21 May 2012



Basics, Part 8a


To supplement “Value, Price and Profit”, here, attached, is a shortened (by removing one part) version of Chapter 1 of Karl Marx’s greatest work, “Capital”, Volume 1. This is a text that has been the material for many a political school. It begins with this great definition of commodities:

“The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

“A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference. Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production.”

And Marx later says:

“A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because human labour in the abstract has been embodied or materialised in it.”

The second section of the chapter explores this dual character of commodities.

The third section, which contains quite a lot of formulas, is omitted for the sake of brevity. Sections of the chapter that have been left out can be read on Marxists Internet Archive.

The fourth and last section of the chapter is on the Fetishism of Commodities, meaning that in a capitalist society the relations between commodities replace the relations between people.

In commodities, writes Marx, “the social character of men's labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.”

If there is a single purpose for Marx’s book it is to re-make human relations so that they are between humans again, or in other words, to restore human beings to themselves.

20 May 2012

Value, Price and Profit


Basics, Part 8

Value, Price and Profit

By 1865 Karl Marx (pictured) had solved the theoretical problems of his work on Surplus Value, “Capital”. In that year he gave the well-known address to a gathering of leadership, including worker-leaders of the First International, which was in danger of falling apart very soon after it was founded. That address afterwards became a popular publication under the name “Value, Price and Profit”(attached).

The first volume of “Capital” was published two years later.

This short book has served the labour movement well. Among other things, it debunks the argument, still attempted by employers and their apologists in South Africa today, that wage rises will cause unemployment (or that wage drops will cause employment, for that matter).

The book shows how commodities, including commodity Labour-Power, are normally sold at their full value, yet how, at the same time, the worker is getting swindled every day. It explains this apparent paradox, whereby the employer pays in full, yet gets more than what he paid; and this is the secret of the self-increase of capital.

It encourages workers to struggle for better wages and conditions, but it also (prefiguring Lenin’s argument against “Economism” four decades later in “What is to be Done?”) shows clearly why trade unionism, without separate political organisation, will never succeed in throwing off the yoke of capital.

The abridged version of “Value, Price and Profit”, attached, can serve as the short, or “basic”, version of “Capital” that so many people long for. It will help us to get a better grip on some of the key concepts in “Capital, Volume 1” such as Labour, Value, Labour-Power, and above all, Surplus Labour, Surplus-Value, and Profit.

To reduce the work to a manageable size for our dialogue purposes we have put aside several sections of “Value, Price and Profit”.  But the work is available on the Internet for anyone who would like to read it in full. The best source for Marxist classics in general on the Internet is the Marxists Internet Archive (MIA).

Here is the last part of Value, Price and Profit:

“…the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!"

16 May 2012


Basics, Part 7


We proceed from an understanding of the vanguard-to-mass relationship between the communists and the working class, where the latter are organised in trade unions primarily for self-defence, and not primarily for revolutionary purposes.

We included the Rules of Debate that are applied within those and other mass 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 (wages).

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 invariable 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 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 inevitably have to live together in peace again, after the war.

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

11 May 2012



Basics, Part 6a


These Generic Courses are designed for self-organised Freirean study circles, meeting on a regular weekly basis without an outside lecturer. So there is a main text for each week. This week, our main text has been “Worker Solidarity and Unions” from MIA, combined with Procedure of Meetings, based on Wal Hannington’s “Mr Chairman”. An introduction to these texts was sent out under the heading “Vanguard”.

As well as a main text each week, there is usually one, or more than one, supporting text, which may be regarded as supplementary, alternative, or additional reading. This week the supporting text to this discussion of the workers’ mass organisations and their necessary counterpart, the revolutionary Party, is made up of extracts from Lenin’s “What is to be Done?” (download linked below)

Demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class, wrote Lenin, in this book.


In “What is to be Done?”, Lenin was concerned to oppose what he called “economism”, which is also called “syndicalism” and in South Africa in the past and still up to now, “workerism”.

Lenin was concerned to show (following the publication of Eduard Bernstein’s gradualist “Evolutionary Socialism” and Rosa Luxemburg’s “Reform or Revolution?”) that a revolutionary transformation of society was not possible without a professional, revolutionary, political party of the working class. Trade union organisation of the working class was never going to be sufficient.

In the process Lenin was moved to denounce demagogy in the severest terms (see the quote above, which is taken from the text that we are using today). One reason that Lenin denounced demagogues so emphatically is because they misrepresent themselves as being “left” or revolutionary, when in fact they are “right”, and in particular gradualist, reformist and class-collaborationist.

Worker’s Control?

Sometimes syndicalism arrives at a point where it proposes, demagogically, “worker’s control” under capitalism. Marx and Lenin both denounced such tomfoolery – see, for example, Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Programme

Lenin showed that the worker’s political party, the communist party, remains a “must-have”. To achieve its goals the working class must combine in a vast association of the whole nation; whereas the syndicalism of individual factories or isolated mines is nothing more than a reversion to petty-bourgeois consciousness, in conditions where such petty-bourgeois behaviour is hopelessly subordinated to a bourgeois market that it cannot possibly control.

How will they sell their products, unless on the terms of the Imperialists? This is why we say that demagogy is nothing but the class enemy’s message, dressed up and re-sold in fake-revolutionary clothes. Demagogues will even be found denouncing the real revolutionaries as fakes.

When in doubt about such things, it helps to study; and Lenin is a good person to study, because he was good at telling the difference between genuine things, and fakes. Especially, Lenin opposed syndicalism, workerism, gradualism, reformism and economism, all of which still exist today.

