Society Beyond Capital

Socialism in Marx's Capital

Paresh Chattopadhyay

(We publish below a small part of the author's longish piece—'Socialism in Marx')

When discussing socialism in Marx's writings people generally refer to his 1875 'Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers' Party', generally known as the 'Critique of the Gotha Programme' (Gothacritique, for short). As an outstanding example, one could cite Lenin's famous 1917 brochure State and Revolution where the discussion of socialism in Marx takes place almost wholely within the framework of the Gothacritique, (A recent example, among others, of the same limitation is found in a book by a contemporary German scholar Michael Heinrich. Die Wissens-chaftvom Wert 2003). This is in spite of the fact that the Gotha-critique, a purely occasional paper, was, according to its own author in a letter to his friend Bracke (1875, May 5), only a 'long scrap of paper' written momentarily for a specific purpose, though, it should be added that writing this 'scrap of paper' allowed Marx the opportunity to systematize some of the specific aspects of how he envisaged the society after capital.

Contrariwise in discussions on Marx's socialism his great work CAPITAL is generally left aside presumably on the ground that the latter work is concerned only with the analysis and critique of capitalism, or as Marx himself puts it in his 1867 'Preface' to the first volume of the book, lays bare the 'economic law of motion' of the capitalist society, and not with the society that he envisages will succeed the capitalist society. But that is a mistake. Marx's preoccupation with the analysis and critique of capital(ism) does not hinder him from throwing important light on the society to come, precisely generated by capitalism itself. Unfortunately, we cannot also agree with some scholars according to whom, while Marx's work on capitalism is unparalleled, he did not have much to say on the society after capital. True, Marx famously stressed in the 'Afterword' to his masterwork that he was not writing 'recipes for cook-shops of the future', and had guarded himself from offering any full-bodied description of the society, which he thought would succeed the existing one, in a single finished work, in order not to appear as an 'utopian'. Nevertheless he had left numerous suggestions and affirmations spread over his writings on capital sufficient to form a broad picture of the post capitalist society. A careful perusal of Capital indeed should disprove this contention. That this cannot be otherwise is shown by Marx's own statement in the 'Afterword' to his masterwork that as opposed to the Political Economy, representing the capitalist class, his book Capital represented the proletariat, the class whose historical mission/profession (Beruf) was to overthrow the capitalist mode of production and abolish classes. What else is this but an invocation to the future 'Association' built on the ruins of the capitalist society! It is remarkable that even the simple portrait of the society after capital which Marx drew towards the end of the very first chapter of the first volume of Capital has quasi totally been left aside by writers writing on Marx's discussion on socialism, including even Lenin in his 'State and Revolution'. The term 'Socialism' has no unique meaning. People have used this term with different connotations: guild socialism, market socialism, national socialism, Fabian socialism, socialism with Chinese characteristics. However, these are not relevant for the present paper. Socialism is used here as it appears in Marx's own work, and only this sense is in harmony with his writings in Capital. For Marx socialism and communism are simply equivalent and alternative terms for the same society that he envisages for the post-capitalist epoch which he calls, in different texts, equivalently: communism, socialism, Republic of Labour, Association of free and equal individuals, or Cooperative Society, (re)Union of free individuals, or, more frequently, simply Association.

Marx considered his socialism 'scientific', not a creation of somebody's fertile brain. Marx did not design it as an ideal portrait of a society. He considered his socialism 'scientific' because it arises from the reality itself, actual class struggle, from the historical movement going on before everybody's eyes, not based on the ideas or principles that have been invented by this or that reformer. In this sense 'scientific socialism' was posited against 'utopian socialism' which was largely conceived as some kind of an ideal society by some great progressive thinkers like Owen, Fourier, and Saint-Simon, and arose in a period when the proletariat was in its infancy, and the material conditions of the workers' self-emancipation were largely absent.

