Chapter VI Economic Development and Socialism

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Image: Panorama of the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone in Pudong, Shanghai. [Source: http://english.qstheory.cn/magazine/201203/201210/t20121008_185077.htm]

The greatest conquest of the developing proletarian movement has been the discovery of grounds of support for the realisation of socialism in the economic conditionof capitalist society. As a result of this discovery, socialism was changed from an “ideal” dreamt of by humanity for thousands of years to a thing of historic necessity.

Bernstein denies the existence of the economic conditions for socialism in the society of today. On this count his reasoning has undergone an interesting evolution. At first, in the Neue Zeit, he simply contested the rapidity of the process of concentration taking place in industry. He based his position on a comparison of the occupational statistics of Germany in 1882 and 1895. In order to use these figures for his purpose, he was obliged to proceed in an entirely summary and mechanical fashion. In the most favourable case, he could not, even by demonstrating the persistence of middle-sized enterprises, weaken in any the Marxian analysis because the latter does not suppose as a condition for the realisation of socialism either a definite rate of concentration of industry – that is, a definite delay of the realisation of socialism – or, as we have already shown, the absolute disappearance of small capitals, usually described as the disappearance of the petit bourgeoisie.

In the course of the latest development of his ideas Bernstein furnishes us, in his book, a new assortment of proofs: the statistics of shareholding societies. These statistics are used in order to prove that the number of shareholders increases constantly and as a result the capitalist class does not become smaller but grows bigger. It is surprising that Bernstein has so little acquaintance with his material. And it is astonishing how poorly he utilises the existing data in his own behalf.

If he wanted to disprove the Marxian law of industrial development by referring to the condition of shareholding societies, he should have resorted to entirely different figures. Anybody who is acquainted with the history of shareholding societies in Germany knows that their average foundation capital has diminished almost constantly. Thus while before 1871 their average foundation capital reached the figure of 10.8 million marks, it was only 4.01 million marks in 1871, 3.8 million marks in 1873, less than a million from 1882 to 1887, 0.52 million in 1891 and only 0.62 million in 1892. After this date the figures oscillated around 1 million marks, falling to 1.78 in 1895 and to 1.19 in the course of the first half of 1897. (Van de Borght: Handwörterbuch der Staatsswissenschaften, 1.)

Those are surprising figures. Using them, Bernstein hoped to show the existence of a counter-Marxian tendency for retransformation of large enterprises into small ones. The obvious answer to his attempt is the following. If you are to prove anything at all by means of your statistics, you must first show that they refer to the samebranches of industry. You must not show that small enterprises really replace large ones, that they do not. Instead, they appear only where small enterprises or even artisan industry were the rule before. This, however, you cannot show to be true. The statistical passage of immense shareholding societies to middle-size and small enterprises can be explained only by referring to the fact that the system of shareholding societies continues to penetrate new branches of production. Before, only a small number of large enterprises were organised as shareholding societies. Gradually shareholding organisation has won middle-size and even small enterprises. Today we can observe shareholding societies with a capital of below 1,000 marks.

Now, what is the economic significance of the extension of the system of shareholding societies? Economically, the spread of shareholding societies stands for the growing socialisation of production under the capitalist form – socialisation not only of large but also of middle-size and small production. The extension of shareholding does not, therefore, contradict Marxist theory but on the contrary, confirms it emphatically.

What does the economic phenomenon of a shareholding society actually amount to? It represents, on the one hand, the unification of a number of small fortunes into a large capital of production. It stands, on the other hand, for the separation of production from capitalist ownership. That is, it denotes that a double victory being won over the capitalist mode of production – but still on a capitalist base.

What is the meaning, therefore, of the statistics cited by Bernstein according to which an ever-greater number of shareholders participate in capitalist enterprises? These statistics go on to demonstrate precisely the following: at present a capitalist enterprise does not correspond, as before, to a single proprietor of capital but to a number of capitalists. Consequently, the economic notion of “capitalist” no longer signifies an isolated individual. The industrial capitalist of today is a collective person composed of hundreds and even of thousands of individuals. The category “capitalist” has itself become a social category. It has become “socialised” – within the frame-work of capitalist society.

In that case, how shall we explain Bernstein’s belief that the phenomenon of share-holding societies stands for the dispersion and not the concentration of capital? Why does he see the extension of capitalist property where Marx saw its suppression?

