27 November 2013

Capitalist Relations of Production


Chapter 2

Capitalist Relations of Production

As trade and manufacturing increased, feudalism gave way to capitalist relations of production.

Capitalist relations of production are between employers (capitalists) and employees (workers).

Employees sell their ability to work by the hour, the week, etc., and in exchange, they receive a wage, salary, piece-rate, or commission. Employers hire workers with the intention of selling their output for more than their costs of production, including labor costs. If employers succeed, they make a profit; otherwise, they suffer a loss and soon go out of business.

In the capitalist mode of production, workers are neither owned nor bound to a master and are free to move from one employer to another. Since employers appropriate the profits their employees’ work produces, capitalists are an exploiter class, and the relationship between capitalists and workers is antagonistic.

Capitalist relations of production are now dominant in almost all countries starting first in Europe and then the United States, in the 1700s. In the 1900s, the world saw large-scale experiments in building socialist relations of productions; in these societies, capitalist relations of production were almost entirely outlawed. This happened in the USSR (1917), Eastern Europe (1948-51), China (1949), Cuba (1959), and Vietnam (1976). These experiments eventually ended, and these countries’ economies now include large amounts of capitalist production (foreign and domestically owned), small business, self-employment, and co-operatives.

Capitalism is often called a market economy. Capitalist relations of production require markets for: (1) labor; (2) direct products of nature (land, minerals, petroleum, water, fish, etc.); (3) semi-finished and finished products; and (4) money.

In theory, a market is an institution to exchange things of equal value to satisfy different needs. If a person sells something worth $10 and receives something in exchange worth only $5, we say, “You were robbed!” If, week after week, the same unequal exchanges take place, we know it is not a “free market” – a market in which both sides voluntarily participate. The side that always loses in the exchange probably participates because it has no choice. Workers know it is better to be exploited and make a living than to be jobless and beg, borrow, steal, or starve.

This booklet focuses on the market for labor ($8.2 trillion in 2011).[i] One amazing thing about the market for labor is that every year (except 1932 and 1933, at the bottom of the Great Depression) the capitalist class increases its wealth, while the wealth of the working class remains limited to household necessities (a place to live, clothing, furniture, etc.) - and maybe some savings for unemployment, sickness, and retirement. While workers struggle to pay their bills, corporations and the wealthy struggle to find places to invest their wealth most profitably.

According to official government statistics, business wealth in the United States reached almost $21 trillion in 2008, up from $7.4 trillion in 1990.   

Business Wealth (Assets Less Debt)

Non-Financial Corporations
Entrepreneurs, Partnerships
Total Business Wealth
$15.4 trillion
$5.5 trillion
$20.9 trillion
$5.0 trillion
$2.4 trillion
$7.4 trillion
US Statistical Abstract, 2010, Table 734, Nonfarm Non-corporate Business-Sector Balance Sheet: 1990 to 2008; Table 735, Nonfinancial Corporate Business-Sector Balance Sheet: 1990 to 2008.

Owners of US businesses also own most personal wealth. The chart below shows that the top 10%  of the population owned 79% of all personal (non-home) wealth  in 2007, while the top 1% alone owned 43%  and had an average net worth of $17 million!

In contrast, the average working class family in the bottom 40% had no wealth and owed $10,400! The next 20% owned, on average, $26,000 – which might be enough to get through one year of unemployment or to pay a substantial hospital bill. Combining the debts and the small savings of the two groups, we find that the bottom 60% owned nothing. The next higher income group (61-80th percentile) in the working class owned $136,000, on average, and as a group it owned 7% of all non-home wealth in the United States

Non-Home Wealth Distribution, 2007
Population Distribution
Share of Non-Home Wealth
Average Net Worth
Top 1%
$17 million
Top 2-5%
$ 3 million
Top 6-10%
$0.9 million
Top 11-20%
$0.4 million
Bottom 61-80%
$ 136,000
Bottom 41-60%
$   26,000
Bottom 40%
(Debt)    $  -10,400
Working Paper 589, Edward N. Wolff, March 2010. Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

Inequality between workers and capitalists has interconnected, re-enforcing dimensions. First is wealth, as seen above. Second is unemployment, which is a permanent feature of capitalism. Unemployment rises and falls with the stages of the business cycle, but it always works to capital’s advantage. It wipes out the savings workers put away in good times and makes people desperate for jobs. The higher the unemployment, the greater the competition between workers for jobs - and the more unequal the exchange between labor and capital.

