Note on the Historical Nature of the Determination of Class

Note on the Historical Nature of the Determination of Class

In feudal society at its zenith, the Crown owned the land and this gave it the capacity to buy and sell land. The subinfeudated classes of the feudal order did not actually own the land from the nobility down to the serfs at the base of the social pyramid. Feudal society was essentially a society of subinfeudated tenants who received land by a process of investiture which carried both rights and obligations. The grand nobility and their “lower orders” controlled but did not actually own the land. Therefore privilege was based on control not ownership.

The capitalist class in the United States owns the means of production. It can transfer ownership by selling as it sees fit or acquire further ownership on purchase. In the Soviet system, the ruling bureaucratic stratum was not an ‘owning class’ as such. It could be described as a ‘controlling class’  which managed production and distribution with an eye to its own separate caste interests.

The feudal nobility’s control of the land – beneath the jurisdiction of the Crown – enabled it to extract a surplus from bonded labour. It was not the actual ownership of the land which enabled it to do this. This was also the case with the ruling priesthoods of the first great river valley civilisations such as we find in India, China, Egypt, Mesopotamia.

What is fundamental here for the producing class is not whether the ruling stratum owns, controls or both owns and controls the means of production. Rather, it is the fact that the producers are not in control of the production and distribution of the total products of their collective labour. And this is manifest in the relations through which the ruling stratum or class confronts the producers as an alien, self-interested social layer rising above them and whose interests are distinct and opposed to the producers. Priesthood, Ancient land-owning patriciate, feudal nobility, capitalist class or Soviet bureaucratic caste all, in one way or another, constitute such self-interested ruling strata.

The ‘concept of class’ is not an ahistorical metaphysic with fixed criteria [this is another ideological disorder which afflicts some schools of sociology] but is itself informed by the specifically historical character of the social relations being described. In other words, we need to understand class on history’s own ground and under its own terms rather than trying to measure it against a pre-established formula and judging whether or not a particular stratum ‘fits the bill’ of class in a manner of speaking. Was the ruling stratum in the Soviet system a ‘new class’ or not? It was certainly a reactionary ruling stratum. It controlled but didn’t own. Like the priesthoods of the first great river valley civilisations. They controlled but did not own the land and the systems of production and distribution. If we first define what class is exclusively in terms of ownership or non-ownership then we can find ourselves caught in absurd contradictions in which societies composed of social hierachies may be described as “classless” because some of these hierarchicalised societies were based on the social ownership of land in which the ruling “class” did not own the land but controlled the established system of production. The first great river valley civilisations exemplify this as do the social relations of European feudalism at its high point of development which was essentially a society of subinfeudated tenants in which the Crown’s immediate retinue and courtiers were seated at the apex of the pyramid under the Crown itself. Land was not “owned” in the capitalist sense (and could not be alienated) by the different social strata of feudal society but was tenanted out by the crown. Under feudalism, the major and dominating criterion of class was not ownership as such but control of land. The producers in the Soviet system were most definitely a class. A section of the global proletariat. The ruling ‘stratum’ was not a ‘class’ if we are determining ‘class’ by the parameters of ownership and non-ownership. They controlled the state apparatus and the system of production and distribution but they did not own these in the way the capitalist class does in the US and Europe. They were not free to ‘alienate’ them. If our conception of class is informed by the criterion of control in the Soviet system, then we could conceivably understand the ruling stratum as a ‘class’ and the proletariat as the class controlled by this ruling layer.

The major historic difference between feudal and capitalist societies was that the latter is a society of owners whereas the former was of tenants. This must mean that the specific, historically-determined criteria which determine “class” as a historic category differ for different societies at various stages of social development. Class is not measured against a transhistorically fixed criterion such as ownership or control. Rather it can only be measured against the historically-specific criteria which arise out of the real character of the social relations of a given society. For example, in feudal society, it was the criterion of control (not ownership) which was paramount in this determination whereas under capitalism – a society of commodity owners – it is the criterion of ownership (not control) which is central. Any system of ownership always carries with it structures of control to defend that system, embodied in the power of the state as the highest expression and social defender of these relations of ownership.

Each social layer in feudal society exhibited a Janus-type character in which one aspect faced one layer as subordinated tenant and another as investitured master. Only the Crown at the apex and the serfs at the base were exempt from this two-faced relation of lord and vassal. As vassal, homage, fealty and services (labour or otherwise) was paid to the lord in return for tenancy (fief) and protection. The vassal was a sub-ordinate dependent in this relationship and subject to servitude. The lord had the obligation –amongst others – to fulfill the conditions of the fief and protect the vassal in return for the fulfillment of the latter’s obligations.

At the height of English feudalism, from the 11th to the 13th century, the feudal nobility and its subinfeudated tenants in England did not ‘own’ the land which they worked and yet Marx refers to the ‘classes’ in feudal society. Marx does not metaphysically dislocate his conception of class (and the major criterion/criteria) from the actual historical conditions and relations within which people produced and lived. He determined whether or not a group or stratum was a class, bureaucracy, order, etc, on the basis of these major criteria which arose out of the historically specific character of given social relations. It is these specific conditions which need to be investigated in order to determine such criteria and understand class relations. If we actually concede that the ruling stratum in the soviet system was not a ‘class’ as such, then on what socially-derived criteria do we assert this? And, likewise, if it is described as a class? The conception of class cannot be based on fixed, unchanging, ‘ideological’, historically-divorced and parametrically-confined criteria. Rather the criteria can only be discovered by actually analysing the specific relations of a given society under investigation. For example, under feudalism, we find that land is not owned in the capitalistic sense but that it is sub-tenanted out from top to base by a process of sub-infeudation and investiture. Hence the major criterion of class here is not ‘ownership’ as such but ‘control’. Whereas in late Roman antiquity – for example in Gaul and Spain – the land was owned (and could be bought and sold) by wealthy individual families in the form of vast, conglomerated private estates and the land was parcelled out to the producers, bonded sharecropping tenants (coloni), who were tied to their plots and went with them when they were bought and sold. From the beginning of the fourth century, autarky (which acts as a dissolving influence on the centralised Roman administration and its system of exploitation through the extraction of tax) starts to develop and dominate in the organisation of production. This tends to facilitate the break up of centralised power and prepares the ground for the later emergence of feudal relations. The growing autarky of the fourth century (and its ideological reflection in the rise of Christianity as the state religion) follows on from the enduring crisis of the third century which was essentially a crisis of slave labour based economy leading to the generalised reduction in trade and the decline and decay of the cities across the empire which were based on commodity exchange. Trade in the Roman period never again remotely approached its zenith as was found under the Antonine emperors in the second century. The criterion of ownership dominates here because the propertyless state of the colonus was contrasted with that of the land-owning patronus which echoes the relationship today between landlord and tenant, for example, in land or house rent.

Shaun May

October 2015

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Crisis at the Socialist Worker 2013 : Echoes of the Healy Sect 1985 – A Personal Account after 30 Years.

Crisis at the Socialist Worker 2013 : Echoes of the Healy Sect 1985 – A Personal Account after 30 Years.
Sexual Abuse in the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain
Rape is a most abusive violent power relation and weapon used for oppression which echoes the exploitative rule of capital itself. For such a form of abuse to emerge in any so-called socialist organisation – and to ‘deal’ with it in the way the SWP has – reflects the presence of the deepest forms of degeneration and corruption which, in turn, replicates the most insidious and inhuman forms of alienation and oppression of capitalist domination. If a so-called socialist organisation is not a safe place for women to voluntarily participate in its activities, then it is not worthy of the name ‘socialist’. It is the worst possible environment in which to develop socialist ideas. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the work of Marx.
Historically, and speaking from my early political experience, socialists have witnessed such behaviour before. The dissolution of the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1985 was sparked by the discovery that its leader – Gerry Healy – had regularly assaulted party members, physical abuse and sexually abusing female comrades for many years and perpetrating various libels and slanders against socialists in other organisations. Healy’s secretary – who was instrumental in exposing his abuses – listed more than 20 victims. Healy used his position of power in the party to sexually abuse female comrades. All those leading figures around Healy in the WRP denied any knowledge of Healy’s abusive activities against women until it was clearly revealed in the ‘Jennings Letter’. And today, they still continue to hold this position. And yet many were aware of Healy’s physical abuse of people (some were themselves physically abusive on occasions) and never spoke out or did anything to oppose this bullying and violence at the time. Today, in retrospect after further consideration, I have to state unequivocally that I find it difficult to accept that leading individuals in the WRP at the time had no knowledge of Healy’s systematic and sustained sexual abuse of women party members. To admit to this knowledge (and having done nothing about Healy’s abuse for years) would be to confess a complicity and, in so doing, to politically remove any remaining credit left to those who continue to be politically active today. Some are still active in various ‘blogs’, guises and groupings. However, if we accept that my conception here is unfounded without grounds in the history of real events, then surely we need to pose the following pertinent question : How and why were Healy’s abuses undetected and/or undisclosed for so long by those who were ‘closest’ to him politically and/or personally in the leadership of the WRP and its predecessors from the 1950s onwards? Surely the class movement warrants an analysis here from those in this leadership who claim that they “did not know what was happening” in regards to Healy’s abuses, especially his predatory sexual abuse of women members of the WRP. There are vital lessons to be learned for the class movement in the discourses of such analyses.

I was a branch member of this ultra-sectarian outfit in Hull at the time. I have to say that the overwhelming majority of the broad membership of the party turned against Healy and drove him and his cronies (the Redgraves, Mitchell, etc) out into political obscurity. In Hull, we had to fight Healy’s overbearing and bullying placeman which then turned into a rearguard action against the North/Hyland splinter group with which he allied himself. At one very stormy meeting, at the Trades and Labour Club in Hull, they tried to justify the absurd unhinged notion that in the middle of the parliamentary democratic Thatcherite Britain of 1985 – after the defeat of the Miners – we were all living under a ‘Bonapartist’ dictatorship. We were ‘informed’ that Thatcher was the new Bonaparte. Four years later Healy was dead and gone. ‘Bonaparte’ (ironically it was Healy who was more the ‘Bonaparte’) had still failed to appear over the horizon by this time.

I was a branch member in Hull. Never a branch official or on any regional or national committees. Essentially I was an ‘unknown’. I went to national conferences but was often at odds with the WRP at branch level in Hull. I was suspended, expelled and re-admitted on several occasions.
The crisis and its aftermath finished the WRP. It released the shackles so I was now free to think and develop my conceptions and to use my energies in new, more productive, directions. Dare I say, socialist directions. At the time, Healy’s paranoid sidekicks insisted that he was a victim of a “secret state within the state” conspiracy, i.e. MI5, Special Branch, “dark forces”, etc, but no concrete evidence was ever presented for wider inspection by the labour movement. I recall that years earlier the party put out a half-hysterical, semi-paranoid publication titled “Britain’s State within the State” as if none of us were aware that the state power of capital has an intelligence service, MI5, a secret police, paid assassins, etc. A soldier dressed in camouflage stood menacingly in front of 10 Downing Street on the front cover of the book.
Healy was projected as “the great revolutionary leader”. Those who opposed Healy were accused of “bourgeois morality” (such accusations will ring a bell with those opposed to the ‘elect’ in the SWP) or labelled with bizarre philosophical terms like “Kantian” or “subjective idealist”. To be labelled a “revisionist” was the worst of philosophical and political crimes. A multi-volume sectarian rant entitled “Trotskyism versus Revisionism” was published to undermine the other Trotskyist sects.  Corin Redgrave (the now dead brother of the still living actress Vanessa) caused uproar in a meeting in Scotland when he praised Healy’s so-called achievements and said that, quote, “If this is the work of a rapist, then let’s recruit more rapists” unquote.
This was the sort of obscene, anti-socialist, inhuman morality which prevailed in the Workers Revolutionary Party prior to the break-up in 1985. This was used to prop up and validate the bizarre sectarian notions of vanguardism: “we are the vanguard party”, etc. Verbal and physical abuse, unremitting petty censorship, control-freakery, coercion, bullying, intimidation, emotional blackmail, humiliation, people re-mortgaging and even losing their houses to fund the party and working all hours (18-hour days were normal for some comrades) were all part of being a “professional revolutionary” in the WRP. The personal life was ‘toast’. Party life was ‘tutti’. The regime in the WRP not only destroyed people politically. It totally devastated them on a psychological level as human beings. And has left a lasting legacy of bitterness which is still with some today in 2015.
We were brainwashed into the belief that “only we can make the revolution” and that all other socialists were “counter-revolutionary revisionists” (the Pablo, Lambert and the “GPU” Hansen & Novack “conspirator” outfits). Other “class enemies” included the “left reformists” (the late ‘airchopping’ Ted Grant and his Militant Tendency now prosaically known, after several splits, as ‘The Socialist Party’), “ultra-lefts” (that harmless and charming bookish ‘Oxford’ man Tariq Ali – now a published novelist, I understand, and sought after TV celebrity – and his disciples in the IMG), “state-caps” (the late and ebullient Tony “if we say you are then you are” Cliff and his devoted followers in the IS/SWP who thought that the old Soviet system was a form of capitalism), “opportunists” (all of them!, but especially the “Cliffites”) and “police agents of the state” (all of them again! but especially the “Hansenites” and “Novackites” slandered as complicit in Trotsky’s murder) who had to be “swept away” in the “struggle for power”. At this moment, looking back on it now, the thought “absolute lunacy!” comes to mind. And to think I ‘fell’ for it and ‘swallowed’ it at a very early age. And gullible others are doing exactly the same thing now with the other madcap sectarian outfits which are still clinging on in ever decreasing numbers.
One of the high points of the diabolical fabrications made by Healy was the publication – in vulgar A3 format – of the libellous “How the GPU murdered Trotsky” which wrongly implicated fellow socialists in colluding in Trotsky’s murder by assassin Ramon Mercader and the GPU – Stalin’s secret police. People were rightly outraged. Trotsky’s murderer, Mercader himself – after release from a Mexican prison and receiving acclaim and decorations from the Soviet regime in 1959/60 – was rewarded for his deed, welcomed and allowed to settle undisturbed in Cuba and provided with a comfortable life by the nepotistic, ‘bella figura’ Castro regime which is now embarking on a programme of capitalist restoration like its long gone friends in the old Soviet Union.
This exercise in libel – with I recall, if my memory serves me well, a graphic, emotive picture of the dying Trotsky on the cover – was ‘complimented’ by the  publication of Healy’s very unremarkable “Studies in Dialectical Materialism” which turned out to be an incomprehensible admix of  phrasemongering and confusion. One comrade in Hull (who was later to have a ‘nervous breakdown’ as a result of his experiences in Healy’s sect) sarcastically recommended it as “bedtime reading” when I told him I was having trouble sleeping. Because we didn’t grasp it, we thought it was “too advanced” for us. We didn’t possess the “supreme dialectical mind of a Gerry Healy”. As things turned out, when we looked at it as the fog started to lift, it was clear that we didn’t understand it because it was unadulterated gobbledegook. Here again, we see a characteristic of cult-existence in which its leader was, momentarily at least, attributed powers which he really didn’t hold. None of us understood the “Studies” and so we were told to “theoretically discipline ourselves” like a mental or intellectual form of self-flagellation or ‘penance’ found in physical form in some religious cults or sects. But all the “theoretical disciplining” did not bring us one iota closer to understanding it. Its meaning and significance remained elusive. When you do actually take the terms in the text at face value, so to speak, and string the sentences together, you almost inevitably come to the conclusion that the book is not the coherent outcome of dialectical thinking but rather is the incoherent victim of the dialectic itself.
There is still a Healy-worshipping sect somewhere (I think it’s called the Movement for a Socialist Future or something bonkers like that, run by his old fans, and there is still a rump WRP led, I understand, by the vitriolic Sheila “just get the fucking money in!” Torrance ) which considers Healy’s effort to be a “revolutionary breakthrough” and “recommended reading” for its disciples.
In our encounters with others, we had convenient sticky labels to plaster on anybody and everybody who opposed us : “Ultra-left!” “Revisionist!” “Reformist!” “Counter-revolutionary Pabloite!” “Stalinist agent!” It was a sort of political psychosis. Like being on a never-ending overdose of something unpleasant which leaves a nasty taste in the mouth when you manage to wean yourself off it. Revolution was just around the corner. The leadership of the WRP whipped and bullied on the membership into overwork and often illness. Today, many of them seem to conveniently forget such relations in their new-found political guises. Some still carry the traces of such behaviour with them in their current political relations with people.

