MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms
In Hegel’s system, the Practical Idea is the penultimate stage of development of the Idea. The Absolute Idea is the unity of the Theoretical Idea and the Practical Idea. In his characteristic “upside down” way, for Hegel, theory is the criterion of truth. In the Practical Idea, Cognition (knowledge) and Volition (will or intention) are synthesised; the subjective Notion is merged with Objectivity, Means is identical with Ends.
Practice & Theory
Activity with a means and an end.
Practice is active, rather than being a passive observation, and is directed at changing something. Practice differs from activity in general, because practice is connected with Theory, which gives its means and end. Practice is only enacted through theory and theory is formulated based on practice. So long as theory and practice are separated then they fall into a distorted one-sidedness; theory and practice can only fully develop in connection with one another.
Human activity is always purposeful, but in the earliest stages of the development of society, before the development of the division of labour, there was no separation between theory and practice. With the development of the division of labour, the theoretical side of the development of human activity separated out from the practical aspect of that activity.
Practice is the criterion of truth. In this sense, “practice” must be understood in its broadest sense, inclusive of the many kinds of mental and material activity which contribute to changing knowledge and the world.
See Also: Theory, for different aspects of practice: Reason, Observation, the Experimental Method and Pragmatism.
Further Reading: Theses on Feuerbach, Estranged Labour, Ilyenkov’s explanation, and Ilyenkov on human activity as the real manifestation of thought and subject ofHegel’s Logic.
The “practico-inert” is a term coined by Jean-Paul Sartre in Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), defined as a field of activity, which despite being the outcome of a successful struggle by some group, has ceased to be responsive to that group’s needs. Bureaucracy is the classic example of a “practico-inert.”
The “practico-inert” is the same as “objectification,” but Sartre has a particularly negative view of the prospects for social struggle, perhaps reflective of his experience as a “fellow-traveller” of the French Communist Party.
The “practico-inert” responds to the subject’s continued struggle by accommodation, resisting the action of the Subject to which it owes its existence. Thus, whereas the activity of the group is intelligible as dialectic, Sartre describes the movement of the natural world and the “practico-inert” as an “anti-dialectic.”
The demobilisation of a subject in the aftermath of a successful struggle, and struggles which achieve victory in the form of binding agreements, bureaucratic incorporation or legal regulations, typify Sartre’s concerns with the “practico-inert.” Once a group “cools down” it leaves behind only an inert trace of its activity.
Pragmatism is a current of philosophy associated with the name of Charles Sanders Peirce (Semiotics), William James, John Dewey, George Herbert Mead and Percy Bridgman (Operationalism), and often regarded as the quintessentially American philosophy. The central tenet of Pragmatism is that the meaning of a concept is given by its practical utility and nothing else. The school of Russian psychologists of Lev Vygotsky also owes much to Pragmatism, especially following the visit of John Dewey to Moscow in 1928.
The central thesis of Pragmatism, which makes Practice the sole crierion of Theory, is indeed very close to Marxism. Compare for example James’ What Pragmatism Means with Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach. To answer the question of what you mean by an idea or what it means to say that a thing exists, requires an answer to be given in terms of the practical actions and perceptions which are required to verify it. Pragmatism rejects the idea of the existence of entities other than can be demonstrated practically. All universals are therefore reducible to particular practical meanings. In this sense, pragmatism is also verified by Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, which demonstrated that notions of spatial extension and elapsed time could only be given consistent meaning in terms of the practical steps necessary to measure them. On this see Albert Einstein’s Reply to Criticism, where he takes up Percy Bridgman’s Operationalism. Operationalism takes Pragmatism to an extreme in demanding that every concept be given an operational definition, whereas in Pragmatism generally, it would be accepted that provided the theory of which a concept is a part can be tested, then the concept is legitimate.
Pragmatism is a step forward from Empiricism in that while it regards experience only as valid, it emphasises the active side of experience (Experiment rather than Observation), and in this sense introduces a rational element into empiricism. Empiricism is regarded as the quintessential British philosophy, suspicious of all theory; in the United States, all the theories of the Old World were subject to the test of whether they worked, and "If it works, then don’t fix it; if it doesn’t work, then it has no value." This has the effect however of reducing the criterion of truth absolutely to the immediate validity of application.
Further, Pragmatism, as an American doctrine, is tied to individual experience, and it is here that it parts company most decisively with Marxism, which understands practice above all as socially mediated activity. Even individual practice mobilises the entire available culture in even the simplest practical act, using the available tools, to ends provided by the culture, understood with language provded by the culture with senses trained by a life within society. No practice therefore is genuinely individual. The individualist character of Pragmatism leads to an unduly dismissive attitude to social constructs (ideas, ethics, language, productive forces), and supports a somewhat short-sighted and unprincipled rationale for practice: thus the meaning associated with Pragmatism in day-to-day language.
George Herbert Mead’s Social Psychology is an application of the Pragmatic idea to social theory, centering around the idea of self-consciousness, “I,” being derived from knowledge of “Me,” the object one learns about by means of the actions of other people towards “Me.” Thus self-consciousnes is achieved through interaction with other individuals. (This is an application of Hegel’s idea in the Master-Slave dialectic.) Again, Mead’s theory suffers from individualism in that he does not involve cultural products such as language, religion, production, class structure, etc., in the formation of social consciousness, but instead tries to derive it from simple, unmediated person-to-person (intersubjective) interactions.
This is where Vygotsky’s Marxist (Cultural-Historical) Psychology and Alexei Leontyev’s Activity Theory depart form Pragmatism. The central thesis of Marxist psychology is that all activity is mediated, generally by artefacts such as words, money, tools, other people or organisations, etc. The central role given to the mediating subject is reflected in Marxists’ concern with the labour process, ownership of the means of production, historical development of the forces of prduction, the state and political leadership in the formation of social consciousness.
Further Reading: How to Make our Ideas Clear, by Charles Sanders Peirce (regarded as the founding work of Pragamatism), American Philosophy and the Labor Movement and Empiricism and Pragmatism, by George Novack (a sympathetic criticism of Pragmatism), Emile Durkheim’s critique Pragmatism & the Question of Truth and Percy Bridgman’s elaboration of Operationalism. Richard Rorty offers a more modern defence of Pragmatism. See Lev Vygotsky Revolutionary Scientist for a discussion of Vygotsky’s relationship with Pragmatism. See also August Thalheimer on Pragmatism and a Note by Lenin, which harshly critical of Pragmatism.
A permanent committee of a larger body, such as a Legislature or Congress, that acts for it when it is in recess.
Is really just another word for practice in the sense in which practice is understood by Marxists, in which neither theory nor practice are intelligible in isolation from the other.
Lukács uses the term in 1923, and thereafter has been used commonly by Western Marxists. Marx had used this term once in his 3rd Manuscript of 1844 (not published until 1932); later translations of the work rendered this word as practice. Claude Lé-Strauss also contrasts praxis (as the mundane manner in which material life is realised and reproduced) and practice (as the specific operations by means of which the praxis is achieved, and claims that a conceptual “infrastructure” of some kind is required to mediate between praxis and practices, and in tribal societies, the various conceptions of totem and caste, provide this mediation by establishing an intelligible and empirically given relation between nature and culture.
Value is the substratum (or Essence), which is realised when something is sold as its price. Moreover, whereas (exchange-)value is the quantity of human labour embodied in a commodity, price takes some historically determined form, such as the money-form.
Beginning with Marx’s contemporary, John Stuart Mill, bourgeois economic science abandoned the concept of value, rejecting all the considerations of the old Political Economists on value, and in the spirit of Postivism, confined themselves to the phenomenon: price. Whereas Marx held that:
“all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided. “ [Capital, Volume III, Chapter 48]
The Positivists believed “value” to be a “metaphysical entity” having no real existence, i.e., being imperceptible to the senses. Alfred Marshall (1842 - 1924) includes the analysis of value in early editions of his textbook, but in later editions, the word is erased; Leon Walras and (1834 - 1910) and Vilfredo Pareto (1848 - 1923) know nothing of value, – value was left as if it were a delusion of the nineteenth century.
“Man’s reflections on the forms of social life, and consequently, also, his scientific analysis of those forms, take a course directly opposite to that of their actual historical development. He begins, post festum, with the results of the process of development ready to hand before him. The characters that stamp products as commodities, and whose establishment is a necessary preliminary to the circulation of commodities, have already acquired the stability of natural, self-understood forms of social life, before man seeks to decipher, not their historical character, for in his eyes they are immutable, but their meaning. Consequently it was the analysis of the prices of commodities that alone led to the determination of the magnitude of value, and it was the common expression of all commodities in money that alone led to the establishment of their characters as values. It is, however, just this ultimate money-form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of private labour, and the social relations between the individual producers. When I state that coats or boots stand in a relation to linen, because it is the universal incarnation of abstract human labour, the absurdity of the statement is self-evident. Nevertheless, when the producers of coats and boots compare those articles with linen, or, what is the same thing, with gold or silver, as the universal equivalent, they express the relation between their own private labour and the collective labour of society in the same absurd form.
“The categories of bourgeois economy consist of such like forms. They are forms of thought expressing with social validity the conditions and relations of a definite, historically determined mode of production, viz., the production of commodities. The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore, so soon as we come to other forms of production.” [Capital, Chapter 1]
Thus for Marx, to understand why a given object sells for this or that price on a given day at a specific place, means to begin way “behind” this immediately given fact and approach it by successively concretising the concept of value:
“It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, with the real precondition, thus to begin, in economics, with e.g. the population, which is the foundation and the subject of the entire social act of production. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. ... if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by means of further determination, move analytically towards ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations.” [Grundrisse]
Primitive accumulation is the process by which precapitalist modes of production, such as feudalism and chattel slavery, are transformed into the capitalist mode of production.
Marx was not the first to consider the way in which feudal production was transformed into capitalism. For example, Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations that capitalism arose out an ever increasing division of labor, where individual producers became extremely specialized at making useful goods. Eventually a particular section of the population became merchants dedicated to selling those goods. Other people rose up to own the factories where this highly specialized production could take place, and employed others as wage workers. Smith argued that those who rose to these positions did so by dint of hard work and saving.
Marx argued that this was far from the truth. The division of labor does not necessarily lead to capitalism, and saving (hoarding) money also does not lead to the development of capitalism.
