SERIES INTRODUCTION

The Marxist Workers Party fights for socialism where the dog-eat-dog exploitation and oppression of capitalism is replaced with social solidarity in a society based on the rule of the working class and its allies – the rural and urban poor. Socialism will be a superior form of economic organisation of society’s productive forces – of science, technique and the organisation of labour. The commanding heights of the economy will be nationalised under democratic working class control and integrated according to a democratic plan of production. This will be the foundation to raise wages, protect jobs and create new ones, end poverty and eliminate exploitation and oppression. Read What We Stand For here.

It is only the working class that has an interest in the socialist transformation of society; the only class which has the capacity to lead the socialist revolution. But to do this it needs to be armed with a clear programme. The current generation of working class fighters and activists have been handed-down a powerful weapon in the ideas of Marxism. Marxism represents the worldwide experience of the working class’s nearly two-hundred year struggle to transform society, distilled into a programme.

The MWP’s programme rests on the ideas of the following:

  1. Karl Marx (1818-83) & Friedrich Engels (1820-95)
  2. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
  3. Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)
  4. The First Four Congresses of the Communist International (1919-22)
  5. Trotsky’s Left Opposition (1923-27) and the founding of the Fourth International (1938)
  6. The Committee for a Workers International (1974-) and its forerunners, including its South African founding affiliate the Marxist Workers Tendency (1979-1996)

The history of the revolutionary programme is the history of the preparation of the working class to carry through the socialist revolution. This history and this struggle is a global one. The MWP is an affiliate of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). Standing in the Marxist tradition of internationalism, together we are working to build a world party of socialist revolution.

This political education series is written for new members of the MWP – future cadres of the socialist revolution. It outlines the most important stages in the development of the revolutionary programme. It cannot do more than familiarise new members with the key ideas, key names, and key events, placing them in their historical context. It is only an overview, allowing new members to see where our ideas came from and how they fit together, providing a foundation for further study.

Each booklet CAPITALISES key ideas and concepts that every MWP member should be familiar with. These can be used to guide political discussions in branch meetings, day schools and individual cadre-development discussions. Each booklet has at least one companion ‘reader’ bringing together classic Marxist writings and other key texts. In addition audio and video versions are being produced.

Workers of the World, Unite!


Marx & Engels

by Shaun Arendse, 2020

Marx & Engels

Karl Marx (1818-83) is the father of Marxism, or SCIENTIFIC SOCIALISM. Throughout his life, Marx worked closely with Friedrich Engels (1820-95). Both were born in what is today Germany in Europe.

EXPLANATORY NOTE #1

The man is Karl Marx.

His ideas of scientific socialism are called Marxism.

If you support those ideas then you are a Marxist. Hence we are the Marxist Workers Party.

In February 1848 Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto. From their study of humanity’s past they concluded that the driving force of history was the class struggle between the ruling class that owned the means of production and the oppressed and exploited classes.

In 1848 a revolutionary wave known as the “Springtime of Peoples” was breaking over Europe. The impoverished, oppressed and exploited masses rose up. In February and March governments were overthrown in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Rumania.

However, in 1848, with the exception of France, these modern countries did not yet exist. Central and Eastern Europe was dominated by three empires– the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Modern day Germany and Italy were divided into small states ruled by princes and other minor royals. The largest German state was Prussia.

Within eighteen months the revolutions had been defeated. The overthrown governments returned to power (except in France – see Explanatory Note #4). Understanding the defeat of the 1848 revolutions is crucial to understanding why Marxism emerged.

1848

The revolutionary forces of 1848 could loosely be described as a CROSS-CLASS MOVEMENT of the working class and the young capitalist class. In its youth the capitalist class was a revolutionary class (see Explanatory Note #2). Both had a common enemy in Europe’s hereditary rulers who oppressed and exploited all society. The 1848 revolutions were struggles for their overthrow and for the creation of modern NATION-STATES.

