First published in 1995 in France: Section One, “The Historical Balance Sheet” includes chapters on: communist movements throughout history; Marx and Engels and communism; “Real” vs. “Formal” domination of capital and the importance of this distinction for understanding the failure of the old workers movements (capitalism was not “obsolete” prior to 1945). Section Two, “Perspectives”, contains an extensive discussion of: the economic roots of capitalism’s current crisis (the “final stage of its cycle”); the communist revolution; and socialism.
General Theory: From the Lower Stage of Socialism
to the Higher Stage of Socialism (or Communism)
As we saw in Chapter I, communism is a movement that has existed throughout the history of humanity, appearing under various ideological rubrics (religious, philosophical) and finally ended up, with Marxism, by providing itself with a rational and scientific foundation: with the development of the capitalist mode of production, Marxism sees the real possibility for communism; furthermore, it claims that it is a necessity.
For Marx, communism is not an “ideal” understood as the aspiration for a kind of perfect society, it is “a new and superior society”,1 a “higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending”.2 Engels is even more explicit with regard to this point: “Just as knowledge is unable to reach a perfected termination in a perfect, ideal condition of humanity, so is history unable to do so; a perfect society, a perfect ‘state’, are things which can only exist in imagination. On the contrary, all successive historical situations are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher.”3 Although such an idea has often been imputed to it, in Marxism there is no eschatology that would make communism appear as the “Last Judgment” of history.
While communism is not the end of human development but only a higher stage of its evolution, it is nonetheless indisputable that it constitutes a decisive change. Up until now history has witnessed transformations that have changed the form of human society, but without changing it in a more profound sense. Thus, if one considers the State, property and classes, one realizes that they have undergone a whole series of metamorphoses: the monarchic State has become the bourgeois democratic State, the class of feudal lords has been replaced by the bourgeoisie, and landed property, based on serfdom, has been replaced by capitalist industrial property, based on wage labor. All of these things have modified the conditions of exploitation and domination, but have not done away with them. Communism, on the other hand, by implying the suppression of the State, private property and classes in favor of the “community of free and equal producers” (Engels), stands out as a radical change that constitutes a radical break with everything humanity has known until now; this accounts for the accusation that it seeks an “earthly paradise”, that it is a “doctrine of salvation” with an “operational messiah” (the proletariat), since its goal has no precedents, if one excepts a very remote stage of history referred to as “primitive communism” that is, however, very hard to discuss with precision, although Engels, in his The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State thought he could discuss the question accurately enough, basing his comments on the works of Lewis H. Morgan. This is why, because communism is an attempt to introduce something that is really new, it is denounced by the established order as a heresy that, like all heresies, is accused of every evil, burned at the stake and slandered with the ignominious epithet of “deadly utopia”. This situation of proscription and infamy will last until communism becomes “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things”, as Marx said, since for the moment it is still an unresolved enigma of history. “[T]he practical realization of socialism as an economic, social and juridical system,” Rosa Luxemburg wrote, “is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future. What we possess in our program is nothing but a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look for the necessary measures, and the indications are mainly negative in character at that.”4 Today, after the enormous confusion introduced by the false communisms of the East, those mists have become even more opaque. Even the great signposts that Rosa Luxemburg evoked seem to have disappeared, or else only point in extremely dubious and contradictory directions, if one pays attention to the declarations of some who presume to speak—for good or for ill—of socialism and communism. Without indulging in the “formulation of recipes for the cook-shops of the future”, it is thus of overriding importance to recall its fundamental principles.
“The association of free men who work with the means of production and who employ, following a concerted plan, their numerous individual forces as a single force of social labor (. . . ); the work of freely associated men who act consciously and are masters of their own social activity”5 ; “free and equal association of the producers”6 ; such was for Marx and Engels the form of socialism. Association—this is the key word of socialism: individuals, instead of acting, as in capitalism, each for himself, associate with one another for the purposes of common labor. This simple definition of socialism already allows it to be distinguished from certain false socialisms.
