Will Capitalism Last Forever?
Will Capitalism Last Forever?
Will capitalism last forever as its supporters claim? Is the world we currently live in, with its squalor, poverty, pollution, human degradation, war and destruction, the final pinnacle of social evolution?
No social system has lasted forever so why should capitalism be any different? Primitive Communism, the slave societies of Greece and Rome and the agrarian serfdom of Feudalism have all come and gone. Even the most entrenched of totalitarian regimes were vulnerable to change. There was no “Thousand Year Reich”. Empires have arisen, flourished, decayed and disappeared. And who would have imagined state capitalism in Eastern Europe vanishing within a few years following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989?
What is so special about capitalism that its adherents believe it will last forever? Capitalism is not natural but social, with a historical beginning in class struggle and a potential end in class struggle. It took a revolutionary capitalist class over three centuries of violence to free itself from the constraints of Feudalism; first in 17th century Britain, then in the American colonies, then in late 18th century France, mid - 19th century Europe and early 20th century Russia until there was a world-wide capitalist system made-up of competing nation states all containing a diametrically opposed employing class and an exploited working class.
Why will the profit system buck the historical trend and not end with the class struggle between capital and labour pushed to its final limit with the establishment of Socialism? Why the pessimism? Are the ideas and beliefs held by defenders of capitalism similar to the thinking of theologians? For partisan theologians all rival religions are social constructs except their own religion which has the metaphysical attributes of divine legitimacy. For economists, and politicians and other defenders of capitalism all class societies prior to capitalism are said to be socially formed. Only capitalism is deemed natural and immune from social change.
However, just as the development of natural science drives out theology as an explanation of the world in which we live, so the historical process of social evolution expressed in the materialist conception of history shatters pretensions of social permanency. “All that is solid melts into air”: wrote Marx in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (Socialist Party of Great Britain, The Communist Manifesto – and the Last One Hundred Years, Centenary Edition 1948 loc cit p. 63). Nothing is permanent. Nothing stands still forever.
For class exploitation is bound up with the class struggle. And the class struggle derives from the extent and intensity of exploitation at the heart of commodity production and exchange for profit. Workers produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries. A portion of the social wealth workers produce goes to the capitalist class as unearned income in the form of rent, interest and profit. Workers work necessary time for themselves and surplus time for their employers with one class trying to shorten the working day, the other trying to lengthen it; with one class trying to reduce the intensity of work, the other trying to intensify it as much as possible.
Nevertheless the class struggle is not just about economic conditions of class exploitation. Politically, the class struggle has far wider consequences for the continued existence of capitalism. Marx stated in the opening sentence to section I of THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (loc cit p. 60).
The class struggle, for Marx, is a political struggle; the motor force of history. The resolution of the class struggle changes society in a revolutionary way. In the past, the replacement of one class with another still generated the class struggle as a new class tried to free itself from the constraints placed upon it by an incumbent ruling class. The same is not the case with capitalism where the working class is the last class in social evolution to free itself from class coercion and exploitation. Unlike capitalism, Socialism will be a classless society.
To believe, as the former Conservative Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan did in his 1959 election victory address, that “The class struggle is over” (TIMES, October 9th 1959), to believe as the former Prime Minister, John Major, did, when he announced in 1990 his intention to create a “classless society” (TODAY, 24 November, 1990) and to believe as the former TGWU leader Lord Morris did when he announced to the TUC in September 1997 that the class struggle was “an invention of the Russians during the cold war”, shows an ignorant misunderstanding of class, class relations and the class struggle on the one hand and the reasons why class conflict occurs on the other. No political power can end the class struggle taking place in capitalism except through a Socialist revolution by a Socialist majority no matter how long the revolutionary process takes.
The Class Struggle
The class struggle, then, is a political struggle. It arises from the fact that the means of production is owned by the capitalist class to the exclusion of the rest of society. The means of production is protected by the machinery of government; the armed forces, police and judiciary through Parliament: “The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (loc cit p.62)
However, it is not in the government’s power to end the class struggle. The class struggle is embedded within commodity production and exchange for profit. Capitalism cannot meet the needs of all society. Capitalism’s drive for profit makes this impossible. Capitalists have to exploit the working class in order to make a profit with numerous social consequences. Even if capitalism lasts out this century certain negative characteristics will still remain:
* Periodic economic crises, trade depressions and high levels of unemployment
* Social alienation and social dislocation
Dissent and questioning of the profit system will still take place. Socialists will still be created by exploitation, the class struggle and the inability and disinterestedness of capitalism to meet the needs of all society.
