Capital and communism…

by Jehu

Jasper Bernes has written an essay that I have reblogged here. Much of it I find of great interest. However, this passage, in particular, I take great issue with for obvious reasons:

There is also in Marx a tendential theory alongside the heuristic theory. The light of communism revealed for Marx a directionality to capitalist production, one that pointed toward its ruin but also its overcoming by communism. The tendencies identified are numerous and complexly entangled: mass proletarianization, immiseration, and increase in superfluous populations, concentration and centralization of capital, globalization of trade, rising organic composition of capital, falling rate of profit, depletion of the soil, colonization, and imperialism. Chief among all these tendencies, however, was the tendency for capitalism to produce its own gravediggers in the rising, militant proletariat. The tendencies are also, it should now seem needless to say, illuminated by a future communism. This is because, first, the rising proletariat is already practically oriented toward communism, and second, tendencies within capitalism lead inexorably toward communism. Tendencies are directional, and directions are not neutral, but stained with the dye of class struggle, progressive and reactive.

Much of the tendential theory has not held up, at least if read strictly, and in some instances, it must be admitted, Marx was badly wrong. But the fact that any of it has held up, despite the fact that the communist revolution has not occurred, and capitalism soldiers on long after Marx could have thought such a thing imaginable, counts as no small feat. None of his contemporaries fare better. The tendential theory must, in any case, always return to the facts of the world, of class struggle, for confirmation. But it also must know what it’s looking for, where it hopes history will lead. Here again Marx can appear most grandiose when he is in fact being most modest. He need not proselytize and inveigh, draw up battle plans and programs, for the tendencies of capitalism are already doing the work of forming a resistance adequate to it. The tendential analysis is not prescriptive, but diagnostic, highlighting limits and opportunities. But these are opportunities that, for Marx, the working class must come to understand one way or another. It is class struggle itself which brings these opportunities to mind for Marx—his work is to clarify and refine political tendencies, the communist movement principally, already in the process of formation.

While I would agree that Marx saw in capital a directionality (is this a word?) of sorts that points to its own ruin (I prefer the term “self-negation”), I am not so sure I agree with Bernes’ phrasing of capital’s relation with communism. In particular, I don’t think I like the phrase, “its overcoming by communism.” Rather, I would stick to Marx’s characterization that capital unconsciously creates the material requirements of communism.

The material requirements of communism have absolutely nothing to do with classes or class struggle, nor do they seek class struggle for confirmation. They are material requirements. The class struggle is merely political. Even if there were no class struggle or, as at present, the class struggle were severely attenuated, capital would remain no more than a historically limited mode of production, creating the material requirements of communism. The class struggle has nothing at all to do with this. It has absolutely no impact on the nature of capital.

To say this another way: The proletarians do not and cannot put an end to capital. Capital negates itself. The proletarians can speed up or retard this process of self-negation only. If capital does not negate itself, there is nothing the class struggle can do to put an end to capital since both classes constitute the relation.