30 July 2009



[CU for Monday, 3 August 2009]

We are continuing the Communist University Basic Communism series. We proceed from the Vanguard relationship between the communists and the mass of the working class organised in trade unions for self-defense, but not for revolutionary purposes.

After that we went to the Rules of Debate that are applied in those and other organisations. We now come to the practical means by which trade unions do their business: Negotiation.

Negotiation is what two parties must always do in order to arrive at an agreement to exchange one thing for another, or in other words to arrive at a common contract. In the case of trade union negotiations with employers, the two sides are trying to arrive at a bargain for the exchange of Labour-Power for money.

Inflation (a rise in the money prices of all commodities) makes it inevitable that the price of Labour-Power must also be re-negotiated at frequent, often annual, intervals. Contrary to what is often written about negotiations there is no presumption of dispute about this process. On the contrary, the aim on all sides is to arrive at a bargain.

On the way to the bargain, there may be “failure to agree”, and sometimes there may be a “withdrawal of labour”, but there is no attempt to upset the relationship of boss and worker. The boss/worker relationship is invariably confirmed, and not threatened, by the process of negotiation.

So long as there is “failure to agree”, people will talk of a “wage dispute” and sometimes they will use military language to describe what happens. Yet even in military terms, as Clausewitz wrote in his book “On War”: “The Result in War is Never Absolute”. In other words the combatants will have to live together in peace again after the war.

Whether the result of Revolution can be absolute is a topic for another day.

Negotiation is a skill that can be learned. The linked document is a very good short introduction to wage negotiation. It comes from the MIA Encyclopedia of Marxism.

Click on this link:

Negotiation, Marxists Internet Archive, (5279 words)

Rules of Debate


[CU post for Friday 31 July 2009]

The Rules of Debate and Procedure of Meetings are a bit like language, or political education, or the Internet. They are communistic. For the most part they are not given as authority. They are not imposed by a “state”. There is no enforcer.

For example, the South African Communist Party has no standard Rules of Debate or Standing Orders. Unfortunately this does not prevent people from claiming “Points of Order”.

The nature of the notional “rules” is such that they are effective to the extent that they are held in common by the members of a gathering.

In the CU “Basic Communism” series, our summary of Wal Hannington’s 1950 booklet “Mr Chairman” was to be included with the item on Trade Unions that we featured yesterday. Hannington [1896-1966, pictured] was well known as a communist leader of the unemployed workers’ movement in Britain in the 1930s.

Hannington wrote: "The Chairman is there to guide the meeting, not to boss it." This is the most valuable message in his book. The Rules of Debate and the Procedures of Meetings are only justified to the extent that they liberate the people present, and they become useless to the extent that they are felt as a burden.

The point is not for the Chairperson to “keep order”, or for individuals to be bullied down with “points of order”. The Chairperson serves the meeting and the meeting needs to know how to guide the Chairperson. Everything works best when everyone knows the generic Rules of Debate.

Trade Unions are probably the biggest reservoir of knowledge and practice of the Rules of Debate. Communists who are involved in Trade Unions have to be able both to reproduce, and also to continue to learn, from this great tradition.

Click on this link:

Mr Chairman [Procedure at meetings, extracts], 1950 (1516 words)

29 July 2009



[CU for Thursday 30 July 2009]

Whatever may have been the origin of the word “vanguard” in politics, it means the professional force, or human framework, or “cadre”, which can lead the mass movement of the people on a revolutionary path.

The relationship of the revolutionary vanguard to the mass organisations of the people is similar to the relationship of a doctor to the people, or of accountants and lawyers to businesses, or of an architect or an engineer to builders and their clients.

In all cases, including the vanguard party of the working class, the revolutionary vanguard is a servant, and not a master.

The working-class vanguard party, the communist party, is not separate from the mass movement. It is intimately involved with the mass movement at all times and at all levels. To be a vanguard at all, it must study, and in particular it must study the workings of the mass movement.

The vanguard party educates, organises and mobilises. As a vanguard, it must have expert knowledge how mass movements in general, and especially about how the primary mass organisations of the working class which are the trade unions, work.

To deal with this crucial matter in the Communist University’s Basic Communism “course”, the CU first chose a text from the Marxists Internet Archive’s Encyclopaedia of Marxism written by Brian Basgen and Andy Blunden, two comrades who clearly have vast experience of what they are writing about.

