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The Necessity of Social Control by Istvan Meszaros Book

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The Necessity of Social Control by Istvan Meszaros Book Read Online And Epub File Download

Overview: As John Bellamy Foster writes in his foreword to the present book, “István Mészáros is one of the greatest philosophers that the historical materialist tradition has yet produced. His work stands practically alone today in the depth of its analysis of Marx’s theory of alienation, the structural crisis of capital, the demise of Soviet-style post-revolutionary societies, and the necessary conditions of the transition to socialism. His dialectical inquiry into social structure and forms of consciousness—a systematic critique of the prevailing forms of thought—is unequaled in our time.”

Mészáros is the author of magisterial works like Beyond Capital and Social Structures of Forms of Consciousness, but his work can seem daunting to those unacquainted with his thought. Here, for the first time, is a concise and accessible overview of Mészáros’s ideas, designed by the author himself and covering the broad scope of his work, from the shortcomings of bourgeois economics to the degeneration of the capital system to the transition to socialism. 

The Necessity of Social Control by Istvan Meszaros Book Read Online Epub - Pdf File Download More Ebooks Every Category Go Ebooks Libaray Online Website.

The Necessity of Social Control by Istvan Meszaros Book Read Online Chapter One


IN THE DEEPLY MOVING final pages of one of his last works Isaac Deutscher wrote:

The technological basis of modern society, its structure and its conflicts are international or even universal in character; they tend toward international or universal solutions. And there are the unprecedented dangers threatening our biological existence. These, above all, press for the unification of mankind, which cannot be achieved without an integrating principle of social organization. . . . The present ideological deadlock and the social status quo hardly serve as the basis either for the solution of the problems of our epoch or even for mankind’s survival. Of course, it would be the ultimate disaster if the nuclear super-powers were to treat the social status quo as their plaything and if either of them tried to alter it by force of arms. In this sense the peaceful coexistence of East and West is a paramount historic necessity. But the social status quo cannot be perpetuated. Karl Marx, speaking about stalemates in past class struggles, notes that they usually ended “in the common ruin of the contending classes.” A stalemate indefinitely prolonged and guaranteed by a perpetual balance of nuclear deterrents, is sure to lead the contending classes and nations to their common and ultimate ruin. Humanity needs unity for its sheer survival; where can it find it if not in socialism.1

Deutscher concluded his work by passionately stressing: “De nostra re agitur”—it is all our own concern. Thus it seems to me right to address ourselves on this occasion to some of the vital problems that stood at the center of his interest toward the end of his life.

All the more so because the “status quo” in question is a historically unique status quo: one that inevitably involves the whole of mankind. As we all know from history, no status quo has ever lasted indefinitely, not even the most partial and localized ones. The permanence of a global status quo, with the immense and necessarily expanding dynamic forces involved in it, is a contradiction in terms: an absurdity that should be visible even to the most myopic of game theorists. In a world made up of a multiplicity of conflicting and mutually interacting social systems—in contrast to the fantasy world of escalating and de-escalating chessboards—the precarious global status quo is bound to be broken for certain. The question is not “whether or not,” but “by what means?” Will it be broken by devastating military means, or will there be adequate social outlets for the manifestation of the rising social pressures that are in evidence today even in the most remote corners of our global social environment? The answer will depend on our success or failure in creating the necessary strategies, movements, and instruments capable of securing an effective transition toward a socialist society in which “humanity can find the unity it needs for its sheer survival.”

1.1 The Counter-Factual Conditionals of Apologetic Ideology

WHAT WE ARE EXPERIENCING today is not only a growing polarization—inherent in the global structural crisis of present-day capitalism—but, to multiply the dangers of explosion, also the breakdown of a whole series of safety valves that played a vital part in the perpetuation of commodity society.

The change that undermined the power of consensus politics, of the narrow institutionalization and integration of social protest, of the easy exportation of internal violence through its transference to the plane of mystifying international collisions, etc., has been quite dramatic. For not so long ago the unhindered growth and multiplication of the power of capital, the irresistible extension of its rule over all aspects of human life, used to be confidently preached and widely believed. The unproblematic and undisturbed functioning of capitalist power structures was taken for granted and was declared to be a permanent feature of human life itself, and those who dared to doubt the wisdom of such declarations of faith were promptly dismissed by the self-perpetuating guardians of the bourgeois hegemony of culture as “hopeless ideologists,” if not much worse.

But where now are the days when one of President Kennedy’s principal theorists and advisers could speak about Marx and the social movements associated with his name in terms like these:

He [Marx] applied his kit-bag to what he could perceive of one historical case: the case of the British takeoff and drive to maturity; . . . like the parochial intellectual of Western Europe he was, the prospects in Asia and Africa were mainly beyond his ken, dealt with almost wholly in the context of British policy rather than in terms of their own problems of modernization. . . . Marx created a monstrous guide to public policy. [Communism] is a kind of disease which can befall a transitional society if it fails to organize effectively those elements within it which are prepared to get on with the job of modernization. [In opposition to the Marxist approach the task is to create] in association with the non-Communist politicians and peoples of the preconditions and early takeoff areas [i.e., the territories of neocolonialism] a partnership which will see them through into sustained growth on a political and social basis which keeps open the possibilities of progressive democratic development.2

These lines were written hardly a decade ago, but they read today like prehistoric reasoning, although—or perhaps because—the author is a professor of Economic History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In this short decade we were provided with tragically ample opportunity to see in practice, in Vietnam and in Cambodia, as well as in other countries, the real meaning of the program of “partnership” intended “to see the politicians of the early takeoff areas through” to the disastrous results of such partnership,3 under the intellectual guidance of “Brain Trusts” which included quite a few Walt Rostows: men who had the cynical insolence to call Marx’s work “a monstrous guide to public policy.” Inflated by the “arrogance of military power,” they “proved,” by means of tautologies interspersed with retrospective “deductions,” that the American stage of economic growth is immune to all crisis,4 and they argued, with the help of counter-factual conditionals, that the break in the chain of imperialism was merely an unfortunate mishap that, strictly speaking, should not have happened at all. For

if the First World War had not occurred, or had occurred a decade later, Russia would almost certainly have made a successful transition to modernization and rendered itself invulnerable to Communism.5

We might be tempted to rejoice at the sight of such a level of intellectual power in our adversaries, were it not terrifying to contemplate the naked power they wield in virtue of their willing submission to the alienated institutions that demand “theories” of this kind so as to follow, undisturbed even by the possibility of an occasional doubt, their blind collision course. The hollow constructions that meet this demand of rationalization are built on the pillars of totally false—and often self-contradictory—premises such as, for instance:

1. Socialism is a mysterious—yet easily avoidable—disease which will befall you, unless you follow the scientific prescription of American modernization.

2. Facts to the contrary are merely the result of mysterious—yet easily avoidable—mishaps; such facts (e.g. the Russian Revolution of 1917) are devoid of an actual causal foundation and of a wider social-historical significance.

3. Present-day manifestations of social unrest are merely the combined result of Soviet aspirations and of the absence of American partnership in the societies concerned; therefore, the task is to checkmate the former by generously supplying the latter.

THEORIES RESTING ON SUCH foundations can, of course, amount to no more than the crudest ideological justification of aggressive American expansionism and interventionism. This is why these cynical ideologies of rationalization have to be misrepresented as “objective social and political science” and the position of those who “see through” the unctuous advocacy of “seeing the politicians of the early takeoff areas through”—by means of the “Great American Partnership” of massive military interventions—must be denounced as “nineteenth-century ideologists.”

