The previous four articles in this series have outlined the many problems facing humanity caused by the global domination of the capitalist mode of production. Before considering future alternatives to capitalism, it is useful to understand why the Russian Bolsheviks around, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and the Chinese Communists around, Mao, created forms of state-capitalist authoritarianism that were almost a mirror image of Nazi version of Fascism.
The reason why right-wing and left-wing authoritarian outcomes were so strikingly similar, stem from the fact that mass societies governed by elites face essentially the same problems and are met with the same class-based solutions – compulsion! Elite governed mass societies need production to match the rhythm of a machine not the relaxed rhythm of nature or human nature. This fact is most starkly revealed by the statements and actions of two of the leaders of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
“Universal labour conscription is introduced. All citizens of both sexes between the ages of sixteen and fifty – five shall be obliged to perform work assigned to them..” (Lenin, Complete works. Vol 26, p 392. Emphasis added. RR)
“..the transformation of the whole state economic mechanism into a single huge machine,…that will work in such a way as to enable hundreds of millions of people to be guided by a single plan..” (Lenin, Vol 27, p 90/91. Emphasis added RR)
“..the principle of discipline, organisation, harmonious cooperation on the basis of modern machine industry and strict accounting and control..” (Lenin ibid p 163)
“There is, therefore, absolutely no contradiction in principle between Soviet (that is socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals…unquestioning subordination to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of processes organised on the pattern of large-scale machine industry ” (Lenin, ibid p 268/26 Emphasis added. RR.)
These quotations (and there are many more) clearly illustrate a common authoritarian solution to the functioning of mass societies dictated by an elite class. Workers are compelled to labour at essential productive tasks in a manner the elite decide. Lenin’s claim that Bolshevik leadership was in the best interests of working people is as false as Hitler’s similar claim. That both the Nazis and Bolsheviks included the term ‘socialist’ in their literature, party names and banners indicates a strategy of misleading uncritical followers. Lenin was not alone in this view.
“…we can have no way to socialism except by authoritative regulation of the economic forces and resources of the country and in the centralised distribution of labour power in harmony with the general state plan. The labour state considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary.” (Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism. P 253. Emphasis added RR.)
The essence of mass societies.
So in any discussion of the future, the essential nature of the present capitalist mode of production needs to be considered. Capitalist mass societies depend upon continuously daily and even hourly production to sustain their populations. This is done using two forms of economic activity; productive and unproductive labour. Productive labour is the type work which directly produces more goods or services (in value terms) than it consumes in producing them.
Such productive forms of labour thus create surplus objects of production which can be used for other purposes; eg. to create income streams from sales such as profits and interest or to support those involved in unproductive forms of labour. Unproductive labour, however useful, does not create a surplus of exchangeable objects. (See article 4 of this series)
In addition, the capitalist method of production has greatly increased the general level and efficiency of all kinds of industrialised labour. Indeed, it has risen to such an extent that a smaller and smaller number of productive workers can produce enough to support an ever greater number of unproductive workers and other non-workers.
Productive workers fall into two important categories. First, there are those ‘essential workers’ who produce the things necessary for everyone’s survival such as food, water, clothing, housing, care, education, transport, medicine, energy for lighting, heating and cooking.
These essential workers not only produce profits for capitalist investors, but also supply the essential survival needs of all other citizens, such as teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, politicians, police, military, royalty, capitalists etc. Second, there are non-essential workers who produce things which are not essential for survival, but which can be useful and also profitable to manufacture and sell. These exist in such realms as fashion, sports, entertainment, leisure, hospitality etc.
The capitalist motive for technological improvements to production has predominantly been profit seeking. This motivation not only enabled mass societies to expand, but also created serious social and ecological problems. Some people have become extremely rich, consuming disproportionally more products (and thus resources) than the poor and to use their wealth to influence politicians and others. Profit seeking has also created the incentive to mass produce endless streams of non-essential products, which exhaust the earth’s essential resources, pollute air, rivers, seas and cause waste products to go into land-fill, lakes and seas.
This class of capitalists have for decades successfully lobbied governments to ignore or dilute any proposals to restrict those activities leading to air and land pollution and deforestation. They will continue to resist radical and egalitarian changes to the ‘system’ for they have come to believe they are entitled to extract enormous wealth from the labour of working people and from the earth’s natural productive ecology.
The members of this class will stand in the way of any future form of eco-friendly progress which does not allow them to continually enrich themselves. Guided by a self-serving mode of thinking, they will do everything they can to maintain their system and thus engineer even more ways to create ecological destruction and climate change.
Humane alternatives are possible.
Yet, ‘saving the planet’ and proving that ‘another world is possible’, follows logically from what was described earlier. The exceptional productivity of labour power in the realm of essential production means very few workers are now needed to supply the masses of citizens with the basics of modern survival. Also many existing workers are already employed by non-profit public service organisations.
