Reform or Revolution

By Paul Mattick

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(1904 - 1981)

Paul Mattick Sr. (March 13, 1904 – February 7, 1981) was a Marxist political writer and social revolutionary, whose thought can be placed within the council communist and left communist traditions. Throughout his life, Mattick continually criticized Bolshevism, Vladimir Lenin and Leninist organizational methods, describing their political legacy as "serving as a mere ideology to justify the rise of modified capitalist (state-capitalist) systems, which were [...] controlled by way of an authoritarian state". (From: Wikipedia.org.)


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Reform or Revolution

From : Marxists.org

Chapters

9 Chapters | 58,758 Words | 386,945 Characters

(4,410 Words / 28,505 Characters)
First Published: in Marxism. Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie? Paul Mattick, published posthumously by Merlin Press, 1983, edited by Paul Mattick Jr.; Source: Collective Action Notes; Transcribed: by Andy Blunden, for marxists.org 2003; Proofread: by Chris Clayton 2006. On the basis of its assumptions, Marx’s model of capitalist production could only end in the collapse of the capitalist system. However, this collapse was not conceived of as the automatic outcome of economic processes, independent of human actions, but as the result of the proletarian class struggle: Along with the constantly diminishing number of magnates of capital 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 bec... (From : Marxists.org.)

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Whereas Marx’s analysis of the social contradictions inherent in capitalism refers to the general trend of capitalistic development, the actual class struggle is a day-to-day affair and necessarily adjusts itself to changing social conditions. These adjustments are bound to find a reflection in Marxian theory. The history of capitalism is thus also the history of Marxism. Although interrupted by periods of crisis and depression, capitalism was able to maintain itself until now by the continuous expansion of capital and its extension into space through an accelerating increase of the productivity of labor. It proved possible not only to regain a temporarily lost profitability but to increase it sufficiently to continue the accumulation process as well as to improve the living standards of the great bulk of the laboring population. The economic class struggle within rising capitalism, far from endangering the latter, provided an additional capitalist incentive for h... (From : Marxists.org.)

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The bourgeois political revolution was the culmination of a drawnout process of social changes in the sphere of production. Where the ascending capitalist class gained complete control of the state, this assured a rapid unfolding of the capital-labor relation. Feudalistic resistance to this transformation varied in different countries. Though capitalism was on the rise generally, its gestation involved both force and compromise, characterized by an overlapping of the new and the old both politically and economically. The ruling classes divided into a reactionary and a progressive wing, the latter striving for political control through a democratic capitalist state. The division between an entrenched autocracy and the liberal bourgeoisie reflected the uneven pace of capitalist development and extended the internal distinctions between reaction and progress to the nations themselves and to their political institutions. The socialist movement arose in an incomple... (From : Marxists.org.)

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However reformable capitalism may prove to be, it cannot alter its basic wage and profit relations without eliminating itself. The age of reform is an age of spontaneous capital expansion, based on a disproportional but simultaneous increase of both wages and profits. It is an age wherein the concessions made to the working class are more tolerable to the bourgeoisie than the upheavals of the class struggle that would otherwise accompany capitalist development. As a class, the bourgeoisie does not favor minimum wages and intolerable working conditions, even though each capitalist, for whom labor is a cost of production, tries to reduce this expense to the utmost. There can be no doubt that the bourgeoisie prefers a satisfied to a dissatisfied working class and social stability to instability. In fact, it looks upon the general improvement of living standards as its own accomplishment and as the justification for its class rule. To be sure, the relative well-being of the... (From : Marxists.org.)

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Those in the socialist movement who were thinking in terms of a proletarian revolution were obliged to take all these facts into consideration. In their view, the revolution would not result from a gradual growth of proletarian class consciousness, finding its expression in the increasing might of working class organization and the eventual “legal” usurpation of the bourgeois state machinery, but would be the result of the self-destruction of the capitalist system, leaving the working class no other choice than the revolutionary solution of its own problems through a change of the social structure. And because this choice was restricted to the working class, in opposition to all other class interests, it had to lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat as the precondition for its realization. In other words, the change in working-class ideology, being by and large a reflection of bourgeois ideology, would be the result of capitalism’s decay... (From : Marxists.org.)

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The workers’ failure to maintain control over their own destiny was due mainly to Russia’s general objective unreadiness for a socialist development, but also to the fact that neither the soviets, nor the socialist parties, knew how to go about organizing a socialist society. There was no historical precedent and Marxist theory had not seriously concerned itself with the problem of the socialist reconstruction of society. However, past revolutionary occurrences had some relevance, particularly as regards Russia, because of her general backwardness. Following Marx and Engels, Russian Marxists were apt to point to the Paris Commune as an example of a working-class revolution under similarly unfavorable conditions. Trotsky wrote, for instance, that it is not excluded that in a backward country with a lesser degree of capitalist development, the proletariat should sooner reach political supremacy than in a highly developed capitalist state. Thus, in mi... (From : Marxists.org.)

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Lenin’s state was to be a Bolshevik state supported by workers and peasants. As the privileged classes could not be expected to support it, it was necessary to disfranchize them and thus end bourgeois democracy. Once in power, the Bolsheviks restricted political freedoms – freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and the right to vote and to be elected to the soviets – to the laboring population, that is, to all people “who have acquired the means of living through labor that is productive and useful to society, that is, the laborers and employes of all classes who are employed in industry, trade, agriculture, etc., and to peasants and Cossack agricultural laborers who employ no help for purposes of making profits.” However, the peasants could not be integrated into the envisioned “one great factory,” which transformed “all citizens into the hired employes of the state,” for they had made their... (From : Marxists.org.)

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Contrary to Bolshevik expectations, the Russian Revolution remained a national revolution. Its international repercussions involved no more than a growing demand for the ending of the war. The Bolsheviks’ call for an immediate peace without annexations and reparations found a positive response among the soldiers and workers in the Western nations. But even so, and apart from short-lived mutinies in the French and British armed forces and a series of mass strikes in the Central European countries, it took another year before the military defeat of the German and Austrian armies and general war weariness led to the revolutionary upheavals that brought the war to a close. The here decisive German Revolution of 1918 was a spontaneous political upheaval, initiated within the armed forces but embracing at once, either actively or passively, the majority of the population, to bring the war and therewith the monarchical regime to an end. It was not seriously oppo... (From : Marxists.org.)

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In retrospect all lost causes appear as irrational endeavors, while those that succeed seem rational and justifiable. The goals of the defeated revolutionary minority have invariably been described as utopian and thus as indefensible. The term “utopian” does not apply, however, to objectively realizable projects, but to imaginary systems, which may or may not have concretely given material underpinnings that allow for their realization. There was nothing utopian in the attempt to gain control of society by way of workers’ councils and to end the market economy, for in the developed capitalist system the industrial proletariat is the determining factor in the social reproduction process as a whole, which is not necessarily associated with labor as wage labor. Whether a society is capitalist or socialist, in either case it is the working class that enables it to exist, production can be carried on without regard to its expansion in value terms and the re... (From : Marxists.org.)

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March 3, 2021; 4:44:59 PM (America/Los_Angeles)
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