Pathology of bourgeois society
Necessity of communism
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 18; Winter 2021-2022)
Both the sociologists who attribute the innumerable phenomena of social pathology engendered daily by bourgeois society to the general conditions of insecurity and anarchy caused by the world economic crisis, and their colleagues who «discover» their causes in the orgy of «sensual pleasures» and «expectations» unleashed by the years of prosperity, actually hide the truth by stating only part of it. How could it be otherwise? The spokesmen for the interests and ideologies of the ruling class will never prescribe any other remedy for the troubles of present-day society than an even greater development of capitalist production - provided, of course, it is «purged» of all its imbalances and excesses in one direction or another. They are obviously incapable of admitting that in the course of the accumulation of capital, «periods of average activity, production at high pressure, crisis and stagnation» (1) not only succeed one another ineluctably, but condition one another as alternating phases of a single cycle; that under capitalism the colossal development of the productive forces is inevitably accompanied by «the most outrageous squandering of labor power and of the social means of production» (2) that this waste is inseparable from development and constitutes the necessary result of the anarchic system of competition without which the extended reproduction of capital, and therefore of capitalist relations of production, would be unimaginable; that the «accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole» (3) and that the accumulation of growing wealth is the condition, and at the same time the result, of its cyclical destruction.
If the crisis into which the bourgeois world has plunged is «responsible» for something, it is for having revealed the laws of capitalist production (and hence the laws of bourgeois society) in all of its phases, in their most brutal form, manifested in their paroxysm, i.e. for laying bare the horrors it produces regularly in periods of expansion and periods of contraction, in periods of abundance and periods of scarcity. By precipitating workers as well as a large segment of the intermediate classes (and their children) into a widespread, intense insecurity, the crisis simply reveals that «constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones» (4) thereby revealing that the historical strength of the capitalist mode of production is the very source of its historical weakness. Pulling all the «values» of bourgeois society down from their pedestals one by one, it shows that the absence of any norms is only the obverse of the normality of a process in which «all that is solid melts into thin air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind» (5).
By sowing chaos where harmony seemed to reign, it confirms that «anarchy is the law of civil society emancipated from divisive privileges», and thus of bourgeois society in its pure state, and that «the anarchy of civil society is the basis of the modern public system, just as the public system in its turn is the guarantee of that anarchy» (6). Pitting man against man in a desperate struggle to survive, it gives an exponential expression to the principle in which capitalist production has always seen the beneficial wellspring of progress, i.e. the free play of competition: «Free industry and trade abolish privileged exclusivity and thereby the struggle between the privileged exclusivities. They replace exclusivity by man freed from privilege... man no longer bound to other men by even a semblance of a common bond... In the same way civil society as a whole is this war against one another of all individuals» (7). By precipitating even strata of the bourgeoisie into pauperism, the «hospital of the active labor army», though without giving them the capacity of attacking bourgeois society - at its roots (which only the proletariat can do), it only extends the normal condition of the workers to a broader circle, a situation in which «the condition of their life, labor, and with it all the conditions of existence of modern society, have become something extraneous, something over which they, as separate individuals, have no control, and over which no social organization can give them control» (8).
In this context, and with a varying weight depending upon whether we are in a period of expansion or recession of the capitalist economy – but without any essential change of character –flourish the phenomena of petty and major crime, private theft and public pillage, individual and group violence, sexual aberrations and crimes, armed attacks and spectacular kidnappings, settling of accounts between clans and families, in short, all forms of «brutality and degradation». The same social context also gives rise, as a reaction, to the powerless methods of escape from this merciless reality, the senseless flight to the artificial paradises of drugs or religion (which amounts to the same thing), the craven abandoning of the haughty certainties of the philosophies of progress in favor of the much more seductive uncertainties of individualism, existentialism and irrationalism, all of them cunningly promoted and encouraged by the ideological prostitutes of the established order. Side by side in this same medium ferment resignation to the taboos of bourgeois civilization and the hopeless voluntarism of agitational terrorism.
As communists, we do not ask the priests of capital (whether politicians, clergymen, philosophers or Scientists) to acknowledge that the phenomena of degeneration they denounce daily are necessary manifestations of the development of bourgeois society. We do not expect them to do anything other than to administer the opium of escape or reformism to the victims of this irresistible course. For us, nothing is more revealing than the impotence of the official and officious «culture» of the ruling class, its pretensions to demonstrate that these degenerative phenomena derive, if not from chance, pure accident, then at least from the mysterious action of external, exogenous agents, some kind of secular incarnation of the Devil. Nothing is more revealing of the decomposition of this «culture» than the only «remedy» it can advocate, viz. a return of the capitalist economy to a perfectly mythical «harmonious course», and a return of bourgeois society to the just as mythical treasure of its «eternal values». In a fiercely sarcastic page, Marx showed over a century ago that in a mode of production that makes the most unproductive forms of labor for people, productive for capital, delinquency and, at a higher level of social pathology, parasitism and idleness, are transformed into a means of development, a factor of expansion, an element of harmony. We reproduce it almost in full here, limiting ourselves to emphasizing passages in which Marx gives an ironic echo of bourgeois sermons about the fertile and stimulating «fallout» of the crimes that mark the centuries of capitalist «progress», from mere extortion of surplus value, through the creation of «a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous» (9) and even harmful, up to and including local, general, national, colonial and imperialist wars. Sarcastically paraphrasing a bourgeois economist, Marx writes:
«A philosopher produces ideas, a poet, poems; a clergyman, sermons; a professor, compendia, and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we look a little closer at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this sane professor throws his lectures onto the general market as «commodities.» This brings with it augmentation of national wealth, quite apart from the personal enjoyment which... the manuscript of the compendium brings to its originator himself.
«The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc.; and all these different lines of business, which form equally many different categories of the social division of labor, develop different capacities of the human spirit, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions and employed many honorable craftsmen in the production of its instruments.
«The criminal produces an impression, partly moral and partly tragic, as the case may be, and in this way renders a «service» by arousing the moral and aesthetic feelings of the public. He produces not only compendia on criminal law, not only penal codes and along with them legislators in this field, but also art, belles-lettres, novels, and even tragedies... The criminal breaks the monotony and everyday security of bourgeois life. In this way he keeps it from stagnation and gives rise to that uneasy tension and agility without which even the spur of competition would get blunted. Thus he gives a stimulus to the productive forces. While crime takes part of the superfluous population off the labor market and thus reduces competition among the laborers – up to a certain point preventing wages from falling below the minimum –the struggle against crime absorbs another part of this population. Thus the criminal comes in as one of those natural «counterweights» which bring about a correct balance and open up a whole perspective of «useful» occupations...
«Would locks ever have reached their present degree of excellence had there been no thieves? Would the making of banknotes had reached its present perfection had there been no forgers? Would the microscope have found its way into the sphere of ordinary commerce ... but for trading frauds? Doesn’t practical chemistry owe just as much to adulteration of commodities and the efforts to show it up as to the honest zeal for production?... would the world market ever have come into benefit but for national «crime?» (10).
Such «harmonies» nourish the «perpetual insecurity and agitation» that are characteristic of the capitalist mode of production. How can one separate the «good» aspects from the «bad», as Proudhon and his emulators seek to do? The materially beneficial and morally progressive effects of «private» crimes culminate in a deification of «national crimes» laid bare by bourgeois rhetoric. How can the «notorious criminality» of the bourgeois social order be isolated from the triumphant march of Capitalist progress? The stratagems and philosophies of evasion characteristic of the semi-classes and their prophets may offer an illusion of individual escape from this infernal circle, but only the modern proletariat, the «class of general scandal», which has grown up under the crushing weight of this organized delinquency and in the «hard school of labor», is capable of breaking it. It can only be broken by the totalitarian, anti-individualist, anti-national, anti-mercantile communist revolution.
(From « Programme communiste » Nr 78, december 1978)
(1) Marx, Capital, Moscow, 1974, vol. 1, p. 593 (Chap. XXV)
(2) Ibid., p. 496 (Chap. XVII)
(3) Ibid., p. 604 (Chap. XXV)
(4) Manifesto of the Communist Party, I.
(6) Marx and Engels, The Holy Family, Moscow, 1975, p. 13
(7) Ibid., p. 137.
(8) Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, Moscow, 1976, p. 88
(9) Marx, Capital. Moscow, 1974, vol. 1, p. 496 Chap. XVII
(10) Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Pt. 1, Moscow, 1975, pp. 377-3.
International Communist Party