1981/83 Reform and Revolution [Mattick]

Section of « Marxism: Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie? » (1983)

1. Introduction:

On the basis of its assumptions, Marx’s model of capitalist production could only end in the collapse of the capitalist system. How ever, this collapse was not conceived of as the automatic outcome of economic processes, independent of human actions, but as the result of the proletarian class struggle:

Along with the constantly diminishing number of magnates of capital grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with it, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they are incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated. (1)

The history of the labor movement, which from a bourgeois point of view has no connection with the foregoing economic analysis, is from a Marxian point of view of the utmost importance and the very reason for concern with the problems of political economy. This holds with respect to wide-ranging issues of historical materialism, as well as to the narrower question of capitalism’s destiny. For Marx, social history is the history of class struggles, determined by the class-related contradictions characterizing any particular social formation. The general development of the social « forces of production brings forth particular social relations of production, and the combination of these determines the ruling ideology as the consciousness of a given mode of production. Material social forces determine ideational development, a fact that is rather obvious and even trivial after it has been recognized and formulated. Class relations and exploitation are as old as known history. But they have different forms depending on the mode in which surplus labor is extracted by a ruling class. This in turn depends on the state of the productive powers available at any particular time. Because a given mode of production is most advantageous for an established ruling class, it will be defended by this class against any alteration that might diminish its power and its control over the social product. By the same token, however, it will hinder the further development of the social powers of production and set itself in opposition to emerging social needs that require changes in the mode of production, and to innovations arising within the process of production itself. The continuous reproduction process always changes any particular process of production, but to varying degrees. The changes may be so slow as to be almost imperceptible, which accounts for the static conditions that prevailed in some social formations for long periods of time. But even these societies had a history simply through the alterations, however limited, in the production processes. Radical or revolutionary changes in modes of production presuppose the rise of new classes within the existing social relations, for history, however determined by objective necessities, has to be actualized through people’s subjective determination to alter the existing social relationships. This determination will express itself in a new ideology, but both are the results of the changes that have taken place within the existing social relations of production.

Marx summed up this materialist conception of history, which served as a « leading thread » in his economic studies, as follows:

In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society–the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or–what is but a legal expression of the same thing–with the property relations within which they had been at work before. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters. Then comes a period of social revolution. (2)

If this situation may be described as one wherein the « economic structure of society » determines its « legal and political superstructure » and its « definite forms of social consciousness, » in order to bring out the point made by historical materialism, this does not imply an actual separation of « structure » and « superstructure » with the latter explained by the former, but merely states the fact that the material production process is consciously undertaken and thus conceptualizes the identity of a given state of the social powers of production with its corresponding social production relations. It is in terms of this two-sided totality, at once material and ideational, that historically evolving social formations are differentiated.

Although it is possible mentally to break up the totality of the social production and reproduction process into its various manifestations in the political, legal, and ideational spheres of social practice, these aspects cannot be concretely isolated and weighted with respect to their importance within the social system as a whole. In other words, it is not possible to say that the political, legal, and ideational activities may, on their own accord, affect the economic processes and codetermine their development, for the superstructure is the expression of the socioeconomic structure. This may be grasped by analogy with the value-price relations in capitalism, where the value relations must express themselves in the different form of price. It is not that the superstructure merely reflects the economic base, but that this base is what it is by virtue of its specific superstructure.

Just as capitalist price relations are both distinguishable and undistinguishable from value relations, so the superstructure in any social formation is also separable and inseparable from the socioeconomic structure. If we speak of the one, we speak of the other, and in either case we speak of no more than the material production processes that allow society to exist. This implies, of course, that a fundamental change of society affects its « structure » and « superstructure » simultaneously, that is, that no socially significant political, legal, or ideational change can take place apart from changes in the relations of production and the state of the productive forces of society, and that basic changes only occur in the latter accompanied by corresponding alterations of the « superstructure. » It is therefore not possible to change a social system from the side of its « superstructure » alone–as for instance, by way of politically induced reforms–for such changes must always stop short at that point where they would jeopardize the existing social production relations. A change of the latter is only possible by way of revolution, which overthrows the « base » together with the « superstructure. »

However, due to the development of the social forces of production, a social formation represents not only itself but also another society in embryonic form. The gestation period of the new society varies in accordance with the degree of change, spontaneous or consciously induced, in the social reproduction process. In societies without such changes, the productive forces and social relations will remain stagnant. Such societies have no history, although they may display class relations of one sort or another. Historical materialism concerns itself solely with developing societies. But changes in these societies are bound sooner or later to break down the stagnation of more static societies and alter their course.

Although incorporating technical innovations, the social forces of production are not reducible to technology. The transformation of the relatively static feudal-mercantilist economy into the dynamic capitalist system, for instance, was due not to technological changes but to the extension of a given technology over a wider field of application, by way of changes in the relations of production that opened the way for the vast development of the productive forces experienced in the Industrial Revolution.

The precapitalist era was based on agriculture, considered the only source of a surplus product making possible the nonproductive life of the land-owning ruling class. At least part of the total social product was a « gift of nature, » exceeding the results of the applied agricultural labor. This state of affairs found expression in the economic theories of the Physiocrats, who spoke of the « sterility » of all production outside of agriculture. In this theory, in contrast to mercantilist notions, a surplus arose in the sphere of production, not in that of circulation, or the exchange of commodities. Indeed, there was only a minimal exchange between agricultural products and those manufactured in the urban centers. The surplus was extracted from peasant labor, operating under conditions of self-sufficiency, which included the labor-producing agricultural implements; it was thus a clear case of expropriation, not of exchange relations. Whatever manufactures and handicrafts there were implied a technology exclusively and directly devoted to satisfying the needs and habits of the ruling class. There was also exploitation in the cities, in the sense that the city laborers produced not for themselves but for the ruling class, even though part of their products also served their own needs. But both their products and their surplus product were made possible by the agricultural surplus. Whatever technical development there was, was determined not by the accumulation of capital but by the needs and habits of the ruling class. If there was accumulation, it took not the abstract form of exchange value but that of use value.

With the means of production in the hands of the agricultural producers, the latter’s exploitation implied compulsory labor, which was also extended over the infrastructure as forced or corv‚e labor. Under these conditions, any improvement of the productivity of agricultural labor would merely increase the surplus product falling to the landowning class and its state apparatus. There was, then, no incentive for technical innovation on the part of the peasantry, but rather the desire to work as little as possible in order to reduce the degree of their exploitation. The resulting stagnation of agricultural production set a limit to technological development in general, as it was almost totally dependent on the agricultural surplus. To increase this surplus was the sole concern of both the ruling classes and the urban population, as a precondition for the satisfaction of wants and the betterment of their living standards. This was eventually accomplished through the incorporation of agriculture into the exchange relations within and between the urban centers, brought about through a further division of labor within the existing class relations. In order to make the agricultural surplus grow, it was necessary to deprive the peasant population of control over their means of production and so force them out of their self-sufficiency and into the competitive market economy.

This was a twofold accomplishment, effected from the side of agriculture and from that of the merchant class as mediators of the exchange process. It involved the extension of market relations and commodity production over all of social production and the gradual transformation of labor into wage labor. While the commercialization of agriculture in England and France occasioned the « enclosure » movement, which drove a great deal of the peasantry from the land or transformed them into agricultural wage laborers, it also extended cottage industry, or the « putting out » system, from a supplementary to a main form of production. Provided by merchants with means of production and raw materials, peasants turned into wage laborers and merchants into capitalist entrepreneurs. Social relations became in increasing measure capital-labor relations and it was this fact that, by its generalization, expressed the growing social powers of production and the emergence of a new class accumulating surplus labor as surplus value and capital.

To cut a long and rather well-known story short, it may be said that with the increasing capitalization of agriculture, the way was open to bringing the whole of social production under the dominance of capital. Occupying a position between the landed aristocracy and the rural and urban proletariat, the middle class widened its field of operation with the extension of wage labor and the competitive pursuit of exchange value as an abstract and apparently limitless form of wealth, bound not to any specific form of property but to all forms in which surplus value materialized itself. New methods of production evolved to increase the profits on invested capital and technical innovations were searched for and introduced, not for the limited purpose of increasing the well-being and the luxuries of the ruling class, but in order to extract more surplus value out of all types of labor. While not in theory, at any rate in practice the capitalists were fully aware of the fact that a man’s labor « may mean either the personal act of working, or the effect which is produced by that act. In the first sense, it must be allowed that a man’s labor is properly his own … but it does not follow…that the effect of his laboring… must likewise be properly his own. » (3)

With surplus value the goal of production and wage labor the only means of existence for a growing number of people, production accelerated in accordance with increasing exploitation. Of course, this social transformation was accompanied by all sorts of serious dislocations of the economy and its political system, affecting not only the working population but all of society. Industrial capital and its demand for profits grew at a relatively faster pace than capital based on agriculture, and set itself in opposition to the latter. Surplus value in the form of rent, thanks to the monopoly position of landed property, escaped the averaging process of profit rates and lowered the profits of industrial capital. The antagonism between the landed interests and those of the advancing bourgeoisie characterized the early stages of capitalist development and found expression in the aspirations of the bourgeoisie for political power and control of the state. This antagonism resolved itself in the bourgeois revolutions, which in one way or another turned feudal relations into the capitalist relations of production and production itself into the production of capital.

To be sure, this historical process did not manifest its nature as clearly as did its final outcome. Ideologies encompass the past as well as the future and refer not to special but to putative general interests. They can thus be isolated from the specific purposes and concerns they serve under particular conditions and class relations. It is by virtue of this that they are indispensable for the maintenance as well as for the overthrow of given social relations, precisely because they cut across otherwise unbridgeable class differences. While history is being made, the apparently indivisible unity of the mode of production and its political and ideational superstructure is rent apart and seems to reveal competing ideologies with independent powers. But in retrospect, once society has changed, everything comes together again to constitute a particular historical period, characterized by the productive forces released by it, the social production relations associated with them, and the apparently extraeconomic « superstructural » expressions of the material production process.

History is clearly the history of social changes of modes of production and class relations, which have led to capitalist society, the subject matter of Marx’s concerns and those of the class at whose expense it exists. There is therefore no longer any history for the bourgeoisie: the development of any new mode of production would imply its own demise as a ruling class. From the point of view of historical materialism, however, capitalism must be analyzed with respect to its specific class relations and their effect upon the development of capital production. Obviously, the emergence of these class relations allowed for an enormous increase of the social powers of production in the form of the accumulation of capital. If the latter is the life’s blood of capitalist society, it is here also that this system’s historical limitations will be found. If there are none, then of course the bourgeoisie is right and history has come to an end.

Marx’s theory of proletarian revolution is thus an integral part of his theory of capitalist accumulation. As capital expands, so does the working class. But while accumulation assures the rule and comfort of the capitalist class, this is due only to the constant increase in the exploitation of labor power, which may or may not e compensated for by improvements of the workers’ living standards. This depends on changing value relations, on whether or not the lower exchange value of labor power will be the value equivalent of a greater quantity of use values. According to Marx, to recall, the changing value structure of capital in the course of its accumulation diminishes the rate of profit, even with a rising rate of surplus value, because the mass of surplus value is reduced due to the decline of the variable relative to the constant capital, or, what is the same, to the decrease in the number of workers with respect to the total capital amassed. Of course, just as the lower exchange value of labor power may not contradict a rise of wages in use-value terms, so a rise in the organic composition of capital may be compensated for by an increase of productivity, overcoming the decline of surplus value in each commodity by a disproportionally greater quantity of commodities, so as to restore, or even surpass, the customary rate of profit on capital. This depends in turn on the possibility of a sufficiently high rate of accumulation of capital. This makes the rate of profit in Marx’s system indefinite and, aside from the specific assumptions made by Marx in expounding his theory, unpredictable, in a strictly empirical sense.

What will interest us here is not so much the economic development of capital as the expectations based on it with regard to the evolution of a revolutionary consciousness on the part of the working class. Like all true revolutionaries, and notwithstanding his scientific bent and materialistic outlook, Marx was a romantic in his thoughts, feeling, and attitudes. Although convinced that « no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces, for which there is room in it, have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have been matured in the womb of the old society, » (4) he saw in the maturing proletariat the most important productive force straining against the capitalist relations of production. History, in Marx’s view, does nothing, but must be made by people, by way of class struggle. As an ardent student of the French Revolution, and an observer of, as well as participant in, the revolutionary upheavals of 1848–during which the working class, even within the context of bourgeois aspirations, displayed itself as an independent anti-capitalist force-Marx saw capitalism’s future preordained with the proletarian revolution. It was of course not possible, and from Marx’s point of view also superfluous, to determine in advance when the capitalist relations of production would cease to further the development of the social forces of production and thus release the objective need for social change. All that was necessary for revolution was the presence of a force within the shell of capitalism representing new social relations in conflict with the capitalistically limited forces of production. In a developed capitalism, any prolonged and deep going crisis could lead to a revolutionary situation and to the overthrow of capitalism. By breaking the crisis cycle of capital production, the way would then be open for a further unhampered social development. In the early Marxist movement this was seen as a realistic possibility, due to the fact of a growing socialist movement and the spreading recognition that there was an alternative to capitalism.

