International Communist Party On the Marxist Theory of Crisis


(from Il Programma Comunista, issue 21 of 1960)

A pervasive variety of idiocy emanates from the testimonies of busy economists, elected to demonstrate the eternity of the capitalist mode of production. As usual, it, not new, comes from all sides. In fact, in the game of the mystified Russian "socialization", everyone is no longer allowed to speak of causes and laws, but of results and methods. Always more discussed are the "techniques": principles would only be of help to the "idealists". The diatribe is no longer concerned with the need for an economic "plan" or the preference for free initiative. Everyone launches plans for production, and maybe it’s easier for professional "planners" to give up than the "liberals", judging by how things are going in Russia.

What, however, seems clear in this confusion (which interests us only as an aspect of the social decomposition of capitalism) is that every group of contenders wishes to conceal, under immeasurable protestations against "sticking to the roots", the unavoidable course towards the end. Kennedy therefore has perfect reason to defend and justify a new and more potent imperialist outburst of the USA, since in taking out the Republican contenders, the USSR and the USA "want the same things". Everyone agrees on the essentials, that is, on the will to keep the actual mode of production – the production of surplus value – intact.

The manifold lables applied to capitalism – liberal, democratic, and, lastly, popular – conceal the spring which accelerates its development: centralization. «The world – writes Marx (Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, s. 2) – would still be without railways if it had had to wait until accumulation had got a few individual capitals far enough to be adequate for the construction of a railway. Centralisation, on the contrary, accomplished this in the twinkling of an eye, by means of joint-stock companies».

Every braggart of the gigantic developments of production is silent about the process of the crushing of small capital. Only the indices of growth are exalted, which by themselves don’t demonstrate productive potency if not predicated on being the result and premise of the reunification of scattered capitals. The pretense of opportunism to contrast development to the constitution of great monopoly capitals is both ridiculous and reactionary: the monopolies in fact testify, beyond anything, to the irrepressible process of centralization without which, in the lesson of Marx, the final socialization of production would be unthinkable.

Marx directly glorifies the accelerator function of centralization which in society expresses itself in the joint stock companies, trusts, and monopolies (ibid., ch. 22):

«This expropriation [of private producers] is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. THE MONOPOLY OF CAPITAL BECOMES A FETTER UPON THE MODE OF PRODUCTION, WHICH HAS SPRUNG UP AND FLOURISHED ALONG WITH, AND UNDER IT. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. THE KNELL OF CAPITALIST PRIVATE PROPERTY SOUNDS. THE EXPROPRIATORS ARE EXPROPRIATED».

Dear reader, compare this final part of Capital, volume 1 with the "New Course" of Russia, and you will be convinced that our condemnation of "Soviet socialism" is not the fruit of preconceptions, but runs along the historical thread of Marxist theory.

The Function of Individual Capitals

The exasperated growth of production, one with the increase of a higher part of it destined to accumulation, «Develops, therefore, the specifically capitalist mode of produciton», and vice-versa. The organic composition of capital continuously varies; the variable part decreases in relation to the constant part; every phase of accumulation entails a quantitative growth of the means of production and «the corresponding command over a larger... army of workers». At a certain point of development in this quantitative process, a selection occurs betwen the many "individual capitals". It’s important to underline this scientifically perfect definition from Marx. Our long-windedness is suggested to us by the Maestro himself, who never tires of repeating that the capitalist mode of production "dehumanizes" humanity, that in it humanity is enslaved to capital: the entirety of humanity, including the capitalists themselves, human representatives of Capital.

In the long polemic against the opportunist vehicle known as the petite-bourgeoisie, Lenin himself reproaches it with having not understood that it is itself victim of the process of capitalist production and that historically only two options remain for it: either get assimilated by capitalism or get proletarianized.

The "total social capital" is constituted, precisely, by a great number of individual capitals represented by just as many capitalists, which grow more or less alongside increasing accumulation. This phase coincides with the concentration of capital. Marx, in fact, distiguishes between two types of concentration, the second of which is called centralization and characterizes a phase which we could define as a higher phase of capitalism. Note well, in order to not cause mechanical misunderstandings, that this distinction is not made in two different times, necessarily separating one from another: rather, it is very often that the two phases intersect each other. Understand, however, that the phase of centralization is the final one. To illustrate, we can say that the initial phase of capitalism is characterized by concentration, i.e. by the extension of capitalist production with the birth of many individual capitals in mutual conflict, yes, but in the endeavor to appropriate new sectors of production. The later phase, instead, is characterized by centralization, in which the various «fractions» of capital, the many individual capitals «already formed» overcome «their individual autonomy» and are absorbed. It is the phase of the «expropriation of the capitalist by the capitalist», «the transformation of many small capitals into a few larger capitals».

In Russia a phase of concentration of capital is taking place. New individual, i.e. autonomous, capitals are being formed; they multiply only where the mercantile network links the pre-capitalist periphery to the capitalist center. Russian "decentralization" has precisely this socio-economic meaning.

The Spiral of Extended Production

In such manner, from the birth of many individual capitals, by their attraction and repulsion in the circle of extended production, this, «from the form of a circle, passes over to a spiral form», with a speed proportional to centralization.

Marx describes, with his usual precise language, the unrivaled advantage which centralization brings to social production and to its extension. It is an avalanche which grows with its own progress. If primitive accumulation was the bridge of passage (and it still is today for many African, Asian, and South-American countries) from the artisanal phase of production to the capitalist one, extended reproduction constitutes the point of transition to the universal expansion of the capitalist mode of production itself. As old capitals are renewed, they «shed their skin» – comments Marx – they are reborn in «technically perfected» form and increase «the minimum volume of individual capital» necessary to «make a company work in its normal conditions». From here is confirmed our thesis that individual capital in Marx, means the capital «of the firm», not «personal» capital as in legal ownership.

If 50 years ago a carpenter’s planer and hand saw were required, with very few workers, in order to make a small firm, today you will find the firm of the same dimensions with combined machines, i.e. with a much bigger capital. Until large scale production will have occupied, in totalitarian fashion, these sectors, there will be space for small production, with minimal individual capital. Their function is of standard bearers of massive capitalist production.

The transition from the circular production phase to the spiral one is the characteristic of the capitalist mode of production and at the same time the guarantee of the absorption on its part of the myriad of individual capitals. The capitalist monopoly, the trust, the cartel are really born from this necessary tendency, from this historical transition. Marx knew well the joint stock companies and even better the monopoly in its abstracted – i.e. perfect and even unfeasible to extreme capitalist rationality – form. He didn’t even need to write "Capital" to understand that small production would be supplanted by large scale production, and that it, with the development of the capitalist forms, would increasingly assume a reactionary function. Such was his revolutionary passion that he immediately armed the working class – in the aftermath of the great affirmation of the Parisian proletariat in the bloodly defeat of ’48 – with the "Communist Manifesto", which is at the same time a funeral oration of the petty bourgeoisie:

«The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable ... Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product. THE LOWER MIDDLE CLASS, THE SMALL MANUFACTURER, THE SHOPKEEPER, THE ARTISAN, THE PEASANT, ALL THESE fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class... THEY ARE REACTIONARY, FOR THEY TRY TO ROLL BACK THE WHEEL OF HISTORY».

In this sense, but only in this sense, the Communists exalt the function of large-scale production, its increasingly centralized and centralizing, monopolistic forms. They know that these forms of accelerated centralization, the more extensive monopoly, will be followed by the revolutionary decapitation of capitalism. The larger the spiral of reproduction will be, the more powerful the centralization, whose extreme limit, Marx still teaches, «would be achieved only when all social capital is united in the hand of a single capitalist or in that of a single capitalist association».

Welcome, then, the single capitalist, the single monopolist, who will sing the hour of the world revolution of the Communist proletariat.