An examination of the changes within capitalism as a response to the development of the antagonistic class.
The leopard in the 20th century: value, struggle and administration - William Dixon
Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come e bisogna che tutto cambi. (If we want everything to stay as it is, everything has to change). The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.
Capitalism is a combination of both subjective and objective factors. In terms of the objective, capitalism is a system that operates through certain real categories, for example the opposition of use value and exchange value. From an analysis of such categories we may draw some conclusions regarding the tendency of the system. These in turn may appear then as expressing the laws of the system. As a specific and distinctive historical system capitalism does have objective characteristics; it is not feudalism, it is not primitive communism, it has its own forms. The surplus is appropriated as surplus value. We could now leave the analysis there and so reproduce all the worst aspects of 'scientific' marxism. Capitalism would then be seen as moving through objective laws. It would appear in this light as a naturalised system. Too much of marxism has appeared to endorse this approach. For example we are led to believe in a set of objective conditions that mature when, hey presto! - crisis! And the working class is woken up. Other than this the working class has no role to play. The subjective appears to have no historical presence until the final moment. The development of capital is seen as proceeding according to its own laws and through the interrelation of capitals.
The alternative view to this is to stress the struggle of the working class. This has been particularly characteristic of the anarchists but they have had no monopoly. This view has been necessary because of the previous orthodoxy of marxism. It fails though to consider adequately not just the categories through which struggle must move but also how the struggle leads to development of the categories and hence new conditions of struggle.
We need to develop an understanding of capital as embodying both objective and subjective aspects. As capitalism develops so the subjective aspect becomes more important, indeed decisive. This is an objective aspect of a system that cannot help but develop through the development of the division of labour and hence the creation of social labour as a global, truly social phenomenon.
The conception of 'partial suspensions of the law of value' is central to a thesis that attempts to understand the political economy of the twentieth century as the interaction of the subjective and objective. The formation of the working class and its political development are taken into account as well as modifications in bourgeois society by which the threat was contained. In this sense partial suspensions of the law of value are located at the heart of a twentieth century political economy that has been characterised by both the appearance of the revolutionary proletariat and also by regimes that have successfully disorganised that threat. Capital has no natural laws but it is a system that is constrained to change only in specific ways, through the categories and their modifications, of the law of value.
The view that explains twentieth century political economy on the basis of partial suspensions of the law of value contests what have been the orthodox right and left views that the USSR was a communist experiment and the welfare states represented an advance of the working class. In this view the significance of the Eastern European events of 1989 is that they mark an important milestone in the disintegration of anti-working class regimes. Similarly, the success of right wing free market projects in the West are indicative of a profound crisis in left wing political groups that have failed to represent the actual movement of the working class. In short the significant failure of the late twentieth century has been of regimes concocted on the basis of the prevention of communism, especially bureaucratic, often murderous, administrative regimes. The virtually wholesale implication of the left in these regimes has aided the disorganisation of working class responses to the fantastic opportunities of this period.
It is politically necessary to retrieve the communist perspective, to draw a sharp line through the left on this basis. If this is to avoid any sectarian assertion of purity, the insecure reliance on dogma, it is necessary to reclaim theory as the specific prerogative of the working class and communism as the heart of the movement. It is necessary to lay claim to a perspective that is confident that humanity's development, while proceeding through the productive forces, cannot establish its creative reason short of communism. Only then can the real creative individuality of our species be realised. Only then will individual development be freed from the external limits of money and administration. Only then can individual development be truly social.
The point now is to establish the communist perspective without apology and without compromise. The reclaiming of theory as the description of the real movement, the chronic tendency to communism, is necessary in order not just to orient practice, but also to disrupt and affront a left that has been complicit in the prevention of communism. This task can only be achieved if the retrieval of the communist perspective is insistent that it speaks of the development of humanity, the self-creation of the historic subject, only then will the arrogant banality of so much of the left be shown up.
It is necessary in the retrieval of the communist perspective to grasp the political economy of bourgeois society as it has developed in the twentieth century. So much of this period has been claimed uncritically as representing working class progress. This progress must be reassessed from the perspective of communism. The possibility of such an appraisal is not intellectual; it is real development that makes theory possible and necessary. The rude fact smarting on the face of the old ideologists is that the previous regimes broke down not only without working class support but actually under the impact of working class opposition or resistance. After the breakdown of all this progress, all those limiting forms, reality leaves us no choice but communism.
In this article I will outline the phenomena from which the conception of partial suspensions of the law of value arose. After this I will explain briefly the view of the law of value from which it is then possible to explain partial suspensions. When this is done I will explain why this is a fruitful analysis by outlining the various facts, experiences, problems it can take account of within a theoretical framework that has an essentially simple core.
GRASPING POLITICISED FACTS
In this article I refer to 'we'. This includes several different people. They had in common that they were ex-members of different political segments aware of the limitation of their own background, not desperate to leap into another segment, not looking for position, but needing to evolve etc. Although the first article on the prevention of communism was by Binns and Dixon (Radical Chains 1) there were several other voices hidden in that text.
We had in common the need to reach an understanding of the present situation. While each would hold to the contribution they could make from their respective backgrounds there was no desire for a merely eclectic adding on of bits from different traditions. We all recognised that the common theory we sought would have to have its own basic simplicity from which eventually we could critique the different traditions from which we arose. We shared the recognition that there was a need for a theory and not for an agglomeration of ideas.
An immediate motivation was to make sense of the sorry state of the left in relation to the current development of bourgeois society. We shared the conviction, based on experience, that the left had lost contact with any communist perspective, irrespective of its marxist variant. This was reflected in its splintering into mutual antagonisms, Trotskyist, Left Communist, Autonomist, Leninist, etc. Each knew what was wrong with the other but remained studiously attached to its own limitations. The problem to be addressed was certainly not the success of the right (which still needed to be studied) but rather the horrendous failure of the left. In this light there was little to be gained through adopting one strand with militant fury and then blaming the rest of the left from that position. Sectarianism is this multiple correctness.
Our initial focus was on the twentieth century success of social democracy in the West while in the East and 'Third World' there was the political power of what we and others before us identified as Stalinism. These phenomena we regarded as something more than merely political entities. While clearly, indeed murderously, on the side of capitalist survival, they could not easily be dismissed as capitalist in essence, anymore than they could be claimed as wonderful victories for the working class, or as forms transitional to anything but hell.
It appeared on both sides, East and West, that communism had been blocked and that the social forms that had evolved depended for their existence on this blockage. Furthermore the left was centrally involved in the blockage. In fact several forms of socialist organisation had developed, at best, ambiguous relations to the working class. It was clear that the left was actually a central element of the prevention of communism.
Our initial critical perspective towards the left allowed us to make sense of a split between class struggle and many of the forms of the labour movement i.e. CPs, Social Democratic Parties, trade unions etc. There were clearly struggles that hadof necessity developed autonomy from the usual representative forms. At the same time these were struggles that showed up the limiting function of the welfare state. In fact a critical perspective to these forms would have been meaningless if there had not been social movement outside and against them. The critique of these forms already had a social expression.
There are never straightforward facts. It was our specific concerns as political activists able to share different experiences and perspectives that lead to the particular grasp of the problem to be confronted. The facts themselves were politicised. We needed to understand the blockage of the movement to communism and the development of highly dubious, indeed repressive, social forms supported by many parts of the left. The experience of these facts was not only common enough amongst many activists but they were perceivable because of the repeated opposition of apparent working class forms to actual working class struggles.
Our initial attempt to grasp these facts was the thought that the relation between the socialistic forms and the blockage of communism could not be accidental but was rather a necessary connection. We came to regard these forms as not transitional to communism but as necessary forms of the prevention of communism. Although the epoch as a whole may be transitional we regarded the prevention of communism as an inevitable institutional form within this transition. Clearly this required a questioning of the concept of transition. We were inclined to sympathy with a discontinuous conception, closer to that theorised by Pannekoek rather than what we considered the misleading continuity in transition of Trotsky. This latter conception tended to ascribe some virtues to forms inimical to the working class. In fact with the appearance of the proletariat as historical subject at the end of the nineteenth century, beginning of the twentieth century, working class 'advances' had become the condition for the survival of bourgeois society. Transition was marked by the requirement that bourgeois strategy should speak a language of subordination to the working class but essentially should still act as a discipline over it.
We took it as self evident that planning could only be the rational activity undertaken by a subject with its needs and capacities joined in a social process. In other words for humanity the only possibility of planning would be the formation of the working class as universal class, as the social power with no limitation by external mediation. It was obvious that no such process took place in the Soviet Union. The pretensions of the socialist elites did not disturb us, for the claim to planning by such elites and bureaucrats could never be sufficient evidence that planning was taking place.
Our conception of communism allowed us to view the socialist forms as quite distinct from planning, as administrative processes that had supplanted the functions of the money system but in which the social discipline of the collective was not established. It was clear that the socialisms defeated in West or East had never been victories of the working class anymore than they were victories of the bourgeoisie. Talk of victory and defeat may be suitable to those who still viewed class struggle as if it were a team sport but for the evaluation of a social process it could tell us nothing. We can see that the bourgeois survive so in this limited political sense the bourgeoisie have won, but then they will always 'win' until the social system is overturned. Rather than victories or defeats moving us backwards and forwards, to and fro, in a linear nightmare we aimed to identify real transformations in political economy. The conditions of accumulation and control over the surplus had changed in anticipation and prevention of communism.
It was inevitable that the development of proletarian potential would provoke measures to forestall it. Where the working class had developed these measures could not be crudely repressive but would have to be couched in terms of a formal recognition of the needs of the working class. The survival of the bourgeoisie required the opening of a political channel to the working-class but of course never for any other reason than intervention into the process of class formation.
Since at least the 1880s bourgeois survival has had to be couched in terms of a working class project, or rather, a project on behalf of the working class. They were all socialists then, magnanimously admitting to their socialist sympathies whilst coming up with their 'practicable' schemes for respectable working class improvement.
For communists this social progress has to be reconciled within a theoretical framework that grasped it also as the prevention of communism. The question then was not an quantitative one concerning how much better peoples' lives were, but a theoretical one of uncovering in what essential ways the system had changed. According to this criteria the crucial change to understand lay in the orientation of the system to needs and the limits of this change.
The theoretical explanation for the problems outlined here, what I may term politicised facts, came out of an understanding of the operation of the law of value. Indeed it had to. We followed Marx in identifying the law of value as the central mechanism and social form of capitalism. The surplus was, peculiarly to capital, extracted in the form of value. The social dominance of exchange value marked the social dominance of capital itself. All previous social forms had forms of power, dominance etc. The problem that had to be addressed was the fate of the capitalist form; this meant the fate of the law of value.
It is possible to identify the dominant tendency of the system at different times. In the period of capital's ascendancy the tendency was to assert the rule of the law of value, that is to clear away all obstacles and modifications. In essence this rule was the subordination of need to exchange. We can see it extolled and recommended in the works of Smith and Ricardo. These formed the theoretical basis for the movement of reform that allowed and expressed the social rule of money, become capital. It is in this period, from late eighteenth century to mid-nineteenth century, that we see the height of the movement to supplant the aristocratic and mercantile control through state structures. The prospective achievement of the law of value, that is to say, the domination of need by exchange, was not considered in any way a threat to the system but as its completion and triumph. Although never achieved with a textbook purity, the law of value was the essential element of the maturing system.
It was on the basis of this system, in this period, that Marx developed his critique of political economy. This included his identification, in the first chapters of Das Kapital, of the nature of exchange value and use value, abstract and concrete labour. He certainly did not waste his time by presenting acres of exceptions and departures from some ideal development; such a presentation would have negated the scientific purpose of his work. He showed the system of domination of needs by exchange to be inseparable from the social organisation of production for value and hence the inseparability of exchange from value production. This is especially true when our viewpoint starts from the necessity of transcendence of value by production for need.
THE OPERATION OF THE LAW OF VALUE
The argument is that partial suspensions of this law of value have been characteristic of the twentieth century. We need to be sure that we are dealing with real change. The crux of the change can be seen, empirically, in the growth of administration but the essential element of this is the changing orientation of the system to needs. This change can be identified as a change in the operation of the law of value. To grasp this we must be clear about the essential operation of the law of value. We can then go on to specify what it means in terms of the social orientation to needs.
The law of value is the mediation, distribution, of social labour through exchange value. Through the tendency for products to exchange as equivalents, different concrete labours are equated. In this exchange their common characteristic of being abstract human labour is asserted. They are then, in this act of exchange, socially validated as containing some quantity of socially necessary labour. It is characteristic of capital that the social validation requires this act of exchange and that it occurs after the fact of production. Only in the act of exchange is abstract labour socially constituted as such because only in this act are different concrete labours brought into a relation of equality to each other. Without this act the sharing of some common characteristic, abstract labour, has no social or logical meaning. The possibility of equating different concrete labours is not merely an idea nor can it be established by decree. It can only, and must, be established in the exchange of the products themselves. The equality is made real by the exchange and only then can it be discovered by the investigator.
The law of value may appear as a functional process, a system of distribution of social labours. Indeed it is necessary that it does achieve a regulatory function. From this we may go on to conclude that the act of exchange is the social relation itself. Of course it is not. Although exchange is necessary for the existence of abstract labour it is not in itself sufficient. Exchange has existed for thousands of years without human labours being systematically reduced to abstract labour. The existence of exchange is not the same as its social dominance. Where it acts only in the interstices of society abstract labour cannot be said to have come into being. In such a society the majority of products are made for use even if under coercion. For the law of value to be the social form labour must be subject to its disciplines, that is to say to the requirements of successful exchange. The existence of exchange only indicates this potential; this is not the same as realisation.
Where the law of value pervades society then necessarily exchange value, hence money, must be dominant. If exchange is universal then there must be the universal equivalent. For this to have occurred specific social conditions must have come into being. The essential condition is the sale of labour power. This requires the separation of the labourer from the means of production. It is in this separation that we can see the social relation necessary to the law of value. It is only with this separation that labour is thrown by necessity into the world of exchange, that labour capacity itself becomes an exchange value. So it can only be on this basis, the commodification of labour power, that the law of value can become the social regulator of labour. In this circumstance the law of value is the form of relation of labour to itself. It is the social existence of the working class as labour power.
In the absence of the separation of labour from the means of production, the absence of labour power as a commodity, the law of value cannot develop adequately as a social form. There can still exist production for use, whether in coercive or co-operative form; in either case concrete labours are not equated through exchange and hence abstract labour is not established. We find then that abstract labour has another condition as necessary as exchange itself, that is absolute poverty. This condition is not accidental but is the other side to the formation of abstract labour. In the separation of labour from the means of production labour is abstracted; it is torn apart from all its specific concrete abilities. In this moment it exists as abstract labour but not yet in the process of social validation, though needing this validation as a matter of life or death. It exists to the extent that it is impelled to enter exchange. As the condition of value production, absolute poverty is the separation of labour from all means of production including itself; it is the required atomisation over which value is the necessary mediation.
What has been described here is the social relation f money representing the social wealth confronting labour as poverty. We are in the topsy-turvy world of capital. It should be obvious to anyone that in this world as described here the existence of abstract labour, the operation of the law of value as regulator, is inseparable from the necessity for the state. It is the organised form by which the separation of labour and means of production is ensured. It is the guarantor of the absolute poverty of the working class. The only fair play it knows is the abstraction of labour. The essential use value for capital and the use value without which there is no capital relation is labour capacity itself. This is the immediate source of value. This capacity is peculiar in that its production as use value is not a simple result of concrete labour. Its existence as use value must be established through the state. The most important commodity is produced by this 'invisible' hand of production.
In its cohesion and unitary power over society the state guards the atomised existence of the working class. It guarantees the everyday normalcy of the mediation of the law of value. It ensures, with all its compassion, that the need for the social existence of the law of value is a genuine need. Through its laws and regulations and police this social existence is established as ordinary and as contractual between equivalent citizens.
For its essential operation then the law of value requires the absolute poverty of the worker. This is necessary if exchange is to be able to equate different concrete labours in terms of abstract labour. In brief then, for the worker, to live means to work for the wage. At the centre of this social form is the complete subordination of needs to money mediation. It is because of this that we can identify the law of value as not merely a distributive mechanism but as the social existence of the working class. The law of value does not stand apart from the working class as a separate mechanism; it would be more purposeful to say that the law of value is the existence of the working class standing apart from itself. Needs and capacities are torn apart. Capital itself is the seizure of the collective power as production of value. As such it is a regime over needs, the mediated absence of subjectivity.
The atomisation of the working class is crucial to the operation of the law of value just as the law of value is necessary for the atomised working class. In this form of the working class we can see the full operation of commodity fetishism in which social relations take the form of relations between things. This is described of course in the first chapters of Marx's Das Kapital. I shall return to this later.
BOURGEOIS REFORM: ABSOLUTE POVERTY AND THE UNIFIED WAGE
From the point of view of capitalist reform appropriate state structures must be achieved for the full operation of the law of value. I have already mentioned the defence of private property; this is obvious enough. The other side of this is the regulation of the poverty of the working class. In concrete terms this would take the form, in the first half of the nineteenth century, of a debate over the poor laws and the poverty composition of the working class. This in turn would become a real political struggle between bourgeois and landlord interests. At the pivot of this struggle was the relation to the working class.
This was the period of bourgeois reform as it pushed towards the democratic state against aristocratic influence. Along with the move to free trade, the abolition of the corn laws and constitutional reform there was also the tendency towards the abolition of the old poor laws. In the works of Ricardo and his many correspondents there is a shared belief in the necessity for the abolition of the Poor Law. This abolition was part of the completion of bourgeois political economy. It would be the expression and realisation of the full sway of capital over all social forms. It meant the end of the paternalist influence of the old poor laws, the local rates, and the creation of the fully unified wage, the independent labourer. Under the old Poor Law, workers subsistence still required payments from the parish rates, payments that helped foster the dependence of workers on the local administrators, the gentry. For those representing the new political economy the ideal, set against this feudal influence, was the subsumption of the worker to the free realm of contracts; the independence of the worker mediated socially through money.
The centrality of the unified wage as a distinguishing characteristic of the political economy is derived from its significance in the creation of a regime over human needs. The unified wage is a particular form of domination over needs; there are other forms but this is the specifically capitalist form in which needs are fully subordinated to exchange value, to money. As capital pushes towards the unified wage so it pushes towards the full naturalisation of its own political economy and the achievement of commodity fetishism.
In this early period there was an extraordinary effort to ensure the education of the working classes to the political economy. Benevolent institutions such as the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge sponsored ideas that put the independent labourer at the centre of life for the working class. In this figure the working class were expected to identify the dignity of their own atomism. As one scholar has usefully described these educative efforts they were a 'campaign of containment' (R.Gilmour, Victorian Studies, Vol II, Dec 1967). This is true, but not complete, the essence of the message was that working class needs could not be met through collective action but rather through the dignified, self-reliant, independent channel of work. All needs were to be subordinated to money. This same point was put with delightful simplicity by the authors of the Poor Law Report of 1834. In clearly defining the limits to relief they stated that, "It has never been deemed expedient that the provision should extend to the relief of poverty; that is, the state of one who, in order to obtain a mere subsistence, is forced to have recourse to labour." (Poor Law Report of 1834, Penguin 1974). Freedom has never been so efficiently described.
In the matter of the poor laws Ricardo and his supporters had prepared the way for their abolition through the setting up of trustee savings banks that would enable workers to save from their wage and then in subsequent periods of need receive back funds for survival. In this way the principle of the unified wage would be asserted whilst practical measures to deal with periods of stagnation of trade were put in place. Despite this initial tendency the actual reform of the poor law did not go as far as some of these political economists had hoped.
The new Act of 1834 still allowed for the provision of relief; but there was nevertheless little doubting the real tendency and aim of the legislation, to put an end to dependence and to form independent labourers. In this respect it marked a break from aristocratic, feudal paternalism. Senior, the principal author of the new Act defended it when he said that previously, "...a large portion of the labourers of England were treated not as freemen but as slaves or domestic animals, and received not strictly speaking wages, regulated by the value of their labour, but rations apportioned to their supposed wants..." (Senior, The Report Of the Handloom Weavers). The unified wage could in these circumstances be regarded as a gain for the working class; it was also though a declaration of the absolute poverty of the working class, the full subordination of needs to the progress of accumulation. It announced the end of particular and personal dependence and a new world of universalised and democratic dependence. The legislation sought the perfection of universal poverty as the condition of the necessity to work, against the pauperizing dependence of the previous operation of the poor law. Workers would be fully committed to the accumulation from which there arose the demandfor their labour. The actual act instituted a punitive system of administration over relief that would deter the able bodied from pauperization. It deliberately preserved pauperism as an exclusion from society, as the administrative simulcra of starvation. The unified wage remained the central paradigm of this period. It was the centre of the educative measures of political economy; it outlined a self-reliant path for improvement by the working class.
In the first half of the nineteenth century the movement of reform is towards the unification of the wage, the abolition of that part of the wage received as parish relief. In legislation the Poor Law Amendment Act went much of the way to achieving this paradigm and some way towards the creation of the independent labourer. This period may be identified as the high point of the law of value. However, as the aspiration of bourgeois political economy, the unified wage of absolute poverty would begin to be modified under the impact of the developing formation of the working class.
As is clear to anyone reading the first chapters of Das Kapital, commodity fetishism is understood as resting on specific social conditions. "As the foregoing analysis has already demonstrated, this fetishism of the world of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the labour which produces them. Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labour of all these private individuals who work independently of each other ... Since the producers do not come into social contact until they exchange the products of their labour, the specific social characteristics of their private labours appear only within this exchange." (Marx, Capital, vol I p.165, Penguin). The condition of the mediation by exchange is the independence of the producers, their atomisation. This is no psychological, philosophical, or subjective phenomenon. This is a real social condition but it is precisely because of this that it is subject to real social movements. This atomism is the atomism of social labour. This is its separation from itself in absolute poverty. Commodity fetishism is not then a phenomenon that crumbles under the weight of superior persuasion but does so under the action of the working class itself. The formation of the class cannot help but undermine the social condition of commodity fetishism. It brings forward the practical possibility of social labour. This in turn opens the catch-up space for intellectuals to understand the social phenomena.
There is no exterior force but a real development within capital that changes its own conditions of consciousness. The necessary struggle over wages etc. creates the conditions in which workers see through the operation of the law of value. This is no philosophical discovery but is a practical result of and in turn condition for the process of class formation. Indeed to describe it as 'seeing through' is in itself misleading. It would be more accurate to say that from the struggle itself conditions develop for grasping new potentials. This involves an element of 'seeing through'. In this sense class solidarity, necessarily antagonistic, has also to be theory.
True, there continues on the surface of society the exchange of equivalents but in the struggle itself it is revealed that this exchange is far from being the basis of production. Here in the core of society there is discovered a basis beneath the "semblance of exchange". "This exchange of equivalents proceeds; it is only the surface layer of a production which rests on the appropriation of alien labour without exchange, but with the semblance of exchange ... there is no longer any ground for astonishment that the system of exchange values- exchange of equivalents measured through labour - turns into, or rather reveals as its hidden background, the appropriation of alien labour without exchange, complete separation of labour and property." (Marx, Grundrisse, p.509)
The revelation of the hidden background is generated within the system itself as part of its own development. The crucial point is the recognition by workers of the wage as a proportion of theproduct. The political economists would present the wage as received in exchange for a specific use value, as an exchange of equivalents but: "As correct as this is in one regard, it also introduces the apparent form of barter, of exchange, so that when competition permits the worker to bargain and to argue with the capitalists, he measures his demands against the capitalists' profit and demands a certain share of the surplus value created by him; so that the proportion itself becomes a real moment of economic life itself. Further, in the struggle between the classes - which necessarily arises with the development of the working class - the measurement of the distance between them, which, precisely, is expressed by wages itself as a proportion, becomes decisively important. The semblance of exchange vanishes in the course of the mode of production founded on capital." (Grundrisse, p.597). The crucial element in the process outlined here by Marx is the development of working class organisation. The necessity for it denies exchange as the real basis of the relation in production and forms the basis for grasping new principles of social organisation. Marx understood commodity fetishism as being undermined within the course of capitalist development.
The division of labour mediated by exchange, production for exchange i.e. production of value, generates the social condition for the creation of labour as a self-formed subject and so production for use. The social conditions necessary to, indeed intrinsically part of, the law of value mean that struggle is not just a struggle over proportion, an endless war over advantage, but is a more fundamentally antagonistic struggle. All struggles by the working class over its conditions of life, whether wages, hours, welfare or whatever assert a principle antagonistic to capital: that of production for use, human need joined to human capacity. In moving through the categories of the system the struggle cannot help but show the intrinsic limit of the system. Of course this is not magically transformed into communism. The point for now though is this, the struggle under the capitalist system is explosive and creative because within it there is the promise of a new social system. The contradiction of capital between value and use ensures that class struggle in continually confronting the limit of the system must develop theory. The antagonism over proportion cannot help but escalate to this more intransigent level. This not only enters the consciousness of the workers but also of the bourgeoisie.
THE ENEMY WITHIN
When confident of itself as the end of the tyranny of feudalism and as the completion of history, capital's tendency is towards the unified wage and, under production for exchange, the full subordination of needs to money. With Ricardo we find a ready confidence that workers are growing in independence and coming to a knowledge of political economy. Capital appears here in all the glory of an inviolable objectivity. This objectivity stands as the absence of a collectively constituted subjectivity. Workers' subjectivity is to amount to no more than individual knowledge of this ruling objectivity.
As the division of labour progresses, and with it the formation of the working class, so the assertion of the full subordination of needs to money appears as ever more dangerous to the survival of the bourgeois system. Real development forces on the political economists the recognition of a subjectivity in the working class that has torn away from this moment of capital's objectivity. The movement shifts gradually from the confident assertion of capital to its survival through the prevention of communism. In this movement the pivotal change is found in the orientation of the system to needs.
The process of class formation forces on capital the necessity to intervene in this formation. At the core of this intervention there must be a change in the orientation to needs otherwise there could be no intervention in subjectivity. The political conditions of the unified wage allowed no scope for a political development of the working class within capital. Needs could not be recognised within bourgeois political channels but are supposedly channelled through accumulation. At a certain point this becomes a dangerous political rigidity for capital. At this point simple repression of the social force of the working class is inadequate. Towards the end of the nineteenth century it is not just that the working class is recognised as an antagonistic force but also that it has acquired a social cohesion within which it could with impunity discuss the future of bourgeois society. This was some way from Ricardo's confident vision of the independent labourer whose subjectivity consisted of coming to knowledge of the system.
In relation to this subordination of subjectivity it could be said that the system, even if temporarily, had a type of objectivity to which Ricardo could apply his 'science' and explain 'natural' price. Such objectivity could only crumble when there arose within it a socially based subjectivity that was positing an alternative. This disrupted the 'science'. There was not only a growth of working class organisations but also of theory as coherent principle derived from a practice and experience that was antagonistic to political economy. Under the conditions of the unified wage these new movements would tend to monopolise a debate on the assertion of human needs. Political economy was recognised by the working class as an enemy; political economy itself had to change if political economy was to remain the same. The Leopard would change its spots.
From at least the 1870s but gathering an accelerating momentum from the mid-1880s there developed movements within respectable society that shared as their basis a recognition of the need to allow political channels in which working class movement could be constrained and defused. The intellectual and social development of this movement can be traced through the principal reformers of the later nineteenth century. In different thinkers and campaigners different elements are emphasised but in all there is the persistent need expressed for a new relation to the working class. The working class were not to evolve their own autonomous relation. Arnold Toynbee appeared as an early inspiration along with his friend (later Lord) Milner, also Samuel and Henrietta Barnett whose statistical work on working class living standards helped Charles Booth to take up his project to make a social survey of London. There was also W.T. Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, collaborator with William Booth, Benjamin Kidd, the Webbs, Alfred Marshall, L.T.Hobhouse, and so it goes on. This cannot be an exhaustive list, only indicative. For now what I am concerned with is the theoretical development; the social and intellectual history can follow in a subsequent article.
The crucial point is that a need for working class development within capital was recognised and that the unified wage was an obstacle to that development. In as much as the system is founded on the subordination of needs to money so each successive stage of struggle threatens to be more explosive in its effects on bourgeois society. Intervention, necessary to the survival of bourgeois society required intervention in the regime of needs. Class formation could not be repressed without the antagonism between use and exchange value being socialised. This potential, deadly to bourgeois society, imposed on it the necessity for some controlled recognition of need if that class formation were to be intervened in. Bourgeois society developed its own socialism on the basis of a divided wage.
THE DIVISION OF THE WAGE
At the core of the new political economy, interventionist in relation to class formation, was the modification of absolute poverty. Needs would be recognised outside the unified wage. There was institute a divided wage, on one side the enterprise wage still subject to the disciplines of profit and on the other the social wage subject to the disciplines of administration. It is at this point that we can speak of the emergence of partial suspensions of the law of value. The regime of needs lived by the working class was changed; it is still a regime, of course, but through the divided wage there was a modification in the orientation to needs. There could exist need recognition outside the immediate discipline of exchange, of money. This would in turn affect the relation between abstract and concrete labour. As we have seen a vital condition of abstract labour is absolute poverty; if this is modified, if economic security displaces the cold rule of money then the substance of accumulation itself may be blocked. Capital may tend to find itself confronting an all too concrete labour in the sense that sets of needs have entered an arena in which political negotiation appears to replace the immediate discipline of enterprise calculation.
Partial suspensions should not of course be confused with complete abolishment. Where something is partially suspended it should be clear that it still operates, if in a modified form. The real question is how it operates. This is what needs to be explained and this will require a development of points already made. I have already emphasised above that the law of value is not simply a mechanism of distribution and nor is it adequate that abstract labour is established through exchange. The law of value as the mediation of social labour is also the form of existence of that labour, its social atomisation, and requires for its inseparable condition the necessity on the part of labour to sell its labour power. This point is worth emphasising with another quote from Marx, "For the domination of exchange value itself, and of exchange-value-producing production, presupposes alien labour capacity itself as an exchange value - i.e. the separation of living labour capacity from its objective conditions; a relation to them - or to its own objectivity - as alien property; a relation to them, in a word, as capital." (Marx, Grundrisse, pp509 -10, see also pp514-5). It is clear that production for value, the alienation of living labour, is inseparable from exchange value. The domination of the latter must entail the former.
Partial suspensions of the law of value are suspensions of the form of existence subordinated to money. The division of the wage institutes a new regime of needs. It seems at first just to be an additional channel yet it cannot help but alter the operation of the system. The actual history need not concern us for now. What is crucial is that a set of needs were recognised outside the immediate discipline of accumulation. The areas covered by the divided wage included unemployment benefit, income support, pensions, sickness benefit, administered pricing of food and housing, and health. In each area there is a formal recognition of need. What this means is the recognition of need in such a way as to promise economic security apart from the individual wage bargain. Where the immediate discipline of accumulation is absent then various administrative structures have to be set up. Bureaucratic procedures and data systems were set up to ensure need recognition did not get out of hand. The claim made here is not that the formal recognition of need is synonymous with the granting of a right to subsistence but rather that a significant shift in the regime of needs occurred.
There are several levels to this recognition of need. We call it formal in order to capture something of its ambiguity. It never constitutes an explicit right yet in effect this is its ever present promise, indeed it is de facto treated as such by the working class. Against this is set the bureaucratic policing of the recognition of need. This leads to a particular aspect of the formality of the recognition. Although, for example a need for housing is recognised, so rents are controlled, tenancies are secured and houses are allocated outside the market etc., this recognition is never certain. There remain not only shortages but also poor quality in terms of such things as damp, infestation, size, location, as well as administered divisions such as on the basis of race. The recognition is there, can be accessed, but falls short of what would be planned. This highlights an important element in the meaning of formal recognition; it remains mediated and separated from capacity. Although the discipline is not immediate, the ultimate purpose of the changes is to preserve accumulation. As such need recognition must be formal, fixing poverty rather than relieving it, and the endemic scarcity of the system no longer takes on a natural air but is identified with administration itself.
ADMINISTRATION: THE PRECISE FORM OF CAPITAL'S AMBIGUITY
The division of the wage opened a channel that confounded the impact of the radical critique. An ersatz politics could develop, crucially within capital. It was ersatz because it presupposed containment in class rule, continued production for value, even if it did have to be founded on real changes. This project, now identified as left-wing or socialist, had its roots earlier but its appearance as a distinct state strategy may be located in the People's Budget of 1909. From here there began a new regime for working class needs and an effective intervention into the development of working class organisation.
Starting from the law of value as the core we can through its partial suspensions explain the development of administrative forms. The formal recognition of need that lies at the base of the divided wage and hence the welfare state conflicts with the subordination of needs that characterises the full operation of the law of value. It allows space in the modification of the conditions of absolute poverty for an evasion of life as labour capacity. Given that the purpose of the divided wage is to preserve the rule of capital, the formal recognition of need has to be controlled within the continuing discipline of the requirements of the law of value. From this impossible situation we can trace the growth of the state administrative forms in the twentieth century.
Administration is excreted by a system that is forced to recognise and cannot recognise need, a system whose substance is abstract labour, indifference to particular labours, producing for value, but that must allow a political channel recognising concrete labour. Rather than ensuring that needs are met i.e. rather than the social relation of planning, administration must ensure their containment, restriction and limitation. Entitlement is subdivided into administrative categories that in turn subdivide the class. There had to be a recognition of need in formal channels but there could not be social abundance. Here then the independent labourer of classical political economy is to be preserved as worker by a promotion to citizen with entitlements policed in the welfare administrative forms. This is not planning. It is rather a tendency to anti-planning, the prevention and interception of class formation.
As has been observed in a theoretical work on the state (Kay and Mott, Political Order and The Law of Labour, Macmillan 1982), we can detect in administration the archaeological remains of class struggle. They point out that the origin of the word administration is appropriately in the management of the estates of deceased people. The matter of left or right wing is scarcely of interest. The struggle is absorbed but as its opposite; a dead administrative form. The struggle becomes the citizen. It is no accident that this process is analogous to the absorption of living labour by dead. The absorption of struggle appears as the formal recognition of need that removes the occasion for solidarity and hence the conditions of class formation. To put it simply there is no concession that is not also preservation of atomisation. The formal recognition of need bears with it the requirement that it be administered. Offices, rules, classifications, queues, al these preserve need as a limited entitlement and on the condition of atomisation. In this way intervention in class formation can be made compatible with accumulation.
Commodity fetishism is modified by direct administration. Social relations are mediated within direct administrative structures. These are essentially anti-planning; the condition and indeed purpose of their existence is the social absence of the class. They preserve the formality of need recognition within the law of value. Commodity fetishism is preserved by an administrative channel that allows the development of a political form, social democracy, which includes the Labour Party and a particular form of trade unionism. They appear in dialogue rather than antagonism. It is a curious situation in which social democracy does not confront commodity fetishism yet it speaks a language of need. Its compatibility with the law of value arises from the separation of political and economic spheres that it not only accepts but also by its existence confirms. This separation expresses and preserves the continued separation of need and capacity. Since social democracy allows a discussion of need within its narrow political confines it appears to normalise the separation.
Under these conditions communism not only appears as unnecessary but more importantly as utopian since the basis of the struggle that could achieve it can always be undermined. It is because of this that the division of the wage is a central development within political economy. It is the precise form of capital's ambiguity.
The problem for capital is that the conditions it sets up for the prevention of communism become, in turn, the basis of a new struggle. It appears then to capital that the division of the wage has become the source of struggle rather than its containment. The formal recognition of need provides a focus and indeed base of struggle that evades the limits of the organisational representatives, the trade unions and Labour Party, within which the formal recognition was intended to channel class formation. This breakdown was expressed outside the factory as well as in workplace relations, unofficial strikes, control over pace of work, resistance to productivity deals etc. Eventually and inevitably, the conditions of the divided wage were identified as part of an interlocking social package that had obstructed adequate control over the workplace.
The real problem for capital in all this is that any partial suspension threatens the reproduction of labour capacity as an exchange value. Yet at the same time some modification of the absolute poverty of the working class becomes necessary if capital is to survive. The pivotal change that capital must endeavour to contain and live with is the recognition of need. Simply, such social recognition contradicts absolute poverty and so threatens the formation of labour capacity. The substance of capital is abstract labour; the unified wage is the form by which money confronts this labour. The divided wage mitigates this confrontation.
CONCRETE LABOUR, PARTICULARITY AND RESISTANCE
To accumulate, capital cannot simply put into motion abstract labour; it must pass through particular labours, concrete labour. The indifference, nevertheless, of capital to the concrete labours is its indifference to use values as such, in other words the subordination of needs to accumulation. This is no formal requirement. The actual control in the workplace is dependent on this overall social condition. Indifference of capital to concrete labours is for the worker substitutability. This is the threat of ruin. To illustrate the significance of this we must turn to a third aspect of abstract labour.
We have identified abstract labour as established in exchange. We have seen further that this required absolute poverty for it to be generalised. In this sense abstract labour is also the condition of the labourer shorn of al specific abilities, shorn of all use-making capacity and hence requiring the sale of labour power to the capitalist. The problem for capital comes in trying to ensure a fair deal, a fair day's work in return for the wage. Of course supervisors, management systems, co-operation etc. are all of use but what, ultimately do they depend on? The worker's substitutability is crucial and this depends on abstraction. Yet at the same time capital cannot float in mid-air. It must produce and sell actual things that require concrete labour. Capital's circuit must pass through concrete labour. This presents a problem of control. Concrete labour can involve specific tasks that are not necessarily substitutable. Worse, over time, as workers gain confidence based on principles of solidarity known to themselves and other workers, skills can and are imposed on capital as forms of counter control by workers. Or, the fear of substitutability is overcome through the generalised level of struggle across many different sectors.
In these conditions there is a tendency for workplace discipline to flounder. To reassert control capital must reassert the abstraction of labour. Recession is one means of this but the crucial means that is associated with recession or crisis is through machinery. The particular labours on which workers had been able to develop their refractory hand are absorbed into machinery. Skills tend to be abolished as there is a tendency for the system to achieve its indifference to particular labours as an actual form of labour. Concrete labour itself, being in fact developed through the circuits of capital tends to the peculiarly capitalist form of labour, to abstract labour, to mere work without redeeming feature. This tendency is imposed by the requirements of exchange, the realisation of profit in exchange. Capital accumulation, whose substance is abstract labour and depends on abstract labour, also develops concrete labour to actualise abstract labour. Of course, as this development advances it tends to automation and hence to conditions of abundance where labour as the basis of the system, as value, is abolished. With greater struggle so capital must seek escape from concrete labours but in doing so tends to abolish its own presuppositions. The struggle itself, the subjective, moving through the objective categories of the system, forces the system to achieve the conditions of communism.
We have examined this relation between abstract labour and the workplace without linking it to the development of forms of welfare. We have seen that labour process control is especially dependent on general social conditions. With formal recognition of need these social conditions are partially modified. Administrative procedures must ensure the continuation of workplace control. At the same time there was a tendency for there to be negotiated deals, productivity deals, and incomes policies for which the presence of the welfare state is itself part of the deal. In this situation the labour movement develops a rigid and centralised bureaucracy that must police the deals on which its position depends. Counter to this the working class experience a greater economic security because of the formal recognition of need. This obstructs control in the workplace and instead enhances the particularity of labour. This may be overcome by central negotiation but this in time is undermined by a working class that resists and opposes the bureaucratisation of the movement.
This resistance is enabled by the welfare state itself since certain requirements for which the working class had depended on its own movement were displaced by the welfare state. The success of welfare in disorganising the movement was also the condition by which the working class could achieve some independence from its bureaucratisation.
Confronted by these conditions it is understandable that the call for the right to manage and the attack on the welfare state have gone hand in hand. While many on the right may now criticise and find fault with the achievements of Thatcherism there remains still a tenacious hold on the belief that Thatcherism allowed a 'revolution' in management control. Indeed this is a real legacy of the changes since 1974. This change though has been achieved through the re-emphasis of the power of money over needs and the dissolution of forms of negotiation. The system cannot avoid its basis in abstract labour as the substance of value. The creation or enhancement of a new managerial stratum has been achieved on the back of growing economic anxiety, the dismantling of the welfare state. Insecurity from cradle to grave has become the watchword for today's state reform. It is also the condition for the evolution of new working class forms and cultures of resistance. This in turn acts as a break on the proposed dismantling of the welfare state in as much as her majesty still requires a loyal opposition that has a modicum of credibility.
The fight against inflation with its cost in unemployment has been the visible thrust of the right's campaign. At its heart has been the steady erosion of the divided wage, under the heading of supply-side economics, as the so called consumer is put at the centre of economic life. The only consumer that matters in this regard is the consumer of labour power. As for the rest of us 'choice' is the dignified way in which we are expected to give up all hope of change, 'choice' is to be our immersion in economic atomism, the retrieval of a disciplining edge to absolute poverty. 'Choice' is how we give up more and more and learn to love it. Insecurity is reasserted as the foundation of work discipline. What we must observe now is the gradual change in the politics of the labour movement as it finds it increasingly difficult to express needs that arise from this economic insecurity and which must tend to focus on the money system as its enemy. This process has already started but is one that takes years and not days or months.
ANALYSIS - FOR COMMUNISM
The analysis presented here is certainly not complete. I have for example deliberately avoided the development of finance capital. This would have been crucial if we required now a full understanding of why it is suspension and not abolition of the law of value that is described here. Although this is important it is beyond the scope of this article's limited purpose. Nevertheless, some provisional conclusions can be offered.
Suffice to say for now that partial suspensions of the law of value have tended to mediate the tendency to abstract labour through nationalist frames that from the viewpoint of value quite arbitrarily link together large groups of concrete labour. This nationalisation of course had its political purpose in serving to undermine the international tendency of the workers' movement. This national element would however eventually become an obstacle, a basis of struggle, that was identified as the arterio-scelerosis of Europe. As capital escaped its national forms so it required the free purchase of labour power, the competition of a wider labour market.
The advantages of this basis of analysis can be summarised briefly:
1. The analysis puts the law of value at the centre. Agreement or disagreement requires a grasp of the law of value. This means that irrespective of the particular fate of this analysis it supports a tendency to escape the narrow confines of the left's political analysis, e.g. at its worst waffle about consciousness, culture etc., and to develop a theory at the level of political economy (and its critique). The question is whether any section of the left is capable of escaping the emergencies of the immediate situation to develop the new theories they all seem to promise but never deliver.
2. The analysis presents the law of value as inseparable from the state. This enhances the point above. The theory provides a simple theoretical explanation for administration that does not separate the phenomenon from 'economics' or whatever. Disagreement is forced to an understanding of the state that takes account of the vaunted simplicity of the present approach and must, in doing so, take account of the law of value.
3. The establishment of labour power is seen to be at the heart of the inseparability of state and law of value. Hence from the beginning needs and the forms of mediation are placed at the heart of the theory.
4. From the above it follows that there is presented here the basis for a clear theory of change that places the change in the control over surplus extraction and so the regime of needs as central.
5. This places the working class as a force, or power within the system, a power whose development provokes modification of the system's orientation to needs because its very nature as working class condemns it to be the object for money but the subject of the struggle for needs. From division of labour mediated by exchange value to the struggle for production for use the movement to communism is seen as immanent to capital.
6. This theory explains the political phenomena of the twentieth century without recourse to external agencies, deus ex machina or some supposed inadequacy on the part of humanity. For example social democracy is located as having developed as the form dependent on the division of the wage, i.e. as an aspect of the modification of bourgeois political economy. We can explain real phenomena in the political sphere as arising from changes in the political economy and these in turn result from the development of the historic subject as a consequence of the development of the division of labour. The system has its own motion; the subjective is internal to it, we might say as an objective aspect.
7. The analysis confronts the same material that led people to the belief in The Forward March of Labour Halted but reaches quite different conclusions since the crucial element in this march was not the development of class subjectivity but rather alteration of bourgeois political economy to penetrate and forestall the basis for that subjectivity. It is not a forward march that is halted but the prevention of communism that is shown to be an inadequate social form.
8. From the present analysis it follows that the crisis of the organisational forms of the prevention of communism is a crisis of a relation to the working class. Underneath this lies the far more serious issue, in fact the dominant issue, what will be the outcome of the present changes in the labour movement? Will the current organisational forms of the working class, the incumbent labour movement, develop? What has been revealed is that these forms were inadequate for subsuming the working class. The relation to needs that is implicit in working class struggle implies also a social content that must supersede the inadequacies of administration. This in turn implies a far more serious crisis in a labour movement that has been too often tied into administration. However there is no magical transformation of working class organisation; the forms of resistance to the imposed peace of the welfare state cannot adjust immediately to the erosion of the welfare state.
The ambiguity of capital continues. If the prevention of communism was inadequate it might appear that the free market is the only social logic since the formal recognition of need 'failed'. Yet as the welfare state is questioned, as unemployment grows and economic anxiety becomes the central principle of the market of choices, the end of guaranteeism, so it would appear that the working class is pushed into defending the welfare state. Yet despite resistance at local level and over particular issues this has not happened in any significant manner, notwithstanding important skirmishes such as the poll tax. The Labour Party and TUC have so far survived the social upheavals although changes re obviously in train.
If, as many have predicted, unemployment is here to stay, if even recoveries will not get rid of the problem and if as also seems likely, especially in Britain, that the recoveries themselves are short-lived and if we are therefore to see more Dundee Timexes in conjunction with more drastic reductions and modifications of the welfare state then inevitably the present forms of working class organisation will prove inadequate. In a small but still significant way we have already seen this in the poll tax campaign. The problem for capital is to find forms that are adequate to control the working class. For us the problem is whether crises in the labour movement will sound the death-knell of bourgeois society.
The analysis presented here is a reaffirmation of communism as the tendency of the struggle. The placing of needs at the centre, simultaneously places the working class at the centre not simply as an agent of struggle but as the bearer of a new organisational principle that, in its inescapable antagonism to value, must make capital a socially explosive and eventually doomed system.