Notes Against the Dictatorship of the Economy - ICG

The tyranny of value in process - the affirmation of the revolutionary programme.

Submitted by redtwister on December 15, 2005

Over a century has passed since the critique of the economy (1) put forward that the dictatorship of value valorising itself is the essence of capitalist society and that the usefulness of the objects produced is merely a means serving this omnipresent dictatorship. Use value merely supports exchange value, value in process.

All misery, all dictatorships, all wars, all human exploitation and oppression are the expression of this infernal tyranny of value that has become the true subject, the God of the whole society.

The world is not ruled by ideas, politics or laws but by the economy, thirst for profit and money; ideas, politics, rights and state terrorism only serve to maintain and consolidate the expanded reproduction of this tyranny.

In other words, the state, democracy,... ie. the structuring of Capital as a force of domination (in whatever form it organises itself), only prolong of the profound dictatorship of value over human life. Terrorism, be it overt or covert, parliamentarist or bonapartist, fascist or antifascist, is no more than the expression of the merciless reality of a world submitted to the law of value.

The fact of showing that exploitation, dictatorship, oppression, misery,... are not caused by any particular person, "exploiting boss" or government with a crazy or racist leadership (2), but are the inevitable expression of the development of value in process, was a theoretical point of decisive importance for the revolutionary movement. Demonstrating that all contradictions and torments of bourgeois society are already contained in the basic cells of this society, in the commodity, in the contradiction between use and exchange value, was not only an added stimulus for the process of the development of international revolutionary associationism over the years, but also brought clear elements of revolutionary direction and programmatical content.

Of course, all these programmatical affirmations, this theory which strips capitalism bare, were the product of international worker associationism at a moment of affirmation, and, as Marx and Engels frequently stated, were the work of the Party... This organisational and programmatical strengthening of the revolutionary movement concretised itself later in the Communist Party Manifesto, in the development of the revolutionary press, in the proletariat’s direct action, its efforts of centralisation,... as well as later in the First International, the revolutionary movement of the proletariat in Mexico (1868-1870), in France (1870-1871), etc.

Communism thus armed itself with decisive weapons to understand and denounce any kind of reformism and made a fundamental step towards the affirmation of its own programme. Indeed, at the same time, a huge number of theories and bourgeois parties (both formal and informal social-democratic) aimed at the workers were expressing themselves for the first time as a reaction to the development of the proletarian movement. These forces and ideologies denounced some of the evils of bourgeois society and proposed "solutions" and reforms that left the essence of mercantile society intact, for example Proudhon’s theory and plans. Some called themselves socialist, progressive, anarchist, social-democratic, communist, anti-authoritarian,... but it was clear (3) that they were just the miserable expression of the left of bourgeois society itself and their programme only proposed to eliminate one or other "unfortunate" consequence of mercantile society, leaving the basic cell (the commodity), its reproduction, value producing society and thus exchange and wage labour intact.

Thus the practical antagonism of revolutionary movement versus reformism and the affirmation of the programme of the revolution itself developed and asserted themselves simultaneously. A change of government, the "democratisation" of a state, state control of the means of production, agrarian reform, banks for the poor or remuneration based on labour vouchers... can never truly oppose the general dictatorship of value valorising itself and it is ridiculous to think that they could. The only solution, for the whole of humanity, is the abolition of the law of value, the total and despotic destruction of the tyranny of the economy. This is the centre, the heart of the communist programme, the key to the invariance of the revolutionary programme for the destruction of capitalism as much for today’s militants as for the militants of yesterday.

The need for the violent destruction of all bourgeois social structures, for the proletariat to organise into class and party, for the dictatorship of the poor and later, more clearly, for the dictatorship of the proletariat had already been expressed long before Marx and Engels systematised the essence of the revolutionary programme around the destruction of the economy. With Marx and Engels, the need for and the possibility of dictatorship of the proletariat found its practical basis, thus relegating to utopia any pretentions to radical change without the destruction of the commodity. The revolutionary dictatorship for the abolition of the mercantile society was then practically (although not always formally) written on the flag of every real proletarian struggle against capitalism and the state.

Up until then revolutionaries had been seen as utopians (4), but were now able to show that it is actually reforms or partial "revolutions" that constitute utopias.

