II Content and meaning of demands
News from Marx-Engels texts
Marx and Engels’ work from the last century, the first question that arises when we address this volume devoted to trade union demands, is whether such ancient texts are still valid today, especially if we pass from the principles of theory and organization to concrete problems of the improvement of the material conditions of work.
These texts are first and foremost deserving of being part of a larger historical, economic and political ensemble with which they are perfectly coherent, this group forming the program of action of the proletariat and struggling for its emancipation. This is not just a construction of the mind, but the theorization of the secular experience of the proletariat of many countries, an experience that goes well beyond the capitalist society in which we live today, since it accounts for efforts of the proletariat to establish the socialist society (1794, 1848, 1871) … that we still have to build.
Marx and Engels have always started from the data and needs that exist concretely, to draw their theory or program of action; we cannot therefore separate the revenge program of action; therefore, the elementary material demands cannot be separated from those which are more general. It is not by chance that the texts on trade unionism are essentially about the struggles of the English proletariat, the most developed country that then dominated the whole world and which is now replaced by the United States. Marx was able to say to the workers of all the other countries: it is your story that is told!
Like it or not, Marxism represents the historical program of the proletariat, and all the movements refer to it, some to challenge it, the others to claim it. In this sense, it forms the basic international heritage of all revolutionary movements, a shared legacy, a thought, a language that exists even outside any personal contact between Marxists.
The texts of Marx and Engels on trade unionism represent the common ground of the practical experience of the demands of the proletariat. Extending to the workers that are part of the beginnings of industrialization (accumulation) as well as highly developed industry, the phases of crisis as well as those of prosperity, regions where capitalism is still progressive as well as those where it is a question of overthrowing it, these texts concern the activity of the proletariat of all the countries, developed or not. This method is necessary even for developed countries, where capital recedes in certain sectors (still to industrialize) for the whole cycle of its development.
Marxist theory is made up of laws freed from the economic and historical progression of society, which implies that the economic and social movement itself obeys specific laws, those which form the Marxist theory. Consequently, the development foreseen by Marxism goes in the same direction as the real movement. Marx could therefore say without lapsing into utopianism: “The principles of the Commune are universal and cannot be destroyed. They will always resurface until the working class is emancipated.”
Extracted from the most substantial and profound material conditions of social life and experience, the Marxist program then proposes its solutions, which make it possible to avoid errors which surfaced in the past.
The two phases of the theory — that which is elaborated on the basis of material conditions, and the one on which it reacts — are found in our two volumes on syndicalism. In the first, Marx and Engels started from historical facts to arrive at the theoretical principles which should guide the proletariat in its demands. In the second, the texts start again from concrete events, but this time the facts no longer give the theory; they are already somehow filtered by a theory now established, which immediately seizes the course of events at the same time as it indicates its solutions to the workers in struggle.
In the first text on the resignation of the bourgeoisie, there is still no question of a party or a Marxist organization intervening in the agitation (it is only at a certain later degree of development of the Second International that the possibility will be given): it is the very course of events that puts the Marxist claims on the agenda. And in fact, in this article, several workers’ actions spring up directly without any link between them, although all converge by their internal logic towards one and the same grandiose historical claim: the defeat of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the regime of labor, which — in terms of trade unionists – merged with the old demand launched by Marx, following the Parisian workers, in The Class Struggles in France (1848-1850): overthrow of bourgeois state power and establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Today more than ever, the realities in which we live suggest and impose this conclusion drawn by Engels, both concrete relations between capitalists and English workers of the 1880s and the theoretical program of socialism. Today, the bourgeoisie no longer assures humankind of a progressive social development and is increasingly unable to make even the source of its profits and its privileges work: the productive apparatus, however, develops, under its own control, the domination by wage slaves. There is not a day that passes without capitalists closing a workshop or factory that they are no longer able to manage, throwing hundreds or even thousands of workers on the pavement and leaving the machines to rust with productive facilities still in working order.
The facts that led to the radical prognosis of Engels can seem very thin, besides the huge and brutal facts that today impose it on the masses, even when they are still unaware of their final class goals, especially after the degeneration political and trade union organizations. Theory, a veritable physical force that has sprung up from the material foundations of society, nevertheless urges the masses to act in an anti-Burgundian sense, even before they have the clear awareness of it and provide themselves with the necessary revolutionary organizations.
The character, the slogan, quite objective and current, of the bourgeoisie’s ruin has appeared in the recent labor unrest at the Clyde arsenals. The share of shipbuilding in the global shipbuilding industry, the world’s largest until 1950, having fallen in the space of 20 years from 48% to 10%, the British bourgeoisie itself admitted that they were no longer able to exploit it. Taking off a whole section of the world’s industrial production.
Under these conditions, the workers of the arsenals of the Clyde, vilified by all and betrayed by their traditional trade union and political organizations, tried, with their only arms, to take charge of this gigantic branch of industry, applying the old workers’ slogan from 1848, from the Paris Commune and from Marx-Engels: for the workers to run the workshop themselves, this first revolutionary step which the theory, confirmed by a thousand historical facts, teaches us as precarious and more than uncertain if it is not relieved and reinforced by the battle for the decay of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the political, economic and social rule of the proletariat.
The radicalism that impregnates all the claims of Marxist inspiration gives them precisely, at the time of senile and totalitarian capitalism, a full and complete actuality, as well as a real superiority on the partial solutions, proposed in our days to the masses by the innovative claims and specialists in trade union technique, with their slowdown and rotating strikes, surprising and exact. Moreover, this deep-rooted radicalism gives them the mark of their class, since they interest the entire proletariat, yesterday as well as today. This does not mean, let us repeat it, that Marxism disdains limited demands, by their content, by the number of workers who pose them or by the result obtained. Each step forward is an appreciable result, if it is related to the general struggle and to the ultimate goal, that is to say, not only obtain concrete results, but raise the consciousness of those who struggle in that they take a more intransigent position against their exploiters, narrow the ranks of the exploited, so that at the moment of the crisis they pass quite naturally to a form of higher struggle.
In this second volume, the interweaving of the economy and politics is at least as close as in the first, because the texts devoted to trade union demands do not only complete the texts on the theory, but are still directly conditioned. Trade union demands are, so to speak, crossed by a thread that links them each to the general struggle of the proletariat against capital and the socialist goal, which also determines their content.
Beyond this, the texts on trade unionism are related to the so-called political, philosophical, economic or military writings of Marx and Engels.
Finally, and this is undoubtedly the best distinguishing feature of those trade union demands of Marxist inspiration, there is a close link between the various demands themselves, which have a kind of general unicity. The reality of everyday life confirms that the claims are articulated with one another and react directly to one another: for example, the reduction of the working day, and therefore of the hourly wage.
Not only does one determine the other, but can still bring or facilitate the solution to his problem. Thus, a general decrease in the working day must be accompanied by an increase in the hourly wage, a shrinking of the hierarchy of wages resulting from the division and the scattering of workers, not to mention modalities of insurance, unemployment and retirement of workers’ [mutual benefit funds]. Modern capitalism has perfectly understood this objective law, which it also turns against the workers, taking back with one hand what it is constrained to give of the other: for example, by increasing the intensity of the day, if it is to reduce the duration of the work; delaying the retirement age, in the event of a general decrease in working hours; by increasing a professional category, especially combative or encouraged by industrial expansion, so as not to increase others, etc.
In Capital, Marx writes that the infernal conditions of work and retribution of women and children end up degrading the living and working conditions of adult workers in production, and vice versa that the struggle for improving the working conditions of women and children reacts to the plight of adult industrial workers. Similarly, by becoming generalized in the industry, the improvements benefit by reaction to agricultural workers.
