The survival of the proletariat Ruthless Criticism
Translation of Ch. 2 of Das Proletariat: die grosse Karriere der lohnarbeitenden Klasse kommt an ihr gerechtes Ende, Peter Decker/Konrad Hecker. GegenStandpunkt Verlag, München, 2002.

The survival of the proletariat:
A history of class struggles
against and for state power

In order to be able to survive, wage workers had to be rebellious. To work in the way they were required and to make do on the wages they were paid – that wasn’t enough; in serving the pleasures of the propertied class and obeying the dictates of the political authorities, they were merely handing themselves over to the destructive effects that their employers inflicted on their labor-power in accord with the objective laws of their business and their competition. In order to sustain themselves and make ends meet with their earnings, they were forced to make an additional effort: they had to join forces and fight for decent working conditions and wages and for minimal lifelong existential security. Against the capitalists and against the state power that puts their interests into law so that a whole mode of production emerges, they had to make themselves into a counter-power – even if only to be able to function as an exploited class in the long run: a political-economic cynicism of the highest order.

The impoverished wage laborers of the 19th century took on these living conditions that were being forced on them, combined – gradually and in the end in enough numbers – into associations and parties founded by outraged activists, and fought back as well as they knew how and as best they could. The communists, who Karl Marx wanted to point in the right direction with a “manifesto” [1], showed themselves to be the most active organizers of proletarian resistance, the most uncompromising agitators for the fundamental abolition of the causes of all the misery – and at the same time, the most hopeful interpreters of the awakening labor movement. They grasped that the capitalist mode of production increases the wealth of society with unprecedented efficiency, generally overcomes the natural causes of need and scarcity but only in a way that excludes the majority, who are needed to produce a growing supply of goods, from the created abundance, in order to use their labor all the more effectively to increase the property accumulating in the hands of the few. They saw that working people had no choice but to defend themselves from their circumstances. From this critical finding, they concluded that the new working class must put an end to its new kind of poverty and exploitation by revolting against the system of wage labor and creating production conditions in which wealth is produced for all in a planned way. This conclusion, which aimed at a subversive practice, was, however, given an optimistic twist by quite a few committed agitators – one which at best was humanly understandable, but actually did not fit the findings at all: because the new ruling class, the bourgeoisie which depended on proletarians being capable of and willing to work, seemed to be virtually forcing its servants to resist, that is, was driving them into revolt as soon as they wanted to earn a livelihood, they saw the wage working class as having no choice but to organize a revolution; its historical path was thus inevitably mapped out, as if it was almost in their nature to take their fate in their own hands, to emancipate themselves from their miserable existence as pawns of capital, and to put an end to the rule of the bourgeoisie, the historically last class of exploiters.

But it did not – and has not yet – come to that. The proletariat had and has a choice, and it has made a different one: instead of a revolution against the system of exploitation, it has made a career in it – which, by the way, was and is no more historically inevitable than the alternative that Marx and his comrades agitated for. The proletarians of all countries have been paying the bill for their decision to conform with the system for more than 100 years now.

a) The working class has no choice but to fight –
for rights and justice

Even today the individual employee is powerless against his capitalist employer – and if he doesn’t have one, then against its anonymous entirety even more so on the so-called labor market. However, today, without any doing of his own, he has become ensnared in a multitude of collective agreements and legal regulations which formulate obligations for the other side too. Five to seven generations of workers ago, such legal restrictions on entrepreneurial freedom didn’t exist: the powerlessness of wage dependent people on wages correlated with their lack of rights. Their exploitation was recognized in principle as a free contractual relationship; in reality, however, this initially only meant that the authorities, with their police power, made sure that the proletarians showed respect for the capitalist property in which they were productively employed and carried out their labor duties. It did not go without saying that even workers without property also have legal status as a contracting party, an enforceable right even to the payment of the agreed wage. In order to act as serious contractors with their employers, to negotiate a contract, to effectively demand that it be met, and even more so to be able to influence the substance of the negotiated wage labor relation in some way, the wage workers had no choice but to form a collective and extort the employers with the only means they had to make an impression on the capitalists, that is, by damaging business through a refusal to work. As a countervailing force, the workers had to make an impact and grind things to a halt by refusing to work in order to be seen as a contracting party and be taken seriously at all. This, of course, immediately brought them into conflict with law and order which, although it certainly has a lot to do with contracts and their observance, does not put up with resistance to the rights of property, but fights it as a violent infringement and, as a precautionary measure from the outset, already persecuted every association of wage laborers as a conspiracy against civil peace. They had to commit collective lawbreaking if they wanted to ensure the little survival that was promised them by contract. They got to know the rule of law, that deeply humane principle of order in the nascent bourgeois community, as a power hostile to them: the legal situation established the access power of property and, in addition to this, subjugated them to the business interests of their employers, thus forcing them to accept conditions of existence that could not be endured without a defensive struggle against its beneficiaries; and the same legal situation forbade this struggle and negated their efforts to materially hold their ground.

Consequently, the wage workers had no choice but to fight against the applicable laws and against the state apparatus responsible for it. That’s what they did; increasingly in organized form, as it had to be. And they gave their cause, for all its militance, a remarkably constructive twist: their revolt against the traditional legal situation was for them a fight for a new right, their resistance to the ban on organized activity was synonymous with the call for permission to stand together and to defend themselves collectively against intolerable conditions of existence. Not only did they break the law in order to survive, they also took on the challenge of breaking the law in order to achieve nothing more than a modified law. They wanted to be allowed to fight by the very sovereign power that legally imposed their desperate situation on them, and at the same time banned the militant stance that they needed to take.

This step undoubtedly was seen as quite natural to the proletarian subversives; at any rate, not as a significant shift in the thrust of their resistance. After all, they had seen firsthand that the legal relations defended by the traditional authorities were anything but unchanging. The aspiring and rebellious bourgeoisie had put a lot of significant things in flux – not least in coalition with them, as champions of the impoverished “lower classes.” The demand of bourgeois democrats for new legal relations between state and society and within society also promised the working poor an improvement in their situation, at any rate protection against arbitrary decisions and a certain legal recognition; they fought for this and made greater sacrifices than the better-off, whose interests were actually at stake. And there were successes: bourgeois revolutions with far-reaching legal consequences – even if not with the consequences that the “journeymen's clubs” and other precursors of the proletarian movement had hoped for. But the fact that an authority can be persuaded to allow things that it had forbidden until a moment ago was practically proven and encouraged the hitherto oppressed paupers to try to wrest legal emancipation and recognition from those in power. The workers’ movement set out to achieve for itself the civil rights that the bourgeois classes were already so obviously profiting from.

But whether one likes it or not: this fight had a huge catch. In demanding concessions from the authorities, there was already a huge concession to the legal authorities in regards to the compulsory fight for survival. Even before the tiniest license has been obtained, the state authority is recognized as the authority that licenses the pursuit of one’s own interest in keeping with law and order. It grants the authority to decide which social needs have to be met and by how much. Of course, in the hopeful expectation that the rulers would be urged to give free rein to elementary proletarian concerns: The subordination of these concerns to the rule of law was not merely accepted; this was precisely what the militant workers regarded as the decisive breakthrough – as their reactionary opponents also did, by the way. They saw it as the enablement of their willingness to assert themselves, a binding endorsement of their hitherto damaged material interests, an unrestrictedly useful authorization – and were decisively mistaken about this. Because the only thing they could actually get and what they were merely striving for in their confrontation with state power was once and for all nothing more and nothing less than liberation from pre-bourgeois rules that were in principle superfluous or even dysfunctional for the political economy of private property. What they ended up with was submission under laws that functionally regulate bourgeois relations – meaning, the functional restriction of their interests. They took at face value the appearance that inheres in this bourgeois statute – that it would exist for all social interests without distinction – and they didn’t want to come to grips with the fact that this statute, in its promise to serve all legal subjects with their respective concerns “without regard to the person,” sees and recognizes no other material concerns than the interest in exclusive access, thus the interests of property owners. They fought for more political liberty and more concessions on the part of the authorities, as if the public force, once it had disavowed its policy of unfairly suppressing proletarian activities, were a decision-making body equally open to all sides, whose sovereign decree over social relations could be filled with any content, including all sorts of pro-worker, anti-capitalist directives – and not a violent authority that demands subjection because it establishes socially violent relations with the exclusivity of private property. The bourgeoisie, it is true, fares well with this subjection; because the private monopoly of access, which the whole society is subjected to, is its elixir of life. For them, the rule of bourgeois law really does mean freedom; that’s why they could be pleased that many desperate proletarians were filled with enthusiasm about their struggle for freedom and bled for it. Conversely, the workers, who had nothing to lose, did not fight their own cause with their revolt, but completed the bourgeoisie’s bourgeois revolution.

The proletariat’s struggle for legal recognition was therefore not wrong in the sense that it was hopeless – on the contrary, there were signs of success. What was fatal was its content, which was established even before it was achieved. It was about a state power that was willing to give the new class of wage earners an equal legal status to bourgeois property owners; and that is exactly what they were given: a sovereign which, with its guaranteed freedoms of personhood and property, ensures that capital ownership establishes private command power over social labor and that the propertyless masses of society are dependent on wage labour for their means of subsistence. They had fought for license to defend themselves against unbearable working and living conditions; they were given a legal status that obligated them to submit precisely to those conditions of existence that they needed – and were now also allowed – to constantly fight against. In their sorry situation, the workers did not want to be without rights too; thus the authorities gave them the necessity of coping with this situation as their right – and made them fight for it, so that their subjugation in the end still looked like a victory. If someone had thought up this construction, it would have to be called perfidious.

From day one, a few communists did not gloss over this dirty trick, but saw through it, so they didn’t call on the working class to fight for rights that were being withheld from them, but agitated them for a revolution: to overthrow a legal system that codifies relations of exploitation as a perfectly normal legal situation. This agitation was also very necessary – incidentally, it remains so to this day, even more bitterly than ever before. Because nobody is wiser from bad experiences alone; rather, the opposite is the case. If the survival of an entire social class is continually put in question according to the current legal situation, and even the will to wangle a few guarantees is for its part put under a state legal reservation that dictates the recognition of this “situation” and the property interest that is responsible for it and profits from it, then of course it is not difficult to draw the conclusion that the rule of law establishes social conditions that are not for the benefit, but to the detriment, of the majority of its legal subjects. Any practical consequences drawn from this conclusion is, however, regularly answered with the criticized situation itself, as if this, of all things, were an unbeatable counter-argument: the actually undeniable practical necessity of getting involved in the current provisos, restrictions, and commandments – for now. Moreover, all free public opinion in a democratic constitutional state is united in its assumption that no alternative exists to participating in the system, and certainly shouldn’t. Accordingly, bourgeois humanity already firmly established itself in this order in the 19th century and set a living example for proletarians who likewise wanted to do well – including all the relevant methods of compensating themselves through crime and thus dealing uncritically with the limits to their own benefit due to the law. The proletarian part of society certainly always makes some additional and fruitless efforts to emulate the model of the better classes and makes ruling opinion its own, despite all the legally valid hardships and restrictions on their material existence and contrary to all their own discontent, and relies on bourgeois rights as a remedy for a legally established shitty quasi-bourgeois existence. On the other hand, however, this is considered normal, and the most normal thing requires special effort: to insist on one’s own material interest against its systematic restriction; to grasp and understand the incompatibility of interest and legal situation from the standpoint of the damaged interest and to assert this consistently, just as, conversely, the law and its beneficiaries insist on this conflict from the standpoint of the common good of the capitalistic community; to dare to reject the whole established world together with its lofty morals, and to announce an organized struggle against it – even in the nineteenth century, this was anything but a casual exercise. In any case, discontent alone isn’t sufficient. Those affected must decide to free their minds from the permanent pressure of coping with everyday life in a system-conforming way, withstand the prevailing consent with all given living conditions, and against every habit, spend time, energy, brains and even money on critical insights and practical opposition. To this end – and this is what communist dissenters wanted to do even at the beginning of the capitalist age – wage laborers had to be agitated.

On balance, it was not enough. The workers’ movement, which was forced to defend itself against the state and the propertied class’s bad treatment of them, took the path of a rights-conscious, militant arrangement with the state and capital; and to this day the proletariat has not been able to get rid of this mistake: because it was given no other chance, it accepted the struggle for rights as its chance, and took the commandment to abide by the law as an offer to its interests. The class struggles which could not be avoided were fought in the spirit of outrage over unfair treatment, from the standpoint of the oppressed class being denied its “good rights.” The aim was always to achieve nothing but the one clear and decided objective of providing the proletariat with the rights it deserves as the truly productive class, indispensable for the state and capital itself, and thus by virtue of its useful function in and for capitalist class society.

