6 Pieces on Contradiction
A response to an assertion that the fundamental contradiction in the capitalist mode of production is socialized production vs. private appropriation.
By Jan Makandal
(April 17, 2013)
Is it semantic or an actual divergence?
I haven’t yet seen any analysis proving that the fundamental contradiction is between socialized production and private ownership. What is socialized production under capitalism? This is a question anyone should ask. Is it because a group of agents of production are performing a collective task to transform raw materials into a finished product, which in turn will become a commodity? And is that act in itself called socialized production?
The fact that it is collective does not make it socialized. It is not socialized, even apparently, because this collective act is actually being done for the reproduction of private ownership. Although in that collective form there do exist intelligent tendencies toward socialization, they are only tendencies, indicating how socialized production will emerge from the ashes of capitalism.
Viewing production simply under the concept of private ownership, is to restrict our analysis to the superstructural forms (judicial, political, and ideological form). These are deeply needed for the reproduction of capital. But they are not fundamental. They don’t cover the two fundamental aspects of capital accumulation: the exploitation of labor power and the extraction of surplus value in that process of exploitation.
Now, if socialized production is to become the superstructural form, the prerequisite is PROLETARIAN DICTATORSHIP/DEMOCRACY. The ultimate objective of that form is for the abolition of classes, the collective appropriation of production that only the proletariat, as a class, can historically achieve. It also means that the proletariat/working class has ascended as a class to lead society.
If the definition of the fundamental contradiction was simply semantic, then “socialized production” would mean the working class, and “private accumulation” would mean the capitalist class (with all the theoretical and political limitations of these definitions). That could be acceptable for the sake of achieving enough unity to advance in the struggle against capital.
But that it is a matter of semantics is highly doubtful. The same political current that is defining this particular fundamental contradiction (“socialized production and private appropriation”) is the same political current that is questioning the historical role and responsibility of the proletariat.
Furthermore, this is the same political current (Kasama) has embarked on a struggle against “workerism,” and is simultaneously calling for a reconception/recomposition of communism.
This is not an innovation. It is actually a recycled position that already existed.
In the case of Kasama, this line comes straight from the RCP, self-declared “What-Is-to-Be-Done-ists.” It is a complete distortion of Lenin’s correct argument against workers limiting themselves to trade union struggles. Lenin asserted the need for the working class to go beyond its own “bread and butter” issues and lead all the popular classes in mass struggle against all the outrages of the system. This was misused as justification for groups such as the RCP (and its offshoot Kasama, which never ruptured with the RCP’s line, but held onto it as the RCP veered into Avakianism) to disregard the need for the leadership of the working class and for their struggles against capital to be at the core of the revolutionary process, and to eventually (in the early 1980s) even forget that their presence in the revolutionary struggle is required at all!
In the ’70s, some political currents were asking for a communism with a humanitarian face. In Africa the demands were for “socialism with an African flavor.” And we should not forget Euro Communism in that period, when both main political organizations of the French Left were deeply in the process of transforming their organizations into bourgeois organizations. The ideology produced by Euro Communism was to simply to facilitate their betrayal of the cause of the proletariat.
But these political struggles did no go without opposition, especially at that period when China embarked on a struggle to assert the proletarian line against the revisionist line.
It is important to recognize this struggle against revisionism did not originate at that time. The political struggle of the Bolsheviks, headed by Lenin, for the triumph of Leninism (Marxism at the stage of imperialism), was also against the revisionist line headed by Kautsky and Plekhanov. (So to later use Lenin to justify revisionism is not only incorrect; it is outrageous as well).
Lenin did make an error that opened the door for groups like the RCP to abandon the working class, when he argued that proletarian theory comes “from outside” the working class. But contrary to Lenin’s argument, even when intellectuals such as Marx (and Lenin himself) construct proletarian theory, it originates in the working class. Their observations and analysis are based on the actual struggles of the working class. Without that struggle, the theories would not exist.
Members of classes other than the proletariat can be revolutionary militants (IF THEY ABANDON THEIR ORIGINAL CLASS INTERESTS). But to take this to a ridiculous extreme by behaving as if the working class does not even need to be present in the struggle (much less lead the struggle), and to label the fundamental necessity of the working class to crush capitalism as a “workerist” conception, is a complete deviation from proletarian theory.
Any line, any attempt to strip the working class from its historical role is revisionism. Any reconception that is not aimed at the reproduction and constant consolidation of proletarian theory and a proletarian alternative is an attempt to strip communism of its principal aspect: the proletariat. That theory is no longer proletarian. It should not be called communism. It is petit bourgeois radicalism, ultimately reformism. It will lead us to the reproduction of capitalism.
In his analysis of imperialism, Lenin did use the notion of “socialized production,” but his definition is not the same as when it is being used (as now) to elevate it to the level of an aspect of the fundamental contradiction.
