Luke Pickrell and Myra Janis critique the 2019 updated party program of the Communist Party, USA, arguing that the CPUSA’s continued commitment to the Popular Front produces an unwieldy document incapable of charting a strategic path forward for socialists.
Cover illustration of the Illinois CPUSA’s 1934 Election Platform
The Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2019 and signs would appear to augur well for the organization in the coming years. Recently, the party discussed running candidates for office.1 Membership numbers are rising,2 and the party credits itself and its allies for the “broad front” that defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.3Having abandoned the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization in a crisis of political direction, and gazed upon the desolate expanse that is revolutionary socialism in the United States, some comrades have turned away from the red rose toward the tried and true hammer, sickle, and gear. Unfortunately, these comrades will not have escaped the politics of class collaborationism by fleeing DSA and may find themselves in even hotter water.
The CPUSA marked its centenary with an updated version of the party platform: “The Road to Socialism USA.”4Reading through the document is daunting. An astounding 61-pages long, it meanders across ten disorganized primary sections and dozens of subsections. Boundaries are porous: the introduction contains a conclusion, ideas repeat, and lists of occasionally intriguing demands are relegated to sidebars. Friedrich Engels’ critique of the German Social Democratic Party’s Erfurt Programme – “The fear that a short, pointed exposition would not be intelligible enough, has caused explanations to be added, which make it verbose and drawn out”5 – applies just as accurately to the CPUSA. These comrades, hoping to attract as large an audience as possible, have thrown everything but the kitchen sink toward the proverbial wall in a desperate attempt to make something stick. Asked to accept the program, one struggles for solid footing. How can one determine agreement with such an incomprehensible document?
But determination brings rewards. Cutting through girth and clearing away the tired abstractions (“injustice,” “a better world,” “the 1%,” “epic struggles,” “the greed of the few,” “fascism”)6reveals two fundamental flaws: a commitment to the decades-old People’s Front policy of alliances with anything left of the “extreme right” and dedication to the Constitution and the parameters of the capitalist state. In other words, socialism with American characteristics.7 What follows is an elaboration on these two flaws. While the comrades in the CPUSA may be motivated by a genuine desire to fight for the interests of the working class, their program provides no path forward and opens the door to opportunistic zigzags and the internal rule of bureaucrats.
Continuing the People’s Front
This is far from an exhaustive chronicle of the ups and downs of the Communist Party (a job that E. J. Hobsbawm described as presenting unique difficulties).8 Rather, reading the CPUSA program allows one to reflect on the rise and fall of American Communism and the world socialist movement more generally. At its height, the Party contributed several victories to the class struggle in the United States. It carried out exceptional work in organizing the unemployed during the Great Depression and defended the Scottsboro Boys when the NAACP refused.9 The Party’s victories in states such as Alabama and New York are well-documented.10
The United Front strategy – how the party relates to the political institutions of the capitalist state to win members and strengthen the fighting power of the working class – began during a period of global defeat for communism.11 Having emerged victorious from the Russian Civil War, the newly formed Third International expected a quick succession of civil wars and Communist victories across Europe. But defeats in Germany, Poland, and Hungary augured ill. The working masses had not rallied behind the banner of the Communist Parties, and the Bolsheviks were left isolated in Russia. After fending off his ultra-left detractors, Lenin oversaw the entry of the Communist Parties into alliances with non-Communist working class political forces (including Social Democratic parties) under the explicit condition of retaining organizational independence and freedom to criticize the reformist leadership. In theory, the United Front was sound.
Principled alliances with reformist parties were scrapped when Stalin came to power. The Communists had zigged right, only to zag left during the Third Period of 1928 to 1933. The Peoples’ Front (America’s version of the Popular Front) began a final lurch back to the right in 1935 in the context of impending war and the rise of German Nazism. Ben Rose described the People’s Front as a “gradual shift towards a search for alliances and influence with the leadership of organizations believed to be instrumental in fighting domestic and international fascism, as well as those capable of pressuring the Roosevelt administration.”12Tactical alliances with a section of the capitalist class subordinated working class independence to the goals of capitalists. The goal of socialism in America was abandoned, and in 1937 the Party dropped its slogan, “Toward a Soviet America.” The day-to-day practice of fighting for reforms submerged the goal of a classless society, and socialism with American characteristics – socialism, after all, being just as American as baseball and apple pie – became the norm. As Mike Macnair explains: “‘Official communist’ and Maoist parties committed themselves to rejection of the most elementary Marxist principle – the independent political organization and representation of the working class – in favor of ‘democratic’ coalitions which repeat the projects Marx and Engels fought against – or, worse, in favor of coalitions for ‘national independence’, which subordinate the working class to the party of order.”13
The call for a People’s Front continues today. In the name of fighting the extreme right – a nefarious entity that is “inadequate and incompetent” and “backward” one moment, and “fascist” the next – the program urges unity with all progressive forces in “defeating the extreme right’s implicit and explicit drive toward fascism.”14Divisions within the capitalist class “contain opportunities for working-class and progressive forces. On some issues, the more moderate, more realistic sections of the capitalist class and their political operatives move parallel to the people’s movements, as important though partial and temporary allies. They can be pressured to adopt a more progressive stance by the strength of the people’s movements and mass sentiment.”15
The program encourages alliances with the Democratic Party because it is “not identical” with the Republican Party.16 The Democratic Party’s history – the “main vehicle used by African American and Latino communities to gain representation, as well as the main mechanism used to elect labor, progressive, and even Left activists to public office…”17 – supposedly demonstrates differences with its elephant brother. Furthermore, alleged rifts within the Party can be used to workers’ advantage. One reads: “[T]here exists an internal struggle within the Democratic Party among centrist forces who collaborate with the right wing, centrist forces opposed to the right wing, and more progressive, even socialist, trends.”18 Any desire to build a mass party must bow to the existing facts of the power of the capitalist class and the Constitutional regime.
With Friends Like These…
Calls for an alliance with the Democratic Party and the NGO complex against the far right are equivalent to asking the fox to guard the hen house: the fox eats its plump ward every time. Such proposals are the equivalent of trusting the bourgeoisie of the French Third Republic to eradicate the threat of a clerical-monarchical Thermidorian reaction. During the Third Republic, the proletariat was lured away from independent politics by liberals who incessantly hollered about a grave threat to the Republic as justification for uniting under one banner. With danger knocking at the door, this was no time to wage the class struggle. Karl Kautsky explained the reality behind the facade: “…the bourgeois liberal politicians have every interest in the struggle against the Church, but by no means in triumphing over it. They can only count on an alliance of the proletariat as long as this struggle continues.”19Ultimately, a definitive victory is illusory. The imperative to unite against a bigger-bad never ends. How ironic that the Communist Party now advocates politics far to the right of those espoused by Second International Marxism’s famous pope-turned-renegade during his period as a revolutionary thinker.
The Democratic Party is more concerned with maintaining the rule of law than prosecuting an effective campaign against an increasingly right-wing and authoritarian Republican Party and its hangers-on. See, for example, their impotent attempt to understand and resolve the events of January 6th, 2022, compared to their focus on the chauvinistic conspiracy theory of Russiagate. The state’s repressive apparatus is far more concerned with countering perceived threats from the left than from the right. The bourgeois state fundamentally cannot grapple with the real social issues (poverty and economic precarity, first and foremost) upon which the seeds of far-right extremism germinate. Without class independence, the proletariat stays moored to the dock of bourgeois politics. Worse, if the working class does not create independent organizations of political power, it will be unable to stop a real fascist threat. One finds a terrifying historical specter in Chile during the Allende period when the Popular Unity government disarmed its supporters in the face of an impending coup. When the time came, the working class could not defend itself or the Allende government from Pinochet’s forces.
The CPUSA program describes the all-people’s-front as an “essential strategy for this historical period, not just a temporary tactic.”20 Socialism is thus always something for the distant future, a goal to pursue once the present task is complete. Yet, like Sisyphus and his boulder, the task is never concluded. An all-people’s-front will not permanently defeat the far right. Only a socialist republic can eliminate the excrement produced by capitalism in decline, and only a socialist political party can make a new republic a reality.
Bill of Rights Socialism and Constitutional Cultism
The Constitution is an eminently undemocratic document that stands in the way of working-class political rule. It creates an entire “political playing field”that sucks in well-intentioned reformers and keeps them busy fiddling over minutia.21 The Constitution cannot be ignored or corralled through tricks or slights of hand. Yet, the CPUSA program ducks the issue by proposing a “Peoples’ Bill of Rights” and explaining that “Once the power of the corporations is broken, the vast majority of the country can use the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, a Socialist Bill of Rights, and local governments to build real democracy and equality.”22The Party’s belief that a “fundamentally new economic system” can be built on the existing Constitution is explicit; it is a hallowed document equivalent to the sacred tablets of the Ten Commandments. This devotion is apparent when they describe a speculative people’s Bill of Rights as “guaranteed” upon being “enshrined” in the Constitution.23
The insistence on maintaining the existing state apparatus is an abdication of the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once in power, the party must implement the minimum demands to upend and transform the existing state apparatus into a democratic republic – the state form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. From this position, the working class can begin the transition to communism. The CPUSA comrades are correct that the fullest expression of democracy is in the interests of the working class. Democracy is the light and air needed by the proletariat to wage an effective struggle.
However, the extension of democracy does not cease at the doors of the White House, the shrine of the Constitution, the halls of the Supreme Court, or the pentagonal grounds of the Department of Defense. The indirectly elected president holds an ever-increasing amount of power and directs the military of the world’s foremost imperial power. The Constitution (designed to guard against change) enshrines the separation of powers to hedge against the boogeyman of popular will in the House of Representatives (the only body with a nominal claim to popular representation) and slows down the process of legislation by directly elected representatives. The Supreme Court is not elected by universal and direct suffrage and works primarily to defend the Constitution. The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade also led many people to question the Court’s ability to take up lower court rulings. Finally, the Department of Defense provides the physical force necessary to safeguard the sanctity of private property and bourgeois law and order.
The CPUSA’s loyalty to the Constitution leads them to abandon a revolutionary position. The demand for a Socialist Bill of Rights leaves the bourgeois state unscathed; in fact, it strengthens the state. So long as the existing constitutional order remains intact, demands for “liberty, and equality; free quality health care and education; living-wage jobs and decent housing; and a healthy environment”are just reforms.24 While the revolutionary party does include reforms as part of its demands, they exist as a means to create a democratic republic. A set of demands that leave the existing state intact serves only as a screen to hide bourgeois rule. The party plucks the fig leaf from absolutism only to become “oneself a screen for its nakedness.”25
In trying to adapt Marxist-Leninism to the United States, the comrades have absorbed all the elements of the constitutional regime and dropped most of the Marxism they carried. What little remains lies mutilated beyond recognition. The program’s assurance that “socialism in the United States will have distinctive characteristics because it will emerge from our unique political culture”is just another superficial justification for reformism.26 Minimum demands must strengthen the working class while weakening the state. Such demands include a single legislative assembly elected by proportional representation; the abolition of the independent presidency and the Supreme Court’s right of judicial review; the election of judges and other state officials; the expansion of jury trials and state-funded legal services; the unrestricted right of free speech; the abolition of copyright laws and monopolies of knowledge; and the abolition of police and standing army in favor of a people’s militia characterized by universal training and service, with democratic rights for its members. The process could begin with organizing a nationwide election via direct, universal, and equal suffrage for an assembly tasked with writing a new Constitution for popular consideration rather than the radically minoritarian process enshrined in Article 5 of the existing Constitution.27 Enacted in full, these demands smash the existing order and create a democratic republic.
Monopolies and Stages
Like a Matryoshka doll that has gone west, the CPUSA program contains multiple programs corresponding to different stages on an imagined path to socialism. The first stage is the formation of a People’s Front to defeat the extreme right. After eliminating the first threat, the People’s Front will grow in strength, evolve into an anti-monopoly coalition, and turn its attention toward “the multinationals” (the nationalist assumption being that ‘genuinely American’ capitalists would join the fight). The defeat of the multinationals will signal the beginning of a new stage in which the anti-monopoly coalition will build proletarian consciousness and progress toward socialism. Multiple coalitions will merge with the Communist Party to create a force capable of pushing through the Socialist Bill of Rights. At some point, communism will emerge.
To the untrained eye, the discussion of monopolies is a bizarre aspect of an already strange program. Yet, references to the despotic power of monopolies – along with constant references to “the people” – have roots in older forms of American populism that pitted “the people” versus “the elites.” The affinity towards populist rhetoric is explained by the reformist character of the CPUSA and its desire to create cross-class alliances in which, ultimately, workers’ interests play second fiddle. In addition, the program’s conception of revolution beginning only after defeating a series of foes follows the stagist theory of history often, though incorrectly, attributed to orthodox Marxism.28 In decades past, the stagist model was used to justify the fundamental impossibility of communism in one country. Today, it appears in the CPUSA’s program as a justification for continued reformism.