Rather, as a contrast to Smith’s “original accumulation,” Marx detailed the “so-called primitive accumulation” as a process by which large swaths of the population are violently divorced from their traditional means of self-sufficiency. This process, unlike the bloodless version told by classical political economists, was one where common lands were closed to those peasants who used them:
“The parliamentary form of the robbery is that of Acts for enclosures of Commons, in other words, decrees by which the landlords grant themselves the people’s land as private property, decrees of expropriation of the people.” [Capital: Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land]
and where those peasants who were forced off their lands were penalized for becoming vagabonds and thieves:
“The proletariat ... were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working-class were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation treated them as “voluntary” criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed.” [Capital: Bloody Legislation Against the Expropriated, from the End of the 15th Century. Forcing Down of Wages by Acts of Parliament]
Thus, unlike Smith’s history of the “natural” evolution of capital from the division of labor, and also unlike classical political economy’s lauding of the revolutionary character of capitalism, Marx argues that capitalism’s birth was a brutal, expropriative process:
“Hence, the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-workers, appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and this side alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these new freedmen became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.” [Capital: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation]
The result of this process was a large population of “free” laborers; that is
“Free labourers, in the double sense that neither they themselves form part and parcel of the means of production, as in the case of slaves, bondsmen, & c., nor do the means of production belong to them, as in the case of peasant-proprietors; they are, therefore, free from, unencumbered by, any means of production of their own.” [Capital: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation]
It only through this process that capitalism can come into being and reproduce itself. This process leads to the two necessary classes in capitalism: the private owners of the means of production, and the free laborers who have no choice but to meet them in the marketplace and sell their labor-power to them:
“In themselves money and commodities are no more capital than are the means of production and of subsistence. They want transforming into capital. But this transformation itself can only take place under certain circumstances that centre in this, viz., that two very different kinds of commodity-possessors must come face to face and into contact; on the one hand, the owners of money, means of production, means of subsistence, who are eager to increase the sum of values they possess, by buying other people’s labour-power; on the other hand, free labourers, the sellers of their own labour-power, and therefore the sellers of labour.” [Capital: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation]
Private labour is labour for the account of private individuals. In developed capitalist society, private labour manifests itself as its complete opposite, abstract universal labour.
In tribal times labour was generally carried out as part of a traditional division of labour and private labour was marginal. In mediaeval times, private labour was clearly demarked from social labour and social labour was given directly and explicitly as such.
In the very beginnings of bourgeois society, private labour emerged even in advance of the development of wage-labour and capital, with individual artisans producing goods for the market. In private labour, prior to the development of a proletariat and bourgeois class, all the essential relations of capitalism are found: people work to earn a living, dominated by a world populated by things (commodities) which appear to possess human powers.
The essential relations of bourgeois society are described by Marx in his earliest critique of political economy, Comments on James Mill.
“Why must private property develop into the money system? Because man as a social being must proceed to exchange and because exchange – private property being presupposed – must evolve value. The mediating process between men engaged in exchange is not a social or human process, not human relationship; it is the abstract relationship of private property to private property, and the expression of this abstract relationship is value, whose actual existence as value constitutes money.”
The development of the labour process under capitalism abolishes the form of private labour as all labour becomes directly social, but the social labour process remains privately owned and concentrated into fewer and fewer hands.
“1) Concentration of means of production in few hands, whereby they cease to appear as the property of the immediate labourers and turn into social production capacities. Even if initially they are the private property of capitalists. These are the trustees of bourgeois society, but they pocket all the proceeds of this trusteeship.
“2) Organisation of labour itself into social labour: through co-operation, division of labour, and the uniting of labour with the natural sciences.
Communism aims to establish social labour as such:
“Strike out money, and one would thereby either be thrown back to a lower stage of production (corresponding to that of auxiliary barter), or one would proceed to a higher stage, in which exchange value would no longer be the principal aspect of the commodity, because social labour, whose representative it is, would no longer appear merely as socially mediated private labour. [Grundrisse, Ch 4]
Private property is the right of an individual to exclude others use of an object, and predates the rupture of society into classes. In its undeveloped form private property is the simple relation of the individual to the natural world in which their individuality finds objective expression. Private property is essentially the denial of the private property of others and finds its ultimate expression only in the relation of wage-labour and capital.
“The antithesis between lack of property and property, so long as it is not comprehended as the antithesis of labour and capital, still remains an indifferent antithesis, not grasped in its active connection, in its internal relation, not yet grasped as a contradiction. It can find expression in this first form even without the advanced development of private property (as in ancient Rome, Turkey, etc.). It does not yet appear as having been established by private property itself. But labour, the subjective essence of private property as exclusion of property, and capital, objective labour as exclusion of labour, constitute private property as its developed state of contradiction - hence a dynamic relationship driving towards resolution.” [Private Property and Communism]
The abolition of private property constitutes the emancipation of humanity as the relation of person to person is immediate rather than mediated through things.
“Just as private property is only the perceptible expression of the fact that man becomes objective for himself and at the same time becomes to himself a strange and inhuman object; just as it expresses the fact that the manifestation of his life is the alienation of his life, that his realisation is his loss of reality, is an alien reality: so, the positive transcendence of private property - i.e., the perceptible appropriation for and by man of the human essence and of human life, of objective man, of human achievements should not be conceived merely in the sense of immediate, one-sided enjoyment, merely in the sense of possessing, of having. Man appropriates his comprehensive essence in a comprehensive manner, that is to say, as a whole man. Each of his human relations to the world - seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, observing, experiencing, wanting, acting, loving - in short, all the organs of his individual being, like those organs which are directly social in their form, are in their objective orientation, or in their orientation to the object, the appropriation of the object, the appropriation of human reality. Their orientation to the object is the manifestation of the human reality, [For this reason it is just as highly varied as the determinations of human essence and activities] it is human activity and human suffering, for suffering, humanly considered, is a kind of self-enjoyment of man.
“Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it - when it exists for us as capital, or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., - in short, when it is used by us. Although private property itself again conceives all these direct realisations of possession only as means of life, and the life which they serve as means is the life of private property - labour and conversion into capital.
“In the place of all physical and mental senses there has therefore come the sheer estrangement of all these senses, the sense of having. The human being had to be reduced to this absolute poverty in order that he might yield his inner wealth to the outer world..
