Monday, March 31, 2008

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Here in the States you can subscribe (through us) to the Socialist Standard, Great Britains oldest Socialist Journal, published since 1904.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Production for Use

From the Western Socialist, 2, 1969

"PRODUCTION FOR USE" - a phrase uttered so often by socialists as to become almost a cliché, yet understood (in a superficial fashion) by both enquirers and opponents. It describes our concept - our visualization - of a future social system superceding the present "un-social" system we call capitalism. Our enquirers and opponents alike recognize this.

But the full implications of the term are not grasped, even by many who consider themselves to be socialists. The thinking of these people is so conditioned by the institutions of the present order that their thoughts take on the coloration of their master’s ideology.

The concept, "Production for Use," implies the existence now of something different and contrary. This basic difference we emphasize and amplify by adding a further phrase: "and not for profit."

"Production for Use" is a concept basic to a socialist order: it is the cornerstone of the socialist edifice. It rules out the notion that socialism has been established in Russia, Cuba, China, etc. Production in all these countries is for the sale of production itself. Of course, as with capitalism everywhere, commodities must have a use, but they are "useful" goods produced primarily for profit. They are also the product of wage-labor. And wage-labor co-exists with money. Yet the question almost always posed by the very people who seem to think that "Production for Use," and a society based thereon is, maybe, a good idea is: "What are you going to use for money?"

The Money Concept

Here is an example - somewhat paradoxical - of the confused thinking now obtaining which constitutes so great an obstacle to the advancement of scientific socialist ideas.

The ideal, "Production for Use," springs from the material conditions of modern capitalism: the reality. The money concept derives from the same source. Because "useful" are now produced with the ultimate objective of being sold, i.e. exchanged for money, our confused friends burden their future ideal of "Production for Use," with the concept of the present reality of things exchanged for money.

"Production for Use" means just what it says: goods needed by people who can use them, not for those who can pay; goods produced and distributed socially on the basis of social needs.

Some claiming to be socialists are also victims of this paradox. Our friends of the Socialist Labor Party (evidently being more clairvoyant than we) not only visualize a new social order, but carry with their vision elements from capitalism which are distinct hallmarks of that society. Money is a necessary item in a society in which goods are produced for profit. With the sale (via money) to the consumer, the profits (surplus value) is finally realized. But whatever characteristics and functions money has in measuring value, acting as a standard of price, medium of exchange, etc. such functions are related to capitalism, not to socialism. The SLP, of course, does not claim money to be necessary to a new social order, but they substitute it for something which is to do the same work.

The character of a thing is revealed by its function. To substitute one thing which is to function similarly to the one substituted, and then claim that a basic change has taken place is to deny reality. We hold that while the concept of "Production for Use," and a social order based thereon arises from an understanding of what is, the drawing up of pre-conceived blue-prints for the future, with organizational schemes for administration, etc., which one might imagine that future might require, calls for a detailed knowledge of the social circumstances of that time. This, we confess, we do not posses. Such a concept, also, implies that man has fee will.

While the SLP holds that Socialism means Production for Use, they claim that under that form of society the workers, instead of receiving wages, will receive a voucher according to the amount of work, measured in labor-time. This will be exchanged for goods, etc., similarly measured.

Here again appears our paradox; an ideal view of a future society burdened and beclouded with the concepts of today’s reality. What else are wages paid to workers now but tokens of their wage-slave status?

The Law of Value

The idea of measuring a worker’s output by labor-time is a misapprehension (and misappropriation) of the Marxian Law of Value. This law applies only to commodity production, that is to say capitalism. Under this system, where goods are produced for a market, to be exchanged through the intermediary of a third something (money), the Marxian Law states that these various products - different in so many ways - exchange one with another on the basis of some property or characteristic common to all. Exchange implies an equation. That was the position of Marx and that is ours. The exchange value of commodities (goods produced for SALE, although useful) is determined by the amount of socially necessary labor-time incorporated in them. But this socially necessary labor-time is reduced in the theoretical Marxian analysis to simple undifferentiated labor.

To take the yardstick used in this analysis of capitalist commodity production and apply it as a measure of "value" to a workers output under socialism is to establish a completely false premise. If a premise so established is shown to be false then the reasoning erected thereon must also be false.

In our efforts to disabuse the minds of honest enquirers of the confusion that arises from the setting up of false concepts, as also in our efforts to remove the false notions developed by those who appear to hold views on capitalism somewhat similar to ours, we hope to advance our ideas without rancor, using explanation rather than declamation.

"Production for use and not for profit" cannot exist where money (or a substitute) is present. To "pay" a worker, under socialism, on the basis of his output or the length of his working day is a denial of socialism. "From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs," is for us quite sufficient.

Socialism is, and can only be, a system of society in which the means of production and distribution will be democratically controlled and administered BY SOCIETY AND FOR SOCIETY.

And, as of now, that is the only blue-print we have to offer.

-W.A. Pritchard

Friday, March 28, 2008

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

Reposted from Socialist Banner

An estimated 84,000 Ghanaians dying each year from diseases related to poor water quality . The Ghana Water Company says it is no longer able to supply even half of the 150 million gallons of water that people in the capital , Accra, require each day.

Accra could have an abundant water supply from the nearby Volta Lake, the world’s largest manmade body of fresh water. But many of the pipes delivering the water to the city are cracked and broken and the government has done little to repair them. As a result many residents resort to polluted rivers and ponds, or hand-dug wells where the water is often unclean.

The government acknowledges the problem. "It’s about aging infrastructure, lack of investment and waste," the minister for water resources, Boniface Abubakar Saddique told IRIN . To raise more capital for infrastructure the ministry restructured the way it managed water in 2006, handing control over to a private company, Aqua Vitens Rand Limited. Two years later, however, fewer people in Accra can access water than when the system was government-run.

A representative of the non-governmental organisation ISODEC (Integrated Social Development Centre) said , "Its sad politicians constantly spew rhetoric on providing potable water to citizens but never offer concrete alternatives."

The government intends to purchase two executive jets at a cost of US$105 million . At least , the workers of Ghana now know the President’s priority.

In Burkina Faso 5.7 million Burkinabes have no access to clean water and 12.6 million lack adequate sanitation facilities. In some parts of the country only 2 percent of the population has access to clean toilets.

The government said it will use the African Development Bank, World Bank and bilateral donor funds to install 617,000 new toilets around the country, build 520 new pipe networks in rural areas, fit water taps in over 100,000 homes and install thousands of water-pumps.
"Finally the international community is realising that any development initiatives introduced in Burkina Faso must include investments in water, otherwise the Millennium Development Goals will be doomed to failure." the non-governmental organization WaterAid told IRIN.

Friday, March 21, 2008

An Introduction to "How The Gods Were Made"

From our website.

Although founding member Comrade I. Rab had been invited to write this by Kerr Company, it was not published until now. They asked Rab to make so many changes that, in the end, he refused.

