Marxism, Capitalism and Democracy

Arup Baisya

Marx’s concept of the Asiatic Mode of Production represented the dominance of bureaucrats in situations where the state was the economic and political power, and where private property was relatively unimportant (Miliband 1989:94). Irrespective of the fact whether Marx’s assessment on a mode of production and static society specific to Asia is right, this interpretation associates authoritarianism with pre-capitalist society and democracy with capitalism and rise of the bourgeoisie. But the laws of motion of Capital as Marx described in his incomplete magnum opus ‘Capital’ tells us that the capitalist social relations of production always exists in an organically intertwined form within the dialectical relation between authorita-rianism and democracy. This motion of this dialectics between authoritarianism and democracy is reflected and modulated by the functioning of the state. The democratic aspiration that is born from within the society due to the emergence of capitalist relations of production is always intertwined with its opposite to be a capitalist system where economy, politics, sociology, ideology etc all get intermingled to determine its direction of motion and at the same time create indeterminacy in the motion from authoritarianism to democracy and vice versa. In the Capital, Marx emphasised that the competition is the basic trait of capitalist production. Due to competition, the ratio of organic composition of capital goes on increasing and thus causing the rate of profit to fall. This tendency of falling rate of profit necessitates capital to flow from the territorial area where it has first developed to a territorial area where the pre-capitalist relations are predominant. This imperialist behaviour of capital from its birth reveals that pre-capitalist relations are ubiquitous within the capitalist global system with quantitative difference imposed by the motion of capital in time axis. The tendency of rate of profit to fall will set in the area of origin of capitalist production when the pre-capitalist relations are still in existence as remnants and the capitalist relations i.e. workers free from bondage with land and religious patriarchal families must have their rudimentary presence in the area of destination of the capital to move. This is the territorial logic of the societal dynamics of the movement of capital. This means that Marx was not the advocate of western rationalism to delineate the capitalism as democracy or for that matter of fact a liberal democracy. On the contrary, this writer would like to emphasise that Marxism is in essence democracy and the laws of motion of capitalism as Marx envisaged is the extension of democracy for its transition to socialism for reaching to its final stage as communism where both state and democracy wither away. Marx formulated the law of values based on relative surplus value and value of labour power as wages of industrial production and in that sense only, the law of value is incomplete to accommodate the capitalist reproduction to appropriate family labour and the super-exploitation due to the presence of pre-capitalist relations inherent within the capitalist system. How Marxism is in essence democracy needs to be dealt with deep understanding of social relations of production and this write-up is just a preliminary attempt to highlight this aspect of Marxism.

The initial success stories of neoliberal restructuring have now turned out to be myths. Neoliberalism is no longer considered as a way forward to lead the capitalist system out of the crisis. Indeed, there is no silver lining in the horizon of capitalist world for a recovery from crisis. The situation in much of the emerging world seemed quite chaotic, and parliamentary democratic government did not appear to hold a solution. Authoritarianism or fascism soon emerged as a common political arrangement. The alternative is socialism transcending capitalism. Marx visualised socialism as a movement of the working class in politics. In such visualisation, the fundamental aspect is once again the motion in time for synthesis of dialectically related phenomena of working class emancipation and formation of political party. The organisation of workers “into a class and consequently into a political party” (Marx and Engels) is necessary for workers to conquer political power. The political party that epitomised the political power of a class should not affect the autonomy of the working class as a political force and should not be corrupted by the influence of reformist trends of other classes. How Marx’s celebrated phrase, “the emancipation of working class is conquered by themselves” is compatible with idea of formation of a party which is absolutely necessary for conquering political power? This compatibility must be understood in the direction of motion emerging from the contradiction between party and class. The autonomy of the Bourgeois class is guaranteed in the existing system and the bourgeois party is systemically subservient to the interest of bourgeois class and as such, the accumulation of capital and profit are the driving forces to resolve the conflict between party and class. But what is the driving force to expedite the motion for continuously synthesising the two aspects – the working-class emancipation and its political party, for a change of society and state. The synthesis is not systemically guaranteed, rather this synthesis is ensured within an accelerated motion in a continuous struggle against the existing system and building the alternative system in a rudimentary form till conquering of power by the working class. The ideological position and mind theory for a future equitable society do not have any ramification on the society till it is transformed into action. What is the vehicle or instrument that act as an accelerator or brake on this motion. It is the democracy or lack of it. “From the workers, to the workers” is an inchoate idea of such a democratic praxis. Marx advocated the organisation of workers “into a class and consequently into a political party”. Does it imply that party cannot be formed without the transformation of workers into a class? This transformation cannot be assessed without considering a well-defined space-time continuum. Transformation or emancipation always happens in a moment of time. So it cannot be concluded that the formation of a party is best suited on a global space in a particular moment of time. Then how and who will assess this transformation of workers into a class? Naturally it’s a group or party which bears a working-class ideology and radical theory of mind for change of society and the state. But this party is not the party of the working class so long as such working-class emancipation conquered by the working class themselves has not become reality and in such a scenario, the party which claims to carry the ideology and theory of mind is prone to degenerate to impose their ideas on the working class. Here lies the dichotomy. The regular election within the party hierarchy is a necessary condition, but it is far from sufficient to retain its working-class character. There is no measuring stick to identify that the party delegates represent the workers’ aspiration.