Road to Nowhere
The Communist Party’s program contains noble sentiments. We do not doubt these comrades’ desire to realize a “system in which working-class people control their own lives and destinies.”29 Socialism is the fullest extension of democracy. The social republic overcomes the division between social and political existence. The final goal remains a society in which everyone contributes what they can and receives what they need to actualize their unique potential.
The CPUSA comrades are correct in declaring the need for a revolutionary party. They correctly state that victory is not abstract: it “relies not on slogans, gimmicks, or conspiracies but rather on developing the understanding of millions cultivated in hard struggles, an understanding that grows into full class and socialist consciousness.”30 Yet, their program is brimming with slogans. Take the assertion that the revolutionary party must be “dedicated to the interests of the whole class, dedicated to the long-term vision necessary for winning fundamental change.”31 An intrepid reader finishes the program without understanding the meaning of fundamental change. After so many pages, the phrase remains a floating signifier capable of the most opportunistic interpretations. This reversion to obscurity is a long way away from the concluding paragraph of the Socialist Party of America’s 1912 program: “Such measures of relief as we may be able to force from capitalism are but a preparation of the workers to seize the whole powers of government, in order that they may thereby lay hold of the whole system of socialized industry and thus come to their rightful inheritance.”32 As a party founded by the principled Left-Wing of the SPA and once animated by the fire of the Bolshevik Revolution, the CPUSA has fallen quite a long way.
The program is the loadstone of a socialist political party. A good program presents the demands necessary for taking power and creating a democratic republic (the minimum program) to initiate a transition to the ultimate goal of communism (the maximum program). Means and ends are united and never lose sight of each other. Demands are expansive though concrete, and resonate with the condition of all oppressed minority groups. Furthermore, a good program is clear, concise, and memorable. It leaves elaboration to party propagandists and trusts in the ability of the masses to decode an unfamiliar term and infer what is left unsaid. The latest CPUSA program is a mess. Quantity does not transform into quality; in this case, the former works against the latter. The working class will not find a road to power within its numerous pages. Its confusing proposals will lead only to the underwhelming and all-too-familiar dead end of class collaboration within the existing constitutional order.
Today, the Communist Party USA rests upon a mixed historical legacy marked by moments in which it acted as a vanguard of the working class in the highest sense of the phrase, as well as a long period in which it continues to be plagued by the lowest possible opportunism. In criticizing its present class collaborationist program, we hope to provide a resource to those in the Communist Party chafing under this orientation. As in the Democratic Socialists of America, the time has come for genuine communists to rebel against the dominant opportunism of the largest organizations of the working class political movement in the United States. We encourage Marxists in the Communist Party USA to begin openly discussing the course and future of their party and the entire socialist movement. The pages of Cosmonaut are open to them, and replies from defenders of the Communist Party’s current orientation are welcome as well – if only to train the arguments of their critics.
Harry Zehner urges the left to challenge the ideology of homeownership.
“We want a nation of homeowners, not proletarians.”
A few years ago, I stumbled across this quote — attributed to Fransisco Franco’s housing minister, José Luis De Arrese — in Raquel Rolnik’s fantastic book, Urban Warfare. It’s important for two reasons: first, it demonstrates the very basic class-cleavaging role of homeownership. Secondly, it tells us that homeownership can be intentionally wielded by capitalists to specifically target and defeat class consciousness.
Homeownership is commonly understood through its economic functions. Capitalist economists think of homeownership as a significant driver of growth, debt-fueled consumer spending, and the basis of an asset-based social security system. Critiques of homeownership from the left are also generally grounded in economics, as Marxists highlight the dangerously speculative nature of homeownership, its integration of the working class into circuits of capital, and, as Maya Gonzalez writes, its role as a “material force representing and entrenching the divisions and inequalities within the working class.”
However, there is less debate regarding homeownership’s function on the ideological terrain. It is my belief that identifying and incorporating an analysis of the ideological role of homeownership into our organizing is crucial to building a successful communist tenant movement.
The modern history of homeownership in the US can be traced back to the late 1910s, within the context of an insurgent radical labor movement and the communist threat represented by the Bolshevik Revolution. In the 1910s and 1920s, local, state, and federal officials collaborated with civil society organizations to promote private homeownership as the bedrock of US capitalism. The prominent US senator William Calder argued nakedly: “Every assistance should be extended to enable our people to build or buy homes. Where there is a community of homeowners, no Bolshevists or anarchists can be found.” Herbert Hoover, then the Secretary of Commerce, commanded the massive “Better Homes in America” campaign, proclaimed: “There can be no fear for a democracy or self-government or for liberty or freedom from homeowners no matter how humble they may be,” proselytizing about “the primal instinct in us all for homeownership” as the foundation of a stable, patriarchal, capitalist society.
This period can only be understood as a direct response to the threat of communism — and the accompanying threats to patriarchy and private property relations — presented by domestic radicals and the newly founded Soviet Union. It was defined by blatant US government propaganda like the Better Homes in America and the Own Your Own Home campaigns.
Since Hoover’s heyday, the messaging may have gotten more subtle and implicit (ideology tends to do that, as the initial subjects of ideology become reproducers of that ideology). However, the result — mass homeownership as the unimpeachable, bipartisan goal of US housing policy — has been identical.
Across the political spectrum, homeownership remains essentially unchallenged. It’s understood as superior to renting, as a way to realize your full personhood and US citizenship. It is intimately connected to chasing the American Dream of upward social mobility. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, homeownership is “reflexively advised as a way to emerge from poverty, develop assets, and build wealth more generally.” The idea of a housing system not structured around homeownership is completely beyond the horizons of US housing policy and discourse.
The US’s fanatical devotion to private homeownership is not a natural outcome, nor is it a politically neutral one. The US government and civil society have intentionally built this prevailing common sense understanding of homeownership through decades of propaganda and hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded subsidies for homebuyers. This understanding argues that: the act of building individual wealth through home equity is a tool of social mobility; that ontological security can be found in the privately-owned home; that the gendered labor of social reproduction should be confined to the private home; and that citizenship resides in property ownership.
This understanding of homeownership does more than produce profits for the homebuilding industry. It is an important component of the US capitalist ideology that keeps the oppressed classes invested in the system and resistant to anti-capitalist critiques of that system.
If we are to take seriously the task of activating a revolutionary consciousness in the US, we must uncover the ways in which the development of that consciousness is stunted and subsumed within the ideology of the ruling classes. Then, we must work to build an alternative common sense understanding of US capitalism, while honestly and dynamically evaluating the ideological basis of our politics. We need to heed the lessons of a century of cultural theorists like Antonio Gramsci, Stuart Hall and Mark Fisher, who have argued that capitalism is maintained not just by force, but by consent. Churches, schools, the family, and other institutions all disseminate the ideology of the ruling classes until it becomes common sense and the exploited masses come to believe that the social order created by capitalism is not only inevitable and unchallengeable but correct and just.
As Hall always reminded us, we must purposefully engage with “the struggle to command the common sense of the age in order to educate and transform it, to make common sense, the ordinary everyday thoughts of the majority of the population, move in a socialist rather than a reactionary direction.” It is an understanding of this task that leads me to argue that the left must explicitly reject the ideology of homeownership in our work. It is essential for the left housing movement in the US to begin to think of the landscape it occupies as the terrain of ideology, and to build a counter-hegemonic housing movement, which explicitly constructs alternatives to the ideology of homeownership. We need to form a systemic critique of private homeownership that doesn’t stop at a discussion of uneven access to homeownership but attempts to smash the ideology entirely. As Mark Fisher writes in Capitalist Realism, our “emancipatory politics” must necessarily “destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order,’ must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.”
All of which begs the question: how specifically does homeownership operate ideologically?
Instilling Capitalist Values
Fundamentally, homeownership (and the promise of homeownership) helps instill a belief that wealth is privately created and therefore should be privately controlled. When we accept the framing that homeownership is a primary means of economic mobility and wealth creation, we foreclose the horizons of socialism and obscure the reality that the capitalist distribution of wealth, property, and resources is structurally violent and unequal.
Common sense understandings do not emerge out of thin air. They are intentionally constructed to benefit certain people and classes. Every presidential administration in the 20th century utilized public policy and propaganda tools to promote mass private homeownership as the path to social mobility. Throughout the neoliberal administrations of Reagan, Bush (twice), Clinton, Obama, Trump and now Biden, the promise of mass homeownership has been used to justify cuts to the welfare state in favor of an “asset-based welfare” system, wherein the growth of your home’s value replaces traditional forms of social welfare provision. As Gonzalez writes, “It became crucial to those with homes to protect their property, and to preserve or increase its value by all means possible. Homeowners thus had higher stakes in the perpetuation of the capitalist class relation … ” The pursuit and the material realization of homeownership for millions helps to cement the common sense understanding of oneself as an individual consumer and speculator in a market-based world, rather than a member of a collective capable of organizing for democratic, social ownership of wealth and property.
Therefore, the ideology of homeownership, as both the ultimate form of privatized housing and the bedrock of the American Dream, has been essential to creating a mass common sense understanding that unabashed submission to the free market is the optimal (as well as natural, scientific, and post-ideological) method of structuring social and economic relations.
There are serious consequences to a societal belief that wealth is an individual creation that is earned (or not earned) through hard work, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship. A basic building block of Marxian economics — which has played a consequential role in essentially every insurgent left-wing movement — is the understanding that wealth is collectively created by the working classes, and therefore should be collectively controlled by the working classes. Capitalism is organized around private control of wealth, production, and the surplus value created by workers. It is therefore quite useful to any capitalist system to build a common sense understanding that wealth is a private — not social — creation, the end result being that the working classes consent to the private control of wealth and the means of production. Homeownership, as the primary point of contact between speculation, asset-building and wealth creation for Americans from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds, is central to the construction of this ideology.
Domestic Bliss or Patriarchal Domination?
As Silvia Federici, Angela Davis, and legions of Marxist feminist scholars have argued, the unpaid reproductive and domestic labor performed by women in the home is essential to the reproduction of capitalism. In the words of Federici: “the exploitation of women has played a central function in the process of capitalist accumulation, insofar as women have been the producers and reproducers of the most essential capitalist commodity: labor-power.” Engels, in his landmark book The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State, powerfully links the development of private property and the patriarchal family unit, arguing that capitalism necessitates a union of the two in order to function.
Therefore, the ideological centering of homeownership as the site of domestic bliss and family life serves a very material purpose within US capitalism. Mass homeownership carries with it deeply held cultural beliefs about women’s role in society, specifically that women should be confined to their private homes in order to carry out the domestic labor and the duties of social reproduction. Of course, the significance and character of these meanings have changed over time. In the 1920s, when Hoover and his ilk were propagandizing the virtues of the owned home, they were responding directly to radical anarchist and Bolshevik ideas about reproductive freedom, free love and women’s labor. Homeownership was indelibly tied to the idealized vision of a (necessarily white) breadwinning father, domestic mother and obedient children. In the post-war period, domestic work was cast as a patriotic, anti-communist duty, coinciding with the rising prominence of homes-as-assets. As Gonzalez writes, “the home became not only the commodity which physically contained all the others, but was also a worker’s main asset — the commodity for which all others were sold, and eventually the one which also purchased all the others.”
In contrast, in the 1970s, as Black women became the targets of “predatory inclusion” and the unwitting owners of crumbling, debt-laden homes, their role as caretakers of these homes was emphasized in order to lay blame at their feet instead of with HUD and the structurally racist real estate industry. The mass media and government officials consistently emphasized the irresponsible nature of Black female homebuyers, creating, in Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s words, a “dysfunction discourse” that helped engineer the persistent moral panic about the state of Black inner cities in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Building on Mark Fisher’s concept of capitalist realism, Helen Hunter argues that “domestic realism” — wherein “the isolated and individualized small dwelling (and the concomitant privatization of household labor) becomes so accepted and commonplace that it is nearly impossible to imagine life being organized in any other way,” serves to reinforce gendered hierarchies and divisions of domestic labor. The practice of mass homeownership reifies the domestic sphere — a crucial site to imagine, reinvent and revolutionize gender roles in a collective and egalitarian manner — as the natural, post-ideological arrangement for social reproduction.