About John Keracher

John Keracher was born in Scotland in 1880. He spent rhe early years of his adulthood in England, whete he was exposed to the ideas of the Social Democratic Federation. Thus, his entry into the Detroit Local of the Socialist Parry of America in 1910, soon afrer his arrival in rhe Unired States in 1909, was a natural outgrowrh of his background.

As a human being, Keracher was full of lively wit and good nature; his calm manner went unruffled by obstreperous opponents, critics; and hecklers. I can readily attest from personal experience that to those seeking personal advice or enlightenment on socialism, he was like an oasis in the desert, a quenching cactus. He was uncompromising in his principles but refrained from ad hominem attacks, and confined himself to the issues as he saw them. He relied on the logic of his arguments to counter critics.

Throughout both periods of his career, as identified later, Keracher always retained the same admirable qualities - both with me and with others, alike when we agreed and when we disagreed. In addition, he was an outstanding organizer, lecturer, and writer; and one always willing to do his share of the "Jimmy Higgins" tasks.

This introduction to the 2nd edition of How the Gods Were Made describes his valuable participation in the American socialist movement until his death in Los Angeles in 1958.

Socialism and Religion

It is significant and encouraging that the demand for Keracher’s pamphlet How the Gods Were Made necessitates a new edition. Its great merit lies in its presentation, in clear and understandable language, of the evolution of the idea of God in its basic essentials as well as of its role in modern society.

For years there has raged a continuing controversy between two schools of socialist thought on the significance of religion. One school would avoid any discussion of religion as though it were a plague, insisting that religion is a private matter for every individual to decide for himself. It holds that any other view only antagonizes prospective socialists and keeps them from joining the socialist movement. The other school maintains that religion is a matter of social import, both practically and theoretically.

In How the Gods Were Made, Keracher demonstrates that religious beliefs, in any of their forms, are incompatible with an understanding of socialism, both as a science and as a movement.

The apologists for outworn religious superstitions emphasize that religion is, primarily, concerned with moral and ethical principles. But, despite these nebulous explanations, it cannot be denied that the essence of all religions is the service and worship of God or the supernatural. Actually, man made God in his own image, in spite of the contention of religionists that the reverse is the case. No longer can religion be justified on its own terms.

It is true that there are many gaps in our knowledge, but whenever we get answers they always prove to be physical, material ones. This applies to the social sciences, including morals and ethics, as well as all other branches of science. Science has made tremendous advances in the last hundred years. It might be said that as our knowledge and understanding have advanced, religion has retreated.

The growth during the ’60s and the ’70s of mysticism, new religions, "Jesus Freaks," etc. only reflects the sad plight of living in capitalist society and the resultant search for happiness by psychological adjustments to the immediate environment.
Keracher shows how religion diverts workers from realizing their primary class interest: to get rid of the wage-slavery of capitalism, and to inaugurate socialism, which is practical and necessary here and now. Quite relevant is the old ’Wobbly’ song:
"You will eat bye and bye, In that glorious land in the sky. Work and pray, live on hay, You’ll get pie in the sky when you die."

Socialists do not go out of their way to attack and kill gods. They are not professional Atheists but rather, atheists in the scientific sense. At one time in history, because of man’s lack of knowledge, religious explanations of natural phenomena were the only possible ones. Today, the Materialist Conception of History together with modern science points up the fallacies of religion, as Keracher amply demonstrates.

How did Keracher become involved with the necessity of exposing the dangerous illusions of religion? The answer is best found in his own introduction to this pamphlet. More generally, the following background describes the nature of his long political activity.

The WSP and Keracher

Detroit became a boom town from the years 1910 to 1918. Because of the growing automobile and other industries, it attracted hosts of workers seeking "good-paying" jobs. An added stimulus was the advent of World War 1, with its cost-plus government contracts for heavy and light military supplies.

Among the influx of workers to Detroit were Canadian socialists from across the border, who had been active in carrying on socialist work. They were soon followed by Canadian and British "slackers" running away from British conscription.

Contemporaneously, the Detroit Local, SPA, was involved in a bitter internal controversy between the large majority of "socialist" reformers and the small minority of socialist revolutionists opposing the principles and policies of the Michigan Socialist Party. Most conspicuous in this dispute was Comrade Keracher on the side of the Socialist Revolutionists.

Two other factors existed at this time: the publication by the Kerr Cooperative Publishers of (a) their International Socialist Review with its many Marxist articles and (b) the Marxian classics and other pamphlets. They served a useful purpose in stimulating the reading of meaningful socialist literature. Subsequently, when the Proletarian Party purchased the Kerr Company for the purpose of perpetuating the supply of socialist literature, Keracher, in turn, made an excellent administrator and a valuable contributor.

The combination of these circumstances led to the establishment of a noteworthy Marxian study class in Duffield Hall a highlight of the period. Comrades Moses Baritz and Adolph Kohn of the Socialist Party of Great Britain were the instructors, with Keracher paying a leading role in this class by enlarging it to include debates and lectures. The class proved invaluable in spreading an understanding of Marxian science and the validity of the principles of the SPGB.

In July 1916, 43 members of the study class, including 19 members of Local Detroit, SPA, of whom this writer was one, decided it was time to organize a genuine socialist party in the United States along the lines of the SPGB. The Workers’ Socialist Party of the United States resulted. Worthy of note is that Keracher defended the members of the new party who were being heatedly criticized for resigning by members of the Detroit Local, SPA.

By this time, Keracher had become state secretary of the Socialist Party of Michigan. He was deeply involved in advocating that the next state convention of that party supplant reforms to patch up capitalism with a plank for revolutionary socialism. He also urged that the Party’s position on religion be changed from being considered as a private matter to one of social concern. He and his supporters were successful in changing the constitution of the Socialist Party of Michigan to conform with basic socialist objectives. At the time, this was a bombshell!

Under these circumstances, it was understandable that he was unable to participate in the organization of The Workers’ Socialist Party. Whilst recognizing the need for a new genuine socialist party, he was unable to join it. Instead, conditions being what they were, he, together with the socialists remaining in the SPA in Michigan, organized an educational group within the Party to disseminate socialist ideas. Thus was born the Proletarian University, soon followed (in May, 1918) by its publication The Proletarian, which was in harmony with SPGB principles.

In the columns of The Proletarian could be found articles by Kohn (signed John O’London) and one by this writer titled "Letter to a Wage Slave." In addition The Proletarian published an official statement by the National Secretary of the Workers’ Socialist Party, Lawrence Beardsley, with its endorsement. At that time, the Workers’ Socialist Party was not in a position to have its own journal.

Keracher’s Politics

There were two Kerachers - the pre-Russian Revolution one and the post-Russian Revolution one. Beyond question, the pre-Russian Revolution Keracher was a Marxist. This cannot be said unqualifiedly of his post-Russian Revolution position.