The moment of truth arrives, however, when the “mishaps” of social explosion occur, even more mysteriously than in the “early takeoff areas,” in the very land of “supreme modernization” and higher than “high mass-consumption”—namely in America itself. Thus not only is the model of undisturbed growth and modernization shattered but, ironically, even the slogan of “sustained growth on a political and social basis which keeps open the possibilities of progressive, democratic development” ideologically backfires at a time when outcries against the violation of basic liberties and against the systematic disenfranchising of the masses is on the increase. That we are not talking about some remote, hypothetical future but about our own days, goes without saying. What needs stressing, however, is that the dramatic collapse of these pseudo-scientific rationalizations of naked power marks the end of an era: not that of “the end of ideology” but of the end of the almost complete monopoly of culture and politics by anti-Marxist ideology successfully self-advertised up until quite recently as the final supersession of all ideology.

1.2 Capitalism and Ecological Destruction

A DECADE AGO THE Walt Rostows of this world were still confidently preaching the universal adoption of the American pattern of “high mass-consumption” within the space of one single century. They could not be bothered with making the elementary, but of course necessary, calculations that would show them that in the event of the universalization of that pattern—not to mention the economic, social and political absurdity of such an idea—the ecological resources of our planet would be exhausted well before the end of that century several times over. After all, in those days top politicians and their Brain Trusts did not ride on the bandwagon of ecology but in the sterilized space-capsules of astronautical and military fancy. Nothing seemed in those days too big, too far, and too difficult to those who believed—or wanted us to believe—in the religion of technological omnipotence and of a Space Odyssey around the corner.

Many things have changed in this short decade. The arrogance of military power suffered some severe defeats not only in Vietnam but also in Cuba and in other parts of the American hemisphere. International power relations have undergone some significant changes, with the immense development of China and Japan in the first place, exposing to ridicule the nicely streamlined calculations of escalation experts who now have to invent not only an entirely new type of multiple-player chess game but also the kind of creatures willing to play it, for want of real-life takers. The “affluent society” turned out to be the society of suffocating effluence, and the allegedly omnipotent technology failed to cope even with the invasion of rats in the depressing slums of black ghettos. Nor did the religion of Space Odyssey fare any better, notwithstanding the astronomical sums invested in it: even the learned Dr. Werner von Braun himself had to link up the latest version of his irresistible “yearning for the stars” with the prosaic bandwagon of pollution (so far, it seems, without much success).

“The God that failed” in the image of technological omnipotence is now revarnished and shown around again under the umbrella of universal ecological concern. Ten years ago ecology could be safely ignored or dismissed as totally irrelevant. Today it must be grotesquely misrepresented and one-sidedly exaggerated so that people—sufficiently impressed by the cataclysmic tone of ecological sermons—can be successfully diverted from their burning social and political problems. Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans (especially Latin Americans) should not multiply at pleasure—not even at God’s pleasure, if they are Roman Catholics—for lack of restraint might result in “intolerable ecological strains.” That is, in plain words, it might even endanger the prevailing social relation of forces, the rule of capital. Similarly, people should forget all about the astronomical expenditure on armaments and accept sizeable cuts in their standard of living, in order to meet the costs of “environmental rehabilitation”: that is, in plain words, the costs of keeping the established system of expanding waste production well oiled. Not to mention the additional bonus of making people at large pay for, under the pretext of “human survival,” the survival of a socioeconomic system that now has to cope with deficiencies arising from growing international competition and from an increasing shift in favor of the parasitic sectors within its own structure of production.

THAT CAPITALISM DEALS this way—namely its own way—with ecology, should not surprise us in the least: it would be nothing short of a miracle if it did not. Yet the exploitation of this issue for the benefit of “the modern industrial state”—to use a nice phrase of Professor Galbraith’s—does not mean that we can afford to ignore it. For the problem itself is real enough, whatever use is made of it today.

Indeed, it has been real for quite some time, though of course, for reasons inherent in the necessity of capitalist growth, few have taken any notice of it. Marx, however—and this should sound incredible only to those who have repeatedly buried him as an “irretrievably irrelevant ideologist of nineteenth-century stamp”—had tackled the issue, within the dimensions of its true social-economic significance, more than one hundred and twenty-five years ago.

Criticizing the abstract and idealist rhetoric with which Feuerbach assessed the relationship between man and nature, Marx wrote:

Feuerbach . . . always takes refuge in external nature, and moreover in nature which has not yet been subdued by men. But every new invention, every new advance made by industry, detaches another piece from this domain, so that the ground which produces examples illustrating such Feuerbachian propositions is steadily shrinking. The “essence” of the fish is its “existence,” water—to go no further than this one proposition. The “essence” of the freshwater fish is the water of a river. But the latter ceases to be the “essence” of the fish and is no longer a suitable medium of existence as soon as the river is made to serve industry, as soon as it is polluted by dyes and other waste products and navigated by steamboats, or as soon as its water is diverted into canals where simple drainage can deprive the fish of its medium of existence.6

This is how Marx approached the matter in the early 1840s. Needless to say, he categorically rejected the suggestion that such developments are inevitably inherent in the “human predicament” and that, consequently, the problem is how to accommodate ourselves7 to them in everyday life. He already fully realized then that a radical restructuring of the prevailing mode of human interchange and control is the necessary prerequisite to an effective control over the forces of nature that are brought into motion in a blind and ultimately self-destructive fashion precisely by the prevailing, alienated and reified mode of human interchange and control. Small wonder, then, that to present-day apologists of the established system of control his prophetic diagnosis is nothing but “parochial anachronism.”

TO SAY THAT “THE COSTS of cleaning up our environment must be met in the end by the community” is both an obvious platitude and a characteristic evasion, although the politicians who sermonize about it seem to believe to have discovered the philosopher’s stone. Of course it is always the community of producers who meet the cost of everything. But the fact that it always must meet the costs does not mean in the least that it always can do so. Indeed, given the prevailing mode of alienated social control, we can be sure that it will not be able to meet them.

Furthermore, to suggest that the already prohibitive costs should be met by “consciously putting aside a certain proportion of the resources derived from extra growth”—at a time of nil growth coupled with rising unemployment and rising inflation—is worse than Feuerbach’s empty rhetoric. Not to mention the additional problems necessarily inherent in increased capitalistic growth.

And to add that “but this time growth will be controlled growth” is completely beside the point. For the issue is not whether we produce under some control, but under what kind of control; since our present state of affairs has been produced under the iron-fisted control of capital that is envisaged, by our politicians, to remain the fundamental regulating force of our life also in the future.

And, finally, to say that “science and technology can solve all our problems in the long run” is much worse than believing in witchcraft; for it tendentiously ignores the devastating social embeddedness of present-day science and technology. In this respect, too, the issue is not whether we use science and technology for solving our problems—for obviously we must—but whether we succeed in radically changing their direction, which is at present narrowly determined and circumscribed by the self-perpetuating needs of profit maximization.

These are the main reasons why we cannot help being rather skeptical about the present-day institutionalization of these concerns. Mountains are in labor and a mouse is born: the super-institutions of ecological oversight turn out to be rather more modest in their achievements than in their rhetoric of self-justification: namely Ministries for the Protection of Middle-Class Amenities.

