Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) Socialist Education Series - Capitalism Will Not Collapse.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain and Pannekoek

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has long argued that capitalism will not collapse. We have stated that capitalism will continue from one crisis to the next until the workers have organised consciously and politically for its abolition. The considered position the SPGB has taken on crises since the 1930’s is that they are caused by disproportion in one or several areas of commodity production. Capitalism is inherently unstable. They cannot be prevented or predicted.

Crises can be great or small, intense or shallow but display no discernable patterns or regularity. They occur because of the economic laws of capitalism acting on commodity production and exchange for profit. Crises are not aberrations but perfectly normal outcomes of the contradictions within capitalism, particularly the contradiction between the forces of production and the social relations of production.

Have there been others who have shared the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s position on economic crisis? Some have pointed to Anton Pannekoek the so-called Left Communist who supported Direct Action in direct opposition to the revolutionary use of Parliament as advocated by the SPGB.

Here is a writer who believes there is a shared political and economic position between Pannakoek and the SPGB.

In many respects Pannekoek took a very similar line in his political and economic refutations of collapse theory as the SPGB” (THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN: POLITICS, ECONOMICS AND BRITAIN'S OLDEST SOCIALIST PARTY, D. Perrin p.n.104 2000).

Is this so? In what respect did he take a similar line.

In an early pamphlet THE UNIVERSAL CRISIS, Pannakoek wrote:

Whole populations have become pauperised and need help; the world becomes plunged more and more into chaos and misery. In face of this collapse of human society the mass of men stand deaf and blind. The bourgeoisie tries to make itself, and others, believe that the revolutionists are preparing a forcible destruction of capitalist society in order to replace it by a socialist one. It does not realise, that Capitalism is destroying itself, that Socialism is the only possibility, and the only foundation of reconstruction, which the human race must accept unless it wishes to perish together with Capitalism. THE CALL 5th February 1920).

At the time of writing this article, Pannakoek believed that “capitalism is destroying itself”. No statement like this appeared in the SPGB pamphlet CAPITALISM WILL NOT COLLAPSE. He went on to state that if the working class does not establish Socialism then they will “perish” along with the capitalist system. Again this has never been the position of the SPGB.

Later he changed his mind. But not in the direction of the position held by the SPGB. In another work: THE THEORY OF THE COLLAPSE OF CAPITALISM, published in 1934, Pannakoek wrote:

The workers’ movement has not to expect a final catastrophe, but many catastrophes, political — like wars, and economic — like the crises which repeatedly break out, sometimes regularly, sometimes irregularly, but which on the whole, with the growing size of capitalism, become more and more devastating. So the illusions and tendencies to tranquility of the proletariat will repeatedly collapse, and sharp and deep class struggles will break out. It appears to be a contradiction that the present crisis, deeper and more devastating than any previous one, has not shown signs of the awakening of the proletarian revolution. But the removal of old illusions is its first great task: on the other hand, the illusion of making capitalism bearable by means of reforms obtained through Social Democratic parliamentary politics and trade union action and, on the other, the illusion that capitalism can be overthrown in assault under the leadership of a revolution-bringing Communist Party.


The working class itself, as a whole, must conduct the struggle, but, while the bourgeoisie is already building up its power more and more solidly, the working class has yet to make itself familiar with the new forms of struggle. Severe struggles are bound to take place. And should the present crisis abate, new crises and new struggles will arise. In these struggles the working class will develop its strength to struggle, will discover its aims, will train itself, will make itself independent and learn to take into its hands its own destiny, viz., social production itself. In this process the destruction of capitalism is achieved. The self-emancipation of the proletariat is the collapse of capitalism. The Theory of the Collapse of Capitalism published in CAPITAL AND CLASS Spring 1977 trans. A. Buick

Crises and wars would now become worse and worse. These devastating crises were to be the catalyst for raising the workers’ class consciousness. Again, nothing like this was to be found in the SPGB pamphlet CAPITALISM WILL NOT COLLAPSE.

