Freedom of competition changes into its very opposite — into monopoly… The official representative of capitalist society — the state — will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production.
This necessity for conversion into state property is felt first in the great institutions for intercourse and communication — the post office, the telegraphs, the railways… The transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into state-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces… The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists…
The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with… The exploitation is so palpable, that it must break down. No nation will put up with production conducted by trusts [conglomerates], with so barefaced an exploitation of the community by a small band of dividend-mongers… The capitalist mode of production, by transforming the great majority of the population into proletarians, creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced to accomplish this revolution… The new productive forces have already outgrown the capitalistic mode of using them. And this conflict between productive forces and modes of production… exists… objectively, outside us, independently of the will and actions even of the men that have brought it on… Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex, in thought, of this conflict in fact; its ideal reflection in the minds, first, of the class directly suffering under it, the working class.
The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialised means of production... into public property… To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions… to impart to the oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish — this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism.
Governments all over the world continue to act as if they wish to point the way forward for humankind. As if they deliberately act to prove to working people everywhere that socialism is both urgently necessary and long overdue.
In many of the advanced countries of capitalism, the governments that act for the bourgeoisie have nationalised banks, in whole or in part! They are being compelled to substitute themselves, and the financial resources of society, for the free play of a key section of the capitalist class.
Republican party leaders in the USA voice their unhappiness at the “socialism” of what the Republican President Bush is doing. But they conclude their public soliloquies with statements that There Is No Alternative except for the US bourgeoisie to grit their teeth and be grateful for the “boldness” of the US government in temporarily embracing “socialism”.
For two decades and more, the champions and defenders of capitalism have erected their case on the assertion that There Is No Alternative to capitalism; now, they say There Is No Alternative (temporarily!) to socialism, or what they understand as “socialism”!
It is of course not socialism as we hold to it, working-class democratic socialism, but it is “social-ism”, in the primitive sense of the substitution of social, government, activity for that of the private capitalists.
The ex-reform-socialist advocates of the “social market” have a chance to see — though most of them won’t — the emptiness of their glib civilised-capitalist formula, according to which the normal tendencies of a market system should shape fundamentals, moderated and palliated by “corrective” government action on welfare.
What is needed is not a “social market” system, in which the market rules with “social” modifications, but a system in which “society” rules and regulates and plans the economy on the large scale, “moderated” in certain areas by the empirical flexibility and responsiveness of markets.
In the decades of marketist delusion — of what might be called High Thatcherism, in Britain and even internationally — one all-limiting argument was the national governments had limited powers in the era of the global corporations. We are now seeing just how much power governments can exercise in an emergency.
They have had to take loosely coordinated action to scaffold-up the world financial system, but clearly governments have great power still. It is a question of what that power is used for, and what governments think is an emergency — that is, of who does the thinking, the representatives of the bourgeoisie or of the working class. Of what sort of government is in power — a bourgeois government or a workers’ government.
Government action to rescue stricken but essential elements of capitalism is not, of course, new. In the world wars, governments took directing control of national capitalist systems. The US government of President Wilson did it in World War One, and so did Roosevelt in World War Two. In Nazi Germany, the government took tight control of the economy during the war.
In Britain, after 1945, the government nationalised the capital-short and run-down coal and rail industries.
The workers, especially the miners, benefited from a more enlightened and less penny-pinching administration of their industry — but what the decrepit former owners got, by way of enormous “compensation”, was their capital freed for more profitable reinvestment.
Whether or not the governments succeed in their aim of staving off financial collapse and limiting the economic depression that is now upon us, the “social-ist” activity by governments run by the fiercest ideologues of “marketism” and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism — including the Brown-Blair government — is a stupendous inadvertent endorsement of the underlying case for working-class, Marxist, socialism.
And vindication too of the clear-sightedness of those who, through the capitalist-marketist delirium, which infected the labour movement too, insisted that capitalism is fundamentally at odds with human need, and that socialism is an irreplaceable necessity for humankind.
The big capitalist corporations go around the world looting and pillaging, casually dispossessing large numbers of workers of jobs when they can get a better rate of exploitation by employing other workers half a world away. The surreally-high salaries and hand-outs to their executives and dividends to their shareholders are only the most visible and obscene aspects of the piratical looting at the heart of global capitalism.