Objective conditions, changing in the course of capitalist development, would bring forth a subjective readiness on the part of the working class to change the social relations of production. The theory and practice of a growing labor movement was seen as a unitary phenomenon, due to the self-expansion and at the same time the self-limitation of capitalist development. Marx’s Capital employing the methods of scientific analysis, was able to proffer a theory that synthesized the class struggle and the general contradictions of capitalism. The actual class struggle would–in time–turn class consciousness into revolutionary consciousness, and the fight over wages and working conditions would become a struggle for the abolition of the wage system, that is, for the ending of capitalism. Class consciousness was seen by the Marxists as one of the results of capital accumulation, emerging out of the master-slave relation in the direct production process, the disproportional increase of exploitation within the capital-labor exchange relations, the observably increasing misery of growing layers of the unemployed and the unemployable, the general wretchedness experienced during periods of depression, and the insecurity prevailing under all capitalist circumstances. On the positive side, there was the capitalistically enforced concentration of great numbers of workers in all industries, inducing the recognition that the laborer was a member of a social class and thus was able to proceed from individual to collective attempts to improve his working conditions. The results of the workers’ struggles were seen not only in the improvement of their living standards but also in the recognition of their growing strength in the contest between capital and labor, and in the attendant development of their self-confidence both as individuals and as members of a class. It was thought that out of this class itself and its constant confrontation with the bourgeoisie would arise not only a willingness to assert the workers’ temporary interests but also a growing conviction that social production could be carried on outside the capital-labor relation.

These expectations were to be disappointed. Although a growing number of workers became adherents of revolutionary ideas and organized themselves in socialist organizations, a greater number remained immune to socialist ideologies, even though they were prepared to fight for higher wages and better working conditions. The economic struggles found organization in the trade unions; but these organizations did not, as Marx had expected they would, become « schools for socialism, » but remained what they were at their outset, a mere phenomenon of the commodity character of labor power. Their concern was with the price of labor power within the capitalist market relations. What socialist ideas had been associated with trade unionism were gradually jettisoned as an unnecessary ballast, and even an embarrassment, hindering the ascent and endangering the legal status of those organizations.

Marx’s maxim that the consciousness of a time is that of its social and material production relations holds also for the working class. While the class struggle, as seen with socialist eyes, was supposed to change the consciousness of the laborers, and to some extent actually did so, this change was not in the direction of socialism as a practical goal. Although the class struggle implied aware ness of the opposed interests of labor and capital, it did not challenge the capital-labor relation itself, but merely the degree of exploitation as measured by the wage-profit ratio. In order to be effective, the class struggle has to be organized, and the gains made in this struggle must be sustained by making the organizations permanent. The greater the number of organized workers and the need for coordinated actions, the less was their own initiative in determining these activities. The decision-making powers became those of a centralized leadership in a hierarchical bureaucratic organizational structure that came to look upon itself as an instrument to secure its own special interests as a precondition for its activities in behalf of the working class. Of course, it was the workers themselves who built these organizations and delegated to them control over their own activities. The fact that they did not leave these organizations could only mean that their own demands coincided with those brought forward in their name by the leaders occupying the commanding posts in their organizations. Now, it is true that these leaders, in any case those in the socialist parties, professed to consider the fight for capitalistic reforms as a mere means to reach the revolutionary goals and not as an end in itself; but actually, the struggle for reforms was the only one possible, bringing with it types of organization that were only able to function within the given relations of production and were thus bound, by their very growth and successes, to turn into defenders of the capitalist system, as a precondition of their own existence. They could have no conceivable function in a socialist society, and for that reason did not think in terms of revolutionary change, except rhetorically where this seemed opportune.

The supposed « dialectic » between reform and revolution-the everyday struggle for immediate demands changing into a struggle against the system itself–did not actually lead to a noticeable increase in revolutionary class consciousness, but merely issued into organizational forms of class struggle incapable of making the leap from reform to revolution To the controlling ideology of bourgeois society was now added the controlling influence of nonrevolutionary organizations over the organized as well as unorganized parts of the working class in a two-sided effort to hold the class struggle within the confines of capitalist society.

Marx’s expectations as to the revolutionary effect of capital accumulation upon the consciousness of the working class turned out to be erroneous, at least in the ascending stage of capitalist development.

2. Capitalism and Socialism:

Whereas Marx’s analysis of the social contradictions inherent in capitalism refers to the general trend of capitalistic development, the actual class struggle is a day-to-day affair and necessarily adjusts itself to changing social conditions. These adjustments are bound to find a reflection in Marxian theory. The history of capiialism is thus also the history of Marxism. Although interrupted by periods of crisis and depression, capitalism was able to maintain itself until now by the continuous expansion of capital and its extension into space through an accelerating increase of the pro ductivity of labor. It proved possible not only to regain a temporarily lost profitability but to increase it sufficiently to continue the accumulation process as well as to improve the living standards of the great bulk of the laboring population. The economic class struggle within rising capitalism, far from endangering the latter, provided an additional capitalist incentive for hastening the expansion of capital through the application of technological innovations and the increase of labor efficiency by organizational means. While the organized labor movement grew and the conditions of the working class improved, this fact itself strengthened the capitalist adversary and weakened the oppositional inclinations of the proletariat. But without revolutionary working class actions, Marxism remains just the theoretical comprehension of capitalism. It is thus not the theory of an actual social practice, able to change the world, but functions as an ideology in anticipation of such a practice. Its interpretation of reality, however correct, does not affect this reality to any important extent. It merely describes the conditions in which the proletariat finds itself, leaving their change to the indeterminate future. The very conditions in which the proletariat finds itself in an ascending capitalism subject it to the rule of capital and to an impotent, merely ideological opposition at best.

The successful expansion of capital and the amelioration of the conditions of the workers led to a spreading doubt regarding the validity of Marx’s abstract theory of capital development. Apart from recurring crisis situations, empirical reality seemed in fact to contradict Marx’s expectations. Even where his theory was upheld, it was no longer associated with a practice ideologically aimed at the overthrow of capitalism. Marxism turned into an evolutionary theory, expressing the wish to transcend the capitalist system by way of constant reforms favoring the working class. Marxian revisionism, in both covert and overt form, led to a kind of synthesis of Marxism and bourgeois ideology, as the theoretical corollary to the increasing practical integration of the labor movement into capitalist society.

As an organized mass movement within ascending capitalism, socialism could be « successful » only as a reformist movement. By adapting itself politically to the framework of bourgeois democracy and economically to that of the labor market, the socialist movement challenged neither the basic social production relations nor the political structures evolved by these relations. As regards its significance, furthermo re, Marxism has been more of a regional than an international movement, as may be surmised from its precarious hold in the Anglo-Saxon countries. It was above all a movement of a continental Europe, even though it developed its theory by reflection on capitalistically more advanced England. While in the latter country capitalism was already the dominant mode of production, the bourgeoisie of continental Europe was still struggling to free itself from the remaining shackles of the feudal regime and to create national entities within which capitalist production could progress. The economic and political turmoil accompanying the formation of the various European national states involved the proletariat along with the bourgeoisie and created a political con- sciousness orienttdtoward social change. While opposing the entrenched reactionary forces of the past, the rising bourgeoisie also confronted the working class insofar as this class tried to reduce the degree of its exploitation. Despite this early confrontation, the working class was forced to support the aspirations of the bourgeoisie, if only to create the conditions for its own emancipation. From the very beginning of the working-class movement in continental Europe, therefore, there existed simultaneously the need to fight against capitalist exploitation and need to support the development of capitalism as well as the political institutions it created for itself. The common interest of the emerging classes–the bourgeoisie and the proletariat– in overcoming the vested interests of the past was already a form :of integration that found its reflection in the strategy and tactics of the labor movement, that is, in its striving for political power within bourgeois democracy and the alleviation of economic conditions of the working class within the confines of political economy. As a political movement, however, Marxism could not dispense with its socialist goal, even though practically it could gain no more for the working class than any of the apolitical movements that arose in the established capitalist nations, such as England and the United States, which restricted themselves to the fight for higher wages and better working conditions without challenging the existing social relations of production.

It was thus historical peculiarities that determined the character of the socialist movements in continental Europe–that is, the partial identity of proletarian and bourgeois political aspirations within the rising capitalism. Marxian theory implied preparation for a socialist revolution within a general revolutionary process that could as yet only issue into the triumph of the bourgeoisie, the destruction of the semifeudal state, and the dominance of capital production. After these accomplishments, the road would be open for a struggle restricted to the labor-capital antagonism, which would first pose the question of a proletarian revolution.

The way to foster this general development was by partaking in the as yet incomplete bourgeois transformation and by pushing forward the capitalist forces of production, through economic de- mands that could be met only by an accelerated increase of the productivity of labor and the rapid accumulation of capital. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, however, the special issues that agitated the European labor movement no longer existed, or did not arise at all, as the capitalist mode of production and bourgeois rule constituted the uncontested social reality. Here the conditions that were goals for the European labor movement were already an established fact and reduced the struggle between labor and capital to the economic sphere. Class consciousness found its expression in pure trade unionism; the ongoing monopolization of capitai was echoed by the attempted « monopolization » of labor, as one of the developed forms of general competition in expanding capitalism. This situation foreshadowed the continental labor movement’s further development and with it that of its Marxist, or socialist, wing. The more capitalism came into its own, the more the idea of revolutionary change fell by the wayside. The growing trade unions severed their early close relationship with the socialist parties, and the latter themselves concentrated their efforts on purely parliamentary activities to press for social legislation favorable to the working class, through the extension, not the abolition, of bourgeois democracy. For the time being, and the foreseeable future, as Eduard Bernstein, one of the leading « revisionists » of the German Social Democracy and the Second International, put it, « the movement was everything and the goal nothing. »

However, organized ideologies do not abdicate easily, and this the less so as their proponents defend not only their convictions but also their positions within the organizations that are sup- posed to realize the ideological goals. The rather quick rise of the socialist movement allowed for an organizational structure increasingly attractive to intellectuals and capable of supporting a bureaucracy whose existence was bound up with the steady growth and permanence of the organization. The hierarchical structure of capitalist society repeated itself in that of the socialist organizations and trade unions as the differentiation between the commanding leadership and the obeying rank and file. And just as the workers accommodated themselves to the general conditions of capitalism, so they accepted the similar structure of the socialist movement as an unavoidable requirement for effective organizational activity.

Although in an entirely different sense from the way the phrase is usually understood, this found a rather apt expression in the interpretation of Social Democracy as « a state within the state. » As in the capitalist world at large, in the Social Democratic movement too there was a right wing, a center, and a left wing, although the struggle between these tendencies remained purely ideological. The actual practice of the movement was reformist, untouched by left-wing rhetoric and indirectly aided by it, as it provided a socialist label for opportunistic activities aimed no longer at the overthrow of capitalism but at organizational growth within the system. Supposedly, bourgeois democracy and capitalism itself would through their own dynamics prepare the social conditions for a qualitative change corresponding to a state of socialism. This comfortable idea was held by ail the tendencies with-in the socialist movement, whether they still believed in revolutionary action to accomplish the transformation of capitalism into socialism, or assumed the possibility of a peaceful nationalization of the means of production through the winning, with a socialist majority, of control of the state.

In any case, the social transformation was cast into the far-away future and played no part in the everyday activity of the labor movement. Capitalism would have to run its course, not only in the already highly developed capitalist nations but even in those just in the process of evolving the capitalist relations of production. It remained true, of course, that devastating crises interrupted the steady capitalization of the world economy, but like the social miseries accompanying the early stages of capitalist :production, its susceptibility to crises and depressions was now also adjudged a mark of its infancy, which would be lost as it matured. With the concentration and centralization of capital by way of competition, competition itself would be progressively eliminated and with it the anarchy of the capitalist market.Centralized control of the economy on a national and eventually an international scale would allow for conscious social regulation of both production and distribution and create the objective conditions for a planned economy no longer subject to regulation by the law of value.

