Review: Compendium of Karl Marx’s Capital by Carlo Cafiero. Published by the Anarchist Communist Group (ACG).
We welcome the ACG’s printing of this brief 100 page summary of Volume 1 of Marx’s Capital written by Carlo Cafiero partly while he was in prison in 1877 and 1878 and partly after his release in 1879. It was intended to simplify Marx’s work and make it available to a wider readership. It is divided into 10 sections, broadly following the divisions of Marx in Volume 1, and a conclusion. The main aim is to explain exploitation of the working class under capitalist production relations and the accumulation of capital but in doing this it has to deal with commodities, value and currency. It also deals with primary accumulation and includes long quotations from Capital Volume 1 showing the brutality of the process of the formation of the proletariat. Cafiero explains he is writing it for three categories of readers: first, for workers with some education; second, for defectors from the bourgeoisie who have embraced the cause of labour, namely people like himself; and thirdly, for young people in schools.
Cafiero himself, as carefully explained in the ACG introduction, despite coming from a wealthy background, had a tragic and short life. He was initially a Marxist, impressed Marx and Engels and became the agent of the General Council of the First International tasked with building the international in Italy. However, in Naples he encountered Bakunin who convinced him of anarchism. Despite this he remained convinced by Marx’s economic analyses and, after reading the French translation of Capital Volume 1 in prison, he decided to produce the Compendium which the ACG have now printed in English for the first time, approximately 150 years after it was written.
We welcome any attempt to get Marx’s works more widely read and understood. In this Cafiero’s style is lively and interesting, but we have two significant criticisms of the present publication. The first is the translation. The ACG have used the version on marxists.org by Paul Perrone. Whilst Perrone proudly dedicates the translation to Cafiero himself we think he has given him poor service. The inaccurate phraseology often makes it difficult to make out what is meant, and the translation does not appear to have been checked. More significantly, there are several places where the English says the direct opposite of the Italian. We give two examples of this:
On page 211 we read:
"He’s a perfectly honest and religious member of the bourgeoisie for whom it may look good to defraud the worker’s wage."
It should read:
"He is a perfectly honest and even religious member of the bourgeoisie and he would be careful not to defraud the worker’s wages."
On page 58, a more serious mistake occurs. Here we read:
"Therefore the salary cannot represent the price of labour power."
It should read:
"Therefore the wage can only represent the price of labour power."
The section which follows makes clear that this is what Cafiero intended to write, but this sort of error hardly makes the understanding of Marx easier!
These mistakes and poor translation sometimes make the text confusing. What partially saves it is that Perrone simply uses the Moore/Aveling English edition of Capital to translate the long direct quotations Cafiero makes from Capital.
The second criticism is the example Cafiero gives of relative surplus value in which the distinction between the value of labour power and the value produced by labour power is confused. Marx makes this distinction clear at length in Chapter 19 of Capital Volume 1. Cafiero’s example on page 33 is a bit of a muddle.
In the first part of his example a worker is paid £3 for 12 hours of labour, uses up £1.5 of means of production, and produces 6 items which have a total value of £7.5. However we read:
"the value of 12 hours of labour power come to £6"
But the value of 12 hours of labour power is clearly £3 as Cafiero recognises in the rest of the example. What should be said is that the value produced by 12 hours of labour power is £6, and £3 represent the worker’s wages and £3 represent surplus value. The worker works 6 hours to produce their wages, £3, and 6 hours unpaid to produce the surplus value, £3, which goes to the capitalist.
The distinction between labour power and the value produced by labour power is, of course, the key theoretical advance Marx makes over classical economy. Labour power is itself a commodity which has the ability to produce more value than its own exchange value. This needs to be carefully explained. Unfortunately Cafiero’s examples are not clear. This is not helped by the figure for the value of the commodity produced by the increase in production on page 33, which is incorrect. It should be 75p not 62.5p.