In fact the theory that “Capitalism will get worse and worse” is found in the propaganda of Trotskyist organizations like the SWP.

Here is a typical apocalyptic image from the Socialist Workers Party which is not too dissimilar to Pannakoek’s own views:

We would be facing fascist regimes armed with nuclear weapons, with devastation and death on a scale that even Hitler could not imagine. We would indeed facing a future of barbarism, if not the final destruction of the whole of humanity” (see THE ECONOMICS OF THE MADHOUSE: CAPITALISM AND THE MARKET TODAY by C. Harman section 25 Socialism or Barbarism 1995 p. 99).

It was a doctrine also to be found in the Second International as it grappled with Bernstein’s reformism.

Bernstein claimed that the central plank to the revolutionary critique of reformism was the inevitability of capitalism’s collapse. He erroneously pinned this doctrine on Marx.

Bernstein claimed that the existence of cartels would rationalize commodity production and exchange for profit and militate against the anarchy of the market. He also argued that the development of the credit system would improve the dissemination of market information between buyers and sellers and sharpen the means of communication within production. Instead of capitalism’s collapse he saw capitalism achieving market harmony. (see Tudor, H and J. M.(eds) MARXISM AND SOCIAL DEMOCRACY: THE REVISIONIST DEBATE 1896-8 CUP, 1988).

History has shown Bernstein’s claim of a regulated crisis free capitalism to be false. Crises have persisted; cartels did not create conditions of equilibrium and many were broken up by anti-trust legislation. The anarchy of commodity production and exchange continues.

Pannakoek’s own belief that worsening crises and wars will raise class consciousness has proven groundless. In fact the history of the 21st century has shown the opposite to be the case. 13 million people died between 1914-1918 and 55 million were killed between 1939 and 1945 but there was no increase in class consciousness and production for profit still took place.

So what did the SPGB say in the pamphlet WHY CAPITALISM WILL NOT COLLAPSE? This is what the SPGB wrote:

…the workers will never be able to take sound action until they possess the knowledge of Socialism that it is our aim to provide. So long as the workers lack knowledge of socialist principles, and determination to being Socialism about, crises will pass off in this fashion. As a matter of fact, it is not always true that the additional hardship makes the workers kick, even blindly, against capitalism. The capitalists are so well able to excite the workers’ fears, because of the lack of Socialist knowledge, that we often see the workers in times of crisis rallying round the most openly capitalist and reactionary parties” WhHY CAPITALISM WILL NOT COLLAPSE p. 15).

Mandel and the Collapse of Capitalism.

After the expulsion in May 1991 of Socialists who accepted and worked within the SPGB’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, the Clapham based Socialist Party set up a committee to assess crises “…its initial conclusions demonstrated that it was prepared to go beyond the view that an acceptance of disproportionality as the cause of capitalist slumps must mean that there is no pattern to capitalism’s economic cycle” (Perrin p. 102).

The pattern the Committee had in mind was that crises would get worse and worse leading to a collapse of capitalism. This is made clear by Perrin’s admiration for a similar doctrine advocated by the Trotskyist Ernest Mandel.

Based on Mandel’s remarks in the opening introduction to the third volume of CAPITAL (p.87-9) Perrin claims that:

given a steadily rising organic composition of capital it is mathematically impossible for a rising rate of exploitation to forever offset a declining rate of profit by adding to the entire mass of surplus value…such a situation would by no means lead inevitably to Socialism, but possibly descent into capitalist barbarism –absolute poverty, social crisis and ecological disaster…it would represent a return to the SPGB’s early (and at that time underconsumptionist based) recognition of the old social democratic nostrum of “socialism or barbarism”. (p. 102-103).

In answering Perrin’s remark, there are three points which can be made.

First, Contra Mandel, in his opening introduction of CAPITAL VOLUME 1, Marx never predicted that the rate of profit will actually collapse to the point where capitalists would not be able to re-invest. There is no passage in the three volumes of CAPITAL or THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE which supports this claim.