This idea was forcefully expressed by Rudolf Hilferding, whose economic writings were widely regarded as a continuation of Marx’s Capital.(1) Leaning heavily on the work of Michael I. Tugan-Baranowsky, who deduced from the « equilibrium conditions » of Marx’s reproduction schemata (in the second volume of Capital) the theoretical feasibility of a limitless expansion of capital, (2) Hilferding saw this possibility still very much impaired by difficulties in the capitalist circulation process which hindered the full realization of surplus value. He perceived the capital concentration process in the course of accumulation as a merging of banking capital with industrial capital to create a form of capital best described as « financial capital. » It implied the progressive cartelization of capital, tending toward a single General Cartel that would gain complete control over the state and the economy. As the progressive elimination of competition meant an increasing disturbance of the objective price relations, this would mean, of course, that the price mechanism of classical theory would cease to be operative and that the law of value would therefore be unable to serve as the regulator of the capitalist economy.

We are here not interested in Hilferding’s rather confused theory of crisis as a problem of the realization of surplus value, due to disproportionalities between the different spheres of production and between production and consumption, because in his view these difficulties do not arrest the trend towards the complete cartelization of the capitalist economy (3) With the coming to pass of the General Cartel, prices would be consciously determined so as to assure the system’s viability. They would no longer express value relations but the consciously organized distribution of the social product in terms of products. Under such conditions, money as the universal and most general form of value could be eliminated. The continuing social antagonisms would no longer arise from the system of production, which would be completely socialized, but exclusively from that of distribution, which would retain its class character. In this fashion capitalism would be overcome through its own development; the anarchy of production and that type of capitalism analyzed by Marx in Capital would be ended. The expropriation of capital or, what is the same, the socialization of production, will thus be capitalism’s own accomplishment.

Of course, like Marx’s « logical » end result of the capitalist accumulation process, the concept of the General Cartel merely serves to illustrate the trend of concrete capitalistic development. But while in Marx’s model capitalism finds an inevitable end in decreasing profitability, Hilferding’s General Cartel points to an « economically conceivable » capitalist system able to maintain itself indefinitely through the control of the whole of social production. If capitalism tends toward collapse, this is not for economic reasons but must be seen as a political process, as dependent on the conscious resolve to extend the capitalistically achieved socialization of production into the sphere of distribution. Such a transformation is possible only through a sudden political change that transfers control of production from the hands of the cartelized private capital into those of the state. This transformation thus requires the socialist capture of political power within otherwise unchanged production relations

Such a development seems conceivable given the constant growth of socialist organization, striving for political power within bourgeois democracy and able to win the allegiance of always larger .masses of the electorate, and finally leading to a socialist parlimentary majority and to the control of government. The socialist .state would then institute socialism by decree, through the nationalization, or–what is thought to be the same–the socialization of the decisive branches of industry. This would suffice to extend the socialist type of production and distribution gradually to the whole society. Due to capitalism’s specific form as financial capital, Hilferding suggested that it would be enough to nationalize the i larger banks to initiate the socialist transformation. With this, the economic dictatorship of capital would be turned into what Hilferding–in deference to Marx and Engels–called the « dictatorship of the proletariat. »

All this would of course depend on the persistence of the political institutions of bourgeois democracy and the labor movement’s fidelity to its socialist ideology. Would the bourgeoisie honor the parliamentary game if it found itself on the losing side? Would the character of the socialist movement remain the same despite its increasing influence and organizational power within the capitalist regime? Even apart from such unasked questions, it is unclear why, if there is no « economically conceivable » end to capitalism, there should arise a political opportunity for its abolition. An economically secure capitalism would guarantee its political security. Moreover, if capitalism socializes the production process on its own, this « socialization » includes the maintenance of the social production relations as class relations, to be carried over into the nationalized form of social production. Indeed, in Hilferding’s exposition, the change from private to governmental control does not affect the relation between wage labor and capital, except insofar as economic control is transferred from the bourgeoisie to the state apparatus. Thus socialism, in his view, means the completion of the centralization process inherent in competitive capital expansion, the transformation of private into « social » capital and its control by the state, and therewith the possibility for centrally planned production, which would be distinguished from organized capitalism mainly by allowing for a more equitable distribution.

The theoretical progress made in the socialist movement since its beginnings within the incomplete bourgeois revolution thus consisted in the assertion that, just as the socialist movement fostered capitalist development, fully developed capitalism and bourgeois democracy were « Ow opening the way to socialism. If the workers, for historical reasons, and however reluctantly, aided the rise of democratic capitalism, this very same capitalism was now preparing with equal reluctance, but unavoidably, the conditions for a socialist transformation. The development of wage labor and capital was thus a reciprocative evolution, in which both workers and capitalists functioned as precursors of socialism through the accumulation of capital. All that was necessary in order to play an active part in this historical process was to increase general awareness of its happening so as to hasten its completion.

For Hilferding capitalism had already reached its highest stage of development. Notwithstanding the imperialist war and the revolutions in its wake, the prevailing « late capitalism » was for him an organized capitalism, no longer determined by « economic laws » but by political considerations. The capitalist principle of competition was making room for the socialist planning principle through state interventions in the economy. The class struggles over wages and working conditions changed into political struggles and the wage itself into a « political wage, » by way of the parliamentary accomplishments of the socialist parties in the field of social legislation, such as arbitration laws, collective bargaining, unemployment insurance, and so forth, which augmented the « economic wage » and freed it from its value determination. According to Hilferding, the state was not simply, as Marx had called it, the « executive committee of the ruling class, » but reflected, through the medium of political parties, the changing power relations between different classes–all of them sharing in state power. The workers’ class struggle turns into a fight for the determination of social policy and finally for the control of « bourgeois democracy, » or « formal democracy, » because democracy belongs to none but the wo’king class, which first had made it a reality through its struggle against the bourgeoisie. Through democracy the workers will gain the government, the army, the police, and the judiciary, and thus realize their longing for a socialist society. (4)

In view of the actual course ofevents, Hilferding’s rationalization of the precapitalistic policies of the socialist parties seems to be of no interest at all. The « democratic road to socialism » led direct to the fascist dictatorships and to Hilferding’s own miserable end. However, his concept of socialism as a planned economy under governmental control, one that assumes the functions previously exercised by the centralized but private capital, characterizes almost all of the existing images of a socialist society.

As Marx stopped his analysis short of the expected overthrow the capitalist system and, aside from occasional very general remarks about the basic character of the new society, left the construction of socialism to the future, so Hilferding stopped short at capitalism’s « last stage, » without entering into a more detailed investigation of the problems of the transformation of « organized capitalism » into the socialist organization of society. His party colleague Karl Kautsky, however, as the most eminent of Marxists after Marx and Engels, felt obliged to offer some speculations Ibout the possible postrevolutionary situation. (5) He too saw the: »expropriation of the expropriators » in the completion of society’s ;democratization, to be accomplished by the working class. The immediate measures to be taken were for him those democratic goals the bourgeoisie itself had failed to bring about–that is, the unrestricted vote, a free press, separation of church and state, disarmament, the replacement of the army by a militia, and progressive taxation. Because class relations had existed for thousands of years and were still deeply ingrained in human consciousness, Kautsky felt that they would not be overcome all at once. Only equality in education would gradually do away with class prejudices. Most of all, however, unemployment would have to be abolished through a system of unemployment insurance that would raise the market value of labor power. Wages would rise and profits diminish or disappear altogether. There would be no need to chase the capitalists away from their leading position in industry, because under the changed conditions the bourgeoisie would most likely prefer to sell their property rights, recognizing that political power in the hands of the working class is incompatible with a capitalist mode of production.

A jest on the part of Marx–to the effect that perhaps the; cheapest way to socialism would be the buying-out of the capitalists-Kautsky elevated into a political program. But who would buy the capitalist property? Part of it, Kautsky related, could be bought by the workers themselves, other parts by cooperatives, and the rest by governmental agencies on the local and national level. The big monopolies, however, could be expropriated outright as detrimental to all social classes, including the smaller capitalists. And because the monopolies constitute such a large part of the economy, their expropriation would enhance the otherwise more gradual transformation of private into public property. It would also allow for a conscious regulation of production and thus end its determination by value relations. Although labor-time calculation would continue to aid the formation of prices, it would no longer rule production and distribution. Money too would lose its commodity and capital character by being reduced to a mere means of circulation. The continued utilization of prices and money would imply, of course, the continuation of the wage system, even though wages would no longer reflect supply and demand in the labor market. There would also be wage differentials, in order to facilitate the allocation of the social labor, which would not, however, prevent a general rise of all wages. Of course, capital would have to be accumulated and compensation would have to be paid for the loss of the property rights of the capitalists. Taxes would have to be raised, for the various and enlarged state functions. For all these reasons, productivity would have to be increased beyond the level achieved in the old capitalism, so as to make a higher living standard possible.

Although preferring compensation for the loss of the capitalists’ property, Kautsky is not sure that this will actually be done, but leaves this issue for the future to decide. He realizes that with compensation, surplus value, once directly extracted by the capitalists, would still fall to them in terms of claims on the government. However, this extra expense would disappear with the accumulation of additional capital, thus ending the continued exploitation. Besides, Kautsky remarks slyly, if capitalist property were to exist only in the form of claims on the new public owners, this unearned income could easily be taxed away. Compensation would after all amount to confiscation, albeit in a less brutal form.

The watchword of socialism is, then: more work and higher productivity. In this respect, according to Kautsky, socialists could learn a lot from the production methods of the large U.S. corporations. What is more, these methods, as yet limited to the gigantic trusts, could be even more effective when extended to the whole of society. The socialist organization of production is thus well prepared by capitalism and need not be newly invented. The only requirement is to change the accidental and anarchic character of production into a consciously regulated production concerned with social needs.

Kautsky’s exceedingly tame vision of the state of the future, its relation to the socialist economy was still considered by right-wing socialists as unwarranted and even dangerous, a threat to the steady progress of the Social Democratic movement. envisioned this progress in terms of a pure trade unionism of British and American type, and a pure parliamentarism, which would enable the party to enter into coalitions with bourgeois parties and, sooner or later, perhaps, into government positions. To end, the Marxist ideology would have to be sacrificed in favor such evolutionary principles as those propounded by Eduard Berstein. But Kautsky was the leading Marxist authority and quite unwilling to denounce the Marxist heritage. He was also impressed by the 1905 revolutionary upheavals in Russia and by the mass strikes that occurred around the same time in a number of European countries. A socialist revolution appeared to him, while not an immediate, nevertheless a future possibility. In this spirit, he wrote his most radical work, The Road to Power, against the pure reformism that actuated the socialist parties.(6)

Socialism and its presupposition, political power in the hands of the proletarian state, Kautsky wrote in this work, could not be reached by an imperceptible, gradual, and peaceful transformation of capitalism through social reforms, but only in the manner foreseen by Marx. State power must be conquered. On this point there existed an affinity between the ideas of Marx and Engels and those of Blanqui, with the sole difference that while the latter relied on the coup d’ etat, executed by a minority, Marx and Engels looked to revolutionary actions by the broad masses of the working class–the only revolutionary force in modern capitalism–to lead to a proletarian state, that is, to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Kautsky’s insistence upon the revolutionary content of the labor movement led to a division of the socialist party, in a general way, into an « orthodox » and a « revisionist » wing, whereby the ·first seemingly dominated ideologically while the other determined the actual practice. Of course, this division was not peculiar to German Social Democracy but, via the Second International, played a part in all socialist organizations. In addition, there were other movements opposing Marxist theory and practice, such as the anarcho-communists, the syndicalists, and the apolitical labor movements in the Anglo-Saxon countries. But it was the Marxist movement which the bourgeoisie recognized as the most important threat to its rule, for it had developed an effective counter-ideology able to subvert the capitalist system. In any case, the success of the apparently « Marxist » revolution in Russia in 1917, its repercussions in the Central European nations, and finally, the subsequent division of the world into capitalist and « socialist » countries, led to a situation wherein any kind of social upheaval in any part of the world received and still receives the label « Marxism. »

At this point, however, we are still dealing with the prerevolutionary socialist movement, which found in Hilferding and Kautsky its most exemplary spokesmen. It was their interpretation of Marxism, in the light of changed social conditions, that dominated the socialist ideology. For both, socialism implied the capture of political power through the conquest of the state, either by an evolutionary or a revolutionary process. For both of them, too, capitalism had already prepared the ground for a socialist system of production. All that remained was to remove the value determination of capitalist production, its subjugation to the commodity fetishism of the competitive market, and to organize production and distribution in accordance with the ascertainable needs of society.

