the historical limits of capitalism

Just as feudalism was historically limited, so too capitalism, writes duvinrouge.

The rise of capitalists and their taking power from the nobility was a reflection of the changing economic conditions as manufacturing became more important than agriculture. Looking back, it’s quite easy to understand how the increasingly economically powerful capitalists seized power. The case for the workers taking power isn’t so obvious though. Many seem to think that capitalism will continue forever unless a political party can persuade working people of a better alternative. Such a subjectivist position shows a lack of understanding of how capitalism works and what Marx was getting at in Volume III of Das Kapital.

‘The Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit’ is part three of Volume III. To understand the importance of this requires a good understanding of how capitalism works, what value is and in particular, the difference between absolute and relative surplus value. Value is essentially labour time. Not necessarily the sum of all actual labour time that has gone into all commodities produced, but the market-determined ‘socially necessarily’ labour time; not all commodities taken to market are bought at prices that cover their costs and return a profit because the capitalist has to anticipate demand. (Don’t worry if you don’t fully grasp ‘socially necessary’ labour time, the key point is values (prices) reflect labour time).

Continue reading “the historical limits of capitalism”

marx, bakunin and the question of authoritarianism

David Adam casts doubt on the traditional narrative regarding the question of authoritarianism in the Marx-Bakunin conflict

Historically, Bakunin’s criticism of Marx’s “authoritarian” aims has tended to overshadow Marx’s critique of Bakunin’s “authoritarian” aims. This is in large part due to the fact that mainstream anarchism and Marxism have been polarized over a myth—that of Marx’s authoritarian statism—which they both share.1

Thus, the conflict in the First International is directly identified with a disagreement over anti-authoritarian principles, and Marx’s hostility toward Bakunin is said to stem from his rejection of these principles, his vanguardism, etc. Anarchism, not without justification, posits itself as the “libertarian” alternative to the “authoritarianism” of mainstream Marxism. Because of this, nothing could be easier than to see the famous conflict between the pioneering theorists of these movements—Bakunin and Marx—as a conflict between absolute liberty and authoritarianism. This essay will bring this narrative into question. It will not do this by making grand pronouncements about Anarchism and Marxism in the abstract, but simply by assembling some often neglected evidence. Bakunin’s ideas about revolutionary organization lie at the heart of this investigation. Continue reading “marx, bakunin and the question of authoritarianism”

the communist manifesto: an overview

A presentation given to a recent London meeting of The Commune.  The original Communist Manifesto can be read here.

by Sharon Borthwick

In 1847 Marx and Engels joined The League of The Just, a working men’s association made up initially of exclusively German workers, the majority membership being tailors and woodcutters. This was “unavoidably a secret society” according to the political conditions before 1848, as Engels tells us in his preface to the 1888 English edition. This edition was translated by Samuel Moore and approved by Engels. It continues to be the English translation most read to date and we’ll use it here for this overview. The first English translation of the Manifesto, by Helen Macfarlane, was published in the Chartist journal, The Red Republican in 1850.

Continue reading “the communist manifesto: an overview”

the london commune: introduction to marx’s communism

This spring The Commune in London will be holding a series of educational discussions on the communism of Karl Marx as part of our organising meetings.

On each of the following Mondays (separated by three week intervals) we will have an hour’s discussion on a theme or text followed by an hour of planning for movement events and organising in the capital. See below for the list of dates and texts. Continue reading “the london commune: introduction to marx’s communism”

what will communist society look like?

The first of a series of communist discussion meetings in Sheffield. From 7pm on Tuesday 19th January at The Rutland Arms, 86 Brown Street, Sheffield S1 2BS.

Recommended reading for the meeting includes: William Morris – News From Nowhere chapters xii, xv and xvii; Cornelius Castoriadis – On the content of socialism; Karl Marx – Critique of the Gotha Programme parts iii and iv, as well as The Paris Commune from Civil War in France.

Continue reading “what will communist society look like?”

the jab of tragedy, the righthook of farce

David Broder reviews First as tragedy, then as farce by Slavoj Zizek

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profane (Marx, Communist Manifesto)

As we reach the end of the ‘noughties’ this month, there is much scope for reflection on the events of the last decade. There remains a crisis of alternatives to capitalism, yet together with the current dark spectres of recession and ecological crisis, two events bookmarking the decade disrupted the ideology of ‘the End of History’. The September 11th terrorist atrocities in New York shattered the illusion of the invulnerable American military hegemon, while last October’s financial meltdown has fatally undermined the gospel of free-market economics. George W. Bush’s speeches on each occasion were the same, of course: ‘action’ was needed to defend ‘our way of life’. As Slavoj Zizek acerbically comments, this brings to mind Marx’s quip that “History always repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” Continue reading “the jab of tragedy, the righthook of farce”

union sell-outs – disbelief and dialectics

by Adam Ford

Many postal workers and their supporters were left disgusted and disbelieving on Bonfire Night. Billy Hayes and his Communication Workers Union executive had unanimously voted to sabotage a series of strikes which enjoyed widespread support, and guaranteed there would be no strikes until after Christmas. What’s more, they had gained nothing concrete in return. When the new year comes around, Royal Mail will still be looking to make thousands of workers redundant, and attack the conditions of those that remain. In the meantime, posties are already facing a meagre festive period, having lost hundreds and even thousands of pounds in wages on the picket lines.

