Chapter Two: Redefining Capitalism and Socialism
The name “BreadTube” is derived from a book published in 1892 by Anarchist Russian activist Peter Kropotkin. The book, entitled The Conquest of Bread and nicknamed “The Bread Book” is considered a primary text of “Anarcho-Communism.” In the book, Kropotkin critiques both feudalism and capitalism, proposing a decentralized voluntarist collective society as the alternative.
Peter Kropotkin’s ideas were fundamentally opposed to those of the Bolsheviks, who ultimately toppled the Czarist autocracy and later established the Soviet government in October of 1917. However, to discount Kropotkin and his ideas would be mistaken.
The Legacy of Peter Kropotkin
Kropotkin was born in the Russian aristocracy but from his youth, he became dedicated to the liberation of the Russian peasantry, who were brutally repressed. Kropotkin joined the International Workingmen’s Association (The First International), and worked alongside some of the most important revolutionary thinkers of the age. He spent years in prison for his beliefs, and took great risks. When the Russian Revolution occurred in 1917, Kropotkin embraced it as a positive development despite his criticisms and ideological differences. When Kropotkin died in 1921, Lenin personally approved a funeral procession of thousands of people to march in his honor. In 1957, the Soviet government named a subway system in his honor.
Kropotkin’s influence spread well beyond Russia. Many Anarchists and leftist intellectuals across the world found his work and writings to be inspiring. Among those who were influenced by Kropotkin’s work was a young man named Mao Zedong. Before joining the Chinese Communist Party at its founding congress in 1921, Mao Zedong was the leader of a Kropotkinist organization called the New People’s Study Society, and many see the influence of Kropotkin popping up throughout Mao’s life as a revolutionary and statesman.
The primary difference that Kropotkin had with the Bolsheviks was about who in Russian society should be the focus of the revolutionary movement. Kropotkin’s focus was on the peasantry as the backbone of a potential revolution, while the Bolsheviks, as Marxists, viewed industrial workers as the sector of society where revolutionary work should be focused.
Kropotkin rejected some of Marx’s economic ideas, arguing that the concept of surplus value was mistaken. As an anarchist, Kropotkin argued that a post-capitalist society could only be built voluntarily and that attempts to reform or seize political power were a waste of time. Kropotkin’s vision was for the Russian peasantry to seize control of land themselves and begin growing crops cooperatively, much like German peasants had done during the event of 1524-1525. Kropotkin was an agrarian socialist rather than an industrial one.
Chapters 4-12 of his magnum opus for which the BreadTube community has taken its name are dedicated to laying an intricate vision of his ideal society of a decentralized, voluntary socialism with vast abundance. Kropotkin writes: “Citizens will be obliged to become agriculturists. Not in the same manner as peasants who wear themselves out, plowing for a wage that barely provides them with sufficient food for the year' but by following the principles of market-gardeners' intensive agriculture, applied on a large scale by means of the best machinery that man has invented or can invent…They will reorganize cultivation, not in ten years' time, but at once, during the revolutionary struggles, from fear of being worsted by the enemy. Agriculture will have to be carried on by intelligent beings; availing themselves of their knowledge, organizing themselves in joyous gangs for pleasant work…when man invents and improves his tools and is conscious of being a useful member of the community.”
Kropotkin’s writing has an almost religious faith in the good intentions of human beings and their willingness to cooperate without coercion, combined with a gentle pacifism that fears the cruelty of authoritarian structures. He writes: “We shall see then what a variety of trades, mutually cooperating on a spot of the globe and animated by the social revolution, can do to feed, clothe, house, and supply with all manner of luxuries millions of intelligent men. We need write no fiction to prove this. What we are sure of, what has already been experimented upon, and recognized as practical, would suffice to carry it into effect, if the attempt were fertilized, vivified by the daring inspiration of the Revolution and the spontaneous impulse of the masses.”
However, despite holding a vision of a voluntary society where all cooperate with each other in the absence of coercion, Kropotkin was not opposed to using force and violence to achieve his goals. The Anarchist organizations and networks he associated with throughout Europe advocated “Propaganda of the Deed,” the use of bombings and assassinations in the hopes of sparking a rebellion among the wider population. How much Kropotkin was directly involved in such activities remains unclear, but it is clear that many people who were inspired by Kropotkin’s teachings and worked with his organizations engaged in Left Adventurist Terrorism.