However we do not wish to simply find faults in this production. Cafiero’s effort to simplify and popularise Marx’s work is laudable as is the ACG’s printing of the work in English. We do recommend, however, that the translation is corrected and checked and that the examples are tidied up on the version on the internet.
ACG and Marx
In the introduction the ACG, even while admitting that Capital is a “superb” work, appear slightly apologetic to be publishing anything by Marx. They explain this by saying it is possible to agree with Marx’s economic work while rejecting those authoritarian tendencies produced by the counter-revolution which include Trotskyism and Marxism-Leninism of all stripes. In this we would agree. Marx’s vision was a stateless, classless, borderless society made up of “freely associated producers”. The “Marxist” tendencies they cite above all see little difference between state capitalism and communism and are therefore alienated from that vision. They are in short the product of the counter-revolution that does not recognise that the Russian Revolution was defeated long before the death of Lenin. However, Marx bears no responsibility for an event 40 years after his death. Capital is not simply an economic work. To describe it as a “superb contribution to our revolutionary understanding” necessarily entails agreement with the historical and philosophical foundations of the work. Cafiero clearly accepts Marx’s description of primitive accumulation and the formation of the proletariat, which he quotes at length. This is an acceptance of historical materialism as the basis of historical change and class conflict as the motor force of this. As mentioned above, Cafiero includes lengthy quotations from Capital regarding the formation of the proletariat which are dependent on the theory of historical materialism.
The situation the working class will be faced with after the overthrow of capitalist society is also dependent on the developed understanding of capitalist society which we find in Capital Volume 1. By describing Marx’s work as superb, the ACG should logically take seriously his prescriptions for communist society, which spring from his analysis. We refer, of course, to a period of transition during which the working class (and only the working class) holds power through its “dictatorship”, as outlined in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme. As the threat from the world capitalist class recedes and transitional society advances towards full communism the need for the any state-like body gets less until it becomes the organisation of things rather than the organisation of men and women.
Marx’s description of the condition of the working class as capital accumulation takes place, which Cafiero quotes in section 9 of the work, shows how the system physically brutalises and undermines the intellectual capacities of the proletariat.
"The law, finally, that always equilibrates the relative surplus population, or industrial reserve army, to the extent and energy of accumulation, this law rivets the labourer to capital more firmly than the wedges of Vulcan did Prometheus to the rock. It establishes an accumulation of misery, corresponding with accumulation of capital. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital." (p.72)
It is now over a century and a half since these words were written yet the question of how the working class can free itself from wage slavery is still the central global question today. Marx concluded that an international political organisation needed to be formed for this. Its function would be to assist in the development of the workers’ understanding of their position and the need for communism, and to provide a programme and guidance in achieving communism. The First International was the practical outcome of Marx and Engels’ efforts to begin this work. The collapse of the International is something we don’t intend to go into in this review. However, we maintain the need for an international political organisation remains just as important today as when Cafiero and Marx were alive for exactly the reasons given above. In the ACG’s aims and principles published at the end of the document we note that they aim to build a global revolutionary anarchist movement. Perhaps the publication of Cafiero’s Compendium will lead to a reassessment of at least some anarchists’ previous condemnation of Marxism?
- 1The page numbers are for the printed book version. The ACG online version is slightly different and the page numbers are generally the page after the book version.
Quote: The First
That's odd, I wasn't aware Henri Tolain and George Odger were followers of Marx.
Exactly, the First
Exactly, the First International was created by English and French workers, Marx and Engels were Johnny-Come Latelies.
It was Marx and Engels'
It was Marx and Engels' effort to make the First International assist "the development of the workers’ understanding of their position and the need for communism, and to provide a programme and guidance in achieving communism." Not that of Tolain or Odger who were hardly communists...
