Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Left Wing Terrorism

Terrorism: A Means to a Dead End

Far-left terrorist groups, such as the Weathermen in the United States and the Red Brigades in Italy generally emerged at the tail end of the 1960s with the beginning of the disintegration of the various New Left movements. The members of these groups acquired some of their ideas, such as they were, from this movement. This is not suggest, of course, that the two sides are identical, which would be as absurd as the right-wingers today who are convinced Islam is inherently terroristic.

The vast majority of the Left clearly rejected the tactic of terrorism. At the same time, the terrorist groups did not arise fully-formed from the fertile soil of pure evil, either, nor can they be written off as some sort of government conspiracy (although police infiltration is always a sub-plot with such conspirational groups). Understanding the "logic" of the terrorists who advertised themselves as revolutionaries requires us to consider the weak aspects of the New Left movement (which included some rather old ideas).

Instead of speaking in such generalities, though, I want to take the example of the New Left movement in Japan, which spawned a lethal group called the Red Army. Before looking at the characteristics of the Japanese New Left, here is a short rundown of the rap sheet of the Red Army.

The group was formed in 1969 by a faction of the (second) Communist League who wanted to move beyond the street fights against riot police to utilize bombs and other weapons. Various defeats at the hands of the police, including the forced expulsion early that year of the radical students occupying Tokyo University, convinced some that the problem was insufficient firepower. The Red Army Faction of the Communists League, as the new group was officially known, argued that the task was to foment an armed uprising in Japan as the first stage in what would be a worldwide revolutionary war led by an international
Red Army. The new organization immediately set about putting this idea, such as it was, into practice, beginning a campaign of attacking police boxes in urban areas with Molotov cocktails and exploding pipe bombs at train stations, under bombastic or bloodcurdling slogans such as "War in Tokyo! War in Osaka!" Military training was also conducted in a mountainous area in preparation for an attack on the Prime Minister's Residence.

This attack was never carried out because the police arrested over 50 of the group's members, which took the wind out of the group's sails. The Red Army bounced back in 1970 when it became the first Japanese group to hijack a plane, which was forced to fly to North Korea. This was apparently part of a grandiose plan to set up bases overseas for waging revolution. From this point on the group caused more trouble outside of Japan than within it, including a number of other hijack incidents. Some members allied themselves with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. On behalf of that group, the Red Army committed its most heinous crime, when three members used automatic weapons to kill 24 people who had the misfortune to be at the Lod Airport in Tel Aviv on May 30, 1972.

"Socialism" and "revolution"

The Red Army Faction justified its actions as necessary steps towards revolution, but like New Left as a whole the stated goal of socialism was poorly understood. The New Left activists imagined that they were making a quantum leap beyond the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) by calling for socialism and rejecting the "two-stage" strategy of first seeking a "bourgeois democratic" revolution. But here their understanding of "socialism" was not half as new as they imagined, as it was largely taken from the tenets of the "old" left (Stalinism and Trotskyism)

The two organizations formed at the end of the 1950s which became the nucleus of the new left movement - the Japanese Revolutionary Communist League (JRCL) and the Communist League (or "Bund") - believed that the Soviet Union, for all its flaws, was at the very least a post-capitalist society. Trotsky famously coined the term "degenerated worker's state" to describe the Soviet Union, and the Japanese New Left advanced similar ideas, using different terminology, describing it for instance as an "alienated form of a transitional society."

The socialist society they envisaged and sought to achieve would similarly have an economic foundation of nationalized industry and a "planned economy," but with a leadership wiser and more benevolent than the Stalinist bureaucrats.

There were a few on the New Left who argued that the Soviet Union was a state capitalist society, such as the theory developed by Tadayuki Tsushima in the fifties. But the actual content of this theory was not radically different than Trotsky's idea of a revolution "betrayed." That is, Tsushima believed that a socialist revolution created a post-capitalist workers' state in Russia, but the country later reverted to capitalism by foolishly failing to implement a proper system of labor vouchers and a Paris Commune-style state.

In short, the New Left activists took it for granted that the Soviet Union provided an example of a society that was at least post-capitalist, and they considered the Russian Revolution a model for their own revolution in Japan. The expectation was that a Japanese revolution would similarly arise out of some social crisis -- whether an economic collapse or war -- and in such a situation a small but determined vanguard party could literally push the radicalized working class in the direction of socialism at the critical moment. They had no patience for, or even awareness of, the idea that a socialist revolution would require most of the members of society to desire that change.

So naturally they did not view their task as propagating socialist ideas to convince as many people as possible of the desirability and feasibility of a socialist society while exposing the futility of reforming capitalism. On the whole, the working class was viewed as an unthinking mass that the force of events, guided or even accelerated by the hand of the vanguard party, would propel in the direction of fundamental social change.

The Red Army's strategy was an extension of this mistaken understanding of both the ultimate end and the means of getting there. They also believed revolution would arise naturally out of a crisis, and more specifically a revolutionary war, with their own task being to foment the crisis and lead the workers on to victory in a global battle for socialism. It must be said, though, that the ultimate victory interested them far less than the heroic combat itself, which was pictured along the lines of the cartoonish scenes of bloody class war in Jack London's Iron Heel.

Reforms painted red
With all of their talk of socialism and revolution, one might think that the New Left activists would have shunned reformism. But in fact they viewed capitalism was in fact developing as rapidly as in China today, the revolutionaries felt they would have to manufacture a political crisis themselves to awaken the working class by sabotaging government policies.

Here they had a view of how a "revolutionary situation" could be brought about that was every bit as mechanical as the "domino theory" used to justify the US military action in Vietnam. The activists felt that if this or that reformist political struggle were to succeed, it would help to create a crisis and would thus be the first step on the revolutionary road.