Thus, we may consider the case of enterprise socialism or “self-management”. This variety of “socialism” understands the latter term as making the workers the owners of the enterprise. In fact, there is no trace in this conception of any kind of “communitarian social order” (Marx). In essence, it has changed nothing: the enterprise is still autonomous, and therefore competes with other enterprises in the same sector; for this reason, it is the market rather than a “concerted plan” that regulates production, and is therefore subject to all the fluctuations of the market; finally, as in capitalism, there will be enterprises that will be “winners” (the workers in the competitive enterprises) and “losers” (the workers in the less profitable enterprises who will be laid off). Briefly, this is not socialism: there is no real association of producers that supersedes the limits of the enterprise; there is only a bad avatar of the capitalist system that has in fact already failed: thus, in the former Yugoslavia and in Algeria, countries that claimed, to one degree or another, to have been based on such “self-management socialism”.
The other major type of false socialism is the one that, for its part, also expropriates the owners of the enterprises, but this time in favor of a State outside the control of the workers. This State is in the hands of a State bourgeoisie that, by enjoying a de facto possession of the means of production, decides what must be produced and in what quantity, while also imposing the logic of profit. Such a bourgeoisie undoubtedly plans production, but not in order to satisfy the needs of the workers, but for the purpose of capital accumulation, by means of the systematic exploitation of the workers’ labor power. Such a system, which makes the nationalization of the economy synonymous with “socialism”, was already denounced in his time by Engels as a false socialism,7 because, as he wrote, “the transformation into State property does not suppress the character of the productive forces as capital”. But it is quite clear that Engels had not yet seen anything like State capitalism. This was to be established on a grand scale during the 20th century in Stalinist Russia. This false socialism, however, was nothing but a bad avatar of capitalism, as its recent disintegration and economic bankruptcy testify.
Thus, if socialism corresponds to management of production by the workers themselves, this “self-management”, if one wants to preserve this phrase at all costs, is utterly without semblance to a truncated vision of this idea that consists in managing “their” enterprise, which would not amount to much and would only reproduce a system of private appropriation; likewise, if socialism is undoubtedly a planned economic system, this cannot be confused with State management of production that escapes the will of the workers: “. . . united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon a common plan, thus taking it under their own control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of capitalist production....”8
If the form assumed by socialism is an “association of producers”, its content is production that is not undertaken for the market. Since the goal of production will not be profit, that is, money and capital, but the satisfaction of human needs, it is clear that the market will no longer have any reason to exist: the market is not, as it seems at first sight, the showcase of use values offered to the customer, but the network of sales that allow the surplus value seized from the workers in production to be realized in its money form by means of the sale of commodities; in other words, the market is the place where capital realizes its profit, since use values are nothing for capital but exchange values. Hence, “[w]ithin the cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production the producers do not exchange their products; similarly the labor spent on the products no longer appears as the value of these products....”9 Engels was just as explicit: “The seizure of the means of production by society eliminates commodity production and with it the domination of the product over the producer. The anarchy within social production is replaced by consciously planned organization.”10 From this point on, if the producers do not exchange their products and do not have to measure their exchange value, it is clear that socialism has suppressed money. In its place, the worker receives “a certificate stating that he done such and such an amount of work (after the labour done for the communal fund has been deducted), and with this certificate he can withdraw from the social supply of means of consumption as much as costs an equivalent amount of labour. The same amount of labour he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another”.11
Socialism, while not suppressing all control functions (it needs a “labor coupon”12 that testifies that the individual has supplied a certain quantity of labor to society), does suppress wage labor: what the individual receives in exchange for his labor corresponds (after the deduction for social funds, such as replacement of machinery, buildings, etc.) to the number of hours of labor that he has supplied, and not just the time required to reproduce his labor power as under capitalism, where the rest constituted a surplus value that was taken from him and monopolized by private enterprise. It is true that the remuneration is still unequal to some extent because it is proportional to each person’s labor: one person can work more than another person; one may undertake complex labor, another simple labor. The rule is therefore “to each according to his labor” or “according to his abilities”.
