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Marx's Economics for Anarchists - Chapter 9

category international | economy | opinion / analysis author Wednesday November 30, 2011 13:14author by Wayne Price - personal opinionauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

What Marx Meant by Socialism and Communism

This is the 9th chapter of my serialized book, "Marx's Economics for Anarchists; An Anarchist's Introduction to Marx's Critique of Politiical Economy." It covers Marx and Engels' definition of socialism (communism), expressed in several works, how they thought workers would be rewarded for working, what they meant by the "dictatorship of the proletariat," and how Marx's views contrast with Kropotkin's anarchist-communism.

Marx's Economics for Anarchists - Chapter 9

What Marx Meant by Socialism and Communism

The earlier, “utopian”, socialists, such as Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, and Etienne Cabet, created very detailed instructions on how a new society should be organized. Marx deliberately rejected that approach. His descriptions of how a socialist (communist) economy would work are few and far between. (Marx used both “socialism” and “communism” for his goal, although he preferred the term “communism”; most revolutionary anarchists also called themselves both “socialists” and “communists”, while preferring the latter—this was before the term became associated with the dictatorships of the Communist Parties). It has been said that he was an economist of capitalism, but not an economist of socialism. Even what he did write on the subject tended to be limited.

In Capital, vol. I, he refers to “a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labor-power of the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labor-power of the community….Production by freely associated men [note]…is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan” (pp. 90, 92).

Rather than presenting a new social system, Marx focused on the need for the working class to collectively take power, to replace the bourgeoisie as the (temporarily) new ruling class. The workers and their allies would get rid of the existing state and replace it with a radically democratic state, similar to the Paris Commune. It should essentially be the self-organized working class. This new state would expropriate the capitalist class. The workers would build a new economy based on the centralization, collectivization, and socialization of labor of the existing monopolized and statified capitalist economy. The means of production would be held in common (but not individual consumer goods). A common economic plan would be created (just how was never spelled out).

There would be no more law of value, because goods would not be bought and sold on the market. There will be no commodities. Human labor would be distributed among the various industries according to need, as determined by the plan. Established through revolution, the workers’ state, as a coercive social machine, would “wither away” or “die out”. It would evolve into a nonviolent public institution which coordinates the economy. Classes as distinct layers of society, specialized to either be workers or bosses, would also dissolve into a classless society.

Alienation and fetishism (as discussed in chapter 2) would die out. Labor would be unalienated because it would not be done for someone else. It would be done for the community of which each person was a free member. The social nature of all interactions would be transparent rather than fetishized, open to all to perceive. The very nature of work would change, ending the class-determined divisions of labor, as would the relations between town and countryside.

Program of the Communist Manifesto

Section II of the 1848 Communist Manifesto is titled, “Proletarians and Communists.” At its end, Marx lays out a brief program. It is not a description of full communism, but a series of steps toward communism, a transitional program. First, he writes, the working class must take power. Then, “the proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling means of despotic inroads on the rights of property…” (in Draper, 1998; p. 155).

A 10 point program follows, including, “…5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state… 6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state. 7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state…. 8. Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture….” (same).

This leads to the end of distinct, specialized, classes, Marx claimed. It leads to the end of the state, that is, the end of a coercive instrument of one class over other classes. “When, in the course of development… all production has been concentrated in the hands of associated individuals, the public power loses its political character…. In place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class antagonisms there comes an association in which the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all” (same; p. 157).

Anarchists would distrust the chances of such free individual development, if the “public power” has all industry and agriculture centralized into its control and everyone is forced to (“has liability to”) work in industrial armies.

In any case, by 1872 Engels himself felt that “this program has in some details become antiquated”. He did not discuss specific points but instead wrote, “One thing especially was proved by the [Paris] Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes’ “ (in Draper, 1998; p.262).