Eclecticism is the caricature of dialectics. It is important to recognize in a contradiction that the two poles are the indissoluble unity that exists. The historical role of capitalism could not be possibly thought of as separate from capitalism’s social structure. Capitalism’s social structure is the relation of labor to capital, and that relation is the source of capital accumulation.
Under capitalism, we are seeing an extension of production (with no corresponding extension of demand/consummation/consumption) precisely consistent with the historical role of capitalism and its social structure. The extension of production is for the development of the productive forces, and the non-correspondence is for the withholding of these technical innovations from the popular masses (and their release into the marketplace in controlled stages, such as regularly updated models of cell phones).
The rapid development of the productive forces in the period of imperialism is the effect of the development of capitalism’s relations of production, under new forms conferred to it by imperialism. Imperialism (as capitalism already did historically) developed the productive forces without any constraints or influence imposed by the earlier historical forms of development of capitalism… and we are seeing the contemporary consequences.
Without any doubt, it has become exponentially contradictory, more and more unequal, which reflects the primacy of capitalist relations of production in the development of the productive forces. The “socialization of production” is, therefore, simply a characteristic of imperialism, and most likely the effect of the development of banks.
There is a trend among contemporary proletarian revolutionaries to refute the theory of the productive forces, in their attempt to delimitate from economism. A previous proletarian revolutionary (Marx) asserted that the motor of the transformation of a mode of production is the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the relations of production. But this theory presents two inconvenient imprecisions, which were later demonstrated as such, in particular by the Chinese and Russian revolutions. First, they demonstrated that an autonomous movement of the productive forces cannot exist outside the process of class struggle. Mao, especially, argued against the determinancy of the productive forces. Second, they demonstrated the immutable fixity of the social relations of production, as long as there is no revolution. Those are, in fact, points we can agree with.
We could agree with a formulation that simply analyzed the contradictions in the development of the productive forces, as they exist under the dominant influence and as an effect of the relations of productions and of exploitation, as historically realized and indissoluble from specific class struggle.
But if presented as external to class struggle, it is nonsense. As the definition of a fundamental contradiction, the theory of the productive forces has become a formula and/or a proverb for a mechanical historical correspondence, such as the argument that if everything is automated we will automatically achieve socialism… Yet the social relations don’t change.
The development of the productive forces is not the motor of society. Class struggle is the general concept for the movement and transformation of social relations. The structure of class struggle is the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. Their antagonism divides society in permanence, either latent or manifest. At the base of this antagonism are the social relations of production that characterize the dominant mode of production: capital, meaning the extraction of surplus value. The history of the social relations of production is the history of various forms of exploitation and of the conditions of its reproduction.
A small clarification is needed: the proletariat and bourgeoisie are distinguished from each other by their relation to capital, making this relation to capital asymmetrical. That is one problematic of exploitation in response to the charge of workerism, as well as a refutation of the populist concept that the proletariat is defined as the class that has nothing to lose.
The working class is historically constituted in the sphere of production, and in the process of reproduction of labor power, which is directly incorporated in the labor process. It is the productive surplus value extracted from the labor power that constitutes the reproduction of the whole social formation. To simplify: it is the time of work of the workers that makes possible the continued existence of the whole society. The relation of workers to individual capitals is always the means and expression of the whole social capital.
The bourgeoisie is constituted from the sphere of circulation. Production is an attendant necessity for them, in their goal to generate profit. As representatives of socially circulated capital, the capitalists became organizers of production. A history of capitalism, excluding original/primitive accumulation, is an analysis of the production of surplus value and the role of the working class in each specific set of conditions.
Apparently Maoists did not get the memo or are too dogmatic to correctly interpret the conjuncture in China of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, even though Mao himself, with all his limitations, insisted on the objective of defeating the determinacy of the productive forces promoted by the capitalist roaders. But this is not only the erroneous position of the Maoists, it is also that of many others who mistakenly claim Marxism as their theoretical revolutionary guide. The two stages theory, the Third World theory, the permanent revolution of Trotsky (totally different from Marx’s permanent revolution theory), and Stalin’s mechanical concept of economic evolution are all manifestations of the same trend/school of thought, a school of thought produced by the relation to production of the petit bourgeoisie.
In the final analysis, the class line of the petit bourgeoisie and the unity of that class is unable to offer an alternative to capitalism. It is inherently warped by sectarianism and dogmatism. This clearly reinforces our argument that members of the petit bourgeoisie face two pertinent alternatives, if they are really down to rid society of capitalism. Either: 1) the progressive path of accepting the leadership of the proletariat and contribute to the advancement of history under that leadership; or 2) the revolutionary path to disrobe/strip themselves of their petit bourgeoisie origin and participate in investing time and energy for the proletarian alternative—scientific socialism—to triumph.