I’m not the person to sketch a socialist feminist vision of housing, but such a project certainly includes a radical break with the unpaid domestic labor in the home which is central to the ideology of homeownership. It is almost certainly a vision that demands cooperative, socialized domestic work and compensation for previously unpaid domestic labor. It is also almost certainly a vision that is incompatible with mass private homeownership, which necessarily confines domestic labor to the individual home, rather than socializing domestic labor.
Black Homeownership and The American Nightmare
There are two histories of homeownership in the United States: white homeownership, and homeownership for everyone else. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of the essential Race for Profit, puts it best: “The quality of life in U.S. society depends on the personal accumulation of wealth, and homeownership is the single largest investment that most families make to accrue this wealth. But when the housing market is fully formed by racial discrimination, there is deep, abiding inequality.”
In its modern form (roughly from the 20th century onwards), the public policy and propaganda supporting homeownership have been intentionally constructed to benefit white families. Hoover’s propaganda campaigns in the 1920s and 30s always depicted white families as the ideal, patriotic, capitalist homeowners. In the New Deal and post-war eras, subsidies for homeownership were granted to white families and excluded Black families. Redlining, restrictive covenants, and mob violence all kept neighborhoods segregated and severely devalued Black homes throughout the mid-20th century. When homeownership financing was finally extended to Black families en masse in the 1970s, it was structured in order to reap profits for realtors — in stark contrast with the white-wealth building intent of previous government homeownership programs. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, Black homeowners were pulled into the maelstrom of debt-fueled neoliberal capitalism in order to be exploited by subprime loans and Wall St chicanery. The nature of the racially exploitative housing market was made clear once again in the aftermath of the 2008 housing crash, as Black families were disproportionately impacted by foreclosures and subprime loans. The racial wealth gap widened in the aftermath of the crisis.
In 2021, 75.8% of white families owned their home, compared to just 46.4% of Black families. In 2019, the median white family was worth $188,200 while the median Black family was worth just $36,100. The racial wealth gap is an undisputable legacy of chattel slavery, redlining and Jim Crow capitalism. It is one of the clearest expressions of the structural deficiency of the American Dream.
And yet, even as it is widely acknowledged on the liberal-left wing of the American political spectrum that unequal access to wealth-building through homeownership is at the core of the racial wealth gap, analysts consistently suggest further investment in homeownership as the only possible solution to the problem. For instance, in their highly influential 1995 work, Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality, Oliver and Shapiro lay out, in extensive historical detail, the processes by which Black communities have been denied access to wealth-building through homeownership and then go on to argue that individualized asset-based welfare systems — primarily operationalized through homeownership — are a promising potential solution.
In 2020, Bernie Sanders ran on probably the most left-wing housing platform attributable to a popular, major party, presidential candidate in decades. He advocated for reinvesting in public housing, cracking down on racial discrimination and expanding community land trusts. Still, he argued that “the American dream of homeownership is simply out of reach,” and therefore “we need to substantially expand federal programs to make sure that Americans throughout the country have the ability to buy their first home.”
Rather than look to egalitarian horizons wherein racist private property relations are dismantled and land is redistributed — rather than challenge the notion that Americans should be constantly interpellated as consumers and speculators — further investment in capitalism is argued to be the only solution to the problems created by hundreds of years of capitalist exploitation.
As Taylor writes, this outlook belies a “magical belief that homeownership will ever be a cornerstone of political, social, and economic freedom for African Americans.” It is a core component of the ideology of Black Capitalism, which James Baldwin once described as “a concept demanding yet more faith and infinitely more in schizophrenia than the concept of the Virgin birth.” While the methods of extending homeownership opportunity may be critiqued, the underlying assumptions — that individual asset accumulation through homeownership is the key to social mobility and that private property (the basis of the US settler-colonial nation-state) is an inevitable feature of human social organization — are rarely, if ever, questioned.
I would argue that, even for most contemporary left activists and movements who do act on a theory of change grounded in a systemic analysis of US capitalism, it is typically seen as pointless to waste energy trying to contradict a deeply held American value like homeownership. The project of outright rejecting private homeownership is either considered not politically expedient or not considered at all.
I don’t want to discount that the ideological terrain has shifted in the US left housing movement, especially since the 2008 housing crash. There has been an increasing emphasis on social housing, as exemplified by popular proposals like the “National Homes Guarantee,” or the Peoples Policy Project’s “A Plan to Solve the Housing Crisis Through Social Housing.” In these plans, private, speculative homeownership takes a backseat to decommodified, socialized conceptions of home and housing. In “The National Homes Guarantee,” the authors refer to homeowners as “bank tenants,” highlighting an increasingly mainstream skepticism about the liberatory promises of homeownership. In the past few years, the community land trust and cooperative housing models have gained prominence in cities and rural areas alike to combat rising housing costs, gentrification and speculation. The wave of insurgent tenant movements spurred on by the COVID-19-induced housing crisis and rising consciousness of private homeownership’s exploitative nature in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis also provide important context.
However, these developments alone do not constitute an intentional, counter-hegemonic, ideological thrust against homeownership and the American Dream. Socialized housing, after all, if promoted like many other goals of the US left — that is, alongside their antagonists — will always maintain a subordinate position. It is ultimately unproductive to shirk from direct confrontation with the ideology of private homeownership, in the same way that it is unproductive to argue for expanded public transit while refusing to attack highway funding or to argue for the deployment of renewable energy without tackling the systemized overconsumption at the root of the climate crisis.
So, despite the promising emergence of more radical challenges to the ideology of homeownership, the promotion of homeownership as a cure to wealth inequality, racial inequality and other social ills remains a near-hegemonic line of thinking. The acceptance of this thinking is fundamentally naive. It is naive to view private homeownership as a neutral concept, one that we can pluck from history and promote uncritically in the present day, while ignoring its historical role in maintaining race, gender and class domination. A continued uncritical embrace of homeownership in the rhetoric and praxis of the left — and in particular, the discourse which argues that homeownership can be a tool of social justice through wealth accumulation — does little to “destroy the appearance of a natural order.” Rather, it reinforces the common sense understanding that wealth should be built and controlled individually, that individual advancement is a preferable alternative to collective power-building, and that private property relations should reign supreme.
Fundamentally, the ideology of homeownership disseminates and enforces the ideology of the ruling class and undermines any discussion of overturning private property relations. As a result, as the ever-relevant W.E.B. DuBois’ wrote, the US is “not simply fundamentally capitalistic,” — it has “no conception of any system except one in which capital was privately owned.” Homeownership, particularly within the neoliberal cultural hegemony that still holds so much sway over our lives, helps preclude the possibility of a collective political subject and instead interpellates each of us as consumers, speculators, and market subjects above all else. For women, private homeownership continues to promote a domestic-centered lifestyle, consigning them to do unpaid and underappreciated work. For poor immigrants, Black communities, women, and other economically marginalized groups, homeownership is central to the endurance of the American Dream, inducing buy-in to the system of US capitalism by arguing that anyone can make it in America — and if you fail, it’s your fault.
. . .
The urban rebellions which gripped the nation and incited a genuine ruling class crisis in the summer of 2020 illustrate that, despite what the suffocating, “pervasive atmosphere” of late capitalism may lead us to believe, it is indeed possible to smash common sense ideology like that of homeownership. The spontaneous rebellions which broke out in Minneapolis and spread quickly across the country thrust us headfirst into a radical political moment, where the shackled horizons of neoliberal capitalism melted away in the face of a mass movement.
The various abolitionist currents and slogans present in May of 2020 went through complex processes of creation, co-option, revision, and moderation. But fundamentally, what emerged on the other side of the rebellions was a popular, revolutionary, if fractured, horizon. The ideology foundational to the neoliberal carceral state and its self-conception of social order — that social ills (particularly in Black and brown communities) cannot be solved through social and economic restructuring, but must instead be met with the violent force of prisons and policing — has become contested terrain. Many people who just weeks before the rebellions would scoff at the sheer lunacy of abolishing prisons or the police were suddenly proselytizing about the social causes of crime and the true role of the police and prisons in protecting property, whiteness, and US racial capitalism.
I don’t mean to romanticize the moment. What I want to emphasize is that radical horizons are possible only if we challenge the entrenched common sense understandings that undergird US capitalism — and crucially, that a large part of the ideological success of the abolitionist movement last summer was due to their preparation. Organic intellectuals like Mariama Kaba, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Angela Davis, and organizations like Critical Resistance and Black Lives Matter, had been building the foundations of an abolitionist movement for years and were therefore prepared to seize the moment. Contrast that with the extremely fractured and weak state of the US left during the 2008 financial crisis, where the left — and the housing movement in particular — was ill-prepared to offer a systemic critique of homeownership, the American Dream, and neoliberal capitalism more broadly.
Homeownership must be connected to the broader political economy and ideology of contemporary capitalism. We need to assert that US capitalism’s ideological permanence draws strength from and is reproduced by housing systems and private homeownership in particular. What does this specifically entail for the left housing movement in the US?
We need a politics of housing that attacks capitalism at its roots in private property relations. A counter-hegemonic housing movement must be rooted in a radical turn towards socialized land, communal domestic labor and decommodified housing. Rather than continue to center private homeownership as the route toward social progress, we must reject private homeownership and embrace democratic, tenant-controlled social housing models like community land trusts, cooperative housing, Native American communal land holdings and public housing. Importantly, we have to actively work against the common sense understanding — which has been reinforced through the very real experiences of eviction, landlordism and poor housing quality within the rental market — that security of tenure, personal space and realization of citizenship can only be achieved through homeownership.
Through this radical break with the ideology of homeownership we can assist in forging a revolutionary common sense understanding, one which argues that:
the American Dream is a farce that only serves to reinvest potentially revolutionary energy back into the system;
private property is inherently violent and anti-egalitarian;
wealth is socially created and therefore should be socially controlled;
poverty is endemic to capitalism, not individuals;
domestic labor should be socialized and women should not be consigned to unpaid labor in the home;
the persistence of a permanent, racialized underclass of the unemployed, drug addicts, “criminals” and homeless people is a consequence of systemic failure, not individual deficiency;
and in the final analysis, we are members of a collective subject that can and must organize for our collective present and future.
I neither have the space nor the wisdom to offer a concrete vision of what this actually looks like. This article is intended to be a suggestive intervention, a critique on the terrain of ideology. But, as Paulo Freire reminds us, praxis is more than critique. Praxis is “reflection and action upon the world in order to change it.” This is just a reflection — an important one, I believe, but one that means very little until it is translated into action.
One important and concrete step we can all take towards building this new politics is to join and commit ourselves to principled, revolutionary tenant organizations. I organize with Brooklyn Eviction Defense, a communist, autonomous tenant organization. Through a variety of tactics, we help stop evictions (legal and illegal, because all evictions are violent and unjust, regardless of whether the state has sanctioned them), intervene in cases of landlord harassment, help tenants organize their buildings and much more. Our organizing work is rooted in a material struggle against the everyday violence of private property and the intertwined ideological struggle to activate a revolutionary tenant consciousness. We struggle daily against entrenched common sense understandings of homeownership and private property. We believe it is critical to hold a strong political line in favor of abolishing rent and private property. We are far from perfect, but our commitments give me hope that through principled struggle, we can smash the old politics of housing and forge a new, revolutionary common sense.
Remi and Niko join Comrade Adam from Red Library to discuss Kohei Saito’s Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy: Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism. We discuss the concept of metabolism, Marx’s evolution of thought on ecology being the core realm of capitalist crisis, agricultural chemistry, the role of a Marxist ecosocialist perspective to stop the destruction of capital across the planet, and much more even including Žižek’s thoughts on ecology!
Note: The episode ends a bit abruptly as technology bailed on us in the final moments.
Join us for the second installment in Cosmonaut’s critically acclaimed ecology series to discuss Jason Moore’s “Capitalism in the Web of Life”. Niko, Matthew and Remi discuss how this work merges concepts from Marxist ecology and world-systems analysis to reveal how capitalism organizes nature as a whole oikeios, and how this sets limits to capitalist accumulation once “the Four Cheaps” (energy, food, work and raw materials) become scarce and capitalism is forced to shift to new regimes of accumulation. The team talks about how Moore’s concepts of oikeios and capitalism-in-nature extends the dialectical relationship of organism and environment, and how this can be applied for a socialist project, as well as addressing the critiques of Moore’s work from other ecosocialist schools.
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The Cosmonaut team inaugurates the ecology series by discussing John Bellamy Foster’s seminal book Marx’s Ecology on its twentieth anniversary. Join Niko, Ian, Matthew, and Remi as they discuss the context of this work, and how it started a rediscovery of Marx’s ecological politics. They discuss how ecology informed Marx’s understanding of the world since his doctoral thesis, the relationship between Marx, Darwin, and Malthus and the concept of metabolic rift.