We must prepare for it! For revolution tomorrow! Only “we” can lead it! This was the ridiculous, hideous, megalomaniac mentality in the WRP in the 70s and 80s. During the Steel strike in the early 1980s in which I was active in Scunthorpe (Bill Sirs of the ISTC ‘led’ it.) I recall Mike Banda – a member of the CC at the time – actually stating unequivocally that “we will be in a state of civil war within months”. We were run off our feet actively preparing for it. 18 hour days. Exhaustion. People’s lives were “party building”; a normal human life unthinkable and many simply ‘dropped out’. When somebody asked Banda (one of Healy’s sidekicks) where we would get the arms from, he replied “The IRA or Fatah will supply them”. This was the degree to which these WRP “leaders” were in touch with the historic reality around us. They were totally out of touch with the times. We all looked around at each other in a state of confusion and consternation. Some laughed.
It was about this time that Corin Redgrave visited me when I lived on Bransholme, which is a large working class housing estate in the northern part of Hull. We were on a ‘drive’ in the area. I was jobless and living in a run down area of flats on the estate. I will never forget the expression of surprise and dismay on his face and the remark – appropriately emphasised – he made when I showed him into my poorly heated and sparsely furnished flat : “Do you actually live here?”. His tone of voice was that of a nursery child asking mother where babies come from. Later on I thought that if you are indeed accustomed to living in the urban comfort of a well-heeled bourgeois with the option of retreating to pleasant, relaxing, well-furnished rural abodes, holiday homes abroad, etc, with the cream of the Thespian fraternity around you, it must have come as a bit of a shock to see how a jobless worker lived in Hull in the early 1980s as Thatcher ‘got to work’.
Many people did actually have mental breakdowns even after the break-up of the WRP. Homes broken. Divorces. Families destroyed. Lives skewed and ‘screwed’. “Building the party” was simultaneously the point of departure and the point of return. Everything else was subservient to this manic “party-building”. My late comrade and friend George Myers – who recruited me into the WRP and who was a very pleasant human being – was killed in a motor cycle accident in 1981 whilst “party-building”. To this day, I have very good reason to think that it was overwork that really killed him. I believe he must have lost concentration and control of the motorcycle on the bend in a road because I think he was so very tired. After his death, Healy callously remarked to George’s brother, “I thought your dumb brother could ride that motorcycle”. We never got wind of encounters like this until it all imploded in 1985 and later. This nasty, inhuman remark, for example, only came to light in the course of purging the party of Healy and Co. The branch membership of the party were simply given the role of paper-selling and cash-raising drones who knew nothing of what was happening at the national level. Healy – at branch level – was seen (and told to be seen!!) as a model revolutionary who had dedicated his life to the struggle to overthrow capitalism. At branch, and even at regional level, we were totally in the dark about serious abuse. Those ex-leaders of the WRP who are still alive today (and those who are now dead claimed) still claim today the same degree of ignorance of Healy’s abuse as the broad branch membership did at the time. We believed our hard work and contributions, some from well-heeled party members like the obnoxious Redgraves and other loathsome and arrogant individuals, were responsible for the growing resources of the party and not funding from despots and killers abroad. When other groups accused us of taking funds from mass murdering regimes and of slander and libel, we automatically thought that it was they who were slanderous and libellous. Branch members would be told trough the ‘Newsline’ paper to expect court action against these “MI5 agents” if such “slander and libel” continued on a national level against the WRP.
Healy’s sexual abuse was the most grotesque manifestation of this regime. We were “Trotsky’s Witnesses”. I doubt if Trotsky would have approved. We did paper sales every night on the working class housing estates in Hull. People would take the greatest of pleasure in closing their front doors on us. In our faces. I lost count of the number of times in Hull when people would state unequivocally on their doorsteps “Not tonight love, thank you. We’re not religious, you know.” People could see that our approach was indeed apostolic, a door-to-door proselytising style like Jehovah’s Witnesses. With the zealotry of the divinely inspired. They were right to close their doors. They were closing them on a dreadful little cult which was actually capable of damaging them. As it damaged many people and families in the course of its sectarian existence.
The most difficult ones to convert were those who were already part of the general “Marxist” creed but refused point-blank to accept the specificities and particularities of the dogma of WRP doctrine because it conflicted with their sect-dogma. You could argue for hours with them and nobody would give way on the tiniest, most insignificant, minor points of their sacred scripture. To concede on such points would be to betray the party doctrine as a whole which was “cast from a single block of steel”. Eventually mental exhaustion brought matters to a fitting end. Sometimes a bitter shouting match ended matters. Doors were closed or encounters terminated and zeal would drive you to the next potential gullible convert/victim. The main “competitors” in Hull at the time in the 70s and 80s were Tony Cliff’s IS/SWP and Ted Grant’s Militant but there were other “revisionist splinters” and “cowboy outfits” like Alan Thornett’s WSL for which the worst kinds of vitriol were reserved because they were ex-WRP heretics.
Years later, when I reflected on all that, I realised that there was an elemental presence of a most debilitating evangelism in the whole practice of the left-wing sectarian grouplets. It was an almost psychotheological approach that ossified the content of the thoughts of a mighty thinker like Marx into stone; broke off the centrality and importance of revolutionary critical thinking – dialectics in the most comprehensive sense of the term – and replaced it with the authorised dogma and doctrine of the sect. They turned Marx’s thinking into a morbid, ossified mixture of liturgy, mantras and incantations, each sect with its very own sacred juju stick news-sheet. They are still ‘at it’ today. When I see the youth working in their sectarian groups today, I feel a genuine sympathy and pity for them. I look at them  like victims and, if possible, always recount my own experiences in Healy’s sect.
It took many of us many years to work through and resolve all this trash politically and psychologically even after the dissolution in 1985; to disentangle ourselves from the gross anti-Marx sectarianism (Marx himself had to fight against it in his own day) and the destructive “muck of vanguardism” and so-called “democratic centralist” mentality which was only suitable as a necessary strategic/tactical expedient for the specific historical conditions of Tsarist autocracy and persecution by the Ochrana secret police under which the Bolsheviks were working, being shipped off to Siberia, tortured, executed, etc. The WRP saw it – and the sects today see it – as an unassailable manual of “party organisation” for all times and all places as the sectarian groups have mechanistically taken it and uncritically applied it. They view it in the spirit of a car repair manual valid for all times and places which is how the groups have appropriated it. Take, for example, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) which in its literature still describes itself as an organisation based on the principles of “democratic centralism”. And, like the WRP in the past, still attracts the allegiance of university professors and the like.
The ‘leaders’ of these sectarian groups – these minilenins and tinytrotskys – tend to attract the same degree of reverence from their rather uncritical membership as a religious charismatic does from the enchanted congregation of his cult. The social psychology is fundamentally the same. Until, of course, a profound crisis sets in which shakes everything to its foundations. And sexual abuse in a so-called socialist organisation is such a crisis.
On a psychological level, for many, leaving the WRP was like coming out of a religious cult – e.g. the Moonies or Scientologists – and having to make the difficult adaptation to a normal human life again. I joined the youth section of the WRP – the ‘Young Socialists’ run by Healy’s youth organisers Claire Dixon and Simon Pirani – in 1976, age 16, at a young and impressionable age. Psychologically, leaving the WRP was akin to losing one’s political comfort blanket and then wondering where the hell to turn next. Since then I have based my work in the broad class movement as a socialist independent.
“Democratic Centralism” was turned into a mantra by the Bolsheviks after 1917. It was ideologised. For example, simply study the documents of the first four congresses of the Third International where democratic centralism is proclaimed like a mantra suitable for all forms of “revolutionary organisation” across the capitalist world at the time. Which, of course, it certainly was not.  In truth, it was essentially a tactical/strategical consideration informing political organisation under very definite, specific, concrete historical conditions which we saw in Tsarist Russia. We are now working at the beginning of the 21st century in ‘globalised’ western Europe. The sectarians have turned it into a dogma and made it part of an organisational ritual and liturgical formula for the so-called “Leninist party”. One of the sacred ‘pillars’ of Leninism. They have ossified Lenin into dogma (Lenin and Trotsky helped in this regard) which runs counter to the actual spirit of dialectics just as the Soviet bureaucracy embalmed Lenin himself rather than following his last wishes to bury him. They ‘embalmed’ his thinking as well, as do the sectarian groups. They did the same to Ho Chi Minh who wanted to be cremated. They also wanted to stuff and embalm Hugo Chavez and stick him in a glass cabinet for every Tom, Dick and Harry to gawp at. Placed in a reliquary. Like a medieval mummy. I wonder what his last wishes were? Not to be stuffed, I dare say. They were foiled in their attempts as the natural processes of putrefaction had advanced to the stage which made it impossible.

Meanwhile today, in August 2015, 30 years post-Healy, the Socialist Workers Party remains open to the accusation that it is harbouring rapists and sexual predators. Academic studies have been done on the structure and psychology of cults and sects. The psychology of the sect is always “us” against the world so that the outside world is kept out at all costs since it might disrupt its normal functioning. An attempt is always made to internalise any crisis – keep it inside and covered up – so that it’s dirty linen is not exposed for all and sundry to inspect. But when the lid will no longer contain the pressure build-up, the result is often an explosion and the contents of the container get splattered all over the joint. This is what happened with the WRP in 1985 and it appears to happening with the Cliff group but in a slow-motion version of it.
I got up one morning in 1985 – thinking it was going to be a normal sort of day – and a copy of the ‘Newsline’ came through the letterbox and landed on the doormat: “GERRY HEALY EXPELLED” on the front page in massive bold. That’s the first thing I had heard about it or anything preceding it. I felt my lower jaw dropping onto the doormat with it. I was so absolutely taken aback. I think I must have felt like a Jehovah’s Witness receiving a copy of ‘The Watchtower’ with front page headline “JEHOVAH HAS DIED”. Healy ran and hid. We were not told where he’d gone. There was a rumour going around in the Hull branch that the Redgraves had put him up somewhere. Again, branch members were totally in the dark. All was happening above and beyond us.
It seems to me that once you pledge fealty to one of these sects, it is quite difficult to get away from them or even envisage a life outside of them. Your whole being goes into them. They grip your mind in a psychological vice and they work on you day in day out. Then you yourself – when fully integrated into its practices and outlook – become a contributor to its continuous reproduction. You become a part of its re-creation and, in so doing, you create the creature that then continuously reproduces you as one of the sect’s best sectarians. It’s the classic ‘vicious circle’, or better, ‘vicious spiral’ in which you become the creation of the creature which you yourself have helped to create and of which you are now an intrinsic part. In helping to reproduce the life of the sect you simultaneously reproduce yourself as one of its sectarians which serves to perpetuate its existence as a whole. In a way, you become the victim of your own creation because you have alienated your whole being into it and you have helped to raise something up which is greater than you and now stands as an alien creature hovering above you and opposed to any degree of self-autonomy whatsoever. You get imprisoned in it. Any attempt to move away from it is met with the outstretched tentacle of the creature you have helped to create. It then turns into a psychological crutch to give personal/subjective meaning to your life.
Personally, I expect more of this sort of thing to come out as the crisis of the capitalist system unfolds. And not only in the SWP but in the other sectarian grouplets as well. None of them are exempt. The ‘happenings’ inside the SWP is a deadly serious business for every socialist in the broad movement. It is not an “internal matter” for this dreadful little sect. The SWP have actually ‘dealt’ with the allegations and crisis in a way which imitates the classic response of a religious cult.
The WRP regime generated an unhealthy psychological milieu commonly found in religious cults and sects like the Moonies, Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Scientology cult which also has celebrities as members.The internal humourless atmosphere was one of “they” are “trying to destroy the vanguard”. This was a perfect recipe for paranoia and mental breakdowns. It was a self-sealing, vacuum-packed, collective psychology isolating people from the wider social reality of capitalism. Ironically, we believed that only we were in real contact with this reality and that everyone else had “lost the plot”. This self-regarding delusional state of mind is a characteristic feature of the mentality of people who are caught in the middle of what the psychiatrists call a ‘paranoid psychotic’ breakdown. They believe only they are in contact with “the truth” and everyone else on the planet is insane, deluded and ‘out to get them’. Whatever others say or do can be interpreted as part of ‘the plot’ to ‘get them’.
Life in the WRP was generally humourless but not without mockery and cruel derision. I once attended a conference in London where different speakers were getting up to make their contributions to the conference which was attended by about 1000 people or more. One young male comrade got up and started to address the floor from the microphone. It was obvious straight away that he had quite a severe stutter. My first thought at the time was how very brave. But this was not the attitude of the platform. Their smirks, titters and laughter infected the floor and very soon this young comrade was subjected to a wider mocking derisory laughter. He promptly finished and returned to his seat. At another conference, a man with a facial disfigurement also received guffaws and derisory comments.
Such conference ‘receptions’ made me feel nauseous. Even in my ‘early days’, I sensed in my guts that something was wrong with this outfit but I couldn’t quite pinpoint it, brainwashed by the whole thing I wasn’t able to identify and articulate it. Human beings, in my opinion, have an uncanny sense of being able to ‘detect’, ‘sense’ or even ‘feel in their guts’ when something is not quite ‘right’ in a situation, relationship, even person, etc. It is something unconscious perhaps, perhaps instinctual. They feel it but they often cannot quite articulate it in thoughts and words. It’s a feeling of unease. Life has taught me that it is important to always try to get to the bottom of such feelings because sometimes they are the psychic expression of something concealed and rotting. It has also taught me to cultivate a healthy disrespect for all so-called ‘authority’. Speaking personally, real ‘authority’ now means something totally different.
Examples of this kind – public abuse, etc – are too numerous to mention. They took place at branch, regional and national level. These are relatively minor compared to other abuses. I read that Healy and his lieutenants would make trips to the Middle East to raise funds. The WRP was funded by regimes which it supported through its daily 30 page ‘Newsline’ and the ‘Young Socialist’ publications. My understanding is that Healy handed Saddam Hussein photos of exiled dissidents in the Iraqi Communist Party taken at a demo outside the Iraqi embassy in London. I understand that at least one man was arrested on his return and murdered by the Saddam regime. Saddam butchered the Iraqi Communist Party. He had them tortured and shot. I understand this murdered comrade even spoke at a WRP meeting or conference. They were fellow socialists, men and women with families, friends, children. I still don’t know the full details of what happened here. It is only what I have read or been told. In some details, I may even be incorrect or not correct enough. A truly comprehensive account of all the abuses and the context in which they took place would have been very useful. The late Norman Harding’s book (‘Staying Red’) goes some way towards that but I think there is a lot more to come out even decades after the ‘explosion’. I still think there remains a marked reluctance to venture into certain areas by some.
It pains me to mention that I was a member of this dreadful outfit at the time of such abuses which in this case cost the life of at least one young Iraqi comrade. And many more if Saddam’s regime acted on the photos handed to it by Healy. Healy received hundreds of thousands of pounds and dollars from various sources on condition for his support for Fatah and other bourgeois nationalist movements and blood-soaked regimes. All this corruption is well documented and already in the public domain. At the time of the break up of the WRP, my understanding is that it had about 90 full-time salaried organisers with party cars and motorcycles. It had its own publishing and printing press in Runcorn, Cheshire and HQ in London. And, of course, the famous or infamous ‘White Meadows’ School of Marxist Education in rural Derbyshire. Healy had the use of a party flat (and BMW car and 20K slush fund) in London which he used for his abusive activities. We had papers, periodicals, books, pamphlets, etc, etc, coming out of our proverbial earholes.
I remember attending a YS conference in Scarborough where I was shocked to find books and pamphlets on sale actually written by the Ayatollahs and the Khomeini regime in Iran whilst around the same time socialists were being arrested in Iran and executed by the theocracy. We were told to “support the national liberation struggle regardless of its form” but this “form” was murdering men and women in Iran who had devoted their lives to the struggle for socialism. I remember defending the Khomeini regime in a student meeting at Hull University in the early 80s – I was an undergraduate Biochemist at the time – and three Iranian students followed me later and threatened to give me a beating.  A thick, sticky, foul-smelling, obnoxious gloss of legitimacy was always plastered on the most illegitimate of movements and regimes which generally were jailing and murdering socialists whilst “the vanguard” supported these regimes. Today, in the age of the globalised proletariat, we still have some sectarian groups supporting the likes of Hamas in Gaza. Or even ISIS in Syria and Iraq!!
I was only a branch member in Hull and never a national figure so what I have written here is only a fraction of the whole story, and even a fraction from my own perspective. I myself could write volumes if I sat down and dredged my memories. Many tomes could be written on the subject of the abuses alone. Nobody escaped it. Everyone suffered it. ‘Comradeship’? It was non-existent in a party run by a serial rapist and all those lickspittles, some of them ‘celebrities’, who supported Healy’s regime to the very end.
We only really started to discover comradeship in the actual process of driving Healy and his supporters out. The WRP destroyed a generation of well-meaning young communists. And communism is the most beautiful word in the English language. Some day I hope many of them will return and we can all sit down as real comrades over a drink or meal. Hopefully, that we can talk freely about any mistakes we made and any injustices we committed and, if necessary, apologise for them. And that we can go forward in the common struggle to put an end to this rancid, wretched inhuman system of violence and exploitation. And perhaps, out of all the death and destruction which may follow, we, or those who come later, can create a society which is truly worthy of our humanity: a society where the capital relation and commodity production have been finally put to the sword. This is my hope. That all is not lost. That there is a future for humanity. That the age of capital will be transcended. That its barbarism and death will not triumph. That truth, beauty and goodness will win through in the end over the lies, ugliness and evil that currently stalks the Earth. That men and women will eventually find it within themselves to put an end to this putrid state of affairs and go on to create something better. Something free and full of beauty. Where all life, all Nature’s creation, is nurtured and not subject to all manner of sufferings and cruelties we see today. A life in which people and all sentient creatures can breathe freely without fear, without abuse, with care, with love.This is my hope. Together, we must try to find a path to it. To this new world. We are duty-bound to those who have lived and died trying to find it. And to all living creatures now and those yet to come. It may be a peaceful path but we may have to use war to reach it. That may be the unavoidable condition which is presented to us. But we must try. We must go on. Always. No matter what happens. Till we reach this world of beauty, of goodness, of truth, this “true realm of freedom”.

Shaun May, Hull. [updated August 2015. email :]
Please feel free to repost, publish, re-circulate, etc, this document in any medium/format, etc.

Posted in Crisis in the Socialist Workers Party, Crisis in the Socialist Workers PartyX Healy SectX HealyismX sexual abuse in the left wing sectsX SWPX WRP Choose from the most used tags, Healy Sect, Healyism, Ideologisation of Democratic Centralism, sexual abuse in the left wing sects, SWP, WRP | Leave a comment

Engels on Ideology and the Bolshevik Ideologisation of ‘Democratic Centralism’

Engels on Ideology and the Bolshevik Ideologisation of ‘Democratic Centralism’

Every ideology, however, once it has arisen, develops in connection with the given concept-material, and develops this material further otherwise it would not be an ideology, that is, occupation with thoughts as with independent entities, developing independently and subject only to their own laws. That the material life conditions of the persons inside whose heads this thought process goes on in the last resort determine the course of this process remains of necessity unknown to these persons, for otherwise their would be an end to all ideology.

[Engels. Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p. 618.]

Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. He imagines false or seeming motive forces. Because it is a process of thought he derives its form as well as its content from pure thought, either his own or that of his predecessors. He works with mere thought material, which he accepts without examination as the product of thought, and does not investigate further for a more remote source independent of thought; Indeed this is a matter of course for him because as all action is mediated by thought, it appears to him to be ultimately based upon thought.

[Letter from Engels to F. Mehring, July 14, 1893. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p. 690.]

The ‘ideologisation’ of ‘agency’ or ‘organisation’ begins post-Marx. With the leaders of the Second and Third Internationals (Bernstein, Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, etc). Today, we see it, for example, continuing ad nauseam in the ‘Vanguardism’ of the sects in their mantra of the so-called ‘democratic centralist’ party. This is why the sects, parties, etc, are “Marxist ideologists” but, by being so, they have divorced themselves from Marx. Every individual who joins these groups receives an ideological “introduction to” and “development of” Marx which is no introduction or development at all. It is the ossification of Marx and socialist thought. The mantra of the ‘democratic centralist’ party is part of this ideological introduction.