In the empires this meant struggles for national liberation. In Germany and Italy it meant struggles for national unity. These new nation-states would replace hereditary monarchies with parliaments and separate church from state. The taxes, tariffs and other limitations on economic activity imposed by the old regimes would be abolished. This would create national markets, allow industrial development, and solve the land question by breaking-up large estates. Marxists call these revolutions bourgeois, or democratic, and the programme on which they were fought BOURGEOIS-DEMOCRATIC.

Today capitalism dominates the world. But the capitalist class only conquered political power in the course of the last 350 years. However for a long time they only held power in a handful of countries. Other ruling classes came before them.

In Europe, FEUDALISM was the class society that came before capitalism. The feudal ruling class of emperors, kings, queens, princes, lords and knights, alongside the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, was in power for hundreds of years, its rule based upon control of the land. The majority of the population were SERFS – a kind of unfree peasant. They were part-and-parcel of the land owned by the feudal lord. Serfs were forced to provide free labour, pay taxes and meet other obligations. In return they were given access to land where they could grow food, collect wood etc. for their own use under the ‘protection’ of the lord.

Ultimately, serfdom was only a short step away from slavery. Feudal society was undemocratic and oppressive. The ruling class believed they had been appointed to rule by God and were answerable only to Him, not the people – the so-called DIVINE RIGHT OF KINGS.

EXPLANATORY NOTE #2

In Europe, in 1848, with the exceptions of Britain and France, the capitalists were still evolving into the class we would recognise today. They were divided into many layers. Of those supporting the revolutionary movement, the economically weakest, but largest in number, is more accurately called the democratic petty bourgeoisie; the economically largest, but smallest in number, the liberal bourgeoisie. The former were small shopkeepers, traders and members of the professions, such as lawyers; the latter usually consisted of larger manufacturers.

Today, the descendants of the democratic petty bourgeoisie can be found in the middle classes in NGOs, universities, the media and other ‘professions’. Many think of themselves as “friends of the working class”, and often feel entitled to lead it. Though they are not usually owners of economic property anymore, they enjoy a privileged position in capitalist society. The descendants of the liberal bourgeoisie can be found amongst the big capitalists. They are inclined to make mild criticisms of their system, willing to support limited reforms and promote charity/philanthropy. For example Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, or Patrice Motsepe and Aliko Dangote.

Both classes ultimately defend capitalism however.

In this brief introduction we usually just refer to the “capitalist class” for the sake of simplicity. However, it is important to keep in mind the above qualification. The description of this capitalist class’s modern ‘descendants’ is also only a lose approximation.

Origin of Capitalism

In Western Europe from the late fourteenth century feudalism had entered a crisis. A major symptom was increased class conflict – peasant rebellions and wars within the feudal ruling class. There was a monetary crisis. But underlying all of this was the inability of the landlords to further develop the land – the main means of production. Society’s needs could no longer be met by the feudal organisation of the economy. It had become a barrier to society’s further development.

Capitalism developed within the belly of crisis-ridden feudalism. The capitalist class emerged from the medieval merchants, especially in the Italian city-states, and, as serfdom began to break-down, from wealthier farmers, especially in England.

As the early capitalist class grew in wealth, the more workers they needed. But they were held-back by the feudal economy. There were many sides to this, but one example can illustrate their problem. If the majority of the population were tied to the land, or could otherwise earn a living from it, where would the capitalists find workers for their farms, workshops, and later, for their factories? The capitalists demanded the ‘liberation’ of the serfs. But only so they could re-enslave them as wage-workers.

A class struggle was developing between the feudal and the capitalist classes over these issues. The capitalists began to demand their turn to govern society. But the feudal ruling class was not willing to give-up their rule. The capitalists were going to have to overthrow them. The epoch of the BOURGEOIS REVOLUTIONS had begun.

Bourgeois Revolutions

The earliest bourgeois revolution was the GERMAN PEASANT WAR of 1524-25. Engels wrote a book about it – The Peasant War in Germany. But it came so early in the capitalist class’s development that it never stood any chance of victory. The proto-capitalist class was too weak to stand on its own feet.