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Donald and Rudy welcome Asad Haider from Viewpoint Magazine to discuss the present political moment. Using Badiou’s “The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings” as a starting point, we discuss riots as a political expression in an intervallic period. We talk about the shape of the party should take to represent this political will, the racial context, overdetermination and spontaneity, and how history is being restarted.
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Translation and introduction by Rida Vaquas. The original text in German can be found here.
Gerd Arntz, Strike, 1936
Anton Pannekoek is well-known as one of the principal theorists of council communism, a man who broke from both the traditions of Kautskyist social democracy as well as Bolshevism. By 1935, this break had crystallized into a clear attitude against the party as an instrument for working-class liberation: “a party is an organization that aims to lead and control the working class.”1 However, Pannekoek was very much a child of orthodox Second International Social Democracy, and a self-described pupil of Karl Kautsky, just as much as Lenin was. By presenting a translation of this short text, I hope to emphasize the Social Democratic inheritance of Pannekoek and the continuities of council communism with radical readings of Karl Kautsky.
The essay ‘The Propertied and the Propertyless’ was originally published in the SPD paper Leipziger Volkszeitung and eventually compiled as one of seven essays in a pamphlet Der Kampf der Arbeiter (The Struggle of Workers) in 1907. Much of Pannekoek’s early career in German Social Democracy resulted from his close friendship with Kautsky. After the German authorities prevented Pannekoek from taking up his position at the SPD Party School, it was Kautsky who found him alternative positions, including writing a weekly column for socialist newspapers. Kautsky’s aid hence embedded him into the German socialist movement and Pannekoek eventually moved to Bremen, where he was part of ordinary party life.
It would be wrong to construe this as simply a close personal friendship: Kautsky and Pannekoek shared a political outlook about the world. Both were representatives of the last great generation of scientific socialism. This was not ‘scientific’ in the sense of a vulgar determinism in which one keeps vigil for the final set of statistics that make revolution inevitable, but scientific in that it posited hypotheses and demanded proofs, one had to show their working when they claimed to solve the formula of social change. An amusing article in the SPD’s satirical magazine Der Wahre Jacob in 1912 aptly illustrated their affinity in approach, even when their conclusions differed. In an imaginary debate about fashion, Kautsky writes a beautiful chapter about the “genesis of trousers” in the emergence of humanity, ending with the proposition that had Adam had trousers, he may not have bitten into the fatal apple. Pannekoek, who had witnessed the conversations with Kautsky, reproaches Kautsky for having overestimated the role of trousers as a Marxist.2
This exchange mirrored the real split between Kautsky and Pannekoek that first became public in 1911-12 (one may note that Pannekoek split with Kautsky somewhat later than Rosa Luxemburg did) in a debate in Die Neue Zeit about mass action, in light of the 1911 strikes in England. Kautsky outlined a perspective in which the development of capitalism causes the emergence of mass actions by periodically creating conditions of extended unemployment, taxation pressure, inflation, and war.3 However, the development of the organized proletarian masses, through the institutions of Social-Democracy and the trade unions, changed the character of mass actions to ensure both that defeat is not a disaster and that victories are enjoyed by the proletariat, and not exploited by a faction of the enemy. Yet Kautsky’s case against embracing spontaneous mass actions as a tactical principle is simple: they are completely unpredictable and hence nothing can be said about what is to be done when they arise in advance, the party can only ensure that it is not caught off guard by them, by building up its own understanding of state and society and power.
What marks Pannekoek’s response to this analysis is his own disappointment with a great master of Marxism. In his view, although no one had proven the significance of Marxist theory as much as Kautsky did in his historical writing, in this instance Kautsky had “left the Marxist tools at home” and hence obtained no result.4 For Pannekoek, contemporary mass action differentiated itself from the mass actions of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries because the class who carried it out had changed: from bourgeois to proletarian. The distinction between the unorganized and organized is irrelevant, as many of the unorganized are capable of the same proletarian discipline and solidarity through the conditions of their work. In Pannekoek’s most cutting perspective, Kautsky “is not doing himself justice” in claiming he is unable to ascribe a particular political character to the masses when he has successfully done so for parliamentary politics.
It becomes clear that Pannekoek’s first critiques of Kautsky’s Marxism emerged from wanting to push it beyond its limits and seek to apply it to new scenarios. Pannekoek’s ultimate conclusion in 1912 was that the party must instigate revolutionary action at the right moment, not when the masses can simply no longer be held back, but when the conditions mean that large-scale actions by the masses have a chance of success. Only later disillusionments turned him away from the party form altogether. There is much merit in Pannekoek’s objection to Kautsky that one has not determined very much at all if the determination is that the masses are unpredictable. Yet it was clear that Pannekoek’s own formulas didn’t hold up in the light: the masses by no means tend towards radicalism in all cases, and there has been no guarantee that they would rise against war. In their final parting of ways, both Kautsky and Pannekoek sought a more rigorous application of a Marxist framework they shared from each other.
This translation demonstrates the analytical clarity that this Marxist framework had to offer at its strongest.
The political struggle that the socialist working class leads and of which every election campaign is an episode is not in the first instance a struggle about particular political institutions and legal demands, but instead a universal struggle between the propertied and propertyless class. To understand it correctly, it is necessary to take a close look at the combatants, the causes, and the aims of this struggle.
According to this classification of both of the parties in conflict, it may appear that the ownership of money or income is the basis for class division. This is how it’s often understood by our bourgeois opponents. They take income or assets statistics in their hands, draw a few lines that separate the low from the middle incomes and the middle from the high incomes, and believe that they’ve obtained an insight into the class relations of the present-day. Even more comically, they do this when they present a statistic from the Middle Ages or the eighteenth century and from this prove that there were proportionately just as many low, middle and high incomes at the time as there are now and with this they believe they have refuted the concentration of capital, the demise of the middle class and the escalation of class contradictions.
These poor jokers, who want to demonstrate away the obvious facts of the great social upheaval in this way, clearly don’t have the faintest idea of what a social class actually is. A class is not a group of people that have the same size of income, it is instead a group of people who fulfill a particular function economically in social production. We say ‘economically’ so that you don’t fall for the idea that the technical side of work is understood as the social function. A weaver and a typographer professionally have a different function, technically their work is varied, but economically they are both waged workers and belong to the same class.
In the manifold diversity of the social production process it is no wonder that a colorful picture of the most diverse social classes appeals to the eye. In industry, capitalist employers stand against waged workers; from this universal fundamental relationship, different class relationships are built up, according to the scale of the industry. The independent craftsman concurs with the capitalists that he is an independent businessman, but he employs no waged workers. And the small masters of artisanal small enterprises, just like shopkeepers, are even described in colloquial language as separate from the large-scale capitalists, as the middle class. Their difference consists in the smaller number of workers and the smaller amount of capital, without it being possible to identify firm boundaries between the two groups. In large industry, a group of overseers and technical work managers slide in between the capitalists and the workers. The high technical and scientific demands placed on today’s large and giant conglomerates have called into being a class of private technical and scientific officials that form the ‘intelligentsia’ alongside similar and equally-placed public officials. Economically they belong to wage workers as even they sell their labor power—a special intellectual labor power trained by long studies and better paid—for wages. The higher level of wages, i.e. their very different living standards, again separates them from workers. At the same time, the development of large industry has effected a separation between the industrial entrepreneur, who lives off profits, and the owners of money, who live off interests, through the vast amounts of capital that it demands. In the stock company, a paid official even steps into the role of the employer, the director. The double function of the capitalist, to direct production and to pocket the surplus-value, has been divided between two types of people. However, all finance capitalists cannot be lumped together, just like all industrial capitalists. According to their size, a differentiation persists like in the world of fish in the sea: the big devour the little. A little rentier is as much a finance capitalist as a member of high finance, but to these stock market wolves he is a stock market lamb as it were and hence his social role is another one.
If we now take a look at agriculture, we find the same gradations, even if not in exactly the same way, as in industry. Only a class is added here, because the landowners, through their monopoly, can extract a ground rent from the yield of agriculture without playing any active role.You have dwarf peasants, small farmers, medium and large farmers and farmworkers. Here the hybrid and transitional forms are emerging that confuse the picture of social classes to an untrained eye. The agricultural workers often have a small plot of land, while owners of smaller plots of land, too small to live off, seek additional income as agricultural or even industrial workers. They are hence simultaneously independent landlords and wage workers. In the home industry we find supposedly independent craftsmen that are totally dependent, body and soul, upon capitalist businessmen. That the legal form of waged service doesn’t suffice to ascertain class is shown by the numerous transitions from the paid director to the worker, via subdirector, head of department, chief engineer, technician, draughtsman, supervisor. Here one will often be at a loss to define precisely, in the gradual transitions, which class distinctions one must accept and where their boundaries lie.
So social life offers a colorful picture of the most diverse classes whose functions, and hence interests, directly show sharp contradictions and enormous differences and even gradual transitions. Isn’t this picture a resounding refutation of our assertion that only two classes stand against each other in the social struggle? And doesn’t a look at the varied functions of classes immediately show that the definition of two groups, only according to their assets is unscientific and unsustainable— a fictitious assertion only for the purpose of demagogic sedition?
No. This definition is substantiated in the social order in its deepest essence. It emerges from the specific role that money plays since the advent of capitalism. All money has the characteristic of being able to work as capital, i.e. when the owner buys the means of production with it, rents workers, and sells the commodities they produced, it comes back in their hands as more money, as larger, as capital blessed by surplus-value. They do not even have to do it themselves, with the greatest pleasure others will take away the stress and worries of running a business and pay them part of the profit as interest for the use of their capital. Money has acquired the characteristic of bringing its owner interest through capitalism. Whoever has access to money can hence secure an income without any work.
This income comes from surplus-value which formed in the process of production. The working class brings into being vast quantities of value through their work; they only receive a part of it back as wages. The remainder is surplus-value which falls to the capitalists. This surplus value must be distributed amongst the different capitalists and groups of capitalists because they all live from it. The landowners demand their share, the businessmen and middlemen ask for their share, the directors and highly paid industrial managers take their piece, the finance capitalists obtain their interest or dividends. They fight amongst themselves about the distribution of surplus-value. The distribution is partly decided by economic laws and partly by political power balances. What matters to us here is the fact that all those who have money are thereby entitled to a certain extent to some of the surplus-value, provided of course that they do not hide it in an old stocking like the former misers. The surplus-value is created by the exploitation of the lower classes whose work produces that surplus; all those classes who share the surplus value among themselves together form a great society of exploitation, and everyone who has money is thereby, by the grace of Mammon, a shareholder in this excellent corporation.
This is the reason we can speak about a great class contradiction between the propertied and the propertyless. It is because these words are synonymous with the exploiting and the exploited classes. Whoever doesn’t own anything is forced to sell their labour-power to the owners of the means of production, i.e. indirectly to the owners of capital, in order to live. These capital owners give them a wage for long and hard work, which only suffices for a poor living standard, and the remainder of the worker’s produced value goes into their pockets. Whoever does not own anything must allow themselves to be exploited, the private ownership of the means of production cuts them off from any other way out. The situation remains mainly the same even when the worker owns a little bit of money, the interest of which forms a small subsidy to their wages. Even if they have money at the bank, they are still not exploiters. In this interest, they only gain a tiny little piece of the great mass of surplus-value which is squeezed out of the entire working class, and this little bit doesn’t even come into view next to the surplus-value they contribute to the total mass by their own wage labor. They increase surplus value and are exploited, they find themselves in the same situation as their comrades. And as a rule, they regard this money not as capital but as a saving fund by which they will meet their needs in the case of unemployment or accidents.
But as soon as the wealth exceeds a certain level, it enables the owner to live from exploitation instead of his own work, modestly if he is a small rentier or entrepreneur, lavishly if he is one of the rich. As much as there are class differences among these people, as much as they perform different active or passive functions in the exploitation process, as much as they still struggle with each other for their share of the spoils – the reason why their property is not always secure – they do have a common interest because they are all participants in the exploitation. In the great social opposition between exploiters and exploited, the size of the fortunes within the community of exploiters is not important. Equally, it follows from this discussion that we do not claim that society consists only of these two large groups. There is a layer between them, of which it is impossible to say whether it is closer to one or the other group, such as a peasant who exploits workers and are themselves exploited by the landlord, or a civil servant who receives a mediocre salary. How they will stand in the great political struggle can only be determined from a particular examination of their class situation. But for the greater masses of people and classes, in the vast political struggle their various specific social functions will stand behind the basic question of whether they belong to the propertied or the propertyless, that is, to the exploited or the exploited.
