“PRACTICAL MEN” WHO DESPISE THEORY
“[T]he ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” —John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), chapter 24, (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1964), p. 383.
PRACTICE [Term in Marxist Philosophy]
[Intro to be added... ]
See also: PRAXIS
“Practice is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also the immediate actuality.” —Lenin, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Science of Logic” (1914), LCW 38:213.
An extreme empiricist conception of truth and knowledge, akin to positivism, which originated in the early capitalist-imperialist era in the United States, and has continued to be most popular there—to the point where pragmatism is often appropriately said to be the leading philosophical perspective of American imperialism.
The early proponents of pragmatism were C. S. Peirce and William James. Peirce, for example, adopted the suggestion of Alexander Bain, that beliefs are merely “habits of acting” rather than representations of reality. Pragmatist ideas, or slight variations on the theme, have been promoted by numerous other American bourgeois philosophers since then including John Dewey and, more recently, W.V.O. Quine and Richard Rorty. Although there are many somewhat different definitions of ‘pragmatism’ in these authors, often including different or conflicting definitions or statements about it by the same author, the central idea is that a proposition is “true” if holding it is advantageous or leads to some practical successful result. However, pragmatism does not view “practical utility” as confirmation of a theory through practice, but rather as meeting the subjective needs of the individual in particular cases. A good example of this was William James’ embrace of pragmatism as a means of justifying religious ideas even though he recognized quite well that religion could not be justified on rational grounds.
There are two big problems with the pragmatist approach: First, that which leads to a successful result for a time may not continue to do so; if you don’t understand the deeper reality it may lead you into disaster in the end. And, second, pragmatism does not correctly understand the nature of scientific theory and its relation to social and scientific practice. It sees the value of a scientific theory exclusively in terms of its usefulness in particular practical situations and denies that theory can raise our actual knowledge of the world to a higher level. Pragmatism fails to understand that practice and theory mutually interpenetrate and help promote each other. It thus very often discounts or at least downplays the need to revise, expand, correct and employ theory as a guide to practice. It is therefore correct to view pragmatism as profoundly anti-theoretic in its essential nature, and a glorification of the naïve idea that we should simply do “whatever seems at the moment to be working” without ever trying to look into things more deeply.
See also: THEORY DRIVEN, “SEEK TRUTH FROM FACTS”
So what is the relevance of pragmatism to all this? What is
known as “pragmatism” is actually an amorphous group of related epistemological and
methodological theories, and it would take us too far a field to fully disentangle the
whole complex. However the first part of the entry on ‘pragmatism’ from one current
philosophical dictionary will serve as an introduction:
“Pragmatism The philosophy of meaning and truth especially associated with *Peirce and *James. Pragmatism is given various formulations by both writers, but the core is the belief that the meaning of a doctrine is the same as the practical effects of adopting it. Peirce interpreted a theoretical sentence as a confused form of thought whose meaning is only that of a corresponding practical maxim (telling us what to do in some circumstances). In James the position issues in a theory of truth, notoriously allowing that beliefs, including for example belief in God, are true if the belief ‘works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word’. On James’s view almost any belief might be respectable, and even true, provided it works (but working is not a simple matter for James). The apparently subjectivist consequences of this were wildly assailed by *Russell, *Moore, and others in the early years of the 20th century….” [From: Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (1996), entry on ‘pragmatism’.]
It should already be clear from this that pragmatism is a profoundly anti-theoretic doctrine. It says we shouldn’t worry about what is actually or ultimately true, but only what “works”. The fundamental trouble with this idea, however, is that we often find that what seems to be working for a while does not continue working. For a while you can smoke three packs of cigarettes and down a bottle of bourbon every day. But this is not a recipe for living a long, productive and happy life. To ensure that individual or social practice or activity will work it must be in accordance with the real situation, and the only way to be sure that your activity is always in accord with the real situation is to fully understand the scientific laws governing that situation.
Pragmatists don’t rely on any deep theoretical understanding of the world in order to guide their actions. They don’t investigate and think carefully about the situations they face. They reject that approach, and instead rely on hunches, guesses, rules-of-thumb, prevailing superficial notions, ad hoc methods, spur of the moment improvisations, and so forth. If they do have some understanding of the situation they face, they don’t try to extend or deepen that understanding.
Thus pragmatism is not only profoundly anti-theoretic, it is also profoundly anti-scientific. (And this is true despite the claims of being pro-science on the part of many of its adherents, such as C. S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey and more recent philosophers such as Richard Rorty.)
Pragmatism as a philosophy was invented in America, and has always been much more popular here than anywhere else in the world. It has in fact become the dominant philosophy in this country, at least for the ruling class. According to James, “‘The true’, to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as ‘the right’ is only the expedient in the way of our behaving.” [William James, Pragmatism (1907), lecture 6. This passage is in italics for emphasis in the original!] There is something amenable to an imperialist and world-dominating America to think that truth and morality are merely that which serves its own short-term and selfish interests.
But ordinary people too, and not just in America, tend to gravitate toward pragmatism in their practice (if not in their proclaimed philosophy).
When we approach an ordinary problem in daily life, such as how to slice an onion without having it bring tears to our eyes, we can do this in a haphazard, off the cuff, pragmatic sort of way, or we can do this in a more theory-influenced and scientific way. The way just about everybody does this sort of thing is in the half-assed, pragmatic sort of way. We may have heard somewhere that some technique or other (such as a piece of bread or a match stick in the mouth, or lighting a candle) may prevent the tears, and so without thinking things out any further (let alone doing any real investigation) we might well try such an idea. If we don’t have any tears, then we say that the method we tried “works”. Since we didn’t carefully think about the whole situation, with a theory of what causes the tears in mind, it does not occur to us that just perhaps we didn’t have any tears this time for some other reason (such as that the ventilation was good). Our “confirmation” of our off-the-cuff idea might very well be as phony as the idea itself!
Alternately, we might try to learn and think about what the basic problem really is (in this case that some unpleasant gas is coming from the cut onion up to our eyes) and just how we might go about preventing that. Various theories might come to mind. It might occur to us that if we refrigerate the onion first that will make the offending substance evaporate less easily. Apparently the substance is so volatile that this makes no real difference, however. So we might try goggles, or perhaps just opening the window and starting a fan. With a correct theory of what is causing the problem in the first place, it won’t be long until we find some reasonable solution to it. This is the theory-guided, scientific way to proceed. And it is the way that works best for solving not only little things like the “onion tears” problem, but for all problems of any size and degree of seriousness.
—S.H., excerpt from “Chopping Onions and Pragmatism”, April 12, 2007, online at https://www.massline.org/Philosophy/ScottH/ChoppingOnions.htm
“Not all innovations draw directly on recent discoveries, of
course—the spinning wheel is a product of pragmatic problem solving—and even the
celebrated poster boy of the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine, was initially
developed predominantly through empirical knowledge and the practical intuition of
the engineers rather than theoretical considerations. And indeed, there are examples
in our history when inventors didn’t correctly understand the operating principle
behind their creation, but it worked nonetheless. The practice of canning food for
preservation, for example, was developed long before the acceptance of germ theory
and the discovery of spoilage by microorganisms.” —Lewis Dartnell, The Knowledge:
How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch (2014), pp. 290-291.
[It is of course true that a great number of discoveries and inventions in human history have been stumbled on by those who did not understand the scientific principles behind their discoveries. Our criticism of pragmatism as a philosophy does not dispute this. Instead we Marxists argue that: 1) There are scientific principles which do lie behind these discoveries; and 2) Formulating these scientific principles and making use of them to help guide our practice can greatly promote many further discoveries and improvements in our efforts. Our view is that theory and practice dialectically interpenetrate and promote each other. —S.H.]
PRAIRIE FIRE [Music Group]
American revolutionary rock music duo consisting of Mat and Sandy Callahan, which existed from 1971 into the mid-1980s. It was associated with the Revolutionary Union and the Revolutionary Communist Party.
For further information about its activities and history, see Mat Callahan’s article “Prairie Fire: Rock Maoists”, at: http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1/prairie-fire.htm
PRAIRIE FIRE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE
[To be added... ]
[Hindi and related languages:] A public meeting.
PRATT, Elmer “Geronimo” [Later known as: Geronimo ji Jaga] (1947-2011)
A leader of the Black Panther Party who spent 27 years in prison on trumped-up charges of murder and kidnapping, including 8 years of that time in solitary confinement. Geronimo was targeted by the FBI program known as COINTELPRO, which aimed to “neutralize Pratt as an effective BPP functionary.” [From: LA 157-3436, the partially redacted COINTELPRO file on Geronimo Pratt.]
In December 1968 Geronimo was in the San Francisco Bay Area attending BPP meetings. At the same time a woman was kidnapped and murdered in southern California as part of a robbery. The woman’s husband, who was also wounded in that attack originally identified someone else as the killer. But a police and FBI informant within the BPP, Julius Butler, then claimed Geronimo Pratt was the killer.
Since Geronimo was a southern California leader of the BPP, both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department had him under constant surveillance. The Oakland police also had (illegal) wiretaps of Geronimo in conversations in the Bay Area at the time of the murder. They all therefore knew that he was innocent of the crime. However, they withheld this information, along with the fact that Julius Butler was secretly working for them. Thus, whether they put Butler up to his false accusation or not (and they very probably did, since they were holding serious criminal charges over his head that gave them powerful leverage with him), they definitely participating in the frame-up. This led to Geronimo being falsely convicted in 1972.
It was not until 1997 that Geronimo’s conviction was overturned. He then won a false imprisonment lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and the FBI, with a reported settlement of $4.5 million (including $1.75 million from the federal government). This was little enough recompense for the ruin of much of his life by the government. After finally being freed, Geronimo worked as a human rights activist with a particular focus on other false imprisonment cases, and participated in the campaign to free the political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
See also: COINTELPRO: FBI’s War on Black America
The official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party [Bolsheviks], later renamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, from the paper’s establishment in 1912 until it was closed down by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1991.
“Pravda (Truth) — Bolshevik legal daily published in
St. Petersburg. It was founded in April 1912 on the initiative of St. Petersburg
“Pravda was a mass working-class newspaper maintained by funds collected by the workers themselves. Articles were contributed by a large group of worker-correspondents and worker-writers—in one year alone the paper published 11,000 items from its worker-correspondents. The average circulation was 40,000, and occasionally it reached 60,000 copies.
“Lenin directed the work of the paper from abroad, writing an article almost daily; he gave his advice to the editors and mustered the Party’s best literary forces for the paper.
“The police persecuted Pravda systematically; in the first year of publication 41 issues were confiscated and 36 summonses were made against the editors.
“In the course of two years and three months Pravda was suppressed eight times but each time it again appeared under a new name—Rabochaya Pravda (Workers’ Truth), Severnaya Pravda (Northern Truth), Pravda Truda (Labor’s Truth), Za Pravda (For Truth), Proletarskaya Pravda (Proletarian Truth), Put Pravda (The Way of Truth), Rabochy (The Worker), Trudovaya Pravda (Labor Truth). The newspaper was finally [completely] suppressed on July 8 (21), 1914, on the eve of the First World War, and publication did not begin again until after the February Revolution. From March 5 (18), 1917, Pravda was published as the Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P. Lenin joined the editorial board on April 5 (18), 1917, on his return from abroad and guided the work of the editors. On July 5 (18), 1917, the Pravda offices were wrecked by military cadets and Cossacks. From July to October 1917, Pravda, persecuted by the Provisional Government, frequently changed its name and appeared as: Listok Pravdy (Pravda’s Sheet), Proletary (The Proletarian), Rabochy (The Worker), and Rabochy Put (Workers’s Path). Since October 27 (November 9), 1917, the newspaper has appeared regularly under its original name of Pravda.” —Note 13, LCW 19:564-565.
[Greek: action, doing, activity.]
In Marxist philosophy and politics this is a pretentious term for what is more usually just called practice. Practice, for us is activity, and especially conscious activity of a political nature. As such it is the activity which is the source of political theory and knowledge, and activity which is appropriately guided by existing political theory and knowledge. If Mao had chosen to write in the highfalutin language of Marxist academics (rather than the language of the masses), he might well have called his famous essay “On Praxis” rather than “On Practice”.
Those academics and other writers who customarily use the term praxis (such as Labriola, Gramsci, Lukács and Sartre) often write in ways where it is hard to understand precisely what they mean by the fancy terms they use. (Which is perhaps why they use such esoteric terms in the first place; more to impress, than to be understood.) And in at least some cases they use this term in somewhat peculiar ways. Jürgen Habermas, a philosopher of the revisionist Frankfurt School, for example, seems to use the term in a highly idiosyncratic way, which one source describes as meaning: “communicative interaction between people, which is governed by moral norms, and contrasted with instrumental action, e.g. in the production of commodities, which is governed by technical rules”, whatever all that really amounts to, exactly.
“PREACHING TO THE CHOIR”
Directing agitation or propaganda (in Lenin’s sense) at those who already agree with what is being said, rather than trying to reach and win over those who don’t already understand and agree with the ideas. This is a very common failing within most social movements, both left and right.
PREBISCH THESIS (or SINGER-PREBISCH THESIS)
The idea that the terms of trade between raw materials (or “primary products” such as agricultural crops and minerals) and manufactured goods get worse and worse over time, so that countries that depend heavily on the export of raw materials and other bulk commodities should switch over to manufacturing, or at least diversify, as soon as they are able to do so.
There is obviously some considerable empirical basis for this idea in the modern capitalist-imperialist world. But to be analytically coherent it would be necessary to explicate just how the imperialist domination of Third World countries has led to this very common result. In other words, the thesis should be viewed as just a very secondary corollary to the workings of capitalist-imperialism.
The “thesis”, or observation, was first made separately by Raul Prebisch and Hans Singer in 1950, based on the extensive study of historical data of the trend in prices of different sorts of bulk commodities and manufactured goods. Bourgeois economists have sought to explain this observation with the claim that there is a “greater elasticity of demand” for manufactured goods, but that makes little sense. In any case, it is undeniable that this very unfair result occurred through the workings of the so-called “free market” which bourgeois economists have always exhaulted.