Yeah, but that's a bit
Yeah, but that's a bit different from "The First International was the practical outcome of Marx and Engels’ efforts to begin this work. "
"However, in Naples he encountered Bakunin who convinced him of anarchism. Despite this he remained convinced by Marx’s economic analyses". Not a question of despite, Bakunin himself respected Marx's economic analyses. Bakunin: "Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Oekonomie, by Karl Marx; Erster Band. This work will need to be translated into French, because nothing, that I know of, contains an analysis so profound, so luminous, so scientific, so decisive, and if I can express it thus, so merciless an expose of the formation of bourgeois capital and the systematic and cruel exploitation that capital continues exercising over the work of the proletariat. The only defect of this work... positivist in direction, based on a profound study of economic works, without admitting any logic other than the logic of the facts - the only defect, say, is that it has been written, in part, but only in part, in a style excessively metaphysical and abstract... which makes it difficult to explain and nearly unapproachable for the majority of workers, and it is principally the workers who must read it nevertheless. The bourgeois will never read it or, if they read it, they will never want to comprehend it, and if they comprehend it they will never say anything about it; this work being nothing other than a sentence of death, scientifically motivated and irrevocably pronounced, not against them as individuals, but against their class."
What exactly does reading
What exactly does reading sentences out of context achieve here? Except for distracting from the topic of the article?
The First International was the practical outcome of Marx and Engels’ efforts to begin this work, i.e., the work of providing a programme and guidance in achieving communism. It was not the outcome of the practical efforts of the anti-Commune Tolain or the liberal Odger, even if they were among the formal initiators for the formation of the First International.
Quote: It was Marx and
How did Marx & Engels make the First International do this? What exactly did they impart on the organisation to develop the workers' class consciousness and the need for communism, that was not already part of the International or supported by other Internationalists? What "programme and guidance"?
This aren't rhetorical questions -- I feel we'd be able to better understand your position if you speak more concretely about what you mean
For one, most of the other
For one, most of the other tendencies within the First International were not communist. There were trade unionists and liberals there, mutualists, collectivists, and nationalists. Hence from day one it was a struggle by Marx and Engels to "frame the thing so that our [communist] view should appear in a form acceptable from the present standpoint of the workers' movement."
You can see their influence all over the most important documents of the First International, many of which still remain a reference point for organisations across the Marxists/anarchist divide. So even if the First International inevitably collapsed, it has left a definite legacy to build upon, which owes a lot to the positive contribution of Marx and Engels. I'm not sure the same can be said for the previously mentioned anti-Commune Tolain or the liberal Odger...
Quote: Hence from day one it
That was how Marx and Engels wanted to frame it, but as you know that wasn't the reality. Marx and Engels represented a very small current within the international and had to work with all those other currents including the liberal Odger and the anti-commune (as was marx before it was established anyway by the by) Tolain.
It was the meeting of the French and English trade unionists in 1862 and 63, who decided an international organisation was an excellent idea and laid down the groundwork and started inviting their contacts including Marx. The decision to form the IWMA as a proper organisation was unanimous meaning it had the support of all the currents in attendance.
"My proposals were all accepted by the subcommittee. Only I was obliged to insert two phrases about "duty" and "right" into the preamble to the statutes, ditto "truth, morality, and justice", but these are placed in such a way that they can do no harm.
At the meeting of the general committee my address, etc., was agreed to with great enthusiasm (unanimously). The discussion on the method of printing, etc., takes place next Tuesday. Le Lubez has a copy of the address to translated into French and Fontana one to translate into Italian. (For a state there is a weekly paper called the Bee-Hive, edited by Potter the trade unionist, a sort of Moniteur.) I myself am to translate the stuff into German."
You can get snippy all you like about the original founders but all that does is show that Marx and Engels didn't see a problem getting involved with a collection of liberals and nationalists. And it was also those same liberals and nationalists who approved of Marx's contributions to the international.
There were also quite a few communists in the IWMA just that most of them weren't marxists.
