The despotic plan of capital vs. freely associated labor

Submitted by libcom on July 27, 2005

The despotic plan of capital vs. freely associated labor

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives


Editor's Note: Raya Dunayevskaya, in the period 1949-51, wrote much on the relationship of philosophy and economics, specifically on the relationship of Hegel's SCIENCE OF LOGIC and Marx's CAPITAL.

She was, she wrote later, "changing the form of my work" on the theory of state-capitalism and Marxism to what became her first book, MARXISM AND FREEDOM (published 1958). Because today's global economic crisis demands a return to Marx's categories, we print the first pages of a written draft for an oral presentation on "form and plan" dated Dec. 27, 1950 which takes up these categories. The full document can be found in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 9250-9280.

Unity of labor and MEANS of labor has gone through some violent transformations during various historic periods, none being more disastrous than when labor was SEPARATED from the means of labor. The separation of labor from its means signalled the birth of capitalism. It was followed by separation of town from country, of mental from manual labor. The unity of labor and means of labor was then achieved by the INDIVIDUAL capitalist bringing many workers together in HIS workshop so that he could extract from them as much labor as possible. This plan of the capitalist gave the labor process its DESPOITIC FORM.
All the while the workers COOPERATED in the labor process to which they had been brought by the WILL of the capitalist. They REVOLTED, first against the AUTHORITY of the capitalist, then against the MACHINE by which the capitalist sought to discipline the workers with ITS OWN oppressive compulsion. The plan of the capitalist assumed more despotic forms, for it compelled cooperation of the laborers in a manner which would produce SURPLUS labor, and this aim of the capitalist was served well by the regularity, uniformity, order and economy introduced by machine production. At the same time the machines, which disciplined the laborers, also ORGANIZED AND UNITED them, and now their revolt assumed [a] new form: that of an ORGANIZED MASS POWER.

We then have the plan of the capitalist to bring the workers together for purposes of extracting unpaid labor: it is despotic in form and individual in content. The revolt of the workers, which is at first anarchic in form, breaking up machines, is from the first, however, cooperative in content.

The plan of the capitalist to bring the workers together to labor in common for purposes of extracting unpaid labor from them TRANSFORMS the simple labor process into a MEANS of extracting surplus labor. The labor process becomes, thus, capitalistic in truth, and the form becomes the more despotic with the authority of the capitalist being supplemented by the vampire of [the] machine, into which all science has been incorporated, and which thrives on living labor. On the other hand, the worker is bereft of the virtuosity he possessed as a craftsman and transformed into a mere appendage to the machine. The division of labor between mental and manual thus further degrades the worker, whose quest for universality, or desire to be a whole man, becomes total. His revolt now assumes a new form; he revolts with his fellow man, and in revolting as a SOCIAL individual the revolt becomes cooperative in both content and form.

At the same time the constant crises in production and the revolts engendered befuddle the minds of men who are OUTSIDE of the labor process. They see this civil war between capitalist and worker not as it is in the labor process where, the capitalist's plan having become its MOITVE FORCE, it is no longer a NATURAL unity of labor and means of labor to create products of labor, but a CAPITALIST unity, which forces labor into one abstract mold and thus gives products of labor their VALUE-FORM. They see it, rather, in the forms which it assumes on the surface, where surplus labor appears as surplus product and hence PLANLESSNESS. They thereupon contrast the ANARCHY ofthe market to the order in the factory. And they present themselves as the CONSCIOUS planners who can bring order also into "society," that is, the market.

Marx's answer to these first PLANNERS-to Sismondi, who "impersonated the doubts" of the [classical political economists'] analysis, which was dominated by ITS CLASS concept of form as identical with content, by asking, couldn't large-scale production be controlled; to Malthus, whose concept of order was that of the feudal order with its FIXED relations; to Proudhon, whose petty-bourgeois conception of social order revealed itself in trying to build a halfway house between the old and the actually existing by SYNTHESIZING the two, instead of TRANSCENDING-was very simple. It amounted to this: "If the order of the factory were also in the market, you'd have complete totalitarianism." In 1847 Marx expressed the anticipation of this in the phrase "one single master":

"If the division of labor in a modern factory were taken as a model to be applied to an entire society, the society the best organized for the production of wealth would be incontestably that which had but one single master distributing the work, according to a regulation arranged beforehand to the various members of the community" (POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY, [Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, n.d.] p. 147).

Two decades later the mature Marx keeps emphasizing that what appears "ideally, in the shape of a preconceived PLAN of the capitalist" is "practically...the shape of the AUTHORITY of the same capitalist, in the shape of the powerful will of another, who subjects their activity to his aims." And CAPITAL then proceeds to demonstrate what forms the despotism evolves: first the capitalist is relieved of "actual labor" but does the supervision OVER labor; then he is relieved of "the labor of superintendence": "An industrial army of workmen, under the command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers), and sergeants (foremen, overlookers), who, while the work is being done, command in the name of the capitalist" (CAPITAL, Volume 1[Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1906], p. 364).

Then [Marx] shows that it is not control necessitated by the cooperative character of the labor process, but the DIFFERENT work of control "necessitated by the capitalist character of that process and the antagonism of interests between the capitalist and laborer." It is because it is rooted in this CLASS ANTAGONISM that its form must always remain despotic, and this despotism, which shows itself in the market as "anarchy," cannot be done away with by bringing "order" also into the market. The despotism will only become total then. It can be done away with only by its absolute opposite, that is, the COOPERATIVE FORM OF LABOR of "FREELY ASSOCIATED MEN" CONSCIOUSLY PLANNING. So that the opposition is not between "anarchy" and "plan," but between the plan of the capitalist, which is always despotic in form, and the plan of freely associated men, which is always cooperative in form, and in content.

