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Re: the Communist Manifesto: critique
by Louis Proyect
18 March 2002 15:17 UTC
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At 01:16 PM 3/18/2002 +0200, Petros Haritatos wrote:
>A simple 'thought experiment' might be to assume that "capitalism" has
>disappeared and that goods and services are produced and allocated according
>to enlightened methods. Would this mean that relationships of power and
>subservience disappear? Would this avert a new depletion of 'the commons'?
>Who would set limits, allocations, and rule on what is right or wrong?

These questions remind me of the exchanges I had on Harry Cleaver's
"autonomist" list a week ago. The objection to the Soviet model was based
on a kind of misreading of V. 1 of Capital. If commodity production, wages
and money could not be abolished through proletarian revolution, what was
the point? No matter how many times I referred to Marx's dictum in
"Critique of the Gotha Program" that: "What we have to deal with here is a
communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on
the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in
every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped
with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges", they
were unimpressed. Unless you did away with capitalism in TOTALITY, you were
not making any kind of qualitative advance.

In reality, revolutions are not made to get rid of commodity production and
wage labor. They are made because capitalism has failed to live up to its
own promise to guarantee people the right to be exploited. Underemployment
and unemployment have been the irritants behind all major revolutions of
the 20th century.

Take Cuba for instance. The Cuban economy was based on export agriculture.
The main crop was sugar, followed by tobacco, cattle and coffee.
Agricultural resources were underutilized. For the hacienda owner, this was
no problem. It might mean spending January through March in the US or
Europe, shopping or attending the opera. For the farm worker, this meant
unemployment and suffering. In 1954, for instance, Cuba's 424,000
agricultural wage earners averaged only 123 days of work; farm owners,
tenants and sharecroppers also fared poorly, averaging only 135 days of

Unemployment led to all sorts of hardship. 43% of the rural population was
illiterate. 60% lived in huts with earth floors and thatched roofs. 2/3
lived without running water and only 1 out of 14 families had electricity.
Daily nutrition was terrible. Only 4% of rural families ate meat regularly.
Most subsisted on rice, beans and root crops. Bad diet and housing caused
bad health. 13% of the population had a history of typhoid, 14%
tuberculosis and over 1/3 intestinal parasites. 

The main cause of backwardness in the countryside was the cartel nature of
agriculture, particularly the sugar industry. A production quota was
assigned to each cane grower, based on figures originating from 1937. The
quota was divided into 2 export quotas, one for the US and one for the rest
of the world, and 1 quota for special reserves. The reserve quota was a
major problem since it caused over 1/5 of Cuban land to lay idle. 

So, when the July 26th movement promised to abolish these conditions and
put people to work, an anarchist or a "libertarian communist" might have
complained, using the words of Peggy Lee's signature song: "Is that all
there is?" Yes, that is all there is. Every successful revolution
establishes a beachhead from which further advances against capitalism can
be made. To turn up our noses at these societies because they have not
abolished money and commodity production is a sectarian and idealist mistake.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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