The Capitalist Class. By Karl Kautsky (continued)

[Continued from the May issue]

Specially translated for the Socialist Party of Great Britain and approved by the Author.


Besides the periodical crises and the waste of energy caused by the temporary destruction of values, there is a constant increase in chronic over-production, and with it a permanent waste of energy.

We have seen that technical evolution proceeds uninterruptedly ; its scope extends continually, because from year to year new fields and branches of industry are conquered by large scale capitalist production; the productivity of labour, therefore, grows continually, that is to say, taking the totality of capitalist societies, it increases ever more rapidly. At the same time the accumulation of new capital takes place unceasingly. The more the exploitation of the single worker increases (not only in one country, but in all countries exploited by capitalists) the more grows also the sum total of surplus-value and the total amount of wealth which the capitalist class is able to put by in order to transform it into capital. Capitalist production, therefore, cannot remain limited to a certain stage of development ; its continual extension and that of its market is vital to its very existence: a standing still spells its end. While in times gone by the handicraft and small farming system produced results equal from year to year, and production, as a rule, increased only with the population, the capitalist method of production necessitates, as a matter of course, uninterrupted expansion of production, and every hindrance means a disease of society which becomes the more painful and unbearable the longer it lasts. Besides the temporary stimulous given to the expansion of production by temporary extensions of the market, we find that a permanent impulse is given by the conditions of production themselves; an impulse which, instead of having been caused by an extension of the market, on the contrary, makes a continual extension of it necessary.

The field for extending the market of capitalist production ia certainly tremendous; it transgresses all local and national limitations, claiming the entire globe for its market. But it has also caused the globe to shrink very considerably. Even a hundred years ago there were, apart from the western parts of Europe, only several maritime countries and islands that formed the market for the capitalist industry, which was principally carried on by England. So tremendous, however, were the efforts and the avarice of the capitalists and their helpers, and so gigantic the means at their disposal, that since then nearly all countries of the earth have been made accessible to the commodities of capitalist industry—which is no longer solely English—so that there remain scarcely any markets to be opened up, other than those from which nothing is to be gained—except fever and thrashings.

The astounding development of transport certainly makes possible a yearly increasing exploitation, yet with those people who are not quite savages, and have shown signs of culture or the desire for culture, the market presents an ever changing aspect. The penetration of commodities (of the products of large industry) kills the small national industry everywhere,—-not only in Europe,— and transforms the handicraftsmen and peasants into proletarians. Thereby important changes are caused in two directions in every market for capitalist industry. It diminishes the purchasing power of the population and thus works against the expansion of consumption on the markets concerned. But it produces there also—and that is even more important—by the creation of a proletariat, the basis for the introduction of the capitalist method of production. The European large industry is thus digging its own grave. From a certain point of development every further expansion of the market spells the creation of a new competitor. The large industry of the United States, which is not much older than, a generation, not only becomes independent of European industry, but is also making for the conquest of the whole of America ; even the more youthful Russian industry is beginning to alone supply with industrial commodities the tremendous territory which Russia commands in Europe and Asia. East India, China, Japan and Australia develope into industrial states, which sooner or later will become self-supporting in industrial respects ; in short the moment seems to be near, when the market for European industry not only becomes incapable of expansion, but begins to contract. But that would spell the bankruptcy of the entire capitalist society.

And already for some time expansion of the market proceeds much too slowly for the needs of capitalist production, which encounters always more and more hindrances, and finds it ever less possible to fully utilise its productive powers. The periods of economic booms become continually briefer, while the periods of crisis grow more extensive, particularly in old industrial countries, as for instance, England and France. Countries in which the capitalist method of production is comparatively new, as America and Germany, may yet have longer periods of prosperity. But there are always young capitalist countries with very brief boom periods and long periods of crisis, as Austria and Russia.

In consequence the quantity of the means of production insufficiently or not at all made use of, increases, as does the amount of wealth remaining uninvested and the number of labourers compelled to remain idle. In that number are not only included the crowds of unemployed, but also all those numerous (and ever more numerous) parasites on the body of society, who, prevented from industrial activity, seek to eke out a miserable existence by often superfluous, but nevertheless strenuous, occupations, such as small dealers, innkeepers, agents and representatives ; and to these must be added a very large number of slum proletarians divided into different sections, like the higher and lower showmen, criminals, the professional prostitutes with their bullies and other hangers-on—all existing in a similar way. These numbers further include the large crowd of persons in the personal service of the possessing class, and finally the many soldiers. The steady increase of armies during the last twenty years would scarcely have been possible without the over-production which enabled industry to dispense with the labour of so many workers.

Capitalist society is beginning to be suffocated by its own superfluity; it becomes ever less capable of bearing the full development of the productive forces which it has created, Always more productive forces have to lie fallow, always more products have to be wasted, if the system is not altogether to collapse.

The capitalist method of production, the substituting for petty enterprise capitalist production on a large scale (with the means of production as private property concentrated in lew hands and the producers as propertyless proletarians), this mode of production is the means of immensely increasing the productive power of labour, compared with the extremely limited productivity characteristic of handicraft and peasant agriculture. To accomplish this was the historic mission of the capitalist class. This class have fulfilled their task by bringing awful suffering upon the large mass of the people expropriated and exploited by them—but they have accomplished it. And this task was as much an historic necessity as were its two basic principles, namely, commodity production and private property in the means of production and products, so closely related to each other.

But while that task and its basic principles were historically necessary, they are no longer so to-day. The functions of the capitalist class are more and more relegated to paid officials, the large majority of the capitalists being reduced to the only function of consuming what others have.produced ; the capitalist has become as superfluous as was the feudal lord of a hundred years ago.

And even more. As were the feudal aristocracy in the eighteenth century, so are the capitalist class to-day already a hindrance to further development. Private property in the means of production has long ceased to guarantee to each producer the possession of his products and the liberty appertaining thereto. It is to-day rapidly making towards the abolition of this possession and of its liberty as far as the population of the capitalist nations is concerned ; and from having once been a basic social principle, it now becomes more and more the means of destroying the entire basis of society. And it has changed from being a means of rapidly stimulating the development of society’s productive forces into a means of increasingly compelling society to squander or keep fallow its productive forces.

Thus the character of private ownership in the means of production, not only as far as producers in petty enterprise, but also as far as the entire society is concerned, changes to its very opposite. Having once been the motive power of social development, it now becomes the cause of social deterioration and soefel bankruptcy.

To day it is no more a question of wanting or not wanting to maintain private ownership in the means of production. Its end is certain. The only question is : shall it draw society with it into the abyss, or shall society free itself from its ruinous burden in order to proceed untrammelled and strengthened upon the road which social evolution has so plainly marked out for it ?

[Conclusion of the third section of “Das Erfurter Program.”]


With the instalment appearing in the present issue of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD we complete our translation of Karl Kautsky’s “The Capitalist Class,” and readers are informed that it will shortly be issued in pamphlet form, as the third section of the famous “Das Erfurter Program,” at one penny per copy. The work is one of the classics of Socialist literature, and a most important instrument of propaganda, it should therefore be made fullest use of.

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