The first successful bourgeois revolution was the DUTCH REVOLT of c. 1566-1609. This created the first bourgeois republic when Holland (today the Netherlands) fought for independence from the Spanish monarchy. It was only a few decades later, in 1652, that Van Riebeeck landed in Table Bay. As soon as the capitalists were in power they looked for new markets.

The second bourgeois revolution was the ENGLISH CIVIL WAR of 1642-1651. To clear the way for the development of their economic interests, the proto-capitalist class fought to place parliament at the head of the nation. Only an elected body could represent the interests of “the people” – not someone claiming to be ordained to rule by God. King Charles I was executed and for ten years England was governed as a republic. The monarchy was later restored, but only on the terms of the capitalist class.

The legacy of this bourgeois revolution continues to today. In South Africa, as in many capitalist countries, there is no authority above parliament. It elects the head of state – the president. But even the most democratic bourgeois parliament only hides and protects the economicdictatorship of the capitalist class.

To develop further, English capitalism needed to develop trade. This gave a new impulse to the colonisation of America. Britain (the name adopted after England formed a Union with Scotland in 1707) exploited its colony in a semi-feudal manner, with high taxes and no democratic representation for the population. A struggle for independence was necessary to remove this colonial brake on the development of capitalism. The third bourgeois revolution was the AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE of 1775-83.

EXPLANATORY NOTE #3

A second round in the American bourgeois revolution would be necessary in the CIVIL WAR of 1861-65. This was a struggle to abolish the system of black-slavery in the Southern states.

In capitalism’s pre-industrial period the trade in black slaves from Africa played an important role in building-up the wealth that would later be invested in industry. In America, even after the trade had been abolished, black slave-labour in the Southern states financed industrialisation in the North. But once this took-off, slavery choked the supply of labour to industry. This led to conflict between the industrial north and the more agricultural slave-owning south. For the industrial capitalist class, the American Civil War was ultimately a struggle to make the exploitation of wage-labour universal.

(See Marxism, Racism and the Class Struggle)

The last of the ‘classic’ bourgeois revolutions was THE FRENCH REVOLUTION of 1789-1799. This was the most decisive. It swept feudalism away thoroughly and without compromise. King Louis XVI suffered the same fate as Charles I and was executed. Over 16,000 more feudalists were beheaded by guillotine. In the Revolutionary Wars that followed, France’s armies abolished serfdom in other parts of Europe.

EXPLANATORY NOTE #4

The 1848 revolution in France had a different class content to the rest of Europe. Feudalism had been smashed in the 1789 French Revolution. The French king that was overthrown in 1848 was a CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCH. He was little more than a figurehead for the rule of the capitalist class, similar to that existing in Britain to this day.

The intensity of the class conflict in the French Revolution had led to the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte. Following the exhaustion of the revolution and the fall of Napoleon in 1815, there was an attempt to restore the French monarchy. But it had been impossible to overturn the new capitalist property relations and restore feudalism. In 1830, this was formally recognised in the creation of the constitutional July Monarchy.

By 1848, the July Monarchy was a fig-leaf for the rule of the finance-wing of the capitalist class. Like Moody’s and the sovereign bond traders of today, they parasited on state finances through loans and interest payments. This harmed the interests of the industrial capitalist class. In opposing the monarchy they were fighting for the supremacy of their own capitalist faction.

In this factional struggle of the French capitalist class, the working class, especially in Paris, the capital of France, intervened more and more decisively, striving for its own class interests. Again, as a result of this sharp class conflict, a new capitalist dictatorship emerged following the 1848 Revolution. This would only be overthrown in 1870 (see below).

Marx wrote extensively about these events in The Class Struggles in France (1848-50) and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

Role of Masses

In these ‘classic’ bourgeois revolutions the pre-industrial working class (then a tiny minority in society) was either passive, or followed behind the capitalists. They were not yet capable of independent class action. Marx explained that, “At this stage…the proletarians do not fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies…”

To succeed in their struggle for economic dominance, the capitalists had to defeat the feudal monarchies politically. To ensure victory, they appealed to the serfs, the peasants and the young working class, and formed an alliance with them.

