From Fourth International, Vol.16 No.3, Summer 1955, p.107.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
If I understand Mr. Schanck correctly, in the final paragraph of his letter he concedes the point I tried to make in evaluating his book; namely, that “the conversion of labor power into a commodity ... is certainly the basic dynamism” that distinguishes the capitalist form of commodity production from commodity production in general. If Mr. Schanck would agree, we might formulate it perhaps more accurately by saying that it was in the conversion of labor power into a commodity that capitalist production as such had its origin and subsequent development.
The point is crucial to a correct understanding of Marx’s view. While historically the conversion of labor power into a commodity was a protracted, bloody and complex process, theoretically it is very simple. The basis of feudal economy was the production of the peasant and the independent artisan, both of whom possessed the means of production in fact if not always in legal title. They were expropriated by the capitalist.
This left them with nothing but their labor power, a power that is not productive until it is coupled with the means of production. But the means of production in the hands of the capitalist enable him to take the finished product. and thereby to impose his aim (profit-making) and his will (organization of production) on the worker.
The concentration and centralization of the means of production in the hand’s of ever fewer capitalists is a consequence of this basic condition and not its cause.
If you consider the tendency toward, monopoly to be primary and also consider it to be evil, then it is consistent to put the struggle against monopoly as first in your social and political program. This is what Mr. Schanck seems to me to do in his book, justifying it by considering free enterprise” and monopoly as “the two basic trends” in capitalist society and ascribing this view to Marx.
A Marxist, on the other hand, basing himself on the most fundamental condition, puts the class struggle first on his agenda. Marx foresaw that this struggle between workers and capitalists would finally result in a revolution that, by expropriating the expropriators of the feudal peasant and artisan, would place the workers once again in full control of the means of production – not as small farmers or independent artisans but organized as a State power that takes over the means of production as developed under capitalism. Under workers power, planning will be introduced on a world scale, enabling man to bring rationality, order and science into his economic life.
I hope that this explains why I differed so sharply from Mr. Schanck’s program which calls for no more than opposition to monopoly, not a struggle to transcend it.
I am not sure what edition of The Poverty of Philosophy Mr. Schanck took his quotations firoim. The undated International Publishers edition, published in the Soviet Union, gives what appears to me to be a better translation, particularly of the final sentences:
“Monopoly produces competition, competition produces monopoly. Monopolies are made from competition; competitors bacome monopolists. If the monopolist restrict their multual competition by means of partial associations, competition increases among the workers; and the more the mass of the proletarians grow as against the monopolists of the nation, the more desperate competition becomes between the monopolists of different nations.” (p.128)
Even here where Marx is primarily concerned with exposing the pretentiousness and falseness of Proudhon’s “dialectics” and of demonstrating in contrast how his own dialectical method is grounded in the actual historical process, it is quite clear that what is basic to Marx is the class struggle. The association of the capitalists causes an increase in competition among the workers over jobs, but as the mass of workers grows so grows their own association counter to that of the monopolists.
Marx himself expresses his basic view in what seems to me unmistakable language throughout The Poverty of Philosophy, especially in the final section, Strikes and Combinations of Workers, where he spells out precisely why the workers unite, why they strike, and why their struggle is inherently a political struggle that in the long run means the workers coming to power and reorganizing society from top to bottom.
Last updated on: 2 April 2009