On Anti – capitalism.
The first 10 guides in this series, provided many reasons for questioning the existence of the capitalist mode of production. Guide 10, outlined the many failed attempts to moderate capitalisms worst extremes. But early 20th century economic hardship and social unrest, also led to firm conclusions that capitalism had become an existential problem for working people. Large-scale movements developed, proposing to end capitalism.
Indeed, a number of ‘revolutions’ did occur, particularly in Russia and China, but control of the main means of production always remained with elites. In reality these ‘alternative‘ societies were state-controlled forms of economic exploitation. Workers simply became state employed wage-slaves. When these ‘alternatives’ collapsed, most workers became wage-slaves for capitalists again.
Those ‘state-capitalist’ failures revealed that going beyond capital requires; a) a thorough understanding of the capitalist mode of production; b) knowing what really makes a post-capitalist society possible. c) awareness of what actually needs revolutionising.
Anti-capitalist leaders/led of the 20th century, lacked this basic a, b, c. Yet knowledge of (a) had been pioneered by Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx. Here, an important distinction needs to be made between Marx and ‘Marxism‘. Marx, after reading what many ‘followers’ wrote, declared that; he was ‘not a Marxist’.
Nevertheless, throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, many Leninists, Trotskyists and Maoists, still claimed to be Marxists without fully understanding Marx’s revolutionary-humanism. Many pro-capitalist intellectuals criticise present day ‘Marxists’ but demonstrate their own ignorance of Marx by assuming these have understood Marx.
With regard to (b), the most potential developments are the creation of large-scale, non-profit, public service organisations. Despite the alleged superiority and efficiency of private ownership of social production, capitalists have found it necessary to construct huge examples of the opposite.
Even the most enthusiastic pro-capitalists would not advocate completely privatising the following: armies, navies, air forces, police forces, political and legal institutions, local government agencies, schools, universities, health services and road transport systems. The reason is obvious. Funds for these services would be reduced drastically if citizens only purchased them when needed.
It is a frequently overlooked fact by capitalists and pro-capitalists that without the existence of large-scale, non-profit public services institutions, modern capitalist societies would simply collapse. Without these institutions, unemployment would also increase exponentially. Thousands of white and blue-collar workers now staffing them – at all levels – would be jobless.
The fact is, that in the 20th and 21st centuries, a capitalistic private, profit-making sector of the capitalist mode of production can no longer survive without the multiple supporting buttresses of non-profit public services. These non-profit forms are necessary to ensure that transport/waste disposal infrastructure, national security requirements, organisational and personal education/welfare needs, all function sufficiently for modern societies to survive. The private profit economic sector is now absolutely dependent upon a solid foundation of non-profit public institutions.
Moreover most of the services listed above would be essential for a non-capitalist future once the hierarchical appointment structures and management teams within them were democratised. It would be foolish to condemn an excellent set of organisations (eg schools, universities, hospitals, fire services, etc.) just because a small section of those staffing them are currently patriarchal, sexist, elitist, arrogant, self-serving, dishonest, incompetent and overpaid. There would obviously be a need to respond to future changing requirements and to replace the current hierarchical structures, with genuinely democratic and egalitarian ones.
Economic and technical developments, created by millions of skilled and unskilled workers, have produced enormous amounts of surplus-product and value from their combined efforts. This surplus in turn has enabled the staffing of varied and extensive non-profit public services. For over 60 years these non-profit models have proved sustainable and effective in delivering the basic needs of modern citizens. Most represent valuable, if incomplete and still woefully under-resourced, prototypes for a future mode of production not distorted by individual profit-seeking and hierarchical greed. In the 20th century, capitalism gave birth to its future replacement.
This brings us to point (c). What elements of the capitalist mode of production need to be abandoned? First of all private or elite control of the main means of production needs to be ended – in all its various, neo-liberal and authoritarian forms! This is because the ceaseless elite desire to accumulate individual power, surpluses and profit, not only fuels inequality, injustice, trade wars, ill health and global pollution, but also widespread ecological destruction and accelerated climate change. These symptoms of social and biological disintegration are inevitable while elites determine the pattern, the purpose, the pace and the location of production, distribution and exchange.
NB. In the entire history of the human species, capitalism is the only mode of production which has the capability (and elite incentive) to destroy the foundations of humanity itself. Pro-capitalist economic, financial and political classes now have the industrial and commercial means, to globally degrade or destroy; people, water, air, soil, seas, lakes, rivers; and to eliminate vital biological species (trees, bees, microbial soil balance and multifarious forms of sea life) upon which we depend. The existence of humanity and the other life-forms needed, requires that elite control of the modern means of production is replaced by genuine and direct community control.
Instead, the 20th century revolutionary uprisings, noted above, demonstrated that anti-capitalism, in the sectarian, elitist forms of Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism and Maoism were authoritarian dead ends. In or out of power, such elitist forms failed humanity completely. Apart from a few remaining members such groups have been abandoned. However, a healthy strand of revolutionary-humanist ideas that transcend sectarian ones have survived those 20th century aberrations.
As noted in Guide 8, Revolutionary-Humanist understanding and practices exist and are available. They offer critical, self-critical and humane responses to capitalism’s existential threats to humanity and life in general. Unlike, religion, nationalism and political affiliation – concepts that intentionally promote human disunity – revolutionary-humanist ideas actually reflect 20th and 21st century global realities and the future integrated needs of our species.
Roy Ratcliffe (December 2019)