It is of course true that Marx and Engels acknowledged the obvious, namely, that the overthrow of capitalism demands the overthrow of its state. For them, the political aspect of the proletarian revolution exhausts itself in overwhelming the capitalist state apparatus with all the means required to this end. The victorious working class would neither institute a new state nor seize control of the existing state, but exercise its dictatorship so as to be able to realize its real goal, the appropriation of the means of production and their irrevocable transformation into social means of production in the most literal sense, that is, as under the control of the association of free and equal producers. Although assuming functions previously associated with those of the state, this dictatorship is not to become a new state, but a means to ‘the elimination of all suppressive measures through the ending of class relations. There is no room for a « socialist state » in socialism, even though there is the need for a central direction of the socialized economy, which, however, is itself a part of the organization of associated producers and not an independent entity set against them.

Of course, for reasons not as yet discernible, this might be al er utopian, as thus would be a socialist society in the Marxian sense. It has to be tried in a revolutionary situation if a serious effort is to be made to reach the classless society. It may be forced the workers by objective conditions, quite aside from whether not they understand all its implications. But it may also fail, if proletariat abdicates its own dictatorship to a separately or new state machine that usurps control over society. It is not possible to foresee under what particular concrete social conditions the revolutionary process might unfold, and whether or the mere extension and intensification of dictatorial rule will degenerate into a new state assuming independent powers. Whatever the case may be, it is not through the state that socialism can realized, as this would exclude the self-determination of the class, which is the essence of socialism. State rule perpetes the divorce of the workers from the means of production, on which their dependence and exploitation rests, and thus also perpetuates social class relations.

However, it was precisely the attempt to overcome the apparently utopian elements of Marxian doctrine which induced the theoreticians of the Second International to insist upon the state as the instrument for the realization of socialism. Although they were divided on the question of how to achieve control of the state, they were united in their conviction that the organization of the new society is the state’s responsibility. It was their sense of reality that made them question Marx’s abstract concepts of the revolution and the construction of socialism, bringing these ideas down to earth and in closer relation to the concretely given possibilities.

Indeed, the construction of a socialist system is no doubt a most formidable undertaking. Even to think about it is already of a bewildering complexity defying easy or convincing solutions. It certainly seems to be out of reach for the relatively uneducated working class. It would require the greatest expertise in the under standing and management of social phenomena and the most careful approach to all reorganizational problems, if it is not to end in dismal failure. It demands an over-all view of social needs, as well as special qualifications for those attending to them, and thus institutions designed to assure the social reproduction process.Such institutions must have enough authority to withstand all irrational objections and thus must have the support of government which, by sanctioning these decisions, makes them its own. Most of all, the even flow of production must not be interfered with and all unnecessary experimentation must be avoided, so that it would be best to continue with proven methods of production and the production relations on which they were based.

In Marxian theory, a period of social revolution ensues when the existing social relations of production become a hindrance to the utilization and further development of the social forces of production. It is by a change of the social relations of production that the hampered social powers of production find their release. Their further expansion might, but need not, require a quantitative increase in the social powers of production. By ending the drive to « accumulate for the sake of accumulation » and with it the various restrictions due to this type of abstract wealth production, the available productive power of social labor is set free in a qualitatively different system of production geared to the rationally considered needs of society.

In capitalism the productive forces of social labor, which appear as the productive power of capital, limit their own expansion through the decrease of surplus value in the course of capital accumulation. The applications of science and technology merely hasten this process and become themselves barriers to the formation of capital. But without this formation, production must decline even with respect to the capitalistically determined social needs, first with respect to the enlarged reproduction of capital, and then also with regard to simple reproduction, which would mean the end of the capitalist system. Concretely, this process takes the form not only of recurrent periods of depressions and along-term trend of economic decline, but also of capitalism’s inability to avail itself even of the productive forces developed during its relentless drive for surplus value. Part of the existing productive forces are such only potentially, as they fail to increase the profitability of capital in sufficient measure, or at all, and for that reason are not employed. In economic terms, constant and variable capital remain idle because, if not used capitalistically, they cannot be used at all. Their full utilization would require a change ithe relations of production which would disencumber social production of its dependence on the creation of surplus value.

Because the capitalistic increase of the social powers of production has the form of the accumulation of capital, science and serve this particular brand of social development and the latter as such. And because science and technology are limitless in every direction, they can change their direction through a change of the social structure, away from its need to accumulate capital, to the real production and consumption requirements of a society not only « socialized » in the limited sense that its development is determined by the interdependence of the separated commodity producers, but in a truly social sense, implying the prevention of special private or class interests from interfering in the conciously recognized needs of society as a whole. Science and technlogy would move in different directions than those required by society.

Moreover, although an expression of the rapid accumulation capital, its increasing monopolization implies the monopolization of science and technology and their subordination to the specific interests of the centralized capitals. This hinders the increase of productivity in the remaining competitive sectors of the economy and prevents the growth of the social forces of production in capitalistically underdeveloped nations, except insofar as this may suit the special interests of the centralized capitals in the dominating capitalist countries. Finally, the monopolization of the world market plays the bulk of the produced surplus value world-wide into the hands of a diminishing number of internationally operating capitals, at the price of the increasing pauperization of the world’s population. At the same time, the national form of capital production prevents its internationalization for an all-round expansion of the social forces of production, which would require consideration of the real needs of the world population within the frame-work ofa socialized world economy. Unable to proceed in this direction, the increasing productive power of capital turns into a destructive power, which today threatens not only the setbacks of new and worldwide wars, but the destruction of the world itself. Under these conditions the capitalist system has ceased to be a vehicle for the growth of the social forces of production. It merely provides the stage for the change of social relations that is the precondition for the resumption of the civilizing process of social labor.

For the theoreticians of the Second International as well, socialism meant a change of the social relations of production, but they saw this change not in the abolition of wage labor but in the sudden or gradual transformation of private into social capital under the auspices of the state. It is true that they also spoke of the end of wage labor, but this implied no more than the negative act of the state’s expropriation of capital, which would, presumably, automatically change the social status of the laboring class. It did not enter their minds that the workers themselves would have to take possession of the means of production and that they themselves would have to determine the conditions of production, the allocation of social labor, the priorities of production, and the distirbution of the social product, through the creation of organizational forms that could assure that decision-making powers would remain in the hands of the actual producers. In the statist conceptions of socialism it is not the working class itself that rearranges society. This is done for it, through substitution for it of a special social group, organized as the state, which imagines that by this token it removes the stigma of exploitation from wage labor.

On the whole, it is of course true that the socialist workers themselves shared this concept with their leaders and assumed that the act of socialization would be a function of government. This turned out to be an illusion, but an illusion that had been systematically indoctrinated into the working class. The indoctrination was successful because the procedure it predicted appeared logical in view of the centralizing tendencies of capitalist production and the democratic form of bourgeois politics. The great difference between capitalism and socialism was thus perceived as the mere elimination of the privateproperty character of capital, or as the complete monopolization of capital under centralized government control, which would serve no longer the specific interests of the capitalist class but the whole of society. But to that end, the state would have to regulate production and thus the labor process, which, under these conditions, seemed feasible only through the maintenance of wage labor.

However, wage labor is only the other side of the capital-labor relation that characterizes capitalist society and determines its productive powers. The cdmplete monopolization of capital does do away, at least ideally, with competitive market relations and does allow for a measure of conscious control of the economy, and thus impairs or ends the value-determination of social production. This may or may not increase the powers of social labor, but it leaves the capitalist relations of production intact. The socialization of production remains incomplete, as it does not affect the social relations of production. The removal of the fetishism of commodity production through its conscious control also removes the fetishistic character of wage labor but not wage labor itself. It continues : to express the lack of social power on the part of the working class and its centralization into the hand of the controlling state. The capital-labor relation has been modified but not abolished; there has been a social revolution but not a working-class revolution.


1. Das Finanzkapital (1909); English translation, Finance Capital (London) Capitalism and Socialism: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).

2. Studien zur Theorie und Geschichte der Handelskrisen (1901); Theoretische Grundlagen des Marxismus (1905).

3. Actually, Hilferding has no crisis theory; he merely describes the differences in market conditions that distinguish periods of prosperity from those of depression. Insofar as he attempts an explanation, it is clearly self-contradictory. On the one hand, he maintains with Marx that the cause of crisis must be looked for in the sphere of production, in the recurring difficulty of producing the surplus value necessary for a further profitable expansion of capital; on the other hand, he speaks of a lack of coordination between the expanding capital and the growing consumption, which disturbs the supply and demand relations in terms of prices, thereby impairing the realization of the produced surplus value. Besides this particular disproportionality, Hilferding mentions a number of others, such as may arise between fixed and circulating capital; between technical and value relations of production; between the functions of money as a hoard and as medium of exchange; between unequal changes in the turnover of the different capital entities, and so forth

Although Hilferding refers to the law of the falling rate of profit in the course of the rising organic composition of capital and for that reason rejects the popular underconsumption theories, he asserts nevertheless that the differences in the organic composition of the diverse capitals display themselves in discrepancies arising between production and consumption in terms of price relations. He forgets that it is the general, or average, rate of profit that regulates the prices of production, regardless of differences in the organic compositions of the individual capitals, and that it is the accumulation process itself that allocates social labor in favor of a more rapid growth of the constant capital. However, searching for the cause of crisis in the circulation process, Hilferding speaks of a difference between market prices and the prices of production. He says, in other words, that some capitalists realize profits beyond that contained in the price of production, while others realize correspondingly less than the profit implied in the price of production, as determined by the organic composition of the total social capital This im plies, of course, an impairment of the function of the average rate of profit as a result of the increasing monopolization of capital, which, however, does not alter the size of the total social profit, or surplus value, with respect to the accumulation requirements of the total social capital on which Marx’s crisis theory is based. Whereas in Marx’s theory the value relations regulate the price relations, in Hilferding’s interpretation the actual price relations disrupt the regulatory force of the value relations, because prices do not register the value requirements for the equilibrium conditions of the expanded reproduction of capital.

4. In a speech delivered at the Social-Democratic Party Congress in Kiel, 1927. Cf: Protokoll der Verhandlungen des sozialdemokratischen Parteitages 1927 in Kiel (Berlin: 1927), pp. 165-224.

5. Karl Kautsky, Am Tage nach der sozialen Revolution.(Die soziale Revolution, part II) (Berlin, 1902); English translation, « The Day after the Social Revolution, » in The Social Revolution (Chicago: Kerr, 1902).

6. Karl Kautsky, Der Weg zur Macht (1909): English translation, The Road to Power (Chicago: S. A. Bloch, 1909).

3. Reform and Revolution:

The bourgeois political revolution was the culmination of a drawnout process of social changes in the sphere of production. Where the ascending capitalist class gained complete control of the state, this assured a rapid unfolding of the capital-labor relation. Feudalistic resistance to this transformation varied in different countries. Though capitalism was on the rise generally, its gestation involved both force and compromise, characterized by an overlapping of the new and the old both politically and economically. The ruling classes divided into a reactionary and a progressive wing, the latter striving for political control through a democratic capitalist state. The division between an entrenched autocracy and the liberal bourgeoisie reflected the uneven pace of capitalist development and extended the internal distinctions between reaction and progress to the nations themselves and to their political institutions.

The socialist movement arose in an incompletely bourgeois society in a world of nations still more or less in the thrall of the reactionary forces of the past. This situation led to an expedient but unnatural alliance between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Historically, the opposition of labor and capital had first to appear as an identity of interests, so as to release the forces of production that would turn the proletariat into an independent social class. To partake in the bourgeois revolutions with their own demands did not contradict the postulated « historical goal » of the working class, but was an unavoidable precondition of its future struggle against the bourgeoisie.

Although it has often been asserted that it was fear of the proletariat that induced the bourgeoisie to limit its own struggle against the feudal autocracy, it was rather the recognition of its own as yet restricted power vis-a-vis the reactionary foe that made it draw back from radical measures in favor of its own political aspirations. While the bourgeoisie found support in the laboring population, it was certain that it would find the assistance of the reactionary forces should this prove necessary to destroy the revolutionary initiative of the working class. In any case, time was on the side of the bourgeoisie, as the feudal layers of society adapted to the capitalization process and integrated themselves into the capitalist mode of production. The integration of the apparently irreconcilable interests of the conservative elements, largely based on agriculture, and the progressive democratic forces, representing industrial capital, finally realized the goals of the failed bourgeois revolutions of 1848, which had gripped almost all the nations of Western Europe. Eighteen forty-eight had raised hopes for an early proletarian revolution, particularly because of the devastating economic crisis conditions that had caused the political ferment in the first place. But the years of depression passed and with them also the social upheavals against everything thought to stand in the way of social change. Capital accumulated no less within countries ruled by politically reactionary regimes than in those where the state favored the liberal bourgeoisie.

