Chapter I The Opportunist Method

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Image: Defending the Russian Revolution. [Source:]

If it is true that theories are only the images of the phenomena of the exterior world in the human consciousness, it must be added, concerning Eduard Bernstein’s system, that theories are sometimes inverted images. Think of a theory of instituting socialism by means of social reforms in the face of the complete stagnation of the reform movement in Germany. Think of a theory of trade union control. Consider the theory of winning a majority in Parliament, after the revision of the constitution of Saxony and in view of the most recent attempts against universal suffrage. However, the pivotal point of Bernstein’s system is not located in his conception of the practical tasks of the Social-Democracy. It is found in his stand on the course of the objective development of capitalist society, which, in turn is closely bound to his conception of the practical tasks of the Social-Democracy.

According to Bernstein, a general decline of capitalism seems to be increasingly improbable because, on the one hand, capitalism shows a greater capacity of adaptation, and, on the other hand, capitalist production becomes more and more varied.

The capacity of capitalism to adapt itself, says Bernstein, is manifested first in the disappearance of general crises, resulting from the development of the credit system, employers’ organisations, wider means of communication and informational services. It shows itself secondly, in the tenacity of the middle classes, which hails from the growing differentiation of the branches of production and the elevation of vast layers of the proletariat to the level of the middle class. It is furthermore proved, argues Bernstein, by the amelioration of the economic and political situation of the proletariat as a result of its trade union activity.

From this theoretic stand is derived the following general conclusion about the practical work of the Social-Democracy. The latter must not direct its daily activity toward the conquest of political power, but toward the betterment of the condition of the working class, within the existing order. It must not expect to institute socialism as a result of a political and social crisis, but should build socialism by means of the progressive extension of social control and the gradual application of the principle of co-operation.

Bernstein himself sees nothing new in his theories. On the contrary, he believes them to be in agreement with certain declarations of Marx and Engels. Nevertheless, it seems to us that it is difficult to deny that they are in formal contradiction with the conceptions of scientific socialism.

If Bernstein’s revisionism merely consisted in affirming that the march of capitalist development is slower than was thought before, he would merely be presenting an argument for adjourning the conquest of power by the proletariat, on which everybody agreed up to now. Its only consequence would be a slowing up of the pace of the struggle.

But that is not the case. What Bernstein questions is not the rapidity of the development of capitalist society, but the march of the development itself and, consequently, the very possibility of a change to socialism.

Socialist theory up to now declared that the point of departure for a transformation to socialism would be a general and catastrophic crisis. We must distinguish in this outlook two things: the fundamental idea and its exterior form.

The fundamental idea consists of the affirmation that capitalism, as a result of its own inner contradictions, moves toward a point when it will be unbalanced, when it will simply become impossible. There were good reasons for conceiving that juncture in the form of a catastrophic general commercial crisis. But that is of secondary importance when the fundamental idea is considered.

The scientific basis of socialism rests, as is well known, on three principal results of capitalist development. First, on the growing anarchy of capitalist economy, leading inevitably to its ruin. Second, on the progressive socialisation of the process of production, which creates the germs of the future social order. And third, on the increased organisation and consciousness of the proletarian class, which constitutes the active factor in the coming revolution.

Bernstein pulls away from the first of the three fundamental supports of scientific socialism. He says that capitalist development does not lead to a general economic collapse.

He does not merely reject a certain form of the collapse. He rejects the very possibility of collapse. He says textually: “One could claim that by collapse of the present society is meant something else than a general commercial crisis, worse than all others, that is a complete collapse of the capitalist system brought about as a result of its own contradictions.” And to this he replies: “With the growing development of society a complete and almost general collapse of the present system of production becomes more and more improbable, because capitalist development increases on the one hand the capacity of adaptation and, on the other – that is at the same time, the differentiation of industry.” (Neue Zeit, 1897-98, vol.18, pg.555)

But then the question arises: Why and how, in that case, can we attain the final goal? According to scientific socialism, the historic necessity of the socialist revolution manifests itself above all in the growing anarchy of capitalism, which drives the system into an impasse. But if one admits with Bernstein that capitalist development does not move in the direction of its own ruin, then socialism ceases to be objectively necessary. There remain the other two mainstays of the scientific explanation of socialism, which are also said to be consequences of capitalism itself: the socialisation of the process of production and the growing consciousness of the proletariat. It is these two matters that Bernstein has in mind when he says: “The suppression of the theory of collapse does not in any way deprive socialist doctrine of the power of persuasion. For, examined closely, what are all factors enumerated by us that make for the suppression or the modification of the former crises? Nothing else, in fact, than the conditions, or even in party the germs, of the socialisation of production and exchange.” (Ibid., pg.554)

Very little reflection is needed to understand that here too we face a false conclusion. Where lies the importance of all the phenomena that are said by Bernstein to be the means of capitalist adaptation – cartels, the credit system, the development of means of communication, the amelioration of the situation of the working class, etc.? Obviously, in that they suppress or, at least, attenuate the internal contradictions of capitalist economy, and stop the development or the aggravation of these contradictions. Thus the suppression of crises can only mean the suppression of the antagonism between production and exchange on the capitalist base. The amelioration of the situation of the working class, or the penetration of certain fractions of the class into middle layers, can only mean the attenuation of the antagonism between Capital and Labour. But if the mention factors suppress the capitalist contradictions and consequently save the system from ruin, if they enable capitalism to maintain itself – and that is why Bernstein calls them “means of adaptation” – how can cartels, the credit system, trade unions, etc., be at the same time “the conditions and even, in part, the germs” of socialism? Obviously only in the sense that they express most clearly the social character of production.

But by presenting it in its capitalist form, the same factors render superfluous, inversely, in the same measure, the transformation of this socialised production into socialist production. That is why they can be the germs or conditions of a socialist order only in a theoretic sense and not in an historic sense. They are phenomena which, in the light of our conception of socialism, we know to be related to socialism but which, in fact, not only do not lead to a socialist revolution but render it, on the contrary, superfluous.

There remains one force making for socialism – the class consciousness of the proletariat. But it, too, is in the given case no the simple intellectual reflection of the growing contradictions of capitalism and its approaching decline. It is now no more than an ideal whose force of persuasion rests only on the perfection attributed to it.

We have here, in brief, the explanation of the socialist programme by means of “pure reason.” We have here, to use simpler language, an idealist explanation of socialism. The objective necessity of socialism, the explanation of socialism as the result of the material development of society, falls to the ground.

Revisionist theory thus places itself in a dilemma. Either the socialist transformation is, as was admitted up to now, the consequence of the internal contradictions of capitalism, and with the growth of capitalism will develop its inner contradictions, resulting inevitably, at some point, in its collapse, (in that case the “means of adaptation” are ineffective and the theory of collapse is correct); or the “means of adaptation” will really stop the collapse of the capitalist system and thereby enable capitalism to maintain itself by suppressing its own contradictions. In that case socialism ceases to be an historic necessity. It then becomes anything you want to call it, but it is no longer the result of the material development of society.

The dilemma leads to another. Either revisionism is correct in its position on the course of capitalist development, and therefore the socialist transformation of society is only a utopia, or socialism is not a utopia, and the theory of “means of adaptation” is false. There is the question in a nutshell.

Reform or Revolution: Introduction

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Image: Resistance, Reform and Revolution. [Source:]

At first view the title of this work may be found surprising. Can the Social-Democracy be against reforms? Can we contrapose the social revolution, the transformation of the existing order, our final goal, to social reforms? Certainly not. The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions, offers to the Social-Democracy an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim.

It is in Eduard Bernstein’s theory, presented in his articles on Problems of Socialism, Neue Zeit of 1897-98, and in his book Die Voraussetzungen des Socialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie[1] that we find, for the first time, the opposition of the two factors of the labour movement. His theory tends to counsel us to renounce the social transformation, the final goal of Social-Democracy and, inversely, to make of social reforms, the means of the class struggle, its aim. Bernstein himself has very clearly and characteristically formulated this viewpoint when he wrote: “The Final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; the movement is everything.”

But since the final goal of socialism constitutes the only decisive factor distinguishing the Social-Democratic movement from bourgeois democracy and from bourgeois radicalism, the only factor transforming the entire labour movement from a vain effort to repair the capitalist order into a class struggle against this order, for the suppression of this order – the question: “Reform or Revolution?” as it is posed by Bernstein, equals for the Social-Democracy the question: “To be or not to be?” In the controversy with Bernstein and his followers, everybody in the Party ought to understand clearly it is not a question of this or that method of struggle, or the use of this or that set of tactics, but of the very existence of the Social-Democratic movement.

Upon a casual consideration of Bernstein’s theory, this may appear like an exaggeration. Does he not continually mention the Social-Democracy and its aims? Does he not repeat again and again, in very explicit language, that he too strives toward the final goal of socialism, but in another way? Does he not stress particularly that he fully approves of the present practice of the Social-Democracy?

That is all true, to be sure. It is also true that every new movement, when it first elaborates its theory and policy, begins by finding support in the preceding movement, though it may be in direct contradiction with the latter. It begins by suiting itself to the forms found at hand and by speaking the language spoken hereto. In time the new grain breaks through the old husk. The new movement finds its forms and its own language.

To expect an opposition against scientific socialism at its very beginning, to express itself clearly, fully and to the last consequence on the subject of its real content: to expect it to deny openly and bluntly the theoretic basis of the Social-Democracy – would amount to underrating the power of scientific socialism. Today he who wants to pass as a socialist, and at the same time declare war on Marxian doctrine, the most stupendous product of the human mind in the century, must begin with involuntary esteem for Marx. He must begin by acknowledging himself to be his disciple, by seeking in Marx’s own teachings the points of support for an attack on the latter, while he represents this attack as a further development of Marxian doctrine. On this account, we must, unconcerned by its outer forms, pick out the sheathed kernel of Bernstein’s theory. This is a matter of urgent necessity for the broad layers of the industrial proletariat in our Party.