In 1916, most anarchists and revolutionary socialists were protesting and opposing the war between imperialist powers. Kropotkin published his “Manifesto of The Sixteen” that announced support for British and American imperialism in their war against Germany, Austria, and Turkey. This earned Kropotkin a large amount of scorn and was seen as a slap in the face and betrayal of the many socialists like Rosa Luxemburg and Eugene Debs, who went to prison for opposing the war.
Peter Kropotkin is a figure that is worthy of respect despite criticisms of his political line and actions. He was willing to make great sacrifices and take great risks on behalf of oppressed peasants and factory workers, and he did a great deal to put forward a vision of post-capitalist society that would resolve the injustices of the world. Marxists of course reject Left Adventurism and Terrorism along with idealistic fairy tales. They favor instead to build a mass movement of workers to seize control of the state, and create a rational, centrally planned economy to eliminate all scarcity, marching toward the ultimate goal of a stateless, classless world.
The fact that the BreadTube internet universe claims Kropotkin’s legacy and presents itself as the main representative of not just Kropotkin’s ideas, but all anti-capitalism in 21st Century America is deeply problematic. The intellectual laziness and shallow analysis presented by various BreadTube voices is a total disservice to his legacy, however complex it may be.
The Marxist Definition of Capitalism
The teachings of Karl Marx understand socialism to be a result of the innate human drive for progress and the expansion of productive forces. For most of humanity’s existence, we lived as hunter gatherers in tribes. The first social revolution came with the domestication of animals and the growing of crops. The dawn of agriculture brought forth a new mode of production and a new set of social relations to correspond to it. Soon society was divided between landowners and slaves.
Eventually feudalism, a more efficient mode of production, replaced slavery. In the 1700s capitalism emerged in Europe as the mercantile classes replaced the kings and nobles, and industrial production replaced subsistence farming.
Capitalism resulted in the creation of two social classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie are those who own the banks, factories, land, means of transportation and other centers of economic power, and operate them in order to make profits. The rest of society makes up another class, the proletariat, a class Marx described as: “the modern working class, developed — a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These laborers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”
The interests of the capitalists who own the means of production and the workers who sell their labor power to capitalists are diametrically opposed. Capitalists seek to drive wages down and maximize their profits. As a result workers form unions and organize strikes in the hopes of increasing their pay and bettering their conditions.
Capitalism is defined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as a system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated to make profits for those who own them. Marx described capitalism as “the anarchy of production.” Engels explained “For in capitalistic society, the means of production can only function when they have undergone a preliminary transformation into capital.” Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, said that capitalism was a system of “Profits in command.” The capitalist system is defined as a system of production for profit.
The capitalist is always looking to make production more efficient in order to increase his profits. As Marx explained, “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production.” The capitalist seeks to hire the least amount of workers, replace human labor with machines, de-skill jobs, and make human labor more easily replaceable, all in order to churn out more and more products for lower and lower cost. The capitalist seeks to increase his profit margin so those profits can be reinvested and his operations can expand only to make more profits, which can then be reinvested again. This is what Marx referred to as “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation.”
Driving down labor costs, however, has an unplanned side-effect. The purchasing power of workers is derived from the wages they are paid. In the drive to efficiently produce goods and maximize profits, the capitalist system is prone to cyclical crises of overproduction. The workers cannot afford to buy back the products they produce. The market becomes glutted with products that cannot be sold. As a result, prices drop, companies go out of business, and workers lose their jobs, because too much has been created.
Marx wrote in his text The Poverty of Philosophy: “From day to day it has becomes clearer that the production relations in which the bourgeoisie moves have not a simple, uniform character, but a dual character; that in the selfsame relations in which wealth is produced, poverty is also produced; that in the selfsame relations in which there is a development of the productive forces, there is also a force producing repression; that these relations produce bourgeois wealth; i.e., the wealth of the bourgeois class — only by continually annihilating the wealth of the individual members of this class and by producing an ever-growing proletariat.”