Engels’ point was that it was not enough to radically democratize the bourgeois state. Instead, it was necessary to completely get rid of the capitalist state and replace it with an institution like the Paris Commune, “the proletariat organized as the ruling class”. Then it would be this workers’ state which would evolve out of its “political character”. Engels was quoting from Marx’s writing on the Paris Commune. Engels felt this point was so important that he repeated it in his 1888 introduction to the Manifesto — while making no other changes to the original.

In Marx and Engels’ writings, they portray the 1871 Paris Commune uprising as extremely democratic. In particular, the city council members were directly elected by the sections of the city and were subject to recall if their sections no longer agreed with them. The representatives were not paid more than average workers. All officials, such as judges and local police, were similarly elected and controllable. The regular army was replaced by an armed people (a volunteer militia). Marx expected that if the Commune had lasted it would have federated with similar city, town, and village communes throughout France.

This was an image of a very democratic representative democracy. But there was nothing in it of direct democracy, of the members of sections meeting and deciding how they would manage their neighborhood. Or of workers meeting face-to-face in the factory or shop or office each morning to decide what they would do that day. In general, anarchists are not against some degree of representation or delegation, in large, complex, societies. But anarchists seek to root this in a vibrant, lively, decentralized, direct democracy, where communities directly control their lives. Even at their most libertarian-democratic, Marx and Engels showed no understanding of this.

Critique of the Gotha Program

In The Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx described communism as a “cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production” (1974; p. 345). He raised the notion of two “phases” of communism. In the first phase, “we are dealing here with a communist society…as it emerges from capitalist society…still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it has emerged” (CGP, 1992; p. 346).

For some reason, Lenin renamed Marx’s “first phase of communist society” as “socialism” and only Marx’s “more advanced phase of communist society” as “communism” proper. To Marx, they were both phases of communism. (They have no relation to the differences between Socialist and Communist parties.)

Of all the possible differences between the lower and higher phase of communism, Marx focused on the issue of remuneration of the workers (a highly contentious issue). In the first phase, the individual workers get back the equivalent of the amount of work they have contributed (minus deductions for an overall fund for maintenance and accumulation of production capacity, and for taking care of children, the sick, and older people). The ablebodied workers will be — Marx predicted — paid in certificates which register how many hours they worked or how hard (“duration or intensity” of labor); they were not to be rewarded according to how much they produced. Marx did not propose that more skilled or highly trained workers should be paid at a higher rate, or address this issue at all. The certificates would not be money; they could not be accumulated or exchanged for goods on a market. Instead, they are brought to the common storehouse to exchange for goods which took an equivalent amount of labor to produce. (10 hours of work earned the right to a shirt which took an average of 10 hours to make.) Only consumer goods can be withdrawn, not means of production.

To Marx, this was better than capitalism but still limited. It was only the first phase of communism. Receiving in goods the equivalent of the amount of labor a worker did is still “in principle a bourgeois right”, although one which capitalism never lived up to. Workers have different amounts of strength and ability — some can work longer hours or harder than others. Workers have different needs and wants, regardless of how hard they work. Therefore this equality remains unequal and unfair. Society is not yet completely unalienated.
In a more advanced phase of communist society, …when labor 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!” (same; p. 347).
In the CGP, Marx made further political predictions. He asked, “In a communist society…what social functions will remain that are analogous to the present functions of the state?” (same; p. 355). He did not answer his question; he implied that there may still be a need for social coordination and other tasks in a stateless society. Then he wrote,
Between capitalist and communist society lies a period of revolutionary transformation from one to the other. There is a corresponding period of transition in the political sphere and in this period the state can only take the form of a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (same).
What exactly Marx and Engels meant by the “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” is a matter of controversy. With the development of Marxism-Leninism it has come to mean the dictatorship of one person, or a small group, or, at most, one political party. Marx’s ideas of a transition between capitalism and communism, and of a lower phase of communism, etc., have been used as excuses for Stalinist totalitarianism. They have been used as rationalizations to justify regimes which were not, in fact, moving toward stateless, classless, associations of free individuals, but were moving away from that.