No coarser insult, no baser aspersion, can be thrown against the workers than the remarks: “Theocratic controversies are only for academicians.” Some time ago Lassalle said: “Only when science and the workers, these opposite poles of society, become one, will they crush in their arms of steel all obstacles to culture.” The entire strength of the modern labour movement rests on theoretic knowledge.

But doubly important is this knowledge for the workers in the present case, because it is precisely they and their influence in the movement that are in the balance here. It is their skin that is being brought to market. The opportunist theory in the Party, the theory formulated by Bernstein, is nothing else than an unconscious attempt to assure predominance to the petty-bourgeois elements that have entered our Party, to change the policy and aims of our Party in their direction. The question of reform or revolution, of the final goal and the movement, is basically, in another form, but the question of the petty-bourgeois or proletarian character of the labour movement.

It is, therefore, in the interest of the proletarian mass of the Party to become acquainted, actively and in detail, with the present theoretic knowledge remains the privilege of a handful of “academicians” in the Party, the latter will face the danger of going astray. Only when the great mass of workers take the keen and dependable weapons of scientific socialism in their own hands, will all the petty-bourgeois inclinations, all the opportunistic currents, come to naught. The movement will then find itself on sure and firm ground. “Quantity will do it”

Rosa Luxemburg

[1] The Pre-Conditions of Socialism and the Tasks for Social Democracy [English translation: Evolutionary Socialism]

Local Class Alliance


Image: Ebenezer Howard’s “Three Magnets”. [Source: “Garden Cities of To-morrow”, 1902]

The politics of class alliance at national level are well understood and well executed in South Africa in terms of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) policy developed during the last nine decades, which led to the democratic breakthrough of 1994. The NDR remains the dominant framework of South African politics, having been refreshed at Polokwane in 2007. At national level, the interests of the working class continue to be well articulated through the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the trade union movement whose largest centre is COSATU.

The petty bourgeoisie, on the other hand, has no dedicated political expression at national level, and nor has the peasantry. They are compelled to rely on others. This is in spite of the large size of these segments of the population in South Africa. It is a consequence of the “sack-of-potatoes” nature of both of these two classes, the rural petty-bourgeoisie who are the peasants, and the urban peasants, who are the petty-bourgeois.

Both classes are made up of individualists, who aspire to live autonomously, with everything of their own. The working class must represent the interests of these (mostly very poor) sections of the population at national level, while the established bourgeoisie would wish to exploit them as political foot-soldiers for capitalism, and also to exploit them directly, in the predatory way that the big bourgeoisie likes to feed off the small bourgeoisie, which Rosa Luxemburg described so well in Chapter 2 of “Reform or Revolution?” (linked below).

At local level, the situation is reversed. In South Africa, the organised working class has hardly any formal presence at, in particular, electoral ward level. Here the petty-bourgeois individualists are working on home ground and at the same scale as their own business operations. COSATU Locals and Socialist Forums are in the shade, if they exist at all. The SACP generates cadres, and organises and assists the masses, including the ANC, in many different ways, but it does not stand candidates in elections.

In terms of theory, too, there is very little that would serve as ideological guidance to the working class, locally, whereas the petty-bourgeoisie has an abundance of material and history to rely on, some of which is linked below. The town is the birthplace of the bourgeoisie and the natural territory of the petty-bourgeoisie, and the municipality is the “executive committee” of the local bourgeoisie. Not only is it their instrument, but it is their regenerator, whose job it is to reproduce bourgeois relations at local level and to bring forth new generations of bourgeois-minded councillors and bureaucrats.

In the past, one effective working-class tactic was to confront this concentration of local bourgeois strength with an organised workers’ democratic power. In Russia, this took the form of the “soviet”. The first one, as Vladimir Shubin relates, was set up in the textile manufacturing centre of Ivanovo in 1905. Another tactic, problematic though it has been, is the setting up of producer and consumer co-operatives. This series will have to develop both of these perspectives in due course.

In this part, our CU job is to review some of the debate in the literature of petty-bourgeois development. Let it be understood that it is not the aim of the working-class to drive any other class to early extinction. In the spirit of the same “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” wherein Karl Marx described the peasantry, though sympathetically, as a “sack of potatoes”, because they could not unite, the working class must lead the weaker classes and make provision for them in terms that will satisfy them. For the classic peasantry, this meant giving them land and a market for their produce. For the petty bourgeoisie, it is the freedom to do business, and the guarantee, against the predatory monopolists, of a market. We, as the proletariat, also need these classes as allies against the monopoly bourgeoisie. Therefore, as partisans of the working class, we should read these works with a serious interest.

Housing by People (click this link for an MS-Word download, which includes diagrams that do not come through on the web page), by John Charlewood Turner, is a discussion of housing, from a partly-idealised but well-educated point of view, of where decisive power should lie, who should act, and how these responsibilities should be divided up. It can serve us as a small link to the great, beautiful and necessary field of study called urbanism, of which very little emerges into the general public realm. Urbanism is a site of ideological struggle. It is also a labyrinth, in which it is easy to get lost.

“Barking dogs and building bridges” is Lauren Royston’s subtle and patient destruction of the simplistic bourgeois platitudes of Hernando de Soto. Glen Mills’ 2006 Business Day article “Thinking out of the matchbox” briefly summarises the general situation in South African housing, which has not changed in the mean time. There is still no public discussion of design, except at the “Top billing” level of snobbery and eclecticism, or at the level of the most banal, hopeless utilitarianism, in the press. [Click the links below]

How will things change? The communists must strive to reproduce, in every locality, the same well-expressed and solid class alliance which has up to now underpinned the NDR at the national level. This means providing for both the petty-bourgeoisie/peasantry, and the working class. Both must be able to see a clear way forward, in alliance with each other, at local level, where, at present, it is working-class organisation that is lacking.



Syrian army closes in on Aleppo’s Old City

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SYRIAN troops advanced into Aleppo’s central old city yesterday in the final offensive against 5,000 Western-backed insurgents.

They liberated the Farafira district on the north side of the medieval citadel, a narrow salient where soldiers have held out against guerillas for four years.

On Monday, the army warned the civilians remaining in the area to avoid insurgent positions and flee to government-held territory.

But in Hama yesterday, the al-Qaida-linked Jund al-Aqsa, the Free Syrian Army and the Chechen Jund al-Sham captured three more villages east of Maan.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner angrily denied on Monday that Washington had supplied the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front with advanced heavy weapons, after a leader of the group told a German newspaper that it had received such arms from the US.

However, unnamed Pentagon officials told the Reuters news agency that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey may soon send large number of US-supplied shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles to the insurgents.

Image: Syrian pro-government forces advance in Myessar district in east Aleppo on Sunday in ongoing operation to capture battered second city (AFP). [Source:]



Kenya will crack down on Gates’s filthy shack schools

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By James Tweedie

KENYA has vowed to crack down on the chain of shack schools bankrolled by the world’s richest man after a damning report by teaching unions.

The Kenyan National Union of Teachers (KNUT) launched the report by global federation Education International (EI) into the transnational Bridge International Academies (BIA) in Nairobi on Monday.

BIA has high-profile backers such as Microsoft boss Bill Gates, along with venture capitalists and the British and US governments.

It aims to supplant governments in Africa and India as the main provider of education to the poor, with a target of 10 million children from families living on about £1.60 a day enrolled by 2025.

But poor teaching standards, low wages and high fees have characterised the operation. Parents interviewed by the report’s authors said they struggled to pay fees, which could reach £16 a month when school dinners and other costs are factored in.

The report also found that 71.5 per cent of the firm’s teachers were unqualified, giving scripted lessons read from tablet computers.

They teach a shocking 59 hours of classes a week on average, on a median salary of about £80 per month.

KNUT general secretary Wilson Sossion called on the government close all 405 BIA schools in the country, saying: “They should not be allowed to exploit children from poor households.”

Education Minister Fred Matiang’i told reporters he had visited some of the schools and agreed with the report’s conclusions.

“It is true that some of these schools are … (not) offering quality education as they purport to,” he said, adding that the government would be releasing its own report into the outfit.

Mr Matiang’i said he had instructed county commissioners across the country to ensure only official Teaching Service Commission-qualified staff were giving classes from January.

“We are also targeting schools that are not registered or are operating on illegal licences,” he said.

Last month BIA’s chain of 63 schools in Uganda — typically corrugated iron shacks — was shut down after the it lost a court appeal against an education ministry closure order.

The ministry said the schools’ sanitation was so sordid that it endangered pupils’ health and that the firm was not following the national curriculum.

“Bridge International Academies has a few lessons to learn yet,” said EI general secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “The decision of the government of Uganda to close Bridge for failing the meet and adhere to minimum standards has sent a very clear message to this corporate actor.

“The right to quality free education cannot be undermined.”



Class struggles, climate change, and the origins of modern agriculture

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Image: Climate, Class and the Neolithic Revolution. [Source:]

Class conflicts and colonial expansion in the context of the Little Ice Age lead to the emergence of capitalist agriculture and the transformation of social relations on a world scale.

The last half-millennium of the Earth’s natural history has been a time of dramatic and accelerating change. One has to look to the beginning of the Holocene, with the climatic amelioration after the last ice age and the Neolithic agricultural revolution, to find a period which produced changes of comparable significance for human-environmental relations.1

A diverse range of agricultural practices and social relations proliferated between the Neolithic origins of farming and the early modern period which began some 500 years ago. But in order to explore the future of food production under climate change, it is this transition to modern agriculture which is of most interest. This question is intimately bound up with the origins of capitalism. Here, climate change and class relations combined, and through a series of food crises led to the transformation of world agriculture through enclosures and colonialism.