I don't deny the communist
I don't deny the communist tendency wasn't the majority. In fact, communism wasn't the "present standpoint of the workers' movement", and Marx and Engels hoped the "next International — after Marx's writings have had some years of influence — will be directly Communist and will openly proclaim our principles."
The point is, it was Marx and Engels who attempted, to the degree that it was possible, to make the First International "provide a programme and guidance in achieving communism", not the likes of Tolain or Odger. Who formally set up the organisation is irrelevant to this review in the first place and I'm not sure why it was brought up, all it's done is distract from the contents of the review and bring it back to the old "Marxist vs anarchist interpretations of the First International" debate.
Quote: Who formally set up
And yet, predictably, the article's conclusion does invoke just that theoretical divide when it lectures on the need to reject an anti-statist view and embrace marxian statism;
There is no anti-statist communism or anarchism without rejection of states, 'transitional' or otherwise. There is, equally, no logical necessity or contradiction in accepting Marx's critique of political economy and rejecting his statism. Only dogmatists believing in the seamless theological infallibility of their gods need to believe otherwise.
This is another example of ICT's absolute unreliability in their presentation of a distorted revisionist 'history',as shown previously, eg;
If anything, rather than logical consistency, perhaps the fixation on state conquest shows a glaring inconsistency between desiring to abolish class hierarchies, including the economic mechanisms and relations that impose it, and wanting to preserve the state form that administrates it.
The ICT is not "statist" (and
The ICT is not "statist" (and neither was Marx). We just recognise that you can't simply define the state out of existence. If "special bodies of armed men [sic]" exist, so does the state. Workers' councils, with their red or black guards or whatever, are unlike any other state, but for as long as classes still exist, they will have certain statist functions (i.e. staving off counter-revolution). Now you may no longer call that a "state", we may call it a "semi-state", a "commune-state", or "the dictatorship of the proletariat", but it doesn't change material reality.
Quote: If "special bodies of
If you don't have a better definition of the state than "special bodies of armed men" no wonder your comments are so confused. That would mean some militia or Klan branch in the US is a state. Similarly, not every workers militia would be a state nor every workers council.
It was shown on this thread; http://libcom.org/blog/we-are-against-all-institutional-parties-21052020
that, in complete contradiction to what ICT claims, for over 40 years Marx consistently advocated to the working class the use of state power as a means to bring about communism. That was the basis of Marx's conflict with anti-statists. Your attempt to make Marx's views on the bourgeois state correspond with your councilist theories doesn't work at all.
Well, yes, if some militia or
Well, yes, if some militia or Klan branch were to somehow seize power in the US they would constitute a state. Whatever definition you prefer, workers' councils which seize power would also carry out certain statist functions to stave off counter-revolution, until classes are abolished and the need for those functions disappears.
And I'm sorry but your cherry picked Marx quotes, and whether back in his day he thought in some countries revolution could be achieved by peaceful means or not, don't change the fact that what underlined his whole political vision and analysis was the disappearance of the state in communist society (and not just by defining it out of existence but as material reality).
Quote: your cherry picked
They're "cherry picked" from the consistency of Marx’s views over a 40 year period of his political career, same fruit from the same tree. You want to appear as consistent orthodox followers of a supposedly infallible Marx but it’s you who repeatedly try, with your revisionism, to cherry pick your preferred Marxism and “define out of existence” what doesn’t suit your ideological pose.
Obviously we all know that (though “material reality” hasn’t verified at all the transitional withering-away state theory). But what also equally underlined his whole vision was his repeated insistence on conquest of the state as part of achieving that. Amazing that this has to be repeatedly spelled out to correct your claims. The whole distinction between statist and anti-statist in this context is based on the content of the process of arrival at that stateless destination; and the social relations created within that process. Your Marxist/leninist baggage requires you to ‘statify’ that process, reduce it to the institution of a new council-state regime; yet the Marxist theorisation of workers councils was explicitly anti-leninist and a proletarian alternative to the vanguard Party you uphold. You want to return what was a Marxist anti-leninist councilism into a regressive leninist project. More Kronstadts under a council-state?
Your reference to the ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’ – Marx’s attempted correction of a German social democratic parliamentary party’s programme - also shows the kind of state Marx envisaged and doesn’t fit very neatly with your councilist programme – unless you envisage a Party state just rebranded as a council state.
It’s anyway an error to fetishise councils or any particular organisational form as guarantor of radicalism. Workers councils could easily suffer the same fate as the soviets and factory committees did in USSR, commandeered by a separate state ‘vanguard’ power, monopolised and bureacratised into state organs. An essentially political concentration of power serves only rulers and from it flows bourgeois conceptions of social relations outwards into a society already challenging such relations; the counter-revolution within the revolution. It’s less the form, more the content that matters; councils and assemblies could be part of a radical movement but could become an obstacle to it, eg, in Germany where the SPD used the councils as a vehicle to state power and crushing of the revolution.
“A seizure of power” by a singular entity, “a special body of armed men”– whether calling itself a ‘council’, ‘central committee’, ‘Party’ etc – doesn’t sound different from other states. “Material reality” is not changed by a name change. In a historical situation where that seizure became a possibility the working class would have to already be at a high level of self-organisation and combativity against the ruling class. So the administrative functions and anti-bourgeois measures you claim as justification for statism would already be occurring; as self-activity and self-definition of the revolutionary movement, as the actual ongoing creation of a classless society. You only abolish classes by abolishing the social conditions necessary for their existence, not by state decree. The real task of a revolutionary movement would be to achieve that without creating a new state form, a separate power ruling over it in its name.
Firstly in the review you claim that if the ACG accepts Marx’s economic critique they’re also obliged to accept his views on the need for a transitional state. But then, in reply to me, you admit that at least some of his consistent views on the transitional state are invalid and outdated.
You also suggest that the differences between yourselves and anarchists are little more than a difference in terminology. But that falsehood is revealed every time you speak of Lenin, Bolshevism and the state. Marx and Bakunin both considered their differences on the state to be much more than that – and they were right.
Your theological need to have a uniform group ideology to believe in is reflected in your statism - the revered central authority. It would be no loss to just acknowledge that the ICT differs from Marx on some points with no point pretending otherwise; but it weirdly seems to be psychologically necessary for this belief system to indulge in this revisionism for it to function. We are at a point where self-delusion and a preference to believe a comforting myth over historical knowledge and factual truth are reaching pandemic levels. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, a practice of repeated revisionist distortion of history to serve your own ideological agenda and needs is only adding to one of the worst aspects of present day bourgeois society.
To be honest, I'm not sure
To be honest, I'm not sure what you're arguing with here. I'm not a "councilist", neither am I for a "party dictatorship". I don't think Marx was "infallible", and I don't "revere central authority". I don't think the differences between anarchism and Marxism can be reduced to that of terminology. And I do agree with this:
Where does that leave us? There's things I could respond to in your post, but I'm not sure there's any point in taking down strawmen. It doesn't seem like you quite know or understand the positions and origins of our tendency, and instead try to fit them into some preconceived "Leninist" bracket. At this point I could refer you to some of our documents for clarification, but then that'd be "quoting holy scripture", so it seems we're in a cul-de-sac.
Quote: I'm not a
I know you're not, but you seem to envisage a proletarian council-state, as you described;
Based on the experience of
Based on the experience of the historically-discovered forms of working class self-organisation (1871, 1905, 1917, and adapted in times of heightened struggle by workers ever since), most revolutionary Marxists in fact advocate some kind of council or commune model.
Assuming that you're not just
Assuming that you're not just referring to left-comms; yes, but many of them don't see it as any kind of state (or 'semi-state') but as a deliberate alternative to leninist conceptions of a 'proletarian state'.