On November 7,1917, came the startling news of the Russian Revolution. Distinct from the earlier Kerensky Revolution, it spoke the language of Marxism. It issued proclamations, the most stirring being the Appeal to socialists in Germany and elsewhere: "We have seized power in our country, take power in yours and come to our aid." It aroused emotional fervor and inspired the hope for international solidarity for the socialist revolution! However, despite the previous pledges of the Second International that, in the case of war, comrades on opposite sides would not fire on each other, but would shake hands across the lines with the greeting, COMRADE! — events proved that the professed "comrades" were patriotic nationalists, not socialists.

Had a genuine socialist movement been predominant in Europe, there might have been a different story to tell. In the absence of a socialist majority, a socialist revolution was impossible, both in Russia and the rest of the world. Certainly the material conditions in Russia were not ripe for socialism in 1917. Lenin himself put it very well: "Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us. If we were able to bring about in Russia State Capitalism, it would be a victory for us." (The Chief Task of Our Times).

Arising from Lenin’s emphasis on the importance of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat during the transition period capitalism and communism which Lenin called "socialism," the Proletarian University became enthused with this doctrine and joined in the efforts to organize a communist party in the United States in support of the Bolshevik regime.

In contrast, the SPGB and its companion parties maintained that the material conditions in the highly developed capitalism of 1917 were ripe for socialism, except for the lack of socialists. Further, they contended that "socialism" and "communism" are synonymous.

Shortly after the Third International was organized on March 4, 1919, a referendum was initiated in the Socialist Party of America by the supporters of Soviet Russia calling for quitting the Second International and joining the Third International. This referendum was sponsored by three groups: the Left-Wing group, the Foreign Language Federation, and the Michigan group. The referendum was carried by a majority of ten to one. However, the Executive Committee of the SPA vetoed the referendum on the grounds that the result was "fraudulent."

According to Theodore Draper in his Roots of American Communism, soon after the veto of the referendum, "in April 1919 a call was issued for a national conference of the three groups to formulate a national declaration of principles and to conquer the Socialist Party of America for revolutionary socialism."

On May 24, 1919 the charter of the SPA-Michigan was the first to be revoked on the grounds that it had "amended its constitution to repudiate legislative reforms." In short order, both the Foreign Language Federation and the Left-Wing were expelled.

In the ensuing meetings of the three groups, differences between them made it difficult to organize a communist party to represent America in the Third International. The Michigan group could not fit in with any other group but was tolerated on a technicality. To its credit, it had refused to accept any office or to affirm any responsibility for the programs that were adopted. It was finally settled by orders from the Third International in Moscow, to the exclusion of these factions as groups, who should constitute the Communist Party in the United States.

In January 1920, the central committee of the Communist Party ordered that the Proletarian University become a party institution under its supervision. The Michigan group refused to accept this decision and chose to leave the Communist Party for good. In June 1920, the Proletarian Party was organized by Keracher and his comrades. Draper describes it as a "small, self-satisfied sect." Obviously he was no sympathizer of either the new Proletarian Party or of the SPGB and its companion parties. However, the factual accounts in his Roots of American Communism are historically accurate.

The post-Russian Revolution Keracher was a Leninist-Marxist, caught in the dilemma of two "socialisms" - Marxian socialism as a system of society, and Leninist "socialism" as a transitional dictatorship of the proletariat. Yet, when the chips were down, Keracher’s Marxist background interfered with any blind conformity to Soviet dogma.

The reader of How the Gods Were Made may be inspired to read other Keracher pamphlets, as well as other socialist literature. As of September 1, 1974, the Kerr Publishing Company has produced altogether eight Keracher pamphlets, of which three are now out of print. It is hoped that one of them, Economics for Beginners, may be reprinted in the near future. The three Keracher pamphlets now in supply are: The Head-Fixing Industry, Frederick Engles, and Crime, Its Causes and Consequences.

It is impossible to present fully the various facets of the socialist case in these necessarily brief pamphlets. They serve the important function of introducing the reader to socialist thought and encouraging further study in the classics.

Keracher was not only an organizer and propagandist for socialism, he was a pamphleteer in the tradition of Tom Paine. His clarion call to the working class was to get rid of the bedlam of outworn capitalism and to replace it with the sanity of socialism. His pamphlets attempt to disseminate socialist knowledge and understanding essential ingredients of the socialist revolution.

John Keracher page of the Marxists Internet Archive

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bubble Troubles

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website.

The hangover

The intoxicating US housing boom has come to an end. Now the economic hangover has arrived. What is likely, at the very least, is a prolonged crisis of the credit system. And as credit greases the wheels of capitalism this is no laughing matter for the capitalist class.

The Federal Reserve has been doing its best to ease the pain—the pain for the investment banks, that is. Barkeep Ben Bernanke announced on March 11 that the Fed intends to generously fund the banks "rehab," loaning them the incredible sum of 200 billion dollars in return for the tainted "mortgage-backed securities" as collateral. This is very much like a doctor who prescribes a little hair of the dog to an alcoholic as a "cure" for a hangover. At best, such bailouts will probably only buy a bit of time.

And not very much time at that—judging from the string of collapses in recent weeks. On March 7, the investment fund Carlyle Group Corp. announced that it was unable to meet $37 million in margin calls from its lenders and a few days later it was reported that the 85-year-old investment bank Bear Stearns, which suffered huge hedge fund losses, is being bought out by JPMorgan Chase in a fire sale, with money loaned by the Fed.

Far from calming the financial waters, the actions of the Fed have drawn attention to the severity of the crisis and also accelerated the decline of the dollar. It is also doubtful that the Fed will have anywhere near the financial assets needed to bailout more than a selected few of the mass casualties that the crisis will claim.

Somehow the system as a whole—the once inebriated economic body and its battered financial organs—will have to expel the vast quantities of toxic loans that are clogging it up. When other countries face this dilemma, the US has always been the first to prescribe a bit of shock therapy, making use of capitalism’s natural function of regurgitation. For some reason or another, though, the US policy makers are sentimental when it comes to their own venerable financial institutions.

The US government that hasn’t lifted a finger to assist the massive number of workers who face foreclosure, while acting quickly to pump money into the accounts of those who have made a good living picking the pockets of those workers. The direct impact of the crisis involving "subprime loans" (once more accurately referred to as "predatory loans") has already lead to hundreds of thousands of foreclosures, with the overall number of foreclosures up 79% in 2007 alone. Clearly, the US policy makers have every intention of shifting as much of the pain from the crisis onto the working class as is economically and politically possible.

Empty wealth

One benefit to workers from the crisis, however, is that it rips great holes in some of the smug arguments that economists and politicians have tried to pass of as "common sense" (and which seemed plausible enough during the long speculative boom in the US that basically stretches all the way from the mid-1990s until recent months). For instance, it is becoming increasingly self-evident that the prices of many "commodities" lack any real basis and are thus "fictitious" prices to a large extent.