The “Law” of the rate of profit to fall in its simplest form was expressed as follows: when s/v (the ratio of surplus value to variable capital) is constant and c/v (the ratio of constant to variable capital) is rising, the profit rate s/ (c+v) must fall. Marx did note state this was a law but a tendency toward a progressive fall”. But he went on to say:

[c]ounbteracting influences [are] at work, checking and cancelling the effect of the general law”.

He went on to say that the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall

has constantly been overcome by way of crises” (CCAPITAL VOLUME III p 367).

Marx did not see the fall in the rate of profit as an observable trend but something that would occur if there were no counteracting forces such as the rate of surplus value to rise.

In fact Marx highlighted the devaluation of the means of production particularly in a crisis (see CAPITAL VOLUME III chap. 15, esp. The conflict between the extension of production and valorization pp. 355-58, and Surplus Capital alongside Surplus Population p362-63).

Marx’s interest was in the role of crises in relation to capital accumulation not in long-term decline in the rate of profit.

Of course, both Smith and Ricardo did hold to an “iron law” showing the rate of profit to fall without considering any countervailing tendencies. Smith believed that the ratye of profit would decline as a result of competition between capitalists. In chapter 9 of The wealth of Nations (1776 Penguin p. 97) he discussed “profits of stock” and used the example of the large profits to be made in a new colony to argue that while large profits were initially possible in the long run they would fall as competition developed.

This was not the case with Marx.

When running a detailed critique against Ricardo’s theory of accumulation Marx wrote:

When Adam Smith explains the fall in the rate of profit [as stemming] from the superabundance of capital…he is speaking of a permanent effect and this is wrong. As against this, the transitory superabundance of capital, overproduction and crises are something different. Permanent crisis do not exist (THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE, Ch. XVII, Ricardo’s Theory of Accumulation and a Critique of it Volume III note to the bottom of the text, page 128)

Marx saw capitalism’s economic crises as unavoidable and periodic.

He wrote:

…capitalist production moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, overtrade, crisis and stagnation” (WAGES, PRICE AND PROFIT in Selected Works Volume 1, p. 440).

Nowhere did Marx state that capitalism would collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

This brings us on to Professor Mandel’s Introduction to the Penguin edition of CAPITAL VOLUME III (p 79).

Mandel admits that there is no support for a collapse theory in Marx’s presentation of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall or anywhere else in volume III of CAPITAL.
However Mandel claims that there are passages in CAPITAL VOLUME I which support a view that Marx held a collapse theory of capitalism.

Only one example is given by Mandel. And upon investigation it has nothing to do with the issue of capitalism’s collapse.

In the passage cited by Mandel, Marx considers the tendencies he has examined within capital accumulation as a historical and contradictory movement. And he concludes that all things being equal the “the expropriators” will be “expropriated”. This is about the intensity of the class struggle as capitalism develops not about its collapse. The abolition of capitalism is not the same as a collapse of capitalism.

Second there is the question of the mathematics of the organic composition of capital rising more rapidly than the rate of surplus value to which Perrin refers in his argument for the collapse of capitalism into “barbarism”. Totally ignoring Marx’s countervailing forces, he assumes that there is no limit to the organic composition of capital. It is very poor mathematical reasoning.
Let us set out his “reasoning”.

In terms of the organic composition of capital (c:v) the ratio of constant © to variable capital (v) can either be 1:1, or it can rise to 2:2 or 2:3 or any numerical relationship you wish to imagine.

What of the rate of surplus value. Is there a limit? Mathematically socially necessary labour can never be reduced to zero since it would leave the working class is a worse than “crippled state”; that is they would starve to death.

From these two propositions, Perrin draws the conclusion that the organic composition of capital can rise indefinitely while the rate of surplus value runs into an insurmountable barrier. Therefore: “descent into barbarism”.

This is not mathematical reasoning but a total misunderstanding of Marx.

Perrin confuses a falling rate of profit with a decline in the amount of profit (or surplus value) available for capital accumulation and concludes –once the premise is accepted –that Marx had shown an eventual collapse of capitalism.