That is a simple economic error. By “capitalist,” Bernstein does not mean a category of production but the right to property. To him, “capitalist” is not an economic unit but a fiscal unit. And “capital” is for him not a factor of production but simply a certain quantity of money. That is why in his English sewing thread trust he does not see the fusion of 12,300 persons with money into a single capitalist unit but 12,300 different capitalists. That is why the engineer Schulze whose wife’s dowry brought him a large number of share from stockholder Mueller is also a capitalist for Bernstein. That is why for Bernstein the entire world seems to swarm with capitalists.

Here too, the theoretic base of his economic error is his “popularisation” of socialism. For this is what he does. By transporting the concept of capitalism from its productive relations to property relations, and by speaking of simple individuals instead of speaking of entrepreneurs, he moves the question of socialism from the domain of production into the domain of relations of fortune – that is, from the relation between Capital and Labour to the relation between poor and rich.

In this manner we are merrily led from Marx and Engels to the author of the Evangel of the Poor Fisherman. There is this difference, however. Weitling, with the sure instinct of the proletarian, saw in the opposition between the poor and the rich, the class antagonisms in their primitive form, and wanted to make of these antagonisms a lever of the movement for socialism. Bernstein, on the other hand, locates the realisation of socialism in the possibility of making the poor rich. That is, he locates it in the attenuation of class antagonisms and therefore in the petty bourgeoisie.

True, Bernstein does not limit himself to the statistics of incomes. He furnishes statistics of economic enterprises, especially those of the following countries: Germany, France, England, Switzerland, Austria and the United States. But these statistics are not the comparative figures of different periods in each country but of each period in different countries. We are not therefore offered (with the exception of Germany where he repeats the old contrast between 1895 and 1892), a comparison of the statistics of enterprises of a given country at different epochs but the absolute figures for different countries: England in 1891, France in 1894, United States in 1890, etc.

He reaches the following conclusion: “Though it is true that large exploitation is already supreme in industry today, it nevertheless, represents, including the enterprises dependent on large exploitation, even in a country as developed in Prussia, only half of the population occupied in production.” This is also true about Germany, England, Belgium, etc.

What does he actually prove here? He proves not the existence of such or such a tendency of economic development but merely the absolute relation of forcesof different forms of enterprise, or put in other words, the absolute relations of the various classes in our society.

Now if one wants to prove in this manner the impossibility of realising socialism one’s reasoning must rest on the theory according to which the result of social efforts is decided by the relation of the numerical material forces of the elements in the struggle, that is, by the factor of violence. In other words, Bernstein, who always thunders against Blanquism [See: Louis Blanqui], himself falls into the grossest Blanquist error. There is this difference, however. To the Blanquists, who represented a socialist and revolutionary tendency, the possibility of the economic realisation of socialism appeared quite natural. On this possibility they built the chances of a violent revolution – even by a small minority. Bernstein, on the contrary, infers from the numerical insufficiency of a socialist majority, the impossibility of the economic realisation of socialism. The Social-Democracy does not, however, expect to attain its aim either as a result of the victorious violence of a minority or through the numerical superiority of a majority. It sees socialism come as a result of economic necessity – and the comprehension of that necessity – leading to the suppression of capitalism by the working masses. And this necessity manifests itself above all in the anarchy of capitalism.

What is Bernstein’s position on the decisive question of anarchy in capitalist economy? He denies only the great general crises. He does not deny partial and national crises. In other words, he refuses to see a great deal of the anarchy of capitalism; he sees only a little of it. He is – to use Marx’s illustration – like the foolish virgin who had a child “who was only very small.” But the misfortune is that in matters like economic anarchy little and much are equally bad. If Bernstein recognises the existence of a little of this anarchy, we may point out to him that by the mechanism of the market economy this bit of anarchy will be extended to unheard of proportions, to end in collapse. But if Bernstein hopes to transform gradually his bit of anarchy into order and harmony while maintaining the system of commodity production, he again falls into one of the fundamental errors of bourgeois political economy according to which the mode of exchange is independent of the mode of production.

This is not the place for a lengthy demonstration of Bernstein’s surprising confusion concerning the most elementary principles of political economy. But there is one point – to which we are led by the fundamental questions of capitalist anarchy – that must be clarified immediately.

Bernstein declares that Marx’s law of surplus value is a simple abstraction. In political economy a statement of this sort obviously constitutes an insult. But if surplus value is only a simple abstraction, if it is only a figment of the mind – then every normal citizen who has done military duty and pays his taxes on time has the same right as Karl Marx to fashion his individual absurdity, to make his own law of value. “Marx has as much right to neglect the qualities of commodities till they are no more than the incarnation of quantities of simple human labour as have the economists of the Böhm-Jevons school to make an abstraction of all the qualities of commodities outside of their utility.”