The workers’ movement had no problem at all with waging its struggles in two separate arenas, in two different formations, and with separate goals and methods – not because it thought this was the most effective way to emancipate itself, but because it was dictated by the legal situation in a bourgeois community: As a political party, proletarian class fighters became active in the higher sphere of politics, where the general welfare of the whole is decided without regard to person and his respective means, with a noble abstraction from the lower reaches of the exploitative business; there they tried to wrest more compensatory justice from the authorities. In addition, as trade unions, they argued with the employers about wages and working conditions in the factories, and by no means fundamentally about the continued existence of the wage system, but rather, as is the case in the sphere of the private search for advantage, about a kind of business consensus. Instead of refusing to accept the absurd arrangement with which the bourgeois world organizes its double-track functioning – capitalism as a private matter, the attendant force as a general public object of concern – the labor movement divided itself in a system-conforming way: into a quasi-private collective that should be nothing more and nothing less than, firstly, capable and, secondly, entitled to face the entrepreneurs as a respectable adversary, i.e., a club of proletarian “bourgeois”; and into a club of proletarian “citizens,” free citizens who wished to participate in the fate of the community within the sphere of competence of their law-making authority. The labor movement fought doubly to adapt legally protected conditions in a class state to the needs of the proletariat – and in this way ensured in two ways that the proletariat adapted itself and its needs, demands and goals of struggle to the bourgeois order.

The struggle that the labor movement delivered to its respective opponent in its two forms reflected this.

b) “A fair wage for a fair day’s work”:
The logic of the labor union struggle

The proletarians of the 19th century joined together in labor unions and, in organized solidarity, repeatedly went on strike to cripple production in order to obtain better pay and tolerable working conditions or even just to ward off a worsening of their situation and to get the promised pay on time and in full. They often, but by no means always, lost their labor struggles; some concessions were made – and even in these cases, they found out that the conflict with the other side was never over: no sooner had the dispute been settled and an agreement reached than it became clear how little it was worth in the daily routine of wage labor. Realizing what had been agreed upon had to still be constantly fought for, and every break had to be defended against the employers’ never satisfied performance requirements and their ingenuity at lowering wages.

(1) The proletariat wins the false appearance
of a fair exchange of “work for wages”

Yet unionized workers continued to make qualitative progress throughout all the partial successes and partial defeats. Thanks to their militant dedication to securing universally valid conditions of work and wages, wage labor increasingly took the civil legal form of a regular lawful transaction between equal parties and the economic character of an exchange: a “do ut facias” or “facio ut des” between business partners who agree on a provision of service and its price to their mutual benefit. For this advance in civilization, the unions had to overcome the opposition of the employers, who saw any stipulation as an intolerable intervention in their freedom as property owners and resisted any such deprivation of liberty. To the organized wage workers, this resistance confirmed that they were on the right track in their struggle for clear-cut contractual relations and in negotiating general wage rates and working conditions along the lines of a commercial transaction in order to break the domination of capitalist property. And there is no denying it: barriers were set to entrepreneurial despotism; the capitalist adversaries were forcibly accustomed to dealing with their proles in bourgeois civilized forms.

It didn’t hurt them. Because what the unions pushed through here as a lasting social achievement didn’t change anything at all in the politico-economic relationship between capital and wage labor in material terms; on the contrary, it gave it a procedural form that is both inverted and conforms to the capitalistic system, which guarantees its permanent existence.

– In fact, wage labor, now as then, has nothing to do with an exchange of equivalents as designed for normal civil law and business contractual relationships. The wage does not buy an equivalent value, let alone a corresponding one; rather, it makes labor available to the wage payer for the process of creating value in his favor, thus “buying” the source of new property: human productive power. In this transaction, money functions only seemingly as a means of exchange; in fact, it is precisely in this way that money proves itself as a means of command over value-creating labor. Conversely, wage dependent labor power does not enter the labor market with a commodity and its calculated production costs, but with its ability and willingness to make itself useful under the command of an employer for his business interest. For the sake of the wage, it willingly submits to the demand to get more out of its activity, and indeed to get as much more money as possible than its remuneration costs. The legal construction of a general contract on wages and working conditions, which the union labor movement long fought for, thus fixes the costs in the form of a price and the conditions under which capitalist property can exploit the labor of others as its source of growth. So the amount of this “price” is not determined by the cost calculations of the “supplier,” but by the pure power struggle between the contracting parties. On one side, there are the wage laborers, who are caught in the contradiction that they need the wage to survive and must therefore exert pressure on their capitalistically calculating employers, but for the same reason have no other means of pressure than the highly double-edged refusal to work, which means doing without wages. Opposite them, “with the upper hand,” are the employers, who are forced by the organized struggle of their employees to temporarily cancel their competition with each other, to combine the private power of their respective capitalist property, so to speak, and thus to act collectively as holders of a class interest and negotiate a generally binding contract which is suitable as a basis for resuming their competition for the most profitable exploitation of their human “production factor.” No matter how consensual the haggling over wage rates, there is no commercial pricing in the matter, but rather a mutual extortion between the political-economically defined social classes of capitalistic property owners and propertyless workers. [2]

– This is precisely why the reverse appearance of a normal free market transaction is so important and why its social benefit cannot be overestimated. Because this is precisely how the appropriation of other people’s working capacity by capitalist property and the functionalization of the non-propertied masses for its accumulation is practically transformed into an act of free agreement between different, but equally socially valid and recognized interests – a contract is concluded, in other words, freely negotiated, between equal parties to whom the state grants its non-discriminatory legal protection. The inevitable resistance of the unionized workers, their militant refusal to work solely under the ruinous conditions of their employers, led to a formal consensus on the conditions under which precisely this kind of work was to continue and the workers were to return to their politico-economic job description of producing other people’s property. The fiction of an exchange transaction between wage labor and capital is the form in which their real relationship, the highly one-sided business of property with other people’s labor, gains the solidity of a generally recognized, legally protected social institution.

Of course, this fiction can’t fail to look ridiculous, namely in its material content. After all, the conclusion of universal contracts does not put an end to the continuing wear and tear of human labor power for capitalist growth; for entrepreneurs in competition with their peers, collective bargaining is always merely the first step in pushing down wage agreements and tightening up performance requirements. For this reason, the need never ends for wage earners to repeatedly withdraw from the contractual relation and forcibly refuse the owners their legally secured political and economic power over social labor. With each operative method of exploitation, with each wage dispute, and with each defensive struggle that workers see themselves challenged to, the formal consensus between the “collective bargaining partners” is reduced to its banal content: the unresolvable contradiction of the material interests of the two interdependent classes; the unresolvable contradiction in the beautifully ambiguous social imperative of earning money with wage labor. But the trade union movement did not draw the conclusion that it would be better off immediately terminating the whole unfavorable relationship. It never criticized the generally valid labor contract for being the legal form in which the exploitation of wage labor takes place under state protection; nor did it ever see it merely as a questionable means of civil law for getting “trade-offs” from the other side. For them, the working class was well served in principle by the metamorphosis of wage labor into an exchange transaction, one in which, at most, the equivalents were not yet or not always correct. So the trade unions and workers’ clubs, having won the power to negotiate collective agreements, tirelessly resumed the struggle with the capitalists over worse and better deals. In this way, they turned resistance to exploitation into a constructive struggle over the conditions under which it would be acceptable. They presented themselves to the employers as if it were necessary to figure out and determine what levels of wages, working hours, performance density, accident risk, wear and tear on health, etc. should hold in order to guarantee an exploitation agreeable to the proletariat. They attributed all the continuing misery, all the ruinous effects of wage labor, to the right balance of interests in the existing contracts not having been found yet, perhaps maybe the employers were not honestly fulfilling contracts or even just individual “black sheep” left something to be desired. In any case, the fiction of a legal norm according to which the interests of employers and employees are in balance has not been taken more seriously by anybody than the militants of the trade union movement. Their disputes with capital, which no legal authority has ever taken away from them, are conducted according to the principle from which their communist mentor was unable to dissuade them with his criticism: “A fair wage for a fair day's work!”

(2) Wages per time or achievement:
The forms of wage payment guarantee benefits for the entrepreneurs,
justice for the proletarians

Capitalist entrepreneurs didn’t regularly negotiate wages with their proletarian employees, let alone the union spokesmen of proletarian discontent, for many years. In civilized nations like Germany, a barbaric world war had to first be lost and a revolution almost took place before they could be persuaded to negotiate and conclude generally binding collective agreements on an equal-to-equal level with their increasingly organized human material. And by then they had long since found a way of answering the cry for fair pay, for the “equivalence” between work done and wages paid, in an extremely fair manner – and they didn’t even need to think up this answer themselves.

Industrial capitalists calculate the production price of their commodities in such a way that they calculate wages as a share of costs, allocated to the number of units produced or in relation to the working hours it takes. Nothing is therefore more obvious to them than to disburse wages according to this viewpoint as well, that is, according to subunits of the advantageous use they make of their labor force: according to the units of time in which they have their human productive power creating property, that is, by reference to each individual hour of work, or according to units of the produced quantity in which their newly created property is represented, that is, by reference to the piece produced. This way of paying wages complies perfectly with their interest in paying their workers for nothing but real productive activity. It is also a very practical way of imposing a maximum of work effort on each individual worker or of saving on wages whenever the required effort is decreased. In this way, the basic capitalist law according to which the profitability of labor is the whole purpose and sole reason and, consequently, the fixed limit to its payment is applied to every last possible unit of wage labor. In principle, this method changes nothing about the remuneration. Neither the reference to working hours nor to the individual pieces produced gives the real reason for determining how high or low the remuneration for wage labour is and what a “day’s work” looks like: the latter is entirely within the entrepreneur’s freedom of design; the former is and remains a question of reciprocal extortion, of the power struggle between classes which are so contradictorily dependent on each other, which ends with some kind of determination. But it is precisely the form of payment that is of greatest practical importance for this dispute over wages and how they are contractually set. The relation of the wage to the unit of work to be done means that its amount is completely divorced from the workers’ need for money. What a worker earns is definitely not calculated according to how much a livelihood costs – let alone a decent one – but vice versa: the livelihood that a worker is able to afford is calculated from the product of piece rate or hourly wages and the number of pieces or hours or pieces delivered. Every worker has to calculate quite practically in this way: with the chance to earn more by working on a piece rate basis, faster, or by overtime – that is, more than if he did not work harder and faster; sufficient earnings are not all in offer, but there is the realistic prospect of having to accept a forfeit of wages if he works less time and under-achieves. The wage is thus completely decoupled from the costs of a proletarian livelihood, but is instead intimately linked with the business success of the employer: the employer calculates – per unit or hour – with a price for labor; a price which already includes the ratio which is decisive for capitalist production, namely the value that was produced and is to be realized on the market; and this ratio alone is now decisive for the wage per unit of labor. In this respect, too, the method of calculation does not change the principle of the thing: with the wage, the entrepreneur buys a source of property and the right to have it work for his benefit; and he then also ensures that it costs as little as possible and is used as extensively as possible. However, with the calculation and payment of the wage as part of the proceeds from a product or from the arithmetical product of an hour’s work, this simple exploitation relation looks like a purely objective connection between a given sales price and the share of wage costs: the piece rate or hourly wage remunerates the “labour costs” included in the product; it can’t be higher than the company’s projected profit calculation. What the capitalists stand to make for themselves from the wage work they have done in their factories becomes, through the form of wages, a quasi-objective criterion of the price at most they can pay for labor.

The forms of wage calculation and payment according to work duration and achievement thus have their clear capitalistic meaning: they serve, exclusively and in perfect form, the purpose of profitably exploiting paid work. And of all things, it is this perfect instrument of the employer’s interest which serves, at the same time and completely on its own, the proletarian counter-party's demand for fair pay. Divided into product units or hours of work, the wage – no matter what sum the workers fight for and the employers ultimately concede – is related to the required work performance which beautifully complies with the principles of fair exchange: each toil is separately paid for. From its performance-related individual parts added together, the total wage logically takes the character of a fair remuneration of the totally rendered labor; according to the absurd as well as strikingly false conclusion: because every piece produced or every hour worked is paid for, piece and hour are basically paid for – piecework and overtime pay are the hard practical evidence; consequently, everything is also paid for with the total wage: all pieces and hours, thus the total labor is fairly remunerated. And the employer’s cost calculation also provides evidence that the workers are paid exactly whatever wage cost expenses are involved in the products, thus what their work is worth.

Designed this way, the wage contract – certainly still in its content and in the strangely contentious way in which it is reached, but otherwise – no longer differs a bit from a normal purchase contract in which two parties come to terms on the quantity supplied and purchase price of a commodity. Everyone has what he obviously wanted; between wage laborers and entrepreneurs there is a regular exchange of equivalents; law and justice are satisfied; and everyone is satisfied: “ ... all the legal concepts of the worker and the capitalist, all the mystifications of the capitalist mode of production, all its illusions of freedom, all the apologetic fads of vulgar economy” are “based” on this manner of calculating and thus also paying wages as the price of labor, that is, as a working capacity actually delivered piece by piece. [3] The dispute begins again immediately afterwards; necessarily, because it is not at all about equivalents and justice, but about capital growth by means of wage labor; and if the workers are content with it, the employers are without fail never content and continue after each wage agreement to push wages down again and to extract more work from their people. But the false demand of the labor movement is fulfilled: justice has been done to the wage interest. It has been put within the boundaries to which it justly belongs as a subordinate dependent variable of the capital interest, and serves it at the same time.

(3) The necessary perspective of the union struggle:
The organized proletariat
forces itself on its adversary as a social partner

Capital nonchalantly accepts the contradiction that it ruins the source of its existence and its growth, wage labor, by its methods of exploiting it. The labor movement, with its union struggle for the right to live from wage labour, makes this contradiction entirely its own responsibility. It fights against the ruinous, i.e. “unfair” effects of wage labor in order to make the “fair” thing itself sustainable. Even with its successes, therefore, it only once again takes on the necessity of continuing its struggle. But this has never bothered the union. With its concern that wage workers get what is rightfully theirs, it has landed a permanent task; it has accepted this, and has settled into it. Hence its struggle is the working class’s constructive response to the awkward situation that the users and beneficiaries of wage labor do not maintain their instrument, but destroy it: it maintains itself as best it can, wrestling what it needs from its adversary and reproducing itself so that it can be used by capital again.

