There are many questions relevant to the survival and improvement of humanity’s living conditions on our planet for which it is worth looking hard for an answer. In this blog we will only address of two of them, not because the other questions are not relevant, but because these two (which I will formulate below) are the most neglected, despite their immense importance.
Moreover, we already know the answer to many of the other questions. Some of them are based on information not only publicly available, but even accessible on W3 (WWW). Others are available thanks to the hard and rigorous work of a small but tireless number of researchers. Here’s an example list:
— We know the mode of production of goods and services that reigns supreme throughout the planet, and how it works: it is the capitalist mode of production 1.
— We also know what the current conditions of production and exchange are that prevail within this ubiquitous mode of production and how the network of financial, political, military, police, user-friendly and communications institutions is structured to serve it.
The owners of the planet
— We know how many and which transnational companies control the bulk of industry, agriculture, trade and services on a global scale. We know that there are about 43,000 firms that operate in 113 countries. 2
— We know that 1,389 of these 43,000 transnational firms (TNF, for short) form the core of the global economy. This is because these 1,389 TNF, although representing only 20% of its group’s overall operating revenues, collectively own, through the shares they control, the largest “blue chip” firms 3 and the largest firms in the manufacturing industries (the so-called “real economy”), which represent 60% of global revenues.
— We know that each of these 1,389 TNF has links to two or more other firms. On average, each TNF of this central core has 20 connections with other firms. Graph 1 represents the interconnections between these 1,389 TNF. The superconnected firms are represented by the red buttons, the firms very connected by the yellow buttons. The button size indicates the revenue of the firm concerned.
— We also know that these 1,389 transnational firms are dominated, in turn, by a narrower core of 147 even more interconnected and more powerful transnational firms. These 147 transnational firms form a kind of “super-entity”, since they offer the particularity of the shareholder structure of each of them being controlled in whole or in part by the other members of this narrow group. This “super-entity” represents less than 0.5% of the 43,000 most interconnected transnational firms. However, it controls about 40% of the world’s wealth generated in this set thanks to the very high density of its financial interconnections. Graph 2 is a partial example (because it concerns only 18 of these 147 TNF), but very expressive, of these interconnections. 4
— We also know how many and which of these 147 transnational firms are the largest of all, those that dominate and overlap with all the others. Indicating the country where they have their headquarters (matrice/mother house/central administration) and the amount in US dollars ($) of the assets they manage, in 2017 these were. 5
- Black Rock (USA):$ 5.4 trillion
- Vanguard Group (USA): $ 4.4 trillion
- P. Morgan Chase Bank (USA): $ 3,8 trillion
- Allianz SE [PIMCO] (Germany/USA): $3.3 trillion
- UBS (Switzerland):$ 2.8 trillion
- Bank of America Merry Linch (USA): $2.5 trillion
- Barclays plc (United Kingdom): $2.5 trillion
- State Street Global Advisors (USA):$ 2.4 trillion
- Fidelity Investments [FMR] (USA): $2.1 trillion
- Bank of New York Mellon (USA): $1.7 trillion
- AXA Group (France): $1.5 trillion
- Capital Group (USA): $1.4 trillion
- Goldman Sachs Group (USA): $1.4 trillion
- Crédit Suisse (Switzerland): $1.3 trillion
- Prudential Financial (USA): $1.3 trillion
- Morgan, Stanley & Co (USA): $1.3 trillion
- Amundi/Crédit Agricole (France) : $1.1 trillion
These 17 firms, banks and financial firms, control a total of $41.1 trillion (this is an underestimation) or equivalently € 37.4 trillion. 6 As you can see from the list, each of these firms has more than $1 trillion in their portfolio, five have more than $2 trillion, 3 more than $ 3 trillion, and one reaches $5.4 trillion.
These 17 firms are the financial giants of world capitalism. Recently, three more transnational financial firms have also acquired the status of “giants” in that they each control an investment portfolio of more than US$1 trillion. The new giants are BNP Paribas of France (with $1.2 trillion under its control), Northern Trust of Chicago, USA (with $1.1 trillion) and Wellington Management Company of Boston, USA (with $1 trillion). Like their counterparts on the list above, these new giants too are interconnected with each other and with the other giants. 7
The capital under the control of these firms comes nominally from the world’s few thousand billionaires, many tens of thousands of non-financial firms (industrial, commercial, agricultural, service), and many pension funds that delegate to these gigantic investment management firms the task of investing their money in the market with the expectation of being able to obtain a profit rate well above average for their capital — i.e., from 3 to 10%.
— We know that a very small group of only 737 shareholders (0.61% of shareholders) concentrates in their hands the control of 80% of all the transnational firms in the world. The inequality in control between firms is 10 times greater than the inequality in the distribution of wealth in the world, which is already brutal in itself. 8 Moreover, we know that 50 shareholders (many of them are financial firms) control 39.78% of all TNF. That is, 80% of TNF are controlled by 737 shareholders, but half of them, 40%, are controlled by only 50 shareholders.
— We know how the canonical form of capital is personified, and the structure of its stratification. More specifically, we know that capital, in its canonical form (the one that prevails in the industrially and technologically more developed countries), is personified by people of a social class composed of several layers and that the upper layers (hereafter referred to by capital letters A to E), the most moneyed and the most powerful, are interconnected in many ways:
(A) the owners of those firms (including banks) that own and control the largest companies — that is, large individual shareholders, people of flesh and blood, who own the firms that own and control the institutions where the social means of production or exchange are combined in an organised manner with the human workforce necessary to produce and to make them function properly;
(B) managers (CEO, chairpersons, consultants, auditors) to whom the owners of firms often delegate the task of day-to-day management and making them grow;
(C) facilitators who plan, formulate, approve, or enforce the laws and public policies necessary to promote the interests of the two previous layers;
(D) the indoctrinators, eulogists and propagandists who advertise the goods and services, and/or make the apology of the alleged virtues and benefits of the world capitalist system through the elaboration and defense of pseudo- scientific doctrines (such as social Darwinism, the economic theory of subjective value, sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, genoeconomics, identity politics, critical race theory, woke capitalism) or/and a judicious use of the panoply of techniques developed by the “engineering of consent” 9 (propaganda, public relations, misleading advertising, concealment of facts, distortion of truth, fake news, misinformation, defamation, etc.);
(E) the protectors of the four previous layers, who are responsible for ensuring their collective security by using, if/where/when necessary and possible, the final resort: the threat of, and effective use of. armed violence, either by the State itself – that is, by the special institutions of coercion, repression and destruction that hold the legal monopoly on the use of weapons of war (police and military forces) within a country’s frontiers and also directly (US, UK, France, China, Russia, former Soviet Union) or through military alliances such as NATO, in the international arena– or, when the State is too cautious or reluctant, by private security firms and private paramilitary companies (a.k.a. mercenary companies) that constitute the most visible face of capital despotism not only on a national but also on the transnational level.
