What will socialism/communism be like? Marx, in The German Ideology, says "Communism is for us

not a state of affairs which is to be established,an ideal to which reality (will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.' (p. 80). So,for Marx,

the future society is a "movement"  rather than a "state of affairs".  And the Marxist tradition has largely

defined itself as one which sought the nature of that society in the study of the forces and material conditions of history, rather than in the utopias of philosophers. Marx, for instance, in Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy, says "...our method indicates the points at which historical analysis must be introduced...These indications, together with the correct grasp of the present, then also offer the key to the understanding of the past...This correct approach, moreover, leads to points which indicate the transcendence of the present forms of production relations, the movement coming into being, thus foreshadowing the future..." (p. 117). In our discussion I shall employ the terms process (i.e. movement), product (i.e. state of affairs) and principle. Most Marxists have described socialism as a process: the

class struggle of the working class for the democratic control of society. Once the working class has

overthrown capitalism, the result will be what it decides democratically. Many would suggest that an additional principle would inform that decision-making: production for the needs of society rather than for profit.  Nevertheless, the nature of such a society would be the results arrived at democratically, which could assume any number of forms (i.e. products).


In apparent contrast to that tradition, Peter Hudis argues "...a coherent and vital concept of a new society is contained in the works of Marx..." (p. 207). And, in examining those works,he concludes "...Marx is not opposed to address the ultimate goal of a new society. What is at issue is how to go about doing so. Marx opposes any tendency to project a vision of a post-capitalist society that comes

out of the theoretician's head independent of the actual struggles of the proletariat..." (p. 84). Informing Marx's study of the actual struggles of the proletariat is historical materialism. Let us begin with a brief sketch of that theory.


Historical materialism is a theory about man as the producer and product of society. It begins with the child, who enters the world as a dependent member of society (i.e. within a family or clan), subject to biological/psychological laws (i.e. the needs for subsistence and reproduction). To satisfy these needs society must act on its environment through cooperative labor. In so doing it is further subjected to environmental laws (e.g. the availability of food, water, raw materials, climate, the fertility  of the soil, etc.). This universal condition, the labor process, is common to all of human history. The labor process is the core of historical materialism, whose concepts are forces, relations and modes of production.


The forces of production are our means of making a living. They consist of the means of production

(i.e. tools,machines and raw materials) and labor-power (i.e. knowledge,strengths and skills- our

ability to work). The relations of production connect men to the forces of production.The nature of this connection determines the structure of society, its mode of production.  In pre-class society scarcity



prevailed. Men lived at the level of subsistence. Labor productivity  had yet to allow for substantial food reserves {i.e. a social surplus). Without a social surplus there could be no division of labor and social classes. Advances in the forces of production generated the first social surplus, which enabled one part

of society to free itselffrom productive labor and obtain leisure at the expense of the remainder (i.e. live on the unpaid labor of others).


At the heart of each class society is the relationship between those who control the means of production and the direct producers {e.g. master to slave, feudal lord to serf, capitalist to worker).  Each historical mode of production determines the manner in which the social surplus is extracted (i.e. the form of exploitation), and produces its own forms of class struggle. In a famous passage,Marx describes this relationship:


"...It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers- a relationship always naturally corresponding to a definite stage in the development of the methods of labor and thereby its social productivity- which reveals the innermost secret,the hidden basis of the entire social structure,and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state..." (Marx 1971b,p. 791).


But it is only with capitalism that we arrive at a society with both sufficiently advanced forces of production (i.e. labor productivity) and an historical agent, the working class, that has the interest and capacity to fight for socialism/communism. Having sketched the theory of historical materialism that informs Marx's study of history, let us now join Peter Hudis in his examination of Marx' writings for their "foreshadowing" of a future society.


A survey of the Marx's earlier writings leads him to conclude: "...our exploration indicates that his real object of critique was not the market or private property, but rather the social relations that underpin them." (p. 92). "The heart of the problem is abolishing capital itself,by ending the estrangement in the very activity of laboring. We have reached the conceptual pivot of what Marx sees as the alternative  to capitalism." (p. 63).The social relations are what Marx called "the capital-relation". Marx says "...The capital-relation presupposes a complete separation between the workers and the ownership of the conditions  for the realization of their labor..." (p. 164). The agonizing historical process by which this occurred is described in Chapter VII, "The So-Called Primitive Accumulation", in Volume One of Marx's, Capital. Once the working class is divorced from the means of production,it must either accept wage labor- the exploitation of labor-power by the capitalist- or beg, steal or starve. So that chief among the goals of a socialist society must be to eliminate this, "the innermost secret", capitalism's power over the working class. Only then will labor no longer be "only a means of life but life's prime want." (p. 201).


