The authors identify capitalism's decay as assuming forms of the prevention of communism. These - notably stalinism and social-democracy - are entirely dependent on capital as well as being its guarantors on a world scale. Yet resting neither upon the law of value nor on that of planning, they are inherently unstable and contain no dynamic towards transition. From Radical Chains no.1.
THE DECAY OF CAPITALISM, THE PREVENTION OF COMMUNISM AND THE NEED FOR PLANNING
A SPECTRE HAUNTS THE WORLD: the spectre of the prevention of communism. When in 1848, Marx identified communism as the ghost haunting Europe, he spoke the truth for an age when capital was the ascendant form. His critique of the rising mode of production demonstrated its historical limits. Marx's method generated an analysis that remains the most profound revolutionary guide for our times. Its validity confronts us with an urgency that one hundred and forty years ago was still latent. The self-acting proletariat that had already forced on Marx recognition of its potentiality is now the dominating force in world economy. It is through this potentiality, and as potentiality, that the proletariat dominates the epoch.
Whereas in the mid-nineteenth century this latency could reasonably be portrayed as a spectre to disquiet bourgeois complacency, that complacency has long since been shattered. Whatever success occasional regimes may have, however futile apparent representatives of the working class may be, and however much the media are filled with superficial self-congratulation, today's rulers remain caught on the objective existence of world collective labour. The recent efflorescence of free market and other forms of right wing ideology across the planet is a rearguard political acknowledgement of this self-evident fact.
The proletariat dominates the world, but is itself haunted by a ghost it must yet exorcise. This ghost, the prevention of communism, takes material political form as an intervention in the development of world consciousness. Capital's weakness in this project is revealed in its method: a pragmatic admixture of overt repression and reform. Through these, bourgeois society is limited in order to preserve it. Capital concedes various political forms to preserve bourgeois political economy. Among these are fascism and other forms of authoritarian capitalist state including, in the present period, those associated with reactionary Islamic communalism. Nor must we forget the historical vacancy of Stalinist rule. This crucially facilitates the survival of world capitalism by politically restricting its direct operations. Social democracy performs a similar function in territories where property remains predominantly privately owned.
Whatever forms today's ideologies assume, and whatever their degree of incoherence and irrationality, all now have as their dominating theme the prevention of communism. This is the principal mania of bourgeois society in the period of its decline. When Adam Smith came to discuss the "three great, original, and constituent orders of every civilisation," he could with equanimity dismiss the thought of the separateness of the interests of the labouring order from those of the employers, so that "[the labourer's] voice is little heard... except upon some particular occasions when his clamour is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but their own particular purposes." In this and similar statements Smith expressed the self-confidence of a class that still had a future. Such equanimity is not possible for his successors since the combination of labour that capital develops as a productive force is also a social power within and against capital. Where there was Adam Smith there are now political economists of the stamp and calibre of Oliver North, Gelli, P2, Neave, MI5/6 and the CIA. Corrupt and corrupting cliques are pervasive and inevitable underwriters of the capital form in decline. We should contrast the labyrinthine secrecy of these types to the liberalism of economists of the Friedman ilk, but only to note their poisonous symbiosis. They need each other, much as the undertaker and the life insurance agent have their hands in each others pockets. The infinitely dishonest, "liberal" Friedman served time as cheerleader and adviser to the CIA-assisted Chilean junta, to mention just one deal.
There is nothing new about spooks as such. What is significant is the extensive state activity occuring behind the curtain of social democratic government and sometimes through it. The bourgeoisie must permanently police the inherently suspect working class and even its social democratic, Stalinist and other constraining apparatuses: limitations to bourgeois relationships must not get out of hand.
A SYSTEM IN DECLINE
The most general indication that capitalism is a system in decline rather than a merely decadent one is the intensifying gulf between the actual and the potential: between what is and what could be with regard to the development of the productive forces. The most superficial aspect is the self-evident retardation of output (crudely measured by such ideological data series as GDP, GNP, etc.) by the dominant form of property. Reformist workers plans hinge upon this, though within a fantasy scenario of decontextualised use value oases. Next comes the frantic throwing of money into the marketing and advertising pit in order to sell those commodities which are produced. No matter how well made such use values may be, they remain commodities for atomised consumption. They address needs which can only be reproduced through the reproduction of absolute poverty.
Most monstrous of all is the qualitative degradation of the productive forces associated with the formal means of life termination. It cannot be said often enough that in terms of technique and precision, the highest products of collective labour within declining capitalism are those associated with war production. In its degraded condition, the universal class - which is the greatest of the productive forces - has been externally organised to the point where its activities generate the means of universal destruction.
The theoretical point is not that actual use of these devices means collapse of the system and is therefore incompatible even with the irrational requirements of declining capital: rather that their centrality to world capitalism makes it a nonsense to consider the development which obviously continues as anything other than one of decay. The source of ecological depradation is social rather than industrial as such. On the one side is collective labour and the potential for organised abundance, on the other is the squalid actuality. Manifestly the two poles interpenetrate.
Reformists misconceive the disparity between what is and what could be as one between a less and a supposedly more resource maximising capitalism. The product of communist transition can only be human realisation. No external organisation can achieve this task. The strength of global labour must grow with its deepening interdependence, but its actualisation as abundance lies across the increasingly menacing threshold of exchange value and the state, beyond unfree association. The significance of the limits upon the law of value discussed below is that they are arrangements to extend the decay by preventing its resolution. The concept decadence, by contrast, allows only the restoration of previously existing conditions and knows no need to revolutionise life.