The fundamental weakness of the union struggle follows from this purpose. The organized wage workers cannot avoid unilaterally cancelling their employment relation when the opportunity arises; but they do this only in order to earn their wages again under new conditions – that is, without wanting to terminate it. They put an end to the competitive comparison to which they are subjected, particularly according to the effectiveness and cheapness of their work, in their collective struggle; they give up the calculations which they are forced to make, namely to earn more with more work input and to make themselves as valuable as possible to the employer; but they do not do this as labor unionists out of the insight that they are only doing themselves harm, and thus not with the aim of getting out of their bad dependence: As a militant collective they act only selectively, for the purpose of correcting the conditions under which they want to go back to their hopeless private business as an efficient and inexpensive servant of capital. Their blackmailing manoeuvres are therefore fundamentally lacking the ruthlessness that distinguishes the entrepreneur who calculates with other people’s labor. The bourgeois existence of his wage workers can’t really be of any concern to him, because he will always find new ones, and in the worst of cases he will have to accept a business setback; so he can threaten a striking workforce with economic destruction in a completely credible manner. Striking labor unionists, on the other hand, can’t afford to make such a threat, because they want to get back to work; therefore, they must not ruin their employer under any circumstances, but rather, even when on strike, they must ensure that their opponent’s business calculations are not irreversibly damaged.

This “logic” of the trade union struggle was by no means already universally clear to the activists of the labor movement in its wild early days. Out of righteous indignation, they often let go of all considerations and engaged in bitter struggles; some of them even thought a general strike could be a prelude to proletarian revolution, others did not shy away from becoming anarchists. In the end, however, their radicalism brought them nothing but defeat – not because it is fundamentally impossible to go from trade union protest to an understanding of its contradictory aims and to begin and even win a better type of class struggle, but because the bigger part of the workers ready to strike and, above all, the union leadership had no such a transition in mind. Instead, these “voices of reason” asked themselves and their people how far union struggles are allowed to go if they want to go back to work afterwards. In the fights they saw themselves forced into, they introduced the standard of what was permissible, what is reasonable in terms of more bearable wage work – a complete contradiction to the need to fight these struggles successfully. The workers who were supposed to cooperate confronted them in practice with the question of how much labor union resistance generally pays off for them with their private calculations and comparative reckonings – a complete contradiction to the cause they mobilize a resistance for. [4] Collective resistance was in this way neutralized – by the protagonists of the union struggle themselves.

The unions thus flourished in their capitalism-agreeable function, namely that of regulating the proletarian discontent they organized. Already when making demands, they acted as a corrective authority against “exaggerated” claims, by very objectively taking into account what is possible and what is not likely to be possible – “under the circumstances,” that is, under the premise of the continued and unchallenged rule of capital’s interests. They declared their validity to be “reality”; not in the critical sense that in the best of all political-economic systems nothing at all is real except the claims of capital, but in the normative sense of a binding standard for what one can expect and therefore may demand as a wage worker without being suspected of craziness or even being guilty of the crime of "losing touch with reality.” The unions still like to maintain the appearance that they are always going “to the extreme,” fathoming the limits of what is “feasible” and only giving way to the proven superiority of capital. Even so, however, they merely make it clear that their program is “realism” in the sense of the recognition of all existing conditions, namely the prevailing political-economic balance of power: they commit themselves and their people, in any resistance, to factoring in their own dependence on the successful business of the employers, and assume, hence accept, that there is and remains no alternative to this dependence. Capitalists can plunge their employees into an existential emergency at any time and do as soon as their business interests dictate it; conversely, no wage struggle may endanger the interests in exploitation and a capitalist course of business to the point of an existential emergency: this is fully accepted. Consequently, the aim of a “reasonable” workers representative can only be and must be to reach an agreement with the other side. Employers may attack as they wish with the private power of their property and push their demands in regards to wages and benefits as high as their competitive calculations dictate – trade unions are not allowed to pay back in kind. The only thing they may force on the “entrepreneurial camp,” but must also impose on it, are negotiations with the aim of reaching a consensus solution; precisely when the opposing “camp” clearly does not care about it at all. The union relentlessly forces itself on the capitalists as an understanding contractual partner; it stages a power struggle with the employers which it itself decides in their favor from the outset – and in this way manages to bring about the contradiction of a class struggle that does not want to harm the opposing side.

The affirmative position on wages as a source of revenue includes a commitment to the state as the guarantor of a bourgeois order in which all classes, strata, and individuals have the right to pursue their respective “fair day’s work” with their respective means. Of course, one thing must be guaranteed: that the legal status of the working class, i.e. the union as its advocate, fairly gets its turn. But this is not a condition in the sense that unionists would in all seriousness make their civic loyalty dependent on a worker- and trade union-friendly policy from the authorities. For a long time, the union movement could not avoid dealing with the state power; after all, its pickets and demonstrations were often enough dispersed by their armed forces. But even then, their goal was not to defeat the apparatus of violence that holds class society together – political strikes against the state power are just as strictly banned by serious unions as “destructive strikes” against employers – but for this apparatus of violence to allow them to operate just like other interest organizations. It had no practical problem at all with the fact that such a demand includes the recognition of class society with its various interests as well as of an authority that watches over them: that is exactly what it was and is meant to be. When unionists insist on public recognition and political consideration, they want to make clear beyond any doubt how unconditionally they, in turn, recognize and affirm the nation as that greater whole within which, and solely within it, the proletariat’s cause can and should get its due. They meet the authorized administrators of the commonwealth with critical reservations, all of which spring from the ideal that the interests of the nation should ultimately coincide indistinguishably with those of the national working class. In this sense, the proletarian partisanship for the national good is imposed on politics – even if the rulers have quite different concerns with the proletariat, and especially then.

The labor movement therefore leads its union struggle for its recognition as a constructive force on two sides, against the capitalist class as well as against the state power. Within the organization, which acts as a collective legal subject and demands respect, or its leadership on the one hand and the members on the other, a relation is created that doesn’t work out in bureaucratic suitability for its purpose. After all, nothing less is demanded of the membership base than a willingness to make sacrifices, which is guaranteed to be worthwhile only in the negative sense that, thanks to union support, the wage workers become ever more perfect in their damaged materialism, which is reduced to wage earning; the willingness to pay contributions and even to temporarily do without wages in the event of a strike, without anything else coming of it than renewed authorization of the entrepreneurs to continue doing their business according to their calculations. This very conditional interest representation is, moreover, subject to a political measure, the benefits of which accrue elsewhere than to the rank and file for which it matters: the members are required to have unconditional trust in the law and in the nation as the first and indispensable means of life for, of all people, workers with no property. Thus the workers are mobilized by their union on the one hand for the necessary conflict with employers and, on the other hand, they are trained in social partnership and loyalty to the state, and thirdly they are then repeatedly referred back to their private calculations of advantage with the wages they get in competition with their peers, i.e. the question is rubbed under their noses whether union involvement is worthwhile at all. In addition, however, the unions also repeatedly attract people who, if they are going to wage a fight, want it to then be for the common interests of the workers and ruthless against the demands of capital, who might not even rule out the termination of their submissive relation altogether, and in any case are reluctant to accept that the union’s policy is already the whole struggle which is pending. Combating and excluding such radicalism is therefore still part of the union tradition.

By the way: the labor movement had to first go out and get this final result. A bad inner consistency in its development can’t be denied. But it wasn’t “historically necessary” because of this – and not even irreversible in principle.

(4) A remark on the career of the socialist union movement in Germany: proletarian leaders develop responsibility for the “nation’s work”

The Frankfurt National Assembly, the proud product of an uprising supported not least by discontented workers and hopeful socialists in the spring of 1848, shot down all essential demands aimed at improving the “social situation” of dependent, increasingly wage-dependent workers, and suppressed any initiative that went beyond the desire for civil liberties and national unification, which in the circumstances of that time was revolutionary. In the ensuing phase of reaction, journeymen’s associations, political clubs – such as the “League of Communists” which Marx had just written his famous “Manifesto” for – and socialist do-gooders had no say at all. In the “founding years” of the German Empire, however, the time had come: in Germany too the workers went “in motion.” Despite the official suppression of “social democratic aspirations which endanger the public,” a Social Democratic Party and a General Commission of Trade Unions finally appeared as the “vanguard” of the proletariat after the expiration of Bismarck’s Socialist Laws in 1890 and, inspired by Marxism, propagated a socialist overthrow of the ruling order and the goal of a classless society.

A strict “division of labor” prevailed between the two branches of the socialist labor movement. The trade unions insisted on their sole responsibility for wages and working conditions in the capitalist factories – by no means in all those in which they could gain a foothold, but in accordance with traditional or newly emerging occupational divisions in “their” respective industries. They rejected any responsibility for the “further” project of messing with the capitalist economic system in general and its state guardian; this was “a matter for politics.” The Free Trade Unions agreed with Social Democracy on the long-term goal of a classless society; but for them this goal was not only so far off, but also located so decisively on a completely different social “level” than their wage struggle that they wanted nothing to do with its realization. It was by no means their great defeats – such as the printers in their 10-week strike in 1891/92 for the 9-hour work day – that made the socialist trade unions more reluctant to take on more ambitious class struggle projects, but their successes in the struggle for influence in the factories and on the working class as a whole: They established themselves – long before they were officially recognized as parties to collective agreements – as a counterweight to the command power of capital which was willing to negotiate and, of course, compromise accordingly, and they did not want to question this achievement by setting aims and objectives that went further than merely provisional matters or jeopardized it with the foreseeable harsh reactions of the other side. The more respect they gained, the more self-confidently and decisively they rejected any suggestion that their fighting capacity should be deployed for projects beyond their own “social” concerns. So the German labor movement not only brought about years of bitter debate about the question as to whether the unions’ strike weapon should also be used for political goals such as the abolition of the three-class voting system in Prussia [5]; it even managed, in its capacity as a trade union movement, to conclude a secret agreement with itself in its capacity as a social democratic party, represented by the general commission or party executive committee, which ruled political mass strikes out of the question. After this decision was brought to light, a public agreement was reached that shows how much the vanguard of the proletariat was now copying the diplomats of the class state: “In order to bring about a uniform approach in actions that equally affect the interests of the unions and the party, the central committees of the two organizations should seek agreement.”[6] The trade union “branch” of the movement was thus expressly exempted from participating in initiatives which the party might consider necessary in preparation for a socialist revolution. Its policy of setting itself up in the role as opponent of capital’s private power, as the advocate for bearable conditions of exploitation, was formally recognized – whatever was unbearable, such as total impoverishment in the event of unemployment, was, in the absence of public support, modulated internally by means of a trade union support fund.... – and ensured that the workers, with their self-sacrificing dedication to national prosperity, and the nation, in its fair recognition of such merits, made their peace with each other.

The Free Association of German Trade Unions were able to reap the rewards for their constructive efforts when Germany’s leaders opened the Great War. They acknowledged their Kaiser’s decision the next day, August 2, 1914, with the decision to “cease all pending wage disputes, suspend all strike support, and assist in bringing in the harvest.” In return, the Reich government renounced forced management of the production factor labor demanded by the Supreme Army Command. Control over the proper deployment of the workers who had not been drafted into the military was instead transferred to committees with equal representation given to employers and workers’ representatives; in order to ensure the smooth running of production in factories that was crucial to the war effort, workers’ and employees’ committees were set up for more than 50 employees – epoch-making forerunners of the works councils which are still in service 100 years later as an institutionalized commitment of proletarian workers to social peace in “their” companies. For their part, the unions thanked their belligerent fatherland for this leap of faith by faithfully fulfilling the patriotic duties that were imposed on them with their official upgrade into quasi-corporations of public service. They helped organize national labor as effectively as possible, recognized the need for wage cuts and stricter performance requirements, and enforced both, and ceased any strike activities. In short, they proved themselves to be the “transmission belts” of the state-defined common good in its most honest and harshest conceivable version, namely the national will to war, and met with the highest applause in this willingly accepted function. The working class, which had been despised, marginalized and accordingly recalcitrant a few years earlier, was recognized as an essential part of the people at war – and thus, in the opinion of the union, there was no reason for further rebelliousness.