1.3 The Crisis of Domination

IN THE MEANTIME, on this plane as well as on several others, the problems accumulate and the contradictions become increasingly more explosive. The objective tendency inherent in the nature of capital—its growth into a global system coupled with its concentration and increasingly greater technological and science-intensive articulation—undermines and turns into an anachronism the social/structural subordination of labor to capital.8 Indeed, we can witness that the traditional forms of hierarchical/structural embeddedness of the functional division of labor tend to disintegrate under the impact of the ever-increasing concentration of capital and socialization of labor. Here I can merely point to a few indicators of this striking change:

1. The escalating vulnerability of contemporary industrial organization as compared to the nineteenth-century factory. (The so-called wildcat strikes are inconceivable without the underlying economic and technological processes that both induce and enable a “handful” of workers to bring to a halt even a whole branch of industry, with immense potential repercussions.)

2. The economic link-up of the various branches of industry into a highly stretched system of closely interdependent parts, with an ever-increasing imperative for safeguarding the continuity of production in the system as a whole. (The more the system is stretched in its cycle of reproduction, the greater the imperative of continuity, and every disturbance leads to more stretch as well as to an ever-darkening shadow of even a temporary breakdown in continuity.) There are increasingly fewer “peripheral branches,” since the repercussions of industrial complications are quickly transferred, in the form of a chain reaction, from any part of the system to all its parts. Consequently, there can be no more “trouble-free industries.” The age of paternalistic enterprise has been irretrievably superseded by the rule of “oligopolies” and “super-conglomerates.”

3. The growing amount of socially “superfluous time” or “disposable time,”9 customarily called leisure, makes it increasingly absurd, as well as practically impossible, to keep a large section of the population living in apathetic ignorance, divorced from its own intellectual powers. Under the impact of a number of weighty socioeconomic factors the old mystique of intellectual elitism has already disappeared for good. Also, side by side with a growing intellectual unemployment—both potential and actual—as well as a worsening of the cleavage between what one is supposed to be educated for and what one actually gets in employment opportunities, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the traditionally unquestioning subordination of the vast majority of intellectuals to the authority of capital.

4. The worker as a consumer occupies a position of increasing importance in maintaining the undisturbed run of capitalist production. Yet he is as completely excluded from control over both production and distribution as ever—as if nothing had happened in the sphere of economics during the last century or two. This is a contradiction that introduces further complications into the established productive system based on a socially stratified division of labor.

5. The effective establishment of capitalism as an economically interlocking world system greatly contributes to the erosion and disintegration of the traditional, historically formed and locally varying partial structures of social and political stratification and control, without being able to produce a unified system of control on a worldwide scale. (So long as the power of capital prevails, “world-government” is bound to remain a futurologist pipe dream.) The “crisis of hegemony, or crisis of the State in all spheres” (Gramsci) has become a truly international phenomenon.

IN THE LAST ANALYSIS all these points are about the question of social control.

In the course of human development, the function of social control had been alienated from the social body and transferred into capital that thus acquired the power of grouping people in a hierarchical structural/functional pattern, in accordance with the criterion of a greater or lesser share in the necessary control over production and distribution.

But ironically, the objective trend inherent in the development of capital in all spheres—from the mechanical fragmentation of the labor process to the creation of automated systems, from local accumulation of capital to its concentration in the form of an ever-expanding and self-saturating world system, from a partial and local to a comprehensive international division of labor, from limited consumption to an artificially stimulated and manipulated mass-consumption, in the service of an ever-accelerating cycle of reproduction of commodity-society, and from “free time” confined to a privileged few to the mass production of social dynamite, in the form of “leisure,” on a universal scale—carries with it a result diametrically opposed to the interest of capital. For in this process of expansion and concentration, the power of control invested in capital is being de facto re-transferred to the social body as a whole, even if in a necessarily irrational way, thanks to the inherent irrationality of capital itself.

That the objectively slipping control is described from the standpoint of capital as “holding the nation to ransom,” does not alter in the least the fact itself. For nineteenth-century capitalism could not be “held to ransom” even by an army of so-called troublemakers, let alone by a mere “handful” of them.

Here we are confronted with the emergence of a fundamental contradiction: that between an effective loss of control and the established form of control, capital, which by its very nature can be nothing but control, since it is constituted through an alienated objectification of the function of control as a reified body apart from and opposed to the social body itself. No wonder, therefore, that in the last few years the idea of workers’ control has been gaining in importance in many parts of the world.

THE SOCIAL STATUS QUO of not so long ago is rapidly and dramatically disintegrating in front of our very eyes—if only we are willing to open them. The distance between Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the beleaguered headquarters of black militancy is astronomical. And so are the distances from the depressing working-class apathy of the postwar period to today’s, even officially admitted, growing militancy on a worldwide scale; from graciously granted presidential “participation” to the Paris street fights of 1968; from a badly divided and narrowly wage-orientated Italian trade union movement to the unity necessary for the organization of a political general strike; or, for that matter, from the monolithic, unchallenged rule of Stalinism to the elemental eruption of massive popular dissent in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, and recently in Poland again. And yet, it did not take anything like light years—not even light minutes—to travel such astronomical distances.

Not so long ago the “scientific” ideology of gradualist “social engineering”—as opposed to the “religious holism” of revolutionary change and socialism—enjoyed an almost completely monopolistic position not only in educational and cultural institutions but also in the antechambers of political power. But, good heavens, what are we witnessing today? The dramatic announcement of the need for a “major revolution” by none other than President Nixon himself, in his recent State of the Union message; followed by the Shah of Persia’s warning that he is going to spearhead the “rebellion of the have-nots against the haves.”

And Mr. Wilson too, who mysteriously lost the word socialism from his vocabulary the very minute he walked through the front door of 10 Downing Street—and it just could not be found, though his entire team of experts and advisers as well as cabinet colleagues were looking for it for almost six years through the powerful spectacles of “pragmatic modernization,” supplied completely free of prescription charges—mysteriously found the word again after leaving the Prime Ministerial residence by the back door. Indeed, in one of his public speeches he even cracked a joke about the “Pentagon hunting for communists under the seabed,” though at the same time by a slight fit of amnesia forgetting that he was himself fishing for communists under the seamen’s bed not that long ago.

President Nixon: a new revolutionary; the Shah of Persia: leader of the world rebellion of the have-nots; and Mr. Wilson: an indomitable crusader against the Pentagon’s anti-communist crusades. I wonder what might come next. (I did not have to wonder for long: only a few days after this lecture was delivered, Mr. Heath—yet another “pragmatic modernizer,” of Rolls-Royce fame—hastened to add his name, in the truest spirit of consensus politics, to our illustrious list as a vigorous champion of nationalization.)

However, even metamorphoses of this kind are indicative of powerful pressures whose nature simply cannot be grasped through the mystifying personalization of the issues as expressed in hollow concepts like “bridging the credibility gap,” “acquiring a new image,” etc. The hypothesis that politicians break their promises because they are “devious” and because they “lack integrity,” only begs the question, at best. And the suggestion that they change their slogans and catchphrases because “they need to change their image” is the emptiest of the whole range of tautologies produced by the postwar boom of behaviorist and functionalist “Political Science.” Concepts of this kind are nothing more than pretentiously inflated rationalizations of the practice of self-advertising through which the advertising media sell their services to credulous politicians. As Mr. Wilson himself can testify: the simple and strictly quantifiable truth is that the psephologist “credibility gap” between this kind of “scientific” electoral victory forecast and the painfully final result of defeat exactly equals the distance between the front door and the back door of 10 Downing Street.