Jared Ijams critiques Judith Butler’s recent espousal of a politics of non-violence, linking it to her support of neoliberal Kamala Harris in the recent Democratic Party primary.
In December of 2019, it was revealed on Twitter by @thefouchoe that Judith Butler, the enormously influential and well-respected scion of critical theory and social justice, was among those providing financial support for the presidential campaign of Kamala Harris, the former Attorney General of California who oversaw a brutal campaign of mass disenfranchisement and incarceration throughout the state. Does this surprise us? It shouldn’t. Butler has long been telling us who she is, we simply have not been listening. Because of her stalwart support for Palestinian rights and her principled critique of the Israeli state, her undeniably revolutionary and valuable contributions to gender theory, and her radical contributions to the fields of racial aesthetics and philosophy of race, we believed the hype: for us, Butler was a radical and an advocate for revolutionary change.
However, she puts the lie to these characterizations in much of her political work, most notably in her article “Protest, Violent and Nonviolent.” In this article, Butler unambiguously condemns the anti-fascist action taken against Yiannopolous’ speaking engagement at UC Berekely’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union. Yiannopolous is the former editor of the crypto-fascist publication Breitbart, as well as a self-described transphobe. He is undeniably a crypto-fascist himself, advocating white supremacy and sexism with only the thinnest veil of plausible deniability. In this article is Butler’s “measured, reasonable” denunciation of the left-wing, anti-fascist violence directed at this event. Her claims and arguments here put the lie to the characterization of her as a revolutionary, often evident in those places where her writing moves outside the theoretical-prognostic realm and into the field of social prescription.
Butler’s article is motivated by the question, “Is political violence justifiable?” Her answer takes the form of an anecdote: she discusses
the question that was posed in my Saturday morning synagogue classes: if the Nazis were on the rise or in power, would you, or would you not, become part of a resistance movement that included tactics of violence against their institutions, infrastructures, and representatives?…[W]e all agreed to let our…principled views against [violence] cede to the exception: we would fight.
She goes on to say,
Fascism…seems to be the justifiable limit to nonviolence. And yet, the fascism we have in mind is Hitler’s or Mussolini’s. Those historical forms are not exactly the same as the present regime. Even if we can identify fascist strains in this government, does it count as fascism?
For Butler, political violence as a tactic is justifiable only against 20th-century fascism, which finds itself safely in the past—at least, the fascism she has in mind is in the past, safely relegated to the “historical forms” of “Hitler’s or Mussolini’s” fascism. Butler goes on to claim that the social and ideological circumstances Hitler and Mussolini came to symbolize in their time are fundamentally disconnected from our contemporary predicaments—yet what of the fascisms which have not been baptized by Hollywood productions and History Channel specials? The Integralistas, the Caudillos, the Hindutvas? Duterte and Bolsonaro? Does the subcontracted slaughter of Amazonian peoples for cattle-industry lebensraum seem to Butler too mild a perversion of good liberal democracy to justify a comparison to the Nazis? Does the Integralismo of Bolsonaro, a political movement literally bolstered by the presence of Nazi refugees following World War 2, not represent an explicit continuity from “Hitler’s or Mussolini’s” fascism? Sure, comes the counterargument, but Butler is speaking specifically to the question of American fascism– and no matter the U.S.’s complicity in these fascistic forms, notably the recent collaboration with Bolsonaro’s administration, surely America does not find itself in this fascistic state! In response to this we need only point to the U.S.’ militarization of the police force, the hundreds of thousands of predominantly poor black people in prison for nonviolent offenses, and the U.S.’ slaughter of civilians the world over. Are we to say that the napalmed Vietnamese civilians and the Iraqi citizens blown up by Predator missiles are grateful for what remains of the democratic process in America? Is there nothing of Triumph of the Will in American Sniper or Zero Dark Thirty? Butler’s answer is no. The current order is, for her, not as bad, and therefore not bad enough to warrant violent response. This is the liberal ideologue’s reactionary line: yes, of course there are those situations in which violence is necessary—however, those situations are not (and, in fact, never are) currently present. Political violence under dead regimes, safely mythologized, is retrospectively justified, never as complex or messy as political violence in the present, which history has not yet abstracted into its mythic story.
Butler targets the crudest arguments of her interlocutors: that what we have is “proto”-fascism, an argument which fails to apprehend the fascism of the present and to recognize that the present is characterized by fascism’s move to reformat itself in order to disguise itself. Moreover, this approach renders an optimistic and flawed prognosis: we are not quite at fascism proper (for it is not the same as Nazism), and therefore we might arrest the arrival of fascism itself. Butler is well aware of this weakness and repeatedly targets it. She writes,
[A]nti-fascists…argue that there is a continuity between fascism then and now, and that we ought not…fail…to recognize its emergence. [T]hey argue a resistance movement must…include violent tactics, as it did in the righteous struggle against fascists in World War II. [This] presumes the continuity or analogy between the two…But has that been clearly established?
So Butler disarms the counterargument by defeating the crudest of its representatives. This is in bad faith: the question which many of us on the left ask is not, “Is 2000s America identical to apartheid America or Fascist Germany?” Rather, the questions we ask are, “Is the current regime of power one of racial cleansing, gendered violence, carceral retribution, radical exploitation, and unchecked state-sanctioned violence?” and, “Will those in power cede that power peacefully?” If we answer these questions in the affirmative and the negative, respectively, as we ought to, then violence has a place in our tactics. More than this—there is ample cause to argue for a continuity between modern America and fascist Germany! American practices of eugenics, race science, the sterilization of unwanted populations, the confinement of disabled people to camps, were all cited directly by Adolf Hitler as inspirational to his ideology. The practices of Manifest Destiny and the extermination of natives were also cited by Hitler as a precedent for the practices of Lebensraum (“The Volga will be our Mississippi”) and the Shoah itself. America was in so many ways a precedent for Nazi Germany that it would be comical if it were not so disturbing that Butler even asks whether this “continuity” has been “clearly established.” Butler condescends to her interlocutors even as she presents a revisionist history, turning violent, armed response into an overreaction. The world we want, in which the fascistic practices of the American regime have been defeated, will not be won through piecemeal legal reform or ameliorative compromise: rather, the world to be won lies down the path of mixed tactics, violence among these. Any abstraction from this truth is reactionary and ought to be treated as such.
Butler, perhaps predicting something like the above argument for “tactical” violence, writes,
“For those who claim that violence is only a provisional tactic…one challenge…is this: do we not already know that tools can use their users? [V]iolence is already operating in the world before anyone takes it up; the tool presupposes a world, and builds (and unbuilds) a specific kind of world. When we commit acts of violence, we are, in and through the act, building a more violent world …[T]hrough making use of violence as a means, one makes the world into a more violent place, one brings more violence into the world.”
This rhetoric assumes that the violence inherent in our relations can be undone without resorting to violence ourselves, and moreover assumes that the use of political violence, rather than responding to the implicit violence of the state, in fact introduces new violence into the world. A good example of the failure of this view is provided in another statement from this article:
“It is of course ironic…that the members of the Black Bloc…decided to turn the police barricades into instruments of violence and destroyed part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union…Did they think in advance about how painful it would be for many people to witness an attack on the building on campus that symbolizes and honors the struggle for civil rights?”
This approach is once again almost comic in its depiction of protestors “turning” police barricades into instruments of violence: what this misses is that the construction of police barricades in order to protect fascist speech and the promulgation and normalization of fascist ideology itself protects the violence of fascism, and is thereby complicit in fascist violence itself.
Butler then asks whether protestors considered the impact of the destruction of the MLK, Jr. Student Union. As if her retreat behind the cynical liberal appropriation of Martin Luther King, Jr. were not enough, she conveniently leaves out the key detail: Yiannopolous’ talk was to be held at that same Student Union. Instead, she vaguely correlates the damaging of the Student Union to a wanton and naïve destruction of property for its own sake. What Butler does not ask is whether the sight of a clear fascist delivering racist and sexist remarks in the building commemorated to the Reverend King might itself be a function of the varied institutional repression on college campuses, might itself do violence to students of color, female students, and trans students. Again, Butler’s view of violence excludes the implicit violence of, and the solicitation of violence by the university, Yiannopolous, and the police. She goes further: “[O]ne can question whether [the Black Bloc] was right to force the cancellation of…Yiannopolous’s campus speaking event by producing this scene of violence” (italics my own). Once again Butler views violence as created by counter-violence, rather than as already present in the situation to which the Bloc responded. What she further neglects to mention is that this violence succeeded in preventing the violence of the normalization of fascist ideology: the speaking event was cancelled, and the normalization of fascistic speech was successfully prevented here.
Butler is quick to identify violence latent in state institutions and the body-politic throughout her work, noting in a recent interview given to the New Yorker that our institutions have “a monopoly on violence,” and furthermore that we, in our racist mode of psychic investiture in the visual field, “understand potential violence to be something that black people carry…as part of their blackness.” But she is equally quick to claim that anti-racist and anti-capitalist violence is not a constructive response: “Some of my friends on the left believe that violent tactics are the way to produce the world they want…But they’ve just issued more violence into the world,” despite the long history and tradition of anti-racist self-defense in the United States, demonstrated in the principled self-armament of the Black Panthers, the wars of indigenous resistance to American westward imperialism, and a long history of slave rebellions, to give only a few examples.
Butler urges us to not fall victim to a misanthropic, reactionary “realism” which holds that a better world is not possible, saying, “To stay within [this] framework is…to accept a closing down of horizons…Sometimes you have to imagine in a radical way…in order to open up a possibility…closed down with…realism.” Yet at the same time, she moves to condemn those who aim to use violence in order to bring that radical vision into being, a violence necessary to the seizure of power from the oppressors. What else can be done when the horizon is obscured by police barricades? Non-violent protest failed to stop the Vietnam and Iraq wars, failed to eradicate structural racial injustice, and fails now to bring about the change it so strives for (look no further than the current commodification of protest as demonstrated by the Women’s March of 2017). Only a trans-racial, trans-national, trans-gendered movement to establish an uncompromisingly egalitarian society by any means necessary, and to employ force against those who oppose this movement, might claim victory in the war for the future.
Butler writes that “our interdependency serves as the basis of our ethical obligation to one another. When we strike at one another, we strike at that very bond.” She is right to say that (a certain form of) violence undoes us, and that the world we aim to build must rely on bonds of interdependency and community: however, when the present is so violent to our communal vitality, when de facto violence strikes out at us, is it not right to strike back, to seize the means of our own protection and work to undo the very structures of violence which destroy our ability to live well, and live graciously? And furthermore, what is to be done when the very bonds that bind us together are the bonds between oppressor and oppressed? Butler is right here to the extent that Frantz Fanon is right when he says in “The Wretched of the Earth” that when we attack our oppressor we attack ourselves; however, Fanon does not take this to mean that political force ought to be forsworn. Rather, what Fanon means is that through this act of violence, we degrade our bond to the oppressor, and by so doing, the boundary between us and the oppressor becomes increasingly blurred in the sense that this process of liberation entails also a demystification of the motif of the pure enemy or the act of transcendent liberation in itself; nevertheless, Fanon’s point is decidedly not that one should not fight back, but that violence itself should not be mistakenly given the quality of a cleansing fire, nor should it be heedlessly romanticized. But neither of these is a reason to not fight back. Fighting back hurts, sometimes as much as not fighting back, but this does not mean that one should not do so, should not arm oneself and engage in a principled fight for liberation. Again, political counter-violence is not a means of bringing bloody justice to those who have wronged, but is rather a tactic which becomes necessary when violence is deployed against our attempts to bring a radically egalitarian world into being.
We the disappointed left, assumed, and with some justice, that the fact that Butler locates virulent racism and heterosexism in the very fabric of sense perception and evaluation—indeed, in the very fundament of epistemic apperception—would entail that her prescription would be deeply radical political change involving a forceful seizure of institutional power. However, as is so often the case with nominally radical postmodern thinkers, Butler instead concludes that, since these pre-conscious judgments are so embedded in our perception and symbolic order, no action upon the material, political regime alone might undo these symbolic determinations. These post-structuralist proponents of flux and chaos love to theorize the failure of regulatory structure and advocate for symbolic mayhem, while real structures of power get on with their work of domination and exploitation. Her abstract calls for ‘erotic havoc’ in Gender Trouble, her condemnations of extra-legal leftist violence, and her endorsement of non-violent, amelioratory protest, display the disappointing limits of her political project. It seems that for her, a black, female president who continues (and through the weaponization of her identity, further legitimizes) the punitive carceral practices of our racist regime is more valuable for the politics of emancipation than is the presidency of an old, white man who might make some headway in the improvement of the material and carceral oppressions of class antagonism (and whose grassroots support has the potential to be mobilized in strategic action beyond the electoral). For Butler this is the case because another white, male president would not with his being and body wage de facto symbolic war in the way of re-directing our psychic investiture by counteracting our assumptions about what type of person can and ought to hold executive power in parliamentary politics.