There is also some reason to believe that the Prebisch Thesis may no longer be as true or evident as it used to be, no doubt largely because of the great fall in the prices of manufactured goods due to the rapid industrialization and exploitation of cheap labor in China and other parts of Asia. This strongly suggests that the relatively faster increase in prices of manufactured goods (versus bulk commodities) in former decades may have mostly been due to monopoly effects in the industrialized imperialist countries.
See also: DEPENDENCY THEORY
[Apparently a contraction of “precarious proletariat”. (See entry below.)] A recently created term, so far used mostly in discussions by young academic Marxists, to refer to a lower and quite insecure stratum of the proletariat, especially temporary and part-time workers who generally have very low wages (often at or just above the minimum wage, where there is one) and few if any benefits. This term is mostly being used with regard to workers in the advanced capitalist countries (such as the U.S. and Britain), where large sections of the working class were once relatively well paid and comparatively secure because of the existence of strong labor unions and the reformist political influence (social democrats or the equivalent) which created welfare states, but a working class which is now being driven down more and more. Also referred to as the precarized proletariat. Actually, the largest part of the “precariat” consists of young people who have fairly recently entered the labor force and have never had “good and secure jobs”, rather than to older workers who have lost better and more secure jobs—though there are many of them as well.
While some new theorists view the “precariat” as a new social class, differentiated from the old proletariat in large part by its qualitatively worse and multiple forms of precarious existence, in reality the economic existence of proletarians has mostly been quite precarious all along, and from the very beginning of capitalism. It was the temporary period of the existence of a substantial labor aristocracy in the capitalist-imperialist countries which was the exceptional situation, not any newly developing “precariat”. Thus the precariat, if that is the term which is finally settled on, should be viewed as one of the major lower strata of the proletariat, and not as an entirely new social class. —S.H.
See also: CYBERTARIAT, LUMPROLETARIANIZATION
PRECARIOUSNESS OF THE PROLETARIAT
The largest part of the working class has generally led a precarious existence under capitalism. However, in the early days of capitalism this precarious proletarian existence was quite extreme and close to universal (see quote from Engels below). Over time this was mitigated to a certain extent by the class struggle of the workers, the forming of trade unions, and the need by the capitalist ruling class to try to keep the peace at home as they more and more expanded the exploitation of the workers of other countries (especially the “Third World”) during the modern capitalist-imperialist era. For at least a section of the working class in the imperialist countries life became considerably less precarious, for a time.
However, during times of serious capitalist economic crisis—such as the present—the ruling class is forced to make major efforts to drive the working class down again, to take back the limited and temporary gains they have made through labor unions and reformist political struggle. Existence for the proletariat in general, and as a whole, then becomes much more precarious again. That is what is happening in the U.S. and the world today, even for the so-called “middle class”.
See also: AMERICAN DREAM, CONTINGENT WORKERS, “LIVING FROM PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK”, LUMPROLETARIANIZATION, PRECARIAT
“The condition of the working class in England is becoming daily more precarious.” —Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1842), first sentence; MECW, vol. 2.
“If you had to come up with $400 today for an emergency expense, could you do it? It might not seem like a great sum at first glance, but according to the Fed [Federal Reserve System], fully 47 percent of Americans would need to borrow or sell something to come up with the cash. Such financial insecurity is ‘the secret shame of middle-class Americans,’ Neal Gabler writes in the May  Atlantic.... The American Dream is premised on the idea that if we’re willing to work hard, we’ll move up the ladder. Add a college degree to the mix, and you’re supposed to have it made. But that no longer feels like the case for great swaths of the country. It’s not simply because we save too little or spend too much (though we do both). Opportunities are eroding, and nearly all the wealth created in recent years has gone to the top 10 percent of wage earners; a middle-income American family actually makes 7 percent less, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it did 15 years ago. Working hard these days might very well get you a few rungs up the ladder. But when no job is truly secure, you need a lot of luck to avoid slipping down again.” —Carolyn O’Hara, “Editor’s Letter”, The Week [a bourgeois news magazine], May 6, 2016, p. 3.
A common practice in contemporary capitalism whereby banks and other financial institutions issue mortgages or other loans to people in misrepresented or even outright fradulent ways, which end up severely harming these people eventually. Here are a just a few of the huge number of ways of doing this:
• Falsely representing an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) as a fixed-rate mortgage, thus exposing the mortgage holder to future payments which they cannot possibly afford.
• Failing to clearly and openly disclose balloon payments (very large individual repayments on the loan) which will become due at a later date, and which the mortgage holder will not be able to pay.
• Representing initial “teaser rates” (temporary low interest rates) on loans as the interest rate that would continue for the life of the loan.
• Signing people up for loans at higher interest rates when they actually have credit ratings that qualify them for lower interest rates. (Many people who were signed up for subprime mortgages over the past decade actually qualified for better mortgages with lower interest rates.)
Of course people taking out mortgages were also always told that the economy would keep booming and that the prices of homes and property would continue to increase indefinitely. Thus they were led to believe that even if they were unable to make the mortgage payments in the future they could still sell the home and end up with a big profit.
In the U.S. alone, millions of victims of predatory lending have lost their homes, lost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process, had their credit ratings ruined, and had their lives disrupted. But the banks have made billions of dollars of profits this way, and only a tiny number of the most blatantly fraudulent mortgage salesmen have gone to jail.
[Speaking of Sun Yat-sen:] “He worked heart and soul for the
transformation of China, devoting his whole life to the cause; of him it can be
justly said that he gave his best, gave his all, till his heart ceased to beat.
“Like many great figures in history who stood in the forefront guiding the march of events, Dr. Sun, too, had his shortcomings. These shortcomings should be explained in the light of the historical conditions so that people can understand; we should not be too critical of our predecessors.” —Mao, “In Commemoration of Dr. Sun Yat-sen” (Nov. 12, 1956), SW 5:331.
The branch of symbolic logic which uses symbols for quantifiers, arguments and predicates of individual propositions as well as for entire propositions and logical connectors. (As opposed to the propositional calculus which only discusses the logical relationships among unanalyzed propositions.)
PREDICTIONS — In Economics
See: ECONOMIC PREDICTIONS, ECONOMIC FORECASTING (Bourgeois), RECESSIONS—Predicting
“In 1894, a London newspaper predicted that ‘in 50 years, every street
in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.’ This dire outcome did not consider
that horses would not be the primary mode of transportation in fifty years and that the
automobile, an invention that was right around the corner, would transform life.”
—Mehrsa Baradaran, The Color of Money (2017), [a book promoting Black Capitalism],
[While this ridiculous prediction is quite humorous, it is a fact that bourgeois economic forecasters frequently use a technique not all that different. They extrapolate from current and recent trends without recognizing that qualitative changes in the situation might very well occur which will totally invalidate such extrapolations. Their failure to truly understand the laws of capitalism, and its internal contradictions, especially promotes a great many of their erroneous economic predictions. —Ed.]
PREP SCHOOLS — in China
“By 1965 China’s educational system looked something like this: At the top
were all of the elite schools, which were to train students for the universities. Their
students were to become China’s future leaders, scientists, and professional men. Below the
elite schools were the general full-time schools, which were to train middle-level
technicians, engineers, and teachers, most of whom were destined for positions in the
countryside. At the bottom were the part-time schools—the half-work, half-study schools—which
were there to provide a minimal education for China’s future peasant and working classes...
It was this hierarchy, and particularly its elite component which was to be attacked by the
Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution....
“The best of the elite schools were the boarding schools for children of Party officials. These were originally intended to care for and educate the children of cadres during the Civil Wars, when cadres were engaged in revolutionary activity that separated them from their children. But after the defeat of the Kuomintang, these schools increasingly came to be exclusive schools for the children of a new ruling elite, the higher cadres of the Chinese Communist Party....
“During the Cultural Revolution these collective boarding schools were to be attacked by Red Guards for being similar to the British and Soviet ‘schools for aristocratic children.’ Though rhetorically exaggerated, this criticism was firmly grounded in reality. As institutions, these schools differed but little from the preparatory schools for the children of the ruling classes in the West.”
—Victor Nee, “The Cultural Revolution at Peking University”, Monthly Review, July-August 1969.
PRESCRIPTIVISM vs. DESCRIPTIVISM [In Grammar or Lexicography]
Prescriptivism means specifying what is considered “correct” or “proper” in grammatical usage, or in defining the meaning of a word, based on what the teacher or authority believes from their own individual usage or biased point of view should be considered correct. Descriptivism, on the other hand, means determining what is grammatical, or the true meaning of a word, based on actual everyday usage by the speakers of the language. Thus while the sentence “They ain’t going” may well be recognized as “substandard” in some cultural sense or other, linguistically it is just as grammatical as “They are not going”.
Scientific linguistics rejects prescriptivism and appropriately insists on using descriptivist techniques in describing languages. However, in propounding a scientific theory in any sphere (including historical materialism) it is often necessary to define technical terms in that science by fiat; this is not the same as prescriptivism with regard to non-technical words in the general language.
See also: MEANING OF A WORD
PRESENTATION — Methods Of
How should we generally go about presenting ideas to the masses, especially complex ideas which require a fair amount of explanation? What methods should we use? There are various possibilities, including the logical method, the historical method and the simple-to-complex method. Interestingly, each of these three might be considered to be—in one sense or another—dialectical methods, though to my mind the last one of these is the most important dialectical method.
The logical method of presentation presents first the most elemental ideas, the fundamental building blocks, explicates them thoroughly, and then builds on that foundation to present further aspects of the situation. The historical method focuses on how our understanding developed over time, from people’s earliest and roughest ideas, to their more complete, more sophisticated, and more correct later ideas. And the simple-to-complex method starts with simple and rough approximations of the actual situation, then goes back over the material again and again, getting into things in an ever deeper sort of way each time around.
Which method, then, is the most important of the three? It depends on the audience, of course, at least to some considerable extent. More emphasis on logical foundations is possible with a more educated and patient audience, for example. But I maintain that the most basic and most important of all of the three methods of presentation being discussed is that of the simple-to-complex.
Ideally, all three of these methods would be used simultaneously, and in fact the best presentations of complex ideas do try to do this. But the trouble is that at least to some degree the three methods conflict with each other. Often the logical foundations of a complex situation are rather abstruse. Often a full explication of the foundation ideas will mean that the ultimately more important implications that arise from them will have to be postponed for much too long a time. And too much focus on how ideas developed, though important to eventually understand, can lead to long side-tracks about erroneous conceptions and how they had to be overcome. This is why, in my opinion, the simple-to-complex method is the primary method, and why the other two methods have to be accommodated or subordinated to it.
Marx, in his magnum opus Capital, did in fact use all three methods of presentation simultaneously. His deepest method was that of simple-to-complex. Thus he made some important simplifying assumptions in Volume I of Capital, especially the simplification that commodities are exchanged in capitalist society at exactly their value (i.e., at the precise ratios corresponding to the socially necessary labor time incorporated into each sort of commodity). This quite necessary simplifying assumption was dropped in later volumes. Within that deepest method, Marx then used the logical method of presentation. Thus he spent a great deal of space early on in Volume I explicating the core concept of the commodity. And, finally, within that combined framework, he also made considerable efforts to bring out the historical development of the concept of the commodity, and of the other key concepts in explicating the capitalist mode of production.
Did Marx get the balance right for these three intertwined methods of presentation in Capital? In my opinion he got the balance pretty closely right for one key audience—namely, well-educated people with a strong socialist inclination and a serious determination to study socialist theory. But experience has shown that Capital is too hard, too demanding, for many less educated and less determined people to master. This is why classes on Capital, and various sorts of introductions to the most important concepts in that work, are necessary. But to say that these sorts of introductions and simplifications are necessary at first for most people is also to agree that for many the presentation method of simple-to-complex needs to be strengthened. Not only was this the case during Marx’s day, it is no doubt even much more the case in the contemporary culture in advanced capitalist countries like the United States, where—because of the Internet and other factors—many youths are now no longer reading serious books at all.
When we become serious revolutionaries we must more than ever resolve to buckle down and seriously study the works of the great revolutionaries of the past who have created our present revolutionary theories. At the same time, it is important for those of us who have acquired some of this knowledge to help others get started in such a pursuit, by providing them with simplified written introductions to the subject and also numerous study groups where people can learn collectively. —S.H.
“Even after the determination of the [dialectical] method, the critique of political economy could still be arranged in two ways—historically or logically. Since in the course of history, as in its literary reflection, development proceeds by and large from the simpest to the more complex relations, the historical development of political economy constituted a natural clue, which the critique could take as a point of departure, and then the economic categories would appear on the whole in the same order as in the logical development. This form seems to have the advantage of greater lucidity, for it traces the actual development, but in fact it would thus become, at most, more popular. History often moves in leaps and bounds and in zigzags, and as this would have to be followed throughout, it would mean not only that a considerable amount of material of slight importance would have to be absorbed, but also that the train of thought would frequently have to be interrupted; it would, moreover, be impossible to write the history of political economy without that of bourgeois society, and the work would thus be endless because of the absence of all preliminary studies. The logical method of approach was therefore the only suitable one. This, however, is indeed nothing but the historical method, only stripped of the historical form and of interfering continguencies. The point where this history begins must also be the starting point of the train of thought, and its further progress will be simply the reflection, in abstract and theoretically consistent form, of the course of history, a corrected reflection, but corrected in accordance with laws provided by the actual course of history, since each moment can be examined at the stage of development where it reaches its full maturity, its classical form.” —Engels, writing of Marx’s method, in a review of his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859, MECW 16:475.
“Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyze its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connection. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction.” —Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Afterward to the Second German Edition (Jan. 24, 1873): International ed., p. 19; Penguin ed., p. 102.