However, the capitalists were fighting to become the new exploiters of society. The bourgeois-democratic programme would re-organise society in their class interests. In this alliance the masses were merely a battering-ram. But they could not say this to them. The CLASS CONTRADICTIONS of the ‘alliance’ against feudalism were buried under slogans with universal appeal. In the French Revolution, the rallying cry was “liberty, equality and fraternity”. What this would mean in practice was left unclear. The Freedom Charter played a similar role in the South African liberation struggle. (See The Freedom Charter: blueprint for capitalism or socialism?)

Even so, radical ‘left wing’ minorities emerged in the bourgeois revolutions that tried to give these slogans a class content in line with the interests of the exploited masses. In these, the first socialist and communist ideas of the modern era appeared. The capitalists ruthlessly crushed them.

Industrial Revolution

From the end of the eighteenth century the capitalist class was in power in Western Europe and the East coast of North America. Where the feudal ruling class survived in power their economic foundations were hollowing-out. This created the conditions for the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION which originated in Britain from the 1780s, but quickly developed in other parts of Europe and America. It further strengthened the capitalist class and further weakened the feudal ruling class.

Before steam (and later electricity), other than small-scale wind- and water-mills, production was limited by what could be pushed or pulled by humans or animals. This kept the scale of production small and individual. Artisans would make products from start to finish with hand tools in small workshops. The harnessing of steam-power allowed the introduction of large-scale mechanised industry and factories. This revolutionised the economy.

Capitalism was the first class society in which at least a portion of the surplus wealth extracted from exploited workers was re-invested back into the production process itself. This had already revolutionised agriculture, especially in Britain. When it was combined with the new industrial technology economy and society were repeatedly transformed. The industrial revolution turned the early capitalists into industrialists and bankers and created the modern working class of wage-labourers.

The industrial revolution made it clear that “liberty, equality and fraternity” would only exist for the capitalist class. There would be none in the poverty of working class slums or under the brutal exploitation of the factories – the “dark satanic mills” as Marx called them. Workers’ life expectancy was as low as twenty-four in Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Where the capitalist class introduced democracy, it was a democracy of property-owners. Workers, women and black people were all denied the vote.

1848 Re-loaded

The 1848 “Springtime of Peoples” should have been a second wave of bourgeois revolutions, clearing-out feudalism in Central and Eastern Europe. But the industrial revolution had changed society. The new industrial working class’s shared-experience of exploitation in the huge factories was creating CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS – an understanding that their interests were different and incompatible with those of their bosses. The capitalist class’s hypocrisy was exposed.

By 1848 the working class was beginning to organise independently and put forward its own class programme. It was the working class that injected radical democratic demands into the struggle – for universal suffrage, freedom of assembly, organisation and speech etc. In the 1830s, the British CHARTISTS emerged as the first working class political movement in world history. They made the radical demand for one-man-one-vote. If more far-reaching democratic demands found their way into the programmes of the capitalist class it was only the result of pressure from the working class.

The question of what social system would replace feudalism was also now being put on the table. Class conscious workers were demanding freedom from all forms of exploitation. They increasingly linked their suffering to the existence of private property in the economy and demanded its abolition. But this was the very foundation of the capitalist class’s existence.

The capitalist class became frightened. In 1848 they realised that revolutions would likely unleash movements that not only aimed to abolish feudalism, but capitalist private property too. Rather than risk this, the capitalist class tried to achieve its goals through compromise with the old feudal regimes. The capitalists ceased to be a revolutionary class.

Communist Manifesto

Marx and Engels recognised the changed balance of class forces. The Communist Manifesto was published a few weeks before the outbreak of the 1848 revolutions. In its pages Marx & Engels anticipated that the time for an ideologically and organisationally independent working class movement had arrived. Only the working class could play a revolutionary role.

