Pannekoek June 1920
Source: The Call, 17 June 1920, p. 8
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Note: A slightly different translation is also available.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
It goes without saying that legal expropriation will also take place during the transition from capitalism to Socialism. The political power of the proletariat will take all the measures that are necessary for the suppression of exploitation. It will not content itself with limiting the former employers right of free exploitation by regularising wages, hours of labour; and prices; it will suppress it altogether. The economic basis of these measures is thus defined. It is not confiscation of all property; as the terrified petit-bourgeoisie think, but the suppression of all right to surplus-value, to a revenue not produced by labour. It is the legal expression of the political fact that the proletariat is master, and that it will not let itself be exploited any longer.
Socialisation according to the recipe of Bauer is legal expropriation without an economic expropriation—a thing that any capitalist government might propose. The capitalist value of enterprises will be paid to employers in the form of compensation, and they will henceforward receive, in the form of interest on bonds, what they formerly received in the form of profits. The remark that war profits will not enter into consideration shows that the normal profit will be taken as a standard. This socialisation replaces private capitalism by State capitalism; the State assumes the task of sweating profits out of the workers and handing it over to the capitalists. For the workers, very little will have been changed: as before, they will have to create a revenue for the capitalists without any labour on the part of the latter. Exploitation remains exactly the same as before.
If such a proposal had been made in the time of capitalist prosperity, it would have been acceptable for the proletariat; the amount of surplus-value accruing to the capitalists being fixed, every new increase of productivity through organisation and technical progress would benefit the proletariat. But the capitalist class did not think of it because it claimed these advantages for itself.
To-day, conditions are different, and surplus-value is in danger. The economic chaos, the loss of stocks, and of raw material, the heavy tribute to the capitalism of the Entente, give ground for anticipating a diminution capitalist profits. The revolt of the working class masses, the beginning of the proletarian revolution, which render doubtful the fate of all exploitation, have further complicated the situation. Socialisation now comes, just at the right moment, to guarantee capital its profits in the form of State interest. A Communist Government, like the Russian, guarantees immediately the results of the new-found power and liberty of the proletariat by refusing to capital all rights of further exploitation. A Social Democratic Government guarantees the existence of the former proletarian slavery by perpetuating the old tribute paid by the workers to capital just at the moment when it ought to disappear. Socialisation in these circumstances is only the legal expression of the political fact that the proletariat is only an apparent master, and is ready calmly to let itself go on being exploited. Just as the “Socialist” government is only the continuation of the former capitalist government under the banner of Socialism, “socialisation” is only the continuation also of the former capitalist exploitation under the guise of Socialism.
If we, enquire how it is that intelligent politicians and former Marxists can arrive at ideas like these, the well known political character of the tendency which has become embodied in the Independent Socialist Party will give us our reply. It was radical in name, it paid lip service to the class war, but it feared every form of vigorous struggle. This was already the case before the war, when Kautsky, Haase, and their friends opposed themselves to the radical extreme left as a “Marxist centre.” To day the same thing is happening. They wish to bring the workers Socialism. But they fear a struggle against the capitalist class. They see very well that a true suppression of all capitalist profits, confiscation of capital as it has been realised by Communism in Russia, involves the capitalist class in a violent struggle; for it is a question of its very existence, of its life or death as a class. They consider the proletariat to be too weak for this struggle, and consequently seek to achieve their object by roundabout paths, by making it attractive for the capitalist class. Politically, the plans for socialisation are an attempt to lead the proletariat to the Socialist goal, without touching the capitalist class at its vital spot, without provoking its violent anger; and in this way to avoid a violent class struggle.
The intention would be praiseworthy if only it could be But if one considers all that would be necessary to make up the capitalist tribute—interest for the former capitalist proprietors of the means of production, interest on the war loans, the tribute to the capitalism of the Entente—we shall see that all this could not be realised, even were the proletariat to accept intensive toil, and worse conditions of life. In view of the present destruction of economic life and of the physical forces of the masses, the immediate suppression of all parasitism is a pressing necessity for the relief of society. But even if we do not take into account this abnormal state of misery, and if we only consider socialisation is one of the first steps of the proletarian revolution, as a first step towards Socialism, its impossibility is apparent so long as the proletariat has not yet acquired all its powers. When the workers wake up and strive for liberty and independence they put forward demands for the improvement of their conditions of labour and existence.
These improvements will immediately decrease profits. The Socialist State may cry for them: “Work harder!”; the opposite will nevertheless happen.
When the capitalist yoke no longer bears down with an iron grip upon the workers, the inhuman tension of exploitation will relax and labour will become, less intense, will become more human. The dividends, the profits of undertakings will fall. Without socialisation, the private capitalist would have to bear the loss but when the State has to pay them interest, it is the Socialist State which has guaranteed them their profits despite the beginning of the working-class revolution, and which will bear the loss There will remain to it the choice, either of opposing the workers demands; of breaking strikes, of becoming a violent government on the side of capital, and against the proletariat, or else to collapse in an unavoidable bankruptcy. The capitalist class will again proclaim its triumph, for the impossibility of “socialisation” will have been practically demonstrated.
This will be the result of the clever attempt to arrive at a form of Socialism by avoiding the class struggle. Socialisation which is devised to spare the profits of the capitalist class cannot be a path to Socialism There is no other way but to suppress exploitation and with this object to carry on an unrelenting class struggle.