“The abolition of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and qualities, but it is this emancipation precisely because these senses and attributes have become, subjectively and objectively, human. The eye has become a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object - an object made by man for man. The senses have therefore become directly in their practice theoreticians. They relate themselves to the thing for the sake of the thing, but the thing itself is an objective human relation to itself and to man, [in practice I can relate myself to a thing humanly only if the thing relates itself humanly to the human being] and vice versa. Need or enjoyment have consequently lost its egotistical nature, and nature has lost its mere utility by use becoming human use.” [Private Property and Communism]
Privatisation and Nationalisation
Privatisation is the movement of labour out of the public sector into the private sector, usually by the sale of public assets and the associated services.
Nationalisation is the transformation of private companies, assets and natural resources in private hands, into public property.
Historical Development: The period immediately after World War Two saw widespread nationalisation in European capitalist countries like Britain and France and in Scandinavia; in Eastern Europe as a result of social revolutions and/or Soviet occupation, and in China, Cuba and elsewhere and in countries liberating themselves from imperialism in the national liberation movement of the time, such as Egypt, India and Indonesia.
These nationalisations were part of nation-building and reconstruction programs after the War, guided by Keynesian economics and reflected the strength of a resurgent working class movement, demanding welfare and decent public services. Ex-colonies seized assets, such as mineral and oil wealth, which were being exploited by foreign owners, and used them for the national interest.
An initial reaction to the onset of crisis in the late-1960s and early-1970s, manifested in the bankruptcy and failure of some major industrial corporations, was to nationalise them. In some cases, especially in Italy, firms were occupied by workers who either operated them as workers’ cooperatives or called on the government to nationalise them.
Later, with the rise of Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the US, and with the continued failure of such “rescue bids”, firms which fell into difficulties were simply allowed to collapse. In the search for industries which could be exploited profitably, public utilities and industries built up under nationalisation, began to attract the attention of capitalists.
National telecom industries, in particular, were beginning to earn good money for governments which capitalists thought would be better off in their own pockets. These were among the first targets for privatisation, which became the capitalist “fashion” everywhere from about the mid-1980s. In New Zealand, even things like Social Security and unemployment benefit payments were privatised, with the government reduced to the role of collecting taxes and doling out the proceeds to capitalist entrepreneurs who had taken over running the country.
Ironically, both the nationalisations of the 1940/50s and the privatisations of the 1980/90s were further steps in the socialisation of labour.
Nationalisation, Privatisation and Socialism: During this whole period, “Nationalisation under workers’ control” was a slogan expressing the difference between bourgeois nationalisation, where the labour came under the direct control of the capitalist state, and socialist nationalisation. “Nationalisation” refers to the passing of ownership from the private sphere to the public sphere, but still leaves open the question “Who will control it?”.
It can be a point of great frustration for socialists to see a public enterprise, whether in Britain or Russia, which has become totally run down, its employees demoralised and held in contempt by the public, which is then privatised, and gradually turned back into a dynamic business. Don’t such experiences prove the superiority of capitalism?
Of course not. Where workers’ “control” of their (nationalised) industry is mediated by a capitalist government and is under-funded and preyed upon by capitalists, it will decline. After privatisation, firms become a source of profit and gets investment, and it is just as easy for the employees to affect the conditions of their own labour when the government bureaucrat is replaced by a capitalist owner. The nature of the product or service provided changes though.
As a nationalised industry, the driving force is to provide the best services according to criteria set by the government, at the smallest possible cost to the public purse.
As a privatised industry, the driving force is to make the maximum possible profit. This in turn implies meeting customer demand on the largest possible scale.
A public health service for example, is always starved of funds and does its best to dissuade patients from seeking its services, either by allowing long queues to grow up, or by public health and preventive medicine approaches, but it cannot refuse anyone its service. A private health service, on the other hand, tries to attract patients, perhaps even using advertising to create pseudo-illnesses to encourage people to spend their money on “treatment”; they can turn away anyone who cannot be cured for a profit, and let them die, but so long as they can make a profit, they will never be short of funding.
When industries are privatised, governments usually use regulation and reward-and-punishment methods of funding, to mitigate these negative social effects of privatisation.
Production and Consumption
Production and consumption are two inseparable aspects of the production and reproduction of human life, but in modern society these concepts have become separated.
Before the socialisation of labour develops, and people produce for immediate consumption, production is identical with consumption because both are equally an expression of their life, “in taking in food, for example, which is a form of consumption, the human being produces his own body”. With the emergence of a social division of labour, consumption becomes separated from production, and must be mediated by a system of distribution and exchange. So instead of exercising our bodies in a healthy life-style, we earn a living doing inhuman, unhealthy work to pay for exercise, medicine, holidays, etc.
Production and consumption are identical in another way: production consumes labour-power and other products of labour, and is therefore equally consumption; production of labour-power entails consumption of food, education and so on and so forth, and is therefore equally consumption. Thus production of the means of production (Department I) is impossible without production of the means life (Department II) and vice versa, and the system of distribution and exchange must ensure the proper balance between the two.
Thus the system of distribution and exchange, which mediates between productive consumption and consumption in production is not just an entity external to production, but an integral part of the relations of production. The failure of the method of distribution and exchange to maintain proper coordination of consumption and production leads to crisis.
Further, the system of distribution and exchange (commerce) is not only inseparable from production and consumption (labour) but the system of distribution and exchange is one of the forces of production, production is constituted the cooperation of labour and therefore potentially in the exchange of labour and thus the system of distribution and exchange necessarily penetrates the labour process and becomes a part of it. This takes the form of commercialisation, privatisation, corporatisation and all the forms of socialisation of labour.