This approach was evident in the movement against the 1960 revision in the US-Japan Security Treaty, which was the first major political struggle for the New Left to engage in. The student radicals who played a key role in that movement imagined that if they blocked the Treaty they would create a crisis for US and Japanese imperialism. It is interesting that the JCP also participated in this movement, but opposed the Treaty on the equally fictitious grounds that it would strengthen Japan's status as a "semi-colony" of the United States.

Perhaps because they were often taking part in the same reformist movements that the JCP was involved in, the New Left groups placed an emphasis on the tactics employed, particularly the use of physical force to confront the riot police or occupy buildings. They felt such confrontational tactics were inherently revolutionary, or at least preferable to the more legalistic approach of the JCP. This was also connected to the idea that socialist ideas would emerge out of such action, rather than there being a necessity to work out a political program first. This action ├╝ber alles attitude was expressed in the founding document of the Communist League, which said that the "program for the emancipation of the proletariat can only emerge in the midst the trial by fire of praxis involving a response to the tasks of the class struggle that emerge every day."

Ironically, in practice (or "praxis") this is a fiery rewording of arch-revisionist Eduard Berstein's belief that, "The final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; the movement is everything."

One psychological side-effect of mechanically linking reformism to revolution was that the activists exhibited symptoms of manic depression.

Pinning so many hopes on reformist battles that in most cases were doomed to failure, and at any rate would always ultimately fail to open up a revolutionary situation, their initial euphoria inevitably turned to despair and bitter reflections on what should have been done. The desperate and doomed attempt to manufacture a political or social crisis is taken to its absurd extreme with the criminal acts of the Red Army.

Crossing the line

Violence was a general characteristic of the New Left in Japan. The street battles with the riot police, just mentioned, were considered an integral part of the revolutionary movement and raised nearly to an art form, with activists donning construction helmets (featuring painted logos of their organization), wielding long outside observers, such as French critic Roland Barthes who described riots as a "writing of actions which expurgates violence from its Occidental being," adding that, "there is a colors - red-white-blue helmets colors contrary to ours, refer historical: there is a syntax of actions (overturn, uproot, drag, pile), performed like a prosaic sentence, not like ejaculation." (Empire of Signs)

Setting aside the question of what Barthes was smoking, such observers have been less ejaculatory themselves they witnessed the violent clashes between new left organizations. In part internecine violence was a result overblown organizational egos, each group convinced it was the true vanguard. But there were other issues at stake yakuza gangster could understand.

University campuses were the operational base for most groups, and each had a vital interest in controlling student governments, which offered access to buildings and funds. In the struggles to hold on to strongholds or take bases of other groups, student activists did not hesitate to rely on brute force.

In his engrossing memoir (Kotan Publishing, 2005), Manabu Miyazaki, a student activist who returned to the criminal underworld he grew up in, describes how he and his attacked a member of a rival group had seized a student union room at their university: university: "We lifted him on our shoulders and banged him against the wall of the student union room a few times to quiet him down. We also took him to the hut in Ome, where we beat him until he fainted. But after that, all we did was force Suntory Red whiskey down his throat and then, when he was good and drunk, strip him of his clothes and set him loose." Considering that the author was a member of the JCP's student group, which was considered less violent than many of the new left groups, one can get a rough idea of the atmosphere. And in relating this incident, Miyazaki emphasizes that this was a mere prank compared to the violence a few years later because activists had yet to even consider killing their adversaries.

The line separating beating to a pulp and murder was frequently crossed in the early 1970s. Typically students were kidnapped, as in the tale above, tortured to extract a "self-criticism," and killed in the process, whether intentionally or not. Even more chilling than the senseless murders themselves, were the statements sometimes issued in justification of such acts, invariably claiming that a "tool of the state" or "spy" had been necessarily eliminated.

Here is precisely the demented mindset of the Red Army fanatics as well. (Just I was finishing this article a Greek outfit calling itself "Revolutionary Struggle" took it upon itself to shoot a rocket-propelled grenade at the US Embassy in Athens. An article in the New York Times informed me that this is a Marxist group, but their journalist should have heeded Marx's own advice about how it is best to not "judge an individual by what he thinks of himself.")


(from February 2007 Socialist Standard)

A tale of two futures

As the name implies, socialism is based on what is social. More particularly, it is based on democratic social interaction of people collectively creating the kind of world they envision. It is the antithesis of the anti-social economic system of capitalism based solely on the cold acquisition of profits. Social needs that are met under capitalism are either highly profitable or incidental by-products. Unfortunately, the quest for the almighty dollar knows no bounds and is seriously taxing our ecological systems. Capitalism puts the cart before the horse, making everything subservient to profit acquisition. With respect to our community green-space, from an aesthetic as well as a biological perspective, this has taken on absurdly rapacious proportions.

Silt, Spaniards & Mosquitoes

The Texas Gulf Coast, where I grew up, does not rest on the continental shelf along with about half of the state itself. Rather, the land mass is the result of billions of years of oceanic inundations of silt. When the Spaniards first explored the Texas Gulf Coast, it was inhabited by the Karankawa Indians, who were known to be semi-cannibalistic and to smear their bodies down with alligator brains as a method of mosquito repellant. Anyone who has ever spent the night in Galveston during one of those rare times when there was no wind would wholly understand the Karankawa's resort to such drastic mosquito repellants.

I grew up in Houston, but spent a considerable part of my youth as a beach bum in Galveston, Freeport, and Matagorda. Texas beaches have always held a special charm for this writer. They have a special uniqueness in comparison to other beaches I've visited. As a hippie youth in the 70's, a group of us would frequently camp out all night on the coast, build bonfires at night and enjoy the wind, sun, and warm surf during the day. The few trinket shops, stores, and eating establishments were ancient Mom 'n Pop businesses or seafood restaurants with historical associations. The beaches remained fairly free of commercialization. As well, the drive between Houston and Galveston's beautiful skyline was once a trek fairly bereft of commercial clutter or palpable habitation of any sort, save the wildlife in the region.

