The New Capitalism


The New Capitalism Essay, Research Paper

“The proletariat is revolutionary or it is nothing.” – Karl Marx

Being a product of bourgeois society, the socialist movement is linked to the vicissitudes of capitalist development. It will assume different forms according to the changing fortunes of the capitalist system. In circumstances which are not favorable to the formation of class consciousness, it will not grow, or will practically disappear. In conditions of capitalist prosperity it tends to transform itself from a revolutionary to a reformist movement. In times of social crisis it may be totally suppressed by the ruling class. Since socialism cannot be established without a socialist movement, it follows that the destiny of the latter ultimately will determine whether socialism will ever be realized.

All labor organizations form part of the general social structure and cannot be consistently anti-capitalist, except in a purely ideological sense. To acquire social importance within the capitalist system they must be opportunist, which means they must avail themselves of the given social processes to attain their goals, however limited the latter may be. Opportunism and ‘realism’ are apparently the same thing. The former cannot be defeated by a radical ideology which opposes the whole of the existing social relations. It does not seem possible to slowly assemble revolutionary forces into powerful organizations ready to act at favorable moments. Only those organizations that did not disturb the prevailing social relations acquired any importance. If they started out with a revolutionary ideology, their growth implied a subsequent discrepancy between their ideology and their functions. Those organizations opposed to the status quo, yet organized within it, must finally succumb to the forces of capitalism by virtue of their organizational failures.

This appears to be the dilemma of radicalism: in order to accomplish anything of social significance, actions must be organized. Effective organizations, however, tend towards capitalist channels. It seems that in order to do something now, one can only do the wrong things, and in order to avoid false steps one should undertake none at all. The radical socialists are destined to be miserable: they are conscious of their utopianism and they experience nothing but failures. In self-defense, the ineffective radical organizations will put the accent on the factor of spontaneity as the decisive element for any social transformation. As they cannot change society by means of their own forces, they place their hopes in spontaneous uprisings of the masses and in a future unfolding of these activities.

At the beginning of the century the traditional labor organizations–socialist parties and trade unions–were no longer revolutionary movements. Only a small left-wing within these organizations preoccupied itself with questions of revolutionary strategy and, consequently, with questions of spntaneity and organization. This naturally involved the problem of revolutionary consciousness and of the relations between the revolutionary minority and the proletarian masses indoctrinated by capitalism. It was judged highly unlikely that without revolutionary consciousness the working masses would act in a revolutionary manner solely by the compulsion of circumstances. This problem acquired special importance due to the split in the Social Democratic Party and the crystallization of Lenin’s conceptl of the necessity of a revolutionary vanguard made up of professional revolutionaries. Aware of the factor of spontaneity, Lenin granted great importance to the special necessity of centrally organized and directed activity. The stronger spontaneous movements are, the more urgent is the necessity of controlling and directing them by means of a profoundly disciplined revolutionary party. The workers must be protected from themselves, so to speak, because their lack of theoretical understanding can very easily lead them to squander their creative powers spontaneously and to fail in their struggle.

Opposition to this point of view was maintained with great coherence by the left-wing Rosa Luxemburg.(2) Lenin, like Rosa Luxemburg, saw the necessity of combatting the opportunist and reformist evolutionism of the established labor organizations and sought a return to revolutionary policies. But while Lenin tried to achieve this by means of the creation of a new type of revolutionary party, Rosa Luxemburg preferred an increase of the self-determination of the proletariat, generally as well as in the case of the labor organizations, by way of the elimination of bureaucratic controls, and the activization of the rank and file.

Both Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg thought that it was possible for a revolutionary minority to gain control of society. But while Lenin saw in this the possibility of the realization of socialism by means of the party, Rosa Luxemburg feared that any minority, in the postion of ruling class, would rapidly begin to think and act like the bourgeoisie of old. She hoped that the spontaneous movements would restrain the influence of the organizations which were aspiring to centralize power in their hands. According to Rosa Luxemburg, the socialists should simply help to liberate the creative forces in mass actions, and to integrate their own activities into the independent class struggle of the proletariat. Her position allowed for the existence of an intelligent working class in a situation of advanced capitalism, a working class capable of discovering, by means of its own forces, ways and means of struggle in its own interests and, ultimately, in favor of socialism.

There was another way of confronting the problem of organization and spontaneity. Georges Sorel(93) and the syndicalists were not only convinced that the proletariat could emancipate itself without the guidance of the intelligentsia, but that it had to free itself from middle class elements that usually controlled the political organizations. Syndicalism rejected parliamentarism in favor of revolutionary trade union activity. In Sorel’s view, a government of socialists would in no sense alter the social position of the workers. In order to be free, the workers would have to resort to actions and weapons exclusively their own. Capitalism, according to Sorel, had already organized the whole proletariat in its industries. All that was left to do was to suppress the state and property. To accomplish this, the proletariat was not so much in need of so-called scientific insight into necessary social trends as of a kind of intuitive conviction that revolution and socialism were the inevitable outcome of their own continuous struggles.

