RESCUING THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO: the revolutionary role of capitalism
Superseded. New version here
In The Communist Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels put great stress on the revolutionary role of capitalism. They believed that by wrenching us out of economic and social backwardness, and changing us from peasants into proletarians, capitalism was removing the only insurmountable obstacles to communism. This meant that communism was no longer pie in the sky and had become something made possible by historically created conditions. Communism is like a butterfly to the ugly capitalist caterpillar. It is a consequence of capitalism and the next stage in the progress of humanity. Capitalism cannot be bypassed and the more that it changes the world the better the basis for a revolutionary transition to communism.
Present-day green anti-capitalists do not share this view, even those who claim to be Marxists. They believe capitalism is destroying a past that should be preserved and is leading us down a path from which we must retreat. Marx and Engels in their day had to contend with similar people, and indeed part of chapter 3 of The Communist Manifesto is devoted to them. Their anti-capitalism is reactionary rather than revolutionary.
At the same time, this message of The Communist Manifesto is of course ignored by those for whom capitalism is the best of all possible worlds. It gets in the way of their "communism has failed" mantra which they base on abortive 20th century revolutions in backward and essentially pre-capitalist regions. This experience in fact only confirms the message that communism can only successfully emerge from advanced capitalism. Marx and Engels would not have been surprised by the outcome.
… by wrenching us out of economic and social backwardness and changing us from peasants into proletarians, capitalism was removing the only insurmountable obstacles to communism.
Even while capitalism’s eventual grave digger, the proletariat, continues its fitful slumber, the world still moves forward. Capitalism proceeds on its development path, knocking down obstacles to a more advanced classless society. By mid-century if the uneven and erratic development trajectory of recent decades in poorer countries is maintained we will see considerable progress towards a world where industrial modernity is the rule.
Economic development under capitalism brings high levels of productivity and the end to arduous toil. These conditions eliminate the material necessity for the profit motive and open up the prospect of people being spurred on in their efforts by the desire to work and mutual regard, while at the same time being happy with a shared prosperity.
Capitalism also sees the emergence of modernity. This eliminates or undermines much of the backward culture of pre-capitalist conditions, with its supremacy of the elder dominated extended family, tribe or other groups at the expense of the individual and society, with its subordination of women and with its deference and servility, and acceptance of autocracy and tyranny. A classless, communist society could not possibly emerge directly from such conditions. Emerging from capitalism will be difficult enough.
Capitalism turns people from peasants into proletarians. The proletariat comprises almost everyone who relies on a wage, salary or welfare payment and it becomes the overwhelming majority of the population. The big capitalists own the vast bulk of the means of production. This includes public infrastructure owned by them collectively through their governments. They are a tiny handful, perhaps 0.01 per cent of the population. The proletarian class has nothing to lose and everything to gain from communism, a system in which it takes collective possession of the means of production. Unlike, their peasant forebears they have the potential to grow into the role of being their own masters or ruling class.
The proletariat has not yet begun to be aware of its true interests. However, when it does there will be a period of revolutionary transition to communism that will be protracted and difficult given the enormity of the changes required. More than a few temporary but serious setbacks can be expected.
Communism will be an advance on capitalism in all respects. On the economic front, it will remove the brakes that capitalism places on the economy. This includes eliminating economic crises, vastly increasing support for science and unleashing the worker initiative and enthusiasm that capitalism cannot tap. On the social front, proletarians will transform their life, relationships and personality as they develop a world based on mutual regard rather than the dog eat dog conditions of capitalism where sociopaths are often the biggest winners.
There is no communist movement at the moment, just a pseudo left. When proto-communists do begin to emerge in the next generation or so, they will have a dual role. On the one hand, they will play an active part in the bourgeois democratic transition which is at various often bumpy stages in the backward countries and support the development there of modern industry and the proletariat. Just like Marx and Engels, they will support the industrial revolution while denouncing its horrors. On the other hand, in the developed countries their focus will be on building a revolutionary movement to get rid of the capitalists.
