This year Rhode Island’s Future is going to host a fortnightly column called Another World Is Possible. Using the popular socialist slogan as our guide, we are going to create twelve articles that deliver an in-depth description of what a socialist world would look like. There are plenty of writings on the internet that explain all sorts of theoretical positions on any variety of socialism, but we want to go to the next level and suggest the laws and social practices that can and should be enacted to bring the Ocean State to that point within our lifetimes.
Before we begin any exposition of how to create a better society, it is necessary to properly define what we are actually talking about. Terms like proletariat and means of production are often tossed around like hand grenades by paper revolutionaries who do not grasp that their audience might not know what we are talking about. In this sense, we should help clear this up by creating a working glossary. Definitions used herein, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the Marxist Internet Archive and given some additions by the author.
The basic building block of any Leftist discourse is the recognition that man’s labor is the basis of his existence. Unless one works, one dies. Whether you sweep a floor or trade commodities in the New York Stock Exchange, you must be laboring to make it in this world.
(From a Marxist glossary by Darryl Mitchell) Labor is a purposeful activity that transforms and adapts natural objects so as to satisfy human requirements. Labor is a spontaneous and natural necessity, an indispensable condition of human existence. Without labor human life itself could not develop qualitatively.
A commodity is something that is produced for the purpose of exchanging for something else, and as such, is the material form given to a fundamental social relation — the exchange of labor.
(From Mitchell) A commodity is a product of labor created to be sold (exchanged) rather than consumed by the producer. A commodity is, in the first place, a product of human labor that satisfies a human want; in the second place, it can be exchanged for another commodity, based on the socially necessary labor in it. All commodities are products of labor, but not all products of labor are necessarily commodities. A product becomes a commodity and acquires a commodity form, when produced for exchange, rather than consumed by the producer.
A commodity is, in the first place, a thing that satisfies a human want; in the second place, it is a thing that can be exchanged for another thing. The utility of a thing makes is a use-value. Exchange-value (or, simply, value), is first of all the ratio, the proportion, in which a certain number of use-values of one kind can be exchanged for a certain number of use-values of another kind.
- Labor Theory of Value
The proposition that the value of a commodity is equal the quantity of socially necessary labor-time required for its production. This theory was best defined by Adam Smith and David Ricardo. However, Marx expanded upon it in one radically unique way.
(From an interview with economist Richard Wolff) When you sit there with the employer and he/she says, “Ok, I’m going to pay you 20 bucks an hour”, you know what Marx is here theorizing, even if it’s not conscious. You know that the only reason the employer is going to give you $20 for every hour you work is if that hour produces more than $20 worth of stuff for him/her to sell. Because if it didn’t, there’d be nothing in it for the capitalist. There’s got to be more than the capitalist gets from you, the worker, than he/she gives you because there’s no other rationale in Marx’s view to account for why this is done. The inference Marx then draws is stark.
Workers are exploited! Why? Because they produce more by their labor than they get. In production workers add more value to the tools, equipment, and raw materials they use up than they are paid for doing so. Therefore, a worker who says to himself/herself, “I will never work for an employer who doesn’t pay me what I’m worth”, is a person who doesn’t understand capitalism. You will NEVER get paid what your worth, because that is the foundation of this system. The capitalist, because he/she has the money to put you to work in the first place only does it if he/she gets more from you than he/she lays out for the process. Which is why if you follow Marx, you have the mass of workers paid more or less what they need to get by, while the growth built into this system accrues to the employer. Or to say the same thing in simple English, the rich get richer and everybody else doesn’t.
This understanding of the exchange of labor for money, that the laborer is inherently being under-paid for their work, is the basis of the argument for a new social order that ends this theft, called exploitation.
Money is the commodity whose sole use is for storing value and acting as a means of payment. That is to say, money is a commodity, but one which has been singled out to play a special role in relation to all other commodities, as the measure of their values.
Capital is in the first place an accumulation of money and cannot make its appearance in history until the circulation of commodities has given rise to the money relation.
Secondly, the distinction between money which is capital, and money which is money only, arises from the difference in their form of circulation. Money which is acquired in order to buy something is just money, facilitating the exchange of commodities. [Marx represent this as C – M – C or Commodity – Money – Commodity.] On the other hand, capital is money which is used to buy something only in order to sell it again. [Marx represented this as M – C – M.] This means that capital exists only within the process of buying and selling, as money advanced only in order to get it back again.
Thirdly, money is only capital if it buys a good whose consumption brings about an increase in the value of the commodity, realized in selling it for a Profit [or M – C – M’].