The strike was seen as the laboratory of the workers’ revolutionary apprenticeship. The growing number of strikes, their extension and increasing duration pointed towards a possible ‘ General Strike, that is, to the impending social revolution.

Each particular strike was a facsimile in reduced scale of the General Strike, and a preparation for the final insurrection. The increasing revolutionary will would not be measured by the success or failure of political parties, but by the frequency and vehemence of the strikes. The revolution will have proceeded from action to action in a continuous mixture of spontaneous and organized aspects of the proletariat’s struggle for emancipation.

Syndicalism and such international offspring as the Guild Socialists in England and the Industrial Workers of the World in the United States were, to some extent, reactions to the increasing bureaucratization of the socialist movement and to its class-collaborationist practices. As marxism was the ideology of the dominant socialist parties, opposition to these organizations and their policies expressed itself as an opposition to marxian theory in its reformist and revisionist versions. The trade unions, too, were attacked for their centralistic structures and their emphasis upon specific trade interests at the expense of proletarian class needs. But just as the centralism of the marxist ideology did not prevent the emergence of left-wing oppositions within the socialist organizations, so the ideological decentralization of syndicalism could not restrain the emergence of centralist tendencies within the syndicalist movement. The Guild Socialists sought the conciliation of the two extreme , distancing themselves equally from the localism of French anarchosyndicalism and from the state socialist conceptions of the marxist ideology.

The organizations tended to see in their steady growth and everyday activities the most important factors of social change. In the social democratic parties it was the growing membership, the spreading party apparatus, the increasing number of votes in elections and a wider participation in existing political institutions which were thought of as growing into a socialist society. As regards the Industrial Workers of the World, on the other hand, the growth of its own organizations into One Big Union was seen, at the same time, as “forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.” In the first revolution of the 20th century it was the unorganized mass of workers which determined the character of the revolution and brought into being its own, new form of organization in the spontaneously arising workers and soldiers councils.

The soviet system (4) of the Russian Revolution of 1905 disappeared with the crushing of the revolution, only to return in greater force in the February Revolution of 1917. It was these soviets which inspired the formation similar spontaneous organizations in the German Revolution (5) of 1918 and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the social upheavals in Italy, England, France and Hungary. With the soviet system arose a form of organization which could lead and coordinate the self-activities of the very broad masses for either limited ends or for revolutionary goals, and which could do so independently of, in opposition to, or in collaboration with existing labor organizations. Most importantly, the rise of the council system proved that spontaneous activities need not dissipate in formless mass-exertions but could issue into organizational structures of more than temporary nature.

The Russian councils, or soviets, grew out of a series of strikes and from their needs for committees of action and representation to deal with the industries affected as well as with the legal authorities. The strikes, caused by the increasingly intolerable conditions of the working class, were spontaneous in the sense that they were not called by political organizations or trade unions, but were launched by unorganized workers who had no choice but to look upon their workplace as the springboard and center of their organizational efforts. In the Russia of that time political organizations had as yet no real influence on the mass of workers and the trade unions existed only in embryonic form. In any event, the growth of the socialist organizations and trade unions was to a areat extent intensified by the spontaneous strikes and successive uprisings.

In essence, of course, the 1905 Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, supported by the liberal middle class, to break Czarist absolutism and to advance Russia via a Constituent Assembly towards the conditions that existed in the more developed capitalist nations. In so far as the striking workers thought in political terms, they largely shared the program of the liberal bourgeoisie. And so did all existing socialist organizations which accepted the necessity of a bourgeois revolution as a precondition for the formation of a strong labor movement and a future proletarian revolution under more advanced conditions. The soviets were thought of as temporary instruments in the struggle for specific goals of the workina class and for a bourgeoisdemocratic society. It was not hoped that they would acquire a permanent character.

Beginning in 1906, organizational initiative fell into the hands of the political parties and trade unions. But the experience of 1905 was not lost. The soviets, wrote Trotsky (6) ” were the realization of an objective need for an organization which has authority without having tradition, and which can at once embrace hundreds of thousands of workers. An organization, moreover, which can unify all the revolutionary tendencies within the proletariat, which possesses both initiative and self-control, and, which is the main thing, can be called into existence within 24 hours.”

The soviets attracted the most articulate and politicallyalert workers, and they found support in the socialist organizations and the incipient trade unions. The difference between these traditional organizations and the soviets is explained by this observation by Trotsky, according to whom

” the parties were organizations within the proletariat, while the soviets were the organizations of the proletariat.”

The Revolution of 1905 invigorated the left-wing oppostions in the Socialist parties of the West, but as yet more with respect to the spontaneity of its mass strikes than the organizational form these actions assumed. There were exceptions, however. Anton Pannekoek (7), for example, thought that with the soviets

” the passive masses become active and the working class converts itself into an independent organism that achieves its unification …. At the end of this revolutionary process%

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