Freedom from Want and Toil
The industrial revolution which began over two centuries ago is transforming the material conditions of life and by doing so makes capitalism obsolete. In the most developed regions of the world it is providing something approaching a high level of material abundance and removing much of the toil from work. These conditions make it possible to contemplate social ownership where the motivation is no longer profit, or some reward derived from it, but rather mutual regard and the satisfaction obtained from labor.
The rich countries are home to only 15-20 per cent of the world's population. However, the middle income countries such as China, India and Brazil could well achieve high levels of development over two or three generations, while the poorer half of the world should catch up later this century or early in the next. The pace of development will depend on a range of factors including the prevalence of political crises, wars and economic depressions.
The ever growing levels of productivity achieved under capitalism mean that at a certain stage an equal share of the social product ceases to be shared poverty. Under less developed conditions, the prospect of shared hunger and distress impels those who are in a position to do so to exploit others through plunder, slavery, serfdom, the possession of special skills or the ownership of the means of production. However, as the average share begins to promise an increasing degree of prosperity, the imperative to fare better than others diminishes.
Under developed capitalism, mechanization and automation have done much to reduce the odious or toilsome nature of work. Pick and shovel work and carrying heavy loads are things of the past and much of the remaining menial and routine work in the manufacturing and service sectors will be automated in the next generation. The work remaining will be primarily intellectual in nature and potentially interesting and challenging.
The ever growing levels of productivity achieved under capitalism mean that at a certain stage an equal share of the social product ceases to be shared poverty.
Many doubt the ability of workers to keep up with the requirements of the new work, and of course the work can only be rewarding and congenial if they are able to do it. There are and will continue to be problems of adjustment, however, generally the prospects are good. At the moment the level of training of workers is historically high and should increase over time. In developed countries about a quarter of young proletarians graduate from university and a similar proportion have other forms of training. We can also expect improved ability to perform complex work in a future communist society as many of the conditions that cause stunted development are eliminated. These include lack of family support, peer pressure to under-perform and an inadequate education system. Social ownership will end the isolation of education from production and other activities, so uniting learning and doing. We will also benefit from an increasing understanding of human development and what causes learning difficulties. And over the longer term we can expect to see artificial improvements through mind-enhancing drugs, genetic engineering (induced evolution) and brain link ups to computers.
The Capitalist Social Revolution
The dominance of capitalist market relations brings a social as well as an industrial revolution. The outcome is frightful in many ways but vastly better than what it replaces. In particular, the revolution casts off many ancient shackles and replaces them with weaker capitalist ones.
Proletarians are employees not slaves or serfs. As wage workers they only have a contractual arrangement for part of the day with their capitalist master and are free to move from one job to another. Their boss unlike the peasants' lord is probably not the local political chief or magistrate.
Their position in the labor market also frees them from subordination to the extended family, tribe or local community. It provides economic independence and the opportunity to physically escape from these sources of oppression and conservatism.
The new market based class relations also raise women from their age old subordinate position. The nuclear family replaces the extended family as the economic unit so that women only have to deal with their freely chosen husband and not his relatives. Then comes the independence of employment for a wage. The changing conditions plus struggles by women lead to the removal of legal discrimination, new divorce laws and various forms of government child support. Even the nuclear family becomes optional. These changes cut away much, although not all, of the legacies of women's oppression and create the conditions where men and women can begin to understand their differences and similarities, and better meet their mutual needs.
Their position in the labor market also frees them from subordination to the extended family, tribe or local community. It provides economic independence and the opportunity to physically escape from these sources of oppression and conservatism.
The political system undergoes a dramatic change. Capitalist dominance is quite in keeping with equality before the law, freedom of speech and assembly, due process and constitutional rule. People now expect these political conditions and feel aggrieved by their absence. They could not imagine being ruled by bejewelled thugs. This provides space for the proletariat to organize itself and for a revolutionary movement to emerge and develop. Although once the capitalists feel sufficiently threatened they may dispense with these arrangements. This could involve the employment of extra legal means such as goons and death squads, a state of emergency, a military coup or the coming to power of a fascist tyrant. However, such drastic measures could not permanently put the genie back in the bottle.
