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International Socialism, Spring 1961


Paul Cardan

Socialism & Capitalism


From International Socialism (1st series), No.4, Spring 1961, p.20-27.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It is a truly amazing fact how little discussion there is today among socialists about socialism. It is even more surprising that revolutionary Marxists claim that we ought to concern ourselves exclusively with the ‘practical’, ‘day-to-day issues’ of the class struggle, leaving the future revolution to take care of itself. This is disquietingly similar to Bernstein’s famous saying ‘the goal is nothing, the movement everything’. In fact, there is no movement except towards a goal, even if the goal has constantly to be re-defined as the movement develops; even if, for the working class movement, the goal is not something as strictly defined as the bridge an engineer is planning to build.

Quotations from Marx against the Utopian socialists are frequently adduced for avoiding discussions about socialism. The use of quotations is, of course, not a proof. It is, in fact, the exact opposite: a proof that real proofs are lacking. No authority needs be quoted to prove that water, if left long enough on the fire, will boil. But what of the substance of the argument? Marx rightly polemicized against those who wanted to substitute minute and unfounded descriptions of the future for the actual class struggle. He did not, for all that, refrain from stating his own conceptions about the program of a proletarian revolution. In fact he appended the elements of such a program to the Communist Manifesto. Neither did he miss any opportunity offered him, through the growth of historical experience or by the needs of the movement, to develop, elaborate or even modify his programmatic conceptions. Famous examples are his generalization of the experience of the Paris Commune into the formula of ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ and his Critique of the Gotha Programme. To say, in 1960, that we can and should go no further than Marx amounts to saying that nothing has happened in the last eighty years. This is what some people – including many of our self-styled ‘Marxists’ – really seem to think, They will admit, of course, that many events have taken place; but nothing for them has really happened, in the sense that there are new lessons to be drawn from present experience. They see no need for changes in their programmatic conceptions. No wonder that theoretical and political stagnation go hand in hand, in this case, with organizational disintegration.

As a matter of fact, what has happened during the period we are discussing, and especially what has happened since 1917, is more important, we feel, than anything that has happened before in the whole of human history. The proletariat took power in an immense country. It victoriously withstood the attempts at a bourgeois counter-revolution. Then it gradually disappeared from the scene and a new social stratum, the bureaucracy, established its domination over Russian society and set out to ‘build socialism’ through the most ruthless methods of terror arid exploitation. Contrary to all prognoses, including Trotsky’s, the Russian bureaucracy victoriously withstood the test of the biggest war in history. It is now disputing industrial and military supremacy with the USA. [1]

After the war, the same bureaucratic regime established itself, without a proletarian revolution, in countries as diverse as Eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia on the one hand, and China, North Korea and North Vietnam on the other. If nationalization of the means of production and planning are the ‘foundations’ of socialism, then obviously there need be no link between socialism and working class action, except their sweating to build ‘socialist’ factories and to keep them running. Any local bureaucracy, granted favourable circumstances or some help from the Kremlin, could do the trick. But then, in 1956, the Hungarian workers undertook an armed revolution against the bureaucracy. They formed Workers’ Councils and demanded ‘workers’ management of production’. The question: ‘Is socialism nationalization plus planning, or is it rather workers’ councils plus workers’ management of production?’ is no academic question. History posed it, four years ago, at the point of a gun.

Traditional ideas about socialism have in many ways been tested by events. There is no escape from the result: if socialism equals nationalized property plus planning plus Party dictatorship, then socialism equals Khruschev, his sputniks and his ‘butter in 1964’. In this case, the most you can do is to be an opponent within the regime, a critic in the Communist Party aiming at ‘democratizing’ and ‘human-king’ these institutions! And why even do that? Industrialization developed alright without democracy. A revolution, as Trotsky remarked, has its overhead costs. It is only natural for these costs to be reckoned in terms of heads. These developments are not only extremely relevant to any discussion about socialism; they are fundamental to our understanding of contemporary capitalism. In various capitalist countries basic sectors of production have been nationalized; in practically all of them, important degrees of State control and economic planning have been established. Capitalism itself – ‘orthodox’, western-type capitalism – has undergone tremendous changes. Most traditionally held ideas – for instance that capitalism can no longer develop production [2], that there is an inevitable perspective of booms and ever deeper slumps, that the material standards of living of the working class cannot rise substantially and durably under capitalism, that a growing industrial reserve army is an unavoidable product of the system – all these still widely held ideas are disproved by the facts. Their supporters are forced to indulge in all sorts of verbal gymnastics in order to defend them. They daydream about the next big slump – which, for twenty years now, has been just around the corner – and which they feel will restore to them their mental comfort. These problems, posed by the evolution of capitalism, are intimately related to the programmatic conceptions of the socialist movement. The present ideological agony of the Labour Party (both ‘right’ and ‘left’) bears testimony to this fact. All this shows quite clearly that, as usual, it is the so-called ‘realists’ (who are reluctant to discuss socialism as it is obviously ‘a matter of the distant future’) who are blind in the face of reality, a reality which makes it imperative to re-examine here and now the fundamental problems of the movement. At the end of this article, we will try and show why it is impossible, without such a discussion, to take a correct stand on the most trivial day-to-day and down-to earth practical problem. At this stage however it should be immediately obvious that no conscious movement can exist, which evades answering the question: what is socialism? This question is but the other side of another: what is capitalism? What are the real roots of the crisis of contemporary society?