THE LAW OF VALUE AND WORLD CLASSES
The law of value remains the essential regulator of capitalist economy. To be adequate to its concept, that law presupposes an atomised working class. The law of value requires that all commodities, in particular labour power, are subject to a necessary tendency to exchange as value equivalents. Commodities thus exchange on the market in proportion to the labour power socially required to produce them, rather than according to custom, the whims of administrators, or the democratic deliberations of the collective producer. However tedious it may be interminably to hear this from the political right, it is in fact true that markets predate capitalism. European feudal society sustained substantial levels of market transaction, both locally and on an international scale. Production for use rather than "natural economy" - implying as the latter phrase does the absence of monetary transactions and calculations - was the hallmark of feudalism. Production for exchange was subject to severe constraints within this type of society. While the embryonic world market was a dimension of primary capital accumulation, which was of global significance, the market did not and could not of itself impose generalised capitalist criteria upon social production, even within nationally limited territories. Production for use required limited, constrained and commodity-specific markets, but on the basis of their subordination to itself.
The generalisation of bourgeois relations depended substantially upon the stimulus of long distance trade, but cannot be reduced to it. Market relationships - involving luxury goods or otherwise - are necessary but not sufficient for capitalism. Indescribably more fundamental is the irreversible movement towards generalised commodity production arising upon the social foundations of the sale of labour power. It is in relation to this breakthrough within social production that the law of value emerges as the decisive regulator of social economy. To be more precise, the law of value as a global phenomenon evolves along with and through the characteristic productive forms associated with wage labour. The working class appears merely to suffer through the move to abstract labour and subordination of particularity: but an international class with an immanent need to overcome all forms of parochialism is created by large scale capitalist industry and its dynamic -thrust beyond the limiting nation state. For this reason, Marx in his day rightly applauded the Free Trade movement as progressive against all its opponents, whatever their political shadings. Not least, the "socialist" Lassalle posthumously received a memorable thrashing in the Critique of the Gotha Programme for sinking to the level of insisting that working class emancipation must proceed "within the framework of the present-day nation state," from which will somehow arise "the international brotherhood of peoples."
Against such meticulously corrupt ambiguity, Marx endorsed the international essence and movement of capital, and therefore of the working class, from the standpoint of the transience of both. The self-transformation of variable capital into the self-dissolving universal proletarian class hinges upon - is - the conscious liquidation of the capital form as a global process. Precisely because of this, capital and its political representatives, including those of a national socialist flavour, are as a life or death matter compelled to nationalise "their own" territorially specific variable capital. This is done quite consciously by the Keyneses of this world in order to impose limits upon proletarian development. Their more "practical" hangers on bloodily echo the vile refrain. In this context Churchill, Attlee, Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Khruschev and Gorbachev spring immediately to mind. When their tactical differences are placed to one side, it becomes transparently clear that they are all devoted to the suppression of communism and stand against collective labour, especially when they place themselves at its head.
Situations where Free Trade ideas and practices are disseminated throughout society are dangerous for capital because they reinforce the objectively international character of working class activity. In nineteenth century Britain this obliged the ruling class to wage a colossal ideological campaign to obscure the awkward, global truth about wage labour. We find an especially grotesque echo of that project in the same country today. The Thatcher government implements such measures as the abolition of exchange controls. Whilst being a reactionary utopia in the epoch of bourgeois decline, on paper at least all this has a certain illusory grandeur insofar as it evokes memories of the once progressive law of value. Yet, inevitably, these latterday Don Quixotes of political economy simultaneously indulge in tasteless homilies in favour of the pitifully narrow nation state, "the family", "our culture" and other tattered rags of a shabby little social order that long ago surpassed mere foulness. Be it from Thatcher, from Kinnock, from Reagan/Bush or from Gorbachev, the message is: exchange value must flourish internationally; meanwhile, give the working class flags of various patterns to dry its tears upon. Skillfully constructed drivel is disseminated through various channels to remind workers of their place within the bourgeois world. Repressive identities centred upon race, gender and the rest correspond to specific lines of fracture across abstract tabour. Capital, in other words, is obliged to concede various divisive rights to forestall full proletarianisation. Privatised shares, it is hoped, will provide additional consolation during the long cold winter nights. But the most crucial forms of working class containment are developed for and within the workplace itself.
SURROGATES FOR PLANNING
So great and unremitting is the force of combined labour that capital must permanently improvise strategies and tactics for control. It is not accidental that these increasingly mimic the democratic core of revolutionary proletarian needs. "Small groups" (relatively autonomous functional sub-entities within the capitalist division of labour), "participation," and "consultation" figure prominently in post-October management practice. Employers and their ideological representatives recognise "work groups" - even seek to construct them - as potential socialising allies of capital. Yet at a deeper level, psychologism and individuation of labour power remain the bedrock of this "human relations" charade, and necessarily so. For collective labour cannot be realised within bourgeois society. The capital form creates collective labour as potential, yet constitutes a barrier against it. It is therefore as latency that collective labour, chief location and dynamo of the need for communism, dominates the earth. The promise of communism, which is the real vindication of epochs of human suffering, is still, as Marx described it, "...an association of free individuals who work with jointly owned means of production, and wittingly expend their several labour powers as a combined social labour power." The need for communism is no more and no less than the need for such free association through a conscious ("witting") collectively evolving plan. Against this the history of the greater part of the twentieth century has been the history of administrative prevention of planning. The elemental class struggle certainly has not ceased. Moreover, it inevitably and, at times, disruptively makes itself felt even within these zones and apparatuses of external control. In the aftermath of the destruction of October, however, class struggle has failed to generate social formations transitional to communism. Instead of conscious planning we have a variety of national and, increasingly, transnational forms of administrative subordination. These complicate and qualify the operations of the law of value, but precisely in order to preserve it on a world scale. Stalinism and social democracy are, scientifically speaking, partial suspensions of the law of value, both in time and in space.