“His [Lenin’s] speeches were like a spiral; afraid that people wouldn’t understand him he returned to a thought he had already expressed, never repeating it but adding something new. (Some of those who copied his manner of speaking used to forget that a spiral is like a circle and yet unlike. A spiral progresses.)” —Ilya Erenburg, People and Life: Memoirs of 1891-1917 (London: 1961), p. 69.
“The difference between my advanced philosophy courses for graduate students and the undergraduate courses I teach is that—contrary to what you might first imagine—the graduate seminars go much more slowly, cover much less ground, and get into things much more precisely and carefully. The introductory courses slide over many less essential issues and complications.” —Paul Ziff, an American bourgeois philosopher. This is a paraphrase of his comments at the beginning of one of those graduate seminars.
An ill-defined or vague concept based on a crude and undeveloped theory, or where there is no overall theory as yet. Many categories in bourgeois ideology, such as “middle class” might well be considered to be pre-theoretic notions. However, it is probably true that all theoretical terms start out as pre-theoretical notions; some always remain vague and confused, while others are eventually transformed into more definite and precise terms or categories in the course of developing the relevant theory in a scientific manner.
[Under capitalism:] The value of a commodity expressed in money. “Price is the converted form in which the exchange-value of commodities appears within the circulation process.” —Marx, CCPE, p. 66. “Price is the money-name of the labor realized in a commodity.” —Marx, Capital, vol. I, Ch. 3, sect. 1: (International, p. 101; Penguin, pp. 195-6.)
The actual market price, however, tends to fluctuate somewhat around its value based on variations in supply and demand, and also deviates more systematically from its actual value from one industry to another based on the relative amount of machinery being used (because rates of profit tend to get equalized across industries). Prices may also systematically exceed value in industries because of monopoly conditions. Although the prices of individual commodities deviate in practice from their value, considered as a whole the sum of the prices of all the commodities produced in a capitalist system normally equals the sum of the values of all the commodities. When you go to buy something at the store you are concerned primarily with its price, but when you want to correctly analyze and understand the capitalist system of production you must focus first of all on the Marxist concept of value.
See also: COST-PRICE.
[Under socialism:] Prices under socialism are set according to a state plan for production and distribution, instead of constantly fluctuating as they do under a capitalist market system. Prices are still set, in part, according to the law of value, though to a gradually diminishing degree as socialism develops in the direction of communism where goods and services are distributed free. Moreover, the socialist state will tend to purposely lower the prices of basic necessities below their value, while initially somewhat raising the prices of luxury goods above their value. Thus the overall long-term trend for all prices under socialism is to fall (eventually to zero), but for the prices of goods and services of special importance to the people (health services, food, everyday clothing, housing, transportation, education, etc.) to fall faster and more sharply.
PRICE-EARNINGS RATIO [Capitalist Finance]
[Also known as the P/E ratio.]
1. The current price of a share of a corporation’s stock divided by the “earnings” (profits) per share of that company (based on its most recent profits statement). P/E ratios vary considerably among different companies and over time, and a higher P/E ratio for one company generally means that “investors” (speculators) believe that the company’s profits are likely to grow.
2. The overall weighted average of P/E ratios of individual stocks for all stocks in a given category, such as all stocks in the automobile industry or all stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The NYSE P/E ratio along with the NASDAQ P/E ratio are pretty good indicators of the overall expectations of investors with regard to future profits of American corporations in general.
In a speculative boom average P/E ratios reach absurd levels, and exceptionally high overall P/E ratios are an important indication that a financial crisis may be developing soon. The Economist magazine noted in the summer of 2017 that “the American stockmarket is on a cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio of 30—a level surpassed only in 1929 and in the late 1990s”. [Aug. 26, 2017; p. 8.] Over the following five months U.S. stock prices further increased substantially (which further raised the overall P/E ratio). As of late January 2018 this serious warning of a coming stock market financial crisis is still being ignored by speculators.
A period of greatly intensified competition in prices among two or more monopolistic or oligopolistic corporations, the goal of which is to drive the others either out of business entirely or at least out of some particular national or regional market, after which the victorious corporation will be able to raise its prices to much higher levels because of its secure monopoly position. The scheme, in short, is to undercut the competition, ruin them, and then reap superprofits due to your new domination of the market. Price wars are therefore short term and lead to lower prices only briefly, to be followed by much longer periods of price gouging by the victorious corporation.
A variation on this scheme often occurs under olipolistic conditions where one corporation “takes the lead” in setting the more or less identical monopoly level prices for some product among all the corporations. If one of the less powerful corporations should substantially lower prices in an attempt to increase its market share, the dominant corporation may engage in a short-term price war to force the upstart corporation back into line. This is called re-establishing “price discipline”. It is officially illegal in most countries, but is nevertheless quite common. It is a way of enforcing de facto “price fixing” arrangements.
The interest rate quoted by commercial banks for short-term loans to their best (safest!) commercial customers, usually big corporations. This rate fluctuates based on the cost of money to the banks themselves (the discount rate) from the Federal Reserve, the health of the economy and that of the particular bank, and so forth. Despite the quoted prime rate, banks sometimes charge higher or lower interest rates for particular loans.
“PRIMING THE PUMP”
For the benefit of recent generations we should first say what “priming the pump” is literally, before talking about the analogy used in Keynesian economics! Pumping the handle on old-style mechanical pumps was once the common method used to draw water up from a well. Once water was being pumped out, the damp leather (or similar) seal inside the pump kept air from rushing in at the top (which would allow the partially raised water to fall all the way back down again before the handle was pumped again). So in order to successfully raise water from the well to the spout it was often necessary to pour a bit of water down into the pump mechanism first. This was called “priming the pump”. Once the seal was damp, water could be raised to the spout, and the water being raised continued to keep the seal damp, allowing yet more water to be raised by further pumping.
Keynes and his followers used this as an analogy for how government deficit financing could get a weakened economy, or one in recession, going strongly again. The problem is that this is a very weak analogy to the true economic situation.
Keynes understood that sometimes “effective demand” was insufficient to keep the economy going, and that therefore the government had to somehow get more money into the hands of people who would spend it. This is the “priming” part! But he and his followers believed that once this happens the economy should from then on be able to run for a very long time without further government deficits, and even that government surpluses could be successfully managed that would make up for the previous deficits. There are actually some limited circumstances where this can be true for a time. If, for example, the reason for the weakness in the economy was primarily psychological, that people were not going into debt to buy things because they feared they might be laid off, then a fairly short boost to the economy might lead people to abandon their fears, and decide to take out new loans to buy TVs, cars and houses.
But the problem in the economy eventually gets to be much more basic than something like that; the working class and masses will eventually pile up so much debt that they can’t obtain new loans when they apply for them. In that case, getting government money into their hands will still allow them to buy things but only as long as the government money keeps flowing! In this situation, government deficits still work to keep the economy going, but only as long as they continue (and, for reasons we won’t get into at the moment, for as long as these government deficits keep expanding at an ever faster pace). In other words, no pump is actually being primed, and the economy will not be able to continue on its own.
However, Keynesian economists deeply believe in this “pump-priming” theory for several reasons:
1) They see it work on occasion (as with the psychology example) and falsely conclude that it must always work, no matter what the situation.
2) They have the theory that the Great Depression of the 1930s was resolved through this means; if not through government deficits for public works, then at least through massive government deficits accumulated during World War II. (“Military Keynesianism”.) Actually Keynesian deficits did interrupt the Depression, but only the massive destruction of capital during the war truly ended the Depression, and kept it from resuming after the war.
3) Being bourgeois ideologists, they just can’t believe that capitalism has any internal flaw that might keep it from working smoothly most of the time. They imagine that all problems with the capitalist economy come from the outside and are fairly easily dealt with if the right techniques (such as Keynesian deficit pump-priming) are used. In other words, they don’t really understand how capitalism actually works, and its serious and inherent internal contradictions.
See also: MILITARY KEYNESIANISM (Chomsky quote)
“Thus primitive accumulation, as I have already shown [Cf. the Grundrisse], means nothing but the separation of labor and the worker from the conditions of labor, which confront him as independent forces.” —Marx, TSV, 3:271.
“Accumulation merely presents as a continuous process what in primitive accumulation appears as a distinct historical process, as the process of the emergence of capital and as a transition from one mode of production to another.” —Marx, TSV, 3:272.
PRIMITIVE COMMUNAL SOCIETY (or PRIMITIVE COMMUNIST SOCIETY)
The first socioeconomic formation in human history (and pre-history), which lasted for hundreds of thousands of years, and which is characterized by the collective ownership of the means of production (such as the land and nature’s bounty), an absence of social classes and exploitation, a primitive division of labor based only on “natural” factors such as age, sex and physical ability, more or less equal distribution of goods, and a very low level of development of the productive forces. For the most part people in this form of society were nomadic hunter-gatherers, without agriculture or any settled life.
It is important to note that the people in these societies are/were not biologically “primitive” in any way (at least during the past tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of years), but rather their socioeconomic system that is/was primitive, when compared to more advanced societies.
As of the year 2000 there were very few examples of primitive communal society still left in existence, and even those few which did remain were influenced to various degrees by the class societies all around them. One of the last remaining primitive communal societies (and one of the best studied) is that of the Dobe Ju/’hoansi people of the southern region of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and Namibia. There are about 50,000 Dobe people, who speak a San language which includes various click sounds, and who are nomadic hunter-gatherers subsisting on fruits, nuts, roots and hunted animals. They live in separate social bands of usually 25 to 50 people, with no organizational forms at any higher level. Even within each band there is no formal political or economic organization or leadership, and even very little specialization or division of labor (except along “natural” lines). However, they practice a form of what cultural anthropologists call “situational authority”, where leaders emerge and then disappear based on the varying tasks at hand. And of course there are no social classes. As one anthropologist, Edward Fischer of Vanderbilt University, comments: “The Dobe are noted for their fierce egalitarian ethic; when a Dobe hunter makes a kill, he must distribute the meat among everyone in his band. Dobe society does not distinguish between work and leisure time.” And what outsiders would consider work (such as actual time spent gathering food or hunting) usually takes up only a modest part of their day.
Those people who claim that “human nature” prevents socialism or communism from ever working seem not to know that humanity arose and has spent most of the hundreds of thousands of years of its existence in a form of cooperative society which is based on sharing, cooperation and general equality.
PRIMITIVE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
The social organization in the earliest forms of human society, and especially within primitive communal society. Although class society (primarily capitalism, of course) now exists in almost every corner of the world, there still exists today a few small and remote regions where pre-class, primitive communal society persists. Moreover, the scientific investigation of such societies began back in the 19th century when such societies existed in larger numbers. This has allowed us to develop some general understanding of how these societies function. It has been found that the social organization of these societies is/was very much simpler than has developed in class society, and—in particular—nothing like a government or a state existed.
One widespread modern summary theory is that of the American anthropologist Elman Rogers Service (1915-96) who postulated the following four levels of social organization (in his book Primitive Social Organization: An Evolutionary Perspective, 1962):
Level 1 — Band: Bands are groups of roughly 25 to 50 people, who have no higher form of social organization. While there will probably be other similar bands nearby, sharing a common language and culture, there is no formal organizational structure by which they relate to each other. Moreover, even within a single band itself there is no formal structure, no established leadership. As mentioned in the entry for PRIMITIVE COMMUNALISM above, the only form of leadership is a “situational authority” wherein some particular person might on this occasion or that take a temporary leadership role in some specific task (such as a hunt). Such an absence of government and institutionalized authority is possible only because there are no social classes, and a deeply entrenched culture of cooperation and sharing.
Level 2 — Tribe: Tribes are groups of a few hundred to a few thousand people. This higher population density usually requires an increased dependence of plant food based on some form of low-intensity farming (such as by harvesting crops which were planted but perhaps not otherwise well-tended). Because of such primitive farming, tribes are most often sedentary at least for a few years. (The exhaustion of the farm land might then lead to a relocation to another spot for a few more years.) Anthropologist, Edward Fischer of Vanderbilt University, elaborates: “While there are status differences in tribes, these differences are generally fluid; social organization is governed by kinship ties. Tribal-level societies are led by headmen—individuals who have a formal position of power that they occupy through achieved status instead of inherited status. These headmen continually have to gain the support of the people they lead in order to keep their position.” The Yanomamö people in the Orinoco basin are one example of this social organization level. They have a slash-and-burn form of agriculture based on plantains, sweet potatoes and tobacco, and relocate their villages every three years.
Level 3 — Chiefdom: Thousands of people, with a hereditary chief. There is a higher and more important level of status distinctions than in tribal societies. Edward Fischer remarks: “Politics and economics are built on the idea of redistributive exchange, in which gifts entail obligations that can often be converted into political power.” More intensive agriculture is required to support this level of society. An example is the Trobriand Islanders in New Guinea. A chief or nobleman inherits his position from his mother’s brother, rather than from his own father. And yams are both the economic basis and the social symbol of Trobrian society.
Level 4 — Nation-State: Typically millions of people in a complex class society with a strong centralized authority supported by armed power (police and army). The first states arose in Mesopotamia around 2500 BCE.
Social organizational “level 1”, the band, is the form of primitive communal society, and organizational “level 4” is obviously the form in not only modern capitalist countries, but also in all other class-based socioeconomic formations (i.e., in slave and feudal society). Levels 2 and 3 are transitional social organization forms that bridge the gap between classless primitive commualism and the major forms of class society in the world today.
When we speak of “primitive times” we usually refer to the very distant past, during which not only technology but also social organization and people’s conceptions of nature, society and themselves, were far cruder, undeveloped, and unscientific than they even typically are today. However, in the future, our present age will certainly be viewed as being absurdly primitive too, and eventually as having been only barely advanced beyond that of Ancient Greece or Ancient China. (Assuming, of course, that our present primitive capitalist society doesn’t end up killing off our species entirely, thus preventing there even being anyone in the future to look back upon us!)