Marx is the real conscious connection of the thinker to the existent and changing “material life conditions” and to the “real motive forces impelling” people and classes in their life and struggles. In order to grasp and explain the forms of thinking corresponding to these existent conditions and struggles, he must, therefore, “investigate further for a more remote source” i.e. investigate the specific character of these existent conditions and relations and the struggles arising from them. The organisational needs of the proletariat and their practical articulation are, accordingly, increasingly hindered the more that thought ceases to move beyond the ideological in thinking. For the ideological in thought continues to contaminate living thought with the unexorcised ghosts of the dead conceptual refuse of the past. The conception of the “need” for a ‘democratic centralist revolutionary party’ in the left-wing groups is a lucid example of this ‘spanner in the works’ of the “revolutionary thinker” and within the contemporary so-called “democratic centralist revolutionary parties”. It is their mantra, incantation, dogma, their ideological appropriation.

Lenin and Trotsky did the proletariat the greatest disservice when they insisted on the ‘democratic centralist’ form (at the founding conferences of the Third International) for the organisation of the revolutionary agency of the proletariat. Trotsky stayed with it unto death. Their insistence was, once again, lucidly ideological. And today, the spellbound sectarian groups have kept it “alive” as a cryogenically-frozen corpse. They remain stuck and lost in the swamp of the ideological. And why? Because the ideological loop in which they are caught (and whose existence was nourished by the three decades of post-war Keynesian expansion of the capital order into the 1970s) has no real contact with the “material life conditions” and “real motive forces” to which Engels refers i.e. they have divorced themselves theoretically and politically from the altered conditions of capitalist globalisation and its maturing structural crisis. They are expecting “reality” to catch up with their “conception” but, ironically, “reality” has left it behind decades ago. They remain sects dominated by bureaucratism and ideology which confront the altered conditions as a fundamentalist religious doctrine confronts the social realities of secularism.

Effectively, the ideological position of Lenin and Trotsky in relation to organisation was, as Meszaros writes, a “direct ideological appeal to the model character of the Russian revolution” and the implicit decree for the articulation and application of the conception of agency in the Russian Revolution in relation to the prevailing historical conditions in the most advanced capitalist centres at the time (Western Europe, Japan, USA).

And it was indeed ‘ideological’. In what sense? Any attempt to appropriate or develop a conception independently of, and divorced from, actually existent historical conditions or, of and from, a grasp of the historical conditions under and within which the conception emerged and developed is nothing more than an ‘ideological’ misappropriation or mis-deployment of that same conception. In the course of such an ‘appropriation’ or ‘deployment’, the conception itself is emptied of its historical content and significance. The dogma of democratic centralism found in the Third and Fourth Internationals was akin to demanding the cultivation of olive trees on the windswept moors of Yorkshire. It was the entrenchment of a programmatic alpha and omega.

It was a method of ‘appropriation’ which was alien to Marx himself who was not an ‘ideologist’, contrary to what the ideologues of capital, its media chatterers and the left groups and sects tediously say and write, day in day out. Both Marx and Engels sought to explain the origins of ideology but they did not accomplish that by ‘ideological’ means. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and the rest are ideologies. Indeed, it could be argued that most of Marx -“ism” is ideological. But the actual work of Marx is not ideology. This ideologisation of Marx is what passes for ‘Marx’ in the different aspects of the many Marx-“isms”. Lenin, here, is actually (and most surprisingly) divorcing the necessary form of agency from the historical conditions within which it actually germinates and grows. This became clear in the work and programmes of both the Third International and later in Trotsky’s Fourth International. It clearly demonstrated that both Lenin and Trotsky – post 1917 – had lost contact with Marx in this regard.

Lenin’s conception of revolutionary agency was fundamentally influential throughout the 20th century and even today. His conception was taken out of the historical conditions within which it was made necessary and then attempts were made to graft the conception into different conditions in other parts of the world where the conditions of its origination did not exist. His conception of revolutionary agency was developed in the conditions of struggle in Tsarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. But beyond that, in the more advanced capitalist countries, its relevance was questionable to say the least. The fact that it was necessary in the conditions of Tsarist Russia did not necessarily render it an organisational pre-requisite for other parts of the capitalist world at the time where more advanced conditions prevailed . But Lenin’s ‘centralist party’ conception distilled over into the work of the Third and Fourth Internationals. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, the conditions in Russia were worlds away from those in fully developing, capitalist western Europe and the United States. And this means these more mature conditions were not necessarily conducive to Lenin’s conception of agency and required different forms of agency even at that time.

The ideologically-thinking individual does not grasp his thinking as ‘ideological’. Therefore this form of thinking serves and operates to conceal its own ideological nature: ideological thought cannot grasp its own ideological nature simply because it is ideological. In this respect, this side of thought remains unconscious of its own ideological nature. In regard to the varying conditions in different parts of the globe at the time of the Russian Revolution – and the organisational response to those spectrum of conditions by the proletariat – the Bolsheviks had their feet, after 1917 at least, firmly rooted on ideological ground.

Shaun May

December 2014

Posted in Agency of Revolution, Bolshevism, Engels on Ideology, Ideologisation of Democratic Centralism, Revolutionary Organisation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fragments From a Notebook on Marx’s Political Economy

Fragments From a Notebook on Marx’s Political Economy

Fragments From a Notebook on Marx’s Political Economy

Volume 1 of Marx’s Capital

Marx. Capital, Volume 1. Penguin Edition, 1976. (Translated by Ben Fowkes)

[Readers must study the full quote relating to each comment. [………………] indicates missing middle part of quotation]

1. “Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the private labour of individuals who work independently of each other. […………………………………] ; so that their character as values has already to be taken into consideration during production”

(pp.165-166, Chapter 1, section 4, The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret)

Exchange is absolutely fundamental to the continued existence of commodity production. We must move as quickly as possible to the elimination of exchange and its replacement with a universal system of accounted distribution founded upon the socialist principles of need, quality, human welfare, ecological considerations and sustainability, etc. A socialist accountancy of labour time directed towards the realisation of these needs. The uncoupling of production and distribution from exchange will serve to undermine commodity production itself. From free-market zones to market-free zones.

The abolition, or rather phasing out, of exchange which involves “opposing the products of different forms of labour with each other on the basis of equality” necessarily means the phasing out of the market system. Under capitalist commodity production, the products of private labour only become commodities at that point when they enter circulation and receive the stamp of social general labour in their exchange relations with other commodities. This is the point at which “the equalisation of the most different kinds of labour can be the result only of an abstraction from their inequalities, or reducing them to their common denomination, viz., the expenditure of human labour-power or human labour in the abstract….only exchange brings about this reduction”. [Marx, Value : Studies by Karl Marx, New Park Publications, 1976, pp.5-6]. This human labour as specific quantum of labour in the abstract must manifest its quantity in the “objective form” of a given equivalent of use-values. For example, 5 cars for 50 sheets of machine-compressible steel sheets, mediated by money, etc. Hence a social relation appearing as a relationship between things. etc.

2. “The question why money does not itself directly represent labour-time, so that a piece of paper may represent, for instance, x hours labour, comes down simply to the question why, on the basis of commodity production, the products of labour must take the form of commodities. [……………………………………] But Owen never made the mistake of presupposing the production of commodities, while, at the same time, by juggling with money, trying to circumvent the necessary conditions of that form of production”

(pp. 188-189, Chapter 3, Money, or the Circulation of Commodities, footnote 1)

The establishment of generalised production based on directly socialised labour in order to move away as rapidly as possible from commodity production. To undermine commodity production and exchange. And the social acknowledgement and ‘normalisation’ of this system of production through the issuing of “certificates of labour”. Computer technology (e.g. electronic card systems and transfers, etc) will now make this process easier to establish and develop.
Capitalist commodity production is based on private labour becoming abstract, general, social labour through exchange of the products of private labour. Labour receives the stamp of social labour only through exchange and thereby is indirectly socialised labour. But this exchange is an essential, inalienable mediation in capitalist commodity production as a whole. This indirectly socialised character of labour under capital necessitates the dichotomy between money and commodities. Private labour can only be stamped and recognised as social labour through the mediation of exchange at which point the products of private labour assert their character as commodities and the realisation of their values in the form of money as universal equivalent (the market system).
Socialism is based on directly socialised labour which is the antithesis of its indirect form under capitalist commodity production. Implicit here is the negation of the commodity as historic form and therefore of money itself. A system of developed and directly socialised labour has no need for money in order to mediate its reproduction because the commodity-form has been extinguished. This was the case in the communes of prehistory before the rise of exchange and can be so again (return to the old but at a higher stage of development). Stripping the product of labour of its commodity-form, on the one hand, and the initiation and development of directly socialised productive labour in the period of transition, on the other hand, are inseparable moments of the same historical process.

Hence [1] the need to rapidly establish – conditions permitting – a system of production and distribution arising out of directly socialised labour and [2] the creation of a universal system of accountancy of labour-time through the issuing of certificates using electronic and computer technologies, etc.

Marx writes of the point of metamorphosis of the commodity into money (C – M) as the “salto mortale of the commodity“. A point of high vulnerability (a “weak link in the chain” or “Achilles Heel”) for capital in the process of its circulation. The point at which the product of private labour receives the stamp of acceptability of general social labour. At this point, capital is not only susceptible to the fluctuations and vicissitudes of the market but also to actions such as mass consumer boycotts. Severing the nexus here serves to disrupt capital in circulation.

It severs the link between the production of use-values and the realisation of value in circulation i.e. it dis-assembles the necessary relation between the production of use values and the market realisation of value and therefore facilitates the disruption of the capital relation itself.

Sever the nexus which serves to integrate and maintain the two sides (production and circulation) of the process of reproduction of capital as a whole, and the process as a totality starts to break up and disintegrate. Deprive capital of the essential transformation step of commodities into the money-form and the cyclical process of the reproduction of capital starts to break down and perish.

To do this, we must develop social practices and corresponding forms of organisation which dis-establish (strip) the product of labour of its commodity-capital form and disrupts the process of the circulation and accumulation of capital. This would serve to undermine dependency on the global market and facilitate its dissolution.

The transition to a system of immediately (directly) socialised labour is the fundamental, mediating ground for eliminating the process of capitalist commodity production. “On the basis of commodity production, labour becomes social labour only as a result of the universal alienation of individual kinds of labour” (Marx). The establishment of production based on directly socialised labour means the end of capitalist commodity production and therefore its mediation by the money form because “it would be impossible for a specific commodity… confront other commodities as the incarnation of universal labour and exchange-value would not be turned into price; but neither would use-value be turned into exchange value and the product into a commodity, and thus the very basis of bourgeois production would be abolished” [Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress, 1977, pp.84-86]. Private labour only becomes social labour indirectly (taking the money form) through commodity exchange. Directly socialised labour circumvents (“short-circuits”) this mediation and by doing so represents the negation of capitalist commodity production. The creation of social relations founded on directly socialised labour must therefore eliminate those relations founded on the “universal alienation of individual kinds of labour”.

The associated producers themselves are in control of the products of their own labour and not any class, bureaucracy or external (alien) body or organisation. They make the “democratic decisions from below” as to the distribution of the surplus according to the need to accumulate (technical development and innovation), transfer to a collective fund for public provision, workers education/training, private consumption, etc. Once the surplus is taken out of the hands of the producers themselves and appropriated by an alien body/organisation then all the old “muck of ages” has an even greater potential to re-establish itself (the Soviet Union, etc). Those who appropriate and control the distribution of the surplus invariably generate and/or consolidate power structures for self-serving interest and privilege which stand in hostile opposition to those whose labour has produced the surplus unless, of course, appropriation and control over production and distribution is by the associated producers themselves.

A direct accountancy and calculation of labour-time remains in the intial post-capitalist stages. But it takes place as an accountancy of directly socialised labour in order to plan and extend production, distribution and the development of human culture in general. This accountancy and allocation of labour-time ceases to present itself disguised in fetishistic commodity and money forms. Labour-time is calculated as a means to producing a definite quantity of use-values and for catering for the social needs of people generally. Human beings organise themselves in their activities and alter these activities according to their developing needs without the presence of alien bodies and structures confronting them and directing their activities over and against their human interests. These measures, of course, characterise the early phases of the transition. Beyond these phases is the actual transcendence of account keeping itself on the basis of the expenditure of labour time. Then free time (not labour time) becomes the real measure of wealth.

3. “If we proceed further, and compare the process of creating value with the labour process, we find that the latter consists in the useful labour which produces use-values. […………………………………….] Whether it was already contained in the means of production, or has just been added by the action of labour-power, that labour counts only according to its duration. It amounts to so many hours, or days, etc”

(pp 302-303, The Labour Process and the Valorisation Process)

The division of the commodity into use value and value is the mirror replication of the antithetical character of the labour which produces it, i.e. labour which is simultaneously “useful labour” and “value creating”.

The different forms of “useful labour” constitute the panorama which is the division of labour. The exchange of labour activities will serve, in the initial phases of the directly socialised labour process, to facilitate the breakdown of this division of labour and to enrich the skills and life of the human individual. The development of these labour-exchange activities which become mutual, reciprocal accommodations of socially useful, directly socialised productive labour. The evolution of these exchanges creates the medium for the interrelationships and enrichment of human culture in its diverse forms and aspects – technical, scientific, artistic, aesthetic, etc. This will serve to initiate the transcendence of the division of labour within the places of production and within society as a whole.

The division of labour created by the origination and evolution of capitalism engenders the “crippled” human generations of the capital order. From this basis we proceed to transcend the division of labour and hence the highly problematic nature of this movement. It is these “crippled” generations which must commence the historic process of “undoing” all this “crippling” of the individual and in the process create new generations free of all of it. Humanity can only start to transform itself by starting to transform its conditions of life and it can only commence this momentous and enduring process from where it really stands at the prevailing stage of development. Humanity can only use itself as the material which it itself finds available and at hand. From the human being of the 21st century global capital order to that of the “true realm of freedom”.

4. “the extraordinary increase in the productivity of large-scale industry, accompanied as it is by both a more intensive and more extensive exploitation of labour-power in all other spheres of production, permits a larger and larger part of the working class to be employed unproductively”

(p.574, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 6)

How much more true is this today at the opening of the 21st century with capitalist exploitation on a globally integrated scale, with computerisation, robotics, automation, etc. And specifically with the global polarisation between “productive labour” in Asia and Latin America, etc, and the “unproductive labour” of Europe and North America, etc. The creation of most of the surplus value in the former and its conveyance in stupendous quantities to the latter indicative of the inhuman and destructive superexploitation in the former. Marx refers to the personifications of this “unproductive labour” as the “servant class”. Today we could locate millions in the so-called “service sector”. Marx adds “What an elevating consequence of the capitalist exploitation of machinery!” (p.575) with this reproduction of “the ancient domestic slaves, on a constantly extending scale” (p.574)

5. “……..every advance in the use of machinery entails an increase in the constant component of capital [………] and a decrease in the variable component [……….] We also know that in no other system of production is improvement so continuous and the composition of capital employed so subject to variation as in the factory system. This constant variation is however equally constantly interrupted by periods of rest, during which there is a merely quantitative extension of factories on the existing technical basis. During such periods the number of workers employed increases”

(p.578, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 7)

A relative decrease in variable capital (to constant capital) is accompanied by an absolute increase in variable capital with the extension of capitalist production. More workers are employed globally but less relative to the value of machinery as productive technique advances. The growth in the mass of surplus value takes place side by side with the growth in mass structural unemployment. Marx noted this trend in the middle of the nineteenth century and it now replicates itself on a world scale with capitalist globalisation. This must have the most profound implications for the whole global capitalist system as its structural crisis unfolds in the coming century. One of the most tangible symptoms of this crisis is the irredeemably persistent and growing mass global unemployment.

This contradictory movement is an underlying motor in the unfolding of this crisis and drives capital-in-crisis increasingly and ever towards a more “destructive reproduction” with all the inhuman and barbarous consequences for humanity and Nature. If the organic composition has a historic tendency to increase, then ultimately it is only the unplanned extension of production which can serve as a medium for the realisation of value and the source of revenue for consumption. Capital now enters its global phase of development (degeneration) which is simultaneously one of crisis and increasingly difficult-to-realise destructive self-reproduction.

Mass unemployment in the epoch of capital’s global crisis must include all sections of the wage-labouring workforce whether they are highly skilled and “professionalised” or “unskilled”. Capitalist globalisation inevitably signifies mass unemployment in the presence of a phenomenal increase in the productivity of labour, starvation and malnutrition in the presence of the overproduction of food, mass homelessness in cities full of empty habitable buildings, the deprivation and destruction of public healthcare and education facilities where humanity now has the knowledge and potential to eliminate both, mass overwork at one end of a polarity and mass, destitute idleness at the other with all the social consequences and ramifications necessarily implied by that contradiction.

Global capital-in-crisis is driving the human species and the natural conditions necessary for a higher form of human life towards a black hole of history. An abyss into which it will draw and destroy the whole of human culture unless humanity prosecutes an ultimately successful global struggle against the capitalist system itself and for the elimination of capital from the social metabolism as a whole.

6. “……large-scale industry, through its very catastrophes, makes the recognition of the variation of labour and hence of the fitness of the worker for a maximum number of different kinds of labour into a question of life and death. [………………………] ; the partially developed individual, who is merely the bearer of one specialised social function, must be replaced by the totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn.”

(p.618, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 9)

The development of capitalist industry itself – “through its very catastrophes” – creates the technical and social conditions which point towards the transcendence of the division of labour. This development turns the “specialised” worker into one who must adapt and alter his mode of labour to satisfy the requirements of capital. This, taken in its its fullest significance and potential in socialist society, points towards the activation of the tendency towards the transcendence of the social division of labour in which the “partially developed individual” will becoem replaced by the “totally developed individual”.