There is an important distinction, in other words, between the products of labor, which are the basis of any society and happen to take the form of commodities in a capitalist society, and the wide variety of things that have a price and thus take the commodity-form but are not the product of labor and thus lack intrinsic value. When capitalism is humming along, no one is very concerned with whether a commodity has intrinsic value or not, so long as it can be sold on the market. Thus, "mortgage-backed securities"—to take one example—were as good as gold for many years.

Now that the housing bubble has collapsed, however, such securities are being shunned, as it is clear that a great number of borrowers will be unable to meet their mortgage payments. The "value" (=price) of this commodity has plummeted, wiping out a vast amount of wealth that existed on paper, while leaving a hard lump of debt behind.

It is hardly surprising that people flock to gold during a crisis. That behavior is not motivated by a human love of shiny metal objects. Rather, gold has served as the "general equivalent" or money historically precisely because gold has intrinsic value as a product of labor and that value exists in a form that is inherently more durable and divisible than most other products of labor.

In short, a crisis reveals the crucial distinction between commodities in the fundamental sense (as the capitalistic form of products of labor) and commodities in the purely formal sense (as anything with a price). Call it the revenge of the labor theory of value.

There is some irony in the collapse of the housing bubble revealing the distinction between intrinsic value and mere price. Because one of the initial attractions of the housing market to investors, after their dizzying experience with stock-market gambling, was that it appeared to be terra firma. After a vast amount of paper wealth was wiped out of 401k plans and mutual funds circa 2000, it seemed that real-estate was a secure investment in tangible asset.

But to describe a house as having intrinsic value turns out to only be a half-truth. Sure, the house itself has intrinsic value, like any other commodity in the fundamental sense just described, according to the socially necessary labor expended to produce it. In other words, the house’s value (as a structure) stems from the value of the building materials used and the amount of labor expended to assemble them.

However, in addition to the house itself, the price of the land upon which it is built represents a large part of the overall price—and the bulk of the price in the case of large urban areas. And that land has no intrinsic economic value, apart from whatever labor was necessary to clear trees or previous buildings out of the way so that construction could commence. In this sense, real-estate prices are a reflection—more than anything else—of the purchasing ability of the prospective buyers. So it is no surprise that those prices rose rapidly along with the increasing abundance of cheap credit.

Buyers in each particular housing market tried to convince themselves why the price of their own house would never fall (whether because of the desirability of their neighborhood, the solid construction of the house itself, the strong local economy, or some other reason), but in fact there is no intrinsic value around which the price must gravitate—meaning that there is no limit for a price to greatly rise or fall.


Another central (but often ignored) fact which a crisis helps shed some light on is the origin of profit. During a speculative bubble, when mutual funds or housing prices are steadily rising, profit seems to arise magically from the very act of investment. No one is too bothered to ponder how this feat of alchemy is achieved. When the bubble eventually bursts, it may dawn on some that the actual creation of profit—rather than the mere transfer of money from one wallet to another—involves more than simply letting go of funds and then waiting for an even bigger sum to return in boomerang-like fashion.

And if the person bothers to investigate the matter further, it would become clear that profit is generated in the production process. It is there that surplus-value is generated as the difference between the value of the labor-power the workers sell to capitalists in return for their wages and the value those workers add to the commodities produced through their actual labor. In contrast, much of the profit that appeared to be created during the boom was in fact an expression of the expansion of debt.

The housing boom, like the stock market boom that preceded it, was praised as a way for workers to move up the social ladder, and it seemed that there was enough profit to go around to swell the ranks of the capitalist class. From today’s perspective, however, we see that workers are left in a worse situation than ever following the speculative boom, facing foreclosures and wiped out retirement funds. The only upward mobility in the end was for the money itself, which was coaxed out of the pockets of workers to pad the salaries of the much heralded "financial wizards."

Granted, in any speculative bubble the expansion of consumption also leads to an increase in productive activity, but it is certainly not the case that the enormous gains made through speculation reflect or correspond to an expansion in surplus-value created via production -value. Rather, the increase in the "value" (=price) of real-estate, stocks, or whatever the mania is centered on is fed by the speculation itself. Prices go up as more money is thrown at the object of speculation, and with those rising prices even more money is invested. But there is nothing to sustain the high prices once the speculative demand dries up. This is quite different from an increase of investment in productive activity that results in products containing surplus-value that are sold to realize a profit.

A comparison to eating, rather than the earlier hangover analogy, may highlight the distinction between mere speculation and investment in production. Simply put, speculation is not all that different from a person who consumes a large amount of food without performing any physical activity whatsoever. The result, unless the person enjoys a remarkable metabolism, is weight gain.

During the housing boom, the economy swallowed a tremendous amount of credit that for the most part was not directed towards productive activity, and this inevitably led to a flabby result. The speculative feast was good fun for those who partook of it, but now the heavy debt burden is making it hard for the capitalist economy to function, with the credit crisis also hindering investment in productive activities.

But it is not as if a "muscle-bound" capitalism is a lovely state of affairs either. As mentioned earlier, the surplus-value that arises from productive activity is nothing more than unpaid labor extracted from the working class. So there is no profit without exploitation.

A "fundamentally strong" capitalism (as it is called by those critical of finance capital but enamored by capitalism itself) may conjure up an image of a healthy organism, but really it is more appropriate to picture a young Arnold Schwarzenegger prancing around the stage of a Mr. Universe contest clad only in his over-inflated muscles and surreal suntan. It is not true health or strength, just the appearance of it. And just as Arnie worked out incessantly in the pursuit of muscles for their own sake, without any concern for their actual use, the productive activity under capitalism is only a means of building bigger and bigger profits, rather than being primarily a way to produce material wealth to meet the needs of society’s members in accordance with their collective and democratic will. There are all sorts of side-effects from the mad pursuit of profit, both in the short- and long-term, similar to how Mr. Schwarzenegger’s steroid-fueled body-building in his younger years resulted in open-heart surgery by the time his muscles had sagged with age.

Workers cannot be indifferent to a crisis, no matter how much we are disgusted by the predictable pendulum swing between "boom" and "bust" (and the sudden mood swings it causes among our capitalist rulers), because our lives are directly influenced by today’s financial turbulence. But at the same time, we have no interest whatsoever in thinking up ways to put capitalism "back on track" or make it "healthy" again. Even when the system is in tip-top shape it works directly counter to the interests of workers.

The crisis will not miraculously or mechanically turn every worker into a socialist, as some pseudo-Marxists fervently hope, but it does at least create a situation where socialists may find workers more willing to consider an alternative to capitalism. It is up to us, as socialists, to present that alternative in a convincing way based on our understanding of the essential nature and limitations of the capitalist system.

Michael Schuarte

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What Marx Should Have Said to Kropotkin

The following is the transcript of a talk given by Adam Buick to the 1994 Socialist Party of Great Britain Summer School, which was held that year at Ruskin College in Oxford, England.

I once read a book which contained a sentence which began "As Marx said to Lenin ..." This would not have been a physical impossibility, as Marx's life and Lenin's life did overlap for 13 years. But quite why - and how - Marx would have confided his political views to a schoolboy in provincial Russia was not explained. In short, it never happened nor was it plausible to imagine it could have happened.