When we look back at our primitive past we draw bounderies between the eras based upon major qualitative leaps that occurred. Within primitive communal society there is the difference between the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) and the Neolithic (New Stone Age), which is one of a qualitative advance in technology, and also in human culture. Then there is the much more profound division that marks the advent of class society, first in the form of slave society. Further milestones are the transformation of slave society into feudalism, and then the transformation of feudalism into capitalism. Within capitalism too there are divisions, most notably of the advent of capitalist imperialism near the end of the 19th century.
The most profound and deepest change of all in the history of human society will come with the end of class society and the advent of communist society. Even the essential first step in that direction, genuine socialist society, will still not fully transcend our present primitive world. Only the advent of worldwide communism will completely accomplish that. And when we finally do get there humanity will be more than justified in looking back at everything that came before as one long period of truly “primitive times”. —S.H.
“We still live in primitive times.” —Scott’s painfully obvious conclusion, #1.
“There are many contradictions in the process of development of a
complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence
and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other
“For instance, in capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction. The other contradictions, such as those between the remnant feudal class and the bourgeoisie, ... [etc.], are all determined or influenced by this principal contradiction....
“But whatever happens, there is no doubt at all that at every stage in the development of a process, there is only one principal contradiction which plays the leading role.
“Hence, if in any process there are a number of contradictions, one of them must be the principal contradiction playing the leading and decisive role, while the rest occupy a secondary and subordinate position. Therefore, in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding its principal contradiction. Once this principal contradiction is grasped, all problems can be readily solved. This is the method Marx taught us in his study of capitalist society.... There are thousands of scholars and men of action who do not understand it, and the result is that, lost in a fog, they are unable to get to the heart of a problem and naturally cannot find a way to resolve its contradictions.” —Mao, On Contradiction (Aug. 1937), SW 1:331-2.
1. A comprehensive general or fundamental law, doctrine, conclusion, hypothesis, assumption, or—for some—an outright dogma. For Marxists, the principles governing nature and society (and how to change it) are discovered through practice (experience) and scientific investigations in those spheres.
2. A moral principle or generalization, such as that lying is wrong, or more rationally, that lying is generally wrong. (See: MORAL MAXIM)
3. The laws or facts which govern the operation of some artificial device, such as the principles governing the operation of internal combustion engines.
“[T]he principles are not the starting point of the investigation, but its final result; they are not applied to nature and human history, but abstacted from them; it is not nature and the realm of man which conform to these principles, but the principles are only valid in so far as they are in conformity with nature and history. That is the only materialist conception of the matter, and Herr Dühring’s contrary conception is idealistic, makes things stand completely on their heads, and fashions the real world out of ideas, out of schemata, schemes or categories existing somewhere before the world, from eternity—just like a Hegel.” —Engels, Anti-Dühring (1878), MECW 25:34.
PRINCIPLES OF REVOLUTIONARY MARXISM
The many dozens or hundreds of principles of revolutionary Marxism are summary results which have been abstracted out of the investigation and analysis of human history and experience, out of class struggles and revolutionary struggle from all parts of the world over all of human history, and from both their successes and failures. We accept these principles not on “faith”, but because of a serious, rational study of human experience. And we accept most of these principles not as absolute truths, valid everywhere and always, but as results of the experience of struggle at particular times and places. Thus, if new experience and a careful scientific analysis of that new experience dictates, we are prepared to modify and adjust these principles of revolutionary Marxism as appropriate. On the one hand, we are not flighty; we stick to our principles unless and until there are good scientific reasons to change them. But on the other hand we continue to investigate society and social struggles, and continue to think and analyze all the new developments and events around us. This of necessity leads to a gradual expansion, and sometimes a more sophisticated modification, of the many specific principles of revolutionary Marxism.
PRISON POPULATION — United States
The US has the largest prison population in the world, both in absolute numbers and—with the exception of one tiny country (the Seychelles)—also in terms of the percentage of the population imprisoned. And indeed, in more ways than one, America is a nation of prisoners. Although the US has just 5% of the world’s population it has nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners. [Data from the American Friends Service Committee, Feb. 2018.]
The US Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 2013 there were 2,220,300 adults incarcerated in US federal and state prisons and county jails, which is 1 in every 110 people. In addition to that, 4,751,400 adults were on probation or on parole. Though the figures don’t add up exactly, it was then stated that 6,899,000 adults were under “correctional supervision” (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2013, or about 2.8% of the entire US population. [Wikipedia (accessed Feb. 10, 2018).] And the numbers of those who are either currently, or who have been at some point in the past, in prison or under the control of the “justice system” are vastly greater, especially for African-Americans and other minorities.
What are some of the important reasons that the US has such an absurdly large number of people imprisoned or under criminal “supervision”?
• The worsening economic crisis, which is leading to much higher levels of unemployment (although the official statistics hugely lie by claiming that ever increasing numbers of unemployed people should not be counted as being in the work force at all!). In the chart at the above right, notice that the massive increase in prison and jail populations started at the same time as the first stage of the current economic crisis, known as the “Long Slowdown”, which began around 1973.
• The so-called “War on Drugs” is also a major reason for the incarceration of vast numbers of people. (The NY Times reports [March 16, 2019] that the federal prison system estimates that about 40% of its inmates “have a substance abuse disorder”.) This is a typical bourgeois response to a situation which in reality is less of a truly criminal problem and more of a social, educational and medical one. (The US Education Department admitted in 2016 that state and local spending on jails and prisons has grown three times as much as spending on public education since 1980.)
• The “tough-on-crime” laws which opportunistic politicians began cynically promoting in the 1980s. While they claim that such laws, which send more people to prison and for longer terms, are designed to “protect the public” from being victimized, it has turned out that the vast majority of people locked up under this campaign have been nonviolent offenders (and most commonly only users of illegal drugs). Moreover, a number of studies (including the Human Rights Watch report of 2014) have shown that “tough-on-crime” laws have not only failed to rehabilitate prisoners, they have actually led to prisoners who—when they are finally released—are worse (more hardened criminally and more violent) than they were before being incarcerated. I.e., these laws are largely counterproductive.
• The closing down of many public institutions and government support for the mentally ill which began during the Reagan administration. This led to the “necessity” to house many of these people in prisons.
• The class bias of the “justice system” in favor of the wealthy, which results in many working class and poor people being unable to post bail and stay out of jail during their typically very long waits until trial. Add to this the inability of the poor to hire decent lawyers to defend them at their trials.
• The fact that many corporations make profits from an expanding prison system. Not only do more and more prisons have to be built and maintained, many of these new prisons today are privately run for profit.
In short, the vastly expanded US prison populations in recent decades have been due to the failures of the capitalist system: its worsening economic crisis which leads to more people without jobs; its pathetic and worsening educational system which is incapable of bringing up people to think critically and to understand such simple things as that their own welfare and happiness means avoiding harmful drugs; its tendencies toward violence against the masses who it despises and views as its enemy; its insistence of criminalizing personal behavior which its ideologists disapprove of; its class economic oppression of those who cannot afford bail or good lawyers; its profit urge which promotes the expansion of the prison system especially through more privately-owned prisons; its inability to fully understand its own economic necessary to keep prison costs (and the taxes to pay for them) down; and its notorious racism against Blacks and other minorities.
And here is one more reason why the Republican wing of the ruling class especially likes the fact that so many people are in (or have been in) prison: This disenfranchises millions who would vote against them in elections. This effect has probably already tipped at least two presidential elections in favor of the Republicans (George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016). Despite the tax burdens, the huge prison system in the US is in both the economic and political interests of very large and influential sections of the capitalist ruling class.
PRISON POPULATION — World
“There are an estimated 11 million people in prison worldwide.” —New York Times, National Edition, Nov. 2, 2019, p. 3.
PRISONS — Private (For-Profit)
The ideology of the capitalist ruling class strongly promotes the absurd idea that essentially everything can be done better, and more cheaply, by private corporations rather than by any government. Well, they are forced by reality to make a few exceptions, with regard to fire departments and the military (although even with regard to the military they often resort to using mercenaries and soldiers of fortune, as well as to further building up the already enormous military-industrial complex based on the profits of private corporations which manufacture arms). This general ideological bias has also led them to massively build up private (corporate run) for-profit prisons. These private prisons are notorious for the mistreatment of prisoners even compared to those prisons run by the government. One can’t help but think that the vicious capitalist rulers of present American society approve of this intensified horrendous treatment and degradation of prisoners for sadistic reasons as well as for the opportunities to make huge profits at the tax-payer’s expense.
“Between 1970 and 2009—as a result of the ‘war on drugs,’ harsh
sentencing policies, and rejection of treatment and restorative justice alternatives—our
nation’s prison population jumped by a whopping 700%, outpacing both population growth and
crime rates. Now, the Trump Administration supports a ‘no-holds-barred’ approach to going
after drug crime offenders, promises a surge in the number of people incarcerated, and
redoubles the government’s partnership with for-profit prisons to ‘meet the future needs
of the federal correctional system.’
“Sending people to prison is not just a business, but BIG business. U.S. prisons are a boon to everyone involved, from architects ... to food vendors ... to medical services firms ... to the operators of for-profit prisons, and they all have one thing to gain: a paycheck for keeping human beings in cages.
“Where does that paycheck come from? Largely from you and other taxpayers, who pay BILLIONS a year to keep people locked up! ...
“For-Profit Prisons—NOT the Solution
“Like many states, Arizona hires for-profit prison companies to manage its correctional facilities. In July of 2015, a series of riots in a privately-run prison in the town of Kingman shed further light on the true cost of incarceration for profit.
“Incensed by years of mistreatment by the company that managed the facility, Management and Training Corporation (MTC), prisoners took their frustration out on the prison itself. Several cells were rendered uninhabitable, and thousands of prisoners were evacuated to other facilities.
“AFSC [American Friends Service Committee] released an investigative report about the riots based on interviews with prisoners and staff. Our report revealed several contributing factors to the unrest, which included insufficient medical care for prisoners, inadequate cooling in the facility (where temperatures average nearly 100 degrees in July), repeated sanctions of MTC by the state for failing to fill staff vacancies, high turnover rates for prison guards (who are among the lowest paid in the state), and the mistreatment of prisoners by guards who relied on pepper spray and other heavy-handed approaches to discipline prisoners.
“AFSC’s investigation also revealed that the only injuries occurring in the wake of the riots were a result of brutal treatment by the State Department of Corrections’ Tactical Response Unit, which was brought in to restore control of the prison. State guards repeatedly beat and pepper-sprayed prisoners even after they were incapacitated, handcuffed, and lying on the ground.
“The bottom line is this: for-profit prisons are a dirty business. Giant prison operators—like MTC and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)—are notorious for cost overruns, inadequate staff training, and abusive conditions. They exist to make a profit, which means that they are fundamentally at odds with the stated purpose of a ‘corrections’ department. More prisoners mean more money. So why work to rehabilitate those who are locked up?
“In August of 2016, following many investigative reports from numerous organizations that show for-profit prisons are unaccountable, costly, unsafe, and a source of corruption, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would end its contracts with for-profit prisons. In February of 2017, the new administration wrongfully rescinded this decision at the expense of basic human rights. AFSC must continue to work to stop prison privatization and promote a new prison system that rethinks harsh sentencing laws and encourages healing and restorative justice practices.”
—American Friends Service Committee, excerpts from a letter about prisons in early 2018, which also talked about the detention of “illegal immigrants” in for-profit prisons and the huge expansion of solitary confinement. They also appropriately refer to the “United States prison-industrial complex” by analogy with the “military-industrial complex”, since both exist—to a considerable degree—for the purpose of funnelling government tax income into the pockets of private companies.
The AFSC is of course a liberal religious-based organization, and only seeks to reform the evils of present-day American capitalist society—when in fact this society is so outrageously evil that only complete social revoltion can fix it. Getting rid of for-profit prisons will not fundamentally change the horrendous prison situation in the U.S., though it is still a very good and humane idea. —Ed.]
PRIVATE EQUITY FIRM [In Finance Capitalism]
A financial investment company which pools funds from its owners and other investors which are then used, generally together with large additional amounts of borrowed money, to buy up corporations, especially ones which are vulnerable to being stripped of assets and looted. Officially this purchase of other companies is usually portrayed as a “social service” designed to revamp and restructure failing businesses and make them profitable again. Whether or not that happens (and very often it does not), the private equity firm ends up with a large part of the wealth previously owned by the targeted company. Private equity firms are thus often appropriately called vampires.
Among the techniques used to loot targeted companies are the replacement of management with their own agents, massive layoffs of workers, selling off whole divisions (especially those which are most profitable), putting the company through bankruptcy procedures (which allows it to void labor contracts, further slash wages, eliminate pension obligations, etc.), and the sometimes complete dismantlement of the company, selling off the pieces individually.
Many politicians in the U.S. receive huge donations from private equity firms, or were even once part of them themselves. The Presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 2012, Mitt Romney, made most of his huge fortune while running the vampire firm Bain Capital. But Obama and the Democrats also received donations and support from other private equity firms.
As understood by Marxists in their discussions of the capitalist system and the political economy of capitalism, private property means mostly the private property in the means of social production. It does not normally refer to the personal possessions of ordinary people, such as your home, furniture, clothing, or your toothbrush(!), which are themselves not even part of the means of production in the first place. Nor does it even importantly refer to the means of production owned and used by a self-employed individual craftsman in capitalist or possibly socialist society who is not (directly anyway) exploited by a capitalist. Instead, the “private property” that Marxists are primarily concerned to confiscate and make the property of everyone are those means of social production presently used in workplaces owned and controlled by capitalists. The point is to make that production serve the needs and interests of the working people and the broad masses, rather than to just make profits for the current private owners of those factories. Of course the bulk of the private personal property of the capitalists and their agents (e.g., their bank accounts, mansions and their yachts), which they have obtained through the vicious exploitation of workers, will also be confiscated and used for public purposes.