The practice for democratic principle and struggle for democratisation can be a panacea for such tendency to degenerate for class compromise. As the bourgeois parties are subservient to the interest of the bourgeois class and it is guaranteed by the existing system, the communist party must also be made subservient to working class through the struggle for democracy, and democratic mechanism which is not ingrained in the system needs to be evolved. One such mechanism would be to ensure the functioning of the unified and autonomous working class organi-sation like Trade Union which needs to be evolved through struggle. So long as the emancipation of working class is not conquered by the working class themselves, their own autonomous organisation may make mistakes because of their low level of aspiration that does not conform to the idea that working class is the bearer of complete individual freedom and liberty for humanity to be achieved in a future society. Class interest does not necessarily correspond with the interest of individual workers or workers of specific firm or sector with particularistic interest and incentives for enforcing collective discipline. The union, party or the state have the means to organise workers as a collective force as Marx put it, “combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among workers so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalists”. As Marx and Engels noted in the Communist Manifesto “the organisation of the proletariat into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset by the competition among workers themselves.” But despite their mistakes, they will always challenge their ruling class adversary as a whole or as a section of capitalists due to the essence of their class character and that is why, the party may play the role of educator, but must be educated by being subservient to the working class and their organisation. To play the role of educator, party’s opinion must always be open for debate for a test for rectification and change. And to act as an entity to be educated, it must respect and comply with the decision of the workers’ own organisation.

There are two vexed issues that have led the practising Marxists into disarray and state of confusion. Firstly, from the time of Marx to the pre-neoliberal phase, there is a rallying point on the question of what constitutes working class or proletariat. The workers organised in large factories in the industrial capitalist production system have been considered as the fulcrum of working-class emancipation for radical change transcending capitalism. The neoliberal reconstruction of capital and labour obscures the scenario to identify working class. Marx never identified the large factory workers as the only form of working class. But Marx analysed capitalist production based on relative surplus value and value of labour power i.e. cost of labourer’s subsistence. Does it mean that the living labour which is engaged with dead labour as capital in a relation where only relative surplus value is appropriated and the value of labour power is received in return solely constitutes the working class? This is problematic when one considers capitalist system as a whole. From Marx’s theory of capitalist expansion based on organic composition of labour and the history of capitalism, it is revealed that capitalist system is a system where dominant capitalist relations is intertwined with pre-capitalist relations. As such, those who earn their livelihood from labour and do not enjoy a part of the surplus value extracted from others’ labour constitute the working class. The value earned from labour which does not exceed the average value of labour of a society in a production system of a particular country and specific to a space-time defined by average necessary labour time must constitute the limit for categorisation of a person engaged in labour as worker, beyond which the individual enters to the class which is enjoying the fruits of the surplus extracted from labour of others. The value of labour power is no more than a definite quantity of average value of a society incorporated in the labour time requisite for the production of labour reduces itself to that necessary for the production of labourer’s means of subsistence. That means that those who are earning their livelihood from the income below the average value of labour in a society can be considered as workers. That’s why, there are differential rates of wages for different categories of manual and mental workers – above, at par and below the value of their labour power, and the capitalist system maintains these differential rates to create divisions within the workers for the sustenance of the system. Secondly, in an dependent economy within the global capitalist system, the significant presence of pre-capitalist relation influences the workers’ movement in such a way that the workers’ movement carries with it the presence of other classes which influence the class content of the movement, and the reverse is also true i.e. the movement of other classes such as peasantry or middle classes is also influenced by the working class content. This overlapping of content of the people’s movement obscures the working-class movement and hampers the autonomy of workers’ own organisation. These problematic leads one to another terrain to assess the formation of class.

In addition to the transformation of “class in itself” to ‘‘class for itself”, Marx also emphasised that economic, political, and ideological conditions jointly structure the realm of struggle that have their effect on the organisation of classes. It is not the objective economic, political and ideological conditions alone that define the classes. Classes must be viewed as effects of struggles structured by objective conditions that are simultaneously economic, political and ideological. This idea of struggle giving rise to class formation ensures the democratic functioning of the party. The continuous class-formation means continuous struggle which in turn means continuous motion in time. The society and its form, Marx emphasised, is the product of man’s reciprocal action. It is not the relations of production alone, the recognition of the oppression by the oppressed for its reciprocal action results in the formation of class and their struggle as class-struggle. The energy released by the struggle creates an energy-field within which both class and organisation and party cohabit to influence one another. This is the organic relations in motion that causes continuous change in the character of the class, organisation and the party, and the idea of a party always sermonising the class which it claims to represent is demolished. The dynamic process emanating from the struggles that determine the class formation vis-à-vis moulding and remoulding of the party also carries with it some extent of in determination. This is the democratic premise where Gramsci’s idea of organic relations between party and class makes sense.