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Image: Little Ice Age. [Source:]

The Little Ice Age and global agrarian crises

The Little Ice Age of 1550-1850, while not a true ice age, was a period of global climatic cooling which was most pronounced in the northern hemisphere. Cold summers and freezing winters caused crop failures, chronic food crises, and famines across the world. In the Ottoman empire (centred in modern-day Turkey), this exacerbated conflicts over land, peasant rights, and agrarian taxation, and provoked flight to the towns and food riots.

In the Mughal empire (a Persian empire extending into most of modern-day India), the Little Ice Age saw a series of famines and food crises, the worst of which occurred in 1630-1632. The Shah (in)famously began building the Taj Mahal in 1631 to commemorate his dead wife, diverting huge resources which could have been used for famine relief. Mounting rebellions and rural conflicts weakened the Mughal hold on India, and contributed to the relative ease with which the British took control of the region from the mid 18th century.

Famines and peasant rebellions also wracked China during the late Ming dynasty:

…in 1630, a famine in the central province of Shaanxi led peasants to support the peasant rebel leader Li Zicheng. During the 14 years of Li Zhicheng’s rebellion, his forces equalised land between rich and poor in the provinces they controlled, killed many rich landlords, and plundered and destroyed many estates. His rebellion overthrew the Ming dynasty in 1644, but then lost power to the Manchu invasion a few years later.2

In the Americas, both the Aztec and Inca empires had developed sustainable agricultural systems, but imperial expansion overstretched their food production capacities. This provoked agrarian rebellions and internal political conflicts. When the Spanish arrived from the early 16th century, they encountered empires in crisis, wracked by civil wars. This greatly aided the conquistadors, who were able to ally with rebel factions before taking control.

In Europe, reactions to the Little Ice Age were polarised on an east-west axis. In the east, the balance of class forces favoured the landed aristocracy, who were able to reimpose a ‘second serfdom’ on the peasantry. Servile practices were reimposed, and “Russian nobles sold serfs just as American planters sold slaves.”3 But in the west, the balance of class forces was more favourable to the peasantry, who won emancipation in numerous kingdoms and republics. While Spain was busy constructing the largest slave-based agricultural system in history in its American colonies, its domestic peasantry and Moorish slaves won emancipation.

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Image: A family of slaves outside their quarters. Cockspur Island, GA. [Source:]

The Atlantic, American, and Pacific plantation complexes

The Western European maritime powers, principally the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, followed by the British, French, and others, were busy constructing colonial empires across the globe from the late 15th/early 16th century. This involved the construction of plantation complexes oriented to cash crops for export. The interest-bearing and merchant’s capital which funded these conquests belonged to what Marx called “the antediluvian forms of capital, which long precede the capitalist mode of production.”4 That is to say that in themselves, the circuits of colonial capital served to reproduce the feudal social relations of their home countries. The emergence of a distinctly capitalist mode of production would coalesce only later.

The Dutch were most active in colonising the Western Pacific. Where the colonialists encountered hierarchical social systems, they were often able to co-opt local elites and thus formally incorporate local labour into their trading empires. However, when they encountered more egalitarian societies, this option was not available. One such society was the Banda Islands in modern day Indonesia. Here, village life was governed via assemblies, which limited the power of would-be elites, the orang kaya (‘moneymen’). When the orang kaya made contracts with the Dutch, the village assemblies promptly ignored them. The civilised Dutch set out to teach these savages a lesson in the rule of law, and proceeded to slaughter them.

Through military action, the VOC [Dutch East India Company] killed most of the population in 1621. Of the population of approximately 15,000, only several hundred survived.5

This was a pattern often repeated, prompting Karl Marx to note that:

…wherever they set foot, devastation and depopulation followed. Banjuwangi, a province of Java, in 1750 numbered over 80,000 inhabitants, in 1811 only 18,000. Sweet commerce!6

Genocide, through a combination of disease and intentional slaughter, was a recurring feature of European colonialism. The massive depopulation lead to the importation of slaves to work the land. In Portuguese Brazil:

Smallpox killed so many natives that by the 1580s the planters shifted to African slaves. By 1620 the plantations relied almost exclusively on the labour of Africans or their American descendants.7

The net effect of the plantation complexes in the Atlantic, Americas, and Western Pacific, was dramatic depopulation and the replacement of subsistence modes of agriculture with cash crop production for the world market.

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Image: Robert Kett, yeoman farmer who sided with the peasantry against enclosures.[ Source:]

Capitalist agriculture

Meanwhile in Western Europe, class conflicts in the countryside were driving agrarian change. In England, the balance of class forces favoured the landed classes. Freed from their obligations to the peasantry, they evicted them from the land. Peasant emancipation here meant being ‘freed’ from the land through clearances and enclosures. Richer peasants became tenant farmers, and hired landless peasants as wage labourers to work the land. The landed nobility were transformed into capitalist landlords.8

Thus accumulated capital met landless workers, kick-starting a cycle or rural accumulation and dispossession which would provide both the labour force and some of the capital which fuelled the industrial revolution a century or so later. In effect, this transformation meant a shift from politically appropriated surpluses in kind or in taxes and tithes which sustained the feudal ruling class, to economically appropriated surpluses accruing to the owners of agricultural capital as surplus value – a shift synonymous with the emergence of the capitalist mode of production.

But this development was not simply an English peculiarity, or rather, this peculiarity was not a wholly English development. That is to say, the balance of class forces that favoured the emergence of free wage labour in England had an irreducibly geopolitical dimension. European geopolitics in the early modern period were significantly structured around the power of the Ottoman Empire. Europe’s military powers were thus oriented to the east, with little heed paid to the English backwater.

It was “the upsurge in Euro-Ottoman trade [that] contributed to the preconditions of rural revolt and the primitive accumulation of capital in Northwest Europe.”9 Furthermore, it was the Ottoman control of trade routes to the east which drove the Atlantic powers to the sea in search of alternative routes. The rise of European banking and merchant capital was a side-effect of feudal war-making, but it was one which fuelled colonial expansion, which in time would feed back into capitalist development.10

As other European powers emulated the English example, capital flows from the colonial plantation complexes found productive investment opportunities, given the newly emerging European proletariat. Cleared from the land, Europe’s proletarians had little choice but to accept whatever wages they could find, on farms or in the fledgling manufactures. Even then, they resisted. Vagabonds were criminalised and soldiers deployed to clear the land and put down rural revolts.

Through this process, global circuits of capital emerged. Agricultural commodities such as sugar from the American plantations and tea and opium from Asia began to flow into Europe, while slave-picked cotton would fuel Lancashire’s rise to workshop of the world. Hence Marx writes that “the veiled slavery of the wage workers in Europe needed, for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world.”11 This connection between plantation slavery and the reproduction of free labour power is elaborated further by Silvia Federici:

The plantation system was crucial for capitalist development not only because of the immense amount of surplus labour that was accumulated from it, but because it set a model of labour management, export-oriented production, economic integration, and international division of labour that have since become paradigmatic for capitalist class relations. (…) On one side, a global assembly line was created that cut the cost of the commodities necessary to produce labour-power in Europe (…) On the other side, the metropolitan wage became the vehicle by which the goods produced by enslaved workers went to the market, and the value of the products of enslaved-labour was realized.12

While political economists made arguments for the superior economics of free wage labour – after all, a capitalist is no longer responsible for the reproduction of his ‘hands’13 – it was revolt which proved a major driving force in the transition to free labour outside Europe. Slave revolts put abolition and emancipation on the agenda, most notably the Haitian revolution of 1791. Here, insurgent slaves scandalously took the universalist proclamations of the liberty emanating from the French Revolution two years prior to apply to all, including themselves.

The growth in support for abolitionism among sections of the ruling class is best understood as a response to such bloody insurrections, which lead to growing acceptance of the arguments of political economists. As such, the emancipation from slave to wage labour should only be considered tendential, with counter-tendencies always throwing up forms of unfree labour across the capitalist world, such as debt-bondage or prison labour. Indeed, following the American civil war of 1861-65: “the former slaves ended up working on the old plantations as sharecroppers, in reality debt peons, forced to work at extremely low wages to retain their plots.”14

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Image: Support the agricultural transformation agenda. [Source:]


From the point of view of agricultural transformation, the European enclosures and the plantation complexes in the Atlantic, Americas, and Western Pacific formed two sides of the same historical process. This was a widespread shift from subsistence to commodity production, entailing the bloody separation of the rural population from the soil. Climate change, in the form of the Little Ice Age, had caused crop failures, chronic food crises, and famines around the world. The societal responses to these crises were mediated by the extant social relations, institutions, and the balance of class forces. As the circuits of European merchant and banking capital sought new profits in the colonies, enclosures and clearances created a landless proletariat in Europe.

As the European empires expanded, they encountered empires facing crises of their own. This facilitated the conquests, which were invariably followed by massive depopulation through disease and intentional mass slaughter. Colonial genocide provided returns on capital which flowed back to Europe, finding profitable investment in the employment of the new proletariat. Thus the colonialism of the late feudal period and the transformations of early modern agriculture formed a feedback loop which gave rise to a new capitalist mode of production.

Henceforth agricultural production became increasingly commodity production, as subsistence producers were expropriated, exterminated, or pushed to the margins. While the story of capitalist agriculture certainly does not end here, the basic contours of the contemporary world agricultural system were all in place by the end of the Little Ice Age.