This problem of abundance creating poverty is uniquely capitalist. In previous systems, people starved because not enough food had been created, but in capitalism, starvation can occur because too much food has been produced. In previous systems, homelessness resulted from a lack of housing, but in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis when “the housing bubble burst,” many Americans lost their homes or became homeless because too much housing had been constructed.
Marxists often will cite a parable dialogue between a coal miner and his son.
Son: Father, I am very cold, why can’t we light the stove?
Friedrich Engels explained why cyclical economic crises result from the built-in problem of production organized for profit in his text Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, writing: “The whole mechanism of the capitalist mode of production breaks down under the pressure of the productive forces, its own creations. It is no longer able to turn all this mass of means of production into capital. They lie fallow, and for that very reason the industrial reserve army must also lie fallow. Means of production, means of subsistence, available laborers, all the elements of production and of general wealth, are present in abundance.”
Imperialism: The Capitalism of Our Time
Much of BreadTube’s discussion of capitalism centers around the inequity of relations between employers and employees. This is certainly a very big aspect of Marxian analysis of capitalism. Marx described the alienating environment of the worker, the way workers are reduced to “appendages of machines” who sell their labor power to the employer like any other commodity. Marx described how the worker is not paid the full value of his labor, with the surplus value being stolen from in order to become the profits of the capitalist.
However, the bulk of Marx’s analysis was focused on the problems that flow from production being organized for profits, as shown above. The irrational profit motive leads to capital centralizing into fewer and fewer hands, gluts overproduction, poverty amidst plenty, and all kinds of social chaos.
In the aftermath of Marx’s death, Vladimir Lenin analyzed the further development of capitalism. Lenin showed that increasingly the industries became dominated by financial institutions, and that the banks who supply credit become the central institutions in western countries. In the 1890s, capitalism in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and other western countries became dominated by huge conglomerates. Banks and industries tied together in huge trusts as multinational corporations spread their tentacles across the globe. The western monopolies worked to stop economic development in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and maintain their dominance in global trade. Excess commodities were dumped onto the developing world that served as a captive market. This higher stage of capitalism was called “Imperialism.”
Lenin described the five stages of imperialism: “We have to begin with as precise and full a definition of imperialism as possible. Imperialism is a specific historical stage of capitalism. Its specific character is threefold: imperialism is monopoly capitalism; parasitic, or decaying capitalism; moribund capitalism. The supplanting of free competition by monopoly is the fundamental economic feature, the quintessence of imperialism. Monopoly manifests itself in five principal forms: (1) cartels, syndicates and trusts—the concentration of production has reached a degree which gives rise to these monopolistic associations of capitalists; (2) the monopolistic position of the big banks—three, four or five giant banks manipulate the whole economic life of America, France, Germany; (3) seizure of the sources of raw material by the trusts and the financial oligarchy (finance capital is monopoly industrial capital merged with bank capital); (4) the (economic) partition of the world by the international cartels has begun. There are already over one hundred such international cartels, which command the entire world market and divide it “amicably” among themselves—until war redivides it. The export of capital, as distinct from the export of commodities under non-monopoly capitalism, is a highly characteristic phenomenon and is closely linked with the economic and territorial-political partition of the world; (5) the territorial partition of the world (colonies) is completed.”
It is because of this global setup called imperialism that Nigeria can be the top oil producing country in Africa, exporting more of this valued commodity than any other country on the continent. Yet they still have only 62% literacy, along with a very low life expectancy and a high infant mortality rate, according to the CIA World Factbook.
It is because of imperialism that Honduras and Guatemala are drug and gang infested countries where much of the population lacks access to education and running water. In comparison, Nicaragua, which has broken out of imperialism, has been able to roll back poverty and raise living standards. The Central American countries that have economies and governments dominated by the United States are kept poor, subject to foreign domination and impoverishment.
When the British colonized India and Bangladesh, they burned the looms and forced people that had been weaving for thousands of years to import their cloth from British textile mills. In more recent times, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) devastated the agricultural sectors of Mexico, Haiti, and other countries. Writing for the New York Times on November 24th, 2013, Laura Carlsen explained: “As heavily subsidized U.S. corn and other staples poured into Mexico, producer prices dropped and small farmers found themselves unable to make a living. Some two million have been forced to leave their farms since NAFTA. At the same time, consumer food prices rose, notably the cost of the omnipresent tortilla.As a result, 20 million Mexicans live in “food poverty”. Twenty-five percent of the population does not have access to basic food and one-fifth of Mexican children suffer from malnutrition. Transnational industrial corridors in rural areas have contaminated rivers and sickened the population and typically, women bear the heaviest impact.”