This view of the class struggle is opposed to that of the modern pink or yellow unions, with their partial actions, in the supposedly sensitive place, which imply the passivity of the bulk of the combatants and lead to increasing differences in working conditions and of remuneration, thus to a division and a weakening of the working class as a whole. Meanwhile, the so-called workers’ parties (especially the electoralists) trumpet that any action and any program of the working class benefits the other classes or social groups of the people, a notion which drowns all the differences and class oppositions. They reinforce the most superannuated layers and objectively practice the most reactionary bourgeois policy.
Whatever the current inventors of new recipes, the workers’ demands are obtained by the massive force, by “a great collective class effort.” The more the proletariat will be strong, the more the other classes will respect it, and all this more than it will not be spent for others, but for its own material and social interests — and if eventual allies must take advantage of it, it is the way of the birds of the Bible: in addition, without it, it costs him nothing.
Whatever the current verbal defenders of the monopolies say, there are not thirty-six ways to be strong, and capital has shown it well: one must combine and coordinate one’s efforts, thus act with decision and cohesion, short as one big body. Quite naturally, the workers’ demands must have the same massive class character. Only by being common do they have a profound and unifying effect on each of the trades developed and maintained by the capitalist division of labor in production and then in society.
Salary, price … and profit
On various occasions Marx has prepared for the use of the workers texts explaining the nature and mechanics of the categories of the political economy. We cannot reproduce them all here, but they will be easily found in current editions. However, we must take this into account and, for that, we will discuss the broad lines that govern the trade union question. These texts are valuable, moreover, as a weapon of struggle to pierce the mystifications of the capitalist economy, never short of arguments to “demonstrate” the catastrophic consequences of the workers’ demands, up to and including for the workers themselves.
The leader of the C.F.D.T. has just made known the “new” trade union taxonomy (always the same in reality): harassing relentlessly the employers by partial movements, initiated successively by new groups or categories of workers, so as not to exhaust themselves in massive strikes, long-lasting ones that would impose too much sacrifice on the masses. Marx replied in advance to this argument: “All these objections of the bourgeois economists are correct, but only from their point of view, and the workers are quite right in making fun of the bourgeois advisers who give them the accounts of what this civil war costs them dead, wounded and sacrifices of money: whoever wants to beat his adversary does not discuss with him the costs of war!” (See vol I, p 56.) Moreover, the leader in question himself admits that he proposes this tactic in order to avoid, with respect to employers and the government, the horror of the wild demands of the strikes, which disturb the totalitarian order of economics and politics.
The argumentation of the workers’ movement – the pink and yellow rulers – is always the same: trust our experience and intelligence to get the most out of it with the minimum of expense. This wisdom is captious. To obtain satisfaction, the workers know only too well that one must not only pay the exact price, but much more. This reasoning, which has a class character, is therefore objective. Does it not correspond to the daily situation of proletarians: to earn a salary of 800 francs, for example, they must provide their capitalist enemy with a double, triple and even a tenfold profit in certain cases.
In spite of this, the workers are made to believe that only a small handful of them will have to strike, so that, thanks to the elucubrations of their trade union stratagems, the effect will be the same, if not greater, than if the whole mass was getting in motion. It is unfortunate that so-and-so leaders are not developing an ultra-efficient method of over-multiplying the effect of a general, total and unlimited strike. But, no doubt, in their minds, this method is sterile and has to be rejected (except, of course, when, when faced with the fait accompli, it is a question of taking the direction of a general strike to bring it to surrender).
The method of Marxism is not determined by the genius intelligences of Marx-Engels-Lenin, & co. It is dictated by the material conditions of life and production of the proletariat, and if the theory of the workers is superior, it is because it corresponds to the superiority of the social mode of production that the workers forge themselves, to the sweat from their brow, in the factories as well as in the class struggle. The principles and the theory of socialism from which a whole world will be transformed, are in no way inaccessible to the average working brain: they are rather inaccessible to the well-formed heads of the bourgeois and sub-bourgeois.
We know that the most difficult things are small simple formulas, but that must then be explained and bent to the terrible realities. In our decadent world, all the prestige of the intelligence proves, on the contrary, that it always pretends to have an easy and quick solution to all the problems … provided, of course, to find substantial credits. In politics, this quackery of technicians and specialists is at least as great as in economics.
As a science of society, Marxism has established a whole series of simple, easily assimilated formulas which not only synthesize the historical, political and economic experience, but also constitute slogans of practical action (the dictatorship the proletariat, for example, which implies a whole vision of the social future based on specific relations, class, party and state, as well as on the idea of class violence, etc.).
In his basic pamphlet, Wages, Price, and Profit, Marx does the same. His formula is that all the relations between price and wages are dominated by profit or capital.
For the bourgeois, on the contrary, prices and wages are directly related; the increase in wages leads to a rise due to the cost of living, which nullifies the improvement of the purchasing power of the workers. No need to specify all that this demonstration contains of interest.
By this simple argument, Marx answers two eternal questions that Weston already posed to the Central Council of the International: 1. Can the standard of material and social life be improved by wage increases? Weston answered no. 2 Do not trade union efforts to improve wages have a detrimental effect on other branches of industry? Weston answered yes. He thus joined Proudhon’s petty-bourgeois position, which called on “society” to forbid strikes and trade unions (see Poverty of Philosophy, last chapter on “The Strikes and the Workers’ Coalitions”, where Marx quotes Proudhon).
In these cases, linked together in theory and in practice, Marx says that one simply forgets … profit, that is, capital which, in fact, controls the relationship between wages and prices, and answers that the increase in wages, instead of affecting prices by nullifying any positive effect on the purchasing power of wages, can and must affect profits. In general, the price phenomenon is an effect rather than a cause and subject to other factors, such as market, supply and demand, while the wage-profit ratio is essential, since it determines the mode of supply of production and expresses the division of society into capitalists and workers.
In short, when things are brought back to the fundamental relationship, everything becomes simple and clear, even if capitalist society uses all of its material and intellectual resources to confuse them in reality.
So let’s go to Marx’s demonstration, asking what is the value of a commodity, for example a suit? It is composed:
- Of the value of the canvas, threads, needles, etc., used, let’s say 50 francs. All this – raw material and means of production – has a definite value for the tailor who buys them on the market, hence its name: constant capital;
- The value added by the tailor (sometimes called Marx additional value), say 100 francs. This costume, whether made by the boss or his worker, will be worth 150 francs.
It is not necessary that a salary be paid in the making of a suit to determine its value. Did not the commodity already have a value well before it was the product of wage labor? So, if the owner-craftsman did the work himself, he takes advantage of the value added, as before, the price of the raw material, and so on (50 francs), but he will also advance 50 francs, for the salary of his workman, which will leave him a profit of 50 francs, the suit costing 150 francs, before and after. In short, the capitalist takes his profit on labor — or value-added by the worker. If we remain in the narrow sphere of capitalist relations, as the conservative trade unions do, the whole conflict between the workers and the capitalists is about the sharing of this added value. From the perspective of Marxist socialism, which starts from the same reality, it constitutes a link in the conflict for the appropriation of all the added value by the producers and, consequently, the abolition of all value, currency and all market, therefore capital and wage labor.
To resume our example, if the tailor promoted capitalist is constraint to raise the salary of his worker to 70 francs, he will not be able to sell his habit 170 francs: the 20 francs that the worker wrenched him, he does not will receive more in the form of surplus value, and it will fall to 30 francs.
It is obvious that Weston is wrong to say that in front of a bowl containing a given amount of soup for a given number of people, increasing the width of the spoons does not provide more soup for the workers, since they can recover some of what the capitalists ate.
