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Capital. Capital is a social relation that expresses itself as a form of exchange value. As money capital it constitutes the accumulated unpaid surplus labour of the past appropriated by the capitalist class in the present. Capital can also take the form of a sum of commodities (machinery, raw materials, labour power, etc.) used in the reproduction of exchange values.

In Marxian economics capital only exists when the appropriate historical and social conditions are present. Specifically, when the means of production are generally used to exploit wage labour for profit. In capitalist economics capital is one of the ‘factors of production’ along with land and labour (and, in some definitions, entrepreneurship or management). Capital is money invested in production with the expectation of profit, though in capitalist economics capital is primarily a timeless asset. This is why those who have been exposed to capitalist economics will sometimes express bafflement at the socialist proposal to abolish capital. ‘But any society must have capital’, they exclaim, as if we propose to physically destroy means of production. No, any modern society must have means of production (land, factories, railways, etc.), but it is only in the capitalist system of society that the means of production takes the form of capital. Socialists want to abolish capital by establishing common ownership of the means of production, replacing production for profit with production solely for use. (See also CAPITALISM; PROFIT.)

Reading

Saad-Filho A. & Fine B., Marx's 'Capital', 2010

David Harvey, Reading Marx's Capital, online at http://davidharvey.org/

 

Capitalism. A system of society based on the class monopoly of the means of life, it has the following six essential characteristics:

  1. Generalised commodity production, nearly all wealth being produced for sale on a market.

  2. The investment of capital in production with a view to obtaining a monetary profit.

  3. The exploitation of wage labour, the source of profit being the unpaid labour of the producers.

  4. The regulation of production by the market via a competitive struggle for profits.

  5. The accumulation of capital out of profits, leading to the expansion and development of the forces of production.

  6. A single world economy.

Reading

Sarkar B. & Buick A., Marxian Economics and Globalization, 2009

 

Capitalist class (or Bourgeoisie). Capitalists personify capital. Because they possess the means of production and distribution, whether in the form of legal property rights of individuals backed by the state or collectively as a bureaucracy through the state, the capitalist class lives on privileged incomes derived from surplus value.

The capitalists personally need not - and mostly do not - get involved in the process of production. Social production is carried on by capitalist enterprises which are overwhelmingly comprised of members of the working class. (See also CLASS.)

Reading

Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vol. 2: The Politics of Social Classes, 1979

 

China. Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung) helped to form the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921. After the Second World War all the major Chinese cities, previously controlled by the Japanese, fell into control of the nationalists, the Kuomintang, led by Chiang kai-shek. However, the Kuomintang soon became discredited in the eyes of the peasants and by 1947 civil war broke out between the Communists and the Kuomintang. In September 1949 Chiang kai-shek and other Kuomintang leaders fled to Taiwan. On 1 October 1949 Mao proclaimed the inauguration of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Mao launched the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958-59) in an attempt to hasten economic development. He also instituted the Cultural Revolution (1966) to re-establish revolutionary fervour and get rid of his opponents. Mao modelled the development of Chinese industry on Russian State capitalism; and this model of development continued after the Sino-Soviet split in 1960. Since Mao’s death in 1976 the development of capitalism in China, on a more market-orientated basis, has continued under the tight control of the CCP. (See also MAO; MAOISM; STATE CAPITALISM.)

Reading

History of China: www.chaos.umd.edu/history/toc.html

John Keay, China: A History, 2008

 

Class. People are divided into classes according to their social relationship to the means of wealth production and distribution. These classes have changed according to changing social conditions (e.g. slaves and masters, peasants and lords). In capitalism people are divided into those who possess the means of production in the form of capital, the capitalist class, and those who produce but do not possess, the working class (which includes dependants).

The working class, as they have no other property to sell on a regular basis, live by selling their labour power for a wage or a salary. This class therefore comprises unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled, professional, and unemployed workers; it includes those at various stages of the reproduction cycle of labour power, such as students, housewives and pensioners. This class runs society from top to bottom. The capitalist class, on the other hand, does not have to work in order to get an income. They draw rent interest and profit (surplus value) because they own the means of life.

Of course there are other social groups such as peasants and small proprietors, but these are incidental to capitalism. As a system of society that predominates throughout the world, capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class through the wages system. Nor does the number of jobs in management and the professions alter the situation; for the most part they too are workers compelled to sell their labour power and suffer unemployment. Even if there has been some separation of ownership and control of capitalist enterprises, the capitalists still maintain a privileged income through their ownership; they still possess but do not produce. (See also CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS; CLASS STRUGGLE; WORKING CLASS.)

Reading

Keith Graham, Karl Marx, Our Contemporary, 1992

 

Class-consciousness. The objective social position of the working class is that they stand in an antagonistic relation to the capitalist class. When the working class become aware of this antagonism, the subjective dimension of class, they can abolish capitalism and establish socialism. As Marx put it, workers would develop from a class ‘in itself’ (a common class position but without workers being aware of it), to become a class ‘for itself’ (a collective awareness among workers of their class position).