See also the sub-topics below, and: PROPERTY and related entries, and PLUNDER (John Taylor quote)
“The most important point in the programme of the Communists [as put
forward in the Communist Manifesto] is the abolition of bourgeois private
property. The authors of the Manifesto are careful to emphasize that this does
not mean personal property, property earned by one’s own labor. As for bourgeois property,
it is a social and not a personal force. Capital standing over against labor ‘is a
collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort,
only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion.’
“This proposition is of fundamental importance. If capital is a social force, but belongs to private individuals, then its transformation into collective, social property is an act that is historically natural and just.” —G. N. Volkov, et al., The Basics of Marxist-Leninist Theory, (Moscow: Progress, 1979), p. 30.
“Question 14: What kind of new social order will this have to
be? [After a proletarian revolution.]
“Answer: Above all, it will have to take the running of industry and all branches of production in general out of the hands of separate individuals competing with each other and instead will have to ensure that all these branches of production are run by society as a whole, i.e., for the social good, according to a social plan and with the participation of all members of society. It will therefore do away with competition and replace it by association. Since the running of industry by individuals had private ownership as its necessary consequence and since competiton is nothing but the manner in which industry is run by individual private owners, private ownership cannot be separated from the individual running of industry and competition. Hence, private ownership will also have to be abolished, and in its stead there will be common use of all the instruments of production and the distribution of all products by common agreement, or the so-called community of property. The abolition of private ownership is indeed the most succinct and characteristic summary of the transformation of the entire social system necessarily following from the development of industry, and is therefore rightly put forward by the Communists as their main demand.” —Engels, “Principles of Communism” (October 1847), MECW 6:348.
“Once the first radical onslaught [after a proletarian revolution] had been made, the proletariat will see itself compelled to go always further, to concentrate all capital, all agriculture, all industry, all transport, and all exchange more and more in the hands of the State. All these measures work towards such results; and they will become realizable and will develop their centralizing consequences in the same proportion in which the productive forces of the country will be multiplied by the labor of the proletariat. Finally, when all capital, all production, and all exchange are concentrated in the hands of the nation, private ownership will automatically have ceased to exist, money will have become superfluous, and production will have so increased and men will be so much changed that the last forms of the old social relations will also be able to fall away.” —Engels, “Principles of Communism” (October 1847), MECW 6:351.
“Question 20: What will be the consequences of the final abolition
of private ownership?
“Answer: Above all, through society’s taking out of the hands of the private capitalists the use of all the productive forces and means of communication as well as th exchange and distribution of products and managing them according to a plan corresponding to the means available and the needs of the whole society, all the evil consequences of the present running of large-scale industry will be done away with. There will be an end of crises; the extended production, which under the present system of society means overproduction and is such a great cause of misery, will then not even be adequate and will have to be expanded much further. Instead of creating misery, overproduction beyond the immediate needs of society will mean the satisfaction of the needs of all, create new needs and at the same time the means to satisfy them. It will be the condition and the cause of new advances, and it will achieve these advances without thereby, as always hitherto, bringing the order of society into confusion. Once liberated from the pressure of private ownership, large-scale industry will develop on a scale that will make its present level of development seem as paltry as seems the manufacturing system [i.e., things made by hand, without machinery —Ed.] compared with the large-scale industry of our time. This development of industry will provide society with a sufficient quantity of products to satisfy the needs of all. Similarly agriculture, which is also hindered by the pressure of private ownership and the parcelling of land from introducing the improvements already available and scientific advancements, will be given a quite new impulse, and place at society’s disposal an ample quantity of products. Thus society will produce enough products to be able so to arrange distribution that the needs of all its members will be satisfied.” —Engels, “Principles of Communism” (October 1847), MECW 6:352.
“The proletarian is without property...” —Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848), MECW 6:494. [Did Marx and Engels mean that workers have absolutely no personal private property? That they must go around naked, for example? Of course not. This is not the sort of property they are referring to. —Ed.]
“The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property
generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property
is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating
products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few.
“In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.
“We Communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man’s own labor, which property is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence.
“Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of the petty artisan and the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it, and is still destroying it daily.
“Or do you mean modern bourgeois private property?” —Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848), MECW 6:498.
“We by no means intend to abolish this personal appropriation of the
products of labor, an appropriation that is made for the maintenance and reproduction of
human life, and that leaves no surplus wherewith to command the labor of others.” —Marx &
Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848), MECW 6:499.
[Marx & Engels are here talking about the wages workers receive from the capitalists. This enables them to buy what was at that time just barely enough to survive and raise a miserably poor family. Under modern conditions, a portion of the working class (primarily in the advanced capitalist or imperialist countries) has managed to obtain—through prolonged mass struggle—a little more than that bare minimum. In both cases, however, these wages do allow the workers and their families to buy and to own some few pieces of personal property, including clothes and (sometimes!) some kind of housing. And, as they state in this quote, Communists by no means intend to expropriate these sorts of meager personal possessions or private property (as we also call it), but are on the contrary determined to greatly expand their quantity and quality. —S.H.]
PRIVATE PROPERTY — In Communist Society
In both fully established socialist society and in a future communist society all the means of production (factories, mines, farms, machinery, etc.) will of course be public property, the collective property of the people. But what about private property? Will that still exist at all? Yes it will, but it will be a somewhat new sort of thing, based on the changed circumstances of a very different new society.
Marx and Engels talked in numerous places about property, its origin, and its differing nature in different forms of society—in primitive communalism (or “primitive communism”), in slave society, under feudalism, within capitalism, and its prospective forms in socialist society and communist society. Living in the capitalist era, they naturally focused mostly on the bourgeois forms of property, which were at that time almost entirely the private property of individuals or small partnerships, though there also already existed a small number larger companies (now called corporations) which were based on a modified narrowly-shared form of private property. But absolutely all bourgeois property, then or now, and whether individual, partnership, corporate, or even class-owned (as in modern state-capitalism), is actually a form of private property and never truly public property. For this reason, in talking about bourgeois property, it is somewhat redundant to refer to it as “bourgeois private property”. And the essential private nature of bourgeois property also explains why Marx and Engels say in the Communist Manifesto: “In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” [MECW 6:498]
But of course Marx and Engels also put forward and championed the basic idea of communism, that goods and services should be produced and distributed according to the fundamental principle: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” And, obviously, the material portions of the food, clothing, housing, education, health care, and so many other goods and services that communist society will make available to individuals and families will then become their own personal possessions, their own “private property”.
This will lead to a modified conception of private property from that which prevails in capitalist society; one that is different from bourgeois private property in important ways. For instance, there will no longer be any need for (or possibility of) buying and selling these goods and services provided by society. Similarly, personal property will no longer exist as any form of “investment”, since financial profits of any kind will not even be possible, and no one will imagine that they need them. Indeed, money itself, as an integral and necessary part of capitalist commodity production, will no longer even exist! Instead, you will pick up (or have delivered to you) whatever you need, free of any charge.
Then again, when an individual or a family decides to permanently move to another part of the country or another part of the world, their still-useful “personal property” that they no longer need or want, or which they can’t (or don’t choose to) take with them (such as their apartment, house or a piece of furniture) will automatically revert to the common pool so that someone else may request it (perhaps after some refurbishment). Housing and other goods will still “belong to” individuals or families while they need them, but will revert to society as a whole when they do not. Of course some considerable amount of common sense will have to be employed here; when you go on a long vacation you will certainly not lose your home!
In addition, some types of personal property which exist in present capitalist society may not exist in a much more rational and economically developed communist future. Private automobilies may not need to exist when there are extremely good public transportation systems everywhere, for example. Public libraries and similar sorts of lending facilities will become vastly better and much more widespread. Likely there will be community or neighborhood power tool centers so that it will not be necessary for everyone to personally possess each and every seldom-used power tool. (In a few places, things like this already exist even in present society.) Thus even the very need for certain kinds of individual possessions or private property will likely diminish considerably.
In other words, in communist society there will certainly still be private or personal property, but at the same time the concept itself of “private property” is bound to be considerably transformed in light of the very different nature of that new socioeconomic system. It will still be appropriate and reasonable to describe personal possessions as private property because of its deep analogy to what is called private property today, even though the bourgeois aspects of today’s conception of private property will be gone. —S.H.
See also: PROPERTY—Versus Possessions
The very widespread and strongly held view by most bourgeois economists and ideologists that just about any function undertaken by governments could be better done by private corporations. This is an ideological stance which opposes state capitalism in any form, and which sometimes gets carried to the extreme of even opposing “natural monopolies” such as having a government-run postal system or even public fire departments! However, even if a few exceptions are made for such obviously desirable public functions as those, the “privatization” fanatics are determined to keep as many other parts of society as possible open to the extraction of private profits from the public. This is one of the central reasons they oppose having a national health care system or even a national health care insurance plan (also known as the “single payer” system), the absence of which leads to the early deaths of many thousands of people in the U.S. every year.
[In quantum mechanics:] A complex number, whose absolute value squared, i.e., |a+bi|2, gives a probability of some event in particle physics happening.
PROBLEM OF EVIL
An internal logical flaw in the conception of God as put forward by many religions including Christianity. The religious doctrine is that God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnibenevolent (all good). The trouble is, given the obvious fact that there is much evil in the world, these three characteristics are logically incompatible and inconsistent with each other. David Hume expressed the difficulty this way:
If evil in the world is the intention of the Deity, then He is not benevolent.
If evil in the world is contrary to His intention, then He is not omnipotent.
But evil is either in accordance with His intention or contrary to it.
Therefore, either the Deity is not benevolent, or He is not omnipotent.
Of course from the materialist point of view there is one other, much more sensible, alternative: No “Deity” exists at all!
See also: Philosophical doggerel about the problem of evil.
See below, and: INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION
PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION
While it is common to see statements by Marxists that production is central to the capitalist system, while distribution is not, this was not really Marx’s own view with regard to the fully elaborated complexity of capitalism as it actually functions (and as opposed to more simplified explanations that serve to help get the student started in his or her understanding of capitalism):
“A part of the surplus-value realized in profit, i.e., that part
which assumes the form of interest on capital laid out (whether borrowed or not),
appears to the capitalist as outlay, as production cost which he
has as a capitalist, just as profit in general is the immediate aim of capitalist
production. But in interest (especially on borrowed capital), this appears also as the
actual precondition of his production.
“At the same time, this reveals the significance of the distinction between the phenomena of production and of distribution. Profit, a phenomenon of distribution, is here simultaneously a phenomenon of production, a condition of production, a necessary constituent part of the process of production. How absurd it is, therefore, for John Stuart Mill and others to conceive bourgeois forms of production as absolute, but the bourgeois forms of distribution as historically relative, hence transitory. I shall return to this later. The form of production is simply the form of distribution seen from a different point of view. The specific features—and therefore also the specific limitation—which set bounds to bourgeois distribution, enter into bourgeois production itself, as a determining factor, which overlaps and dominates production.” —Marx, TSV, 3:83-84.
PRODUCTION — Fall In Immediately After a Proletarian Revolution
“Following the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, during the period of revolutionary reforms, there is generally a drop in the output of existing enterprises: the best workers join the revolutionary army and other organs of the new socialist state; the old labor discipline in production, founded on the class domination of the bourgeoisie, falls to pieces and it takes time for the new socialist labor discipline to assert itself. As a result there can be a temporary recession instead of the steep rise in production, which is essential for a growth in the real incomes of the working people. Besides, the productive apparatus, inherited by the proletarian dictatorship from the bourgeoisie is adapted for the distribution of the incomes of bourgeois society. It cannot, therefore, immediately produce the additional consumer goods necessary to raise the living standard of the workers. Production must be switched from consumer goods needed by the bourgeoisie to those needed by the proletariat. In many cases it is necessary to build new enterprises to fulfil the the increased requirements of the proletariat. All this takes time.” —Eugen Varga, Politico-Economic Problems of Capitalism (1968), p. 26.
1. Capital which is actually being used in current capitalist production, such as factories, machinery and money spent for raw materials, overhead and labor power. Generally when Marx talks about capital he has productive capital in mind.
2. Capital which has already been expended for such productive purposes even if, at present, it is idle. In an overproduction crisis more and more (formerly) productive capital is used less intensively or even entirely mothballed, as factories are closed down and workers laid off.
PRODUCTIVE CIRCUIT OF CAPITAL
[To be added...]
See also: “SAY’S LAW”
The means of production (the non-human productive forces) together with human labor power.
See also: “THEORY OF PRODUCTIVE FORCES”
“Revolution is the emancipation of productive force; it promotes the development of productive force.” —Mao, Aug. 3, 1967, SW 9:417.
[Under capitalism:] Productive labor is labor which produces value for the owner of that labor (the capitalist) and which therefore produces capital. “Labor itself is productive only if absorbed into capital, where capital forms the basis of production, and where the capitalist is therefore in command of production.” (Marx, Grundrisse, p. 308). “Only that labor is productive which creates a surplus-value.” (Marx, TSV 1:46) “Productive labor is therefore—in the system of capitalist production—labor which produces surplus-value for its employer, or which transforms the objective conditions of labor into capital and their owner into a capitalist; that is to say, labor which produces its own product as capital. So when we speak of productive labor, we speak of socially determined labor, labor which implies a quite specific relation between the buyer and the seller of the labor.” —Marx, TSV 1:396.
Labor productivity is the ratio of output (quantity of commodities produced) divided by the the number of workers (or the number of hours worked by the workers) to produce it. Thus if a given group of workers can now produce 25% more output in an 8-hour day as compared to a year ago, their productivity has increased by 25% over that period. Productivity can be increased through the use of better tools and machinery, through the better organization of labor (i.e., improving labor technique and efficiency), by increasing the amount of work demanded from each worker per hour (speed-ups), and by increasing the number of hours the workers must work each day. (This last method does not improve productivity/hour, but it does improve productivity/day.)
