Revolution Revisited

The ‘November’ Centenary is Coming


Marx began his Capital with the sentence—"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as 'an immense accumulation of commodities', its unit being a single commodity." Marx showed that just as a commodity has a two-fold character, labour too has a two-fold character. Use value is created by a special kind of labour, as 'the result of a special sort of productive activity.' On the other hand, exchange value is created by abstract or identical labour, which is measured only by time. Marx demonstrated that in the capitalist society, labour power too becomes a commodity and like all other commodities, its value too is determined by the necessary labour-time required for its production and reproduction. On the other hand, it is such a commodity, whose use creates a value greater than its value. Only labour power possesses this special quality. Marx also enunciated the general formulation of the circulation of other commodities, M-C-M. A commodity is obtained in exchange of money and again, money is obtained in exchange of it (M-C-M'). In capitalism, the capitalist purchases labour power from the labour market, and the labourer receives his wage in exchange. Wage is the value of labour power, i.e. the cost of subsistence of the labourer. If the labourer works for ten hours a day, then it is possible that the equivalent of his wage is produced in five hours, while the remaining five hours constitute surplus labour. In this way, Marx distinguished between necessary labour and surplus labour, and showed how surplus value is formed. This surplus value is transformed into profit, which enhances the size of capital. This capital exchanges itself with more labour power, and thus goes on the process of creation of surplus value. Thus the capitalist system "establishes the rule of things over men, dead labour over living labour and products over producers". "Capital is dead labour, which sustains itself on exploitation of living labour like a vampire and as long as it lives, it exploits more".

The existence of this special commodity, labour power, in the market is the precondition for the rise and growth of the capitalist mode of production. For this special commodity to exist, the labourer has to be free in a double sense. On the one hand, he would not own any means of production; his labour would be productive, enabling him to subsist only through exchange with capital. Secondly, he would have the freedom to sell his labour power to anybody he liked. His condition would not be like that of a slave or a serf. The irresistible tendency of capital is to raise incessantly the productivity of labour, so as to sell goods cheaper and obtain labour power at lower wages. This rise in productivity creates the crisis of overproduction, which recurs in the form of business cycles. When the economy is buoyant, more workers get employment, and they lose their jobs at the time of recession. An army of large number of jobless, 'the reserve army of labour' comes into being. The more the productivity of labour increases, the more the size of the reserve army increases, the more the relative volume of this army increases.

"According to the proportion in which accumulation of capital increases, the condition of the working class worsens, whether its wages are high or low". Thus the capitalist system generates "centralization of wealth at one pole and centralization of misery, distress, subservience, ignorance, cruelty and moral degradation of the working class at the opposite pole. The very class, which gives birth to capital with his labour becomes degraded".

In the entire process, "the portion of the labour time in which the worker works for his own sustenance (necessary labour time) goes on declining and the other part, during which the worker labours for the master increases proportionately". Marx characterized the ratio between the second and the first as the 'rate of surplus value'. With the growth of technology, the portion of necessary labour falls and the rate of surplus value rises, but this rise does not necessarily leads to a rise in the rate of profit. The result is that with the improvement of technology and increased use of machinery, the portion of constant capital rises, while that of variable capital falls and the rate of profit depends on total capital. Marx noted a tendency of contiguous downward movement of the rate of profit in spite of a rise in the rate of surplus value. Thus starts a crisis of the capitalist mode of production. The crisis of overproduction and recession is cyclical, but the crisis due to continuous fall in the rate of profit persists.

Alongside the general tendency of the continuous fall of the rate of profit, there are two tendencies, as Marx noted, that help maintain the rate of profit, or at least check its rapid fall. One is external trade, particularly trade with undeveloped countries, from which capital can import raw materials or semi-processed goods. This enables a rise in the rate of profit. The second tendency is the employment of the 'reserve army of labour', i.e. unemployed workers, at still lower wages. Within these very tendencies, competition among capitalists leads to centralization of production in still larger enterprises, intensifying exploitation and repression of workers. In the upshot, the centralization of the means of production and socialization of labour reaches a stage that does not fit in with the capitalist shell, which explodes, sounding the death knell of the capitalist private property. The expropriators themselves are expropriated.

The concept of scientific socialism as presented by Marx was not an Utopian one. He arrived at this concept by starting from an analysis of the real contradictions within the fundamental unit of the capitalist mode of production, the commodity.

Paris Commune
The first experiment in the expropriation of the expropriators in world history is the Paris Commune. Before the historical experience of the Paris Commune, Marx commented in the Communist Manifesto that the first step of a proletarian revolution was to raise the working class to the level of the ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. But he did not say anything on the form of the rule of the working class (the dictatorship of the proletariat), and instead waited till its emergence from the practical movements of the working class. Finally, in view of the practical experience of the Paris Commune of 1871, he wrote, "It (the Commune) was essentially a working class government, the produce of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour".