Overcoming both submissive and oppressive behavior will be at the core of the struggle for communism. Individuals will require the boldness to stand up to people who act in a harmful manner either to them or to others, while expecting other people to submit to you is completely at odds with a culture of mutual regard. Overcoming the submissive and oppressive forms of behavior found under capitalism will prove difficult enough. Having to also overcome their far more extreme pre-capitalist forms would be unimaginably difficult.
The experience of constant flux experienced under capitalism is also important for communism. Pre-capitalist societies are static. The way of life in your old age is the same as that in your youth. In keeping with this there are set and unchanging ways of thinking and general acceptance of how things are. Under capitalism there is constant change and increasing uncertainty in the conditions of life and the prevailing ways of thinking. Under these freed up conditions, it is possible for people to look at where they are and where they are going. This is expressed well in The Communist Manifesto:
All fixed, fast-frozen relationships, with their train of venerable ideas and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become obsolete before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face with sober senses the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men.
In the advanced capitalist countries, the capitalist class (a.k.a. the bourgeoisie) own most of the means of production, and almost everyone else is a proletarian who either lives off a wage or salary, or becomes a pauper dependent on government welfare handouts. The process is far less complete in the rest of the world and there are even large regions where peasants and small-scale producers still make up a large proportion of the population.
The bourgeoisie is quite small and smaller than it used to be as a result of the ownership concentration that has accompanied the development of modern industry. The big shots are frequently referred to as the 1 per cent. However, the figure is more like 0.01 per cent. That is 100 in every million which would seem to be the right order of magnitude. The total figure if we include everyone who could live a luxury lifestyle simply on the earnings of their financial assets would still be well under 0.1 per cent. There is of course also the stratum of highly paid and loyal hirelings. If we include them the total figure may stretch to around 1 per cent. From the proletariat's point of view the smaller their combined numbers the better.
There is still a petty bourgeoisie, 10 per cent of the workforce at most. It includes small employers, farmers who own and operate their own land, and shop keepers. Generally, their incomes and habits do not set them apart from the proletariat, and they are usually quite happy for their offspring to take up paid employment.
It is common for apologists of the present system to deny the existence of classes. Capitalists can go bankrupt and become proletarians, and children can be disinherited. Likewise, proletarians can rise to the rank of capitalist, particularly through cashing in on intellectual property rights. There are no legally recognized classes that you are born into and to which different laws and privileges apply. This is all very true. However, pointing to a certain mobility between classes confirms rather than refutes their existence.
The big shots are frequently referred to as the 1 per cent. However, the figure is more like 0.01 per cent.
We are also reminded that many workers hold various financial assets including stocks. However, this is generally savings out of wages for retirement. It is simply foregoing present for future consumption. Other retirement schemes with no pretence of owning anything would be better for wage earners.
There are a significant number of people who are described as self-employed or contractors and therefore not wage or salary earners. In most cases this is a difference in form rather than substance where they have one "client" who is effectively their employer. Besides, many in this category move regularly between employment and "self-employment". The people involved are reliant on their labor power for their livelihood rather than living off income from wealth. Their economic and social position is no different from that of an obvious proletarian.
A section of the proletariat that one can only acknowledge membership with regret is the so-called lumpen proletariat. This is a criminal and often brutal element that capitalism creates, and that would side with reaction in return for payment. Their reliance to some degree on welfare and occasional employment makes them part of the proletariat. Unfortunately, there number is not inconsiderable.
The bourgeoisie encourages many proletarians to think of themselves as "middle class" with a stake in the system and in this they have had considerable success. By the mid-20th century the typical proletarian in the developed countries had experienced a considerable improvements in their material circumstances both in terms of income and working conditions. They achieved a level of comfort previously reserved for professionals and highly skilled workers.