Texas Chain Store Massacre

Sadly, this is no longer so. Most of the once pristine and free beaches are now filled with chain stores and commercial establishments, beaches that require payment for use, and the ever-present police. In short, the beaches have become commodified and regulated, no longer the free-access areas they once were. If driving between Houston and Galveston was once a trip through the country, it is now barely discernible where Houston ends and Galveston begins. Endless miles of asphalt, strip-malls, service stations and Wal-Marts make for monotonous eye-space. In other parts of Texas, capitalist developers have ruined age-old parks and community spaces, including many of the wooded areas near Austin. Expensive condos and housing subdivisions are now commonplace. Even within cities such as Houston where old neighborhoods once had beautiful old houses at modest rent rates, and huge oak trees canopied the streets, now stand only monstrous condominiums. Obliterated are the unique old homes, the ancient live oaks and the tangible charm of the neighborhood: all sacrificed to the profit initiative.

From an aesthetic standpoint, this trend sucks blatantly. Add to this the impact on biological species other than our own. Growing up on the outskirts of Houston, there were still cow pastures, huge open fields in which we flew kites and played ball. There was a ubiquitous species of frog that was found nowhere in the world except that part of Texas. Now, due to mindless capitalist expansion, few open fields or cow-pastures exist. Even sadder, the species of frog indigenous to that region is almost extinct. I recall seeing hundreds of them hopping around after a fresh rain.

It saddens this writer to know such wonders are falling to the unfeeling blade of profiteering. To ruin a beautiful patch of land, that took billions of years of oceanic inundations to create, with the construction of a Wal-Mart or a McDonald's is symptomatic of Capitalist values. No reverence is paid to nature's wonders: the magic of a sunrise on the beach, the sound of the wind and the waves, nor the discovery of sand dollars and starfish strewn along the shores. Its vision is limited to the quest for profit.

Only the social organization of the world based on true human values can protect and preserve these ecological treasures. Capitalism can never preserve the natural state of the earth when doing so would stand in the way of profit. We must create a social system that will stem the capitalist trajectory toward ecocide. The establishment of socialism is the only solution to this critical problem.

— KG

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Curse of Money

An important new book presents a powerful critique of money. Everything money touches acquires a price tag. That's the problem.

Many people see money simply as a useful tool to facilitate the exchange of goods giving people a wider choice of things to consume. There is an element of truth in this. Without coins, and nowadays bank accounts and cheque books and credit cards, exchange at existing levels would be impossible, and wage and salary earners are better off being paid in money than in kind as it means that they, not their employer or the government, can decide what to consume (within the limits of their pay cheque, of course).

But this is only one side of the story. The other side is told by James Buchan in Frozen Desire. An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money (Picador). This is a history of money but one written not so much from an economic as from a cultural point of view. It records money's role not just as a technical means of exchange but also the effect it has had on social relationships between humans. This is not to say that Buchan hasn't got a grasp of economics. He has (at one time he worked for the Financial Times) but this is supplemented by a wide knowledge of literature and art on which he draws to illustrate his points.

For Buchan, money is the "frozen desire" of the title of the book. Before money existed people satisfied their everyday concrete needs (meals, clothes, a roof over their head) directly by concrete means, by themselves working or by sharing the fruits of the work of the other members of their community. With money this changes. Because money is a universal equivalent—something that can be spent on anything—the needs of its owners cease to be concrete and limited and become abstract and limitless.

A money-owner's desires are no longer limited to what they can personally consume but only by the amount of money they possess. The more money they possess the greater their "needs" and, since there is no theoretical limit to the amount of money they can own, there is also no limit to their needs or, more accurately, to their "desires". Put another way, people come to desire more than they reasonably need or consume. However, although there are no theoretical limits to the amount of money a person can own there are severe practical limits to what most people can. So, with money, most people are going to be constantly and permanently dissatisfied, and they are generally, without hope of relief.

Money, says Buchan, as the means to satisfy the unlimited desire which it generates, can itself be seen as a part of that desire but in concrete form, as "congealed" or "frozen" or "incarnate" desire. Although money does give people a wider variety of choice, it is only a choice of things that have a price tag on them and so doesn't—in fact can't—include non-monetary considerations such as friendships, relationships, sense of belonging to a community, artistic values and other non-material satisfactions. In fact, the choice of these things, which most people value higher than material things, is diminished since they don't count in a monetary economy which either makes them disappear or else devalues them by trying to pin a price tag on them.

Cuckoo in the nest

Money is a social relation. It links together people and their work, but, says Buchan, it's an insidious social relation. Once introduced into society it tends to spread and undermine and ultimately dissolve all other social relationships. As he puts it, "money enters the system of values, and then displaces all other values like a cuckoo in a nest". At first this freeing of people from all obligations towards other people except monetary ones was a liberating process: serfs and workers were freed from dependence on feudal and religious hierarchies; women's dependence on men was reduced; discriminations other than those based on how much money you have began to die out.

But the process doesn't stop there. It has continued and tends to dissolve all non-economic relations between humans not just hierarchical and discriminatory ones. It leads to everything coming to have a monetary price and to everything being judged in monetary terms. The process is not yet quite complete but it gets nearer and nearer to completion all the time. For instance, in recent years we've seen the idea progress that the victims of atrocities, crimes and accidents can be "compensated" for their suffering by monetary awards. It is obvious that money can't really relieve their past and present suffering but it is becoming more and more acceptable, even to the victims themselves, that a money payment can somehow compensate, for instance, the surviving Jewish victims of Nazism, former British prisoners of war in Japan or the victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

Thatcher once notoriously said that society didn't exist, only individuals and families did. As a description of the situation under capitalism it was accurate enough and is still true today to a large extent, but money is exerting pressure to dissolve the family too so that all that will be left in the end will be competing individuals whose only links with each other will be monetary. Buchan foresees the day when relations between the sexes to reproduce the species will be on a purely monetary basis: men will openly pay women to have their children and women will openly pay men to be the fathers of theirs. The signs are already there in surrogate mothers, divorce settlements and the philosophy and activities of the Child Support Agency.

