The Marxist critique of bourgeois society is essentially the critique of wage labour. The Marxist condemnation of capitalism is essentially the condemnation of production for the sake of production. Bourgeois prejudice and Stalinist lies have corroded minds so severely that these points are generally not understood. Consequently it is constantly necessary for Marxists to bring attention to them and explain what they mean.
«Capital does not consist in accumulated labour serving living labour as a means for new production. It consists in living labour serving accumulated labour as a means for maintaining and multiplying the exchange value of the latter. Thus capital presupposes wage labour; wage labour presupposes capital. They reciprocally condition the existence of each other; they reciprocally bring forth each other» («Wage Labour and Capital»).
In the historical as well as the logical perspective, wage labour, in its generalised form, and production for the sake of production are inseparably connected. Wage labour can only be generalised if the majority of the population has no means of production and, in general, no property at its disposal. In these circumstances the vast majority of mankind is obliged to sell its life – more precisely, its labour power – to an alien force in exchange for money. This «alien force» as everyone knows, is the social class that owns the means of production. Like all previous ruling classes in history, this class endeavours to appropriate the means to enjoy its existence without itself taking part in social production, without submitting to the obligation to work.
This would lead one to believe that the object of capitalist production lies in the satisfaction of the ruling class’ needs and that the lives of the vast majority of mankind are subordinated to this object. In reality things are not quite so simple. If it were exclusively a question of supporting a handful of capitalists, then even if they had colossal appetites it would not be necessary for millions upon millions of humans to work themselves to death daily in the mad frenzy of production. The consumption needs of the financial and industrial and financial oligarchy as well as the state bureaucracy are totally out of proportion to the billions of hours of work contributed annually by the wage earning population in all the advanced industrial countries. Everyone knows that a business which paid its wage labourers too much would run a greater risk than if it only paid out an insufficient dividend in the eyes of its shareholders. Such a business would be ship-wrecked, bankrupt. And any state that did business in the same way would go bankrupt, too. Only in the absence of the prejudices of bourgeois political economy, and only in the light of the facts of tangible reality, is it possible to understand that capitalist economy, far from corresponding to the personal needs of the members of the bourgeoisie (much less the needs of the wage labourers), obeys the impersonal laws of capital which force themselves even upon the ruling class!
As we have been told ad nauseam, these laws require the reduction of production costs. This command rings out from the factories, where the productive workers are employed, to all other firms and all private and public administrations, and consequently to the entire wage earning population. The dictatorship of the market provides the explanation for the following paradoxical fact: the more wealth mankind produces or can produce, the more feverishly it must work, the more strictly must it hold its needs in check, the worse it lives in the final analysis – if, contrary to the capitalists, we do not take «live well» to mean «buy more».
Then it has to be admitted that the object of production is not social consumption, but production itself! In present day decadent capitalism even the most insipid intellect is shocked by this absurdity, and innumerable people can be found who ask with real or feigned naïveté: «Why economic growth?» This is gratifying to know because the most commonplace reality forces millions of humans who have never read a learned book called «Capital» by Karl Marx to recognise a truth that has been proclaimed for over a century: the standpoint of capitalism is production for the sake of production and not for the satisfaction of the needs of society. This is the case because capitalism produces commodities, and not use values.
Under these circumstances, what is the character of a social revolution that transforms the whole basis of production? It is this: the class which possesses no means of production or means of existence and which is consequently condemned to wage labour appropriates every-thing it needs for the assurance of its collective existence. The collective appropriation of social products for the satisfaction of collectively determined needs means the abolition of values as an «objective quality» possessed by these products.
The standpoint of the class of wage labourers cannot be «the reduction of production costs», for in the last analysis what capitalism refers to as production costs is human life itself, which it has reduced to a fairly wretched thing! Simply formulated, the proletarian standpoint lies in «increasing production costs»! Therefore the class of wage labourers should be preoccupied not with working more intensively as the productivity of labour increases, but just the opposite, with utilising increased productivity to free itself from the ancient yoke of labour. Anyone who isn’t a hypocritical born-again holy-roller, a blood sucking bourgeois, or an opportunist pimp can comprehend this easily.
As long as there existed alongside capitalism a wide range of small commodity production whose effective social yield was exceedingly scanty and which condemned the producers to a purely private, isolated, and hence more barbarous existence than the life of the proletarians, this standpoint of the class of wage labourers could not yet appear as the interest of society as a whole. For the same reason it could not yet become a reality. But ever since capitalism prevailed over more backward modes of production the interest of society as a whole has been identical with the interest of the class of wage labourers. All particular interests must be mercilessly subordinated to this interest; the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat presupposes the victory of this interest. The capitalist norm of free enterprise will be sup-pressed completely, both in the «democratic» West and in the allegedly «socialist» East. In Russia and China its operation has only been restricted rather than eliminated (moreover it is being extended again today under the pressure of the market) as is the case with a single factory of a large enterprise vis á vis the head office or with a state industry in the West (eg. the post office) vis á vis the state. «The modern State, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital» («Socialism: Utopian and Scientific»: our emphasis).
Whether the entrepreneur appears as a private individual or the State, «free enterprise» represents nothing other than a particular interest. It acts as if it were the centre of the universe. It lays hold of as much means of production and raw materials and employs as many workers as its capital and its sales prospects enable it to, without asking itself if these means of production and this labour power might not be more useful in another field of activity. It produces as many of its particular commodity as it can dispose of on the market without asking itself if other goods might not be more useful for society. And it is even prepared to go as far as to wage a «psychological war» against the whole population in order to convince it that it has a need for this particular commodity.
Both private management and state management lead to the same result, and the enterprise as the navel of the world leads to such absurdities that it becomes increasingly intolerable. The principle that will be introduced with the replacement of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by the dictatorship of the proletariat can only be the direct determination of production by the whole of society. This presupposes that the previous individual enterprises have been fused to g ether into a harmonious, cohesive whole, which is only possible if the distribution of workers among different branches of production and spheres of activity in general, today transpiring as a result of economic speculation and competition, is centrally administered and proceeds from the needs of society. Only in this way will society avoid having too much steel (and weapons!) and too little food; too much transportation and too little living space; or too many films, recordings, and books, and too few educational and health services. In place of the anarchy of capitalist production, communists «demand the strictest control, by society and the state, of the quantity of labour and the quantity of consumption; only this control must start with the expropriation of the capitalists, with the control of the workers over the capitalists, and must be carried out, not by a state of bureaucrats, but by a state of armed workers» («State and Revolution»: our emphasis).
It is peculiar that, on the one hand, to the extent the capitalist yoke becomes increasingly suffocating, the whole world understands better and better the necessity of a centrally planned economy. But on the other hand – and the action of opportunism is responsible for this – very few people understand that a harmonious, cohesive form of social economy can only replace free enterprise when goods are no longer produced as commodities, that is, as values that fetch a price in money, as exchange values! Nevertheless, within a present-day factory the different departments do not «exchange» their products. The assembly department, for example, receives its parts from another department without having to «buy» them. Within the factory the labour time expended on every step is accurately calculated in order to avoid small-scale waste, whereas on the level of the whole society large-scale waste is the rule! These quantities of labour do not assume the form of values. Only when the product is finished and about to «leave» the factory does it acquire a price in money.
Each product must compulsorily «leave» the factory because the factory boundaries are too narrow and because on the broader frontier of social production, considered on the scale of a country, a continent, or even the whole world, innumerable individual factories move around like confused molecules. When the narrow boundaries of the factory have been extended to embrace the social production of a country, of a continent, and finally of the whole world – in other words, when within the total economy the factory occupies the place of the present-day department within a factory (this is the precise meaning of socialisation of the means of production) – then it will no longer be necessary for products to acquire a price. Furthermore, this will be completely impossible because value and price can only arise on the boundary of the system. They will disappear completely as soon as this system includes the whole world. Capitalist commodity production will yield to the extent that the socialist revolution gains ground. This does not mean that capitalism will survive as long as the revolution has not taken hold of the whole world, but that it will disappear only where the proletariat has already seized power. Still, in the words of the «Manifesto»: «United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat».
Now the abolition of commodity production necessarily means the abolition of wage labour itself. Wages are never anything other than the price of a particular commodity: labour power. Besides the market in general, wage labour presupposes the labour market, that is, anarchy in the allocation of labour power. If products no longer represent values, and if the allocation of labour power is no longer subject to the accidental laws of the market, then it is also impossible to consider labour power itself as an exchange value and to give it a market price. The members of society, henceforth undertaking collectively social labour, which meanwhile has been simplified enormously, will no longer be «payed» for their real or alleged «services». The part of the social product destined for consumption is available to each individual as his share.
This is what is meant by the abolition of wage labour, which has always been a synonym for communism, to Marx and three or four generations of revolutionaries. One need not be a great theoretician to understand that there is nothing «utopian» or «impracticable» about it. And finally, it expresses something that all wage labourers who have not been turned completely into vegetables by opportunism already know in their hearts: Men should work in order to live, instead of living in order to work!
Our party is devoted to the cause that will make this historical necessity a reality, the communist revolution!
A somewhat misleading formulation: a capitalistically produced commodity is of course also necessarily a use value, otherwise it would not find buyers. But the property of also being a use value is, so to speak, a necessary evil for the capitalist; what matters most to him is the exchange value of the commodity. In capitalism, therefore, the production of exchange value is the real impetus, the resulting use value is, as it were, a secondary matter. That is why here not those things are produced that people actually need in general, but only those things that meet a solvent demand. (sinistra.net)
Economically speaking, it makes no difference what the motivation is for becoming a buyer of a certain product, at the time of purchase it always corresponds to a real need of the buyer. Whether this need has been «artificially» («psychologically») induced, as is suggested here, or the purchased object or service satisfies an actual need only in a purely «illusionary» way, plays no role whatsoever from an economic point of view. Only the fact of acquisition is decisive.
The thesis of the «artificial evocation» of needs, by means of advertising, etc., may be a commonplace, but it does not address the actual facts: the sale of a commodity is only successful if it serves an actual need. The history of products that failed on the market – and the accompanying bankruptcies of the producers – fills volumes. Advertising is predominantly aimed at increasing the market share of the product, rather than introducing new products in order to arouse desires. After all, needs are as diverse as the world of commodities that pretends to satisfy them.
«By besoin factice [artificial need] the economist means firstly: the besoins [needs] that arise from the social existence of the individual; secondly, those that are not a consequence of his bare existence as a natural object. This illustrates the desperate internal poverty that is the basis of bourgeois wealth and its science.» (Karl Marx, «Economic Manuscripts of 1857–1858», MECW, Vol. 28, p. 110)