Marx and Engels had been developing the philosophical foundations of Marxism since 1843 in the ideas of DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM (see Introduction to Dialectical Materialism). The Manifesto presented the practical conclusions of this work. It placed the earlier UTOPIAN socialist and communist ideas developed before Marx and Engels’ time, on firm theoretical and scientific foundations. The task of revolutionaries was to arm the young working class movement. The instinctive struggle against exploitation had to be transformed into a clear programme for the socialist revolution. The Manifesto was a call-to-arms.

Marx and Engels described the key features of the new industrial capitalism. They explained that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” But capitalism was unique amongst class societies because it simplified class relations, dividing society into two great classes – the capitalist class and the working class, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

This opened-up enormous possibilities for humanity. Past class struggles always saw one exploiting minority replace another. The majority remained an exploited mass. But the massive economic achievements of capitalism in the industrial revolution created the foundations to abolish the division of society into classes, and, with it, all forms of exploitation.

The problem was no longer the creation of enough wealth to do this, but the control and distribution of that wealth. Collective ownership of the economy was needed – the SOCIALISATION of the MEANS OF PRODUCTION AND EXCHANGE. Marxists did not want to turn back the wheel of history. The starting-point for socialism would be to build upon the economic achievements of capitalism.

The working class was the only social class that had had an interest in the revolutionary socialist transformation of society. It was also the only social class with the power to carry it through. Marx and Engels explained that, “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is the really revolutionary class.”

The capitalist class had created “its own grave-diggers”. In its profit-driven rush to expand production, the working class’s numbers constantly increased. The very conditions of existence of workers compelled them to organise as a class – in trade unions, and later, workers parties – and made them open to socialist and communist ideas.

Political Principles

The Manifesto explains the role that working class revolutionaries must play to help the working class draw revolutionary conclusions. Marx and Engels started by saying that communists (see Explanatory Note #5) “…have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole”, and went on to say:

The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only:

(1) In the national struggles of the proletariat of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.

(2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

This can be summarised by saying: it is always and everywhere the task of revolutionaries to assist in building the maximum unity of the working class.

In the first point (1), Marx and Engels make it clear that workers must not be divided by nationality. Nation-states are the foundation stones of the world capitalist system, their creation part of the bourgeois-democratic programme. The nation-state is the ‘home-market’ where each national-capitalist class exploits ‘its own’ workers, and the base from which it competes with rival capitalist classes on the world stage. Whilst the nation-state was crucial to the capitalist class’s consolidation of power, at a certain point it becomes a barrier to further economic development. A socialist economy will need to be a global one, based on international co-operation and planning. (A future booklet will deal with the approach Marxists adopted toward oppressed nations in the semi-feudal European empires and the colonial liberation struggles of capitalism’s imperialist epoch.)

The Manifesto says that the working class “have no country” and ends with the call: “Workers of the World, Unite!” For Marx and Engels it was automatic that the struggle against capitalism was a global one. The working class must therefore organise according to the principles of INTERNATIONALISM.

The second point (2) is a warning that revolutionaries can never support anything that allows one section of the working class to be played-off against another. Peter cannot be robbed to pay Paul. Allowing this undermines the unity of the working class. It leads to fights for the scraps that fall from capitalism’s table. The role of revolutionaries is to unite workers. To do this the interests that all workers have in common must be kept in the foreground.

Armed with these ideas Marx and Engels played an active part in the 1848 revolutions. They published the radical Neue Rhineische Zeitung (New Rhineland Newspaper) from one of the revolutionary cities in Germany. It ruthlessly exposed the treacherous role, especially of the liberal bourgeoisie. In its pages the working class was encouraged towards independent organisation to drive forward the revolutions against feudalism. Marx was arrested several times. Charges included “inciting armed rebellion”. At his trials he was acquitted by sympathetic juries. Engels joined a revolutionary militia.

But the working class was still too weak to play a decisive role on the continental stage. With the defeat of the revolutions Marx and Engels were forced into exile in Britain.