A message on the ‘I Support the Postal Workers!’ Facebook group summed up the thoughts and feelings of many:
“All the postal workers in Stevenage are furious at the strike being called off. They feel that Royal Mail have got what they wanted eg mail being delivered for Xmas. As soon as Xmas is out of the way Royal Mail will be pushing the changes through and not giving a stuff about the workers. Some feel that they have lost wages for nothing.” Continue reading “union sell-outs – disbelief and dialectics”

new pamphlet – storming heaven: the paris commune of 1871

The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first working-class revolution in history. With the French capital surrounded by the troops of the newly founded German Empire and the ruling-class government in Versailles presiding over military and economic chaos, the Parisian population overthrew the state apparatus and created a revolutionary government. The Paris Commune comprised diverse political forces, from radical plebian French nationalists aspiring to complete the 1789-93 revolution; to communists and anarchists: but its democratic way of organising and splitting of the army meant it represented what Karl Marx called in his first draft of The Civil War in France “a revolution against the state as such“.


The Commune’s new pamphlet features a chapter from Marx explaining how the revolution came about and its significance; and the reproduction of the text of a pamphlet by libertarian socialist group Solidarity critiquing the traditional left’s claim that the Paris Commune proved the need for a vanguard party to seize state power on behalf of the masses. Continue reading “new pamphlet – storming heaven: the paris commune of 1871”

on ‘marxism today’

by Nathan Coombs

This is an edited copy of a talk originally given at the Institute of Ideas Postgraduate Forum.



What ever happened to Marxism Today? There is, of course, a word play at work in this question: we could be asking both about the fortunes of Marxism as a political movement, and about the various publications that have professed insight into said movement over the years under that title. Still, it is uncanny the extent to which tracking the fate of those publications called Marxism Today gives us insight into the fate of the political movement – from the heroic early years to the banality and absurdity of a lot of what passes as institutionalised Marxism nowadays. Understanding this passage also helps us understand how unhelpful a lot of contemporary academic Marxist and post-Marxist theories are when they do not allow for the radical freedom to become a revolutionary Marxist. Continue reading “on ‘marxism today’”

introduction to marx’s understanding of work

An essay by David Broder on Marx’s understanding of wage labour drawing together notes for a recent meeting of our London reading group on workplace organising.

Capitalists pursue development to accumulate capital: they do not invest in the production of linen because they want lots of linen or in the extraction of oil because they want lots of oil, but because they believe that putting capital into the production process will allow them to accrue capital by selling the end product.

Although wealth exists in nature and not just thanks to human endeavour, capitalist development must depend on investment in a commodity which can itself produce further value – this means human labour, our mental and physical energies. In this framework our work must create some goods or services which satisfy some human desire or need (‘use value’) but also be sold as a commodity to those able to pay for it (‘exchange value’). Continue reading “introduction to marx’s understanding of work”

on the necessity of pluralist communism

By Nathan Coombs

It is not difficult to imagine the results if a newly trained M.B.A. in marketing arrived in London with the following diabolic challenge: do what Blair did for New Labour for the far Left; make them sell!

Clipboard tucked under arm, what our marketer would firstly observe is that the Left is indeed a crowded marketplace, with far too many groups attempting to sell their wares to far too few customers. Cross. However, looking into the content of these groups our marketer would be encouraged to see that their products are already well differentiated. Each group has a clear sense of their identity and the ideological niche which they represent. Tick. Conclusions: good product differentiation and branding, but insufficient mass market appeal and attempts to reach out to new consumers. Continue reading “on the necessity of pluralist communism”

14th september reading group: why do workers form trade unions?

Monday 14th from 7pm at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street station, London

The Commune’s next course of reading groups is entitled ‘Schools for communism?’ and is on the subject of workplace organising and theories of trade unionism.


Following a recent series on ‘communism from below’, this autumn we will look more closely at how the working class organises and the limitations of different means of struggle.

The first session will be on the themes:

– What relations underlie the exchange between capital and workers?

– What mechanisms do management use to try and get workers to produce more for less money?

– In what different ways have workers organised to resist this? Of what particular importance are trade unions as a means of organising? Continue reading “14th september reading group: why do workers form trade unions?”

beyond props for capital

by Allan Armstrong

Neo-liberalism and neo-Keynesianism – two options for capitalism

In the face of the deepening economic crisis enveloping the US and world economy, Alan Greenspan, former Chair of the US Federal Reserve and prime architect of Republican neo-liberalism was summonsed to a Congressional hearing on October 23rd 2008.  Asked to account for the failures of the ‘free market’ he shamefacedly admitted, “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Greenspan’s embarrassed admission highlighted the fact that unregulated ‘free market’ capitalism does not bring continued economic growth and prosperity in its wake.  For every upturn, there is a downturn.  Therefore, even before the final demise of the ailing Bush Presidency, his Republican administration, and the following Democrat President Obama, have been forced to adopt a programme of massive government bail-outs of failed companies, first banks, followed by key industries, such as Chrysler. Continue reading “beyond props for capital”