A third dimension of inequality between workers and capitalists is that capitalists control the government. They dominate elections by spending unlimited millions of dollars on election advertisements and using their ownership of the media to control what the public learns. After the elections, they control government officials, using their thousands of full-time lobbyists to bribe and bully. The Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org) reports that in 2011, 13,000 lobbyists handed out $13 billion ($1 million per lobbyist) to government officials.[ii] One result of such lobbying is that a powerful combination of laws, regulations, and court decisions severely limits workers’ ability to organize unions, to bargain collectively, and to strike. These inequalities also prevent workers from becoming an independent political force with their own political parties, although workers are the majority of the population. Finally, employers have raw, direct power over employees to punish those who raise their voices in protest.      

An important aspect of the labor market of US capitalism is that one of every five employees, including military personnel, works for the national, state, or local government.[iii] They provide tax-subsidized services such as schools, mass transit, police, fire, courts, tax collection, hospitals, and military.

Labor markets in the private and government service sectors have one significant difference: the profit motive drives private business, and the service motive usually drives government operations. The government offers free and below-cost pricing models for its services, and it taxes the population to make up the difference. In contrast, the private sector raises its prices whenever it can do so profitably. However, when government minimizes public spending and/or operates its services as business units, it attacks labor rights as vigorously as private sector businesses do, disregarding the impact on workers and the populations they serve.

Chapter II Vocabulary List

1.  Capitalist relations of production
4.  Free market
2.  Profit
5.  Exploited
3.  Exploiter class
6.  Business cycle

Discussion Question

            Many economists say that when supply equals demand, there is “equilibrium.” What would happen if the supply and demand for labor were equal (0% unemployment rate)?

[i] US Statistical Abstract, 2012, Table B–28. National Income by Type of Income, 1963–2011.
[ii] http://www.opensecrets.org/.
[iii] US Statistical Abstract, 2011: Tables 508 and 631.

22 November 2013

Pre-Capitalist Relations of Production


Pericles, 495 – 429 BC


Pre-Capitalist Relations of Production

Work is Central to Our Existence and Who We Are

            Modern human beings have existed for at least 50,000 years. About 11,000 years ago, our ancestors learned to grow crops and raise animals. Today, almost all adults still spend most of their waking hours hard at work earning a living and raising their children. The struggle to pay for housing, food, medical care, schooling, transportation, etc. still dominates our lives. All over the world, workers still exert their physical, mental, and emotional efforts, sometimes up to 14 or 16 hours per day, often 6 or 7 days per week, producing, transporting, growing, selling, serving, cleaning, and creating. Work is indeed central to our existence and identity.

            It is through work that we build human civilization. Our work changes the “object” of our labor, whatever that object may be. A barber improves the customer’s appearance; the farmer helps the crop grow; the bus driver moves passengers from one place to another; the electronics assembler makes a computer from parts; the theoretical scientist increases our knowledge.

            Human beings are social animals and tool-using animals. These two characteristics shape the way we work. We work together to gather and reshape nature’s resources, and we use means (tools) and methods of production that other human beings have already produced. Our work creates goods and services for immediate consumption and semi-finished products and tools/machinery for future production.

            Now, in the 21st century, all work is part of an elaborate worldwide division of labor in which each of our efforts is a tiny but significant part of a mighty production and distribution system that enables seven billion people to live and reproduce.

Pre-Capitalist Relations of Production

            To understand any society, we must understand both the technical level (means and processes) of production and the relations of production. “Relations of production” refers to the relationships between the major groups (classes) of people in the production and circulation of goods and services (production process).