These surviving inequalities correspond to “defects”, as Marx described them, but they “are inevitable in the first stage of communist society as it is just emerging from capitalist society, after a long and difficult birth process”. Only when “the springs of collective wealth flow abundantly” will a mode of remuneration be introduced that will be characterized as “to each according to his needs”: in this stage, there will no longer be any accounting for each person’s labor, everyone can help themselves to the common wealth without any regulation. And what if it should occur to some individuals to plunder the social storehouses? This is the kind of question that shows that one has not managed to separate oneself from bourgeois society, where everything is bought and sold. In fact, in such a stage of social development, having overcome the reign of necessity, the idea of hoarding consumption goods as if a crisis will break out at any moment would never occur to anyone. Let us concede, however, that such behavior could take place: if by chance someone were to behave in this manner, the only advice they would receive would be to check into a psychiatric hospital to get some help!
This higher stage of communist society corresponds to the reign of freedom. For the bourgeoisie of France in 1789, this freedom was the freedom of trade, of market concourse and the unlimited exploitation of the new class of slaves, the wage workers, which the capitalist mode of production had engendered. In a supplementary way, freedom also involved the freedom of “conscience” and the “spirit”, such as the philosophers of the Enlightenment had envisioned it, in a totally idealistic way: because each person was endowed with reason, he could forge his own intimate conviction, a freely-arrived at personal opinion, independent of the influences of the environment, of economic and social determinations and the ruling ideologies of society.... For Marxism, “ ... the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production.”13 On that basis we shall set the record straight. Marxism, which has always been accused of being “reductive” due to the primacy of the economy (which, in fact, in class societies essentially determines all other human activities and explains history) has the goal of attaining a stage of human development where the economy is no longer destiny: with the passage from the reign of necessity to that of freedom, “[t]he struggle for individual existence comes to an end. It is only at this point that man finally separates in a certain sense from the animal kingdom, and that he passes from animal conditions of existence to really human ones”.14 Marxism is therefore not an “economism” but a humanism; not an abstract humanism, like bourgeois humanism, but a concrete humanism, based on the high degree of development of the material forces of production that provide man with the opportunity to free himself from the labor imposed by scarcity and external necessity: “ ... the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.”15
“The free development of the individual”, Marx writes. This, too, is precisely the opposite of the view of communism that all the professional anticommunists, whether of the right or the left, want to propagate: that of a society where the individual is reduced to nothing and where the population is an ignorant herd governed by a handful of omnipotent masters. This perspective is the complete opposite of the communist one: the latter involves the man who is capable of self-development and of growth on every plane of culture, since “in order to take gratification in a many-sided way, he must be capable of many pleasures [genussfähig], hence cultured to a high degree”, Marx wrote.16
In a passage of the Grundrisse, Marx wrote: “In fact, however, when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature17 as well as of humanity's own nature? The absolute working-out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming?”18 From now on, the development of society means nothing but human development; the latter corresponds to the rule of man over what had previously ruled him, and alienated him—nature, the economy, possession, property—placing him in a position of real freedom, as Marx said, “beyond the sphere of actual material production”.
Rosa Luxemburg thought that, besides “a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look for the necessary measures”—which we just briefly outlined—“no key in any socialist party program or textbook” can supply precise information regarding “the thousand concrete, practical measures, large and small, necessary to introduce socialist principles into economy, law and all social relationships”. All these things can only be, she said, the fruit of experience, which is the only way of “correcting and opening new ways”. She did not see this as a weakness “but rather the very thing that makes scientific socialism superior to the utopian varieties”, which were always ready to fabricate complete imaginary systems down to even the smallest detail.19 This assessment of Rosa Luxemburg’s is correct: communism cannot be elaborated theoretically in its entirety in advance; only practical experience can provide the necessary details. Without, however, succumbing to utopian musings, it is not prohibited to inquire what aspects of socialism, in today’s conditions, can be realized relatively quickly. This is what we shall now strive to deduce.
“The immediate relevance of the communist project (. . .) It is no longer socialism (understood as a transitional phase between capitalism and communism) but communism itself, immediately, which the workers movement must place at the top of its agenda,” Alain Bihr writes.20
Here is a “project” that is, at first glance, seductive and audacious, but whose validity must be subjected to some scrutiny.