From Marx's very first writings, he foresaw the possibility of creative labor: "'s nature is so constituted that he can attain his own perfection only by working ...for the good... of his fellow men..." (p. 39). Later he wrote: "...Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings...! would enjoy my activity as well as its products...I would have the satisfaction of meeting another person's need...and so I would see the other person not as a hostile competitor but as a necessary complement to myself...11  (p. 58). Furthermore,this labor would be controlled by " association of free men, working with the means of production held in common..." (p. 156). But what principle of distribution would exist under socialism/communism?


Marx writes "...The share of each individual  producer in the means of subsistence is determined by

his labour-time...Labour-time is divided up or proportioned in accordance with the need to replenish the means of production as well as meet the consumption needs of individuals. He continues, 'On the other hand,labour-time also serves as the measure of the part taken by each individual in the common labour, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for social consumption.' (p. 157). But, unlike capitalism, where labor-time is measured by what is socially necessary to obtain a profit for the capitalist,under socialism, labor-time would be measured by the actual hours worked. "...Some degree

of social inequality would exist, since some individuals would work more hours than others and would

therefore obtain a larger amount ofthe means of consumption. Likewise, an individual who produces more in a given hour than another would not receive greater remuneration than one who labours for the same amount of time. Since 'one man is superior to another physically or mentally and so supplies

more labour in the same time, or can work for a longer period of time' the levels of remuneration would be unequal."(p. 199).


Marx, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme,writes "labour,to serve as a measure,must be defined by its duration or intensity." (p. 196). This introduces another factor, in addition to  time, with which to evaluate an individual's contribution. What Marx means by 'intensity'  is not clear,but the author suggests that some jobs may require a greater expenditure of energy than others. He provides the example of teaching autistic as compared with non-autistic children. Other factors considered might be the amount of education or responsibility. Work requiring an advanced degree and/or greater responsibility (e.g. a brain surgeon) might be differently evaluated. But such things would be the subject of democratic debate.


So under the initial phase of the future society inequality would still prevail.  Only when the forces of production have been further developed,and workers are not measured by their contribution of labor­ time, will the final phase begin and the principle "From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs." become the rule. But even under the initial stage, free time- not labor-time-­

would be the measure of wealth, because the necessary labor required by society would be reduced to a minimum. " time, disposable time, is wealth itself, partly for the enjoyment of the product,partly

for free activity..." (p. 144).


And our very experience of this free time would change. "...labour is no longer performed for someone else,but for myself, and at the same time,the social contradictions  between master and men,etc.,being abolished,it acquires a quite different, a free character..." (p. 145). Marx,in a famous passage from Volume Ill of,Capital, suggests the qualitatively different character of our experience of labor under socialism/communism:


"The realm of freedom really begins only when labour determined by necessity and external expediency ends; it lies by its very nature beyond the sphere of material production proper. Just as the savage must wrestle with nature to satisfy his needs,to maintain and reproduce his life, so must civilized


man,and he must do so in all forms of society and under all possible modes of production. This realm of natural necessity expands with his development, because his needs do too; but the productive forces to satisfy these expand at the same time. Freedom in this sphere, can consist only in this,that socialized man,the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way,bringing under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power;accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate of their human nature. But this always remains a realm of necessity. The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself, begins beyond it, though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis." (p.181).


So "the development of human powers as an end in itself' is the final principle of socialism/communism.  But even under capitalism,there is a "foreshadowing "of the future society, For instance, those few of us privileged to be creative artists or scientists know what it is to truly love our work. Others, in professions like healthcare or education,know how rewarding it is to help one another. And those in the midst of a long vacation- finally doing what we really want to do -- know how it feels to momentarily forget about  that dreaded Monday morning when we will have to return to our job. Imagine what it's like to be a small child completely absorbed in play. Or take the case of national healthcare. Those who recognize the criminal inadequacy of the American healthcare system-- and advocate "Single-Payer"-- understand the meaning of "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs." Just apply that same principle to education, housing, job training, childcare, etc., and you have a good idea of socialism/communism.


In conclusion, we know what capitalism is like. The root of all of our social problems, it is a crime against humanity. So we know what we're fighting against. In Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, we are given an inspiring vision of the future we're fighting for. And the more attractive that vision,the more others will wish to join us in the fight.

© 2015 By Mark Dickman