With the collapse and removal of the old authorities in the autumn of 1918, the socialist workers’ leaders’ responsibility for the organization of national labor grew even more important. Now it was necessary – even without being asked by the very highest levels and without the pressure of military compulsion as an alternative, purely out of concern for the greater good of class society in its time of need and in voluntary solidarity with the social democratic founders of the republic – to save the market economy in which they had found an important place – against the resistance of autonomously formed workers’ and soldiers’ councils, spontaneously striking proles and even many of their own members. The economy of capitalist enrichment on war had to be converted to an economy of capitalist enrichment on the survival needs and necessities of the people in defeated Germany; demobilized soldiers had to be integrated back into the capitalist labor market and, where possible, into active labor service; uninhibited demands for “socialization” and the danger of the communist revolution that had been successful in Russia “spilling over” had to be averted. And the unions once again stood the test. As late as November, they joined together with the employers to form the “Central Working Group of Industrial and Commercial Employers and Employees of Germany,” winning consolidation of the works councils’ achievements from war days, in addition to recognition as a collective bargaining party and equal associates on various matters; in return, the other side was guaranteed protection from expropriation and the continuation of its power of command over social labor. The employers’ fear of an impending revolution was also used for an agreement on the 8-hour work day, not without tying the continuation of this rule in quieter times to the condition that the German economy must not be put at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis other countries – “securing the business location in the age of globalization” as early as 1918. All this had to be pushed through against a base that was mostly sympathetic to the view that the collapse of the old regime had made it the right time for the long-term goal of a proletarian revolution. The union leadership had its hands full getting its point of view accepted, for the time was not ripe for more “socialism” than what it declared, the chances were not favorable, the misery too great, the proletarian mass base too small, the will to fight too weak, etc. The Reichswehr and Freicorps eventually proved that this union “realism” was correct in practice.

In any case, when it mattered most, the unions didn’t hesitate to enter the “political struggle” that they didn’t want to let themselves be used for prior to the war – that is, when it was about maintaining or restoring the social conditions in which they had already established themselves quite well as a proletarian counter-power and intended to be a defining authority for wage labor and proletarian living standards. What had to be fought politically was the will of the communists and other radical leftists to bring about such a thorough revolution that, along with organized exploitation, even the union program of perpetual pro-worker resistance against “excesses” would become superfluous. In opposition, they mobilized the proletarian nationalism to which they had long committed their people in their successful struggle to win the workers rights that the state had been depriving them of. They were quite ready to make a fighting effort for a pro-union fatherland that included a bourgeois legal system with private property and capitalist command power; even and especially wherever the balance of power was not in favor of its anti-revolutionary “realism” – it knew what it wanted: it preferred to support the bloody suppression of a proletarian uprising, to carry out the violent disciplining of working masses who were agitated into class struggle and to renounce millions of members, than to have its patriotic partisanship put up for debate as an “unrealistic” standpoint. The Free Trade Unions – to acknowledge this glorious chapter too – were put to the test in the year after the establishment of the Republic: they defended their freedom powerfully and successfully against the reactionary putsch of Kapp and Lüttwitz with a quite political national general strike. When the masses of activists misunderstood the call for action from union headquarters in Berlin as a prelude to the “completion” of the November Revolution, to the “final struggle” against reaction and exploitation, a political struggle with a reverse thrust was once again due. The leadership – again because a “revolutionary situation” was lacking – had to fight against the zeal and completely unauthorized goal of a rather angry base which had practiced proletarian discipline long enough. They entrusted the necessarily violent clean-up operations to the armed state power, which was by now social democratic.

It is therefore wrong and unfair to accuse the unions of putting opportunism above all socialist principles – as well as to justify their politics with the argument that their freedom to act was limited and they had few alternatives. In fact, the socialist workers’ movement, in its trade union section, held tight to its programmatic guideline: to stand in firm loyalty to the fatherland and to change its capitalist conditions just as much as they didn’t need to change. There were still plenty of disputes with the employers and the authorities about the extent and nature of the necessary corrections; because not even the conflicting interests that opened up here were to be decided differently than in the practical trial of strength. But the trade union never got carried away – out of some opportunism towards its base – into questioning the private power of capital and the law of the nation. It did indeed find it opportune to continue to refer itself and its activities to the distant goal of a classless socialist society that it had popularized, and to ideologically justify the obvious incompatibility of the distant goal and the current practice. But the justification was always clear enough: first the survival of the people had to be ensured with the restoration of a capitalist peace production; then radicalism would only strengthen the reaction; during inflation, the misery was too great, in the subsequent upswing, the prosperity too solid for an escalation of class struggle by the workers to stand a chance; then again, unemployment was too high to think of a struggle against its causes ... In this way, the trade union movement held its course through all the turmoil of the interwar period. When, in the eleventh and twelfth years of the Republic, the economic situation and the unemployment figures would not improve at all, it finally pulled off a long overdue advance, namely to the position of a national economic policy: Its leaders set out a whole program of how the state should assist its impoverished wage laborers – not by going against their capitalist users, but by getting their business going with wage labor again through state financial aid.

This fine program was then put into practice by the Nazis, to whom the unions offered themselves as an indispensable guarantee of social stability: “The social tasks of the trade unions must be fulfilled, whatever the nature of the state regime.” [7] That was said honestly – for once. This was an explicit denunciation of the only opportunism that the trade union leadership had always been capable of: the invocation of class struggle, which it used to recommend itself to its base as an advocate of the highest proletarian ideals of solidarity and as an essential part of a working class socialist subculture. The end of the song was, of course, an exquisite irony of history. The great despisers of bourgeois hypocrisy, the fascists who came to power, did not take the unions’ honest offer to cooperate at their word, but rather their traditional pretension that “actually” they were concerned with quite different final aims than permission to work in social peace: they dissolved the organization – certain that they would encounter no resistance whatsoever from such an accommodating association, which still celebrated the Hitler government’s proclamation of May 1 as National Labor Day as its ultimate success and called on its members to participate en masse. They were not disappointed.

c) Universal suffrage and parliamentary debate over the definition of the common good: the logic of political struggle

From the very beginning, even before its unions could do business with the employers, the labor movement has been in conflict with the state power – otherwise, if it only had to deal with a few capitalist exploiters, the struggle would have been decided very quickly. However, before the private power of property, as its guarantor power, there is the public power. It treats every proletarian rebellion as a disturbance of the peace, every resistance to the brutalities of wage labour as a violation of the law, and every revolt as an attack on its supreme authority. From the beginning, it hit back accordingly, with police and soldiers. In their struggle to survive, the proletarians of the 19th century were not spared the need to organize themselves into parties that were more or less capable of civil war and ready to assert themselves with force against the state apparatus of oppression.

The labor movement had a crack at even this and by and large managed to achieve it in the most advanced capitalist countries by the end of the century. Admittedly with a program that made a mockery of the reasons why it saw illegalized political resistance necessary: it doesn’t really try to get at them.

(1) Necessary resistance and a not at all necessary mistake: The labor movement puts its trust in democracy

Many of the pioneers of workers’ emancipation knew that the survival interests of the proletariat are incompatible with the reason of state power. They were aware of the need to seize power over the society from the state in order to destroy the institution that establishes and guarantees the power of capitalist property over labor and to organize a classless society with production relations free of rule. And they saw a way to achieve this goal: if the propertyless proletarians were first off legally equal with the better-off bourgeois classes and politically recognized as citizens with full voting rights, if, in addition, authority and power and finally government force were transferred to elected bodies – demands in which the workers parties were supported by egalitarian bourgeois democrats and vice versa – then they would win. Because in the foreseeable future – as they had noted in the “Communist Manifesto” – the progress of capitalist production relations would by itself turn the overwhelming majority of society into exploited proletarians; and because democracy meant the rule of the majority, politically decisive power would almost automatically fall to those who were now without rights and were oppressed. [8] At the same time, the economic power of the bourgeoisie was going to be increasingly undermined by escalating crises in the capitalist expansion process; at some point, state power would no longer be able to avoid rescuing the community by restricting the private command power of the capitalists and bringing the “anarchy of the market” under public control; and this fine political task, when it came to that point, would necessarily fall to the socialists of its own accord, because only they would know how to “solve” it – a hopeful perspective which the socialist advocates of an intact “general public” and a functioning national community had arranged by means of some convenient misunderstandings of Marx's remarks about the necessity of periodic stagnation in the circulation of capital and the general impoverishment that goes with it. [9] At the end of a consistent democratization process and on the occasion of a complete economic collapse, it would inevitably be the turn of the proletariat to take rule away from the bourgeoisie and to establish a classless polity “in the long run.” The state power – in some places still mostly feudalistically constituted – made it violently clear to the workers’ movement that it would not be successful in pressing for political emancipation . In the cabinets of the governing parties, exactly the same in the leadership circles of the rebellious proletariat, the seizure of power by the lowest social classes loomed with democratic conditions and they were determined to prevent this disaster at all costs. The socialist federations and parties, in turn, took this as a strong confirmation that they were on the right revolutionary path with their struggle for universal suffrage and for the democratization of state power.

But now it is so, and the hopeful socialist subversives of the 19th century somehow knew this, and at least practically took it into account when they went to agitate among factory workers, journeymen, farmhands and paupers: the need and necessity of organized resistance against the capitalist bourgeoisie and its state power, given the class situation, is by no means the same as the political will to take action against the reason for the prevailing conditions; and crises that generalize misery do not automatically play into the hands of the radical parties of the proletariat. At least that is what could not be overlooked: with the actual increase in the proportion of proletarian existences in society, socialist electoral successes were by no means automatic. Even in the first heyday of the labor movement, whole sections of the proletariat kept away from its struggles, instead demanding paternalistic care of their misery by the responsible worldly masters – if not immediately by the other side; many sought their salvation by immigrating or invested their will to fight in a private professional career, etc. With a proletarian majority among the electorate, no political goals are decided, let alone carried out.

Still, the political organizations of the workers’ movement put their faith in precisely this, as if the social situation already gave the revolutionary point of view; accordingly, they addressed their target audience in a propagandistic way, namely with the hugely superfluous reminder that they also belonged to the working class and by morally referring to the fact that solely because of their class they owed solidarity to the proletariat and consequently their votes to Social Democracy. And so they decided on a very central issue; namely, to place their unwavering trust in democratic forms of government as an infallible method to suitably organize and arrange the world in the interest of wage laborers. They even found out completely on their own that the only thing that matters for this royal road to socialism is the people as voting citizens and that moral harassment is the means of choice to get people to vote correctly. In any case, the state power was supposed to organize the desired change; and in the end, all it needed to change was one thing: that it allowed the proletarians to come to their full civic rights and to play the part of a voting block. Therefore, the socialist revolutionaries aimed their political engagement at the goal of democratizing the ruling power and making it treat even its propertyless subjects in a way that befits full members of the community; this was already the whole progress they were really actively striving for. Everything necessary for a revolution and a revolutionary new beginning would be found in due course – namely, once the proletarian share of the population was clearly the majority and the capitalists had entered their final business crisis, in which they could no longer avoid the oath of disclosure that they had failed as managers of a social mode of production. All that mattered is that a strong socialist party would then be ready to manage the bankruptcy and that the power to set up the society would really come from the egalitarian electorate.

With this standpoint, the socialist party leaders simply spared themselves from critically examining whether a democratized state power and a socialist revolution, the loyalty of a voting citizen and the will to overthrow the state, fit together or are even compatible with each other. And they wouldn’t even have had to reinvent this critical view themselves. But even without theoretical clarification from their Comrade Marx, one thing could have attracted their attention: A state which, in line with their demands for equal rights, disregards all social differences between its citizens, which places itself sovereignly above those conflicts of interest classified as “private,” which minimizes all conflicts between the political-economic classes as legislatively controllable legal issues, and which exactly where it makes itself dependent on the will of the people, namely when it comes to choosing the governing personnel, it no longer wants to take any notice of the poverty and wealth of its citizens – such an ideal type of democratized state power is anything but a useful instrument for abolishing the political-economically defined classes, replacing the system of “private sector” exploitation of the “labor factor” with rationally planned production relations and thus depriving social relations of their violent character. The democratic sovereign does not take on every task; it already has enough to do, setting individuals and classes into their irreconcilable conflicts of interest by forcing the necessary procedural forms on them with its omnipresent force of law, and conversely it has nothing else to do and no other reason to exist than, as a public authority, to fairly and equitably and without any consideration for material needs dictate “to each his own” in an antagonistically constituted society. And for party members who wanted to convince their addressees of the necessity of a socialist revolution, this insight would certainly have been up for grabs: A citizen who demands “equal rights for all” may indeed merely have in mind that those who are materially better off shouldn’t also be better off legally; in fact, he declares in this way his agreement that all material differences and contradictions between himself and other legal subjects are legally acceptable under the point of view from which he merely makes demands in the first place. If he particularly insists that his vote has to count as much as that of everybody else, then he agrees, whether he knows it and wants it or not, firstly, to the rule exercised over him, secondly, without material restriction and without reservation, but thirdly, with the proviso that the rule equally empowered by all voters must not be particularly obligated to any material concern, hence also no material need, not even his own.

None of this was criticized by the political champions of the workers’ cause. They didn’t want to know anything more about the real achievements of a force standing up for the freedom and equality of its citizens, at least for the practical interests of their politics. On the contrary, they considered it to be a promise that every status and every citizen should get rights at all costs, and were lacking nothing but the fulfillment of this. They accused their authorities of legal and political discrimination against the proletariat, its exclusion from public life, disregard for its special interests, and the restriction of its right to participate in the community; they demanded a political system in which the needs of the working class should count and be respected just as much as the demands of the capitalists. As things stood, in the still incomplete transition from feudalism to bourgeois democracy, this was subversive enough; it is not revolutionary in the sense that it contradicted the emerging liberal-egalitarian system of rule, and was not in the nineteenth century. Because in the name of the mistreated proletariat, nothing more was demanded than that the new bourgeois state power should do its work better: at last, consistently and without regard for the person or their property, make the non-partisan arbitrator of social conflicts transform them into legal cases; at last, give all legitimate social interests the influence they deserve; at last, pay as much attention to the concerns of the poor as to the demands of the rich; in short: do justice to class society in all its departments.

The hardships of the working class, which on the one hand gave the 19th century socialists the idea that a proletarian revolution that was actually needed, were thus on the other hand degraded to the material for a civil petition for equal treatment. The catalogue of political demands drawn up by the workers’ parties listed, not even in their entirety, the hardships that the capitalist-economic community plunges its wage earning people into, and reflected the cynicism with which those in political power leave the management of these hardships to the people who lack the means to do so: Impartial legal protection for workers too, legal restrictions on entrepreneurial despotism, health protection in the factory, especially for women and children, as well as appropriate official supervision – none of this goes without saying; housing, schooling for all, health care, support for the elderly and disabled, all the indispensable but unaffordable means of survival for wage earners must be fought for; resistance is forbidden, the rank and file under police supervision... Reasons enough to not only repeatedly request relief, but to use the obviously necessary force to put an end to such conditions; and that is exactly what the parties of the workers' movement propagandized – on the one hand. On the other hand, in practice they were very submissive to it, and made a list of defects out of the unreasonable demands made on their people, which the authorities, if they really wanted to ensure equal justice, would have had to handle with their legal means of violence. Appropriate modifications of the legal situation were then only achieved, if at all, under pressure; even the most banal things had to be bitterly fought for; and the results were regularly a mockery of the expectations aroused beforehand: Misery was always just manipulated and nothing was really eliminated. However, the champions of the proletariat did not take this as anything but a new reason to reject the state power which supervises such a society with its monopoly on the use of force and wants to have it recognized as a prudent foundation for keeping order, but staunchly the opposite: as hopeful signs that “the situation” was already changing for the better; as proof that the bourgeois class could no longer do what it actually wanted to do; as a lesson on how to effectively undermine the rule of capital and its ruling “lackeys”; in any case, as encouragement to continue in exactly the same way and, moreover, to wait with revolutionary patience for the “revolutionary situation” to ripen. Without having had to decide so explicitly, the political leaders of the proletariat, in their righteous outrage at the immorality of the prevailing conditions, referred to the state power in practice not as their adversary – even when they were harassed by it – but as the decisive, because solely legitimate, addressee of their desire for social improvement. With their struggle for a better authority which would be able to handle state power in a pro-working class way, they ultimately changed some things in the legal situation; above all, however, they recognized that nothing further needed to be changed than the legal situation, and that it was ultimately only the rulers who could change it. That the supreme powers concern themselves with every discontent with the prevailing conditions, reserve the right to make any decision about it and commit any resistance to obedience before they decide its justification and its limits: this was de facto conceded even before the proletarian class struggle programmatically adhered to this principle.

Thus the political struggles of the labor movement – one of the many not at all funny ironies of its history – provide the toughest, because practically the most momentous example of the truth which the socialist parties have so nobly ignored in their false hope that more democracy was the royal road to anti-capitalist revolution and classless society: that the reasons wage workers can’t avoid banding together into a movement ready to fight and the goals they set in and for their struggle are once and for all two different things. When they put both into one, however, the political activists of the workers’ cause were neither aware of the reasons for the resistance forced on them, nor did they derive their goals from a proper critique of capitalist conditions. They then remained, for all their revolutionary elan, intimidated and trapped in the class situation that drove them to protest and militant opposition. And their illusions about democracy as a convenient instrument of proletarian revolution dissolved into the banal truth that they did not imagine anything else by revolution and classless society, and that they did not strive for anything else with their subversive politics than a state power well-disposed to the cause of the proletariat.

(2) The system’s answer: The state power demands participation in parliamentary pluralistic debate about its catalog of social policy tasks

All the same, the labor politicians of the early days did not meet with approval from the authorities. The thoroughly constructive character of their revolt was not – yet – clear to them; after all, they were trying to overthrow the existing relations of power and law. Much less could champions of the conventional rules gain anything positive from the political discontent of their propertyless subjects; the bourgeoisie, the remnants of the aristocracy, the state bureaucrats, and other pillars of society mostly saw social scum threatening to take power. Several bloody struggles were necessary before the power-holders in the most advanced capitalist nations could be urged to make certain concessions. In the end, however, they saw themselves forced to come to the insight that the working masses without property were not just a marginal phenomenon, but an indispensable and, especially in its wretched nature, absolutely useful part of the new society; a “fourth status,” so to speak, on whose long-term services, and thus also on whose tireless willingness to serve and reliable loyalty, the community was already dependent, and whose members should therefore not be deprived of the status of full-fledged legal subjects and free citizens. Even the state theoretical superstructure at some point got involved with the freshened-up doctrine that, contrary to earlier views, propertylessness probably does not necessarily justify being excluded from the rights and duties of full-fledged citizens. The paths to the proletariat’s political emancipation were then still quite tortuous in practice; depending on the national circumstances, strange coalitions – sometimes between bourgeoisie and proletariat against the nobility, sometimes between monarchists and lower strata against the industrialists, etc. etc. – played their role. But in the end, the proletarians, always restrained and with due regard for the economic well-being and political stability of the nation, were granted the sought-after legal status, including the right to vote. The rebellious workers’ parties were thus made the generous offer of being allowed to make social demands through elected representatives, that is, those legitimized through the state’s procedural rules, and of being able to make constructive demands in parliamentary chambers and assemblies with the political representatives of the other social classes and groups, namely with a view to the common good, and peacefully haggle over the extent to which the measures they wanted for containing and coping with proletarian hardships could be universally recognized and taken into account within the framework of the overriding general interest in capitalist progress and the nation’s increase in political power.

They were thus granted a right which the various factions of propertied society had long since either insisted on or taken: the right to present their own material interests to the government, to prove their importance with extortions and promises, and to compete against others for the greatest possible consideration and official solicitude. In this way, a good deal of the reason of state had already come together, which the authorities had to satisfy if they wanted to control the antagonistic relations in their increasingly bourgeois society in an expedient manner – this ruling “reason” was not at all certain at the beginning; after all, the modern constitutional state did not come into existence either according to an elaborate plan or with a political program for how it should organize itself, what it should use its monopoly on the use of force for, and what it should achieve with it. Initially, only one thing was clear; it was, of course, decisive and had a political-economic system-building effect: the protection of productive property stood from the beginning right at the top of the agenda; not only as a result of the propertied class’s well-funded influence on the power holders, but also because of the financial needs of the state power itself, which could only be met by means of bonds and taxes and fiscal appropriation of private financial assets if property measured in money was to increase continuously. From its capitalistically active citizens of the “early days” or its theoretically and practically inclined interest representatives, the modern authorities then allowed themselves to be instructed in what still today constitutes the decisive treasure of knowledge of a capable location manager, namely that – according to the unforgotten words of the last free democratic Minister of Economics of the FRG in the 20th century – “the economy takes place in the economy” and consequently in this regard the public power should adopt the position of “laissez faire, laissez alle” – the motto of the Manchester school of political economy at the beginning of the 19th century. With the prudent fulfillment of this modest demand, which required and still requires no small amount of violence, the capitalist mode of production in its proper elementary form was then set in motion, but with it also a cheerfully anarchic demand on the part of the activists and beneficiaries of this economy. Because once the state power had declared that, for the sake of its own success, it owed its wealthy citizens and their private business activities public care and attention, every capitalist owner saw himself entitled to claims in proportion to his wealth. What was really justified about this, what a modern authority has to do in order to successfully shape a national economic life, could not be “determined” in this paradise of economic reason in any other way than through bitter struggles for political influence, fought out by the various factions of the emerging bourgeois society with their respective interests in power and property. For these power struggles, the modern state has at least found a civilized method: it grants all the social interests it legitimizes the right to express themselves publicly, to organize themselves as lobbies or parties and to intervene in the government’s decision-making via parliament – under the sole, admittedly decisive, condition that the authorized lobbyists commit themselves and each other to reaching a consensus by means of compromises with a view to the state as a whole, which is then to be regarded as the closest approximation to the common good. In this way, the state power, which thereby earns the attribute “bourgeois,” interacts with its capitalist basis and manages to govern its class society basically according to its properly announced and smoothed together needs. After all, this works so perfectly that gradually all bourgeois nations have by and large come upon the same reason of state with regard to their method of government. What the state authority owes its basis in terms of money supply, credit creation, subsidies, infrastructure, growth promotion, protection in foreign transactions, etc., how it has to organize its own claims with taxes and debts, how its various – monetary, financial, credit, tax, foreign trade, etc. – “policies” are to be related to each other so that capital as a whole finds the best opportunities for growth: this has now been established in principle as the catalog of tasks for modern governance worldwide; and as a way of making decisions in detail, pretty much the same democratic pluralism, including lobbying and corruption, has also been adopted everywhere.

In the course of the 19th century, the parties of the “fourth estate” were admitted into the constructive debate about how to define the common good to be provided by the state – against resistance and during struggles that had first created the necessary conditions on both sides. The state power was forced to understand that it can’t simply ignore and exclude the needs and demands of a class that is a functional part of the capitalist mode of production and, moreover, constitutes the mass basis of the nation’s power. The proletarian parties were forced to accept, as a condition of admission, the craziness of recognizing the systematic exploitation of wage labor as a given “regulatory framework,” the interest of the capitalist owners in the successful exploitation of labor as legitimate and as the basis of the common good which is decisive for the prosperity of the nation. On this basis, the representatives of the enfranchised working class were allowed to voice their particular viewpoint, i.e. to draw attention to the fact that factory work, as well as the hardships of poverty and the existential insecurity of those who do this work, was not bearable in the long run, and to demand remedial action.

And that’s exactly what they did.

(3) The one big success: The working class wins its species protection

The socialist parties of the proletariat, who saw themselves as the vanguard of a revolutionary upheaval, in opposition to bourgeois rule as it first confronted them, made use of the legal parliamentary means that were offered to them in the double sense of the word. By means of parliamentary “tie-in deals” and even real coalitions, they extorted the bourgeois power apparatus to face up to its “socio-political responsibility” and take the conditions of existence of the working class into its care for the advancement of society.

This policy did, of course, bring with it a certain shift in focus to one’s own “base” and its needs. All the problems of survival which unpropertied wage laborers have with and as a result of the systematic exploitation of their labor power are transformed in the course of their parliamentary representation, almost automatically and in any case quite logically, simply on grounds of the dominant way of seeing that is peculiar to the organs of state power, into a problem which these people are, namely for the state power which looks after the common good. In other words: all proletarian hardships are presented as problems that the ruling authorities have – or should have – with the wage laborers and their desolate situation. The point of view from which the proletarian side has the honor of being recognized as a problem is thus already clear: it receives attention as a national condition of success – in principle, just like the capitalist class with its property, only with the small difference that it is not capital and its profitable use, but a social human type that is examined; to see what it is good for with labor power as a resource. The subjective and objective sides of this “human capital” become the object of critical examination and support: the capability of the national workforce to perform profitable wage labor, or its incapability due to living and working conditions which are bad or getting worse, as well as their willingness to do the required services, or their severe or possibly impending unwillingness.

The cynicism of this view – and the method of treatment that follows from it – did not, of course, bother the political representatives of the proletariat. They merely fought their just struggle for nothing less than the working class’s good right to maintenance. The fact that this legal claim is based on nothing other than the contribution they make to the growth of social wealth, that is, on the exploitation they put up with and stick out, did not, according to the party-socialist view, disgrace the legal claim, but rather honored the decent people: with their productive poverty they had truly earned consideration. The fact that this well earned right consists in nothing other than enabling wage-earners to make a socially productive contribution to society and obliging them to do so, in other words, pinning them down to a functional existence as a production factor of capital, has never bothered the political leaders of the labor movement. They simply always emphasized this brutality the other way around, taking the commitment of the majority of society to a proletarian existence as a constitutional vindication for the existence of the proletarian masses. And with that they find themselves and their clients well served to this today.

In this way, they did justice to their profession as parliamentary lawyers of the bullied working class. By standing up for workers’ rights, the socialist politicians not only accepted the consequences that the capitalist exploitation of labor power has for the proletarians, but also agitated for the ideal total employer, the state, to recognize these as nothing but the problems that it has with function and effectiveness – and conversely, that the legal measures by which the state power ensures the suitability of wage laborers to work are appreciated by them as their right. They always rejected the materialist retranslation of this right into the ability and obligation of workers to serve the national capital growth for which they were ruined. In this way, the proletarian parties pushed through the standpoint that it is not the social mode of production that needs to be “revolutionized,” but in order that nothing essential has to change, the state power itself has to change. They decisively completed their list of tasks: “social issues” or survival conditions for the wage-working class that conform to the system. Ever since they achieved this great success, they have rendered outstanding services to finding answers that are appropriate to the economic situation.

(4) The other great success: The parties of proletarian revolution
develop their “ability to govern” –
while maintaining their “revolutionary class standpoint”

Just as diligently as the state transformed itself, the workers’ parties of the 19th century transformed themselves with their political struggles. In other words: they fought – and their supporters took the beatings for it – so that the bourgeois state authority would live up to its own principles of rule; and within the framework of this constructive effort, they themselves increasingly lived up to their own party rationale. Either way, they got over their early antagonism toward the authorities, accepted the law of the land as the “framework of rules” within which they were allowed to present their concerns, and recognized the state as the sole addressee to whom they had to appeal. In parliament, they initiated debates over a pro-worker compromise in the legal definition of the common good; they became increasingly professional in identifying and dealing with national problems; they increasingly shifted their combative actions to the fields assigned to them, namely election campaigns, battles of words, and intrigues in the chambers of parliament where they developed their tactical skills. They learned from this and became accustomed to seeing the world through the eyes of the “political leaders,” to transforming the protest against proletarian misery into a concern for the just care of a useful, indeed essential professional group, and to recognizing and acknowledging capitalist wealth as not only the exploitative power of money, but the lifeblood of the community and the universal instrument of just rule. The will to take over the public power – by revolution, if necessary – through the proletarian party matured into a share in the claims of the bourgeois state power and its conditions for success; a functioning capitalist business life was at first tacitly included in this, then increasingly explicitly approved, and finally loudly and emphatically demanded as a prerequisite for powerful political action. What had begun with the intention of taking power away from the class state developed into an unconditional willingness to exercise its power inside the class state and to execute established state tasks, and in the end led to the ambition of proving itself fully capable of governing.

At the same time, however, and in no small contradiction to this actual guideline of their politics, the political parties of the proletariat undauntedly upheld “the revolution” as their true and actual programmatic end goal. In fact, their efforts were increasingly clearly aimed at, and also unerringly had the effect of, correcting the handling of state power in a pro-worker sense; this is why they were eventually recognized by the bourgeois state itself as having legal competence and parliamentary legitimacy. And yet the political spokesmen of the workers’ movement wanted to be understood as if they were in fact concerned with nothing but a first step towards the abolition of state power and class society.

That this declaration did not fit their political practice at all was of course noticed by many and was also criticized in the opposite sense by the various party “wings.” Some worried about the allegiance of the party to its actual class struggle-based revolutionary program. Others saw themselves ideologically impaired and practically hindered in their increasingly constructive zeal for political reform, as well as in their campaigns for voters and coalition partners, by revolutionary objectives which they could see as nothing more than outdated phrases. Neither side – at least for a long time – won the case. The proletarian revolution and classless society as the ultimate goal of their political struggle could not be taken away from the socialist workers parties. Their great claim to be politically responsible and to speak for the entire proletarian class, their entire appearance as the sole legitimate representative of all wage laborers, their party rationale in general, was ultimately based on the class-specific needs of the proletariat, the incompatibility of its interests with the legally protected private power of capital, and the false translation of this class position into a necessarily revolutionary will, a natural and automatic need of the workers to overthrow class rule – on the fiction of a political class standpoint, which they recognized as proletarian socialists and whose appointed advocates they wanted to be. They were, of course, precisely in their revolutionary self-confidence, as far off as possible from making a revolutionary politics. For them, classless society was not a project to which they had to win the workers and which they had to pursue in opposition to the state and society, but the title for the unconditional right of the proletariat, which they believed in, to play a decisive role in the society; they wanted to represent this right in the community and bring it into politics. They considered it to be completely wrong to want to “jump ahead” of the “historic tendency” toward an unambiguous definition of the social majority and thus of the political power relations, as well toward ever greater capitalist crises, with subversive projects; the imperative of the “historic hour,” which admittedly dragged on year after year and decade after decade, was rather to improve the starting position for future “developments” with “revolutionary patience” through modest democratic reforms adapted to the “situation.” The goal of a proletarian revolution was erased from the day to day operations of the socialist parties by inscribing it on the party’s banners as the end goal. The rational understanding of the practical necessity of toppling the whole bourgeois show when wage laborers do not wish to remain the working pawns of capitalist property in the long run, nor under conditions that are constantly being perfected, and the corresponding revolutionary will degenerated into a hopeful belief in a historic mission of the working classes; the critique of the political economy of capitalism and the plan to replace its “objective constraints” with a rationally planned division of labor turned into a collection of promises and ideals of a better world. However, these were indispensable; because they were the identifying mark of the class’s right attitude and thus simply the vocational title of the sole claim to representation of the “party of the working class.” So the leaders of the working class were able to adopt the standpoint of good government in terms of democratic form and capitalist content, and be part of the government in a parliamentary way – and at the same time insist unrelentingly that this was the only way to bring about the downfall of bourgeois rule and the transition to a classless society.

The proletarian rank and file were agitated with this party line. The hardship and misery of wage labor were heartily accused – and in a very basic sense glossed over: the afflicted could and ought to be proud of it. Because it was precisely the shabby use made of their labor that proved its importance for capital, with all its wealth, as well as for the state, with all its power, which both depended on their efforts; it established a quite self-earned right to recognition and respect from the society’s highest powers and officials; it was the guarantee that “the future” would ultimately belong to them. If the community still owed good treatment to its human material regardless, they were consoled by the certainty that the course of events would inevitably give the “damned of the earth” their rights. The revolutionary party of labor presented itself as the attorney for this right and the guarantor of its redemption once the class state’s unjust system would finally become untenable. It deserved approval not for any kind of convincing program, but for the revolutionary class standpoint it represented, thus solely on the basis of the class affiliation of its addressees. Conversely, no more revolutionary elan was demanded of them than a vote, which of course did not want to be decided on the basis of any political calculations, but in the indestructible belief in an infinitely sunny future which any decent proletarian deserved. Until that time, all the hardships of wage labor and of proletarian daily life were shared among like-minded people who settled into their labor movement “milieu.”

In this way, the socialist parties trained their supporters to be loyal voters with an unconditionally affirmative class consciousness.

(5) “Reform or Revolution”: The labor movement splits over a wrongly posed alternative

With the general line that the praxis of the labor movement would consist of docile and constructive participation in parliament up to the point of being mature enough to govern in the elaboration of the reason of a modern national class state, while at the same time insisting ideally that the ultimate goal of proletarian revolution fundamentally distanced it from the bourgeois political scene, its subsequent political development was programmed – including its split, which then decided its fate in the 20th century. It was inevitable that more than a few outraged activists envisioned class struggle and revolution as something different than waiting patiently for future developments: those who in form and content of political manner propagated an apparent rejection of the ruling power, opposition to its machinations, resistance beyond what was legally permissible and useful in terms of election tactics, a power struggle beyond what was feasible in parliament. And it is unfortunately just as clear that the due debate was not conducted as an argument over correct criticism and over the most expedient way to win a revolutionary class struggle, but as a power struggle over the right to define the class standpoint and over the authoritative assessment as to how far away the more or less longed-for “revolutionary situation” still was.

The radical opposition within social democracy in Germany had for years struggled in vain to win over the party and the trade unions to a major campaign against the Prussian three class electoral law which, in the common understanding of all proletarian forces and in the spirit of the party’s doctrine that democracy is the ideal way for the future proletarian majority to conquer power, was the last and most important obstacle to the success of the labor movement. It revived when the bourgeois governments of Europe resolutely pushed their imperialist conflicts of interests into a first world war between the capitalist nations. This was a new test of the willingness of the national workers’ parties to engage constructively in the interests of political rule, and its toughest one yet; because here the brutal claims to success of the national state powers really couldn’t be confused any more with a proletarian right to the careful treatment of the working masses and couldn’t actually be brokered. The alternative was clear and difficult to gloss over: it was either the unpatriotic class standpoint or loyalty to the nation, either the survival interest of the proletariat or the imperialist success of the state power. It was also precisely the decision that the power-holders and the bourgeois governing parties wanted the socialist parties to have to make: with the decision to prepare for the war considered due, they consciously and explicitly put the already successful parliamentary class struggle to the test of its patriotic reliability.

The test was passed, as is well known. In the run-up to the war, the Socialist International rejected a French proposal to make an eventual mobilization impossible by means of a general strike. The German Social Democrats in particular, by their own admission, did not think they were strong enough for this. As well as: not only had it indeed renounced, in its previously mentioned pact with the unions, use of the means of a “mass strike” for “merely political” issues; it was also busy explaining to its followers that the people and the fatherland are also high values from a proletarian class standpoint too and in event of an emergency were to be defended with weapons – how could one win the masses over to war refusal? Moreover, they feared that any such insubordination would mean the immediate destruction of the party apparatus by the authorities – the concerned party fathers did not allow the question of what good it was for if it didn’t even want to stand up to the great belligerent slaughter, the bloody triumph of official nationalism. On the other hand, their fear of being seized by the authorities who were determined to go to war did not prevent them from thinking that a “defensive war” against the particularly reactionary Russian Czarist empire was justified, even from the proletarian revolutionary point of view, because Social Democracy was always better off under its Emperor Wilhelm. In fact, the calculation was made in all seriousness that the Berlin authorities would reward the proletarian left’s readiness for war by fulfilling their old revolutionary main demand, namely the abolition of the discriminatory right to vote that was valid for Prussia: what they didn’t dare strike for, the Social Democrats hoped would be their reward for being afraid to say no to the Kaiser’s war.

The international labor movement was of course already against the threat of war. It even fought against it – with proposals of universal respect for the right to national self-determination and for the resolution of inter-governmental disputes by a supranational arbitration tribunal; proposals which above all testified to how matter-of-factly the proletarian internationalists had been politicized in categories of national state power. It didn’t occur to them to criticize nation state violence where it walks over corpses in the most brutal way and demands dutiful and enthusiastic approval from its native victims for this purpose. When the time came, the class warriors in parliament delivered the vote that was demanded of them there, namely their “yes” to a capitalistically appropriate financing of the war – it did not even drive them bonkers that the same state, which was about to slaughter millions of foreign subjects and have its own slaughtered, wanted everything to be paid for correctly, only so that there would be no damage to finance capital and the national budget related to its health. As far as German Social Democracy in particular was concerned, it did not only gain national respect with its well-known decision to approve the loans required and requested in the Reichstag for starting the war, but in the sense of the national “political truce,” which was included without any external coercion, it approved every war loan up until 1917. Together with its European sister parties it made sure that during the war not even a party conference of the Socialist International that spanned the enemy states could take place, because all national class struggle parties demanded and did not want to grant each other in advance national confessions of guilt, withdrawals, reparations, or renunciation of them and the like, i.e. quasi-armistice concessions. The same politicians who, before the beginning of the war, in moments of revolutionary enthusiasm, had blustered that the war would open the eyes of the proletariat and speed up the collapse of the old rule, gave up all reservations against it in the course of the great slaughter, accepted the war aims and peace conditions of their respective national authorities, and knew how to defend them bravely against their enemy comrades.

An internal party opposition came out against it, as was mentioned. Their representatives were, however, not so radically opposed that they had more fundamental doubts about the course of their party which had so easily led to its participation in the war or raised the question whether the labor movement was on the right track at all with its submission to the formal requirements of democratic government and the objective requirements of national reasons of state. They really only had misgivings – and as far as the majority of the socialist critics of the war were concerned: merely about the latest and up to that point most radical consequence of this course, that is, the resort to war. These misgivings seemed quite outrageous even to themselves, and more so to their party. According to the social democratic self-understanding, which the dissenters fully shared, they had not merely criticized a programmatic point that could be revised if need be, but had also questioned the identity of their party, its identity with the infallible class standpoint of the proletariat. They had shaken up the party’s living lie of being the expression, and nothing else, of the fixed proletarian class interest. The war opponents made it correspondingly difficult for themselves with their rejection of the official party line. Conversely, their exclusion by the party majority was correspondingly militant: They were simply banned; the SPD faction in the German Reichstag excluded all war critics, Karl Liebknecht first of all, from its ranks. The dissenters, for their part, founded the Independent SPD during the war; not simply because they wanted to achieve something different than a “truce” between the military and wage laborers, but in order to rescue the true workers’ cause from its betrayal by the majority of the party. Not even the pacifist left within the Socialist International was willing to go along with their comrade Lenin’s viewpoint that socialists have no obligation whatsoever to defend their capitalist “fatherlands.” This in itself seemed to the “independents” and the like-minded “radicals” not just false, but “sectarian” – a very telling accusation: it never crossed the minds of the left dissenters to criticize in a different way than to condemn dissenting opinions from the standpoint and in the name of the main and general class standpoint postulated by them, even though they themselves had been treated exactly the same way by the vast majority.

At the end of the war, most of the marginalized comrades in the party felt the urge to undo the “unfortunate” “split” in the labor movement as soon as possible. But this did not happen. Because the Social Democratic parties, especially in the losing nations, were again faced with a possibly even more radical political decision of principle; and they finally split over it. It was about nothing less than re-establishing the state after the collapse of the old regimes. And for this the workers' parties were not merely, as at the beginning of the war, accomplices of the ruling bourgeois – and aristocratic – forces: They had to decide the fate of their nation. The old powers were mostly eliminated by an oppositional movement of the war-weary masses which, however, didn’t pursue a solid revolutionary program. So the party socialists found themselves, without any oppositional efforts of their own, in the position of being the decisive political subject, and had a clear alternative to choose: either to restore by force the bourgeois legal order and a sovereign monopoly on the use of force, to ensure a stable, democratic political rule based on the people, hence emancipated from them, to help the pluralism of social interests gain political recognition in the form of parliamentary representation and thus to reconstitute the traditional property and economic relations of command – or to now try something new and carry out the promise of radical social change and the transition to classless conditions which had been upheld for decades.

As everybody knows, the majority of German Social Democrats who remained loyal to the state during the war decided, together with the more liberal and social parties of the bourgeois camp, to found a republic with a capitalist economy and social standards. However, even with this decision to operate as a reform-minded democratic national party, the SPD majority didn’t give up justifying itself with the ultimate goal of a socialist revolution: The time was still not ripe for the everlastingly pursued revolution because, first of all, in cooperation with the Junkers and capitalists, the nation’s food supply had to be ensured, etc. Under conditions in which the command power of the former owners over the national food supply’s resources had to be violently restored in the first place, the transition to a self-organized supply, which was already in practice in many places, had to be suppressed, and a will to revolution – which was admittedly not very determined – had to be overpowered, this belief in revolution fit the facts of a case of false advertising. But the SPD didn’t want to give it up at any price, and with good reason: it still based its existence as a democratic mass party on its identity with the imagined natural political will of the working class; and this chimera still had no other content than the distortion of the desolate class position of the proletariat into a class-specific revolutionary perspective. With the promise to take responsibility for it, the proletarians’ traditional team thus still justified its unconditional right to sole representation of the working classes. And it needed this more than ever. Because this right was now being seriously contested. The revolt by discontented workers and soldiers which had put an abrupt end to traditional rule – and not only in the German Reich – was the occasion for a strong minority of class war-minded socialists to decide the alternative “state or revolution” against a renewed bourgeois monopoly on force: They fought back against the Republic-founding parties and their new rule.

However, even this anti-Republic left opposition was and remained far too entrenched in the traditional party doctrine of a proletarian class standpoint and its right to good service by the state authorities to revisit all the rule-conforming decisions of Social Democracy and to pursue a policy which, instead of appealing to the offended masses’ sense of justice and showing them the way to a future of social justice with changing assessments of the “revolutionary situation,” would have agitated the angry masses to start a real social revolution themselves for materialistic reasons. The standpoint that a proletarian revolution is not a natural event but a project, as such only as good as the criticism of the political economy of capitalism and its attendant democratic system of rule that it wants to topple, and to be made by those who have comprehended that wage workers can’t avoid a revolution if they want to lead a decent life – far too much rejection of the state and the social democratic party doctrine was unintelligible to the left opposition to the state-supporting majority; indeed, they would have had to start all over again with their whole movement, with themselves as well as with their addressees, pretty much from scratch. What they held against the comrades in government and the co-governing bourgeois parties was, in substance, the repudiation of specific steps in the reorganization of national relations: Independent social democrats and communists were against the restoration of capitalist structures of ownership and command even in the nation’s raw materials industry, against the rehabilitation of the imperial officer corp in disregard of its predominantly anti-democratic and anti-republican attitude, also against the liquidation of all the democratically-based “councils” initiatives in favor of bourgeois party pluralism and a parliamentarism that functions far from the people. This opposition, however, strained to the point of irreconcilability in that the left dissidents felt legitimized by the general turmoil to contest the social democratic majority in their political claim to represent the working class. Their most important “argument” was – once again – the charge of betrayal by the leadership of the traditional party: a charge that didn’t bother to criticize the opponent’s politics, and instead assumed and loudly implored a mandatory common goal of struggle in order to accuse the enemy comrades of a quasi-high treasonous change of fronts in the proletarian class struggle.

Social Democracy, which had matured into a state party, fended off this attack with the means at its disposal as the new state authority: essentially with a few civil war missions by the armed forces of the Republic. In Germany, its victory is inextricably linked with the name Noske. The Social Democratic Minister of Defense – personal motto: “Someone has to be the bloodhound!” – who crushed every proletarian uprising with a harshness never experienced by right-wing opponents of the Republic and, in hindsight, gives pause even to those historians who are truly not suspected of any sympathies with past revolutionary activities. Yet the harshness is no puzzle: this is how it’s done when a government first has to fight for the respect that it is owed as the monopolist of the class society’s violence in the country; it can strive for civil restraint when its inward terror, the violent deterrence of anti-state activities, has had the intended effect. Even a certain imbalance was only all too consistent: any bourgeois state power knows to differentiate between enemies from the left, who challenge the state’s authority because and to the extent that they make respect for it dependent on the realization of social justice, and enemies on the right, who above all else demand that the state power not allow itself to be challenged by any left-wing party and who want to set standards with their violent actions for how hard and against whom the government should actually take action. Besides, the Ebert-Noske government also found itself challenged to clarify how, with the founding of the democratic republic, the claim of social democracy to help the proletariat’s class standpoint to its right had been redeemed, and that neither the right’s suspicion was true nor the left’s hope permissible that the matter was meant in such a way that the new state had to first prove itself as the midwife of a classless society, on penalty of its abolition and socialist-revolutionary dissolution. Instead of relativizing anything about the class state monopoly on force and exercising social consideration, the social democratic government, conversely, constructively linked the totalitarianism of state violence with the world historical claim of the proletariat and enforced its monopoly on violence with the good social conscience of the born class party. The SPD excluded the left, which had contested its monopoly on the class standpoint, from the respectable social-democratic community, the new home of the proletariat, as parties of the unemployed mob; it treated the followers of its radical opponents, and this too was only consistent, in the same contemptuous way, because they were anti-state social scum, as they themselves and the proletariat they represented had been treated by the imperial state power just a few decades earlier.

However, the state-loyal socialists did not achieve the elimination of the false alternative in the capitalist democracies. It was also successful – in the country of the other big loser in the war, the collapsing czarist empire.

(6) The special path of the Bolsheviks: Radical labor friends give the proletariat its rights

In Russia’s Socialist Party, the faction that opposed the war and the founding of a republic prevailed. For Lenin and comrades, with the collapse of the czarist military power, the hunger riots and coup movements in the country, and the formation of soldiers’ and workers’ councils, “the grand crash,” which their German colleague Bebel would have waited decades for with revolutionary patience: the “revolutionary situation” that the leaders of the workers' movement had always made the proletariat’s revolt against bourgeois rule dependent on, had arrived. The type of concern that, especially in backward Russia, “the time” to take power away from the bourgeoisie was far from being “ripe,” that is, that the capitalist bourgeoisie was only just beginning to emerge and that a proletarian majority in society was not yet in sight, were by no means foreign to the Russian majority socialists – the Bolsheviks. However, they were not bothered by this, or at least they didn’t let it stop them at the decisive moment. They carried out a second, more radical revolution against the founders of the republic who had emerged victorious from the February 1917 riots and who, barely in power, wanted to continue the lost war with new momentum. In the name of the proletariat and with the support of the masses, they seized power, eliminated the supporters and followers of the old regime in a prolonged civil war, and survived the intervention of foreign powers. Unlike their German comrades, they did not act like a new republican state elite that had emerged out of the labor movement, but like a proletarian party that had brought society under its control: After abolishing the monarchy, they also abolished parliamentary rule and the bourgeois pluralism of interests, liquidated the economic regime of capital – and thus set an example for the labor movement, that the common tradition of struggle produced quite different and much more far-reaching practical consequences than progress from a constitutional monarchy with unequal voting rights and social democratic opposition to a perfectly democratic republic with a bourgeois legal system, social laws, and socialist ministers.

They remained true to tradition with their communist alternative – and thus to the decisive and decisively wrong political premise of the labor movement: They too were concerned with the high goal of giving the proletariat its rights, its recognition and fair appreciation as a true and real social productive force by the state power that has society under its control and grants all interests their rights. However, they took this aim in a much more radical way and drew tougher consequences from it than the social democratic reformers: they thought that it was absolutely incompatible with the rights earned by the proletariat through its labor if the fruits of this labor were to benefit idle owners who, with the power of this unearned wealth, then also boss around the workers at their discretion. A state power which, seeming to hover neutrally above the classes, in fact sanctions only this unfair distribution of wealth and power, they found accordingly reprehensible. Consequently, they put an end to both and replaced the monopoly on force of the bourgeois state with a “dictatorship of the proletariat” which expropriated the unproductive bourgeoisie and took over its material resources along with the command power connected to them into its own, namely state, administration.

For all the practical refusal of the capitalist mode and its class state organization, however, it is all the more striking that Lenin and his Russian comrades did not object at all to the most important achievement of the capitalist mode of production, but rather had nothing but reverence for it: The proletariat, including its own profession, wage labor, was simply great in their eyes; they found its service as a social productive force, whose exertion is reflected in the independent form of existence of property, in money, worthy of all praise and nurturing. They had no criticism at all of the dubious achievement that only comes into the world with capitalist property as the reason, means, and end goal of all production and the social life process in general: that labor quite simply counts and takes effect as a source of wealth because it creates new property to the extent of its productive expenditure and enriches its users all the more, the longer and more intensively it is done with the most effective means and the less the output goes to benefit the workers themselves in the form of wages; and that the majority of society is subsumed under this dismal purpose of having to throw away its labor power and living time to increase a power of access to material goods that exists separate from them. On the contrary, this whole system of wage labor seemed morally so honorable and economically so valuable to them that they wanted to take it away from the bourgeois class in order have the state perfect it. Everything that Marx had criticized about it: the degradation of the mass of society to a poorly paid factor of production, systematically excluded from created wealth; the independent existence of the produced wealth as property in the form of money, thus systematically separated from the needs and expenses of its producers; the establishment of the exploitation relation as a legal situation by the state – according to the will of the Bolsheviks, all of this was to remain in force, only without the capitalist class, the beneficiaries and activists of this system; with a fair, new state in its place, that is, one that does justice to proletarian hard work. Under its sole command, the working class was to be able to continue successfully performing its self-sacrificial service for the social wealth which it brings into the world so beautifully separated from itself, without going to the dogs: and what it brings about should, according to the state plan, be used purposefully to get more and more out of the proletariat. Instead of the abolition of wage labor, the Russian revolutionaries wanted a fundamental rededication of its yields; instead of replacing the political economy of proletarian drudgery with a rational division of labor, they gave the working class the privilege that it was guaranteed to be made use of, in its noble character of proletarian surplus value producer, solely by the state which was controlled by their party and exclusively for the fulfillment of growth plans set up by it. For them, the only real and serious system question was that a state power govern which metes out justice to wage labor, this great achievement, and to the many heroes of wage labor, great and small – not so very different in principle from the “moderate” social reformers who of course defined the capitalist justice gap in such a modest way that it could be handled with more democracy and a few social-legal corrections to the capitalist exploitation system.

With their radicalism in expropriating the bourgeois owners, the Bolsheviks actually did a lot more than simply abolish the injustice that they considered to be the all-decisive system question, namely that rich idlers pocket the fruits of honest proletarian work, make all kinds of foolish use of it, and let the common good fall by the wayside. Because it was not the case that the system of exploitation could simply continue to function as before without the private command of competing capitalists over labor. As little as the standpoint of proletarian justice and a planned increase of state wealth provides a reasonable new mode of production – it has nothing to do with communism anyway –, the “reason” of the old mode of production is just as little compatible with a state planning that seriously puts this standpoint into practice. With their revolutionary intervention into capitalist distributive justice, Lenin's Russian socialists did not simply nationalize capitalism, let alone organize a capitalism with more state influence, but they overruled the heart of the whole system: the extortion power of property and the extortion-ability of the propertyless – the two “objective constraints” which work together so nicely in the free market economy. With their attempts to reconstruct this functionalism by the state and with regard to proletarian interests, they indeed brought something new into the world, a political-economic system of its own kind – and with its very own hardships for the venerable proletariat; hardships that never had such productive effects for the benefit of the new proletarian community as the objective constraints of capitalism had for the enrichment of the propertied class and for the power of the bourgeois monopoly on violence.*) But the Bolsheviks never doubted their fatal decision to give the system of capitalist exploitation a pro-proletarian orientation with the victorious force of proletarian justice; not even when they ran into very serious supply problems in their attempt to establish a proletarian money economy without private businessmen and were forced to admit that for the time being it was not possible to get by without bourgeois merchants. Even their successors did not ask themselves what their enterprise was good for politically and economically, as long as their state was still able, with the wealth they generated, to increase its power in the “competition of the systems”: as long as they in any case found their construction simply infinitely fair, they also believed it could provide a better, because pro-worker “solution” to all the “problems” of the “modern world.” And furthermore, they were absolutely certain – this was the other traditional living lie that they fought bitterly with the old social democracy for sole proprietorship of – that with their anti-capitalist revolution and the establishment of a proletarian state, they were not pursuing a possibly critical political project, but were acting as the executive organ of the proletariat. In fact, they had indeed succeeded with their revolution; they had succeeded in producing enough agreement with the outraged sense of justice of the Russian masses to be able to hold their ground and prevail against all counter-revolutionaries; and this success was taken by Soviet party leaders as a continuing practical proof that they were world-historically right, namely on the right path to realize the “historic mission of the working class.” They were so united with the – assumed to be unquestionable – “progressive” concerns of their working class, that they knew any agitational effort to explain to the “masses” the necessity of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and to convince them of their policies was not just completely superfluous to them, but a violation of the centerpiece of their party’s reason: the belief in the self-evident unity of the will of the party with the class interests of the working people. The relationship between the ruling party and the ruled inhabitants of the “homeland of all working people” was established accordingly: instead of establishing agreement, it was forbidden to doubt it.