Indeed, the soup bowl not only contains the means of subsistence of the workers, but also the livelihoods of the workers, but also the means of subsistence and luxury goods of the capitalists. The increase in wages therefore allows the workers to acquire more goods, since they can henceforth buy objects which were not previously included in their consumption, but in the section of products destined for the capitalists, whose profits dominated correlatively to the increase in wages.
In this first case, neither the production nor the demand for goods as a whole has increased, there has been a simple change of distribution: the increasing demand for one dimension is offset by the decreasing demand on the other side.
Already, Marx notes that “the question is solved in that of the power of one or the other combatant.” In other words, it is the violence, — holy, in this case — which makes increase the value of wages and lower the value of profits: in this sense, violence is also an economic factor.
As befits the revolutionary class par excellence, its violence has beneficial effects on the development of the productive forces (alas, appropriated today by the bourgeoisie). Here is the mechanism: the general rise in wages will initially cause an increase in the demand for subsistence goods. The capitalists who make these more demanded goods will raise their prices and, in this way, compensate for the increase in wages. But what happens to other capitalists who do not make objects of first necessity? The rate of their profit will have already fallen as a result of the general increase of wages, and they cannot catch up by increasing their prices, since the demand for their goods has not increased; moreover, it is with a smaller amount of revenue of first necessity, since their price has increased.
But that’s not all. As their income decreases, they will also have less to spend on luxury items, so demand for these items will also decrease. In sum, in the luxury industries, the rate of profits will fall in proportion not only to the general rise in wages, but also to the combined action of the general rise in wages and the rise in the prices of objects. of current necessity and the price drop of luxury goods.
In short, for the capitalists, the rate of profits will be different in these two branches of social production. The classical consequence is that capital and labor will be transferred from the branch (luxury) where the rate of profit is low to the branch (current consumption) or it is higher. This transfer will last until supply in the livelihoods sector has increased in proportion to the increased demand, ie the production of current commodities has increased after it has declined in the luxury goods sector. because of the lesser bourgeois demand. This change being realized, the general rate of profits will be equal again in all the branches. However, instead of being limited to a few branches of industry, the fall in the rate of profit as a result of the general increase in wages will now be general, much to the chagrin of the bourgeoisie.
The final result is therefore that the production itself has changed shape, even if in our case it has not changed in quantity, the mass of prices being always the same. At present, a greater part of the production is devoted to the articles of first necessity, and a smaller part is to the articles of luxury. In other words: the general rise in wages, after a momentary disruption in market prices (allowing the rest the subsequent transfer of capital) will only bring about a general fall in the average rate of profits, without any lasting change in the price of the goods.
The increase in wages, which has the effect of increasing the production of the necessary means of subsistence for the mass of workers, to the detriment of the production of luxury goods, the demand by the workers for a better standard of living — by the means and force of strikes and trade union actions — has a useful meaning for humanity which, more than ever under capitalism, by the spontaneous play of this system, suffers from pauperism, unemployment and hunger.
Of course, Marx concludes in Wage, Price and Profit that this natural capital inflection can only be momentary, “since the general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise the normal average wage, but to lower it.” Nevertheless, such an inflection is compatible with the capitalist system; moreover, it acts as well on the distribution of the products as on the contents of the production.
By fighting — and this is essential — the proletariat can perfectly improve its lot and extract from capital better conditions and a higher share of the product. How could he, if not, one day rob the capitalists of all profit, and by that, all the product and all the means of production? Such is the basis of Marx’s polemics against Lassalle’s “iron law of wages” or the innumerable substitutes of it, in Weston, the Proudhonists or the partisans of a blind law of “absolute pauperization”, blind as long as it is claimed that it applies fatally and automatically, from the beginning of capitalism to the end and day after day, to the impotent workers, then, as do false revolutionaries.
In fact, there is a break on the historical scale, at the moment when the improvements removed from capital can no longer be preserved against its natural tendency to take them back, and at the height of prosperity, when capital then falls into crisis. For Marx, the struggle and the demands must be further extended, from the economic level to the political level of the revolution, with the current slogan of the abolition of wage labor, that is to say, the destruction capitalist relations.
It is because it denies the conservative trade unions the possibility of really improving the lot of the working class that Marx asks the workers to form revolutionary trade unions fighting for the emancipation of the workers from the capitalist yoke. He also shows that the trade unions, if they fight only for an improvement in the capitalist framework, without attacking it, even miss their goal, because of the historical laws of capitalist production.
Today, the economic and social reality confirms this law, showing that capital can only survive by pauperizing the masses on a universal scale. In the developed countries themselves, not only has the current prosperity been won at the cost of tens of millions of corpses in the global crisis of the 1939-1945 war and at the cost of the current misery of three-quarters of humanity, but even in the midst of prosperity, the underprivileged masses live under dramatic conditions and work at an infernal rate, while only a minority of aristocratic workers are gorging themselves, but tremble to see their privileges vanish at the approach of the next great economic and social crisis, war or revolution.
This disastrous result is due, for the most part, to trade unions that do not really oppose capital, since they have renounced the revolutionary goal, the abolition of wage labor, in spite of an incredible development of the productive forces and an immediate struggle of a proletariat — especially the poorest — which does not let go in its daily conflict with capital. Although it is true that the non-revolutionary trade unions can no longer pull out any general reforms or improvements for the working class, they manage nevertheless to maintain a thin layer of labor aristocrats, relying, on the one hand, on these privileges and, on the other hand, on the capitalist system and capitalist state.
Wages, price, profit and labor aristocracy
Let us now consider the effect of a general increase in wages according to the aristocracy of labor which does not seek to influence distribution and production in a direction favorable to the whole working class, but merely to improve its own fate. We will return to the previous schema to determine what will be the effect of a general increase in wages. But this time, instead of reducing the wage differences between workers of the same category and even of all categories, it will accentuate the differences, by virtue of the famous principle of the hierarchy of wages, so that, for example a wage increase of 10% would give a surplus of 100 francs to the one who receives 1000 francs, and 300 francs to the one who already has 3000 francs!
What will be the general effect? As before, the increase in wages will firstly increase the demand for subsistence goods. The capitalists who make these more demanded goods will increase their prices and, in this way, will largely compensate, this time, the average increase in wages. For capitalists who do not manufacture the objects of first necessity, the rate of profit first drops as much as for the other capitalists, but will it fall further because of the slump of the products returning to capital in the sector of the basic subsistence goods? While the capitalists, because of the decline in their profits, will have less money to buy their subsistence and luxury goods, it should be noted that: 1. the capitalists producing the means of subsistence for the workers have saved, for the most part, their incomes as they have increased their prices; 2.Women’s aristocracy, whose wages have increased sharply in absolute value, relative to average wages, will take over from the lower demand for subsistence and luxury goods by capitalists, preventing a fall in prices in these sectors, which would sanction, as in the first case, the reduction of the employers’ profits due to the general increase of wages.
Compared to the first case, the increase of wages always has a positive effect on the purchasing power of the workers, but a small one for the great mass, and considerable for the small group of labor aristocrats. As far as profits are concerned, the repercussion is always negative, but less so than in the first case; as far as production is concerned, it remains practically unchanged, or if it is affected, it is in the normal sense of capitalist development: a diminution of the share which belongs to the articles normally produced for the capitalist class and to which the labor aristocracy also buys.
This evolution underlines that the corruption of the aristocrats and their spirit of class collaboration is a material basis. In Volume II of Capital, Marx shows that in the developed countries during the prosperity phase a fraction of the working class participates in the consumption of luxury goods: “It is not only the consumption of the necessary subsistence that then the working class, in which the entire reserve army has actively entered [achieving full employment. It also takes part momentarily in the consumption of luxury articles which are ordinarily inaccessible to it, and also in the category of necessary articles of consumption which, for the most part, are usually only means of consumption “necessary” only for the capitalist class, phenomenon which, in turn, provokes a price explosion.”