Part 3 of Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value

Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3. Lawrence and Wishart Edition, 1972. (Translated by Jack Cohen and S.W. Ryazanskaya)

[Readers must study the full quote relating to each comment. [………………] indicates middle part of quotation]

1. “If the labouring producer pays himself his own wages and if his product does not at first assume the “shape” of other people’s revenue from which savings are made and then paid back by these people to the labourer, it is necessary that the labourer be in posession of his conditions of production [………..] In order that his wages and consequently the labour fund can confront him as alien capital, these conditions of production must have been lost to him and have assumed the shape of alien property. [……………] Once this separation exists, this process (the process of the real generation of capital – SM) does indeed take place and it continues and extends, since the surplus labour of the worker always confronts him as the revenue of others, through the saving of which alone wealth can be accumulated and the scale of production extended”

(pp. 421-22, Chapter 24 on Richard Jones)

“accumulated stock becomes capital only because of this personification”

(p.427, ibid)

When accumulated wealth ceases to confront the producers as the alien property of others (capitalist class, state property, etc) and is appropriated, developed and controlled by the producers themselves, then the presentation of wealth in personified forms will cease. Capital itself must be eliminated but also property as “state property” and positively replaced by the self-managing and self-directing activity of the associated producers.

2. “The main difference between productive and unproductive labour noted by Adam Smith is that the former is exchanged directly for capital and the latter for revenue….”

(p.426, ibid)

Marx later writes in relation to the work of Richard Jones that….

“Jones quite correctly reduces Smith’s productive and non-productive labour to its essence – capitalist and non-capitalist labour – by correctly applying the distinction made by Smith between labourers paid by capital and those paid out of revenue”

(p.432, ibid)

Capital-in-crisis constantly invades and drives to appropriate the different spheres of public provision for the purpose of its self-valorisation i.e. to take over public provision and social services provided by the state in order to invest for profit. The PFI (Private Finance Initiative) in Britain is an example of this predation by capital. The labour performed by workers in these areas is non-productive in the above sense. Capital now drives towards transforming this labour into productive labour i.e. labour which is exchanged directly for capital in order to return the value advanced with an increment. All public provision – once appropriated by capital – is now provision on condition of profit. No profit means no provision. This capital offensive against public provision spells catastrophe for millions. Capital must transform non-productive into productive labour in its predatory drive to counter the effects of its own global structural crisis on itself as a social relation of production and distribution. To strive to continue with the accumulation of capital. Nothing must stand in its way in this, its untransgressable logic. This crisis is the historic driving force behind capital’s need to appropriate and run public services on the strict basis of profit. It is the fundamental ground mediating the “privatisation” of public provision since Thatcher came to power in 1979 and continued by New Labour.

Shaun May

November 2014

Posted in Directly Socialised Labour, Marx, Political Economy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Marx’s Realms : Capital, Natural Necessity, True Realm of Freedom

Marx’s Realms : Capital,  Natural Necessity, True Realm of Freedom

1. Hegel, Marx and ‘Freedom and Necessity’
2. Feudal and Ancient Relations
3. Realm of Global Capital
4. A Note on Human Individuality in the Epoch of Capital
5. Realm of Natural Necessity and True Realm of Freedom

1. Hegel, Marx and ‘Freedom and Necessity’

Written in 1865 – more than 20 years after the Paris Manuscripts and embracing and sublating within itself the content of those manuscripts and all the subsequent theoretical development – volume three of Capital represents the highest point of development of Marx’s critique of political economy. Without a detailed study of this text, no truly fruitful discussion of the onset in the 1970s and unfolding of the structural crisis of capital can be evolved. When we ponder the devotion and effort which Marx must have put in to his work – and the discipline to which he must have subjected himself – we cannot do other than marvel at this and his achievements and must truly acknowledge and assimilate our indebtedness to him as a revolutionary thinker.

A re-read of any of Marx’s writings always invites one on to a new journey of discovery. Just when we thought we knew the ins and outs of a work, we find that there is always more to unearth and dig out. A new reading brings out new aspects, reveals new channels and fissures which we overlooked before, and this augments and enriches our overall conception. Just when we start to think the mine has been exhausted, new seams are discovered.

We know essentially what we are fighting against but what are we fighting for? What are we fighting to establish? This article focusses on Marx’s concepts of the ‘realm of natural necessity’ and the ‘true realm of freedom’ found in volume three of Capital.

What follows is a lengthy quote from volume three with which we will work and to which we will refer back and return as and when required.

Surplus labour in some form must always remain, as labour beyond the extent of given needs. It is just that in the capitalist, as in the slave system ,etc., it has an antagonistic form and its obverse side is pure idleness on the part of one section of society. A certain quantum of surplus labour is required as insurance against accidents and for the progressive extension of the reproduction process that is needed to keep pace with the development of needs and the progress of population. It is one of the civilizing aspects of capital that it extorts this surplus labour in a manner and in conditions that are more advantageous to social relations and to the creation of elements for a new and higher formation than was the case under the earlier forms of slavery, serfdom, etc. Thus on the one hand it leads towards a stage at which compulsion and the monopolization of social development (with its material and intellectual advantages) by one section of society at the expense of another disappears; on the other hand it creates the material means and the nucleus for relations that permit this surplus labour to be combined, in a higher form of society, with a greater reduction of the overall time devoted to material labour. For, according to the development of labour productivity, surplus labour can be great when the total working day is short and relatively small when the total working day is long. If the necessary labour-time is 3 hours and surplus labour also 3 hours, the total working day is 6 hours and the rate of surplus labour 100 per cent. If the necessary labour is 9 hours and the surplus labour 3 hours, the total working day is 12 hours and the rate of surplus labour only 33 1/3 per cent. It then depends on the productivity of labour how much use-value is produced in a given time, and also therefore in a given surplus labour-time. The real wealth of society and the possibility of a constant expansion of its reproduction process does not depend on the length of surplus labour but rather on its productivity and on the more or less plentiful conditions of production in which it is performed.
The realm of freedom really begins only where labour determined by necessity and external expediency ends; it lies by its very nature beyond the sphere of material production proper. Just as the savage must wrestle with nature to satisfy his needs, to maintain and reproduce his life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all forms of society and under all possible modes of production. This realm of natural necessity expands with his development, because his needs do too; but the productive forces to satisfy these expand at the same time. Freedom, in this sphere, can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature. But this always remains a realm of necessity. The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself, begins beyond it, though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis. The reduction of the working day is the basic prerequisite. [1]

Realm of necessity? realm of freedom? In the very nature of things, any realm of necessity must be intermediated by a given degree of freedom and any realm of freedom intermediated by relations of necessity of a given nature and order. It is the actual historically-established, real, specific, character of social relations within and through which humanity lives which determine and denote the stage of living development at which the relationship between necessity and freedom has arrived .

Hegel teaches us that…

‘A freedom involving no necessity, and mere necessity without freedom, are abstract and in this way untrue formulae of thought. Freedom is no blank indeterminateness : essentially concrete, and unvaryingly self-determinate, it is so far at the same time necessary. Necessity, again, in the ordinary acceptation of the term in popular philosophy, means determination from without only – as in finite mechanics, where a body moves only when it is struck by another body, and moves in the direction communicated to it by the impact. This however is a merely external necessity, not the real inward necessity which is identical with freedom’ [2]

It is this ‘real inward necessity which is identical with freedom’ which Marx is articulating when he writes of the ‘true realm of freedom’. As Hegel demonstrated, necessity and freedom, in their dialectics, are mutually engendering, relating, negating and reaffirming sides of each other. They are ‘not independently real’ and ‘to abstract and isolate either conception is to make it false’ [3]

Causality itself expresses the inherently contradictory character of Nature in which ‘the act of distinguishing and intermediating becomes a primariness of actual things independent one against the other’ within which ‘their independence only lies in their identity’. This continuous ‘circulation’ (movement, negativity, ‘negative self-relation’) and ‘independence’ of things which is immediately and simultaneously their relation (identity, ‘infinite self-relation’) and ‘intermediation’ is the ‘truth of necessity’ which is ‘freedom’. The whole movement is one which is ‘self-repulsive into distinct independent elements yet in that repulsion is self-identical, and in the movement of reciprocity still at home and conversant only with itself’ [4] [§§157-158]

This conception of a necessity which is inseparable from freedom contrasts with ‘necessity immediate or abstract’ in which it is walled off from ‘abstract freedom’ in a state of ‘rigid externality’. For Hegel, neither necessity nor freedom can have subsistence independently of each other, have ‘no independent reality’. To think so is the work of the ‘understanding’ (Verstand), ‘formal’, ‘unspeculative’, ‘metaphysics’. It is not to grasp the world as being in an unending state of development, as living, unfolding paradox in its infinite variety of forms, as paradox simultaneously resolving and re-positing itself.

In Hegel, the separation of necessity and freedom – their ‘externality’ to each other – is transcended by demonstrating that…

‘the members, linked to one another, are not really foreign to each other, but only elements of one whole, each of them, in its connection with the other, being, as it were, at home, and combining with itself. In this way necessity is transfigured into freedom – not the freedom that consists in abstract negation, but freedom concrete and positive. From which we may learn what a mistake it is to regard freedom and necessity as mutually exclusive. Necessity indeed, qua necessity, is far from being freedom : yet freedom presupposes necessity, and contains it as an unsubstantial element in itself’ [4] [Zusatz]

In Marx’s ‘true realm of freedom’, the activity of the human individual is that of a social individual (as opposed to the private individual of class society) which is lived necessarily as a ‘free mediation’ in the life of the species as whole. The social form of necessity in this realm ceases to bear the same compulsive ‘external’ character as it does in the ‘realm of natural necessity’. The necessity of the ‘true realm of freedom’ is the ‘truth’ of the previous form of ‘external’ necessity prevailing in that antecedent realm of ‘natural necessity’. It is a necessity which is no longer compulsive but of a totally different, higher order altogether. It is the character of this higher order of necessity to ‘suspend its presupposition’, to transcend its previous form and, in so doing, creates itself as the very ground, the presupposition of itself. And in this lies the human freedom of this realm. The ‘free mediation’ of each becomes the necessary condition for the ‘free mediation’ of all and vice versa.

This ‘true realm of freedom’ creates a fundamentally different kind of individual as compared to the type we find in bourgeois society. In his foreword to Marx’s Grundrisse, Martin Nicolaus writes..

‘Finally, instead of ‘species-being’, the Grundrisse speaks of two very broadly and generally defined types of human individuality. The first is the ‘private individual’ , meaning the individual as private proprietor, both as owner of the means of production and as ‘owner’ of the commodity, labour power; the individual within the exchange relation. The abolition of the relations of private property is the abolition of the conditions which produce and reproduce this kind of individual. The place of this type is taken by the social individual, the individual of classless society, a personality type which is not less, but rather more, developed as an individual because of its direct social nature. As opposed to the empty, impoverished, restricted individuality of capitalist society, the new human being displays an all-sided, full, rich development of needs and capacities, and is universal in character and development.’ [5]

This all-round development and cultivation of the individual to which Nicolaus refers becomes an inner social necessity as the transition is made from the post-capitalist ‘realm of natural necessity’ towards the ‘true realm of freedom’. This ‘cultivation’ does not, of course, take the form of an oppressively coercive social imposition on the individual where the individual is ‘compelled’ to become ‘cultivated’ (Hegel’s ‘external necessity’). Rather, it springs directly from the actual nature of human relationships in the commune where all forms of oppressive coercion have been transcended and the life of the individual is not subject to the social compulsion which characterises human relations in bourgeois society. The individual becomes ‘developed’ as a ‘social individual’ in order to live a fully developed and integrated human life with his/her fellow men and women. This development of the social individual does not take place under the weight of any ‘external’ coercion or expediency. It does not take place out of an ‘external necessity’ which is internalised as a ‘compulsion’ but rather out of social relations which constitute a ‘free necessity’. This is a necessity which operates as transcended ‘natural necessity’, as a historically-created necessity which has transcended this ‘natural necessity’. The individual, under such conditions, remains the spontaneous yet ‘active’ (creating) creation of the ‘ensemble of social relations’. Born into this ‘true realm’, he becomes developed as a directly-socialised, intrinsic, ‘cultivated’ part of the life of society (Hegel’s ‘real inward necessity which is identical with freedom’).

2. Feudal and Ancient Relations

In feudal society –where the dominant mode of labour was bond labour – the serf was compelled to perform labour duties on the lord’s land. The mode of appropriation of this form of labour took a very direct, transparent form in that there was a fragmentation of labour time between the serf’s plot of land and that of the feudal lord. Essentially, labour on the lord’s land was appropriated directly as surplus labour in the form of material produce for direct consumption by the lord’s retinue. Later, the increasing encroachment of commodity production and exchange (and hence money economy) increasingly forces this appropriation in money payments so that as this stage opens up and unfolds (in England, roughly the 14th and first half of the 15th century) feudal economy is already irredeemably sinking into the quicksand of history. One of the major demands of the revolt of the English peasantry in 1381 was the abolition of serfdom. An irreversible process had commenced within which the peasantry were not only starting to work as agricultural day wage-labourers on the lands of a rising class of agricultural landowners and tenants who were were producing for exchange. But sections of the peasantry had themselves started to develop into a self-employed, commodity-selling, petty bourgeoisie (independently of the guild system in the towns) which was already hostile to feudalism. The continuation of feudal obligations merely interfered with the development of this unstoppable historical process and hence the clamour during the 1381 revolt for the abolition of feudal obligations. It was this growing petty bourgeoisie that led this revolt in the towns and countryside, especially in the more developed south-eastern region of the country.

The spatio-temporal division of labour time characterises bond labour as ‘thine’ and the time in which the serf reproduces his needs on his plot by domestic subsistence labour as ‘mine’. This in itself implies social relations of alienation as does, of course, the actual ownership of the producers in Antiquity. The political hierarchy of crown, church and nobility which evolves on the basis of these feudal relations (the triadic parasitic expression of these relations) confronts the class of serfs as divinely ordained and instituted in hostile opposition to them. Here Catholicism plays its historical ideological role. Religion as the direct ideological expression of the existence of social relationships mediated by alienation.

In the slave societies of Antiquity, the producers are themselves owned as chattels, being the property of the slave owners, differentiated from the oxen and the donkey by virtue of being ‘speaking tools’. The whole physical and social mode of being of the producer is subject to the will of the slaveowner who can sell or exchange the producer as a form of movable property. The slave (as “self”) is the property of the slaveowner (as “other”). The one is at the unconditional service and disposal of the other and belongs wholly to this other. The purpose of the existence of the slave is to be the object of use for the slaveowner. The slave is appropriated by the owner as an object for a prescribed purpose. The slave-master relation (a relationship of alienation) is maintained by the institutions of state of ancient societies in order to defend the parasitic mode of life of the slaveowning and landowning classes and thus of the existence of the state itself.

In the final centuries of the Roman empire, the bonded colonus replaced the slave as the major producer. Contrary to the assertions of some scholars (see, for example, De Ste Croix’s The Class Struggle in the Ancient World where he writes of the labour of the colonus at the beginning of the fourth century as a form of serfdom) the colonate was not a form of feudalism and the colonus was not a serf in the feudal meaning of the conception. Most of the land in feudal society was owned by the crown and by a process of investiture and subinfeudation the land was tenanted out to the king’s retinue and they, in turn, to their vassals, etc, until parcelled out to villeins and serfs. The pyramid-like social structure was propped up ideologically by the church. The crown-owned land was not alienable by its holders; it could not be sold unlike in the Roman colonate where the coloni were permanently attached to the land and so went with it when it was actually sold. The Roman Patroni could buy and sell land independently of the imperial edict and bureaucracy and in the later empire (4th and 5th century) landed estates grew to colossal proportions through conglomeration. The wealth of the patronus stood in stark contrast to the grinding poverty and desparation of his colonus.
In the later empire, land was owned by wealthy patroni and could be bought and sold along with its sharecropping producers who could also sell the products of their labour. The coloni were taxed in kind or coin.

The colonus was not a serf as a such. He was essentially a sharecropping tenant who actually paid rent either in kind or in coin from the sale of his produce and was not solely exploited by the patronus but was also taxed and intimidated by the ‘tax-farming’ bureaucracy of the Roman state of late antiquity. Unlike in feudal society, labour services to the patronus were peripheral and subsidiary. What remained after paying the patronus and the state (in kind or coin), he used to feed himself and his family. The superexploitation of the landowners and Roman bureaucracy meant that many starved or fled, often to the barbarian encampments. This superexploitation of late empire was a fundamental relation operative in its final collapse and disintegration.

The serf, on the contrary, had no powers of alienating his produce like the colonus. Rather he laboured on the demesne of the lord for part of the time and for subsistence on his ‘own’ plot for the other part. Money never passed through his hands except when feudalism started to decline and serfs were freeing themselves to become day labourers for commodity producers or self-employed hawkers, tinkers and traders in one form or another.

3. Realm of Global Capital

The development of capital itself creates the historic grounds for a higher form of human individuality….

‘Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness [Naturbedurftigkeit], and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labour also therefore appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; because a historically created need has taken the place of the natural one. This is why capital is productive; i.e. an essential relation for the development of the social productive forces. It ceases to exist as such only where the development of these productive forces themselves encounters its barrier in capital itself.’ [6]

The ‘true realm of freedom’ emerges out of the ‘realm of necessity’ which stands as the historic presupposition and ground of this realm of freedom. This transitory period of ‘necessity’ therefore mediates the movement from the relations of bourgeois society to those of this ‘true realm’.

The fundamental distinction between this period of ‘necessity’ and that of the previous capitalist epoch lies in the associated producers holding and working the means of production in common to produce a directly social product and their labour therefore takes the form of directly socialised labour in contrast to the form it takes in capitalist commodity production. But as the ‘true realm of freedom’ unfolds, ‘labour […] appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; because a historically created need has taken the place of the natural one’. Where labour no longer appears as labour but rather as the “full development of activity itself”, then the transition period of ‘natural necessity’ has been superseded into and replaced by the ‘true realm of freedom’

Under the rule of capital, private labour receives the stamp of social labour indirectly by its products taking the form of commodities and their values being realised on the market.

‘Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labour of private individuals who work independently of each other. The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals forms the aggregate labour of society. Since the producers do not come into social contact until they exchange the products of their labour, the specific social characteristics of their private labours appear only within this exchange. In other words, the labour of the private individual manifests itself as an element of the total labour of society only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between the products, and, through their mediation, between the producers. To the producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labours appear as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material [dinglich] relations between persons and social relations between things. It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire a socially uniform objectivity as values, which is distinct from their sensuously varied objectivity as articles of utility. This division of the product of labour into a useful thing and a thing possessing value appears in practice only when exchange has already acquired a sufficient extension and importance to allow useful things to be produced for the purpose of being exchanged, so that their character as values has already to be taken into consideration during production’ [7]

Exchange itself becomes a fundamentally inalienable relation in, and condition for, the reproduction and accumulation of capital. Exchange is a historical presupposition for the origination of capital in its first historically posited forms (commodity and money forms). It therefore precedes capital in all its forms and later develops with commodity production and capitalist commodity production.