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Image: Chinese Agricultural Propoganda Poster: Chairman Mao inspecting the country of Guangdong. [Source:]


  • 1.Neil Roberts (1997), The Holocene: an environmental history, Blackwell, p.155.
  • 2.Mark Tauger (2011), Agriculture in world history, Routledge, p.60.
  • 3.Tauger, op cit, p.68.
  • 4.Karl Marx, Capital volume 3.
  • 5.J L van Zanden (1993), The rise and decline of Holland’s economy, University of Manchester Press, pp.76-77.
  • 6.Karl Marx, Capital volume 1.
  • 7.Tauger, op cit, p.76.
  • 8.For the classic account, see: Robert Brenner. Marx recounts this process here.
  • 9.Kerem Nisancioglu (2012), Before the deluge, the Ottoman origins of capitalism.
  • 10.Nisancioglu, op cit.
  • 11.Karl Marx, Capital volume 1.
  • 12.Silvia Federici, Caliban and the witch, p.104.
  • 13.For example see Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations: “From the experience of all ages and nations, I believe, that the work done by free men comes cheaper in the end than the work performed by slaves. Whatever work he does, beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance, can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own.”
  • 14.Tauger, op cit, p.89.


SACP Discussion Document on Rural Development Policy Framework

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Image: A supporting pillar for reducing food and nutritional insecurity is fostering the agricultural and rural sector’s contribution to growth and equity. [Source:]

1. Introduction

Rural development is about the human development of the rural poor, which includes, but is not reducible to agriculture and land redistribution. However land and agrarian transformation should be the linchpins for our rural development. The paper’s main objective is to assist our South African Communist Party in its efforts to develop a policy and programme aimed at addressing the scourge of rural poverty in the country and campaigns that it may embark upon to advance the struggle against rural poverty. To this end, the paper lays out a brief historical context of the agrarian question, identifies the main causes, the extent and depth of rural poverty. Simultaneously it reflects on the gaps in current rural development policies of government, suggests appropriate rural development policy instruments and approaches for effective rural poverty eradication, and finally recommends campaigns that the Party may embark upon to mobilise and organise rural communities against the roots of racialised and gender-based rural poverty.

Identifying the main causes of rural poverty, the presentation argues that the resolution of the South African agrarian question in favour of the white industrial and agricultural capital has much to do with the poverty and the sharp racialised and patriarchal uneven development that characterises contemporary South Africa.

Whilst assets, such as land and livestock, were stripped from the African majority, they were simultaneously denied the opportunity to develop new collectively owned assets by restricting access to financial, infrastructural and educational resources. We further point out that the post-1994 economic policies and approaches did not help much in ridding the country of rural poverty. They further widened the gap between the poor and the rich and in themselves became a constraint to rural development.

The resolution of our colonial agrarian question, therefore, will be more persuasive if it is linked to eradication of poverty through the transformation of our colonial industrial structure as a necessary condition for socialist transition. Conversely, land redistribution will be less persuasive if it is just for moral reasons. In other words, land reform and agrarian strategy should be linked to transforming our colonial industrial structure to (a) diversify our economy and reduce our dependency on global capitalism. To this end, we should anchor our rural development strategy on distributing productive assets such as land, instruments and socioeconomic infrastructure to the rural poor.

Because the balance of class forces will determine the policy outcomes of the rural development strategy, therefore it is important to conduct an empirical class analysis of the countryside in order to identify social forces for and against rural change.

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Image: Colonial Agriculture. [Source:

2. The agrarian and land question in its brief context

In the context of a transition from feudal or pre-capitalist mode of production, the contradiction had been the availability of the propertyless class to sell its labour power to capital. This contradiction had been resolved through dispossession of the peasantry and other simple commodity producers. Once capitalism was installed, the debate had been: (a) whether the peasants will wither away or will be maintained, but articulated to the dominant capitalist mode of production. And (b) How does the capitalist mode get installed in pre-capitalist social formation – that is whether from below or from above?

In colonial contexts, the key agrarian question had been: how to get labour power to extract raw materials and generate surplus from the peasants in order to fund the colonial state. Like in many colonial societies, the agrarian question was resolved in the interest of mining and agricultural capitals. Land dispossession was used to establish a coercive labour system that would ensure that there was a constant and sufficient supply of cheap labour to both capitalist agriculture and mining. Furthermore, the mass removals resulting from the implementation of the 1913 Land Act were a source of great suffering and hardship for the Africans – starvation in grossly impoverished communities in the overcrowded and underdeveloped reserves became the order of the day. They were forced to take up wage labour on farms or mines.

Once capitalism was installed in South Africa, African peasants production was nicely articulated to the dominant capitalist accumulation firstly through unequal exchange with colonial merchant capital and later through provision and reproduction of cheap labour power for mining and agricultural capitals. Put differently, African peasant production had two functional roles, namely: (a) reproduction of cheap labour, (b) Served as a market for white agricultural capital. The traditional leadership played a major in controlling the African rural inhabitants. Of course, the African inhabitants have never been homogenous in class terms. But the majority of the African rural inhabitants have been Africans, and in many instances living side by side with white commercial farmers.

When the African subsistence farming, often undertaken by women, in the reserves were beginning to be less productive, instead of providing more land, the Apartheid state, amongst other things and further denied the rural more land. Consequently rural poverty was deepened.

In post-colonial situations, the post-colonial ‘elites’ and global capital basically exploited the peasants through different mechanisms including unequal exchange. In short colonial and postcolonial societies did not transform or resolve the agrarian question in a manner that resolved the colonial industrial structure. These economies still depended on the metropolis for durable consumer goods and productive consumer goods.

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Image: Working the Land. [Source:]

3. Agrarian and land question and rural poverty in post-1994 South Africa

As a result of this systematic process of dispossession and exploitation taking place for more than three centuries, at the advent of a democratic political dispensation in 1994, South Africa was regarded as having one of the most skewed distributions of economic productive resources, income and wealth.

The outcomes of the 1994 negotiated settlement which maintained the key pillars of capitalism set necessary conditions for the reproduction of working class, including rural poverty. The willing-buyer-willing-buyer market driven productive property distribution model further blocked the prospects for radical land reform. In instances where land is transferred it is just for re-feudalization of society and moral reasons, NOT accompanied by serious economic support measures. This has also led to the strengthening of the power of the traditional leaders, whilst the rural masses are increasingly becoming the receipts of paternalistic welfarism and periodic election voting fodder for the political elite.

In an attempt to redress the economic inequalities referred to above, in 1994 the government formulated the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) followed by the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy in 1996. Using the latter the government put strong emphasis on state asset restructuring and privatisation, downsizing of the public sector and trade liberalisation aimed at reducing budget deficit (FAO, 2002).

Though GEAR produced results in terms of budget deficit decrease, improved revenue collection, skewed economic growth rate increase and, the economy kept on shedding jobs in their millions and strategies aimed at job creation could not stem the tide of unemployment, and interest rates still remained quite high proving disastrous for the smallholder farming sector.

The predominantly white agricultural sector was also affected under neo-liberal policy. It changed from a highly regulated and financially subsidised sector to a deregulated one with state support for inputs and mechanical services and price control on commodities abolished and marketing deregulated. Control boards were dismantled. These changes have produced contradictory outcomes within the agricultural sector. On one hand, the exclusively white commercial agriculture has become more competitive and productive. On the other hand, trade liberalization intensified competition within South African agriculture wiping out some of the white farmers. Many of the white farmers turned productive land into game farms as one of the responses to this competition. This has intensified the concentration and centralisation of agricultural capital in the hands of capitalist monopolies which also collude in setting prices for agricultural commodities. This concentration process has further contributed to the mass expulsion of farm labourers from the countryside, and to the undermining of the viability of many rural towns. Many of the current rural township “service delivery” protests are not unrelated to the impact of post-1994 agricultural liberalisation. Ironically, the liberalisation process which was meant to make our agricultural sector “more competitive” has also resulted in South Africa becoming a net food importer.

For the extremely underdeveloped smallholder farmers and particularly the beneficiaries of the land reform programme who opted for farming, deregulation proved extremely constraining and often disastrous. They were expected to compete and produce at the same levels of quantity and quality as the long and well-established commercial sector without putting in place any effective and transformative agricultural policy and programme for broadened and affordable access.

The false characterisation of the country’s economy as consisting of two economies (rather than a highly polarised single reality) – the first and the second economy – further reinforced the marginalisation and underdevelopment of the smallholder farmers and disadvantaged farming communities, particularly in the former Bantustans. To illustrate this, land reform beneficiaries are expected to take over existing complex, large scale farming operations without any changes in the patterns and relations of production. The argument is always that any restructuring in this regard would be disastrous for the economy (read “first economy”) because it would lower the levels of production and the quality of the product, hence, the introduction of joint ventures or strategic partnerships and AgriBEE to mitigate the risk of a negative impact on the economy (read again “first economy”).

The so-called first economy notion creates an impression that it is an almost flawless economy to which all must aspire. The assumption is that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it. It supposedly only needs some little tinkering here and there rather than total transformation and restructuring. This reflects a failure to appreciate the fact that the so-called first economy was and still is the very cause of the impoverishment of the African majority and that its driving force remains that of exploitation and perpetuation of inequality though in a relatively different form (a non-racial one). Essentially, the so-called second economy is simply a reflection of the consequences of the exploitative nature of this first economy. It should also be added that the capital-intensive commercial agricultural sector is unsustainable in many respects – it is highly dependent on oil based inputs (diesel and petrol for farm machinery and for long-distance freight haulage, and oil-based fertilisers and pesticides) – as peak oil begins to bite, the financial and environmental sustainability of these forms of production will be severely compromised. The water usage patterns tend also to be unsustainable and climate change will further drastically impact upon this sector. The liberalisation of the mainstream agricultural sector means that we have abandoned to market forces what is now desperately needed – major strategic state-led interventions.