See also: “LEISURE AGE”, GDP—Per Hour Worked
“Hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes [i.e., bourgeoisie]. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish.” —John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy (1848), Bk. IV, ch. VI, sect. 2. [Since Mill’s day some very small proportion of the benefits due to the great advances in the productivity of labor have sometimes been won by the working class through their great struggles, but the vast preponderance still goes to the capitalists.]
“Capital therefore has an immanent drive, and a constant tendency, towards increasing the productivity of labor, in order to cheapen commodities and, by cheapening commodities, to cheapen the worker himself.” —Marx, Capital, Vol. I, ch. 12. (Penguin ed., pp. 436-7.)
PRODUCTIVITY — And Real Wages
The defenders of capitalism claim that more machinery, and productivity increases in general, are good for both the capitalists and the workers. The idea is that if the capitalists are making bigger profits they will then be able to pay their workers more. For some limited periods in some countries this may be true. But over all, and specifically in the United States today, it is simply not true. Productivity gains are not leading to higher real wages and benefits for the working class, but simply to greater profits for capitalist corporations. This is shown in the graph at the right which plots real wages (adjusted for inflation) as well productivity growth for the years 1947 to 2008. Note that during the post-World War II boom real wages did increase along with productivity, but since the advent of the early stages of the long-developing capitalist overproduction crisis this is no longer the case. Real wages have stagnated or declined a little (even without considering the much greater decline in worker’s benefits), while productivity has continued growing for this whole period at roughly the same pace, and now even somewhat faster. [Source: “The Current Moment” website at: https://thecurrentmoment.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/productivity-inequality-poverty/]
PRODUCTIVITY — “Total Factor”
Bourgeois economists have a confused alternative concept of productivity which they term “total factor productivity”, which supposedly includes the “contributions” of increased capital, “improved management”, and the like, as well as labor productivity. This is part of their perpetual campaign to conceptually minimize the importance of labor in the production process and to absurdly claim that value comes not only from labor but also from capital. However, as these bourgeois economists admit, this concept of “total factor productivity” is extremely difficult to measure and is essentially useless.
“Alas, the usefulness of [total-factor] productivity statistics is questionable. The quality of different inputs can change significantly over time. There can also be significant differences in the mix of inputs. Furthermore, firms and countries may use different definitions of their inputs, especially capital.” —Matthew Bishop, Essential Economics: An A-Z Guide, 2nd ed., 2009.
A comparison of the labor productivity of one country to another; i.e., a comparison of the average GDP/worker in one country to the GDP/worker in another country. The country which has lower productivity is said to have a “productivity gap” in comparison to the higher country. Generally the country chosen as the standard for comparison is the United States, because it is still both the largest economy in the world (though China will surpass it soon) and has one of the highest levels of productivity.
As noteworthy as current productivity gaps are, perhaps even more important are the changes in productivity gaps over time; that is, whether these gaps are decreasing or increasing. The chart at the right shows that a number of Asian countries are rapidly decreasing their productivity gap with the United States, but that some countries in Latin America have seen their productivity gaps increase. Not surprisingly, it is China which is closing its productivity gap with the U.S. at by far the fastest pace. “America’s productivity in 1980 was 125 times that of China; by 2011 the gulf had come down to 17 times.” [Economist, Oct. 26, 2013, p. 101.]
PROFESSIONAL REVOLUTIONARY ORGANIZATION
“I assert: (1) that no revolutionary movement can endure without a stable
organization of leaders maintaining continuity; (2) that the broader the popular mass drawn
spontaneously into the struggle, which forms the basis of the movement and participates in
it, the more urgent the need for such an organization, and the more solid this organization
must be (for it is much easier for all sorts of demagogues to side-track the more backward
sections of the masses); (3) that such an organization must consist chiefly of people
professionally engaged in revolutionary activity; (4) that in an autocratic state, the more
we confine the membership of such an organization to people who are professionally
engaged in revolutionary activity and who have been professionally trained in the art of
combating the political police, the more difficult will it be to unearth the organization;
and (5) the greater will be the number of people from the working class and from the
other social classes who will be able to join the movement and perform active work in it.”
—Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?” (March 1902), Chapter 4, section C, LCW 5:464, online at:
[Note well that Lenin is not saying—as young student revolutionaries have sometimes imagined him to be saying—that a party of dedicated professional revolutionaries can replace the masses in the revolutionary struggle! Quite the contrary, he explicitly argues that it is the struggle of the masses which is the “basis of the movement” and that it is the growth of this movement among the masses that makes a party of professional revolutionaries to guide it all the more important! —Ed.]
See: RED INTERNATIONAL OF LABOR UNIONS
[To be added...]
See also below, and: SUPERPROFITS
“The rate of profit is the motive power of capitalist production. Things are produced only so long as they can be produced with a profit.” —Marx, Capital, vol. III, ch. XV, part III: (International ed., p. 259; Penguin ed., p. 368.)
PROFIT — Average
[Intro material to be added... ]
“To be produced, to be brought to the market, the commodity must at least fetch that market price, that cost-price to the seller, whether its own value be greater or smaller than that cost-price. It is a matter of indifference to the capitalist whether his commodity contains more or less unpaid labor than other commodities, if into its price enters as much of the general stock of unpaid labor, or the surplus product in which it is fixed, as every other equal quantity of capital will draw from that common stock. In this respect, the capitalists are ‘communists’. In competition, each naturally tries to secure more than the average profit, which is only possible if others secure less. It is precisely as a result of this struggle that the average profit is established.” —Marx, TSV 3:83.
“We let men take wealth which is not theirs; if the seizure is ‘legal’ we call it high profits and the profiteers help decide what is legal.” —W.E.B. Du Bois, The Nation, Oct. 1956.
PROFITS — Higher Profits Lead to Ever Worse Behavior
“Capital eschews no profit, or very small profit, just as Nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent, positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both. Smuggling and the slave-trade have amply proved all that is here stated.” —T. J. Dunning, quoted by Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Ch. XXXI, final footnote. (International ed., p. 760; Penguin ed., p. 926; online at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm [note 15].)
PROFITS — U.S. Corporate Profits
In the graph at the right it can be seen that in recent decades the profits of U.S. corporations have not only been rapidly growing in absolute terms, but have even been growing rapidly as a percentage of U.S. GDP. And this is despite the fact that there has been a long slowdown in the rate of GDP growth in the U.S. (and most of the world) since the early 1970s. Corporate profits did dip somewhat during the “Dot.com” recession of 2000-2001, and again, more sharply, in the 2007-2009 period of the “Great Recession”, but soon recovered and then exceeded their previous levels.
Note that there is no indication here of any long-term decline in corporate profits, of the sort that Marx seemed to envision in vol. III of Capital. And note also that a falling rate of profit did not precede any of the four recessions which occurred during this period, and therefore cannot reasonably be said to have caused them. The declines in profits which occurred were not only limited and temporary, but were clearly a result of these overproduction crises rather than the cause of them. This is some of the very extensive empirical evidence which demonstrates beyond any serious doubt that the theory of the falling rate of profits as the cause of capitalist economic crises is simply not correct. The true cause of overproduction crises is instead the overproduction of capital in relation to the effective demand for commodities which all that real capital can produce. (Or as Engels put it, the expansion of production is at a much faster pace than the expansion of the market.) This is the more fundamental and profound theory that Marx created, which has withstood the test of time.
“Profits have been booming in America, reaching the highest proportion of
GDP since the second world war. Given such buoyant conditions, you might imagine that
businesses are investing like crazy to take advantage of all those great opportunities.
“Not a bit of it. The ratio of business investment to GDP has picked up since the depths of the [2008-9] financial crisis, but is still close to the lows of previous cycles.” —Economist, Oct. 5, 2013, p. 74. [A graph of the rapidly declining new investment by corporations despite their huge profits is posted at INVESTMENT—Falling Corporate Rate Of.]
PROFITS — U.S. Corporate Profits: Per Employee
Because of the ever-increasing productivity of workers and the continual advances in machinery, automation, and the replacement of workers by computers, the size of both corporate income and profits per worker is growing rapidly. The graph at the right shows this for the top 100 U.S. corporations for the period from 1953 to 2013. [From: Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy (2016), p. 70.]
“[T]o begin by asking what is society and what is progress, is to begin
at the end. Where will you get a conception of society and progress in general if you
have not studied a single social formation in particular, if you have not even been able
to establish this conception, if you have not even been able to approach a serious
factual investigation, an objective analysis of social relations of any kind? This is
a most obvious symptom of metaphysics, with which every science began: as long as people
did not know how to set about studying the facts, they always invented a priori general
theories, which were always sterile. The metaphysician-chemist, still unable to make a
factual investigation of chemical processes, concocts a theory about chemical affinity
as a force. The metphysician-biologist talks about the nature of life and the vital
force. The metaphysician-psychologist argues about the nature of the
soul. Here it is the method itself that is absurd. You cannot
argue about the soul without having explained psychical processes in particular: here
progress must consist precisely in abandoning general theories and philosophical
discourses about the nature of the soul, and in being able to put the study of the facts
about particular psychical processes on a scientific footing....
“The gigantic step forward taken by Marx in this respect consisted precisely in that he discarded all these arguments about society and progress in general and produced a scientific analysis of one society and of one progress—capitalist. And [the Narodnik] Mr. Mikhailovsky blames him for beginning at the beginning and not at the end, for having begun with an analysis of the facts and not with the final conclusions, with a study of particular, historically-determined social relations and not with general theories about what these social relations consist of in general!” —Lenin, “What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are” (1894), LCW 1:143-5.
Someone who favors “progress”, which implies at least some sort of “change”. But beyond that, just what a progressive actually is is rather unclear in modern American politics, and sometimes it seems as if it is purposefully vague. There are a number of people who are fearful of being called revolutionaries, or communists, or even socialists, but who also view themselves as something more than simply ordinary political “liberals” like one of the Kennedy clan for example. These sorts of people like to call themselves “progressives”! This sort of “progressive” rarely if ever would mention or criticize capitalism or imperialism by name, though they might commonly deign to criticize the “establishment” or some particular criminal action by the government. While we can unite in common struggle with progressives in some mass campaigns, they tend to be very unreliable, flakey, and gutless allies.
“A progressive never asks people what they want—why should he, when he already knows what’s good for them?” —Derek Bickerton, Bastard Tongues (2008), p. 186. [This criticizes the tendency among “progressives” and liberals toward paternalism, which demonstrates their total ignorance of the mass line.]
PROGRESSIVE LABOR PARTY
[To be added... ]
See also: ENTRYISM, STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY
PROLETARIAN CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS
See: CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS—Proletarian
[Intro material to be added... ]
“Proletarian democracy is a million times more democratic than any bourgeois dmocracy; Soviet power is a million times more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois republic.” —Lenin, “Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky” (Oct.-Nov. 1918), LCW 28:243. (Of course Lenin’s comment became much less true in the Stalin period, and completely untrue during the revisionist period of the Soviet Union.)
The morality which expresses the class interests of the proletariat (whether or not individual proletarians are conscious of this).
Compare with COMMUNIST MORALITY.
The working class; the class of people in capitalist society who, deprived of any ownership of the means of production, must sell their labor power to the capitalists in order to survive. Hence the exploited class in bourgeois society.
“By proletariat [is meant] the class of modern wage-laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor-power in order to live.” —Engels, footnote added to the 1888 English edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, MECW 6:482.
PROLETARIAT — As the Leader of the Masses
“The proletariat is the greatest class in the history of mankind. It is the most powerful revolutionary class ideologically, politically and in strength. It can and must unite the overwhelming majority of people around itself so as to isolate the handful of enemies to the maximum and attack them.” —Mao, quoted in the pamphlet Hold Aloft the Banner of Unity of the Party’s Ninth Congress and Win Still Greater Victories, (Peking: 1969), p. 8.
PROLETARIAT — Precariousness Of
See: PRECARIOUSNESS OF THE PROLETARIAT
“Proletary—an illegal newspaper founded by the Bolsheviks after
the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the Party. Published from August 21 (September 3), 1906 to
November 28 (December 11), 1909 under Lenin’s editorship. The organ of the Moscow and
St. Petersburg Party Committees, and for a time also of the Moscow District, Perm, Kursk
and Kazan Committees, Proletary was actually the Bolshevik Central Organ. Altogether
fifty issues appeared (the first twenty in Vyborg, Finland). From February 13 (26) to
December 11 (24), 1908, Proletary was published in Geneva, and from January 8 (21)
to November 28 (December 11), 1909, in Paris.
“Proletary carried over one hundred articles and shorter items by Lenin. During the Stolypin reaction it played an outstanding part in preserving and strengthening the Bolshevik organizations.” —Note 119, LCW 17.
PROLETKULT (or PROLETCULT) ORGANIZATION
A political and cultural movement of the radical intelligensia in Russia (and beyond) from 1917 to 1932, which claimed to be working toward a “totally new” and truly proletarian art and culture which was supposed to be completely devoid of any bourgeois influences. The name comes from the contraction of the Russian words for “Proletarian Culture”.
The founder and chief theoretician of the Proletkult organization was Alexander Bogdanov, and it was based on his 3-volume work Empirio-Monism (1904-6) which was an attempt to combine Marxism with Machism and positivism. Another very prominent person involved in this movement was Anatoly Lunacharsky, who was the Commissar of Enlightenment (Minister of Culture) in the revolutionary government, and who was Bogdanov’s brother-in-law.
Bogdanov viewed the Proletkult as the third part of a troika (a Russian vehicle drawn by 3 horses) advancing the revolution. The first two were the proletarian party and the unions. Thus implicitly (and in practice) he viewed the Proletkult as an organization independent of control and supervision by the Bolshevik party. Already by early 1918 Krupskaya (Lenin’s wife) and other Bolsheviks were criticizing this unjustified autonomy and independent political line of the Proletkult.