The modern nation-state is a creation of capitalism, which demands the transformation of weak into viable states, so as to create the conditions of production that allow for successful competition on the world market. Nationalism was then the predominant concern of the revolutionary bourgeoisie. Capitalist expansion and national unification were seen as complementary processes, although nationalism in its ideological form was held to be a value in its own right. In this form, it took on revolutionary connotations wherever particular nations, such as Ireland and Poland, had come under foreign rule. Because capitalism implied the formation of nations, those who favored the first necessarily favored the second, even if only as another presupposition of a future proletarian revolution which, for its part, was supposed to end the national separations of the world economy. It was in this sense that Marx and Engels advocated the formation of nations powerful enough to assure a rapid capitalistic development.

Of course, it did not really matter whether or not Marx and Engels favored the formation of capitalistically viable nation-states, for their influence upon actual events was less than minimal. All they could do was express their own sentiments and preferences with regard to the various national struggles that accompanied the capitalization of the European continent. In these struggles the workers could as yet provide only cannon fodder for class interests that were not their own, or were so only indirectly, in that a rapid capitalist development promised to improve their conditions within their wage-labor dependency. Only in a historical sense was their participation in the national-revolutionary upheavals of the time, and in the ensuing national wars, justifiable, for at the time, they could serve only the specific class interests of the rising and competing bourgeoisie. However, even though history was made by the bourgeoisie, the fact that the latter’s existence implied the existence and development of the proletariat made it obligatory to view this process also from the position of the working class and to formulate policies that would presumably advance its interests within the capitalistic development.

As the formation of viable national states involved the absorption of less viable national entities, a distinction was made between nations possessing the potential for a vast capitalistic development and others not so endowed. Friedrich Engels, for instance, differentiated between nations destined to affect the course of history and others unable to play an independent role in historical development.(1) In his opinion, nationalism as such was not a revolutionary force, except indirectly in situations where it served a rapid capitalist development. There was no room for small or backward nations within the unfolding capitalist world. National aspirations could thus be either revolutionary or reactionary, depending upon their positive or negative impact on the growing social powers of production. Only insofar as national movements supported the general capitalist development could these movements be seen as progressive and so of interest to the working class, for nationalism was only the capitalistically contradictory form of a development preparing the way for the internationalization of capital production and therefore also for proletarian internationalism.

Of course, this general conception had to be spelled out empirically, by taking sides, at least verbally, in the actual national movements and national wars of the nineteenth century. According to the degree of their capitalist development, or the clear need and desire for such nation’s competitive position within the world economy, their defense implied the defense of the nation, if only to safeguard what had already been gained. The more advanced the working class thought itself to be, the more outspoken its identification with the prevailing nationalism. Where the workers did not challenge capitalist social relations at all, as in England and the United States, their acceptance of bourgeois nationalism with its imperialist implications was complete. Where there was at least ideological opposition to the capitalist system, as in the Marxist movement, nationalist sentiments were extolled in a more hypocritical fashion, namely as a means to transform the nation into a socialist nation powerful enough to withstand a possible onslaught of external counterrevolutionary forces. A distinction was now made between nations clearly on the road to socialism, as attested by the increasing power of the socialist organizations and their growing influence upon society at large, and nations still completely under the sway of their traditional ruling classes and trailing behind the general social development along the socialist path.

A particular nation could thus become a kind of « vanguard nation, » destined by its example to lead other nations. This role, played by France in the bourgeois revolution, was now claimed, with respect to the socialist revolution, for Germany, thanks to her quick capitalist development, her geopolitical location, and her labor movement, the pride of the Second International. A defeat of this nation in a capitalist war would set back not only the development of Germany and its labor movement, but along with it the development of socialism as such. It was thus in the name of socialism that Friedrich Engels, for instance, advocated the defense of the German nation against less advanced countries such as Russia, and even against more advanced capitalist nations, such as France, were they to ally themselves with the potential Russian adversary. And it was August Rebel, the popular leader of German Social Democracy, who announced his readiness to fight for the German fatherland should this be necessary to secure its uninterrupted socialist development.

In a world of competing capitalist nations the gains of some nations are the losses of others, even if all of them increase their capital with the enlargement of the world market. The capital concentration process proceeds internationally as well as nationally. As competition leads to monopolization, the theoretically « free world market » becomes a partially controlled market, and the instrumentalities to this end–protectionism, colonialism, militarism, and imperialism–are employed to assure national privileges within the expanding capitalist world economy. Monopolization and imperialism thus provide a degree of conscious interference in the market mechanism, though only for purposes of national aggrandizement. However, as conscious control of the economy is also a goal of socialism, the economic regulation due to the monopolization of capital and its imperialist activities was held by some socialists and social reformers, such as the Fabians of England, to be a progressive step toward the development of a more rational society.

Because a relatively undisturbed growth of labor organizations in ascending capitalism presupposes a rate of capital accumulation allowing at the same time for sufficient profits and for the gradual improvement of the conditions of the laboring classes, the nationally organized labor movement, bent on social reforms or merely on higher wages, cannot help favoring the expansion of the national capital. Whether the fact is acknowledged or not, international capital competition affects the working class as well as capital. Even the socialist wing of the labor movement will not be immune to this external pressure, in order not to lose contact with reality and to maintain its influence upon the working class, regardless of all the ideological lip service paid to proletarian internationalism as the final but distant goal of the socialist movement.

The national division of capitalist production also nationalizes the proletarian class struggle. This is not a mere question of ideology–that is, of the uncritical acceptance of bourgeois nationalism by the working class–but is also a practical need, for it is within the framework of the national economy that the class struggle is fought. With the unity of mankind a distant and perhaps utopian goal, the historically evolving nation-state and its success with respect to the competitive pursuit of capital determine the destiny of its labor movement together with that of the working class as regards the conditions of its existence. Like all ideologies, in order to be effective nationalism too must have some definite contact with real needs and possibilities, not only for the class interests directly associated with it but also for those subjected to their rule.

Once established and systematically perpetuated, the ideology of nationalism, like money, takes on an independent existence and asserts its power without disclosing the specific material class interests that led to its formation in the first place. As it is not the social production process but its fetishistic form of appearance that structures the conscious apprehension of capitalist society, so it is the nationalist ideology, divorced from its underlying class-determined social relations, that appears as a part of the false consciousness dominating the whole of society. Nationalism appears now as a value in itself and as the only form in which some sort of « sociality » can be realized in an otherwise asocial and atomized society. It is an abstract form of sociality in lieu of a real sociality, but it attests to the subjective need of the isolated individual to assert his humanity as a social being. As such, it is the ideological reflex of capitalist society as a system of social production for private gain, based on the exploitation of one class by another. It supplements or replaces religion as the cohesive force of social existence, since no other form of cohesion is possible at this stage of the development of the social forces of production. It is thus a historical phenomenon, which seems to be as « natural » as capitalist production itself and lends to the latter an aura of sociality it does not really possess.

The ambiguities of ideologies, including nationalism, are both their weakness and their strength. To retain its effectiveness over time, ideology must be relentlessly cultivated. The internalization of ideological nationalism cannot be left to the contradictory socialization process itself, but must be systematically propagated to combat any arising doubt as to its validity for society as a whole. But as the means of indoctrination, together with those of production and of direct physical control, are in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the ideas of the ruling class are the socially ruling ideas and in that form answer the subjective need for the individual’s integration into a larger and protective community.

Capital operates internationally but concentrates its profits nationally. Its internationalization appears thus as an imperialistic nationalism aiming at the monopolization of the sources of surplus value. This is at once a political and an economic process, even though the connection between the two is not always clearly discernible because of the relatively independent existence of nationalist ideology, which hides the specifically capitalistic interests at its base. This camouflage works the better because the whole of known history has been the history of plunder and war of various people engaged in building up? or in destroying, one or another ethnic group, one or another empire. « National » security, or « national » security by way of expansion, appears to be the stuff of history, a never-ending « Darwinian » struggle for existence regardless of the historical specificity of class relations within the « national » entities.

Just as monopolization and competition, or free trade and protectionism, are aspects of one and the same historical development, nationalism and imperialism are also indivisible, although the latter may take on a variety of forms, from direct domination to indirect economic and financial control. Politically, the accumulation of capital appears as the competitive expansion of nations and so as an imperialistic struggle for larger shares of the exploitable resources of the world, whether real or imaginary. This process, implicit in capitalist production, divides the world into more or less successful capitalist nations. The specifically capitalist imperialist imperative, or even the mere opportunity for imperialist expansion, was taken up by some nations sooner than by others, such as England and France in the eighteenth century, and was delayed by nations such as Germany and the United States until the nineteenth century. Some smaller nations were not at all able to enter into imperialist competition and had to fit themselves into a world structure dominated by the great capitalist powers. The changing fortunes of the imperialist nations in their struggle for larger shares of the world’s profits appear economically in the concentration of the world’s growing capital in a diminishing number of nations. This would also result eventually from the expansion of capital without imperialistic interventions on the part of the competing national capitals: it is not competition which determines the course of capitalist development, but capitalist production which determines the course of competition and capitalism’s bloody history.

The object of national rivalries is the amassing of capital, on which all political and military power rests. The ideology of nationalism is based not on the existence of the nation but on the existence of capital and on its self-expansion. In this sense, nationalism mediates the internationalization of capital production without leading to a unified world economy, just as the concentration and monopolization of the national capitals does not eliminate their private property character. Nationally as well as internationally capitalist production creates the world economy via the creation of the world market. At the base of this general competitive process lies an actual, if still abstract, need for a worldwide organization of production and distribution beneficial to all of humanity. This is not only because the earth is far better adapted to such an organization, but also because the social productive forces can be further developed and society freed from want and misery only by a fully international cooperation without regard to particularistic interests. However, the compelling interdependency implied in a progressive social development asserts itself capitalistically in an unending struggle for imperialist control. Imperialism, not nationalism, was the great issue around the turn of the century. German « nationalist » interests were now imperialist interests, competing with the imperialisms of other nations. French « national » interests were those of the French empire, as Britain’s were those of the British empire. Control of the world and the division and re-division of this control between the great imperialist powers, and even between lesser nations, determined « national » policies and culminated in the first worldwide war.

As crisis reveals the fundamental contradictions of capital production, capitalist war reveals the imperialistic nature of nationalism. Imperialism presents itself, however, as a national need to prevent, or to overcome, a crisis situation in a defensive struggle against the imperialistic designs of other nations. Where such nations do not exist imperialism takes on the guise of a measure to maintain the well-being of the nation and, at the same time, to carry its « civilizing » mission into new territories. It is not too difficult to get the consent of a working class more or less habituated to capitalist conditions, and thus under the sway of nationalism, for any imperialist adventure. The workers’ state of absolute dependency allows them to feel that, for better or worse, their lot is indissolubly connected with that of the nation. Unable as yet and therefore unwilling to fight for any kind of self-determination, they manage to convince themselves that the concerns of their masters are also their own. And this the more so, because it is only in this fashion that they are able to see themselves as full-fledged members of society, gaining as citizens of the state the « dignity » and « appreciation » denied to them as members of the working class.

There is no point in being annoyed by this state of affairs and in dismissing the working class as a stupid class, unable to distinguish its own interests from those of the bourgeoisie. After all, it merely shares the national ideology with the rest of society, which is equally unaware that nationalism, like religion at an earlier time, and like the faith in the beneficence of market relations, is only an ideological expression for the self-expansion of capital, that is, for the helpless subjection of society to « economic laws » that have their source in the exploitative social relations of capitalist production. It is true that the ruling class, at least, benefits from society’s antisocial production process, but it does so just as blindly as the working class accepts its suffering. It is this blindness which accounts for the apparently independent force of ideological nationalism, which is thus able to transcend the social class relations.

The materialist conception of history attempts to explain both the persistence of a given societal form and the reasons for its possible change. Its supporters ought not to be surprised by the resiliency of a given society, as indicated by its continual reproduction and the consequent recreation of its ruling ideology. Changes within the status quo may be for long times almost imperceptible, or unrecognizable as regards their future implications. The presence of class contradictions explains both social stability and instability, depending upon conditions outside the control of either the rulers or the ruled. In distinction to preceding societal forms, however, the capital-labor relation of social production continually accelerates changes in the productive forces, while maintaining the basic social relations of production, and thus allows for the expectation of an early confrontation of the contending social classes. At any rate, this was the conclusion the Marxist movement drew from the increasing polarization of capitalist society and from the internal contradictions of its production process. Class interests would come to supersede bourgeois ideology and thus counterpose the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie with that of the proletariat.