Economics, says Buchan in a criticism of that old hypocrite Adam Smith (who preached free trade but took a job as a customs officer), instead of recoiling in horror from the prospect of all relations between people being reduced to monetary ones, positively welcomes this, indeed proclaims and preaches it, arguing that the pursuit of short-term monetary gain by individuals is the most efficient way to organise the production and distribution of wealth. This leads, Buchan says, not only to all social relationships being poisoned but to nature being raped. "For that is the end of economics: the world reduced to a scorching slum, its women to whores, its men to murderers". Poetic licence perhaps, but who can deny that this is the direction the world is heading?

Unfit for humans

This understanding, Buchan points out, was the great contribution of the Romantics, the name given to those 18th and 19th century poets, artists and writers who objected to the rise of industrial capitalism and its utilitarian and money values:

"The Romantics reminded us of the evil of money: how the habit of calculating and making comparisons in money diminishes much that is strange and precious in creation, indeed abolishes quality itself as a mental category by which to understand reality; displaces trust in people by trust in money, and thus poisons the relations between human beings and atomises society; and submerges being in possessing".

"These contradictions lie at the heart of the great sadness of our civilisation: that by using money, we convert our world into it. Humanity is . . . estranged by money from its natural habitat, without any hope of appeal. We are also . . . estranged by money from one another. It is this sense of a community of people atomised by money where all human relations are disrupted by money, that is the second great Romantic legacy to our age".

In a chapter on Marx entitled "Death in Dean Street" Buchan, basing himself on Marx's writings from 1843 and 1844, classifies Marx as being in the Romantic tradition because his objection to money and capitalism was not merely that it wasn't an efficient economic system in terms of satisfying the material needs of the majority but that "a social system that evaluated men and women in terms of money and made morality a function of credit was unworthy of the human being". This was why, explains Buchan, Marx's utopia was "an ideal society without money".

At the end of the final chapter ("Money: A Valediction") Buchan hints that this is his utopia too. He doesn't see why resources need to be distributed amongst separate owners and suggests that the unowned parts of nature pass "into communal ownership, which is no ownership at all" , and writes:

"I know you are weary of communism, of the lullaby of Calvary and Dean Street, but it will be heard as long as there is money; like the Sibyl's books, it is offered to every age, and always at a higher price in money. To reject it is to persist in a delusion so complete that human beings exult in their irreparable losses; and like Hazlitt's misers, 'are not sorry when they die, to think they shall no longer be an expense to themselves'".

A. Buick

(Socialist Standard March 1998)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Interview with Marx

Published originally in the March 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard, and reproduced from the Mailstrom blog:

Interview with Marx

Question 1 :
Dr Marx , you are well known as the author of a book on economics but I think you studied law at university, didn't you ?

Karl Marx:
Although I studied jurisprudence, I pursued it as a subject subordinated to philosophy and history. In the year 1842-43 , as editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, I first found myself in the embarrassing position of having to discuss what is known as material interests . The deliberations of the Rhenish Landtag on forest thefts and the division of landed property; the first polemic started by Herr von Schaper, then Oberpresident of the Rhine Province, against the Rheinische Zeitung about the condition of the Moselle peasantry, and finally the debates on free trade and protective tariffs caused me in the first instance to turn my attention to economic questions .Present-day society.

Q 2 : What, as a result of the studies you then undertook, would you say is the basis of present-day society?

"Present-day society" is capitalist society, which exists in all civilised countries, more or less free from mediaeval admixture, more or less modified by the particular historical development of each country, more or less developed.
In present-day society the instruments of labour are the monopoly of the land-owners ( the monopoly of property in land is even the basis of the monopoly of capital ) and the capitalists.
The capitalist mode of production rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal conditions of productions, of labour power.

Q 3 : What would you say are the essential features of this capitalist society?

Capitalist production is distinguished from the outset by two characteristic features.
First. It produces products as commodities. The fact that it produces commodities does not differentiate it from other modes of productions ; but rather the fact that being a commodity is the dominant and determining characteristic of its products. This implies, first and foremost, that the labourer himself comes forward merely as a seller of commodities, and thus as a free wage-labourer, so that labour appears in as wage labour. The relation between capital and wage-labour determines the entire character of the mode of production. The principal agents of this mode of production itself, the capitalist and the wage-labourer, are as such merely embodiments, personifications of capital and wage-labour.
The second distinctive feature of the capitalist mode of production is the production of surplus-value as the direct aim and determining motive of production.

Q 4 : You say that the relation between capital and wage-labour determines the whole character of capitalism but how, first , would you define "capital"?

Capital is a social relation of production. It is a bourgeois production relation, a production relation of bourgeois society. Capital consists not only of means of subsistence, instruments of labour and raw materials, not only of material products; it consists just a much of exchange values. All the products of which it consists are commodities. Capital is, therefore, not only a sum of material products; it is a sum of commodities, of exchange values, of social magnitudes.
Material wealth transforms itself into capital simply and solely because the worker sells his labour-power in order to live. The articles which are the material conditions of labour, the means of production, and the articles which are the precondition for the survival of the worker himself, the means of subsistence, both become capital only because of the phenomenon of wage-labour. Capital is not a thing , any more than money is a thing. In capital, as in money, certain specific social relations of production between people appear as relations of things to people, or else certain social relations appear as natural properties of things in society. Without a class dependent on wages, the moment individuals confront each other as free persons, there can be no production of surplus-value; without the production of surplus-value there can be no capitalist production, and hence no capital and no capitalist! Capital and wage-labour (it is thus we designate the labour of the worker of the worker who sells his own labour-power) only express two aspects of the self-same relationship.

