The Division of Labor and the Post-Capitalist State

By Meszaros, Istvan | Monthly Review, July-August 1987 | Go to article overview

The Division of Labor and the Post-Capitalist State


Meszaros, Istvan, Monthly Review


THE DIVISION OF LABOR AND THE POST-CAPITALIST STATE

Marx formulated his basic principles with regard to the conditions of a socialist transformation well before the burden of historical experience had deeply affected the political movement of the proletariat first through the accommodations of German Social Democracy, and then through the formation of the Leninist vanguard party after Marx's death. Understandably, therefore, the far-reaching implications of such developments had to remain beyond Marx's horizon, although the radical skepticism of his dixi et salvavi animam meam ("I have spoken and saved my soul') at the end of his Critique of the Gotha Programme bears witness to the feeling of unease with which he greeted the newly emerging trends of working-class involvement in the political arena.

As is well known, Marx expected great things from "the social revolution of the nineteenth century.'1 What is little known is that the possibilities of a much longer drawn-out development also appeared on the margin of his thought, formulated as a major dilemma--implying a great many unknown factors, with all their necessary theoretical consequences --in a letter to Engels:

The historic task of bourgeois society is the establishment of the world market, at least in its basic outlines, and a mode of production that rests on its basis. Since the world is round, it seems that this has been accomplished with the colonization of California and Australia and with the annexation of China and Japan. For us the difficult question is this: the revolution on the Continent is imminent and its character will be at once socialist; will it not be necessarily crushed in this little corner of the world, since on a much larger terrain the development of bourgeois society is still in its ascendancy.2

In the same letter Marx also made it clear that the collapse of bourgeois society in the foreseeable future was only a hope, by no means a certainty: "One cannot deny, bourgeois society lives its second sixteenth century which, I hope, will take it into the grave, just as the first one brought it into life.' The world situation had to be characterized like this precisely because of what Marx underlined as the undeniable ascendancy of capital on that "much larger terrain' which necessarily put the European "little corner of the world' into perspective.

As we can see, then, some key elements of a very different assessment of the coming socialist revolution appeared in Marx's thought after the 1848-49 uprisings, and the continued to surface in various contexts up to the end of his life. Such elements did not question the necessity of the socialist revolution, but they had far-reaching implications for its time scale and the potential modality of its unfolding. For it made a big difference, with regard to the feasible socio-political forms of transition, where and under what kind of class relations the socialist revolution broke out and had to attempt the radical restructuring of the given social metabolism, under the more or less heavily constraining degree of development (or underdevelopment) of the inherited production forces.

In this sense, the failure of the socialist revolution to break through in the European "little corner of the world' carried some weighty implications for the maturation of capital's inner contradictions. Since the establishment of the anticipated new social order was said to be possible only as the "act of the dominant peoples "all at once' and simultaneously,' on the basis of the "universal development of the productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with them,' the possibility of developing capital's productive outlets everywhere where bourgeois society was still in its ascendancy was synonymous with the possibility of displacing for the duration of the self-same historical ascendancy capital's inner contradictions. Until, that is, "world intercourse' as a whole would become saturated by the dynamics of capital's inexorable self-expansion so as to drive the whole process to a halt through an ever deepening structural crisis of the "universally developed productive forces' on a truly global scale. …

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