The traditional conception seems the crisis of capitalist society as the product of the private ownership of the means of production and of ‘the market’. A new stage of development of human society will start, it has repeatedly been claimed, with the abolition of private property. We can now see that this was an erroneous conception. In the countries of Eastern Europe there is no private property, there are no slumps and there is no unemployment, yet the social struggle is fought out no less fiercely than in the West. [3] Traditional thought had it that economic anarchy, mass unemployment, stagnation and miserable wages were both deep-rooted expressions of the contradictions of capitalism and the mainsprings of the class struggle. We see today that despite full employment and rising wages the capitalists have constant problems in running their own system and that the class struggle has in no way diminished. [4] People who, confronted with this situation, continue quoting old texts, can make no real contribution to the essential reconstruction of the socialist movement.

Traditional Marxism [5] saw the contradictions and irrationality of capitalism at the level of the economy as a whole, not at the level of production. The defeat, in its eyes, lay in the market and in the ‘system of appropriation’, not in the individual enterprise or in the system of production, taken in its most concrete, material sense. The capitalist factory is of course affected by its relation to the market: it is absurd that it should produce unsaleable products or armaments. Traditional Marxism acknowledges, of course, that the modern factory is permeated with the spirit of capitalism: methods and rhythms of work are more oppressive than they need be, capitalism cares little about the life or physical health of the workers and so on. But in itself, the factory as it now stands was seen as nothing but efficiency and rationality. It is Reason in person, from the technical as well as from the organizational point of view. Capitalist technology is the technology – absolutely imposed upon humanity by the present stage of historical development, and relentlessly promoted and applied to production by these blind instruments of Historical Reason: the capitalists themselves. The capitalist organization of production (division of labour and of tasks, minute control of the work by the supervisors and finally by the machines themselves) was seen as the organization of production par excellence, since in its drive for profits it constantly had to adapt itself to the most modern technology and to ensure maximum

efficiency of production. Capitalism created, so to speak, the correct means, but used them to wrong, ends. The overthrow of capitalism would gear this tremendously efficient productive apparatus towards the right ends. It would use them for the ‘satisfaction of the needs of the masses’ instead of for the maximum profit of the capitalist It would incidentally eliminate the inhuman excesses inherent in the capitalist methods of organization of work. But it would not – it could not, according to this view-change anything, except perhaps in the very distant future, in the organization of work and in productive activity itself, whose characteristics flow inevitably from the ‘present stage of development of the productive forces’.

Marx saw, of course, that the capitalist rationalization of production contained a contradiction. It took place through the ever increasing enslavement of living labour by dead labour: man was alienated, in so far as his own products and creations – the machines – dominated him. He was reduced to a ‘mere fragment of man’ through the ever increasing division of labour. But this is, in Marx’s mind; an abstract, ‘philosophical’ contradiction: it bears on the fate of man in production, not on production itself. Production increases pari passu with the transformation of the worker into a mere cog’ of the machine, and because of this transformation. The objective logic of production has to roll over the subjective needs, desires and tendencies of men and has to ‘discipline’ them. Nothing can be done about it: the situation flows inexorably from the present stage of technical development. More generally it flows from the very nature of the economy, which is still ‘the realm of necessity. This situation extends as far into the future as Marx cared to see. Even in the society of the ‘freely associated producers’, Marx claims in volume III of Capital, man will not be free within production. The ‘realm of freedom’ will be established outside work, through the ‘reduction in the working day. Freedom is leisure, or so it would seem.

It is our contention that this ‘philosophical’ contradiction is the most real, the most profound and the most basic contradiction of capitalism. It is the source of the crisis of present society, both in the West and in the East. The ‘rationality’ of capitalist organization is only apparent. All means are utilised to a single end: the increase of production for production’s sake. This end in itself is absolutely irrational. Production is a means to human ends, not man a means to the ends of production. Capitalist irrationality has an immediate, concrete expression: to treat man in production as a means amounts to transforming him into a passive object, into a thing. But production is based upon man as an active subject – even on the assembly line. The transformation of the worker into a mere cog – which capitalism constantly strives towards but never succeeds in achieving comes into direct conflict with the development of production: were it ever fulfilled, it would mean the immediate breakdown of the productive process. From the capitalist point of view this contradiction expresses itself as the simultaneous attempt on,the one hand to reduce work into the mere execution of strictly defined tasks (or rather gestures) and on the other constantly to appeal to and to rely upon the participation of the worker, upon his capacity to understand and do much more than he is supposed to.

This situation is thrust upon the worker eight or more hours each day. He is asked, as one of our comrades in the Renault factory put it, to behave simultaneously ‘as automaton and as superman’. It is the source of an unending conflict and struggle in every factory and workshop of the modern world. It is not affected by ‘nationalization’ or by ‘planning’, by boom or by slump, by high wages or by low. This is the fundamental criticism socialists should today be levelling against the present organization of society. In doing this, they would be giving explicit formulation to what every worker, in every factory or office, feels every moment of every day, and constantly expresses through individual or collective struggle.