In order to justify such a direct passage to communism, Bihr claims that socialism has already been realized by ... capitalism itself. As a result of pressure from the workers movement and the “strategy of integration” it adopted during the Fordist period, capitalism has therefore realized, by its own paths and in its own way, which can be described as both incomplete and a form of parody, at least some of the objectives of socialism.21 In other words, Eduard Bernstein was right: socialism can be introduced gradually within capitalism by means of a whole series of reforms, and a succession of pressure tactics, that will ultimately “contaminate it”. And this is just what has happened, Bihr tells us, in the end, almost.... And then he enumerates for us the “socialist goals” that have been achieved: “the increase and socialization of the productive forces, and the consequent rise of the ‘standard of living’ of the proletariat, the satisfaction of a certain number of its basic needs (housing, health care, elementary and secondary education, culture and leisure), the establishment of social security (in fact, socialization of individual risk), recognition of the individual and collective rights of the workers, whether in the workplace or society or the State, but also the socialization of society, the raising of the cultural level of the population, State control over economic and social development, etc. And by realizing these socialist goals, capitalism has simultaneously brought about the maturation of the preconditions, both objective and subjective, of the passage to communism.”22 Obviously, as Bihr concedes, taking all of this as an approximation to socialism would be “incomplete and a form of parody”, but despite everything it is still a kind of “real socialism” that, far from having “collapsed” like the one in the East, is completely healthy, ready to set forth on the road to full and complete communism....
To present the most minor social reform and the smallest State intervention as “socialism” is what the right wing bourgeois parties have always done when they are trying to frighten their conservative supporters. Obviously, Bihr shares this conception of “socialism” with them, although he feels a certain disdain for it, preferring what he calls “the communist utopia”. Bihr is trying to make us confuse the gymnasium with magnesium by assimilating socialism to a somewhat reformed and “just” capitalism “with a human face”, the kind of capitalism that was more or less realized in the highly developed countries after 1945, but which was only a hiatus in capitalism’s career, a hiatus which, in turn, is coming to an end, something that Bihr has not perceived. Socialism, as we gather from Marx’s formulation, is “the lower stage of communist society”. Thus, it already constitutes a break with capitalism, since it suppresses wage labor, the market and money, replacing them, as we saw above, with the principle of “to each according to his labor”, a “concerted plan” of production and the “labor coupon”.
In fact, the only serious element that Bihr observes in capitalism that could lead one to think that communism (or the higher stage of socialism) was currently a reality, is when he evokes “the growth and socialization of the productive forces” achieved by the western capitalist societies. For having before one’s eyes the enormous productive powers of industry that have advanced machine production almost to the point of full automation, one could ask oneself if communist society, the society that is almost totally liberated from necessary labor that Marx had envisaged, was indeed on the agenda. It might seem at first sight that all the material preconditions were in place to enable such a leap into the future, skipping the socialist stage. In reality, nothing of the kind is true and we shall show why it is not.
In the first place, we shall note that while capitalism has indeed developed the material productive forces to a great extent, this development remains geographically limited: if we except one zone, essentially in the west, what prevails in the rest of the world is above all economic backwardness, underdevelopment, and poverty, with their consequences of misery, undernourishment, sometimes famine, overpopulation, hunger and, quite frequently, chaos. In these conditions, can one seriously speak of “the reality of communism”? If one answers in the affirmative, it seems to be clear that such a communism is not for the whole world, but only for a minority of privileged persons in the west who have been liberated from necessary labor thanks to a super-developed machine technology, who work no more than ten or fifteen hours a week, while the immense majority of humanity is still cruelly confronted by all the problems that go along with underdevelopment.