Yet even so, such electoral support for Harris seems to fly in the face of so much of Butler’s own work. Harris once laughed off the suggestion that we ought to invest more in educational institutions and less on incarceration and law enforcement: “When protesters say, ‘Put money into education not prisons,’ there’s a fundamental problem with that approach…There should be broad consensus that there should be serious, and severe, and swift consequence to crime.” Under Harris’ tenure as attorney general of California, nearly 2,000 people were sentenced to prison for marijuana-related convictions. Harris also sponsored a 2010 law to make it a misdemeanor for parents whose children missed school. Considering Butler’s staunch opposition to the carceral state and the unchecked state-sanctioned violence of our political policies and of the police force, it should seem abundantly clear that Harris does not represent, and cannot bring into being, the change which Butler wishes to see, and which we so desperately need.
In Bodies That Matter, Butler reveals our problematic conceptions of embodiment as restricted and restrictive, as prohibiting certain morphologies and sexualities, and which constitute our ideas of what embodiment looks like in terms of restrictive prohibitions, all of which does physical and psychical violence to those excluded by this production of normativity. She writes: “If prohibitions in some sense constitute projected morphologies, then reworking the terms of those prohibitions suggests the possibility of variable projections [and] modes of delineating and theatricalizing body surfaces” (34). Here again we find the limits of Butler’s prescription: reimagine given categorization and performatively reconstitute morphological assignations, she urges. All very well and good, undoubtedly valuable strategies—yet this experimentation and reformaticization can only go so far within a political regime which functionally prohibits and punishes such diversion: how can the gender non-conforming 20-something reformat morphological investiture if they are forced to live with their transphobic parents because of a lack of affordable housing and a decent wage? How might a morphologically non-conforming worker experimentally perform a variation of theatricality if the workplace is not democratized, in which a managerial class is given free rein to fire or indeed refuse to hire someone based upon their gender presentation or sexuality? The world of workplace and worker autonomy, democratic control of the means of production, and the dismantling of the punitive carceral state, in which we might be able to achieve this radical sexual, gendered, and racial equality, can only be won by bringing the war to the doorsteps of power and the powerful, and political violence has clear tactical relevance here.
We see the failures of this political project which begins and terminates with symbolic warfare in a thousand places in the Post-Fordist, “progressive” arena—Lockheed Martin flies rainbow and pink and blue pride flags once a year while selling cybernetic apparatus to the U.S. military; Atlanta paints its downtown crosswalks rainbow even while it sanctions excessive, racist police violence; we cry out for trans people’s rights to join the genocidal and repressive armed forces, and celebrate when this concession is won; we call for gender and racial diversity in the ranks of the police force: “More women cops, more black cops, more trans cops!” we clamor. Representation is enough, we insist—and Capital is only too happy to make concessions here. But any liberatory, emancipatory politics must focus on a universal, material liberation even while it agitates and threatens the dominant, implicitly violent symbolic order. Of course, we should not compromise in our solidarity across racial, gendered, or sexual lines, but so too should we not compromise in our demands for workplace autonomy, housing, healthcare, food, clean water, and democratic control of the means of production—and for us, hopefully, these goals are to be realized together, as part of a singular movement for radical equality.
We do not here accuse Butler of some crude idealism or discursivism, for one need only turn to any of her work to find a far greater depth and wisdom than her accusers allow (see the introduction to Bodies That Matter, and pages 37-38, in which she decidedly rejects the characterization of her theory of performativity as a “voluntarism” of gender identity). Additionally, we do not here align ourselves with the larger body of her detractors who do not take seriously her relevant and crucial criticism, but rather dismiss her body of work and, indeed, all of post-structuralist philosophy as irreducibly liberal or even counterrevolutionary. Butler is no classical liberal who takes for granted the inviolability of representative democracy or the liberal democratic subject, and her work certainly does not constitute some vague post-gulag posturing or bleeding-heart idealism. However, Butler’s prescription of performative disruption, of abstract ‘reinvestiture’ of conceptual assignation, and an unclear wreaking of ‘erotic havoc’ do not quite constitute a political materialism either.
The value of Butler’s work is not inconsiderable, and her work is undoubtedly imminently useful—her practice of delving deeply into the fundament of our conceptions of ourselves and of our modes of valuation and perception, into the ways in which our epistemological processes and speech acts do violence to others, and into the processes by which we read violence and wickedness into the being of marginalized populations, are indispensable to any project of critical deliberation about ourselves, our relationships, and the terms of our struggle for liberation. However, we must also be committed to our radicalism, and (as Butler herself urges us) we must not allow the false realism of hopeless, liberal pragmatism stand in the way of our demands for, and seizure of, a better world. We must be stalwart against the tendency toward the abstraction of what it means to struggle (look no further than the neutering of the concept of “decolonization” by Butler and her colleagues), and we must be tireless in our application of these critical methods to a liberatory politics that is not afraid of itself.
Ultimately, Butler asks us to wage war on appearances, on aesthetic normativity—certainly, she is concerned too with a material battle of physio-psychical reformatting and social reform, but rarely in her work do we find a prescription for a mode of political organization/mobilization which might bring the violence inherent in our social order to the doorsteps of the powerful. This we have, many of us, merely assumed was a part of her political project, and to be sure there is much of her thought which is compatible with an emancipatory economic politics—but so too is there little of her program for which class revolt and economic emancipation is necessary, or for which a reformist liberalism is excluded or foreclosed. Butler has provided a rich body of thoughtful and undeniably valuable critical work which demands serious engagement, but the result of this is that she can pass as sympathetic to political radicalism and counter-violence in those places where she can restrict this sympathy with a host of qualifications. But, ultimately, she does not, and cannot, endorse a political program in which the war for the world we want is uncompromisingly waged.
So, if we are honest with ourselves, and if we look to Butler’s more direct prescriptive thought, her political reformism and acquiescence to liberalism must come as no surprise.
Butler, Judith (2017). Protest, Violent and Nonviolent. PublicBooks.org.
Butler, Judith (2020). Judith Butler Wants Us to Reshape Our Rage. NewYorker.com
Butler, Judith (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge.
Butler, Judith (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” Routledge.
Fanon, Frantz (1963). The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press.
What is Socialism? Is it the abolition of the state, the abolition of Value as an economic form, the abolition of private property, production for need rather than profit, or a rationally planned economy? All of these are cited, and rightly so, as essential features of communism. But while each of these deals with social relations, none but planning deals with the relations of production of the new order. Value is realized in exchange, property exists in the relations of consumption and prior to production, the state governs and secures the relations of production, and production for use governs the relations of consumption, not production. Even economic planning, which describes the overarching laws that govern the system of production, does not really describe the relations within production. The key feature of socialism or the Co-Operative Commonwealth, missing above is the abolition of the division of labor.
From the earliest socialists like Fourier through Marx and Engels, the division of labor was a central concern of the workers’ movement. Fourier describes an elaborate model society called a Phalanx where everyone rotates their job, although given tasks suited to their individual talents and interests. While he rejected the utopian impulse to craft a model society, Marx talks about the alienation in the separation of manual and mental labor which unevenly develops people. In “The German Ideology” Marx half-ironically describes a world where alienation has been abolished and even “critical critics” are free to do any job they wish throughout the day. Continuing this tradition, in his Short Course on Economic Science, Alexander Bogdanov gives a rough sketch of what the transformation of the social relations of capitalism into socialism would look like through the gradual abolition of the division of labor. A biologist, philosopher, field medic, proto-cybernetician, cultural worker, science fiction author, revolutionary communist, and economist, few figures in the history of Marxism are as criminally under-examined as Alexander Bogdanov. Introducing his life and the breadth of his work is a task for another essay. What concerns us here is the final chapter of the Short Course entitled “Socially Organised Society: Socialism”. This chapter represents something relatively unique for the time: non-utopian futurism.
Bogdanov begins by laying out the great principle of social science: that the study of the existing tendencies and factors in society can allow us to predict in the broad strokes how history will move forward. By using a rigorous historical materialist lens, Bogdanov was able to make stunningly accurate predictions. For example, he correctly predicted the transition from steam power to mass electrification, the development of wind power and nuclear power, the development of a worldwide wireless telecommunications system, and the mass automation of labor. The first edition of the text was published in the 1890s! Bogdanov argues that while there are historical examples of societies that exist unchanged in relative stagnation or regress to earlier and less complex forms of organization, the force of movement in bourgeois society are toward complexity as such that stagnation would require an external shock. Such a shock would need to be bigger than a catastrophic world war to slow the progress of social development. In Bogdanov’s day, such an external shock seemed almost inconceivable. There was nothing that could stand in the way of Capital reshaping the world ever more in its own image. Sadly, today the metabolic rift between the autonomous technosphere of capitalist production and the biosphere has grown to staggering proportion. It’s now possible to predict a scenario where world capitalism regresses, decays or collapses into much less complex or productive forms of social organization. Nevertheless, the trends and factors Bogdanov observed in the early 20th century still exist, if only heightened and more advanced. His outline of the new socialist world implicit in the old capitalist world remains as relevant as ever.
Bogdanov examines five key aspects of the future socialist order that can be drawn out from trends in bourgeois society: Relation of Society to Nature, The Social Relations of Production, Distribution, Social Ideology, and the Forces of Development. Although the text is short and accessible, it’s worthwhile to summarize them in order to tease out what it means for today.
In his section on the Relation of Society to Nature, Bogdanov does not discuss ecology, something he spends considerable time on in other works, but rather focuses on the first principle of socialism: “the actual power of society over nature, developing without limit on the basis of scientifically-organised technique.” Because industrial society is based on machinery and socialism will inherit that productive basis, Bogdanov looks to the tendencies within the development of machines to see how society will change. He breaks down his predictions into three parts: 1) the source of motive power 2) the transmitting mechanism of power 3) the techniques of communication. Bogdanov argued that power would move from steam toward electricity because it was more plastic in use. He claimed that this would allow us to develop the potential of waterfalls, tides, wind and even the atom into energy. The transmitting mechanism of energy, that is machinery itself, would move toward automation and machines which self-regulate. But Bogdanov does not see this tendency developing within capitalist firms, because the outlay of investment is too dear, but rather in the militaries of capitalist countries who are not constrained by seeking short-term profits. In socialism, where society is focused on the long term wellbeing of people, first priority would be given to moving toward mechanical self-regulation, with ever-expanding machine energy utterly dwarfing any human labor inputs. Finally, Bogdanov predicted that wireless telephony would enable people to communicate instantly across any distance while improvements in transportation would make distance and geography no longer barriers to interchange at all. All of this points toward socialism as a system where humanity as a whole, rather than a small minority, will be increasingly emancipated from nature.
In exploring the social relations of production, Bogdanov says that the second defining characteristic of socialism is “the homogeneous organization of the whole productive system, with the greatest mobility of its elements and groupings, and a highly developed mental equality of the workers as universally developed conscious producers.” In practice, this means an end to the social division of labor and the development of worldwide central planning. Bogdanov sees the nucleus of the end of the division of labor in capitalism’s tendency toward the de-skilling of workers. Increasingly, “the technical division of labor loses its “specialized” character, which narrows and limits the psychology of the workers, and reduces itself to “simple co-operation,” in which the workers carry out similar work, and in which the “specialization” is transferred from the worker to the machine.” This breaks down the division between people with different trades and makes the political community of interests among workers expand as their vital conditions become more and more the same in all fundamental ways. Furthermore, with the development of increasingly autonomous machines, the division between “executors” (the people carrying out labor) and “organizers” (the people directing it) will become superfluous as the day to day controlling of machines will take a more comprehensive education. Organizers and managers of labor will only be distinguished by having greater experience than executors and could be replaced by their fellow workers at will. Further, because the technical basis of production is constantly improved and will require more flexibility, workers will change their work regularly and no longer be bound to particular trades. Because socialism will abolish the chaos and anarchy of capitalist production it will necessarily create a central plan, centered around a great statistical bureau rather than an authoritarian security state, that coordinates labor on the basis of comradely discipline. In effect, for the first time in history socialism will solve the contradiction between the liberty of individuals to universally develop themselves and their equality as active members of the body politic.