The components of this 'political form at last discovered' were the identity of the organization of legislation and administration, whose members were to be elected through universal suffrage, and were subject to right to recall by the electorate, the replacement of the standing army by armed peasants and workers and the equalization between the salaries of the administrators and those of ordinary workmen.

The Commune, after staying in power for three months, was defeated. The reason is that no working class revolution emerged at that time in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe, and the contradictions among the ruling classes of the capitalist countries did not take the form of war. In consequence, the reactionary rulers of all the capitalist countries could unite in order to defeat the Commune. The Commune was defeated, but the workers of Paris, who showed the courage to storm the heaven, left the lesson of expropriation of the expropriators for the working class of the world.

November Revolution
The second incident of storming the heaven by the working class took place about forty-six years after the Paris Commune, at a different time and different place. The world capitalist system had undergone a great change in the meantime. Through the centralization of capital and emergence of monopolies, rise and domination of finance capital, and the completion of a process of a division of colonies among the big powers of the world, capitalism reached its final stage, imperialism. Marx saw the crisis of the capitalist system and showed how capitalism tried to overcome this crisis by means of intensified exploitation of colonies. With the completion of imperialist division of the colonies in the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the relatively peaceful roads for tackling the crisis were closed, and an inter-imperialist war became inevitable. The Russian working class took advantage of this war, and standing on the ground of worker-peasant alliance, seized power. In respect of capitalist development, Russia was a relatively backward country and unlike England, lacked a history of parliamentary rule. In reality, the democratic revolution in Russia was unfinished, although it had already been more or less complete in the countries of Europe. This presented an adverse situation to the possibilities of a socialist revolution. On the other hand, the lack of existence (or very weak existence) of bourgeois-democratic institutions made Russia the weakest link in the imperialist chain. The advanced sections of the Russian working class, under the perspicacious leadership of Lenin, made full use of this situation and gave the call for seizure of power on the basis of the slogan of 'All Power to the Soviets'. A reading of Lenin's The State and Revolution makes it clear that he had assimilated the lessons of the Paris Commune and adopted it as the model for seizure of power. In most of the Soviets of the country, the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin did not have the support of the majority. Yet the slogan of the revolution was 'All Power to the Soviets'. Immediately after the revolution, the newborn Soviet Union was faced with acts of invasion and sabotage by imperialist countries, which started a civil war by aiding the reactionary forces inside the country. There was on one hand, this armed onslaught. On the other hand, Russia was a backward country in respect of capitalist development, and its working class and peasantry did not have the experience of going through a long period of democratic practice. Possibly owing to these reasons, although the Soviet Union could defeat the counterrevolutionaries in the civil war, power came to be concentrated in the Bolshevik Party. At one stage, the Soviets no longer remained democratic institutions. Finally, the Soviet Union built up an immensely powerful standing army, a party-led command economy and a bureaucratic structure of running the administration from above to below. Probably this is where lay the roots of the degeneration, and at one stage disintegration, of the Soviet Union.

The working class of the world must learn from the fate of the Soviet Union. At present there is in much discussion on the political and economic system of the Soviet Union and probably there is nobody to argue that everything was all right there at least till 1956 (the rise of Khruschev). The working class, of course, has to discuss these things. But that does not take away the significance of the international historic significance of the November Revolution. The salvoes of this revolution brought the message of Marxism-Leninism to many countries of the world, and under its influence, communist parties were formed in many countries including China, India, Vietnam etc. The Chinese Communist Party successfully led the Chinese people in the anti-Japanese War of Resistance and the democratic revolution. The orientation of the reform programme at present pursued by the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Government is far from socialist. But there can be no gainsaying that China, which was an extremely weak country in the beginning of the twentieth century and was fragmented by imperialists, each of them taking a share, and which was coerced into addiction to opium, has become a world power and is competing with the USA, the largest world power in all spheres including industry, agriculture, science, technology and sports. The same may be said of the Soviet Union. Her unilinear progress towards socialism has been halted, but it must be admitted that the success it achieved in respect of universal literacy, health care and employment for all and particularly the advancement of women in all spheres of social life was unprecedented in world history. Above all, the role played by the Soviet Union in saving the world from fascist aggression during the Second World War will never be forgotten by humanity.