Regarding production. Marx specifies that at times of prosperity, the capitalist system multiplies unproductive workers, “whose payment of services represents a part of the luxury expenses of the capitalists, these workers themselves being in this measure luxury goods” (ibid).
By consuming luxury goods, the aristocracy of labor, too, participates not only in the superfluous capitalist production, but also in the squandering of the working-class labor force, rendering unproductive those who could usefully work.
It cannot be said that all wage earners in general, whatever the nature of their activity, form the working class, a productive class par excellence and therefore a bearer of socialist society. Each time, it is necessary to specify their place and role in society, in the political and ideological fields, in production and in the economic sector, especially at present, where the professional categories are more and more numerous and differentiated, activities increasingly unproductive by the spontaneous game of senile capitalism and the long passivity of the conservative trade unions.
This corruption of a fraction of the working class, Engels denounced violently at a time when the government — economic agent by his despotic interventions in the production — undertook to operate it. It is significant that this government immediately adopts the work etiquette, in this case the “imperial socialism” of Napoleon III: “A part of the bourgeoisie, like workers, is directly bought. One, by the colossal credit spinoffs, which make the money of the small capitalists pass into the pockets of the great; the other, by great national works, which concentrate in the great cities, beside the normal and independent proletariat, an artificial and imperial proletariat, submitted to the government.”
Yet even on the contrary, the working class is the class of society because of its role in production in general. Its attitude in the economy is manifested mainly through its trade union organizations, is always decisive, even when they are part of the abstention or passivity, abandoning the direction of the economy to the employers and the employers’ capitalist state. As Marx has amply demonstrated, changes in the distribution or distribution of the general product have a major influence on the direction of production to such an area. And it is through this mechanism that trade union demands — conservative or revolutionary — exert a considerable influence on the quality of production.
Today, in developed countries, the phenomenon of the corruption of the working class is materially linked to the social deterioration of the production apparatus, which becomes more and more antisocial, as the industry of the useless and the increasing percentage of armaments in general production. The bourgeoisie has complacently spread the truly awesome statements of American trade union leaders, among others, who prefer a colonial war to continue rather than to tolerate unemployment among the “unproductive” workers of the recovery (the fact that they do not see that this alternative is long on the idea they have of the course of industry, implacably capitalist for them).
Marx, Engels, and Lenin established the law that revolutionary violence becomes more and more necessary, and painful, as capitalism inflates its state apparatus and management to maintain an order that exceeds the social level of the productive forces. Moreover, the productive apparatus is experiencing a hypertrophy of functions and activities that are useless and antisocial, to the point of creating a wall of opposition between rich and poor countries that are all capitalist. In the developed countries, the production and the politics of the parties, especially the workers’ parties, which cover this depressing and debilitating evolution for the whole society, which tomorrow will have to be able that the degenerate workers’ parties and organizations have allowed, even supported, a course also against nature and for the antihuman side of the current society.
No doubt, Marx and Engels have not experienced such aberrational phenomena, but by attacking the evil of its formation, at its root, they have provided us with all the theoretical arsenal necessary to judge and condemn the degeneration in which have fallen the conservative trade unions, true souls of the bourgeoisie.
Labor aristocracy, agriculture and colonialism
In the texts at the end of our first volume, Marx and Engels denounced in advance the collusion of the aristocracy of labor with its bourgeoisie for the defense of the common part in the imperialist carnage. They accused the labor aristocracy of participating in colonial exploitation, which is a shame for a fraction of the working class, the only truly productive class of developed capitalism.
The economic mechanism by which colonialism and imperialism flow into the trade union question is simple and classic for Marxism. The little diagram of the previous chapter has shown us that a particularly sensitive wage increase for the privileged fraction of the working class involves the latter in the consummation of luxury reserved up to the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois class; it also promotes the “natural” tendency of capitalism, which is to develop industry and to abandon agriculture as much as possible, since it satisfies less effectively the thirst for profit and the accumulation of capital. Agriculture is first and foremost the proletariat, which needs first and foremost to eat and, in fact, converts most of its wages into subsistence in the broadest sense (including housing, linked to land, therefore to land rent).
If agriculture is an ungrateful land for capital, it is because it must wait for a year in general for a single rotation, being immobilized unproductively for several seasons, whereas in industry rotations can be multiple, so that a capital of 1000 francs for example, if it gives 10% of profit at each rotation gets 100 francs in agriculture, while in the industry it can give — always at 10% — an annual profit at least 500 francs, if the capital runs five times. In addition, to invest in agriculture, the capital must pay a rent to the owner of the land, in other words, surrender part of the surplus value to the landed tenant. All of this has the historical result that capitalism sells cheap industrial goods and food at a high price, unlike feudalism, for example, where the improvement was cheap, unlike the products of manufactures and handicrafts.
If the industry produces less than agriculture, it is because the average, current prices of the industrial item are ultimately determined by the production of the most modern and productive surplus, either by the lowest cost of production, while in agriculture the least fertile land determines the average price, all that favors productivity is the rent which increases the average price of foodstuffs.
England of the last century had therefore only one ambition: to become the workshop of the whole world and to abandon agriculture to obtain the means of subsistence at low prices in the colonies. By doing this, English capitalism avoided all the natural limitations it was hiding in the land and could develop at a dizzying pace. In the meantime, the bourgeoisie could throw some crumbs from the feast to the labor aristocracy.
Capitalist production has the tendency and result, says Marx, of constantly increasing the productivity of labor. In other words, it constantly increases the mass of the means of production transformed into products by the same additional work, which is spread over a mass of products always larger, so that the price of each commodity decreases, without the mass or rate profit going down.
It brings us back to the labor aristocracy. As we have seen, a hierarchical wage increase allows him to participate in the luxury consumption of the bourgeoisie. However, now it does not even necessarily need a wage increase so that its purchasing power increases, since the industrial products, which it increases, since the price for all, “democratically” — says Marx– excludes all the same the great mass of workers who do not buy or buy very little.
The labor aristocracy — to a lesser degree, of course, than the capitalists — sees its standard of living increase simply because industrial production is increasing, hence its cult of national production, which must be increased and increased, to defend against wild or prolonged strikes that disrupt the “general boom” in wealth. Henceforth, the labor aristocracy is still more closely associated with the bourgeois conception than that of the working class, which moreover often consists of foreign immigrants or colored workers. This explains why, in developed countries, the range of wages may be less wide than in less developed countries, without the aristocracy of labor being really “injured”: it is, no doubt, thriving.
Engels foresaw, in the classical case of England, that with the loss of the colonial empire and the crisis, the aristocratic English workers would fall back into the proletariat: the past historical experience confirmed this objective fact, but from the subjective (political) view, the petty-bourgeois traditions remain so strongly rooted that this fraction, then radical and combative, tends to rank directly (in the fascist ranks) or indirectly (in the social-democratic ranks) on the side of the bourgeoisie and established order. General revolutionary traditions and the length of the crisis can, to a certain extent, counteract this evolution. Strikes — these schools of war preparing for the revolution — are the surest test for determining the future evolution of the labor aristocracy. But the historical experience makes us pessimistic in this respect.