In our society men spend most of their life at work – and work for them is both agony and nonsense. Work is agony because the worker is subordinated to an alien and hostile power. This power has two faces: that of the machine and that of the management. Work is nonsense because the worker is confronted by his masters with two contradictory tasks: to do as he is told ... and to achieve a positive result! Management organizes production with a view to achieving ‘maximum efficiency’. But the first result of this sort of organization is to stir up the workers’ revolt against production itself. The losses in production brought about in this way exceed by far the losses produced by the profoundest slumps. They are perhaps of the same order of magnitude as total current production itself! [6]

To combat the resistance of the workers, the management proceeds with an ever more minute division of labour and tasks. It rigidly regulates procedures and methods of work. It institutes controls of the quantity and quality of goods produced and payment by results. It also proceeds by giving an increasingly pronounced class twist to technological development itself: machines are invented, or selected, according to one fundamental criterion: do they assist in the struggle of management against workers, do they reduce yet further the worker’s margin of autonomy, do they assist in eventually replacing him altogether? In this sense, the organization of production today, whether in Britain or in France, in the USA or in the USSR, is class organization. Technology is predominantly class technology. No British capitalist, no Russian factory manager would ever introduce into his plant a machine which would increase the freedom of a particular worker or of a group of workers to run the job themselves, even if such a machine would increase production. The workers are by no means helpless in this struggle. They constantly invent methods of self-defence. They break the rules whilst officially keeping them. They organize informally, maintain a collective solidarity and discipline, create a new ethic of work. They reject the psychology of the carrot and the stick. Rate-busters as well as slackers are forced out of the shops.

With its methods of organizing production, the management gets involved in an unending spiral of contradictions and conflicts, which go well beyond those caused by the resistance of the workers. The strict definition of tasks it aims at is nearly always arbitrary and irrational. Standards of work are impossible to define ‘rationally’ against the active opposition of the workers. Treatment of the workers as individual units contradicts the profoundly collective character of modern production. The formal and the informal organization of the plant, of the flow of work, and of communications are permanently at variance with each other. Management of work is more and more separated from its execution. It is forced however to reproduce ideally within itself and a priori the whole process of production: on the one hand this is impossible; on the other it leads to the establishment of a huge bureaucratic apparatus within which, with the introduction of a further division of labour, the whole set of previous contradictions is repeated. Management separated from execution cannot plan rationally. It cannot correct in time the inevitable errors. It cannot compensate the unforeseeable; it cannot accept either that the workers should do these things or that they shouldn’t! It is not properly informed, because the principal source of information – the workers at shop-floor level – organize a permanent ‘conspiracy of silence’ against the management. Management finally cannot really understand production because it cannot understand its principal spring: the worker. Let it be stated here briefly that this situation, this set of relations, is the prototype of all the conflicts in today’s society. Mutatis mutandis, the above description of the constant chaos in a capitalist factory applies to the British government, to the European Common Market, to the CPSU, to the United Nations, to the American Army and to the Polish planning authorities.

The line taken by the management in the course of production is of course imposed on it by the fact that the organization of production is today synonymous with the organization of exploitation. But the converse is also true: private capitalist or state bureaucracy are able to exploit because they manage production. The class division in modern society is increasingly stripped of its trappings and shown as the nucleus of class relationships in all societies: the division of labour between a stratum directing both work and social life, and a majority who merely execute. Management of production is not just a means for the exploiters to increase exploitation, it is the basis and essence of exploitation itself. Abstractly because as soon as a specific stratum takes over management, the rest of society is automatically reduced to the status of mere objects of this stratum. Concretely, because in the present social set-up, as soon as a dominating position is won, it is used to confer privileges (a polite name for the appropriation of surplus value). Privileges have then to be defended. Domination has to become more complete. This self-expanding spiral leads rapidly to the formation of a new class society. This (rather than backwardness and international isolation) is the relevant lesson for us of the degeneration of the October revolution. It follows inevitably from this that if the socialist revolution is to do away with exploitation and with the roots of the crisis of present society, it must immediately eliminate all distinct strata of specialised or permanent managers in various spheres of social life, and first and foremost in production itself. In other terms, it cannot confine itself to the expropriation of the capitalist; it must also ‘expropriate’ the directing bureaucracy from its present privileged positions. A socialist revolution will not be able to establish itself unless it introduces from its very first day workers’ management of production. [7] The Hungarian workers confirmed this 1956. Workers’ management of production was one of the main demands of the Hungarian Workers’ Councils. Strangely enough, the achievement of working class power has always been seen in the Marxist movement as the achievement of political power only. The fundamental power: power over production in day-to-day life, was always left out of the picture. Left opponents of Bolshevism correctly criticised the fact that the dictatorship of the party was replacing the dictatorship of the proletarian masses. But this is a small part of the problem, a secondary aspect. Lenin’s ‘programmatic conception’ – as opposed to his practice [8] – was that political power should rest with the Soviets, the most democratic of all institutions. But he was also relentlessly repeating, from 1917 until his death, that production should be organized along ‘state-capitalist’ lines. This was, and is, the most fantastic idealism. The proletariat cannot be slaves in production during six days of the week, and enjoy Sundays of political sovereignty. If the proletariat does not manage production, then necessarily somebody else does; and as production, in modern society, is the real locus of power, the ‘political power’ of the proletariat will rapidly be reduced to mere window dressing. Neither does ‘workers control of production’ offer any real answer to this problem. Either workers’ control will rapidly develop into workers’ management, or it will become a farce. Production, no more than the State, will tolerate long periods of dual power. The problem about what happens after the revolution has been proved by history to be of central importance to socialist thinking. It is right to say that almost everything depends upon the level of conscious activity and participation of the masses. It is almost axiomatic that a revolution does not take place unless this activity has reached extraordinary proportions. A bureaucratic degeneration only becomes possible if there is a reflux of this activity. But what causes this reflux? Here many honest revolutionaries lift their arms to heaven, saying they wish they knew.

