Sunday, May 15, 2016

Rubel on Marx (1981)

Book Review from the December 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx: Life and Works, by Maximilien Rubel. Macmillan Chronology Series.

This is a sort of shortened paperback version (130 pages) of Rubel and Manale’s Marx without Myth, and a very good and fair year-by-year summary of Marx’s life and literary activities. Rubel, whose writings are only just beginning to be known in the English-speaking world, is a regular, if critical, attender at the meetings of our Paris discussion group and fully accepts that by socialism Marx meant a classless. moneyless, wageless society. Here, for instance, he points out that in Marx’s first published writing as a socialist (The Jewish Question, 1843) Marx made it clear that human emancipation “will only be obtained by doing away with the state and with money", a view he held for the rest of his life. 
Adam Buick

About Books (1953)

Book Reviews from the June 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been said that, “He who cannot reason is a fool; he who will not is a bigot; he who dare not is a slave.” Everyone reasons about something, but the majority of workers form their political attachments out of prejudice, not from a reasoned understanding.

On a sunny, summer, Sunday morning in 1933 a speaker of the Socialist Party stepped on to a platform opposite the Checquers public house at Dagenham, in Essex, and took this as the theme of his address. One thing, he claimed, that marked the Socialist off from the adherents of other political creeds, was that the Socialist arrived at his point of view from a process of clear reasoning, whilst the reasoning of the others, if they did any, was a confused jumbling of ideas. The speaker drew a picture for his audience of many men entering a building, some of them throwing their hats, coats, scarves, gloves and other impedimenta into a dark comer all in one big heap. Other men placed their hats, coats, etc., in an orderly arrangement on pegs on a wall and took stock of the number of the peg as well as its particular location. When all these men left the building, those who had cast their clothing on the heap were in hopeless confusion in trying to sort them out. The others, of course, were able to collect their belongings easily and in orderly fashion.

Millions of workers get bogged down with their political reasoning, because they have never learned to think systematically. The carpenter, the architect, the motor mechanic, the doctor, the electrician and practically all other workers will think clearly and concisely about their familiar day to day tasks. Outside of that, when they probe into less familiar fields of thought, they get miserably confused and frequently makes fools of themselves. When they argue about religion or politics they bring out a series of unfounded assertions and, as often as not, end up by losing their tempers.

Clear reasoning is not a difficult process once one has learned to avoid certain pitfalls and to follow certain rules. There are two little books, a handy size for the pocket and easy on the purse, which will help to put one on the right track.

Thinking to Some Purpose” by L. Susan Stebbing is a Pelican book published at 2s. It is referred to as “A manual of first-aid to clear thinking,” and so it is. It will help any striving thinker to avoid the booby-traps, save him from arriving at hasty and illogical conclusions, and show him the faults in other people’s reasoning.

Another book, at the same price is, “Clearer Thinking (Logic for Everyman)” by A. E. Mander and published by Watts and Co. In the foreword to this book it is pointed out that thinking is skilled work and no one can expect to be efficient at it unless they learn and practice, any more than they can expect to be efficient at playing tennis, golf, bridge or some musical instrument unless they learn the rules and technique and practice them.

A Socialist, having learned to think clearly, finds it necessary to express himself equally clearly. It is unsatisfactory to arrive at a sound and logical political understanding and be unable to propagate it in a manner that can be easily understood and assimilated by others.

Practically everyone in Great Britain these days has learned enough English grammar to be able to make his ideas up into sentences and paragraphs. If the ideas are jumbled and confused, the words and sentences used to express them will betray the confusion. That does not mean that clear thinking and sound, logical ideas will result in equally dear and logical expression. A sparkling jewel of thought can easily be lost to sight in a maze of ungrammatical verbiage. Worse still, it can be lost to sight in a maze of grammatical verbiage. Particularly is this so when writing is the medium of expression.

The ability to set down one’s thoughts on paper in plain, straightforward, simply understood phrases, with no superfluous words, must be cultivated. There was a book that was a great help in this matter; “On the Art of Writing” by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, published by Guild Books (paper cover) for 1s. One does not see it around much these days but the best chapters from it are to be found in the various books of selected material from the writings and lectures of Quiller-Couch. The famous lecture on jargon is to be found in “Q Anthology” compiled and edited by F. Britain and published by Dent.

A more recent useful book on this subject is “Plain Words” by Sir Ernest Gowers and published by the Stationery Office (paper cover) for 2s. This book, having dealt with the need to be correct in all statements, goes on to instruct in the choice of words; how to avoid the superfluous word, choosing the familiar word, choosing the concrete word, then tells how to handle the words that have been chosen. It concludes with a chapter on punctuation. It is not a grammar. It is a book of advice based upon a study of other people’s mistakes and confused writings. It does a very good job.

"A.B.C. of Plain Words” by the same author and also published by the Stationery office (paper 3s., cloth 4s. 6d.) is a supplement to “Plain Words.” It takes the material contained in “Plain Words,” plus a little extra, and arranges it in a handy alphabetical form useful for quick reference.

There are probably other and bigger books on these subjects, but those we have mentioned are at a price that will not distress a proletarian pocket and, for that price, are remarkably good books.
W. Waters


Getting a fair share Chinese style (1994)

From the November 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

If Warren Christopher’s, the US Secretary of State, visit to China last March was meant to frighten the Chinese rulers into improving their human rights record on penalty of losing their Most Favoured Nation status with the US, then his words fell on deaf ears, that is if they were meant to be taken seriously in the first place.

Christopher was in reality only paying the human rights issue lip service, and his visit should be rather seen as that of harbinger of US capitalism.

Six months later, in early September, it was the turn of the US Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown, to visit China with 24 accompanying executives - the first US official to do so since March. This time human rights issues were so far down the agenda as to be negligible.

Perhaps Brown had been reading up on his Napoleon, who warned that when China wakes up. the world will tremble. In the eyes of the West, and in light of the market reforms introduced in the late ‘70s, China is indeed waking up.

Last December, Will Hutton observed how China’s "projected growth alone over the next decade will equal the entire current annual output of Europe” (Guardian, 21 December).

This September, Time International reported that by the year 2000:
“China is expected to go on a trillion-dollar shopping spree for foreign technology. The potential for profit is so vast that no industrialised country can afford to pass it up" (12 September).
Thus, Brown and his entourage might not have left with guarantees regarding human rights, but they did return home with contracts worth $6 billion, including a commitment by Shanghai Airlines to purchase 11 Boeing passenger jets for $l billion.

Brown even resuscitated a joint US-China commission on commerce, a bilateral agreement suspended by George Bush in the wake of Tiananmen in 1989. Not that trade between the two nations had ever been put on hold. In fact, two-way commerce between the US and China for the first six months of 1994 was 33 percent up on 1993, with the US purchasing $31.5 billions-worth of Chinese goods, four times the US exports to China.

Even during Brown’s visit, Chinese dissidents were being arrested. The Chinese authorities could do this in the full knowledge that for the US profit comes first.

What many Chinese fear is that when China revs up the capitalist bandwagon, the economic collapse, social anarchy and regional conflict so evident now in the former Soviet Union, will be just around the next bend.

Already there is evidence that the Western policies that China is being forced by economic circumstances arc causing havoc. There are currently 100 million out-of-work peasants and 20 million are now roaming the country looking for work. The “human rights" China hitherto enjoyed, including guaranteed housing, health care and free education up to university level, are now being dismantled.

Capitalist China, with a GAP 10.6 percent up on last year, and the world’s 11th biggest merchandise exporter, is seen by the West only as a market of one billion consumers. That it still arrests dissidents, has a forced labour population of 10 million in 1,000 camps and has suspended talks with the International Red Cross regarding access to Chinese prisons is of no significance to Western entrepreneurs.

Ron Brown summed up the US view in a nutshell when he stated that the US:
"do not want the Germans or the French or anyone to move in. We want US companies to get not just their fair share, but more than their fair share of what’s on offer" (Time International, 12 September).
With China’s merchandise exports leaping from $53 billion in 1989 to $91 billion in 1993, and as a rival for Asian markets, China is a nation the US cannot afford to ignore. What impact future reforms will have on the Chinese working class remains to be seen, but it is a fair bet that human rights abuses will spiral when hundreds of millions of Chinese begin to feel the pangs of increased inequality and attempt to bridge the gap between poverty and wealth. 
John Bissett

Pan-Africanism or pan-humanism? (2002)

From the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
When slave labour was no longer profitable as a result of the invention of machines, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished. This created a severe social problem as the ex-slaves could hardly fend for themselves. They became homeless, jobless and hungry. These problems forced them to become vagabonds, outcasts, "criminals", and (owning nothing in a society dominated by money and private ownership of property) an inferior class.
This sorry state of affairs culminated in the emergence of black (ex-slave) radicals such as Marcus Garvey who organised the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Other activists against the appalling situation of the black ex-slaves included W E B. Dubois; James Brown, who sang "say it loud, I'm black and proud"; and several groups of the Black Consciousness Movement which sprang up in the middle of the 20th century.
This wind of awareness and defiance that was blowing across the Americas and Europe naturally touched the black students from mainland Africa who had gone to the USA and Europe to study. Prominent among these were Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Leopold Sedar Senghor. These radicals together with others from the Caribbean like George Padmore were after to become the precursors of the Pan-Africanist movement. It was also known among in the French-speaking world as "Négritude".
It follows from the above that (other considerations aside) Pan-Africanism is a concept that is limited to black people – those on the continent and the ones in the Diaspora. In this regard, one can liken Pan-Africanism to other (albeit better organised) groups like Zionism, Pax Romana, the Arab League, etc. They are concepts and groups dedicated only to the interest of their members.
The colour smokescreen
As explained, the roots of Pan-Africanism can be traced to the conditions, the concrete reality of the newly-"emancipated" slaves in the Americas. Let us assume for the moment (despite all) that they faced those hardships "because of their colour". The question which readily comes to mind, now, is whether we can say it is the same scenario today. Are the causes of our problems today due to our colour? Of course not.

Consider the following cases. Mobutu allowed himself to be used by the Western powers to inflict untold suffering on the people of the then Zaire. Together with these powers he stole all the wealth of the country. In fact it is said that he was richer than the state. There is also the case of Bokassa who squandered millions of dollars to crown himself emperor when at that time the ordinary people of Central African Republic could not afford one decent meal a day. In Angola, Jonas Savimbi and a few friends (UNITA) teamed up with Western businesses to visit a limitless insecurity on the poor people just to plunder the resources of the land. The story is no different in the case of Foday Sonko and fellow rebels in Sierra Leone; quite recently the chief whip of South Africa, Tony Yengeni, and a senior official of the ANC as such, was embroiled in multi-billion dollar arms deals. Yet South Africa is not at war; meanwhile millions of ANC supporters do not have drinking water and electricity in their ghettos.
Moving outside the continent, what can Pan-Africanists say about blacks in the Diaspora like the US Secretary of State Colin Powell who ordered the US delegation to walk out of the Durban Conference on Racism because he and his capitalist colleagues would lose if reparations are to be paid to the victims of the slave trade? On the other hand there are non-blacks who help in various ways many Africans. There are countless families in poor Africa whose survival depend on well-meaning and genuine Europeans and Americans.
But more importantly today, and even during the period of the "liberation" of the slaves and beyond, suffering in the form of insecurity, murders, poverty, illness, misinformation, boredom, exploitation, etc affected both blacks and non-blacks alike, from Africa, America, Asia to Europe. Therefore we cannot be justified when our suffering is blamed on our colour and their colour. Colour is used as a smokescreen to conceal the real cause of discrimination. There is a deeper factor underneath the black/white ruse.
The world economic order
It was not by accident that the Europeans came to Africa. They were looking for trade routes to the East. They were pursuing their business interests. It was also not by mistake that they started the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. They need cheap labour for their plantations. They were in business. It was again not out of humanitarian considerations that they stopped the slave trade and set the blacks free. Slave labour had become obsolete and a fetter on production. The Industrial Revolution had made it possible for machines to be used in the production process so slaves were no longer needed. Therefore the real and fundamental cause of the problems of the "freed" slaves (which led to the rise of Garvey, Dubois, etc and Pan-Africanism) was the world economic order.

Interestingly the problems that these ex-slaves faced upon their "release from bondage" are still the same problems facing us – humanity as a whole – today. These are hunger, poverty, disease, insecurity, no job satisfaction and joblessness, etc. These problems are a direct result of the system in operation in the world.
This system is based on private ownership. This means that the means of production and distribution of the wealth (factories, land, transportation, etc) are owned by a minority whilst the majority own nothing. The few owners of the means of production determine what to produce. Since their primary objective is to make profit but not to satisfy human needs, they do not hesitate to produce goods which are not needed by people. For instance armaments and weapons of mass destruction, sophisticated security systems fancy goods, cigarettes, etc are manufactured in huge quantities because they bring in huge profits. Yet food, medicines, textbooks, shoes, housing, etc which are necessities are either in short supply or beyond the reach of the masses. This type of economic system (call it the money-system, the profit-system or the capitalist system) was responsible for the slave trade, colonialism and today's problems. With the majority having nothing and constantly under economic pressure, tension is inbuilt and can at the least prompting explode into real violence such as is happening in many countries including the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the US.
Which way forward?
One can clearly see from the above that Pan-Africanism can only be relevant if it seeks to address issues from a much wider perspective. Pan-Africanists have to transcend the narrow scope of seeing things from the point of view of colour. Today almost all countries are multi-racial. This is best articulated in the South African reggae star, Lucky Dube's song One people, different colours. Thus, to continue to harp on the "black race" is a matter of tackling the symptom and leaving the disease in fact.

Pan-Africanists must understand the profit system and learn to analyse issues from the angle of ownership to profit-making property. That is, from the angle of haves and have-nots. The world is divided into two antagonistic groups – the rich minority and the poor majority.
To be to achieve this, and even produce beneficial results, we need to acquire knowledge and live by it. This is tune with the socialist adage that "Practice without theory is blind and theory without practice is empty."
Acquiring knowledge means raising our consciousness. The highest level of consciousness is internationalism. Internationalists see every person as a person regardless of tribe or colour. And the cream of internationalists are socialists. Socialists do not consider the artificial boundaries dividing humanity as a barrier. Wherever they are is home.
However it is not enough to declare oneself socialist. It is necessary to understand the theory of socialism and how to get the peoples of the world to live by it. This involves, first, the knowledge that society, as at present constituted, is divided into two opposing camps. On the one hand there are the few privileged owners of the means of livelihood and, on the other, the majority who own nothing and so are forced to slave for the comfort of the propertied minority. The second phase entails striving for a society in which there will be common ownership and democratic control of the means of livelihood; free and equal access to the products of labour; and where, therefore, the concept and use of money (in all its forms) will cease to exist. This society is the socialist society.

You’ll Never Walk (Out) Alone! (2016)

The Action Replay column from the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Liverpool FC fans walked out in protest at increased ticket prices during their home game against Sunderland earlier this season. In the 77th minute with Liverpool leading 2-0, droves of their supporters left the stadium annoyed at the proposed new ticket price of £77.
Nobody at Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the club’s American owners, could have foreseen the reaction of Liverpool fans to the price hike to meet the cost of a new main stand.
Ian Ayres, the Chief Executive, completely misread the supporters mood when calling their actions ‘disappointing’ adding ‘what’s affordable for one person isn’t for another…I’ve no doubt 200 people would be happy to pay £77 for a seat.’ Plainly, it’s not the sort of comment that will endear him to the Scousers.
Jamie Carragher, a former Liverpool player joined the walkout. He stated that Liverpool generate around £35 million in ticket prices, had FSG announced a freeze on prices when the stand was completed the revenue would have risen to £37million – all this for the sake of £2 million for the eighth richest club in the world.
Alan Shearer, former England International, backed the fans commenting: If you are a parent with kids and you want to take them to a game, the cost would be horrendous for a normal working family.
Fenway Sports Group later issued a letter of apology to the fans, signed by senior FSG figures: John W Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon. FSG expressed concern that the supporters may perceive them as greedy, stressing they have not taken a penny out of the club and have invested £1m on a new stand and invested considerable sums of money to improve the squad
However we need to look at the perennial failure of the Premier League to regulate the game. Generally speaking, many of the premier teams, some who have a sole owner, seek maximum revenue from ticket prices whilst the Premier League is awash with £8.3 billion in TV revenues.
Various measures have been mooted to quell some fans’ disenchantment, e.g. imposing caps on away prices; maximum charges and percentage increases; plus funnelling some of the massive TV revenue to reduce ticket prices. Otherwise, it is argued, we may face a situation where increasing numbers of fans are forced to watch football on TV because ticket costs will have priced them out of the football stadiums.
Kevin.

The Myth of The Transitional Society (1976)

From Issue Number 5 of Critique
Critique has recently published the translation of an article by Ernest Mandel, in which he develops his now familiar theme that, in the course of social evolution, there intervenes – and must intervene – between capitalism and socialism a transitional “society” with its own social base, relations of production, etc. This is a point of view worth discussing but, despite the Marxist terminology in which it is expressed, it is in fact not a view held by Marx himself. As the present article will try to demonstrate, Marx did indeed speak of a “political transition period” between capitalism and socialism but never of a “transitional society”.
What, then, did Marx mean when he spoke of this “transition period”? Contrary to what is generally supposed (largely as a result of decades of Stalinist and Trotskyist propaganda), for Marx this period was not that between the establishment of the common ownership of the means of production and the time when the principle “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” could be implemented. Rather it is the period during which the working class would be using state power to bring the means of production into common ownership. In other words, the transition period is a political form between the capture of political power by the working class within capitalist society and the eventual establishment of socialism, a period during which the working class has replaced the capitalist class as the ruling class, i.e. as the controller of state power. The end of this transition period is the establishment of a classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control by the whole of society of the means of production, with the consequent disappearance of the coercive state, of the system of working for wages, of the production of goods for sale on a market with a view to profit, indeed, of buying and selling, money and the market altogether.
That for Marx the “transition period” was the period after the capture of political power by the working class and before the actual establishment of the common ownership of the means of production is clear both from his early and his later writings.
In 1852 he wrote to his friend Weydemeyer in America that one of the things he had proved was that “the dictatorship of the proletariat” (as he called the period of working class control of state power) “only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society”(emphasis added). Engels summarizes his own and Marx’s view in 1873 as follows:
“The views of German scientific socialism on the necessity of political action by the proletariat and of its dictatorship as the transition to the abolition of classes and with them of the state. . .” (emphasis added).
The transition period, then, is the period up to the establishment of the common ownership of the means of production. Again, in 1875 in his private notes on the Gotha Programme adopted by the unity congress of the German Social Democrats Marx wrote:
“Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Marx, we can note here, used the words “socialist” and “communist” interchangeably to refer to future classless society (if anything, he preferred the word “communist”, but we shall follow Engels’ later usage and employ the word “socialism” to describe future classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production). The idea that “socialism” and “communism” were two successive phases of post-capitalist society is not to be found in Marx, but derives from Lenin. Thus, when Marx writes, in the above quote, of “communist society”, he means precisely the same as when he wrote of “classless society” in 1852.
It is true that Marx realised that, had socialism been established in his day, it would not have proved possible to implement immediately, or even for some years, the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, i.e. free access for all to consumer goods and services according to individual need. In the early years of socialism, established at this time, there would inevitably have had to have been some restrictions on access to consumer goods and services, some form of, if you like, “rationing” (if this word’s association with the war-time and post-war ration cards is forgotten, for although full free access according to need would not have been possible in 1875, the amount allocated for consumption could have been considerably higher than the workers were then getting under capitalism). Marx suggested as one such possible method so-called labour-time vouchers. It is important to realise that this was only a suggestion and, moreover, one open to serious objections. But Marx’s point was that, for some period of time, some method of rationing consumption would be necessary. He referred to the period of socialism during which this would be so, as “the first phase of communist society”, as compared with a “higher phase” in which free access to consumer goods and services could be implemented. Note that Marx is talking of different phases of the same society, society “based on the common ownership of the means of production”, i.e. a classless, stateless society with no wages or monetary system (Marx made it clear that the “labour-time vouchers” were not money, “no more ‘money’ than a ticket for the theatre” as he put it in Capital ). No doubt one could speak of a transitions from the “first” to a “higher” phase of socialism, but the fact remains that Marx did not employ the concept of “transition period” in this sense. For him, as we have explained, it was the transition from capitalism to socialism and not from one phase of socialism to another.
How long did Marx expect this political transition period to last? His opinion on this question changed over the period of his political life. In 1848, he clearly felt it would have to last quite some years. Thirty years later, he and Engels thought it could be considerably shorter, as a result of the tremendous development of modern industry in the intervening period.
The Communist Manifesto of 1848 speaks of the working class capturing political power and using
“its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e. of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible” (emphasis added).
Marx and Engels go on to list various immediate measures which they and the other members of the Communist League felt the working class should take on coming to power, in order to makedespotic inroads on the rights of property.
They conclude:
When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character”. (emphasis added)
Clearly, in 1848, Marx and Engels expected the transition period to the establishment of common ownership and the consequent abolition of classes and the state to be fairly long. Engels, in his draft for the manifesto which was not used but was later published under the title Principles of Communism (and which is always a useful gloss on the Manifesto), stated this explicitly. Answering the question, “Will it be possible for private property to be abolished at one stroke?”, he wrote:
“No, no more than existing forces of production can at one stroke be multiplied to the extent necessary for the creation of a communal society. In all probability, the proletarian revolution will transform existing society gradually and will be able to abolish private property only when the means of production are available in sufficient quantity”.
It was not until later, after the wave of revolutionary enthusiasm of 1848 had ebbed, that Marx and Engels worked out the full implications of this. They had been saying, in effect, that the establishment of socialism was not possible in 1848. Engels, in 1895, in an introduction to some articles Marx had written, in 1850, on French politics, openly stated this:
“History has proved us, and all who thought like us, wrong. It has made it clear that the state of economic development at that time was not, by a long way, ripe for the elimination of capitalist production.”
Engels was clearly correct on this point. Capitalism, as Fritz Sternberg has pointed out, was then dominant only in one country:
When Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote ‘The Manifesto of the Communist Party’, – that is to say, about the middle of the nineteenth century – capitalism was dominant only in England; the United States was still a colonial country, in which the agricultural population far outnumbered the industrial; in Europe, the beginnings of capitalism were confined to the west – in Germany, for instance, pre-capitalist forms of production were still dominant; Russia and Japan were still feudal states; and there were relatively few points on the Asiatic coastline which were in contact with those occidental countries in which capitalist development had begun.To say that, at that time, perhaps 10 per cent of the world’s population were engaged in capitalist production is probably an optimistic estimate.”
If socialism wasn’t possible in 1848, this raises the interesting question (clearly relevant for later attempts to establish “socialism” in a single, backward country): What would the working class, or rather a determined group of Communists, have been able to do in the unlikely event of them having gained control of political power at that time? Surely, only to develop capitalism. In fact, the measures listed at the end of Section II (“Proletarians and Communists”) of the Manifesto, and referred to above, could accurately be described as being of a state-capitalist nature. Many of them have since been implemented in openly capitalist countries (progressive income tax, state bank, nationalisation of railways, free education, prohibition of child labour, etc.), thus indicating that there was nothing inherently anti-capitalist about them.
Neither Marx nor Engels went quite so far as to repudiate these measures, or to state that the Communists of 1848 were wrong to have imagined that they could even capture political power, let alone establish socialism at that time. But this is what Engels wrote in 1872 of these measures:
“. . . no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. . . this programme has in some details become antiquated.”
Also, writing in 1850, Engels discussed the fate of Thomas Munzer, as the leader of a communistic party coming to power before conditions were ripe for establishment of a communistic society. This passage is worth quoting extensively:
“The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government at a time when society is not yet ripe for the domination of the class he represents and for the measures which that domination implies. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the degree of antagonism between the various classes, and upon the level of development of the material means of existence, of the conditions of production and commerce upon which class contradictions always repose. What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him or the stage of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to the doctrines and demands hitherto propounded which, again, do not proceed, from the class relations of the moment, or from the more or less accidental level of production and commerce, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus, he necessarily finds himself in a unsolvable dilemma. What he can do contradicts all his previous actions and principles, and the immediate interests of his party and what he ought to do cannot be done. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whose domination the movement is then ripe. In the interest of the movement he is compelled to advance the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with talk and promises, and with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. He who is put into this awkward position is irrevocably lost.”
Marx himself had written something similar in October 1847 (a few months before he and Engels wrote the Manifesto) :
“If the proletariat destroys the political rule of the bourgeoisie, that will only be a temporary victory, only an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in 1794, so long as in the course of history, in its ‘movement’, the material conditions are not yet created which make necessary the abolition of the bourgeois mode of production and thus the definitive overthrow of bourgeois political rule.” (Marx’s emphasis)
Is it too much to say that, had Marx and Engels and the others in the Communist League come to control political power in 1848, that, not being able to establish socialism, they would have been “irrevocably lost”, in that they would have had no alternative but to develop capitalism (even if in the form of a state capitalism)?
In any event, this situation never arose, nor was it even a remote possibility. In exile in London, Marx and Engels soon realised the futility of communists plotting to seize political power in the immediate future, and turned to concentrating on the long, hard task of preparing the working class to organise itself to capture political power.
After 1848, modern industry made great advances. In 1847, Engels had written of the means of production not being available in sufficient quantity to permit the immediate, or even rapid, establishment of socialism. A quarter of a century later, in 1872, he was writing :
“...it is precisely this industrial revolution which has raised the productive power of human labour to such a high level that – for the first time in the history of mankind the possibility exists, given a rational division of labour among all, of producing not only enough for the plentiful consumption of all members of society and for an abundant reserve fund, but also of leaving each individual sufficient leisure so that what is really worth preserving in historically inherited culture  science, art, forms of intercourse – may not only be preserved but converted from a monopoly of the ruling class into the common property of the whole of society, and may be further developed.”
And six years later, in that part of Anti-Dühring later published as the immensely popular pamphlet Socialism, Utopian and Scientific :
“The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialized production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties – this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.” (Engels’ emphasis)
In other words, it was Engels’ opinion that by the 1870’s, contrary to the situation in 1848, “the state of economic development was . . . ripe for the elimination of capitalist production”. While he might not have answered the question, “Will it be possible for private property to be abolished at one stroke?” with a ‘yes’, he would certainly have answered that it could be abolished (i.e. common ownership, and a classless society established) fairly rapidly. The principle is clear here: for Marx and Engels, the higher the level of development of the means of production, the shorter the political transition period needed to make them the common property of society as a whole.
Engels was exaggerating when he wrote in 1872 that the means of production could then have provided “enough for the plentiful consumption of all members of society and for an abundant reserve fund”. Certainly, they could have provided enough to completely eliminate material poverty and to raise the consumption of all well above the level they had to endure under capitalism, but it would not really have been possible to implement the principle of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. Engels, or course, recognised this, and it was precisely Marx’s point as well in his notes on the Gotha Programme about the inevitability of some limitations on free consumption in the “first phase” of socialism.
Having discussed the question of how long Marx and Engels expected the political transition period between capitalism and socialism to last, we can now ask, how long did they think the transition (as one might want to call it) between the “first” and “higher” phases of socialism itself would take. This is something they don’t seem to have discussed, but it is clear that the same principle applies: the higher the level of development of the means of production, the shorter the period.
One thing is clear, though, that the development of the means of production during this period would be on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, and the consequent abolition of the market, money, buying and selling, wages, profits, etc, The “first phase of communist society”, like the higher phase, would be a non-market society in which production would be consciously planned to satisfy human needs. What would be produced would be useful things, for direct allocation to democratically-decided social uses (individual consumption, collective consumption, expansion of productive resources, reserves, etc.). What Marx called commodity-production”, the production of goods for sale on a market, would not exist; indeed could not exist without the society ceasing to be socialist.
Marx repeatedly made it clear that socialism, in both its phases, was a non-market, production-solely-and-directly-for-use society. The Communist Manifesto specifically speaks of “the Communistic abolition of buying and selling”, and of the abolition not only of capital (wealth used to produce other wealth with a view to profit), but of wage labour, too. In Volume I of Capital Marx speaks of “directly associated labour, a form of production that is entirely inconsistent with the production of commodities ...”, and, in Volume II, of things being different “if production were collective and no longer possessed the form of commodity production. ..”. Also, in Volume II, Marx, in comparing how socialism and capitalism would deal with a particular problem, twice states that there would be no money to complicate matters in socialism: “If we conceive society as being not capitalistic but communistic, there would be no money-capital at all in the first place. ..”, and, “in the case of socialized production the money-capital is eliminated”. In other words, in socialism the production and distribution of wealth is solely a question of organisation and planning.
It is precisely Mandel who is the most influential and able opponent of Marx (and the others who have agreed with him, notably Bordiga) on this point about the entirely non-market nature of the “first” phase of socialism. In his essay Economics of the Transition Period, Mandel notes that,
“Immediately following the victory of the October Revolution, and especially in the period of War Communism, the Communist theoreticians saw the construction of a socialist economy primarily in terms of an immediate and general disappearance of the market and monetary economy.”
Significantly, he does not question why this should have been, since this would have led him to have to admit that, on this point, the Bolshevik thinkers were in the Marxist tradition.
Mandel goes on to state that in Russia it soon appeared that “maintaining money and market relations was best suited to maximising economic growth and to the best defense of the interests of the workers as consumers” and to conclude by formulating the following general law:
“The survival of market and monetary categories thus proves inevitable during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism.”
(Actually, what the experience of Russia under so-called “War Communism” proved was that isolated Russia was ripe at that time only for some form of capitalism – with its “market and monetary categories”  and not for socialism). Mandel accepts socialism as a world-wide, classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society (to define it somewhat negatively). As he wrote in The Inconsistencies of State Capitalism :
“Socialism means a classless society. It therefore presupposes not only the suppression of private property of the means of production, henceforth managed in a planned way by the associated producers themselves, but it also calls for a level of development of the productive forces which makes possible the withering away of commodity production, of money, and of the state.”
and,
“The working class ... is not capable of building a socialist society in a single country, not even the USA (not to speak of Britain or Western Europe).”
All that can be established in the immediate future, says Mandel, is a third society neither capitalist nor socialist, which will have the aim of developing the means of production to the level where world socialism becomes possible as a society of abundance: a “transitional society” between capitalism and socialism, with its own social structure and economic laws different from those both of capitalism and of socialism. Mandel describes this so-called transitional society of his as follows:
“nationalisation of all the means of production under workers’ control, democratically planned economy, but still with commodity production of consumer goods, with the survival of money, with foreign trade, and with a workers’ army as long as the threat of strong bourgeois states subsists.”
This “transitional society”, like capitalism but unlike socialism, can be established on a national scale. In fact, says Mandel, it should be the immediate aim of each national working class (thus rejecting the Marxist view that the working class of all countries should be aiming at a more or less simultaneous world socialist revolution).
If Marx had really subscribed to this view, that there was another system of society lasting for a whole “epoch” – between capitalism and socialism, it is curious, to say the least, that he never mentioned it. Nowhere, in fact, does Marx speak of any “transitional society” in between capitalism and socialism, or, to use some of the phrases employed by Mandel, “the epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism”, “a transitional-economy”, “the society in transition from capitalism to socialism”. He certainly spoke of a “political transition period” and of “a period of revolutionary transformation” between capitalism and socialism but, as we have seen, this was merely the period during which the working class would use its control of state power to establish the common ownership of the means of production, a relatively short political transition period, which would be shorter the higher the development of the means of production was at the time the working class won control of political power, and certainly not lasting an “epoch”.
Mandel tries to justify his position by identifying his “transitional society” with Marx’s “first phase of communist society” (despite the fact that the phrase “first phase of communist society” obviously means what is says: the first phase of communist, not some other, different, society). Marx, we have seen, did recognise the inevitability of some limitations on free consumption in the early stages of socialism (had it been established in the 1870’s), and did mention “labour-time vouchers” as one possible method of doing this. Mandel claims that whether these labour-time vouchers or money is used in these circumstances, is just a matter of choice. Money, he argues, is better because it allows workers, as consumers, more freedom of choice than would labour-time vouchers, or some system of physical rationing.
But, this is based on a complete misunderstanding of the Marxian theory of money. For Marx money was not a thing but a social relation, an economic category which existed on the basis of certain social relations between the producers, specifically, an exchange economy, reflecting the fact that production was not yet socialised but carried out by isolated individual producers – and later the fact that, despite socialized production, there was still private or sectional appropriation. He pointed out that “labour-time vouchers” were not money; they were simply pieces of paper entitling a person to draw so much from the stock of goods set aside for individual consumption. They did not circulate, nor did they reflect a relationship of private property. As Marx put it, in a passage in his notes on the Gotha Programme, – a passage incidentally quoted by Mandel in theCritique article – “within the co-operative society based on the common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products.”
We do not want to defend the “labour-time voucher” system. Even for Marx’s day, it was inappropriate, suffering from numerous anomalies, only some of which Marx himself recognised. We would subscribe to the view that Marx’s criticism of schemes to introduce “labour-money” under capitalism, applies to some extent also to the scheme for “labour-time vouchers” in the early stages of socialism. But it is clear that Marx did not regard the use of money (a commodity that has come to be universally exchangeable with all other commodities) as an alternative form of rationing in the “first phase of communist society”. In fact, he would have regarded this as an absurd, contradictory proposal. We can imagine him lambasting Mandel in the same terms as he lambasted Proudhon for similar inanities!
Let us now return to the question of how long, after the establishment of socialism, some restrictions on free consumption would have to continue. Today, looking back, we can say that, had world socialism been established in the 1870’s, it might have taken about a generation before full free access to consumer goods and services, according to individual needs, could have been implemented. This estimate is based on the fact that it was by around 1900 that the effects of the so-called second industrial revolution – the application to production of the electric motor and the internal combustion engine – were beginning to be felt. Marx and Engels, remember, were judging the possibilities of socialism on the basis only of the first industrial revolution (the application to production of the steam engine). Marx, who died in 1883, never saw either an electric motor or an internal combustion engine. But of course every advance in technology made his case for socialism even more relevant.
By about 1900, thanks to this second industrial revolution, capitalism became the predominant world system. By “predominant” we don’t mean that capitalism existed all over the world, but merely that all the people of the world, even if they lived under pre-capitalist conditions, were decisively affected by the workings of world capitalism, 1900 marks, if you like, capitalism becoming a world system – a fact which some Marxist writers have described as its becoming “imperialist”. 1914, with the outbreak of the first world war in the history of mankind, was a bloody confirmation of this. To quote Sternberg again:
“Capitalist development had taken several hundred years to arrive at a stage at which perhaps 10per cent of the world’s population produced along capitalist lines, but within the two-thirds of a century which followed – approximately from the middle of the nineteenth century up to the outbreak of the first world war – capitalism became the dominant form of production not merely in one country, England, but all over the world, until perhaps between 25 and 30 per cent of the world’s population were producing along capitalist lines, whilst in Great Britain, the United States, Germany and Western Europe in general, capitalism held practically a monopoly of production. At the same time capitalist development had made considerable progress in Russia and Japan, although the remnants of feudalism still existed, whilst in the other Asiatic countries the pre-capitalist forms of production had been definitely undermined.”
We can, in fact, place the end of capitalism’s role in history – to create the material basis for a world socialist society of abundance – at this time. By 1900, capitalism had completely outlived its usefulness. From then on only the immediate establishment of world socialism has been “progressive”. From then on, in fact, world socialism – given, of course, the development of a majority socialist movement amongst the working class in the industrialised parts of the world could have been established “at one stroke” by a more or less world socialist revolution.
Since 1900, the working class has still, it is true, needed to organise itself to capture political power in all the various states of the world, and, in this sense, a “political transition period” during which the working class uses state power to establish the common ownership of the means of production, is still necessary. However, since this period would be so short as to be negligible, the concept of a transition period has become outdated.
Similarly, though in the first few years of socialism, as the mess left by capitalism is cleared up, some restrictions on full free consumption may still be necessary, world socialist society could now move rapidly (i.e. in well under a decade at the most) to implementing free access to consumer goods and services according to individual need as the principle of distribution. To sum up, the concept of a “transition period”, lasting some years, between capitalism and socialism is today an obsolete 19th century concept, while the ideal of a “transitional society” between capitalism and socialism, as proposed by Mandel, was never to be found in Marx in the first place.
Adam Buick