Originally the Proletkult organization was supported politically and financially by the new revolutionary government in Russia. Under pressure from the Bolshevik party it somewhat reluctantly agreed to educate its members on pre-Revolutionary Russian and world culture. But the artistic styles and forms it mostly promoted were still somewhat far removed from the interests and appreciation of the workers and peasants. Thus it promoted Constructivism in painting and sculpture and Futurism in literature and other arts. Only because of Lenin’s disapproval (in “On Proletarian Culture” [1920; LCW 31:316-7]) did they pull back from focusing on promoting avant-garde experimental art.
In 1920 the Proletkult was finally brought under better political control. To counteract Bogdanov’s strongly idealist influence in philosophy, Lenin re-issued his book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. And the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued some new guidelines, “On the Proletkults”, which restricted the activities of that group to just the arts and even there said that this should be monitored by the Party. Its funding was also reduced, though it still existed in this much diminished form until 1932.
“Despite this setback, Proletkult leaders continued after 1920 to exercise influence in other institutions and on Soviet intellectual life. The Bogdanovists considered the Soviet regime to be not a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ but rather a coalition of the proletariat, the poor peasantry and the bourgeois intelligensia. Given the cultural backwardness of the first two strata they considered it likely, under prevailing conditions of state capitalism [during the NEP], that the intelligentsia would emerge as the ruling class. Without challenging the role of the Party as custodian of the political interests of the working class or of the trade unions as custodian of their economic interests, the Proletkult had reserved for itself the role of guardian of the cultural development of the working class, arguing that the transition to socialism required the formation of a proletarian intelligentsia.” —John Biggart, in Harold Shukman, ed., The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Russian Revolution (1988), p. 271.
PROLIFERATION — Axiom Of
An “axiom” or political principle stated in 2008 by Richard Butler, the Australian campaigner for nuclear disarmament: “As long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will seek to acquire them.” It is undoubtedly a truism of contemporary world bourgeois society.
Every capitalist country foolishly imagines that it will be safer if “only it” has nuclear weapons while its opponents do not. But the very fact that it has nuclear weapons compels its opponents to seek to acquire them as well. Thus what first appears to be a guarantee of national security becomes in fact its opposite—a guarantee of eventual insecurity and even possible ultimate national anihilation. The U.S. did not understand this axiom, which led to the Soviet Union soon acquiring nuclear weapons too. India and Pakistan did not understand this axiom, which led to the other country also acquiring nuclear weapons. And Israel has not understood this axiom, which is why it is virtually certain that other countries in the Middle East (such as Iran or Egypt) will also eventually acquire nuclear weapons. Capitalist countries, being based most fundamentally on narrow nationalist class interests, seem to be completely unable to understand or accept this axiom! And, the continued existence of these weapons, and their further proliferation, almost guarantees that they will eventually be used.
For this reason, we may justifiably state a corollary to this Axiom of Proliferation: “Unless the people of the world can relatively soon overthrow capitalist-imperialism everywhere and establish an inherently peaceful world socialist and then communist society, one or more nuclear wars are inevitable—and quite possibly a war on such a scale that it annihilates all of humanity.”
See: MARX—“Promethean Impulse” Attributed To
See: EPICENE PRONOUN
1. [In traditional Leninist usage:] Oral, visual, and especially printed political views whose purpose is to influence people’s consciousness and mood with respect to multiple issues, or in general (as opposed to the narrow sense of agitation), and to motivate them to take general political action. For Lenin’s discussion of propaganda and agitation, and the distinction between the two, see What Is To Be Done?, chapter III, sect. B, “How Martynov Rendered Plekhanov More Profound”, online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/iii.htm
“[T]he propagandist, dealing with, say, the question of unemployment, must explain the capitalistic nature of crises, the cause of their inevitability in modern society, the necessity for the transformation of this society into a socialist society, etc. In a word, he must present ‘many ideas’, so many, indeed, that they will be understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons. The agitator, however, speaking on the same subject, will take as an illustration a fact that is most glaring and most widely known to his audience, say, the death of an unemployed worker’s family from starvation, the growing impoverishment, etc., and utilizing this fact, known to all, will direct his efforts to presenting a single idea to the ‘masses’, e.g., the senselessness of the contradiction between the increase of wealth and the increase of poverty; he will strive to rouse discontent and indignation among the masses against this crying injustice, leaving a more complete explanation of this contradiction to the propagandist. Consequently, the propagandist operates chiefly by means of the printed word; the agitator by means of the spoken word. The propagandist requires qualities different from those of the agitator.” —Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, (NY: International, 1969), pp. 66-67.
2. [In ordinary English usage, reflecting non-Marxist conceptions:] Lies and distortions
designed to influence people politically. (The ruling class recognizes no such thing as
bourgeois propaganda of course!)
Because this word is so loaded in English, we revolutionaries should probably refrain from using it in Lenin’s sense, as what we are then saying would most likely be misunderstood. (Even other Marxists may not correctly understand what we mean!) This highly negative connotation of the word ‘propaganda’ in English is not necessarily true of the corresponding word in other languages. For Lenin, at least, it was not true in Russian. And it is not true in Chinese, either. But in English, alas, the word is completely pejorative for most people, and any reference to “propaganda” as a positive thing is likely to seem jarring at the very least!
“[T]he Chinese word xuanchuan (propaganda), meaning to inform and to propagate, carries a more positive connotation than its English counterpart. Granted that it is still a form of advocacy and conveys a particular point of view, xuanchuan lacks the negative implication of manipulation.” —Chang-tai Hung, War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937-45 (1994), p. 9.
“In English, the Propaganda Department [of the Central Committee of
the Communist Party of China] calls itself the Publicity Department (it adopted this
translation in the 1990s, realizing how bad the literal one sounded). It is both
secretive and vast. It is now at the center of attempts by Xi Jinping, China’s president,
to increase his control over the party, media and universities....
“The Publicity Department sounds like the home of spin doctors, spokesmen and censors, and the scope of such activity is indeed vast.” —“Propaganda: Who draws the party line?”, Economist, June 25, 2016, p. 36.
[This is an interesting situation. During the Maoist era it would have actually been correct to translate the name of this bureau as something like the “Publicity Department"—because the strongly negative connotations of the English word ‘propaganda’ did not in fact accompany the Chinese word. However, by the time this English translation was changed in the 1990s China had been completely transformed into a capitalist country again and the CCP had been transformed into a soft-fascist dictatorial party representing the interests of its new national bourgeoisie. As such, what it now calls “propaganda” in Chinese is no longer education in support of the interests of the people, but rather the same sort of lies and distortion which characterizes bourgeois “publicity” anywhere in the world. Therefore, if the CCP were honest it would admit that “Propaganda Department” is indeed now the entirely appropriate translation into English! —Ed.]
PROPERTY [Characteristic Sense]
A quality, trait or characteristic of some specific or individual thing. For example, the metal lead has the properties of being heavy, soft, and melting at a relatively low temperature.
PROPERTY [Ownership Sense]
“Something which is owned or possessed.” [Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.] (And more narrowly in some contexts, specifically a piece of “real property”, i.e., real estate.) If a person possesses something and can legitimately do with it what they want, then the item is their property. However, we must be clear that our general conception of what property is today is very strongly influenced by the laws and prevailing ideology of the present capitalist socioeconomic system. Someone’s property is something which they most likely previously bought and which they can sell if they wish; which they can give away or leave to their heirs; and the continuing ownership of which is protected by law, the courts and the power of the state.
There are different forms of property, some of which exist only under different socioeconomic conditions. There were particular forms of property in slave society (including of course the outright ownership of human beings) and in feudal society; there are other types of property in capitalist society (see bourgeois property), and still other types of property in socialist and a future communist society. Each basic form of society has its own characteristic forms and types of property.
See also below, and: PRIVATE PROPERTY, PRIVATE PROPERTY—In Communist Society, PUBLIC PROPERTY, WEALTH and related entries.
“The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive
feature of Communism.
“All property relations in the past have continually been subject to historical change consequent upon the change in historical conditions.
“The French Revolution, for example, abolished feudal property in favor of bourgeois property.” —Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848), MECW 6:498.
PROPERTY — Bourgeois
1. [Primary sense:] The property owned by the capitalists. This includes personal property (estates, furnishings, yachts, personal bank accounts, etc.) but much more importantly it also includes business property or capital, which consists of factories, mines, farms, machinery, and business bank accounts used to buy raw materials, pay electricity bills and other overhead, and hire workers.
Bourgeois property (in this primary sense) can be owned by an individual capitalist, by a partnership of capitalists, by a corporation (a formal legal association of individual capitalists), or even by a state-capitalist enterprize operating in a state controlled by the capitalist class. In every situation, in every one of these cases, bourgeois property is entirely private property. There is no such thing as “public” bourgeois property. Even the property of a state-capitalist enterprize should be viewed as the collective property of the capitalist class, which directs and controls it in their own class interests, and by no means as belonging to the people as a whole.
2. [Extended sense:] All property in bourgeois society, regardless of who it is owned by (or their social class), in that it is still subject to the property rules of bourgeois society: that it can be bought or sold, bequeathed to heirs, and whose current ownership rights are protected by laws, the courts, and the force of the capitalist state. (We will not be much concerned with this extended sense of the term here.)
“In each historical epoch, property has developed differently and under a set of entirely different social relations. Thus to define bourgeois property is nothing else than to give an exposition of all the social relations of bourgeois production.” —Marx The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), criticizing Proudhon, MECW 6:197.
“Since private property, for instance, is not a simple relation or even an abstract concept, a principle, but consists in the totality of the bourgeois relations of production—for it is not a question of subordinate or extinct but of existing bourgeois private property—since all these bourgeois relations of production are class relations, an insight which any novice must have acquired from his Adam Smith or Ricardo—, a change in, or even the abolition of these relations can only follow from a change in these classes and their relationships with each other, and a change in the relationship of classes is a historical change, a product of social activity as a whole, in a word, the product of a specific ‘historical movement’.” —Marx, “Moralizing Criticism and Critical Morality” (Oct. 28, 1847), MECW 6:337.
[Speaking rhetorically directly to the bourgeoisie:] “The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of property—historical relations that rise and disappear in the progress of production—this misconception you share with every ruling class that has preceded you. What you see clearly in the case of ancient property, what you admit in the case of feudal property, you are of course forbidden to admit in the case of your own bourgeois form of property.” —Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848), Chapter II, MECW 6:501.
PROPERTY — Private
See: PRIVATE PROPERTY
PROPERTY — Versus Possessions
At a number of places in their writings Marx and Engels seem to say, or at least strongly imply, that property (often more specifically referred to as private property) only exists in class society, that it only came into existence with social classes, and that in a future communist society property (appropriately so-called) will once again no longer exist. In the Communist Manifesto, for example, they say that “In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” [MECW 6:498] (See also Engels’s 1884 work The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.)
However, Marx and Engels of course recognized that even in primitive communal society (or “primitive communism”), before classes came into existence, there were still possessions held in common (such as the land or territory where people existed, and the natural resources in their area). And they also recognized full well that in this pre-class society there were still personal possessions (such as clothes, jewelry, hunting weapons, etc.) and that in a future communist society there will certainly also be a great many personal possessions (clothing, home goods and furniture, kitchen ware, books, etc., etc.).
So, in other words, the claim (or implicit claim) by Marx and Engels that private property (at least) only exists in class society depends on drawing an important distinction between having possessions and owning property. The trouble is, however, that this is a very precarious and fraught distinction in the English language. [I don’t know for sure if this distinction is more viable with regard to the corresponding words in German. However, it is interesting that the German word Besitz (or Besitzung) for “possession” can also be translated as “property” at times, according to my German-English dictionary. —S.H.] The best current English desk dictionary (that of Merriam-Webster) defines ‘property’ (in the relevant sense) as “something owned or possessed”. Thus (as is stated in the main entry on property above), if a person possesses something and can legitimately do with it whatever they want, then the item is their property. And so in ordinary English, possessions and property are in most cases the very same thing. (See, however, the entry on POSSESSIONS.)
Therefore, if a distinction is to be made between being a property and being a possession, it comes very near toward turning the two words into technical terms in Marxist theory—that is, using them in a peculiar way. Technical terms (i.e., those defined by fiat in elaborating a theory or body of doctrine, and to be understood differently than any everyday use of the terms), are of course necessary in any science, and there are many examples of them in MLM theory, including such ordinary-seeming terms as ‘the people’ and ‘the enemy’. Nevertheless, it is also true that—unlike the situation with many academic and pseudo-scientific theories which often purposely obfuscate what they are saying in order to make them seem more profound—we Marxists very much want to be understood by the masses, including by those with deficient educations. For this reason we should definitely try to keep the number of technical terms down to the minimum, and—when possible—avoiding entirely those which are not likely to be understood by our audience. One way to do this is to use more common language as a paraphrase instead of the more technical term. Thus we can refer to “working class rule” instead of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. However, in the present case, we are already using ordinary words, ‘property’ and ‘possessions’, and there seems to be no way to be clearer here except by avoiding the posited distinction between them entirely.
In any case, we are not under the absolute obligation to use words in exactly the same way that Marx and Engels or other great revolutionaries did (though when we do use them differently we should make that very clear). For example, Marx talked about the first and second stages of “socialism”, whereas we Marxists today instead talk about socialism and communism.
An alternative way of viewing property and related issues throughout the ages is to start from Marx and Engels’s quite profound and insightful comment in the Communist Manifesto that “All property relations in the past have continually been subject to historical change consequent upon the change in historical conditions.” [MECW 6:498] There is no reason why we cannot extend that insight back before classes even existed, and—in the other direction—into the future communist society after classes have been abolished. In practice Marx and Engels sometimes do this themselves, as when they talk about property as it exists in primitive communal society, and actually use the word ‘property’ instead of ‘possession’ (at least as it is translated into English in the Collected Works).