Of course Marx raised the question of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and answered it.

If we consider the enormous development of the productive powers of labour, even comparing but the last 30 years with all former periods; if we consider in particular the enormous mass of fixed capital, aside from machinery in the strict meaning of the term, passing into the process of social production as a whole, then the difficulty which has hitherto troubled the vulgar economists, namely, that of finding an explanation for the falling rate of profit, gives way to its opposite, namely to the question: how is it that this fall is not greater and more rapid? There must be some counteracting influences at work which thwart and annul the effects of this general law, leaving it merely the character of a tendency” (CAPITAL VOLUME III).

Marx recognised five countervailing forces which may lower the organic composition, or raise the rate of surplus value or exploitation, to modify this tendency of the rate of profit to fall (CAPITAL, VOLUME III pp 232-7). These are;

• Increase in the intensity of exploitation, which raises the rate of surplus value independently of any increase in the organic composition of capital

• Depression of wages below the value of labour-power

• Cheapening the elements of constant capital through capital-saving innovations that reduce the organic composition of capital (occ).

• Relative over-population through the industrial reserve army of the unemployed which encourages the expansion of industries with a low occ.

• Foreign trade

In conclusion; Marx never expected the rate of profit to reach zero. He never expected the organic composition of capital to constantly rise.

Third, there is another practical refutation of Mandel’s fanciful theory of full automation in production.

Mandel considers full automation in production over all areas of the economy. He believes this would lead to a reduction in the total volume produced and then to a reduction in the total surplus value produced.

Such a reduction would, Mandel believes, lead to a four-fold collapse of capitalism;

• A crisis in the decline of the rate of profit

• A huge crisis in realisation of surplus value on the grounds that no one would have wages to buy what commodities are produced

• Mass unemployment leading to a social crisis and revolution

• Capital destruction leading to intolerable living conditions threatening the physical survival of the human species and to the very life on the planet.

Mandel concludes that once full world-wide industrialisation takes place we are doomed.

He writes:

So it is impossible to see how capitalism can escape its final fate: economic collapse”. (loc cit p. 88).

In short, conditions of barbarism.

Is this true? Another way at looking at the problem is to consider the claims made for the increasing use of technology to lead to more and more unemployment. Over the past 50 years economists and scientists have claimed the development of technology and robotics will mean less and less people in work.

In December 1954 the European Productivity Agency of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), published a report on the Technical Progress and Full Employment. It forecast “an unprecedented displacement of manpower”. And went on to say;

Some economists predict that within the foreseeable future the average worker will be able to produce at least the amount of goods now produced by five men. Examples can be found where one worker operating the new equipment produces as much goods as 100 more produced before.

Taking 20 years as “the foreseeable future, and as the number of workers in employment was approximately the same in 1974 as in 1954, the volume of national production in 1974 according to the OEEC report, should have been 400 times the level of 1954. It actually increased by only 60% they were wrong too about their prediction of a huge “displacement of manpower”.

Unemployment in 1974 was still very low, at 2.6% compared with 1.5% in 1954. The OEEC failed to recognise as does Mandel that a necessary part of the labour required increasing productivity has to include the labour needed for the production and servicing the new equipment.

How many businesses now employ an IT unit of computer specialists whose function it is to repair computers, which have failed to work and repair the network when it crashes? Then there are the services I.T, specialists who come in and up-grade or replace the existing hard or soft ware. And so on.

In December 1963, almost a decade later, a conference called to discuss the question of full employment met in San Francisco. Dr. Arthur Carstens, Director of Labour Programmes for the Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, addressed the conference with these words;

I think we will in the next decade, learn to produce all the goods we need in the US with 2% of the working population.

He thought that the rest of the workers would have to find what he called “made work”, such as “selling second mortgages to each other, or engaging in psychiatric work”.

Other speakers at the Conference forecast a vast increase in unemployment. But ten years later unemployment, which had been 5.7% in 1963, was 6% in 1973.

