development of capitalism itself.

Whether this is entirely consistent with Marx's materialist conception of how consciousness changes is however open to question. Certainly Marx, in seeking to apply himself to a practical political intervention in his day, and even more so Engels, were apt to oversimplify the way in which automatic changes in the 'economic base' would lead to an inevitable rupture in capitalist society and in turn to overemphasis the relevance of abolishing 'private property' understood as an essentially 'superstructural' change.

This particular strand in the duo's politics was to provide a basis for the various versions of social democractic state capitalism that subsequently developed under both Kautsky and Lenin. But even here this had to be disguised as a 'transion' to communism and more commonly as a whole new 'transitional society' in order to try and reconcile this with the more fundamental critique which Marx made of value production ( and indeed to more honest expressions of Marx's critique of the state - closer to those of Bakunin - particulary in subsequently published correspondence commenting on early German Social Democracy).

It is still correct however to refer to the material conditions of capitalism giving rise to at least the potential for a change in consciousness of the working class in so far as those conditions are experienced as contradictory and more so in the situations of severe economic and social crisis which capitalism is unable to avoid.

Now how severe that crisis might need to be to begin to effect a change in consciousness on a sufficient scale, and to a sufficient depth, to turn a defensive struggle into the beginnings of a genuine communist revolution rather than a reordering/modernisation of capitalism as in the past is open to question.

I certainly hope it is something short of Graco's complete disintegration of the whole economic system.

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Apr 15 2011 19:10

Certainly Marx, in seeking to apply himself to a practical political intervention in his day, and even more so Engels, were apt to oversimplify the way in which automatic changes in the 'economic base' would lead to an inevitable rupture in capitalist society and in turn to overemphasis the relevance of abolishing 'private property' understood as an essentially 'superstructural' change

Can you give some examples of this tendency in Marx? You could perhaps infer this from the passage in capital Vol 1 where Marx talks about the death knell of capitalism and the expropriation of the expropriators in the same breath, as it were; but if he really thought this was an automatic process, why did he spend so much time in "practical political intervention" and building workers' organisations?

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 13:03

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Apr 16 2011 13:36

That's Camatte's interpretation of Marx, not Marx or what Marx (in my opinion) really represented. It's consistent with Camatte's view of the proletariat as being a class for capital and nothing more.

Spikymike
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Apr 16 2011 17:47

Alf,

Briefly for now.

My comments about Marx's, and more particularly Engel's, weakness in their practical politics is related to the perceived need to give the working class, in a non revolutionary period, some hope for the future in the eventual inevitabillity of socialism/communism, whilst providing reasons in the meantime to support reformist goals, something developed much further by subsequent social democratic theorists.

Although I do not agree with all his conclusions, John Crumps short text 'A contribution to a Critique of Marx' orginally published by Solidarity and Social Revolution in the library here goes some way to explain this further.

Mike Rooke's article 'Marxism is Dead! Long Live Marxism!' also in the library here explains better the view which I broadly share with him of the weaknesses in traditional marxism (and indeed traditional anarcho-syndicalism) as they related to particular stages in the development of capitalism and the workers movement.

I'd just add also the Internationalist Perspectives blog item 'Which Marxism? A Discussion with the Peruvian GEC' as worth a read: http://internationalist-perspective.org/blog/

Marx was able, at his best, to see theoretically, beyond capitalism towards a fundamentally different human society, but we are perhaps better able today to see what that might be practically.

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 13:05

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dave c
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Apr 17 2011 00:44
Quote:
Marx clearly outlines a State Capitalist phase

Just as clearly as he outlined a feudal monarchical phase!

Zeronowhere
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Apr 17 2011 08:33

Capitalism is a way of producing on a social level. It is not a description of the physical form of labour, as we seem to be interpreting it if we see communism as a continuation of capitalism because it features collective labour or anything of the sort. No doubt capitalism is really just a continuation of feudalism because it features private labour.

Incidentally, it seems a bit strange to speak of a form of capitalism, as Marx allegedly does in the 'Critique of the Gotha Program', where, "the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor." Capitalism without commodity production, and with directly social labour. That's unorthodox.

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Apr 17 2011 09:33

Thanks for the links, Spikey. I read the exchange between IP and GEC and agreed with the latter....I will try to look at the other texts later on. It's true that all marxist traditions have been infected by the dominant ideology, and hence by mechanistic, scientistic thinking, but I think IP's characterisation of the communist left as mechanistic is extremely crude. Take Bordiga for example: he did tend to see communism as "inevitable" but he is also one of the few marxists to take seriously the implications of some of Marx's early work, like the 1844 MS, which your real 'mechanistic marxists' often reject as idealist,sentimental drivel. Pannekoek wrote reams about the communist revolution as a huge leap in consciousness. Before that, within social democracy, there were all kinds of reaction against the 'orthodoxy' of Kautsky and others (and even Kautsky had some good things to say....).The real history of the marxist movement, as an expression of the working class and its effort to understand its situation under capital, is a lot richer and more contradictory than IP seem to think.
Anyway, all that could be a diversion.

I agree with Zeronowhere's response to Graco's vision of the communist revolution, which seems extremely restrictive, but at this point it would be interesting to hear again from Yoda's Walking Stick - does he/she think think this thread has responded to the original question?

Graco
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Apr 24 2011 13:06

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