Principles of the future communist society
Nothing is more wrong than the view that we need not worry about the basic structures of the future communist society. On the contrary, only the attractiveness of the capitalist alternative creates, among other conditions, the preconditions for overcoming capitalism.
Despite its enormous destructive effects, the capitalist form of rule and mode of production managed in many ways to bind the majority of the population to itself. Many dependent employees today are of the opinion that capitalism has a number of weaknesses, but that there is no desirable alternative to it in view of the negative experiences with real socialism. Therefore, all efforts must be made to tame the capitalist system and make it socially sustainable.
This pro-capitalist imprint on consciousness, which is inherent in capitalism, can only be lifted if, in addition to the existing discontent and the associated everyday struggles, there is a well-founded and convincing concept of a communist future.
Capitalism contains endogenous levers that point to a post-capitalist society. These include its economic, financial, hunger, poverty, refugee, agricultural and state crises, its climate and environmental catastrophes, its wastefulness, its exploitation and undignified working conditions, its permanent wage pressure, its mass unemployment, its pandemics, its lack of sustainability and plundering of resources, its huge gap between rich and poor, its regional inequality, its technological developments, its overwhelming corporate power, its elbow mentality and its social exclusions and loneliness. But these levers will not bring about a change in the system unless wage-earners act as the gravediggers of capitalism and free themselves from its shackles. An overcoming of capitalism is only possible if the majority of the population loses confidence in the capitalist mode of production and fights for and builds up the communist system against all odds. It is the emancipation struggles of the wage-dependent population that bring about a sense of togetherness, strengthen their consciousness of power and their courage to fight, and break the capitalist shackles.
This gravedigger function arises:
a. by their own unbearable plight,
b. by the resulting discontent and protest movement,
c. by the insight into the inability of capitalism to reform,
d. by the insight into the superiority of a post-capitalist society,
e. by the existence of a revolutionary workers’ party, and
f. by the subsequent politico-economic struggles of wage earners to overcome the system.
The workers’ party has the task of enlightening, convincing, coordinating, showing solutions and supporting the revolutionary struggles.
In view of the negative experiences with real socialism, confidence in the communist society of the future presupposes knowledge of its principles. Marx and Engels themselves did not describe communism in detail, but stated the following principles:
1. the means of production belong to the community,
2. there is a council (direct) democratic society,
3. the economy is organized in a planned and democratic way,
4. income consists only of labor and social income,
5. gainful employment is reduced step by step to a minimum,
6. money is abolished in the long term and everyone can increasingly consume according to his needs.
7. in the transitional period, in the consumer market, money is replaced by labor vouchers, with the value of the goods and the income being based on the labor time incurred.
These principles are to be supplemented today by others, such as zero growth and the circular economy, but they remain the decisive measures by which the capitalist forces of destruction can be overcome.
They are not only valid in the distant future, but are already to be introduced and further developed within capitalism. It is not storming the government or waiting for the distant future, it is direct democratic transformation steps that overcome capitalism and lead to the communist mode of production.
What does this mean in concrete terms?
First, direct democracy must be introduced in all spheres of life and extended until it comes to power. Direct-democratic structures must be established in workplaces, companies, daycare centers, schools, universities, the military and retirement homes, and the population’s individual and collective self-determination must be substituted for external determination.
The direct-democratic transformation path demands a departure from parliamentary democracy and the struggle for comprehensive direct-democratic forms of work and life. In contrast to radical left and anarchist ideas, the direct-democratic path does not mean abandoning parliamentary work. Parliamentary activities serve the purpose of enlightment, to implement minor improvements for the broad population and to support extra-parliamentary struggles. However, participation in parliaments excludes participation in government, because the revolutionary left in government has no choice but to defend capitalism and thus abandon the overcoming of the system due to the constraints of the situation.
Secondly, it is not green market socialism that is to be striven for, but the repression of the market through an increasing supply of free goods and through the extension of national economic planning. According to the motto: planning as far as possible and market as far as necessary, digital planning systems are to be promoted, tested in practice and used. The market cannot be abolished immediately. It must be pushed back to the extent of free goods and macroeconomic planning expansion.
Taking their cue from bourgeois economics, many leftists criticize the planned economy. They argue that it is inefficient, leads to a scarcity economy and centralization. Under today’s technical and political possibilities, however, democratically organized macro-planning is more efficient than the anarchistic market mechanism. It improves the supply and leads to the extension of democratic decision-making processes. Only the democratic planned economy makes it possible to involve everyone in the shaping of the economy, to abolish the crises and unemployment, to avoid the climate catastrophes and to shape the way of work and life in a sustainable, peaceful and just way.
Those who continue to believe in the healing powers of the market (like the neoclassics) and/or in the healing powers of the capitalist state (like the Keynesians) are on an erroneous path that is incapable of reversing the destructive effects of the capitalist mode of production.
