Soviet-Empire.com U.S.S.R. and communism historical discussion.
[ Active ]
[ Login ]
Log-in to remove these advertisements.

Book club: The ABC of Communism

POST REPLY
Soviet cogitations: 1128
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 30 Aug 2008, 18:12
Party Member
Post 05 Feb 2013, 21:39
Chapter 4 - How the Development of Capitalism led to the Communist Revolution (Imperialism, the War and the Collapse of Capitalism)

Is anyone else going to join in? It's not exactly a difficult text.



In this chapter Bukharin is essentially summarising Lenin's Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. From the late 19th/early 20th century onwards capitlaism began to develop into monopolies where by big firms swallowed up their rivals to become even bigger firms who possessed greater and greater shares of the market. Rather than risk competing with each other, the remaining syndicates agree to form monopolies and divide up their respective markets so as to both enjoy profitability. Finance capital forms and grows under the power of the banks in order to facilitate the colossal capital exchanges which take place at this level of capitalism. The state becomes involved as it represents the "board" of all the capitalist organisations within its territory. Capitalist states are in constant competition with each other and vie for territorial concessions and thus access to markets and resources. This produces arms races.

Bukharin says that this competition eventually leads to huge wars between the imperialist powers (a la WWI). These wars cause such devastation and antipathy towards the capitalist system that it ushers in the era of proletarian revolution. Bukharin also states that because monopolies get rid of competition within a country, the competition switches to being between the various capitalist countries.

There is a problem with this simplified analysis which shows that imperialism has changed since Lenin's time. First of all, monopolies don't get rid of competition within countries. There is still plenty of capitalist competition (although I think it's fair to say there is a trend for large firms to keep buying up smaller firms). Secondly, although two imperialist world wars occurred, they were so destructive (and neither resulted in a proletarian revolution in the developed world) that the idea of a third one is probably too much for the imperialists to contemplate. Instead, most developed capitalist countries are in alliance with each other anchored around the US. While countries like China and Russia pose as rivals to this hegemony, a war between them in the nuclear age would result in mutually assured destruction.

Secondly, the world is no longer divided up into empires and territories belonging to a particular power. Everyone can invest everywhere. While it is true than some countries have more influence in peripheral states than others (e.g. the French in west Africa, the US in the Middle East), these countries no longer have exclusive investment rights to these territories. The French intervention in Mali today is certainly protecting French investments; but it is also protecting British, American and South African investments.

Another thing that struck me when comparing Bukharin's writings to today is that nowadays the productive labour (i.e. labour that produces surplus-value) has been moved abroad mainly to the developing countries (especially Asia). In Lenin's time, places like China were used as export markets for opium, textiles and other commodities produced in Europe. They were also a source of silk, tea, porcelain, etc. Today, China's principle export to the west is labour (although it remains in China). Simultaneously, the working class in the west has become more unproductive (they do not produce surplus-value) and work in the service sector. This has the effect of dulling their revolutionary ardour.

Bukharin continues by sayng that imperialism is the policy of conquest which financial capital pursues in the struggle for markets, the source of raw materials and places capital can be invested. While this is true in many instances, Switzerland did stand out as an exception (never invaded another country but it has a vast banking industry).

Overall, while this chapter has some improtant points, what stands out for me is that Lenin's Imperialism needs to be updated slightly to make it relevant for today.
User avatar
Soviet cogitations: 1201
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 May 2008, 14:59
Ideology: Other Leftist
Forum Commissar
Post 14 Feb 2013, 06:45
Alright, I finished the book in its entirety. Sorry I've been largely absent, but field research has been eating up a great deal of my time.

So I guess we can just discuss chapter 4 for now.

The bolshevik analysis of imperialism was lacking in rather strange ways. Lenin and those of his ideology assume that the nature of capitalist powers was to lie in constant conflict with each other over the resources yet to be exploited for profit. The bolsheviks, of course, never predicted globalization and made the assumption that capitalists would be in constant conflict for resources. The predicition of a third world war in particular shows a demonstrable lack of perspective on the part of Bukahrin. Even with hindsight, it is difficult to see how he couldn't predict the capacity of capitalist world powers to cooperate in the pursuit of profit (a la the UN or WTO for example). The chief conflict of imperialism looks radically different than what was predicted: it is between the colonizers and the colonized rather than between colonizers. It might be safe to say that the entire world that the Cold War occured in looked entirely different than what orthodox Marxist ideology during and directly following the second world war had assumed it would, and it suffers greatly for that. And the post-Cold War era looks even more different.