Class-consciousness develops mainly out of the working class’s everyday experiences of the contradictions of capitalism (poverty amidst plenty, etc.). These contradictions are, in turn, derived from the most basic contradiction of capitalism: the contradiction between social production and class ownership of the means of production. (See also CLASS; CONTRADICTION; IDEOLOGY.)

 

Class struggle. ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle’ (Communist Manifesto). Marx and Engels later qualified this to refer to written history in order to take account of early primitive communist societies in which class divisions had not yet emerged. In ancient society the struggles were between slave owners and slaves; in feudal society between lords and serfs; and in capitalism, capitalists and workers.

These struggles have been over the distribution of the social product, the organisation of work, working conditions and the results of production. The class struggle is more than a struggle over the level of exploitation, however. Ultimately it is a struggle over the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. Throughout history, classes excluded from the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution have been driven by their economic situation to try to gain such ownership through gaining political power. (See also CLASS; HISTORY.)

 

Climate change. The claim, for which there is overwhelming scientific evidence, that global warming is taking place as a result of human activity, especially through the emissions of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane) which artificially warm the atmosphere of the earth. Since 1900, the average temperature on the planet has increased by 0.74 degrees Celsius and the result is higher sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms). These are expected to become more severe.

The global context for climate change has been industrialisation driven by the imperative for economic growth. All over the world, enterprises and states seek to minimise costs so as to maximise profits, and releasing greenhouse gases into the environment is a way of reducing monetary costs. Human and environmental needs always come second, if at all, in the profit system. Capitalism’s primary imperative is always to produce more and accumulate capital or lurch into economic crisis.

Reformists claim that we can’t wait for socialism and something must be done now. But this assumes that a solution can be implemented within capitalism. If it can’t, as we maintain, then concentrating on 'something now' rather than changing the basis of society will be a waste of valuable time while the situation gets worse. (See also ECOLOGY; GREENS; ZERO GROWTH.)

Reading

D. Helm & C. Hepburn (eds.), The Economics and Politics of Climate Change, 2009

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: www.ipcc.ch/

RealClimate: climate science from climate scientists: www.realclimate.org

 

Commodity. Commodities are items of wealth (goods or services) that have been produced for sale. Commodities have been produced in pre-capitalist societies but such production was marginal. It is only in capitalism that it becomes the dominant mode of production, where goods and services are produced for sale with a view to profit. Under capitalism the object of commodity production is the realisation of profit when the commodities have been sold; these profits are mostly re-invested and accumulated as capital. Commodities must be capable of being reproduced, and this includes the uniquely capitalist commodity of human labour power. (See also LABOUR POWER; LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.)

Reading

A. Filho & B. Fine, Marx’s ‘Capital’, 2010

 

Common ownership. If everyone owns the means of wealth production and distribution then, to put it another way, nobody owns them. The concept of property in the sense of exclusive possession then becomes meaningless. Common ownership is a social relationship and not a form of legal property ownership. This social relationship will be one of equality between people with regard to the control of the use of the means of production. In practical terms, common ownership means democratic control of the means of production by the whole community. Common ownership is therefore synonymous with democracy. (See also DEMOCRACY.)

 

Communism. The word ‘communism’ originated in the revolutionary groups in France in the 1830s. At about the same time, Owenite groups in Britain were first using the word ‘socialism’. Marx and Engels used both words interchangeably. In fact, in Marx and Engels’ earlier years on the continent they usually referred to themselves and the working class movement as communist; later in Britain as socialist. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), Marx made a distinction between two stages of ‘communist society’, both based on common ownership: a lower stage, with individual consumption being rationed, possibly by the use of labour-time vouchers, and a higher stage in which each person contributes to society according to ability and draws from the common stock according to needs. In both stages, however, there would be no money economy or state.

Lenin, in his State and Revolution (1917), made famous the description of these two stages as ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ respectively, in which there would be a money economy and state in the transitional society of ‘socialism’. Socialists use the words socialism and communism interchangeably to refer to the society of common ownership, thereby denying the Leninist claim that there is a need for a transitional society. (See also SOCIALISM; TRANSITIONAL SOCIETY.)

Reading

A. Buick & J. Crump, Non Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

George Lichtheim, A Short History of Socialism, 1983

 

Communist Party. In 1848 Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party (now somewhat misleadingly called the Communist Manifesto) was published by the Communist League. In the Manifesto, Communists are said to be distinctive only in always emphasising ‘the common interests of the entire proletariat’.