“What is to be Done?” is the book where Lenin most clearly differentiated the reformist mass organisations from the vanguard political party of the working class, which is the communist party. The downloadable file contains the most directly relevant passages.

10 May 2012


Basics, Part 6

Wal Hannington, 1896-1966


In politics, the word “vanguard” means the professional force, 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.

The vanguard is made up of professional revolutionaries.

The revolutionary vanguard is a servant, and not a master. The vanguard party of the working class serves the working class, and does not boss it. Nor does it substitute itself for the working class.

The working-class vanguard party, which is 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. The vanguard party educates, organises and mobilises. As a vanguard, it must have expert knowledge about 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 (i.e how trade unions work) here, in the download linked below, is 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 it is found under capitalism. In many ways, workers emulate capitalist forms of organisation. Their initial purpose is to get a better money deal in exchange for their labour-power in the capitalist labour-market.

Trade unions are in the first place reformist, not revolutionary. Nor can trade unions become revolutionary without the assistance of professional revolutionaries, organised separately as a communist party. Lenin dealt with this relationship in “What is to be Done?”, which we will look at tomorrow.

Trade unionists who think that they can dispense with the assistance of a communist party - the ones known as “economists”, “workerists” or “syndicalists” - are on a road to ruin.

Rules of Debate

Crucial to the democracy of mass organisations are the Rules of Debate and Procedure of Meetings. These are a bit like language, or political education, or the Internet, in the sense of being communistic, and not given as authority. They are not imposed by a “state”. There is no institutional enforcer of these rules. They exist in society, but without a “state” to enforce them.

For example, the South African Communist Party has no given 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 only effective to the extent that they are understood in common by the members of any particular gathering, and enforced by these members.

Wal Hannington [1896-1966, pictured] was well known as a communist leader of the unemployed workers’ movement in Britain in the 1930s. Our summary of his 1950 booklet “Mr Chairman” is included with this item on Trade Unions because communists involved in trade unions need this knowledge of rules of debate and procedure of meetings, as well.

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. They become useless when they are felt as a burden or as an obstruction.

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 everybody is familiar with the generic Rules of Debate.

03 May 2012

Strategy and Tactics


Basics, Part 5b

O R Tambo

Strategy and Tactics

“The art of revolutionary leadership consists in providing leadership to the masses and not just to its most advanced elements…”

The above line from the ANC’s Morogoro Strategy and Tactics of 1969 (please download it via the link given below) can be taken as the idea of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) in a nutshell. Politics is in the subjective realm – it is about the ultimate subjectivity, freedom – but politics can only have an existence within the limits of objective realities.

Joe Slovo

The NDR has a steadily-built organisational history of personalities, of events and of documents, working within, and at the same time changing by its action, the balance of class forces in South Africa.

Next to the Freedom Charter, the ANC Strategy and Tactics document of 1969 is the most prominent of all the NDR documents. In discussing the military activities of Umkhonto we Siswe (MK), it outlines alliance politics in terms that are sometimes crystal-clear, and sometimes not so clear. For an example of the latter, the enemy is not well described. Still, the Morogoro S&T is the best one to use as the basis for a discussion of the subjective political action of this period, and for some remarks on the underlying class realities, as well.

Dr Yusuf Dadoo

The Treason Trial had come to an end in 1959 with acquittal of all the defendants. New campaigns were then launched, but came to an abrupt end following the Sharpeville massacre and the banning of the ANC and the PAC. Umkhonto we Sizwe was launched in 1961. Technically it was neither a “wing” of the ANC, nor of the Party, and a new structure had to be put into place to make MK accountable to the political leadership. Dr Yusuf Dadoo played a leading role in that structure.

02 May 2012

Call to the CoP; Freedom Charter


Basics, Part 5a

Call to the CoP; Freedom Charter

In our “Basics” course, this document is given as an alternative or supplementary discussion document to the main one on the SACP constitution, so that we could have a discussion around mass and vanguard organisation, alliances between classes, and the role of the Party.

The SACP’s Rule 6.4 makes a good basis for alliances. The attitude and principle that Rule 6.4 represents has been successful over the decades. Alliance of mass democratic organisations was exemplified the 1955 Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter that was adopted there.

The Freedom Charter was much more than a list of demands. It was an integral part of a conscious nation-building project which had real revolutionary content and which demonstrated real democracy in action, following the banning of the communist party (CPSA) in 1950.

The campaign of which the Freedom Charter was a part, and which generated the Charter, began long before the Kliptown event. It was also intended to go on for a long time afterwards. It got under way with the collection, by countrywide volunteers, of suggestions and inputs to the document, so that the people could “write their own demands into the Charter of Freedom”, as the “Call” document said.

In practice, the campaign was disturbed, following the Kliptown event, by the arrest of many of the Congress and allied leadership, in 1956, and the subsequent Treason Trial. But this did not stop the Freedom Charter from attaining the classic status that it still carries today.

Those old comrades laid down a well-designed pattern. It appealed to the heart as well as to the eye and to the mind, and it still surrounds us today, manifested in the continuing Congress Alliance of which the SACP, legal again, is now an open part.

As it was when Lenin spoke in the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, so it was again in 1955. Two things were required. The first was a genuine class alliance and unity-in-action against the main oppressor class, the colonialist monopoly capitalists. The other was the deliberate extension of democracy for the creation of a democratic nation.

The CoP campaign was exactly in this mould.