During the transition period, there will be a growing need to develop measures to transcend exchange relations and replace them completely with a universal system of accounted production and distribution in which the identification and refinement of needs, quality, human welfare and ecological sustainability are the primary considerations. A ‘socialist accountancy’ (of labour required for production and distribution) prevails in the ‘realm of necessity’ which, in the long term, becomes transcended within the unfolding ‘realm of freedom’ in which disposable time – not value as a manifestation of labour time – becomes the measure of wealth.

Thus, in the first phase of communism (realm of natural necessity)…..

‘even after the capitalist mode of production is abolished, though social production remains, the determination of value still prevails in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among various production groups becomes more essential than ever, as well as the keeping of accounts on this’ [8]

This ‘determination of value still prevails’ within the ‘realm of natural necessity’ but becomes transcended as the ‘true realm of freedom’ emerges and unfolds out of this antecedent ‘realm of necessity’. Of course, it does not ‘prevail’ in the sense of the determination of value of products in exchange i.e. as commodities. But rather in the sense, as Marx writes, of the regulation and distribution of labour time in order to serve and meet social needs. The regulation of labour time becomes a transitory but necessary form of social accountancy. Here, therefore, labour time remains the measure of wealth and is only replaced by disposable time as the measure of wealth as the ‘true realm of freedom’ emerges and unfolds.

In the deep time of communism the distinction itself between necessary and surplus labour will actually disappear to be replaced by forms of human labour in which ‘labour […] appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself’ so that ‘activity’ will constitute a ‘vital need’ for human beings in that this ‘activity’ will be the direct, unalienated, social expression of the human freedom which prevails. This ‘true realm of freedom’ contains its own mediating necessity which is identical with human freedom i.e necessity and freedom become internal to each other and not a relation in which necessity is “external” and therefore manifest as compulsion in social relations.

In the first phase of communism, therefore, labour time remains the measure of wealth. It is the animating criterion against which the wealth of society continues to be measured. In this sense, it is a legacy of capitalist commodity production but this ‘determination of value’ in the ‘realm of necessity’ does not mediate relations in this realm in the same way as it does in the realm of capital in which value is the principal relation of exchange. In this first phase of communist development, ‘the relations of men in their social production do not manifest themselves as “values” of “things” ‘. However, at the same time, ‘the determination of value still prevails in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among various production groups becomes more essential than ever’ and thus, accordingly, the need for an accountancy of labour time. This, of course, is the complete opposite (since it is consciously planned) to the regulation of labour time which takes place anarchically under the market system of the capitalism with all its inhuman consequences….

‘As values, commodities are social magnitudes, that is to say, something absolutely different from their “properties” as “things”. As values, they constitute only relations of men in their productive activity. Value indeed “implies exchanges”, but exchanges are exchanges of things between men, exchanges which in no way affect the things as such. A thing retains the same “properties” whether it be owned by A or by B. In actual fact, the concept “value” presupposes “exchanges” of the products. Where labour is communal, the relations of men in their social production do not manifest themselves as “values” of “things”. Exchange of products as commodities is a method of exchanging labour, [it demonstrates] the dependence of the labour of each upon the labour of the others [and corresponds to] a certain mode of social labour or social production’ [9]

The process of the objectification of human labour – i.e. the specifically human form of movement, form of energy which is human labour – takes place historically under different social relations of production. The process evolves as the application of this human energy in order to transform Nature into socially useful products. Humanity objectifies this ‘essential power’ in the labour process in order to wrest its needs from Nature by transforming it in the course of its relationship with it. Labour – in the broadest sense of the word – is this transhistorically-enduring, intrinsically human, indispensable ‘mediation’ in the relation between Man and Nature. We must note at this point that labour (in the broadest sense of the term as human productive activity) was the creative ontological basis for the evolutionary transformation of ancestral animal primates (through different stages in the lineage over millions of years) into the human being.

Marx revealed that it is only under certain historically-derived social relations of production that this process of objectification takes alienated forms. This is the positive, forward-looking, moment in his analysis; namely that the process of objectification is not inherently a process of alienation but rather takes a specific alien form under capitalism as a function of the character and reproduction of capital. In the epoch of the rule of capital…

The effects of things as materialised aspects of the labour process are attributed to them in capital, in their personification, their independence in respect of labour. They would cease to have these effects if they were to cease to confront labour in this alienated form.[10]

In contradistinction, Hegel ahistorically and absolutely identifies [this is a formal moment in Hegel’s conception] the process of objectification of human labour energy with its alienation and, as a consequence, for Hegel, the realm of the ‘Absolute Idea’ and religion is the only sphere in which the problem of the transcendence of human alienation can be addressed and resolved. For Hegel, because objectification is ultimately thinking’s creation identical with alienation itself, it can only be overcome in thought which ‘returns out of this alienation into itself’ as the notion, absolute idea, etc.

Hegel’s position here is essentially the same as that of classical bourgeois political economy, which Marx noted in the Grundrisse…

The bourgeois economists are so much cooped up within the notions belonging to a specific historic stage of social development that the necessity of the objectification of the powers of social labour appears to them as inseparable from their alienation vis-a-vis living labour. But with the suspension of the immediate character of living labour, as merely individual, or as general merely internally or merely externally*, with the positing of the activity of individuals as immediately general or social activity, the objective moments of production are stripped of this form of alienation; they are thereby posited as property, as the organic social body within which the individuals reproduce themselves as individuals, but as social individuals. The conditions which allow them to exist in this way in the reproduction of their life, in their productive life’s process, have been posited only by the historic economic process itself, both the objective and the subjective conditions, which are only the two distinct forms of the same conditions.
The worker’s propertylessness, and the ownership of living labour by objectified labour, or the appropriation of alien labour by capital – both merely expressions of the same relation from opposite poles – are fundamental conditions of the bourgeois mode of production, in no way accidents irrelevant to it. [11]

*[note by SM : ‘merely internally or merely externally’ – merely potentially or merely actually. As in private labour being potentially general, abstract labour, i.e., becoming actually stamped with this character in the process of exchange and only through exchange on the market; at that moment within which the products of labour become articulated as commodities]

Hegel’s conception of human alienation flows from his idealist position which necessarily locates the supersedence of alienation in the realm of a theism rather than understanding that theistic praxis is itself a socio-historical product of the evolution of alienated humanity. Implicitly, Hegel’s conception is that alienation can only be overcome in thought itself or rather by thought somehow establishing some form of determinate relationship with social being, the disposition of the ‘Absolute Idea’, etc. Herein is posited the theistic character of Hegel’s outlook which was critiqued by Marx in The Holy Family and The German Ideology i.e in his critique of the Left Hegelians.

Marx locates the overcoming of alienation in the elaboration of a revolutionary praxis wherein the prevailing forms of alienation are grasped as integral products of the character of social relations in bourgeois society. Marx understands the determinate tendency towards the transcendence of alienation as only becoming fully and comprehensively realised in communism. The theistic roots of Hegel’s system are clearly exposed in his analysis of alienation which ultimately finds itself in the circularity of a theological cul-de-sac.

Thus, for Hegel, alienation can only be transcended in thought as the demiurgos of social relations. For Marx, it is these relations which must be transformed (revolutionised) in real practice in order to create the social conditions for the transcendence of alienation which is, by its very nature, an enduring, unfolding, historical process. Herein lies the major difference between the perspective of Hegel and that of Marx on the question of alienation. The final refuge, arising out of Hegel’s conception, is that the Christian religion is the only arena within which alienation can be transcended as a manifestation of his specific theological form of idealism.

The objectification of human labour is an absolute material relation running through the history of all previous societies. Where capitalism is the dominant mode of production, this objectification takes the form of the continual and necessary reproduction of capital which stands opposing the producers as a hostile social relation. Labour power itself becomes a commodity which the producer is forced to sell to the owners of capital in order to survive. The producers become alienated from their own activity and the results of this activity. In the capital-wage labour relation, the exercise of this ‘essential power’ (labour power) is alienated and belongs to the capitalist as part of his capital (variable capital).

In this relation of alienation, the estrangement of the wage worker from others and from self (from ‘his own essential species-being’, Marx, Paris Manuscripts of 1844) comes to its fullest, most complete realisation with the global dominance of capital. With the historical genesis, establishment and domination of the global capital relation, the producer class (the proletariat) becomes comprehensively ‘opposed by a hostile power of its own making, so that it defeats its own purpose’ in the act of continuously reproducing this relation. (Meszaros, I., Marx’s Theory of Alienation, p. 313).

The labour process ceases to take alien form once it divests itself of its historic operation within the conditions of capitalist production. Wage labour engenders its opposite in the form of capital which then necessarily enslaves the former as a pre-condition and presupposition for its own existence. Wage labour becomes the necessary presupposition for the existence of capital and thus, in so doing, mediates the perpetuation of its own historical existence as long as the capital relation continues as the dominant relationship of production and distribution.

Labour is that form of human energy which creates value but, in the epoch of capitalist commodity production, it only does so under those historical conditions created and reproduced by capital in order to serve the constant augmentation of its value (valorisation) and accumulation. Under different conditions this form of human energy can serve different ends where the labour process ceases to serve the needs of capital.

Under the conditions of the domination of capital, the human source of this labour-energy is compelled to alienate it. The potentiated form of this energy – labour power – is a commodity. It becomes a component (variable capital) in the composition of the total value of capital with all its dehumanising consequences for the labourer. The labourer is simply wage-labour personified for the capitalist who is capital personified for the labourer. The labourer is a personified source of surplus value and the capitalist is the personification of the capital relation. The wage-worker – alienated from self, from others, from his activity and its product – experiences the exercising of this ‘essential power’, and himself, merely as an object of use (objet d’emploi) for self and others. Labour is not lived as an intrinsic, meaningful part of life but merely as a painful and alienating means towards it. For the worker, “life” commences after labour, as Marx writes in Wage Labour and Capital (1847), “at table, in the tavern, in bed”. Who would dispute the enduring truth of this latter conception, today, in 2014?

During the epoch of capital, the ‘general social form of labour appears as the property of a thing’ so that ‘social relations between men…assume for them the fantastic form of a relation between things’ resulting in ‘the action of objects which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them’ (Marx, Vol. 1, Capital). In Marx’s conception, the capitalist mode of production presents itself, appears as, a ‘natural’ rather than a ‘socio-historical’ formation. The relations reproduced by capital serve as the source of notions of some nebulous eternal ‘human nature’ which must always embody the chief characteristics of bourgeois man, thereby serving to ideologically justify the existing capitalist order itself.

The world market is viewed as a ‘thing of nature’ rather than understood as a social relation created by humanity at a particular stage (epoch) in the history of human society. Likewise, capital is not a ‘thing of nature’ but a determinate social relation of production arising and developing at and during a specific historical period in the evolution of humanity’s productive forces. In the circulation of commodities, the labour time incorporated into products in the course of their production appears as a material property of the commodity, i.e. value appears as a ‘thing’ rather than as a social relation between producers. Money itself (as universal expression of value) is ‘an objectified relation between persons; …it is objectified exchange value, and exchange value is nothing more than a mutual relation between people’s productive activities.’ Money ‘can have a social property only because individuals have alienated their own social relationship from themselves so that it takes the form of a thing’ (Marx, Grundrisse, p160., see also p.161 ff., chapter on money).

Marx, in volume one of Capital, analogises the fetishism of commodities with the ‘mist-enveloped regions of the religious world’ revealing that in the world of religion ‘the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life’ which enter ‘into relation with both one another and the human race’. (Capital, Vol. 1, p 77). In this ‘religious reflex of the real world’ (p 84) ‘man is governed by the products of his own brain’ (p 582) just as in the fetishism of commodities he is governed by the productions of his own hand.

Capital confronts humanity as an alien power yet produced by humanity. The capitalist mode of production presents itself as a ‘natural’ rather than a ‘socio-historical’ formation. It is true that commodities are ‘things’ in so far as their material use-values are inseparable from their existence as commodities. However, in the age of capital a thing cannot be made available as use-value (as socially useful) without simultaneously being a commodity and as realised value as such. It is not its concrete ‘thinghood’ as a specific material use-value which is fundamental for capital. What, a priori, animates and determines the movement of capital globally is rather the character of commodities as embodiments of “socially necessary general labour, utterly indifferent to any particular content” (Marx, Results of the Immediate Process of Production, appendix to Volume 1 of Capital, Penguin Edition).

4. A Note on Human Individuality in the Epoch of Capital

The social relations of the capitalist epoch are mediated by a social division of labour which corresponds to the prevailing stage of development of its technical productive forces. The ‘enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour’ [Marx.Critique of the Gotha Programme. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p.320] creates psychosocial conditions under capitalism within which humans are prevented (circumscription) from developing an all-round, multifaceted, multi-skilled personality which enables the individual to participate in all spheres of human activity and life. Marx observes that…

If circumstances in which the individual lives allow him only the one-sided development of one quality at the expense of all the rest, if they give him the material and time to develop only that one quality, then this individual achieves only a one-sided crippled development. No moral preaching avails here. And the manner in which this one pre-eminently favoured quality develops depends again, on the one hand, on the material available for its development and, on the other hand, on the degree and manner in which the other qualities are suppressed.
Precisely because thought, for example, is the thought of a particular definite individual, it remains his definite thought, determined by his individuality and the conditions in which he lives…..In the case of an individual, for example, whose life embraces a wide circle of varied activities and practical relations to the world, and who, therefore, lives a many-sided life, thought has the same character of universality as every other manifestation in his life…..From the outset it is always a factor in the total life of the individual, one which disappears and is reproduced as required. (Marx emphasis) [Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. p.263]

The development of a many-sided human personality – which is not ‘one-sided’ and ‘crippled’ – is dependent on the actual existence of social conditions and relations which provide the social and material ground for such a development. An all-rounded, many-sided, multifaceted development of the capacities of human individuals is therefore only possible in a society which furnishes such conditions. Capitalism is not such a society. Quite the contary. It ‘cripples’ the human being and personality. Accordingly, the determinations of the human personality and interpersonal relationships in the age of capital derive from the general character of its exploitative social relations.

The development of the individual human being is located in the conditions prevailing in the given society. Whether an individual develops one-sidedly (‘crippled’) or in a many-sided and richly multifaceted way therefore..

depends not on consciousness, but on being; not on thought, but on life; it depends on the individual’s empirical development and manifestations of life, which in turn depends on the conditions obtaining in the world. [Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.262).

Likewise, whether an individual is “satisfied” or “dissatisfied” with his life – or “life” generally – “depends on the conditions obtaining in the world”. Ultimately it is rooted in the character of these conditions so that…

Dissatisfaction with oneself is either dissatisfaction with oneself within the framework of a definite condition which determines the whole personality e.g. dissatisfaction with oneself as a worker, or it is moral dissatisfaction. In the first case, therefore, it is simultaneously and mainly dissatisfaction with the existing relations; in the second case – an ideological expression of these relations themselves, which does not all go beyond them, but belongs wholly to them. [Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.378]

This “dissatisfaction” to which Marx refers finds its reflection within the realm of the “satisfaction” human needs when it takes on a reified form. A need or desire can be said to be reified if…..

it assumes an abstract, isolated character, if it confronts me as an alien power, if, therefore, the satisfaction of the individual appears as the one-sided satisfaction of a single person
(Marx, The German Ideology, Vol. 5, Collected Works, p 262).]

And, very interestingly, Marx writes further that…

our desires and pleasures spring from society; we measure them, therefore, by society and not by the objects which serve for their satisfaction. Because they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature

(Marx, Wage Labour and Capital. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p.83

The transformation of social relations by humanity simultaneously brings about the transformation of the transformer, of the human agent of and for this transformation. (“praxis”- Marx, Theses on Feuerbach). The transcendence of the capital relation is the complete transformation of humanity in Nature and therefore the total transformation of the relationships between human individuals i.e of human individuality as the “ensemble of social relations” (Marx, Thesis VI, Theses on Feuerbach).

We read in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844 that…

“Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being – a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.” [section 3, Private Property and Communism, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844]

The development of production and distribution founded on capital creates the conditions and possibilities for the transcendence of the division of labour under communal production. Not forgetting, of course, that this same “development” of global capital (its increasingly more destructive reproduction as a social relation in structural crisis) is now actually starting to erode and destroy the required natural and cultural conditions for the future socialist society. This is what gives rise to the urgency of revolutionary change in the present epoch. All the time the capital system continues, and its crisis unfolds and deepens in the 21st century, it actually undermines the necessary conditions required to build the future human society. It makes its realisation more difficult and problematic.

Notwithstanding this…

large-scale industry, through its very catastrophes, makes the recognition of variation of labour and hence of the fitness of the worker for a maximum number of different kinds of labour into a question of life and death. This possibility of varying labour must become a general law of social production, and the existing relations must be adapted to permit its realisation in practice. That monstrosity, the disposable working population held in reserve, in misery, for the changing requirements of capitalist exploitation, must be replaced by the individual man who is absolutely available for the different kinds of labour required of him; the partially developed individual, who is merely the bearer of one specialised, social function, must be replaced by the totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn.[Marx, Capital Vol 1, p.618 (Penguin Edn)]

However, nonetheless, large-scale industry ‘in its capitalist form reproduces the old division of labour with its ossified particularities’ (ibid, p. 617)

The requirements of capital itself increasingly turn the specialised worker into one who must be prepared and able to readily adapt and change his mode of labour in order to meet the demands of capital which, nonetheless, continuously re-posits ‘the old division of labour with its ossified particularities’. Beyond the age of capital lies the development of a rich and multifaceted human individuality in which the division of labour is becoming transcended with the emergence of a ‘totally developed individual’ (social individual) replacing the ‘partially developed individual’ (private individual, owner of capital or labour-power) of bourgeois society.

5. Realm of Natural Necessity and True Realm of Freedom

With the movement of global society beyond the realm of capital…

‘Within the cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production the producers do not exchange their products; similarly, the labour spent on the products no longer appears as the value of these products, possessed by them as a material characteristic, for now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual pieces of labour are no longer merely indirectly, but directly, a component part of the total labour.’ [12]

In this ‘cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production’ (in this ‘realm of natural necessity’)….