This text is empirical and experiential and there is nothing wrong with that, because experiential is exactly what trade unions and other mass organisations are. Trade unions arise out of the existing consciousness of workers as they are under capitalism. In many ways they emulate capitalist forms of organisation, and their initial purpose is to get a better money deal in exchange for the workers’ labour-power in the capitalist labour market.

Trade unions are in the first place reformist, and not revolutionary. Nor do trade unions become revolutionary without the assistance of professional revolutionaries, organised separately as a communist party. This is basic. Lenin (pictured) dealt with this relationship in “What is to be Done?

Trade unionists who think that they can dispense with the assistance of a communist party are on a road to ruin.

Click on this link:

Trade Unions, Brian Basgen and Andy Blunden, MIA, 2003 (5317 words)

28 July 2009

The Prince


[CU for Wednesday 29 July 2009]

This part of the Basic Communism course was written almost 500 years ago, in Italy, and published in 1512, near the beginning of the century in which, according to Karl Marx, capitalism first arose on the face of the earth (but in the Netherlands and in England, not in Italy).

“The Prince” therefore appeared long before any writings on Political Economy such as those by Thomas Hobbes, William Petty and Nicholas Barbon in the second half of the following century. Karl Marx was familiar with all of these, as well as with Nicolo Machiavelli, whose work has been foundational for politicians through five centuries.

Machavelli (pictured, top) was needing employment when he wrote this user-friendly text for Lorenzo De’ Medici (pictured, below), a 20-year-old Florentine prince, hoping that the young man (who died of syphilis seven years later) would give Machiavelli a job as a consultant or something of the sort.

No job resulted for Machiavelli but what he left us as a result of this attempt was a set of “short texts” of very frank and still-useful political education, not very different from a Communist UniversityGeneric Course”.

Of the four short chapters in the compilation linked below, the one that corresponds most closely to the politics of today is Chapter IX, “Concerning a Civil Principality”. Machiavelli had a good rudimentary understanding of class politics.

Comrades, even if you do not have a study circle organised, yet some of you might be able to attend a seminar. It is true that, with the exception of the SACP, there may be too little time put aside at such events for dialogue. Nevertheless here are three Johannesburg events that some might be able to attend:

Native Republic Thesis, Blade Nzimande, COSATU House, 10h00, 7 August 2009

Rethinking Civil Society, Kumi Naidoo, UJ Auckland Park, 17h30, 12 August 2009

The Life of an ANC Branch, Jacob Dlamini, Wits Senate House, 17h30, 17 August 2009

There is also a two day seminar series on Development, Protests and Democracy to be held on the 30th and 31st July at the Delta Park Environmental Centre in Linden put on by the Ikwezi Institute. Phone Mary Moloisane, 011 403 6291 or Vuyiswa Nodada 076 153 0316

Click on this links:

The Prince, Nicolo Machiavelli, 1512, Compilation (5131 words)

27 July 2009

How to Be a Good Communist


[CU for Tuesday 28 July 2009] The first chapter of Liu-Shaoqui’s famous book is our next item from the CU course on “Basic Communism”. It is apt because there is a sudden and rebirth of political education activity, big and small, in South Africa.

We have heard of the double David Harvey series on Marx’s Capital Volume 1 that is being run in Durban. Phone CCS at 031 260 3577 or e-mail ccs@ukzn.ac.za.

On Sunday, NUMSA held a brilliant political school and combined celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, in Johannesburg, with the Cuban Ambassador Angel Villa.

Comrade Angel Villa is our old friend, once an honoured guest of the Communist University, and practically a South African, now returned at last as Cuba’s Ambassador. Viva Cde Angel, Viva!

SACP F K Mathuli Branch invites all cadres and those who want to learn True Politics to a Political Class which will be held every Wednesday; Venue: Khubvi P. School; Time: 16h30, Ward 36, Thulamela Municipality, Limpopo Province.

Yesterday a three-day NEHAWU national political school opened in Birchwood Hotel, East Rand Gauteng.

People are asking about the old CU, that used to meet weekly from 17h00 to 18h30 at different venues in Braamfontein. Well, it can open again. People must organise it. The blog component is currently taken care of.

Anyone can organise a study circle, anywhere, just like the F K Mathuli SACP Branch has done in Limpopo.

Karl Marx wrote (towards the end of the Communist Manifesto) that in socialism “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

This sounds very nice but it puts a duty on each person to use freedom and to actually develop. If individuals fail to develop then the whole society will not develop.

Liu-Shaoqui discusses how members of a Communist Party should “cultivate and temper themselves” and “why communists must undertake self cultivation.” He says “…the proletariat must conscientiously go through long periods of social revolutionary struggles and in such struggles change society and change itself.”