— We know how many and who are the individuals who constitute the plutocratic “elite” of the layer (A), the group of capitalists themselves. All we must do is look at the pages of Forbes magazine to find out the names of the 2,057 richest capitalists in the world. We know the approximate amount of their individual fortunes, which are always more than one billion US dollars, because only those with fortunes of that order of magnitude (here referred to as “billionaires”) have a place on this list. 10 The list of the 30 richest capitalists in the world in 2018 is as follows (b = billion; $= US dollars):
Name Fortune Age Source of income Country
1st Jeff Bezos, $131 b, 55 years old, Amazon, USA
2nd Bill Gates $96.5 b, 63, Microsoft, USA
3rd Warren Buffett $82.5 b, 88, Berkshire Hathaway, USA
4th Bernard Arnault $76 b, 70, LVMH, France
5th Carlos Slim Helu $64 b, 79, Telecom, Mexico
6th Amancio Ortega $62.7 b, 83, Zara, Spain
7th Larry Ellison $62.5 b, 74, computers, USA
8th Mark Zuckerberg $62.3 b, 34, Facebook, USA
9th Michael Bloomberg $55.5 b, 77, Bloomberg LP, USA
10th Larry Page $50.8 b, 46, Google ,USA
11th Charles Koch $50.5 b, 83, Koch Industries, USA
11th David Koch $50.5 b, 78, Koch Industries, USA
13th Mukesh Ambani, $50 b, 61, Oil & Gas, India
14th Sergey Brin $49.8b, 45, Google, USA
15th F. Bettencourt Meyers $49.3 b, 65, L’Oréal, France
16th Jim Walton $44.6 b,70, Walmart, USA
17th Alice Walton $44.4 b, 69, Walmart, USA
18th Rob Walton $44.3 b, 74, Walmart, USA
19th Steve Ballmer $41.2 b, 63, Microsoft USA
20th Ma Huateng $38.8 b, 4, internet, USA
21st Jack Ma $37.3 b, 54, e-commerce, USA
22nd Hui Ka Yan $36.2 b, 60, Real Estate, USA
23rd B. Heister & K. Albrecht Jr. $36 b, [?], supermarkets, Germany
24th Sheldon Adelson $35.1 b, 85, casinos, USA
25th Michael Dell $34.3 b, 54, Dell computers, USA
26th Phil Knight $33.4 b, 81, Nike, USA
27th David Thomson $32.5 b, 61, Media, Canada
28th Li Ka-shing $31.7 b, 90, miscellaneous, Hong Kong
29th Lee Shau Kee $30.1 b, 91, Real Estate, Hong kong
30th François Pinault $29.7 b, 82, luxury goods, France
— We know how many and who are the individuals who constitute the central core of the technocratic “elite” of the layer (B), the group of those who manage the giant transnational firms. There are only 197 individuals, mostly male and American (soon followed by smaller subgroups of Britons, French, German and Swiss), who hold very similar university degrees (mostly MBA’s in management), who are members of the same national and transnational organisations (such as the US Business Roundtable, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group), who attend the same meetings (such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, the International Monetary Conferences), and who all know each other.
Around this central core of the layer (B), gravitate transnational firms of business consulting, such as the so-called “Big Three”: McKinsey & Company (no central headquarters, present in 133 cities in 66 countries with 30,000 employees), Boston Consulting Group (headquartered in Boston, offices in 90 cities in 50 countries with 21,000 employees) and Bain & Company (headquartered in Boston, offices in 59 cities in 37 countries with 10,500 employees); transnational professional networks of auditing, risk investment consulting, tax planning, insurance and legal disputes, such as the so-called “Big Four” – Pricewaterhouse Coopers (headquartered in London, offices in 157 countries with 276,000 employees), Deloitte (headquartered in London, offices in 150 countries and 330,000 employees), Ernst & Young (headquartered in London, offices in 150 countries and 298,965 employees), and KPMG (headquartered in Amstelveen, The Netherlands, offices in 147 countries and 219,000 employees) – and transnational firms of technology media, research, data, marketing services, and events, such as International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) (headquartered in Needham, Massachusetts, offices in 147 countries and 3000 employees), which was recently acquired by Blackstone Inc., an American alternative investment management transnational firm based in New York City.
We could continue this examination with regard to the other layers (C), (D) and (E), which constitute the stratification or segmentation of the global capitalist class, and we would reach similar results. 11
— For example, we know what the major transnational institutions, both private and public (for which transnational implies multi-governmental) of the (C) layer are and how they operate, some of which [marked in blue] are virtually unknown to the general radio and television consuming public, and others, such as the credit rating agencies, which were virtually unknown to the general public until the outbreak of the 2008 crisis and the subsequent so-called “austerity” policies, when they became sadly famous for the disastrous role they played in both. 12
# They are the International Monetary Conferences (the oldest of all), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission, the World Bank [a.k.a the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA)], the G7, the G20, the World Trade Organisation, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and its numerous expert committees, such as the Committee on the Global Financial System, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency [one of the five members of the World Bank group], the Financial Stability Board, the European Central Bank, the G30, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Systemic Risk Council, the European Round Table of Industrialists, etc.
Another sector that also belongs to layer C, that is best known to the public through the press, is the credit rating agencies, which justify their existence with the purpose of rating the risk inherent in capitalist investments, such as Standard & Poor’s (headquartered in New York, with offices in 28 countries and more than 10,000 employees), Moody’s (headquartered in New York, with offices in 44 countries and 13,200 employees), and Fitch Group (headquartered in New York and London, with offices in 33 countries and 4,500 employees). These are known as the “Big Three” because they control about 95% of the financial rating market.
— We know which the major transnational firms are in (X) the online advertising (OA) and public relations business (PRB), and in (Y) the media and entertainment (ME) business, and how they operate — that is, those where the bulk of eulogists and propagandists of the layer D work.
# They are, in subcategory X, OA firms such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo, and PRB conglomerates such as WWP Group (a conglomerate of 125 PRB firms in 112 countries, with 190,000 employees and a revenue of $21.1 billion), Omnicom Group (a conglomerate of PRB firms with 74,000 employees in 200 branches, with a revenue of $15.2 billion), and Interpublic Group (with 49,700 employees in 88 branches, with a revenue of $7.9 billion).
# They are, in subcategory Y, ME firms such as Comcast Corporation (which controls television networks such as NBC and Telemundo, film and video producers such as Universal Pictures, and internet services, with a revenue of $ 80.4 billion), Time Warner (which operates in 150 countries, employs 25,000 people, controls HBO, Warner Bros, Turner Broadcasting and Cinemax, and has a revenue of $28.1 billion), and 21st Century Fox (which controls 21st Century Fox Films, Fox Broadcasting Company and Star TV, as well as the magazine and television network National Geographic, and has a revenue of $27.2 billion) and whose main shareholder, Rupert Murdoch, also owns 800 other firms in 50 countries.13
— We know which, in layer (E), are the main transnational organisations in charge of the protection and collective security of the institutions of global capitalism are and how they work.
# They are national State-based and multilateral national State-based military institutions headquartered in the most powerful countries or under their command, such as the US Department of Defense (also known as the Pentagon), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is an arm of the Pentagon, the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), etc.
# They are national State-based agencies of spying, intelligence collecting, stealth surveillance, interception, infiltration and destruction of “targets”, such as the CIA, the DIA, the NSA, the NRO, and the NGA in the USA; MI6, and MI5 in the UK; the DPSD and DGSE in France, etc.
# They are the big corporations that control the production of weapons and other war material, such as Lockheed Martin Corporation, Boeing Company, Raytheon, Northern Grumman Corporation, and General Dynamics Corporation in the USA; Thales, Safran, CEA, Dassault, Daher, and Nexter in France; British Aerospace Electronics (BAE) Systems, Rolls-Royce, Babcock International Group, GKN, Serco, and Meggitt in the United Kingdom; Rhein-Metall, ThyssenKrupp, and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann in Germany; Leonardo/Finnmecanica, and Fincatieri in Italy; Airbus and MBDA in the United Kingdom and France; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Fujitsu, IHI Corp., and NECCorp., in Japan, etc.