A year later, in an article in THE PEOPLE (6.12.1964), Arthur Helliwell reported that in the US;

Experts estimate that robots are gobbling up jobs at the rate of 40,000 to 70,000 a week. This means that between 2 million and 3.5 million men are being thrown out of work every day in a country where there are already 5 million unemployed.

If those experts had been correct, unemployment in the US would now be between 68 and 119 million-it is actually 7,236,000 (INTERNATIONAL MARKETING DATA AND STATISTICS, 1998).

What is forgotten is the fact that computers break down and need to be serviced. The computer sector has actually generated employment in its own right, from production through to exchange, particularly with the growth of home computers which increased by 25% from the 1980’s to 1996 (source: Salomon Brothers, July 1997).

It is forgotten by many economists that commodities have to be sold and have given rise to large computer warehouses and outlet stores.

In his Reith lectures in 1965 the late Sir Leon Bagritt, Chairman of Elliot Automation, said;

In the United States…one man on the land produces more than enough food to feed fifteen men in the cities and in fact there is a surplus of food grown by this small proportion of the American labour force.

It is clear that he knew nothing about farming and food production. Most “farm” workers do not work on farms. Most of the labour required in the production of food is the labour of workers in industries supplying input for agriculture such as chemical fertilisers, weed killers, pesticides. Machinery, tractors, oil, electricity, cattle foods and so on, and in the canning and food processing industries.

The 1970’s saw these extravagant claims continue. There was a report by The DAILY MAIL (16.7.73) of a statement made by Jack Peel, Director of Industrial Relations for the Common Market Commission, and formerly a trade union official.

Mr Peel said;

Well before the end of the century less than 50% of the population of working age will be working.

His prediction was utterly wrong. In the final decade of the 20th century there were in Britain some 27.8 million in work out of a working population of about 35 million. Not to be outdone, Professor Stonier was reported in THE TIMES (13.11.78) as giving evidence to the Government Central Policy Review Staff in which he said;

Within 30 years Britain will need no more than 10% of its labour force to supply all its material needs.

In 1980, under the heading of “By 2001 only 1 in 10 may be working”, The EVENING STANDARD reviewed a book by Professor Stonier. No critical analysis was given by the newspaper to Professor Stoner’s preposterous claims. If the forecast had been correct and if unemployment had been rising from the 6% of 1978 to 90%, unemployment would now be 8 million and rising fast.

Professor Stonier fell into the same error as Sir Leon Bagritt. THE TIMES (13.11.94) reported Professor Stonier as follows;

Professor Stonier says his analysis is based largely on historical experience. At the beginning of the 18th century 92% of the labour force worked on farms; today only 2% do so. In the United States about 3% of the labour force produce practically all the country’s domestic food needs plus substantial exports.

It is the elementary error of not comparing “like” with “like”.

In the 18th century a farm was almost entirely self-contained. Now its input is largely dependent on imputes from a number of other industries.

So why did the forecasters get it wrong? There is a common factor in most of the forecasters disproved by events. It is that the forecasters looked at what was happening in the final stage of each industry’s production process and failed to take into account the process as a whole.

As, for example, looking at the labour displaced by a machine and ignoring the labour needed for the production, maintenance and operation of that machine.

It was left to Marx to provide a valid measurement of productivity and its increase by the application of his labour theory of value. In accordance with that theory the value of a commodity corresponds to the total amount of labour socially necessary to produce it. But, that amount of labour is not merely the labour needed in the last stage of production but the whole production, from start to finish. Marx wrote;

In calculating the exchangeable value of a commodity we must add to the quantity of labour last employed the quantity of labour previously worked up in the raw material of the commodity, and the labour bestowed on the implements, tools, machinery and buildings with which such labour is assisted (CAPITAL vol 1).

How important it is to make calculations on the “whole” labour and not the “last” labour alone can be illustrated from the bakery industry. Some years ago a writer, mistakenly, stated that if, through improved methods, the number of workers in a bakery was cut by half that would halve the value of a loaf of bread.