It will immediately be seen what kind of contradiction arises when one fails to take account of the unequal development that capitalism has imposed and which the revolutionary movement will necessarily inherit when it comes to power. For the latter, as a result, there will be no question of speaking casually about the “reality of the communist project”, but of the reality of the socialist project that, in turn, will mean, among other things, developing the productive forces in every part of the world where they are sorely lacking. In other words, for the developed countries, the task at hand will not be to put an end to all productive efforts and to establish a “communism” that can only be reserved for a small minority of well-endowed countries, which would be another outrageous imposture, but to engage in an energetic program of aid for the economically backward countries, sending them, at no cost (and therefore without passing through an exchange of equivalents), vital means of production (machines, buildings, etc.). Such aid from the developed countries, by raising the productive level of the backward countries, will allow them to produce what is necessary for their most pressing needs and, therefore, to prevent socialism from becoming, for them, a socialization of misery. Thus, instead of shedding crocodile tears for them, accompanied by a few well-orchestrated charity operations for publicity purposes, as is the case now, there will be real socialist solidarity coming from the developed countries. It will be socialist because it will imply a break with the logic of the market that primarily benefits the rich countries, and thus widens the gap between them and the poor countries, as the latter are unable, due to their structural backwardness, to confront the challenge of competition, except in a few sectors. Instead of this market without frontiers that “adjusts” and crushes them, there will be the implementation of a socialist world plan, the only kind capable of saving the world economy from the state of disequilibrium, anarchy and incoherence into which capitalism has plunged it. As for the higher stage of socialism, it will be placed on the agenda only when the entire planet is economically prepared to make such a leap, which will require quite some time, that is, a whole historical epoch.
This preliminary stage of socialism is indispensable, because one must consider one other factor. Today there are five and a half billion individuals on the planet’s surface and some estimates suggest there will be eight billion by the year 2020. Keeping this in mind, for communism to be the reflection of the principle of “to each according to his needs”, that is, a mode of distribution without restriction and without accounting, it can be seen from the first glance, given the scale of world population, that it would be impossible to achieve this goal. It will therefore be the task of the lower stage of socialism to reduce the world population to a reasonable level, and at least to put an end to the out-of-control population growth, by raising the standard of living of the underdeveloped zones, where families are large because of poverty, a phenomenon that is easy to verify because wherever capitalism has been able to carry out real development, the population has more or less stopped growing, and has even in some cases decreased, as can be demonstrated in all the western countries. Only if this condition is fulfilled can communism begin to be implemented.
Let us proceed yet further. Communism will not be immediately possible in the developed countries, either. Capitalism has only created the preconditions for socialism in these countries (the expansion of the productive forces and the socialization of production), while the preconditions for communism imply the suppression of the division of labor between manual and intellectual labor and the creation of an adequate living environment, which is far from the case today.
For as it currently exists the capitalist organization of society and labor is not suitable for communism. It must first be completely turned upside down. In its course of development capitalism has turned the countryside into a desert and has crowded individuals into gigantic megalopolises that, with their concentrated urbanism, crisscrossed by the tentacles of a vast transport network, has created a dehumanized, anonymous and disproportionately oversized universe that socialism must subject to a complete transformation. Its task will be to bring about a new organization of society, one in which men can radically transform their living conditions, so that wherever they live they will comprise a community of labor, habitation, and creative relations, breaking with the old environment created by capitalism. It will thus be necessary for socialism to apply a new pattern to the use of the land, which will imply a whole labor of transformation and will require an entire transitional stage. The same could be said of the “multifaceted development of the individuals” that Marx evokes when he speaks of communism. It would be totally unrealistic to think that, after the break with capitalism, the division between manual and intellectual labor will magically disappear. It will be socialism’s task to make it gradually disappear by means of ongoing education for everybody in various disciplines; this will be one aspect of socialist production. Advanced capitalism has indeed reduced labor time, but only in order to fill the time thereby liberated with “entertainment” that, for the most part, is devoted to distracting people from any higher interests. Socialism will tend to allow the gestation of the most complete men possible, who will be raised to knowledge in various fields and, as a result, will be much less likely to allow themselves to be totally given over to futile or passive entertainment, like that which consists in killing boredom by passing the time watching television. Here as well it will be the task of socialism to bring about the maturation of communism, this time on the plane of culture.