That is, to Bernstein, Marx’s social labour and Menger’s abstract utility are quite similar – pure abstractions. Bernstein forgets completely that Marx’s abstraction is not an invention. It is a discovery. It does not exist in Marx’s head but in market economy. It has not an imaginary existence, but a real social existence, so real that it can be cut, hammered, weighed and put in the form of the money. The abstract human labour discovered by Marx is, in its developed form, no other than money. That is precisely one of the greatest of Marx’s discoveries, while to all bourgeois political economists, from the first of the mercantilists to the last of the classicists, the essence of money has remained a mystic enigma.

The Boehm-Jevons abstract utility is, in fact, a conceit of the mind. Or stated more correctly, it is a representation of intellectual emptiness, a private absurdity, for which neither capitalism nor any other society can be made responsible, but only vulgar bourgeois economy itself. Hugging their brain-child, Bernstein, Böhm and Jevons, and the entire subjective fraternity, can remain twenty years or more before the mystery of money, without arriving at a solution that is different from the one reached by any cobbler, namely that money is also a “useful” thing.

Bernstein has lost all comprehension of Marx’s law of value. Anybody with a small understanding of Marxian economics can see that without the law of value, Marx’s doctrine is incomprehensible. Or to speak more concretely – for him who does not understand the nature of the commodity and its exchange the entire economy of capitalism, with all its concatenations, must of necessity remain an enigma.

What precisely was the key which enabled Marx to open the door to the secrets of capitalist phenomena and solve, as if in play, problems that were not even suspected by the greatest minds of classic bourgeois economy? It was his conception of capitalist economy as an historic phenomenon – not merely in the sense recognised in the best of cases by the classic economists, that is, when it concerns the feudal past of capitalism – but also in so far as it concerns the socialist future of the world. The secret of Marx’s theory of value, of his analysis of the problem of money, of his theory of capital, of the theory of the rate of profit and consequently of the entire existing economic system is found in the transitory character of capitalist economy, the inevitability of its collapse leading – and this is only another aspect of the same phenomenon – to socialism. It is only because Marx looked at capitalism from the socialist’s viewpoint, that is from the historic viewpoint, that he was enabled to decipher the hieroglyphics of capitalist economy. And it is precisely because he took the socialist viewpoint as a point of departure for his analysis of bourgeois society that he was in the position to give a scientific base to the socialist movement.

This is the measure by which we evaluate Bernstein’s remarks. He complains of the “dualism” found everywhere in Marx’s monumental Capital. “The work wishes to be a scientific study and prove, at the same time, a thesis that was completely elaborated a long time before the editing of the book; it is based on a schema that already contains the result to which he wants to lead. The return to the Communist Manifesto (that is the socialist goal! – R.L.), proves the existence of vestiges of utopianism in Marx’s doctrine.”

But what is Marx’s “dualism” if not the dualism of the socialist future and the capitalist present? It is the dualism of Capitalism and Labour, the dualism of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is the scientific reflection of the dualism existing in bourgeois society, the dualism of the class antagonism writhing inside the social order of capitalism.

Bernstein’s recognition of this theoretic dualism in Marx as “a survival of utopianism” is really his naïve avowal that he denies the class antagonisms in capitalism. It is his confession that socialism has become for him only a “survival of utopianism.” What is Bernstein’s “monism” – Bernstein’s unity – but the eternal unity of the capitalist regime, the unity of the former socialist who has renounced his aim and has decided to find in bourgeois society, one and immutable, the goal of human development?

Bernstein does not see in the economic structure of capitalism the development that leads to socialism. But in order to conserve his socialist program, at least in form, he is obliged to take refuge in an idealist construction placed outside of all economic development. He is obliged to transform socialism itself from a definite historical phase of social development into an abstract “principle.”

That is why the “co-operative principle” – the meagre decantation of socialism by which Bernstein wishes to garnish capitalist economy – appears as a concession made not to the socialist future of society but to Bernstein’s own socialist past.

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Chapter I The Opportunist Method

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Image: Defending the Russian Revolution. [Source: http://litci.org/en/in-defense-of-the-russian-revolution/]

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: https://philosophersforchange.org/2013/12/24/reflections-on-resistance-reform-and-revolution/]

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]