An owner of the means of production. One does not choose to be a Capitalist as one chooses to be a fan of a certain baseball team; to be a capitalist is to be ontologically and and demonstrably different in the way one lives from a worker. A capitalist does not work because they are so rich they do not need to, they own major industries and control the world. They also are quite aware of the contradictions of the system and that workers understand their exploitation. As such, the capitalist class uses the media to engage in a deceptive propaganda campaign to convince workers that they will one day be able to make enough money to become capitalists themselves if they work hard enough. This is simply a lie and the capitalist knows this very well, but it does help keep the workers in line.
The social order we currently live under wherein the capitalist class exploits the majority of humanity for their own selfish ends. Social relations are based on commodities for exchange, in particular private ownership of the means of production and on the exploitation of wage labor.
Wage labor is the labor process in capitalist society: the owners of the means of production (the bourgeoisie) buy the labor power of those who do not own the means of production (the proletariat), and use it to increase the value of their property (capital). In pre-capitalist societies, the labor of the producers was rendered to the ruling class by traditional obligations or sheer force, rather than as a “free” act of purchase and sale as in capitalist society.
Value is increased through the appropriation of surplus value from wage labor. In societies which produce beyond the necessary level of subsistence, there is a social surplus, i.e. people produce more than they need for immediate reproduction. In capitalism, surplus value is appropriated by the capitalist class by extending the working day beyond necessary labor time. That extra labor is used by the capitalist for profit; used in whatever ways they choose.
The main classes under capitalism are the proletariat (the sellers of labor power) and the bourgeoisie (the buyers of labor power). The value of every product is divided between wages and profit, and there is an irreconcilable class struggle over the division of this product.
Capitalism is one of a series of socio-economics systems, each of which are characterized by quite different class relations: tribal society, also referred to as “primitive communism” and feudalism. It is the breakdown of all traditional relationships, and the subordination of relations to the “cash nexus” which characterizes capitalism.
- Means of Production
The tools (instruments) and the raw material (subject) you use to create something are the means of production.
(From Mitchell) The nonhuman resources required for production, including land, raw materials, tools, machinery, energy sources, and technology in production.
In our current-day society, this includes things like railways, roads, waterways, media venues, and air travel lanes used for the transport of goods, as well as the area within cyber space that is used to communicate and sell good via the internet. The so-called Internet 2.0, based around social networking websites like Twitter and FaceBook, is the first instance of an effort to privatize the internet, which up to a certain point in the recent past was essentially in the public domain.
The highest form of capitalism. The epoch of imperialism opens when the expansion of colonialism has covered the globe and no new colonies can be acquired by the great powers except by taking them from each other, and the concentration of capital has grown to a point where finance capital becomes dominant over industrial capital.
(From David McClellan’s Marxism After Marx) According to Lenin, the phenomenon of imperialism was tied to a change in the nature of capitalism: the growth of monopoly capitalism. This form of capitalism superseded competitive capitalism at the beginning of the twentieth century when the advanced economies came to be dominated by finance controlled by banks which were themselves concentrated in cartels or trusts. The former type of capitalism was typified by the export of goods: monopoly capitalism exported capital. The surplus capital could not be used at home (for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists) but ‘for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries. In these backward countries profits are usually high, for capital is scarce, the price of land is relatively low, raw materials are cheap.’ This in turn led to the de facto division of the world into the various spheres of influence of international cartels… This much was common to several Marxist thinkers of the time, including Kautsky who had changed his mind about the future of imperialism in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of the war and considered that there might develop an ‘ultraimperialism’ in which the leading capitalist nations would divide up the world peacefully in some kind of international cartel. For Lenin, this was an impossibility, for
The more capitalism is developed, the more strongly the shortage of raw materials is felt, the more intense the competition and the hunt for sources of raw materials throughout the whole world, the more desperate the struggle for the acquisition of colonies.
Moreover, according to Lenin, Kautsky was only concerned with industrial capital and had not realized that it was financial capital that gave imperialism its inevitable characteristics. The capitalist system could not achieve equilibrium, for
Finance capital and the trusts do not diminish but increase the differences in the rate of growth of the various parts of the world economy. Once the relation of forces is changed, what other solution of the contradictions can be found under capitalism than that of force?
The transcendence of the class antagonisms of capitalism, replacing the domination of the market by planned, cooperative labor, leads to socialism and communism.