"It is not radical revolution or universal human emancipation which is a utopian dream...; it is the partial, merely political revolution, the revolution which leaves the pillars of the building standing" (K.Marx, "Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right", 1844.)

The ABC of the revolutionary programme: the dictatorship of the proletariat

Considering the extent of the distortion and ideological falsification characterising the present time, it is not superfluous to clarify an ABC of the revolutionary programme. The essence of capitalism today is (and it could not be any other way) exactly the same as yesterday. As we have said many times before, the revolutionary programme is invariant; only the dictatorship of the proletariat and the resulting abolition of the commodity and wage-labour can bring a real solution for humanity.

We would very much like to reopen the discussion on the content and extent of what we, the communists, call the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat; we would like to concentrate on certain aspects of our programme that have been distorted and corrupted by the counterrevolution and that will be essential at the time of the next worldwide revolutionary wave of struggle.

Starting from the historical necessity for the destruction of the dictatorship of value, it will be of prime importance to fight against all ideologies (like that of one-nation socialism) that see the dictatorship of the proletariat as a political dictatorship, as a formal dictatorship of one or other sector or party of the "proletariat" or "socialist party". We must oppose them with our own conception that the social character (the total character) of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the historical revenge of use value against value, the affirmation of human necessities against value in process. This clarifies why the proletariat has never been able to impose its dictatorship and that, as the antagonism which will triumph against commodity and all its laws, can only impose itself on a worldwide scale. It then becomes clear that, apart from certain struggles of class against class, as in Mexico at the beginning of this century, in Russia from ’17 to ’19, in Germany a little later or in Spain in the 30’s, when we fought against the thousand and one expressions of the law of value, it is a nonsense to talk about "dictatorship of the proletariat" in any country. Even in exemplary cases of organisation of revolutionary action by our class we have just mentionned, we can only talk about prefiguration and attempts to impose class dictatorship - not about the dictatorship of the proletariat itself, which can only be worldwide.

In the same way that revisionism and reformism invented the absurd theory of one-nation socialism and the dominant class of the world took pleasure in talking about "socialist countries" or "communist countries", certain more radical sectors of the marxist bourgeois Left invented the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country or, worse still, the theory of the workers’ state, first in Russia and later in other countries.

We also want to stress how the need to abolish autonomous decisions by productive units, to abolish the autonomy of sellers and buyers, of supply and demand and to abolish the equality of the individual and his freedom to decide (the very basis of mercantile society) is an essential aspect of the dictatorship of the proletariat and will be decisive in coming battles of the proletariat. We want to emphasise that the dictatorship of the proletariat will not only have to abolish firms in their present condition, but also units which are autonomous in their decision-making, whether as groups of factories or as economic sectors, as both of these imply the existence of exchange between them. We want to show the vital need to abolish democracy in all its expressions, not only parliamentary but also "councilist", workerist, etc. Last, but not least, we would like to develop the key elements in the fight against the ensemble of ideologies (such as federalism, workerism, "anarchism",...) which will be an obstacle to the development of revolutionary and organic centralisation against the law of value.

The programmatical determinations of revolution develop in antagonism to the programmatical determinations of capitalism and to its attempts at reform, which is precisely whywe feel it is indispensable to draw these general lines concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat in this text on the dictatorship of value, the dictatorship of the economy. However, further development of topics linked to the destruction of the dictatorship of value will take us too far away from the aims of this text and will soon be the focus of another text (5).

Open discourse on the dictatorship of the economy

Here we want to underline some aspects of the dictatorship of the economy today, the modern development of the dictatorship imposed by value in process on all spheres of human life, the current forms of dominant discourse which aim to increasingly subject human beings to the faceless monster which is the economy.

Even though the dictatorship of the economy has always been a constant feature of capital, it nevertheless required a long process before the duty to serve the economy, the need to sacrifice oneself for competitiveness, the obligation to make an effort for the national economy or any demand to tighten belts to "boost" the economy could be declared openly. Much water has gone under the bridge and much blood been shed throughout the world until it has finally become accepted as the natural order of things that man is worthless and the only thing that matters is the national economy, competitiveness...