# They are the large private security firms (such as G4S, Securitas AB, ADT, AlliedBarton, DynCorp, Gardaworld, etc.), successors and competitors of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (1850) – which is nowadays a subsidiary of Securitas AB – and private companies of paramilitary mercenaries (such as Academi [ex- Blackwater], FDG Corp., MRPI, Aegis Defence Services, Erynis International, etc.).
— We know that the sum of the individuals of layer (C), layer (D) and layer (E), who constitute the “elite” of facilitators, propagandists and protectors of the transnational capitalist class on a global scale, does not exceed four hundred individuals. 14 These individuals, along with those of the managers’ “elite” (layer B) – i.e., about 600 individuals in total – are an important part of the so-called “superclass”, the 6,600 or 7,000 people (including the 2,057 billionaires on the Forbes list) who make up the summit of the transnational capitalist class. 15.The wealth accumulated by this “superclass” is immense. According to Oxfam, in 2019, the world’s largest billionaires, a group of only 2,153 people, have more wealth than 4,500 million people, well over half of the world’s population. 16
The power and influence of this “superclass” exceed those of any government. Just keep in mind that the 2,057 richest billionaires in the world on the Forbes list alone jointly own the fabulous fortune of $8,700 trillion. Investment decisions of this “superclass”, the capital they move, the profits they earn, the institutions they control, the influences they exert, do affect the jobs, income, housing conditions, health care, education, social security, leisure activities and amusements of hundreds of millions of wage workers and self-employed workers (including the parcel-of-land peasants) worldwide.
No one embodies the transnational capitalist class, which controls and governs the socio-economic, sociopolitical, and sociocultural life of the vast majority of human beings on a planetary scale, better than this group.
Strength versus opinion
These 7,000 individuals of the “superclass” make up 0.0001 % (a millionth part) of the world’s population. All together they could not fill the Atlantic Pavilion in Lisbon, which can house 12,500 seated people. This tiny minority is the central nucleus of the billionaire group, which is also tiny (0.8% of the world’s population), which controls 48% of the world’s wealth.
However, this tiny plutocratic oligarchy can largely command the fates of more than 7,500 million people, despite the tremendous instability of its mode of production (the capitalist mode of production, with its proverbial and recurring phases of expansion, recession, depression and recovery); despite the numerous wars it wages, despite the increasingly deadly weapons it promotes, despite the threat of nuclear holocaust that constantly weighs on humankind, 17 and despite the environmental degradation it causes in many places of the planet.
How is this is possible, despite the fact that, at least in the most industrially developed capitalist countries – in most of Europe (including the European part of the Russian Federation), in North America (USA and Canada), in Asia (Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan), in Australasia (Australia, New Zealand) – almost all the objective social conditions (industrial, scientific, technological, cultural) exist for the wage workers (the vast majority of the population) to self-organize and socially self-institute in a way that puts an end to all these scourges?
This is a fundamental question that is rarely or never asked, despite its importance. However, we do not need to look hard for the answer to this crucial question. It was given to us, in its general lines, in 1741 by the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), although few remember it:
Nothing appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are ruled by the few; and the implicit submission with which men renounce their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find that, as FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore only in opinion that the government is based; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and military governments, as well as to the most free and popular. The Soldan of EGYPT or the Emperor of ROME might drive their harmless subjects like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclinations: But he must, at least, have led his Mamalukes or Praetorian bands like men, by their opinion. 18
Economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), one of the most illustrious advocates of the capitalist mode of production and its ruling elites (i.e., oligarchies), prolonged David Hume’s conclusion in an original way.
He began by observing that the ruling classes, those occupying the top of the social pyramid in all societies divided into socio-economic classes, are divided, as a rule, into two elites [it was Pareto who gave this term its contemporary meaning]: the elite of the “lions” (who rule by the use of brute force, that is, by the monopoly of the use of weapons of war) and the elite of the “foxes” (who rule by the use of cunning, that is, by persuasion and cheating). The ideal ruling class, he pointed out, is one whose composition consists of appropriate proportions of “lions” and “foxes.” However, he said, it is always the “foxes” that must prevail if the ruling class wants to perpetuate itself in power. And he explained why:
The ruling class tries … to defend its power and prevent the danger of an uprising… in many ways … [The ruling class] uses derivation to keep [the oppressed] quiet, telling them that “all power comes from God,” that it is a “crime” to resort to violence, that there is no reason to use force to obtain what, if it is fair, can be obtained by “reason.” The main purpose of such derivations is to prevent [the oppressed] from fighting on their own ground, the land of force, and to take them to another ground — the field of cunning — where their defeat is certain. 19
N.B. In Pareto’s terminology “derivation” means the same, roughly speaking, as “propaganda” for the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church (as instantiated by the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, established by Pope Gregory XV in 1622), “opinion” for David Hume, “ideology” for Marx and Engels, “propaganda” for George Plekhanov, “agitprop” (portmanteau of “agitation” and “propaganda”) for Lenin, “engineering of consent” for Edward Bernays, and “ideological State apparatus” for Louis Althusser.
Hume’s remarks about “opinion” as an instrument of class domination did not have to wait for Pareto to become part of the education of the later ruling classes. There are good reasons to think that they were fully assimilated, from the industrial revolution onward, by the nascent capitalist class and its economic and political managers 20
One example out of a thousand: the ease with which the US population accepted the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by US troops and swallowed its pretext (the lies, cooked up in the highest spheres of the American State, that the regime of Sadam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction”, and also that it was to blame for the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York) was the result of a concerted effort involving the White House’s Global Communications Office, the CIA, and the US Department of Defense (also known as the Pentagon). This effort was carried out in particular through structures such as the Information Operations Task Force, a unit tasked with shaping public perception of Iraq; the Joint Combat Camera Program, a military unit of filmmakers and photographers, specialized PRP firms such as the Rendon Group, major ME firms such as CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, Fox News, and major mainstream newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. 21 The same holds true, mutatis mutandis, of the behavior of the British media in supporting the invasion of Iraq by UK troops alongside US troops. One case in point is the editorial in the magazine The Economist of 22 February 2003, entitled Why war would be justified, which begins thus: «Sadam Hussein must be disarmed. If necessary, it should be done by force».
It is through (a) the automatism of the asymmetric relations of ownership of the social means of production (and their prolongation in the asymmetric relations of the market) which constantly reproduce wage labour in one pole of society and capital in the other pole, 22 and (b) this sophisticated ability to fabricate the opinion that most suits it, to be believed and to make it ‘common sense’/‘commonplace’, that the capitalist class succeeds in dominating and ruling the rest of humanity on the economic and the political levels, respectively. It dominates and rules, in particular, the class which it created itself in order to expand throughout the entire planet, and which is the main source of its income and assets: the class of wage workers, the class of modern proletarians. 23
The fundamental element of the dominant opinion is the ideas that (i) there is not, nor could there be, an alternative mode of production better than the capitalist mode of production, 24 and that (ii) there is not, nor could there be, an alternative political system better than the elective oligarchy, especially when it takes the form of an elective plutocracy or a liberal oligarchy — commonly called by the oxymoron “representative democracy” or by the oxymoron “electoral democracy”, or by the undeserved and misleading expressions “democracy” and “liberal democracy”.