The Rural Development Task Team in the RDP office, hoped that rural development would contribute to the realisation of the objectives of GEAR by “diversified job creation through local economic development; redistributing government expenditure to formerly deprived areas; an expansionary infrastructure programme to address service deficiencies and backlogs, while delivering infrastructure and essential services cost-effectively; social development in many fields, particularly education and health services, and through providing access to resources to improve household and national productivity; integrating marginal rural areas where the majority of citizens have been cut off from the national economy” (Rural Development Framework, 1997: 10). They never thought that GEAR itself will be a major constraint in the achievement of these objectives. In the light of the shortcomings of GEAR mentioned earlier there was no way that these important objectives could be achieved. Probably, like many, they thought GEAR was a strategy to implement the RDP. Definitely it was not.

Implicit in the foregoing discussion of GEAR and the two-economy paradigm is the extent to which the working class, particularly the landless peasants in the rural areas, are subjected to what Francis (2006: 1) calls “the constraints thrown up by social relations and institutions that systematically benefit the powerful”. In the final analysis it is clear that the process of conceptualisation of the economic policies, strategies and programmes that would eventually have a serious impact on the lives of the poor including those in the rural areas did not provide them an opportunity, not only to express their views, but to influence the direction that these should take in addressing their plight.

“Poor people face chronic risks, which are institutionally and relationally generated, in the form of “inequality, class relations, exploitation, concentrations of unaccountable power and social exclusion” (Wood, 2003: 457). Such risks may force them to make choices that deliver short-term security, at the expense of longer-term reductions in the risks they face. These choices may include over-strong reliance on family relations, or allegiance to more powerful people, in ways that perpetuate their dependence.” (Francis, 2006: 4).

Unlike the process that led to the RDP, the process of conceptualisation of GEAR and the two-economy paradigm were driven by technocrats with virtually no input from the people including the rural poor who later would be negatively affected by their impact. Of course, it could be argued that the decisions regarding these policies were taken by their democratically elected public representatives ‘in their best interest’. However, the point is that in the real social world class relations result in power inequalities and exploitation of the vulnerable by the powerful. By virtue of their political clout and proximity to the echelons of power, public representatives tend to possess substantially more power and thus decision-making prerogative. This state of differential power permeates all levels of society – local, regional, national and global. The International Fund for Agricultural Development says:

“Poverty…is also a condition of vulnerability, exclusion and powerlessness – erosion of people’s capability to have their voices heard. Voicelessness is particularly acute for the rural poor who account for a majority,” (Transforming Rural Institutions, IFAD, 2003: 3).

In the South African context, the institutions of the rural poor are either very weak or nonexistent. This has rendered them powerless and unable to influence the processes of political and economic decision-making that affect their lives. They cannot, for instance, deal with institutional constraints such as high transaction costs when selling their produce and buying goods and services for their farming operations, constraints in the operation of the land market, inaccessible and unaffordable financial services and inadequate market information.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that though most poverty is rural, as will be shown later, even among rural communities including the poor, there is widespread inequality, class stratification, exploitation and exclusion. Carter and May (1997) point out that though apartheid produced both poverty and compressed social and economic class especially in the black rural areas “this process of class compression does not imply that the black majority constitutes an economically homogenous population” (my emphasis). So any rural development strategy aimed at poverty eradication must of necessity give serious consideration to this fact.

Despite the sometimes heated debates on conceptualisation, definition and measurement of poverty in South Africa, there seems to be consensus in South Africa that though South Africa is ranked as an upper middle-income country, it has one of the most skewed distributions of assets. As a result 40% to 50% of South Africans live in poverty. It is estimated that about 65% of the poor are found in rural areas with an estimated total population between 17 million and 20 million. In summary, of the estimated 20 million people in rural areas about 15.6 million live in poverty. It is also worth noting that about 61% of Africans, 38% of Coloureds, 5% of Indians and 1% of Whites live in poverty. So, unsurprisingly, the extent and depth of poverty is race-related. This statistics suggests that any policy, strategy or programme including rural development policies, strategies and programmes aimed at poverty eradication must take into account the race gender as well as spatial character of poverty in South Africa.

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Image: Emerging black farmers net R204 million from government. [Source:]

4. Gaps in Existing Land and Rural Development Policies

As earlier mentioned, in 1994 the democratic government made a policy choice, opting for market-assisted land redistribution. Market-assisted land redistribution entails the adoption of the willing- buyer-willing seller model in both acquisition and distribution of land with the market being the only instrument used for acquisition and distribution of land and the state playing a limited role of monitoring and facilitation.

Though by the end of the first 5 years of implementation good progress was made on a number of fronts, it was evident that the market-assisted process had failed to redistribute land to meet the set target of redistribution of 30% of agricultural land in 5 years.

A review of the process revealed that implementation repeated some of the mistakes highlighted by international experience. These included lengthy project cycles, excessive bureaucracy and reliance on outside consultants to formulate project plans without real participation by the beneficiaries themselves, over-centralization of the decision-making process, and low levels of complementary support services. There was also a lack of partnership and integration among relevant government departments, spheres of government and non-governmental organisations including service providers and the private sector. This disintegrated and incoherent approach was even more glaring between the Departments of Land Affairs and Agriculture that were even within the same Ministry: Land Affairs was not only providing land, but was also providing resources for agricultural capital, inputs, assisting with farm plans and housing infrastructure.

In addition, while the programme was based on a market-assisted approach, the land market itself was not restructured. Cumbersome sub-division restrictions remained in place, forcing beneficiaries to pool their small grants together to be able to purchase the only land available: large commercial farms. In many instances, this also resulted in failure to provide land of the quality and geographical location well suited for the needs of the participants, and whereas no official policy existed as to the preferred legal entity that the beneficiaries would use for their farming operations and landholding, officials promoted the Communal Property Association not only as the main form of property rights established under the programme but as the principal operating vehicle for agricultural production. As a result, [the programme] would be characterized by a slow delivery rate, a significant number of poorly appraised and supported projects, an almost exclusive emphasis on communal property associations, which often resulted in misguided attempts at collective agriculture, and an insufficient impact on beneficiaries’ incomes and agricultural production.

State officials also contributed to distortion of the land market by designing implementation mechanisms that began to give them a more active and central role in the acquisition process instead of the limited role of monitoring and facilitation. Though the land would be identified in the market by a land reform participant, state officials would become the central, if not the only, negotiator with the seller. The land reform participant would be completely excluded from the price negotiations. Even the offer to purchase would be made by the state not the land reform participant. For all intents and purposes, the state would act as a buyer except after the conclusion of the negotiations where the land would be transferred directly to and in the name of the land reform participant who had become a passive buyer.

Unfortunately, though the officials would argue that they did this with good intentions (to ensure that the beneficiaries or applicants – who by and large are not sufficiently literate or well-versed in the property market – are not swindled by unscrupulous land owners), this approach has been one of the factors contributing to the artificial increase in land prices. It created the impression that the state has a lot of money that it was prepared to throw at land reform and it opened up the process to corrupt state officials colluding with land owners to increase prices so that they (officials) may also benefit from the extra money charged for the land. This approach is not necessarily bad if applied in a context where the state has introduced effective measures to regulate and restructure the land market.

The demand- or application-driven approach (informed by the fact that in terms of policy which is underpinned by the state’s commitment to “a land reform programme that will take place on willing-seller, willing-buyer basis”, the beneficiaries self-select themselves, identify the land they require, approach the land owner and if he/she is willing to sell, they then apply for a government subsidy or grant to assist them to purchase the land) has led to a situation where, in the context of the objective of redistribution of 30% of agricultural land, the state finds it difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee that the set targets will be achieved. Meeting the targets for a given period becomes dependent on whether there are sufficient applications received or whether the received applications meet the requirements for approval and/or can be approved before the end of a financial year. In addition, precise planning and budgeting becomes impossible leading to either under-budgeting or over-budgeting

The approach also led to a situation where some landowners, particularly white farmers, started putting pressure on the state by offering their land for redistribution but in most cases without any beneficiaries selected or identified. Invariably the state refused to buy such land leading to the farmers lambasting the state, arguing that whilst refusing to buy land that they had put in the market or directly offered to the state for redistribution, the state was accusing them of being anti-land reform. The counter-argument by the state was that given the little or non-existent capacity to manage and maintain even its own current land (state land) it cannot take the risk of adding more land in its portfolio. In fact, examples abound showing how previously productive land fell into a state of neglect after purchase by the state when in the late 1990s it piloted a supply-led initiative. Furthermore, apartheid South Africa and international experience (and to a certain extent our own experience) reflects a poor performance track record in the area of property management. Corruption, mismanagement and looting of state assets, among others, become the order of the day.

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Image: Rural Development Project. [Source:]

5. Our response to rural development

Rural development should not only be linked to industrial policy, but also to the macro-economic policy. At a macro-economic level, this link must be made as a necessary component to determine the South African developmental path.

That we now know the deficiencies and the failures of the current economic policies and approaches as discussed above, we need to urgently decide on what kind of economy South Africa requires to address poverty, particularly rural poverty, and map out the process that will lead us there as well as the social forces that must drive this development.

As part of this equation, we must also examine the extent to which the patterns of trade and investment in the world market into which our economy is inextricably linked are responsible for underdevelopment, particularly rural poverty, and to develop strategies to mitigate the effects thereof.

Of course, it is not the intention of this paper to do this, but it should be noted that without an over-arching economic policy that speaks to both our domestic demands or needs, particularly poverty, and the dictates of the world economy, all the efforts to address rural poverty will bear little fruit as we have experienced in the last 15 years of our democracy. Some may argue that was this not what GEAR intended to do. Yes, it was the intention, but rural development was not seen as one of the major driving forces of the strategy. There was a sense in which emphasis on the rural sector was seen as negation of industrialisation. There was no attempt to decentralise industrial development away from the urban centres by creating industries to support and service the rural sector including agriculture.