Equally, the system of production and consumption is an integral part of the system of distribution and exchange, which may be effected only in and through the process of production and consumption. It is not just that production provides the starting point and consumption the end point of distribution and exchange, nor just that distribution and exchange are themselves labour processes. Production and consumption are a means to distribution and exchange. Thus public spending serves to reduce unemployment and alleviate poverty, and so on.
In the first part of the Grundrisse, (see (2) The General Relation of Production to Distribution, Exchange, Consumption) Marx explorers these relations in depth.
The productive forces are the unity of means of production and labour:
The [productive forces] of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.
At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or ÷ what is but a legal expression for the same thing ÷ with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution....No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself.
According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas – also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.
We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one.... In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant – the historical event....
Productive and Unproductive Labour
“Productive” labour is labour which makes a profit for someone.
The terms productive and unproductive labour in Marxist literature, as generally in bourgeois economic literature, are distinct from the concept of labour which is useful or not. Useful labour is purposive activity which meets a human need, whether of oneself or of someone else; productive labour, on the other hand, is labour which is productive in the economic sense, labour which creates new value.
In bourgeois society, labour can only create new value by expanding capital, so we come to the definition that labour, whether mental or manual, whether in goods or services, is productive only insofar as it increases capital:
“So far as the labour process is purely individual, one and the same labourer unites in himself all the functions, that later on become separated. When an individual appropriates natural objects for their livelihood, no one controls them but themself. Afterwards they are controlled by others. A single person cannot operate upon Nature without calling their own muscles into play under the control of their own brain. As in the natural body head and hand wait upon each other, so the labour-process unites the labour of the hand with that of the head. Later on they part company and even become deadly foes. The product ceases to be the direct product of the individual, and becomes a social product, produced in common by a collective labourer, i.e., by a combination of workers, each of whom takes only a part, greater or less, in the manipulation of the subject of their labour. As the co-operative character of the labour-process becomes more and more marked, so, as a necessary consequence, does our notion of productive labour, and of its agent the productive labourer, become extended.
“In order to labour productively, it is no longer necessary for you to do manual work yourself; enough, if you are an organ of the collective labourer, and perform one of its subordinate functions. The first definition given above of productive labour, a definition deduced from the very nature of the production of material objects, still remains correct for the collective labourer, considered as a whole. But it no longer holds good for each member taken individually.
“On the other hand, however, our notion of productive labour becomes narrowed. Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus value. The labourer produces, not for themself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that they should simply produce. They must produce surplus-value.
“That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital. If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolteacher is a productive labourer, when, in addition to belabouring the heads of their scholars, they work like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out their capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation. Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of production, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value. To be a productive labourer is, therefore, not a piece of luck, but a misfortune.” [Capital, Chapter 16]
Marx’s example of the wandering tailor in the Grundrisse:
“For example, when the peasant takes a wandering tailor, of the kind that existed in times past, into his house, and gives him the material to make clothes with. ... The man who takes the cloth I supplied to him and makes me an article of clothing out of it gives me a use value. But instead of giving it directly in objective form, he gives it in the form of activity. I give him a completed use value; he completes another for me. The difference between previous, objectified labour and living, present labour here appears as a merely formal difference between the different tenses of labour, at one time in the perfect and at another in the present.” [Grundrisse, part 9, Original Accumulation of Capital]
illustrates an example of where the labour is provided as a commodity, but is not employed in the production of surplus-value, but simply given directly in the form of activity. Thus the wandering tailor is not a productive worker, because he does not sell labour-power but labour itself. The schoolteacher in the example before was a productive labour if he was employed in a private school and laboured to “enrich the school proprietor”.
“The pay of the common soldier is also reduced to a minimum - determined purely by the production costs necessary to procure him. But he exchanges the performance of his services not for capital, but for the revenue of the state. [Grundrisse, part 9. Original accumulation of capital]
And the same goes for that class which was numerous in Marx’s day, but have today been turned into productive industries by capitalism:
“In bourgeois society itself, all exchange of personal services for revenue - including labour for personal consumption, cooking, sewing etc., garden work etc., up to and including all of the unproductive classes, civil servants, physicians, lawyers, scholars etc. - belongs under this rubric, within this category. All menial servants etc. By means of their services - often coerced - all these workers, from the least to the highest, obtain for themselves a share of the surplus product, of the capitalist’s revenue. [Grundrisse, part 9. Original accumulation of capital]
It is by no means a simple question of semantics at issue here. In bourgeois society, wherever there is an opportunity to make a profit, capital will flow into this area of work and exploit it as productive labour.
“Now, for the capitalist to undertake road building as a business, at his expense, various conditions are required, which all amount to this, that the mode of production based on capital is already developed to its highest stage. ... The separation of public works from the state, and their migration into the domain of the works undertaken by capital itself, indicates the degree to which the real community has constituted itself in the form of capital. A country, e.g. the United States, may feel the need for railways in connection with production; nevertheless the direct advantage arising from them for production may be too small for the investment to appear as anything but sunk capital. Then capital shifts the burden on to the shoulders of the state; or, where the state traditionally still takes up a position superior to capital, it still possesses the authority and the will to force the society of capitalists to put a part of their revenue, not of their capital, into such generally useful works, which appear at the same time as general conditions of production, and hence not as particular conditions for one capitalist or another - and, so long as capital does not adopt the form of the joint-stock company, it always looks out only for its particular conditions of realisation, and shifts the communal conditions off on to the whole country as national requirements. Capital undertakes only advantageous undertakings, advantageous in its sense. ... Capital must be able to sell the road in such a way that both the necessary and the surplus labour are realised, or in such a way that it obtains out of the general fund of profits - of surplus values - a sufficiently large share to make it the same as if it had created surplus value. The highest development of capital exists when the general conditions of the process of social production are not paid out of deductions from the social revenue, the states taxes - where revenue and not capital appears as the labour fund, and where the worker, although he is a free wage worker like any other, nevertheless stands economically in a different relation - but rather out of capital as capital. This shows the degree to which capital has subjugated all conditions of social production to itself ....” [Grundrisse, Part 10, Circulation costs]
And conversely of course, as soon as labour ceases to be productive, i.e., as soon as it fails to expand capital, then that labour will not be employed, and other things being equal, it will cease to exist.
1. Leninism: A member of a revolutionary party or movement who devotes all of their spare time to that revolutionary work which is the center of their life. In capitalist society, where Lenin stated the core of the party needed to be made of professional revolutionaries, such professionals were invariably workers with day jobs, not party functionaries.
In the transition to Socialist society, however, the reality of this reversed – it was now possible for professional revolutionaries to become full time party members. In the beginning this presented few problems and helped overcome the immense struggles the nation faced. With the passage of time however and the steady requirement for the "core" of the party to be "professional revolutionaries", the separation of party members from the working masses in the Soviet Union began in earnest.
Professionalisation is the transformation of an area of activity into an industry, as part of the dominant system of production and consumption.
The most well-known example is when amateur or semi-professional sports become big businesses and rather than being people simply playing a game for the pleasure of it, the players are professionals commanding very big salaries, frequently risking serious injury and working extremely hard at the job.
On the other hand, there are those services which were formerly done on a community or family basis such as baby-sitting for neighbours or volunteers coaching the school football team or staffing the local fire-station; legislation comes in which sets standards – “baby-sitters must have a degree in child development” and so on – and work once done for free by amateurs is done by paid professionals or not at all.
Professionalisation is an aspect of commodification.
The notion of profit is closely related to that of surplus-value.
Surplus value is the unpaid labour expropriated from the working class as a whole. Surplus value is taken in proportion to the value of labour-power. In general, it is difficult to relate the concept of surplus value to single unit of capital, since the necessary labour time which determines the level of wages is socially determined according to the cost of living.
The rate of surplus value is the ratio of surplus labour (s) to wages (v) – the workers’ costs of production.
The rate of profit, on the other hand, is the ratio of surplus labour (s) to necessary labour plus the value of components and materials used in production (v + c) – the capitalist’s costs of production.
Because of the complexity of the labour process, the individual unit of capital must invest in purchasing means of production, c, so they are never able to realise the full rate of surplus value as profit. In fact, production becomes more and more socialised, the rate of profit must fall.
The notion of profit pertains to the position of the individual unit of capital, and no capitalist is ever able to retain the full value of the profit they extract from the process of production – the landlord, the tax-collector, the bank, all demand their share. So too does the wholesaler and the retailer, each taking their margin as the goods pass from hand-to-hand through all the middlemen until it reaches the ultimate consumer. The workers have to support all these parasites with their surplus value; and only a small portion is retained by “their own” capitalist in the form of profit.
"The proletariat is that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labour power and does not draw profit from any kind of capital; whose weal and woe, whose life and death,whose sole existence depends on the demand for labour...
How did the proletariat originate?
"The Proletariat originated in the industrial revolution... [which was] precipitated by the discovery ofthe steam engine, various spinning machines, the mechanical loom, and awhole series of other mechanical devices. These machines, which were veryexpensive and hence could be bought only by big capitalists, altered thewhole mode of production and displaced the former workers, because themachines turned out cheaper and better commodities than the workers couldproduce with their inefficient spinning wheels and handlooms. The machinesdelivered industry wholly into the hands of the big capitalists and renderedentirely worthless the meagre property of the workers (tools, looms, etc.).The result was that the capitalists soon had everything in their handsand nothing remained to the workers....
"labour was more and more divided among the individual workers sothat the worker who previously had done a complete piece of work now didonly a part of that piece. This division of labour made it possible to producethings faster and cheaper. It reduced the activity of the individual workerto simple, endlessly repeated mechanical motions which could be performednot only as well but much better by a machine. In this way, all these industriesfell, one after another, under the dominance of steam, machinery, and thefactory system, just as spinning and weaving had already done.
Principles of Communism
In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed – a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce.
Communist Manfesto: Bourgeois and Proletarians
The following features of Marx’s definition of the proletariat should be noted: (1) proletariat is synonymous with “modern working class”, (2) proletarians have no means of support other than selling their labour power, (3) their position makes them dependent upon capital, (4) it is the expansion of capital, as opposed to servicing the personal or administrative needs of capitalists, which is the defining role of the proletariat, (4) proletarians sell themselves as opposed to selling products like the petty-bourgeoisie and capitalists, (5) they sell themselves “piecemeal” as opposed to slaves who may be sold as a whole and become the property of someone else, (6) although the term “labourers” carries the connotation of manual labour, elsewhere Marx makes it clear that the labourer with the head is as much a proletarian as the labourer with the hand, and finally (7) the proletariat is a class.
The proletariat is not a sociological category of people in such-and-such income group and such-and-such occupations, etc., but rather a real, historically developed entity, with its own self-consciousness and means of collective action. The relation between an individual proletarian and the class is not that of non-dialectical sociology, in which an individual with this or that attribute is or is not a member of the class. Rather, individuals are connected to a class by a million threads through which they participate in the general social division of labour and the struggle over the distribution of surplus value.
