“Socialists” as a Central Component of Capitalism

To some people (libertarian socialists) this post will simply re-iterate an obvious truth. To others (mainly Trotskyists) it will be evidence of an infantile disorder. To those who are signed up to no faction, it may just be interesting.

Traditionally, Marxists have tended, as I understand it, to say something like this:

“In the typical ‘bourgeois’ revolution, to bring in rational, market-driven, technological, capitalism, such as those in France of the US, the bourgeoisie itself and its supporters (the economists and philosophers of free markets, individual liberty, free enterprise, etc.) was able to lead and organise the revolution.

But in many other, less developed countries, the national bourgeoisie was too weak or cowardly to do this itself, preferring a comfortable compromise with imperial capitalists and local pre-capitalist rulers. As a result, some other coalition of classes, such as the intelligentsia and the peasantry, have had to perform its tasks (the inauguration of capitalism) instead.”

Now there’s clearly a certain degree of cogency to this. Chinese capitalism, for example, is clearly the result of the Communist Party, not of local free marketeers. But it raises a question.

If that ‘substitute’ pattern has generated functioning capitalism for far more people across the world than the classically-liberal bourgeoisie-led pattern, then is it really fair to still see it as an aberration?

Doesn’t it actually make just as much sense to say that capitalism is typically, and characteristically, brought in by a mass movement of the peasantry animated by state-socialist ideology?

And that revolutions led by the bourgeoisie itself were an alternative pattern that was necessary for the first few such revolutions, in France and England and Belgium and the Netherlands, but that once capitalism was up and running in Western Europe, it became the responsibility of state-socialist ideology to properly develop it.

Or at least, that the two are equally prominent and typical forms of capitalist revolution.

What would that imply? It would imply that the dominant forms of socialist ideology – social-democracy and Leninism – are crucial components of capitalism. It would imply, in fact, that even in the 1840s, as the Communist Manifesto was composed, capitalism itself was being articulated and developed by Marx and Engels.

On the other hand, there are many things it would not imply. It would not imply anything particularly about the guiding ideal of socialism: a classless society where the economy is collectively planned for human benefit, and not for the power and wealth of an elite. Because that ideal is already quite remote from the historically dominant forms of socialist ideology. Indeed, it’s just as remote as the ideal of free, autonomous people striving for self-fulfilment and self-expression is from ‘individualist’ ‘liberal’ capitalist society.

Nor would it imply a fundamental weakness in Marxism or in socialist ideology in general. After all, it’s obvious that every writers and theorist misses things and needs to be added to, just as it’s obvious that 19th-century socialists who predicted that socialism (real socialism) was imminent, to be seen within their lifetimes, were wrong about that.

What it does imply though is that we should perhaps broaden the definition of ‘bourgeois ruling class’. We’re already quite used to seeing modern politicians as simply a further component of the bourgeoisie. But perhaps we should include Lenin there as well. Though obviously he wasn’t a ‘capitalist’ in the sense of employing free proletarians to produce commodities to sell on the market for profit, there’s a broader notion that can contain him alongside such people.

Both Bolshevik leaders and ‘capitalists’ proper are rationalisers, investors, controllers. They differ from the majority of members of their society in that their activity involves directing and controlling the activity of others, and they differ from pre-capitalist rulers, kings and aristocrats and priests and so forth, in that they do so with the explicit and conscious intention of rationally building up economic capacity, of modernising, industrialising, investing.

If we took that as a broad two-part definition of the ruling class characteristic of capitalism (part 1, they control others, part 2, they do so rationally for economic growth), then we would have to recognise the Russian revolution, the (second) Chinese revolution, most of the colonial wars of independence, indeed most major ‘socialist’ activity of the 20th century as ‘capitalist revolutions’.

Of course the masses were active in all of these – but so too were they active in the French revolution, the American revolution, etc.

State-socialism, in historical terms, is just as much a capitalist phenomenon as liberalism (and indeed, also just as little), is in a sense the ‘shadow’ of liberalism. And it is equally remote from the genuine (anarchist) socialism, which will also show itself as the genuine liberalism.

4 Responses to ““Socialists” as a Central Component of Capitalism”

  1. Sophia Marsden Says:

    So commies are to blame for the triumph of ugly bourgeois values after all?

  2. charliemarks Says:

    You mention China. It’s curious – there are capitalists in the Communist Party as a result of policy decisions made by self-declared Marxists.

    If we can view “socialism w/ chinese characteristics” as a plan of action by the Party (and I’m not certain it is so) then the market reforms were about surviving – a managed capitalist class & free trade with West being a historic compromise which prevented a return to colonial or neocolonial relations w/ in the global economy.

    The argument for the market reforms was that a) it was necessary to develop the productive forces because b) planning for need was impossible in a mostly pre-capitalist society. But some of the things that came out of the reforms – trade in blood and body parts, poisoned milk, etc – cannot be described as excesses. Mao was worried about China going capitalist by way of Yugoslav worker self-management – undoubtedly this would be a step forward today, where the joint-stock form of ownership is encouraged.

    But on the other hand, there’s the “crony capitalism” of the sixties generation getting rich through bureacratic privilege. Bakunin called it a red bourgeoisie, Diljas a “new class”, Michael Albert a “coordinator class”.

  3. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    Right, and this interests me: that something very clearly capitalistic was in a sense ‘forced on them by history’. Because in the grand sweep of things, intentions matter less than outcomes.

  4. The three struggling powers of non-socialist systems | A Division by Zer0 Says:

    […] hijacked by the few for their own ends. The people have always been betrayed by those liberals or Authoritarian “Socialists” leading them to fight “for the […]


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