(From an interview with economist Richard Wolff) [T]he conclusion for Marx is revolution. You need to get rid of capitalism in order to replace the capitalist-labor relationship, wage labor in the way I’ve described it, with an altogether different system that is more egalitarian, more democratic, and more just, because the workers in each enterprise would become their own board of directors. That’s actually understood by people even if they’ve never heard of Karl Marx. You can see it in the fact that all over the world today, and true for the last 300 years, there are businesses that have organized themselves not as a capitalist corporation, but as what Marx would’ve called a communist organization. That is, it is a community of workers who set up a business and own and operate it themselves. But, because of the hostility of capitalists to all of this, the people who’ve organized their enterprises this way have had to come up with bland, unfrightening names. The most popular one is a “workers cooperative”. It sounds downright warm and cuddly. And that actually allows you to push in a direction that will hopefully not scare the status quo into repressing you, by having the clever disguise of a different name. I even know some worker coops that refer to what they are doing as entrepreneurial innovation. Because by putting the adjective entrepreneurial in front of it, it’s more of a protective disguise. I think it’s charming, and I think Marx is giggling it whatever place he remains as he watches the human race agonizingly, hesitantly coming to terms with what he figured out in 1860.
(From Marx’s Das Kapital) Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labor power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labor power of the community. All the characteristics of labor’s labor are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labor, and therefore simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organization of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labor time. labor time would, in that case, play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labor borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labor and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution.
In any social movement there is a vanguard and a mass; these two concepts are meaningless outside of the movement of which they are integral parts, mutually constituted by their relation in development of the movement. The vanguard are groups of people who are more resolute and committed, better organized and able to take a leading role in the struggle, and on the other side, the mass, are larger numbers of people who participate in the struggle or are involved simply by their social position, but are less committed or well-placed in relation to the struggle, and will participate only in the decisive moments, which in fact change history. There is a continual movement and exchange between vanguard and mass.
The Marxist theory of the vanguard, in relation to class struggle under capitalism, holds that the working class (the mass) needs to be militantly lead through revolutionary struggle against capitalism and in the building of Socialism. The vanguard is made up of those who are in the forefront of workers’ struggle, engaged in struggles against the capitalist state and the management of the firms which are “branches” of the ruling class.
The operative question for this century is how quickly individuals can be radicalized into members of the vanguard. In 1917, Russia was a backwards, largely agrarian society with some metropolitan industrial centers and a working class in the minority and peasants in the majority. The act of radicalizing an individual into the vanguard then required training with books and speeches, usually done at a school (one could even get a college degree in Marxism-Leninism).
But in the era when mass-communications and the internet have radically re-oriented the playing field so that radicalization can take just days, if that, perhaps these notions can be revisited in new and creative ways.
A rival vision of socialism with Marxism. The original split between Marx and Engels on the one hand and Bakunin on the other led to the destruction of the First International Workingman’s Association, a federation of worldwide labor unions and socialist parties that was seen as a genuine threat to capitalism. Otto van Bismarck famously exclaimed “Crowned heads, wealth and privilege well may tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!” This theory opposes political action in favor of change based solely on direct action protests and worker organization. This current has within its own Left and Right. Right anarchists are prone to individualist tendencies, including nihilism, that eschews mass organization in the name of personal autonomy, an orientation that lends itself also to so-called “anarcho-capitalists” or Libertarians like Ron Paul. Left anarchists embrace labor-based socialism and often can share a good deal with council and left communists.
An anarchist economic system based around a democratized market where the revolutionary movement asserts control of the economy through a large-scale industrial union action called a general strike. After asserting control of the workplace, society is reorganized into a series of councils that govern through direct democracy. What is worthwhile to note here is that this syndicalist vision bears a good deal of resemblance to the Federalist system laid out in the U.S. Constitution, particularly in terms of the electoral college and municipal government structures.
The particular type of capitalism that defines American economic policy in our current day
(From David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism) Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defense, police, and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture. State interventions in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare minimum because, according to the theory, the state cannot possibly possess enough information to second-guess market signals (prices) and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and bias state interventions (particularly in democracies) for their own benefit… Neoliberalism has, in short, become hegemonic as a mode of discourse. It has pervasive effects on ways of thought to the point where it has become incorporated into the common-sense way many of us interpret, live in, and understand the world.
- Keynesian Economics
The economic philosophy that defined American governance from the period of the New Deal unto the Nixon administration. It is defined by deficit spending and job creation in the public sector to generate public works and infrastructure projects. As the public workers begin to take home a livable income, they in turn spend a portion of their incomes on luxury items that in turn helps an economy get out of a recession. The period of stagflation that occurred in the 1970’s and was seen as the proof that Keynesian economics does not work was caused by the end of the Vietnam war and detente policies under Richard Nixon; for the forty years since the New Deal, the main engine of Keynesian economic growth had been American patronage of the military-industrial complex and purchase of military equipment. A Green New Deal, based around Keynesian economics where the engine is renewable energy infrastructure modifications, might be able to avoid such a pitfall.