Marx-Kropotkin meeting on the other hand, though it never did happen, could well have. Kropotkin was born in 1842, Marx in 1818 so, although Marx was a generation older, they could have met and discussed (just as Marx had in fact met and discussed with the three founding fathers of modern anarchism, Proudhon, Bakunin and Max Stirner).

If Marx and Kropotkin had have met, it could have been on two occasions: in 1876-7 when Kropotkin arrived in England after making a dramatic and well-publicised escape from a Russian prison, or in 1880-1 when Kropotkin again lived in England for a while (before going to France - and ending up in a French prison).

As a matter of fact, I think Marx would have been quite keen to have met Kropotkin on both these occasions. In the last years of his life (he was to die in 1883. aged 65) Marx took a great interest in Russia. He had always seen Tsarist Russia as a threat to democratic, let alone socialist advance in Western Europe and was interested in the prospects of an anti-Tsarist revolution there. He learned Russian and began to study in detail its history and social and political structure.

Kropotkins reputation during Marx's lifetime was not so much as an anarchist but as a Russian revolutionary with socialist leanings and as a geographer and explorer. Kropotkin came from a very privileged background. A member of the old Moscow aristocracy and a hereditary prince, he had been enrolled in the elite corps of pages, a military academy that supplied personal assistants to the Tsar. He had himself been the Tsar's personal page for a while, but when it came to choosing which regiment to be an officer in he opted not for some prestigious one but for a regiment of Cossacks in Siberia a first sign that he was becoming disillusioned with the Tsarist regime. In Siberia, where he did his exploring and geological studies, his liberal sentiments grew turning in revolutionary ones, especially after a visit to Switzerland in 1872/3 where he joined the IWMA (International Working Mens Association, or First International). On his return to Russia he became involved in a revolutionary circle, of the "go to the people" variety rather than the conspiracies to assassinate Tsarist officials and even the Tsars that later developed. He got arrested and was imprisoned, escaping, as I have mentioned, in 1876.

Marx would have loved to have met such a person and to have discussed with him the prospects for an anti-Tsarist revolution and for socialism in Russia including the Russian peasant commune (or mir). But the title of this talk is not "What Marx Would Have Said to Kropotkin". but what "Marx Should Have Said to Kropotkin". So what, then, should Marx have said?

Three things:
1. "Don't call me a State Socialist! I was putting forward a case for abolishing the State while you were still a toddler".
2. "With regard to paying people in labour-time vouchers in the early days of Socialist society, you were right and I was wrong. This was a silly, unworkable idea".
3. "Like me. You're a Socialist. We both want a stateless, moneyless, wageless society. Why then do you feel you have more in common with non-socialist opponents of the State than with me? After all, your disagreement with them is over ends, while you're disagreement with me is only over means".

Most people in this room will already know either from reading Marx themselves or from hearing the arguments that Marx was not what in the 1880s and 1890s was called a "State Socialist" but that, on the contrary, he was what might be called a "no-State Socialist". This, however, is not what most people out there, including many otherwise well-informed people, think. The myth of Marx the Statist is widely accepted, as a result, it has to be said, not just of his critics but also of many (perhaps even most) of those who have regarded themselves as his supporters.

But it is a myth and one that I'd like to begin by demolishing. The French marxologist, Maximilien Rubel, in an article first published in 1973 entitled "Marx: Theorist of Anarchism" has even argued that Marx was one of the pioneers of modern anarchism! I'm not sure I'd want to call Marx an anarchist without qualification, but I think a strong case can be made out for seeing Marx as the first person to put forward a full theory of no-state communism. Marx was, if you like, the first coherent and consistent theorist of an anarchist communist society. The quotes that I'll be using to show this are mostly taken from Rubel's article.

Marx became a Socialist, or Communist as it was then known and as Marx generally described himself, sometime in 1843. Before that he had been a simple Democrat and active as the editor of a Cologne newspaper financed by the radical section of the Rhineland capitalists and which advocated political democracy for Prussia (which governed the Rhineland) and Germany generally.

At this time Marx accepted the view of the then dominant school of political thought in Germany that of Hegel that the State was a higher realm of human activity than the realm of everyday economic activity ("civil society"). This was because, whereas in their everyday economic activity humans were acting in their own individual selfish interest (as they had to, to survive), the State was the realm in which they pursued the common good, the general interest of all. So the State in concrete terms, the law-making and law-enforcing institutions of society (the government, the parliament, the courts, the army, the police, prisons) was seen as representing the interests of the community as a whole. As indeed it still generally is seen.

Actually. Hegel was a great deal more philosophical than this, speaking of the State as the embodiment of reason, etc. He also saw the existing Protestant Christian Kingdom of Prussia as filling this role. But Marx and the group of Young Hegelians to which he then belonged argued that the State would not become the representative of the whole community until and unless all its citizens had an equal say in its decision-making processes, until, in other words, it had become a Democratic State.

When Marx became a Communist and came to reject individualism as the regulating principle of everyday economic life his perspective altered. The establishment of Communism would mean that it would be the realm of everyday economic activity that would become the realm in which humans pursued the common interest they would no longer be individuals trying to make an independent living in conflict with all others trying to do the same, but members of a real community cooperating to meet their needs. This meant that there would no longer be any need for another, separate and superior, realm of activity in which the common interest was pursued. There was no need, in other words, for a State.

In fact, once he had become a Communist Marx came to see the State as a false (or at least only a very partial) community and as a realm that only needed to exist where individualism was the regulating principle of everyday life. It was an institution that was only needed, and only arose, out of such conditions, in order to restrain economic individualism in case it should tear society apart.

Marx expressed these views in the first article he wrote after becoming a Socialist/Communist published in 1844 and called "On the Jewish Question". This was the question of whether or not Jews who did not convert to Christianity should be granted political and civil rights (in Prussia at that time only Christians could vote, be civil servants, army officers, etc). Naturally. Marx argued "yes", but went on to argue that "political emancipation", or the establishment of a Democratic State with equal political rights, for all, did not amount to full human emancipation.

Political emancipation and a Democratic State, he pointed out had been achieved in the US but humans there were still not in conscious control of their destiny as their lives were still dominated by money and the need to acquire it to survive. Human emancipation, could only be achieved in a communist society where needs would be satisfied directly without having to go through the medium of money. Such a moneyless, communist society would not require a State, not even a democratic one, since there would then no longer be any need for a separate, political realm in which the general interest was pursued this would be being done directly at the level of everyday life.

As Marx put it in the philosophical terms in which he then expressed himself:
"Man must recognise his own forces as social forces, organise them, and thus no longer separate social forces from himself in the form of political forces. Only when this has been achieved will human emancipation be complete" ( Jewish Question, 1844. Early Texts, p. 108).