The communal character of production would make the product into a communal, general product from the outset. The exchange which originally takes place in production – which would not be an exchange of exchange values but of activities, determined by communal needs and communal purposes – would from the outset include the participation of the individual in the communal world of products**. On the basis of exchange values, labour is posited as general only through exchange. But on this foundation it would be posited as such before exchange; i.e. the exchange of products would in no way be the medium by which the participation of the individual in general production is mediated. Mediation must, of course, take place. In the first case, which proceeds from the independent production of individuals – no matter how much these independent productions determine and modify each other post festum through their interrelations – mediation takes place through the exchange of commodities, through exchange value and through money; all these are expressions of one and the same relation. In the second case, the presupposition is itself mediated; i.e. a communal production, communality, is presupposed as the basis of production. The labour of the individual is posited from the outset as social labour. Thus, whatever the particular material form of the product he creates or helps to create, what he has bought with his labour is not a specific and particular product, but rather a specific share of the communal production. He therefore has no particular product to exchange. His product is not an exchange value. The product does not first have to be transposed into a particular form in order to attain a general character for the individual. Instead of a division of labour, such as is necessarily created with the exchange of exchange values, there would take place an organisation of labour whose consequence would be the participation of the individual in communal production. In the first case the social character of production is posited only post festum with the elevation of products to exchange values and the exchange of these exchange values. In the second case the social character of production is presupposed, and participation in the world of products, in consumption, is not mediated by the exchange of mutually independent labours or products of labour. It is mediated, rather, by the social conditions of production within which the individual is active. Those who want to make the labour of the individual directly into money (i.e. his product as well), into realised exchange value, want therefore to determine that labour directly as general labour, i.e. to negate precisely the conditions under which it must be made into money and exchange values, and under which it depends on private exchange. This demand can be satisfied only under conditions where it can no longer be raised. Labour on the basis of exchange values presupposes, precisely, that neither the labour of the individual nor his product are directly general; that the product attains this form only by passing through an objective mediation, by means of a form of money distinct from itself.
On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains, of course, essential. The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle, etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or mental. Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development, its enjoyment and its activity depends on economisation of time. Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself. Society likewise has to distribute its time in a purposeful way, in order to achieve a production adequate to its overall needs; just as the individual has to distribute his time correctly in order to achieve knowledge in proper proportions or in order to satisfy the various demands on his activity. Thus, economy of time, along with the planned distribution of labour time among the various branches of production, remains the first economic law on the basis of communal production. It becomes law, there, to an even higher degree.’ [13]

**[Thus, even with ‘communal labour in its spontaneously evolved forms…..[ ]……the social character of labour is evidently not effected by the labour of the individual assuming the abstract form of universal labour or his product assuming the form of a universal equivalent. The communal system on which this mode of production is based prevents the labour of an individual from becoming private labour and his product the private product of a separate individual; it causes individual labour to appear rather as the direct function of a member of the social organisation. Labour which manifests itself in exchange-value appears to be the labour of an isolated individual. It becomes social labour by assuming the form of its direct opposite, of abstract universal labour.’
(Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. pp. 33-34 (Progress, 1977)]

Here Marx’s description remains within the sphere of ‘natural necessity’ – a post-capital age which has not, as yet, passed over into the ‘true realm of freedom’. Its ‘necessity’ continues to be ‘external’, an epoch where ‘labour determined by necessity and external expediency’ still dominates. As this period matures, a new dynamic sets in which points the way towards the ‘true realm’.

‘Once the mass of workers have appropriated their own surplus labour – and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.’

And then, as a matter of course….

‘The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific, etc, development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.’ [15]

Marx’s understanding of the relationship between necessity and freedom informs us in his understanding of the ‘true realm of freedom’.

Within this realm – beyond that realm of “natural necessity” within which labour remains under the compulsion of “external expediency” – the whole social character of human activity changes. It truly represents a social qualitative break in the history of human activity. From being a compulsive and repulsive activity, labour (“activity”) – imposed as an external, alien necessity in previous societies – becomes posited and developed simultaneously as both means and end in itself. “Activity” becomes necessarily intrinsic, “internal”, to the development of human freedom itself so that….

The realm of freedom really begins only where labour determined by necessity and external expediency ends [see Note 1]

In other words, human activity ceases to take place under a compulsive, repulsive coercion as we see under capital and, to a lesser extent, in the first phases of post-capitalist society. Labour itself is not inherently repulsive activity (and therefore always imposed or imposable as coercive) but only so when performed within the context of specific social relations and under the historical conditions corresponding thereto. To ideologically assert this character of labour as an “eternal” is itself an ideological manifestation of its repulsive and coercive character in the epoch of capital.

Within the “realm of natural necessity”, labour (“activity”) remains subject to this “necessity and external expediency”. Work retains its character as “a means of keeping alive”. [Critique of the Gotha Programme, subsection I.3] Work as intrinsic to human “activity” only becomes “a vital need” [ibid] in the “true realm of freedom” so here it ceases to bear this compulsory character driven by an external and alien necessity in the course of the realisation of “mundane considerations”.

But within the realm of natural necessity itself, labour is posited simultaneously as labour-for-self and labour-for-others (and vice versa) and as directly social labour unmediated by the commodity-form. This communal relation therefore is a self-objectification (self-realisation) which is simultaneously the realisation of the needs of others (objectification-for-others). The activity of the individual is simultaneously posited as communal activity as this communal activity is that of the freely associated social individuals. The establishment of such relations must itself create the conditions necessary for, and mediating, the psychological transformation of humanity. The social presuppositionals for the psychological transformation of Man.

When Marx writes that within the realm of freedom the “development of human activity becomes an end in itself”, he is not formalistically excluding that such activity simultaneously and directly serves the social and material needs of humanity and therefore serves as a means for human development. He is merely asserting a “genuine resolution” of the conflict between means and ends (as of that between freedom and necessity) and that “human activity as an end in itself” is the living truth and manifestation of this “genuine resolution”. That human beings will find satisfaction in activity which contains an humanly-internalised necessity (not as an alien-imposed “external necessity” or “expediency”); a necessity which is identical to the free active mediation of the individuals in the commune. Activity as both creative self-realisation and creatively realising the needs of each and all so that self-fulfillment is simultaneously the fulfillment of others. Labour, of course, continues to obtain…

its measure from the outside, through the aim to be attained and the obstacles to be overcome in attaining it. But…[….]…this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity – and that, further, the external aims become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits – hence as self-realisation, objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labour.
[Grundrisse, Penguin, 1993. p.611]

Labour retains a coercive character in the post-capitalist transitional phase but not in the same degree or in the same coercive character as its does under capital. Under capital as “external forced labour” and in the transitional phase in a form in which labour “has not yet created the subjective and objective conditions for itself in which labour becomes attractive work, the individual’s self-realisation”. Marx asserts that the preconditions and historic presupposition for this free activity is the “social character” of production and at that stage when and where the labour process “is of a scientific character and at the same time general character, not merely human exertion as a specifically harnessed natural force, but exertion as subject, which appears in the production process not in a merely natural, spontaneous form, but as an activity regulating all the forces of nature” (p.612, ibid).

Coercion in the labour process in the intial stages is the historic motor which drives the transition beyond the realm of capital and projects humanity towards the true realm of freedom. In the process of doing this, it simultaneously supersedes this period of transition as a realm of natural necessity. Marx refers to this transitional period when he writes…

In a more advanced phase of communist society, when the enslaving subjugation of individuals to the division of labour, and thereby the antithesis between intellectual and physical labour, have disappeared; when labour is no longer just a means of keeping alive but has itself become a vital need; when the all-round development of individuals has also increased their productive powers and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can society wholly cross the narrow horizon of bourgeois right and inscribe on its banner : From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs! [Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme in The First International and After. Political Writings. Volume 3. Penguin, 1974. p 347]

Work becomes a “vital need” and intrinsic to the self-development, self-fulfilment and self-realisation of the social individual in the life of the commune. “Work” (activity) as human creativity is enjoyment of activity as the intrinsically human and the exercise and development of this essential human power stripped and divested of its alienated historical form found in the epoch of capital. The actual distinction between “work” and “not work” becomes superseded as does that between necessary and surplus labour despite the need for a surplus within the “true realm”. [Gotha Programme, Ibid]

Labour also finds a subjective (psychological) form of compulsion where the activity of the producers remains determined by external expediency. Activity as such still retains its coercive character. Therefore, in the intial post-capitalist phases – which remain a realm of natural necessity but to a lesser degree vis-a-vis the epoch of capital – the labour process continues to exhibit compulsory traits in common with labour in previous but surpassed epochs. And this despite the general character of labour being directly socialised labour.

Whilst labour remains under a compulsion, everybody who is capable must work in order to contribute to the communal fund and, in the course of this collective labour, prepare the way for the higher stages of communist society established and developed in the ‘true realm of freedom’

If everybody has to work, if the contradiction between those who have to work too much and those who are idlers disappears – and this would in any case be the result of capital ceasing to exist, of the product ceasing to provide a title to alien surplus labour – and if, in addition, the development of the productive forces brought about by capitalism is taken into account, society will produce the necessary abundance in six hours, [producing] more than it does now in twelve, and, moreover, all will have six hours of “disposable time”, that is, real wealth; time which will not be absorbed in direct productive labour, but will be available for enjoyment, for leisure, thus giving scope for free activity and development. Time is scope for the development of man’s faculties, etc.[16]

Labour itself only takes a coercive, compulsive, repulsive form when it is subject to an external, alien necessity i.e. when it remains imprisoned within its wage-form either as money in the epoch of capital or later – as transient form – as time-chit within the immediately post-capitalist “realm of natural necessity” (zwang). Within this latter realm, of course, it does not bear the same degree of compulsion as in the former capital realm since within the movement of the realm beyond the capital epoch, it is already beginning to divest itself of this compulsory alienated character as it becomes posited and developed as directly socialised labour. The positing of labour as a directly socialised process – the negation of the historical form of the labour process under capital – is a signpost of history pointing towards the new epoch of human freedom beyond compulsion. Within the realm of natural necessity, the growth in the productivity of labour will always mean an increased availability of free time. But within this realm…

Labour-time, even if exchange-value is eliminated, always remains the creative substance of wealth and the measure of the cost of its production. But free time, disposable time, is wealth itself, partly for the enjoyment of the product, partly for free activity which – unlike labour – is not dominated by the pressure of an extraneous purpose which must be fulfilled, and fulfilment of which is regarded as a natural necessity or a social duty, according to one’s inclination.
It is self-evident that if labour-time is reduced to a normal length and, furthermore, labour is no longer performed for someone else, but for myself, and, at the same time, the social contradictions between master and men, etc., being abolished, it acquires a quite different, a free character, it becomes real social labour, and finally the basis of disposable time – the labour of a man who has also disposable time, must be of a much higher quality than that of the beast of burden [17]

Then, according to Marx…

Free time – which is both idle time and time for higher activity – has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject. This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming; and, at the same time, practice [Ausubung], experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulated knowledge of society. For both, in so far as labour requires practical use of the hands and free bodily movement, as in agriculture, at the same time exercise [18]

The “necessity and external expediency” to which Marx refers in Volume 3 of Capital only ends when humanity has entered what he refers to as the “true realm of freedom” where communist humanity is developing as a whole unified species, beyond class relations, on the basis of the continuously self-re-created (self-reproduced) foundations of this higher realm of freedom. Herein the condition for the development of each becomes the condition for the development of all and vice versa. Work becomes a “vital” inner need (zwanglos) of the social individual in the course of a full participation in the life of the commune. In the course of doing so, fully developing his or her capacities and the capacities of others. Within this higher realm of freedom, the creation, development and refinement of historically-posited human needs have superseded (aufhebung) natural needs. This is the freedom which “lies beyond the sphere of actual material production” i.e. beyond this sphere designated as a separate and distinct sphere of human activity bound by the operative principle of “external” and expedient compulsory need. “Production” itself ceases to divided off from communal life – ceases to operate as a sub-division of that life – and is no longer internalised by humanity as a distinction of activity from other forms of activity as it is under capital and in the realm of natural necessity. Activity becomes simultaneously productive, scientific, artistic, aesthetic, etc. This is the enrichment and cultivation of the social individual – work as a “vital need” and “end in itself” – and yet, at the same time, serves to address, meet and develop the historically-created needs of all.

“It will be seen how in place of the wealth and poverty of political economy comes the rich human being and the rich human need. The rich human being is simultaneously the human being in need of a totality of human manifestations of life – the man in whom his own realization exists as an inner necessity, as need” [Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Third Manuscript, Private Property and Communism, section 4]

The ‘internal’ fully humanised necessity (which is identical to freedom) found in the higher realm of freedom is the direct opposite of the ‘external’ necessity operative in previous epochs, including in those of the intial stages of global post-capitalist society. The transcendence of this previously operative alien necessity – imposed and coercive in nature – posits the higher internal form which is identical to a forever expanding and developing human freedom. This form of necessity within this higher realm of human freedom is not registered in the human subject as “compulsion” as such because it ceases to be imposed ‘from without’ as external and alien. Accordingly, on a psychological level, the subject does not (and does not have to) internalise it as “a necessity which must be so and so”, etc. The subject does not internalise it as an alien demand because it becomes a fully humanised expression of his increasingly deepening, de-alienating life process as a social individual. In the epoch of capital, the producers internalise, as compulsion, the alien demands of capital. In this higher movement of the human freedom of the commune, this internalisation of alien demands becomes transcended.

Labour itself (‘dominated by the pressure of extraneous purpose which must be fulfilled’) becomes ‘free activity’ expressed in an intensely rich aggregation of human activity in the ‘true realm of freedom’. Labour becomes divested of its coercive, expedient character as ‘necessity’ is eclipsed by ‘freedom’. Labour ceases to be “labour” as such and increasingly the free, multifaceted, enriching activity of human beings living in a classless communion.

But this higher movement is also the transformation of humanity’s productive activity itself. The transformation of the subject is simultaneously the transformation of humanity’s relationship with Nature.

Man himself is the basis of his material production, as of any other production that he carries on. All circumstances, therefore, which affect man, the subject of production, more or less modify all his functions and activities, and therefore too his functions and activities as the creator of material wealth, of commodities. In this respect it can in fact be shown that all human relations and functions, however and in whatever form they may appear, influence material production and have a more or less decisive influence on it [19]

In as much as we do not feel the need to metabolise our food, humanity in this realm of freedom will not feel compelled to engage in “activity” as such in its many and varied, richly multifaceted forms. It will be as natural as a healthy body digesting its food. Such activities (objectification) – divested of their alien forms – become a “vital need”. A historically-created human need unmotivated by any external or alien necessity.

The freedom of this realm forever deepens in degree. An absolute human freedom is not a point at which to arrive in some distant future. It is always a point towards which humanity is forever tending. Humanity is always becoming ‘more free’ as a species within this realm. In this regard, this interminable process – to use a mathematical analogy – can be said to be ‘asymptotic’. And this asymptoticality is found expressed in Marcuse’s “instinctual root of freedom” in which the social relations and institutions created by man must be made specifically by man in order to accommodate themselves to this “instinctual root”, to facilitate and encourage its growth, its continuous expression and eternal onward evolution. To allow for the free and unconditional development of the higher form of human sensibility which arises out of revolution and the creation of the new life in the commune…

The Subject of a socialist society must the Subject of a new sensibility. There is such a thing as an instinctual root of freedom in the individual itself, and if this instinctual root cannot grow, the new society will not be free, no matter what institutions it will provide. [……..] The socialist society as a qualitatively different society would be the achievement of men and women who have liberated themselves from the material and intellectual culture of class society, and who are free to develop a language, art and science responding to and projecting a free society.
Let us not forget that domination and exploitation perpetuate themselves not only in the institutions of class society, but also in the instincts and drives and aspirations shaped by class society, also in that which the people, that is to say the managed and administered people, love, hate, strive for, find beautiful, pleasurable and so on. Class society is not only in the material production, it is not only in the cultural production and reproduction, it is also in the mind and body of the subjects and objects of the system.

[Herbert Marcuse. The Realm of Freedom and the Realm of Necessity – A Reconsideration]…/69praxis7pagePDF.pdf

The commune will educate the individual in all areas of human culture – in technique, science, literature, art, etc – and provide access to all its different spheres. This, in itself, will create the cultural preconditions for the flourishing of the human personality and intellect in the commune where the identification, refinement and realisation of the needs of each and every individual will be the governing principle of social relationships.

It is only within the commune that each individual has….

the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community. In previous substitutes for the community, in the state, etc, personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed under the conditions of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community in which individuals have up till now combined always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and since it was the combination of one class over against another, it was at the same time for the oppressed class not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In the real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.

[The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.78]

The identification, meeting, cultivation, refinement of the comprehensive needs of human beings become socially and unconditionally guaranteed. This unconditional guarantee of the meeting of human needs arises out of the nature of human relationships within commune itself. The state forms and systems of exploitative social control of class societies become unnecessary and disappear and therefore, consequentially, do those forms of human behaviour and forms of thinking and ideology which are the outcome of, and correspond to, the exploitative relations of class society. The social exploitation of man by man disappears. Accordingly, those characteristics of interpersonal relationships – inclusive of the psychological – which grow out of the various forms of exploitation in class society must also perish. And the disappearance of old and emergence of new characteristics of the evolving human personality will – as in previous epochs – be related to and specific to the altering stages of the commune and the conditions therein. Marx reminds us that…

In order to examine the connection between spiritual production and material production it is above all necessary to grasp the latter itself not as a general category but in definite historical form. Thus for example different kinds of spiritual production correspond to the capitalist mode of production and to the mode of production of the Middle Ages. If material production itself is not conceived in its specific historical form, it is impossible to understand what is specific in the spiritual production corresponding to it and the reciprocal influence of one on the other [20]

The exploitative forms of social control and coercion which are a necessary feature of class society find their consummate expression in the form of the state embodying a definite class nature.
The state – in whatever form – always represents the interests of a ruling caste or class. It is the product of the developing antagonisms of class society. With the dissolution of class society in communism, the state begins to wither away. The state is a product of socio-historical development which becomes necessary as the ‘primitive communism’ of tribal societies is abolished with the differentiation of society into opposed classes. It becomes socially unnecessary as the transition to global classless society takes place since there are no class interests to defend in this society. The character of social relations no longer gives rise to or necessitates the existence of the state.

Lenin, for example, uses the existence or non-existence of the state as a criterion for the existence or non-existence of a free human society; a society of free human beings. Thus, he says, somewhat formally, that…

so long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.