EXPLANATORY NOTE #5

Since Marx and Engels’ time the meaning of the word “communist” has changed. Today it is associated with the anti-Marxist and counter-revolutionary ideas of Stalinism. These emerged against the struggles of the revolutionary working class from the mid-1920s to defend the privileges of the Soviet bureaucracy. The South African Communist Party continues to stand in this tradition (see The Legacy of Leon Trotsky). Unfortunately, Stalinism also influences the politics of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party. A future booklet will deal with the rise of Stalinism in more detail.

Capital

Marx researched and wrote his greatest work CAPITAL during his exile in Britain. It took him nearly twenty years, finally being published in 1867. Capital is a detailed examination of how capitalism works. In its pages Marx showed that exploitation, poverty, unemployment and economic crises were built into the system. Even the most capable capitalist politician could never end them. Capital is a treasure trove of ideas. We can only mention a few in summary here.

Marx started by examining the COMMODITY. A commodity is something made by human labour for sale. In a capitalist economy, neither the workers, nor the capitalists that employ them, use, or consume, the things they make. They are sent to shops and sold to strangers. There had always been some commodity production in earlier class societies. But capitalism was a system of generalised commodity production. In other words, where everything was for sale.

However, the buying and selling of commodities, their circulation, could not explain the huge amount of new wealth that industrial capitalism had created. Where had this come from? In his LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE, Marx explained that there was one commodity which was special because it could create new value. This commodity was HUMAN LABOUR.

In a capitalist economy the working class has nothing of value except its ability to labour. It must sell this to the capitalists in exchange for WAGES. Once this transaction is contracted, the capitalist owns the workers’ time and controls how they use it. That is why we can talk of WAGESLAVERY. As with commodity production, there had always been some wage-labour in earlier class societies. But capitalism was the first system of generalised wage-labour.

Marx developed the GENERAL FORMULA OF CAPITAL. It shows how the wages-system keeps the working class poor, while the capitalist class gets richer and richer.

For the working class, the general formula looks like this:

C – M – C

The “C” stands for ‘commodity’; the “M” for ‘money’.

Workers present themselves to the capitalist with their ability to work – their LABOUR-POWER. By selling this to the capitalist, it becomes a commodity (C). They sell this to the capitalist for money (M), i.e. wages. They then use this money to buy commodities (C), i.e. the necessaries of life – food, clothing, pay rent etc. After these are consumed – as they must be – the workers are back where they started.

But for the capitalist class, the general formula looks like this:

M – C – M’

The capitalist starts with money (M) and uses it to buy a commodity (C) i.e. workers’ labour. The capitalist ‘consumes’ the workers’ labour by putting them to work making other commodities, anything from cold drinks to cars. When these are sold, the capitalist’s original money (M) is back in his pocket, with an additional amount (’), i.e. a PROFIT. When money is used in this way, it is called CAPITAL. Explaining how this profit was created exposes the great deception at the heart of capitalism.

The working day is divided into what Marx called NECESSARY LABOUR TIME and SURPLUS LABOUR TIME.

During necessary labour time the workers create wealth (or value) that is equivalent to the value of their labour-power. The value of labour-power is determined by the value of the MEANS OF SUBSISTENCE necessary to sustain it, i.e. the value of the necessaries of life that allow a worker to stay alive, return to work the next day, and raise the next generation of workers. Marx explained that every society has a more or less clear idea of what the minimum standard of living should be. This changes, not least as a result of the class struggle. But at any point in time it exists. This value is paid-out to the workers in wages.

But workers do not stop working once they have covered the value of their labour-power. They keep going. In this ‘extra time’ they produce SURPLUS VALUE – wealth over-and-above what is necessary for their own survival and replacement. This is the capitalists’ profit, realised when they sell the commodities made by workers on the market. In other words, the capitalists trick workers into working for them for free. Profit is simply the unpaid labour of the working class.

In Value, Price and Profit, Marx explained that:

The value of the labouring power is determined by the quantity of labour necessary to maintain or reproduce it, but the use of that labouring power is only limited by the active energies and physical strength of the labourer. The daily or weekly value of the labouring power is quite distinct from the daily or weekly exercise of that power, the same as the food a horse wants and the time it can carry the horseman are quite distinct. The quantity of labour by which the value of the workman’s labouring power is limited forms by no means a limit to the quantity of labour which his labouring power is apt to perform.