So this chapter is largely a relic of a bygone era. I'd go a step further and say that this chapter and a work like Lenin's Imperialism are far too embedded in the historical period in which they were developed and should be discarded from any analysis of the current world economy. That's not to say they don't have value in the study of the history of the development of capitalism and how it existed in their time, but to cling to them in the face of the changes of the modern world is imprudent.

Despite actually agreeing with gRed on several points, I do want to make one or two points of contention.

gRed Britain wrote:
First of all, monopolies don't get rid of competition within countries. There is still plenty of capitalist competition


Monopolies get rid of serious competition in the sense that they severely limit the number of viable competitors within a given market. The idea that the market is a place of abundant competition is an ideological shadow; the fact of the matter is that the market is filled with state-supported monopolies. If it were any other way, capitalism would fail miserably, as it would be difficult for producers to make anything more than minimum profit.

gRed Britain wrote:
Simultaneously, the working class in the west has become more unproductive (they do not produce surplus-value) and work in the service sector.


I've never understood why it is assume that labor without tangible products produce no surplus value. Admittedly, the waters are a bit more murky when dealing with a service based economy because the prices are, for the most part, arbitrary. However, surplus is necessary in any industry to turn a profit. Even when it is the case of being self-employed, you must generate a surplus to ensure you are making more money on top of costs being covered. The only thing that has really change in the west is an alottment of surplus value: slightly more has been sacrificed from reinvestment into capital to better compensate workers. The actual division of surplus that can turn a profit is highly flexible, as has been demonstrated in post-industrial economies, but that doesn't change the fundamental class nature of the division.
Image


Forum Rules

Red_Son: Bob Avakian is the Glenn Beck of communism.
"Le prolétariat; c'est moi." - King Indigo XIV
Soviet cogitations: 1128
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 30 Aug 2008, 18:12
Party Member
Post 14 Feb 2013, 12:34
Quote:
So this chapter is largely a relic of a bygone era. I'd go a step further and say that this chapter and a work like Lenin's Imperialism are far too embedded in the historical period in which they were developed and should be discarded from any analysis of the current world economy. That's not to say they don't have value in the study of the history of the development of capitalism and how it existed in their time, but to cling to them in the face of the changes of the modern world is imprudent.


Completely agree. I'm not saying Lenin's imperialism has become obsolete, but it needs a serious revision to make it adhere to the contemporary situation.

Quote:
Monopolies get rid of serious competition in the sense that they severely limit the number of viable competitors within a given market. The idea that the market is a place of abundant competition is an ideological shadow; the fact of the matter is that the market is filled with state-supported monopolies. If it were any other way, capitalism would fail miserably, as it would be difficult for producers to make anything more than minimum profit.


Yeah you're right. I suppose I just didn't like the way Bukharin made it sound as if competition was completely stifled under monopoly when it is obvious that new businesses can enter the market. I feel the internet has somewhat helped in this regard as it provides a source of advertising and commodity circulation that was prevously unthinkable in Bukharin's time.

Quote:
I've never understood why it is assume that labor without tangible products produce no surplus value. Admittedly, the waters are a bit more murky when dealing with a service based economy because the prices are, for the most part, arbitrary. However, surplus is necessary in any industry to turn a profit. Even when it is the case of being self-employed, you must generate a surplus to ensure you are making more money on top of costs being covered. The only thing that has really change in the west is an alottment of surplus value: slightly more has been sacrificed from reinvestment into capital to better compensate workers. The actual division of surplus that can turn a profit is highly flexible, as has been demonstrated in post-industrial economies, but that doesn't change the fundamental class nature of the division.


Productive labour is employed in the production of commodities. Unproductive labour tends to be employed in the circulation of commodities. Because the production process improves the physical aspects commodities from what they were when they entered the production process (raw materials) society values the labour that goes into this and so the cost of this labour is factored into the value of the commodity. However, unproductive labour (e.g. working on the checkout at a supermarket) does not improve the physical aspect of the commodities; it simply facilitates their exchange. Therefore society has no value for this labour as it does not result in a better commodity. Subsequently the cost of this labour does not enter the value of the commodity and instead the wages to pay for it have to come out of the surplus-value it generates.