Without the advent of this new culture, there will be no higher stage of socialism. For, as the latter is defined economically by the principle of “to each according to his needs”, if such a socialism were to be established all at once in a few highly advanced countries, it would not last very long: because it will not demand any “labor coupon” testifying to the fact that individuals have participated in production, it will run the risk that many people will just help themselves to the social wealth as they please, due to a lack of sufficient socialist education. With all control having been abolished, the social wealth will be rapidly exhausted and production, due to a lack of any coercion in labor, will end up collapsing. In other words, the utopia of “immediate communism” would quite likely plunge into chaos. Only after a transitional stage that would allow for the rise of a “new man” will it be possible for such a communist “going for broke”.
In short, what is now placed on the agenda by history is socialism (or the lower stage of communism). Socialism, given the current state of unequal development on a world scale, can only be reached in different stages. In some underdeveloped countries it will still only be embryonic, while in the highly advanced countries, on the other hand, it will have a much more elaborate configuration, so that it is already possible to provide a clear outline of its features.
Socialist goals can be quickly attained in the highly developed countries:
A Concerted Plan
Socialism replaces the market with a system of planning. However, as Engels had already observed in 1891, the existence of a system of planning is by itself not a sufficient condition to allow us to say that we are in a socialist economy.23 If the goal of the plan is to embrace entire industrial sectors, it is an aspect of monopoly capitalism, and if it includes the whole economy of a nation, for the purpose of capital accumulation, as was the case in the former USSR, it is State Capitalism.
What Marx and Engels understood by planning, as we have seen, was a “common plan”, “a concerted plan”, that “of the associated producers”. This clearly indicates that the plan could not be the responsibility of a few “specialists” or “bureaucrats”, but must be the fruit of the workers themselves, at least in its general contours: since production is no longer directed towards profit and capital accumulation, it will be the task of the workers to determine what must be produced in view of real needs. The capitalist European Union also engages in a system of planning. Thus, it restricts the production of wheat, of sheep, of milk and of steel by setting quotas for the purpose of preventing the collapse of prices due to overproduction. All of these measures are taken within the framework of the market and determined “from above” by large financial institutions. A socialist European plan, freed from the imperatives of the market and the private interests of major capitalist power centers, will only have to deal with the needs of the collectivity that will in turn have to be redefined. For within capitalism the idea of needs includes a whole mass of commodities offered on the market whose use value is extremely debatable. These run the gamut from the sacrosanct individual automobile (including all the overpasses, bridges and highways that disfigure the landscape), the television with thirty networks (a faithful model of all the crap released over the years) to a throng of products that are purely and simply useless. Consequently, the socialist plan will have the mission of carrying out a process of selection from among all the products that capitalism has produced and of which a large part is harmful, dangerous (such as automobile traffic, which causes 500,000 deaths a year throughout the world), alienating and antisocial. On the other hand, unlike capitalist production, which is condemned to constant expansion on pain of collapse, socialist production will not have the goal of “always more”, but “always better”: as opposed to the so-called “consumer society”, which inundates the market with the products of planned obsolescence, which causes an enormous amount of waste and a deterioration of natural resources, socialist production will produce goods that will be subject to constant improvement. Finally, while capitalism is oriented towards a production of goods that pander to individualist psychology (such as the automobile or the individual home), socialism will tend to confer upon goods a social and collective character in order to enhance the community spirit and the impulse for mutual aid.
The elaboration of such a plan will not have any value unless it starts from below so as to later proceed upwards. This means that it will require the participation of all the workers, who will be responsible for making a certain number of decisions concerning the plan. How? By open discussion and majority rule. Some wrong choices could of course be made. How can this be remedied? By the tough, authoritarian way, that imposes its views from above? This way, while easy, is illusory. One certainly could and must denounce and criticize errors, point out other roads to follow (this would be the task of the political vanguard), but their adoption cannot be imposed by force. Only experience and practice can lead to setting the plan on the right path.