2017 marks the centenary of the Great November Revolution. About three decades ago, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, imperialists all over the world were euphoric. They proclaimed the doctrine of "End of History'. The twenty first century was prophesied as the US century, meaning that the world would move according to the dictates of the USA. But in the very first decade of this century, the world capitalist system has fallen into a crisis that can be compared with the Great Depression of the 1930s. Even in the last decades of the twentieth century, recession surfaced in the world capitalist system, and in order to delay its outbreak, a dose of artificial demand was created. But this demand was like a bubble that could burst at any moment. Finally, when it really exploded in 2008, the biggest banks of the world went bankrupt and crores of people were pauperized. The state came forward to rescue the banks. A process started for curtailing the social welfare schemes (e.g. pension for all, allowances for the unemployed, health services for all) undertaken by the capitalist countries in the post-War period. This process has been given the high-sounding title 'austerity'. It implies that while the state would pour money for rescuing capital, the money would come from curtailing the programme of social welfare. This austerity programme is further depressing demand in the advanced capitalist countries and is thus deepening the crisis of capital. In Greece, more than twenty percent of the working population is now unemployed and the pensions for the old are now in a state of uncertainty. The working people of Greece have clearly expressed their opinion against the austerity programme imposed by the triad of three, namely the European Union, the IMF and the World Bank. But as yet they have not mustered enough courage to adopt an alternative to the capitalist system. Gievances are also mounting against austerity in Spain, Portugal and Italy. The working classes of Europe are again in search of a leftist alternative through all these.

In the beginning of the era of imperialism, there was a split in the working class also (vide: Imperialism and Split in Socialism). Those belonging to the labour aristocracy joined hands with the bourgeoisie of their respective countries. A reference can be made in this regard to the British Labour Party. The support base of this party was the working class. But for a long time, the Labour Party ruled Britain basically on the imperialist principles. The labour aristocracy could maintain its control over the working class. Now the situation has changed. Jeremy Korbin, who advocated policies of coming out of the NATO, supporting Palestine's liberation war, destruction of the arsenal of atomic weapons, nationalization of railway services and universal health care, has been elected leader of the Labour Party with the massive support of the working class. It appears that the British working people are now summing up the lessons of the struggles they underwent over the last five centuries, through which struggles they made important contributions to the democratization of society. It is also to be noted that other countries of Europe have also started a search for this alternative. The countries of Latin America have defied the threats, conspiracies and sabotage on the part of US imperialists and are trying to adopt measures for social welfare.

A big change is taking place concurrently. The disintegration of the Soviet Union paved the way for the unitary hegemony of US imperialism over the world. The small space enjoyed by the newly independent countries during the period of Cold War was also closed. US imperialists launched wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya without caring for the sanction of the United Nations, and reduced these countries to heaps of ruins. In 2015, it is obvious that the US hegemony is under challenge, and the USA has been forced to leave Iraq and to come to an understanding with Iran. They themselves have admitted their deplorable failure in Syria.

Before the First World War, Britain had the hegemonic position in the world capitalist system. Her hegemony was however getting weakened owing to the uneven development of capitalism, but she could maintain her hegemony by virtue of her colonial occupations ("The sun did not set in the British Empire"). The solution of this contradiction could come through a war only and this is really what happened. The first and second world wars resolved this contradiction, setting up the US hegemony in the world capitalist system. There was a concurrent development. The imperialist chain was broken during the First World War in Russia and during the Second World War in China and many other countries.

History never repeats itself in the same form. But in the beginning of the twenty first century, the world capitalist system is witnessing frictions and tensions similar to those seen in the early twentieth century. Now the US hegemony is weakening. If the USA has to pay off her debts to China, Middle East and other countries, she will go bankrupt. Their hegemony is sustained through military occupations and some other factors.

How will this contradiction be solved? Will the balance of power change through another war? Or will a proletarian revolution before the war weaken the possibility of war itself? Or will war be accompanied by revolution in some parts of the globe? If these do happen, what will be the time taken? It is difficult to surmise on the answers to these questions. One can say this little with certainty that the crises of capitalism noted by Marx, on which he proclaimed that "the fall of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable", are not only existent, but are deepening.

Hence the proletariat has no reason for despair while observing the centenary of the November Revolution. It must discuss the lessons of the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution. Revolutionaries do not know what form of 'dictatorship of the proletariat' will be discovered by the proletarian revolution of the twenty first century, and how this revolution will, for the sake of the flowering of democracy will solve the contradiction between the party and the class and that between the leadership and the people. Hence one has to watch the forms emerging out of the proletarian revolution with an open mind. Man himself will create the conditions for the end of domination by the produce of the producer, domination by dead labour of living labour, and the end of concentration of immense wealth at one pole and hunger, poverty and degradation at another.

‘‘Men make their own history but they donot make it as they please, they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already given and transmitted from the past’’. (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte]

Courtesy : Sramajibi Bhasa, 1st November 2015).

Vol. 48, No. 26, Jan 3 - 9, 2016