At the same time, there has been an increase in the relative importance of professional and skilled jobs because of the requirements of large scale modern industry and a population that can now afford such things as dental care, automobiles, electricity and plumbing. This has allowed the more capable and motivated members of the proletariat to set their sights on "getting ahead" under the present system.
So, the very pre-conditions for communism created by capitalism at the same time take some of the sting out of living under the present system. Capitalism has delivered the demands of the old militancy. This could change dramatically when a serious economic depression hits. However, ultimately there needs to be a new militancy that is unsatisfied even with the best that capitalism can deliver. Proletarians have to realize that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from taking collective possession of the means of production.
Why Write This? Hasn't Communism Already Failed?
There is a thoroughly entrenched view that the experience of revolutions during the 20th century shows that communism has failed. There was indeed a failure. However, it was not of communism, but rather of an attempt to sustain a path towards it when its preconditions were absent. Russia in 1917 and virtually all the “communist” regimes established mid-century were essentially backward pre-capitalist societies. Most people were peasants rather than proletarians, and they were more interested in land for the tiller than social ownership. There was little modern industry and thinking was more medieval than modern. They had not passed through the capitalist stage, which is necessary for a successful communist revolution. As the experience of other backward countries shows, even getting capitalism off the ground under these circumstances is hard enough, let alone a society that aims to supersede it.
There was indeed a failure. However, it was not of communism, but rather of an attempt to sustain a path towards it when its preconditions were absent.
This peculiar state of affairs arose because the bourgeoisie was too weak, cowardly or treacherous to carry out its own tasks. Instead, in the first half of the 20th century, communists found themselves at the head of both anti-feudal modernist revolutions and patriotic resistance to fascist aggression and occupation. After World War II, the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union was joined by a host of other countries in what became 'the socialist camp'. It included China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia where their own revolutionary forces had taken power, and eastern and central Europe and northern Korea where regimes were established by virtue of Soviet military occupation in the after-math of the defeat of Germany and Japan. So, by historical accident communists found themselves burdened with the task of raising their societies out of social and economic backwardness. They had to perform the work of capitalism. They had to create an industrial base and a trained work force virtually from scratch. The "failure of communism" was a consequence of the failure of capitalism.
Under these conditions the move in a communist direction could only be quite limited and eventually proved unsustainable. They took important preliminary measures but did not achieve the real substance. Industry was placed under state ownership which meant that capitalist industry was expropriated and the new accumulation of private wealth prevented. At the same time there was a degree of economic security for workers. The system was described as socialism, the first stage on the road to communism. However, the weakness of the proletariat placed severe limits on what could be achieved. With some minor exceptions in central Europe, it only began to become a significant section of society with the industrialization that followed the revolution. Proletarians were former peasants engaged mainly in the low paid toil that you would expect at this stage of development. They were simply not ready to be a ruling class. There was not the basis for a society based on mutual regard. Enthusiasm and unprompted initiative was limited in these harsh conditions and so there was a heavy reliance on material incentives and top down command with all kinds of perverse results. The freedom and democracy required for the full development of the proletariat was not possible given the intensity of external and internal opposition and the weakness of the revolutionary forces.
Because most work was arduous and repetitive manual labor, and the education level and background of typical workers left them ill-equipped for involvement in the mental aspects of production, there was a minority who did the thinking and deciding. These were the managers, engineers and officials - generally referred to as ‘cadres’. Members of this elite had a vested interest in entrenching their privileged position and were unlikely to encourage an invasion of their domain as workers became more skilled and educated, and industry more mechanized, nor to willingly start to take upon themselves a share of the more routine forms of labor.
Once career, income and position are the primary impulse, economic results take a second place to empire building, undermining rivals, promoting loyal followers, scamming the system and concealing one’s poor performance from superiors. The opportunity for workers to resist these developments was limited by the lack of freedom and the culture of subordination which drains away confidence and the courage to act. This can be very strong even in the absence of political tyranny as we can see in any liberal capitalist society. At the same time, one can imagine that, under these conditions, any rank and file worker with special abilities or talents would tend to be more interested in escaping the workers’ lot by becoming one of the privileged rather than in struggling against them.