This having been said, however democratic the plan’s elaboration may be, it must ultimately result in a concentration of goals to be achieved, without which it would be impossible to speak of a “plan”. It is therefore necessary for the plan to have a certain coercive aspect. For labor will continue to be necessary as a means to live. In the conditions of its recent emergence from capitalist society, socialist society will not be able to tolerate those who are unwilling to work, loafers and exploiters. It will therefore impose a social authority and the “associated producers” will have to respect it, abating the freedom to do what one will at the expense of the collectivity. Otherwise, total freedom will reign. There is no reason to prohibit customs, habits, opinions, religious convictions or other legacies of the past. These things will not disappear because they are made illegal, or because of ideological terror. Only the increasingly more elaborate establishment of new social relations in production and social life in general can make a “new man” arise, which can neither be imposed in accordance with a pre-established model nor created by forcing people to conform to this model under threat of punishment.
The Reduction of Labor Time
Today, capitalism excludes a mass of workers who are condemned to live on social assistance, when they are not just abandoned to beggary. It speaks of “sharing the work”, but this can only mean one thing: reducing wages so that they don’t have any negative impact on the profitability of capital, and everything else that is said is nothing but demagogy and deception. Socialism, by rapidly taking steps to eliminate entire sectors of commodity production, will not have to worry about the problems of “profitability”, “productivity gains” or “market shares”; producing on the basis of needs, it will only have to enact a simple system of accounting: to produce such and such an item, given the means of production available, will require so and so many hours of labor, and therefore all that needs to be done is to divide this global number of hours by the number of “associated producers” in order to determine how long each producer must work.
From that point forward everyone will work, but they will work less. For the working day will necessarily be reduced, not only as a result of the highly developed machine technology that will permit a reduction of labor expended on each item produced, but also thanks to the elimination of commodity production: a vast crowd of workers who have until now been utilized for sales, advertising, banking, insurance, tax collection, etc., will be directed towards activities that serve the production of useful goods or services, which will simultaneously allow everyone to work less.
A New Kind of Work
Capitalist production is subject to performance: the pace of work must always increase in order to augment the extortion of relative surplus value and to lower the costs of production. The impact of this regime on the worker is nervous fatigue, exhaustion, monotony, lack of interest in his work, in a word, an aversion to work; the latter is endured as coercion and loses all meaning. Marx evoked a time “when labor will not be just a means for survival but will become a primary vital need”. This will be the goal of socialist production. From the moment that production no longer has the goal of producing for profit but for need, labor will necessarily undergo a qualitative enrichment: the job well done will recover its prestige. Without it being a question of returning to artisanal production, which required a high degree of professional skill but was not productive enough to satisfy all existing needs, it will be possible to use machines in a different way (by putting them at the service of man rather than of capital), eliminating many repetitive and unrewarding tasks, while the worker, with an adequate polytechnical training (the reduction of the working day will allow him to acquire this training) will be able to freely devote himself to the required work, both manual and intellectual, now that his mind will be engaged in the production of quality. Such a transformation of work will obviously take some time to be achieved, but that is the direction in which socialist production will proceed, eliminating labor subject to time studies and gestural analysis, in order to continually enrich all the tasks of work.
As we noted above, socialism eliminates money and replaces it with the “labor coupon” (the latter cannot be accumulated) and the wage by the principle of “to each according to his labor”. But one person’s labor is not equal to another’s. Thus, to provide an extreme example, the labor of an engineer is much more complex than that of a laborer. Does this mean that the former will get paid more than the latter? If we base our considerations upon the right of the producer to receive an amount of product proportional to his labor, this is incontestably true. This right is therefore unequal. Marx recognized this and said that it would still be “inscribed with a bourgeois limitation”. But, he added, “rights can never be more advanced than the economic stage of society”, thereby intending to say that as long as the latter remains limited, we will have to resign ourselves to one person getting paid more than another. Today, given the advanced stage of development of the productive forces, an egalitarian distribution of products is now possible, regardless of the kind of activity the individual performs for society. Engineers and other college graduates who perform complex tasks might consider themselves to be the victims of discrimination. We are the best! They will no longer be able to brag about how scarce and valuable they are, now that they are produced by the bucketful by the bourgeois universities, at the same time that others, under the threat of finding themselves unemployed, are obliged to accept jobs that have no relation to their training and are therefore badly paid. This is why, by degree or by force, within the framework of socialism their remuneration will be equal to that of everyone else, although they will nonetheless have one advantage: that of performing a more attractive or less physically demanding job, in the interim until the ignoble division between manual and intellectual labor is completely abolished. Under these conditions, the remuneration accorded to each person will be a simple matter. Taking the labor hour (whether simple or complex) as a unit of measurement, the latter granting a right to so many objects of consumption, everyone will be on the same footing of equality. This will not yet be egalitarian communism (not a communist system of distribution that will give everyone the freedom to take what they want from the social warehouse) but it may be rounded out by a principle of free access that anticipates communism, in such domains as transport, health care and housing.