By far the greater part of labour required to produce loaves of bread is the labour applied before the flour reaches the bakery producing the grain, milling it and transporting it, producing the machinery, the buildings, the fuel etc. It is probably not far wrong to assume that, of the labour of 100 workers needed to produce a given quantity of loaves of bread, 90 of the workers are “previous” labour, and only 10 are “last” labour in the bakery.

If the bakery labour is reduced from 10 to 5, the calculation of productivity based, wrongly, on the last labour alone makes it appear that output per worker has doubled, an increase of 100%. By the correct calculation, based on the fact that it now takes only 95 men to produce the quantity of loaves before by 100 men, average output per man has increased, not by 100 per cent, but by approximately 5%.

It is interesting to notice that the calculations of the increase of “output per person employed” compiled by the Government Statistical service, the Office for National Statistics, are based on the same principles as that used in Marx’s formula.

Capitalism does not get worse and worse and reach a point where it collapses into barbarism. Mandel in his introduction mentions the genocide which took place throughout the 20th century; that is true, but capitalism persisted showing no signs of collapse.

Wars, for example are a fact of life under capitalism with some wars more destructive than others.

It took the South almost a century to recover from the devastation of the American Civil War with 630,000 dead and its trench warfare foreshadowing the First World War. Genocide too place against the Indians, in Africa by the colonialists and elsewhere in the world like New Zealand and Australia where there was a scramble for land. Then there is the reprisals after the Paris Commune which saw the streets run red with blood. Capitalism has never been civilized.

Of course wars have become more destructive since the 19th century but it does mean that wars become so pervasive over the world market that they prevent class exploitation taking place or dislodge the capitalist class from their ownership of the means of production.

Of course a nuclear war, nuclear accident or some cosmic catastrophe like a meteor crashing into the Earth might end most life as we know it. But the Socialist case against capitalism has never rested and does not rest on an apocalypse. Instead it has rested on the simple fact that the means of production are owned by a capitalist class for the purpose of class exploitation and profit.

And from the private ownership of the means of production, profit is derived from exploiting the majority by paying the working class less in wages and salaries than the actual wealth they produce. Class power and privilege ensures that capitalism can never be made to run in the interest of the working class.

The case for Socialism does not rest on apocalyptic propaganda

The case for Socialism against Capitalism set out in the OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES was just as valid in 1904 as it was in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War, 1930 at the beginning of the depression, in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War, in 1976, 1980, and 1990 at the start of three minor depressions and today where the banking system might be largely bankrupt but workers are still producing surplus value and the capitalist class still own the means of production.

Capital in motion; that is capital accumulation as a historical process, is a contradictory movement generating a cyclical trade cycle and class struggle. At times crises can be long and deep, shallow or short; some wars more destructive than others but the class exploitation continues because the means of production are still owned by the capitalist class.

Both crises and class struggle impress themselves on workers to question and dissent but a socialist movement is not linear and progressive. Questioning of some or all of capitalism does not necessarily lead to class consciousness and socialist political action. Dissent can remain just dissent. If it were any magic buttons to press the case Socialism would have been established by now. There is no quick cut to Socialism. It is a hard, unremitting and constant struggle.

Socialist action requires principle; consistency and dedication. It means a life time work and sacrifice. But it is not all for nothing. Class consciousness brings with it a responsibility once capitalism is understood there is no other course of political action. A socialist has to propagate Socialist ideas as best as possible with the resources at hand. Nevertheless it is better to have been a Socialist and to attempt with other socialists the establishment of a world free from the problems caused by the profit system than to have become defeatist, cynical and quiescent.

Socialist propagenda has to be reasonable, factual and consistent. Socialists claim that the case for Socialism is within the grasp of any open-minded worker. Workers have to be shown why capitalism is the cause of their social problems and why Socialism is a necessary outcome. Socialism cannot be presented as a “good idea” just as workers cannot be frightened into becoming Socialists through apocalyptic propaganda.

Consider Marx. He showed that capitalism will always exploit the working class. He concentrated his propaganda on class exploitation and the social consequences of class exploitation.