… after a crash industrialization in the 1930s, the Soviet Union was able to defeat Nazi Germany through the largest military mobilization in human history. This is something for which the world should be eternally grateful.
Mao Zedong, the head of the Chinese Communist Party until his death in 1976, referred to this process, once fully entrenched and endorsed at the top, as capitalist restoration and those encouraging it as revisionists and capitalist roaders. The Chinese Cultural Revolution that he led in the late 1960s is the only attempt to beat back this trend. However, that revolution was sabotaged and defeated, and the capitalist roaders were able to seize supreme power in China after his death.
The Soviet Union and similar regimes in Eastern Europe represented a distinctive type of dead-end economically, politically and socially, and their demise in 1989-90 is one of the celebrated events of the late 20th centuries. At the same time, by discarding much of the empty and dysfunctional formal shell of socialism and operating more like normal capitalist economies both China and Vietnam have managed to achieve considerable economic development in recent decades. Cuba is now beginning to take this route. The monstrosity in North Korea relies on mass terror and the support of the Chinese. All these regimes are an affront to freedom and democracy, and will have to be cast aside.
Notwithstanding this grim picture, there were still some significant achievements. In a large part of the world, landlords and feudal relations were swept from the countryside. Industrialization was raised from a very low base and generally outperformed the backward countries in the capitalist camp. Most importantly, after a crash industrialization in the 1930s, the Soviet Union was able to defeat Nazi Germany through the largest military mobilization in human history. This is something for which the world should be eternally grateful.
This peculiar state of affairs arose because the bourgeoisie was too weak, cowardly or treacherous to carry out its own tasks. Instead, in the first half of the 20th century, communists found themselves at the head of both anti-feudal modernist revolutions and patriotic resistance to fascist aggression and occupation.
The dilemma faced by 20th century communists was anticipated by Engels in the following passage from chapter 6 of The Peasant War in Germany, published in 1850:
The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realization of the measures which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost.
This discussion of the “failure of communism” in backward countries certainly does not imply that the process of communist revolution would be easy in countries that have reached the developed stage of capitalism. Even while capitalism has created conditions that make communism possible there is nothing automatic about it. Indeed it will require an entire epoch of struggle to make the transition to a society based on mutual regard rather than profit. There cannot be any notion of ‘socialism' that does not see it as a revolutionary transition that is prone to capitalist restoration. The initial threat from the old bourgeoisie is followed by a threat from a new bourgeoisie created in the ranks of high officialdom.
The initial period of the revolution will have many problems. All kinds of hostile forces will emerge as if from nowhere. New revolutionary governments will be far less experienced than their opponents, and will face many difficulties getting into power and holding onto it. The old management cannot be dispensed with overnight and will be in a position to sabotage output and efforts to change things. Defeat could follow from mistakes made by revolutionaries or the counter-revolution recovering from temporary disarray.
There has to be a fundamental change in human behavior and the way society operates. The bourgeoisie, and the habits and ways of thinking of its society will prove tenacious, and the proletariat will have to transform itself in the struggle against these.
We will have to learn new ways and cast off old ones. We will have to unlearn passive, subaltern and weak-spirited habits engendered by capitalism, and develop the new morality of mutual regard and steadfast resistance to the old forms of behavior. Mutual regard is enlightened self-interest where everyone does the right thing knowing that virtually everyone else is doing the same. It will be the basis of morality and what is honorable. We all share in the 'pool' of greater prosperity and goodwill that results. Such a culture is totally at odds with capitalism where the rich benefit way out of all proportion to everyone else and a large number of people are simply thrown on the scrap heap of life.
Critical for success is the emergence of a large and increasing number of people who see the revolutionary transformation of the conditions around them as a prime missions in life.