One can offer no guarantees that a revolution will not degenerate. There are no recipes for maintaining a high level of activity among the masses. But one can firmly assert that certain factors will lead, and lead very quickly to a retreat of the masses from the scene. These factors are the emergence and consolidation, at the different points of social life, of individuals or groups who ‘take charge’ of society’s common affairs. [9] An essential precondition for mass activity to be maintained at the necessary level is that the masses should see – not in speeches, But in the facts of their everyday life – that power really belongs to them, that they can change their practical conditions of existence. The first and most important field where this can be tested in their daily life is at work. Workers’ management of production gives to the workers something which can be grasped immediately.

It is of immense relevance to. themselves and to society; as a whole. It gives a concrete content to all political issues. Without it, politics, even in a revolutionary society, will rapidly become what they are today: rhetoric and mystification. Workers’ management does not mean, of course, that individuals of working class origin are appointed to replace the present day managers. It means that the factory, at its various levels, is managed by the collectivity of the workers and other employees, including of course the technicians. Affairs affecting the shop or the department are decided by the assembly of workers of the shop or the department; routine or emergency problems are handled by stewards, elected and subject to instant recall. Co-ordination between two or more shops or departments is ensured by meetings of the respective stewards or by common assemblies. Co-ordination for the whole factory and contacts with the rest of the economy are the task of the Workers’ Councils, constituted by delegates from the various departments. Basic issues are decided in general assemblies, comprising all the people working in the factory.

Workers’ management will make it possible to start eliminating the fundamental contradictions of capitalist production. It will mark the end of labour’s domination over man, and the beginning of man’s domination over labour. It implies that each enterprise will be autonomous to the greatest possible degree, itself deciding all those aspects of production and work which do not affect the rest of the economy, and itself participating in those decisions which do concern the overall organization of production and of the economy. The general plans of production will be decided by the whole working population. [10] These plans will ascribe to each enterprise the tasks to be accomplished in a given period, and the means will be supplied to it for this end. But within this general framework, workers of each enterprise will have to organize their own work. To anyone familiar with the roots of the crisis in contemporary industrial relations, to anyone who has examined the demands of workers and what their informal struggles are about, it is not difficult to see the lines which the re-organization of production by the workers themselves will follow: externally imposed standards of work will certainly be abolished [11]; co-ordination of work will take place through direct contacts and co-operation; the rigid division of labour will start being eliminated through rotation of people between various departments and between various jobs.

Direct contact and co-operation between machine or tool-using departments and machine or tool-making department and factories will result in a change in the present situation of the worker in relation to the instruments of production. The main objective of today’s equipment as we have already said, is to raise production through the increased subordination of the men to the machine. When the workers manage production, they will start adapting equipment not only to the needs of work to be done, but also and predominantly to the needs of the men who are going to do it: This will be the most important :task confronting the socialist society: the conscious transformation of technology, so that man becomes for the first time history master of his productive activity. Work will cease to be ‘the realm of necessity’ and will become the very field where man exercises his creative power. Present science and technique offer immense possibilities in this direction, which lie fallow under capitalism. Of course, such a transformation will not take place overnight: but neither does it lie in a very distant and unpredictable future. It should not be left to take care of itself. It will have to be systematically undertaken as soon as working class power is established. Its fulfilment will require a whole transitional period, which is nothing else but the socialist society itself (as distinct from the communist society).

This brings us to another fundamental point: the central vales of a socialist society, its basic orientation. Here again, we are not speaking about a misty future, but about the tasks a proletarian revolution will have to set itself immediately. We are not constructing a priori a new ethic or new metaphysics. We are simply endeavouring to formulate conclusions which to us seem to flow inevitably from the crisis of the values of present society, and from the attitudes of workers, both in the factory and outside.

It is our firm conviction that workers’ management of production, the conscious transformation of technology, the government of society by Workers’ Councils and democratic planning will tremendously increase the productive power and rate of growth of the economy. They will make possible rapid increases in consumption, the satisfaction of basic social needs and a reduction of the working day. But this is not, in our view, the substance of the matter; all these are but by-products, although important by-products, of the socialist transformation.

Socialism is not a doctrine about how to increase production as such. This is a fundamentally capitalistic way of looking at things. Neither is it true that the main preoccupation of the human race throughout its history has been to increase production at all costs. The fact that work is central to society, that relations of production are the main influence in shaping men’s attitude to each other and to the world, is a very different matter.