The most recent and also, in my opinion, the best (meaning: most comprehensive, best documented and most intellectually honest) simultaneous defense of these two theses is Branko Milanovic’s book, Capitalism, Alone. The Future of the System That Rules the World (2019). Its central message is, in a nutshell, that the hyper-commercialised and globalised capitalism that dominates the world today is a system intrinsically producing monstrous inequalities of income, wealth, education, and opportunity between peoples, groups, socio-economic classes, and countries. It is also, and for the same reasons, “an intrinsically amoral system”, which encourages people (all people) to be corrupt, greedy and hypocritical, as long as they can maintain a façade of being blameless, law-abiding citizens. However, there are no alternatives to this system. The alternatives that the world has tried in the past turned out to be worse; some of them much worse. So let us consider ourselves lucky to continue to abide by the norms of this system and happy to live under its baton! 25
Both ideas, (i) and (ii), which Milanovic defends with unusual candour, are false, as the articles posted on this blog will show.
The cooperative movement and the self-emancipation of workers
What the working classes of the different countries lack is certainly not the strength in numbers, which is overwhelmingly on their side (cf. note 23). Nor is it the ability to protest and fight against the different forms of exploitation and oppression of the traditional capitalist classes and their latest transnational American, European and Asian ruling elite.
During the two and a half centuries of the modern capitalist mode of production’s time of existence, the proletarian classes have fought with all kinds of forms of struggle, some of which are unprecedented in the history of the emancipatory struggles of humanity — such as boycotts, autoriduziones [self-reductions] (i.e., the organized movement by which consumers, in the area of consumption, and workers, in the area of production, take it upon themselves to reduce, at a collectively determined level, the price of public transportation, housing, electricity; or in the factory, the rate of productivity), 26 strikes, work-to-rule [i.e., go-slow] campaigns, “wildcat” strikes (i.e., without warning and without framing by a union bureaucracy), strikes with occupation of the workplace. In extreme cases, such as when employers have declared bankruptcy or run away to not pay wages, the struggles have sometimes led workers to take control of companies and keep them in business, while restructuring the working systems in accordance with the principles of cooperativism: autonomy, equality, mutual help, solidarity and democracy.
Even more: in the course of those two and a half centuries, the modern proletariat was also able to discover the path to its economic self-emancipation without needing any self-proclaimed partisan “elite” (mutato nomine, “vanguard”), no “revolutionary” aristocracy to have been able to do so. 27
Recall what Karl Marx said in this connection:
After a thirty years’ struggle, fought with most admirable perseverance, the English working classes, improving a momentaneous split between the landlords and money-lords, succeeded in carrying the Ten Hours’ Bill [the law passed in 1847 by the British parliament which set a 10-hour limit to the working day for women and children aged 13 to 18, E.N.]. The immense physical, moral, and intellectual benefits hence accruing to the factory operatives, half-yearly chronicled in the reports of the inspectors of factories, are now acknowledged on all sides. Most of the continental governments had to accept the English Factory Act in more or less modified forms, and the English Parliament itself is every year compelled to enlarge its sphere of action. (…) This struggle about the legal restriction of the hours of labour raged the more fiercely since, apart from frightened avarice, it told indeed upon the great contest between the blind rule of the supply and demand laws which form the political economy of the middle class, and social production controlled by social foresight, which forms the political economy of the working class. Hence the Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class [read: the class of capitalists and managers of capitalist firms, private and public, as a class distinct from the large landowners of pre-capitalist, seigneurial origin, E.N.] succumbed to the political economy of the working class.
But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labor over the political economy of property [than the Ten Hours’ Bill]. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the workingmen’s experiments tried on the Continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.
At the same time the experience of the period from 1848 to 1864 has proved beyond doubt that, however, excellent in principle and however useful in practice, co-operative labor, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries. It is perhaps for this very reason that plausible noblemen, philanthropic middle-class spouters, and even kept political economists have all at once turned nauseously complimentary to the very co-operative labor system they had vainly tried to nip in the bud by deriding it as the utopia of the dreamer, or stigmatizing it is the sacrilege of the socialist. To save the industrious masses, co-operative labor ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means (Karl Marx, “Inaugural Address of the International Workers Association”, October 1864). [E.N.=editorial note] [The emphasis in bold has been added by me, J.C.S.]28
We should not lose sight of the fact that Marx wrote these words more than 120 years before the national spaces of the capitalist economy were overtaken by transnational firms. In this sense, his words should be understood today as follows: «To save the labouring masses, the cooperative system must be developed in national and transnational dimensions and must therefore be promoted by national and transnational means.»
With this proviso, I believe that this passage shows well the way in which Karl Marx (1818-1883) strove to generalise, with the utmost clarity and brevity, the way in which the working class of his time proved itself capable of overcoming, by deeds rather than by arguments, David Hume’s maxim concerning the relationship between rulers and ruled (viz. «Although they are few, rulers will always win, because they are more cunning than the ruled»). Elsewhere in the same speech, Marx adds:
One element of success they [wage workers] have — numbers. But the numbers only weigh on the balance if they are joined by combination [meaning: by organised union of efforts and projects] and led by knowledge.
The message, as it turns out, is very similar to that which Hume sought to convey, in another context, with another purpose and in other words, in the aforementioned passage. It must be acknowledged, however, that this message has been almost completely obliterated. The very rich experience of the period from 1876 (date of the dissolution of the International Workingmen’s Association, an organisation remembered well) to the present day (2020) has proven beyond any reasonable doubt, but almost always in the negative, that the “numbers” attesting to the strength of wage-earners have rarely or never been united by a combination driven by the knowledge of what needs to be done to develop the cooperative system to national and international dimensions, and consequently what needs to be done to foster it by national and international means.
Now, without such knowledge, without the enunciation, the widest discussion and the assimilation of the facts and arguments on which it is based, not by an enlightened minority (much less by a supposedly enlightened minority that sets itself up as the leading vanguard of the proletariat, a clear sign that it aspires to take the place occupied today by the managers of the capitalist class), but by hundreds of millions of wage workers, the socio-economic and socio-political self-emancipation of workers through the self-institution of «the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers» 29 – or socialism/communism, if we want to call it that, by washing the grimy face of these twin terms that has resulted from the countless misdeeds committed on their behalf by shrewd and ruthless demagogues – is not possible, because it can only succeed if it is the work of the workers themselves.
I can now formulate, without running the risk of being misunderstood, the two problems that this blog will deal with exclusively. I will formulate them in the form of questions (Q):
Q.1) What should the institutional architecture be of a society of autonomous individuals, freely associated as equal producers in cooperative enterprises and other egalitarian forms of economic organisation – such as P2P networking –, cybernetically coordinated with each other through a computerised global production plan that has been democratically discussed and approved by universal suffrage?
In other words, what should be changed in our present-day civilization so that we can live not only in a technologically advanced society but also in a integrally democratic society, with no commodity production, no wage labour, no socio-economic classes and no State, well connected with the planet Earth through an unwavering commitment to the unceasing progress of explanatory (philosophical, scientific, and technological) knowledge, especially in the fields of health, food security, energy, and the climate? 30
Q.2) What concrete measures and actions can we implement in the next five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years to institute (if we want to assume ourselves as constituent citizens) this better alternative to the capitalist society that makes fools of us ?