Example:
A factory makes wooden tables. The production process begins with timber (raw materials) and goes through a series of stages whereby one group of workers cut the timber to size, another group of workers assemble the table, and a third group of workers varnish the table. These are all productive labourers because they are all improving the commodity within the production process so that it emerges as the finished article. They produce surplus-value because they produce exchange-value. Surplus-value is simply produced due to the exploitative relation that is the capitalist mode of production - i.e. they produce more value than they are actually paid in return. Society is therefore prepared to pay for the cost of their wages within the price of the table itself.

The tables are then sold at a retail outlet. The people who work on the checkouts process the transactions whereby members of the public buy the tables. This is necessary labour as without them the capitalist would not be able to convert his capital from the commodity form (i.e. tables) to the money form and thus accumulate their surplus-value. But the process of a checkout transaction does nothing to improve the table as an object. It is just as good before the transaction as it is afterwards. Therefore the customer (and society as a whole) places no value on the labour of the checkout workers and so is not prepared to pay for the cost of their wages within the price of the table itself. In order to pay these workers, the capitaist instead has to pay them from the surplus-value each table contains.

This doesn't mean that unproductive workers aren't necessary or aren't proletarian. They are still treated as proletarians and still work part of the day for nothing. However, neither the necessary labour time nor the surplus labour time produce any value. Instead, they help reduce circulation time and thus turnover time.

Now when we apply this to the world today we see manufacturing is increasingly occuring in Asia (productive labour) while the products are circulated/sold (unproductive labour) in the west.
User avatar
Soviet cogitations: 1201
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 May 2008, 14:59
Ideology: Other Leftist
Forum Commissar
Post 20 Feb 2013, 22:29
gRed Britain wrote:
Yeah you're right. I suppose I just didn't like the way Bukharin made it sound as if competition was completely stifled under monopoly when it is obvious that new businesses can enter the market.


Admittedly, "monopoly" is a somewhat vague term made more vague by the fact that it is rarely defined when it is used. That may come partially from the fact that Bukharin is using the word incorrectly in a way that narrows its meaning.

gRed Britain wrote:
However, unproductive labour (e.g. working on the checkout at a supermarket) does not improve the physical aspect of the commodities; it simply facilitates their exchange.


The commodity in question here is having someone to calculate the price of the goods you've puchased and make sure that you've actually paid for them before you leave the store. Ultimately, consumers have to pay for that as well since the necessity for paying the cashier's wages is reflected in the price of goods. Capitalism has progressed the point where workers themselves have become commodities, hence the rise of service-based industry. Whether or not such a thing is necessary is another matter entirely.
Image


Forum Rules

Red_Son: Bob Avakian is the Glenn Beck of communism.
"Le prolétariat; c'est moi." - King Indigo XIV
Soviet cogitations: 1128
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 30 Aug 2008, 18:12
Party Member
Post 26 Feb 2013, 00:44
Quote:
The commodity in question here is having someone to calculate the price of the goods you've puchased and make sure that you've actually paid for them before you leave the store. Ultimately, consumers have to pay for that as well since the necessity for paying the cashier's wages is reflected in the price of goods. Capitalism has progressed the point where workers themselves have become commodities, hence the rise of service-based industry. Whether or not such a thing is necessary is another matter entirely


Having someone do this is not a commodity. I don't go to a shop because I want someone to process a transaction for me. Instead, I merely ackowledge that the transaction has to be processed in order for me to acquire an actual commodity. In my above example, the table is not made any better because someone has calculated its price/scanned the barcode on it and made sure I've paid enough. This work is only necessary for the capitalist as it helps him yield surplus-value in the money form through the process of exchange. Therefore he pays for this worker's wages out of the surplus-value contained within the table.
[+-]
Soviet cogitations: 589
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 07 Dec 2013, 14:24
Ideology: Democratic Socialism
Unperson
Post 03 Jan 2014, 14:02
http://www.marxists.org/archive/bukhari ... /1920/abc/

I'd love to read this, anyone read it and have an opinion on it?
Does Bukharin refute the economic calculation problem?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_c ... on_problem

If so, how convincing was/is his rebuttal?
Alternative Display:
Mobile view
More Forums: The History Forum. The UK Politics Forum.
© 2000- Soviet-Empire.com. Privacy.
cron