Green Threat to Communism
Greens believe that the global abundance required to lay the basis for communism is unachievable because of "limits to growth" or "planetary carrying capacity". The green view is clearly not true. Prosperity for all is not difficult to imagine. Where land is a constraint we can build higher into the sky and tunnel deeper into the ground. Precision farming, biotechnology and other innovations will provide far more food while using less land and water, an already established trend that is gathering pace in spite of opposition from greens. There will be limitless supplies of clean energy from a range of resources. We can already be sure that future generations of nuclear power technology would be able to rely on inexhaustible fuel resources. There then are future technologies we can presently only guess at. For example, biotechnology may open up new ways of harnessing the sun. The mineral resources we rely on are more than sufficient, even without considering future access to extra-terrestrial resources and our ability to devise ways to substitute one resource for another. We will protect the biosphere with more advanced and better funded waste and conservation management. Indeed we have seen capitalist countries get cleaner as they get richer.
Greens believe that the global abundance required to lay the basis for communism is unachievable because of "limits to growth" or "planetary carrying capacity".
Just as we will thrive with possibly 10 billion people by 2100, we will thrive with a lot more by 2200. A mix of currently conceivable and not yet conceivable advances in science will make this manageable. At some stage we can expect our descendants to transform themselves into a post-human species with totally new needs, and new abilities to harness nature to meet them. And as they head off into the rest of the solar system and beyond, they will no longer be held back by any earthly constraints.
Concerns about the impact on material progress of looming environmental crises, stemming from climate change and emissions in agriculture and industry are best addressed by vastly increasing the funding of the research and development needed to accelerate the transition to better, cheaper, safer and emission free technologies. The wrong response is the green fixation with renewable energy, organic farming and reduced consumption.
Then we have those who not only think that abundance is impossible but relish the idea of going back to a more primitive economy. They seek a steady state economy based on small scale local production. They have the delusional idea that such a mode of production would provide more rewarding and less alienating work than under the present system. This is based on a romanticized picture of pre-industrial society full of happy artisans and self-sufficient peasants, and silly chatter about how people in poor countries are happier than people in the rich ones.
They claim that for production to be sustainable it should be kept to what is possible on the basis of renewable and reusable resources and we should forego large-scale use of depletable metals and minerals. They believe that such an economy would deliver wholesome "sufficiency", but in fact it would deliver abject poverty just as it did in the past.
Making industry small scale and local would rule out many technologies and products. Virtually the only source of energy would be firewood as solar panels and wind turbines would be impossible or too expensive to produce. An electric light bulb would have the same problem. Computers, telecommunications and anything electronic would be impossible. The primary source of locomotion would be draft animals and their numbers would be limited by the fact that their calorie consumption per head is many times that of a human. Productivity would plummet with the reversion to more labor intensive technologies with most time devoted to producing food, clothing and other basics. There would be no ability to deal with natural disasters, including those resulting from climate change, nor move large quantities of grain in the case of a local crop failure.
Of course such a society, at least in the more developed regions would be able to cannibalize from the old society for a while. The housing stock would take a generation to badly deteriorate. There would be plenty of scrap metal and other materials. However, the uses that could be made of this would be limited by the simple technology available. For example, a bicycle, assuming it could still be produced, would be very expensive. As the material conditions reverted to those before capitalism so would the social and political, with local thugs exacting tribute and fighting each other over the spoils.
The natural environment would not benefit from this madness. Reverting to firewood and pre-industrial agriculture is no way to preserve the environment with our population levels. Some exponents understand this and put their hopes in a massive "die back" where the population is reduced to a mere fraction of its present level. They see people as an environmental problem, akin to pollution, rather than as the inventive and awesome motive force in history.
Capitalism moves too slowly not too fast
Instead of arguing against capitalism because it is not static as the greens do, we should be arguing the opposite. It is too slow! Capitalism may be streets ahead of stagnant pre-capitalist societies, however, the gap between what is possible and what capitalism delivers is wide and getting wider. It is an increasing fetter on the economy’s productive forces.