Thirdly, a progressive reduction of working hours causes working people to extend their leisure time and thus increasingly to shape their lives according to their own needs and to lead a fulfilled life. If this expansion of leisure time is increasingly coupled with the free supply of goods, a society will develop in which it is no longer money but individual freedom, based on solidarity, that determines well-being.
Fourth, the abolition of property and power income leads to a reduction of income differences to a small gap, and income development is determined by productivity progress and income distribution by respective area tariffs. Those who are unable to work for health reasons and who have ended their working lives receive an adequate social income.
Fifth, the climate and environmental catastrophes require us to say goodbye to economic growth and to shape the economy in a way that is compatible with the climate and the environment. Since neither is possible under capitalism, an effective climate and environmental policy presupposes a communist society.
For Marx and Engels, communism is both a social goal and a social movement. The principles outlined formulate the set of goals and the movements result from the struggles to abolish the capitalist condition. Marx and Engels did not depict the future post-capitalist society in detail like the utopian socialists. The details will emerge in the transformation process and will change with the historical and regional conditions. But those who renounce the recognition and implementation of the principles of the future communist society will remain in the capitalist swamp and the struggles will not get beyond the critique of capitalism.
The process of direct democratization will not fail because of the resistance of capital, as long as it is supported by the broad population. It is a necessary and successful way to replace the rule of capital by the rule of the people (the dictatorship of the working class). Those who today renounce the direct democratic path and seek their salvation in parliamentary work inevitably end up with Bernstein and his politics of the further development of capitalism.
Only in the practical implementation of communist principles is there a chance to dissolve capitalism and to build a new peaceful, just, crisis-free, environmentally friendly and needs-oriented society.
Alfred Müller, Germany
We agree with your criticism of capitalism and that a communist (or, as we normally call it, a socialist) society can only come into being if, and when, a majority have come to want and understand it and have organised themselves democratically to get it. We also agree that the socialist movement should contest elections with a view to entering parliament. However, you seem to be suggesting that some ‘communist principles’ could be gradually implemented ‘within capitalism’ by ‘direct-democratic steps’; that workers should form more and more democratic councils until the point is reached where they are so widespread, including in the military, that the state is dissolved. We don’t think this is a realistic scenario.
No doubt, as more and more ‘dependent employees’ come to want and understand socialism, they will organise outside parliament in the sort of ways you suggest, both to wage the day-to-day class struggle and to take over and keep production and essential services going once capitalist ownership is ended. But the state cannot be ignored or by-passed as that would leave it, and the coercive power it is able to wield, in the hands of those opposed to socialism. It needs, at the very least, to be taken out of their hands. Incidentally, insistence on the need to win political control is a key omission from your list of Marx and Engels’s principles.
This does not involve ‘storming the government’ in an insurrection. It can be done by turning universal suffrage from an ‘instrument of dupery’ into an ‘instrument of emancipation’. Since you say that socialism can only be established when a majority understand and want it, and also that socialists should contest elections and enter parliament, then a socialist majority outside parliament will reflect itself as a majority in parliament. This, where political democracy exists, will be enough to give the working class political control which they can use to formally abolish capitalist ownership of the means of production, allowing workers in useful production and essential services to take over their workplaces without hindrance and begin to run them on behalf of society.
Your list of Marx and Engels’s ‘principles’ is a mixture of principles (the first three) and an obsolete proposal for labour vouchers, as an expedient for dealing with need-based consumption, that would only have been relevant if socialism had been established in the nineteenth century.
It is not clear what ‘transitional period’ you are talking about – that between capitalism and socialism or that between a first phase of socialism (when distribution according to needs would not have been possible) and a higher phase (when it would be). Unless you regard labour vouchers as money (which Marx didn’t) then it doesn’t make sense to envisage money existing in the second period.
In any event, we ourselves have never supported the idea of labour vouchers and have never considered such a system as being either necessary or workable. It wasn’t necessary as there were other ways of bridging the gap between there not being enough, and full free distribution. Direct rationing, for instance. That would have avoided the need to give consumer goods a labour-time ‘price’ and so have a quasi-market for them, with the danger of this degenerating into a real market and an evolution towards state capitalism rather than socialism.
It is now nearly 150 years since labour vouchers were first suggested. In the meantime the problem they were put forward to deal with no longer exists. Socialism (the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources by society as a whole) can be introduced just as soon as a socialist-minded majority wins political control. Capitalist ownership today is not individual possession but through limited liability companies and corporations. Since these are legal entities created by states they can all be abolished in one go. Similarly, the forces of production have developed to such an extent since 1875 that, right from the beginning, free distribution according to need can be introduced immediately for the vast majority of goods and services. So, despite what you say, money and markets can be abolished immediately. Today socialism can be a post-scarcity society from the start