Socialism is not about ‘better organization’ as such, whether it be better organization of production, of the economy or of society. Organization for organization’s sake is the constant obsession of capitalism, both private and bureaucratic. And it is irrelevant in this respect that capitalism constantly meets with failure in this field.

The relevant questions, as far as Socialism is concerned are: more production, better organization – at what costs? at whose cost? and to what end?

The usual reply we get today, whether it comes from Mr Nixon, Mr Khrushchev or the leaders of the Labour Party, is: more production and better organization in order to increase both consumption and leisure. Let us look at the society around us. Men are subject to ever increasing pressures by those who organize production. They work like mad in factory or office, during the major part of their non-sleeping lives in order to get a three percent annual rise or an extra- day’s holidays each year. In the end – and this is less and less of an anticipation – human happiness would be represented by a monstrous traffic jam, each family watching TV in its own saloon car [12] and sucking the ice-cream provided by the car’s own refrigerator.

Consumption as such has no meaning for man. Leisure as such is empty. Nobody perhaps is more miserable in today’s society than unoccupied old people, even when they have no material problems. An American and a French worker would agree that working class Sundays reflect in themselves all the misery and emptiness of the working week which has just finished, and of that which is about to begin. [13]

Consumption today bears in itself all the contradictions of a disintegrating culture. ‘Rising standards of living’ are meaningless, for this rise has no end [14] and society is organized to create more wants than people will ever be able to satisfy. ‘Higher standards of living’ are the mechanical rabbit used by capitalist and bureaucrat alike to keep people running. No other value, no other motivation is left to man in this inhuman, alienated society. But this stimulus also is contradictory and will sooner or later cease to function.. This year’s standards of living make last year’s look ridiculous. Each income bracket is made to look ridiculous by the one just above it. The content of present consumption is itself contradictory. Consumption, although full of social implications, remains anarchic (and no bureaucratic planning can take care of that) because the ‘goods’ are not goods-in-themselves, are not absolutes, but embody the values of this culture. People work themselves to a standstill to buy goods which, owing to this fact, they are unable to enjoy, or simply to use. Workers fall asleep in front of TV sets bought with overtime pay. Wants are less and less real wants. Wants have always been a social creation (we are not speaking now about biological needs, such as a certain number of dietary calories per day). Today’s wants are increasingly synthesized by the ruling class. The serfdom of man has become manifest in consumption itself. Socialism is not, and cannot be, about more production and more consumption of the present type. This would lead, through innumerable links and casual connections, to simply more capitalism.

Socialism is about freedom. We don’t mean freedom in a merely juridical sense, nor moral or metaphysical freedom, but freedom in the most concrete, down-to-earth sense: freedom of people in their everyday lives and activities, freedom to decide collectively how much to produce, how much to consume, how much to work and how much to rest. Freedom to decide, collectively and individually, what to consume [15], how to produce and how to work. Freedom to participate in determining the orientation of society, and freedom to direct one’s own life within this social framework.

Freedom in this sense will not arise automatically out of the development of production. Freedom should not, for instance, be confused with leisure as such. Freedom for man is not idleness, but free activity. The precise content men give to their ‘leisure time’ is predominantly conditioned by what happens in the fundamental spheres of social life, and first and foremost in production. Leisure, in an alienated society, is in both form and content but one of the expressions of alienation.

The ‘increased possibilities of education for all’ will not automatically produce freedom. Education in itself will solve nothing. In itself, education simply represents the mass production of individuals who are going to reproduce the same society, of individuals who are made to embody in their personalities the existing social structure and all its contradictions. Education today, whether in Britain or in Russia, whether given by the school or by the family, aims at producing people adapted to the present type of society. It corrupts the human sense of integration into society into a habit of subservience to authority. It corrupts the human sense of taking reality into account into a habit of worshipping established fact. It accepts a meaningless pattern of work, which separates, dislocates and distorts physical and mental potentialities. The more education of the present type you supply, the more you will produce of the present type of man, with slavery built into him. The development of production as such, though it might induce ‘material plenty’ would not of itself bring about a change in man’s social attitudes. It would not make the ‘struggle of everybody against everybody’ disappear. Generally speaking, this struggle is much harsher and more ruthless today in the USA than it is in an African village. The reasons are obvious: in contemporary society, alienation penetrates and destroys the meaning of everything, not only the meaning of work, but of all spheres of social and individual life. The only remaining value and motivation for men is higher (nor just high) and higher standards of material consumption. To compensate people for the increasing frustration they experience in work and in all other Social activities, society presents them with a new aim in life: the acquisition of ever more ‘goods’. So the distance between what is effectively available to the worker and what society puts as the standard of consumption has been increasing with the rise in production and in actual living standards. This tendency and the corresponding ‘struggle of everybody against everybody’, will not stop until the present culture, its worship of consumption and its acquisitive philosophy – which have completely penetrated and dominated what passes as ‘Marxism’ today – are destroyed at their roots.