In the context of dependent economy like India, the democracy deficit within the practising communist parties are primarily caused due to neglecting the dynamics of party-class relations and the influence of patriarchal authoritarian pre-capitalist relations. Historian Ayesha Jalal observed, “While caste has been an important indigenous classificatory scheme, Indians have never defined nor divided up their social universe exclusively in terms of caste. There are innumerable local terms in usage of a class character. For instance, in every regional Indian language there are terms for sharecropper, labourer, small peasant, rich peasant, landlord, moneylender and so forth. Like the colonial rulers, investigators of Indian society have been so enamoured by caste that they have paid insufficient attention to the classification of Indian society on schemes other than caste”. In the caste-class dynamics, the radical societal change of a country within the ambit of global capitalist system is always dependent on workers’ struggle and working-class emancipation to represent the idea of freedom and liberty of the people who are engaged in a production system in a continuous motion within the complex of capitalist and pre-capitalist production system. Historian Ranajit Guha of subaltern school, conceptualised the historical articulation of power in colonial India in all its institutional, model, and discursive aspects as the interaction of these two terms—domination and subordination as D/S in short. Marx showed when the organic composition of capital i.e., the ratio of fixed capital and variable capital i.e., C/V becomes too high in a capitalist space; the capital tends to move to a space of pre-capitalist relation to ensure profit and accumulation. In all stages of imperialism, these two phenomena cannot be visualised in an isolated manner. In a global capitalist system, these two integral components are modulated by the latter in its motion in time towards formation of working class both in the production relations and in the struggle against hegemonic and dominant oppression. As discussed before, it is the struggle for democracy that ensures communist character of the party to be party of working class. This struggle for democracy has become more pressing after long phase of neoliberal restructuring.

In a post-revolutionary society for building socialism transcending capitalism, the struggle for democracy becomes more intense and inter-dependent on various fronts– state, politics, economy and sociology, though the basic tenet of Marxism i.e. workers as the moving force of socialism as they constitute the only class that has the capacity to organise production on its own once capitalist relations are abolished, remains the same as the organic relations between socialism and working class. The capitalist economy envisages the productivity of labour and production system for generating surplus labour as the marginal rate of growth of labour productivity with regard to the growth of capital, the marginal rate at which non-capitalist places of production are destroyed when the productivity of capitalist labour expands, the rate of growth of capital with regard to time, and the rate of growth of population. This needs to be reversed with Mandel’s idea that productive labour is all labour which creates, modifies, or conserves use-values or which is technically indispensable for realising them. The nationalisation of means of production, banking and finance may be a good beginning, but it entails nothing socialist provided the struggle for democratisation of state, politics and society is not considered as the driving force. It only provides a weapon to support the working class for their empowerment. But how can the existing state which has been evolved to serve the interest of Bourgeois class be used by the working class which is not organised in the production system at the national or global level? The preliminary democratisation of the state for building of socialism was prescribed by Marx in Gotha Programme based on his observation of Paris Commune. But it should be much more than that in the present context of global capitalism. The world not yet had another occasion like Paris Commune to observe to formulate further on democratisation of state, but people have observed the fall and dismantling of really existing socialist states and the contradiction between liberal democracy and authoritarian or fascist state under bourgeois rule. This experience narrates that socialist state must retain all the democratic parameters of a well-developed bourgeois liberal democracy. One learns from the bourgeois liberal state about what should be continued and retained and people know something new characteristics of socialist state from what Marx formulated from the observation of Paris Commune – but the question is what should be the new aspects of democracy for a socialist state in the present context of capitalism for its transcendence? In Indian context, there are some Marxist advocates who think that institutional centre-state federal structure along with three-tier Panchayati Raj system with Ward-Sabhas at the base can be a good model for a new state where the present top-down arrangement is reversed to make it bottom-up with adequate devolution of power at the base. It is important that question of democracy should be brought to centre-stage in the Marxist discourse because Marxism in essence is about democracy. In the production front, to replace exchange value with use value, productive reconstruction must be decentralised in such a way that production unit becomes autonomous unit of associated labour to ensure workers’ control i.e., democratic empowerment of the producers or labour. But everything is destined to fail if the fundamental tenet of democracy evolved through the organic relation between communist party and working class as discussed above is not strictly adhered to for continuous class-struggle and vibrant lively open debate for revolution and to ensure the process of withering away of state, class and even democracy towards communist society.

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Vol 56, No. 17-20, Oct 22 - Nov 18, 2023