In Russia the Bolshevik section of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party changed its name to the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), after its seizure of power in 1917. From 1952 it was called the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was formed in 1920 and took its political line (and, until its demise, a lot of its money) directly from Moscow. During the 1970s many European Communist Parties began to re-assess their bloody, anti-working class history. One by one they adopted ‘Eurocommunism’ and attempted to distance themselves from the CPSU and their Stalinist past. Following the fall of the Kremlin Empire in 1989, however, the Communist parties lost all credibility and many changed their name and ideology. Though suppressed by Yeltsin in 1991, the Russian Communist Party retains its name but is now more a supporter of market capitalism than state capitalism. In Britain the CPGB became the Democratic Left, a pressure group for various reforms, before collapsing completely after a few years. The tradition of the old CPGB is carried on by the Communist Party of Britain, which publishes the Morning Star. There is also a new CPGB which publishes the Weekly Worker, but this group merely usurped the name when the old CPGB dropped it; they are a Leninist sect which is not in the CPGB tradition). (See also BOLSHEVISM; COMMUNISM; RUSSIA.)

Reading

Stuart Macintyre, A Proletarian Science, 1986

 

Contradiction. In capitalist society there is a contradiction, or conflict of material interests, between the class monopoly of the means of wealth production and distribution and the social process of production. Capitalism, in other words, subordinates production to privileged class interests. Profits take priority over needs. From this essential contradiction of capitalism others follow, such as: famine amidst plenty, homelessness alongside empty buildings, pollution as a way of ‘externalising’ (i.e. reducing) costs and maximising profits, and so on.

Socialist society will end these contradictions because it will bring social production into line with social ownership and therefore into line with social needs. (See also CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS.)

 

Co-operatives. Enterprises which are nominally jointly owned and controlled by their members. The origins of the co-operative movement go back to Robert Owen in the early nineteenth century. As an alternative route to socialism it has been a failure, although the modern co-operative movement continues to draw inspiration from examples such as Mondragon in Spain.

Some supporters of capitalism are also supporters of co-operatives. They see them as a way of mitigating the class struggle and persuading workers that they have an interest in accepting ‘realistic’ (i.e. lower) wages. However, co-operatives do not give workers security of employment or free them from exploitation.

Co-operatives cannot be used as a means for establishing socialism. As long as the capitalist class control political power, which they will be able to continue to do for as long as there is a majority of non-socialists, capitalist economic relations (commodity production, wage labour, production for profit, etc.) will be bound to prevail and these will control the destiny of co-operatives. Co-operatives usually only flourish to the extent that they can be successfully accommodated within capitalism. (See also CAPITAL; OWEN.)

 

Crises. Capitalist production goes through a continuous cycle of boom, crisis and depression. A boom is a period when most industries are working to full capacity and unemployment is correspondingly low. A crisis is the sudden break that brings the boom to an end. A depression is the decline of production and increase of unemployment that comes after the crisis. It is important to recognise the difference between the two latter stages of the trade cycle, because the factors that govern the period up to the crisis and the crisis itself are different to the factors which operate during the period of depression.

A booming economy will go into a phase of ‘over-trade’ when a key industry, or a number of industries, find that they have produced more than they can sell at a profit in their particular market. Then comes the sudden crisis followed by depression. This cycle is natural for capitalism and does not mean that something has gone wrong with the economy. The trigger for the global financial crisis of 2008 is to be found in overproduction in the US housing market. (See also DEPRESSIONS; SAY'S LAW.)

Reading

Simon Clarke, Marx’s Theory of Crisis, 1994

 

Cuba. The national liberation movement in Cuba succeeded with an assault on Fort Moncada on 26 July 1953 and ended with the seizure of power by Fidel Castro and his July 26 Movement on 2 January 1959. This overthrew the corrupt and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista.

After the revolution, in February 1960, a trade and credit agreement with Russia was signed. In April, Russian oil began to arrive in Cuba and, when the American-owned oil companies refused to refine it, Castro confiscated the Texaco, Shell and Standard Oil refineries. Between August and October 1960 Castro nationalised virtually all American-owned properties and most large Cuban-owned businesses. In October the United States announced a total trade embargo with Cuba. So, to survive the economic isolation, Castro looked towards the ‘Communist bloc’.

In April 1961, the day before the Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro officially declared that Cuba’s revolution was ‘socialist’. By a convenient coincidence, and with no previous interest in left-wing ideology, in December 1961 Castro announced that he was now a ‘Marxist-Leninist’. In October 1965 the Communist Party of Cuba was formed. However, for several years it had no programme or statutes (its first Congress was held ten years later, in December 1975), and was essentially an organisational extension of Castro’s personal authority. Brought to power by mass support for national liberation, Castro and his ruling party, and since 2008 his brother Raul as leader, continue the development of national state capitalism. (See also NATIONAL LIBERATION.)

Reading

Robin Blackburn, Slavery and Empire: The Making of Modern Cuba, 1978

International edition of the Communist Party of Cuba Newspaper: www.granma.cu/ingles/index.html