Turning from how the relations of production are to be organized to the relations of consumption, Bogdanov outlines the classical Marxist conception of a two-stage process. In Socialism, society as a whole will own all means of production and will initially own and distribute the proceeds of social labor, but individual ownership of the articles of consumption will also exist and represent the right of workers to reproduce themselves. Initially, during the transitional period before collectivism has penetrated the spirit of the great majority, remuneration based on work will be used to compel people to contribute to society. But, as culture changes and the process of production is humanized, access to the proceeds of labor will be free for all. To facilitate this Bogdanov sees in modern banks, stock exchange organizations, mutual aid societies, and insurance agencies as providing partial prototypes of the type of apparatus that will be developed in socialism.
Beyond the relations of production, social relations will be fundamentally different in the world to come. In socialism, says Bogdanov, the first feature of the new psychology will be socialness and collectivism. Although we ourselves are socialized under conditions of competition and alienation, in a society based on comradely production will produce greater solidarity than we can imagine. The second feature is that fetishism will disappear from society. Whether fetishism of commodities and money, fetishism of nature, or superstition, all will become superfluous because, “The unknown will cease to be unknown because the process of acquiring knowledge – systematic organization on the basis of organized labor – will be accompanied by a consciousness of strength, a sense of victory, arising from the knowledge that in the living experience of man there are no longer any spheres surrounded by impenetrable walls of mystery.” By abolishing both the antagonistic relations between people and fetishism all social compulsion would come to end. Bogdanov argues that the Law and State emerge as a means to contain the anarchy and contradictions of class society through external force which takes on a fetishistic character. Fetishists root the power of the state in either divine authority or in “the nature of things,” but with the triumph of a universal science, Tektology, people won’t need to turn to such metaphysics to justify social relations. Instead of relying on fixed and abstract laws enacted through violence by “authorities” the people will collectively, democratically, and informed by science, deal with social contradictions directly. In extreme cases of violence or other anti-social behavior, “laws” and a carceral state would do far less good than having a highly organized community using its efforts to avoid harm to any party and science to cure the perpetrator. Even in the case of organizing production Bogdanov says, “The distribution of labor in society will be guaranteed on the one hand by the teachings of science and those who express them – the technical organizers of labor acting solely in the name of science, but having no power – and on the other by the power of the social sense which will bind men and women into one labor family by the sincere desire to do everything for the welfare of all.” It’s only in the early stages of a socialist society that a state in the true sense will exist because a state is nothing but an instrument of class domination. In the early stages of socialism, the state is the domination of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat, but in its later stages, there can be no state.
Under exchange society, social life is defined by inward contradictions like class struggle, market competition, and so on, while non-exchange societies are defined by an outward contradiction with nature. In feudalism and past non-class societies the primary economic contradiction existed between the needs of the population and what its environment could provide. As a self-sufficing economy, socialism is distinguished from its predecessors by not only its developed technical basis but also the far greater scale, embracing the whole of society and possibly humanity. Where in previous self-sufficient economies economic growth and technical development was determined directly by the growth in population, in socialism humanity will struggle to expand its knowledge and mastery of nature in order to fulfill its creative impulse. Socialism will not represent a regression to a steady-state economy but instead accelerate the accumulation of energy by humanity while maintaining the sensitive balance of our interchange with nature. Unlike in class society where the mass accumulation of energy has only led to the refinement of debauched classes of parasites and perverts, in socialism accumulated energy will be turned toward creative labor and self-perfection. Bogdanov further claims that the diversity of humanity, united, free and equal in socialism, will unlock a heretofore unseen capacity for progress that will dwarf the spurts of innovation seen in exchange-society. With profit removed as the motor force of economic organization, productivity will be the determining factor to save as much labor and as many resources as possible. The natural bureaucratic conservatism of capitalist firms against innovation on the ground level will be overcome and the whole of humanity will participate in expanding the sphere of development. In sum, “the general characteristics of the socialist system, the highest stage of society we can conceive, are: power over nature, organization, socialness, freedom, and progress.”
Looking around at the development of modern capitalist society, Bogdanov’s predictions have become so true as to almost seem banal. What skilled laborer doesn’t live in fear of being replaced by a self-regulating machine and so feel some pressure to learn new skills and gain new certifications in order to remain competitive? Who can imagine a world without wireless phones? Aren’t logistics companies already prefiguring the technical apparatus of socialist planning? If one is to believe texts like The People’s Republic of Walmart, all we have to do is put existing technical infrastructure under public control. Yet without transformation by subordination to the Co-Operative Commonwealth, this technical apparatus can only serve to increase the domination of workers by capitalism and continue to shift the externalities of production onto colonized people. Beyond the mere conquest of state power, socialism represents a dual revolution in both economics and culture. Having a clear vision of what that entails will allow us to prepare the revolutionary movement to exercise real power and take the necessary steps to get there. Bogdanov shows us how Socialism emerges in comradely relations in production and consumptive relations are secondary to it. He eschews fantasies of every worker having a mansion or luxury boat, while also rejecting the reactionary cowardice of those who would reign in humanity’s productive potential. Waste will be minimized in socialism, but our capacity for freedom, inextricably linked to our capacity to harness the energy, will not cease to grow.
The aim of Socialism is the free association of producers in the commonwealth of toil. By rooting our understanding of it in an emancipated yet disciplined comradely cooperation of the whole of society to master nature we can dispense with utilitarian-reformist illusions, revenge fantasies, and other distractions. As the International Workingmen’s Association declared, there are “no rights without duties and no duties without rights.” Each person in the Co-Operative Commonwealth will be expected to apply their brain and muscle toward their shared collective good while receiving in return the means for their individual development. Even in a world of material abundance, social labor will increase its command over nature. One might balk at the idea of a “struggle with” or “mastery over” nature, but nature is nothing less than mankind’s external body and expanding our technical control over it as a species is no different than developing habits and techniques of self-discipline for the individual. In the face of climate disaster, there is no way for our species but forward toward assuming a mantle of responsibility for the health and direction of the biosphere. Humans have always been a geological force and it is time that we recognize it. This means reigning in the wasteful, blind, and inhuman economic order which must invent needs from thin air to bind our species under the wheel of dukkha. It means establishing conscious self-control over our world, what the Soviet geologist Vladimir Vernadsky proposed as the Noosphere: consciousness, rather than technology, as a geologic force. The ethics of the “luxury communist,” rooted in a crude middle-class communism of consumption, and “degrowth,” rooted in a middle-class skepticism of humanity are both inimical to working-class socialism. By seizing hold of production for itself, and aided by the universal sciences of Tektology and cybernetics, the working class will remake the world in its own image through the commonwealth of toil.
Socially Organized Society: Socialist Society
Transcribed from Chapter X of A Short Course of Economic Science, 10th edition, 1919. English translation J. Fineberg, 1923 by Adam Buick.
The epoch of capitalism has not yet been completed, but the instability of its relations has become quite obvious. The fundamental contradictions of this system which are deeply undermining it, and the forces of development which are creating the basis of a new system, have also become quite clear. The main features of the direction in which social forces are moving have been marked out. It is, therefore, possible to draw conclusions as to what form the new system will take and in what way it will differ from the present system.
It may seem that science has no right to speak of what has not yet arrived and of what experience has not provided us with any exact example. But that is erroneous. Science exists precisely for the purpose of foretelling things. Of what has not yet been experienced it cannot, of course, make an exact forecast, but if we know generally what exists and in what direction it is changing then science must draw the conclusions as to what it will change into. Science must draw these conclusions in order that men may adapt their actions to circumstances, so that instead of wasting their efforts by working against the future and retarding the development of new forms, they may consciously work to hasten and assist such development.
The conclusions of social science with regard to future society cannot be exact because the great complexity of social phenomena does not permit, in our times, of their being completely observed in all details, but only in their main features, and for that reason the picture of the new system also can only be drawn in its main outlines; but these are the most important considerations for the people of the present day.
The history of the ancient world shows that human society may sometimes regress, decline, and even decay; the history of primitive man and also that of several isolated Eastern societies shows the possibility of a long period of stagnation. For this reason, from a strictly scientific point of view, the transition to new forms must be accepted conditionally. New and higher forms will appear only in the event of a society progressing further in its development as it has progressed up till now. There must be sufficient cause, however, for regression or stagnation, and these cannot be indicated in the life of modern society. With the mass of contradictions inherent in it and the impetuous process of life which they create, there cannot be stagnation. These inherent contradictions could cause retrogression only in the event of the absence of sufficient forms and elements of development. But such elements exist, and these very contradictions develop and multiply them. The productive power of man is increasing and even such a social catastrophe as a world war only temporarily weakens it. Furthermore, an enormous class in society growing and organizing is striving to bring about these new forms. For this reason, there are no serious grounds for expecting a movement backwards. There are immeasurably more grounds for believing that society will continue along its path and create a new system that will destroy and abolish the contradictions of capitalism.
1. Relation of Society to Nature
The development of machine technique in the period of capitalism acquired such a character of consecutiveness and activity that it is quite possible to determine its tendencies and consequently the further result of its development.
With regard to the first part of the machine – the source of motive power – we have already indicated the tendency, viz., the transition from steam to electricity, the most flexible, the most plastic, of all the powers of nature. It can easily be produced from all the others and be converted into all the others; it can be divided into exact parts and transmitted across enormous distances. The inevitable exhaustion of the main sources of steam power, coal, and oil, leads to the necessity for the transition to electricity, and this will create the possibility of making use of all waterfalls, all flowing water (even the tides of the oceans ), and the intermittent energy of the wind which can be collected with the aid of accumulators. A new and immeasurably rich source of electrical energy, infinitely superior to all other sources of electrical energy, has also been indicated, atomic energy, which is contained in all matter. Its existence has been scientifically proved, and its use even begun, although in a very small scale where it automatically releases itself (e.g. radium and other similar disintegrating elements). Methods for systematically releasing this energy have not yet been discovered; the new higher scientific technique will probably discover these methods and united humanity possess inexhaustible stocks of elemental power.
With regard to the transmitting mechanism, we also observe a tendency towards the automatic type of machine. Following this, we observe an even higher type – not only an automatically acting, but an automatically regulating machine. Its beginnings lie on the one hand in the increasing application of mechanical regulators to present-day machines, and on the other in the few mechanisms of this type already created by military technique (e.g., self-propelling submarines and air torpedoes). Under capitalism these will hardly find application for peaceful production: they are disadvantageous from the point of view of profits as they are very complicated and unavoidably dear; the amount of labor which they save in comparison with machines of the former type is not great, because automatic machinery also dispenses with a considerable amount of human labor. Furthermore, the workers required to work them must possess the highest intelligence; hence their pay also would have to be high, and their resistance to capital would be considerably greater. In war, there is no question of profits, and for that reason, these obstacles to their application do not arise. Under socialism the question of profits will disappear in production also; first consideration will be given to the technical advantages of self-regulating mechanism – which will render possible the achievement of a rapidity and exactness of work incomparably greater than that achieved by human organs, which work more slowly and with less precision, and moreover are subject to fatigue and error.
Furthermore, the number of machines and the sum total of mechanical energy will increase to such a colossal degree that the physical energy of men will become infinitesimally small in comparison. The powers of nature will carry out the executive work of man – they will be his obedient dumb slaves, whose strength will increase to infinity.
The technique of communication between men is of special significance. The rapid progress in this connection observed at the end of the capitalist epoch has been obviously directed to the abolition of all obstacles which nature and space place in the way of the organisation and compactness of humanity. The perfection of wireless telegraphy and telephony will create the possibility for people to communicate with each other under any condition, over any distance, and across all natural barriers. The increase in the speed of all forms of transportation brings men and the products of their labor more closely together than was ever dreamed of in the past century. And the creation of dirigible aircraft will make human communication completely independent of geographical conditions – the structure and configuration of the earth’s surface.
The first characteristic feature of the collective system is the actual power of society over nature, developing without limit on the basis of scientifically-organized technique.
2. The Social Relations of Production
As we saw, machine technique in the period of capitalism changes the form of co-operation in two ways. In the first place, the technical division of labor loses its “specialised” character, which narrows and limits the psychology of the workers, and reduces itself to “simple co-operation,” in which the workers carry out similar work, and in which the “specialization” is transferred from the worker to the machine. Secondly, the framework of this co-operation is extended to enormous proportions; there arise enterprises that embrace tens of thousands of workers in a single organization.
We must suppose that both these tendencies will proceed considerably further under the new system than under machine capitalism. The differences in the specialization of various industries will be reduced to such insignificant proportions that the psychological disunity created by the diversity of employments will finally disappear; the bonds of mutual understanding and the community of interest will unrestrainedly expand on the basis of the community of vital interests.
At the same time organized labor unity will grow accordingly, grouping hundreds of thousands and even millions of people around a common task.