So, what Marx was advocating was a society without money and without a State an anarchist communist society, if you like. And this remained his goal for the rest of his life, as a few quotes will confirm:
"The existence of the State and the existence of slavery are inseparable" (1844 article, Early Texts, p. 213).

"[The proletarians] find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State" (1845, German Ideology, p. 85).

Particularly significant is what he wrote in 1847 in The Poverty of Philosophy. This is a criticism of the economic views of Proudhon, the man who is regarded by Anarchists as the founder of modern anarchism. Proudhon wanted a society without government, a society he called "Anarchy". However, he was not a Socialist or Communist but an advocate of various cranky financial reforms in the context of a completely free market economy. In fact he was a bitter opponent of Communism as he believed that this would immensely increase the power of the government and turn people into State slaves (the common bourgeois objection to communism at the time.

So it is very relevant how Marx dealt with Proudhons views. Naturally, he shows that a free market economy based on free credit is not the answer. Communism is, but Marx underlines that this will be a society without a State:
"Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination culminating in a new political power? No ... 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" (Poverty of Philosophy, 1847. Pp 196-7).

Exactly the same point is made in the 1848 Communist Manifesto:
"When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of the associated individuals, the public power will lose its political character" (1848 Communist Manifesto, p. 81).

After the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871 Marx was called upon to write what amounted to an obituary for it on behalf of the General Council of the IWMA. He wrote various drafts for this statement which was published under the title The Civil War in France. In one of these drafts Marx wrote:
"This was, therefore, a Revolution not against this or that, Legitimate, Constitutional, Republican or Imperialist form of State Power. It was a Revolution against the State itself, of this supernaturalist Abortion of society, a resumption by the people for the people of its own social life. It was not a revolution to transfer it from one fraction of the ruling class to the other, but a Revolution to break down this horrid machinery of Class-domination itself" (p. 166).

This was an exaggerated description of what the Paris Commune was about (it was not the attempted socialist revolution that this suggests) and it was no doubt because of this that Marx did not include this passage in the final version. But it does show very clearly that Marx thought that the socialist revolution had to be a revolution against the State, not a revolution to establish a more powerful, centralised State.

I only want to give one more quote from Marx but a very significant one as in it he uses the actual word "Anarchy". In the course of the dispute that broke out in the IWMA after the suppression of the Paris Commune, Bakunin circulated a document in which he claimed Marx stood for a new State in which a new ruling class of ex-workers would rule over the mass of workers who would remain exploited and oppressed. Marx wrote some notes in the margin of his copy of Bakunin's pamphlet. Some are just words like "idiot" and "ass" but others are more substantial, including the following:
"All Socialists understand by "anarchy" this: the aim of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, once achieved, then the power of the State, which serves to keep the great producing majority under the yoke of a small exploiting minority, will disappear and the functions of government will be transformed into simple administrative functions"(1874).

Here Marx is saying, in explicit terms, that the communist society he sees as the aim of the working class movement is to be a no-state, no-government society. Here Marx is proclaiming himself to be an . . . . anarchist communist. Eight years before Kropotkin.

There can be no doubt that Kropotkin was a Socialist in the sense we use the term. In fact he probably did more than any other well-known 18th century Socialist to promote the idea that Socialism means not just a stateless but also a moneyless and wageless society a society where the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" would apply fully, where individuals would have free access to goods and services according to their own self-defined needs and without rationing of any kind. Kropotkin, in fact, always regarded himself as a Socialist and always called himself a Socialist.

Here, for instance, is what he wrote in an article in an English magazine in 1887:
"Common possession of the necessaries for production implies common enjoyment of the fruits of the common production; and we consider that an equitable organisation of society can only arise when every wage-system is abandoned, and when everybody, contributing for the common well-being to the full extent of his capacities, shall enjoy also from the common stock of society to the fullest possible extent of his needs "(1887, Anarchism Communism: Its Basis and Principles, p. 59).

The Swiss Jura Federation of the IWMA adopted "complete communism" as its aim in 1880. Previously it had stood for the common ownership of all productive resources but for a person's share in consumer goods and services to be proportional to the number of hours of work they had performed. Kropotkin and others criticised this as being only "incomplete" or "partial" communism and argued that a consistent communism implies free consumption according to individual needs as well as common ownership.

At this time Kropotkin (like many others) felt that capitalism could not last into the 20th century and that therefore a socialist resolution was more or less imminent. His articles from this periods (1880s) all advocate that the aim of this revolution should not be the formation of a revolutionary government nor the institution of a so-called "Workers State" (he actually used the term) but the immediate establishment of full communism.When a number of his articles from this period were collected together and published (in French, the language he wrote them in, though from 1886 he resided permanently in England till returning to Russia in 1917 after the overthrow of the Tsar) in 1892, Kropotkin gave the book the title The Conquest of Bread. This well sums up what he thought the revolution should be all about: not about conquering political power and setting up a new political regime (as had happened many times in France without altering the position of the majority of the people), but about meeting the immediate consumption needs for food, clothing and shelter of the impoverished majority. To this end. he advocated that all food, clothes and houses in areas won by the revolution should be put into a common pool to which every member of the oppressed class should have free access according to their basic needs.

The words Kropotkin used for "free access" were (in French) "pris au tas", literally "taking from the pile" or, colloquially, "help yourself, take what you need". If this wasn't done, said Kropotkin, then the Revolution would have failed. It has to be said, however, that Kropotkins conception of the form the Revolution would take was somewhat old-fashioned, even for his days: a series of town risings on the lines of the Paris Commune of 1871.

One of the articles that later appeared in The Conquest of Bread was called "The Wage System" (written in 1888, it appeared as a pamphlet in English in 1889). In my opinion, it is the best refutation that has been written of the idea of Labour Time Vouchers an idea, of course, that Marx somewhat unwisely endorsed in his 1875 comments on the Gotha programme of the German Social Democrats. Kropotkin's criticism was not in fact specifically aimed at Marx (he couldn't have known what Marx's views on the subject were since Marx's comments had not been made public at the time Kropotkin was writing). It was aimed at all those, including some anarchists as well as the German Social Democrats, who advocated the use of Labour Time Vouchers (LTVs), labour certificates, labour checks, labour chits, labour money, labour notes as they were variously called, to regulate consumption in a Socialist society.

Kropotkin put forward two simple, but effective arguments.

First, that it just didn't make sense to try to measure an individual's contribution to production. This was impossible since production was not (or no longer) individual, but was cooperative and social. All the workers in a particular factory or mine contributed to the product, but only as a group, not individually. In fact, in the end all that is produced is the result of the collective work effort of all the producers in all farms, mines, factories, transport, services, etc. So:
"No hard and fast line can be drawn between the work of one and the work of another. To measure them by results leads to absurdity. To divide them into fractions and measured them by hours of labour leads to absurdity also. One course remains: not to measure them at all, but to recognise the right of all who take part in productive labour first of all to live - and then to enjoy the comforts of life" (1888, The Wage System, p. 10).