The transition to communism is in its essence the subordination of the law of value to the law of (conscious) planning, but against this movement stand the modern "organisers of labour," both Stalinist and social democratic. Only people who have lost their senses could propose that these unreformably nationalistic twin stars have developed the productive forces relative to capitalism. It is folly even to consider humanity's prospects in those terms, for both historically and within the present global economy of decay, stalinism and social democracy are the subordinate clauses of the capital form, its dependent variables. Neither can be said to possess a determinate law of motion in isolation from the bourgeois world which they exist to preserve. Enough, then, of two-campism, both in politics and, more fundamentally, within political economy. Capitalism is the only form of production on our planet which reveals an inner dynamic to move in non-contingent directions. Within its global scope, social democracy and stalinism are bourgeois mutations, not communist anticipations. They limit and in the case of stalinism, may even briefly entirely suspend the discipline of the market, but without imposing that of the consciously and democratically associating producers. Indeed, they are decisive and systematic obstacles to the latter, even where they "redistribute." Receiving presents can be nice, even if you have in fact paid for them and much more besides. But the self-emancipation of the greatest productive power on the planet is a distinct and higher process. Irrespective of their personal motivation, all "organisers of labour" who stand apart from labour itself as an objective and constraining expression of its alienated activity are, in the present epoch, organisers of decay. What they touch not merely turns to dust, but has a tendency to explode in their faces, such is the power of even latent
THE LAW OF VALUE AND LABOUR POWER
If it is to regulate social production, the law of value must regulate the existence of the working class. Social economy, under these conditions, appears as an aggregation of individualised exchange relations. This is, in fact, the everyday reality of the working class. Through this contract between this worker and this capitalist the compulsion to work is suffered as an individual responsibility rather than as a consequence of the social organisation of scarcity.
Capital is the total separation of both individual and collective producer from the means of production. As capital, that brutal rift is the form of productive human activity. The well-paid worker has no more escaped this subordination than the visibly destitute, who in turn gains nothing by appearing to stand Outside the meniality of the employed. Each is an aspect of absolute poverty, each is necessary to the subordination which they share. The one may see something to desire and resent in the specific plight of the other, but flight from one pole to the other can only be by the wings of Icarus.
Social scarcity is not a question of relative poverty, of a shortage of this or that particular commodity. The essential poverty of the working class does not even reside in an insufficiency of money, but in the unavoidability of the money form in capitalist society. What is at stake is absolute poverty, which is a process, not a quantifiable state. The producers are excluded from a direct relationship to the means of their existence. Absolute poverty is the chronic reproduction of the worker who must sell his or her capacity to labour as a commodity. The essential tendency is for tabour power to exist as something apart from the means of production, as abstract labour, atomised, alienated activity, only awaiting the impersonal call of the capitalist through the money mediation. Capital appears as the collective force, but it is combined labour that is brought into being.
The dazzling concrete diversity of combined labour both masks and facilitates the uniformity of abstract tabour. Abstract labour is manifested through and requires as its conditions, the range of concrete labours. But it is the former not the latter which reveals what is specific to value-creating labour, i.e. labour in capitalist society. Such labour has a twofold social character, but its essential nature is abstraction. Reformism, by contrast, tends to see only one pole, and the subordinate one at that. Its focus upon concrete labour and use value production "realistically" dreams away the hollowing out of life that is abstract labour. More than the phantoms of slumber inform the reformists' project: a socialism of concrete tabour. Theirs is a political project that obsessively strives to stabilise capitalist reproduction through the petrification of concrete labours (those of miners, dockers, etc). Theirs is the utopia of denying abstract labour and ideologically founding socialism on the transient forms of variable capital. Thus Bernstein in 1889 argued that "The highly-skilled fine instrument maker and the collier, the skilled house-decorator and the stoker, lead as a rule, a very different kind of life and have very different kinds of wants". From this he drew the inevitable conclusion that has sustained reformism since; there can be no distinct class politics. Political economy cannot so simply be dreamed or administered away: abstract, homogenous, human labour remains the living substance of the capital-labour relationship, and of the evolving universality of the working-class.
Combined labour, the revolutionary product of capitalist development and subject of history, is nothing less than the creation of a combined humanity. The continued subordination of this social form requires administration. Yet combined labour poses the possibility of, prospect of and need for communism. In developing the productive forces to unprecedented levels, capital socialises labour power, but within the constriction of private property. Combined labour embodies and is the principal site of the evolving need for a human existence. Capital's revolutionary historical role consists of bringing this productive power into existence. Capital must develop the productive forces as a social power in order to privately appropriate the resulting surplus, and the reproduction of labour power requires that even this is done through quasi-social forms of public administration.
