The Guardian • Issue #1972

Socialism: utopian or scientific: a guide


For the final part of this series, we will see how all of the concepts we’ve explored thus far work together to create scientific socialism. Engels has a few concluding remarks to make on the capitalist mode of production that demonstrate the international stakes of building a socialist movement.

In the pursuit of ever-increasing profits, capitalism is required to continually expand its markets on the world stage. Capitalism, in its ruthless expansion of industry, takes on a life of its own. Individual capitalists may be “remorselessly cast aside” but this is only by other, bigger, capitalists. The fundamental mechanism remains the same; the exploitation of the working class.

Automation steadily replaces the need for manual labour, with fewer and fewer specialised labourers required for the upkeep and maintenance of machinery. As this tendency continues, either more work is expected of fewer labourers (very often without a pay rise), or more useless, bureaucratic jobs are created to maintain the expansion of the business.

Capital’s ongoing expansion in the world market allows capitalists to off-shore production to places where the labour is cheaper, causing either stagnation, or driving down wages, as the working classes of different countries are forced to compete with one another.

This situation creates what Marx and Engels call the “industrial reserve army,” the unemployed workers forced to be prepared to take whatever wage they can get to survive, which capitalists use as leverage against employed workers trying to organise for better wages. This industrial reserve army is not only domestic, but international, exerting further downward pressure on the working class. As Engels says, it is:

“a constant dead weight upon the limbs of the working-class in its struggle for existence with capital, a regulator for keeping of wages down to the low level that suits the interests of capital.”

This is ultimately an unsustainable model, as it is built upon a contradiction that capitalism cannot resolve. It creates a situation where:

“The overwork of some becomes the precondition for the unemployment of others, and that modern industry, which hunts the whole world over for new consumers, confines the consumption of the masses at home down to a starvation minimum, and in doing so thus destroys its own internal market.”

A society constantly undermining its own internal market cannot keep functioning in the long-term. The introduction of new commodity markets cannot keep up with capitalism’s blind pursuit of production for profit, as underpaid consumers are unable to purchase what is being produced. This state of affairs creates a grotesque contradiction: an overabundance of products with no-one available to buy them. This is the cause of all the waste we see around us; the huge food wastage while people starve, technological obsolescence, vacant houses while homeless people sleep in the street, so on and so on. Eventually, this contradiction reaches its fever pitch in the form of the periodic collapse of the market. Engels states:

“The extension of the markets cannot keep pace with the extension of production. The collision becomes inevitable, and as this cannot produce any real solution so long as it does not break in pieces the capitalist mode of production, the collisions become periodic. Capitalist production has begotten another ‘vicious circle.’ ”

Marx and Engels demonstrated that economic recessions and depression are not anomalies of capitalism, but they are the logical and necessary outcome of the contradictions inherent in the capitalist mode of production.

Little by little, the pace quickens. It becomes a trot. The industrial trot breaks into a canter, the canter in turn grows into the headlong gallop of a perfect steeplechase of industry, commercial credit, and speculation, which finally, after breakneck leaps, ends where it began – in the ditch of a crisis. And so over and over again.

We have seen enough of these periodic crashes within our own lifetimes to verify the accuracy of this analysis.

The other economic tendency Engels and Marx pointed out is capitalism’s creation of monopolies. Whether companies or banks, capitalists merge businesses to create larger and larger conglomerates that are able to swallow the smaller ones whole. These massive businesses and banks, we are told, become “too big to fail.” However, as we have already demonstrated, regardless of their size, they are still based on the capitalist mode of production which invariably leads to crisis and collapse. Lenin’s Imperialism: the Highest Form of Capitalism is a clear explanation of the phenomenon of monopolies in imperialist capitalism. At economic crisis points, usually the state will step in to try and bail the businesses out with tax money taken from the already exploited working class. This is a display of the capitalist state’s fundamental allegiance to business over the working class, for the modern State, again, is only the organisation that bourgeois [capitalist] society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine.

Lenin’s State and Revolution gives a fuller picture of the allegiance of the bourgeois state and capitalism.

What is the working class to do in the face of the enormous power which capitalists wield over them? Scientific socialism states that social forces work in the same manner as natural forces, which as we saw earlier in this series, are always in motion. This means that by using the theoretical tools spoken about throughout this series, we are able to understand how capitalism as an economic system functions. By understanding how capitalism works, and bringing it to the attention of others, we are able to begin changing the way it works.

To use Engels’ example, electricity once only appeared to us as lightning bolts in the sky, but, through rigorous investigation and experimentation, we were able to channel and contain that force to such an extent that we now use it for something as simple as a light switch. The same holds for capitalism. What initially appears to us as an enormous, insurmountable economic system, can be brought to heel by the concentrated and concerted activity of the working class. This is by no means an easy feat, and requires the greatest number of workers, both domestically and internationally, to act in unison against their common enemy, the capitalist class.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels declared that “what the Bourgeoisie [capitalists] therefore produces, above all, are its own grave diggers.” The working class are the gravediggers of capitalism. To abolish capitalism is to replace it with an economic system that acts “according to the needs of the community and of each individual,” to provide for the “means of subsistence and of enjoyment,” for all. To abolish capitalism is to do away with all class distinctions, where no-one is able to dominate another by forcing them to work to survive. Under socialism, the economic means of production are socialised and re-fashioned to suit the needs of the people. The excessive waste of the current system is eliminated, and “the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of today, and their political representatives” is done away with.

A socialist society brings forth:

“The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day-by-day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now, for the first time, here, but it is here.”

Engels emphasises here because the possibility for a working-class revolution exists now, just as it did then. The various socialist revolutions that have occurred since Engels wrote this text attest to this fact. The theoretical concepts of scientific socialism that we have examined throughout this series, the combination of dialectical and historical materialism, is the means by which a socialist revolution will be achieved. The productive forces of society are constantly in motion; the aim is to bring this motion under the control of the working class for the benefit of all. We shall therefore conclude with Engels’ words:

“To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat [working class]. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism.”

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