As stated before, these expectations were not unrealistic and were held by the bourgeoisie as well, which reacted to the rise of socialist movements and the increasing militancy of wage struggles with repressive measures that betrayed its fears of the possibility of a new social revolution. Class consciousness seemed indeed to destroy the national consensus and the hold of bourgeois ideology over the working population. Until about 1880 the theory of the impoverishment of the working class in the course of capital accumulation, and the consequent sharpening of the class struggle, found verification in actual social conditions, and accounted for the radicalization of the laboring masses. This same period, however, which resembled a prolonged social crisis situation, also laid the foundation for a new and accelerating phase of capital expansion which lasted, with occasional interruptions, almost to the eve of the first world war. It provided the objective conditions for the legalization of organized labor and its integration into the capitalist system in economic as well as in political terms.

Of course, the acceptance of organized labor and socialist organizations was not a gift freely offered the working class by a more generous bourgeoisie, but was the result of class struggles –albeit of a limited nature–which wrested concessions from the bourgeoisie and its state, improving the material conditions of the workers and elevating their social status within bourgeois democracy. These concessions could not have been made without a rapid increase in the productivity of labor and a consequent quickening of the accumulation process. But they appeared nonetheless as results of the self-exertion of the laboring population, a class rising within the confines of capitalism, which encouraged the growing illusion that the increasing power of organized labor would eventually turn the working class into the socially dominant class, displacing the bourgeoisie. In reality, the improving conditions of the working class implied no more than its increasing exploitation, i.e., the decrease of the value of labor power with respect to the total value of the social product. However, both the capitalists and the workers think in everyday life not about social value relations but in terms of quantities of products at their disposal for purposes of capital expansion or general consumption. That the improvement in the conditions of the working class resulted from the accelerated growth of their productivity did not diminish the importance of the betterment of their living standards and its reflection in their ideological commitments.

Disappointed by the slow development of proletarian class consciousness in the leading capitalist nations and upset by the latter’s ability to weather their crisis situations, and thus to reach always greater heights of self-expansion, the socialists had to admit that Marx’s predictions of the impoverishment of the working class and the development of revolutionary class consciousness, as an outgrowth of its class struggle, seemed unsubstantiated by actual events. Friedrich Engels, for instance, tried to explain this dismal condition with the assertion (later to be parroted by Lenin) of a deliberately fostered « corruption » of the working class on the part of the bourgeoisie, which allowed a growing section of the industrial proletariat to partake to some extent of the spoils of imperialism. In this view, a rising « labor aristocracy » within the international working class weakened the class solidarity necessary for a consistent struggle against the bourgeoisie and carried the bourgeois ideology, and here particularly its nationalist aspect, into the ranks of the proletariat. The decline of revolutionary class consciousness showed itself in the steady growth of an opportunistic reformism based on the acceptance of the capitalist relations of production and bourgeois democracy.

In any case, there was no direct connection between the economic class struggle and the revolutionizing of the workers’ consciousness. The expectation that the recurrent confrontations of labor and capital over profits and wages would lead to the recognition that the wage system must itself be abolished to end the workers’ Sisyphean activities on its behalf was disappointed, due to the simple fact this was not possible at this particular stage of capitalistic development. As long as profits and wages could rise simultaneously–however disproportionately-and the class division of the social product be affected by social legislation, even though this involved economic and political struggles, the character of these struggles was set by the limited demands made by the part of the laboring population still under the sway of bourgeois ideology. Although growing in numbers and in social influence, trade unions and socialist parties remained in a minority position within the population at large and even within the working class as a whole.

Not only were expectations of a possible revolutionary change now relegated to a more remote future, but even the growth of the socialist movement was seen as a long term, prosaic educational effort to win the laboring population to an acceptance of socialist ideology. Notwithstanding the struggles for wages and social reforms, which were themselves conceived of as learning processes, the class struggle was mainly seen as ideological in nature: in the end people would favor socialism because of its more accurate comprehension of the developing reality. One simply had to wait for the time when objective conditions themselves verified the socialist critique of the capitalist system, thus ending the subjective submission of the proletariat to the ruling ideology.

As an organized ideology, socialism opposed the dominant bourgeois ideology; the class struggle became by and large a struggle of ideas and thus the preserve of the proponents of ideologies. Ideologies competed for the allegiance of the masses, who were seen as recipients, not as producers, of the contesting ideologies. Ideologists found themselves in search of a following, in order to effectuate their goals. The working class–apparently unable to evolve a socialist ideology on its own–was seen as dependent upon the existence of an ideological leadership able to combat the sophistries of the ruling class. Due to the social class structure and the associated division of labor, ideological leadership was destined to be in the hands of educated middle-class elements committed to serve the needs of the workers and the goals of socialism.

However limited they were, the parliamentary successes of the socialist parties, which brought an increasing number of representatives of the working class into capitalism’s political institutions, not only induced a growing number of educated professionals to enter the socialist organizations but also provided the latter with a degree of respectability unknown at an earlier stage of the developing socialist movement. Leaving economic struggles to the trade unions, the spreading of the socialist ideology was now measured by the number of its representatives in parliament and by their ability to present « the case for socialism » to the nation and to initiate and support social legislation for the improvement of the conditions of the laboring class. Political actions were now conceived of as parliamentary activities, made for the workers by their representatives, with the « rank and file » left no other role than that of passive support. In a rather short time, the workers’ submission to their intellectual superiors in the parliaments and the party hierarchy was complete enough to turn this incipient class consciousness into a political consciousness derived from that of their elected leadership.

What was at first a tendency within the socialist movement, namely the substitution for proletarian self-determination of a nonproletarian leadership acting on behalf of the working class, later became the conviction and the practice of all branches of socialism, both reformist and revolutionary. Not only its right-wing revisionists but the so-called centrist Karl Kautsky and the leftist Lenin were convinced that the working class by itself was not able to evolve a revolutionary consciousness, and that this had to be brought to it, from outside, by members of the educated bourgeoisie, who alone had the capacity and opportunity to understand the intricacies of the capitalist system and thus to develop a meaningful counter-ideology to the ruling capitalist ideology and so lead the struggle of the working class. Of course, this elitist idea was itself a product of the rapid rise of the labor movement, which attracted a growing number of middle-class elements into its ranks. Ideologically, at any rate, socialism ceased to be the exclusive concern of an awakening proletariat, but became a social movement with some appeal for members of the middle class.

This class found itself in a process of transformation, caught between the millstones of capital concentration and social polarization. The old middle class lost its property-owning character and became in increasing measure a salaried class in the service of the big bourgeoisie and its state apparatus. It became a managerial class filling the gap that divided the bourgeoisie from the proletariat and, in the various professions, a class serving the personal and cultural needs of the divided society. The mediating functions of the new middle class in support of the existing social production relations was reflected in the socialist movement by the determination of its theory and practice by its intellectual leadership. Although some workers were able to advance into leading positions within their organizations, the tone of their politics, as suggested by an alleged predominance of theory over practice, was set by the intellectually emancipated leadership stemming from the middle class. This was a question not so much of the relationship between theory and practice as of the relationship between the leaders and the led. Policies were made by an elected leadership and found their parliamentary and extraparliamentary support in the disciplined adherence of the mass of workers to their organizations’ programs and their time-conditioned variations The division between mental and manual labor, so necessary for the capitalist system, was thus also a characteristic of the labor movement.

The rapid influx of middle-class elements into the leading positions of the socialist movement disturbed even its intellectual founders. Notwithstanding his own reformist inclinations, Friedrich Engels, for instance, was greatly worried about the increasing subjugation of the self-activity of the working class to the political initiative of the well-meaning petite bourgeoisie. His own reformism, as he saw it, was after all a mere strategem, not a matter of principle, whereas the reformism of the petite bourgeoisie tended to eliminate the class struggle altogether in obeisance to the rules  » of bourgeois democracy. « Since the foundation of the International, » he wrote to August Bebel, « our war cry has been: the emancipation of the working class can only be the work of the workers themselves. We simply cannot collaborate with people who declare openly that the workers are not sufficiently educated to be able to liberate themselves, and for that reason have to be freed from above by a philanthropic bourgeoisie. » (2) He suggested throwing these elements out of the socialist organizations so as to safeguard its proletarian character.

The workers themselves, however, were unperturbed if not flattered by the attention given to them by some of the « better kind » of people. In addition, they felt the need for allies in their rather unequal class struggle.

But in any case the revolutionary character of socialism was not lost because of the class-collaborationist ideas evolved by its nonproletarian leadership, but because the « strategy » of reformism, as the only possible practical activity, became the principle » of the organizations in their attempts to consolidate and to enlarge their influence within capitalist society. With respect to German Social Democracy, for instance, it had by 1913 a membership of close to a million and was able to muster 4.5 million votes in national elections. It sent 110 members to the Reichstag. The trade unions had a membership of about 2.5 million and their financial assets amounted to 88 million Marks. The Social Democratic Party itself invested 20 million Marks in private industry and in state loans. It employed more than 4,000 professional officials and 11,000 salaried employees, and controlled 94 newspapers and various other publications. To maintain the party and to assure its undisturbed further growth was the first consideration of those who controlled it, an attitude even more pronounced in the purely proletarian trade unions.

There is no point in describing this process in other nations, even though their labor movements varied in one or another respect from that in Germany. Social Democracy and trade unionism advanced–although more often than not at a slower pace than in Germany–in all the developed capitalist nations, thus raising the specter of a socialist movement that might eventually, by reformist or revolutionary means, or both, transform capitalism into a classless, nonexploitative society. Meanwhile, however, this movement was allowed, and indeed compelled by circumstances, to integrate itself as thoroughly as it could into the capitalist fabric as one special interest group among those which together constitute the capitalist market economy. The specter of socialism, though used by the bourgeoisie to delimit the political and economic aspirations of the working class, remained a mere apparition, unable to destroy the self-confidence of the ruling classes with regard to either their material or their ideological control of society. Dressed in whatever garb, the organized labor movement remained a small minority within the working classes, thus indicating that a decisive weakening of bourgeois ideology presupposes the actual decay of capitalism. Only when the discrepancy between ideology and reality finds an obvious display in persistently deteriorating economic and social conditions, will the otherwise rather comfortable ideological consensus give way to new ideas corresponding to new necessities.

There is also quite a difference between an ideology based on tradition and on actual circumstances, and one based on nonexisting conditions, with relevance to a future which may or may not be a reasonable expectation. In this respect, socialist ideology is at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the ruling capitalist ideology. A powerful exertion of the latter, for purposes of waging war, or even for internal reasons, will create serious doubts regarding the validity or the effectiveness of the socialist ideology even in some of its more consistent supporters. The emerging feeling of uncertainty mixed with the fear of the unknown, which accounts for the mass hysteria accompanying the outbreak of war, will affect the socialists too and induce them to question their own ideological commitments anew. Their critical attitude towards the ruling ideology, to reiterate, does not free them from acting as if they were under its sway, while their socialist convictions cannot be actualized within the given conditions of their existence. They can be carried away by the apparent euphoria of the agitated masses and drown their own ambiguities in the murky sea of nationalism in a spontaneous reassertion of loyalties latent but not yet lost.

Furthermore, there is the objective fact of the national form of capitalism, and therefore of its labor movement, which cannot be overcome by a mere ideological commitment to internationalism, such as can be gained by a loose consultative body as was the Second International. The various national organizations comprising this institution differed among themselves with regard to their effective powers in their respective countries and thus also with regard to their opportunities to influence national policies. What would happen if the socialist movement of a particular country should succeed in preventing its bourgeoisie from waging war while that of another country did not? Even though « the main enemy resides in one’s own country, » a foreign enemy may nonetheless attack a nation made defenseless by its socialist opposition.

It was the recognition that the road to socialism finds a barrier in unequal capitalist development, which also shows itself in the unequal class consciousness of the laboring population, that induced Marx and Engels to favor one or another country in imperialistic conflicts, siding with those bearing the greatest promise for a socialist future. They could not envision a capitalist development without national wars and they did not hesitate to state their preferences as to their outcome. Pacifism is not a Marxist tradition. It was then not too difficult to rationalize the socialist acceptance of war and even to invoke the names of Marx and Engels in its support.