When I say “we” I refer in particular to wage workers and young students who are preparing to become workers, since, in the population as whole, we are at one and the same time hoi aporoi (“those with few economic resources”) and hoi polloi (“the most numerous”), as Aristotle said in his treatise on Politics, referring to the majority of citizens (craftsmen, day labourers, merchants, and small farmers) who wielded power in the Athenian democracy of the 5th and 4th centuries BC.
The second question is much more difficult and touchy than the first. But without a full answer to the first, it is not possible to give an answer with feet and head to the second. We cannot put aside an in-depth study and discussion of how an integrally democratic post-capitalist society should be organised. In Marx’s time (when the class of industrial wage workers was still a minority in the world, including in North America and Western Europe itself, with the sole exception of England), this was permissible, but not today. In Marx’s time the technological prerequisites of socialism/communism did not exist. Today they do (a point I will elaborate on another time 31). On the other hand, we cannot pretend that the 20th century did not exist, or that it did not teach us anything, especially about socialism/communism and about pseudo socialism/pseudo communism.
On the contrary, we must recover, comb through, and develop all the lessons that the 20th century has taught us, including
(a) the ideas of planning in kind that Otto Neurath developed from the experience of the war economy in Germany during World War I, although free from the fantasy of planning material production and distribution by dispensing with a unit of account;
(b) the theoretical proposals that Jan Appel and the GIC developed in 1930 for the production and distribution in a post-capitalist society, which constituted the first attempt on the part of the working class movement in Western Europe to address the problem of the construction of socialism/ communism on the basis of «the association of free and equal producers» (Marx); 32
(c) the theoretical advances in the political economy of socialism that managed to flourish sporadically, briefly, and as counter-currents in Stalinist and neo-Stalinist USSR, before the sinking of its experiment in non-democratic planning.
With respect to (c), this is the case, for example, with Stanislav Strumilin’s daily time-use surveys; with the method of material balances used in the preparation of the five-year plans and systematized by Wassily Leontief’s input-output matrices; with Leonid Kantorovich’s linear programming method; with Anatoly Ivanovich Kitov’s “Automated System of Economic Management”; with Victor Mikhailovich Glushkov’s “National Automated System of Computing and Information Processing” (known in Russian by the acronym OGAS); and with Nikolay Ivanovich Veduta’s “cybernetic economy” based on a dynamic input-output equilibrium model using the iterative method of successive approximations that serve as a basis for coordinating computerised planning calculations. All of these were conceived as tools for planned, de-concentrated and cybernetic management of the economic system, but never put into practice because of the incomprehension and opposition of the Nomenklatura (the Russian name for the ruling technobureaucratic oligarchy). 33
This is also the case, a long way from the USSR, of the similar project of cybernetically planned economic management called CyberSyn (or Synco in Spanish), outlined by the British cyberneticist Stafford Beer for the public sector of Chile’s economy (260 companies at the time), at the request of Salvador Allende’s government, before it was overthrown by the military coup d’état of General Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973. 34
The meaning of the two aforementioned questions can be understood by reading the articles in this blog — those that are part of the current collection and also, I hope, those published later. The authors (who have authorised the posting of their articles on Site with a View) are of different nationalities, speak different native languages, have different backgrounds and do not all agree on how to answer these questions. There are notable differences between them. But all converge on the urgent need to give these questions an answer that is as robust and consistent as possible and submitting them to public scrutiny and debate.
Lisbon, 13 October 2021
Author’s note. This text is my translation of Apresentação do Blogue “Sítio com Vista” (April 25, 2019) which is published alongside this one on this blog. I gratefully acknowledge Al Campbell for his incentive to do this English translation (which was not in my plans) and for his careful proofreading of its English prose.
[*] José Catarino Soares – the creator, owner and webmaster of this blog – is a Portuguese linguist living in Lisbon, Portugal. He holds a PhD in linguistics from the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris. He has taught and researched for almost three decades in higher polytechnic education in Portugal, where he was a coordinating professor. Before devoting himself to linguistics, his main and favourite area of research, he taught sociology, where he also holds a degree. Today, he is an independent researcher.
Notes and References
- It is interesting to note that, for almost a century, this mode of production did not have its own name that clearly identified it. The person responsible for this act of baptism – concomitant with the thorough and pioneering analysis of this mode of production in his book Das Kapital – was Karl Marx. The act of baptism itself took place in the preface to the first edition (1867), in German, of the first volume of Capital. Therein Marx wrote: «In this work I have to examine the capitalist mode of production, and the conditions of production and exchange corresponding to that mode. Up to the present time, their classic ground is England. That is the reason why England is used as the chief illustration in the development of my theoretical ideas.» (from the English translation (1887) of Das Kapital by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling and edited by Friedrich Engels). Earlier, the French socialist Louis Blanc had used the word “capitalism” in a somewhat similar sense. In his book L’Organisation du Travail (1850), ninth revised and increased edition, Louis Blanc wrote: «This sophism [by Frédéric Bastiat on the legitimacy of interest, E.N.] it consists in perpetually confusing the usefulness of capital with what I will call capitalism, that is, the appropriation of capital by some, excluding others” (p.181). [E.N. = editorial note]
- We know this thanks to a recent study by Stefania Vitali, James B. Glattfelder and Steffano Battiston, “The Network of Global Corporate Control”, PLoS ONE, Volume 6, No. 10 (October 21, 2011), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0025 995. The authors start from the 37 million firms and investors in the Orbis 2007 database, published by the OECD, as well as from a list of 43,060 transnational firms (which I will call, for short, “TNF”) extracted by the authors from that database. Based on this information, their study focuses on the construction and analysis of the control relationship chart between firms (which firms hold the shares of others) taking into account the revenues of each firm, in order to detect the structure of economic power. The power of these transnational firms to determine internally, autonomously and on a global scale the labor processes, raw material flows and auxiliary materials, financial transactions and the national division/location of the different stages of production, is the current and most potent form of the high command of industry by capital, which Marx called the despotism of capital or autocracy of capital (Karl Marx, Capital. Volume I, in the English translation of Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling , edited by Friedrich Engels, pp. 276, 286, 291, 448, 451) «The factory code [of discipline] in which capital formulates, like a private legislator, and at his own good will, his autocracy over his workpeople, unaccompanied by that division of responsibility, in other matters so much approved of by the bourgeoisie, and unaccompanied by the still more approved representative system, this code is but the capitalistic caricature of that social regulation of the labour-process which becomes requisite in co-operation on a great scale, and in the employment in common, of instruments of labour and especially of machinery. The place of the slave-driver’s lash is taken by the overlooker’s book of penalties. All punishments naturally resolve themselves into fines and deductions from wages, and the law-giving talent of the factory Lycurgus so arranges matters, that a violation of his laws is, if possible, more profitable to him than the keeping of them”. (p. 276). In other passages of Capital, Marx adds: «An industrial army of workmen, under the command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers), and sergeants (foremen, overlookers), who, while the work is being done, command in the name of the capitalist. The work of supervision becomes their established and exclusive function. When comparing the mode of