As a starting point and a short-term strategy towards linking industrial strategy, the economic policy and agrarian and land reform programme referred to above, there are some things that can be done to improve land and agrarian reform approaches and strategies.

Section 4 above gave a detailed examination of the challenges or gaps in the current land redistribution programme which is a critical success factor for rural development. The challenges themselves do suggest some immediate remedies that can be applied to accelerate land and agrarian reform. The following are some of the immediate things that can be done:

a. Interventions in the Land Market: Land markets cannot redistribute land. They do not automatically transfer land from inefficient to efficient users. Small farmers cannot go onto the land market and outbid large farmers for land – especially in the light of the fact that large farmers usually do not even use all of their land. The reasons for this are that the poor do not have money to buy land and they find it difficult or costly to access credit; land prices may be high due to many factors (investors valuing land for its value as insurance, as a hedge against inflation, as tax shelter or as a means by which to gain access to subsidised credit or public infrastructure, for example, irrigation) and subsidies in input and output markets are also biased toward large farmers – this drives up the land price and increase the wedge between what small farmers and large farmers can afford to pay. Even if small farmers had access to credit, they would not be able to repay the credit.

Therefore the following interventions in the land market need to be made:

· The government should immediately develop an Agrarian and Land Program linked to the Industrial Strategy and supported by macro-economic policy – this Industial strategy should include the transformation of the capitalist agricultural and agribusiness and food retail sectors, and a major review of the National Spatial Development Perspective which essentially views rural areas as “backwaters” into which social services should be provided while focusing almost exclusively on urban areas for infrastructure development.
· Nationalisation of land as a step towards socialisation. This will enable the mass driven and state-led allocation and use of land.
· Immediate removal of Restrictions on Subdividing Land
· Immediate Introduction of a comprehensive and progressive land tax
· Conscious and systematic support for rural local government
· Building of a rural social movement driven and led by rural women, landless peasants and workers to organise and mobilise the rural poor with the following broad objectives:
o Create opportunities for the poor to build their collective capabilities to build their economic collective power,
o Engage government on issues such as access to economic opportunities, basic social services such as water and infrastructure;
o Promote self-reliance and development using all available human, natural and technological resources placing emphasis on agricultural development in all its forms.
o Create and strengthen laws that enable the organisation of farm workers. This should include free political activity on farms.
o End evictions of farm dwellers
o Provinces to take up water campaigns for the rural inhabitants
o End patriarchal based customary land allocation
· Education and literacy campaign in rural and urban areas focussing on the following:
o Introduction of compulsory and free education up to age 18;
o Provision of free university or technical training for school leavers
o Each One, Teach One Campaign: mobilise youth volunteers to teach literacy in rural areas and urban informal settlements. This should include making rural and urban informal community service a requirement for all higher education students.
o Rural Schools and Day-care Centres Building Campaign: mobilise youth volunteers including those who are builders or undergoing building training.

A discussion on the compulsory Acquisition should also include a debate on the forms of ownership that generate productive accumulation. This is not to say welfare grants are not important. Surely social grants play a major role in creating purchasing power in the countryside. The growth of incomes arising out whatever of economic ownership generates demands for consumer goods in the countryside (e.g. fridge) and productive goods (machines). These are supplied by the industry. However, at the moment these are supplied by international capital, which generates serious current account deficits. The incomes in the countryside also increase the bargaining power of industrial proletariat, thus laying necessary conditions for capital to develop productive forces.

But whose products (commodities) should the rural population consume? Do they consume their own products as peasants, big agri-capital or state farms or co-ops? We should agitate for a position that encourages, (listed in order of their preference – (a) state farms (b) co-operatives and(c) private peasants as our immediate programs. This is not to suggest that all these forms of ownership are without limits, particularly when they operate within capitalism. For instance, cooperatives are subjected to the dominance of the law of value, therefore subjected to pressures of capitalist competition. So these measures should be seen as means towards socialism – not as ends in themselves.

Due to the enormity of the task not all areas regarding all the issues raised in this paper could be exhaustively dealt with. Hopefully, the little that has been done will suffice to prompt a discussions and further refinement of the issues herein raised and more importantly lead to the formulation of a progressive rural development policy and programme of our SACP.


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Image: Rural Strife. [Source:]




Karl Marx, Class Struggle and Labour-Centred Development

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Image: Ben Selwyn on ‘Labour-Centred Development’ [Source:
Benjamin Selwyn



Karl Marx has often been interpreted as formulating an economic determinist, Eurocentric and historically linear conception of human development. Where they exist, such interpretations understand ‘development’ as capitalist modernisation. If correct, this critique leaves Marxism ill-equipped to interpret and contribute to transformations of the conditions of labouring classes under neoliberal globalisation. This article argues against such interpretations by discussing how, for Marx, the form and content of class struggles, their relations to the national state, and their articulation through the world system were the key to understanding divergent processes of human development. Marx’s insights are particularly relevant under contemporary globalised capitalism. This article argues, further, that Marx provides us with the basis for formulating a labour-centred approach to human development and development studies.

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Marxism & the Class Struggle

intense looking man with thick glasses

Image: Cliff Slaughter. [Source:]

Cliff Slaughter (1975)

VII Marxist theory and class consciousness

Marxism is not a ‘sociology’. It only appears to be so, because, from the point of view of every other particular section of the intellectual division of labour-philosophy, economics, history, history of ideas, etc.-Marxism goes beyond their defined subject-matter, insisting that the real content of each of them is to be found in the contradictory totality of social economic relations from which flow the forms of activity and thought to which the separate disciplines address themselves. Political economy, for example, is ‘negated’ by Marxism, in the Hegelian sense. Marx’s treatment of political economy takes to their limit the contradictory developments of classical political economy. To do this requires the explanation of political economy’s concepts and their real content as the ‘alienated’ consciousness of the development of bourgeois society itself. Thus we find in the Critique of Political Economy and in Capital itself a negation of political economy, which is demonstrated as being an adequate reflection of the sphere of exchange values and their behaviour. But this sphere is shown to be the real world of appearances or illusions as necessarily created by a historically limited social order, capitalism.

Marx’s rejection of bourgeois philosophy is a similar materialist critique. His analysis of political and historical thought and their material sources was the third element of the synthesis achieved by Marx.

Why then do we say that Marxism only appears to be a sociology? Because sociology originated and developed, not as the dialectical negation, the overcoming of the contradictions, of each of the alienated spheres of thought, but as their definition anew in relation to some supposedly more ‘general’ science of the ‘the social as such’ (Durkheim’s ‘le social en soi‘ and ‘social facts’ constitute the acme of this approach). Comte, first to use the term ‘sociology’, invented the word in order to indicate: ‘. . . under one single heading that integral part of natural philosophy which concerns itself with the positive study of the totality of fundamental laws proper to social phenomena.’

Instead of the dynamic synthesis constituted by Marx’s negation of the separated and alienated fields of philosophy, political economy and history (class struggle), we have the static and uncritical synthesis of Comte, to be followed by a century of sterile debate in sociology about ‘metaphysics or empiricism’, ‘generalisation or specialised monographs’, ‘system or action’. Instead of the consistent materialism made possible by Marx’s historical or dialectical approach, we have the pseudo-scientific reliance on ‘experience’, which in Comte’s case ended in the purest mysticism, since his ‘spiritual’ experience was granted just as much validity as any other. Bourgeois sociology in the 20th century is tied, philosophically and methodologically, to the pragmatism of the ruling class. Sociology continues to oscillate between idealism and mechanical materialism: ‘social facts as things’ on the one hand, freedom of the individual on the other; the classical dichotomy of bourgeois ideology. Instead of social analysis in terms of the contradictory development and struggle of opposites in each specific, historically limited, socioeconomic formation, we have in sociology the search for general principles or sociological laws which transcend specific historical stages. Talcott Parsons’ rejection of Marxism, on the grounds that it is a series of ‘genetic’ explanations, sums up this functionalist barrenness.

These aspects of the split in social theory between Marxism and sociology since the second quarter of the last century are of course inseparably linked with the fact that, as against Marx and Marxism’s concern with capitalist society, Comte is the father (though he himself is only the bastard son of Saint-Simon in this and many other respects) of the sociologists’ insistence that they are concerned with ‘industrial’ or ‘modern’ society. This is only a ‘sociological’ version of the political economists’ recognition of the ‘natural’ character of the laws of capitalist economy, which they could not accept as only the laws of a definite and historically limited socio-economic formation. When Marx insisted on the ‘social’ dimension of all spheres of activity and thought, it was with a dual emphasis: first, to grasp each sphere as only one ‘moment’ of a contradictory social whole; second, to put an end to the alienation resulting from exploitation, to give a new life to each activity by making it the conscious activity of the associated producers in a classless society; for this, theory must unite with and develop in unity with the proletarian revolution. Sociology, by contrast, accepts and describes the alienation and even dignifies it by presenting it systematically as the ‘differentiation and integration of roles’ and the ‘structuring of orientations’. A Marxist analysis of sociology would demonstrate in what way these supposedly ‘general’ social phenomena and mechanisms are but an ideological reflection of the surface of capitalist society itself.

The revolutionary political orientation of Marxist social theory, as contrasted with the professed ‘value-freedom’ of sociology, is fundamental to Marxism. And the perennial pleas for separating Marx’s politics from his sociological ‘insights’ are as absurdity misplaced as the similar attempts to cleanse Marx’s social theories of philosophy.