From the fact that socialism in Marx arises from the reality of the capitalist society, which is revolutionized into a new society, it follows that his starting assumption is historically severely limited to the capitalist epoch which itself is considered as historically transitory. In particular, it is advanced capitalism in which the society has already freed itself from the pre capitalist millennial fetters of individual's personal unfreedom under slavery and serfdom (or the system of castes ). Marx in his Bakunin critique(1874-75) observed, 'a radical social revolution is bound up with certain historical conditions of economic development. The latter are its pre-conditions. It is therefore only possible where, with capitalist development, the industrial proletariat occupies at least a significant position' At the same time, here the capitalist mode of production and correspondingly capitalist relations of production have sufficiently advanced to a point where the immense majority of the population is in a situation in which they are neither themselves considered as part of the means of production (as were the slaves and serfs) nor do they possess any material means of production as their own. They, on the contrary, have only their own labour power–manual or mental–to sell 'freely' to the possessors of the means of production in exchange of wage/salary (high or low) in order to survive and reproduce the labour power. In fact they are now the 'wage slaves' of capital. In its turn, this society over time reaches a stage where it itself can no longer continue to exist due to the incompatibility between its relations of production and its forces of production, in the sense that the progress of the forces of production–of which the 'greatest productive force is the revolutionary class (the proletariat) itself', unwilling to accept any longer its subordinate social position in which the human is a 'debased, enslaved, neglected, contemptible being'—is increasingly hampered by the existing relations of production. This is also the stage where capitalist development has prepared the adequate material as well as the subjective conditions—capitalism's 'grave diggers', the 'immense majority'—destined to revolutionize the society. This is precisely the situation where the 'epoch of (proletarian) revolution' begins.

Marx advances the argument that no social formation disappears before having exhausted the development of all the productive forces it contains and no new social formation appears before the material conditions of its existence have already been created by the preceding one.

It should also be emphasized that even when the requisite material elements are present, it is the working class, capitalism's 'wage slaves', which is the active agent for eliminating capital and building the Association. For the first time this is a revolution achieved by society's 'immense majority in the interest of the immense majority,' as the 1848 Communist Manifesto underlines, whereas all earlier revolutions were the revolutions of a minority in the interest of the minority. In the 'Afterword' to his masterwork CAPITAL, volume one, Marx wrote that it was the proletariat "whose historical profession [Beruf] is to revolutionise the capitalist mode of production and finally to abolish classes". 'The working class is either revolutionary or it is nothing'. Marx wrote to a friend, (to J. B. von Schweitzer 1865 February 13.). Years earlier, speaking of the workers, Marx, in a letter to Feuerbach (1844, August 11), wrote, 'it is among these "barbarians" of our society that history is preparing the practical element of human emancipation'.

A fundamental distinction between Marx's socialism and socialism as practised and theorised by the partisans of the 'communist' régimes of the twentieth century is that the former is a society without (contending) classes, where the 'public power has no political character', therefore no state, as we read both in his1847 'Poverty of Philosophy' and in the1848 'Communist Manifesto' whereas a central pillar of the twentieth century 'communist' régimes—baptized 'socialist'—is the state. In fact Marx was anti-state almost from the beginning of his adult life. For example, in his 1844 polemic with Ruge Marx wrote,' the existence of state and the existence of slavery are inseparable'. In the work jointly composed by Marx and Engels (but mostly by Marx) 'The German Ideology' we read that 'the organization of communism is essentially economic'. In fact in no extant text by Marx dealing with the post capitalist society from where politics has disappeared along with the contending classes is there any mention of the state. One should also add that like the state, a second pillar of the 'official' socialism -the Party -is also equally absent from Marx's extant texts on the post capitalist society. The regimes under the communist rule beginning with the Bolsheviks in the early twentieth century–baptized 'socialist'–could indeed properly be called 'Party-State socialism'. which though claiming to be Marxian, has in reality little if any thing to do with Marx's socialism.