Handling the situation in this alternative way will require us to talk more about how the concept of property has changed throughout history, and especially to be clearer about how it will be different in communist society. (I have made an attempt draw these distinctions in the entries PROPERTY—Bourgeois and PRIVATE PROPERTY—In Communist Society.) The fact is that it is perfectly reasonable to talk about both public property and individual personal (or private) property in communist society, though it is also true that important differences between the property relations in capitalist society and those in communist society also need to be made quite clear. —S.H.
“But have not these simple categories also an independent historical or natural existence preceding that of the more concrete ones? Ça dépend. [This depends.] Hegel, for example, correctly takes possession, the simplest legal relation of the subject, as the point of departure of the philosophy of law. No possession exists, however, before the family or the relations of lord and servant are evolved, and these are much more concrete relations. It would, on the other hand, be correct to say that families and entire tribes exist which have as yet only possession and not property. The simpler category appears thus as a relation of simpler family or tribal associations with regard to property. In a society which has reached a higher stage the category appears as the simpler relation of a developed organization. The more concrete substratum underlying the relation of possession is, however, always presupposed. One can conceive an individual savage who has possessions; possession in this case, however, is not a legal relation. It is incorrect that historically possession develops into the family. On the contrary, possession always presupposes this ‘more concrete legal category’. Still, one may say that the simple categories express relations in which the less developed concrete may have realized itself without as yet having posited the more complex connection or relation which is conceptually expressed in the more concrete category; whereas the more developed concrete retains the same category as a subordinate relation.” —Marx, Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58, Introduction, MECW 28:39. [Also in slightly different translation in: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Moscow: Progress, 1970), p. 207.]
An asset bubble in the prices of property, such as in commercial property (business buildings) or in private housing.
See also: HOUSING BUBBLE, OFFICE SPACE
[In political economy:] The relations of production expressed in legal terms. (Who owns what.) Note that personal property (such as a person’s clothes, house or automobile) is not at issue here; in political economy by far the most important matter is who owns and controls the means of production.
“The average property tax bill on a single-family home in 2019 was about $3,600, but average bills are three to five times higher in some areas of the country, including parts of New York, New Jersey and California.” —New York Times, national edition, April 11, 2020, p. 3.
PROPOSAL CONCERNING THE GENERAL LINE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST MOVEMENT
A famous document by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China which was issued on June 14, 1963, and which was “drawn up under the personal leadership of Comrade Mao Tse-tung”. [Peking Review, #34, Aug. 19, 1966, p. 7.] This was a very important document in the ideological struggle between the Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries in China and the revisionist leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
This document is available online at: http://www.marx2mao.com/Other/PGL63.html; http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sino-soviet-split/cpc/proposal.htm; and elsewhere.
See also the useful article by the RCPUSA in 1979: “A Critical Appraisal of the Chinese Communist Party’s ‘Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement’” with an appendix “The CCP’s Struggle Against Khrushchev, 1956-1963”, online at: https://www.bannedthought.net/USA/RCP/Revolution/Revolution-V4N06-English-ProposalConcerningGeneralLine.pdf
The branch of symbolic logic which uses symbols for unanalyzed entire propositions (statements) and logical connectors. For example, if A and B are two propositions, then ~(A & B) is a way of saying “not both A and B”, or in other words that at least one of the two propositions is false.
See also: PREDICATE CALCULUS
PROTAGORAS OF ABDERA (c. 490-c. 420 BCE)
Ancient Greek philosopher, agnostic, and advocate of democracy within slave-owning society. In the dialogue named Protagoras, Plato presents him as a Sophist, or professional teacher of virtue, and criticizes his ideas from a reactionary point of view.
“Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not.” —Protagoras [By this comment Protagoras seems to have meant that social organization, laws, morality, etc., have not come down from the gods, but have been created by human beings. This stance led to major controversy and hostility towards Protagoras on the part of the Athenian authorities (as well as from Plato), and there is a story that his book was burned and he was forced to flee from the city. —S.H.]
The creation of barriers to the import of foreign goods into a country, for the purpose of protecting local industry from competition. This is most commonly done through establishing tariffs (taxes) on imports, but it can also be accomplished through import quotas (limits on the quantities of imports of a certain commodity which are allowed in), subsidies to local companies (including export subsidies), manipulation of product safety laws, etc.
Protectionism is widely condemned by bourgeois economists, on the grounds that it prevents the “most efficient” use of resources. (Economic “efficiency” for them ultimate means the methods which produce the greatest profits for the capitalists, and especially for the profits of the dominant capitalists in imperialist countries.) Some bourgeois economists will admit that protectionism is justified to some extent to protect “infant industries” in a developing country.
But in general bourgeois economists claim the most extremely negative results arise from protectionism, and even blame the Great Depression of the 1930s on it in large part. (See: SMOOT-HAWLEY ACT.)
It is true, however, that in overproduction crises each capitalist country tries to protect its own capitalists and put more of the burden on other countries, in part through protectionist measures. This can in fact aggravate the overall crisis to some degree.
An informal or unofficial colony; that is, a supposedly independent country which is in fact under the general control of some specific imperialist power.
Thus Egypt was for a long time a protectorate of Britain, and King Farouk was only a puppet ruler of the country with British troops being stationed there. In 1942, for example, after a governmental crisis, the British embassador told Farouk to replace the government headed by Hussein Sirri Pasha with a new Wafd coalition government more the liking of the British. Farouk initially balked, but when British tanks surrounded Abdeen Palace on the night of February 4, 1942, he soon decided to do as they demanded. Similarly, Albania was from around 1926 to 1939 a protectorate of fascist Italy, though it only became an official colony and openly part of the Italian empire in 1939.
“I learned early that crying out in protest could accomplish things. My older brothers and sister had started to school when, sometimes, they would come in and ask for a buttered biscuit or something and my mother, impatiently, would tell them no. But I would cry out and make a fuss until I got what I wanted. I remember well how my mother asked me why I couldn’t be a nice boy like Wilfred; but I would think to myself that Wilfred, for being so nice and quiet, often stayed hungry. So early in life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.” —Malcolm X, 1964, quoted in Stephen Pimpare, A People’s History of Poverty in America (2008), p. 202.
A sub-atomic particle, which usually along with neutrons, makes up the nucleus of atoms. The number of protons in the atom determines which element it is. The naturally occurring elements range from hydrogen with just a single proton to uranium with 92 protons. Protons are now known to be composite particles, made up of three quarks. Protons are also one of the few stable sub-atomic particles.
PROTRACTED PEOPLE’S WAR
An alternate name for PEOPLE’S WAR which emphasizes its usually very drawn-out nature.
PROUDHON, Pierre Joseph (1809-1865)
French sociologist and economist, an ideologist of the petty bourgeoisie. He was a “socialist” of sorts, but hostile to Marxism, and one of the founders of the social theory of anarchism. Proudhon is famous for the remark that “property is theft”, but he advocated “individual possession” of the means of production, which is an impossibility in modern industrial society, and also clearly shows his petty bourgeois perspective.
“Proudhon criticized big capitalist property from the petty-bourgeois
position and dreamed of perpetuating petty property ownership; he proposed the
foundation of ‘people’s’ and ‘exchange’ banks, with the aid of which the workers
would be able to acquire the means of production, become handicraftsmen, and ensure
the ‘just’ marketing of their wares. Proudhon did not understand the role and
significance of the proletariat and displayed a negative attitude towards the class
struggle, the proletarian revolution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat; as an
anarchist he denied the necessity for the state. Marx and Engels struggled persistently
against Proudhon’s efforts to impose his views on the First International. Proudhonism
was subjected to a ruthless criticism in Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy. The
determined struggle waged by Marx, Engels, and their supporters ended in the complete
victory of Marxism over Proudhonism in the First International.
“Lenin called Proudhonism the ‘dull thinking of a petty-bourgeois and a philistine’ incapable of comprehending the viewpoint of the working class. The ideas of Proudhonism are widely utilized by bourgeois ‘theoreticians’ in their class-collaboration propaganda.” —Note 76, LCW 5:547.
Short for Personal Security Officer, a term frequently used in India for a professional bodyguard for an important person, such as a bourgeois politician or businessman.
The branch of medicine concerned with mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. In capitalist society this is an ever larger problem, since more and more people are being made mentally or emotionally sick by the stresses and problems endemic in capitalist society in the first place!
In modern bourgeois society the field of psychiatry is commonly burdened with a variety of anti-scientific notions, such as various forms of genetic or biological determinism. There is also the very strong tendency for such doctors to be the willing (and sometimes bribed) accomplices of the capitalist pharmaceutical industry in their outrageous efforts to sell as many expensive drugs as possible—needed or not—to people with mental or emotional problems.
See also: DIAGNOSTIC AND STATISTICAL MANUAL (DSM)
A scientifically unsupported theory and therapeutic method most prominently developed by Sigmund Freud. Freudian psychoanalysis is still the dominant form, but there are now many variations on the theme, some of which give less emphasis to the supposed sexual perversions of the human unconscious.
See also: FROMM, Erich, JUNG, Carl
The science of mind and behavior, especially that of human beings. One branch of psychology which arose in the 20th century (and is now mostly discredited), behaviorism, crudely attempted to study behavior divorced from any investigation of mind or mental phenomena, and even tried to deny the very existence of mind. But most psychological investigations into human behavior, at least, now recognize that this is absurd and impossible. The behavior of humans (and also other advanced animals) also depends on their mental conceptions, goals, desires, fears, and so forth. Therefore while psychology is the science which investigates both mind and behavior, it is mind which is the key thing here, and its basis in the complexities of the functioning of material brain and body, as well as its relation to objective behavior.
Psychology was the last science to split off from “philosophy” (traditionally so called), and even today the establishment of psychology as a science completely separate from philosophy has not been completed. Idealist philosophical conceptions are still extremely widespread not only in “pop psychology”, but in the formal academic subject area as well. Today the central core of scientific psychology is known as “cognitive psychology”, though that sub-field itself is still deemed by many of its practitioners to be at least on the borderline between science and philosophy.
See also below.
PSYCHOLOGY — Central Organizing Theory Of
In preparing this and the above entry I reviewed a variety of sources including the 850-page Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (1985), by Arthur S. Reber, who starts his dictionary entry on psychology by saying:
“Psychology simply cannot be defined; indeed, it cannot even be easily characterized. Even if one were to do so today, tomorrow would render the effort inadequate. Psychology is what scientists and philosophers of various persuasions have created to try to fulfil the need to understand the minds and behaviors of various organisms from the most primitive to the most complex. Hence, it really isn’t a thing at all, it is about a thing, or about many things.” [p. 593]
I had to laugh! In this Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism we define psychology
in terms of what we understand from the Marxist materialist point of view as its essential
nature and ignore the many other conceptions of the term that so befuddle even bourgeois experts
in the field. Our goal is not to state the innumerable meanings of the word as it has been used
historically and still today, but rather to state how we feel the essence of the science
of psychology should be understood.
When you inquire about the essential nature of any science one of the first things you should do is think about what the “central organizing theory” for that science is. In biology as a whole the central organizing theory is the theory (or fact) of evolution; in chemistry the central organizing theory is the atomic theory as propounded by John Dalton (though some might prefer to say today that it is now the deeper theory of quantum electrodynamics); in geophysics (or a central part of it) it is the theory of plate tectonics. If some particular science or proto-science does not have a clear central organizing theory it is a sure sign that it is an undeveloped science which has not yet gained fundamental coherency. Historically, all sciences have come into existence before a central organizing theory for that science was determined. Modern chemistry, for example, might be considered to have begun with the work of Antoine Lavoisier, who seems to be the first to distinguish between elements and compounds. Nevertheless, its real central organizing theory, the atomic theory, was developed later. Similarly, plate tectonics was only developed as the central organizing theory of geophysics a century or more after that science may be said to have begun. Moreover, for half a century most of those in the field of geophysics ferociously resisted the core ideas of plate tectonics as originally proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1910. This shows that the general recognition of the central organizing idea for a science often comes only via struggle and against much resistance.
So what then is the central organizing theory of the science of psychology? It is materialism, the theory that mind and all mentalistic terms and categories (such as thinking, remembering, contemplating, comprehending, worrying, enjoying, empathizing, and on and on) are not things which are independent of physical reality (the body and the brain) but rather are high-level (abstract) summations of states and processes of the functioning brain. Just as in biology “nothing makes sense except in light of evolution” (Dobzhansky), in psychology nothing really makes much sense except in light of this materialist understanding of the nature of the mind.
It is true, however, that this materialist understanding is not yet universally accepted by psychologists, let alone by people in general. And even many who do accept a basic materialist view are often still quite confused about just how to properly express this view. The struggle to correctly understand human psychology, and what it is all about, still continues. —S.H.
A common form of dualism in philosophy, in which mental or “psychic” phenomena are supposed to be completely independent of material processes, but nevertheless accompany or “parallel” them. This of course seems totally inexplicable. It is an attempt to believe in materialist cause and effect while simultaneously viewing mind and mental phenomena as being totally separate and independent of any material, physical processes.
The earliest attempt to explain how and why this might occur was in the form of Occasionalism, wherein religious followers of Descartes (including Malebranche) proposed that this parallelism was simply the result of God’s fiat.
Other, less overtly religious people, tried desperately to find other explanations. Generally this meant attempting to figure out some way that the incorporeal “soul” or mind, which seemed so totally independent of the body, could nevertheless somehow interact with physical bodies. But no intelligible theory of how this could happen was ever arrived at. Descartes’s own theory that “somehow” the mind and brain connect up in the pineal gland is no worse than any later proposal for dualist psychophysical interaction, though it really proffers no explanation at all.
In reality the only way that any mental phenomenon, such as my decision to raise my arm, can possibly have any effect on my physical body is if that mental phenomenon itself is properly construed as a high-level view of some functional aspects of my brain, that is to say, of some aspects of a developing complex physical process which includes the functioning of the neural circuits of my brain. The attempt to regard mind (or “soul”) as completely independent of the body inevitably leads to irresolvable mysteries about how these two “totally independent things” can ever possibly interact.
See also: EPIPHENOMENALISM
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