            Relations of production change, just as means and processes do. The dominant (main) production relationship in a society gives its name to the society. So far, humans have built hunting and gathering, slave, feudal, capitalist, and socialist societies. Different relations of production instill different belief systems (ideologies), laws, and customs. The transition periods, when competing relations of production battle for dominance, are times of great class struggle and instability. The winning set of production relations will shape human consciousness and behavior for a long time to come.  
            Hunting and gathering was the earliest type of production. People had Stone Age technology, so they could not regularly produce and store a surplus (extra, for later use). Means of production were primitive tools (hatchets, arrows, throwing tools) made from stone, bone, and wood. Anthropologists theorize that the main division of labor was between women (mostly gatherers) and men (mostly hunters), and that relations of production were mainly cooperative.

            Slavery appeared in human history at the start of the Bronze Age, which began about 3300 BCE (Before the Common Era) in Asia and the Middle East. Slave owner/slave relations of production became dominant when slaves produced a surplus on a regular basis. This occurred when humankind grew crops and domesticated wild animals into herds. Slavery is a form of exploitation, in that the slave’s owner appropriates the surplus. The production relationship between slave and slave owner is “antagonistic,” as opposed to “cooperative.”

            Slavery likely existed in every ancient civilization, from the Middle East to China and India, in Africa, Europe and the Americas. On an intermittent basis, it even continued as feudal and then capitalist production relations became dominant. For example, until the US Civil War abolished slavery in 1865, both slave and capitalist relations of production competed for dominance in the United States. Their ideologies, legal systems, and customs also competed.

            Within slave societies, other relations of production also existed. Non-exploitative relations of production included self-employment for the family (peasants, artisans) as well as hunting and gathering for the clan. Class-based (exploitative) relations of production included feudal (lords/serfs) and capitalist (employers/wage-laborers).

            In the modern era, slavery was outlawed in Russia (1723), Germany (1822), Mexico (1829), Britain (1834), Tunisia (1846), United States (1865), Brazil (1888), China (1910), Iraq (1924), Saudi Arabia and Yemen (1962). The world is now officially free of slavery, as Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981. However, the effects of slavery are still felt. For example, in the United States, 150 years after a bloody civil war ended slavery, racially discriminatory attitudes and practices remain. And, as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently stated, “Debts, trafficking in humans, sexual exploitation, child work, forced marriages and children soldier recruitment [continue] as contemporary tactics for slavery.”[i]

            Feudalism and feudal production relations came to dominate in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere during the Middle Ages. Feudalism appeared in China as early as 1122 B.C.E. and in Europe from about 900 A.D.

            Feudal relations of production are between landowners (king, nobility, church, non-cleric landlords) and serfs (peasants). The landowners are “masters.” Serfs are “servants,” primarily agricultural workers who are partly slave and partly free. The serfs lived on their masters’ land and were required to farm it without compensation, and feudal law prohibited them from leaving. They farmed some land for themselves but were required to pay taxes of 50% or more on production from that land. Serfs also had to serve in their masters’ armies and labor on their rulers’ construction projects, such as irrigation systems, temples and churches, castles, military fortifications, and burial chambers.

            In feudal societies, serfdom co-existed with slave labor, wage labor, tenant farming, independent peasantry, free artisans, mercantile capitalists, long-term apprentices, and hunting and gathering.

            France abolished serfdom in 1789, Russia in 1905, and China in 1911 with the Xinhai Revolution. However, feudalism’s influence over people’s lives carried forward. For example, the feudal belief that nobility are entitled by God to rule society carries over to the capitalist notion that the wealthy are wealthy because they are the best, smartest, most capable people.

1.         Pre-capitalist
6.         Exploitative relations of production
2.         Means of production
7.         Antagonistic relations of production
3.         Relations of production
8.         Hunting and gathering societies
4.         Ideology
9.         Slavery
5.         Surplus
10.       Feudalism

Discussion Questions

1. Which type of worker is more productive, a slave or a serf? Discuss.
2. Describe two ideas that you think slave owners used to strengthen slavery.
3. Describe feudal ideas that have carried over to capitalism and/or socialism in your country.

[i] March 25, 2012, United Nations, “First International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.”

14 November 2013

Once more on the Politics of Language

Languages, Part 10

Once more on the Politics of Language

This course was not to teach language. It was to examine and to problematise the politics of language in South Africa.

We have seen that whereas the Constitution enshrines 11 official languages and instructs governments to take care of any others that may be used by South Africans; and whereas institutions have been created for that purpose; yet the 11 languages are not getting equal attention. The weaker ones are getting less attention and the stronger ones are getting more resources.

The net result is that the indigenous South African languages are not being preserved. Instead, the former colonial languages are being preserved.

When we look at the whole continent of Africa, we see that the same tendency for the strengthening of the former colonial or exogenous languages (French, Portuguese, Arabic and English) and the relative decline of African languages, with the exception of Kiswahili, is continuing.

For the purpose of constructing a Pan-African political culture, we are obliged to use these few languages, but South Africans are not learning them - as a rule - with the exception of English.

South Africans will be obliged to develop the learning of French, Portuguese and Arabic, in the first place, and then move to the learning other African countries’ indigenous languages, starting with Kiswahili, if our country is going to play its full part in the anti-Imperialist unity-in-action of the Continent of Africa, as envisaged by the late Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah.


Consequences of the neglect of languages, internally and externally will be that politics are limited. The ideas of politics will be expressed in few languages, most likely the exogenous ones, and any migration to politics will have to mean migration away from indigenous language.

Such a migration will set up a contradiction between the politics of liberation on the one hand, and our South African characteristics on the other. Whereas we already known that liberation must embrace South African characteristics if it is to be a real liberation.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Writer in a Neo-colonial State, 1993, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, extract.

7 November 2013

Language in School

Languages, Part 9a

Logo of the 10th Language and Development Conference

Language in School

The institution of 11 “official” languages in South Africa, sanctified by the Constitution, is as far as we know based on “human rights” precepts. Consequently, because human rights are passive, what has been done so far has not been very effective in terms of bringing the languages to life.

The teaching of children in the mother-tongue that they have from home, when they enter school for the first time, may be a human right. But if so, then it is not yet being well observed in South Africa. Motivation for change in this regard comes not from “human rights” but from the relatively poor rate of success in attempting to educate people in languages (English or Afrikaans) that they did not learn in the home and therefore do not, in the beginning, know.

Imposing on young children the stress of attempting, at a very young age, to learn in language that they do not understand and have not yet been taught, is a cruelty and of course, it is not successful. On average, children who are presented with this hurdle, do not advance as fast as children who are welcomed into the formal education system in their own language.

Teaching of children first in their mother-tongue, and then teaching them English, using their mother tongue, with this transition taking place over several years of schooling, is now a political demand.

The above paragraphs are taken from our Communist University course on Education. They state the continuing problem sufficiently well for our purposes.

Those paragraphs were written prior to the 10th Language and Development Conference held in Cape Town in mid-October, 2013, where the Minister of Basic Education announced that:

“South Africa has embarked on an Incremental Introduction of African languages (IIAL) policy. The IIAL policy will be implemented incrementally commencing in Grade 1 in 2015 and will continue until 2026 when it will be implemented in Grade 12.”

This quotation is from the Minister’s speech to that conference, published prior to the event and included in the document attached, and downloadable below.

The document also includes remarks about the IIAL by Dr Jennifer Joshua, and remarks about Kiswahili as a lingua franca, by Dr Nancy Kahaviza Ayodi.

The literature on this topic is limited, and probably exists mostly within the academies. Our course must go with what we have got. The next time we run this course, we will have another look for original documents. But we have enough in front of us, on language in school, to allow us to have a good discussion.

It is apparent from this and from the earlier Part 7 about the legislation of the Use of Official Languages Act of 2012, that government has committed to considerable funding and employment in the area of languages. What is less clear is the ideological or other kind of motivation that is behind this commitment. The practical need is clear, but there are other, more subjective ideas involved, and these are what we would want to unpack in the future.   