The [classical political economists'] thesis of LAISSEZ-FAIRE, or free trade, while showing its concern with the DISTRIBUTION of total product between the CLASSES, expressed nevertheless a complete faith in the economic laws as being in full consonance with the "natural order." They were thus having their cake and eating it too_saying that labor was the source of value, but feeling no compulsion, since they never enter the factory, to account for the SURPLUS labor. They merely took it for granted as "inherent" in production.

The planners wished upon the market the stranglehold of the factory order, which had no reality for them since they, too, had never entered the factory. Order, to them, meant the ABSTRACT plan in their heads, not the real plan the workers had to contend with in production.

The thing that we must never forget is that plan arising from intellectual analysis and plan arising from the cooperative labor process, which evokes the creative mass movement, are such irreconcilable opposites that even Marx, before he had entered the factory, that is, in his [Contribution to the] Critique [of Political Economy], floundered among the market forms, which are not really forms, general OR concrete, but TRANSformations of what they were once. The TRANSFORMATION makes the form either the DIRECT OPPOSITE of the productive form or at least so DIFFERENT from it that full contradiction must of necessity result.

Let me state right here that we have greatly underestimated Volume III of CAPITAL, which deals with these transformations. It is true that we caught its ESSENCE when from the start we put our finger on the spot and said the DECLINE in the rate of profit is crucial; the average rate of profit is completely secondary. Look at the mess we would have been in if we had not seen THAT and suddenly found ourselves, as did the Fourth [International], tailending the Stalinists' sudden "discovery" (which had been precisely the PERVERSION with which the Second International PLANNERS had long ago tried to corrupt Marxism) that it was the AVERAGE rate of profit which was the "law of capitalism."

Good, we saw the essence, but that is insufficient, and because that is completely insufficient, we were incapable of being sharp enough even here. For it is insufficient merely to state that the decline [in the] rate of profit, not the average, is crucial for understanding VOLUME III. The full truth is: JUST AS MARX'S THEORY OF VALUE IS HIS THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE, SO HIS THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE IS IN REALITY THE THEORY OF THE DECLINING RATE OF PROFIT.

Why couldn't we state it this simply before? It is because we have been too busy showing that profit is only a disguise which surplus value wears and must be removed, again to see "the real essence": exploitation of labor. Because the opponents we were facing were Workers Party underconsumptionists, we had to overemphasize this EVIDENT truth. But to overemphasize the obvious means to stand on the ground the opponents have chosen. Freed from these opponents and faced with PLANNERS WHO ARE NOT UNDERCONSUMPTIONISTS the greater truth of what Marx was saying suddenly hits us in the eyes with such force that now we can say: How could we have not seen what Marx was saying? It is all so clear: Since the realization of surplus value IS the decline in the rate of profit, the poor capitalist MUST search for profits.

However, adds Marx, you market theorists who think this decline is due to competition are wrong. And as for you, the planners, who think that the reason for the capitalist's search for profits is "ONLY" his subjective desire and your plan to do away with the DISPROPORTIONS of his production should knock some sense into his head, are way off the beam. First of all, his subjective desire reflects only the OBJECTIVE truth of his method of production, and you'd have to start there, where the disproportion rules, and not from any SCHEMA. Secondly, competition merely AVERAGES out the rate of profit, without either producing the decline OR the anarchy. Finally and above all, competition itself arises from the immanent laws of capitalism.

So we are back to production, where the relationship of constant capital (machines) to variable [capital] (living labor) produces the whole mess. Look at the miserable soul of the capitalist, who is forced by the very METHOD of production, and regardless of the DEGREE of exploitation, to find himself in the perverse dilemma of getting a declining rate of profit even where there is a rising ratio of surplus value, that is to say, even where he intensifies the exploitation of the worker and thus gets greater masses of unpaid labor.

Now, it is this decline in the rate of profit which dominates over the transformation of value into price, profit into average profit, surplus profit into ground rent. It is the TRANSFORMATION of surplus value into rate of profit that is the REALITY of capitalism. This, in the main, is the subject of Volume III [of CAPITAL]. We have been all too busy running back to essence and showing that, in their totality, all prices equal all values, and profit is but a portion of surplus value, etc. That is true, but it is not the whole truth.

In their totality prices are values, but that makes them NEITHER identical in their unit NOR one the same as the other in their totality. A transformation has occurred. Marx says values and prices are different and must be different and yet be related. He is, therefore, not merely returning to essence, but proceeding from essence to notion, that is to say, to that unity of essence and form which, on the one hand, holds us all in its grip, including even the miserable capitalist, and, on the other hand, can be transcended only in transcending the VALUE-FORM and establishing its complete opposite: the COOPERATIVE-FORM. Without that, all these transformations of form only continue the perversion of subject and object in the process of production:

"The way in which surplus-value is transformed into but a continued development of the perversion of subject and object taking place in the process of production. We have already seen that all subjective forces of labor in that process appeared as productive forces of capital. On the one hand, the value of past labor, which dominates living labor, is incarnated in the capitalist. On the other hand the laborer appears as materialized labor-power, as a commodity. This perverted relationship necessarily produces even under simple conditions of production certain correspondingly perverted conceptions, which represent a transposition in consciousness, that is further developed by the transformations and modifications of the circulation process proper" (CAPITAL, Volume III [Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1909], p. 58-9).