production of isolated peasants and artisans with production by slave-labour, the political economist counts this labour of superintendence among the faux frais of production. But, when considering the capitalist mode of production, he, on the contrary, treats the work of control made necessary by the co-operative character of the labour-process as identical with the different work of control, necessitated by the capitalist character of that process and the antagonism of interests between capitalist and labourer. It is not because he is a leader of industry that a man is a capitalist; on the contrary, he is a leader of industry because he is a capitalist. The leadership of industry is an attribute of capital, just as in feudal times the functions of general and judge, were attributes of landed property» (p.232). And yet: «This power of Asiatic and Egyptian kings, Etruscan theocrats, etc., has in modern society been transferred to the capitalist, whether he be an isolated, or as in joint-stock companies, a collective capitalist» (p.233). Referring to transnational firms, and quite possibly inspired by these analyses and descriptions of Marx, João Bernardo [J.B.] rechristened the “despotism/autocracy of capital” as the Broad State. Transnational firms (not to be confused with multinational firms – see Samuel J. Palmisano, “The Globally Integrated Enterprise” (Foreign Affairs, vol. 85, Number 3, 2006) – which did not exist in Marx’s time, not even until the 1970s of the 20th century, have the ability to pursue their own strategy, independently of the Narrow States (a term that J.B. applies to governments, parliaments and judicial bodies of modern-day countries, with their concomitant armed arms: police and military forces, as opposed to the Broad State), both in the countries where their headquarters are established and in those where their subsidiaries are established. «They are not an agent of either foreign government, as those who still reason in strictly national terms think today. Transnational companies themselves are a power, the most important in the present time. (…) [What] is now called neoliberalism is no more than the hegemony exercised over the Narrow State by transnational companies, as determining elements of the Broad State» (João Bernardo, Estado.A Silenciosa Multiplicação do Poder [State. The Silent Multiplication of Power] São Paulo: Escrituras, 1998, p.26). In other words, the scope of the Narrow State’s sphere of action is most often – even for the most powerful States – limited to the national/territorial borders between countries. In contrast, many of the actions and relations of transnational firms which, in view of the borders of the Narrow State, one would be led to characterise as external, are in fact located within the internal sphere of action of the Broad State. This is the case with investments, subcontracting, franchise contracts, technology transfer contracts, management contracts, strategic alliances, etc. P.S. [December 16, 2022] This theory of J.B. has been put to the empirical test — a very wide and stressful one — by the second war in Ukraine (the one which began on 24 February 2022 with the invasion of the Ukraine by Russian troops). This test proved that the Broad State of the so-called Wider Occident ou Collective Occident aligned itself for the most part (even if it suffred huge economic and financial losses) with the Narrow State, instead of the reverse, as one would expect if the theory were true. I therefore consider that J.B.’s theory has been empirically refuted by this test. If it is to survive, it will have to be thorougly remodelled, starting by reversing its terminology.
- In stockbrokers’ jargon, the “blue chips” are well-known, well-established and well-capitalized firms (or firm shares), which is why these firms and the shares they issue are considered safe investments. The term “blue chip”, employed in this sense, comes from poker, a game in which blue chips are among the most valuable.
- This chart, like the previous one, was taken from the article by Stefania Vitali, James B. Glattfelder and Steffano Battiston, “The Network of Global Corporate Control” (cf. Note 2, above). The graph’s nodes [small red spheres] represent firms, and two determined nodes, A and B, are connected by an arc that goes from A to B, if A can control B by having more than 50% of their shares. The authors analyze “only” the chart of firms controlled by a TNF or that control a TNF. In fact, there are many cases of reciprocal control between TNFs.
- Cf. Peter Phillips, Giants: The Global Power Elite (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018, p.37).
- At today’s exchange rate (10-04-2019) 1 US dollar is equivalent to 0.88 euros
- Cf. Peter Phillips, op.cit. , p.49.
- See Facundo Alvaredo et al., The World Inequality Report 2018 (Paris: World Inequality Lab, 2017), https://wir2018.wid.world/. The article Towards Integral Democracy, published in this blog, refers to some of the figures of this and other reports that illustrate the brutal inequality of wealth (income and heritage) between individuals (rich and poor) within countries and on a global scale.
- The concept and expression are by Edward Bernays, “The engineering of Consent” (1947), Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 250 (1): 113–120.
- “Forbes’s 32nd Annual World’s Billionaires Issue” March 6, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbespr/2018/03/06/forbes-32nd-annual-worlds-billionaires-issue/?sh=1a97b1f810e0.
- On transnational institutions controlled by the “elite” layer (C), see Handbook of Transnational Governance : Institutions & Innovations, eds. Thomas Hale & David Held (Cambridge: UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011). About the “elite” layer (E), see P.W. Singer, Corporate warriors: the Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (New Delhi: Manas Publication, 2005); Robert Young Pelton, Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror (New York: Crown publishers, 2006); Jeremy Scalhill, Blackwater: The rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation Books, 2007); Steve Fainaru, Big Boy Rules:America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Irak (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2008); Shawn Engbretch, America’s Covert Warriors: Inside the World of Private Military Contractors (Dulles, Va: Potomack Books, 2011); Luke McKenna and Robert Johnson, “A Look at the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Armies,” (Business Insider, February 26, 2012 (https://www. businessinsider.com/bi-mercenary-armies-2012-2); “The Largest Company You’ve Never heard of: G4S and the London Olympics” (International Business Times, 5 August 2012, http://www. ibtimes.com/largest-company-youve-neverheard-g4s-london-olympics–739232); Christian Davenport, “Companies Can Spend Millions on Security Measures to Keep Executives Safe” (June 6, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost/business/economy/companies-can-spend-millions-on-security-measures-to-keep-executives-safe/2014/06/5f500350-e802-11e3-afc6-a1dd9407abc f_story.html; John Whitehead, “Private Police: Mercenaries for The American Police State”(OpEd News,March 4, 2015, http://www.opednews.com/articles/Private-Police-Mercenarie-by-John-Whitehead-Police-Abuse-of-Power_PoliceBrutality_PoliceCoverup_Police-State-150304-539. html). On the “elite” layer (D), see Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988); Noam Chomsky, Media Control. 2nd Edition (New York: Seven Stories Press. Open Media Series, 2002); David I. Robb, Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies (New York: Prometheus Books, 2004); Ben H. Bagdikian, The New Media Monopoly (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014); Lee Artz, Global Entertainment Media: A Critical Introduction (Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons, 2015); Tom Secker & Mathew Alford, “Documents Expose How Hollywood Promotes War on Behalf of the Pentagon, CIA and NSA”, Global Research, 7 May 2019, Medium 4 July 2017 (https://www.globalresearch.ca/documents-expose-how-hollywood-promotes-war-on-behalf-of-the-pentagon-cia-and-nsa/5597891); Peter Phillips, op.cit., chapter 6.
- It should be noted in this regard that the 2008 financial-economic crisis brought to light a very large structural weakness of these institutions, which remains unresolved to this day: «One of the major weaknesses indicated by the financial crisis triggered in 2007 is the insufficient coordination between the transnational sphere of economic activity and the regulatory institutions limited to nations or conglomerates of nations. Perhaps the most flagrant expression of this contradiction is the use of the US national currency as the main world currency of a transnationalised economy. […] It is paradoxical that a national currency is used as the main reserve of a transnationalized economy, and that the transnationalization of the economy is not coordinated with the maintenance of national spaces». (João Bernardo, “Ainda acerca da crise económica. 7) uma crise de regulação”. Passa Palavra. 7 October 2010).
- Peter Phillips, op. cit., cap.6.
- More exactly 389 in 2017. Cf. Peter Phillipps, op.cit., p.29.
- See David Rothkopf, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009).