In complete contrast stands the 'socialism' of the régimes under the communist party rule beginning with the Bolshevik rule in Russia. Here there is a curious convergence of views between the Right and a significant Left on the meaning of socialism. For both the Right and a considerable section of the Left 'socialism' refers to a society marked by the existence of a central authority (including central planning) set up by a single party exercising political power, and the institution of 'public property'—signifying the replacement of 'private property'—in the means of production predominantly by state (nationalized) property. Needless to add, the Right looks at this 'socialism' negatively while the Left considers it positively. Both these tendencies, again, attribute the origin of this socialism to the ideas of Karl Marx. This received notion of socialism-considered as a social system succeeding the capitalist social order—with its rationale in a particular juridical property form claimed as the abolition of private property-leaves largely untouched the question of what Marx calls the social relations of production—basically the relation of the direct producers to the means of production—and is a clear inversion of Marx's own position on the question, as seen in his own writings. Marx's original, immensely emancipatory perspective remains suppressed and little known.

Contrariwise in discussions on Marx's socialism his great work CAPITAL is generally left aside presumably on the ground that the latter work is concerned only with the analysis and critique of capitalism, or as Marx puts it in his 1867 'Preface' to the first volume of the book, lays bare the 'economic law of motion' of the capitalist society, and not with the society that he envisages will succeed the disappearance of capital. But that is a mistake. Marx's preoccupation with the analysis and critique of capital(ism) does not hinder him from throwing important light on the society to come, precisely generated by capitalism itself.

Let us turn to the manuscript of the third volume of the same book in which reference to the society beyond capital occurs in more than one place. Thus while discussing the striving of the capitalist for economizing on the employment of the means of production combined with the rigorous discipline enforced on the labourers, Marx underlines that 'this discipline will be superfluous under a social system in which the labourers work for their own account'. In the manuscript of the same book, speaking of agriculture, Marx notes 'The moral of history is that rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system and needs either small independent peasants or the control of the associated producers'. Again, in the same manuscript, we read with reference to the rise of share capital, 'It is the result of capitalist production in its development at the highest level, a necessary transitional point towards the reconversion (Rückverwandlung) of capital into the ownership of the producers, however, no longer as the ownership of the individual producers, but of the associated producers, as the direct social ownership'.

It only provide a method for increasing social production, but will serve as the only method for producing fully developed humans'. In the same work, again, Let In the second manuscript, chapter three of that volume, while discussing the material character of the labour process on the basis of socialized production, Marx observed ' there is no money-capital here. Society distributes labour power and the means of production in society's various branches. The producers hold paper tokens (Anweisungen) enabling them to withdraw from the social stock the quantity of consumer goods corresponding to the labour time contributed. These vouchers are not money. They do not circulate'.

 Again, in manuscript 8 of Capital's second volume, while discussing the problem of replacing fixed capital in capitalist process of production, Marx takes up the question as to what would happen in case of a similar problem once capitalist production ceases to exist. Marx observed, 'if we leave out the capitalist form of reproduction, it is only a matter of the volume of the expiring portion of fixed capital varying in various successive years. If it is very large in a certain year, total time frame of all these writings is the period 1857–1881, twenty four years. In other words, the material for our work will be drawn from all of Marx's economic writings including the manuscripts in his different notebooks as well as the relevant correspondence he had maintained with different people during almost a quarter century.

A definitive indication of Marx's objective is spelled out in two early texts preceding 'Capital 'Poverty of Philosophy (1847) and the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848).

In the 1847 book one reads, 'In the course of its development the laboring class will replace the old civil society with an association without classes and their antagonism, and there will no longer be a political power properly speaking since the political power is precisely the official summing up(résumé) of the antagonism of the civil society'.

Similarly one reads in the Manifesto: 'When in course of development the class distinctions have disappeared, and all production is concentrated in the hands of the associated individuals, the public power loses its political character. The political power in the real sense is the organized power of a class for suppressing another.

Vol. 53, No. 22-25, Nov 29 - Dec 26, 2020