David S. Reiss
Source: The Communist Review, November 1922, Vol. 3, No. 7.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The following is not a treatise on the theory of all revolutions. The theory of social revolution limits itself to that period of history when Capitalism ceases to function, and is supplanted by Communism. The writer pre-supposes the reader to understand that capitalistic competition is not a self-perpetuating process, but, rather, an elimination of the less efficient competitors.
What are the causes of social revolutions?
The capitalistically less efficient countries in the world’s trade competition are bound to have increasing misery of their workers, and therefore social revolutions sooner than the capitalistically more efficient countries. The theory of increasing misery is the theory of the social revolution.
The question has been stated and the answer has been given. Nothing further would need to be added were the foregoing answer universally accepted. We find, however, that the advocates of the social revolution usually predict that the most developed countries will have the social revolution first, because they are riper for Socialism.
The belief that the social revolution is to take place first in the industrially more developed countries is based on the following passages of Marx.
“The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.“ (P. 13, Marx’ Capital, Kerr ed.)
“No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces, for which there is room in it, have been 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.“ (P. 13, Marx’ Critique of Political Economy.)
The first quoted passage is not permanently true. Because an industrially more developed country can sometimes be overtaken by a formerly industrially less developed country. Industrial development is a continuous process which is not going on always and everywhere at the same rate. Various countries may even become alternately more developed, industrially. Hence it is difficult to predict in what particular country at what particular time the revolution is to take place.
Furthermore, the statement: “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future,” cannot always mean either the same methods of production or the same products; because the less industrially developed country may not have the same material resources (e.g., coal, iron, and other minerals), nor fertility or climatic conditions like to the industrially more developed country.
Nor can the foregoing quotation mean that the capitalistically more prosperous country shows to the less prosperous one the image of its own future; because the very prosperity of the former hinders, due to capitalistic competition—by making unprofitable—the development of the latter, unless a more abundant supply or superior quality of raw materials can be had with less effort, in the less developed country than in the more developed one.
To reduce the statement: “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future,” to an absurdity, by applying it as a prediction of the social revolution, we have this: If the working class is to wait with its social revolution until all inventions in the means of production have been made and until all capital will have been monopolised—for this is what the industrially most developed country would mean under capitalism—they may indeed wait with the social revolution for ever.
Should the reader find fault with the foregoing, let me ask: At what period of Capitalism and for what adequate reason does the following happen: “The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property ends. The expropriators are expropriated.” (P. 837, Capital.)
Let me repeat: At what period of Capitalism and for what adequate reason does “centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour . . . reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument”? Does it not seem more reasonable to suppose that “the knell of capitalist private property ends” in those countries first in which “centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour” has not been able to reach the point of the more successfully capitalistically competing country?
The social revolution in Russia surprised many revolutionarists. They denied the possibility of a social revolution in Russia, because they expected the social revolution to take place first in the industrially more developed countries. Some Marxian economists even now declare the social revolution in Russia to have been premature. To there the social revolution in Russia is non-Marxian.
The social revolution in Russia may be non-Marxian. But to the extent that it is non-Marxian, to that extent is Marxism, non-economic and non-historical.
The proletarian revolution happened in Russia rather than in the United States, for example, just because Russia had at that time its industry less efficiently organised.
As well expect a more efficient industrial concern to go bankrupt sooner than a less efficient one, as to expect an industrially more efficient country to have a social revolution before an industrially less efficient one. (The industrially more developed country being also more efficient, I am substituting here for the purpose in hand the word efficient for the word developed.)
Can you conceive of an efficient concern giving up its so-called time-tested methods of doing business for some untried method suggested by “crack brained theoreticians”? Can you conceive a capitalistically efficient country establish collective ownership when the so-called ruling principle of civilisation, the individual incentive to possess property, is still in working order?
Marxians are correct in stating that the more industrially developed a country is the more fit it is for Socialism. This is true. But it is also true that, for the time being, the more industrially developed a country is, the more fit it is to continue Capitalism.
A Cleveland trade paper recently contained an article describing the industrial methods of one of the most efficient manufacturing concerns of the whole country. The article related a typical case of a girl worker gradually rising to higher and better paying positions and by that very process was kept disinclined to join the union. When an attempt was made to induce the girl to join the union, she replied: “I am satisfied.” In a similar manner, when revolutionists have been urging American workers in the past to join the revolutionary movement the answer given was: “I am satisfied.” Revolutionists and unionists are in the habit of looking upon those who refuse to join as if they were of inferior intellect. The explanation is to be found rather in material conditions.
The individual concern that is the most efficient now, and the country that is the most efficient now, will not always remain the most efficient. For the time being, however, the same conditions that in the opinion of the majority of the workers makes it needless for them to join the union or to join the revolutionary movement makes it also impossible to accomplish the social revolution in those places.
The capitalistically more efficient countries will not undergo the social revolution before the capitalistically less efficient ones, but rather the contrary. The capitalistically more efficient countries will become less efficient and will fail, when the communistically established countries will become more efficient than they.
Not the industrially more efficient but the industrially less efficient country is compelled to discard Capitalism, to undergo a social revolution, and to adopt the superior system of Communism, or an approximation of it, because the less efficient capitalist country fails first in world competition. (To treat of emigration as a possible alternative for revolution is outside the scope of this article.)
It does not follow that immediately after a country has undergone the social revolution it becomes more efficient than before. Nevertheless, such country may find it impossible to revert to Capitalism. Nor will the slow development of efficiency of the country that has already accomplished the social revolution deter the less efficient capitalistic countries from undergoing a social revolution; because the introduction of Communism is due rather to the failings of Capitalism than to the achievements of the country that has already had its social revolution and is now undergoing the transition to Communism.
An apparent exception to the theory of social revolution as stated here is, when the workers of an industrially more developed country would revolt at the time of over-supply of the market, or, as some call it, over-production. At such time there are more workers out of work in the industrially more developed country than in the industrially less developed ones. And should the capitalists of the industrially more developed country refrain from relieving the misery of the unemployed workers, either by charity or by a subsidy (both of which are but postponements of the social revolution), then the revolution may break out first in the industrially more developed country. Even this apparent exception, however, is included in the theory of social revolution as given here. Because the fact that the capitalists of the industrially more developed country do not meet the demands of their workers, but, rather, let the country undergo a social revolution, shows that this industrially more developed country has, for the time being, become less efficient than those countries in which the social revolution has not yet taken place.
DAVID S. REISS.