IF THE TONE OF TRADITIONAL politics is changing today, it is because the objective contradictions of our present-day situation cannot be repressed any longer either by means of naked power and brute force or through the soft strangulation supplied by consensus politics. Yet what we are confronted with is but an unprecedented crisis of social control on a world scale, and not its solution. It would be highly irresponsible to lull ourselves into a state of euphoria, contemplating a “socialist world revolution around the corner.”

The power of capital, in its various forms of manifestation, though far from being exhausted, no longer reaches far enough. Capital—since it operates on the basis of the myopic rationality of narrow self-interest, of bellum omnium contra omnes—the war of each against all—is a mode of control that is a priori incapable of providing the comprehensive rationality of an adequate social control. And it is precisely the need for the latter that demonstrates its dramatic urgency with the passing of every day.

The awareness of the limits of capital has been absent from all forms of rationalization of its reified needs, not only from the more recent versions of capitalist ideology. Paradoxically, capital is now forced to take notice of some of these limits, although of course in a necessarily alienated form. For now at least the absolute limits of human existence—both at the military and at the ecological plane—must be sized up, no matter how distorting and mystifying are the measuring devices of a capitalist social-economic accountancy. Facing the dangers of a nuclear annihilation on one side and an irreversible destruction of the human environment on the other, it becomes imperative to devise practical alternatives and remedies whose failure is rendered inevitable by the very limits of capital, which have now collided with the limits of human existence itself.

It goes without saying, the limits of capital carry with them an approach that tries to exploit even these vital human concerns in the service of profit-making. The lunatic—but, of course, capitalistically “rational”—theories (and associated practices) of an “escalating” war industry as the ultimate safeguard against war have dominated “strategic thinking” for quite some time. And recently we could observe the mushrooming of parasitic enterprises—from the smallest to the largest in size—which all try to cash in on our growing awareness of the ecological dangers. (Not to mention the ideological-political operations associated with the same issues.)10

All the same, such manipulations do not solve the issues at stake. They can only contribute to their further aggravation. Capitalism and the rationality of comprehensive social planning are radically incompatible. Today, however, we witness the emergence of a fundamental contradiction, with the gravest possible implications for the future of capitalism: for the first time in human history the unhampered dominance and expansion of the inherently irrational capitalist structures and mechanisms of social control are being seriously interfered with by pressures arising from the elementary imperatives of mere survival. And because the issues themselves are as unavoidable as the contradiction between the need for an adequate social control and the narrow limits of capitalist accountancy is sharp, the necessary failure of programs of short-sighted manipulation—in a situation that demands far-reaching and consciously coordinated efforts on a massive scale—acts as a catalyst for the development of socialist alternatives.

AND THIS IS FAR from being the sum total of the rising complications. The mass production of disposable time mentioned earlier is now coupled not only with expanding knowledge, but also with growing consciousness of the contradictions inherent in the practically demonstrated failures, as well as with the development of new modes and means of communication potentially capable of bringing to light the massive evidence for the eruption of these contradictions.11

At the same time, some of the most fundamental institutions of society are affected by a crisis never before imagined.

The power of religion in the West has almost completely evaporated a long time ago, but this fact has been masked by the persistence of its rituals and, above all, by the effective functioning of substitute religions, from the abstract cult of “thrift” in the more remote past to the religion of “consumer sovereignty,” “technological omnipotence,” and the like, in more recent decades.

The structural crisis of education has been in evidence for a not negligible number of years. And it is getting deeper every day, although its intensification does not necessarily take the form of spectacular confrontations.

And the most important of them all: the virtual disintegration of present-day family—this cell of class society—presents a challenge to which there cannot conceivably be formal-institutional answers, whether in the form of “amending the law of trespass” or in some more ruthlessly repressive form. The crisis of this institution assumes many forms of manifestation, from the hippie cults to widespread drug-taking; from the Women’s Liberation Movement to the establishment of utopian enclaves of communal living; and from the much advertised “generation conflict” to the most disciplined and militant manifestations of that conflict in organized action. Those who have laughed at them in the past had better think again. For whatever might be their relative weight in the total picture today, they are potentially of the greatest significance without one single exception.

EQUALLY SIGNIFICANT IS THE WAY in which the stubborn persistence of wishful thinking misidentifies the various forms of crisis. Not only are the manifestations of conflict ignored up to the last minute; they are also misrepresented the minute after the last. When they cannot be swept any longer under the carpet, they are tackled merely as effects divorced from their causes. (We should remember the absurd hypotheses of “mysterious diseases” and of “events devoid of any foundation” mentioned above.)

Characteristically, we find in a recent book on economics, at the foot of a page that calls for “reducing industrial investments in favor of a large-scale replanning of our cities, and of restoring and enhancing the beauty of many of our villages, towns and resorts,” the following story:

The recent electric-power breakdown in New York, obviously to be deplored on grounds of efficiency, broke the spell of monotony for millions of New Yorkers. People enjoyed the shock of being thrown back on their innate resources and into sudden dependence upon one another. For a few hours people were freed from routine and brought together by the dark. Next-door strangers spoke, and gladdened to help each other. There was room for kindness. The fault was repaired. The genie of power was returned to each home. And as the darkness brought them stumbling into each other’s arms, so the hard light scattered them again. Yet someone was quoted as saying, “This should happen at least once a month.”12

The only thing one does not quite understand: why not at least once a week? Surely the immense savings on all that unused electricity would more than cover the costs of a “large-scale replanning of our cities, and of restoring and enhancing the beauty of many of our villages, towns and resorts.” Not to mention the supreme benefits inherent in practicing the newfound virtue of unlit-skyscraper-corridor-brotherhood regularly on a weekly basis. For apparently it is not the mode of their social relationships that “scatters people” apart, but the technological efficiency and monotony of “hard light.” Thus the obvious remedy is to give them less “hard light” and all the unwanted problems disappear for good. That the production of “hard light” is a social necessity, and cannot be replaced even for the duration of periodic rituals by soft candlelight, is a consideration evidently unworthy of the attention of our champions in romantic daydreaming.

To put it in another way: this approach of wishful thinking is characterized by a curt dismissal of all those expectations the system cannot meet. The representatives of this approach insist, with unfailing tautology, that such expectations are not the manifestation of social and economic contradictions but merely the effects of “rising expectations.” Thus not only is the challenge of facing up to the causal foundations of frustrated expectations systematically evaded, but at the same time this evasion itself is very conveniently “justified,” i.e., rationalized.

The fact is, however, that we are concerned here with an internal contradiction of a system of production and control: one that cannot help raising expectations even to the point of a complete breakdown in satisfying them. And it is precisely at such points of breakdown that Quixotic remedies and substitutes are advocated with so much “humanitarian” passion. Up until, or prior to, these points of crisis and breakdown, no one in his right mind is supposed to question the superior wisdom of “cost-effectiveness,” “business sense,” “technological efficiency,” “economic motives,” and the like. But no sooner does the system fail to deliver the goods it so loudly advertised the moment before—confidently indicating, prior to the eruption of structural disturbances, its own ability to cater for expanding expectations as the self-evident proof of its superiority over all possible alternative modes of production and social control—its apologists immediately switch from preaching the religion of “cost-effectiveness” and “economic motives” to sermonizing about the need for “self-denial” and “idealism,” untroubled not only by their sudden change of course but also by the rhetorical unreality of their wishful “solutions.”