This is disguised by the wages-system itself. For example, in a modern industry like car manufacturing, workers produce enough wealth to cover their whole year’s wages very quickly – let us assume within the first three weeks of the year. But the capitalist does not pay this out all at once. The value workers created in these three weeks is instead spread-out over twelve instalments, i.e. in a monthly salary. If the capitalist did not do this the workers would realise they spend forty-nine weeks of the year working for free.

Explanatory Note #6

The price of a loaf of bread is R10.

The owner of Albany Bakery must invest R5 to bake each loaf – flour, yeast, packaging, rent for the bakery building, water and electricity, marketing and transport etc.

A worker at the bakery is paid R250 per day in wages.

The morning shift is 4 hours. In the morning the worker produces 50 loaves of bread. That means that in every loaf there is R5 of labour time (50 x R5 = R250).

The cost of producing these 50 loaves is therefore R500 (R250 investment + R250 in wages = R500). They are all sold at their value of R500. The capitalist has not made any money.

But the working day is 8 hours long. The worker is told that they are paid R31.25 per hour (8 hours x R31.25 = R250).

On the afternoon shift the worker makes another 50 loaves of bread. These only cost the capitalist R250 to make, i.e. R5 investment per loaf. The wages of the worker were covered in the course of the morning shift.

When the afternoon shift’s 50 loaves are also sold at R10 each (total R500) the capitalist has made R250.

Since Albany is a big bakery, it employs 1,000 workers. 1,000 (workers) x R250 (profit per worker) = R250,000 profit per day.

There are 21 working days in a month. That means the capitalist makes R5.25 million profit every month.

The struggle over the division of surplus value is the engine of the class struggle. Any struggle for higher wages or shorter hours is a struggle over surplus-value. The same is true of demands for more jobs to be created, for more spending on health and safety, to modernise equipment, for longer breaks or more leave-days, for more money to be placed in training, pension and other funds, or demands that governments raise taxes on profits to fund hospitals and schools.

Marx also explained that unemployment was a permanent feature of capitalism. He showed how the very process of capital accumulation, competition and the class struggle inevitably created what he called an INDUSTRIAL RESERVE ARMY.

But how had the working class ended-up in a position whereby they could be exploited like this? Marx showed that the working class had to be forced into dependency on the capitalists – compelled both to work for them and buy from them. To do this the capitalists had to deny the working class any independent access to the means of production. This was achieved in a process that Marx called PRIMITIVE ACCUMULATION. Central to this was forcing the mass of the population from the land. In the early capitalist period this was a centuries long process; by the imperialist era it could be achieved in a matter of years. In capitalism’s pre-industrial period colonialism and the Atlantic slave-trade played an important role in primitive accumulation. Marx said that capitalism came into the world “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt”. 

After Marx’s death, Engels produced a second and third volume of Capital from Marx’s notebooks.

First International

The Communist Manifesto had ended with the call “Workers of the World, Unite!” Whilst in exile in London Marx and Engels worked to make this a reality. In 1864 they helped to found the International Working Men’s Association, remembered as the FIRST INTERNATIONAL.

This was not the first international communist organisation. Marx and Engels had previously been part of the COMMUNIST LEAGUE (1847-52). It was the League which had commissioned the writing of the Communist Manifesto. Before the League was wound-up Marx developed the position on independent working class organisation that he and Engels had put forward in the Manifesto, now enriched by the experience of the 1848 Revolutions. In his 1850 Address to the Communist League, Marx said:

At the moment, while the democratic petty bourgeois are everywhere oppressed, they preach to the proletariat general unity and reconciliation; they extend the hand of friendship, and seek to found a great opposition party which will embrace all shades of democratic opinion; that is, they seek to ensnare the workers in a party organisation in which general social-democratic phrases prevail, while their particular interests are kept hidden behind, and in which, for the sake of preserving the peace, the specific demands of the proletariat may not be presented. Such a unity would be to their advantage alone and to the complete disadvantage of the proletariat. The proletariat would lose all its hard-won independent positions and be reduced once more to a mere appendage of official bourgeois democracy. This unity must therefore be resisted in the most decisive manner.