Kropotkin's second argument was that, in any event, and even if production had still been individual, it still wouldn't be fair to ration a person's consumption by the number of hours worked. Because the skills they would be using would have been acquired only through society they weren't born with them, but were benefiting from the experience of countless past generations. And the towns and factories they worked in, as well as the general level of education and culture, were likewise the result of the work of past generations. So:
"A society that has seized upon all social wealth, and has plainly announced that all have a right to this wealth, whatever may be the part they have taken in creating it in the past, will be obliged to give up all idea of wages, either in money or in labour notes" (1888. The Wage System, p.8).

What Kropotkin was claiming was that to use LTVs to regulate consumption would be to retain the wages system.

If people are to be given labour vouchers to regulate consumption, this implies that goods and services have to be given labour-time "prices". I've got the word "prices" in inverted commas in my notes but I could as well have left them out, as it is clear that the LTV system does imply problems of supply and demand, inflation, devaluation, etc, even taxes, just like the ordinary monetary system does.

When he endorsed LTVs Marx never said anything about this, though he had done earlier when he had discussed and dismissed as unworkable various schemes that had been put forward for introducing labour money under capitalism. What he failed to realise was that many of his objections also applied to the use of LTVs in Socialism. LTVs were, or would rapidly have become, labour money and we'd be back to buying and selling and capitalism.

It was Kropotkin's merit to have seen this and to have denounced the LTV system as nonsense a criticism of course which we have long taken on board.

Kropotkin was also able to see that because they didn't really aim at abolishing the wages system, groups like the German Social Democrats stood not for socialism, but for State capitalism. In fact Kropotkin must have been one of the first to use this term, as for instance in his autobiography Memoirs of A Revolutionist that first appeared in 1899. And in one of another series of articles later published (in 1913) in Modern Science and Anarchism:
"We entirely differ from all the sections of state socialists in that we do not see in the system of state capitalism, which is now preached under the name of collectivism, a solution to the social question. We see in the organisation of the posts and telegraphs, in the State railways, and the like which are represented as illustrations of a society without capitalists nothing but a new, perhaps improved, but still undesirable form of the wage system" (1913, Modern Science and Anarchism, p. 170).
"Anarchism cannot see in the next coming revolutions a mere exchange of monetary symbols for labor-checks, or an exchange of present capitalism for state-capitalism" (p.195).

So, as I said, if Marx had met Kropotkin he ought to have conceded that he was wrong on labour-time vouchers and that Kropotkin was right.

Of course Marx could have said that, in the end, there is no point in discussing now how goods should be distributed in the early days of Socialism, since that will have to depend on how much there was to distribute at the time of the socialist revolution. In fact this is what he did say. Kropotkin was fully aware of this and one of the themes of the Conquest of Bread was to show that enough food, clothing and shelter already existed, or could very rapidly be brought into existence, to satisfy people's needs for them. He knew that his call for the revolution to bring in full communism immediately depended on this being the case, and he used his scientific approach and knowledge to demonstrate that it was. This was also the theme of his other book Fields, Factories and Workshops, the first edition of which came out in 1899. Whereas the assumption in the Conquest of Bread was that communism would and should be implemented to begin with in one town and its surrounding countryside, here Kropotkin set out to show that a self-sufficient anarchist communist society could be established in the two islands that make up the British Isles.

In the 1880s, as I said, Kropotkin really believed that a Socialist revolution was more or less round the corner. When it became clear that this was not the case, he settled down to trying to give anarchism a scientific basis in much the same way as Engels did for socialism. And just as Engels spoke of "scientific socialism", so Kropotkin spoke of "scientific anarchism". Kropotkin was in fact better-qualified to do this than Engels since he was actually a scientist himself, having made a major contribution to an understanding of the geology and geography of North East Asia and nearly becoming the Secretary of the Russian Geographic Society (he had been offered the post, but turned it down in order to devote his life to revolutionary activity).

Kropotkin's great achievement here was undoubtedly his book Mutual Aid (1902), which used to be on the bookshelves of every Socialist (in fact we used to sell it as a Socialist book along with those of Marx and Engels). Subtitled "A Factor in Evolution", this was a refutation of the Social Darwinist view (then very popular as a defence and justification of capitalism) that capitalism was natural as "the struggle for existence" and "the survival of the fittest" were inevitable features of all animal societies, including those formed by the animal species homo sapiens.

Kropotkin produced the evidence to show that "mutual aid" and cooperation had been an important factor in both biological and social evolution. It was the right book at the right time as far as Socialists were concerned and by the right person, a Socialist who had had some scientific training and experience. This no doubt explains its one-time immense popularity amongst critics of capitalism. It showed that nature was not like capitalism and that human beings were social, cooperating animals and not isolated, competing individuals. This has since been confirmed many times by other scientists anthropologists, ethnologists, sociologists and others and is now an integral part of the case for socialism as a refutation of the so-called "human nature" objection.

Incidentally, the American scientific writer Stephen Jay Gould in his collection of articles Bully for Brontosaurus has a chapter on Kropotkin called "Kropotkin Was No Crackpot" in which he says that most of what Kropotkin wrote in Mutual Aid has stood the test of time, even if he did commit the same fallacy as the Social Darwinists (to reach the opposite conclusion, of course) of arguing from what happened in the rest of nature to what should happen in human society.

Creating an anarchist tradition
The other thing Kropotkin did, once his revolutionary days were over, was to try to create an anarchist tradition separate and distinct from the socialist tradition. Originally, those who became the anarchists were one of a number of different groups within the First International, a group which saw themselves as Socialists and who called themselves Socialists. They stood for the end of the rule and privileges of the bourgeoisie, for the common ownership of productive resources, for the abolition of the wages system and for production for use not profit. In other words, they werepart and saw themselves as part of a broader anti-capitalist movement.

This, no doubt, is why we today would find just as much to agree with in the writings of those in this tradition Kropotkin, Malatesta. Rudolf Rocker, Alexander Berkman and others as we do in the writings of those more directly in our tradition like Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Plekhanov. And our differences with them on how to get to the classless stateless, wageless, moneyless society that is Socialism are no greater, or no less, than those with the Social Democratic tradition of the Second International from which we emerged.

Perhaps because he saw that most of those who called themselves Socialists (and the German Social Democrats in particular) stood in fact for State capitalism, Kropotkin became the prime mover in an attempt to invent a separate "anarchist" tradition. Although he himself was a thorough-going Communist, he dropped the insistence on standing for a moneyless and wageless society as a condition for admission to this tradition in favour of standing only for a stateless society.

As a result, some strange people, from a working class point of view, came to be included in particular extreme individualists like Max Stirner as well as various currency cranks and free marketeers and other advocates of complete laissez-faire in the tradition of Proudhon. All of them raving anti-Socialists but with whom Kropotkin felt some affinity just because they envisaged the disappearance of the State even though they were all in favour of money and the market.