- “Time to Care: unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis”. Oxfam Briefing Paper. January 2020. https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/worlds-billionaires-have-more-wealth-46-billion-people
- The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by scientists at the University of Chicago (USA), who had participated in the development of the first atomic weapons during the so-called Manhattan Project. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the image of the apocalypse (midnight) and contemporary slang of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero [= midnight]) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or leave it) the minute/second hand of the Doomsday Clock is made each year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Council in conjunction with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates. The Doomsday Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to a catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons, climate change and disruptive technologies in other areas. On January 23, 2020 the minute/second hand of the Doomsday Clock was moved to 100 seconds before midnight. It is now closer than ever to the fatal instant (cf. “It is 100 seconds to midnight. 2020 Doomsday Clock Statement”. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists).
- “Of the First Principles of Government”, David Hume (1777), Essays — Moral, Political, and Literary (Revised edition. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1985, 1987). In 1845-1846, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in German Ideology – a book they never published during their lifetime – developed Hume’s argument in a more comprehensive and abstract way: «The ideas of the ruling class are in all times the dominant ideas, that is, the class that is the dominant material force of society is, at the same time, the dominant intellectual force. The class which has the means of production, at the same time has control of the means of mental production, so that, in that way, the ideas of those who do not have the means of production are generally subordinated to that class. (…). Therefore, to the extent that [the members of this class, E.N.] dominate as a class and determine the extent and course of an era, it is obvious that they do so in all their reach. That is why, among other things, they also do as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and that regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their time. Therefore, his ideas are the dominant ideas of the time» (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Collected Works,Vol. 5. New York: International Publishers, 59). Georges Orwell (1903-1950) developed Marx and Engels’ argument in an important aspect — that of regulating the production and distribution of ideas of an era — which became evident in the 20th century (although, apparently, Orwell did not do so with this intention, as he never refers to either Marx and Engels or Hume). He did so in his preface to Animal Farm, entitled The Freedom of the Press, which the editors of the 1st edition of Animal Farm (1945) decided to delete and it was only discovered and published posthumously many years later. In this text, Orwell identifies one of the most powerful allies, and the most low-profile, of the ruling class: the intellectual cowardice of many book publishers and of many editors responsible for the contents of media outlets that leads them to censor and self-censor the opinions and facts that displease the established powers, as well as the conformism of many writers, journalists and public intellectuals who tacitly or explicitly support such attitudes and behaviors. In turn, João Bernardo criticized the limitations of Marx and Engels’ thesis in the following terms. «Marx and Engels’ so-called thesis that dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class is incomplete. It is also wrong in the one-way mechanism it supposes, because the ruling classes also appropriate the ideas of the exploited, convert and shape them, just as the same is the opposite. The dominant ideology is a web imbricated with ideas from the various opposing classes, and this is the ideological cement of society. When ideas of different origin merge into an amalgam whose components have an undistinguishable origin, the common place arises, which is the strongest form of ideological rooting». (“Post-Scriptum: contra a ecologia, lugar comum dos nossos dias.” [Post-Scriptum: against ecology, common place of nowadays] Passa Palavra, 06-09-2013. https://passapalavra.info/2013/09/83039/ [my translation]).
- Vilfredo Pareto. Mind and Society [English translation of the Tratatto di Sociologia Generale]. Vol.4. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1935, cap.12, p. 1534.
- Including tyrants such as António Oliveira Salazar (Portuguese statesman who served as the prime minister of Portugal from 1932 to 1968) who knew well that strength and repression were not enough to stay in power, as witnessed by the following statement: «Public opinion is indispensable to the life of any regime. Governments, no matter how much support they have, are not sustained by using force, but by maintaining it (…) Simply that public opinion can live abandoned to itself or be conveniently directed (…) Governments must never enslave themselves to the opinion of the masses, which is always inferior and very different from the public opinion of the Nation. In short, public opinion is indispensable to the government of the people, it is sometimes a great stimulant, but for the sake of its own health, control over its formation must never be lost. (Salazar’s 7th interview with António Ferro, in António Ferro, Entrevistas com Salazar [Interviews with Salazar]. Parceria A.M. Pereira, 2003), most especially by its current ruling transnational “elite”, the so-called “superclass.”
- See James Bamford, “The man who Sold the War” (Rolling Stone, November 2005), republished by Common Dreams on November 18, 2005 (https://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1118-10.htm); Ray Eldon Hiebert, “Public Relations and Propaganda in Framing the Irak War: A Preliminary Review,” Public Relations Review, 29(3), 243-255; David L. Altheid & Jenniffer N. Grimes, “War programming. The Propaganda Project and the Iraq War,” Sociological Quarterly 46, No. 4 (autumn 2005), pp.617\u201243; Bill Moyers “Buying the War”, Bill Moyers Journal PBS, April 25, 2007; John Pilger, “War by Media and the Triumph of Propaganda”, 5 December 2014, http://johnpilger.com/articles/war-by-media-and-the-triumph-of-propaganda; Robin Andersen, “Bush, Blair and the lies that justified the illegal Iraq war,” July 6, 2016, Fair, https://fair.org/home/bush-blair-and-the-lies-that-justified-the-illegal-iraq-war
- By controlling the social means of producing goods and services, capitalists control not only our total working time, but also the surplus value (the part of the work that exceeds in value the value of the workforce that is paid as wages) and the products (goods and services) that we, wage workers, produce —including many of the things we need to live for — and the only legal way we have to access them is to buy them with money which, however, in full or in large part, we can only get by working for them.
- The class of wage workers employed by capitalist firms (also called “employees” or “proletarians”) has never been more numerous than it is today. There were 2,320 million salaried workers worldwide in 1990. In 2018 there were 3,457 million (cf. The World Bank. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF. ToTL.INData. April 2019). The world’s population in the same year was around 7,594 million people, according to the Worldometer.
- One of the most important lessons to be learned from Marx’s Capital is the explanation of how the capitalist exploitation of wage labor presents itself in the eyes of salaried workers (as well as in the eyes of capitalists and managers themselves) as the natural and direct result of relations of equality and freedom between buyers and sellers of the labor force in the “free market”. For example, the illusions of workers who confuse low wages and poverty with greater exploitation, and high wages and higher material consumption with less exploitation directly express the opacity of the relative surplus value mechanism in the social situation in which they live and work. Capitalists and managers, the owners of the social means of production, do not, as a general rule, need to use force (or even threaten with its use) or deceive workers into renting their workforce for a certain daily or weekly time in exchange for a salary. It is the need to ensure their daily livelihood and that of their families, combined with the absence of better alternatives, that leads them very “naturally” to do so, under penalty of dying of hunger — unless they resort to theft, extortion or begging and bear the heavy consequences that these individual solutions entail.
- Branko Milanovic, Capitalism, Alone ‒ The Future of the System That Rules the World. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge: Massachusetts, London: England. 2019.
- For example, in 1973, for a period in Turin, the movement of self-reduction posed a goal of limiting rent to 10% of one’s salary.