Click on this link:

How to be a good Communist, Chapter 1, Liu Shaoqi, 1939 (2546 words)

26 July 2009

Bourgeois and Proletarians


During this week and next week the CU will carry items from our Generic Course called Basic Communism.

Today’s is the first of the three parts of the Communist Manifesto, written in London by Karl Marx, at the age of 29, with the help of his then 27-year-old friend Frederick Engels, and published in January, 1848.

They were under pressure from the Communist League to get it the job done quickly. The brief was as difficult as it could be: to produce a short, emphatic, unambiguous, motivational description of historic processes, and to propose a determination to change the world under the leadership of the most exploited class of people, the working class, also known as the proletariat.

Marx and Engels were convinced that the new masters, the capitalist bourgeoisie, also known as burghers, or burgesses, that had grown up in the towns under feudal rule, were sooner or later going to be overthrown by the proletariat that the bourgeoisie had brought into existence.

Marx fell behind the agreed deadline, but came through with a magnificent text just before the February, 1848 events in Paris that brought the proletariat on to the stage of history to an extent that had not previously been seen in the world.

The timing was great, and the text turned out to be classic to the extent that every line of it is memorable, especially in this first part. It is so rich and so compressed as to be saturated with meaning, and practically impossible to summarise. Therefore let me simply quote some of the most extraordinary sentences, so as to encourage you to read the document, not once but many times:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other - bourgeoisie and proletariat.

The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

Click on this link:

Bourgeois and Proletarians, from The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx, 1848 (4627 words)

23 July 2009

Learning is Communism


If socialism is the future, but we can build it now, then if communism is also the future can we also build communism now?

Yes, we can!

Language is communistic. It grows and changes by the action of all the language-speakers, requiring no other authority or “state”. If South Africans were working harder on the development of their 11 official languages they would know the communistic nature of language better. Language is actually-existing communism.

The Internet is communistic. This Communist University, for example, has no imposed form, but only has the form it takes as a consequence of the free action of those involved. In the six years of its existence, all attempts to institutionalise it in any other terms than its objective existence in cyberspace and in its participants, have failed. In the Communist University, whether we want it that way nor not, “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (that is a quote from the Communist Manifesto).

In the dialogical method of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, otherwise called Critical Pedagogy, there is no elementary, junior, senior, matriculation, undergraduate, post-graduate, doctorate or professor level.

As much as there may be a room (or a garden in the case of the ancient Peripatetics), and a gathering of individuals each known by name, and a “codification” which is the text or other object for the occasion, yet the dialogue admits no limits. The Freirean gathering is not sheltered. It is one of the essentials of Freirean Pedagogy that we refuse the fiction of the sheltered classroom, and instead recognise that the oppressor is around us and even within us, while we strive to liberate ourselves through our mutual pedagogical dialogue.

We have finished our “course” on Karl Marx’s “Capital”, Volume 1. The “intros” will be gathered together with the divided text of the book, and published so that other groups and future groups can follow this path if they wish.

So we now come back, as promised, to the question of “Basics”. In Freirean practice, there is no such thing as a basic level, or an advanced level, as we have said, above. But what we can do is to choose our texts so that they will provide a comfort to those who feel the need of basic building blocks. Some of them are here, in an old “Basic Communism” course of the CU. The first of the building blocks will be second chapter from Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. This is an opportunity to reflect upon what you are trying to do by learning. What is political education for?

For the late Freire (pictured above), and for his followers the Freireans of today, education is a political act and a social act. The CU recommends that you read Chapter 2, because it is easier. Chapter 1 is also full of great stuff. Remember Tony Buzan’s advice: don’t get stuck. Skip over the difficult bits.

Click on these links:

‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, Paulo Freire, 1970, Chapter 2 (5218 words)

‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, Paulo Freire, 1970, Chapter 1 (9382 words)

22 July 2009

Class, Colonialism and Co-ops


This post deals with the very last chapter of Karl Marx's Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 33, called "Colonialism", which is included in the 24th part from our CU 24-part divided version (the link to part 24 is below).

Chapter 33 is very interesting but in spite of its title, it is not really about colonialism (although David Harvey seems to think that it is). Instead, Marx uses the example of part of one colony of the time, Australia, to make points about capitalism and to “discover in the Colonies the truth as to the conditions of capitalist production in the mother country”. Also see the very last paragraph of the chapter (and the book).

A full study of colonialism would have to isolate the competing kinds, and show the development of the colonial system as a unity and struggle of opposites. These various kinds of colonialism would include the formerly slave-plantation colonies (e.g. the West Indies, Brazil, Southern USA), the genocidal colonies that subsequently imported a proletariat from Europe (e.g. Northern USA, Australia, Argentina, Israel), and the colonies or semi-colonies that proletarianised the existing population (e.g. South Africa, India, China). The history of these different developments is the history of the world of today; but this is not Marx’s concern in Capital, Volume 1.

Nevertheless, the crux of the matter in all these different historical cases is well illustrated by the story of Mr Peel, who, Marx reports, took means of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000, and 3000 working-class men, women and children, to Swan River in Australia, only to have the workers disappear and his goods go to waste. Why? Because these workers found means of production (land) of their own and thereby ceased overnight to be proletarians, ceased for that reason to sell their labour-power to Peel, and thereby ceased to maintain Mr Peel’s property as capital.

“...capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things,” says Marx.


If capital is not a thing, but a relation, then how is this relation negotiated within a co-operative, under capitalism? The relation is a triple one between the co-op and its workers, the co-op and its investors, and the co-op and its market. As between wages, dividends, and the prices of products, there is a “zero-sum game” whereby a benefit for one is a loss for one or both of the other two. This relationship cannot be freely negotiated within the co-op, because in a capitalist society, all three of these variables are subject to market competition, while the cost of material inputs (raw materials, energy, et cetera) is also determined in the capitalist market-place.

Karl Marx shows how capital must strive ruthlessly to become the “only game in town”. The revolutionary conditions that can allow other kinds of relations of production to exist and thrive, without being blighted by the capitalist relations all around them, are what Lenin discusses in the two documents linked below.

Lenin thought that the “old co-operators” who had existed in pre-revolutionary Russia were “fantastic, even romantic, even banal” (On Co-operation). Those old co-operators thought that sweet reason and humanity would be sufficient to conquer all of the difficulties faced by the co-operatives. But under socialism, the previously ineffectual co-ops became suddenly very useful, although: “The small commodity producers’ co-operatives inevitably give rise to petty-bourgeois, capitalist relations, facilitate their development, push the small capitalists into the foreground and benefit them most… It would be stupid or criminal to close our eyes to this obvious truth…”

Yet: “Co-operative trade… facilitates the association and organisation of millions of people, and eventually of the entire population.” (The Tax in Kind, about half-way through).

The way forward from capitalism is difficult. “The Tax in Kind” was a pamphlet about the New Economic Policy. The way forward from capitalism requires maximum clarity and the absence of delusions about what capital is.

Click on these links:

CU Backbone posting:

1867, Marx, Capital, Volume 1, 31, 32 and 33, Industrial Capitalism, Colonialism (8265 words)

CU additional posting:

1923, Lenin, On Co-operation (2611 words)

1921, Lenin, The Tax in Kind (14719 words)

21 July 2009

How business works


Today is a repeat posting of the last part of the CU division of Karl Marx’s Capital Volume 1, because we are going through it chapter by chapter. See the links below, and the Intro to Chapter 32 that follows. Tomorrow’s will carry an Intro for the book’s last chapter, Chapter 33, on Colonialism.

The other link given today is to a recent Declaration of the National Cooperative Association of South Africa’s Executive Council, held on the 4 July 2009.


Since we are considering Capital, Volume 1, it seems a good time to ask some questions about co-operatives. We published the following words, yesterday:

“What makes a business work as capitalism is a dual relationship. The first part of it is the relationship between the worker and the capitalist. The second part is the relationship of the capitalist with his market. If these two relationships do not exist, or are faulty, then a capitalist business will not survive.”

The first question is: If the above is true of capitalist businesses, then is it not also true of co-operatives? In other words, do co-operatives not have to extract surplus value from workers? And do they not depend for their existence on having a market? In other words again, do they not have to compete for business with all comers, including bourgeois capitalist business?

On the other hand, is it possible to have co-operatives that are government-funded and that are supplying to government (local, provincial or national), so that government is their market? Is this real, or is it welfare? What is the cultural nature of co-ops? Are co-ops life, or are they work? How broad is the vision of the co-op?

Click on these links:

CU Backbone posting:

1867, Marx, Capital, Volume 1, 31, 32 and 33, Industrial Capitalism, Colonialism (8265 words)

CU additional posting:

Declaration of NCASA Executive Council, 4 July 2009 (476 words)

Intro to Chapters 32 of Karl Marx's Capital, Volume 1 (33 to follow)

Chapter 32 of Capital, Volume 1 contains about 1000 words in only four paragraphs. It is like a full sweep of history from the past of slaves and serfs through present capitalism to the future, when the expropriators will be expropriated.

For the sake of this blog let us take one of the four paragraphs:

“As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the laborers are turned into proletarians, their means of labor into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialization of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the laborer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralization of capital. One capitalist always kills many.

The paragraph continues:

“Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative form of the labor-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labor into instruments of labor only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialized labor, 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, organized 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. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.

In the historical tendencies of capitalism, Marx sees the seed of its own destruction.

20 July 2009

Basics? What is that?


Today's posting includes the link to the final part of Karl Marx's Capital, Volume 1 (see the links below and the big “Intro” below that). Click here for the full clickable list of downloads from our CU 24-part divided version of Capital Volume 1, once called the “Ghost” course because it was “running in the background”, but currently our “backbone”.

Part 24 of this division is our last part, and it may as well be kept as such, but for the purpose of today’s CU post and the following two, it is clear that each of the three included chapters merits a separate intro at this time, together with a critical attitude towards the book and perhaps towards David Harvey’s lectures, too, as well as agreement with Harvey elsewhere. So the intro to Chapter 31 alone is below, and the intros to 32 and 33 will follow. But first there is some more business about “basics” to be dealt with.

Basics according to the British YCL

Last week, we were asked by Cde Alroy Taai for a course for ‘first time users’. To assist with this request we will soon start using a CU course called “Basic Communism”. It is not a re-write or a new attempt to explain the basics of communism. It is made up of short, more-or-less “classic” texts. You are invited to judge for yourself whether this, our long-established CU method, is the best or not.

Yesterday, we saw that the CCS is going to rely heavily on the lectures of David Harvey when they do their two series of seminars in Durban later this year. That is a very different approach to the CU’s. We have tended to believe in live interaction, and that videos are part of the “banking” theory of education.

Yet another response has come from Ben Stevenson, a comrade who has visited South Africa in the past as a representative of the British Young Communist League. Ben wrote:

“Dom, the YCL’s Back 2 Basics series is now up on the YCL website. We find the series very useful as it serves as an introduction to theoretical concepts for younger comrades. Feel free to make use of it if you can. Cheers. Ben”

The British YCL produced this material themselves. It begins with “Materialism” (an approach that David Harvey does not approve of, by the way, and the CU has in the past tended to agree with Harvey about the meaninglessness, or worse, of “dialectical materialism”). Within a few lines from the beginning it mentions Ludwig Feuerbach, Frederick Engels and Lenin's “Criticism and Empirio-Criticism”. This is the British YCL's idea of “basics”! Whether Cde Alroy Taai would regard it as a useful “first time user's” course, is an open question that we must hope he will answer.

You must make up your own minds about this. There are many available roads to travel. Everybody has his own idea of what “basics” means. The CU likes to use the original classic texts, and it will continue to do so. Soon we will go to the basics of pedagogy with a chapter from Paulo Freire's classic “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Pedagogy is the theory and practice of teaching and learning. This discussion continues.

Click on these links:

CU Backbone posting (with intro below):

1867, Marx, Capital, Volume 1, 31, 32 and 33, Industrial Capitalism, Colonialism (8265 words)

Intro to Chapter 31 of Karl Marx's Capital, Volume 1 (Intros to 32 and 33 will follow)

In Chapter 31 Marx states in direct terms that the origin of the industrial (not farming) capitalist is in colonialism. The question that will be raised here is whether Marx backs up this statement, or not. This post is going to quote at some length from this chapter, (in italics) and then make some critical observations:

“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre.”

“Of the Christian colonial system, W. Howitt, a man who makes a speciality of Christianity, says: "The barbarities and desperate outrages of the so-called Christian race, throughout every region of the world, and upon every people they have been able to subdue, are not to be paralleled by those of any other race, however fierce, however untaught, and however reckless of mercy and of shame, in any age of the earth." [4] The history of the colonial administration of Holland — and Holland was the head capitalistic nation of the 17th century — "is one of the most extraordinary relations of treachery, bribery, massacre, and meanness" [5] Nothing is more characteristic than their system of stealing men, to get slaves for Java. The men stealers were trained for this purpose. The thief, the interpreter, and the seller, were the chief agents in this trade, native princes the chief sellers. The young people stolen, were thrown into the secret dungeons of Celebes, until they were ready for sending to the slave-ships. An official report says: "This one town of Macassar, e.g., is full of secret prisons, one more horrible than the other, crammed with unfortunates, victims of greed and tyranny fettered in chains, forcibly torn from their families." To secure Malacca, the Dutch corrupted the Portuguese governor. He let them into the town in 1641. They hurried at once to his house and assassinated him, to "abstain" from the payment of £21,875, the price of his treason. Wherever they set foot, devastation and depopulation followed. Banjuwangi, a province of Java, in 1750 numbered over 80,000 inhabitants, in 1811 only 18,000. Sweet commerce!”

[yet] “...by 1648, the people of Holland were more over-worked, poorer and more brutally oppressed than those of all the rest of Europe put together.”

“To-day industrial supremacy implies commercial supremacy. In the period of manufacture properly so called, it is, on the other hand, the commercial supremacy that gives industrial predominance. Hence the preponderant rôle that the colonial system plays at that time. It was "the strange God" who perched himself on the altar cheek by jowl with the old Gods of Europe, and one fine day with a shove and a kick chucked them all of a heap. It proclaimed surplus-value making as the sole end and aim of humanity.”

This last describes in a single sentence, the state of affairs that Marx's book was written to expose. Marx did succeed in exposing “capital” as “surplus-value making”. But I would invite you (without condemning Marx, because he wrote elsewhere about colonialism), to consider whether in Capital Volume 1 he did describe colonialism adequately, or demonstrate its part in what he chose to call Primitive Accumulation?

In my opinion Marx did not deal with Primitive Accumulation fully. Nor did he explain the term adequately. Marx does not really establish that capitalism required a ready pile of resources. What he establishes is how the requisite class forces were brought into being, in Western Europe, in the revolutions that overthrew feudalism there.

It is a mistake to think that a capitalist business requires “capital” in advance, if by “capital” is meant money in the bank, or land, buildings, equipment et cetera. It does require such things, but they do not make it a capitalist business as opposed to any other kind of project. What makes a business work as capitalism is a dual relationship. The first part of it is the relationship between the worker and the capitalist. The second part is the relationship of the capitalist with his market. I these two relationships do not exist, or are faulty, then a capitalist business will not survive. But if they do exist, then the other means will probably be found without too much difficulty.

Marx shows clearly how the proletariat arose, historically, in the countries of Western Europe in the 16th century. He shows how the bourgeois class arrives on the scene. He shows how all the social building blocks including proletariat and market, are assembled, but not the money. That is fine, because capital is not money, it is a relation. Marx says so, directly, in Chapter 33, and it is true. So the accumulation necessary for capitalism is not treasure, but is an accumulation of relationships.

What Marx does not do in Capital is to make a strong distinction between slavery and capitalism. He describes slavery candidly, even angrily, and without flinching from the horror of it. But he never discusses slavery in a comparative way, as distinct from surplus-value-extracting bourgeois-and-proletarian capitalism. Yet (bourgeois) slavery also started in the 16th century, or slightly before, and it ran on as a transcontinental Atlantic system for the next three hundred years, in parallel with the early development of capitalism proper, until Marx’s time, such that the last end of bourgeois slavery was the cataclysm of the American Civil War, that was happening while Marx was writing Capital, and yet it does not feature in the book at all!

In other works, Marx acknowledged the revolutionary status of the American Civil War, but not here, in Capital. He does acknowledge, in passing, the triangular Atlantic, and the far Eastern, trade based on slavery, but not its distinctness from capitalism proper, or the lethal historic antagonism between these two competing bourgeois systems. Marx does not acknowledge that the international sinews of global commerce were laid down and strengthened by the slavery system, as much as, or more than, by proper capitalism. He does not directly recognise or stress that the bourgeoisie did not invent only one system of productive relations, but at least three, namely the guild system, the modern bourgeois slave system, and capitalism itself. These distinctions have become important to us, because they bear on our understanding of the history of colonialism, as well as on recent attempts to create new bases for the survival of the bourgeois class, such as fascism and militaristic monopoly-capitalist Imperialism, which, we may think, differ substantially from normative capitalism based on simple extraction of surplus-value at the point of production.

So my conclusion is that while Marx established the fact, and the immediate consequences, of surplus-value conclusively, he did not, in Capital, describe colonialism or slavery adequately as systems. And while it may be true that the accumulation of treasure that slave-plantation colonialism caused to happen in England and the Netherlands in particular, did prepare the ground for industrial capitalism as Marx states that it did (see above), yet Marx does not really demonstrate how that was so. These thoughts about colonialism will be further developed in the two subsequent posts.