Marxism is then the dialectical negation of the highest developments in bourgeois thought, and through this of the reality from which that thought flows and of which it forms a necessary part. It is this conception which lies behind Lenin’s famous dictum:

The workers can acquire political consciousness only from without, i.e., only outside of the economic struggle, outside of the sphere of relations between workers and employers. The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships between all classes and the state and the government-the sphere of the interrelations between all classes. (Lenin, What is to be Done?)

Here Lenin expresses politically (i.e. in conflict with political opponents who based themselves on the supposed ‘spontaneous’ development of socialist consciousness from the experience of the working class) the implications for working-class consciousness of the discoveries of Marx. Scientific thought (in the philosophy of Hegel) had arrived at the point where it must accept the conclusion that it could advance further only by grasping activity its real place in the struggle to end the conditions of its own alienated character; this was only possible, Marx said, by grasping the nature of the working class as the agent of the necessary revolutionary change. The working class itself, however, could arrive at the necessary consciousness and thereby the unity necessary for social revolution only by understanding the full historical implications of its role in production and its capacity for abolishing class society. Besides the conclusion that the economic structure is ‘basic’, and that the class struggle of the proletariat is an objective necessity creating the conditions for socialist revolution, there was necessary the whole theory of historical materialism, the understanding of social development as a unified process, with revolutionary consciousness seizing hold of the meaning of the contradictions at the base of society in order to overthrow it. This body of theory could not come from the working class but only ‘from the outside, from bourgeois intellectuals’. From that point on, the development of Marxism takes definite forms in relation to the struggle of the working class, its internal political conflicts, strategy, tactics and organisation, nationally and internationally. While Marx and Engels themselves made great contributions in this field, it has of course been most enriched in the twentieth century, above all by the work of Lenin and Trotsky.

Marx and Engels began their communist political careers with a series of thoroughgoing polemics against other schools of socialism (e.g., in The Comnunist Manifesto). Immediately after the 1848 revolutions they combated the impatience and what amounted to rejection of theory by those who wanted to continue an insurrectionist struggle in unfavourable conditions. They never ceased to participate in and advise the labour movement in every country with which they could establish contact. They insisted – for example, in correspondence with Russian and North American socialists – on a very close and detailed attention to the specific conditions of the history, economy and working-class movement of each particular country. But they always were vigilant against eclecticism and attempts to put aside the theoretical conquests they had made. Writing to Bebel and other leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party in 1879, Marx and Engels returned to a theme which had concerned them as long ago as 1848: the role of bourgeois intellectuals in the revolutionary movement. Then, in the Manifesto, they had written: ‘ . . . a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class . . . in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists.’

Now, in 1879, they make a very different emphasis, and one which shows that Lenin was not inconsistent when he combined his insistence on the decisive importance of intellectuals in the development of revolutionary theory with an implacable struggle against every manifestation of revisionism and intellectual light-mindedness with theory. Marx and Engels go out of their way to warn Bebel and the party leaders that bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intellectuals joining the movement must show that they are willing to learn from the party its theory of scientific socialism in the first place. If this is not done, then they inevitably bring with them elements of the now decaying and disintegrating German bourgeois culture and philosophy. (In other words, what could be gained from bourgeois development before 1848 was the opposite of what flowed from it in 1789.)

Lenin stressed that the fight against revisionism (so called after the celebrated controversy in the German Social Democracy over Bernstein’s criticisms of Marx in the 1890s) was a recurring and inevitable one. He explained that not only individual thinkers in the working class or the revolutionary Marxist party were affected by particular aspects of bourgeois ideology, but that the development of capitalism constantly modified the relations between the proletariat and the middle classes, the latter carrying into the former their ideas, the ideas of capitalism. Revisionism in the labour movement reflected these class pressures. The nearer a revolutionary situation, the more these ideological differences would be expressed in political and organisational differences. Hence the vital importance in a pre-revolutionary period of consciously combating revisionism. This theoretical fight is the anticipation of all the problems and divisions which the working class will have to overcome in its actual struggle for power.

The problem of proletarian class-consciousness is often discussed in a very abstract and general manner, instead of through the analysis of the actual historical process by which the Marxist movement and the working-class movement have developed. These are not two distinct processes: the conscious building of revolutionary parties is the highest form of the process by which the proletariat becomes a class ‘for itself’. In the proper place, there is needed a critical analysis of all those writings on the working class and its consciousness which rely on concepts lie ‘affluence’, ‘prosperity’, ‘embourgeoisement‘, ‘social mobility’, and so on; and this analysis would have to deal with all the superficially very different and ‘radical’ approaches of writers like Marcuse. For the Marxist, such an analysis is of interest as an insight into the ideology of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, reflecting their own historical situation and its changes, but it would at the same time be important in relation to the development of Marxism itself, because it bears directly on the most characteristic ‘revision’ of Marxism in our epoch: the rejection of the revolutionary role of the working class and of the need for revolutionary parties.

Class, for Marx, is rooted in social relations of production, and cannot be referred in the first place to relations of distribution and consumption or their ideological reflections. In considering the class consciousness of the proletariat, Marxists are therefore not concerned with the ideas of individual workers about their position in society (no matter how many examples are collected and classified) so much as with the following series of categories: relations of production (sale of labour-power, exploitation); conflict of workers and employers on this basis (economic struggles, trade unions, elementary political battles for economic ends); conflict at the level of class (economic struggles which merge into the conflict between classes, which is organised through the political parties and the struggle for state power); the theoretical and practical struggle to build revolutionary parties of the working class, in conflict with non-revolutionary and counter-revolutionary tendencies in the class and their reflection inside the revolutionary party.

Thus, for example, a worker in the motor car industry will move through his elemental experience to an understanding of the gap between his own standard of life, income and conditions of work, on the one hand, and the mass of wealth to whose production he contributes, on the other. He will recognise an identity of interest, on this basis, with other wage-workers. ‘Combinations’ or trade unions are the adequate expression of this level of consciousness. To this ‘trade union consciousness’ may correspond other ideological, critical views on various aspects of capitalist society: for example, such consciousness can easily co-exist with that view which lays all the stress on differences or similarities in patterns of consumption; thus, elementary socialistic propaganda of the moralising type, and modern pessimistic speculation about the workers’ consciousness being dulled by the abundance of consumer goods, are types of consciousness which do not penetrate to the basis of class differences and class struggle and therefore cannot facilitate the development of political consciousness.

More ‘sophisticated’ socialist views of class-consciousness often refer to a process of more or less spontaneous political maturing through a series of economic struggles which take on greater and greater magnitude, finally posing demands which the system cannot meet. Here again the same basic error, from the Marxist standpoint, is made. In all such approaches, the class and its consciousness are seen in terms of a pre-Marxist theory of knowledge and of history. Those who put forward these ideas are unable to escape from a conception in which the separate individuals in the class move from their own working and other everyday experience to a higher level of consciousness, in this case political consciousness.

In point of fast an individual worker does not arrive through his own experience at a scientific consciousness of the actual relationships at work, let alone the political relationships. It u only when a worker comes into contact with the products, in political programme and action, of Marxist theory in politics – i.e., with the outcome of theoretical works produced in the first place by non-proletarian – that he can conceive of even his own working experience in terms which go beyond those of the prevailing bourgeois ideology. These works take the essence of the experience of the proletariat as well as all developments in economy, politics, science, the arts, etc.

Only a historical view of the working class and of the theory of Marxism, in their mutual interrelations, can produce a theory of class consciousness. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Marx and Engels, working on various fields of learning, as well as analysing the experience of the struggle of the working class to that date, elaborated their theory of socialism. The theory is henceforth the essential component of the process by which the working class becomes a class ‘for itself’. As a theory, it had first to penetrate beneath the day-to-day phenomenal form of capitalist society to the social relations of production. It demonstrated that production under capitalism continues, and society develops, not through any conscious plan, but through the drive to produce surplus value, consequent upon the reduction of labour-power to a commodity, to units of ‘abstract labour’. This is the essence of the worker’s exploitation, rather than the fact, say, that he does not own the cars he produces. What he produces is essentially surplus value, the augmentation of that same capital which oppresses him.

From these basic relationships, Marx demonstrated the reality of the history of capitalism, the way in which private ownership came to a revolutionary clash with the further development of the forces of production. For a political or socialist consciousness of the struggle against the capitalist class, there is necessary the understanding of this historical tendency of the capitalist system. This means not just an abstract knowledge of the theory of historical materialism, but the concrete analysis of, and active engagement in, the development of the class struggle in all its forms and at all levels, in the period of capitalism’s historical decline.

It was” Lenin’s major special contribution to Marxism to elaborate this theory of leadership and the revolutionary party, first of all in What is to be Done? and One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. But the whole of Lenin’s work is an expression of this central concern. Later, Trotsky devoted a series of books and articles to the defence and development of the ideas worked out by Lenin (cf. particularly his In Defence of Marxism and Lessons of October). Gramsci also worked on important aspects of the relationship between Marxist theory and class consciousness, and developed further the critique of notions of spontaneity.

We have seen that even though the mass of workers experience capitalist exploitation, it is necessary for a struggle to take place between their existing consciousness, on the one hand, and Marxism on the other. This struggle is conducted, as part of the struggle of material forces, by the revolutionary Marxist party. The socialist revolution, like every social revolution, occupies an entire epoch. Its outcome is decided by a series of battles in every country, requiring the developed strategy and tactics of revolutionary parties and a revolutionary international whose whole outlook and experience is guided by the theoretical foundations laid by Marx.

Through the socialist revolution, men will enter ‘the realm of freedom’, says Marx. Consciousness will then not be the distorted ideology of oppressive social relations, resulting from the product’s domination over the producer, but will be the expression of the scientifically-orientated will of the collective producers, of ‘socialised humanity’. ‘The free development of each will be the condition of the free development of all.’