Nowadays agricultural prices are rising at a rapid pace, not only for reasons of conjuncture (phase of prosperity), but especially for historical reasons, which make it more obvious that capitalism is incapable of solving the agrarian, food question. England, France, etc., had succeeded for nearly a century in finding cheap foodstuffs in the colonies, and this means, with the expansion of industry, allowed the bourgeoisie to blunt the revolutionary ferment of English workers first, then French. But this period of relatively cheap food is definitely closed now, because of the revolutionary struggles of the colonial peoples against white imperialism. The French working class, through its degenerate parties and trade unions, did not lend its support to those who were attacking its bourgeoisie, as the episode of the Algerian war testifies. It is therefore only even more massive and dramatic economic facts that can change the attitude of the white labor aristocracy, or even a fraction of it, or polarize the large fraction of paupers of the proletariat.
Marx had foreseen, from 1848, that capitalism would end up finding no more land among others to feed the white population cheaply. What he did not see was that people of color had to chase hungry people alone in the midst of the monstrous apathy of the white working class, and create for them the conditions that must render them new revolutionaries, namely the need to struggle to eat.
All the efforts of the bourgeoisie to organize the agricultural market have now no other purpose than to plan the increase in the price of foodstuffs. Marx had foreseen this last stage: “As the population increases, the foreign grain cannot enter the country, it is well force to argue the least fertile lands, whose culture requires more expenses, and of which the product is therefore more expensive. [Cf. the virgin lands of Khrushchev and the return to the land in England]. The grain being a sale force [it must eat well], the price will be fixed on the price of the products of the most expensive land. The difference between this price and the production costs of the best land will be land rent.” In other words, the parasite rent increases with the difficulties that humanity finds in feeding itself.
When the proletarians demand a salary adjustment to compensate for the decline in their standard of living, the bourgeoisie and its countless lackeys, economists, journalists and trade union chiefs, will, as always, increase their wage demands, increasing prices and will cancel the effect of rising wages. Faced with all the accumulated wealth, with all the unprecedented productive capacities developed today, this argument is absurd. Nevertheless every penny of wage increase must be torn from surplus value, and requires a fierce struggle: the whole apparatus of the state, propaganda, corruption, blackmail is mobilized to prevent the slightest parcel of surplus value is lost to those who, innumerable, live on it and represent the established order. It is these millions of accomplices, objective and devious among the “people” and among the “wage-earners” that must first be denounced and broken, before effectively attacking the capitalist system itself, this first step being the more difficult, but is the sine qua non of the second.
Reduction of the working day
All the class struggles of the proletariat go in the direction of a claim of the diminution of the working day, with an implacable rigor and necessity. In the same way it is also on the prolongation of this day that capital concentrates its efforts in the most systematic way, because it is the hot spot of capitalist exploitation and the extortion of surplus value.
Capital is less affected by a rise in wages which reverses the surplus value already produced, but, proportionately, does not affect the volume of production or the rate of capital growth, whereas a reduction in working time reduces the time or capital produced and extorted from surplus value.
It is on this point that the spokespersons of capital — forgetting that the working day is made of its duration and its intensity — lavish praise, reiterating that the working conditions have greatly improved over the past century, since We do not work today 14 or 16 hours, but 8 hours. It would be easy to answer that this “progress” is not due to the benevolence of his capitalist Majesty. The workers had to fight entire decades to snatch a mere drop of an hour or even less. In addition, there should also be working day, it is that he fights a strong resistance of all workers.
More than ever, the current situation confirms that the proletariat owes nothing to the good graces of capital, rich and intelligent that it is. Indeed, after gigantic struggles, the bourgeoisie had to concede the 8-hour day, which seemed — and indeed was — a very great conquest, but this conquest now dates back more than fifty years, during which the progress of productive technology has not reduced the current average working time by one minute, but on the contrary has increased it, especially in France, which among the European countries of comparable day of work is the longest and far exceeds this famous “legal minimum”.
Not only is the worker forced to work extra hours in order to live, but the time he should devote to rest (which does not only mean sleeping, but living and caring for his personal interests) is hampered by transport, as well as by the arbitration requirements of “vocational training”, “qualification” and other “retraining”.
Even with regard to the duration of labor in production, Marxism has shown that the duration alone does not account for the length of the working day. The intensification of the work lengthens, indeed, the day of work. Everyone knows that today a worker makes in eight hours infinitely more than what he made 100 years over in ten hours. In fact, capitalism reacts to every increase in wages or to every reduction in working hours by an intensification of the rates, and if it mechanizes the production process, it is because the machine is a material means, “to extort a greater amount of work at the same time.”
If at the “legal minimum” and overtime (at the factory, in transport, etc.), or at the actual duration of work, the time condensed by the technical and social progress of the work of the workers is added a vertiginous increase in the exploitation of the current workforce. Without the risk of being mistaken, we can say that this real day of efforts has, at least, increased by half in the last fifty years, which brings us back to the fatigues of the famous old days of work of 12 or 13 hours and more.
It is precisely on this crucial point that the trade union directorates oppose the least serious and general resistance to capitalism. It is not fortuitous that the pace of exploitation has accelerated during the last twenty years with piece work and the increase of rates, the hardening of norms, the coupling of machines, all these acts of piracy being perpetrated with increased savagery from year to year and developing the forms of overexploitation of human labor force, which not only wear muscle but also vital, vital energies. Indeed, the trade union leadership gave them an extra boost, defending the productivity bonuses, linking wages to output, fighting for a whole bunch of bonuses, accepting the worker’s interest in the company. and, more generally, by teaching the workers to identify their own class interests with those of the production of the enterprise and the nation, of civilization and of the homeland.
We cannot develop here the mechanism by which this infinite capacity for the production of surplus value found in the worker’s human carcass allows for a growing quantity of unproductive and other pests to develop at the same time as useless or even antisocial industries, but always the most modern ones, which make them live and make the workers work at feverish pace.
For Marx, two tendencies intertwine constantly under capitalism: on the one hand, that of using fewer and fewer arms to produce as many or more goods, which amounts to reducing the number of workers in each factory and industry gives, capitalism treating the worker as undesirable and seeking to eliminate it; on the other hand, the tendency to use as many arms as possible, because the workers are the source of wealth, and to a certain degree of productive power, the mass of surplus value and surplus product. increases with that of the work employed. The first tendency throws the worker on the ground and creates a double overpopulation, the unemployed and the parasites who live on the new surplus, while the second absorbs these workers and continues to widen the wage and exploitation. But Marx insists on this point that the bourgeois economists leave aside:
“The continual increase of the middle classes which, placed between the workers and the capitalists, live almost directly from the income, weighs on the working class and increases the power and the security of the upper classes”: it is to these classes related to capital because of their interests, which also clash with the workers’ demands.
These classes contribute directly to the exploitation of the working class, and their proliferation as capitalist development proceeds partly explains the resistance capacity of the bourgeois system. These classes, which absorb surplus value by finding an employee in the service of capital to which their direct interests bind them, also oppose the proletariat when it demands a wage increase which cuts the surplus value. The odious capitalist system economizes on the backs of the productive workers to feed these superfluous classes, but indispensable to the capitalist order that at various levels they materially represent and defend ideologically.
“The more productive the work becomes, the more the day of work can go down. However, the shorter the day of work, the more intense it can grow. At the social level, the increasing productivity of labor entails a working economy, by eliminating all unitary expenditure in means of production as well as in vital forces. While the capitalist mode of production imposes this economy in every enterprise taken apart, by making the crazy expense of the working force a means of economy for the individual exploiter, it creates moreover, because of its anarchic system of competition, the most intense squandering of productive labor and social means of production, and moreover it creates a multitude of parasitic functions that it renders more or less indispensable.”
Capital, thanks to its mobility and its surprising capacity for adaptation, can mix productive and unproductive elements, multiplying hybrid or ambiguous categories. Thus, the tobacco producer is productive (since he creates surplus value), but the consumption of tobacco is unproductive (see Marx, Fondement, etc., Ed Anthropos, I, 253, note).
In general, capitalism is developing more and more the law that the more a worker is engaged in productive work and works hard, the less enviable his fate is and the less he suffers compared to those who work in less productive environments. There are also trade unions that bring together unproductive and even useless workers. The pressure that capital — by nature, since it expropriates even the immense mass of small, medium and even big capitalists — exerts on these “wages” is less than that which it imposes on the productive workers. Their “trade unionism” suffers from it: it is the same, with its joint committees, or employees and employers agree questions of recruitment, transfer, creation of posts, organization of services, the quintessence of the union devoid of class content and of collaboration with employers, which is now proposed as a model for trade unions. It is a real greenhouse for reformist trade union methods.
The unity of the trade union movement supposes the elimination of all categories which exist only to capture privileges in relation to the great mass. For Marx-Engels, this unit goes through the maximum activation of the most underprivileged layers which are precisely those which are the most productive, and therefore bearers of future society. The revolutionary elements must make every effort to organize and politicize them by developing their own activity and initiative. The slogans that will unite the proletariat will therefore have to begin by massively favoring these deep layers. This is exactly the opposite of what is practiced current opportunist directions. Only revolutionary slogans can unify the proletariat, and the most effective is the reduction of the working day with the crushing of the hierarchies and an average wage which removes all the temptations of extra hours of exploitation.
Nowadays, the work week should not be reduced by half an hour. In fact, the reduction of working time must be a function of the time that the technical progress — the social element of labor — economizes. We estimate that this reduces working day by at least half, and this only restores the status quo ante and eliminates the over-exploitation that has developed over the last fifty years. In fact, capital is incapable of satisfying this demand, which would cancel out entire branches of useless activities and would be a decisive blow to productive hypertrophy, to the mad growth of production rates, to production for production, that is to say, to capital. This goal is directly related to the abolition of wage labor. It has the same meaning as the claim of Lenin’s International after 1919: the six-hour day.
A massive reduction in working day implies first that the wages remain at their level, which would correspond to a general increase of the current hourly wage. This increase is essential for the complete elimination of overtime, production bonuses, piece work and countless incentives for increased output. Since this is a class measure, the underprivileged strata should benefit relatively more than others. In fact, the layers that work the hardest and are the worst paid generally have the longest work schedule; similarly, the privileges of non-productive wage earners and labor aristocrats are not only wage-related but also hourly. If one simply maintained the same amount of wages for a period of work brought back to the same schedule already proportionately increases more than that of the others, but that would be insufficient.
The slogan of the general and massive reduction of hours of work is also inseparable from the struggle against the trade union leaderships which subordinate the interests of the workers to national production, democracy and legality. It therefore implies the conquest of trade union leadership by the revolutionary Marxist party, which links all its demands, even immediate ones, to the objective of the violent destruction of the state and the form of capitalist production. If the capitalist system is incapable of satisfying workers’ demands, it must simply be substituted for socialism, that is to say, to pose clearly and energetically the problem of the revolution.
The struggle for the reduction of the working day is crucial, because it synthesizes all the other demands: the struggle against overexploitation and the special conditions in which certain categories of workers find themselves because of the division of labor which keeps them separate from the general movement; organization of production according to the criteria of the workers, with the cessation of production facilities at legal hours, a first blow to the domination of machines over living work; suppression of the privileges of the working aristocracy, always in search of high wages, even if limited to a single layer of workmen, and which is bound by a thousand sons, rewards of fidelity, efficiency, command, participation, & co. to the particular enterprise; not decisive for the standardization of working conditions, remuneration and, by insurance, illness, retirement and pension; in short, it is a serious blow to particularism, to hierarchies of all kinds and to the thirst for money and objects, in other words to private property, the more redoubtable and virulent it is diffused into millions of heads, and concentrated in a few giant enterprises.
Capitalist and communist labor time
The older a form of society becomes, the more its social and political relations are frozen and sclerotic, while the productive forces continue to develop, leaving behind overthrown social structures. Thus, the more flexible, inventive, fertile the work becomes, the less the conditions in which it acts admit the movement. During the final phase of capitalist development, the official, deep-rooted society is thus totalitarian and hierarchical, like feudal society in its time. “It is the unquestionable merit of Fourier to have anticipated this pyramidal form of modern industry which he called industrial feudalism.”
Senile capitalism also imposes this hierarchization on the workers who are more and more divided and strictly supervised in a tight network of functions, positions of work and remuneration. The wage of each worker is divided into all kinds of different remunerations, which are as much deductions on the current wage: family allowances, housewives, housing, transportation, sickness, seniority, not to mention hierarchies and wage scales that arbitrarily and sneakily evaluate each worker’s qualifications and performance. A single company can thus have a salary grid with more than 400 different rates, which varies from one company to another, from one branch of industry to another, even from one locality to another. Everything is weighed: age, seniority in training, time in the factory, etc. The capitalist economy, all of it totalitarian, seizes all the natural peculiarities of each individual to file them, to catalog them and to fix them a price which has nothing to do with the creative activity of value which must make an effort determined in the process of production.
Now, the historical merit of capitalism has been precisely to have reduced everything to a single universal and simple value: the hour of work, not individual, but average and social, which measures the value of all commodities and regulates the production of each branch, indicating not only what must be produced, but also how and what conditions must be produced for the commodity to be profitable.
“Work is, it seems, a very simple category, and the idea of work in general – work is short – is as old as the world.” But, says Marx, “this state of affairs does not reach its greater development than in the most modern form of bourgeois societies: in the United States. It is therefore only the abstract category of “work”, “work in general”, work without sentence, starting point of the modern economy, becoming true in practice”.
Since then, the European economy has joined and even exceeded this level of the United States, but in lieu of the fact that this simplification of work hasn’t helped to close the ranks of the working class, the only class of labor, as capital has extended the wage to all forms of activity, unproductive, antiproductive, antisocial, even the appearances of exploiters, since everyone is now paid, the President of the Republic to the last henchman of the police, what is more, labor has been split into a thousand fractions that separate and grind the individual who has the misfortune to be a productive worker as well as the modern working class.
The claim of the reduction of working time, in striking a blow to all the artificial dispersion of labor, is therefore based on an aspect of the reality developed by capital itself, but denied by him for reasons of conservation. By placing this demand at the center of its preoccupations, the working class is seized with a solid lever that finally allows it to overthrow the capitalist social order and to establish a communist form of organization of production and society. This claim has a permanent character, because it relates directly to the supreme goal of socialism, unlike other immediate claims that have a transitory content, not only because they are finally questioned by capitalist society, but also because they no longer arise in communist society that ignores wages, money, the state and democracy.
“In fact,” says Marx, “no form of society can prevent that, in one way or another, the available working time of society regulates production.”
“Even after the elimination of the capitalist mode of production, the determination of value will always be in the foreground, because it will be necessary more than ever to regulate the working time and the distribution of social work among the different groups of production, and more that never will it be necessary to keep an accounting on these things, more important than ever.”
“Accounting, as a control and a mental summary of the process of production, is all the more necessary because the trial proceeds more socially and loses its purely individual character. It is therefore more necessary in capitalist production than in the piecemeal production of artisans and peasants, more necessary in communal production than in capitalist production. But the costs of accounting are reduced with concentration and as it turns into a social compatibility.”
“Suppose,” says Marx, “just to make a parallel with the market production, that the share granted to each worker is due to his working time, the working time would play a dual role. On the one hand, its distribution in society regulates the exact ratio of the various functions to the various needs; on the other hand, it measures the individual share of each producer in the common work, and at the same time the portion which belongs to him in the part of the common product reserved for consumption.”
But in the socialist society, production will change qualitatively, and we will now see the modifications that this entails for the hour of work. As long as the regulation of hours of work is not carried out under the direct and conscious control of society, the articles to be produced will be determined by their lower cost of production, which means that the foodstuffs pass after the industrial products, that products tend to degrade more and more, “the most miserable products having the prerogative of serving the use of the greatest number”.
In socialist society, the relationship between land and industry will be reversed, and today the proletariat, when it obtains a general rise in wages, tends, as we have seen, to reorient production towards fundamental sector of agriculture. The economic principle will be that the articles produced will be determined according to their degree of social utility, and no longer their lower cost of production.
The relation which will subsist, says Engels, is that which exists between the needs of consumption and the capacities of production: “In a state worthy of humanity there will be no other competition than that. The community will have to calculate what it can produce, given the means available to it, and will determine, according to the ratio of its productive forces to the mass of its consumers, to what extent it will be able to satisfy the needs of luxury. or will have to limit them.”
“In communist society, it will be easy to know both production and consumption. As we know what a person needs on average, it is easy to calculate what a given number of people needs, and how production will no longer be in the hands of a few private purchasers, but between those of the community and from his administration [the State being abolished], it will be easy to regulate production according to the needs.”
The company went one step further. The true economy is about working time, what capitalism does by reducing the work necessary for production to a minimum and reducing production costs. But for this, it reduces the class of workers to be a machine to produce the largest possible amount of time available. “If working time is the measure of wealth, it is because true wealth means the development of the productive force of all individuals. From then on it is no longer the Working Time, but the Free Time that measures wealth.” In the socialist society, therefore, “saving working time means increasing free time, that is to say time serving the complete development of the individual, which in turn acts on the productive force and increases it.”
In the first volume, we quoted Lenin, who quite naturally attributed to the economic organizations of the proletariat, the trade unions, the task, once the power conquered by the proletariat, of transforming the alien man from capitalism into a communist: “Through the intermediary of these industrial unions, the division of labor between men will be suppressed later; we will go on to education, training and the training of men who are universally developed and prepared, knowing how to do everything. This is where the communism must and will come, but only after long years.” (109)
In his articles on trade union tasks (pp. 36, 87, 90 of this volume), Engels sets the goal of trade unions taking possession of the means of production: no doubt they have a preponderant part in the process of controlling organized workers. Marx, on the subject of the struggle of the trade unions for control of the working day, points out that the proletariat, even within capitalist society and even in the demands that seem most immediate, deploys its efforts for the realization of the highest end goals of communism, a single but solid thread connecting all demands of class between them and this supreme program (pp. 177-161).
“The state gives the intensity and the productivity of the work, the time that the company must devote to the material production is so much shorter, and the time available for the free development of the individuals all the greater, that the work is also more common among all members of society, and one social class has less power to unburden another of this necessity imposed by nature. In this sense, the shortening of the working day finds its last limit in the generalization of labor.”
Generalization of labor
In the capitalist system, the increasing fertility of productive labor generates, on the contrary, the formation of a growing layer of “parasites that it renders more or less indispensable.” It is not therefore in the capitalist system that the reduction of the working day, claimed by the trade unions, can lead to the generalization of labor and, consequently, to intellectual work, in other words to the total fulfillment of the individual who combines these two types of activity. To achieve this result, the workers must rise to a form of political struggle by overthrowing the system of capitalist domination. When political power is in the hands of workers, the demands that capital cannot satisfy can then continue to be realized, reaching a point of no return. The main task will be to abolish class differences, either of income, of category, of intellectual or manual training, in order precisely to obtain “an association where the free development of each is the condition of the free fulfillment of all” (Manifesto of 1848).
In the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx defines the process that ensures the transition to the communist way of life and work, after the conquest of political power by the proletariat. In the first place, we have the suppression of income related to land (land rent) or capital (profit): the corresponding classes or groups disappear because everyone has to work to live and society has all the means of production and the product of collective work. Each worker receives from the company a certificate certifying that he has provided such a sum of labor (after deduction of the labor done for the collective fund) and, with this voucher, he withdraws from social reserves exactly as many objects of consumption for the same amount of labor he has given to society in one form, he receives it in return in another form. “However, in spite of this progress, this equal right remains a prisoner of bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the work they provide“, the social element of labor going back to the whole community.
At this stage already, money and wage labor have, in fact, already disappeared, as Marx indicates in the second volume of Capital: “The money-capital disappears into socialized production. The company divides the labor force and the means of production among the various branches of industry. Producers may, if you wish, receive vouchers in exchange for taking a quantity of their working time from the social deposits of consumption. These vouchers are not money. They do not circulate.”
The retribution of the labor itself has thus already undergone strong restrictions which tend to make the class of the proletariat itself disappear: “This equal right is an unequal right for unequal work. He recognizes no distinction of class, since every man is a worker like the others; but it recognizes, as a natural privilege, the unequal talent of the workers and, consequently, the inequality of their productive capacity.” In bourgeois society, the wage had to provide for the reproduction of the labor force — that is, that is to say, for the worker’s family — as well as training, education, sickness, retirement expenses; On the other hand, from the earliest stage of socialism, the remuneration of labor is no more than a maintenance of the strictly personal needs of each worker, since society takes charge of the fund for the satisfaction of the community of needs such as schools, public health, etc., as well as the fund for those who are unable to work, etc., in other words the pension, sickness, old-age, maternity, etc., funds demanded by the workers already under capitalism. They will be systematized into a set which abolishes category differences and the mercantile conditions of attribution, after having been snatched from the clutches of money as well as those of the state and capital, if the trade unions have not been able to manage them independently, as Marx and Engels proposed to remove them from the domination of the employers (see the text on the insurance and retirement funds, pages 225-235). And Marx adds that in these spheres of interest to a considerable fraction of the population (children, adolescents, diseases, old people, mothers), “labor itself no longer measures what is touched and this sphere will grow that the new society is developing.”
On the other hand, Marx specifies that “the fraction destined to the general expenses of administration which do not concern production, will diminish as the new society develops” : we are going towards the extinction of the state.
Society, holding the means of production and the product of the collective labor of all, will take away from what everyone touches for its immediate needs:
- a fund intended for the replacement of the means of production used;
- an additional fraction to expand production;
- a reserve fund and insurance against accidents, disturbances due to natural phenomena, etc.
We are very close to the society whose principle is: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
Legality and economic evolution of capitalism
The question of the legality of trade unions and the right to strike is linked by definition to that of the bourgeois state. It constitutes the first of the very serious problems today, that of the integration of trade unions into capitalist state institutions. On the other hand, it poses the fundamental problem, for Marxism, of the autonomy of the economic and political organizations of the proletariat, the emancipation of the working class being its work.
During the first period of its domination, everything was clear and simple: the bourgeoisie systematically prohibited the trade unions, as Marx and Engels show in the following texts, following the example of England, Germany and France. At the beginning of capitalism, without the least reserve, the working class did not even suspect the capitalist state, or its conditions would’ve been appreciably improved. No illusion about a better near future could hold her back in times of acute crisis, and the economic struggle naturally began on the political ground, in the street, on the barricades, against the bastions of the bourgeois state. The bourgeoisie, not yet having a considerable accumulation of productive facilities and machines that increase the intensity of labor, and hence productivity, had only one way to extract the surplus value: to lengthen as much as possible the day of work. Under these conditions, at the time of the crisis of periodic overproduction, the bourgeoisie had to reduce hours of work until the market was uncongested; in other words, it threw on the scrapheap its workers who had no other recourse than the violent force and the frontal struggle against the bourgeois regime.