Private capitalism and bureaucracy alike use a common instrument to maintain people tied down to their work and in antagonism to one another. This is a systematic policy of wage differentials. On the one hand, of course, a monstrous income differentiation prevails as one moves up the bureaucratic pyramid, be it in the factory or in the State. On the other hand, artificial pay differentials, for people performing work very similar in regard to skill and effort required, are systematically introduced in order to destroy class solidarity. When the class structure of society is destroyed, there will not be the slightest justification, economic or other [16] for retaining these differentials. No collective, democratic management of factory, economy or society can function among economically unequal people. The maintenance of income differentiation will immediately tend to recreate the present set-up. Equal pay for all who work must be one of the first rules a socialist society will have to apply. When, as revolutionary socialists, we try to define our conception of socialism we are dong no more than trying to define our movement. Who are we? What do we stand for? On what program do we want to be judged by the working class? It is a matter of elementary political honesty. We state openly and without ambiguity or double-talk the goals we think the workers should fight for. But to speak openly on these matters is also of the greatest practical relevance – to the construction of a revolutionary organization and to its development – and this for numerous reasons, only some of which can detain us here.

First of all: what is to be the relationship between the organization and the working class? If the object of the socialist revolution is to eliminate private property and the market in order to accelerate the development of production, by means of nationalization and planning, then the proletariat has no autonomous and conscious role to play. All means are good and proper that make of the proletariat an obedient and disciplined infantry, at the disposal of the ‘revolutionary’ headquarters. It is enough that the working class be prepared – and induced – to fight capitalism to the death. It is irrelevant for it to know how, why, what for. The ‘leadership’ knows. The relation between party and class then parallels the relation between direction and execution. After the revolution, management and power rest with The Party which manages society ‘on behalf of the workers’. This is the conception of Stalinists and Trotskyists alike. [17] The emergence of a bureaucracy is then absolutely inevitable.

But if the object of the socialist revolution is to institute workers’ management of production, economy and social life, and to rule through the power of Workers’ Councils, then the active and conscious subject of the revolution and of the whole subsequent social transformation can be none other than the proletariat itself. The socialist revolution can only take place through the autonomous action of the proletariat. Only if the proletariat finds in itself the will and consciousness necessary to bring about this immense transformation of society will this transformation take place. Socialism realized ‘on behalf of the proletariat’, even by the most revolutionary party, is wholesale nonsense. It follows that the revolutionary organization is not, and cannot be, ‘the leadership’ of the class, but can only be an instrument in the class struggle. Its main task is, through word and deed, to help prepare the working class for its historical role of managing society.

Secondly: how is the revolutionary organization to function internally? Traditional parties are organized and function according to certain ‘well proven’ principles of efficiency, which are based on ‘common sense’: the division of labour between ‘leaders’ and ‘rank and file’, the control of the former by the latter at infrequent intervals and usually after the event (so that control, in fact, becomes ratification), specialization of work, a rigid division of tasks, etc. This may be bourgeois common sense but it is sheer nonsense from a revolutionary point of view. This type of organization is efficient only in the sense of efficiently reproducing a bourgeois state of affairs, both inside and outside the party. In its best and most ‘democratic’ form, it is nothing but a parody of bourgeois parliamentarism. In this field, the revolutionary organization should apply principles created by the proletariat itself, in the course of its historic struggles: the Commune, the Soviets or the Workers’ Councils. There should be autonomy of the local organs to the greatest degree compatible with the unity of the organization; direct democracy wherever it can be materially applied; eligibility and instant revocability of all delegates to central bodies having power of decision. Finally: what should be the attitude of the organization regarding the day-to-day struggle? What should be its demands, both ‘immediate’ and ‘transitional’? For the traditional organizations, whether these be reformist or ‘Marxists’, the struggle is viewed essentially as a means of bringing the class under the control and leadership of the party. For Trotskyists, for instance, what matters during a strike is to get the strike committee to apply ‘the line’ decided by the party executive. Strikes have often been doomed because the whole upbringing and mentality of party members makes them, quite unintentionally, see as their first objective their own control of the movement, and not its intrinsic development. These organizations see the struggle within the unions as primarily a struggle for the control of the union machine.

The demands advocated themselves reflect the reactionary ideology and attitude of these organizations. They do so in two ways. First, by talking exclusively about wage increases, about the fight against slump and unemployment, and about nationalization, they focus the attention of workers onto reforms which are not only perfectly possible under capitalism, but are in fact increasingly applied by capitalism itself. These reforms are, in fact, the very expression of the bureaucratic transformation taking place in contemporary society. Taken as such, these demands tend merely to rationalize today’s social structure. They coincide perfectly well with the program of the ‘left’ or ‘progressive’ wing of the ruling classes. Secondly, by producing ‘transitional’ demands – sliding scales of wages and hours, workers’ ‘control’, workers’ militias, etc. – which are deemed to be incompatible with capitalism [18] but are not presented as such to the working class, these organizations tend to mystify and manipulate the working class. The party, for instance, ‘knows’ or believes that it knows, that the sliding scale of wages will never be accepted by capitalism. It believes that this demand, if really fought for by the workers, will lead to a revolutionary situation and eventually to the revolution itself. But it does not say so publicly, – for if it did, it would scare the workers off, who are not ‘yet’ ready to fight for socialism as such. So the apparently innocent demand for a sliding scale of wages is put forward as feasible and ‘known’ to be unfeasible. This is the bait, which will make the workers swallow the hook and the revolutionary line; the party, firmly holding the stick, will drag the class along into the ‘socialist’ frying pan. All this would be a monstrous conception, were it not so utterly ridiculous. For a revolutionary organization, there can be but one simple criterion in determining its attitude to the day-to-day struggles of the workers. Does this particular form of struggle, this particular form of organization increase or decrease the participation of the workers, their consciousness, their ability to manage their own affairs, their confidence in their own capacities, (all of which, by the way, are the only guarantees that a struggle will be vigorous and efficient, even from the most immediate and limited point of view)?