Although bourgeois society, and particularly the national economy, has always considered human beings as a mere means of enrichment, capitalism in previous centuries concealed its aims (at least ideologically and partially) and no government would have been able to say, as openly as they do today, that people must sacrifice their life in the interests of the economy. Dominant factions of the bourgeoisie looked for (and, for the most part, found) ways of presenting the interests and needs of their class and faction as beneficial to their own class in the first instance and, second, to the whole society (an essential condition to enable class domination to impose itself without any major explosions). They never tired of repeating that the problems of the disinherited masses would be solved in the medium or long term and that the world would become a better place. Governments promised a brilliant future in the same way that priests promised the kingdom of heaven.

Today, there is no such talk, no further promises of a better future on earth, no mention of a solution to hunger and misery - they state openly and defiantly that we must continue to sweat our guts out and that the future will be even worse. In the past, although few believed it, it was said that misery would decline, that the starving and miserable would be saved by economic growth and that, in the future, there would be less and less of them. Today, they do not even attempt to hide the fact that in the world they promise, there will always be people in rags, ever more and more on the scrap heap.

Politicians and governments no longer make speeches demanding sacrifices in the name of a better world for all. They openly state the need to condemn more people to unemployment, starvation, misery,... the need to make cut-backs in social expenditure, etc, because the economy requires it in order to make businesses competitive. Given that the development of capital imposes one sole programme on all bourgeois factions, the more uniform their speeches become, the more apparent it is that there are no differences between politicians and governments. Their electoral campaigns, their parliamentary struggles and their coups are not setting different programmes or factions against each other, but are only quarrelling over their share of the spoils, bribes and other tricks, which is doled out according to the fierceness/eagerness of their struggle to increase exploitation and the appropriation of surplus-value: the greater their capacity to give a framework and to adhere to austerity measures, the greater their share.

The economy itself has become the dominant issue for all politicians and all governments. In the past, the decisive place of the economy was hidden behind religion, politics or various other ideologies and there was no way in which it could be used as an argument of force against human beings; moreover, a politician or a government would fall into disgrace if he dared to reveal the secret of domination and openly declare that all should be sacrificed on the altar of the economy, of the national economy’s competitiveness.

The original guilt complex of the bourgeoisie (that imposed its social system in the name of the people and social equality -"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity") lead it to hide the fact that this system sacrifices human beings on the altar of money. Politicians hid what cynical and lucid bourgeois economists (such as David Ricardo) had discovered and written down in their scientific works. Politicians, ideologists, and governors assumed the task of keeping the "secret" in the circle of the "initiated". Today, on the contrary, they proclaim it far and wide: the only thing that matters is the drive for profit, the competitiveness of the national economy and if people must starve for it, then this is just a necessary evil. Every politician tries to show off his entrepreneurial skills, calling on the population to work harder and earn less.

The destruction of man and of solidarity between men has reached paranoid levels: It has become normal, logical and natural that people should starve to allow businesses to be profitable. In the same way that we are advised to take our umbrella with us when it is raining, we are told that hundreds of thousands of people, millions of human beings will have to suffer for the sake of the national economy, and that the only way to escape this disaster is to work harder. As a way of trying to deprive us of our last remaining grains of class solidarity, it is suggested that we give a donation to an NGO or buy non-perishable goods at our local corner shop for them to send to the poor in another part of the world. Sacrifice and individual welfare are the order of the day.

Further explanation or justification is not really necessary - it is obvious that the degree of separation, of alienation from human need and human community is so enormous that is seems perfectly normal to everybody for a politician to drone on for hours about economic statistics, the need for people to make sacrifices and the benefits for businesses. The concrete, the reality of man, is turned into a complete abstraction, so that what appears to be concrete and real for the amorphous mass of citizen-spectators is infact a total abstraction: the well-being of the country, the future of the national economy. The famous revolution in communication, that has infact resulted in human separation at levels never previously experienced, is a decisive factor in this generalised abstraction of the human race. It would have been totally impossible to convince a proletarian in past centuries or at the beginning of this century that it was not him, his comrades, his children, his parents,... that is to say his class, humanity... that mattered, but rather the "Maastricht criteria", the Mercosur (6), "Plan A or Plan B", the "benefits to our economy offered by the latest tax",... and this abstraction has a greater right to exist than man made of flesh and blood. This is why any proletarian acting according to his needs and the needs of his class is conspiring against established democratic order.

It is beyond the framework of this text to discuss up to what point this situation marks the objective and historical limits of the whole of the bourgeois social system, given that the ruling class is no longer able to offer any viable plan for the human race or, on the contrary, whether the present situation reveals that this system can carry on imposing any kind of sacrifice, given that the proletariat is not capable of reconstituting itself as class, as an historical force at this time in our history. In any case, we think that both these realities characterise the present international situation, in so far as the ruling class always acts as if it has no limits and the proletariat only occasionally and regionally responds, without managing to constitute itself into a worldwide force. This situation continues to determine an ensemble of contradictory characteristics in present-day struggles (7).

"Crisis" or "recovery", it’s always the same old song

"The crisis has arrived, we have to tighten our belts", "the recovery is fragile, just a little bit more effort",... "we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, now is not the time to be making demands", "We are doing better, but growth is still weak"... is what we hear from the left and from the right of this spectacle aimed at submitting us to the dictatorship of the economy. If this damned economy goes wrong we have to make sacrifices to put it back on track, if it’s going okay, we have to continue to make an effort so as not to thwart it and so as to improve it even more, if it is struggling, we have to make further sacrifices to enable it to recover. This is the ever clearer order of the system that we are subjected to. What they are telling us is "keep on rowing, it’s impossible to leave this galley."

It is like believing in Father Christmas to live in hope that a government, a political party, a union or a TV channel,... will ever announce the good news that we can now make the most of life with no more sacrifices, that we will live a better life and even the poorest will be privileged, with increases in wages and social assistance, all of us working less and eating more.


1. To be more accurate, we should say "the criticism of economy in its theoretical expression" because we are referring to the first theoretical formulations and explanations of this process. In reality, the dictatorship of value has developed since the origin of exchange, the autonomisation of exchange value and the development of the general equivalent, up until the institution of the community of money as the sole and unique community of yielded men: the whole of the human species is submitted to this dictatorship (practice will show, against all kinds of ideologies, including "marxist" ones, that since that historical moment, regardless of immediate forms of production, human beings have become nothing more than a labour force for the reproduction of world capital). As the proletariat is the very object of this dictatorship and opposes it in a total, existential and vital way, its criticism of the economy begins with its own existence.

2. Of course, capitalism still teaches that some bosses are exploiters (as if they were not all) or that dictatorship, war and barbarism can be blamed on some crazy men such as Pinochet, Hitler or Saddam Hussein.

3. The term "clear" is not to be taken in the democratic sense of the word, meaning that the majority of proletarians would clearly spot their enemy within these movements, but in the sense that the social practice of all reformism objectively opposes itself to the historical and social interests of the whole of the proletariat, in the sense that any reformism reproduces and maintains mercantile society, the root of all evil. Only a more or less organised minority, more or less centralised into an autonomous force depending on the epoch, can openly and explicitly denounce it. It is obvious that the affirmation of the revolutionary programme, the result of the general antagonism of the whole of the proletariat against capitalist society, can only be consciously crystallised by a minority of proletarians; to pretend the opposite would be equivalent to working towards the dissolution of the class, sabotaging the historical action of the constitution of the proletariat into the party.

4. We do not mean that up until that moment total revolution has been a utopia, but that until then the programmes, social projects had stemmed from the ideas and desires of revolutionaries and were still mixed up with the purification of the world of that time. Therefore, although the revolutionaries’ acts totally opposed those of the reformists, their projects did not express the same level of rupture and antagonism. For example, we are referring to everything that has been called "utopian socialism and communism" in which revolutionary affirmations coexisted with minor reforms of the bourgeois world.

5. The best way to develop these points lies in the analysis of the experience of the proletariat in its revolutionary attempts, more specifically in the analysis of the causes of its defeats. In this sense, we are continuing our fundamental programmatical work on the revolutionary period 1917-1923 worldwide, as well as the revolutionary attempts in Mexico at the beginning of the century and in Spain in the 30’s.

6. Commercial agreements uniting Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

7. On this subject, also read "General Characteristics of the struggles of the present time", in Communism n°9.

8. This does not mean that this article is any more or less important than other more abstract or global texts such as the introduction to the dictatorship of the economy. Both texts express different levels of the same content that are both necessary and essential for our struggle.