Thus beyond the horizon of “artificial obsolescence” we are suddenly confronted with “theories” advocating the planning of artificial power cuts, the production of artificial scarcity—both material and as an antidote to too much “disposable time,” which involves the danger of an increasing social consciousness; of space-solidarity and artificially manipulated suspense, etc. Indeed, at a time of dangerously rising unemployment there are still with us antediluvian “theorists” who wish to counteract the complications arising from a total lack of aim in saturated commodity existence by seriously advocating the production of artificial unemployment and hardship, topping it all with nostalgic speeches about lost religions and about the need for a brand-new artificial religion. The only thing they fail to reveal is how they are also going to devise an artificial being who will systematically fail to notice the grotesque artificiality of all these artificialities.

Once upon a time it suited the development of capitalism to let out of the bottle the genie of a ruthless conversion of everything into marketable commodities, even though this deed necessarily carried with it the undermining and the ultimate disintegration of religious, political and educational institutions that were vital to the control mechanism of class society. Today, however, the status quo would be much better served by a restoration of all the undermined and disintegrating institutions of control. According to our romantic critics everything would be well if only the genie could be persuaded to retire back into the bottle. The trouble is, though, he has no intention whatsoever of doing so. Thus nothing much remains to our romantics except lamenting upon the wickedness of the genie and upon the folly of human beings who let him loose.

1.4 From “Repressive Tolerance” to the Liberal Advocacy of Repression

WHEN THE SYSTEM FAILS to cope with the manifestations of dissent, and at the same time is incapable of dealing with their causal foundations, in such periods of history not only fantasy figures and remedies appear on the stage but also the “realists” of a repressive rejection of all criticism.

In 1957 a gifted young German writer, Conrad Rheinhold, had to flee the DDR where he had run a political cabaret in the aftermath of the Twentieth Congress. After he had some experience of life in West Germany, he was asked in an interview, published in Der Spiegel,13 to describe the main difference between his old and new situation. This was his answer: “Im Osten soll das Kabarett die Gesellschaft ändern, darf aber nichts sagen; im Western kann es alles sagen, darf aber nichts ändern.” (In the East political cabaret is supposed to change society, but it is not allowed to say anything; in the West it is allowed to say whatever it pleases but it is not allowed to change anything at all.)

This example illustrates quite well the dilemma of social control. For the other side of the coin of “repressive tolerance” is the “repression of tolerance.” The two together mark the limits of social systems that are incapable of meeting the need for social change in a determinate historical period.

When Marx died in 1883, his death was reported in the Times with some delay.14 And no wonder, for it had to be reported to the London Times from Paris that Marx had died in London. And this, again, illustrates very well our dilemma. For it is easy to be liberal when even a Marx can be totally ignored, since his voice cannot be heard where he lives, thanks to the political and ideological vacuum that surrounds him. But what happens when the political vacuum is displaced by the rising pressure of the ever-increasing social contradictions? Will not, in that case, the frustrations generated by the necessary failure of attending only to the surface manifestations of socioeconomic troubles, instead of tackling their causes—will not that failure take refuge behind a show of strength, even if this means the violation of the selfsame liberal values in whose name the violation is now committed? The recent case of another young refugee from the D.D.R.—this time not a political cabaret writer but someone deeply concerned about the degradation of politics to the level of cheap cabaret, Rudi Dutschke—suggests a rather disturbing answer to our question.

The issue is not that of “personal aberration” or “political pigheadedness,” as some commentators saw it. Unfortunately it is much worse than that: namely an ominous attempt to bring the political organs of control in line with the needs of the present-day articulation of capitalist economy, even if such an adjustment requires a “liberal” transition from “repressive tolerance” to “repressive intolerance.” Those who continue to nurse their illusions in these matters should read their allegedly “impartial” daily somewhat more attentively, in order to grasp the carefully woven meaning of passages like this:

The harder the liberal university is pressed, the less comprehensive it can afford to be, the more rigorously will it have to draw the line, and the more likely will be the exclusion of intolerant points of view. The paradox of the tolerant society is that it cannot be defended solely by tolerant means just as the pacific society cannot be defended solely by peaceful means.15

As we can see, the empty myths of “the tolerant society” and “the pacific society” are used to describe the society of “bellum omnium contra omnes,” disregarding the painfully obvious ways in which the “pacific society” of U.S. capitalism demonstrates its true character by saturation bombing, wholesale slaughter and massacres in Vietnam, and by shooting down even its own youth in front of the “liberal university”—at Kent State and elsewhere—when it dares to mount a protest against the unspeakable inhumanities of this “tolerant” and “pacific” society.

Moreover, in such passages of editorial wisdom we can also notice, if we are willing to do so, not only the unintended acknowledgment of the fact that this “liberal” and “tolerant” society will tolerate only to the point it can easily afford to do so—i.e., only to the point beyond which protest starts to become effective and turns into a genuine social challenge to the perpetuation of the society of repressive tolerance—but also the sophisticated hypocrisy through which the advocacy of crude (rigorous) and institutionalized intolerance (exclusion) succeeds in representing itself as the liberal defense of society against “intolerant points of view.”

Similarly, the advocacy of institutionalized intolerance is extended to prescribing solutions to Trade Union disputes. Another Times leader—significantly titled: “A Battle Line at 10 Percent”16—after conceding that “Nobody knows for sure what the mechanism that causes a runaway inflation is,” and after murmuring something about the fate of “some sort of authoritarian regime” which befalls the countries with substantial inflation, goes on to advocate blatantly authoritarian measures:

What can be done to reverse the present inflationary trend? The first and immediate answer is that the country should recognize the justice of standing firm. Anyone in present circumstances who asks for more than 10 percent is joining in a process of self-destruction. Anyone who strikes because he will not accept 15 percent deserves to be resisted with all the influence of society and all the power of government . . .17 The first thing to do and the simplest is to start beating strikes. [!!!] The local authorities should be given total support [including troops?] in refusing to make any further offer, even if the strike lasts for months.

We can see, then, that the apparent concern about the (fictitious) danger of “some sort of authoritarian regime”—which is simply declared to be inevitably linked to major inflations—is only a cover for the real concern about protecting the interests of capital, no matter how grave the political implications of “standing firm” against “strikes lasting for months” might be. Thus to formulate the highest priorities in terms of “beating the strikes” is and remains authoritarian, even if the policy based on such measures is championed in editorial columns capable of assuming liberal positions on peripheral issues.

From the advocacy of institutionalized intolerance, in the form of “beating the strikes with all the power of government,” to the legitimation of such practices, through anti-union laws, is, of course, only the next logical step. And the record of consensus politics is particularly telling in this respect.18 For Mrs. Castle’s denunciation of the Tory anti-union bill is not just halfhearted and belated. It also suffers from the memory of its twin brother—the ill-fated Labour bill—for which she could certainly not disclaim maternity. And when Mrs. Castle writes about The Bad Bosses’ Charter,19 she merely highlights the stubborn illusions of “pragmatic” politicians who, notwithstanding their past experience, still imagine that they will be voted back into office in order to write in the statute books a “Charter for the Good Bosses.”

From a socialist point of view, bosses are neither “bad” nor “good.” Just bosses. And that is bad enough—in fact it could not be worse. This is why it is vital to go beyond the paralyzing limits of consensus politics which refuses to recognize this elementary truth, and makes the people at large pay for the disastrous consequences of its mounting failures.

1.5 War if the Normal Methods of Expansion Fail

UNDER THE DEVASTATING IMPACT of a shrinking rate of profit that must be monopolistically counteracted, the margin of traditional political action has been reduced to slavishly carrying out the dictates arising from the most urgent and immediate demands of capital expansion, even if such operations are invariably misrepresented as “the national interest” by both sides of the “national” consensus.20 And just how directly policymaking is subordinated to the dictates of monopoly capital—unceremoniously excluding the vast majority of the elected representatives from the determination of all the important matters—is at times revealed in most unexpected ways by such embarrassing events as the headline-catching resignation of supposedly key decision-makers: some members of the most exclusive “inner cabinets” (restricted to a mere handful of ministers) who protest that they had no say in deciding the crucial issues of their own departments, let alone the national policy as a whole.

Even more revealing is the meteoric rise of the self-appointed representatives of big business and high finance to the top of political decision-making. Given the vital role assigned to the state in sustaining, with all available means at its disposal, the capitalist system of production—at a time of an already enormous but still extending concentration of capital—so much is at stake that the traditional forms of an indirect (economic) control of policymaking must be abandoned in favor of a direct control of the “commanding heights” of politics by the spokesmen of monopoly capital. In contrast to such manifestations of actual economic and political developments that we have all witnessed in the recent past and are still witnessing today, the mythology of realizing socialist ideals by “pragmatically” acquiring control over the “commanding heights of a mixed economy” must sound particularly hollow indeed.

Thus politics—which is nothing unless it is a conscious application of strategic measures capable of profoundly affecting social development as a whole—is turned into a mere instrument of short-sighted manipulation, completely devoid of any comprehensive plan and design of its own. It is condemned to follow a pattern of belated and short-term reactive moves to the bewildering crisis events as they necessarily erupt, with increasing frequency, on the socioeconomic basis of self-saturating commodity production and self-stultifying capital accumulation.

The crisis we face, then, is not simply a political crisis, but the general structural crisis of the capitalistic institutions of social control in their entirety. Here the main point is that the institutions of capitalism are inherently violent and aggressive: they are built on the fundamental premise of “war if the ‘normal’ methods of expansion fail.” (Besides, the periodic destruction—by whatever means, including the most violent ones—of overproduced capital is an inherent necessity of the “normal” functioning of this system: the vital condition of its recovery from crisis and depression.) The blind “natural law” of the market mechanism means that the grave social problems necessarily associated with capital production and concentration are never solved, only postponed, and indeed—since postponement cannot work indefinitely—transferred to the military plane. Thus the “sense” of the hierarchically structured institutions of capitalism is given in its ultimate reference to the violent “fighting out” of the issues, in the international arena. For the socioeconomic units—following the inner logic of their development—grow bigger and bigger, and their problems and contradictions increasingly more intense and grave. Growth and expansion are immanent necessities of the capitalist system of production and when the local limits are reached there is no way out except by violently readjusting the prevailing relation of forces.

The capitalist system of our times, however, has been decapitated through the removal of its ultimate sanction: an all-out war on its real or potential adversaries. Exporting internal violence is no longer possible on the required massive scale. (Attempts at doing so on a limited scale—e.g. the Vietnam War—are no substitutes for the old mechanism and even accelerate the inevitable internal explosions by aggravating the inner contradictions of the system.) Nor is it possible to get away indefinitely with the ideological mystifications that represented the internal challenge of socialism: the only possible solution to the present crisis of social control, as an external confrontation: a “subversion” directed from abroad by a “monolithic” enemy. For the first time in history capitalism is globally confronted with its own problems that cannot be “postponed” much longer, nor indeed can they be transferred to the military plane in order to be “exported” in the form of an all-out war.

BLOCKING THE ROAD OF a possible solution to the grave structural crisis of society through a third world war is of an immense significance as far as the future development of capitalism is concerned. The grave implications of this blockage can be grasped by remembering that the “Great Wars” of the past

1. automatically de-materialized the capitalist system of incentives, producing a shift from “economic motives” to “self-denial” and “idealism” so dear to the heart of some recent spokesmen and apologists of the system in trouble, and at the same time adjusting, accordingly, the mechanism of “interiorization” through which the continued legitimation of the established order is successfully accomplished;

2. suddenly imposed a radically lower standard of living on the masses of people, who willingly accepted it, given the circumstances of a state of emergency;

3. with equal suddenness, radically widened the formerly depressed margin of profit;

4. introduced a vital element of rationalization and coordination into the system as a whole (a rationalization, that is, which, thanks to the extraordinary circumstances, did not have to be confined to the narrow limits of all rationalization that directly arises from the sole needs of capital production and expansion); and, last but not least:

5. gave an immense technological boost to the economy as a whole, on a wide front.

Current military demand, however massive, simply cannot be compared to this set of both economic and ideological factors whose removal may well prove too much for the system of world capitalism. The less so since present-day military demand—which is imposed on society under “peacetime” conditions and not under those of a “national emergency”—cannot help intensifying the contradictions of capital production. This fact is powerfully highlighted by the spectacular failures of companies which heavily depend for their survival on mammoth defense contracts (Lockheed and Rolls-Royce, for instance).

The issue is, however, far more fundamental than even the most spectacular of failures could adequately indicate. For it concerns the structure of present-day capitalist production as a whole, and not simply one of its branches. Nor could one reasonably expect the state to solve the problem, no matter how much public money is poured down the drain in the course of its revealing rescue operations.

Indeed, the tendency of increasing state interventions in economic matters in the service of capital expansion led to the present state of affairs in the first place. The result of such interventions was not only the cancerous growth of the non-productive branches of industry within the total framework of capital production but—equally important—also the grave distortion of the whole structure of capitalist cost-accounting under the impact of contracts carried out with the ideological justification that they were “vital to the national interest.” And since present-day capitalism constitutes a closely interlocking system, the devastating results of this structural distortion come to the fore in numerous fields and branches of industry, and not only in those that are directly involved in the execution of defense contracts. The well-known facts that original cost estimates as a rule madly escalate, and that the committees set up by governments in order to “scrutinize” them fail to produce results (that is, results other than the whitewashing of past operations coupled with generous justifications of future outlays), find their explanation in the immanent necessities of this changed structure of capitalist production and accountancy, with the gravest implications for the future.

Thus, the power of state intervention in the economy—not so long ago still widely believed to be the wonder drug of all conceivable ills and troubles of the “modern industrial society”—is strictly confined to accelerating the maturation of these contradictions. The larger the doses administered to the convalescing patient, the greater his dependency on the wonder drug, i.e., the graver the symptoms described above as the structural distortion of the whole system of capitalist cost-accounting, symptoms that menacingly foreshadow the ultimate paralysis and breakdown of the mechanisms of capital production and expansion. And the fact that what is supposed to be the remedy turns out to be a contributory cause of further crisis clearly demonstrates that we are not concerned here with some “passing dysfunction” but with a fundamental, dynamic contradiction of the whole structure of capital production at its historic phase of decline and ultimate disintegration.

1.6 The Emergence of Chronic Unemployment

EQUALLY IMPORTANT IS THE newly emerging pattern of unemployment. For in recent decades unemployment in the highly developed capitalist countries was largely confined to “pockets of underdevelopment,” and the millions of people affected by it used to be optimistically written off in the grand style of neo-capitalist self-complacency as the “inevitable costs of modernization,” without too much—if any—worry about the social-economic repercussions of the trend itself.

Insofar as the prevailing movement was from unskilled to skilled jobs, involving large sums of capital outlay in industrial development, the matter could be ignored with relative safety, in the midst of the euphoria of “expansion.” Under such circumstances the human misery necessarily associated with all types of unemployment—including the one produced in the interest of “modernization”—could be capitalistically justified in the name of a bright commodity future for everyone. In those days the unfortunate millions of apathetic, “underprivileged” people could be easily relegated to the periphery of society. Isolated as a social phenomenon from the rest of the “Great Society” of affluence, they were supposed to blame only their own “uselessness” (want of skill, lack of drive, etc.) for their predicament, resigned to consume the leftovers of the heavily laden neo-capitalist dinner table magnanimously dished out to them in the form of unemployment “benefits” and unsaleable surplus-food coupons. (We should not forget that in those days some of the most prominent economists were seriously advocating programs that would have institutionalized—in the name of “technological progress” and “cost-efficiency”—the permanent condemnation of a significant proportion of the labor force to the brutally dehumanizing existence of enforced idleness and of a total dependence on “social charity.”)

What was systematically ignored, however, was that the trend of capitalist “modernization” and the displacement of large amounts of unskilled labor in preference to a much smaller amount of skilled labor ultimately implied the reversal of the trend itself—namely the breakdown of “modernization,” coupled with massive unemployment. This fact of the utmost gravity simply had to be ignored, in that its recognition is radically incompatible with the continued acceptance of the capitalist perspectives of social control. For the underlying dynamic contradiction that leads to the drastic reversal of the trend is by no means inherent in the technology employed, but in the blind subordination of both labor and technology to the devastatingly narrow limits of capital as the supreme arbiter of social development and control.

To acknowledge, though, the social embeddedness of the given technology would have amounted to admitting the socioeconomic limitations of the capitalist applications of technology. This is why the apologists of the capitalist relations of production had to theorize about “growth” and “development” and “modernization” as such, instead of assessing the sobering limits of capitalist growth and development. And this is why they had to talk about the “affluent,” “modern industrial”—or indeed “post-industrial”(!)—and “consumer” society as such, instead of the artificial, contradictory affluence of waste-producing commodity society which relies for its “modern industrial” cycle of reproduction not only on the most cynical manipulation of “consumer demand” but also on the most callous exploitation of the “have-nots.”

Although there is no reason why in principle the trend of modernization and the displacement of unskilled by skilled labor should not go on indefinitely, as far as technology itself is concerned, there is a very good reason indeed why this trend must be reversed under capitalist relations of production: namely the catastrophically restricting criteria of profitability and expansion of exchange value to which such “modernization” is necessarily subordinated. Thus the newly emerging pattern of unemployment as a socioeconomic trend is, again, indicative of the deepening structural crisis of present-day capitalism.

In accordance with this trend, the problem is no longer just the plight of unskilled laborers but also that of large numbers of highly skilled workers who are now chasing, in addition to the earlier pool of unemployed, the depressingly few available jobs. Also, the trend of “rationalizing” amputation is no longer confined to the “peripheral branches of ageing industry” but embraces some of the most developed and modernized sectors of production—from shipbuilding and aviation to electronics, and from engineering to space technology.

Thus we are no longer concerned with the “normal,” and willingly accepted, byproducts of “growth and development” but with their coming to a halt; nor indeed with the peripheral problems of “pockets of underdevelopment” but with a fundamental contradiction of the capitalist mode of production as a whole that turns even the latest achievements of “development,” “rationalization” and “modernization” into paralyzing burdens of chronic underdevelopment. And, most important of all, the human agency that finds itself at the receiving end is no longer the socially powerless, apathetic and fragmented multitude of “underprivileged” people but all categories of skilled and unskilled labor, i.e., objectively, the total labor force of society.

It goes without saying, we are talking about a major trend of social development, and not about some mechanical determinism that announces the immediate collapse of world capitalism. But even though the storehouse of manipulative countermeasures is far from being exhausted, no such measure is capable of suppressing the trend itself in the long run. Whatever might be the rate of success of measures arising from, or compatible with, the basic requirements and limitations of the capitalist mode of production, the crucial fact is and remains that under the present-day circumstances and conditions of capital production the totality of the labor force is becoming involved in an ever-intensifying confrontation with monopoly capital—which carries far-reaching consequences for the development of social consciousness.

1.7 The Intensification of the Rate of Exploitation

HERE WE CAN SEE, again, the vital importance of blocking the road of possible solutions to the structural crisis of capitalism through the violent displacement of its problems in the form of a new world war feasible in the past. Under the changed circumstances some of the most powerful instruments of mystification—through which capital managed to exercise its paralyzing ideological control over labor in the past—become dangerously undermined and tend to collapse altogether. For now the immense tensions generated within the system of capital production cannot be exported on an adequately massive scale at the expense of other countries, and thus the basic social antagonism between capital and labor that lies at the roots of such tensions cannot be sealed down indefinitely: in the end the contradictions must be fought at the place where they are actually generated.

Capital, when it reaches a point of saturation in its own setting and, at the same time, cannot find outlets for further expansion through the vehicle of imperialism and neo-colonialism, has no alternative but to make its own indigenous labor force suffer the grave consequences of the deteriorating rate of profit. Accordingly, the working classes of some of the most developed “post-industrial” societies are getting a foretaste of the real viciousness of “liberal” capital.

The interplay of a number of major factors—from the dramatic development of the forces of production to the erection of enormous obstacles to the unhampered international expansion of monopoly capital—have exposed and undermined the mechanism of the traditional “double book-keeping” that in the past enabled capital to conform to the rules of “liberalism” at home while practicing and perpetuating the most brutal forms of authoritarianism abroad. Thus the real nature of the capitalist production relations, the ruthless domination of labor by capital, is becoming increasingly more evident as a global phenomenon.

Indeed, it could not be otherwise. For so long as the problems of labor are assessed merely in partial terms (i.e., as local issues of fragmented, stratified and divided groups of workers) they remain a mystery for theory, and nothing but cause for chronic frustration for politically minded social practice.

THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE development and self-reproduction of the capitalist mode of production is quite impossible without the concept of the total social capital, which alone can explain many mysteries of commodity society—from the “average rate of profit” to the laws governing capital expansion and concentration. Similarly, it is quite impossible to understand the manifold and thorny problems of nationally varying as well as socially stratified labor without constantly keeping in mind the necessary framework of a proper assessment: namely the irreconcilable antagonism between total social capital and the totality of labor.

This fundamental antagonism, it goes without saying, is inevitably modified in accordance with:

a) the local social-economic circumstances;

b) the respective positions of particular countries in the global framework of capital production; and

c) the relative maturity of the global social-historical development.

Accordingly, at different periods of time the system as a whole reveals the workings of a complex set of objective differences of interest on both sides of the social antagonism. The objective reality of different rates of exploitation—both within a given country and in the world system of monopoly capital—is as unquestionable as are the objective differences in the rates of profit at any particular time, and the ignorance of such differences can only result in resounding rhetoric, instead of revolutionary strategies. All the same, the reality of the different rates of exploitation and profit does not alter in the least the fundamental law itself: i.e., the growing equalization of the differential rates of exploitation as the global trend of development of world capital.

TO BE SURE, THIS LAW of equalization is a long-term trend as far as the global system of capital is concerned. Nevertheless, the modifications of the system as a whole also appear, inevitably in the short run, as “disturbances” of a particular economy that happens to be negatively affected by the repercussions of the shifts that necessarily occur within the global framework of total social capital.

The dialectic of such shifts and modifications is extremely complex and cannot be pursued at this place much further. Let it now suffice to stress that “total social capital” should not be confused with “total national capital.” When the latter is being affected by a relative weakening of its position within the global system, it will inevitably try to compensate for its losses by increasing its specific rate of exploitation over against the labor force under its direct control—or else its competitive position is further weakened within the global framework of “total social capital.” Under the system of capitalist social control there can be no way out from such “short-term disturbances and dysfunctions” other than the intensification of the specific rates of exploitation, which can only lead in the long run, both locally and in global terms, to an explosive intensification of the fundamental social antagonism.