Adam Smith's focus on the division of labour was revolutionary in its implications. The labour which capital divides, it must simultaneously reassemble as combined social labour. Moreover, the tendency of that social content is increasingly universal. The tragedy of capital, for capital, is that it cannot abolish the working class. Capital is compelled to seek ways to live with tile social forces of production which it creates. Because of its need for combined labour, capital cannot enduringly atomise the working class. Some labour powers may be relatively fragmented and dispersed, but only as a complication and development of social labour. Combined labour and the objective dependencies on which it rests survive managerial strategies such as reorganisation of production on multiple sites and even across continents. In fact, their effect is to develop further the working class as a world class, and to create conditions in which it becomes more and more necessary for the proletariat to recognise itself as a global force and relationship. As proletariat the working class needs and cannot help but strive towards communism.
THE ILLUSION OF A NATIONAL WORKING CLASS
The peculiar delusion that there could exist a "national proletariat" becomes more absurd with every stock market tremor. Even social democratic ideologists have begun to recognise this through notions like "meta-economy." Most spellbound in recent history have been political representatives of the working class in Britain. They have played upon and boasted about the temporary coincidence of capitalist development and British society in the nineteenth century. The root of Anglo-labourist delusions is the development of manufacturing in Britain, a fact which charlatans and naive nationalists have falsified in order to privilege that country as the confine in which capitalism first developed. We need to drop this baggage and emphasise that capitalism was always the development of a world system. The need for raw materials, labour power and markets required the subordination of all existing regimes to the needs of capital accumulation. To ensure this development, the British state had to play an international role. Yet the manufacturing base and home of capital accumulation was for a period Britain. The early development of collective labour was concentrated within the national boundaries. Nonetheless capital's real disinterest in the physical location of manufacturing found practical expression in increasing "British" investment in the USA, Argentina, Sweden and elsewhere. The coincidence of a developed collective labour and the national boundaries anticipated, in partial form, the problems of the system's decline. Britain remains a uniquely typical bastion of finance capital.
Britain is significant to world economy not least because of its early encounter with the specific problems of capitalism's decline. This is not to suggest that Britain is further down a path along which other countries can anticipate their own futures. Britain became the central location for the engineering of partial suspensions of the law of value. This would allow, at the world level, not just continued development through the law of value but also the operation of the latter in all its unfettered brutality. For world economy the achievement of the British welfare state has been a loose scab flapping over a repugnant history of slaughter and human degradation. For the world proletariat the welfare state cannot be described as a victory. At best it signals the promise of successful struggle but not the model of what can be achieved. It is precisely the political role of the welfare state, allowing the continued operation of bourgeois political economy on a world scale that makes it impossible as a future for the world proletariat. By their very nature the welfare provisions cannot be generalised but must always be partial. Indeed as the "Britishness" of the working class becomes less expedient for world economy so the more probable it becomes that Mexico City should be seen as the future of London rather than vice-versa. Whatever partial gains for the working-class it remains true that for the proletariat, as world collective labour, revolutionary self consciousness is the only destiny short of the intensification of present-day barbarism.
Suspensions of the law of value have already had significant effects on historical developments. There is little doubt that the politically stabilizing effects were crucial in the period after 1917. Whilst the Russian proletariat could not be militarily crushed they could be defeated by isolation. Already by 1917 the institutions and practices of the prevention of communism were sufficient to divide the working-class internationally. They were ready to be developed into a continuing strategy by the bourgeoisie so that the revolutionary crisis for capital could, without being resolved, be survived. Because of the nature of 1917 the Soviet Union has held a central place in the prevention of communism, especially through its disastrous effects on marxism. Yet in another sense it too remains a barbarous result of prior events in Europe. While successful prior reformist strategy helped prepare the conditions for stalinism it is also clear that stalinism became in turn a vital bolster to social democracy when it appeared to vindicate central administration.
The development of the world market permitted the fullest possible development of manufacturing in Britain. Under these conditions the proletariat could be developed as the social productive force. By 1871 agriculture was no more than one capitalist industry amongst others. Although improvements in productivity could not be ruled out, the agricultural sector no longer existed in Britain as a virgin source out of which a proletariat could be created. Other countries and the family were the reservoirs of any future labour power. What was and is significant within Britain is the social extent of the working class.
From at least the 1880s capital was persistently confronted in its homebase by developed collective labour. Since then, in addition, British manufacturing has been faced by superior and intensifying competition from abroad. Britain's privileged role as the world's workshop passed quickly and definitively. The corollary was a shift from laissez faire and internationalist free trade to the political search for the solution to a national problem. Social Imperialism and the reforming strand that was to become New Liberalism both grounded themselves in the necessity of nationalising the working class to prevent its autonomous development and so preserve stability. New Liberalism was a particularly coherent progamme for working class incorporation.
The partiality of the confrontation of capital and labour, the effective national confinement of a developed collective labour, and the global possibilities for capital, made possible and even ensured an historical fudge that would have been untenable for the totality. With varying degrees of clarity the revolutionary consequences of capital accumulation were recognised. Not only was the `social question' created but also, more significantly, several commentators noticed a disquieting internationalism amongst the working class. They drew the reformist conclusion
that worker aspirations should be directed into safer, national channels. All these reformers, charity workers, priests, journalists, bother-bodies and faffers had percieved, at a pragmatic level, that the historical counterpart to the unimpeded law of value is a revolutionary working class. The law of value compels a permanent turning over of the forms of collective labour. From its inherent necessity constantly to reinvent abstract labour and so to disabuse workers of any settled complacency in particular niches arises the universal class of propertyless outlaws.