Instead of lowering themselves to the level of an applauding chorus, the workers, and above all the League, must work for the creation of an independent organisation of the workers’ party, both secret and open, alongside the official democrats, and the League must aim to make every one of its communes [branches] a centre and nucleus of workers’ associations in which the position and interests of the proletariat can be discussed free from bourgeois influence…

The First International took these ideas forward. It sank important roots amongst workers in many countries. In a strike wave that swept Europe in 1866, many strike-leaders were members of the International. The British trade unions – then semi-legal organisations – were affiliates.

Paris Commune

The ruling classes were aware of the International. They started blaming its agitators for all their problems – whether they were in fact responsible or not. This was especially the case during events in France in 1871.

France had been defeated in a war with Prussia. The emperor had been captured and a new republican-capitalist government replaced him. The victorious Prussians were demanding territory and huge war reparations. The new government refused, and a five month siege of the French capital, Paris, began. The French army had collapsed and the defence of Paris was organised by an armed popular militia. The working class dominated this National Guard.

As soon as a peace settlement was agreed the French government tried to disarm the working class of Paris. This gave the spark to an uprising. The working class took control of the city and set-up their own government – the PARIS COMMUNE.

The Commune was elected by universal (male) suffrage – one-man-one-vote. Conscription and the standing army were abolished. The ‘morality police’ was disbanded. In place of the police and army was the National Guard, in which all citizens able to ‘bear arms’ were enrolled. Every state official was subjected to election, including judges. The people had the right of immediate recall over all officials should they not perform. Strict income controls were placed on all Commune employees, including elected representatives.

Rent controls were enacted. Pawnshops closed down. All closed factories were to be re-started according to plans drawn-up by their former workers. Together they would be organised in one giant “union”. Foreigners were permitted to be elected to office and monuments of the early empire were destroyed as symbols of “chauvinism and incitement to national hatred”.

The Paris Commune was decisive in further developing the ideas of Marx and Engels. In particular the MARXIST THEORY OF THE STATE. Marx said that the real secret of the Paris Commune “was that it was essentially a government of the working class… the finally discovered political form under which the economic emancipation of labour [of the working class] could take place.”

And what was this “political form”? The Paris working class had been forced to create new state institutions in order to start re-organising the city in their interests. Marx drew a clear lesson from this: “that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for their own purposes.”

In other words, a WORKERS’ STATE would be necessary in the transition from capitalism to socialism. This would be a new institution built on the ruins of the capitalist state, which must be smashed, depriving the capitalist class of the means to crush the revolution by force. But the workers’ state would not simply be an instrument to enforce the rule of the working class. It would be a state that through a far-reaching WORKERS’ DEMOCRACY empowered the working class as a whole to participate in the running of society. On this basis there would be no need for a separate state institution. The workers state would have served as a socialist bridge for society to cross from capitalism to communism – a society without classes.

Marx and Engels thought that this point was so important that they added it as a correction to the Communist Manifesto. In light of the experience of the Commune, they felt the Manifesto was too vague on the CLASS CHARACTER OF THE STATE. They wrote a new preface for all future re-publications.

The issue of the state has proved decisive in every working class revolution then and since. Those revolutionary movements that have failed to grasp it, or have run away from the tasks it poses, usually in the vain hope of avoiding a confrontation, end-up defeated.

After only sixty days the Paris Commune was crushed by the co-operation of the French and Prussian armies. But it was a landmark. It was the first time that the working class had taken power anywhere. It proved that everything Marx, Engels and the First International were saying was correct. It was possible for the working class to lead a revolution. The society they would try and build would indeed be one that moved to eliminate all class divisions.

The Paris Commune was proof that the epoch of the PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION had opened.