Much of the developing world is very rich in terms of natural resources and human labor. In order to maintain a monopoly, the western multinational corporations, with full support of the government apparatus and international institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, force countries into unnatural poverty due to foreign economic domination.
The mechanism for enforcing the rule of western monopolies is war. If countries break out of the grip of western capitalism and begin to develop their economies, they become subject to attack. If one looks at the economies of Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, Syria, or any other country the imperialists target for regime change, one will see a level of independence and striving toward development that the international monopolies cannot permit. Often this independence is directly related to the most valuable commodity in our outmoded fossil fuel economy, petroleum.
Vincent Copeland’s text, Expanding Empire, describes in clear terms the nature of imperialist economics: “The expansion into foreign countries resulted from a new stage in the expansion of business: The export of capital. Business had been exporting ordinary commodities of trade for centuries. The export of capital was something new—especially for the United States. And it couldn’t be done without foreign wars. The reason for this isn’t very complicated. The export of capital goods—that is, machinery, mining equipment, railroad engines, earth-moving tools, etc., is intended not to make just a quick "small" profit, but a constantly repeating profit that can go on forever, if the exploiter can hold onto the "investment." The investment of capital in a foreign country should be regarded somewhat like sending a huge suction pump. The pump pulls out the metals from the ground, the products from the soil and the fruits from the trees—with the help, of course, of the labor of the "native" people working on this suction pump. It is as if the pump were connected to pipes that run back to the "home" country, via the banks and big corporations. All the rich products are showered from the pipes into the treasuries of these institutions, in the form of profits… Whole nations are drained by these great suction pumps—or "investments." And the profits are so great that rival groups of big business, led by small cliques of big banks, go to war with each other over the exploitation of these nations.”
BreadTube voices tend to talk of capitalism in merely the simple factory floor analogies rather than understanding the concentration of global economic power in the hands of monopolistic associations. BreadTubers talk of “pencil factories” where workers produce the pencils, but a capitalist gets the profits. These analogies are certainly relevant in understanding the nature of capitalist production, but BreadTube voices obscure the big picture for a microcosm that obscures analysis of global events.
Furthermore, BreadTube voices tend to argue that anything resembling Lenin’s analysis of capitalism in its imperialist stage is somehow anti-semitic. BreadTubers will often claim that references to bankers, international bankers, or globalism is merely a coded repackaging of Nazi conspiracy theories about Jewish global domination. This allegation is absurd, and would render not just all adherents of Marxism-Leninism, but also many liberal critics of globalization such as Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and Naomi Klein to be Nazi propagandists.
The world is not dominated by low level businessmen who own individual factories, but by an elite of ultra-rich, globally oriented capitalists. These capitalists do not focus their business efforts on a single national market. The ruling class of Wall Street and London are “globalists,” and they dominate the world economy with gigantic financial institutions, “international banks.” To analyze a world of gigantic multinational corporations that beat down entire nations simply in terms of the inequity between the owners of an allegorical pencil factory and his employees is simply inadequate. By declaring analysis of gigantic corporations or finance capitalists dominating the world to be “fascist” or “Trump-like” BreadTube is, in essence, blocking out and “cancelling” essential contemporary Marxist analysis.
Lenin’s understanding of imperialism enabled him to reorient much of the Marxist movement. Marx argued that all nationalism was a barrier to workers solidarity, though in his later life he became somewhat sympathetic to the Irish freedom struggle. Marx argued that European colonialism was bringing development and progress to places like India. Lenin’s understanding of how capitalism developed in the late 19th century laid the basis for revolutionaries embracing the national liberation struggles of colonized people. As the Chinese Communist Party’s document Long Live Leninism, published April 16, 1960, summarizes: "Lenin pointed out that the oligarchy of finance capital in a small number of capitalist powers, that is, the imperialists, not only exploit the masses of people in their own countries, but oppress and plunder the whole world, turning most countries into their colonies and dependencies. Imperialist war is a continuation of imperialist politics.”
Lenin understood that an aristocracy of labor, a strata of well paid workers enabled European social-democratic parties to become reformist and eventually support the First World War. Lenin saw that the revolutionary energy was coming from the east and the colonized world: “In the light of the law of the uneven economic and political development of capitalism, Lenin came to the conclusion that, because capitalism developed extremely unevenly in different countries, socialism would achieve victory first in one or several countries but could not achieve victory simultaneously in all countries.”
Lenin argued that socialism in the developing world would come about with the working class leading the struggle to liberate entire nations from the yoke of imperialist domination. Because of the stratification of the working class within the imperialist homelands and the rise of social reformism and the aristocracy of labor, Communists in western countries had a special task: “The liberation movements of the proletariat in the capitalist countries should ally themselves with the national liberation movements in the colonies and dependent countries; this alliance can smash the alliance of the imperialists with the feudal and comprador reactionary forces in the colonies all dependent countries, and will therefore inevitably put a final end to the imperialist system throughout the world.”
Imperialism, the rule of the world by western monopolies who keep the world poor in order to make themselves rich, is the capitalism of our time. Opposing capitalism in our time means opposing imperialism, and this understanding is essential, especially for those living in the imperialist world centers. The lack of any analysis of imperialism and anti-imperialism, and the constant allegation that those who do analyze such things are covert anti-semites reveals a very big flaw in the BreadTube sphere and its viewpoint.
The Marxist Definition of Socialism
Marxism views Socialism as resolving the inherent contradictions of capitalism, a system of production organized to make profits. Socialism is when the means of production become public property, and are forced by the state to serve society overall, not the profits of private owners. Marx distinguished between the “higher stage of Communism,” the ultimate ideal of a stateless, classless world, and the lower stage of communism; i.e., socialism.
Marx, Engels, Lenin, and other scientific socialists specifically defined socialism, the lower stage of Communism. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote: “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State; i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible. Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production. These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.”
Marx went on to list in The Communist Manifesto 10 measures that the proletariat might adopt upon taking power in order to enact the transition to socialism. This list is commonly misrepresented by Libertarians and rightists, who point to planks such as “income tax” and “public education” as proof the USA is already a Communist country. Social-Democrats and reformists will also sometimes misrepresent this list.
In his pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Friedrich Engels also defined socialism. He wrote: “The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialized means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property. By this act, the proletariat frees the means of production from the character of capital they have thus far borne, and gives their socialized character complete freedom to work itself out. Socialized production upon a predetermined plan becomes henceforth possible.”
Using different words, Engels explained: “Whilst the capitalist mode of production more and more completely transforms the great majority of the population into proletarians, it creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced to accomplish this revolution. Whilst it forces on more and more of the transformation of the vast means of production, already socialized, into State property, it shows itself the way to accomplishing this revolution. The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production into State property.”
He also wrote: “This point is now reached. Their political and intellectual bankruptcy is scarcely any longer a secret to the bourgeoisie themselves. Their economic bankruptcy recurs regularly every 10 years. In every crisis, society is suffocated beneath the weight of its own productive forces and products, which it cannot use, and stands helpless, face-to-face with the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing to consume, because consumers are wanting. The expansive force of the means of production bursts the bonds that the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon them. Their deliverance from these bonds is the one precondition for an unbroken, constantly-accelerated development of the productive forces, and therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself. Nor is this all. The socialized appropriation of the means of production does away, not only with the present artificial restrictions upon production, but also with the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products that are at the present time the inevitable concomitants of production, and that reach their height in the crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of means of production and of products, by doing away with the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of today, and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialized production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day-by-day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now, for the first time, here, but it is here. With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization. The struggle for individual existence disappears. Then, for the first time, man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones.”
In his book The State and Revolution Lenin defined socialism, the lower stage of Communism, in the following passages: “It is this communist society, which has just emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism and which is in every respect stamped with the birthmarks of the old society, that Marx terms the “first”, or lower, phase of communist society. The means of production are no longer the private property of individuals. The means of production belong to the whole of society. Every member of society, performing a certain part of the socially-necessary work, receives a certificate from society to the effect that he has done a certain amount of work. And with this certificate he receives from the public store of consumer goods a corresponding quantity of products. After a deduction is made of the amount of labor which goes to the public fund, every worker, therefore, receives from society as much as he has given to it.”
Lenin also clarifies: “The first phase of communism, therefore, cannot yet provide justice and equality; differences, and unjust differences, in wealth will still persist.” He then goes on to make clear: “And so, in the first phase of communist society (usually called socialism) "bourgeois law" is not abolished in its entirety, but only in part, only in proportion to the economic revolution so far attained; i.e., only in respect of the means of production. "Bourgeois law" recognizes them as the private property of individuals. Socialism converts them into common property. To that extent--and to that extent alone--"bourgeois law" disappears.
“Marx wasn’t a statist”
Probably the most blatant distortion of Marxism that is spread in the BreadTube universe is the belief that somehow Marx did not believe in creating a centrally planned economy, or having the means of production become public property. As the previous quotations make clear, this is the very definitive act of the social revolution that overturns capitalism and creates socialism.
Yet, with smug arrogance and childish desperation, the BreadTube voices insist this cannot be the case. After all, they have been told by US media and educational institutions that each and every society where this transformation has taken place, it has resulted in a brutal human rights violating dictatorship and utter economic failure. Lacking the courage to question these narratives, like a Biblical creationist confronted by the fossil record, they seek to “reinterpret” Marx so both he and mainstream US media can be correct. They wish to uphold Marx, but discount and dismiss all who have put his ideas into practice in order to maintain respectability within (and funding from) the very institutions and society Marxism seeks to overturn.
Matt “Thought Slime” insists that Marx and Engels never called for a centrally planned economy. In a video released on February 5, 2021 entitled “Prager University Does Not Understand Democracy” the content creator simply bluffs, pretending that the quotations above do not exist and assuming that their audience will never bother to fact check assertions. Furthermore, Matt goes on to claim Lenin personally invented the idea of a centrally planned economy, calling his newly invented concept “Democratic Centralism.”
A simple Google search for the term “Democratic Centralism” shows how laughingly inaccurate and ignorant this social-media appointed expert is. Democratic Centralism was the model for decision-making in Lenin’s “party of new type.” Democratic Centralism was a process through which the Bolshevik Party made decisions and obligated all members to carry them out. It distinguished the vanguard party model from the looser social-democratic organizing methods of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party; i.e., the Mensheviks. It has nothing to do with economic planning in a socialist state. It is a method of political organizing by Marxists under capitalism in order to take power. Such a gaffe should be embarrassing and discrediting, but Matt “Thought Slime” has not been discredited for spreading such blatant misinformation. Over 200,000 people have watched this mis-informative video about socialism, most of them probably believing its contents to be accurate.
Ian “Vaush” Kochiniski, also speaking with the authority of the algorithms, frequently claims “Marx wasn’t a statist.” To justify this he utilizes a quotation from Marx’s Civil War in France. Matt ‘Thought Slime’ also invokes this quotation, where Marx proclaims: “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”
The misuse of this quotation seethes with ignorance, if not blatant intentional deception. The passage comes from Marx’s presentation Civil War in France in which he discusses the Paris Commune of 1871. This briefly existing regime that took power in Paris after the capitalist government had already surrendered to the Prussian invaders is considered by Marx to be the first historical example of his concept of “Dictatorship of the proletariat.” Marx points to the Commune, not as an example of why states are not necessary, but rather for the lessons it taught about what post-capitalist states will look like.
The particular quote refers to the fact that the existing French state had been created to serve capitalism, and the Paris Communards who led the workers uprisings were forced to create NEW state institutions, not simply seize control of the previously existing ones created by capitalism. Marx spends the following paragraphs describing in detail the nature of the new proletarian forms of state power the Communards created and praising them. To claim this quote means Marx opposed states existing at all is laughable.
Here is the entire passage from Marx: “But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes. The centralized state power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature – organs wrought after the plan of a systematic and hierarchic division of labor – originates from the days of absolute monarchy, serving nascent middle class society as a mighty weapon in its struggle against feudalism. Still, its development remained clogged by all manner of medieval rubbish, seignorial rights, local privileges, municipal and guild monopolies, and provincial constitutions. The gigantic broom of the French Revolution of the 18th century swept away all these relics of bygone times, thus clearing simultaneously the social soil of its last hinderances to the superstructure of the modern state edifice raised under the First Empire, itself the offspring of the coalition wars of old semi-feudal Europe against modern France… The direct antithesis to the empire was the Commune. The cry of “social republic,” with which the February Revolution was ushered in by the Paris proletariat, did but express a vague aspiration after a republic that was not only to supersede the monarchical form of class rule, but class rule itself. The Commune was the positive form of that republic... The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people. The Commune was formed of the municipal councilors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune... Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of the Central Government. Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the state was laid into the hands of the Commune…The judicial functionaries were to be divested of that sham independence which had but served to mask their abject subservience to all succeeding governments to which, in turn, they had taken, and broken, the oaths of allegiance… The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but, on the contrary, to be organized by Communal Constitution, and to become a reality by the destruction of the state power which claimed to be the embodiment of that unity independent of, and superior to, the nation itself, from which it was but a parasitic excrescence.”
What Vaush claims about his cherry-picked quotation is nothing but blatant distortion. Either Kochiniski was handed this quote by someone else and never bothered to look at the context, or he intentionally misrepresented its meaning with deceptive intent. To claim Marx was arguing that no central authority or state power should exist is simply inaccurate. On the contrary, Marx was emphasizing how new forms of state power must be created to correspond with the new class in power and its interests.
Maintaining Profits in Command
Armed with his misrepresentative quotes from Marx, Ian “Vaush” Kochiniski has repeatedly said that socialism in the United States would mean “everything would be exactly the same except every corporation would be a worker cooperative.” While worker ownership and cooperatives are not a bad thing, the problem with this definition of socialism is that it does not eliminate capitalism. Capitalism is a system where, as Engels put it, “the means of production only function as preliminary transformation into capital,” or as Mao Zedong put it, “profits are in command.” Simply instituting worker ownership does not eliminate what Marx called ‘The Anarchy of Production.’
Employee stock ownership programs, co-determination, co-partnership, or profit sharing are not at all foreign to capitalism. Furthermore, those putting forth these ideas have generally not been socialists, but theoreticians and academics assigned with the task of making capitalist corporations more productive and efficient.
While BreadTube adherents fetishize the Mondragon Corporation, a federation of worker cooperatives located in the Basque Region of Spain, the examples of such schemes within the capitalist system are much more widespread.
The Oxford University Act of 1854 in Britain required that the faculty of the University be represented on the board of directors. The Port of London Act of 1908 passed such a requirement for representation of dock workers on the board governing London’s port. The Weimar Republic in Germany passed the Supervisory Board Act of 1922, requiring labor unions to have representation on the board of directors of corporations. Many western European countries maintain such laws up to today.
In the United States, the retirement plans offered to many corporate employees are described as “profit sharing plans” where the pension paid to retirees is related to the performance of the corporation. Many employees across the USA and the world have “stock options,” incentive pay, and other mechanisms that theoretically make them co-owners of the corporation in which they work. Many different stock ownership, employee representation and co-ownership programs exist, and they vary in their degree of success.
During the 1920s and 30s, industrial unions often fought hard against “piece wages.” Often factory employers would attempt to maximize their profits by paying employees only for each item produced, rather than a set hourly wage. In 1938, the Labor Movement celebrated the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act which required all employees receive a minimum hourly wage on top of whatever incentives or productivity linked wages they received. These reforms brought a new level of economic security to industrial workers, because they knew how much money they would receive, rather than having their incomes subject to the unpredictable fluctuations of the market and however many products the capitalist assigned them to produce on a given workday.
BreadTube adherents will generally dismiss the many examples of their ideas being put into practice within capitalism. They will insist that piece wages, employee stock ownership programs, worker representation, co-partnership, and profit sharing are not enough. They will say they advocate 100% worker ownership and democratic control.
However, no matter how egalitarian and democratic a worker-cooperative model may be, it still does not eliminate the very essence of the capitalist system: profits in command. A worker-cooperative will seek to maximize profits for its employee shareholders.
Imagine if the US “defense industry” were operated under a worker-cooperative model. Would this end the “military industrial complex” long decried by leftists? Would the drive to make profits from war no longer influence US foreign policy? Not at all. If anything, the lust for war profits would expand beyond the corporate boardrooms to the factory floor. Employees would be motivated to see the government go to war and for government military spending to increase, as it would directly impact their incomes.
Having the guards as equal, democratic co-owners of private prisons would not eliminate the inherent societal problems flowing from the much decried “Prison Industrial Complex.” Having workers as equal co-owners of pharmaceutical giants would not eliminate the drive to overprescribe potentially addictive or dangerous medications.
Other problems inherent to the capitalist system of production for profit would continue as well. Employee owners would certainly be incentivized to replace labor with machines, as the fewer workers hired by the cooperative firm, the larger their share of the profits would be. Employee owned enterprises would compete with other employee owned enterprises producing the same products and services. Environmental regulations and laws affecting other “externalities” would still be an impediment to the profits of corporate owners just as they are now, even if the corporate owners were the employees themselves. We could, of course, expect that “worker owners” would seek to lift regulations and maximize their own profits just as corporate owners would.
A system of “profits in command” is still irrational and unsustainable, even if those profits are shared. Simply declaring workers to be co-owners of profit centered entities functioning in the chaos of the market does not eliminate the irrationality of capitalism.
In the context of a state centrally planned economy, worker-cooperative ownership is very different. The most successful examples of worker-cooperatives tend to be those that emerge in the absence of the anarchy of production, when an overall state central plan guides their activities.
The most successful example of a profit-sharing corporation, by far, is one that BreadTube avoids highlighting. The largest telecommunications manufacturer in the world is Huawei Technologies, a cooperative corporation established by the Chinese government and its military in 1988. An article in Harvard Business Review published on September 24, 2015 hails it as “A Case Study of When Profit Sharing Works” and speaks of the company in glowing terms. In the context of China’s 5 year economic plans, receiving huge subsidies and directions from the state and military, Huawei has become very successful. The model of worker ownership, profit sharing, and coordination with state central planning and a socialist economy has made Huawei a model that many corporations in the capitalist world have studied. Huawei is widely respected for its efficiency and success. Of course, BreadTube voices largely remain silent on Huawei, as it takes the lead from the US State Department deeming anything associated with China or other anti-imperialist states to be toxic and evil.
In many socialist countries elements of “worker ownership” have been implemented. The collectivization of agriculture in 1931 resulted in the prevalence of collective farms as the dominant form in the Soviet countryside. While some state farms that operated much like state owned factories existed, most of the Soviet Union’s agriculture was carried out by independent kolkhozy, which sold agricultural goods to the state at a set rate. This motivated the farm workers to produce as much as possible in order to maximize the payout they would receive from the central government. This model became the dominant form of agriculture in “really existing socialism” of the Cold War, beyond the Soviet Union. Mao Zedong launched the creation of a collective farm system with his “Hail The Communes” campaign in the 1950s. Cuba, North Korea, and various Eastern European countries adopted the collective farm model. Trotsky criticized this, arguing that state farms were more socialistic in nature than collective farms and arguing that material incentives and differing abilities among farmers would lead to inequality. Stalin defended this model, arguing it was more efficient. Che Guevara and Mao Zedong both upheld the collective farm model as being more egalitarian and decentralized, and presented the Soviet Union as being a bit too centralized and bureaucratic in its planning of production, leading to a lack of participation by the working class and a level of alienation.
During the cultural revolution in China, the model of a “Three in One Combination” was adopted, where each factory was governed by an elected worker representative as well as a Communist Party official and a technical expert. Mao Zedong put forward the “Three in One Combination” as an alternative to the model of total factory autonomy put forward during the infamous “January Storm” of 1967, which established the Shanghai People’s Commune.
Caleb Maupin is a widely acclaimed speaker, writer, journalist, and political analyst. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and in Latin America. He was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement from its early planning stages, and has been involved many struggles for social justice. He is an outspoken advocate of international friendship and cooperation, as well as 21st Century Socialism. He doesn’t shy away from the word “Communism” when explaining his political views, and advocates that the USA move toward some form of “socialism with American characteristics” rooted in the democratic and egalitarian traditions often found in American history. He argues that the present crisis can only be abetted with an “American Rebirth” in which the radicalism and community-centered values of the country are re-established and strengthened.
Link to the Book: