Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.


Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 68September 2018

Class and class analysis

Editorial Note: This article is a collective work based on a debate on the Editorial Board of Communist Review, Britain. It was printed for the first time in Communist Review No. 88, 2018.

“Thoughts live easily together, yet in space things push harshly against each other”

The ideological struggle plays an increasingly important role in the class struggle today. The strengthening and elaboration of the ideological unity of the communist movement, is one of the most important ways to bring new progress to the labour movement. Instead of highlighting the differences, we must seek unity about all that unites by using the method of unity in action. This also applies to class analysis.

Class analysis and class theory is indispensable for any communist party. Without theory and analysis of social conditions, it is impossible to determine a political course that leads to progress. It is incredibly easy, in today’s media-driven society, to be a victim of any kind of voluntarism and spontaneity. In his first major work, What is to be Done?, Lenin elucidated the significance of theory and the need to overcome voluntarism In the labour movement.[1] It was a process that 15 years later secured victory for the Russian Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. These experiences not only relate to Russia, but are fundamental guidelines for all revolutionaries once adapted to existing conditions.

Class analysis

The issue of class analysis took almost a religious character in the late 1980s. The Scientific and Technical Revolution caused changes in the production process, and in society as well, and these formed the material basis for the discussions. Among the participants in the debate were several who thought that we were moving away from the old-type production community, towards a knowledge society or post-industrial society, as it was termed. These theories would later form the basis for a new trend in the labour movement, the so-called “New Left”. In fact the ideas were not new, but a revival of utopian socialism in new forms. The great advantage of Marxism is its scientific outlook in all aspects of life, whereas the utopian outlook is an idealist view hoping to convince the ruling classes of a more reasonable policy. It is like asking a bear to become a house pet.

There are still a number of issues that require clarification, including the following subjects:

  • What is the impact on class analysis of the changes in the internationalisation of production?
  • How do we create a greater degree of cooperation across borders, which can curb the monopolies and the domination of finance capital?
  • How do we strengthen internationalism in the communist movement?

There are features in our current society that are pointing towards socialism, including the internationalisation of production and enhanced international cooperation in regional groupings, such as the EU, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA), the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) etc. But as things stand now, this internationalisation does not happen for the benefit of the people, but solely to promote capital accumulation and its concentration.

The efforts of the monopolies, and capitalism in general, promote a competitive society with “winners and losers”, including a tremendously rich upper class and an increasingly impoverished underclass.

This development is not a law of nature. It can be broken if the labour movement and the communist parties are able to develop closer cooperation than is the case today. This is the objective for a renewed debate on class analysis.

The kind of society we are working towards is what Marx and Engels called “the society of freedom”, where we go from the domination of the blind law of the market to a society governed by strict control and accounting of all values in society.[2] A society where equal cooperation is achieved – nationally and internationally – is of paramount importance and an objective goal for the international labour movement.

Contradictions in capitalism

The fundamental contradiction in capitalism is that between labour and capital. In the 1970s, the other main contradictions were between:

  • the state monopoly capitalist system and the interests of the people;
  • monopoly interests in different imperialist countries;
  • imperialist integration and national democratic interests;
  • capitalism and socialism;
  • the interests of imperialism and those of humanity as a whole.

Today, class relations have changed, because since the counter-revolution of 1989 we have been living in a period of reaction, with intensified competition between the monopolies. Also, Russia must be added as a new element to the opposition between the imperialist powers. With regard to the final bullet point, the climate crisis, imperialist wars and the great refugee and hunger problems have all worsened in the 21st Century.

Understanding all these contradictions and how they are solved is crucial for a current class analysis. The task therefore consists in showing the dialectical connections between them and prioritising which takes precedence over the others.

As a consequence of the 2007-08 financial crisis, the relative unity of the imperialist powers has been replaced by obvious and serious contradictions. The picture of imperialism is more and more reminiscent of the 1930s trade war and protectionism. This development means a sharpening of the wars in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It means increased military spending, at the expense of social and educational budgets.