It has to be said that Kropotkin (who wrote the contribution on "Anarchism" that appeared for years in the Encyclopaedia Britannica) largely succeeded in creating this anarchist tradition which lumped together all those who opposed the state from whatever point of view. It has affected anarchism ever since. Most anarchists today justify their anarchism not on the grounds that they want to abolish the State because it is an instrument of class oppression and defender of private property and capitalist exploitation, but on the grounds of the "right of the individual" to be unrestrained by any external authority. Look at the various anthologies of anarchism in the bookshops and you will see that the socialist element has shrunk to a distinct minority viewpoint.

The idea of the isolated, completely independent and unrestrained individual is an absurd proposition, both from the philosophical point of view and from the point of view of social theory. It assumes that the individual exists prior to society. And it is this that makes it absurd since, clearly, society exists prior to any particular individual. An individual human being does not, and could not, exist outside society: all the things that makes humans specifically human arose in and through society language, abstract thought, the transmission of acquired experience by non-biological means, the consciousness of being a separate individual, even our physical attributes (voice box, brain size), all these are social products.

Society is of course composed of individuals, but of social and already socialised individuals, not of previously independently-existing individuals who came together to set up society and who retain certain pre-existing rights against society, including the right not to comply with majority decisions if they don't want to. People who take up this position are opposing not so much the State as Society. The ironic thing here is that Kropotkin's Mutual Aid is one of the best refutations of extreme individualist position, which of course is shared by open supporters of capitalism as well as probably by most anarchists nowadays.

It was because he understood that anarchists, including some who regarded themselves as Communists, were taking up an anti-society rather than a simple anti-State position that William Morris always refused to call himself an anarchist; in fact to denounce anarchism (in this sense) as an impossibility. This from a man who is on record as saying:
"State Socialism? I don't agree with it, in fact I think the two words contradict one another, and that it is the business of Socialise to destroy the State and put Free Society in its place"(Morris, Commonweal, 17 May 1890, p.479).

So there would have been no need for Marx to have been clairvoyant in the early 1880s and warned Kropotkin against going off the rails by associating with anti-socialist, individualist anarchists as he was to after Marx's death. Morris could have done it for him, and no doubt did since Morris and Kropotkin met frequently up to Morris's own death in 1896.

It only remains to mention the sad end to Kropotkin's political life. When in 1914 war broke out Kropotkin came out in vociferous support of the British-French-Russian side against the German-Austro-Hungarian side in that struggle for markets, trade routes and spheres of influence. He was immediately disowned as a traitor (as he was) by most of the anarchist movement.

It was clear that his character was marred by a deep-rooted anti-German prejudice which led him to advocate and cheer on the slaughter of millions of workers in a conflict between two imperialist power blocs. Even after he returned to Russia following the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917 he still advocated continued Russian participation in the slaughter. The Russian soldiers, however, were more sensible. They voted with their feet, as Lenin put it, by simply walking away from the front.

Kropotkin died in Russia in February l921 and his funeral was the occasion of the last public opposition to the state capitalist regime Lenin and the Bolsheviks were setting up in Russia. He died a discredited old man, but this should not detract from his contribution to socialist ideas in the rest of his. life. After all. some others who we have always recognised made a contribution, such as Kautsky and Plekhanov, also took (separate) sides in this imperialist slaughter. And we are on record as criticising Marx for his support of the British-French-Turkish side in the Crimean War.

I want to end on a point anarchists should appreciate. This talk has been called "What Marx Should Have Said to Kropotkin". But neither Marx nor Kropotkin should be regarded as authorities, whose views should be accepted just because they put them forward. They should be regarded simply as two 19th century Socialists who made some interesting contributions to the development of Socialist ideas. Their views are not, and should not be regarded, as any more "authoritative" than those of any of us in this room. The case for a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society rests on the facts and on its own merits, not on what one or other great man may or may not have said or written.

Adam Buick

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Marx and corals

From the Cooking the Books column of the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his latest book, Coral, A Pessimist in Paradise, the biologist and popular science writer Steve Jones attributes to Marx the statement that "we see mighty coral reefs rising from the depth of the ocean into islands and firm land, yet each individual depositor is puny, weak, and contemptible". Marx was something of a polymath, but an expert on corals?

These words do appear in Capital – in chapter 13 of Volume I on "Co-operation" – but were not written by Marx. He was quoting a passage from a book by Richard Jones making the point that by working together humans can construct things which they would not otherwise be able to.

The Rev. Richard Jones (1790-1855) was the Rev. Malthus’s successor as Professor of Political Economy at the East India College in Haileybury. Marx held Jones in fairly high esteem – a whole chapter of Theories of Surplus Value is given over to a discussion of his views – because he did not regard capitalism as an ideal system deduced from assumptions about human nature but as just one historically evolved way of organising the production and distribution of wealth.

But to return to Jones the Biologist. After misattributing the quote to Marx, he continues, believing himself to be summarising Marx’s view:

"Every atoll proved that collective action, by polyps or by people, was a natural law. Society had been ruined by an altogether artificial medium called cash, which matured into capital and led to exploitation. In an ideal world all would give what they could and get what they needed. In time the state – and money – would lose its raison d’ĂȘtre and a global system of mutual aid would begin" (chapter III).

Although Marx did want a society without state or money in which people "would give what they could and get what they needed", he did not base the case for this on what happened in nature. That was the position set out by the anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin in his 1902 book Mutual Aid, A Factor in Evolution.

Kropotkin’s position has an obvious attraction for socialists as it would turn the tables and make socialism natural and capitalism unnatural. His book has always been popular amongst socialists as an answer to the Social Darwinists who argued that Darwin’s "struggle for existence" and "survival of the fittest" applied to human society too and that any attempt to limit it would lead to the degeneration of the human race.

Kropotkin sought to counter this argument by bringing forward evidence that the struggle for individual survival was not the only factor in biological evolution but that co-operation and mutual aid both within and between species were too. Kropotkin was a scientist in his own right – he had done some pioneering work on the geography of Siberia – and Jones says his contribution was taken seriously by biologists who called his theory "mutualism" (not to be confused with the market anarchism of that other anarchist Proudhon). It is now called "symbiosis" (literally, living together) and is a recognised fact of nature.

The trouble is that, whereas there is agreement on this fact, there is no agreement on its interpretation. While Kropotkin saw this as an argument for a co-operative, communist society, others have argued that it is not really mutual aid but rather mutual exploitation. As a self-confessed pessimist Jones tends to agree, but he does make the point that the science of biology can’t contribute anything to what he calls "philosophy" beyond supplying facts. He’s basically right, though we would express it differently: that conclusions about how human society should be organised cannot be derived from the behaviour of other organisms. The Social Darwinists (and their latter-day incarnation, the Sociobiologists) are wrong to try to do this but so, even if unfortunately, are Socialist Darwinists like Kropotkin. Marx was right to steer clear of such arguments and base the case for a stateless, moneyless communist society on an analysis of human society not biology.