This relative scarcity of reserves among the bourgeoisie also explains why it was launched, from its birth, to the conquest of a colonial empire whose wealth was to serve as a buffer and a safety net and give it a certain margin of maneuver in the class struggle in the interior.
Only in the idyllic phase of capitalism would reformist illusions emerge, first among a thin layer of workers: the capitalist production capacity is now great enough to improve somewhat the fate of working class, “to throw him some crumbs of the bourgeois feast”. Relatively calm political and social development can begin in industrialized countries, with capital exerting its wild rage in the colonies.
At the time of Marx, this idyllic phase was more marked in England than on the continent, where capitalism was less developed and expanded a little later. Capitalism, however, did not change its nature, being quite incapable of lasting improvement in the average level of the whole working class. Crises and wars, more devastating and longer than ever, will periodically bring the masses back into atrocious misery. Be that as it may, the bourgeoisie can just maintain a fringe of the working class, a privileged aristocracy in relation to the mass of workers. It is, however, that this aristocracy enjoys a dominant position, because it is she who is the most formally political, better organized, more free in its movements, in short the most influential within the class. Hence the importance of the struggle that Marx and Engels have fought against these traitors and deserters. In fact, at a time of acute crisis, the labor aristocracy everywhere has decided the fate of the labor movement for decades.
Even when it claims to be apolitical, reformism is always economic, political and social at the same time. On the economic level, it has never really achieved a general and lasting improvement of the working class as a whole. From the beginning, he defended the interests of yesterday, the particular professional category. In fact, reformism is hindered by a double obstacle which has caused its historic bankruptcy: on the one hand, to the general tendency of the capitalist economy to lower, not to raise, the average level of wages; on the other hand, to the mass movements that overwhelm the limited claims of reformism and engage in the revolutionary path.
Marx and Engels, who were truly desirous of a gradual and general improvement in the living conditions of the workers, would logically suggest to the workers’ movement the use of revolutionary means and the struggle for the abolition of wage labor, since capitalism is incapable of securing durably this improvement. Does not this all compromise the bourgeois system at the time of the greatest overproduction, or precisely does capitalism fall into crisis or conjure a devastating war? The reformism of Marx and Engels therefore inevitably passes through the anti-capitalist revolution, but on this account it is no longer reformism, but revolutionary communism.
Right to strike and the state
Bourgeois law asserts in principle that the right to strike is exercised within the framework of laws in general, simply because it is guaranteed by the Constitution. The famous strike notice only recalls this fact, taking one step further, but of great size: the direct interference with the action and the workers’ demands.
At first glance, the law is simply manifested in laws or prescriptions ordering to do or not to do, in active or passive rights, valid for all. But all these rights form precisely the legislation of a state which is bourgeois and that it is not enough to adopt the democratic label so that it loses its class character and stops defending the bourgeoisie. In fact, the purpose of the laws is not only to defend the bourgeois state and the anti-worker interests it covers, but also to justify the legal measures for this purpose.
Does this mean that the right to strike defends private property, class and bourgeois interests? This is absolutely evident nowadays, if in this formula we consider the right, and not the strike. As good as it may seem, the law ultimately defends the bourgeois state, and the more popular a law is, the more it serves to defend and protect private property, insofar as it is interested in larger layers and attempts to include them in the bourgeois order.
In practice, what is serious in this formulation is that it is admitted that the strike is subject to rules emanating from the bourgeois state, not from the proletarian class. And why would the Constitution not also provide the rules according to which the revolution will have to take place? In the following texts, Engels expresses the principle that “the Englishman is not free by law, but in spite of the law”, “the struggle of the poor against the rich cannot be carried out until his death in the field of democracy or politics in general”. At the end of his life, pressed by the German social-democratic leadership to support the legality (which the bourgeois state wanted to break to surprise the socialists), Engels resisted with all his might: “I cannot, however, admit that you intend to prescribe, with your whole body and your whole soul, absolute legality, legality in all circumstances, even legality vis-à-vis those who offend the law, in short the policy of tending the left cheek to the one that hit you on the right cheek.” And to recall the traditional conception of the Marxist for whom the laws do not engage the workers, but represent the state, to use it for a maneuver: “Legality as long as it suits us, but not legality at any price, even in words!”
Marx has certainly defended the thesis that it was necessary to fight to wrest from the state a law limiting hours of work, a law which imposes itself on both rebel bosses and recalcitrant workers (those, for example, who want to make overtime). The advantage of such a law, he says, is that it applies to all without distinction, and requires no compensation from employers or, above all, from workers. In other words: no agreement or convention binds them to one another, committing speech and limiting the action of one against the other, as is the case in the current conventions, signed by the trade unions and bosses. In return, the workers never had a fortiori to engage, morally or formally, to respect the law of the state; 2 that it is a reflection of a balance of power: even a conservative Parliament may be forced to vote for such a law, which does not bind the workers’ party vis-à-vis the state, contrary to what goes into degenerate worker parliamentarism, with its compromises and its tricks. The state, concentrated violence, will apply or not the law (according to its class interests), but things remain clear: in both cases, it is consequently a balance of power. In any case, the proletariat does not allow its freedom of action.
The limit between the usefulness for the proletariat of claiming a law regulating labor is fixed by the principle that the autonomy of the proletariat must be preserved at all costs. He must absolutely not let his arms be tied, or even suggest that he is engaged with the opposing class power. An example shows the price that Marx and Engels pay for this autonomy of the proletariat: “The root of all the evil lies precisely in the fact that the capitalists contribute in one way or another [to the mutual benefit funds]. As long as it lasts, we cannot take away the management of the Company and the Mutual Fund. To be true workers’ societies, the mutual benefit funds must be based solely on the workers’ contributions. Only then can they be transformed into trade unions which protect the workers from the arbitrariness of individual bosses.” (See infra, 231.)
On the other hand, the workers will never tolerate a strike for mere legal reasons: their attitude will always depend, and what suits them, and the forces at their disposal, not to mention those they find in front of them. Of course, a strike has its rules, but these are not police regulations. The strike must satisfy the proletarian interests, and to organize a strike means to dispose the workers’ forces in the best conditions to achieve not only an immediate result, but even more importantly to unite the working class against the bourgeois classes, by striking a blow to the economic and social, and therefore also political, interests of capitalism.
The proletariat cannot accept a contractual, legal limitation of its action. This is the purpose of the rules implied by the right to strike. What is hypocritically called “rules” is in fact a pure and simple limitation of the strike movement, that of self-restraint by the trade unions that bend to it. With the strike notice, these trade unions do not even wait for the state to intervene, they impose on themselves rules which, instead of surprising the opponent and sabotaging his plans, consist in warning him eight days in advance of the eventuality of a strike. The boss then finds the time to prepare the means of his defense, to organize informers, as well as the corruption among the workers, to make provisions for the stocks and the customers, of maximum the productive installations (that these same trade unions besides, they praise, while the capitalists are closing every day factories still in a condition to run) and, finally, to prevent the repressive forces of the state and the police.
Under these conditions, the strike is no longer a weapon of struggle, but a simple abstention from work, a simple civil protest, a peaceful demonstration, a compact and orderly cortege, even if it is nonetheless attacked with ferocity by the forces of war, the bourgeois order or, better, the order of the bourgeois right to strike.
Finally, recognizing and respecting this “right” is tantamount to claiming the perpetual defeat of the working class, its eternal subordination to the capitalist state, its allegiance to the opportunist parties and to the capitulating leadership of the trade union chiefs. It is abandoning politics to the bourgeoisie, and confining oneself, with the success we know, to purely economic demands, in short, according to Engels’ expression, is to recognize the eternal existence of capital and wage labor.