In this restructuring of capitalism, right-wing populism and fascism play an important role. They are used to split the labour movement and impede the struggle of the democratic forces against the cut-backs in social welfare.

In this connection, the contradiction between imperialist integration and national interests is of particular significance.[3] From a development with centripetal forces, the tendency today has shifted towards domination by centrifugal forces. The working class has an objective interest in supporting this development towards national self-determination.

Critique of Marxism

When analysing class relations at the national level, many claim that Marxism is obsolete and that it does not give a true picture of societal development. But the question is whether one can only look at these relationships within a national framework?

The monopolies method of controlling production is significantly different from the 1970s. They move production according to the highest profitability, and geographical distances no longer play any significant role.

Therefore, to get a true picture of class relationships, it is crucial to include most countries and their economic and political development in the analysis. If you close a car factory in Birmingham and move it to Bucharest, then you need to incorporate the relationship of both countries. The class analysis of Marxism therefore remains fully valid, when used in the right way.

Another argument against Marxism is that Marx’s division of society into the three main classes of working class, capitalists and landowners is far too simplistic.[4] In fact, in his short (unfinished) section on classes in Capital, Vol 3, Marx truly presents the foundation for understanding class society. It is the way in which revenues are distributed that is central to the analysis. The section should be seen in conjunction with the previous one on “Distribution Relations and Production Relations”, which shows that revenues are distributed among the classes according to their position in the hierarchy.[5] The landowner’s income may be called rent, but it is derived from the surplus value created in the conflict between wage-labour and capital.

Marx expressly points out that agriculture is increasingly being driven on capitalist grounds, and that the main opposition is between labour and capital. Is this not the actual development we can see in all highly developed countries today?

The same questions are elaborated in Vladimir Lenin’s A Great Beginning from 1918:

And what does the ‘abolition of classes’ mean? All those who call themselves socialists recognise this as the ultimate goal of socialism, but by no means all give thought to its significance. Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it. Classes are groups of people one of which can appropriate the labour of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy.[6]

This is an extended explanation of classes, compared with Marx definition of classes. Compared with Marx’s remarks in Capital, Lenin continues:

Clearly, in order to abolish classes completely, it is not enough to overthrow the exploiters, the landowners and capitalists, not enough to abolish their rights of ownership; it is necessary also to abolish all private ownership of the means of production, it is necessary to abolish the distinction between town and country, as well as the distinction between manual workers and brain workers. This requires a very long period of time. In order to achieve this an enormous step forward must be taken in developing the productive forces; it is necessary to overcome the resistance (frequently passive, which is particularly stubborn and particularly difficult to overcome) of the numerous survivals of small-scale production; it is necessary to overcome the enormous force of habit and conservatism which are connected with these survivals.

This passage raises questions about politics in those countries still considered to be socialist, where the market economy is part of production. This surely has to be seen as a temporary measure, and not a lasting one.

Despite all the predictions about the disappearance of the working class and a transition to a post-industrial society or a knowledge economy, the working class is growing in number. The confusion arises because of the decline of the old industrial workplaces, together with a lack of recognition that workers in high-tech jobs are part of the working class. This gives a false picture of the general development of society, and promotes illusions about the transition taking place.

The second point that many overlook is that the functioning of state monopoly capitalism (SMC) requires a lot of new features in society. This applies, for example, to social tasks, health care and education. It was this analysis that was the prerequisite for the anti-monopoly strategy of the communist parties in the 1970s. This strategy should be expanded, to include international class alliances that can counter the dominance of the monopolies.

The working class

What are the primary changes in the working class since the 1970s? The internationalisation of production has meant that part of industry – shipyards, engines, foundations for oil platforms, textiles, electronics etc – has shifted to low pay countries with few or no unions. Traditionally these sectors were among the best organised by trade unions, with a high degree of class consciousness. New industries have replaced the older ones, but without the same degree of organisation. Generally the opening and closing of branches in different countries is a major problem for the unions, increasing the insecurity of the working class.

However, the internationalisation of commodity production means a considerable growth in freight transport, by land, sea and air. This can open up possibilities for united action against monopoly policies, if there is a coordinated effort from the unions.

The breaking down of national borders and customs has meant an increase in migration of people from overseas countries who are trying to make a living. This adds to the insecurity of working class people in the countries receiving migrants, because of the impact of social dumping on wages and working conditions. Unions must exert great efforts to organise the new colleagues from abroad.

The changes in the public sector are also considerable. With or without privatisation, austerity means that former agreements are undermined by lower real wages and worse terms and conditions. The fight for defending social rights has been a central question for the unions. Solidarity with public sector workers fighting austerity measures is of great importance.

The role of the media is increasing in modern society. This means a growing number of waged jobs in this sector, with a lot of new functions. Again it is a problem to organise these workers, and to build cooperation between the different unions.

The total picture of the conditions in the different branches is one of considerable changes, both on a national and an international level. That is why a topical class analysis must involve workers on an international level.

Many new branches have occurred, and it takes time before the unions are able to adjust to the new conditions. In a few words, these changes are a true revolution in technology, transport and commodity production. They have meant export of jobs from the old capitalism to the new, and a growing insecurity in employment, with short-term contracts. These challenges must be solved on the basis of solidarity and cooperation on an international basis.

Corporatism in new forms

It is an important lesson that the fundamental issues in the labour movement do not change significantly. If you do not comply with this principle, it will inevitably lead to new defeats. The prerequisite for renewed progress is that the communist parties maintain the anti-monopoly strategy and learn from historical experience.

In order to understand today’s development in capitalism, it is necessary to give a short summary of corporatism in the 1920s and 30s, as well as showing how it has occurred in different forms in the 1970s and today.

The corporate state was created as a counterweight to the rapid development of the labour movement and the growing influence of Marxism. The Italian monopolists and the owners of the great latifundia agreed to finance the fascist state whose superstructure was corporatism. It was the same development that took place 10 years later in Germany, and roughly simultaneously in Spain and Portugal. All the current definitions of the corporate state deny this fact.

As in many other circumstances, capitalism and its apologists hide the true content of the nature and forms of exploitation in the corporate state. In Italy, it required significant and serious considerations in the labour movement of how to counter the new threat to the working class. We can thank the Italian Communist Party because they were able to develop a strategy that matched the new conditions.

Palmiro Togliatti´s contribution to the development of the popular front policy is remarkable. In a series of lectures in Moscow in the 1930s, he generalised the Italian experience and made it available to workers fighting in other countries. In these lectures, corporatism is shown in its true form. Togliatti provided an excellent picture of how the corporate state covers all aspects of society, not only in the factories but also in the family, and in leisure time.[7]

But not only did he analyse the character of the new state. He also showed the ways to overcome it through the development of very flexible and thoughtful tactics, including: “penetrating and working inside the fascist organisation and the masses that it influences”; taking up immediate demands that can mobilise the masses, relying on their discontent and will to struggle; bringing down the barriers that formerly divided communist and social-democratic workers; raising democratic demands; and making “the most vast and courageous utilisation of the legal possibilities offered by fascism’s manoeuvres themselves.”

These lectures are valuable in the struggle against today’s monopolies because they contain the germs for understanding the tactics that may be used – of course, adapted to today’s conditions.

Corporatism shows different content today because, instead of fascism, the main tendency is towards bourgeois democracy being replaced by autocracy and decisions being made by a small elite, while nominally democracy still exists. The ruling classes have new opportunities for controlling the masses of the people, for example by continually monitoring the activities of the revolutionary elements in society, and then excluding them from having a regular life with work and leisure. This has been evident over a long period but the secret activities are accelerating.

Class alliances

A central issue for the labour movement and communist parties is that of alliance policy. Was the anti-monopoly strategy developed by the communist parties in the post-war era, especially in the 1970s and 80s, correct? Did not the defeat in Chile by the fascist coup in 1973 confirm the validity of criticisms of this strategy?