In the process of capital accumulation and class exploitation Marx, highlights in Capital both the severe problems facing the working class and their collective solution to them.

Marx begins by setting out an “absolute general law of capitalist accumulation” which would engender “a mass of consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse proportion to its torment of labour”.

However, Marx points out that the law “is modified in its workings by many circumstances” adding “the analysis of which does not concern us here” (CAPITAL VOLUME I, Ch. XXV, p. 644)

Marx was under no illusion that the “lot of the labourer must grow worse” whether “his payment (is) high or low” p. 645

And Marx specifies, at this stage of his analysis what he meant by the conditions of workers becoming worse under capitalist accumulation:

• All means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers

• They mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man

• Destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into hateful toil

• They estrange him from the intellectual potentialities of the labour-process in the same proportion that science is incorporated in it as an independent power

• They distort the conditions under which he works

• Subject him during the labour-process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness

• They transform his life time into working time

• And they drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the Juggernaut of capital

Of course, Marx’s analysis of the general law of capitalist accumulation at this point has only just begun. His analysis passes from being a “general law” to a “tendency” much as he was to do in his discussion of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. He ends his discussion on capital accumulation in chapter 32 with The Historical tendency of Capitalist accumulation.

Marx repeats that with development of capitalism “the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation grows” (p. 929). But he ends his discussion on a positive note.

With the increased development of capitalism production becomes a fetter on production; the means of production and social labour become incompatible with social relations of production; the result; rising socialist consciousness, political action and Socialist revolution.

Marx and Class Consciousness

Marx, according to Engels, had complete confidence in the “intellectual development of the working class” (see Friedrich Engels’ preface to the 1888 edition of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO). The working class, for Marx, has the potential to act as a “class for itself” and create a society without capital, buying and selling, wage labour and class exploitation.

Marxism is, as Engels noted, “not a dogma, but a guide to action”. Marxism, if it is to remain a science, must be a living, developing theory, capable of continuous growth, which has to analyzes and respond to an ever changing social reality — a reality which has in fact changed enormously since Marx’s day. And the reality Socialists face is that it is very hard at the moment to persuade workers of the necessity of abolishing capitalism and establishing Socialism.

Socialist consciousness is not a linear development; other forces act against its development; reforms, parties claiming to be socialist, the power of the capitalist media, schooling, religion, nationalism and so on. These are contemporary barriers to Socialism but they are not insurmountable. Socialists have one important factor in their favour; capitalism can never be made to run in the interest of the working class and the social pain of poverty, war and exploitation will always be the lot of workers while they allow capitalism to remain in existence.

The case for Socialism exists no matter whether there is a war or preparation for war (peace can only ever exist in Socialism). Workers cannot be terrorized into becoming socialists. Apocalyptic propaganda which states that if workers do not become socialists, capitalism will collapse into some social or environmental dystopia rests on irrationality not reason; political deceit rather than political honesty.

Socialists instead agree with Engels who wrote:

the time of surprise attacks, of revolutions, carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul. The history of the last fifty years has taught us that. But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long persistent work is required…p. 25 Engels, Preface to MARX'S THE CLASS STRUGGLES IN FRANCE 1848 TO 1850 Progress Publishers1979 p. 25).

The Party did not believe that during depressions workers were any more class conscious than at other times. The SPGB pointed out that during a crisis:

…the workers were prepared to follow almost any group that promised immediate relief for the misery that afflicted them. It was this uninformed discontent that swelled radical parties, giving the false impression of progress, and then, when the period of acute misery had temporarily passed, depleted them again” (Socialist Party of Great Britain: THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS 1948 p. 27)

Crises, like war and exploitation will continue until the working class take conscious political action to replace Capitalism with Socialism.