None of these meanings would have been acceptable to Marx or Engels’ democratic priniciples. In their day, “dictatorship” was sometimes used to mean the domination by a parliament or by a popular class. As best as can be determined, what they meant by “dictatorship of the proletariat”, was neither more nor less than “the rule of the working class”. They pointed to the ultra-democratic Paris Commune as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Some libertarian Marxists have used it to mean the stateless rule of the self-organized working class. Lenin, in his State and Revolution, claimed that Marx and Engels had meant a “semi-state” which, from the moment of its creation, would “immediately” begin to wither away as popular participation increased (this was before he set up his own one-party dictatorship). Today, we can no longer use the phrase given what it has come to mean.

It is unclear to me whether, for Marx, the “period of revolutionary transformation…in the political sphere” takes place before the lower phase of communism or if it includes the lower phase. Presumably the working class must first seize power before it can begin to create even the lower phase! (For anarchists, “seizing power” is not necessarily the same as “seizing state power”, that is, creating a new bureaucratic-military state machine.) This has become an issue relevant to the poorer, oppressed, nations of the world. As in Marx’s day, most of the countries of the world are too poor to get to even the lower phase of communism on their own. But, unlike Marx’s day, the world as a whole is ready, and over-ready, to establish a prosperous international communism.

What then are the options for an oppressed nation in Africa, Asia, or Latin America? What is possible is for the workers, peasants, and other oppressed sections of the countries, to seize power and set up their own federation of workers’ and peasants’ councils (I leave out for now the question of whether this is a state). The federation can take steps toward communism, but these will be limited internally. Markets and the law of value could not be immediately abolished. But the federation can do all it could to spread the revolution to other oppressed nations and to the imperialist nations. These last nations have the wealth to help the poor countries develop in their own way, toward liberatory communism. This is the strategy of the Permanent Revolution, applied internationally.

Permanent Revolution is not a two-stage strategy (as advocated by Maoists or Mensheviks): first the capitalist revolution, then the proletarian revolution. It says that the workers and their allies should take power and carry out, at the same time, tasks of both the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the proletarian socialist revolution. The first includes land to the peasants who use it, freedom of speech, election of officials, national self-determination, etc., and the second includes also public ownership of the land and industry, worker management and planning of industry, international revolution, etc.

A Technological Revolution

Many interpret Marxism to mean that modern technology and social organization, just as it is arranged under semi-monopolized capitalism, will continue under socialism -- except that, on top, instead of corporate boards of directors and the bourgeois state, there will be a centralized workers’ state. But Marx and Engels were aware that much of technology was developed for no reason but to increase the exploitation of the workers. Engels wrote,
Society cannot free itself unless every individual is freed. The old mode of production must therefore be revolutionized from top to bottom, and in particular the former division of labor must disappear. Its place must be taken by an organization of production in which… productive labor, instead of being a means of subjugating men [note], will become a means of their emancipation, by offering each individual the opportunity to develop all his [note] faculties, physical and mental, in all directions and exercise them to the full — in which, therefore, productive labor will become a pleasure instead of being a burden” (Anti-Duhring, 1954; p. 408).
So Marx had described the “more advanced phase of communist society, when the enslaving subjugation of individuals to the division of labor and thereby the antithesis of intellectual and physical labor…” is over (CGP; p. 347).
The most alienating division of labor, then, was between intellectual and physical labor, between decision-making and decision-carrying-out, between order-giving and order-taking. The “utopians” had developed the idea of integrating labor, and the anarchists were to develop it further, but it was important to Marx and Engels.

This concept of technical integration included the synthesis of agriculture and industry, of town and farm. This was social but also necessary for ecological health. Engels wrote, “The present poisoning of the air, water and land can be put an end to only by the fusion of town and country…” (Anti-Duhring, p. 411).

The 10-point program of the Communist Manifesto included, “9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries: gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of population over the country…” (p. 155).

Engels refered to the “utopians’” ideas of collective townships which integrated agriculture and industry. It only becomes realizable, he believed, with a centralized plan. “Only a society which makes it possible for its productive forces to dovetail harmoniously into each other on the basis of one single vast plan can allow industry to be distributed over the whole country….” (Anti-Duhring, p. 411).

Comparisons of Marx’s Communism and Anarchist Communism

Marx and Engels deliberately did not give details about what a socialist/communist society would look like. We get some ideas from what they wrote. They were committed to a democratic society, self-managed by the freely associated producers. They saw it as being a centrally-planned economy, with industry and agriculture integrated and owned by the democratic workers’ state. This had replaced the bourgeois state. The workers’ state would begin to die out as soon as it was established. This would be due to increasing participation of the working people and the increase in unalienated labor.

The ex-state would evolve into a non-coercive public institution for coordination and planning.

Presumably it would still be centralized. The problem with centralization is that it is more than unification or coordination. It means that there is a center and a periphery. Even if the center’s officials are popularly elected, the center is managed by a few people who get information from the many at the periphery, who in turn carry out the directions given them from the center.

This vision may be contrasted with that of Kropotkin. His anarchist vision is of a pluralistic and decentralized federalism. Peter Kropotkin also did not draw up a detailed program, but he discussed in several books how free working people might reorganize a city and its region after a revolution (e.g., Fields, Factories , and Workshops and The Conquest of Bread). He wrote,
Voluntary associations …would…substitute themselves for the state in all its functions. They would represent an interwoven network, composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes and degrees, local, regional, national, and international — temporary or more or less permanent — for all possible purposes: production, consumption, and exchange, communications, sanitary arrangements, education, mutual protection, defense of the territory, and so on…. for the satisfaction of an ever-increasing number of scientific, artistic, literary and sociable needs….

“True progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both territorial and functional, in the development of … free federation from the simple to the compound…
” (2002; pp. 284, 286).
Kropotkin did not believe in a workers’ state, an institution which somehow represented the working class but which — as a state -- was separated from it and above it. As in the above quotation, he proposed that there be federated associations for “mutual protection [and] defense of the territory”; he believed that such tasks would still be necessary for a period, but that they did not require a state.

Kropotkin rejected the concept of two phases of communism. He thought that a revolution should be immediately followed by full communism, but that ablebodied adults would be expected to work a half-day, perhaps 5 hours, to earn a guaranteed minimum of food, clothing, and shelter. They would be free to do voluntary work for luxuries. Bakunin, who came before Kropotkin, had believed in two phases, according to his friend, James Guillame. The higher phase would be full communism, “From each according to their ability to each according to their need,” based on a high level of productivity. “In the meantime, each community will decide for itself during the transition period the method they deem best for the distribution of the products of associated labor” (in Bakunin, 1980; p. 362).

Anarchist and Marxist visions are not absolute alternatives. Kropotkin’s federated associations could democratically work out an overall economic plan. On the other hand, in The Civil War in France, Marx, for once, described a non-state vision of self-governing industries (he was making a point, not advocating a program). He remarks that there are bourgeois ideologists who declare that communism is “impossible,” but who also advocate producer (worker-managed) cooperatives. Sounding like an anarchist-syndicalist, Marx responded,
The [Paris] Commune…aimed at… transforming the means of production… into mere instruments of free and associated labor. But this is communism, ‘impossible’ communism! …If co-operative production is … to supercede the capitalist system; if united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon a common plan, thus taking it under their own control…what else, gentlemen, would it be but communism, ‘possible’ communism?” (1971; pp.75-76).
What else, indeed?

Chapter 10 will be the concluding chapter: "An Anarchist's Critique of Marx's Political Economy." It will review strengths and weaknesses of Marx's economic theory, as Kropotkin saw it and as I see it.
Previous parts:

Chapter 8 - Socialism or Barbarism?
Chapter 7 - State Capitalism
Chapter 6 - The Post-War Boom and Fictitious Capital
Chapter 5 - The Epoch of Capitalist Decline
Chapter 4 - Primitive Accumulation at the Origins of Capitalism
Chapter 3 - Cycles, Recessions, and the Falling Rate of Profit
Chapter 2 - The Labor Theory of Value
Chapter 1 - An Anarchist's Introduction to Marx's Critique of Political Economy

author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Tue Dec 06, 2011 17:30author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

On the subject of the transitional period and transitional society this may be of help and useful reading.

I think when discussing 'permanent revolution', there is little point in referring to Marx's usage since much like Lenin and his use of the phrase 'dictatorship of the proletariat' (and his deliberate distortion of socialism/communism) its current employment differs so much from Marx's original meanings .

Marx's 1850 use of the phrase consists of the working class maintaining a militant and independent approach to politics both before, during and after the 'struggle' which will bring the 'petty-bourgeois democrats' to power . What permanent revolution in this sense means is that the proletariat should organise autonomously. Marx is concerned that throughout the process of this impending political change, the petty-bourgeoisie will seek to ensnare the workers in a party organization in which general social-democratic phrases prevail while their particular interests are kept hidden behind, and in which, for the sake of preserving the peace, the specific demands of the proletariat may not be presented. Such a unity would be to their advantage alone and to the complete disadvantage of the proletariat. The proletariat would lose all its hard-won independent position and be reduced once more to a mere appendage of official bourgeois democracy.

In an article two years earlier, Marx had referred to 'a programme of permanent revolution, of progressive taxes and death duties, and of organisation of labour' This confirms the impression that Marx's theory of 'permanent revolution' is not about revolution per se, rather more about the attitude that a revolutionary class should adopt in the period of their political subjection, including the programme of political demands they should propose. As well as overtures for organisational alliance with the petty bourgeoisie, Marx is concerned about attempts to 'bribe the workers with a more or less disguised form of alms and to break their revolutionary strength by temporarily rendering their situation tolerable' Therefore, the workers' party must use their autonomous organisation to push a political programme which threatens the bourgeois status quo. Marx believes the proletariat should refuse to moderate its demands to the petty-bourgeois consensus. Furthermore, the demand of the workers should always seek to push the bourgeois further than they are prepared to go.

It is worthwhile to have some idea of how Marx saw the context in which he advocated 'permanent revolution'. It seems that he believed that 'the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama [in Germany] will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated'. That is, the petty-bourgeois are expected to come to power in Germany at the same time as the 'direct victory' of the proletariat in France. Furthermore, Marx seems to believe of the former (and hence, of both) that it is 'imminent' (c.f. the third paragraph of the Address ). Marx clearly believes, therefore, that Europe is entering a time, and is at a level of development of the 'productive forces' in which the proletariat have the social revolution within their reach. If Marx is understood to be consistent about his emphasis on historical circumstance, it is unclear how the relevance of his theory of permanent revolution should be evaluated in times in which the social revolution is not expected to be imminent. Indeed, after 1850 there is no record of Marx or Engels ever using the term.

So to repeat, Marx advocated 'permanent revolution' as the proletarian strategy of maintaining organisational independence along class lines, and a consistently militant series of political demands and tactics.

At no stage does Marx make the central claim with which Trotsky's conception of 'permanent revolution' is concerned - i.e. that it is possible for a country to pass directly from the dominance of the semi-feudal aristocrats, who held political power in Russia in the early part of the 19th Century, to the dominance of the working class, without an interceding period of dominance by the bourgeois. On the contrary, Marx's statements in his March 1850 Address explicitly contradict such a view, assuming a 'period of petty-bourgeois predominance over the classes which have been overthrown and over the proletariat'. Trotsky's version of the theory represents both a different development and a contradiction of the expressed opinions of Marx.

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