Capitalism is a system run and regulated by private owners, a system governed by drive for profit, and therefore erected on the basis of the exploitation of the working class.
The giganticism of the multinational corporations has not changed this, but emphasised and intensified and made unmistakably visible its fundamental traits.
But the fundamental reason why governments have had to act as they are acting, and what makes it possible for them to act this way to stave off financial disaster, is that capitalism is already “socialised” — concentrated and centrally administered. It has not therefore ceased to be capitalism.
That economy is already controlled and administered, for their own benefit, by a comparatively small group of capitalists, is an advanced manifestation of what Frederick Engels long ago described as the “invading socialist society”, growing up within the shell of capitalism. The main processes of production and trade, though held and administered as private property and run for the owners’ benefit to maximise profit, are already more or less socialised.
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That fact, even at the height of the “marketist” delirium, made what Marxists advocate fundamentally rational — true to the underlying reality of the world we live in.
The problem is that the capitalist class and its servitors and ideological high priests hold political power everywhere (with odd exceptions like North Korea and Cuba, where Stalinist bureaucracies rule). That is the explanation for the “socialism for billionaires” now being resorted to by fanatically-marketist capitalist governments!
That is why wholesale, general conclusions are not drawn in the mainstream media — that this system is outmoded.
That is why these “social-ist” measures are “temporary” (in fact they will be held for an unforeseeable number of years). Why the capitalist media do not — as honest commentators would — draw the obvious conclusion: That this system needs to be replaced, not temporarily, and not in part, but finally and wholly, by the social administration of the economy. Administration not in the interests not of maximising private profit for shareholders and executives, but in the interest of satisfying human need, the needs of those who work the economy and whose lives are inseparably intertwined in its day to day “on the ground” workings.
The system that has now broken down in its financial sector is not only obscene in the way wealth is distributed, but also absurd in economic as well as human terms, historically outmoded.
In the past the idea of the “invading socialist society” led some socialists — notably C L R James — to the foolish notion that the “invasion” was succeeding inexorably. No, it wasn't. No, it won't. The working-class revolution is the precondition for going from the present intermittant “bankers' socialism” to working-class socialism.
Only a workers’ government, a government serving the working class and working people generally, can do what needs to be done. It will seize the political power over the economy from those who hold it now, and expropriate those who now appropriate the labour of the working class for their profits and bonuses. It will begin to administer society rationally.
It will develop democracy throughout society and the economy. It will make political democracy deeper than the shallow “politics” we now have under capitalism. It will organise the economy in ways that do not, like today's profit-oriented organisation, degrade and threaten to destroy the ecological system on which human life depends.
From the end of the 19th century until a couple or three decades ago, the sort of “social-ism” now coming back into fashion among our rulers was widely accepted. A leading bourgeois politician said 120 years ago: “We are all socialists now”. They weren't, of course. Their “socialism” was state capitalism — the running of some industries by the state in the interests of capital as a whole.
Yet even that sort of “social-ism” gave a resonance to the educational work of working-class socialists, who thereby acequired an audience that was sympathetic rather than uncomprehending.
So too now and from now on. That imposes on working-class socialists the responsibility to be sharp and clear in what we advocate, and on and to explain how working-class socialism differs from “bankers' socialism”.
Only the working class — better-educated and better-organised — can finally eliminate the malign rule of the capitalist class, and replace it by democratic socialism. Only consistent and honest truth-telling can point the way forward for the labour movement.
The first concern of socialists must be the education of the labour movement and the working class in the need for independent class politics, politics which can enable the working class to overthrow capitalism.
The underlying objective social reason why so much of the ostensible left has succumbed to the politics of an “anti-imperialism of the idiots” and alliances with Islamic clerical fascism was the seeming impregnability of capitalism, which limited what socialists could hope to do. From that feeling of being stymied came hopes in, and alliances with, backward-facing forces “outside” the mainstream capitalist world and antagonistic to its greatest power (but also to much in modern society on which and in which democratic socialism has to be erected).
The accumulated political excrescences of decades won't wash away overnight; but the possibilities for rational socialists to clear out of the way the “reactionary socialist” nonsense of the kitsch left are now better than for many a long day.
Possibilities for regrouping rational working-class-facing democratic revolutionary socialists are opening up. We must ready ourselves for this work. We must explain the possibilities.