The belief – or better still the wishful thinking - that capitalism will last forever is, therefore, preposterous. And there is a very good Marxist reason why: the development of the working class from what Marx called, a class “in itself” to a class “for itself” (POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY, International Publishers p.173, 1963).
What is the working class?
What is the working class? It is not the media’s crass caricature of the working class – a caricature described by the journalist Nick Cohen as “prole-porn” (Looking Back at the Ruins in WAITING FOR THE ETONIANS p. 15, 2009) with its supposed predilection for binge-drinking, drugs, junk food, cigarettes, casual sex and violence and use of estuary English. The working class is not composed of “mindless proles” to be found in novels like Orwell’s 1984 and the feckless “white trash” shown in television “comedies” like LITTLE BRITAIN and SHAMELESS. Nor is it the working class described by academics in dry-as-dust sociological text books, where social class is narrowly defined as a group of passive and apolitical consumers constrained within arbitrary alphabetical bands.
A scientific definition of the working class is the one offered by Marx and The Socialist Party of Great Britain. The working class, “…by whose labour alone wealth is produced” (Clause 1 of the SPGB’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES), forms a majority in capitalism. And the working class is defined as having no ownership of the means of production. Instead, the working class majority, with all its knowledge, social skill and co-operation, both manual and intellectual, is forced to sell its ability to work for a wage and a salary.
The working class is world-wide in composition, a class with identical interests no matter where they live; a working class facing a class of capitalists: All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority (loc cit p. 71)
The Socialist case against capitalism is not a question of morals but one based on the fact that capitalism, as a social system, is historically redundant. Rather than directly meet human need, capitalism deliberately under produces. Capitalism creates artificial scarcity.
The 20 million unemployed workers in the European Union is just one example of the failure of capitalism to meet the needs of all society. So too is the destruction of means of production which takes place in trade depressions as well as the stock piling of unsold commodities and the deliberate cutting back of production in the face of lower or non - existent profit expectations.
The class relations of production continue, year by year, to act as a fetter on the productive forces. There is nothing capitalists or their politicians can do about this tendency. And it is this tendency which will deepen the class struggle leading to the spread of socialist ideas, the formation of Socialists within the working class, the building up of Socialist Parties throughout the world, and the global establishment of Socialism.
Socialism is both Practical and Possible.
Of course, the development of the working class as a result of the class struggle is not smooth and uniform. Marx made this point in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO where he said that the working class would experience ups and downs; gains and losses. He wrote:
“The organisation of the proletarians into a class; and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves” (loc cit p.69).
Unlike the Roman Proletariat, which perished with the fall of Imperial Rome, the working class has developed from an incoherent mass to a sophisticated class capable of politically thinking for itself, becoming a Socialist movement and establishing a Socialist Party.
The working class has come far. And it is a positive development. The sprinkling of socialists across the globe, though, is not enough. There has to be the formation of a socialist majority. Socialism and the establishment of Socialism depend on the conscious organisation and political activity of a working class majority throughout the planet. World Capitalism has to be replaced by World Socialism.
A Socialist majority, acting consciously and politically through a Socialist Party, based on principles and a sole Socialist objective, can establish Socialism. A Socialist majority enjoys the revolutionary use of the vote and access to Parliament where political power resides. And a Socialist majority, through instructions to Socialist delegates, can secure the machinery of government in order to ensure the smooth transformation from capitalism to Socialism.
The idea of the self - emancipation of the working class is central to Marx’s political thought as a socialist revolutionary. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, too, has made self - emancipation of the working class a central principle. This is what clause 4 and 5 of the SPGB’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES states:
That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
These are very important revolutionary statements. A working class capable of coming to understand its own class interests and to realise these interests politically as a socialist revolutionary force marks both Marx and The Socialist Party of Great Britain from the capitalist left who reject these propositions completely.
Marx’s conclusion was that the establishment of Socialism had to be the work of the working class and the working class alone and is among the most important Socialist ideas of the last couple of hundred years. He went on to say that the working class alone “is a really revolutionary class” and “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers” (loc cit p. 72). What the world’s working class has to do is dig. That is the Socialist reply to those who believe capitalism will last forever.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.