AS AT HOME, SO ABROAD, BUT WITH A DIFFERENCE
In the containment of a class with a need to develop revolutionary theory we find the source of the most vicious aspects of capitalism's decline. From the political need to intercept the revolutionary development of the working class is born Social Imperialism, a museum attendant's plan for the preservation of capital. Social Imperialism required little more than the application of brute force abroad an to ensure a interminable delay of history on behalf of British productivity. This helped preserve and develop a relatively fixed structure of the working class. There were several supporting ideologies: eugenics, modern racism, reconstructed patriarchy, national efficiency, nationalism itself, and other special branches stapled to the tree of knowledge. Capital awakened its nocturnal professors, notably the first honoured expert in eugenics. Equally predictable were further apologetic developments within sociology and economics. To such as these we are endebted for the ideological groundwork for the mass death of world wars one and two. Max Weber deserves special thanks for his most plausible anticipatory rationalisation of the typically bureaucratic death camps.
TOWARDS SOCIAL DEMOCRACY
The problem facing the bourgeoisie was confrontation with an organised working class. There were two aspects to this eventually futile exercise. On the objective side was the social extent of the working class as the decisive productive force. On the subjective side, the working class had already shown itself capable of developing organisational forms necessary for the ultimate autonomy of its needs from those of capital. The Paris events of 1871 forced intimations of transience into the consciousness of the ruling class.
The issue of whether the working class should be organised was superceded, for the bourgeoisie, by the political question of who should do the organising and how. New Liberalism was the most coherent intellectual development that arose from this challenge. It sought direct intervention in the workers' movement, especially in the development of its consciousness. The form which this took is illustrated by the concerns of two Oxford undergraduates of the 1880's: L. T. Hobhouse and Llewellyn Smith. Impressed by the argument of visiting trade union leader, John Barnett, that the strongest barrier to social revolution was the trade union, these two enthusiasts rushed to unionise agricultural workers. Their inspiration was to endure. Hobhouse went on to become a leading theorist of New Liberalism: Llewellyn Smith became a succesful civil servant, the first Commissioner of Labour in the Board of Trade. The workers, these pioneers had become convinced, must be organised: by them.
Schemes involving state intervention gathered momentum from the 1880's. Hobhouse was hired by C. P. Scott as leader writer on the Manchester Guardian with a brief to encourage the move from traditional liberalism to a more expanded version, with "an industrial as well as a political liberty." Along with Hobhouse other intellectuals participated in this project, especially Hobson, Spender, Masterman and Massingham. Together with the Webbs and Beveridge, these were to provide the basis of the political programme of legislation for the 1906 Liberal government. Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were the chief front politicians.
THE STATE AND THE SOCIALISATION OF THE WAGE
New Liberalism proposed and secured a reformulation of the relationship of the state to labour. This was never primarily a matter of concessions made to a militant working class. The working class made no lasting unambiguous proletarian gains, even when strikes, for example, catalysed particular concessions. There was no gain that was not also a defeat. At the forefront of the state response to working class demands was the deflection of proletarian self-formation. The working class was expected to feel gratitude and, perhaps, some pride. What really changed was the form of the wage. Part of it was to be nationalised, taking the form of a collective provision. The constant theme would be the "practical remedy". Of course the practical denoted something more than its empiricist pretensions. In an article published in 1908 Masterman revealed the deeper political concern: "The answer to what is called the menace of socialism is to establish a party which offers practical remedies for social evils, and can make people realise that it feels and works for them, as well as for the commercial and industrial power of the nation." The extension and differentiation of the nationalised part of the wage was to prove the real basis for a story of progress, of social evolution, a forward march. Success lay less in improved conditions of life than in the deliberate selection and nurturing of a form of "political" representation for the working class, i.e. social democracy. The working class could appear as an historical subject yet remain within the limits of capitalism. The opening of a political channel away from production required a division within the wage. Thus was born the non-theoretical politics of variable capital outside wage labour itself. The wage form was modified but preserved now with trade unions fixed as sufficient economic negotiators, with anti-proletarian consequences for the politics of the workplace.
The national component of the wage was based, formally, on a direct recognition of need. The containment of variable capital was never as straightforward as a merely political analysis could disclose. The point is not that the working class broke through the political forms, although this is inevitable, but rather that, in order to secure political stability, it was necessary to compromise bourgeois political economy. It was essential that there be a recognition of the particularity of labour, this labour, in this place, at this time, etc. against the universalising tendency of the movement toward abstract labour. Political success required material mitigation of the conditions of abstract labour that we call absolute poverty. So contradiction was present from the inception of reform. Its early proponents were keen not only to discredit and prevent "utopian socialism", but also to avoid measures that would dry the wellspring of "economic independence" (i.e. absolute poverty) from which flowed the reproduction of the material (labour power)' of economic growth (accumulation). The dream was to fix a "respectable" working class for an indefinite period of time. At this point new types of entity inevitably came into being. Contradiction between recognition of need (practical remedies, practicable socialism, liberal socialism) and abstract labour forced a general extension of bureaucratic control throughout the society. Administration flourished, for wherever a practical remedy was proposed it was invariably handcuffed by further proposals for control of its application. Continued operation of the law of value in this way required the extending mediation of direct administration.