The continuation of the development of the two previous tendencies will give rise to two new features of the post-capitalist system. On the one hand, the last and most stubborn form of specialization (the division between the organizational and executive functions), will be transformed and lose its significance. On the other hand, all labor groupings will become more and more mobile and fluid.
Although in the epoch of machine capitalism executive labor at the machines approaches in character to that of organizational labor, nevertheless a difference between them remains, and for that reason, the individualization of the functions of the executor and the organizer remains stable. The most experienced worker in machine production is very different from his manager, and cannot replace him. But the further increase in the complexity and precision of machinery and at the same time the increase in the general intelligence of the workers must eventually remove this difference. With the transition to the automatic regulators, the work of a simple worker approaches nearer and nearer to that of the engineer and acquires the character of watching the proper working of the various parts of the machine. If automatic regulators are attached to machines there is no need for the mechanic continually to watch his gauges and indicators to see whether the required amount of steam pressure or electrical current is maintained. All he then has to do is from time to time to see whether the regulators are in working order, to alter them as occasion requires, and to see to their speedy repair when necessary. At the same time the knowledge, understanding, ingenuity, and general mental development required of the worker increase. It is not only practical common sense that is required, but exact scientific knowledge of the mechanism, such as only the organizing intellectual possesses to-day. Consequently, the difference between the “executor” and the manager will be reduced to a purely quantitative difference in scientific training; the worker will then carry out the instructions of a better informed and more experienced comrade rather than blindly subordinate himself to a power-based upon knowledge inaccessible to him. The possibility will thus be created of replacing an organizer by any worker and vice versa. The labor inequality of these two types will disappear and they will merge into one.
With the abolition of the last survivals of mental “specialization” the necessity and the sense of binding certain persons to certain particular work will also disappear. On the other hand the new form of labor will require mental flexibility and diversity of experience, for the maintenance of which it will be necessary that the worker from time to time change his work, going from one kind of machine to another, from the function of “organizer” to that of “executor” and vice versa. And the progress of technique, more. rapid than in our day, with its continual improvements of machines and contrivances, must make the rapidly-changing grouping of human forces and individual labor systems, or “enterprises” as we call them today, to a high degree more mobile.
All this will become possible and realizable owing to the fact that production is consciously and systematically organized by society as a whole. On the basis of scientific experience and labor solidarity, there will be created a general all-embracing organization of labor. The anarchy which in the epoch of capitalism disunites individual enterprises by ruthless competition and whole classes by stern struggle will be abolished. Science indicates the path to such organization and devises means for carrying it out, and the combined force of the class-conscious workers will realize it.
The scale of the organization must from the very beginning be world-wide or nearly so, in order that it may not be dependent in its production and consumption upon exchange with other countries that do not enter it. The experience of the world war and the revolutions that followed it shows that such dependence will immediately be converted into a means of destroying the new system.
The type of organization cannot be other than centralized; not, however, in the sense of the old authoritarian centralism, but in the sense of scientific centralism. Its center should be a gigantic statistical bureau based on exact calculation for the purpose of distributing labor-power and instruments of labor.
The motive force of the organization at first, i.e., as long as the whole of society has not yet been trained in the spirit of collective labor, will be comradely discipline, including an element of compulsion, from which society will step by step emancipate itself.
In this system of production, each worker will be actually on an equality with the rest as conscious elements of one sensible whole; each one will be given all the possibilities for completely and universally developing his labor-power and the possibilities of applying it to the advantage of all.
Thus the characteristic features of the socialist society are the homogeneous organization of the whole productive system, with the greatest mobility of its elements and groupings, and a highly developed mental equality of the workers as universally developed conscious producers.
Distribution generally represents an essential part of production, and in its organization is wholly dependent upon it. The systematic organization of production presupposes a systematic organization of distribution. The supreme organizer in both these spheres will be society as a whole. Society will distribute labor and also the product of that labor. This is the very opposite of the anarchic unorganized distribution which is expressed in exchange and private property conducted on the basis of competition and the crude conflict of interests. The social organization of production and distribution presupposes also the social ownership of the means of production and the articles of consumption created by social labor until society hands them over to the individual for his personal use. “Individual property” commences in the sphere of consumption which essentially is individualistic. This, of course, has nothing in common with capitalist private property, which is primarily the private ownership of means of production; but does not represent the right of the worker to the necessary means of existence.
The principle of distribution arises directly out of the basis of co-operation. As the system of production is organised on the basis that it secures to every member of society the possibility of the complete and universal development of his labor-power and the possibility of applying it for the use of all, so the system of distribution should give him the articles of consumption necessary for the development and application of labor-power. With regard to the method by which this is to be achieved, two phases may also be foreseen. At first, when the scale of production is not particularly great, and collectivism has not yet penetrated the spirit of every member of society, so that the elements of compulsion must yet be preserved, distribution will serve as a means of discipline: each one will receive a quantity of products in proportion to the amount of labor he has given to society. Later on, when the increase of production and the development of labor co-operation renders such careful economy and compulsion unnecessary, complete freedom of consumption will be established for the worker. Giving society all that he is able in strength and ability, society will give him all that he needs.
The complexity of the new method of organizing distribution must obviously be enormous and demand such developed statistical and informative apparatus as our epoch is far from having achieved. But even in our time, the elements exist in various spheres of economic life which should serve as the material for such apparatus. In the sphere of banking and credit, for instance, there are the agencies and committees of experts for studying the state of the market, stock exchange organization; in the labor movement, there are mutual aid societies, co-operative societies; and organized by the State are schemes of insurance. All these will have to be radically reformed before they can serve for the future system of distribution because at present they are wholly adapted to the anarchical system of capitalism and therefore subordinated to its forms. They may be described as the scattered rudimentary prototypes of the future harmonious system of distribution.
4. Social Ideology
The first feature of the social psychology of the new society is its socialness, its spirit of collectivism, and this is determined by the fundamental structure of that society. The labor compactness of the great human family and the inherent similarity in the development of men and women should create a degree of mutual understanding and sympathy of which the present-day solidarity of the class-conscious elements of the proletariat, the real representatives of future society, is only a weak indication. A man trained in the epoch of savage competition, of ruthless economic enmity between groups and classes, cannot imagine the high development between men of comradely ties that will be organically created out of the new labor relations.
Out of the real power of society over external nature and social forces there follows another feature of the ideology of the new world, the complete absence of all fetishism, the purity and clearness of knowledge and the emancipation of the mind from all the fruits of mysticism and metaphysics. The last traces of natural fetishism will disappear, and this will reflect the final overthrow of both the domination of external nature over man and the social fetishism reflecting the domination of the elemental forces of society; the power of the market and competition will be uprooted and destroyed. Consciously and systematically organizing his struggle against the elements of nature, social man will have no need for idols which are the personification of a sense of helplessness in the face of the insuperable forces of the surrounding world. The unknown will cease to be unknown because the process of acquiring knowledge – systematic organization on the basis of organized labor – will be accompanied by a consciousness of strength, a sense of victory, arising from the knowledge that in the living experience of man there are no longer any spheres surrounded by impenetrable walls of mystery. The reign of science will begin and put an end to religion and metaphysics forever.
As a result of the combination of these two features, we get a third feature, the gradual abolition of all standards of compulsion and of all elements of compulsion in social life.
The essential significance of all the compulsory standards – custom, law, and morals – consists in the regulation of the vital contradictions between men, groups, and classes. These contradictions lead to struggles, competitions, enmity, and violence, and arise out of the unorganized state and anarchy of the social whole. The standards of compulsion which society, sometimes spontaneously and sometimes consciously, has established in the struggle with the anarchy and the contradictions have become a fetish, i.e., an external power to which man has subjected himself as something higher, standing above him, and demanding worship or veneration. Without this fetishism, compulsory standards would not have the power over man to restrain the vital contradictions. The natural fetishist ascribes a divine origin to authority, law, and morals; the representative of social fetishism ascribes the origin to the “nature of things”; both mean to ascribe to them an absolute significance and a higher origin. Believing in the high and absolute character of these standards, the fetishist subjects himself to them and maintains them with the devotion of a slave.
When society ceases to be anarchical and develops into the harmonious form of a symmetrical organization, the vital contradictions in its environment will cease to be a fundamental and permanent phenomenon and will become partial and casual. Compulsory standards are a kind of “law” in the sense that must regulate the repeated phenomena arising out of the very structure of society; obviously, under the new system, they will lose this significance. Casual and partial contradictions amidst a highly-developed social sense and with a highly-developed knowledge can be easily overcome without the aid of special “laws” compulsorily carried out by “authority.” For instance, if a mentally-diseased person threatens danger and harm to others, it is not necessary to have special “laws” and organs of “authority” to remove such a contradiction; the teachings of science are sufficient to indicate the measures by which to cure that person, and the social sense of the people surrounding him will be sufficient to prevent any outbreak of violence on his part, while applying the minimum of violence to him. All meaning for compulsory standards in a higher form of society is lost for the further reason that with the disappearance of the social fetishism connected with them they also lose their “higher” form.
Those who think that the “State form,” i.e., a legal organization, must be preserved in the new society because certain compulsory laws are necessary, like that requiring each one to work a certain number of hours per day for society, are mistaken. Every State form is an organization of class domination and this cannot exist where there are no classes. The distribution of labor in society will be guaranteed on the one hand by the teachings of science and those who express them – the technical organizers of labor acting solely in the name of science, but having no power – and on the other by the power of the social sense which will bind men and women into one labor family by the sincere desire to do everything for the welfare of all.
Only in the transitional period, when survivals of class contradictions still exist, is the State form at all possible in the “future State.” But this State is also an organization of class domination; only it is the domination of the proletariat, which will abolish the division of society into classes and together with it the State form of society.
5. Forces of development
The new society will be based not on exchange but on natural self-sufficing economy. Between production and consumption of products, there will not be the market, buying and selling, but consciously and systematically organized distribution.
The new self-sufficing economy will be different from the old primitive communism, for instance, in that it will embrace not a large or a small community, but the whole of society, composed of hundreds of millions of people, and later of the whole of humanity.
In exchange societies, the forces of development are “relative over-population,” competition, class struggle, i.e., in reality, the inherent contradictions of social life. In the self-sufficing societies referred to above, tribal and feudal societies, the forces of development are based upon “relative over-population,” i.e., the outward contradictions between nature and society, between the demands for the means of life arising out of the growth of the population and the sum of these means which nature in a given society can supply.
In the new self-sufficing society the forces of development will also lie in the outward contradictions between society and nature, in the very process of struggle between society and nature. Here the slow process of over-population will not be required to induce man still further to perfect his labor and knowledge: the needs of humanity will increase in the very process of labor and experience. Each new victory over nature and its mysteries will raise new problems in the highly-organised mentality of the new man, sensitive to the slightest disturbance and contradiction. Power over nature means the continual accumulation of the energy of society acquired by it from external nature. This accumulated energy will seek an outlet and will find it in the creation of new forces of labor and knowledge.
The new forces of development arising out of the struggle with nature and of the labor experience of man operate the more strongly and rapidly the wider and more complex and diverse this experience is. For this reason, in the new society with its colossally wide and complex system of labor, with its numerous ties uniting the experience of the most diverse (although equally developed) human individualities, the forces of development must create such rapid progress as we in our day can hardly imagine. The harmonious progress of future society will be much more intensive than the semi-spontaneous progress, fluctuating between contradictions, of our epoch.
All economic obstacles to development will be abolished under the new system. Thus, the application of machinery, which under capitalism is determined by considerations of profit, under the new system will depend entirely upon productivity. As we have seen, machinery which may be very useful for saving labor is very frequently useless from the standpoint of capitalist profits. In socialist society, such a point of view will not prevail and there will, therefore, be no obstacles to the application of labor-saving machinery.
The forces of development which will dominate at this stage will not be new forces; they will have operated previously. In the natural self-sufficing system, however, these forces were suppressed by the general conservatism prevailing in it; under capitalism they are suppressed by virtue of the fact that the classes which take for themselves the product of surplus labor, i.e., the main source of the forces of development of society, do not participate in the direct struggle with nature, do not conduct industry personally, but through others, and consequently remain outside the influence of the forces created in the struggle.
Under socialism, however, the sum total of surplus labor will be employed by the whole of society and every member will directly participate in the struggle against nature. Consequently, the main and greatest driving force of progress will act unhindered and at top speed, not through a select minority, but through the whole of humanity, and the sphere of development must increase unceasingly.
Thus the general characteristics of the socialist system, the highest stage of society we can conceive, are: power over nature, organization, socialness, freedom, and progress.