Economic slumps are one cause of the gap. They lead to massive production losses and human misery. In the 19th century they used to be very regular 10 year short sharp cycles of boom and bust. These are now much more drawn out. Because it has been over 80 years since the last global cataclysmic crash it is outside of living memory. So the one that is presently looming will come as a big shock.
It is an increasing fetter on the economy’s productive forces.
As well as the mass unemployment of depressions there is also the not inconsiderable permanently unemployed. These are mainly people who have been demoralized by the system and left ill-equipped to develop and upgrade their skills and abilities. They are often encouraged to rot on welfare.
The profit motive is another retardant on production rather than the spur people claim it to be. Capitalist firms apply various rewards and penalties to get their employees to do their bidding. If a job is in any way complex it becomes difficult to assess performance and it cannot come close to matching what would be achieved if workers simply wanted to do the job to the best of their ability.
The mutual regard culture of communism will prove far superior to the profit motive. This changed behavior that will totally transform work. We will endeavor to make other people's work more productive and rewarding. These relations with our fellows are what make it possible for work to become something performed for its own sake rather than simply a necessary means to an income, so adding greatly to motivation. At the same time we will not stand idly by as people harm others and economic outcomes. We will also go out of our way when necessary. This would include extra time or effort at critical moments at work. We may, for example, be tired or missing out on a planned gathering with friends and family. The reward is the successful completion of an important task.
Bourgeois economists argue that all this well-intentioned motivation would come to very little because an economy based on social ownership has an inherent economic calculation problem: in the absence of market transactions between enterprises it could not have a properly functioning price system. We do not know how economic decisions will be made in the future under communism. However, we can say that there is nothing about the non-market transfers of custody between economic units that would prevent decentralized decision-making based on prices. They could be used to choose least cost inputs and to limit purchases to expected revenue. And output could be offered at prices that reflect cost and ensure that pro-ducts go to the highest bidders in the case of excess demand. Communism could also perhaps have an interest rate charge to ration investment funds. There is good reason for thinking that economic decision making would be far superior to that under capitalism. There would be far more scope for coordination, and none of the secrecy and deception.
Then there is capitalism’s stifling of science. Human material progress depends more than anything on scientific research and breakthrough innovations. As a result, one could imagine communism devoting a very high proportion of investment to them. However, under capitalism they are grossly underfunded and their application impeded. In most areas major breakthroughs are rare. All the fields of engineering - nuclear, chemical, mechanical, aerospace, electrical - have seen little change in recent decades. Cheaper energy alternatives to fossil fuel are still not in view. There are a number of reasons why capitalism falls down in this area and they are detailed here.
Industry incumbents often spend heavily on long lived investments and have little desire to devote resources to breakthroughs that would devalue these. Rather, they concentrate their research and development on efforts to increase or preserve their value. Incremental improvements in computers and electronics are the prime example. Indeed, in current parlance "new technology" is synonymous with the steady, plodding developments in these areas.
The market for science and innovation is limited by the public good problem. This is most extreme in the case of pure research but also applies in a lot of applied research. It is difficult to make money from many forms of knowledge and where you can it is because you have been able to exclude others, or restrict access to only those with deep pockets or the most pressing need for it.
Firms can keep knowledge secret for their own use or they can often receive patent or copyright protection from government which turns their knowledge into intellectual property for a given period. The most egregious effect of these property rights is to restrict access to new technologies and knowledge that are needed for further research and innovation. James Watt for a considerable period was able to prevent others from making far better steam engines while the Wright brothers had a similar effect on aircraft development. In the current period seed patents are impeding the development of genetic engineering. We have also seen computer software held back by the use of copyright.
Human material progress depends more than anything on scientific research and breakthrough innovations. As a result, one could imagine communism devoting a very high proportion of investment to them.
Even being able to capture the benefits will not be enough to induce capitalists to spend on research and development if they consider them too uncertain or too far in the future.
Philanthropy can play a role. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a prominent example. However, this in itself is far from adequate. We have had to rely heavily on government to fund much of the research and development that has occurred. Indeed some of the most important innovations of the present era are the result of this. Examples are computers, the Internet, jet engines, satellite communications, fracking technology, nuclear power and gas turbines. Also all the important features of the Apple iPhone were the result of U.S. Department of Defense funded research. However, government spending often has to be prompted by some major emergency like hot and cold wars. Otherwise, there is not much of a constituency under normal times and it is inclined to be the first thing to be cut when governments endeavor to rein in the budget.
Over recent decades an anti-technology and anti-science mentality has gained considerable support and is mainly associated with the green movement. This trend can justly be called a product of capitalism. It is a backward looking response to the brutal and alienating way that industrialization has occurred under the present system. Also a section of the ruling class pander to green thinking. Academia is riddled with it. Green organizations are the beneficiaries of a number of charitable funds set up by now dead capitalists. Their thinking is part of the Zeitgeist and as The Communist Manifesto points out "The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class". It has certainly proven over an extended period that it does not pose a threat to the present order. The green movement has held back development in a range of areas including genetically modified crops and nuclear power and it has had considerable success in selling the idea that new technologies as a rule have unintended consequences on our health or the environment that cancel out any benefit.
The way that work is performed under capitalism places another constraint on science and technology. There is gaming among researchers as they scramble to get their slice of the funding cake, and personal prestige and career can take precedence over outcomes.
The need for advances in science and technology are all too plain to see. We need cures for illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease and malaria. We need better farm plants and animals. We need harder, stronger and lighter materials. Developing energy options that can compete with fossil fuels is a primary concern at the moment. Renewable energy will cost far too much until the cost of energy storage can be brought down drastically. Nuclear fission technology has stagnated for 40 years because of neglect, and carbon capture and storage is not even in its infancy. Nuclear fusion research is progressing but is still at the stage of solving basic problems.
Absence of Communists
At the moment when inquiring minds seek to learn about communism they will encounter a range of appalling nonsense from various tiny groups claiming to be communist or Marxist. Some support the regimes in Cuba and China, and there are even the occasional North Korea supporters. The absurd regime in Venezuela inspires many of them. They all cling onto the once true but now outdated view that US imperialism is the main problem in the world today. They oppose external support for the Arab battle for democracy and hold the mainstream view that regime change in Iraq has been a disaster and the fascist Baath Party should have been left in power. These groups never talk about how capitalism is creating the conditions for communism but simply whine about how terrible the system is, and often do this in a reactionary way particularly in their opposition to "corporate globalization" and acceptance of green views on virtually everything. They rarely talk about and scarcely understand communism, and they simply see it as something in never-never land rather than their real purpose. So communism will have to be rediscovered in the face of all kinds of claptrap. This will have to be done by the now very young or the yet to be born. For anyone older it would require too much of a break from their entrenched ways of thinking.
If there were any communists around at the moment they would hold a range of views that pseudo leftists would find appalling. These would include:
· support for science and opposition to the green movement;
· demand for more rather than less action from the major western powers in support of the battle for democracy in the backward countries. This battle is presently centred on the Middle East;
· support the retention by the western democratic powers of their military superiority;
· support for large military reserves to ensure that professional thugs are not the only ones with military training;
· support capitalist globalization and see the present economic problems of the backward countries as too little rather than too much capitalism;
· increasing austerity in many countries is not due to “neoliberal” attacks on workers that can be reversed by worker resistance but to economic conditions that can only be resolved by capitalism going through a crisis comparable to the depression of the 1930s or by its overthrow; and
· when workers in rich countries find their jobs being “exported” or eliminated by automation their demands should be for adjustment assistance not job protection. It is in the long term interest of the proletariat that their ranks are swelled in the backward countries and that routine labor is automated.
Communism has history on its side. The conditions it needs are being created by capitalism, as it eliminates the necessity of want and toil, and places most people in a class that can only benefit from collective ownership of the means of production. Collective ownership both enables and requires the full development of a culture of mutual regard and this will remove the shackles that capitalism places on human flourishing, with its culture of dog-eat-dog mutual antagonism reinforced at every moment by market relations.