The contradiction between absolute poverty and need was thus not overcome but was rather carried over into bureaucracy. In attempting to hold both sides together bureaucracy, in its modern form, is the typical organisation of the prevention of communism. Its trumpeted rationality springs from recognition of need and so the possibility of setting deliberate tasks (rather than the invisible hand of money), but is itself embedded within the non-rational constrictive framework of administrative power over people. This self-contradictory form is appropriate where recognition of need remains subordinated to the preservation of existing social relations which are no longer necessary. We are confronted by a highly developed absurdity, the recognition of need alongside continued suppression of planning. The illusory universality of bureaucracy is a pitiful surrogate for the universality of humanity as collective producer. It is not surprising that the former is the object of an extensive literature that oscillates between the horrific and the comic.
For the division of the wage to appear natural, capital must present itself as the form of supercession of working class association. Yet for there to be a real supercession, absolute poverty, the money mediated atomism of the working class, must be abolished. Since the realisation of needs and absolute poverty are incompatible, one must be subordinated to the other. The bourgeois solution requires the regulation, curtailment, and containment of needs within a 'rational' framework of rules and entitlements. We have then the bureaucratic advance to ensure the fair, reasonable and equitable distribution of next to nothing. Everyone now has the right to be poor under the glorious colours of this "socialism" of poverty, scarcity, and plod. The orderly queue of aspiring recipients is one of the finest achievements of capital's decline. The housing waiting list with its filtering system of points, the D.S.S. waiting room, and the bulk of unproductive administrators necessary to ensure fair application are the verses that form together a hymn to the utter irrationality of the formal recognition of needs under absolute poverty.
The point is not that we should refuse to support the gains of the last one hundred plus years but rather that we should recognise that the gains were not simply achieved by the trade unions and social democracy - quite the contrary, it was the gains that achieved social democracy and trade unions as the economic limit on workers' organisation. The working class combines within conditions brought about by capital. Their combination is the first attempt by workers to associate against capital, which as it develops into a struggle of class against class is political. To the extent that capital succeeds in limiting trade unions as fixed economic forms, preoccupied with the working class as variable capital, they are gains for the ruling class. To these forms corresponds the apolitical sphere of politics. Insofar as this is achieved, neither "politics" nor trade unionism has an existence or life of its own, but exist as derivative aspects of capital in decline.
It is true that suspension of the law of value can mitigate the insecurities of abstract labour, and this undoubtedly means real improvements for specific groups of workers. The benefits however are always mediated by one or another contortion - nation, religion, race, gender, age or so-called skill. These partial benefits permit a claim to effectiveness on the part of reformist parties. Necessarily they are chauvinist in every sense. At the same time, in the absence of a revolutionary class, left parties tend to veer between spectacular purity and opportunism. These are twin symptoms of a refusal to confront the twentieth century through the categories of its decay, i.e. from the standpoint of communism.
THE LAW OF VALUE AND ADMINISTRATION
Debate over poverty was at the centre of the reform programme 'developed by the New Liberals from the 1880s. Bentham's utilitarianism was an adequate philosophical framework for the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Its raw conception of pleasure-pain only needed a chaotic mass of atomised individuals seeming to plead for external discipline from the good shepherd. Bentham, at the close of the eighteenth century, captured the necessary inseparability of absolute poverty, the law of value and capitalist production by correctly observing: "If the conditions of persons maintained without property by the labour of others were rendered more eligible, than that of persons maintained by their own labour then... individuals destitute of property would be continually withdrawing themselves from the class of persons maintained by their own labour, to the class of persons maintained by the labour of others."
Inspired by these principles, Bentham's former secretary, Edwin Chadwick, helped give the law of value its programmatic expression. In his 1832 poor law report Chadwick attacked the previous system because workers had been "under the strongest inducement to quit the less eligible class of labourers and enter the more eligible class of paupers." The subsequent legislation required a sharp distinction between poverty and pauperism, not only conceptually, but on the point of pain. The workhouse test asked the appropriate utilitarian questions. Pauperism and dependency had to be separated from poverty so that workers could grow in virtue along the latter path. Chadwick came to the point: "Poverty is the state of everyone who in order to obtain subsistence is forced to have recourse to labour." Engels justly described the legislation of 1834 as "the most open declaration of war by the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat".
The New Poor Law marked a programmatic highpoint of capitalism entering its maturity from the side of youth. It was necessarily against this that reformers like Hobhouse sought enlarged state intervention. Needs were so subordinated to accumulation that the wage was entirely production related. Hobhouse described it as a system that withheld "...all external supports" and so helped teach "the working classes to stand alone", to have "economic independence". Such atomist practice could not take account of the working class as a collective phenomenon. Specifically, it excluded the possibility for improvement through political action. New Liberals pursued a tactical division of the wage to include collective provision. This would permit working class advance that did not supercede the law of value.