Q5: But in some cases the means of production belong to the State. Does this make any difference to this basic relationship of capitalism?

The social capital is equal to the sum of the individual capitals (including joint-stock capital and also state capital, in so far as governments employ productive wage-labour in mines, railways, and so on and the function as industrial capitalists). Where the State itself is the capitalist producer, as in the exploitation of mines, woodlands and the like, its product is "commodity" and for this reason possesses the specific character of every other commodity.

Q6: How do you explain the origin of surplus-value?
Marx: The value of a commodity is determined by the total quantity of labour contained in it. But part of that quantity of labour is realised in a value, for which an equivalent has been pain in the form of wages; part of it realised in a value for which no equivalent has been paid. Part of the labour contained in the commodity is paid labour; part is unpaid labour.
The surplus value, or the part of the total value of the commodity in which the surplus labour or unpaid labour of the working man is realised, I call Profit.
It is the employing capitalist who immediately extracts from the labourer this surplus value, whatever part of it he may ultimately be able to keep for himself. Upon this relation, therefore, between the employing capitalist and the wage labourer the whole wages system and the whole present system of production hinges.

Q7 : So you are saying that it is through the wages system that the workers are exploited?

Marx :
Wages are not what they appear to be, namely, the value, or price, of labour , but only a masked form for the value, or price, of labour power. The wage-worker has permission to work for his own subsistence, that is, to live, only in so far as he works for a certain time gratis for the capitalist (and hence also for the latter's co-consumer's of surplus-value); the whole capitalist system of production turns on the increase of this gratis labour by extending the working day or by developing the productivity; consequently the system of wage labour is a system of slavery , and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment.

Q 8: But surely you are not saying that workers should not try to obtain "better payment" while capitalism lasts?

To clamour for equal or even equitable retribution on the basis of the wages system is the same as to clamour for freedom on the basis of the slavery system. What you think just or equitable is out of the question. The question is: What is necessary and unavoidable with a given system of production?
The periodical resistance on the part of the working man against a reduction of wages, and their periodical attempts at a rise in wages, are inseparable from the wages system, and dictated by the very fact of labour being assimilated to commodities, and therefore subject to the laws regulating the general movement of prices.
The value of labour-power constitutes the conscious and explicit foundation of the trade unions, whose importance for the English working class can scarcely be overestimated. The trade unions aim a nothing less than to prevent the reduction of wages below the level that is traditionally maintained in the various branches of industry.
Trade unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injurious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organised forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.

Future Society

Q9 : Clearly then, the abolition of the wages system is one key feature of the socialist, or as I believe you prefer to call it communist, society which will achieve "the emancipation of the working class", but what else can be said about it?

Marx :
The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class. The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society.
Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them.
There can therefore be nothing more erroneous and absurd than to postulate the control by the united individuals of their total production, on the basis of exchange value, of money. The private exchange of all products of labour, all activities and all wealth stands in antithesis to free exchange among individuals who are associated on the basis of common appropriation and control of the means of production.
If we were to consider a communist society in place of a capitalist one, then money capital would immediately be done away with.

Q10 : So you are saying that the working class can only emancipate themselves by establishing a classless, stateless, and moneyless society, but , with regard to this last point, you yourself are on record as mentioning "labour-time vouchers" as a possible means of distributing consumer goods in the early stages of communist society. Is there not a contradiction here?

Marx :
Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one.With collective production, money capital is completely dispensed with. The society distributes labour-power and means of production between the various branches of industry. There is no reason why the producers should not receive paper tokens permitting them to withdraw an amount corresponding to their labour time from the social consumption stocks. But these tokens are not money; they do not circulate.
The certificate of labour is merely evidence of the part taken by the individual in the common labour, and of his claim to a certain portion of the common product which has been set aside for consumption.

Q11 : But you are not claiming , are you , that such "tickets" or "certificates" would be a permanent or even an essential feature of a future classless society?

Marx :
What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.
In a higher phase of communist of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and herewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, have vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly - only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners : From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

The Period of Revolution

Q12: The continuing development of the forces of production over the last hundred or so years means that communist society could now proceed almost immediately to this stage of free access. But I want to move on to ask you about how you see the change-over from capitalist to socialist. Or communist, society taking place.

The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, of the proletariat organised as the ruling class, and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

Q13: Wait a minute . Let me stop you there . What exactly do you mean by the phrase "centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State , of the proletariat organised as the working class"? In a previous reply you told us that socialism was a society without a State.

When [ the proletariat] attains government power its enemies and the old organisation of society has not yet vanished.
The proletariat still acts, during the period of the struggle for the overthrow of the old society, on the basis of that old society, and hence also still moves within political forms which more or less belong to it. It has not yet, during this period of struggle, attained its final constitution, and employs means for its liberation which this liberation fall aside.
It can however only use such economic means as abolish its own character as salariat, hence as a class. With its complete victory its own rule thus ends. As its class character has disappeared.
When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the public power will lose its political character.
In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms , we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

Q14: You are saying that to establish a classless, stateless society the working class has first to organise to gain control of political power - "win the battle of democracy", as you put it - and use it to expropriate the capitalist class. This seems reasonable enough, even if today it could again be said that this period of revolution could be passed through very quickly precisely because the centralisation and development of the means of production has now reached such a high degree. But how do you see the working class winning political power, peaceably or violently?

The workers will have to seize political power one day in order to construct the new organisation of labour; they will have to overthrow the old politics which bolster up the old institutions.
We do not claim, however, that the road leading to this goal is the same everywhere. We know that heed must be paid to institutions, customs and traditions of various countries, and we do not deny that there are countries , such as America and England, where the workers may attain their goal by peaceful means. That being the case, we must recognise that in most continental countries the lever of the revolution will have to be force.

Q15: Today of course "most continental countries" have adopted the same political forms as America and Britain, but in any event won't socialism or communism, have to be a world system?

United action of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.
Empirically, communism is only possible as an act of the dominant people "all at once" and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers presupposes the world market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a "world-historical" existence.

Causes of Crises

Q 16: Can we now perhaps turn to some current issues that are of immediate concern to people today. First of all, the present slump where we hear about there being over-production of steel, cars, food and other goods.

The word "over-production" in itself leads to error. So long as the most urgent needs of a large part of society are not satisfied. Or only the most immediate needs are satisfied, there can of course be absolutely no talk of an over-production of products - in the sense that the amount of products is excessive in relation to the need for them. On the contrary, it must be said that on the basis of capitalist production, there is constant under-production in this sense. The limits to production are set by the profit of the capitalist and in no way by the needs of the producers. But over-production of products and over-production of commodities are two entirely different things.

Q17: Yes, that's clear enough, but what do you think of the proposal put forward for instance by the Labour Party that the way out of the crisis is to increase spending.

Marx :
The popular ascription of stagnation in the processes of production and circulation to an insufficiency of the circulating medium is a delusion.
It is pure tautology to say that crises are provoked by a lack of effective demand or effective consumption. The capitalist system does not recognise any forms of consumer other than those who can pay, if we exclude the consumption of paupers and swindlers. The fact that commodities are unsaleable means no more than that no effective buyers have been found for them , no consumers ( no matter whether the commodities are ultimately sold to meet the needs of productive or individual consumption ). If the attempt is made to give this tautology the semblance of greater profundity, by the statement that the working class receives too small a portion of its own product, and that the evil would be remedied if it received a bigger share , if its wages rose, we need only note that crises are always prepared by a period in which wages generally rise, and the working class actually does receive a greater share in the part of the annual product destined for consumption. From the standpoint of these advocates of sound and "simple" ( ! ) common sense, such periods should rather avert the crisis. It thus appears that capitalist production involves certain conditions independent of people's good or bad intentions, which permit the relative prosperity of the working class only temporarily, and moreover always the harbinger of crisis.

Q18 : What about the other aspects of crisis such as unemployment and falling real wages?

Capitalistic production moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, overtrade, crisis and stagnation. The market prices of commodities, and the market rates of profits, follow these phases, now sinking below their average, now rising above them.
Well! During the phase of sinking market prices and the phases of crisis and stagnation, the working man, if not thrown out of employment altogether, is sure to have his wages lowered.
A surplus population of workers is a condition for the existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, which belongs to capital just as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost.
Capitalist production can by no means content itself with the quantity of disposable labour power which the natural increase of population yields. It requires for its unrestricted activity an industrial reserve army which is independent of these natural limits.
Taking them as a whole, the general movements of wages are exclusively regulated by the expansion and contraction of the industrial reserve army, and this in turn corresponds to the periodical alternations of the industrial cycle.

Q19 : Lets now turn to the other big economic issue, inflation. What do you see as its cause and consequences?

Here we are concerned only with inconvertible paper money issued by the State and given forced currency.
Pieces of paper on which money-names are printed, such as £1, £5, are thrown into the circulation process from outside by the State. In so far as they actually circulate in place of the same amount of gold, their movement is simply a reflection of the laws of monetary circulation itself. A law peculiar to the circulation of paper money can only spring up from the proportion in which that money represents gold.
In simple terms the law referred to is as follows: the issue of paper money must be restricted to the quantity of gold ( or silver ) which would actually be in circulation, and which is represented symbolically by the paper money.
If the paper money exceeds its proper limit - the amount in gold coins of the same denomination which could have been in circulation - then, quite apart from the danger of becoming universally discredited, it will still represent within the world of commodities only that quantity of gold which is fixed by its immanent laws. No greater quantity is capable of being represented. If the quantity of paper money represents twice the amount of gold available, then in practice £1 will be the money-name not of 1/4 of an ounce of gold but of 1/8 of an ounce. The effect is the same as if an alteration had taken place in the function of gold as the standard of prices. The values previously expressed by the price of £1 would now be expressed by the price of £2.
In such a case nothing would have changed, either in the productive powers of labour, or in supply or demand, or in values. Nothing could have changed except the money names of those values. To say that in such a case the workingman ought not to insist upon a proportionate rise of wages, is to say that he must be content to be paid in names, instead of things . All past history proves that whenever such a depreciation of money occurs, the capitalists are on the alert to seize this opportunity for defrauding the workingman.

Q20 : What do you think of the idea of cutting taxes as a way of trying to improve the workers' position under capitalism?

If all taxes which bear on the working class were abolished root and branch, the necessary consequence would be the reduction of wages by the whole amount of taxes which goes into them . Either the employers' profit would rise as a direct consequence by the same quantity , or else no more than an alteration in the form of tax-collecting would have taken place. Instead of the present system, whereby the capitalist also advances, as part of the wage, the taxes which the worker has to pay, he [ the capitalist ] would no longer pay them in this roundabout way, but directly to the State.


Q21: Finally, there is a growing concern these days about pollution and the environment. Could you say something on this.

The capitalist mode of production completes the disintegration of the primitive familial union which bound agriculture and manufacture when they were both at an undeveloped and child-like stage. But at the same time it creates the material conditions for a new and higher synthesis, a union of agriculture and industry on the basis of the forms that have developed during the period of their antagonistic isolation. Capitalist production collects the population together in great centres, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historic motive power of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil. Thus it destroys at the same time the physical health of the urban worker, and the intellectual life of the rural worker. But by destroying the circumstances surrounding that metabolism, which originated in a merely natural and spontaneous fashion, it compels its systematic restoration as a regulative law of social production, and in a form adequate to the full development of the human race.
Moreover, all progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress towards ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility.
Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth - the soil and the worker.