[Lenin. State and Revolution. (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969) p.87]

We say ‘formally’ because ‘freedom’ is not, as such, an absolute state to be reached once and for all but rather more a state of being for humanity to continuously expand and deepen to wider and more profound states of existence once the fundamental pre-conditions for such a development have been established in a classless, stateless, global human life.

The very notion of freedom can no longer have social grounds for existence in such a society. When the state perishes, notions of freedom vanish with it. The hankering after ‘freedom’ being the product of enslavement. Accordingly, a truly free human being can have no concept of freedom since such notions are the products of the human relations of class societies. Thus, neither does a truly free human being have any awareness of being ‘free’. Humanity in the commune will see itself as “free” no more than it will see itself as “communist”.

In the transition to a global, stateless, classless society, the forms of human consciousness corresponding to this period of transition will continue to reflect a disappearing connection to and with class society showing that society – in this transitional phase – has not completely disentangled itself from the various legacies of class societies. As long as the historical umbilical cord connecting society to the social legacies of class societies – and the human memory of them – has not been completely severed, then human society will not have re-founded and re-developed itself as an association of free human beings. At such a stage, the legacies of the relations of class society would continue to exert their influence, binding humanity (psychologically at least) to the forms of social antagonism of the past. Accordingly, under these conditions, the thinking, feeling, behaviour and interpersonal relationships of people would continue to be conditioned by the legacies of the exploitative relations of the class societies of the past until the new society firmly and irreversibly establishes itself and starts to evolve on the basis of its own self-created foundations.

The tendency towards the transcendence of alienation only becomes fully and comprehensively realised and operative in the commune when the objectification which is the labour process itself ceases to take alienated form and expression. That is, when the “process of objectification appearing as a process of alienation from the standpoint of labour and as appropriation of alien labour from the standpoint of capital” (Marx, Grundrisse) comes to an end. Necessarily, the true unfolding of this tendency must lie beyond the realm of capital. The elimination of capital from the whole social metabolism is only the historical introduction to the real, determinate positing of this tendency towards the transcendence of alienation.

In a certain sense, the whole of previous human history has been a process of the perfection of human alienation. From the very dawn of human existence, the alienated character of religious thinking represents “from the outset consciousness of the transcendental arising from actually existing forces” (Marx). The global transition to communist life represents a reversal of that tendency wherein an antithetical process of ‘de-alienation’ commences and tends, similarly and asymptotically, towards the highest possible, absolute degree of unalienated human perfection. As Marx notes..

although at first the development of the capacities of the human species takes place at the cost of the majority of human individuals and even classes, in the end it breaks through this contradiction and coincides with the development of the individual; the higher development of individuality is thus only achieved by a historical process during which individuals are sacrificed, for the interests of the species in the human kingdom, as in the animal and plant kingdoms, always assert themselves at the cost of the interests of individuals, because these interests of the species coincide only with the interests of certain individuals, and it is this coincidence which constitutes the strength of these privileged individuals [21]

The onward evolution of human life in the commune necessarily implies a complete transformation in interpersonal relations and, accordingly, in the very nature and psychological structure and forms within the human personality itself. This development within the human personality will represent a qualitative break with the antecedent forms of the human personality types of bourgeois society.


[1] Capital, Volume 3, The Trinity Formula. pp 958-59. Penguin Classics Edn, (translated by David Fernbach) 1991.

(A comparison of this passage in the Penguin edfition with the Lawrence & Wishart version may be appropriate since it reveals differences and nuances in translation, etc. For example….

It is one of the civilizing aspects of capital that it extorts this surplus labour in a manner and in conditions that are more advantageous to social relations and to the creation of elements for a new and higher formation than was the case under the earlier forms of slavery, serfdom, etc.

is translated in the L&W edition as…..

It is one of the civilising aspects of capital that it enforces this surplus-labour in a manner and under conditions which are more advantageous to the development of the productive forces, social relations, and the creation of the elements for a new and higher form than under the preceding forms of slavery, serfdom, etc. (p 819, Lawrence & Wishart Edn, Fifth Printing, 1974)

As we can see, ‘the development of the productive forces’ is missing in the Penguin edition or has been inserted in the L&W edition.

Generally speaking, if we compare the volumes of the two editions, we find all manner of omissions, errors, insertions, inconsistencies, divergences and disagreements, etc, on translations, meaning, etc, and even the simple insertion or omission of words which changes, or at least significantly modifies, the whole meaning of the original. In one section, in Volume 2, the word ‘buyer’ is given where only ‘vendor’ or ‘seller’ gives sense and meaning to the sentence. The editions are replete with such examples. A reading of Capital must therefore also mean watching out for the mistakes in translation, typography, etc, in one or other or both editions. You have to ‘dodge’ the editors and translators before you get to Marx. And, of course, in the Penguin edition, you have to ‘dodge’ Ernest Mandel who ‘introduces’ it all. The art of moving through the various ‘editions’, ‘introductions’ ‘typographies’ and ‘translations’ necessarily involves a cultivation of the art of artful dodging.

[2] Hegel. Logic. Part 1 of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Zusatz, pp 55-56. Clarendon, Oxford, 1975

[3] Ibid, Zusatz, p 79.

[4] Ibid, §§ 157-158 and Zusatz, pp 219-220

[5] Nicolaus, Martin. Foreword. p. 51. Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993

[6] Marx, Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993 p. 325

[7] Marx. Vol 1 Capital. Penguin, 1982. pp. 165-66

[8] Marx. Vol 3 Capital. Penguin, 1991. p 991

[9] Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 3. Lawrence & Wishart, 1972. (p 129, Disintegration of the Ricardian School)

[10] Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 3. Lawrence & Wishart, 1972. (p 296, Opposition to the Economists)

[11] Marx, Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. p.832

[12] Marx. Critique of the Gotha Programme in The First International and After. Political Writings. Volume 3. Penguin, 1974. p.345

[13] Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. pp. 171-173

[14] Ibid., p.708

[15] Ibid., pp.705-06

[16] Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 3. Lawrence & Wishart, 1972. p.256, Opposition to the Economists

[17] Ibid., p.257, Opposition to the Economists

[18] Marx, Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. p.712

[19] Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 1. Lawrence & Wishart, 1969. p 288, Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labour.

[20] Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 1. Lawrence & Wishart, 1969. p. 285, Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labour, subsection on Storch.

[21] Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 2. Lawrence & Wishart, 1969. p.118, History of the Ricardian Law of Rent.

Shaun May

November 2014

Posted in Capital, Marx, realm of natural necesity, true realm of freedom | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Structural Crisis of Capital and Forms of Organisation of Labour

Structural Crisis of Capital and Forms of Organisation of Labour

The structural crisis of global capital is unfolding and deepening as the century opens up. This structural crisis brings in its wake a very deep and profound crisis for labour as regards the old defensive forms of organisation. They – the old ways of organising in trade unionism – are fundamentally unfit for purpose in their present structure and organisation and this will become increasingly evident as capital’s crisis matures. The need to throw off the old defensive forms and replace them with new offensive forms of struggle against capital and its state powers will increasingly assert itself. The historic precedence of the question of revolutionary agency now becomes clearly posed. On this immediate question of ‘agency’, how can the proletariat, in its present global situation and changed occupational structure, move onto the revolutionary road, that is, initiate the historical process of the transcendence of the capital order?
The structural crisis of capital, on the whole, now means that capital’s reproduction is now a “destructive reproduction” (Meszaros). In this sense, it is not simply developing the means of production (as it has done previously, despite widespread destruction in wars, etc) but is actually destroying them in its struggle to reproduce itself. It is destroying the fundamental natural and socio-cultural conditions for human life on the planet. Socialism is necessary for human survival on the planet now that capital has entered this final phase of destructive reproduction as its structural crisis deepens and widens. Meszaros goes into this in his work. Luxemburg’s dictum of “Socialism or Barbarism” (The Junius Pamphlet, 1916) has only now come into its own.

What is implied in his conception of ‘structural crisis’ is the antithesis and end of the phase of ‘conjunctural’ and cyclical crises. His analysis implies that these cyclical, conjunctural crises are part of a past historic temporal phase (during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) beyond which the capital system has now moved globally into a terminal structural phase. This ‘cyclical’ phase necessarily leads to the ‘structural’ phase central to which is the historic mediation of the process of the tendency of the organic composition of capital to increase and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. ‘Capitalist breakdown’ – within the context of structural crisis – can mean only one thing : the destruction of the necessary socio-cultural and natural preconditions for human life itself on the planet, for all sentient life. This is analysed by Meszaros in ‘Beyond Capital’.

The continuously unhindered and expanding realisation of surplus value implies a constantly expanding global market which is not possible. This is one of the reason why the capital system has arrived at “the activation of its absolute limits”. But crises of overproduction are not simply “realisation problems”. They indicate that the forces of production within the framework of the social relation of capital have actually outgrown that framework. In other words, it demonstrates that capital itself has become a fetter on the actual development of these forces. Today, that contradiction is now being expressed in the widespread ecological, social, human destruction which comes with the destructive reproduction of capital on a global scale. The mass of surplus value produced is actually increasing on a global scale but, critically, the ratio of this surplus value to the value of machinery and labour power is falling because of the phenomenal increase in the ratio of the value of machinery to labour power. It is the quantitative increase in this latter ratio which is driving the mad rush for an absolute increase in surplus value. And this underlies the widespread ecological destruction and degradation of human beings. Capital is becoming emptied out of its very “notion”, its historic development has reached the stage where it is “imploding in” on itself. Capital has fallen into the stage where its very development is undermining its own nature. To paraphrase Hegel, it is contradicting and self-abnegating its own “Concept” in the course of the unfolding of its global structural crisis.

Before this, crises were cyclical and capital could then displace its internal contradictions with a new phase of value expansion and accumulation. But in structural crisis, absolute expansion and accumulation merely serves to deepen its crisis. This drive for absolute surplus value (more factories in China, India, etc) is a response to this self-abnegating involutive process and brings in its wake all the destruction we are seeing, “destructive reproduction”. And, of course, it does not matter what is produced and destroyed as long as it produces realisable value and capital reaffirms itself as self-augmenting value. This is the irrepressible, untransgressable and insane logic of the capital relation. The drive for the realisation of surplus value and capital accumulation regardless of the “costs” on humanity and Nature.

This structural crisis is driving the destruction of public provision, transference into the grasp of private capital, mass structural unemployment and the driving down of workers’ conditions and wages. This is intrinsic to the global tendency towards an increase in the rate of exploitation in the “West” (equal to that in Asia and Latin America) and the falling rate of utilisation which comes with generalised waste production; disposability which serves the needs of capital because it creates space for value-production within whatever rapidly disposable use-value form it can embody itself. All this, of course, introduces new, and intensifies, existing contradictions. For example, wage cuts mean less purchasing power and therefore less value realisation despite increasing the mass, the quantity of surplus value produced as a result of the increasing organic composition of capital.

How can we put an end to the capitalist order bearing in mind that where we are at the present stage with our present organisations is totally inadequate. We need to discuss what sort of organisations we will need to carry through this great historic task. The trade unions in their present form are no longer fit for purpose and we need to create new, offensive forms of organisation to conduct this struggle to put an end to capitalism as a global system.

The most urgent question of the epoch is, therefore, how do we put an end to this epoch – the epoch of capital? And create a totally different type of society for future human generations. But pivotal in this question is what sort of organisations will we need to carry through this task, to the end, no matter what it takes and regardless of the sacrifice which it will almost inevitably involve. Humanity must put an end to the epoch of capital or capital will put an end to humanity.

Shaun May

October 2014

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

On Revolutionary Agency : ‘Existing Frameworks’, ‘Carts before Horses’ and ‘Firestorms’

On Revolutionary Agency : ‘Existing Frameworks’, ‘Carts before Horses’ and ‘Firestorms’.

[1] ‘Within the framework of existing institutions’

In Beyond Capital, Istvan Meszaros writes that…

the socialist offensive under the conditions of its new historical actuality…..implies also the necessity to face up to the major challenge of being compelled to embark on such an offensive within the framework of the existing institutions of the working class, which happened to be defensively constituted, under very different historical conditions, in the past. Both going beyond capital and envisaging a socialist offensive are paradigm issues of a transition to socialism. [Beyond Capital, Meszaros, I. pp.937-38].

Fundamentally, I think we must locate the ‘existing institutions of the working class’ as being its trade unions which were indeed ‘defensively constituted, under very different historical conditions’.

In their current bureaucratised form, the trade unions have played out their historic ‘economistic’ role. The onrush of the structural crisis of the capital order has clearly revealed that organised labour in this form has becoming implicitly vestigial and is heading deeper into the quagmire of a very profound crisis under the impact of the said structural crisis. Trade unionism itself is arriving at a crossroads of history which appointment is unavoidable under the unfolding conditions of the ‘activation of capital’s absolute limits’. Today we must focus on the conception of the structural crisis of capital which has been developed by Meszaros. The unfolding of this crisis signifies that the proletariat cannot go on in the old way with its bureaucratised trade unions and its traditional parties which have become openly parties of capital. The ‘Social Democratic’ and ‘Communist’ Parties are all now secondary political articulations of capital and its state power. They do not pose a serious threat to the rule of capital and, indeed, are often to be found in governments which are managing the affairs of capital and its state power. And indeed, a very good service is provided.

To understand today why there is an inability of trade unionism to defend the interests of the employed proletariat (never mind the other sections), we need, firstly, to understand how trade unionism itself came into being in the cauldron of capitalist expansion in the past two centuries and how the defensive posture which it has taken historically as the product of these past conditions of its emergence and development is related to its formation and evolution. And specifically to its relationship to the state power of capital itself.  But secondly, and more critically, how the unfolding of capital’s structural crisis is actually impacting on the traditional ‘economistic’ role of trade unionism. Trade unionism is itself now slipping deeper into crisis as a result of the impact of this structural crisis of capital. It is approaching a fork in the road of history. It is an unavoidable appointment with history.

But we must be circumspect, and not ‘rush in where angels fear to tread’. This does not discount the possibility that trade unionism may well constitute the point of departure for new forms of organisation emerging out of them. Specifically here, I am referring to the emergence of forms of revolutionary agency. The actual political articulation in practice is therefore to work within and as a part of the trade union movement in order to raise transitional proposals as its crisis as labour’s traditional form of organisation deepens as mediated by capital’s crisis. In this sense, trade unionism manifests a different historic role to its former one and unfolds in its crisis as the ‘nursery’ of a higher form of revolutionary agency. Therefore, in my opinion, it would be a mistake not to work within the trade unions  –  ‘within the framework of existing institutions’ – and strategically inept to simply reject them as “finished” or “run by self-serving bureaucracies”, etc. Of course, a battle with the trade union bureaucracy will be inevitable as the crisis within trade unionism manifests itself as the proletariat encounters the force of capital-in-crisis and looks for more adequate strategies and forms of struggle against capital and its state power. Trade unionism here displays contradictory tendencies. On the one hand, it is tied to the dead conditions of the past and, accordingly, in its current bureaucratised forms, is outmoded. However, at the same time, the very crisis of capital itself posits within trade unionism the possibility of going beyond itself into a higher form of agency. It is important to acknowledge these contradictory tendencies within trade unionism which will undoubtedly sharpen as the structural crisis of capital unfolds in this century.

The state power of capital has already declared a state of economic warfare on and against the life of the proletariat. This can only intensify as the crisis of capital deepens. In Britain, every last quantum of value in public and social provision is now caught in the process of being sucked into the gilded chambers of global finance capital as a return for money lent to prop up the banking system. To pay back the global creditor parasites of finance capital, the whole system of public provision in Britain (hospitals, schools, housing, municipal services, social support, welfare provision, etc) is going into the coffers of capital in the form of the augmentation of money capital. The implications of this ongoing process of appropriation are socially explosive. The ‘payback’ must come from somewhere. Value does not materialise out of thin air or droppeth from the sky. Capital is hardnosed, hardfaced and driven by its own uncompromising logic of exploitation, accumulation and value augmentation. Absolutely nothing must stand in the way of its untransgressable logic.

It means a massive transfer of value to finance capital from the destruction of living standards, public services, jobs, housing, healthcare, education, amenities, benefits and taxation increases on people who cannot afford to pay and, in many cases, are already impoverished. The real scale of the debt to finance capital is astronomical. One estimate, combining private and public debt, has placed it at £4.5 trillion in total. The capitalist class, and their hangers on in their state institutions and elsewhere, are forcing the proletariat to carry the burden of the crisis of their bankrupt system. This parasitic system of the rule of capital is displacing the problems, and imposing the burdens, of its crisis onto the shoulders of the proletariat. The weight of those burdens is going to grow heavier as the months and years pass. The agency of this imposition is the state power of capital. Nobody is exempt ; the sick, homeless, pensioners, jobless, elderly, needy, vulnerable, students, small shopkeepers, small retailers, self-employed, etc. Those in work today are only too aware that tomorrow they could be joining the dole queue with the long term, structurally unemployed.

The only way to fully oppose these measures is to come together and work collectively as a class. To begin to mobilise and organise the resistance to the destruction and devastation already taking place and rapidly worsening. This implies the need to work towards the establishment of new forms of agency which are adequate enough to build and spearhead resistance to the capital order itself.  Already we are witnessing the widespread and most disturbing global destruction of Nature’s creation, ecological devastation and the subjection of the living creatures of the Earth to all manner of cruelty and barbarity for profit or sadistic pleasure. The motivating force behind this is the uncontrollable destructive dynamic, expansion and accumulation of capital in crisis, the drive for profit. The dynamics of their order demands this destruction!

It is the enduring and unfolding historic crisis of the very structure of the capital relation itself and not simply a displaceable cyclical or conjunctural crisis. The organisational framework of a higher form of agency will bring together all those individuals, groups and organisations being attacked by the ruling class and its state power: bringing together trade unionised and non-unionised workers, the unemployed, benefits/welfare claimants, public sector workers, migrant workers, students, young and old, the homeless, community and campaign groups, small business people, the ‘professions’, etc. Inclusiveness, mutual support and solidarity would be the watchwords of such an organisation.  Meetings would need to discuss and clarify the democracy, structures, relations, etc, of the organisation.