The issues in the debate were revealed in the 1880's, especially as they related to unemployment and trade unions. In 1886 the West End Riot had focused the anxiety of polite society. The out of work ransacked shops from Piccadilly up through Mayfair and into Oxford Street. Their extraordinarily ferocious attack on property became the focus of respectable fears. Undoubtedly this boosted the flow of funds to the Mansion House fund for the unemployed. It was, though, in the dilemmas that accompanied the distribution of these funds that the point of growth of the welfare state apparatus becomes apparent. Defenders of the poor law and laissez-faire, the Charity Organisation Society (COS) criticised the hurried and haphazard relief, since it did not investigate whether the recipients were worthy, or might be corrupted to the path of dependency. The COS represented the orthodox view that the out of work were distinct individuals, each of whom should be dealt with on a casework basis: each would continue to be assessed according to character and moral condition. However, the prying moral judgement, appropriate to poor law `independence', was inadequate when the unemployed were perceived as part of the collective threat.
The correctness of tide COS view could not mean a return to their practice but pointed to the requirement for more "scientific" administrative channels. If the collective threat required the inclusion of the working class through collective provision, then for the subordination of the class this provision itself had to be subordinated. The spur to surplus value appropriation is blunted once the visible hand of relief erodes the invisible hand of the market for labour power: only an extension of administration to reproduce working class subordination can then hold the show together. Administration would include checking "availability for work", identity, validity of claim, means and the pursuit of fraud, all to muffle contradiction to the law of value: recognition of need had to be clearly delineated within the overall operation of the law of value.
Parallel policy was mapped out for the employed labour force. New Unionism had shown that organisation could spread to previously unorganised, casual, unskilled workers. Yet despite the threat, some form of unionism was recognised by Progressives as a means of containing working class Organisation. Their concern explains the extent of middle class support for New Unionism in 1889.
The dockers' strike of that year encapsulates many of the themes that were to be developed by the New Liberals, fabians, and labourism generally. As important as the pay rise, the dockers won recognition of the union. This was a significant limitation of the law of value. Previously, subject to short term hiring, dockers had lived the law of value daily. Now the union card was to be the passport to work in the docks. This had two consequences. First, by restricting the potential labour force, workers could assert far greater control over the labour process. Second, if the docker's card was necessary for docker's work, then its absence could leave him workless. The general extension of trade unionism necessarily entailed the emergence of unemployment as a social concept. The bourgeoisie conclude from this that unions cause unemployment: both are actually sides of the same bourgeois administrative apprehension of the working class.
The Liberal government of 1906-12 put into practice what had Previously been tentative, pragmatic, or haphazard. They were now the holders of a more thorough philosophical underpinning. As well as that, there was widespread interest in the example set by Bismark's state provisions. J. A. Spender and Lloyd George had gone over to see for themselves. They saw that the future worked, and returned convinced of the need for a more developed British version to stave off social revolution. With the election of the Liberals they could begin the process of placing this inspiration on the statute book.
Proto-social democrats like Beveridge, moreover, were at pains to enhance the "male breadwinner" assumption within their programme. Nineteenth century trade unionism in this respect provided expedient precedents. Those women who did enter paid employment had to find -means to reconcile it with the patriarchal home. The familial subordination of women was confirmed within the domestic side of the reproduction of labour power, while their direct proletarianisation was staved off. The ground was thus laid for the extension of a reserve army of labour status and therefore a double burden in the twentieth century: disadvantaged as labour power, and specifically oppressed within the family.
Within the early century legislative programme, trade unions and unemployment were the central themes. One of the first initiatives was to change the relation of unions to the law. The Taff Vale decision was reversed by the Trade Disputes Act of 1906 that restored a relatively secure legal status. Inseparable from the advancement of political space to the unions was an acceleration of their being drawn towards the state. The national Insurance Act of 1911 was the first legal recognition of the social concept of unemployment. Previously insurance schemes for the unemployed were union run. Now there were incentives to bring them within a general public administration. Spender explained the overall purpose as being to divert the working class both from the restrictive path of tariffs (threatening global fluidity of capital) and from social revolution. The 1911 measures and others (e.g.pensions) that made up the New Liberal policies constituted the earliest sustained programme for the administrative freezing of the working class.
Within the working class there was a widespread conception of the autonomy of its interests from those of capital. Moreover, the 'state socialism' of the New Liberals was explicitly opposed within the syndicalism of that period. The unrest following 1910 was characterised by struggles in which direct action was a vital component. This content, expressed in the struggle itself, reflected the real collectivity of combined labour and pointed not just past the particular organisational forms but also beyond the class's atomisation and one-sided unification under capital. It was a preliminary appearance of planning. The strength and spread of grassroots activity was much remarked on in this period especially by those who perceived it as a threat. Ruling class alarm was strengthened by the events of October 1917. The trajectory of the postwar working class, its revolutionary inclinations, was a dominating feature of the whole inter-war period, and the bourgeoisie knew it. Thus, even when the immediate political crisis had passed, its reverberations continued to sustain reform. The character of working class organisation had become a vital question. For the bourgeoisie this required a deliberate fixing of forms against their incipient revolutionary content. Churchill later complained that at the height of the working class militancy, in February 1919: "The curse of trade unionism was that there was not enough of it, and it was not highly enough developed to make its branch secretaries [let alone, its rank and file] fall into line with the head office."