Q22: Would you like to address a special message to our readers?

It is the working millions of Great Britain who first have laid down the real basis of a new society - modern industry , which transformed the destructive agencies of nature into the productive power of man. The English working classes, with invincible energies, by the sweat of their brows and brains , have called to life the material means of ennobling labour itself , and of multiplying its fruits in such a degree as to make general abundance possible. By creating the inexhaustible productive powers of modern industry they have fulfilled the first condition of the emancipation of Labour. They have now to realise its other condition. They have to free those wealth - producing powers from the infamous shackles of monopoly , and subject them to the joint control of the producers, who, till now, allowed the very product of their hands to turn against them and transformed into as many instruments of their own subjugation.
The English working men are the first-born sons of modern industry. They will then, certainly, not be the last in aiding the social revolution prepared by that industry, a revolution, which means the emancipation of their own class all over the world, which is as universal as capital-rule and wage-slavery.

A Note on Sources

Every word in Marx's replies is taken from his actual writings, the only changes being to leave out, in some cases, introductory phrases or conjunctions. Nor have we indicated that we are sometimes quoting from different writings in the same reply.

Q1 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy Lawrence and Wishart, 1971, p19-20
Q2 Three separate passages from the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Progress Publishers, 1971 , p 25 , p13 , and p18 respectively.
Q3 Capital Vol 3, FLPH, 1959, p 857-8Q4 Wage Labour and Capital M-E Selected Works, Vol 1, 1958, p90 Results of the Immediate Process of Production , appendix to Penguin Vol 1 of Capital, 1976 p1005-6
Q5 Capital Vol 2, Penguin 1978 p177 Comments on Adolph Wagner's Lehrbuch , BICO. 1971, p22
Q6 Three separate passages from Value, Price and Profit ,Peking, 1969, p54, 55 and 56
Q7 Critique of the Gotha Programme p22-3
Q8 First two and fourth paragraphs from Value Price and Profit, p 46 , p71 , and 78-9. Third paragraph from Results, p1069
Q9 The Poverty of Philosophy FLPH ,1956 p196-7, Critique of the Gotha Programme, p16 Grundisse, Pelican, 1973, p158-9
Q10 Critique of the Gotha Programme p18, Capital Vol 2, p434, Capital Vol 1 p188-9 footnote
Q11 Critique of the Gotha Programme, p16 and p17-18
Q12 Manifesto of the Communist Party, FLPH ,1954, p79-80
Q13 First three paragraphs from Conspectus of Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy, The 1st International and After, Penguin, 1974 p 332, 338, and 335. The fourth paragraph from the Communist Manifesto p81 and p82 [re-translated from original German]
Q14 Speech at the Hague Congress, The 1st International p324
Q15 Communist Manifesto, p7
7Q16 Theories of Surplus Value, Pt2 , Progress Pub., 1968, p527
Q17 Capital,Vol 1, p218, footnote, Capital , Vol 2 , p486-7
Q18 The first two paragraphs from Value , Price and Profit , p69, the other three paragraphs from Capital Vol 1 , p784 , p788, p790
Q19 First three paragraphs from Capital Vol 1 p224-5. Last paragraph Value, Price and Profit, p65-66
Q20 Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality, Collected Works, Vol 6 Lawrence and Wishart ,1976, p329
Q21 Capital, Vol 1 p637-8
Q22 Letter to the Labout Parliament, Articles On Britain, Progress Pub., 1975, p215 Speech at the anniversary of the "Peoples Paper", Articles On Britain, p261

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein

"This essay was originally published in the first issue of
Monthly Review (May 1949)."

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has - as is well known - been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and - if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous - are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?"

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept "society" means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society - in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence - that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word "society."

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished - just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time - which, looking back, seems so idyllic - is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor - not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production - that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods - may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call "workers" all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production - although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is "free," what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the "free labor contract" for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from "pure" capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an "army of unemployed" almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

Albert Einstein

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Maoism as a class society: illusion and reality

Both supporters and opponents saw China under Mao as an egalitarian society without hierarchy but this was an illusion.

The image of Maoist China conveyed in the poster art and other propaganda of the regime was that of a regimented and spartan but egalitarian society, without hierarchical class distinctions. Curiously enough, anti-Maoist propaganda conveyed a very similar image: several authors, for instance, dehumanized the Chinese under Mao as "blue ants." In accordance with its egalitarian image, Maoism is commonly classified as a leftwing indeed, "extreme left" or "ultra-left" ideology. The blatant inequalities of post-Mao China have served only to enhance the image in retrospect.

And yet the image was always an illusion, a meticulously maintained lie. The rich memoir literature that has become available since the "thaw" of 1978 begins to dispel the illusions and portray the realities of Maoist China. And one of those realities turns out to be a class structure that differs in detail but not in broad outline from that of the "old China."

The class geography of Chongqing

In her autobiographical Daughter of the River, Hong Ying gives us a moving account of growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in a working class family in the provincial city of Chongqing. She maps the local landscape into three sharply divided domains.

First, the hilly slum district on the south bank of the Yangtze River, where the author used to live "the city's garbage dump," its "rotting appendix," crowded with ramshackle wooden sheds and with hardly any sewers. The residents are mostly "coolies" unskilled labourers; it is very rare for a youngster to pass the college entrance exams. So it was before "liberation"; so it was in her time; so, judging by the photos in the book, it remains today.

Second, on the north bank, the city proper. "The centre of the city," she observes with bitter irony, "might as well be in another world, with red flags everywhere you look and rousing political songs filling the air [and] youngsters reading revolutionary books to prepare themselves for the life of a revolutionary cadre" like the cadres (officials) who ridicule and humiliate her when she tries to get her father the pension to which as a disabled sailor he is entitled.

And third, though she has never set eye on them, "the summer houses of the rich and powerful, hidden amid the lush green hillsides surrounding the city." Here, it must be admitted, a minor change has occurred: "Once occupied by Chiang Kai-shek's closest aides and his US advisers [Chongqing was the Kuomintang capital in 1937-45], they now accommodated high-ranking Communist Party officials."

Decoding the official "class struggle"

So China under Mao was, like China before Mao and China after Mao, a class-divided society. And, as in any other class-divided society, class struggle existed in various forms. However, the real class struggle between the real classes that made up the society was obscured by unrelenting official propaganda about an illusory "class struggle" ("Never forget class struggle!") that was actually something else entirely.

In Maoist China the authorities assigned every citizen an official "class" label or political "hat." A great deal depended on this hat, from political influence and social respect to work assignments and access to medical care not to mention the chance of ending up in a labour camp or on an execution ground. Most labels referred not to current social position but to the alleged former status of the person or of his or her parents and grandparents in the old society. Thus, "poor and lower middle peasants" ("red" categories), "upper middle peasants" (an intermediate category), and "rich peasants" and "landlords" ("black" categories) were currently all collective farmers. The harshest treatment (justified as "class struggle") and most unpleasant jobs were reserved for "landlords," who became a hereditary caste of pariahs like the Indian untouchables.

The real function of the labels was to measure the presumed degree of loyalty to the regime. Party leaders in good standing, irrespective of family background, belonged to the "red" category of "revolutionary cadre." Both prime minister Zhou Enlai and secret police chief Kang Sheng were sons of big landlords and Mao's own father was a small landlord, but that did not count against them. Conversely, worker or poor peasant origin provided very limited protection to those who challenged party policy: a "class" label could be arbitrarily changed or the malcontent could be dumped in the catch-all category of "bad element."

So we must decode the official "class struggle" as a continuing campaign to crush all actual and potential dissent. In official discourse "proletariat" (working class) was a codeword for the regime (or whichever faction controlled the regime at any given time). When workers went on strike in 1966-67, they were accused of falling under the influence of class enemies wielding the weapon of "economism." In other words, they were tools of the capitalist class striking against themselves!

The Cultural Revolution: a campaign against bureaucracy?

Many Maoist sympathizers acknowledge that China under Mao was a highly unequal society, but put the blame on Mao's opponents within the leadership the notorious "capitalist roaders" supposedly headed by Liu Shaoqi. Mao himself and those who helped him launch the Cultural Revolution were, we are asked to believe, fighting against the party bureaucracy for a classless society.

This "anti-bureaucratic" interpretation of the so-called Cultural Revolution is at variance with the official definition of its purpose. It was basically a brutal witch-hunt, assisted and supervised by the secret police, against anyone suspected of disloyalty to the "Emperor." So intended targets did include many specific bureaucrats suspected of opposing Mao's policies, but not the bureaucracy as a whole. True, in some places control over the movement was lost for a time, and Red Guards started deciding for themselves whom to attack. One organization even denounced the "butcher" Kang Sheng, who acted promptly to isolate and arrest its activists. In Hunan a Red Guard alliance called Sheng-wu-lien published a manifesto redefining the enemy more broadly as "the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie." Denounced as a "counter-revolutionary" by Mao himself, Yang Xiguang, author of the manifesto, was jailed for ten years and narrowly escaped execution. (For more on Sheng-wu-lien, see http://www.marxists.de/china/hore/03-cultrev.htm. On Yang Xiguang, who died in Australia in 2004, see http://www.csaa.org.au/news11.04.htmlVale and his book Captive Spirits: Prisoners of the Cultural Revolution.)

At least since 1949, all top party leaders have lived and worked under extremely privileged conditions and in virtually total isolation from ordinary people. In Beijing they cloister themselves (and their servants) inside the Zhongnanhai complex, while in summer they vacation together at the seaside resort of Beidaihe. We get a sense of the unhealthy, claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere of this environment from the memoirs of Mao's personal physician, Dr. Li Zhisui (The Private Life of Chairman Mao). Jiang Qing, Kang Sheng, and other members of Mao's faction were certainly no less privileged, corrupt or cynical than his opponents. It is absurd to cast them as champions of the people.

The Red Guards appeared to be attacking privilege, but appearances were deceptive. First, they only attacked the privileges of those who had already been identified as "class enemies" on other grounds. Second, the net result of their rampage was merely the redistribution of privilege and property within the elite. Some individuals temporarily or permanently lost positions of power, while others favoured Red Guard leaders and assorted opportunists were elevated into the nomenklatura. The numerous antiques that Red Guards confiscated from well-to-do homes ended up not in public museums and art galleries but in storerooms where army generals and their wives took their pick -- as did Kang Sheng, himself a keen collector (John Byron and Robert Pack, The Claws of the Dragon).

Styles of capital accumulation

What then were the real policy differences between Mao and the "capitalist roaders"?

Any state capitalist regime must pursue the long-term goal of capital accumulation within the context of great-power competition. In this respect there is no difference between Mao's "Great Leap Forward" (1958-61) and the "Four Modernizations" of the post-Mao period. But there is an important difference in strategy and style of management. Mao, a romantic with a pre-scientific mentality, relied on unrealistically ambitious and consequently disastrous campaigns. Aiming to overtake Britain in steel production, he forced the peasants to neglect agriculture and build small "backyard" furnaces that produced junk, plunging the country into history's greatest famine. The "capitalist roaders" wanted a more rational, steady and sustained strategy for the accumulation of national capital. Mao's idiosyncratic impulses kept on messing things up for them.

What did Maoism mean for ordinary people? Some of Mao's policies may have been of benefit for example, the (now defunct) "barefoot doctor" program that attempted to make basic medical care available to the rural population. On balance, however, the modest positive impact of such policies was surely outweighed by all the suffering, repression, waste and disruption for which Mao was responsible.