One issue that needs to be considered in relation to the definition of Proletariat is Wage Labour. Wage labour is the archetypal form in which the proletariat engages in the labour process, that is, by the sale of a worker’s labour-power according to labour-time. Firstly, Marx treats piece-work, in which the worker is paid by output rather than by time, as a form of wage-labour, not essentially different from wage-labour. Secondly, nowadays it is increasingly common that workers are obliged to sell their product as such, by means of contract labour, for example. This raises the question of what is essential in the concept of proletariat. Contract labour does undermine working-class consciousness, but at the same time, the person who lives in a capitalist society, and has no means of support but to work, is a proletarian, even if they are unable to find employment (where workers may become lumpenproletariat if their living conditions are very difficult).
The other important issue in relation to the proletariat is its historical path. As Marx explains in Capital, [Chapter 32], capitalism brings about the “revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself”. The proletariat neither requires nor is able to exploit any other class; they are themselves the producers and capitalism has trained the proletariat in all the skills needed to rationally organise social labour for the benefit of humanity, without the aid of money, religion or any other form of inhuman mysticism.
Thus, the future historical significance of the proletariat is ultimately not that it is oppressed, but rather that it is the only class which is capable of overthrowing bourgeois society and establishing a classless society.
The “proletariat” was the class in ancient society who had no property and so could not pay taxes, and were deemed to serve the state by having offspring (L. proles); the word entered the English language from French, via the translation of Communist literature in the 1840s.
Proletarian Democracy (Socialist Democracy)
Socialist democracy is not something which begins only in the promised land after the foundations of socialist economy are created; it does not come as some sort of Christmas present for the worthy people who, in the interim, have loyally supported a handful of socialist dictators. Socialist democracy begins simultaneously with the beginnings of the destruction of class rule and of the construction of socialism. It begins at the very moment of the seizure of power by the socialist party. It is the same thing as the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Yes, dictatorship! But this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. But this dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class -- that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people.
The Russian Revolution: Democracy or Dictatorship?
The first thing to do to win genuine equality and enable the working people to enjoy democracy in practice is to deprive the exploiters of all the public and sumptuous private buildings, to give to the working people leisure and to see to it that their freedom of assembly is protected by armed workers, not by heirs of the nobility or capitalist officers in command of downtrodden soldiers.
Genuine freedom and equality will be embodied in the system which the Communists are building, and in which there will be no opportunity for massing wealth at the expense of others, no objective opportunities for putting the press under the direct or indirect power of money, and no impediments in the way of any workingman (or groups of workingman, in any numbers) for enjoying and practicing equal rights in the use of public printing presses and public stocks of paper.
Genuine democracy, i.e., Liberty and equality, is unrealizable unless this aim is achieved. But it’s practical achievement is possible only through Soviet, or proletarian, democracy, for by enlisting the mass organizations of the working people in constant and unfailing participation in the administration of the state, it immediately begins to prepare the complete withering away of any state.
With the division of labour ... is given simultaneously the distribution, and indeed the unequal distribution, both quantitative and qualitative, of labour and its products, hence property: the nucleus, the first form, of which lies in the family, where wife and children are the slaves of the husband. This latent slavery in the family, though still very crude, is the first property, but even at this early stage it corresponds perfectly to the definition of modern economists who call it the power of disposing of the labour-power of others....
Marx and Engels
The first form of ownership is tribal ownership. It corresponds to the undeveloped stage of production, at which a people lives by hunting and fishing, by the rearing of beasts or, in the highest stage, agriculture. In the latter case it presupposes a great mass of uncultivated stretches of land. The division of labour is at this stage still very elementary and is confined to a further extension of the natural division of labour existing in the family. The social structure is, therefore, limited to an extension of the family; patriarchal family chieftains, below them the members of the tribe, finally slaves. The slavery latent in the family only develops gradually with the increase of population, the growth of wants, and with the extension of external relations, both of war and of barter.
The second form [of ownership] is the ancient communal and State ownership which proceeds especially from the union of several tribes into a city by agreement or by conquest, and which is still accompanied by slavery. Beside communal ownership we already find movable, and later also immovable, private property developing, but as an abnormal form subordinate to communal ownership. The citizens hold power over their labouring slaves only in their community, and on this account alone, therefore, they are bound to the form of communal ownership. It is the communal private property which compels the active citizens to remain in this spontaneously derived form of association over against their slaves. For this reason the whole structure of society based on this communal ownership, and with it the power of the people, decays in the same measure as, in particular, immovable private property evolves. The division of labour is already more developed. We already find the antagonism of town and country; later the antagonism between those states which represent town interests and those which represent country interests, and inside the towns themselves the antagonism between industry and maritime commerce. The class relation between citizens and slaves is now completely developed.
With the development of private property, we find here for the first time the same conditions which we shall find again, only on a more extensive scale, with modern private property. On the one hand, the concentration of private property, which began very early in Rome (as the Licinian agrarian law proves) and proceeded very rapidly from the time of the civil wars and especially under the Emperors; on the other hand, coupled with this, the transformation of the plebeian small peasantry into a proletariat, which, however, owing to its intermediate position between propertied citizens and slaves, never achieved an independent development.
Marx and Engels
The subjective essence of private property, private property as activity for itself, as subject, as person, is labor. It, therefore, goes without saying that only that political economy which recognized labor as its principle (Adam Smith), and which therefore no longer regarded private property as nothing more than a condition external to man, can be regarded as both a product of the real energy and movement of private property (it is the independent movement of private property become conscious of itself, it is modern industry as self), a product of modern industry, and a factor which has accelerated and glorified the energy and development of this industry and transformed it into a power belonging to consciousness. Therefore, the supporters of the monetary and mercantile system, who look upon private property as a purely objective being for man, appear as fetish-worshippers, as Catholics, to this enlightened political economy, which has revealed -- within the system of private property -- the subjective essence of wealth....
Immediately sensuous private property is the material, sensuous expression of estranged human life. Its movement --production and consumption -- is the sensuous revelation of the movement of all previous production -- i.e., the realization or reality of man. Religion, the family, the state, law, morality, science, art, etc., are only particular modes of production and therefore come under its general law. The positive supersession of private property, as the appropriation of human life, is therefore the positive supersession of all estrangement, and the return of man from religion, the family, the state, etc., to his human -- i.e., social -- existence. Religious estrangement as such takes place only in the sphere of consciousness, of man’s inner life, but economic estrangement is that of real life -- its supersession therefore embraces both aspects. Clearly the nature of the movement in different countries initially depends on whether the actual and acknowledged life of the people has its being more in consciousness or in the external world, in ideal or in real life. Communism begins with atheism (Owen), but atheism is initially far from being communism, and is for the most part an abstraction. The philanthropy of atheism is therefore at first nothing more than an abstract philosophical philanthropy, while that of communism is at once real and directly bent towards action....
Marx and Engels
Economic and Philsophical Manuscripts: 3rd
At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or -- this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms -- with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto.... Then begins an epoch of social revolution."
Property, or ‘property relations’ are fundamental social relations in which the relations between people are expressed in the relation between people and things. Thus the existence of property alienates people from social relations and puts them into relations with objects. In general therefore, a person cannot be the object, but only the subject of a property relation. If a person is owned, as in slave society, then in the given society that person is not regarded as a person at all, but rather as an object, property.
The ownership of property constitutes a social relation when that ownership affects the lives of other people. So, for example, a labourer in capitalism is the owner of their own capacity to work, but when they sell it on a day to day basis, it becomes the property of a capitalist who obtains the right to use it, and the right to profit from it. Ownership the means of production, is the most important social relation, since it gives to the class owning the means of production exclusive control over the labour process, and thereby the power they have over all laborers.
Communist society removes the existence of property as discussed here; it does not remove the form of property which we have over ourselves, our own choices and thoughts, our own expressions and ideas. In Communist society, while all people wholly own themselves individually, they also own in common the means of production. Communist society does away with distinctively capitalist property relations; while in the human sense it strengthens property relations. See also: Freedom.
Hegelian Philosophy: For Hegel, the right to property was the fundamental premise for being truly a person: “The rationale of property is to be found not in the satisfaction of needs but in the supersession of the pure subjectivity of personality. In his property a person exists for the first time as reason”, and he defines the moments of Property as Possession (“The will has its embodiment in something positive”), Use (“the will to possess something must express itself”) and Alienation (i.e. selling or giving the thing).
Hegel also made a particular point of excluding the possibility of the “kinds of things” being property, only individual things. He also regarded making collective property of anything which was capable of being the property of an individual as a grave mistake.
A protest is a political gesture which is aimed at pressuring or persuading the powers-that-be to change their policy, especially by means of moral pressure or the pressure of public opinion, rather than an act which is part of a program for overthrowing the powers-that-be or rallying forces which will force the powers-that-be to act as demanded.
This contrast is somewhat overstated though, because protests can be used as a means of inspiring or rallying support, as part of a movement which goes beyond “protest”.
The terms “protest politics” and “protest movement” are used to describe movements which do not use protest in this way, but rather hope to achieve their ends by bigger and bigger protest, without resort to an actual challenge for power or by undermining or damaging the economic and social interests of the ruling group.
The first quarter of the twentieth century saw a number of protest movements which aimed to force changes in policy by enacting spectacles up to and including the use of terror, intended to bring moral pressure to bear, without summoning insurrection or attempting to change government, via elections for example. These included for example: the petitioning of the Czar in January 1905, the butchery of which triggered the 1905 Revolution; the Fight for Free Speech in Australia before World War One, the mutiny of the French conscripts during World War I; the Suffragettes (Second Wave of the Womens Liberation Movement), the world-wide campaign in defence of Sacco and Vanzetti (two Italian-Americans framed and executed in the US). Thereafter, protest politics has become a regular part of modern political life.
The essential characteristic which marks a movement as “protest” is the aim of “persuading” the relevant authority to change policy. The methods used may be terror and assassination or may be street theatre, it doesn’t matter. For example, the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland was a gesture and the participants never had a chance of defeating the British army of occupation, but the aim was to inspire Irish people to support a war of liberation, and ultimately succeeded; the IRA bombings in Britain in recent times however would be described as protests, because the targets were generally symbolic, and the aim was only ever to persuade the British government to give up its occupation of the Six Counties, and was never to achieve military superiority, or even to cause sufficient pain to force the British to leave, as was the case with the Vietnam War, for example; the Vietnamese did not (usually) strike symbolic targets, they shared the same objectives as any army – to make it impossible for the enemy to continue to fight.
Equally, strikes may be weapons of the economic struggle, political protests or may be part of a struggle for state power. The line between protests aimed at the authority, direct action aimed at forcing some change or symbolic actions functioning as a “call to arms” is not necessarily clear: a genuinely revolutionary movement may begin as a protest movement, a movement with revolutionary aspirations can degenerate into protest.
The followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the founder of anarchism.
Proudhonists comprised the French section of the International Workingmen’s Association when it was founded in 1864. They were opposed to broad working-class recruitment to the International, advocating study-groups to propagate Proudhon’s ideas.
See Conflicting Elements in The International, Chapter 5 of Stekloff’s History of the First International.