It follows that we stand unconditionally for direct decisions by assemblies of strikers on all the important issues, for strike committees elected and subject to instant recall [19], and against the management of strikes by the union bureaucrats; for rank and file organizations; tor the unconditional support of shop stewards and against all illusions of ‘reforming’ or ‘improving’ the bureaucratic apparatus of the trade unions.

It follows also that demands must be decided by the workers themselves, and not imposed on them by unions and parties. This of course does not mean that the revolutionary organization has no point of view of its own on these demands or that it should abstain from defending this point of view when workers do not accept it. It certainly does mean, however, that the organization refrains from manipulating or forcing the workers into particular positions. The attitude of the organization to particular demands is directly linked to its whole conception of socialism.

Let us give two examples: the source of oppression of the working class is to be found in production itself and socialism is about the transformation of these relations of production. Consequently, immediate demands related to condition of work, and more generally, to life in the factory, must take a central place, a place at least as important and perhaps even more important than wage demands. [20] In taking this stand, we not only express the deepest preoccupations of the workers today; we also establish a direct link with the central problem of the revolution, which is man’s place in the process of production. In taking this stand we expose the deeply conservative nature of all existing unions and parties. Exploitation increasingly expresses itself in the hierarchical structure of jobs and incomes, and in the atomization introduced into the proletariat through wage differentials. We must relentlessly denounce hierarchical conceptions of work and of social organization; we must support such wage demands as tend to abolish or reduce wage differentials (e.g. regressive percentage increases, which give more to the man at the bottom, and less to the man at the top). In so doing, we increase, in the long run, the sense of solidarity within the working class, we expose the bureaucracy, we directly attack the whole capitalist philosophy and all its values and we establish a bridge towards a fundamentally socialist rule.

These are the true ‘transitional demands’. Transitional demands in the sense given to the expression by Trotskyist mythology have never existed in history. In a given situation, demands which are otherwise ‘feasible’ within capitalism may become explosive and revolutionary (‘bread and peace’, in 1917, for instance); or immediate demands, supported by a vigorously waged class struggle, may undermine by their content the deepest foundations of capitalist society. The examples given above belong to this class.

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1. On the eve of the war, Trotsky was daily predicting that the bureaucracy would not be able to survive this supreme test, because of ‘the contradiction between the socialist foundations of the regime and the parasitic and reactionary character of the bureaucracy’. Today, the Trotskyists say that the increasing military power of Russia is the product of the ‘socialist foundations’. If you are unable to follow the logic, apply this rule: when a sputnik is successfully put into orbit, it must have been launched right from the depths of the socialist foundations. When it explodes in midair, this is due to the parasitic character of the bureaucracy.

2. This is stated in black and white in Trotsky’s Transitional Program.

3. Need we quote Eastern Germany, 1953, Poland and Hungary, 1956; China, 1957 and the echoes of daily struggles in Russian factories which find their way into the official Soviet press, including Khruschev’s published report to the XXth Congress of the CPSU

4. The forms of class struggle have changed, for deep-seated reasons, intimately linked up with the problems discussed in the text. But its intensity has not lessened. The interest of workers in traditional polities’, ‘left’ or otherwise, has declined. But unofficial strikes in Britain and ‘wildcats’ in the USA are more and more frequent. Cf. P. Cardan in the current issue (No.31) of Socialisme ou Barbarie: Revolutionary politics under modern capitalism.

5. ‘Marxism’ here and later in the text is taken in its effective, historical sense of the ideas most prevalent in the revolutionary Marxist movement, and excluding philological subtleties and minute interpretations of one or other particular quotation. The ideas discussed in this text are rigorously those Marx propounded in Capital.

6. See J.A.C. Brown, The Social Psychology of Industry, (Penguin).

7. By ‘socialism’ we mean the historical period opening with the proletarian revolution and ending with communism. By thus defining Socialism we very strictly follow Marx. This is the only ‘transitional period’ between class society and communism. There is no other. It is not communism, insofar as some sort of ‘state’ and political coercion are maintained (the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat). There is also economic coercion (‘he who does not work, neither does he eat’). But neither is it class society. Not only is the ruling class immediately eliminated, but also any sort of dominating social stratum. Exploitation itself is abolished. The confusion introduced by Trotsky and the Trotskyists in this field, through the insertion of an increasing number of ‘transitional’ societies between capitalism and socialism (workers’ states, degenerated workers’ states, more degenerated workers’ states etc. ...) must be exposed. The ultimate result of this confusion is to provide an ideological justification for the bureaucracy and to mystify the workers, by persuading them that they can be at one and the same time the ‘ruling class’ and yet ruthlessly exploited and oppressed. A society in which workers are not the ruling class in the proper and literal sense is not, and never can be, ‘transitional’ to socialism or to communism (except, of course, in the sense in which capitalism itself is ‘transitional’ to socialism).