At least half the population in most capitalist countries are already employed by one or other of the public services – including the highly paid members of the government and civil service. This means they are not subject to the same profit motives and precarious employment terms and conditions as in the capitalist sector. The capitalist sector by definition will only do what is profitable, not what is necessary.
Furthermore, when profits cannot be made by capitalists, wages and salaries can be reduced or employment terminated. Pensions can also disappear overnight. Elsewhere, I have explained how Capitalist investment isn’t necessary to produce and circulate essential and non-essential goods, so I will not repeat that here. [See Link below.]
Public service versus private exploitation.
From a Revolutionary-Humanist perspective, the following is obvious. If in a transition to a public service mode of production, every working age citizen was offered employment with a public service organisation of their choice, on an average living salary, then work could begin on unprofitable – but urgently needed production. This could be cleaning up pollution, repairing bridges, dams, reservoirs, sea defences, sewers, waste disposal depots, upgrading and building, schools, hospitals, care homes and adequately staffing them. Planting trees and building affordable eco-viable houses could also be done.
Furthermore, the extra workforce voluntarily entering into the public service production of essential products and services could be employed in helping develop the most eco-friendly, non-polluting and non-wasteful methods of production.
In stage 2 of such a humane transition, (if not in stage 1) it would be sensible to address the ridiculous discrepancies in pay and power, between those on the lowest wages and salaries and those on the highest. It is already clear that in government, politics, education, commerce, banking and industry, those on pay levels ten or twenty times higher than the lowest are not ten or twenty times more intelligent, skilful or useful to society than those on the lowest. In fact the number of visible duffers in the highest ranks of society suggest that luck or good family connections have more to do with higher pay and status than operational ability.
The creation of a 21st century unified, non-elite, community based defence of humane living standards – for all – along environmental sustainability for the natural world, would be revolutionary. It could be a modern, humane version of the ‘Your Country Needs You’ called into being at the outset of the Second World War in 1939. The 1939/45 ‘national campaigns’ on both sides of the European war was support for rival elite privilege. In fact elites on all sides (Allies and Axis) enthusiastically created full-employment in agriculture, armies, navies, air-forces and munitions factories – all for the purpose of killing each others citizens. Over 6 million men, women and children died.
In contrast to such warfare and death, national based, full-employment, ‘community campaigns’ to help save the planet and vulnerable communities would be saving lives rather than sacrificing them. However, the elites in power will not willingly allow such a transitional change to happen. They will do all in their power to maintain capitalism (in any of its forms) and resist giving up their wealth and privileges.
Finally, at the risk of repetition, the ecology of the planet can no longer sustain mass societies based on the profit motive and humanity cannot exist humanely on the basis of extreme wealth for a few and poverty for the many. Unless stopped, the capitalist system will continue to trigger devastation either by overproduction, further climate change, more pollution and resource depletion, viral pandemics or further warfare.
Any future generations who survive such devastations will still be faced with the need to change the mode of production to ones based upon the needs of the majority and ecology not the greed of a minority.
Roy Ratcliffe (November 2021)
[Use the link below to view the chapters 8 & 9 on alternatives to capitalist production in the book ‘Introduction to Revolutionary-Humanism’. ]
I like the article but this (Mature) student of society is still wrestling with some of the concepts touched upon.
Is it not true that the advancement of productive technology has resulted in a reduction in the rate of profit to capitalists, and if so then can the movement of capital to cheep labour zones (Formerly called third world) be seen, partly at least, as an attempt to resist the advancement of technology, as basically cheep labour produces faster profit with less need for competent management?
I see the drivers of so called “globalization” as a sort of posh later-day Luddites, the first Luddites opposed technical advances because they were not in there own immediate interests and history has lampooned them quite a lot in telling the tale.
By comparison today’s posh Luddites get an easy ride from the media and the politicians, all of them I would say, even those who are sometimes more progressive.
Hi Leslie! Yes you are correct that the growth in the cost of technology and thus of fixed capital tends to reduce the rate of profit but of course this is compensated by the fact of a greater mass of profit results from the greater productivity using automation etc. And yes locating sufficient numbers of cheap labour can create a greater rate of profit but a consequence of that can be a lower mass of profit but not necessarily a ‘faster’ profit. The speed of the realisation of profit from surplus-value can be quick or slow depending upon the speed of sales of profit bearing commodities – not the ratio of wages to total capital (the rate of profit). The main driver of Globalisation is the desire of capitalists to maximise the optimum rate of surplus-value/profit and minimise the costs of production and circulation and of course they don’t always get it right. Those who are against globalisation area mixed bunch but, as far as I understand them, none advocate smashing the machinery as the Luddites did. Regards, Roy