As the SPGB wrote:

So long as the workers are prepared to resign themselves to the evils of capitalism, and so long as they are prepared to place in control of Parliament parties that will use their power for the purpose of maintaining capitalism, there is no escape from the effects of capitalism. The workers will continue to suffer from the normal hardships of the capitalist system when trade is relatively good and from the aggravated hardships which are the worker’s lot during trade depression” (p 16 SPGB pamphlet CAPITALISM'S FUTURE with reprint of Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse 1932)

The SPGB case for Socialism is not that capitalism causes crises but that the means of production are owned by a capitalist class and as a result the working class are exploited and their so

cial problems flow from this social reality.

Capitalists and workers form a social relationship around the ownership of the means of production.

Capitalists own the means of production which are used with the commodity labour power to produce the unearned incomes of rent, interest and profit.

The working class do not own anything thing except their ability to work which is sold to the capitalist for a wage or salary. Workers produce more social wealth in a working week than they receive in wages and salaries. They are an exploited class.

Both capitalists and workers face each other over the intensity and extent of exploitation. Politically they face each other over the ownership of the means of production.

The class struggle creates two different realities within capitalism; one associated with the capitalists another with the working class.

One is a reality from the perspective of capital; the other from the perspective of the working class.

The differences resolve itself around interests; a world working class having diametrically opposite interests to the capitalist class.

The capitalist class has no interest in the abolition of capitalism from which it derives its wealth and privilege. The working class has every interest in abolishing capitalism and establishing Socialism; that is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Understanding class interests means recognising the existence of a class. Class consciousness means recognition that workers have identical interests throughout the world; that a world capitalist class confronts a world working class over the ownership of the means of production..

Once class recognition is established there is the understanding that capitalism is not permanent and natural but social and transitory. In short capitalism is historical with a beginning and end in class struggle.

The insight that capitalism has a beginning and an end in class struggle sets the foundations for the worker’s political activity around the private ownership of the means of production.

At first the contest is carried on by individual workers, then by the workers of a factory, then by workers of a trade, in one locality, against the bourgeois who directly exploits them… But with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in numbers, it becomes concentrated in greater masses…The clashes between individual workers and individual bourgeois increasingly take on the character of clashes between two classes…THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.

The workers form a class by private property being privately owned. They are forced to confront capital as a class “in itself” and the consciousness of this fact makes them into a class “for itself”.

The reality for workers is not as individuals but as a class. Class consciousness is consciousness of a class not individuals because the means of production and its ownership concerns relations between classes not individuals.

The problem for individual workers is that they do not understand they are part of a class; that understanding can only take place as capitalism develops and the class struggle deepens. And the development hinges on the objective -subjective recognition that a worker see his labour power both as a commodity and that the commodity represents a fetished view of social relationships. Once a worker reaches this point of consciousness capitalist production loses its mystery and conscious awareness of capitalism become political.

The worker’s position within capitalist production as part of social labour gives him a privileged position of capitalism in its concrete reality. However this privileged position is nothing without political action. And this is reflected in the following propositions:

• The class struggle is in fact a political struggle

• Capitalism is a social system with a beginning and an end in class struggle

• The working class is the last class in human history and its establishment of socialism will end class exploitation.

• In gaining political power through revolution and turning private into common ownership of the means of production classes disappear along with the machinery of government.

Class consciousness as socialist consciousness recognises that the political struggle to abolish capitalism dissolves the working class as a class to leave free men and women as social labour to use the means of production directly to meet human need.

At the moment such class consciousness is barely a flicker.

What is the relationship between socialist ideas of which Marxist theory forms a large part and the working class?

In the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO Marx stated that theory is the general expression of the class struggle of a historical movement. Socialist theory and ideas do not come from outside this movement but from inside as part of the political struggle. Working class theory and practice as socialist movement form a unity.

The working class have a day-to-day response to the class struggle and a political struggle to abolish capitalism. This contradiction is at the root of the working class as a movement; it is a constituent part of capitalism while it sells its labour power to capitalists but it is also its negation by freeing itself from the wages system.

That is why Marxian ideas are located with the working class movement; to move the working class from economically struggling within capitalism to politically struggling against capitalism.

Revolution is the point in the movement of working class development where struggle within become struggle against and the flow becomes unstoppable.

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Socialist Studies

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