The trade unions (regardless of how militant or radical they may become in posture or structure), with their ‘conservative’ bureaucratic structures and well-paid and pensioned top stratum, are completely inadequate to deal with the demands being placed on millions by the depth and severity of the developing ongoing crisis of the capitalist order. As of April, 2014, the approximate membership of the trade unions in the UK was 6.2 million and dropping. In fact, trade unionism itself – in order to be fit to deal with this developing crisis –  needs to undergo a complete transformation and actually go beyond itself into a higher form of agency in which a directly elective and participatory democracy is complimented by an integrated system of continuously revocable delegation, accountability and dismissability rather than having officials and ‘representatives’ either elected once in a blue moon or even appointed for life on featherbedded salaries. The salaries received by the top trade union leaders and officials are ‘executive’ salaries. The late leader of the RMT in Britain, Bob Crow (representing railway workers and staff, etc) received five times the salary of what a probationary schoolteacher starts on in British schools.

It is not in the interests of the top stratum of the trade unions to carry forward a struggle against capital to its historic conclusion. And that conclusion is the transcendence of the capital relation globally and the establishment of a world socialist society. It would mean beyond doubt the end of their privileges. That is why it would always betray. Its interests are inextricably tied to the continuation of the capital order and its state power. The continued historic existence of the whole labour and trade union bureaucracy is indissolubly tied up with the continuation of this destructive, outmoded capitalist order.

Indeed, this is to such a degree  –  the interests of the trade union bureaucracy so closely interwoven with the continuation of the capital system  –  that it will be impossible for organised labour to take to the offensive against capital and its state power without simultaneously coming into direct conflict with this labour bureaucracy. We can already see this in relation to the opposition of the Labour Party leadership in the UK to strikes and mass street demonstrations.

Accordingly, in the struggles to come, the radical regeneration and de-bureaucratisation of trade unionism will be an absolutely minimal prerequisite for these unions to form part of the unfolding of such an offensive. But even this will not be enough. The question of higher forms of agency is now most definitely and undoubtedly on the agenda. Without a definite move forward against their current conservative organisational structures and bureacratic administration, they will start to become vestigial and die away as the structural crisis of capital widens and deepens. At best, they will end up as providence or workers’ insurance societies in a totally corporatist, no-strike, arrangement with the state power of capital.

[2] Placing ‘the horse before the cart’ (and not the other way around)

The conception of structural crisis is central here. What the capital system has entered is no longer an escapable or displaceable cyclic crisis. Capital has entered the cul-de-sac of its long historic journey. The agency of capital is its state power. Historic forces are already driving them towards the destruction of whole sections of the global proletariat which are superfluous to the needs of capital. If we look at what has happened to the city of Detroit in the United States, we can see what the future holds for countless millions across the globe if we do not commence the necessary re-structuring of the social metabolic landscape. If we do not establish the necessary forms of agency to commence this mighty historic process of transition.

We are witnessing the most rapacious and disturbing forms of destruction and barbarism as capital’s crisis unfolds. They are having to do this simply in order to ‘stand still’, never mind accumulate. But in doing this, they simultaneously start to posit the dynamic for revolution. A ‘structural crisis’ really does mean revolution or barbarism. And, as Meszaros says, “barbarism if we’re lucky”. People speak of “apocalypse” as if it is some distant instantaneous event. It is actually taking place now. This is the epoch of the apocalypse. This is the epoch of capital’s structural crisis. The only possible response to go beyond it is global socialist revolution. We do not stop (“permanent revolution”) until the individual, collective and global state powers of capital are defeated and the social relation of capital is finally and irreversibly eradicated from the social metabolism.

We do not and cannot know in advance all the detailed particularity of the trajectory of capital’s unfolding crisis. When the proletariat in England developed Chartism and formed its trade unions in the 19th century, the class moved into the terra incognita of history as, of course, all new movements do. It really had no idea what would happen when it started to do all this. But it had to do it.  And we carry, necessarily and most importantly, all those lessons we have learned from our history with us into those new territories in order to develop and enrich the movement of our class to terminate the existence of capital. To put an end to its haunting of humanity once and for all. To exorcise it from the life of humanity.

There are no ‘guarantees’ or ‘warranties’. There is no guarantee that two centuries from now (or even less) humans will not be using stone axes to chop their food. Or that the planet will not be a devastated landscape with the final remnants of human communities dying off or surviving ‘on the edge’. But we cannot proceed as if this is going to be the inevitable outcome. Likewise we cannot, and must not, place conditions – theoretically, politically or otherwise – on the class movement. After all, that is precisely what the left wing sects and cults are doing. We must take the class movement as it is, where it is at the present historical stage, as it unfolds. Participate in it according to the stage it has reached and bring our experience into it in order to help develop it. But in a completely non-sectarian mode of operation.

Also I think a major, indeed fundamental, point here is that we have to determine and develop our work and organisation according to, and in response to, the specific social and cultural conditions which prevail in any given part of the globe. Really we have no choice in that matter. We cannot step outside of them. We are living our lives in them. Even as far as the form of revolutionary agency is concerned, I have my sincere doubts about whether there will be a magic formulation which will be appropriate for all cultures although common features may emerge in these forms of organisation determined by and manifesting the universal aspects of the class relations of capitalist societies the world over. (concrete universals)

For example, can I work organisationally and politically with others in Iran in the same way I work with others in Britain? To a great extent, I am determined in this work by the prevailing conditions and I have to orientate myself accordingly. I can work with others in Iran but how?  And how does it differ from working with others in Britain or France or the USA? Is this not the same with whole classes? How does the proletariat as a class in Iran orientate itself in regard to these questions of agency, with all the millenia of history, traditions, Shia Islam, etc, in that historically-rich land and how does the proletariat in Britain address the same questions with its differing class traditions, history, organisations, etc? These are not peripheral ‘inessential’ questions but are intrinsic to the totality of the determination.

But one thing is very clear. Regardless of its ‘anti-imperialist’ pretensions, the theocratic state in Iran is a culturally and historically determined form of the state power of capital. It may display aspects of the class interests of the radical petit bourgeoisie in the governmental management of this state power, but it is undeniably a state power which stands in opposition to the interests of the proletariat in that part of the world. So regardless of cultural considerations, the question of who rules – of “state power” – remains inextricably connected with the question of class organisation. How do we, as a class, organise for power? What forms of agency will be required and what will determine the specificity of these forms in different parts of the world with differing cultural and social conditions?

How do we put in place measures and structures which ensures that the past mistakes, such as bureaucratic usurpation, etc, do not establish a foothold? What does ‘democracy’ actually mean for us as a class? The so-called democracy of the capitalist class is not what we mean by democracy. How can we maintain, enrich and develop the continuity of our democracy in the period of transition with all its inevitable problems, contradictions, etc?

To organise for power does not simply mean organising for political power. It must presuppose organising for the economic and social power of the class which, of course, is the political act par excellence. We organise and develop our agencies of revolution primarily for the appropriation of production and distribution and, accordingly, to disempower the powers of capital within the social metabolism itself. Inevitably, this is unconditionally unacceptable to and for the state power of capital. They will move against us. Herein lies the co-temporality of the actual socio-economic restructuring by our agencies of the social metabolism and the rising and onset of political revolution against that state power. Its complete and utter destruction by our agencies of revolution.

The agency of proletarian socialist revolution therefore, necessarily, is not simply characterised as a political agency. It is a ‘Swiss-army knife’ of an organisation, if we may deploy that term. Its character embodies and expresses the social, economic and cultural tasks which history spurs it on to realise as well as, simultaneously, its obvious and intensely political tasks. The agency of revolution does not simply bear a political character but an essential socio-cultural one.

It is not simply a question of overthrowing the political state power of capital, critical as that is in order to open up an unfettered and unhindered historical horizon for the consummation of the restructuring of the social metabolism. The actual restructuring of the social fabric and landscape which capital-in-crisis itself is now in the process of devastating will have to begin prior to the overthrow of this state power but, indeed, will and can only be fully consummated after that overthrow of the major global centres of that state power. And, in my opinion, we will not be able to embark of that process of ‘full consummation’ until the state power of capital in the United States of America is well and truly broken. Perhaps this may sound strange to some, but – in agreement with Meszaros – the future of communism, in my opinion, lies, ultimately, in the USA.

The horizon will not be fully opened up for restructuring until the major state powers of capital have been trampled into the dust of human history. The notion of political transformation first, then mechanically followed by socio-cultural transformation second, is tediously often a fundamental premise in the operation of the “vanguardist” left-wing sectarian grouplets. Indeed, it is a fundamental ‘raison d’etre’ in their very existence. To merely suggest that we can and must build a movement that starts to move onto the road of going beyond capital – even in the violent presence of the state power of capital – is countered with derisory laughter and immediate dismissal by such “revolutionary” groups.

I was a local branch member of the Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain from 1976 to 1985. Some of you may know that it was the one headed by the serial sexual predator Gerry Healy. We got him eventually. The WRP was dissolved.

We were always told, in this wretched sect, that the beginnings of social transformation (transition to socialism) were predicated on successful political revolution. That the state had to be toppled first in  political revolution and then, and only then, could we proceed with the transition to socialism. This ‘transition’ to socialism was always counterposed to the actual historical genesis and development of the capitalist mode of production which developed slowly and embryonically ‘within the womb’ of feudalism and then was born onto the historical scene in a series of political and social upheavals and revolutions. We were lectured to that socialism does not arise out of capitalism in the same way that capitalism arose out of feudalism. The sectarian groups today, generally, still think in exactly the same vein. We will leave to one side, for the time being, how the feudal system in Europe, intially in Roman Gaul, itself emerged historically from the ruins and legacies of the western Roman Empire over a period of at least two or more centuries. It was not until the second half of the 8th century that it could be identified as a distinctly determinate, novel mode of production in Europe.

I now think this is self-serving ‘cart before the horse’ rhetoric. When I was a young member of the WRP in the 70s and 80s – full of apostolic zealotry and sacrificial proselytising passion – I would have thought the complete opposite. But if we study the incredibly rich work of Marx and Engels in the 1840s – specifically the Holy Family and German Ideology – we can very clearly see that this sectarian position is completely at odds with their materialist conception. People only really start to change the conditions of their life – and thereby themselves in the process of doing this – under the impact, weight, influence of real material changes actually taking place in their conditions of life. They do not get out of bed in the morning and then decide to move towards revolution without some form of real material mediation actually motivating them. People do, indeed, tend to take the “line of least resistance” until that position is no longer possible or tenable.

Such changes begin to impress on people the need for real material changes in their mode of life and this tends to bring on the emergence and development of political conceptions and perspectives. This is precisely what the unfolding of capital’s crisis is doing globally. People are, in a certain sense, ‘experimenting’ with new ways of struggle, new ways of opposing capital in contrast to the traditional forms and strategies. These real developments, full of contradiction, are the source of alterations and ‘leaps’ in consciousness. The source of the origination and development of what Marx refers to as the ‘alteration of men on a mass scale’ and the growth of a ‘mass communist consciousness’. It is, therefore, the actual unfolding of capital’s crisis which is generating new ways of ‘dealing’ with this crisis on the part of the proletariat globally and, in the course of this rich contradictory process, actually serving to promote changes in ‘mass consciousness’.

The sectarian left remain convinced that it is still possible and necessary to import ‘consciousness’ from the ‘outside’ (this conception of ‘from the outside’ is extremely problematic on an ontological level) by selling papers, leafletting, etc. But such alterations in humans and their consciousness only really comes about as a result of their activity in response to real material changes taking place in their social relations, in their mode of life. The educator does not merely educate but must also be educated.

In my opinion, Marx’s critique of Left Hegelianism in the 1840s contains an implicit critique of these methods and forms of ‘importation of consciousness’.

The dynamic of revolution will only start to become determinately established when people actually start to take matters into their own hands, independently of the state power of capital, and under the impact of capital’s crisis. When we observe what has actually happened in the American city of Detroit (motown city, mass production of cars, with a massive and, at times, militant proletariat) in the state of Michigan, we are observing a pre-figuration of what is to come for milllions but we are also seeing the seeds of how people can organise in opposition to capital’s destruction of the cultural conditions of the future socialist society. People have been left to rot by capital and its state power but they are, in response, starting to take matters into their own hands. Even, I understand, community policing of their own areas.

When the actions and organisation (agency) of the proletariat actually start to challenge and circumvent the rule of capital, then the state power of capital will start to move or consider moving onto a war footing. We will then require our agencies to respond accordingly with all the logistical and military considerations implicit therein. Our proteus ‘Swiss-army knife’ form of agency will then be required to switch into a totally different mode of operation to mobilise for the fight and topple this state power. If a state power goes to war against its “own” people, then that people has a right and obligation to respond accordingly.

We have to consider a situation where the structural crisis of capital is deepening and increasingly starting to shake and animate every aspect of human life to the point where people’s ‘line of least resistance’ has disintegrated and they have, en masse, truly started to take matters into their own hands through their self-created forms of agency. Some are saying that this process is now in process of formation. Do we really think that as the intensification of the crisis begins to draw in many millions of people across the globe, then this movement would be controllable by the state power using previous methods? Or do we think that people will simply sit and ‘take it’ in a state of docility and resignation as capital-in-crisis profoundly impacts on their lives? Let us not forget that this same crisis will impact the lives of those who work for this state power.

In the 1970s, as capital started to enter its structural crisis, we even witnessed soldiers in Italy on strike and marching under red banners. In Britain, in the 1910s, there were police strikes. It  frightened the state mandarins in Britain to such a degree that they immediately rushed into a no-strike agreement with them. I have my doubts whether such an agreement will continue to hold in the future.

[3] The deepening of the structural crisis of capital is creating the conditions for a global firestorm, the likes of which human history has never witnessed before.

In my opinion, it is a question of degree (Hegel’s conception of ‘measure’ in the Logic) whereby an intractable, insoluble crisis passes beyond the point/s of ‘no return’, certain historical ‘markers’, ‘parameters’ or ‘points’ which were previously ‘sacrosanctly’ structured into the capital order as an intrinsic part of it. Beyond these, a certain qualitative change sets in and the whole order degenerates into a distinctly new, higher qualitative phase of break-up and disintegration. Humanity has witnessed such ‘phases’ before in its history in different cultures and different parts of the world.

The latest phase (“wave” to to speak, 2008-14) in the gathering structural crisis of the global capitalist order is a pre-figuration of what is to come in higher form. What is arising will be on a qualitatively higher stage of development and in forms of social expression which are not, as yet, being fully experienced and articulated in their effects on the proletariat and on Nature’s creation.

As each phase in the crisis unfolds, this will deepen and ‘concentrate’, accumulatively, the whole character of the crisis of globalised capital. Beyond a certain point in its development this will confer on this crisis qualities of a higher order compared to its previous phases. Beyond a certain point, a point of qualitative transformation, the previous phases (“waves”) gather sublatively, reinforce and ‘self-concentrate’ and become expressed in a “tsunami of history” so to speak.

The earlier phases in the crisis could be compared, metaphorically, to a containable forest fire which, with heat and high winds, (i.e. as conditions change and assert their effects and character, reinforcing previous changes) can readily become qualitatively transformed into an uncontrollable firestorm. Out of control and bringing in a period of profound crisis for the capital order totally distinct from the previous stages in the development of its crisis. Such a “firestorm” phase will constitute the highest, universal expression of capital’s global structural crisis, manifest in every sphere and aspects of human life, but raised to a higher power and degree of intensity.

“Tsunami of history” is therefore a figure of speech used to express the gathering of this crisis as it unfolds and deepens but which, beyond a certain point in its development, must become a crisis of a distinctly different order to the previous phases. When and where global capital in crisis has reached the point where its own character as capital has become a structural, immovable fetter which clamps its own self-expansion (augmentation of its value), then, as Meszaros writes, we see the “activation of its absolute limits” (p.142, Beyond Capital). The deepening of this crisis-process has historically profound implications for the proletariat and its class organisations through which it has traditionally conducted its struggle against capital. Going on in the ‘old ways’ will not be possible

When the crisis had deepened so very profoundly and is turning people’s lives upside down and inside out then they have no choice whatsoever but to embark on an offensive. We are then, we become, an active part of a totally different historical situation and all the foolish, superstitious nonsense about the ‘eternity of the capitalist order’ and the ‘end of history’ narrative peddled by the ideologues of global capital is revealed to be what it truly is. In such an unfolding, dynamic situation, ‘shifts in consciousness’ become the rule rather than the exception. Such ‘shifts’ will become absolutely necessary as the struggle proceeds. What the state power of capital ‘permits’ or ‘does not permit’ will be something which will be played out and resolved in the course of the unfolding class struggle.

Finally, just to return explicitly to the question of the specific form of agency. There are those still calling for a new ‘Party’, new socialist ‘Party’ or new “revolutionary” ‘Party’. In my opinion, the age of the ‘Parties’ is over. I tend to think that a mass organisation of the proletariat – its agency of revolution – based upon its own developed class conception of democracy, and one that increasingly becomes capable of actually restructuring the whole social metabolism as well as carrying through political revolution by any means which it considers necessary, will create and develop itself as the ‘party’ of the class. In other words, the agency of revolution itself will be the party of the class without the need for some separated, distinct, even ‘alien’, political Party within itself, within its own political body. The agency will be the ‘party’ and the ‘party’ will be the agency of revolution.

This is not to infer that the agency of revolution will not contain ‘Parties’, groups, tendencies, etc. The trade unions, for example, have always contained such groupings but their existence as trades unions has not been conditional on the existence of such groupings within them. We would, perhaps, need to fight to maintain the identity and integrity of our revolutionary agency against the influence of centrifugal forces and elements whose activities are tending to fragment and disintegrate it. But I wonder how such ‘Parties’, etc, could actually survive and for how long under such conditions or even establish themselves at all in the ongoing democratic conditions under which the revolutionary agency would be actually operating. These ‘Parties’ actually thrive in the absence of any real, open discussion and democratic election, recall, accountability and dismissal, etc. Under such conditions, what future could such ‘Parties’ have?

Of course, the agency of revolution will have a ‘political expression’ but what is crucial is the relationship of this ‘expression’ to the agency as a totality. This ‘expression’ would have to be totally and politically subordinate to the ongoing and unfolding democracy of the operation of the agency of revolution as a whole. The appropriate, inalienable safeguards and limitations would necessarily have to be put in place to prevent the emergence of bureaucratic structures, usurpation, imposition, etc. The democracy of the movement would be paramount and transparent. We would not be able to make the transition to the new society without the highest and most transparent forms of democracy in the revolutionary agency of our class.

Shaun May


October 2013

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment