Marx, Proudhon and political struggle

James Tansey critiques Ian McKay’s Property is Theft! A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology

…the triumph of opportunism within Italy and the Communist International… show[ed] that the doctrine of self-sufficient factory councils (with their own little self-contained revolutions), was a very dangerous starting point; as indeed was the illusion that communist victory was assured as soon as individual enterprises had passed from the hands of the management into those of their employees. In fact Communism involves the reorganisation of the whole of human life, and the old productive model… needs to be denounced, and then totally destroyed from top to bottom.

- Amadeo Bordiga[i] -

Recently AK press published a book entitled Property is Theft!: A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology.[ii] This is an important contribution for all students of socialism. Proudhon was a major player in the French working class movement during his own time, even taking up a parliamentary seat in the French Second Republic during the revolution of 1848. He was key in the formation of the ideas of Mikhail Bakunin who led the anarchist opposition to Karl Marx within the International Workingmen’s Association, and developed several concepts which are fundamental for anarchism such as support for organisational federalism over centralism, the rejection of the idea of the working class taking political power and using it to transform society and a general attempt to move the focus on to the economic rather than political movement of the class. He also developed a focus on ethical opposition to forms of social hierarchy and authority as a basis for anti-capitalist politics.

Aside from anarchism, Proudhon’s work also serves as a precursor to the varies forms of ‘market socialism’, such as that of David Schweikhart, which envision an economy of worker-owned co-operative enterprises as an alternative to the existing managerial institutions of capitalist society. Proudhon’s work, described by Marx as the most consistent expression of the critique of political economy from the standpoint of political economy,[iii] also bears relation to those political economists who, like Keynes, have sought to save capitalist society as a whole by destroying those forms of capital deemed ‘parasitic’, namely financial/interest-bearing capital[iv]. The name of Proudhon then, is tied deeply to currents of socialism opposed to that inaugurated by Karl Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels.

This means that, living as we do in the post-Soviet world, Proudhon’s ideas are certain to be invoked (consciously or unconsciously) by those who would seek to argue that the failure that was the Soviet experience was the result, not of the objective factors, the internal dynamics and material conditions of the Russian economy and its relation with the world economy, but in the subjective factor, the Bolshevik’s self-proclaimed ideology of Marxism. This is certainly the argument put forward by the book’s editor, Ian McKay. He believes that the statist detour of the 20th century working class movement into the avenues of social democracy and ‘official’ communism (otherwise known as Stalinism) is a result of fundamental flaws in Marxian modes of analysis. The alternative is to turn, not to one of the many currents of Marxism developed in opposition to the aforementioned trends, but instead to turn to an analysis based on the theorists of anarchism. And, for McKay at least, this analysis may be found in its first systematic expression in Proudhon’s work, along with the evidence of the superiority of Anarchist to Marxian forms of social critique.

I cannot possibly claim to deal satisfactorily with all of these fundamental issues in the course of a single article. Instead, my aim here is to critique the specific points brought up by McKay against Marx and in favour of Proudhon in his section on this issue in introduction to the anthology (As well as dealing occasionally with side issues brought up in the main body of the introduction).[v] First I will deal with some of the minor side issues brought up in his piece. Then I will move on to the main body of his critique. In order to do this it will be necessary to lay out the nature of certain fundamental concepts in Marx’s critique of political economy, in particular the concept of capital. After having done this, I will show that Proudhon advocates a form of capitalism in Marx’s sense, and the claimed plagiarism of Proudhon which McKay ascribes to Marx are thus due to a misreading of Marx’s concepts.

The main point which I hope to demonstrate is the superiority of Marx’s analysis of the nature of capital over that of Proudhon, and by extension that this superiority lies in a fundamental superiority of method. The fundamental overarching theme of the text is thus to demonstrate one of the key principles of Communist Students, that “Marxism is the best way of understanding the world and changing it.”[vi]

The Details

The first distortion that we find is McKay claiming that Marx appropriated the famous slogan that “the emancipation of the working-class must be the act of the working-class themselves” from Proudhon. However, the slogan from Proudhon with which he compares Marx’s exhortation declares that the working class must emancipate itself, “without the help of the government.” McKay should know well enough that this would not have been Marx’s intention, as he had all his life fought for the idea that it was “the great duty of the working classes” to “conquer political power”[vii] and that to be successful in their struggle workers’ would have to “employ forcible means, hence governmental means”[viii] against the capitalist class. He himself notes in a footnote that the phrase actually originates with Flora Tristan, whose work Union Ouvrière, which Engels had defended against the Young Hegelians in the fourth chapter of The Holy Family, contained an endorsement of the creation of an international union of the working class. Which is more likely, that Marx was plagiarising a phrase which he directly disagreed with, or that he was directly quoting someone whose ideas formed a precursor to those of the IWMA whose statutes he was writing? For my part I would think the answer is obvious, although McKay seems determined to dig up anything he can which would implicate Marx in some kind of mean-spirited conspiracy against Proudhon.

Moving onwards to the realm of political economy, McKay asserts that Marx’s understanding of labour-power and surplus-value sounds “remarkably like” Proudhon’s axiom that “all labour must leave a surplus”. Yet the “peculiar property” of labour-power which means that the value it creates during a given period is greater than the value the worker receives during that time is not anything trans-historical, but the fact that labour-power is a commodity whose use-value is to be a source of value, a situation which is only true in an economy in which value in Marx’s sense exists – a capitalist economy.

As for McKay’s claims that Proudhon was the inventor of Marx’s theory of surplus-value, certainly Marx was not the first to note that the worker did not receive back what they produced during a given production period.[ix] Ricardian socialists had noted this before Proudhon even. What is significant about Marx’s theory of surplus-value is the inverse ratio it establishes between the rate of profit and the rate of wages. On the basis of a given state of the productive forces, as wages rise, the rate of profit falls, the peaceful course of capital accumulation is interrupted and the seeds are sown for a crisis. The significance of Marx’s theory of surplus-value is not to show that capitalism is unethical, but that workers cannot make substantial gains without going beyond its narrow horizons.

Proudhon’s advocacy of capitalism[x]

With those initial remarks aside, it is time to get to the meat and potatoes of the argument. McKay’s argument has as one of its central assumptions that Proudhon did not advocate a society which would be recognisable as a capitalist society. To see the validity of these claims, we can start by examining the kind of society which Marx outlined as the basis of his critique in Capital Volume One.

Marx began his magnum opus, Das Kapital, with an analysis of the social form taken by wealth in capitalist society – the commodity-form. What is a commodity? In the first place it is a use-value, but not a use-value which is useful to its producer. “Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values.”[xi] Labour which produces social use-values is social labour, and labour under capitalism is, in the first place then, social labour, which requires a social division of labour.

But that labour is social labour is not enough for labour to produce wealth in the form of commodities. Within the capitalist firm itself, the products of the workers mutually complement one another without ever taking on the form of commodities: “…in every factory the labour is divided according to a system, but this division is not brought about by the operatives mutually exchanging their individual products. Only such products can become commodities with regard to each other, as result from different kinds of labour, each kind being carried on independently and for the account of private individuals.”[xii] The fact that wealth takes on the form of commodities is conceived by Marx in the first chapter of Capital as the result of the atomisation of the producers, their production as isolated enterprise units, as private property owners. A closer look in fact reveals this to be an overarching theme of Marx’s critique of political economy from the time of his 1844 Comments on James Mill in which he states: “Exchange or barter is therefore the social act, the species-act, the community, the social intercourse and integration of men within private ownership, and therefore the external, alienated species-act.”[xiii]

It would thus appear obvious that Proudhon’s system of worker-managed enterprises competing on the marketplace would fall victim to the critique put forward by Marx in Capital. But McKay denies this. According to him Marx draws a “clear distinction between commodity production and capitalism”, and yet “Marx’s critique [of Proudhon] rested on a massive confusion of commodity production (the market) and capitalism.” For McKay, Proudhon does not advocate capitalism in the sense of the system critiqued throughout the three volumes of Das Kapital, and Marx’s claiming that he did is merely more evidence of Marx’s desire to crush Proudhon’s doctrine through any backhanded means necessary.

My own opinion is that the first of McKay’s claims, namely that there is a distinction between commodity production and capitalism in Marx’s theory, is only partly accurate. A corrected view of the relationship between commodity production and capitalism in Marx’s theory shows that the supposed ‘confusion’ in Marx’s thought is actually non-existent. Marx’s opinion that Proudhon advocated a form of capitalism is perfectly consistent with his comments on the existence of commodity production without capitalism.

Commodity Production and Capitalism

To understand the relation between capitalism and commodity production in Marx’s theory, it may be instructive to go briefly over Marx’s derivation of capital in Volume I[xiv] and the nature of capital in Marx’s works. As I have already noted, Volume I begins with the fact that capitalist production is the production of commodities, and links this fact to the way in which production is organised within capitalist society, as being at once a process for the production of useful articles for society at large, but where this social production is carried on by individual enterprises for their own private account.

The next part of the book then moves on briefly to the examination of the simple circulation of commodities. The simple circulation of commodities involves the exchange of commodities for money, which is then exchanged for commodities which are consumed – selling in order to buy. This is represented by Marx as follows:

C – M – C

Where C represents commodities and M represents money. However, this simple circulation of commodities contains a problem. The aim of simple circulation is for the circulating agent to end up with a use-value which will satisfy their needs when consumed. Exchange-value here appears as a temporary mediation between the producers which disappears with the consumption of the use-values they obtained through the circulation process. “The repetition or renewal of the act of selling in order to buy is kept within bounds by the very object it aims at, namely, consumption or the satisfaction of definite wants, an aim that lies altogether outside the sphere of circulation.”[xv]

The limited form of the simple circulation of commodities cannot therefore be the basis of a society in which wealth generally takes the form of commodities. The basis of the latter is found in a new form of circulation, wherein the object is no longer use-value, but exchange-value. A circuit where the start and end points are constituted by value in the form of money. This circuit is the exchange of money for commodities which are sold on for more money, buying in order to sell which is represented by:

M – C – M’

In this circuit “money ends the movement only to begin it again.”[xvi] The aim of the circulation of capital is not to provide any use-value to an end consumer, but to increase the surplus-value of the capitalist. The circuit cannot be enacted once in order for the thirst it quenches to be satisfied, it must be constantly repeated in order to continue the self-expansion of value on an ever larger scale. “Use-values must therefore never be looked upon as the real aim of the capitalist; neither must the profit on any single transaction. The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he aims at.”[xvii] As a result: “The circulation of capital has … no limits.”[xviii] The limitless nature of the circuit which permits the expansion of capital makes it the only form of circulation adequate for maintaining the production of commodities as the generalised form of production throughout society.

We are thus in a position to counter McKay’s arguments with regards to Marx’s supposed confusion between commodity production and capitalism. Although it is true that in the isolated instances of simple commodity circulation which existed in pre-capitalist societies, commodity production did not entail capitalism, the production of commodities as the general form of social wealth entails that wealth circulate in the form adequate to the generalised production of commodities. A society of generalised commodity production must therefore necessarily be, in Marx’s theory, a society in which production is the production of surplus-value and hence capital. In order to show that we are not just constructing a theory arbitrarily using selective quotation, let us quote directly from Marx’s work: “In order that capital may be able to arise and take control of production, a definite stage in the development of trade is assumed. This applies therefore also to the circulation of commodities, and hence to the production of commodities; for no articles can enter circulation as commodities unless they are produced for sale, hence as commodities. But the production of commodities does not become the normal, dominant type of production until capitalist production serves as its basis.”[xix]

Or again: “Capital formation cannot occur except on the basis of the circulation of commodities (which includes the circulation of money), hence at an already given stage of development of trade in which the latter has achieved a certain extension. The production and circulation of commodities, however, do not conversely presuppose the capitalist mode of production for their existence; on the contrary, as I have already demonstrated, they also “exist in pre-bourgeois social formations”. They are the historical presupposition of the capitalist mode of production. On the other hand, however, it is only on the basis of capitalist production that the commodity becomes the general form of the product, that every product must take on the commodity form, that sale and purchase seize control not only of the surplus of production but of its very substance, and that the various conditions of production themselves emerge in their totality as commodities which go into the production process from circulation.”[xx]

But what about McKay’s quoting of Marx’s statement that where the individual producers own their means of production that the means of production do not constitute capital? He uses this to infer that for Marx any society where the producers have formal legal ownership over the means of production (hence a society of co-operatives ala Proudhon) is, for Marx, non-capitalist, and therefore there is a difference between commodity-producing societies and specifically capitalist societies based on whether or not the producers have such legal ownership. What he misses is that when Marx refers to workers’ individual ownership of the means of the production he refers to individual ownership in the context of societies prior to the socialisation of production and the generalisation of commodity production. This form of production “excludes cooperation, division of labour within each separate process of production, the control over, and the productive application of the forces of nature by society, and the free development of the social productive powers.”[xxi] Since Proudhon’s doctrine was formed after the rise of modern capitalism, his ideas about workers’ ownership of the means of production can only mean (and indeed McKay takes them to mean) that workers are to take control within an economy which still features the antagonism between socialised production and individual ownership, identified by Marx at the beginning of Capital as the primary feature of capitalism.

We would note again that, far from being passing remarks, these ideas formed a core part of Marx’s ideas over the course of his life. For Marx, the distinctive feature of humanity as a species, what makes humans revolutionary in contrast to prior forms of life, is the human capacity to produce and reproduce our own material environment. “Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.”[xxii]

This implies a tripartite division of human history, beginning with societies in which human beings are dominated by the forces of nature, moving to societies in which the development of the productive forces allows them to overcome the rule of nature but subjects them instead to the rule of their own alienated productive forces, and finally ending in communist society in which production is controlled by the associated producers, allowing for the free development of human capacities as an end in themselves: “…the most essential historical activity of men, the one which has raised them from bestiality to humanity and which forms the material foundation of all their other activities, namely the production of their requirements of life, that is today social production, is above all subject to the interplay of unintended effects from uncontrolled forces and achieves its desired end only by way of exception and, much more frequently, the exact opposite. In the most advanced industrial countries we have subdued the forces of nature and pressed them into the service of mankind; we have thereby infinitely multiplied production, so that a child now produces more than a hundred adults previously did. And what is the result? Increasing overwork and increasing misery of the masses, and every ten years a great collapse… Only conscious organisation of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way, can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect, in the same way that production in general has done this for men in their aspect as species.”[xxiii]

Proudhon as an advocate of class society

McKay asserts that Proudhon was in opposition to a society founded on the antagonism of classes. However, in my opinion, Proudhon’s mutualism would be a class society in Marx’s sense. To understand this we need to go back again to Marx’s view of capital.

I have already demonstrated that for Marx, the generalisation of commodity production involves the circulation of commodities as capital in the form M – C – M’. What, however, is the source of the expansion of value, the creation of surplus-value, which drives this circuit? Famously, for Marx, it is wage-labour, labour as a commodity which is bought and sold on the market, which provides the source of surplus-value. McKay argues that because workers’ are not bought and sold by capitalists, a mutualist society would not be a society in which wage-labour existed. On my part I believe this rests on a fundamental confusion which equates capitalists as such with the specific historical form of the individual factory-owner capitalist. For Marx, however, the capitalist is not confined to this form, but is merely “the conscious representative of this movement [i.e. the circulation of commodities as capital]”[xxiv].  This representative may come in the form of an individual private capitalist, “or as in joint-stock companies, a collective capitalist.”[xxv] Similarly, in a co-operative enterprise does not do away with capital, but the workers’ themselves become it’s representative, “the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them… only by way of making associated labourers into their own capitalist”[xxvi].

Interestingly, McKay quotes the same passage from Capital Volume III which I just quoted from, only he emphasises certain parts which would appear to have Marx as believing that co-operatives constitute an alternative not just to the hierarchical firm but to capitalism as such. This seems to miss the main thrust of this chapter which shows how capitalism creates the basis for it’s own supersession. Marx does not argue that co-operatives constitute a new mode of production but that they “show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage.”[xxvii] In this respect they are compared to joint-stock companies which turn production by individual capitalists into social production, albeit still within the bounds of the capitalist mode of production. “The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.”[xxviii] I doubt that McKay would use this to argue that joint-stock companies also formed a mode of production distinct from the capitalist mode of production.

As the co-operatives remain capitalist enterprises, so too the workers’ bought and sold by the co-ops remain proletarians, wage-labourers. Far from abolishing the proletarian condition, Proudhon’s schemes would, as Marx declares in his 1844 Manuscripts, actually generalise it: “…the equality of wages, as demanded by Proudhon, only transforms the relationship of the present-day worker to his labour into the relationship of all men to labour. Society would then be conceived as an abstract capitalist.”[xxix] As such, for Marx, far from abolishing the antagonism within the capitalist organisation of production, the Proudhonist schemes contain this antagonism in all its essential aspects.

Let us remark that the difference between Marx and Proudhon on this score constitutes a fundamental difference of method. Whereas for Proudhon and McKay capital is understood in terms of specific managerial forms, Marx understands it in terms of its content as the self-expansion of value produced by the alienation of the workers’ own product, where the products of the producers present themselves as an alien power which dominates them. The difference in method lies in whether to consider the appearance of a phenomenon or its essence, it’s form or content. For Marx, in contrast to vulgar economy and the Proudhonists, “all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.”[xxx]

This methodology traces its way back to the most famous follower of the founder of Western Philosophy – Plato. For Plato, philosophy deals not with the world of appearances, but with what is in essence, the forms. Dialectic, as the highest form of reasoning, is that mode of thought which reasons solely in terms of the forms, which “moves solely through forms to forms, and finishes with forms.”[xxxi] Similarly, Marx’s capital deals initially not with capital’s phenomenal forms, but examines the inner nature of capital itself, before showing how capital incarnates itself historically.

With this elaboration of Marx’s theory of capital, most of McKay’s arguments against Marx crumble into nothing. Since Proudhon did advocate a form of capitalism according to Marx, all Marx’s critiques on this basis are valid. Protestations to the contrary on the basis of a methodological formalism which sees in capital only one of its historically transient incarnations rather than its inner nature which might still remain can be dismissed easily by noting that in a hypothetical world of ‘self-managed’ enterprises exchanging their products, the human misery caused by the periodical crises and the continued enforcement of the logic of capital within the workplace will make the protestations of the formalists that this logic is now imposed ‘democratically’ and therefore not capitalistically at all of little consequence to the workers still suffering under capital’s iron heel.

Marx on Co-Operatives: A Question of Politics

“This new consciousness that is emerging more clearly every day should be held in the highest regard; however, we would not want it to be led astray by vain illusions… We would not like the working masses to get hold of the idea that all they need do to take over the factories and get rid or the capitalists is set up councils. This would indeed be a dangerous illusion. The factory will be conquered by the working class… only after the working class as a whole has seized political power. Unless it has done so, the Royal Guards, military police, etc. – in other words, the mechanism of force and oppression that the bourgeoisie has at its disposal, its political power apparatus – will see to it that all illusions are dispelled.” (Bordiga, Seize Power or Seize the Factory?)[xxxii]

“At the same time the experience of the period from 1848 to 1864 has proved beyond doubt that, however, excellent in principle and however useful in practice, co-operative labour, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries… To save the industrious masses, co-operative labour ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means. Yet the lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defence and perpetuation of their economic monopolies… To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes.” (Marx, Inaugural Address of the International Workingmen’s Association)[xxxiii]

By way of a conclusion we might discuss a bit more Marx’s support of the co-operative movement. I believe I have already shown that Marx did not consider co-operatives as an alternative to capitalism but as a form which could be used as a lever for transition in the same way that large joint-stock companies could. McKay uses Marx’s ‘mature’ support for co-operatives to dismiss Marx’s ‘youthful’ dismissal of Proudhon’s schemes. Yet I believe there is a huge gulf between Proudhon on co-operatives and Marx, one which McKay as an Anarchist should be well aware of.

Co-operatives were and still can be attempts on the part of groups of workers to improve their conditions of life through their own efforts. For this reason Marx supported them, as he supported any instance of self-activity on the part of the working class. However, he maintained no illusions as to the limited nature of co-operative production. The activity of workers in the co-operatives was the limited activity of private individuals still contained within the sphere of civil society. For this reason, even in Marx’s day, some of the more ‘humanitarian’ supporters of the ruling class saw them as a way to solve the antagonism between capital and labour, “…those members of the ruling classes who are intelligent enough to perceive the impossibility of continuing the present system – and they are many – have become the obtrusive and full-mouthed apostles of co-operative production.”[xxxiv]

In order for co-operatives to not remain “a sham and a snare” it would be necessary for them to integrate themselves into a system of socially planned production which would supercede not only the hierarchical firm but the whole system of commodity production and the rule of the producers by their productive forces altogether. To achieve this, it would be necessary for the working class to not restrict itself to battling on the economic field by forming co-operatives, but by fighting out on the political field, and taking political-administrative power into its own hands. “Restricted, however, to the dwarfish forms into which individual wages slaves can elaborate it by their private efforts, the co-operative system will never transform capitalist society. To convert social production into one large and harmonious system of free and co-operative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realised save by the transfer of the organised forces of society, viz., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves.”[xxxv]

Proudhon never called on the workers to take political power. It was precisely his tendency that opposed such action by the workers, and which wanted them to focus solely on emancipating themselves through the co-operative movement. And there can be little doubt that Proudhon would have opposed the use of co-operatives as a lever for ending the anarchy of production and instituting planned production by the associated producers. For Proudhon and his followers, it is not for the working-class to dirty themselves with something as contrary to eternal principles as the wielding of state power. On the contrary, the state is something which must be ignored. The illusion must be maintained that as long as the workers avoid anything to do with the state it will not bother them in their isolated and purely economic efforts to emancipate themselves.

As Marxists, we are fundamentally opposed to this whole line of reasoning. McKay has provided us with little that will shake our convictions beside distortion and misrepresentation. But alas, not all are convinced. It is likely that in future social upheavals there will be those conscious or unconscious followers of Proudhon who urge the workers to avoid anything as horrific as state power. Then as previously, the force wielded by the bourgeoisie against the workers through its state will soon see to it that all illusions about a class struggle which avoids political struggle are dispelled.


[i] Amadeo Bordiga, The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism: http://www.international-communist-party.org/BasicTexts/English/57Fundam.htm

[ii] A detailed blog post covering the release of the book, various aspects of its contents and development as well as containing praise for the book by the editor may be found here: http://anarchism.pageabode.com/pjproudhon/property-is-theft-now-published

[iii] In plain English, this means that although  Proudhon saw the transitory nature of existing capitalist property relations, his critique was made on the acceptance of the trans-historical character of the other categories of political economy such as value, price and money. Marx notes that this bears similarity to the critiques of financial capital and landed property made by certain political economists, although Proudhon has the merit of carrying his critique all the way through in a consistent fashion. The relevant discussion is found in Marx and Engels, The Holy Family, chapter four, section four – ‘Proudhon’.

[iv] Lest the reader think the reference to Keynes ungenerous, we should note that this observation stems from McKay himself who in his introduction notes that Keynes had rated highly the work of one of Proudhon’s followers.

[v] Ian McKay, Proudhon and Marx: http://anarchism.pageabode.com/pjproudhon/appendix-proudhon-and-marx.html. Unless otherwise stated, all further references to McKay’s work are to this article.

[vi] Communist Students, Who We Are: http://communiststudents.org.uk/?page_id=2671

[vii] Inaugural Address of the International Workingmen’s Association: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/10/27.htm

[viii] Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1874/04/bakunin-notes.htm

[ix] … “And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Production), (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.” Karl Marx’s letter to J W Weydemeyer: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/letters/52_03_05-ab.htm

[x] I should like to mention that the understanding presented in what follows of Marx’s capital being not merely a critique of hierarchical managerial structures within the capitalist firm but of the whole structure of production by isolated individual enterprises has roots in my reading of the writings of Italian Marxist and first general secretary of the Communist Party of Italy (Section of the Third International), Amadeo Bordiga. Bordiga’s opposition to theories which hypothesised a capitalist economy in which the enterprises were managed by the workers’ within them began with his polemics against Gramsci and the tendency around L’Ordine Nuovo during the biennio rosso, and was elaborated in a much more theoretically considered form in his writings against the ‘modernists’ (Thinkers like Cornelius Castoriadis who proposed a need for Marxism to be ‘updated’ or revised significantly in light of trends in post-war capitalism) which were prominent in his writing after the Second World War. For an early piece by Bordiga against attempts to seize capitalism by workers taking over the management of individual enterprises see his text ‘Seize Power or Seize the Factory?’: http://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1920/seize-power.htm. For a more general ‘Bordigist’ critique of Gramsci’s political positions see the International Communist Party’s (Il Programma Comunista) article ‘Gramscism: An Age Long Bane of Communism’ in Internationalist Papers no. 10. For a developed text by Bordiga critiquing the idea of the workers taking power within the individual enterprises see ‘The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism’, linked to in footnote 1. Bordiga’s critique of Gramsci and of the advocates of ‘self-managed’ capitalism in general is, I would argue, essentially the same as Marx’s critique of the Proudhonists and those who saw the co-operative movement as something to be pursued at the expense of the political movement of the working class.

[xi] Marx, Das Kapital Volume I. Chapter One: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Marx, Comments on James Mill: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/james-mill/index.htm

[xiv] I should note that my understanding of the reasoning behind the transition from simple circulation to the circulation of capital was helped along by Paresh Chattopadhyay’s paper ‘On the question of Labour Values in a Communist Society’, available from the International Working Group on Value Theory website: http://www.iwgvt.org/iwg_sessions.php?year=1997

[xv] Marx, Das Kapital Volume I. Chapter Four, The General Formula for Capital: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch04.htm

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Karl Marx, Das Kapital Volume II. Chapter One, The Circuit of Money-Capital: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1885-c2/ch01.htm

[xx] Karl Marx, Results of the Direct Production Process. AD 1) Commodities as the Product of Capital: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/economic/ch01.htm

[xxi] Karl Marx, Das Kapital Volume I. Chapter Thirty Two, Historical Tendency of Capital Accumulation: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch32.htm

[xxii] Marx and Engels, The German Ideology. Part I: Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm. The importance of the distinctively human trait for biosphere reproduction was first made clear to me by Cyril Smith’s book ‘Karl Marx and Human Self-Creation’: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-cyril/works/alteration/index.htm. See also Loren Goldner’s article ‘Social Reproduction for Begginners: Bringing Reality Back In’: http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/socreprod.html

[xxiii] Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature. Introduction: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch01.htm. I quote Engels here at least partly in opposition to the school of thought which sees Engels as being in some kind of fundamental opposition to Marx.

[xxiv] Karl Marx, Das Kapital Volume I. Chapter Four

[xxv] Ibid. Chapter Thirteen, Co-Operation.

[xxvi] Karl Marx, Das Kapital Volume III. Chapter Twenty Seven, The Role of Credit in Capitalist Production: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch27.htm

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Estranged Labour: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm

[xxx] ibid. Chapter Fourty Eight, The Trinity Formula: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch48.htm

[xxxi] Plato, The Republic. 511c

[xxxii] See footnote ten.

[xxxiii] http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/10/27.htm

[xxxiv] Marx, The Civil War in France. Chapter Five, The Paris Commune: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ch05.htm

[xxxv] Marx, Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council. Co-Operative Labour: http://www.marxists.org/history/international/iwma/documents/1866/instructions.htm#05

 

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19 comments to Marx, Proudhon and political struggle

  • Eddie Ford
    April 14, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Extremely interesting review/article – congratulations!

    wcg,
    EDDIE FORD

  • Anarcho
    April 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I think that the quality of this review is best shown by the fact the author could not even spell my name correctly! It is Iain, not Ian.

    I am impressed by the author’s complete lack of understanding what wage-labour is! It is almost like they had never read Marx… So the author is suggesting that capitalism can exist when workers are owners of their means of production. What did Marx think? Well, that is easy for he stated when “the workers are themselves in possession of their respective means of production and exchange their commodities with one another” then these commodities “would not be products of capital.” (Capital vol. 3: 276) He made the same point in quite a few places (for example: Capital: A Critique of Political Economy [London: Penguin Books, 1976] vol. 1: 270-3, 875, 949-50)

    And here is Engels — the “object of production – to produce commodities – does not import to the instrument the character of capital” as the “production of commodities is one of the preconditions for the existence of capital… as long as the producer sells only what he himself produces, he is not a capitalist; he becomes so only from the moment he makes use of his instrument to exploit the wage labour of others.” (MECW 47: 179-80)

    Opps! Better luck next time…

    As for the other comments, well, Proudhon’s arguments against the state are well founded — he argued that it was an instrument of class rule which was chained to capital. It could not be captured by “political action” (voting) as Marx more than once suggested. In this, most Marxists would concur with Proudhon and reject Marx’s comments on being able to vote socialism in.

    Still, I’m not surprised by this kind of review. It does not address the issues raised and still confuses markets with capitalism. It could have argued, as I have elsewhere, that a market system of co-operatives would produce market forces which causes workers in the co-operatives to work longer and harder to survive. That would be a very valid critique of mutualism, and one I have made.

    But, no, we get the same confusions of Marx in 1847 and the denial of any awkward quotes from Capital and elsewhere which shows Marx learned something in those 20 years.

    On issues like association, capitalism, exploitation, the state, please consult the introduction:

    http://anarchism.pageabode.com/pjproudhon/introduction-contents

    As for an accurate critique of mutualism which does not confuse markets and capitalism try this:

    http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/mutualism-yes-and-no

    “And, for McKay at least, this analysis may be found in its first systematic expression in Proudhon’s work, along with the evidence of the superiority of Anarchist to Marxian forms of social critique.”

    I’m not a mutualist, I’m a communist-anarchist. As the introduction makes perfectly clear, this book aims to show Proudhon’s contributions to socialism. As for the superiority of anarchism, well, history shows that — much of what passes for “Marxism” can first be found in anarchism. We also correctly predicted the failure of Marxism first in social democracy and then in Bolshevism.

  • anarcho
    April 19, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    wow, it is now a couple of days since I submitted a comment this so-called review and it had still not appeared. Either yous are very inefficient in approving comments or yous don’t wish to have a debate…

    I hope that it is the former as it would be really sad if Marxists think they cannot withstand an open debate on issues like this…

  • Chris S
    April 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Iain,

    Your comment is now up. Sorry comrade, it got stuck in the spam filter. We do not moderate comments on this site and therefore we do not check the spam folder on a regular basis. As you know we make having an open approach to discussion and debate the foundation of our organisation and work.

  • Dave Coull
    April 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    James Tansey asks if it’s likely Marx plagiarised a phrase used by Proudhon, with whom he disagreed? Yes, it certainly is. Marx was, of course, very well aware of Proudhon’s use of the expression in question. Karl Marx was, to begin with, an admirer of Proudhon, and hailed a work by Proudhon as “THE PROLETARIAT BECOME CONSCIOUS OF ITSELF!” – and surely there could be no higher praise, from Marx’s point of view. But later, when Proudhon wrote things of which Marx disapproved, he took to describing Proudhon as “petty bourgeois”. Coming from somebody who depended on a monthly payment from Engels in order to be able to afford the Marx household with its servants etc, a monthly payment extracted from the millworkers of Manchester who worked in the Engels Works, it was a bit ridiculous for Marx to use such a description; but, in any case, note that this phrase was not used by Marx as an actual class description, but purely as an insult. The thing that changed Proudhon from “The Proletariat become conscious of itself” to “petty bourgeois” was not actual change in his class, but his disagreement with Marx. The Marxist habit of using such terms simply as abuse was started by Marx himself. As for the phrase about the emancipation of the working class being a task for the workers themselves, yes, Marx subtly altered it to fit his own politics. But it’s still pretty indisputable that Marx got it from Proudhon.

  • Dave Coull
    April 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Although he wrote a book fairly assessing Proudhon’s contribution to socialism, my friend Iain McKay makes the point that he is himself a communist-anarchist, NOT a mutualist. Well, I’m certainly not a “Proudhonist”! Indeed, one of the differences between anarchists and Marxists is that Marxists are quite happy to identify themselves, using somebody’s name, as disciples of that named person. Anarchists aren’t.

  • anarcho
    April 20, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Well, I’ve done a critique of the “review” addressing the points made in it:

    A Marxist against Proudhon… and Marx

    It seems a shame that Marxists seem to want to go back to the weak (and shamefully inaccurate) The Poverty of Philosophy rather than build upon Capital. At least Capital had a theory of exploitation — unlike Poverty. Although, of course, that theory was first raised by Proudhon’s System of Economic Contradictions

  • James Turley
    April 21, 2011 at 1:16 am

    Iain says:

    Still, I’m not surprised by this kind of review. It does not address the issues raised and still confuses markets with capitalism. It could have argued, as I have elsewhere, that a market system of co-operatives would produce market forces which causes workers in the co-operatives to work longer and harder to survive. That would be a very valid critique of mutualism, and one I have made.

    Exactly what other system of co-operatives could there possibly be? Either you end up with socially planned production on a large scale which de facto deprives the co-operatives of formal-legal ownership of the means of production, or you end up with the market, as some co-operatives do better than others and the latter face being put out of business, the co-ercive laws of competition come into play…you know the rest. Those are your two options. Marx opts for fully socialised planning; Proudhon does not; the logic of his ideas are capitalist. It’s really that simple.

    As for the other comments, well, Proudhon’s arguments against the state are well founded — he argued that it was an instrument of class rule which was chained to capital. It could not be captured by “political action” (voting) as Marx more than once suggested. In this, most Marxists would concur with Proudhon and reject Marx’s comments on being able to vote socialism in.

    Given your distasteful sneering arsiness about comrade Tansey’s familiarity with Marx, you putting the equation “political action = voting” into the latter’s mouth is utterly laughable.

    As for the failure of social democracy and bolshevism – neither have made the socialist revolution, that is true. They got close enough, in different ways and at different times, that their failure registers as a world-historical disappointment – and that we might have positive lessons as well as negative to learn.

    Anarchism is a history of a whole different level of failure, outmaneouvred at every turn by forces better organised with a more effective strategic view – even where that strategy was counterrevolutionary, as in Spain. To be blunt – if you keep getting killed, you’re no use to the working class.

    But hey, as you say: Oops! better luck next time.

  • James Tansey
    April 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    I’m not sure how to quote so I’ll have to reply without quoting what Iain says. First of all, sorry about misspelling your name, but it’s not exactly the most difficult of mistakes to make. I’m fairly sure I had seen the misspelled version used several times elsewhere but no direct links come to mind.

    Second of all, I believe I had already addressed Marx’s comments on the workers’ being in possession of their own means of production as referring to pre-capitalist instances of petty commodity production, not to the generalised commodity production which is the first characteristic of capitalism which Marx notes (Capital does, after all, begin with the declaration that within capitalism the majority of wealth takes the form of the commodity).

    I disagree that Proudhon’s comments on the state are ‘well founded’, it seems to me that the Anarchist ‘theory’ of the state comes down to a few generalised comments about the state as an instrument of domination, but not much beyond that, whereas Marx’s theory of the state is formed during his confrontation with and critique of Hegel’s philosophy of the state in 1843, and was developed with constant attention to the actual development of states on the continent, in particular Marx seemed to be fascinated by the development of the French state.

    You comment that for Marx, political action equates to voting. I don’t think this is the case. It seems evident to me from his and Engels’ comments in e.g Engels ‘Apropros of Working-Class Political Action’ that political action means actively combatting the existing state regime and it’s efforts to stultify the workers’ movement. For M/E this can, of course, involve voting candidates into office on an independent working-class platform, but it could also include extra-parliamentary demonstrations, marches and petitions in defence of political prisoners, or against various laws attempting to curtail workers’ organisation and so on. These would also be examples of the workers directly involving themselves in politics as much as voting in representatives to parliament.

    With respect to the capture of political power itself through voting, Marx and Engels position appears to me to be that this was not a matter of principal, but had to be worked out in reference to the specific political institutions and attitudes of different countries. In England, the possibility existed of peacefully voting in workers’candidates and then using the platform thus attained to simplify the state and institute the proletarian dictatorship, on the other hand they thought that in the majority of Western Europe, an insurrection would be necessary to establish working-class rule. Incidentally, Marx did admit that even if the working-class movement remained peaceful, the possibility existed of the British bourgeoisie reacting violently to an attempt to institute the proletarian dictatorship, in which case the movement would need to react accordingly. In any case, as Bordiga noted, proletarian political power and the working-class revolution is not a question of form, but of content, a content which Anarchists have always opposed regardless of the form of manifestation, as evidenced for example by Voline’s refusing to take up the position of chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, leaving the post to Trotsky.

    Finally, you say that it’s a shame that Marxists want to go back to the Poverty of Philosophy rather than build on Capital. I disagree strongly, my interpretation of Marx is that his basic framework remained the same from the 1844 manuscripts up to Das Kapital, and indeed on the foundations of the critique of political economy, the comments in Marx’s early work are sometimes much clearer than those made later by Marx, although obviously Marx’s later work is much more elaborated and encompasses much more of the internal workings of capitalism than his early works. Unfortunately it’s impossible to adequately make that argument in a comment box, however I believe I have already noted some of the post-Marx Marxists which I refer to on this (Chattopadhyay, Goldner and Bordiga).

    To Dave Coull, I am fairly certain that Marx never wrote the quote you attribute to him about Proudhon’s work representing the proletariat having become conscious of itself, unless you can present us with a source. And as I noted, the phrase about the emancipation of the working-class originates not with Proudhon but with Flora Tristan, who is defended by Engels in The Holy Family, and whose position on the organisation of labour is much closer to Marx and Engels’ that Proudhon’s.

    I would also like to state my agreement with comrade Turley’s comments.

  • James Tansey
    April 24, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I am just skimming through McKay’s reply right now and it seems that most of the points I have already covered. Again, I do not deny that commodity production is not necessarily a distuinguishing feature of capitalism, but what is distinctive of capitalism, as I quote Marx clearly stating, is generalised commodity production as opposed to the various forms of petty commodity production.

    Three other points seem to be necessary. First of all, surplus-value is not the same thing as surplus labour-time, which disposes of the supposedly ‘transhistorical’ nature of Marx’s analysis. Secondly, yes I believe the transitional period is still capitalism. Marx states quite explicitly in The Civil War in France, that this is the point, the conflict between the political rule of the producers and their social slavery is the driving force towards communism produced by the transition period.

    Finally, I do no know precisely what ‘Leninism’ is, but I do not think I am one. If ‘Leninism’ simply means supporting the Soviet movement’s seizure of power in 1917, then by all means you can colour me guilty of the crime of ‘Leninism’, however theoretically I refer not to Lenin’s texts but to those of various non-Leninist Marxists, which reflects my influences which are primarily in non-Leninist Marxist currents, although I am also somewhat familiar with and even influenced by Lenin and Trotsky’s writings, but not necessarily to the extent that you could classify me as a Leninist.

  • anarcho
    April 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    James Turley writes:
    “Those are your two options. Marx opts for fully socialised planning; Proudhon does not; the logic of his ideas are capitalist. It’s really that simple.”

    No, far from it. As Marx explained in some detail, capitalism requires that workers do not own the means of production. Under mutualism, they do. So, according to Marx, this is a non-capitalist mode of production. He said this repeatedly. As for “fully socialised planning”, well, if that is the only alternative then we will never see communism. Marxists seem unaware that actual centralised planning is not as simple as proclaiming it.

    “Given your distasteful sneering arsiness about comrade Tansey’s familiarity with Marx, you putting the equation “political action = voting” into the latter’s mouth is utterly laughable.”

    Oh, right. The big debates in the International were not about using elections? Really? Marx was pretty clear on the necessity for workers to form political parties and stand for election. Both Marx and Engels repeatedly argued that universal suffrages equated to the “political power” of the working class AND that socialism could be voted in — before and after the Paris Commune.

    Now, please, do not try to rewrite history.

    “As for the failure of social democracy and bolshevism – neither have made the socialist revolution, that is true. They got close enough, in different ways and at different times, that their failure registers as a world-historical disappointment – and that we might have positive lessons as well as negative to learn.”

    If you think that Bolshevism came “close” to socialism then you have a very twisted notion of what “socialism” is… as for social democracy, that very quickly became reformist. Both these developments (reformism and authoritarianism) were correctly predicted by anarchists.

    “To be blunt – if you keep getting killed, you’re no use to the working class.”

    As opposed to, say, the Bolsheviks killing the working class? Those strikes and protests they crushed under martial law did involve shooting quite a few workers…

    “But hey, as you say: Oops! better luck next time.”

    Luckily, very few people are willing to give Bolshevik want-to-bes another chance…

  • anarcho
    April 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    “First of all, sorry about misspelling your name, but it’s not exactly the most difficult of mistakes to make.”

    Look, if you cannot even get a basic thing like spelling a name right (a name which is on the book you claim to be reviewing) that suggests a somewhat care-free approach to the work in question.

    This becomes obvious when you completely ignore all the many (and there are many) comments by Marx where he explicitly states that when workers own their means of production then it is not capitalism, even if the workers do produce commodities.

    Second of all, I believe I had already addressed Marx’s comments on the workers’ being in possession of their own means of production as referring to pre-capitalist instances of petty commodity production, not to the generalised commodity production which is the first characteristic of capitalism which Marx notes (Capital does, after all, begin with the declaration that within capitalism the majority of wealth takes the form of the commodity).

    And Marx explicitly and repeatedly states that an ESSENTIAL condition for capital is when workers do not own their means of production. Since when did essential start to mean optional? I quote him stating in very clear terms that when workers possess their means of production then the commodities are NOT products of capital. This is in Volume 3 and he is repeating similar statements in volume 1.

    I can only assume that Marx is a VERY bad writer if he uses words like ESSENTIAL and ONLY to mean optional….

    I disagree that Proudhon’s comments on the state are ‘well founded’, it seems to me that the Anarchist ‘theory’ of the state comes down to a few generalised comments about the state as an instrument of domination, but not much beyond that…

    Oh, right. When Marxists proclaim that the state is an instrument of the economically dominant class then that is a wonderful insight. When anarchists proclaim much earlier that the state is an instrument of the economically dominant class then it is no big deal…

    with constant attention to the actual development of states on the continent, in particular Marx seemed to be fascinated by the development of the French state.

    Yes, because it kept proving his theory of the state wrong! Thus the coup of Louis-Napoleon came as a complete surprise. He thought that the state executive was a mere agent of the bourgeoisie — something 2nd of December 1851 completely shot out of the water:

    http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secH3.html#sech39

    Also, his famous comments from 1852 and 1871 were referring to this specific bureaucratic state in France (and elsewhere on the Continent). When it came to what Marx and Engels considered “proper” bourgeois states, then both argued that the working class could use universal suffrage to introduce socialism:

    http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secH3.html#sech310

    “You comment that for Marx, political action equates to voting. I don’t think this is the case. It seems evident to me from his and Engels’ comments in e.g Engels ‘Apropros of Working-Class Political Action’ that political action means actively combatting the existing state regime and it’s efforts to stultify the workers’ movement.”

    The big fights in the IWMA all focused on standing for elections, “political action” in that sense. Of course other tactics could be used but the primary focus for Marx and Engels was in standing candidates for election. That was what they imposed on the IWMA and that is what they repeatedly advocated after it.

    “With respect to the capture of political power itself through voting, Marx and Engels position appears to me to be that this was not a matter of principal, but had to be worked out in reference to the specific political institutions and attitudes of different countries.”

    Yes, where universal suffrage did not exist they did recognise the need for insurrection to create a republic. Once a republic (or something close, as in the UK) was formed then it was a case that universal suffrage gave the working class political power. Assuming they formed Marxist political parties, of course.

    Incidentally, Marx did admit that even if the working-class movement remained peaceful, the possibility existed of the British bourgeoisie reacting violently to an attempt to institute the proletarian dictatorship, in which case the movement would need to react accordingly.”

    Yes, they recognised the need to defend a republic and the “political power” of the working class. And this is completely beside the point…

    In any case, as Bordiga noted, proletarian political power and the working-class revolution is not a question of form, but of content,

    In other words, once the party is in power then you can get rid of the “forms” (like elections) because the decisions made by the party have the right “content” (by definition). You do know that Bordiga embraced the post-1918 Bolshevik orthodoxy on party dictatorship with passion?

    a content which Anarchists have always opposed regardless of the form of manifestation,

    Yes, we have long argued that giving power to a few party leaders is not socialism. History, I feel, has confirmed that. And we anarchists argued for mandated and recallable delegates and workers councils long before Marxists did. We argued that these should remain genuine organs of social self-government rather than being reduced to a means of creating a so-called workers government.

    And in the case of the Bolsheviks, they gerrymandered and disbanded soviets to remain in power. So much for “workers’power”!

    http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secH6.html#sech61

    as evidenced for example by Voline’s refusing to take up the position of chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, leaving the post to Trotsky.

    You mean in 1905 when Voline was a SR, not an anarchist?

    Finally, you say that it’s a shame that Marxists want to go back to the Poverty of Philosophy rather than build on Capital. I disagree strongly…

    Well, considering that there is no theory of exploitation in “Poverty” (beyond one based on market exchange) and that many of his more valid points are simply repeating Proudhon (when no distorting him), I would say its a shame. Still, staying in 1847 means you can ignore all those awkward quotes from 1867 I guess…

  • anarcho
    April 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I appears if I add links then my posts go into “moderation”… that will make it hard to back up my claims. I will try to avoid links…

    and could someone approve the post I just submitted in under 2 days? Thanks!

  • anarcho
    April 26, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    I am just skimming through McKay’s reply right now and it seems that most of the points I have already covered.

    Quite — so I assume that by “essential” Marx actually meant “optional”?

    Again, I do not deny that commodity production is not necessarily a distuinguishing feature of capitalism, but what is distinctive of capitalism, as I quote Marx clearly stating, is generalised commodity production as opposed to the various forms of petty commodity production.

    Ah, right, so essential actually means optional. Really? That is going to make debating with Marxists hard. If they say workers’ democracy is essential to socialism, do they mean that or do they really mean “optional”?

    Look, Marx did argue that capitalism was generalised commodity production. This meant that once workers were dispossessed from their means of production and labour itself becomes a commodity then they would never be able to reform capitalism away. That does not contradict the explicit and repeated comments that when workers possess their means of production then it is not capitalism.

    Three other points seem to be necessary. First of all, surplus-value is not the same thing as surplus labour-time, which disposes of the supposedly ‘transhistorical’ nature of Marx’s analysis.

    Read Marx. Surplus-labour takes different forms in different modes of production. It is a “transhistorical” feature — indeed, it will exist under communism as well (it had better, because there are non-producers — the sick, the old, the young — who need products). Under capitalism, the surplus-labour ends up as surplus-value.

    Interestingly, for Marx surplus-value production need not equal capitalism. In volume 3 of Capital he talks of workers who possess their means of production. They “have created . . . new value, i.e., the working day added to the means of production. This would comprise their wages plus surplus-value, the surplus-labour over and above their necessary requirements, though the result of this would belong to them.” (p. 276) This, surely, must be capitalism? No:

    “Let us suppose the workers are themselves in possession of their respective means of production and exchange their commodities with one another. These commodities would not be products of capital.” (p. 276)

    Obviously Marx does not understand his own theory…

    “Secondly, yes I believe the transitional period is still capitalism.”