In this way, a rather unpleasant polity arose in Russia, [10] another bossy great power in relation to the rest of the world; and this sealed the division of the workers’ movement into a social democratic and a communist “wing,” each of which claimed the “revolutionary class standpoint of the proletariat” for its “way.” In the Soviet Union, “social democratism” was forbidden as a step backwards behind the “achievements of the revolution” and high treason against the “party of Lenin” and its state. In the capitalist nations where bourgeois rule was organized as parliamentary party pluralism, the social democratic reformers were confronted with radical parties that, in their desire for justice for the working class and for a properly pro-working class state power, were not content with “formal” democracy and a somewhat social market economy and kept the Soviet alternative in mind as a model. They found this so convincingly exemplified by its success that they put up with even the most dubious directives from their Moscow comrades. Conversely, of course, their own conviction pretty much coincided with the success of the state governed by their Russian role models or the later “socialist camp” – and the hardest thing was: they also admitted to this. To be “really existing,” they claimed and proclaimed in all seriousness as a decisive quality seal for their “socialism.” The delimitation they made was no longer aimed at the social-democratic “traitors” – whose “real existence” really couldn’t be denied – but at left critics who, with whatever good or bad arguments – the “treason” accusation was in business there often enough too – might not exactly consider the right of the proletariat to exclusive use by a planning state power, which had actually been realized in the Soviet empire, as the only true communism: They were answered by the very stupidity that Social Democracy had previously thrown at its left-wing deviants and communist critics, namely that critical objections to party policies were forbidden simply because the party, as “really existing” and therefore as the authentic incarnation of the class standpoint, is per se in the right, historically; to bother the party with the question whether its enterprises and the party itself are of any use to the proletariat is tantamount to a rejection of “the worker’s cause.” On the other hand, by referring to their demonstrable competence with reality, the socialists who had come to power, or were striving for it under Moscow’s instructions, took on a decisive self-limitation, namely in the big world of the bourgeois state powers. They claimed their place among them; they wanted to be recognized as fully functional, in this respect not so terribly deviant and certainly not at all destructive, on the contrary, a readily feasible and ultimately quite normal variant of political power, and to be admitted into the amicable “competition of systems” within the framework of the state competition that was raging anyway. This alternative was only “real” at all and its claim to be considered a normal case was only respectable because the Soviet government had succeeded in asserting itself against exclusion and hostility from the world of democratic imperialism by resisting a fascist attack and even withstanding a “Cold War” by the entire “free world” that followed immediately. And that means: According to the standards which apply in the world of bourgeois states and their competition, the “real socialist” “variant” was only worth as much as the Soviet Union had to offer in terms of militarily countervailing power and violent self-assertion – not at all flattering for this wonderful “world order,” but a disgrace for “communists” who put their ambitions into it and considered being able to keep up to be a quality seal of their enterprise.

What had begun as an internal quarrel of the labor movement and whose trials and tribulations had accompanied it for decades, dissolved completely into a clash of state blocs, a world political power struggle fought according to the harsh “real existing” standards of imperialism and by no means according to the imaginary criteria of a “social friendship among nations.” In this struggle, Moscow socialism and its allied parties in “Western” countries represented one side; “moderate” social democracy was on the other side; and everything these parties wrote down in terms of a pro-worker program was so completely subordinated to the great strategic struggle of the nuclear armed “super powers” that the “truce” between the old workers’ movement and the organizers of the first world war would look like a small misstep if it hadn’t been so symptomatic and so crucial. Social Democracy has finally removed “the revolution” from its firmament of values, has renounced the “class standpoint” by refounding itself as a “people's party,” and identifies itself and its party line with the global triumph of democratic capitalism. The parties of the “really existing” Soviet communism have definitely committed themselves to the absurd program of being able to “solve” the “problems” of the capitalist world with their kind of state order better than the capitalist world itself – and have finally voluntarily admitted that the capitalistically producing nations have probably solved the “problem” of state wealth and the strategic power based on it much more successfully than they themselves.

That too was not “historically necessary” in the sense of the term. But only all too logical.

Excursus: On the fascist cult of “national labor”

Doing politics by making an appeal to the working class has not just been the privilege of the socialist parties. This fares well even without a “class standpoint.” The fascists, who in Germany explicitly presented themselves as a “workers party” and even called themselves “socialist,” justified and propagated their program of national salvation and the people’s struggle for survival essentially by invoking a national “mission” of the proletariat.

For this idea, an avowed counter-project to the revolution-faith of the workers’ movement, they had on their side a fact that could not be denied or overlooked – and was criticized by the left-wing parties far too little or not at all – the circumstance that the wage workers, with their use by and for capital, do not merely enrich their employers, but also, to the extent of their successful exploitation, take responsibility for the material provision of the state power, thus serve the nation as its most important material resource. The radical right did not even need to come up with anything new to interpret this situation correctly in their sense. Rather, they could refer to standpoint of justice which had long been universally acclaimed and circulated by all sides – from “below”: submissively, from “above”: cynically – , which pays tribute to the working class because it earns a right to public goodwill and care by the national authority precisely with its productive toil and its useful poverty. All they had to do was to add to this profoundly civic idea the radical consequence that a successful national power development, if it is based on the willingly endured exploitation of the working people, must then also correspond to their deeper will and higher aspirations; that the welfare of public power, if it is already de facto imposed on people as the decisive purpose of existence and they submit to it, then also represents their true and actual meaning of life. In poverty and toil, honest productive compatriots would ultimately be keen on nothing else but on lots of success of that national power for which they are worn out, and they would be served precisely and satisfactorily by this alone. The cynical proof ex negativo, in the eyes of the fascists: the shining evidence that the happiness of the working class stands and falls with the fate of its nation that by making use of its proletariat for its competitive struggle against other “peoples” and, in the yields that can be extracted from it, it calculates the compensation which working people have at most a right to: For a right-wing radical, it is therefore crystal clear that the true historical vocation of the masses is to act as a state maneuverable mass and to realize themselves in the victories of their fatherland.

For this happy news, the fascists could make good use of the honorable worker-movement thunderous word of “the revolution” and easily adopt and adapt it. For the overthrow of the traditional, degenerate conditions, which had always prevented the true longing of the masses and their innate mighty servitude from coming to fruition, and therefore always deprived the good people of their well-deserved wages; a new order in which even the capitalists’ pursuit of profit would have to take second place to the nation’s need for violence and prove its worth as its means of success; a uniformly cooperating body of the people that would be “classless” because all class conflict had merged into a common national mission; in short: they wanted a thoroughly national revolution. Who it had to be directed against was of course already clear. Namely, first of all, against the old bourgeois social democratic political guard who had allowed the community to descend so low in its struggle for survival that it owed its most important productive force, the decent productive working people, the most necessary care and even denied the most important and elementary right: the opportunity to make itself useful for the cause of the nation through productive work. These political losers deserved to be ousted. For the other enemy, though, the class fighters infected by bolshevism, that was not sufficient. Because, according to the fascist diagnosis, the destruction of the people was part of their program: with their agitation for class struggle, thus for a termination of wage labor’s service to capital and state power – the right-wing saviors of the people took this more seriously than the left-wing friends of the workers themselves – they were in fact trying to discourage working people from their patriotic mission when they were actually by nature decent, subservient, and even racially suitable for it. Consequently, defenders of the class standpoint were to be eradicated – for high treason against the national cause.

After that, it could get started: with a national employment policy that didn’t give any member of the people the slightest chance of escaping dutiful commitment, either to wealth or directly to the nation’s apparatus of violence; with a wage policy that above all offered an ideal wage that would do away with elements that were hostile or alien to the people; as well as a social policy which the encyclopedia of 1938 defined succinctly – and incidentally in substance timelessly and across systems– as “the totality of measures … aimed at maintaining and increasing the people’s will to work and labor power” – this is how fascists think: morality comes before ability! – “and on the other hand, at providing for them and their families” – the “germ cell” was not forgotten! – “after proven effort for the national community.” On this basis, the Nazis handled the transition from the struggle for national production to world war splendidly. In the end, a total defeat was necessary to convince the people, who served so well in their servitude, that great national leaders are sometimes also criminals, and that the German working people, who remained honest, needed nothing more urgently than a new, namely a democratic, free market welfare state.


[1] See The Communist Manifesto: A flawed pamphlet — but still better than its good reputation today

[2]“One sees: Apart from very elastic barriers, there is no limit to the working day, that is, no limit to overtime, due to the very nature of the exchange of goods. The capitalist asserts his right as buyer when he tries to make the working day as long as possible and possibly to make two out of one working day. On the other hand, the specific nature of the goods sold includes a limit to their consumption by the buyer, and the worker asserts his right as seller when he seeks to limit the working day to a certain normal size. So here an antinomy takes place, right against right, both equally sealed by the law of exchange of goods. Between equal rights, force decides. And so, in the history of capitalist production, the standardization of the working day presents itself as a struggle over the limits of the working day – a struggle between the total capitalist, i.e. the class of the capitalists, and the total worker, or the working class.” (Capital Vol. 1)

[3] In the way, Marx in Capital Vol. 1 explains the false consciousness of the working class as well as of bourgeois society in general in matters of wages and exploitation – a few decades and several findings after the “Manifesto,” in which the capitalist system of exploitation appeared to him so brutally obvious and disillusioning that basically no one, and certainly no one affected by it, could still delude himself. Later he knows better than – almost – all his ideological descendants: the lamenting and the outrage about unfairness, the cry for justice, this is exactly the crucial illusion about the capitalist system.

[4] In some places, unionists found an ingenious solution to this contradiction, to combine union solidarity and competition between workers and to wage the fight for higher wages and better working conditions, both company and member-related, exclusively for the comparative betterment of the organizing of a workforce.

[5] How social democracy came up with the idea of attaching the most far-reaching revolutionary significance to precisely this demand is explained in the following section of this chapter.

[6] This resolution, passed at the SPD party congress in autumn 1906, has gone down in the history of the labor movement as the “Mannheim Agreement.” Quoted in: Th.Meyer (Ed.), Lern- und Arbeitsbuch deutsche Arbeiterbewegung, Bonn 1988, Vol.1, Chapter A 12. t) After: Lern- und Arbeitsbuch ... Volume 2, Chapter A 15, p. 304.

[7] This key sentence was in the official declaration that the Federal Executive Committee of the ADBG sent to the new Reich Chancellor Hitler on March 20, 1933, two days before the “Enabling Act” was passed; printed in the trade union newspaper of March 25, 1933. The union’s specific rejection of any project aiming at something like a proletarian “regime” couldn’t be clearer.

[8] Engels already argues in his 2nd Elberfeld speech of 1845 as follows: “I … will only remark that these causes which continually produce and multiply the proletariat will remain the same and will have the same consequences as long as there is competition. The proletariat must under all circumstances not only continue to exist but also enlarge itself continually, become an ever more threatening power in our society …. However, let us leave aside for the moment the fact that, as we have just demonstrated (!), a social revolution is the consequence of competition ... So you see, gentlemen, substantiated also in detail what in the beginning, proceeding from competition in general, I set out in general terms — namely, that the unavoidable result of our existing social relations, under all circumstances, and in all cases, will be a social revolution.” (VSA, RH 72, p.4 7ft)

[9] Marx’s “crisis theory” is neither a prognosis nor a prognosis of a final crisis of capitalism. Rather, it criticizes the lunacy of a mode of production which, solely in the interest of the augmentation of capitalist property, mercilessly and without regard for losses, drives forward the development of the society’s productive forces and thereby constantly brings about a conflict between the results of this progress and its purpose, the growth of capital, a conflict which is then “solved” just as regularly by the destruction of produced wealth and sources of wealth, including the source of capitalist property, human labor, namely by the impoverishment of the proletariat. The protagonists of the labor movement reinterpreted this argument against the capitalist mode of production into a prediction of its foreseeable unsustainability. The reason for this “misunderstanding” was not merely the hope for an inevitable victory of their own cause, but a not very revolutionary conception of this very “cause” itself. Belief in the unsustainability of capitalism because of self-produced conflicts with the functional conditions of capitalist society does not consider the – extraordinarily durable! – antagonism of this mode of production towards its proletarian human material to be a – incidentally: solely valid! – reason for its revolutionary abolition, but refers to an ideal objective constraint on economic operations which does not at all exist in the ruthlessly functioning reality of capitalism; it wants to disgrace the crisis-like reality with this ideal, and thus lives on an idealism of contradiction- and conflict-free conditions in the bourgeois community, which the leaders of the “democratic struggle” of the workers' movement would have been better off leaving to the anti-communist apologists and born lawyers of class society.

[10] In regards to their impositions on their working people, the ruling revolutionaries, from the very beginning and embarrassing its successors up until the end, always invoked the emergencies that were caused for their socialist state system by the hostile environment, but even as much as these emergencies were undeniable: this is not the truth about the system they set up and proudly baptized “real socialism.” It had its own “logic.” Of course, there was so much social irrationality in it that it remained a mystery to its organizers themselves. Almost like bourgeois economists, the “planning and management” experts founded a whole branch of scientific research to find out why, despite the best of intentions, the “productive forces” rather “stagnated,” at least in relation to the high expectations of the state power, and why, despite all the whitewashing, the standard of living of the working people did not turn out so convincingly – they never solved this “mystery.” How their society actually worked is a chapter in itself, which we have already written elsewhere: Karl Held (ed.), Das Lebenswerk des Michail Gorbatschow: Von der Reform des ,realen Sozialismus' zur Zerstörung der Sowjetunion, Munich 1992; there, especially in the first chapter, the section “Die politische Ökonomie des realen Sozialismus: Planmäßige Zwecksfälmdung von Lohn, Preis und Profit als Alternative zum Kapitalismus.”