Those who have been talking about the “integration” of the working class—depicting “organized capitalism” as a system that succeeded in radically mastering its social contradictions—have hopelessly misidentified the manipulative success of the differential rates of exploitation (which prevailed in the relatively “disturbance-free” historic phase of post-war reconstruction and expansion) as a basic structural remedy.

As a matter of fact, it was nothing of the kind. The ever-increasing frequency with which “temporary disturbances and dysfunctions” appear in all spheres of our social existence, and the utter failure of manipulative measures and instruments devised to cope with them, are clear evidence that the structural crisis of the capitalist mode of social control has assumed all-embracing proportions.

1.8 Capital’s “Correctives” and Socialist Control

THE MANIFEST FAILURE OF established institutions and their guardians to cope with our problems can only intensify the explosive dangers of a deadlock. And this takes us back to our point of departure: the imperative of an adequate social control that “humanity needs for its sheer survival.”

To recognize this need is not the same thing as issuing an invitation to indulge in the production of “practicable” blueprints of socioeconomic readjustment in the spirit of accommodating liberal meliorism. Those who usually lay down the criterion of practicability as the “measure of seriousness” of social criticism, hypocritically hide the fact that their real measure is the capitalist mode of production in terms of which the practicability of all programs of action is to be evaluated.

Practicable in relation to what?—that is the question. For if the criteria of capital production constitute the “neutral” basis of all evaluation, then, of course, no socialist program can stand the test of this “value-free,” “non-ideological” and “objective” approach. This is why Marx himself, who insisted that men must change “from top to bottom the conditions of their industrial and political existence, and consequently their whole manner of being,”21 must be condemned as a “hopelessly impractical ideologist.” For how could men conceivably change from top to bottom the conditions of their existence if conformity to the conditions of capital production remains the necessary premise of all admissible change?

And yet, when the very existence of humankind is at stake, as indeed it happens to be at this juncture of an unprecedented crisis in human history, the only program that is really practicable—in sharp contrast to the counterproductive practicality of manipulative measures which only aggravate the crisis—is the Marxian program of radically restructuring, “from top to bottom,” the totality of social institutions, the industrial, political and ideological conditions of present-day existence, “the whole manner of being” of men repressed by the alienated and reified conditions of commodity society. Short of the realization of such unpracticability, there can be no way out from the ever-deepening crisis of human existence.

The demand for “practicable” blueprints is the manifestation of a desire to integrate the “constructive” elements of social criticism: a desire coupled with the determination to devise ruthlessly effective countermeasures against those elements which resist integration, and therefore a priori defined as “destructive.” But even if this were not so, truly adequate programs and instruments of social-political action can only be elaborated by critical and self-critical social practice itself, in the course of its actual development.

Thus the socialist institutions of social control cannot define themselves in detail prior to their practical articulation. At this point of historic transition the relevant questions concern their general character and direction: determined, in the first place, by the prevailing mode and institutions of control to which they have to constitute a radical alternative. Accordingly, the central characteristics of the new mode of social control can be concretely identified—to a degree to which this is necessary for the elaboration and implementation of flexible socialist strategies—through the grasp of the basic functions and inherent contradictions of the disintegrating system of social control.22

Here we must confine ourselves to mentioning only the most important points—among them the relationship between politics and economics in the first place. As is well known, Marx’s bourgeois critics never ceased to accuse him of “economic determinism.” Nothing could be, however, further removed from the truth. For the Marxian program is formulated precisely as the emancipation of human action from the power of relentless economic determinations.

When Marx demonstrated that the brute force of economic determinism, set into motion by the dehumanizing necessities of capital production, rules over all aspects of human life, demonstrating at the same time the inherently historical—i.e., necessarily transient—character of the prevailing mode of production, he touched a sore point of bourgeois ideology: the hollowness of its metaphysical belief in the “natural law” of permanence of the given production relations. And by revealing the inherent contradictions of this mode of production, he demonstrated the necessary breakdown of its objective economic determinism. Such a breakdown, however, had to consummate itself by extending the power of capital to its extreme limits, submitting absolutely everything—including the supposedly autonomous power of political decision-making—to its own mechanism of strict control.

Ironically, when this is accomplished (as a result of an increasingly bigger appetite for “correctives” devised to safeguard the unhampered expansion of the power of capital), monopoly capital is also compelled to assume direct control over areas it is structurally incapable of controlling. Thus beyond a certain point, the more it controls (directly), the less it controls (effectively), undermining and eventually destroying even the mechanisms of “correctives.” The complete and by now overt subordination of politics to the most immediate dictates of capital-producing economic determinism is a vital aspect of this problematic. This is why the road to the establishment of the new institutions of social control must lead through a radical emancipation of politics from the power of capital.

ANOTHER BASIC CONTRADICTION of the capitalist system of control is that it cannot separate “advance” from destruction, nor “progress” from waste—however catastrophic the results. The more it unlocks the powers of productivity, the more it must unleash the powers of destruction; and the more it extends the volume of production, the more it must bury everything under mountains of suffocating waste. The concept of economy is radically incompatible with the “economy” of capital production, which, of necessity, adds insult to injury by first using up with rapacious wastefulness the limited resources of our planet, and then further aggravates the outcome by polluting and poisoning the human environment with its mass-produced waste and effluence.

Ironically, again, the system breaks down at the point of its supreme power; for its maximum extension inevitably generates the vital need for restraint and conscious control with which capital production is structurally incompatible. Thus the establishment of the new mode of social control is inseparable from the realization of the principles of a socialist economy that center on a meaningful economy of productive activity: the pivotal point of a rich human fulfillment in a society emancipated from the alienated and reified institutions of control.

AND THE FINAL POINT to stress is the necessarily global determination of the alternative system of social control, in confrontation with the global system of capital as a mode of control. In the world as it has been—and is still being—transformed by the immense power of capital, the social institutions constitute a closely interlocking system. Thus there is no hope for isolated partial successes, only for global ones—however paradoxical this might sound. Accordingly, the crucial criterion for the assessment of partial measures is whether they are capable of functioning as “Archimedean points,” i.e., as strategic levers for a radical restructuring of the global system of social control. This is why Marx spoke of the vital necessity of changing “from top to bottom” the conditions of existence as a whole, short of which all efforts directed at a socialist emancipation of mankind are doomed to failure. Such a program, it goes without saying, embraces the “micro-structures” (like the family) just as much as the most comprehensive institutions (the “macro-structures’) of political and economic life. Indeed, as Marx had suggested, nothing less than a radical transformation of our “whole manner of being” can produce an adequate system of social control.

ITS ESTABLISHMENT WILL, no doubt, take time and will require the most active involvement of the whole community of producers, activating the repressed creative energies of the various social groups over matters incomparably greater in importance than deciding the color of local lampposts to which their “power of decision-making” is confined today.

The establishment of this social control will equally require the conscious cultivation—not in isolated individuals but in the whole community of producers, to whatever walk of life they may belong—of an uncompromising critical awareness, coupled with an intense commitment to the values of a socialist humanity, which guided the work of Isaac Deutscher to a rich fulfillment.

Thus our memorial is not a ritual remembrance of the past but a persistent challenge to face up to the demands inherent in our own share of a shared task.

It is in this spirit that I wish to dedicate this lecture to the memory of Isaac Deutscher.

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