- Aristocracy, in the original Greek, etymological sense of the word, meant the exercise of political power by the Aristoi, by the “best”, by individuals considered the most capable. In practice, in an elective oligarchy such as the one in force in the UK, the USA, France, Sweden, Portugal, etc., the “best” always end up being the richest, the most ruthless, and the best informed about Hume’s first principles of government. The best example of this is the USA where only candidates who are rich or ultra-rich (millionaires and billionaires) or patronized by the rich and ultra-rich can campaign and get elected. For example, President Donald Trump continued to raise donations for his re-election campaign, even after he lost it. From polling day until December 3, 2020, he had already raised $207.5 million, which will serve him to run again in 2024, if he gives it to him (Shane Goldmacher, “Trump lost the 2020 election. He has raised $207.5 million since”. The New York Times. December 3, 2020). His rival, Joe Biden, who was eventually elected, is not far behind in this particular. «Joe Biden is particularly indebted to these ultra-rich [who have grown even richer since the pandemic began] who, with donations of $100,000 or more, have raised $200 million for his campaign in six months. The main centres of financial power in the United States – Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Holliday, the investment funds – recognise in him a president who does not risk threatening their interests. (Jerome Karabel, “A Trumpism without Donald Trump”. Le Monde Diplomatique. Edição Portuguesa [Portuguese edition]. December 2020). This is one of the reasons why the US elective oligarchic/“aristocratic” regime has long since taken the form of an elective plutocracy, one of the forms of political power most antagonistic to democracy.
- Karl Marx. Inaugural Address and Provisional Rules of the International Working Men’s Association. London, October 1864. https:// www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/10/27.htm.
- This expression is from Karl Marx (cf. Karl Marx , “Instructions to the Delegates of the Provisional General Council [to the 1st congress of the International Workingmen’s Association, Geneva, E.N.]. The Different Questions.” (In Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, vol.20. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2010, p.190). The quoted phrase is taken from paragraph (a) of section 5 of this text by K. Marx, entitled Cooperative Labour. Marx used it to briefly describe the fundamental characteristics of a social formation built upon the socialist/ communist mode of production. The full paragraph (a) from which the quoted sentence was taken reads as follows: “We acknowledge the co-operative movement as one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is to practically show that the present pauperising, and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers.” The italicised highlighting belongs to the original.
- “With no State” — that is, without professional (i.e., full-time career job) politicians, without professional judges, without professional prosecutors and without professional forces of armed agents (police and military), separated from the citizenry by multiple layers of institutional isolation. The key words here are “professional” and “separated”. They are meant to underline, in the negative, the reasons why all public functions that are necessitated by the general and common wants of «the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers» (such as, for example, public safety, the settlement of disputes, the trial of crimes) – or that may be temporarily necessitated by a special purpose (such as, for example, to ensure militia self-defence against class enemies armed with weapons of war) – should be, as a matter of principle, snatched from the hands of trained castes to be assigned and distributed by lot or roster, and for short terms, to all citizens under a certain age (say, 50 years age) who enjoy good health and are sufficiently robust or able-bodied. As George Orwell put in the Evening Standard, in June 1941: “That rifle hanging on the wall of the working class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy”. Orwell, a sergeant in the Home Guard (an armed citizen militia of voluntary enlistment that emerged spontaneously during World War II), was stressing that the idea of arming the volunteers of the Home Guard, with its bulk formed by the wage workers of Great Britain, was a good idea, if only because Hitler would be much more easily defeated «if class privilege is wiped out and socialism brought in» (ibid.). In this connection, it is pertinent to make a caveat. The use of professional agents to perform particular tasks related to the aforementioned public functions – for example, the existence of a small force of professional detectives in charge of the investigation of serious crimes, or the existence of small corps of military experts/strategists in charge of the training of armed citizen militias – should be strictly auxiliary and supplementary in nature. This amounts to saying that the initiative and the control in all public functions of the association of free and equal producers, even those that would belong to the military and police forces in today’s capitalist society, are to be reserved to councils made up of ordinary citizens chosen by lot or (within small groups) roster, and for short terms. (Orwell’s aforementioned opinions are quoted by Hugh Purcell, The Last English Revolutionary: Tom Wintringham, 1898-1949 (Stroud, 2004), pp.173-4 and p.179, respectively).
- I did that in a paper entitled “The beneficent principle of post-capitalist, industrial, technologically advanced and fully democratic societies, without socio-economic classes or State (a.k.a. socialist/communist societies)” that I have presented at the IIPPE 11th annual conference  in political economy (“The Pandemic and the Future of Capitalism”) in IIPPE Moving Beyond Capitalism Working Group (MBC WG), Monday September 15, 2021. The paper also answers the first question (Q.1) posed in the main body of this article. This paper is posted elsewhere on this blog.
- I refer to the book Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution (1930). This is the first and now classic (although much forgotten) exposition of the economics of communism (in its first or lower stage) and indeed – apart from the first outline sketches given by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, upon which the book is based – the only one ever to have been produced until the late 1970s outside the former Soviet Union. The first working draft of Fundamental Principles…was the work of Jan Appel, a German shipyard worker and veteran member of the KAPD (Communist Workers’ Party of Germany, formed on 1920, from a split in the KPD, the Communist Party of Germany, formed in 1918 and connected with the Soviet Union). This draft was subsequently revised and completed in Dutch by a collective composed of members of the Group of International Communists (GIC) of Holland and published in German by the Allgemeine Arbeiterunion Deutschlands (General Workers’ Union of Germany) in 1930. Appel and the GIK were council communists, like the German theorists Otto Rühle and Paul Mattick and the Dutch theorist Anton Pannekoek. This means that they strongly opposed (among other things) the doctrine that the construction of a socialist/communist society amounts to implement a centralized State control over the productive forces, and that the economic planning and socialization of production and distribution are the job of a wide body of expert managers under the control of the government (itself under the control of a prescient and all-powerful party), and not the task of the workers-producers-citizens themselves. At the outset of World War I, this doctrine was the common heritage of the two rival wings of social democracy, center and left, epitomized, respectively, by the pacifist faction of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), which opposed World War I in Germany and left the SPD in 1917 for the short-lived Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), and the defeatist faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party (a.k.a. Bolshevik Party), which opposed World War I and seized power in October 1917. One can see the similarity of their views on the construction of socialism/communism by reading their leading theorists, such as, for example, Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, on the one hand, and Vladimir Lenin, Nikolai Bukharin, Ievguéni Preobajensky, on the other.
- This is the case, for instance, with Glushkov’s OGAS system, a typical example of what happens when you put the cart before the horse. See the interesting testimony of Elena Veduta (daughter of Nicolay Veduta) about the great limitations of Victor Glushkov as an economist, despite being a great mathematician and inventor (interview to Elena Veduta by Andrei Fefelov at https://zavtra.ru/blogs/rationalization).
- The story of the cybernetic projects of computer-planned management of the USSR economy of Anatoly I. Kitov (in 1959) and Viktor Gluschkov (in 1962), which never reached the execution stage, has been well told by Slava Gerovich in his book From Newspeak to Cyberspeak. A History of Soviet Cybernetics (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press 2002), and by Benjamin Peters in his book How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2016). From these same authors, it is also worth reading the articles “InterNyet: why the Soviet Union did not build a nationwide computer network” by Slava Gerovitch (History and Technology. Vol. 24, No. 4 [Dec 2008], pp. 335-350). and “Why the Soviet Internet Failed” by Benjamin Peters (MIT 6 Conference, April 29, 2009). The story of Stafford Beer’s CyberSyn [or Synco in Spanish] project was well told by himself in Platform for Change (London: Wiley, 1975), as well as by Eden Medina in her article “The Cybersyn Revolution: Five lessons from a socialist computing project in Salvador Allende’s Chile” (Jacobin magazine, 27-04-2015) and, in much more detail, in her book Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile (Cambridge: Massachusetts. The MIT Press, 2011). Elsewhere in this blog, readers can find five articles on this topic, by Paul Cockshott & Allin Cottrell, Raúl Espejo, Katharina Loeber, Jeremy Gross and José Catarino Soares, respectively).