Notwithstanding the apparently general recognition that in the age of imperialism all wars are wars of conquest, it was still possible for socialists to assert that, from their point of view, they may also be defensive in nature insofar as they prevent the destruction of more progressive nations by socially less-advanced countries, which would be a setback for socialism in general. In fact, this became the flaccid justification for participation in the imperialist war for the majority of socialists in all the warring nations, each national organization defending its own more advanced conditions, against the backwardness of the enemy country. Supposedly, it was the barbarism of the Russian autocratic adversary that demanded the defense of a cultured nation such as Germany, as it was the barbaric aggressive militarism of the still semifeudal Germany that justified the defense of more democratic nations such as England and France. But such rationalizations merely covered up an actual inability as well as unwillingness to oppose the capitalist war in the only effective way possible, namely by revolutionary actions. The international labor movement was no longer, or not as yet, a revolutionary movement, but one fully satisfied with social reforms and for that reason tolerated by a bourgeoisie still able to grant these concessions without any loss to itself. The antiwar resolutions passed at the International’s congresses meant no more than a whistle in the dark and were composed in such an opaque fashion as to be practically noncommittal.

In 1909, in the first bloom of his socialist conversion, Upton Sinclair wrote a manifesto calling upon socialists and the workers of Europe and the United States to realize the peril of the approaching world war and to pledge themselves to prevent this calamity by the threat of a general strike in all countries. He sent the manifesto to Karl Kautsky for publication in the socialist press. Here is Kautsky’s reply:

Your manifesto against war I have read with great interest and warm sympathy. Nevertheless I am not able to publish it and you will not find anybody in Germany, nor in Austria or Russia, who would dare to publish your appeal. He would be arrested at once and get some years imprisonment for high treason…. By publishing the manifesto we would mislead our own comrades, promise to them more than we can fulfill. Nobody, and not the most revolutionary amongst the socialists in Germany, thinks to oppose war by insurrection and general strike. We are too weak to do that…. I hope, after a war, after the debacle of a government, we may get strength enough to conquer the political power…. That’s not my personal opinion only, in that point the whole party, without any exception, is unanimous…. You may be sure there will never come the day when German socialists will ask their followers to take up arms for the Fatherland. What Bebel announced will never happen, because today there is no foe who threatens the independence of the Fatherland. If there will be war today, it won’t be a war for the defense of the Fatherland, it will be for imperialistic purposes, and such a war will find the whole socialist party of Germany in energetic opposition. That we may promise. But we cannot go so far and promise that this opposition shall take the form of insurrection or general strike, if necessary, nor can we promise that our opposition will in every case be strong enough to prevent war. It would be worse than useless to promise more than we can fulfill. (3)

While Kautsky’s pessimism with respect to the possibility of preventing the approaching war proved to be correct, his optimistic assessment of the antiwar position of the German labor movement turned out to be totally erroneous. Moreover, this was not a German peculiarity but had its equivalent, with some slight modifications, in all the warring nations. There were of course exceptions to the rule, but the actual outbreak of war found the large majorities within organized labor, and within the working class as a whole, not only ready to support the imperialist war but ready to do so enthusiastically, which impelled Kautsky to resign himself to the fact that « the International was an instrument of peace but unworkable in times of war. » As easy as it had been to discuss the prevention of war, so difficult it proved to act when it arrived. The fait accompli of the ruling classes was enough to create conditions that destroyed overnight an international movement that had tried for decades to overcome bourgeois nationalism through the development of proletarian class consciousness and internationalism.

Paraphrasing an old slogan referring to the French nation, Marx once declared that « the proletariat is revolutionary or it is nothing. » In 1914 it was obviously nothing, as it prepared to lay down its life for the imperialist notions of the bourgeoisie. The socialist ideology proved to be only skin-deep, powerless to withstand the concerted onslaught of the accustomed bourgeois ideology, which identifies the national with the general interests. As for the working class as a whole, it put itself at the disposal of the ruling classes for purposes of war, as it accepted its class position in times of peace. The capitalist reality weighed heavier than the socialist ideology, which as yet represented not an actual but only a potential social force. However difficult it is to understand the unifying power of bourgeois ideology and its hold upon the broad masses, this difficulty itself in no way alters the force of the traditional ideology. What was more astonishing was the rapidity with which the socialist movement itself succumbed to the requirements of the imperialist war, and thereby ceased to be a socialist movement. It was as if there had been no socialist movement at all but merely a make-believe movement with no intention to act upon its beliefs.

The collapse of the socialist movement and the Second International has been propagandistically described as a « betrayal » of principles and of the working class. This is of course a recourse to idealism and a denial of the materialist conception of history. Actually, as we observed above, the changes the movement had gone through, within the general capitalist development, had long since relegated all programmatic principles to the purely ideological sphere, where they lost any connection with the opportunistic behavior of the movement. The pragmatic opportunism of the reformist movement no longer possessed principles it could « betray, » but adjusted its activities in conformity with what was possible within the frame of capitalism. No doubt, the antiwar sentiments displayed at international congresses, and in each nation separately, were true convictions and the longing for perpetual peace a genuine desire, already because of widespread fear that war would lead to the destruction of the socialist movement, as the bourgeois state might suppress its internal opposition in order to wage war more effectively. Not to oppose the war seemed to be one way to assure personal and organizational security, but this alone does not explain the eagerness with which the socialist parties and trade unions offered their services to the war effort and its hoped-for victorious end. Behind this lay the fact that these organizations had become quite formidable bureaucratic institutions, with their own vested interests in the capitalist system and the national state. This accomplishment in turn had changed both the lifestyle and the general outlook of those who filled the bureaucratic positions within the labor organizations. If they had once been proletarians conscious of their class interests, they were so no longer but felt themselves to be members of the middle class and changed their mores and habits accordingly. Set apart from the working class proper, and addicted to a comfortable routinism, they were neither willing nor able to lead their following into any serious antiwar activity. Even their harmless exhortations in favor of peace found an abrupt end with the declaration of war.

To be sure, there were minorities within the leadership, the rank and file, and the working class that remained immune to the war hysteria gripping the broad masses, but they found no way to turn their steadfastness into significant actions. With the war a reality, even the more consistent international socialists, such as Keir Hardie of the British Independent Labour Party, found themselves forced to admit « that once the lads had gone forth to fight their country’s battles they must not be disheartened by dissension at home. »4 With socialists and nonsocialists together in the opposing trenches, it seemed only reasonable to rally to « the lads’  » support and to provide them with the essentials for waging war. The war against the foreign foe, in short, required the end of the class struggle at home.

The triumph of the bourgeoisie was absolute as it was general. Of course, that minority that upheld socialist principles began at once, if only clandestinely, to organize opposition to the war and to reconstitute the international socialist movement. But it took years before their efforts found an effective response, first in the working class than then in the population at large.


1. Engels’s position on this question has been passionately criticized by the Leninist and Ukrainian nationalist Roman Rosdolsky in his book Friedrich Engels und das Problem der « Geschichtslosen Viilker »(Frankfurt: Archiv fur Sozialgeschichte, Ed. 4, 1964).

2. F. Engels, Brefe an Rebel (1879) (Berlin: Dietz, 1958), p. 41.

3. Upton Sinclair, My.Lifetime in Letters (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1960), pp. 75-76.

4. W. T. Rodgers and B. Donoughue, The People into Parliament (New York: Viking, 1966), p. 73.

4. Limits of Reform:

However reformable capitalism may prove to be, it cannot alter its basic wage and profit relations without eliminating itself. The age of reform is an age of spontaneous capital expansion, based on a disproportional but simultaneous increase of both wages and profits. It is an age wherein the concessions made to the working class are more tolerable to the bourgeoisie than the upheavals of the class struggle that would otherwise accompany capitalist develop ment. As a class, the bourgeoisie does not favor minimum wages and intolerable working conditions, even though each capitalist, for whom labor is a cost of production, tries to reduce this expense to the utmost. There can be no doubt that the bourgeoisie prefers a satisfied to a dissatisfied working class and social stability to instability. In fact, it looks upon the general improvement of living standards as its own accomplishment and as the justification for its class rule. To be sure, the relative well-being of the laboring population must not be carried too far, for its absolute dependency on uninterrupted wage labor must be maintained. But within this limit, the bourgeoisie has no subjective inclinations to reduce the workers to the lowest state of existence, even where this might be objectively possible by means of appropriate measures of repression. As the inclinations and actions of the workers are determined by their dependency on wage labor, those of the bourgeoisie are rooted in the necessity to make profit and to accumulate capital, quite apart from their diverse ideological and psychological propensities.

The limited reforms possible within the capitalist system become the customary conditions of existence for those affected by them and cannot easily be undone. With a low rate of accumulation they turn into obstacles to profit production, overcoming which effect requires exceptional increases in the exploitation of labor. On the other hand, times of depression also induce various reform measures, if only to withstand the threat of serious social upheavals. Once installed, these also tend to perpetuate themselves and must be compensated for by a correspondingly greater increase in the productivity of labor. Of course attempts will be made, some of them successfully, to whittle down what has been gained by way of social legislation and better living standards, in order to restore the necessary profitability of capital. Some of these gains will remain, however, through periods of depression as well as prosperity, with the result of a general improvement of the workers’ conditions through time.

The hand-to-mouth existence of the workers made it never easy to strike for higher wages and better working conditions. Only the most brutal provocations of their employers would move them to action, as a lesser evil than a state of unmitigated misery. Aware of the workers’ dependence on the daily wage, the bourgeoisie answered their rebellions with lockouts, as a most efficient means to enforce the employers’ will. Lost profits can be regained, lost wages not. However, the formation of trade unions and the amassing of strike funds changed this situation to some extent in favor of the workers, even though it did not always overcome their conditioned reluctance to resort to the strike weapon. For the capitalists, too, the readiness to defy their workers’ demands waned with the increasing profit loss on an enlarged but unutilized capital. With a sufficient increase in productivity, concessions made to the workers could prove more profitable than their denial. The gradual elimination of cut-throat competition by way of monopolization and the generally increasing organization of capitalist production also entailed regulation of the labor market. Collective bargaining over wages and working conditions eliminated to some extent the element of spontaneity and uncertainty in the contests between labor and capital. The sporadic self-assertion of the workers made room for a more orderly confrontation and a greater « rationality » in capital-labor relations. The workers’ trade union representatives turned into managers of the labor market, in the same sense as that in which their political representatives attended to their farther-reaching social interests in the parliament of bourgeois democracy.

Slowly, but relentlessly, control over working-class organizations escaped the hands of the rank and file and was centralized in those of professional labor leaders, whose power rested on a hierarchically and bureaucratically organized structure, the operation of which, short of the destruction of the organization itself, could no longer be determined by its membership. The workers’ acquiescence in this state of affairs required of course that the activities of « their » organizations provide some tangible benefits, which were then associated with the increasing power of the organizations and their particular structural development. The centralized leadership now determined the character of the class struggle as a fight over wages and for limited political goals that had some chance of being realized within the confines of capitalism.

The different developmental stages of capital production in different countries, as well as the divergent rates of expansion of particular industries in each nation, were reflected in the heterogeneity of wage rates and working conditions, which stratified the working class by fostering specific group interests to the neglect of proletarian class interests. The latter were supposedly to be taken care of by way of socialist politics, and where such politics were not as yet a practical possibility–either because the bourgeoisie had already preempted the whole sphere of politics through its complete control of the state machinery, as in the Anglo-Saxon countries, or because autocratic regimes precluded any participation in the political field, as in the Eastern capitalistically undeveloped nations–there was only the economic struggle. This, while uniting some layers of the working class, divided the class itself, which tended to frustrate the development of proletarian class consciousness.

The breaking up of the potential unity of the working class by way of wage differentials, nationally as well as internationally, was not the result of a conscious application of the ages-old principle of divide and rule to secure the reign of the bourgeois minority, but the outcome of the supply and demand relations of the labor market, as determined by the course of social production as the accumulation of capital. Occupations privileged by this trend tried to maintain their prerogatives through their monopolization, by restricting the labor supply in particular trades not only to the detriment of their capitalistic adversaries but also to that of the great mass of unskilled labor operating under more competitive conditions. Trade unions, once considered instruments for a developing class consciousness, turned out to be organizations concerned with no more than their special interests defined by the capitalist division of labor and its effects upon the labor market. In time, of course, trade organizations were superseded by industrial unions, incorporating a number of trades and uniting skilled with unskilled labor, but only to reproduce the strictly economic aspirations of the union membership on an enlarged organizational base. In addition to wage differentials, which are a general feature of the system, wage discrimination was (and is) widely cultivated by individual firms and industries in the attempt to break the homogeneity of their labor force and to impair their ability for concerted action. Discrimination may be based on sex, race, or nationality, in accordance with the peculiarities of a given labor market. Persistent prejudices associated with the ruling ideology are utilized to weaken workers’ solidarity and with it their bargaining power. In principle, it is of course immaterial to the capitalists to what particular race or nationality its labor force belongs, so long as their skill and propensity to work does not fall below the average, but in practice a mixed labor force with unequal, or even with equal, wage scales engenders or accentuates already existing racial or national antagonisms and impairs the growth of class consciousness. For instance, by reserving the better paid or less obnoxious jobs for a favored race or nationality, one group of workers is pitted against another to the detriment of both. Like job competition in general, discrimination lowers the general wage rate and increases the profitability of capital. Its use is as old as capitalism itself; the history of labor is also the history of competition and discrimination within the working class, dividing the Irish from the British workers, the Algerian, from the French, the black from the white, new immigrants from early settlers, and so on, almost universally.

