Book Review: ‘Le Mouvemente Communiste’
‘Le Mouvemente Communiste’. by Jean Barrot. Editions Champ Libre.
We in this country have consistently argued the need for Socialism as a classless, wageless, Stateless world community. On the continent of Europe some groups have claimed to hold the same idea, even if our and their ideas as to how to achieve Socialism are quite different. Jean Barrot has been influenced by one such continental group, which necessarily raises the question whether he really does see Socialism as we do.
For him the aim of the working class movement is the sort of society we call “socialism” or “communism”. He sees this as an immediate possibility. The world as a whole, he says, is “communisable”, that is, ready for the establishment of Communism. There is no longer any need, as there was in Marx’s day, for a period during which the means of production are further developed to the stage where they can provide abundance for all. This stage has already been reached. The immediate task of the Communist (-Socialist) revolution is to re-organise production with a view to eliminating waste and creating interesting and pleasant jobs. To do this, insists Barrot, involves the immediate abolition of production for sale, money, wages, prices and all the other manifestations of the social relation of “value”.
Barrot argues that Marxian economics is not simply an explanation of how capitalism works but a social critique of the whole system; that for Marx capital and value are not things but social relations: the relation between stored-up dead labour (and its controllers) and living working labour (and those who embody it, the producers). Barrot maintains that an accurate description of a capitalist, is not simply (or rather, not necessarily at all) a legal owner of the means of production but any group, whether legal owners or not, which “manages capital”. Capital is here to be considered of course as a social relation not a thing, so Barrot is not talking about technical factory managers and the like but about whoever actually controls dead labour with a view to exploiting living labour. He points out that at different times and different places, a great variety of people have performed this function from cigar-smoking Victorian capitalists to ascetic army officers. Barrot says that this at least has the advantage of making clear to the working class that what they must abolish is not just “the capitalists” but the whole capitalist system of wage-labour and production for profit.
When it comes to how to establish Socialism our disagreement with Barrot begins, though even here he expresses views worth considering. For instance, he argues that since about 1914 capital has no longer had any progressive role to play in developing the means of production so that Socialists need not support, as Marx did in his day, the spread of capitalism at the expense of pre-capitalist economic and political systems. Their task is to strive for Communism (-Socialism).
But how? Barrot is emphatic in denying that the establishment of Socialism is at all a question of consciousness. According to him, it will be the result of a spontaneous revolutionary outburst which could occur at any time and which will sweep the workers on, almost in spite of themselves, to suppress commodity-production and inaugurate instead production-for-use. It would be nice if it would be as simple as this. But in our view, Barrot seriously underestimates the extent to which workers must understand and want Socialism before it can be established. Of course this is not a question, as Lenin taught, of some outside group “bringing consciousness” to the workers. Socialists consciousness will be the outcome of the practical experiences of the working class under capitalism, including hearing the case for Socialism from Socialist fellow workers (whose Socialist consciousness in turn will have emerged from earlier working class experiences). It’s a two-way process in which experiencing the problems of capitalism and hearing the Socialist case interact, eventually producing a mass Socialist consciousness amongst the working class. Until this stage has been reached Socialism just cannot be established. Any attempt to do so, even if successful in dislodging the sitting ruling class, would soon give rise to some other group to take their place as the “managers of capital”.
Barrot’s book is difficult reading as he makes no concessions to the reader’s possible difficulty in immediately grasping the difficult concepts he employs. Nevertheless it is encouraging to see in others the apparent agreement about what Socialism is, even if they’re still mistaken as to how to get it.