Because, as we have already seen, manifest need, good intentions, legislation and resources may all be present but they may add up to very little in the real world, if the politics of the whole thing do not correspond. Everything finally depends, as always, on the action of the masses.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: 10th Language and Development Conference Programme.

6 November 2013

Language, Culture and Content

Languages, Part 9

Language, Culture and Content

Aiming for Socialism with South African Characteristics has to mean that South African things are important to South Africans.

This includes all of their languages. But further than that, it means that each language is recognised as a bearer of culture, and that similarly, all the South African languages must expand to embrace the content of our joint South African reality.

Each language is a medium, and languages as such are media with special characteristics. To illustrate the special character of language as a cultural medium, consider that it appears to be impossible to illustrate with a graphic image, what “Language with South African Characteristics” might be.

Hence, although in all of these interactions there is one, and occasionally more than one, image used to epitomise what is being discussed, yet on this occasion it proves not to be possible to find such an image. Nor will a touristic combination of many images help. Nor will a slogan like “unity in diversity”.

Nothing can compare with a language in the sense of it being a single body, but capable of expressing everything that it needs to express. If it is not capable, then it can borrow or invent new ways, while still continuing to be its unique self as a language.

“In the beginning was the Word”: Human beings are distinguished from other animals by their possession of language. It is language that allows humans to generate a collective consciousness that can create, and continue to create itself.

Kenya's Independent School Movement (extract)

James Stanfield, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Economic Affairs, June 2005

Following a ban on female circumcision by three missionary societies in 1929, the Kikuyu in Central Province began to boycott mission schools and demanded an end to the monopoly on education held by the missions.  After failing to persuade the government to open its own secular schools free from missionary control, the Kikuyu began to open their own.  During the early 1930s extensive fundraising activities therefore took place, school buildings were erected and self help groups formed. 

Each independent school was governed by a local committee, responsible for the recruitment and payment of teachers, the setting of school fees and other fundraising events.  As independent schools became established joint meetings were organised and at a gathering in August 1934 the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association (KISA) was set up.  While KISA emphasised the need to negotiate with the colonial authorities some independent schools wanted to remain entirely free from direct European influence.  A rival association, the Kikuyu Karing’a Education Association (KKEA), was therefore established soon after. 

By 1939 there were 63 Kikuyu independent schools educating a total of 12,964 pupils.

To help meet the increasing demand for trained teachers both KISA and KKEA agreed to support the opening, in 1939, of Kenya’s first teacher training college at Githunguri, the site of the Kikuyu’s first independent school.  Originally intended to train teachers, the College soon included an elementary, primary and secondary school, with enrolments increasing to over 1,000 by 1947.    It was this independent school/college which Jomo Kenyatta would later become the principle of, providing a base for his future campaign for Presidency.  The rest of course is history.

A police investigation of Mau Mau early in 1952 sealed the fate of the independent schools. When the government declared a state of emergency later that year, both KISA and KKEA schools were closed.

The above account of the Kikuyu Independent Schools poses them as a reaction, not in the first place to colonialism, but to the missionaries’ banning of female circumcision (genital mutilation), a practice that has few open defenders today, although male genital mutilation is having a come-back in the guise of being a prophylactic against HIV and AIDS.

But in fact these schools were part of the resistance to colonialism, and part of a cultural/political movement that helped to preserve the whole Kikuyu culture, quite apart from the question of female circumcision. No doubt they contributed to the health of the language, which is the language in which Ngugi wa Thiong’o continues to write, today.

In the last part of the Course we will use a piece of Ngugi’s writing

How to learn languages?

In African countries, and notably in South Africa, people commonly speak many languages, but very little language-teaching is taking place. So, how are people managing to learn so many languages?

It would appear that informal methods of propagating language-learning are far more efficient than the formal ones, at least to the level of conversation, and oral commerce.

The CU is based on a theory of teaching and learning (in fact, on a pedagogy of the oppressed) in which dialogue is the source of learning, the practice and the method. We see no reason why languages should not also be taught and learned in this same fashion. Collective groups or study circles can be used for language, so that language is learned socially.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.