While this is a consequence of the prevalence of bourgeois nationalism and racism in response to the imperialistic imperative, it affects the working class not only ideologically but also through their competition on the labor market. It strengthens the divisive as against the unifying elements of the class struggle and offsets the revolutionary implications of proletarian class consciousness. At any rate, it carries the social stratification of capitalism into the working class. Its economic struggles and organizations are designed to serve particular groups of workers, without regard to general class interests, and the confrontations between labor and capital remain necessarily within the frame of market and price relations.

Far-reaching wage differentials allow for different living standards, and it is by the latter, not by the labor done, that workers prefer to assess their status within capitalist society. If they can afford to live like the petite bourgeoisie, or come close to doing so, they tend to feel more akin to this class than to the working class proper. Whereas the working class as a whole can only escape its class position through the elimination of all classes, individual workers will try to break away from their own class to enter another, or to adopt the lifestyle of the middle class. An expanding capitalism offers some upward social mobility, just as it submerges individuals of the dominating or the middle class into the proletariat. But such individual movements do not affect the social class structure; they merely allow for the illusion of an equality of opportunity, which can serve as an argument against criticism of the unchangeable class structure of capitalist production.

In prosperous times, and because of the increase in families with more than one wage earner, better paid workers can save some of their income and thus draw interest as well as receive wages from their work. This gives rise to the delusion of a gradual breakdown of the class-determined distribution of the national income, as workers partake in it not only as wage earners but also as recipients of interest out of surplus value, or even as stockholders in the form of dividends. Whatever this may mean in terms of class consciousness for those thus favored, it is quite meaningless from a social point of view, as it does not affect the basic relationship between value and surplus value, wages and profits. It merely means that some workers realize an increase of their income out of the profit and interest produced by the working class as a whole. While this may influence the distribution of income among the workers, accentuating the already existing wage differentials, it does not affect in any way the social division of wages and profits represented by the rate of exploitation and the accumulation of capital. The rate of profit remains the same, whatever part of the mass of profit may reach some workers through their savings. The number of shares held by workers is not known, but judging by the number of shareholders in any particular country and by prevailing average wage rates, it could only be a negligible one. Interest on savings, as part of profit, is of course compensated for by the fact that while some workers save, others borrow. Interest thus increases but also reduces wages. With the great increase of consumer credit, it is most likely that, on balance, the interest received by some workers is more than equaled by the interest paid by others.

As their class is not homogeneous as regards income, but only with respect to its position in the social production relations, wage workers are apt to pay more attention to their immediate economic needs and opportunities than to the production relations themselves, which, in any case, appear to be unshakeable in a capitalism on the ascendant. Their economic interests involve, of course, not only the privileges enjoyed by special layers of the working class but also the general need of the great mass of workers to maintain, or to raise, their living standards. Higher wages and better working conditions presuppose increased exploitation, or the reduction of the value of labor power, thus assuring the continuous reproduction of the class struggle within the accumulation process. It is the objective possibility of the latter which nullifies the workers’ economic struggle as a medium for the development of revolutionary class consciousness. There is no evidence that the last hundred years of labor strife have led to the revolutionizing of the working class in the sense of a growing willingness to do away with the capitalist system. The strike patterns in all capitalist nations vary with the business cycle, which is to say that the number of strikes, and the number of workers involved in them, decline in periods of depression and increase with every upward trend of economic activity. It is the accumulation of capital, not the lack of it, that determines the workers’ militancy with regard to their wage struggles and their organizations.

Obviously, a serious downward trend of the economy, which reduces the total number of workers, also reduces the working time lost through strikes and lockouts, not only because of the smaller number of workers employed but also because of their greater reluctance to go on strike despite deteriorating working conditions. Likewise, trade or industrial unions decline not only because of the rising unemployment but also because they are less able, or not able at all, to provide the workers with sufficient benefits to warrant their existence. In times of depression no less than those of prosperity, the continuing confrontations of labor and capital have led not to a political radicalization of the working class, but to an intensified insistence upon better accommodations within the capitalist system. The unemployed have demanded their « right to work’, » not the abolition of wage labor, while those still employed have been willing to accept some sacrifices to halt the capitalist decline. The rhetoric of the existing, or newly founded, labor organizations no doubt has become more threatening, but their concrete demands, whether realizable or not, have been for a better functioning capitalism, not its abolition.

Every strike, moreover, is either a localized affair with a limited number of workers engaged in it, or an industry-wide struggle involving large numbers of workers spread over various localities. In either case, it concerns only the time-conditioned special interests of small sections of the working class and seldom affects society as a whole to any important extent. Every strike must end in the defeat of one or the other side, or in a compromise suitable to the opponents. In every case it must leave the capitalist enterprises profitable enough to produce and to expand. Strikes leading to bankruptcies of capitalist firms would also defeat the goals of the workers, which presuppose the continued existence of their employers. The strike weapon as such is a reformist weapon; it could only become a revolutionary instrument through its generalization and extension over the whole society. It was for this reason that revolutionary syndicalism advocated the General Strike as the lever to overthrow capitalist society, and it is for the same reason that the reformist labor movement opposes the General Strike, save as an extraordinary and controlled political weapon to safeguard its own existence. (1) Perhaps the only fully successful nationwide general strike was that called by the German government itself in order to defeat the reactionary Kapp Putsch of 1920.

Unless a mass strike turns into civil war and a contest for political power, sooner or later it is bound to come to an end whether or not the workers win their demands. It was of course expected that the critical situations brought about by such strikes, and the reactions to them on the part of capital and its state, would lead to a growing recognition of the unbridgeable antagonism of labor and capital and thus make the workers increasingly more susceptible to the idea of socialism. This was not an unreasonable as sumption but it failed to be substantiated by the actual course of events. No doubt the turmoil of a strike itself brings with it a sharpened awareness of the full meaning of class society and its exploitative nature, but this, by itself, does not change reality. The exceptional situation degenerates again into the routinism of every life and its immediate necessities. What class consciousness awakened turns once more into apathy and submission to things as they are.

The class struggle involves the bourgeoisie no less than the workers, and it will not do to consider exclusively the latter with regard to the evolution of their consciousness. The ruling bourgeois ideology will be reformulated and greatly modified in order to ;counteract noticeable changes in working-class attitudes and aspirations. The early open contempt of the bourgeoisie for the laboring population makes way for an apparent concern for their well-being and an appreciation for their contributions to the « quality of social life. » Minor concessions are made before they are forced upon the bourgeoisie by independent working-class actions. Collaboration is made to appear beneficial to all social classes, and the road to harmonious social relations. The class struggle itself is turned to capitalist account, through the reforms thrust upon the ruling class and the resulting expectations of a possible internal transformation of capitalist society.

The most important of all the reforms of capitalism was of course the rise of the labor movement itself. The continuous extension of the franchise until it covered the whole adult population, and the legalization and protection of trade unionism, integrated the labor movement into the market structure and the political institutions of bourgeois society. The movement was now part and parcel of the system, as long as the latter lasted, at any rate, and it seemed to last just because it was able to mitigate its class contradictions by way of reforms. On the other hand, these reforms presupposed stable economic conditions and an orderly development, to be achieved through increasing organization, of which the reforms themselves were an integral part. This possibility had of course been denied by Marxian theory; the justification of a consistent reformist policy thus required abandonment of this theory. The revisionists in the labor movement were able to convince themselves that, contrary to Marx, the capitalist economy had no inherent tendency toward collapse, while those who up held the Marxian theory insisted upon the system’s objective limitations. But as regards the immediately given situation, the latter too had no choice but to struggle for economic and political reforms. They differed from the revisionists in their assumption that, due to the objective limits of capitalism, the fight for reforms will have different meanings at different times. On this view, it was possible to wage the class struggle in both the parliaments and in the streets, not only through political parties and trade unions, but with the unorganized workers as well. The legal foothold gained within bourgeois democracy was to be secured by the direct actions of the masses in their wage struggles, and the parliamentary activities were supposed to support these efforts. While this would have no revolutionary implications in periods of prosperity, it would be otherwise in crisis situations, particularly in a capitalism on the decline. As capitalism finds a barrier in itself, the fight for reforms would turn into revolutionary struggles as soon as the bourgeoisie was no longer able to make concessions to the working class.

Just as the capitalists are (with some exceptions) not economists but business people, the workers also are not concerned with economic theory. Quite aside from the question as to whether or not capitalism is destined to collapse, they must attend to their immediate needs by way of wage struggles, either to defend or to improve their living standards. If they are convinced of the decline and fall of capitalism, it is because they already adhere to the socialist ideology, even though they might not be able to prove their point « scientifically. » It is hard, indeed, to imagine that an a social system such as capitalism could last for very long, unless, of course, one were totally indifferent to the chaotic conditions of capital production and to its total corruption. However, such indifference is only another name for bourgeois individualism, which is not only an ideology but also a condition of the market relations as social relations. But even under its spell the workers’ indifference does not spare them the class struggle, although it is at times only one-sidedly waged through the violent repression of all independent working class actions.

Thus far, reformism has nowhere led to an evolutionary transformation of capitalism into a more palatable social system, nor to revolutions and socialism. It may, on the other hand, require political revolutions in order to achieve some social reforms. Recent history provides numerous examples of political revolutions which exhausted themselves in the overthrow of a nation’s despised governmental structure, without affecting its social production relations. Such revolutionary upheavals, insofar as they are not mere revolutions, which exchange one dictatorial regime with an aim at institutional changes and, by implication, economic reforms. Political revolutions are here a precondition for any kind reformist activity and not an outcome of the latter. They are not socialist revolutions, in the Marxian sense, even if they are preminantly initiated and carried through by the working classes, but reformist activities by more direct political means.

The possibility of revolutionary change cannot be questioned, for there have been political revolutions that altered social production relations and displaced the rule of one class by that of another. Bourgeois revolutions secured the triumph of the middle class and the capitalist mode of production. A proletarian revolution-that is, a revolution to end all class relations in the social production process–has not as yet taken place, although attempts in this direction have been made within and outside the framework of bourgeois politics. Whereas social reform is a substitute for social revolution and the latter may dissipate into mere capitalist reforms, or nothing at all, a proletarian revolution can only win or lose. It cannot be based on any kind of class compromise, as it is its function to eliminate all social class relations. It will thus find all classes outside the proletarian class arrayed against itself and no allies in its attempts to realize its socialist goals. It is this special character of proletarian revolution that accounts for the exceptional difficulties in its way.


1. In his book In Place of Fear (New York, 1952, pp. 2 1-23), Aneurin Bevan relates that in 1919–with the British trade unions threatening a nationwide strike–the then Prime Minister David Lloyd George told the labor leaders that they must be aware of the full consequences of such an action, for « if a force arises in the State which is stronger than the State itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the State, or withdraw and accept the authority of the State. » From that moment on, one of the labor leaders said, « we were beaten and we knew we were. » After this, Bevan continues, « the General Strike of 1926 was really an anticlimax. The leaders in 1926 … had never worked out the revolutionary implications of direct action on such a scale. Nor were they anxious to do so. … It was not so much the coercive power of the State that restrained the full use of the workers’ industrial power. …The workers and their leaders paused even when their coercive power was greater than that of the State. … The opportunity for power is not enough when the will to seize it is absent, and that will is attendant upon the traditional attitude of the people toward the political institutions that form part of their historical heritage. » This may be so, but actually, in this particular case, it was not the attitude of the workers with regard to their historical heritage, but merely their submission to their own organizations and their leaderships that allowed the latter to call off the General Strike, out of fear that it might lead to revolutionary upheavals because of the government’s apparently intractable determination to break the strike by force.

Une Réponse to “1981/83 Reform and Revolution [Mattick]”

  1. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Says:

    […] Engels: Adresse du Comité Central à la Ligue des communistes (1850) * Paul Mattick: Reform and Revolution (1981/1983) * Karl Kautsky: Engels et la “légalité à tout prix” (1909, Auszug aus Le Chemin […]


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