These are questions that deserve a more detailed analysis. The fight against fascism in the 1930s and later in World War II meant that the communist parties changed their course and proposed a new alliance policy.[8] It was a matter of stopping fascism at all costs and replacing it with Popular Front governments in various countries such as Chile, Bulgaria, France and Spain. The basic question was a defence of bourgeois democracy that could unite across political boundaries.

Was the popular front only a tactical manoeuvre to defeat fascism? This is where the waters are separated in the present debate between communist parties, especially after the counter-revolution starting in 1989, which has given rise to self-examination. But the communists’ strategy is not based on fluctuating economic conditions, victories or defeats. It is developed on the basis of a careful analysis of the basic contradictions and the main motives of capital at the time.

Nowadays, we see a clear right turn in all capitalist countries as a result of the financial crisis of 2007-08. Therefore it must be an obvious consideration to look at the profound experiences of the unity and people’s popular front policy in the 1930s. It was not a tactical manoeuvre but a long-term strategy, which was a consequence of the changes in capitalism.

It was the same attitude that Palmiro Togliatti took in the post-war era, which contributed to the Italian Communist Party (PCI) becoming the strongest political force in the country. He advised using the experiences of the popular front adapted to the new conditions in post-war Europe.[9] What we can see is that a smart and flexible alliance policy, in conjunction with a consistent class attitude, leads to the desired results.

This does not mean that no errors were made during the work. Those errors included the historic compromise in Italy in the 1970s, and Chilean Popular Unity government’s undervaluation of the military’s loyalty to US imperialism. However, these errors are not linked to the strategy, but to its tactical execution in the individual countries.

Was it a relevant decision to call the new strategy one for anti-monopoly democracy? It was a completely correct decision, because it clarified the new conditions based on democratic experiences and that the main opponents were the monopolies and finance capital. In other words, it was a renewal of the unity and popular front policy.

The question of leadership

Where problems arose in several developed countries, the question was about the leadership of the peace and democratic movements. It is a classic question that was also relevant in the Russian Revolutions, in that the working class should under no circumstances leave the leadership to the petty bourgeoisie or others.[10]

In the 1970s we saw a tendency to leave the leadership to the petty bourgeoisie in the growing state functions, social services, education and administration, which in these years grew sharply. Many were well-educated and were often elected to positions of trust in the various movements, especially the peace movements. When the reaction began in the mid-1980s, these people became more susceptible to anti-communism. They turned to utopian socialism, giving up the alliance with the working class, forming new parties such as the so called Red-Green Movement or those regarded as “New Left”, and turned to the bourgeois parties in the various parliaments, hoping to gain influence.

It is an important lesson that the fundamental issues in the labour movement do not change significantly. If you do not recognise this, it will inevitably lead to new defeats. A scientific approach means using dialectics in all these questions; to understand what the core of the matter is and then replacing obsolete parts with new ones.

The prerequisite for renewed progress is that Communist parties stick to the anti-monopoly strategy, learn from historical experience and develop our theory further.

That is the primary challenge of the labour movement: to find new forms to counter the monopolies. This can only be done by uniting efforts on a national and international basis – proletarians of all countries unite!

[1] V I Lenin, Selected Works, Vol 1, pp 119-271.

[2] K Marx and F Engels, Selected Works, Vol 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969, pp 98-137.

[3] This is the main link in the chain, because of the direct impact on people’s standard of living.

[4] K Marx, Capital, Vol 3, in K Marx and F Engels, Collected Works, Vol 37, pp 870-1.

[5]Ibid, pp 863-870.

[6] V I Lenin, “A Great Beginning”, in Collected Works, Vol 29, pp 408-34.

[7] P Togliatti, Lectures on Fascism, Lawrence & Wishart, 1976, especially pp 114-5, 151-4.

[8] At the 7th World Congress of Comintern in Moscow 1935.

[9] P Togliatti, “The Marxist Conception of the Working Class Party”, in Ausgewählte Schriften (Selected Works), Neue Kritik, Frankfurt am Main, 1967.

[10] V I Lenin, “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution”, Section 12: “Will the sweep of the democratic revolution be diminished if the bourgeoisie recoils from it?”, in Collected Works, Vol 9, pp 92-104.

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