Throughout the following period public provision was expanded and trade union leaders were encouraged. From 1913 to 1922 state expenditure on social services as a proportion of national income doubled to 10%. The general trend of expansion continued along bourgeois lines. The 1945 Labour government was not the crowning achievement of a maturing working class movement, but the continuation of a ruling class strategy first codified by the New Liberals, and predicated on marginalisation of the left. New Liberal thinking pervaded the Attlee regime. At centre stage were Beveridge and, of course, Keynes.
Keynes, active since world war one in New Liberalism, was its culmination. His General Theory developed the formulae for an overall economic management that had at its centre "national income." Keynes pursued New Liberalism to the point where it offered domestic policy targets, especially for employment which a national consensus could be formed. He saw it as his aim to provide the Labour Party with an "economically sound" policy. Labour would thus concentrate upon "the practical", a notion more recently promoted by Alec Nove under the, utopian banner of "feasible socialism". Keynes proposed in 1932 that "...in the modern world it has to be one thing or the other. Either the revolutionary motif- must prevail or the practical motif." He recognised, moreover, that "great changes will not be carried out except with the active aid of labour". The instrument would be the Labour Party: it alone could provide the spirit that "loves the ordinary man", while the liberals would provide "technical knowledge". To prove their soundness, policies would have to satisfy "...the criticism and precaution of Liberals". It was a very precise division of labour. Where the law of value has commodity fetishism, its modification required the fetishism of the expert, the rational limitation of consciousness. The right solution, for Keynes, would involve "intellectual and scientific elements", i.e. people of his character, calibre and class.
If such a "forward march of labour" could successfully prevent communism, this did not mean the uneventful continuation of capitalism. Prevention was not cure but an aspect of decline. The dynamic of capital can only rest on the law of value. On this there is no choice. The prevention of communism itself becomes a barrier to accumulation. By its very nature, as political project, it favours the stability of the present, a short-run conception of the working class in its concrete forms, and must do so at the expense of retarding development in relation to other centres. This works so long as working class struggle is contained, profits are not fundamentally threatened and advances abroad are not too overwhelming. It is on these points that the New Right led its recent counter-attack on welfare, trade unions and the economic management of the preceding decades. Existing administered policy targets were identified as contributing to a crisis of the system through chronic political accommodation to national labour, so curbing 'economic evolution', what Schumpeter had called 'the perennial gale of creative destruction' and what Marx discovered as the accumulation of capital. Administration can forestall communism but ultimately only at the expense of accumulation. Capitalism does not rise but decays into the prevention of communism.
Combined labour makes the prevention of communism an unavoidable hallmark of capitalism in decline. Capital, therefore, can only try to administer the inevitable crises alongside and as part of continuing attempts to administer the class. Though they cannot directly understand the law of value, the free marketeers do recognise its essential practice. The policy of the present British government is to reunify the wage within the sphere of production. The ideology of consumer choice is founded on the primacy of production and hence production relations. Choice, in capitalist society, presupposes the reunified wage from which it shall be exercised. The economic independence of the poor law is, today, glorified and generalised as consumer choice. Beneath the rhetoric lies an intensification of the basis of capitalist production: absolute poverty.
The bankruptcy of the forms of the prevention of communism stands behind the right's appeal - absurd when scrutinised - to the sovereignty of the consumer. Given their subordination to the law of value, it is scarcely surprising that these forms should be discredited in a period of profound crisis. This, however, is not simply a popularity contest. Stalinism and social democracy have no motion of their own. They are dependent upon, yet restrict, even while assisting, capital. The most significant concrete example, globally, is the Soviet Union. There, much as in China, the decomposition of stalinism is a daily process. The centre never held, and now things fall apart: even the men of marble are driven to admit as much.
The logic of the Gorbachev reforms is some restoration of market relations, not to gratify consumers, but as an aspect of labour intensification and the disciplining of the working class at work. The leaders have no choice: the myth of Soviet planning and its vaunted successes is discredited by their own confessions, as it was already by science. From the standpoint of the elite, every workplace must become a gulag.
The dependent forms offer no viable future. In the course of their demise, the free market utopia can present itself against them as the only alternative. In the short term this undoubtedly lends credibility to the Thatcher regime and its international clones. Yet events taking place within the Soviet Union and stalinism internationally must be welcomed by the left. Gorbachev and all he stands for is and can only be Stalinism's final service to the bourgeoisie. No longer does stalinism merely endorse the Hayekian antithesis of central planning versus the market: it actually asserts the superiority of the latter. All ideologies founded on the characterisation of the Soviet Union as a worker's state, however "degenerated", are thereby dissolved. By raising the white flag for reasons of social economy, Gorbachev reduces these barriers against proletarian development to splinters. The drive which he must continue is towards the market, even though this means the demise of the elite and therefore of himself.
Yet where the law of value does operate in the epoch of decline, and in the face of combined labour, it still requires a framework of administration: be it in the form of "training" structures, Freeport mini-police states, closely monitored education, or whatever. Absolute poverty is increasingly imposed through the mediation of more rigorously coercive administrative aparatuses. Without such an institutional framework, involving new and more intransigent bureaucracies, the "right to work" is sentimental nonsense. Gorbachev's KGB and their bourgeois counterparts shake hands at this juncture and drink a toast to glasnost.
A movement for communism must break the ideological association between stalinism and social democracy on the one hand, and planning on the other. Planning is the social presence of the freely associating proletariat and, beyond that, the human form of existence.
D.Binns and W.Dixon