- 1Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Book 1, Ed. Sociales, Paris, 1959, p. 32 [Footnote from Spanish edition—translator’s note].
- 2Karl Marx, “Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association on the Civil War in France, 1871”, in The Civil War in France, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1970, p. 73.
- 3Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, International Publishers, New York, 1978, pp. 11-12.
- 4Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, in The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism?, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1961, pp. 69-70.
- 5Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Book 1, Ed. Sociales, Paris, 1977, p. 27 [Footnote from Spanish edition—translator’s note].
- 6Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1978, p. 210.
- 7Engels: “But since Bismarck became keen on nationalizing, a certain spurious socialism has recently made its appearance (. . .) which without more ado declares all nationalization, even the Bismarckian kind, to be socialistic. To be sure, if the nationalization of the tobacco trade were socialistic, Napoleon and Metternich would rank among the founders of socialism.” Anti-Dühring, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976, p. 359.
- 8Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, op. cit., p. 73.
- 9Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, in Karl Marx, The First International and After. Political Writings: Volume 3, Penguin Books, New York, 1992, p. 345.
- 10Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976, p. 366.
- 11Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, op. cit., p. 346.
- 12The “labor coupon”, with modern electronics, could take the form of a card with a magnetic strip that could be used as a means of distribution of consumer goods.
- 13Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 48, International Publishers, New York, 1967, p. 820.
- 14Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, op. cit., p. 366.
- 15Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1973, p. 706.
- 16Ibid., p. 409.
- 17Unlike the Marx of 1844 (at the time the Manuscripts were written) who was still immersed in a Feuerbachian and therefore partially naturalist-humanist environment—who spoke, with regard to communism, of the “reconciliation” of man with nature—the Marx of 1858 (when the Grundrisse was written) had freed himself of all nature worship, and spoke of man’s “mastery” over nature. As a result, Marx is frequently identified with capitalism itself, which was also the vehicle of such a project. In fact, in the guise of mastery over nature, what capitalism sets in motion a process of destruction of nature, as has become obvious today with the degradation of the environment. Capitalism’s mastery over nature is therefore a false mastery. Communism will successfully undertake to master nature, because once the economy is freed from the market, from money and from profit, there will no longer be any need to take risks for reasons of profitability and growth which, in turn, are the true causes of the destruction of nature that we have witnessed, although capitalism, having adjusted to ecological fashion, is trying to ameliorate its effects, without, obviously, being able to attack its root causes, which would imply questioning its own existence. As for those who, on the pretext of reacting to this disastrous exploitation of nature by capitalism, conclude that all rule over nature must be renounced, and dream of an angelic reconciliation with nature, they are only turning their back on the communist perspective of a higher stage of humanity freed from the reign of necessity, in order to invite it, instead, in a totally reactionary way, to accept a situation in which it remains the slave of nature, as was the case during the pre-capitalist era.
- 18Karl Marx, op. cit., p. 488.
- 19Rosa Luxemburg, op. cit., pp. 69-70.
- 20Alain Bihr, Du grand soir à l'alternative. Le mouvement ouvrier européen en crise, Paris, Les Éditions ouvrières, 1991, p. 291.
- 21Ibid., pp. 291-292.
- 22Ibid., p. 292.
- 23Frederick Engels, op. cit., p. 359.