Already the struggle of the working class against capitalism raises this fundamental question of the relation between subject and object, thus bringing Marx to say that philosophy can realize itself only through the proletariat. Capitalism poses the question in generalised from for the whole class in its relation to the rest of society, and thus demands nothing less than a revolutionary solution: ‘… the labour employed on the products appears here as the value of those products, au a material quality possessed by them.’ (Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme‘)

This ‘reification’, the value-form, in which a social relation between men in their most fundamental activity is transformed into a ‘thing’ standing outside and against men, is specific to the way in which the capitalist system continues the enslavement of man by man. This ‘topsy-turvy world’ becomes in sociology a world of ‘social facts’, of ‘roles’, faithfully recorded as the necessary framework of experience.

Just as the working class in its struggle must reject this split between subject and object as a threat to its very humanity, so must Marxist theory penetrate beneath it and point the way to its internal contradictions and historical fate. The real relation between the working class and its product is obscured in the first place by the fact that the labour appears to have been paid for in wages, and that there the matter ends. Marx says that this illusion of wages as the proper reward for labour is the key to all the ideology of capitalism (Capital, Vol . I, p. 550). Marx exploded this illusion in theory, and thus opened the path for its being exploded in practice. That path leads from trade union consciousness (a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work!) to socialist consciousness.

Working-class consciousness is then, for Marxists, the comprehending in struggle of the process through which the proletariat develops from its identity as formed by capitalism (the mass of exploited wage-labourers, the class ‘in itself’) to the working class organised as a revolutionary force for the taking of power and the building of socialism (the class ‘for itself’). This process must be grasped dialectically, i.e., as a conflict of opposites, a real conflict between the class as it is and as the Marxist movement fights for it to be, on the basis of analysing the objective developments in society. It is the failure to recognise and to begin from this conflict which restricts, for example, the work of Lukacs in his History and Class Consciousness (1923-1924). Lukacs cannot get beyond the concept of ‘adjudged’ or ‘adequate’ consciousness, which is abstracted by the investigator according to his scientific estimation of the needs of the class historically. This remains at the level of the type of concepts developed by bourgeois sociology (particularly Max Weber), and fails to reach the level of dialectical materialism, at the centre of which is the unity of theory and practice as a contradictory process. Lukacs’ own subsequent capitulation to Stalinism, whatever other causes it had, was rooted in this static and essentially idealist conception of class consciousness, imported from neo-Kantian philosophy. It helped him in a very crude way to accept and become an apologist for Stalinist orthodoxy in the communist movement.

Lukacs asserted that the central concept of dialectics is ‘totality’; and here again he shows the inadequacy of his outlook for a theory of class consciousness. For Marx, the struggle, the unity and the interpenetration of opposites is the essence of dialectics, and this dialectic is materialist, so that for Marxists the notion of totality must have a meaning different from that presented by Lukacs. ‘The unity of the world consists in its materiality,’ wrote Engels. It is characteristic of Lukacs’ agnosticism on the question of the objective nature of the external world (in History and Class Consciousness) that he must take ‘totality’ and the proletariat’s grasp of this totality as an abstraction. Only a view of the ‘unity’ or ‘totality’ of the objective world of nature and society which sees this unity as arising continuously from a changing conflict of material opposites can form the basis of ‘revolutionary practice’, the sine qua non of Marx’s theory of knowledge.

Henri Lefebvre (in his The Sociology of Marx, 1968, and elsewhere) has criticised Lukacs for his stress on ‘totality’ and has argued that ‘the conflict of opposites’ is in fact the core of dialectics. However, in Lefebvre’s work this correct criticism remains purely abstract, and leads him eventually to Utopianism. He starts from the concept of a struggle of opposites, but leaves it at the level of the very general concepts of praxis and alienation. These terms, taken from Marx’s early work, enable Lefebvre to make often penetrating exposés of capitalist culture, but they remain altogether too abstract for a revolutionary theory of class consciousness. The theory remains purely critical, aloof from practice, i.e., from the activity of the class and the fight for a working-class leadership on a Marxist basis.

Lefebvre criticises, for example, Lucien Goldmann, because the latter, developing the work of Lukacs, over-emphasises the phenomenon of ‘reification’ so much that his argument amounts to a virtual acceptance, rather than a criticism, of the forms of objectivity imposed on consciousness by capitalist society. But this criticism is inadequate, and needs in the end to be turned against Lefebvre himself. Goldmann in the period between 1957 and his death in 1973, expressed complete scepticism about the revolutionary role of the working class under modern capitalism. He did so on the grounds that, besides certain economic and political changes in the capitalist system, such as the part played by state intervention in the economy, the ability of capitalism to supply an ever-increasing amount of consumer goods had eroded working class consciousness. This suggests immediately that Goldmann’s original reasons for accepting the revolutionary character of the proletariat were unsound, from the Marxist standpoint (see his articles in Les Temps Modernes for 1957 and 1958, reprinted in Recherches Dialectiques, Paris, 1959). Goldmann conceives of ideas and ideologies as mental translations of economic and social patterns, rather than as the outcome of the struggles of the class at all levels of social reality (see chapter VI above), and this has provided an avenue for him to accept the fashionable ‘structuralist’ school of idealism in France.

The actual contradictory process of the struggle for revolutionary consciousness, the conflicts between theory and practice, between party and class and, concretely, the struggle of tendencies within the labour movement and within the revolutionary party, and the class bases of these struggles-all these are almost completely lacking in any of the often interesting commentaries of these writers, whose works appeal so much to those who look for some pure or ‘restored’ Marxism, rediscovered by removing all the results of a century and more of bitter struggle as the theory has taken on flesh and blood. The ‘young Marx’ is the usual gospel of this faith. It would be in the spirit of Marx himself to aim for a Marxism which is rich and concrete, and at the same time warlike, having worked over and ‘negated’ all the contradictory developments in the proletarian revolution, and above all in the communist movement itself. For the various ‘schools’ of Marxism in France and their faint echoes outside, the issue is indeed presented much more concretely than they would like: to really develop the Marxist method and concepts for the analysis of modern capitalist society and of the USSR, it is necessary to start from a conscious reintegration with the whole actual past struggle for Marxism against the social democrats and then the Stalinists and revisionists who distorted it. That means an identification with the continuity of the fight for Marxism of Lenin and Trotsky, and in particular against the Stalinist domination of working-class politics and of ‘Marxism’ in France.

In the most fundamental theoretical terms, Lefebvre has missed out what was potentially correct in Lukacs’ insistence on ‘totality’: the struggle of opposites in society must be taken as first and foremost a class conflict, at the level of the social whole. To analyse, and to start in all social analyses from this, requires of course a concentration on the specific contradictions of capitalism and of the development of the working class and its revolutionary consciousness within capitalism. Marx himself developed his ideas from the general notions of praxis and alienation of humanity in his early works to the specific analysis of the historically developing social relations of capitalism, out of which grew all the ‘praxis’ and ‘alienation’ of modern man. By returning to the early Marx for the key to capitalist society today, Lefebvre opens the door to a reformist and Utopian critique of culture, instead of a consistent and revolutionary theory and practice, in conflict with the Stalinist distortion of Marxism in every field. His works Critique de la Vie Quotidienne (Vol II, 1960, Editions de L’Arche) and Introduction a la Modernite (Editions de Minuit, 1962) reveal this tendency very clearly: a searching for a ‘poetic’ quality in particular aspects of life, a contrast between creative and repetitive actions which is made a more general and important distinction than the specific historical contradictions of capitalism and the tasks of revolutionary transformation which they pose to the working class and to Marxists.

Our argument here does not simplify the question of class consciousness. On the contrary, it opens up a prospect which cannot be settled purely by words. Theory must become conscious of its real relationship with its subject-matter, and consciously guide the revolutionary struggle to transform it. This is the essence of dialectical materialism in Marx’s work. For the working class to become a class ‘for itself’ requires not simply the absorption of the experience of capitalist society, but the critical struggle against this experience by a party armed with the whole theory of Marxism. Party and class are two interpenetrating opposites at one level (the class ‘for itself’ and the class ‘in itself’). These two poles at the same time constitute a whole (the working class) which itself is one pole as against its opposite (the capitalist class) in another contradictory whole (capitalist society). Society confronts nature as its ‘opposite’. The working class must realize itself, against capitalism, subsuming all the historical gains for humanity made by capitalism at the same time as overthrowing it. This it can do only when the outlook, strategy and tactics of a Marxist party predominate in the actions of the class as a class, in revolutionary struggles. A similar process is necessary within the party: only if it can study, unify and transform through struggle all the experiences of the class can its theory be saved from one-sidedness, dogma and idealism. Within the Marxist party, once again we have a struggle of opposites, a struggle for the development of Marxist theory and its application to the struggles of the proletariat, in constant struggle against every mode of adaptation to the existing position of the working class, its disunity, fragmentation, etc., those aspects of its situation which predispose it towards acceptance of its oppression. Then theory itself must also be considered as a struggle of opposites. We have seen that at every level, each pole of a unity of opposites contains a recapitulation of the total opposition within itself (e.g. the party has both its own essence and its opposite within it and not only as an external opposite, etc.). Marxist theory develops by proving the ‘concreteness’ of its abstractions against the apparent concreteness (really abstractness, because abstracted from the changing forces which produce them) of uncritically accepted empirical reality. It does this through a struggle to change that reality, capitalism, by placing itself politically in a relation of political consciousness, leadership, with the working class. That means the struggle to build revolutionary parties able to lead the working class to power. Marxism is this struggle: it is not a sociology or an abstract theoretical system of any kind.

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Image: FOR MARXISTS, the division of modern socioeconomic classes is not the cause of the problem of capitalism but rather its effect. [Source:]


Marxism & the Class Struggle, publ. by New Park Publications. Last chapter reproduced here.