    Wow. Workers are expected to place the Communists into power and, for their labours, they are still subject to capitalism! Still, I guess that makes the Bolshevik destruction of the workers’ factory committees by “dictatorial” one-man managers not such a big thing — one form of capital has been replaced another…

    Of course, in reality, by undermining the factory committees the Bolsheviks undermined socialism and simply introduced state capitalism.

    “Marx states quite explicitly in The Civil War in France, that this is the point, the conflict between the political rule of the producers and their social slavery is the driving force towards communism produced by the transition period.”

    Yes, that would be because Marx did not seek the immediate expropriation of the capitalist class. The workers would seize political power and then slowly introduce elements of socialism. So the workers would still be wage-slaves to actual capitalists while, apparently, being the ruling class politically (well, their party leaders would be in power). How long the workers could exercise political power without economic power was never made clear by Marx.

    Finally, I do no know precisely what ‘Leninism’ is, but I do not think I am one.

    Someone who subscribes to the political ideas of Lenin, perhaps?

    If ‘Leninism’ simply means supporting the Soviet movement’s seizure of power in 1917…

    Lenin was pretty clear in 1917 — the party would seize power, by whatever means (usually soviets but at one stage he gave up on them in favour of the factory committees). And that is precisely what DID happen. When workers turned against the Bolsheviks and voted against them, the Bolsheviks gerrymandered and disbanded the soviets…

    then by all means you can colour me guilty of the crime of ‘Leninism’, however theoretically I refer not to Lenin’s texts but to those of various non-Leninist Marxists, which reflects my influences which are primarily in non-Leninist Marxist currents,

    Bordiga as a non-Leninist? Now that IS funny! I would suggest the Wikipedia entry on him… I would put in links, but I’m afraid I will be placed under moderation.

    I have a lot of time for genuine non-Leninist Marxist currents — council communism, situationism, and so on.

    although I am also somewhat familiar with and even influenced by Lenin and Trotsky’s writings, but not necessarily to the extent that you could classify me as a Leninist.

    I would suggest reading up on the post-1917 period. Your confusion about Capital had significant (negative) impact on the outcome of the revolution as it mirrors that held by most Bolsheviks. Without a clear understanding on the importance of self-management and decentralisation, the Bolsheviks crushed genuine socialist tendencies in favour of state capitalism and a bureaucratic and inefficient social planning system (I indicate some of this in my reply).

    So what have we learned? Well, that Marx was really bad at explaining his ideas. All that talk of “essential”, “only”, “unpaid labour”, “the labour of others” and dispossession from the means of production was nonsense. All that was a grand mistake, explained by a single quote in volume 3 of Capital about co-operatives under capitalism!

    As I said, you can critique mutualism as being blind to the impact of market forces (as I have). You can critique it as being blind to the need for a social distribution of surplus-product (as I have). You can critique it for failing to understand that capitalism cannot be reformed away (as I have). However, to proclaim it as “capitalism” and a “class economy” is just silly.

    It equates, as defenders of capitalism do, capitalism with the market and so makes the social relations of production irrelevant. This, as the experience of Bolshevism shows, ends up destroying genuine socialistic tendencies in favour of turning workers into wage-slaves of a bureaucratic and inefficient central planning system.

    Personally, I wish to learn from history and not repeat it.

  • James Tansey
    April 27, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Iain,

    First of all I will address the political points aimed at me. You claim that ‘Leninism’ is someone who subscribes to the ideas of Lenin. Well, I don’t think Lenin actually had any particularly original ideas such that we could demarcate a whole new school of Marxism called ‘Leninism’. The only unique ones that come to mind are his support for the right of nations to self-determination and the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, issues on which I agree with Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky respectively.

    To my noting that I overwhelmingly refer to non-Leninist Marxists, you laugh off the idea that Bordiga was a non-Leninist. First of all, I refer to various other Marxists – Loren Goldner, Paresh Chattopadhyay and Cyril Smith – all of whom are critical of Lenin in one way or another. Second of all, yes Bordiga agreed with Lenin on a lot of issues, but unlike the Stalinists and Trotskyists Bordiga was a fan of Lenin not because he supposedly ‘updated’ Marxism but because he did not. That is, Bordiga agreed with Lenin to the extent that he, in Bordiga’s eyes, kept to the word of Marx’s original theory. Gramsci, in one of the few texts still on the Marxists Internet Archive, ‘Sterile and Negative Criticism’, writes:

    “It is also curious what Comrade Bordiga writes concerning Leninism. He writes that if Leninism is nothing but Marxism, then it’s pointless to use such a term;”

    And anyone who know Bordiga’s writings knows what Bordiga thought of the Leninist strategy of using parliament as a tribune to denounce parliament, or of entering into political alliances with social-democratic parties in order to win over their cadre. His general attitude to the taking of ‘tactical expedients’ and attempts to use political maneuvering to put the Communist Party in a position of influence are clearly at odds with Lenin.

    And to your snarky comment referring me to read Bordiga’s wikipedia page, I am fairly sure that I’ve read a far greater amount of Bordiga’s work than you (In fact I’ve read basically everything I could find on the net in English). By the way, the wiki page is flawed. It’s based on Goldner’s interpretation, which is heavily mediated by secondary sources and in a lot of places the interpretation seems to be just a medium for Goldner to work out his own views than to faithfully express Bordiga’s.

    I have things to do so I will probably have to return to this conversation tomorrow. By the way, I find this a quite inconvenient format for discussion. I note that you have an account on the libcom forums, as do I. I think if you start a thread over there for us to continue this discussion it would be better for both of us, as it would also allow you to post all the links you wish.

  • James Tansey
    April 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Ok, so as to the criticisms of my interpretation of Marx’s critique of political economy:

    Starting from the end and moving backwards, you claim that I ignore the social relations of production in favour of the view, ascribed to the defenders of capitalism, that capitalism equates to market relations. This to me makes no sense. As I noted in the text, the existence of market relations is the result of a certain way of organising production, it’s organisation along the lines of individual enterprises. “The fact that wealth takes on the form of commodities is conceived by Marx in the first chapter of Capital as the result of the atomisation of the producers, their production as isolated enterprise units, as private property owners.”

    To quote from the first chapter of the Grundrisse (I can’t give page references because I’m quoting from the MIA version, but it’s from the section on ‘exchange and production’):

    “…there is no exchange without division of labour, whether the latter is spontaneous, natural, or already a product of historic development; (2) private exchange presupposes private production; (3) the intensity of exchange, as well as its extension and its manner, are determined by the development and structure of production.”

    In other words, exchange is the result of a certain social organisation of production, namely, the organisation of production as private entities. It is a result of the fact that the labourers product is not immediately social, and as such must become so through the act of exchange. It is precisely this fact of the atomisation of the producers, the fact that their labour is not immediately social, but must become so through exchange, that constitutes the basis for the alienation of labour, the domination of the products over the producers, the subjection of people to the violence of things.

    Now as for this constituting a blinder to the “importance of self-management and decentralisation”, you’re right I’m blind to the importance of either of those. Or rather, I don’t quite grasp what’s so brilliant about them, in particular decentralisation. On the contrary, if our aim is to abolish market relations, our goal should be more centralisation not less.

    The other point addressed at me was various quotes with Marx saying that with the workers’ in control of their means of production it wouldn’t be capitalism. Again yes, if small-artisan producers own their means of production in societies prior to industrialisation and the spread of collective, social labour proceses, it’s not capitalism. If we have social labour combined with private enterprise however, it’s capitalism, whether or not the workers are in formal control of the means of production. The evidence is in Marx’s polemics against Proudhon and against those who saw co-operatives as anything other than a transitional means towards socialism as opposed to ends in themselves. You however choose to ignore all these and simply declare Marx inconsistent as part of your campaign to discredit Marxism.

    To be honest I’m not sure where this discussion is leading us though apart from around in circles. It’s clear that neither us is going to agree, we’ve both made the cases for our own side, so I don’t see much of a reason to continue.

    Oh I should note, you’re correct to say I’ve never had a physical copy of the book, and the text is not necessarily intended to be a review of the whole book as such, it was intended to be a critique of your comments on Marx and Proudhon in the introduction which I assumed was fair game since you’d put the text online. I thought that was fairly clear from the piece itself where I explicitly state that my task is only to deal with what you say about Marx and Proudhon, but I will reiterate it here in case there is any doubt.

  • Anarcho
    April 30, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    “Or rather, I don’t quite grasp what’s so brilliant about them, in particular decentralisation. On the contrary, if our aim is to abolish market relations, our goal should be more centralisation not less.”

    You do know that was tried, right? The Bolsheviks tried that during the civil war. As my review of your review indicates, it was a complete mess. The centre was completely ignorant of local conditions — it was even ignorant of how many workplaces it was meant to be in control of! Bolshevik centralism made a bad situation much, much, much worse…

    Suffice to say, a real economy has millions of products, millions of workers, millions upon millions of possible combinations. A centralised body would find it next to impossible to gather than information, process it and turn it into knowledge suitable to plan with.

    Sure, a bureaucratic dictatorship could “plan” somethings — because it did not have to bother meeting actual needs of real people in any real way. Consumers and producers, if they complained, could be repressed. However, a system aiming to meet the real needs of real people in terms of use-values and productive activity needs decentralisation in order to function. The Bolshevik experiment proves that.

    “The other point addressed at me was various quotes with Marx saying that with the workers’ in control of their means of production it wouldn’t be capitalism.”

    As, for example, when Marx states: “English socialists say ‘We need capital, but not the capitalists’. But if one eliminates the capitalists, the means of production cease to be capital.” (Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3, p. 296) That is very clear and refers to the world around him.

    “Again yes, if small-artisan producers own their means of production in societies prior to industrialisation and the spread of collective, social labour proceses, it’s not capitalism.”

    That above quote obviously refers to an industrialised economy. Now, why should size matter? If an artisan is a non-capitalist producer then why do ten artisans working together become capitalist? As Marx made clear (echoing Proudhon), co-operatives showed that collective (social) labour processes could be conducted without capitalists (and “if one eliminates the capitalists, the means of production cease to be capital”)

    “If we have social labour combined with private enterprise however, it’s capitalism, whether or not the workers are in formal control of the means of production.”

    Not according to Marx… He was very clear (and repeated it time and time again) that capital required the dispossession of the workers from the means of production. Commodity production did not equal capitalism. Here is another quote which states the same thing:

    “the same circumstance that produces the BASIC condition for capitalist production, the existence of a class of wage-labourers, encourages the transition of all commodity production to CAPITALIST commodity production. To the extent that the latter develops, it has a destroying and dissolving effect on all earlier forms of production . . . It makes the sale of the product the main interest, at first WITHOUT changing the mode of production . . . Once it has taken root, however, it destroys all forms of commodity production that are based EITHER on the producers’ own labour, OR simply on the sale of excess product as a commodity. It firstly makes commodity production UNIVERSAL, and then GRADUALLY transforms all commodity production into capitalist production.” (emphasis added, Capital, vol. 2, pp. 119-20)

    Here Marx is explicitly stating that commodity production can be “universal” and involve selling commodities created by “the producers’ own labour” (rather than any “excess production”) and this would be a form of “commodity production” which was NOT “capitalist commodity production”, NOT “capitalist production”.

    And, again, he notes that “basic” (or “essential”, as he said elsewhere) condition for capitalism — it is wage-labour, NOT commodity production.

    “The evidence is in Marx’s polemics against Proudhon and against those who saw co-operatives as anything other than a transitional means towards socialism as opposed to ends in themselves.”

    You seem to think that Marx distorting Proudhon’s ideas is a reliable source… Marx consisently asserts that Proudhon aimed for wage-labour, labour as a commodity. Proudhon, as I have shown, aimed for socialised property and self-managed workplaces. Workers do not sell their labour to a boss class — there is no wage-labour under mutualism. There is commodity production, but as Marx repeatedly stated that does not equal capitalism.

    “You however choose to ignore all these and simply declare Marx inconsistent as part of your campaign to discredit Marxism.”

    Now that IS funny. I’m not the one ignoring Marx when he uses the words “essential”, “basic”, “only”, “fundamental characteristic” and so on to define capitalism as a system where workers do not own their own means of production! I have just quoted Marx explicitly stating that a system of “universal” commodity production need not be capitalism. I guess you will ignore that too. Here is another one:

    “the Russian agricultural worker, owing to the common ownership of the soil by the village community, is not yet a ‘free wage-labourer’ in the full sense of the term. But the presence of such ‘free wage-labourers’ throughout society is the INDISPENSABLE condition without which M-C, the transformation of money into commodities, cannot take the form of the transformation of money capital into productive capital.” (emphasis added, Capital, vol. 2, p. 117)

    Under mutualism the land, like the workplaces, would be social property. As such the “indispensable” condition of capitalism does NOT exist. Unless “indispensable” means something different in Marxist circles, Marx is being pretty clear on this issue…

    “To be honest I’m not sure where this discussion is leading us though apart from around in circles. It’s clear that neither us is going to agree, we’ve both made the cases for our own side, so I don’t see much of a reason to continue.”

    I was thinking the same thing. I’m impressed by your ability not to understand what “essential”, “indispensable”, and so on mean.

    I will note that Marx argued (like Proudhon) that co-operatives showed that large-scale production was possible with capitalists and so capital. The question now becomes whether such a market-socialism system would be the best we can achieve and whether the Marxist notion of a centralised social plan could be a viable alternative. Now that would be a fruitful discussion and one not helped by dismissing mutualism as “capitalism” — particularly as Marx himself showed it was not.

    Here is Engels (Socialism: Utopian and Scientific) on the issue of commodity production, capitalism and producers being controlled by their product:

    “We have seen that the capitalistic mode of production thrust its way into a society of commodity-producers, of individual producers, whose social bond was the exchange of their products. But every society based upon the production of commodities has this peculiarity: that the producers have lost control over their own social inter-relations.”

    Engels here notes two things. First, that the capitalist mode of production is not equal to commodity production. Second, that while different kinds of commodity economies have existed, they are all marked by market forces. Thus you can have market pressures in an economy marked by artisans and peasants or, by extension, one with co-operatives and it would NOT be capitalism.

    As I noted before, the argument that workers in mutualism would be subject to market-forces IS a valid one. These can, and do, make people do irrational things to survive on the market. This is a valid point (so is wondering whether a centralised planning system would not be worse!). What is NOT valid is asserting that market-socialism is just capitalism. You can be against something and not have to call it capitalism…

    Ultimately, there are two options.

    One, agree with Marx and admit that dispossession of workers is an “essential” condition for capitalism and critique mutualism as a form of socialism. This critique could focus on market forces, distribution according to deed rather than need, and so on.

    Two, argue that Marx was wrong and that the neo-classical economists are right — capitalism IS the market and the market IS capitalism. That exploitation happens because of exchange, not in production, and so on.

    What you cannot do is proclaim that Marx did not consider dispossession “essential” to defining capitalism. He did, repeatedly. He even said that commodity production could be “universal” and involve selling the fruits of your labour (rather than an excess) and the economy not be capitalist!

    Still, this discussion is not getting away. We have both presented our cases and evidence to back it up. The readers can decide. If anyone wants to discuss this in person, please come to the Property is Theft! book launch on the 21st of May at 2pm at Freedom Bookshop, London.

  • Anarcho
    April 30, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    “Still, this discussion is not getting away.”

    Opps, that should be “Still, this discussion is not going anywhere”

    I think we have both presented enough material for people to make their own minds up.

  • James Tansey
    May 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Yeah, I think we can both agree that this discussion has exhausted it’s usefulness. There are issues raised here that probably deserve further treatment (The Russian revolution for example), but I couldn’t do those justice myself.

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