8. See the article Socialism or Barbarism, in Socialisme ou Barbarie, No.1. (March 1949). A summary of this text has recently been circulated in English under the title Socialism Reaffirmed.

9. We do not intend to discuss here the developments in Russia after 1917, nor whether Lenin or the Bolsheviks ‘could have done otherwise’. This is a perfectly void and sterile discussion. The important point to stress is the link between what was done and the final results. By 1919 the management of production and of the economy was already in the hands of ‘specialists’; management of political life was in the hands of the ‘specialists in revolutionary polities’, ie of the Party. No power on earth could under these circumstances have stopped the bureaucratic degeneration.

All these remarks are of direct relevance to the problem of the revolutionary organization itself, and of its possible degeneration. All that is needed is to substitute in the text the word ‘members’ for the word ‘masses’.

10. Space does not permit us to discuss the problem of the general economic organization of socialist society, of planning, etc. For those wishing a fuller treatment of these issues and of the problems of political organization (workers’ councils, etc.) see Pierre Chaulieu’s article On the content of Socialism in Socialisme ou Barbarie, No.22 (July 1957).

11. This was an explicit demand of the Hungarian Workers’ Councils. It is the subject of constant struggle in every factory in the whole world.

12. With current rates of increase in car sales, current degrees of immobilisation in traffic jams and the fall in TV production costs, it will certainly become an economic proposition for car manufacturers to install optional TV sets in cars, perhaps by 1970.

13. See Paul Romano, The American Worker, and D. Mothe, The Workers and Culture, in Socialisme ou Barbarie (Nos.1-6 and 30, respectively).

14. This is exactly what Hegel used to call ‘bad infinity’ (Schlechte Unendlichkeit).

15. A genuine market for consumer goods, with ‘consumers’ sovereignty’ will certainly be maintained or rather established for the first time in socialist society. See the previously quoted article by P Chaulieu.

16. It is impossible to discuss here the incredible sophistry with which so-called ‘Marxists’ have tried to justify income unequality whether in Russia or under ‘socialism’. In this respect we would stress two points:

  1. the strict implementation of the ‘pay-according-to-value-of-work-done’ principle, advocated by Marx in the Critique of the Gotha Program would lead at most to a pay differential of the order of 1 (unskilled manual work) to 1.25 or 1.5 (nuclear physicist). By ‘value of the work done’ we mean value in the Marxist sense, as defined by the labour theory of value.
  2. inequality of wealth under socialism is usually justified on the grounds that society has to pay back to the skilled worker his training costs (including training years). The wage differentials in capitalist society pay this back many times over. The ‘Principle’ will be utter nonsense in a socialist society, because training costs will then not fall on the individual but will be paid by society itself.

17. This conception, scarcely camouflaged, can be found in the Labour Review (October-November 1960). An article by Cliff Slaughter entitled What Is Revolutionary Leadership contains, inter alia, an attack on the ideas of Socialisme ou Barbarie. The article contains nothing beyond the standard collection of platitudes on the ‘necessity of iron-trained leadership’, of the kind found in any Trotskyist article on the subject written in the course of the last twenty years. The author, moreover, follows the genuine tradition of Trotsky’s epigones in carefully avoiding any attempt at understanding the ideas he criticizes. The whole history of humanity, over the last forty years, is seen only in terms of the ‘crisis of revolutionary leadership’. Not for a single moment does our author ask himself: what were the causes of this crisis? If the Party is the solution to this crisis and ‘has to be built by those who grasp the historical process theoretically’, why is it that the grasping Trotskyists have been unable to build it, during the last thirty years? Why have Trotskyist organizations disintegrated even in countries where, once upon a time, they had some force? Slaughter’s ‘refutation’ of anti-bureaucratic conceptions is based on the argument that consciousness is necessary for the overthrow of capitalism. Consciousness is then, quite naively, identified with the consciousness of the leaders of the party. The author finally betrays his basically bourgeois mentality by depicting the centralization of bourgeois power, its organization, its weapons, etc., and by demanding, in order to combat this ‘a heightening of discipline and centralized authority to an unprecedented degree’. Not for a single moment does he suspect that proletarian centralization and discipline – as exemplified for instance by a workers’ council or a strike committee – represent a completely different thing from capitalist centralization and discipline, of which he is constantly asking for more.

18. In fact, some of them are not incompatible with capitalism: the sliding scale of wages is today applied in many industries and in various countries. But this manifestation of the Trotskyists’ ability to live in an imaginary world is irrelevant to our main argument.

19. This might seem commonplace for Britain; it is certainly not on the Continent.

20. It is of course no accident that unions and traditional political organizations remain silent on this problem, nor that an increasing proportion of ‘unofficial’ struggles takes place in Britain and the USA around precisely these demands.

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Last updated on 27.10.2006