Kosambi Circle meeting 4 notes

22 February 2020

2000 – 2230

Meeting notes


This was the fourth meeting of the KRAC, conducted online, 22 people attended. It was to revise and explore more the readings discussed in the last meeting.


This meeting started with discussion of logistics and improvements to be made in internally organising for future meetings. It was decided that given the growing amount of people interested n the circle some people will take responsibility to make smaller circles, reach out personally to a few people each etc. The discussion on the material began by revising the points discussed in meetings 1, 2, and 3. The Rosa explanation of basic concepts of capitalism, the Trotsky analysis of the class characteristics of fascism, etc.


The absolute basic definition of Socialism was discussed: the idea that means of production (MoP) should not be owned privately. It was gone over that property here means property in certain class society, property in capitalist sense doesn't refer to personal belongings like shirts and cars as long as they are not being, say, rented. This point will be revisited when reading the manifesto in this meeting.


The class character of society changes through history according to how value is expropriated from labour (ex: feudalism extracts value from serfs differently from how bourgeoisie extract value from labour). Socialism is the idea that the means of things that produce 'value' should be owned by society at large. Socialism advocates for a classless society, because the Marxism conception of class defines class with respect to the MoP. Ergo, if private property doesn't exist then class doesn't exist. Note that socialism IS NOT welfare state/subsidy/ state ownership etc, that is a common misconception. Socialism cannot be any society where some MoP is owned by some. This implies that even the mixed economy is not socialism. Socialism cannot coexist with capitalism and feudalism because socialism is the negation of a class society.


We went through the history of socialism. The idea that class society should not exist is not necessarily a Marxist idea. Philosophers through the ages have discussed classless societies. Ex: China, the school of tillers that owned property as a commons. This was considered a major threat to the empire so much that their books were burned and philosophers were killed. The thing is that private property is actually a fairly recent modern phenomenon. Before the advent of Capitalism in England (according to Marx) land was managed as a 'commons'.


We again went through the manifesto line by line starting with the 1872 preface. To understand that the Paris Commune incident and its backstory was discussed.


The French Revolution and the seeds of socialism within it, including the dominant kind of socialist thinking then, Anarchism. Anarchis advocates for the absence of the state and the end of class, which means that it advocates the end of all hierarchy. They believe the revolution should completely end class society and the need for a state. There was, in fact, many failed French Revolutions (including the one for the “social republic”) after which Napoleon III declares France an empire (again) followed by a war with Prussia, during which Paris declares itself the first official workers government in history known as the Paris Commune.


However, this lasts only two months and France re-conquers Paris and decimates the city, killing everyone in a massive bloodbath. But the question is why this (Proudhonist?) state (The Paris Commune) didn't survive. What were its weaknesses? For example, its bankers were giving loans to the French governemnt. So people think the revolution in Paris didn't go far enough and do the things that needed to be done to thwart capitalism. This is followed by a divide between Marxists and anarchists in the socialist movements. Marxists believe that you can't kick away the ladder before you start painting the roof: i.e. you have to create a worker-led state before you overthrow capitalism.


As meeting 3, here again materialism was discussed and contrasted with idealism. Also 'orthodox marxism' was contrasted with 'revisionist marxism'. We went through what social democracy used to mean and what it means now, like Lenin started the communist movement in Russia they called themselves social democrats. Today it simply indicates a welfare state rather than the precursor to socialism. This is the difference between social democracy and democratic socialism. At this point, like the last meeting, we went over the various strands of the socialist movement as it developed after Marx and some reasons for their differences, Bolshevism, Left communism, Luxemburgism etc were gone into. We also went into the differences between worker-run states and worker-run capitalism, that is cooperatives. Cooperatives while at times very successful (ex: India Coffee House, Mondragon in Spain) are not Socialism. They are still extracting surplus and competing in a capitalist structure, so they don't end either waged labour of commodity production. Examples were discussed like they would have to cut their own wages democratically so that they can remain competitive within a capitalist profit-driven market. This is why Marx and Rosa both disagree with remaining withing capitalism but running things democratically. Capitalism will force you to bow to its rules.


The state has a class characteristic. For ex: is having the CP in the state enough? No, taking over the state is not enough to challenge the capitalist system because of the class character of the state.


Back to the manifesto. It begins with the rhetoric about the specter of communism haunting Europe which was discussed.


The manifesto explains historical materialism: the history of all society is the history of class struggle. Class society is always fraught with class struggle because those who are being exploited are bound to resist their exploitation. We went into the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism and Colonialism and how Capitalism has subsumed the older forms of organising society.


This was the capitalist revolution and it indicates that Capitalism has been the most powerful system of organizing labour and wealth by putting an end to Feudalism. The capitalist revolution was discussed in detail. But it was also discussed that in India that Capitalism has not fully ended Feudalism even though Capitalism is now more powerful.


As an aside earlier forms like Mercantilism and guild structures were discussed and why these systems were demolished by capitalism. Capitalism transforms all social relations, such as religion, freedoms in the guild, all other freedoms and replaces it with the freedom of the market. Marx argues that the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly competing and revolutionising the systems of production, by doing so it sweeps away thousands of years of prejudice within society. Capitalism also presents a problem for nationalism. Reactionaries vs conservatives (conservatives want to preserve capitalism, but reactionaries want to go back to the way things were before capitalism, the reactionaries tend to be the ones who were powerful in the traditional system). Everybody who hates capitalism because capitalism took their power away may, therefore, not be in favour of socialism. Marx says that the bourgeoisie creates more productive forces in 100 years than all preceding history.

Capitalism's contradictions: Capitalism sets up the stage for its own demise. Capitalism is not sustainable. (1) Crisis of overproduction. (2)The class (and growing mass) of workers who are in an antagonistic relationship with bourgeoisie.


Alienation: working only for the wage takes away the charm of work. Stages of development of the proletariat: initially the proletariat are scattered around and disorganized even though they are antagonistic to the capitalist because their ways of organizing (riots, unions etc) are not organized enough. But later the proletariat organizes itself as a class. Other classes discussed here include the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat etc who might not have the motivation for class struggle. At this point we discussed and debated the lumpenproletariat and how it might be useful for the revolution or become fodder for fascism in a crisis.


Chapter 2 begins by asking what the interest of the communist is and establishing that the communist movement has one and the same interest as the proletariat. They are not separate from the proletariat or from working class parties. We discussed why historically this has not been the case and in short discussed why there are so many parties in India. The communist movement is not motivated by ideology or any extra-interests outside the proletariat. Then we went through all the objections capitalists have to this starting with the primary one, the property question.


What do socialists mean when they say they want to do away with property? They are talking about doing away with capitalist property. This is the same thing that capitalist did when they changed the nature of Feudal property to capitalist property. Labour has become a commodity and Marx wants to do away with labour as a commodity and extract surplus value from labour for profit. Communists are agnostic to the free-market because when things are produced democratically by workers whether the market is “free” or not is irrelevant, most goods will not be commodities and be produced for need. In the same vein communism is not opposed to people being rich, it is only opposed to people becoming rich by exploiting labour, and without exploiting labour there is only so much wealth you can accumulate.

We go on to discuss the other objections listed in the manifesto, like yes communism might change culture, but it is only going to change the culture which comes from class society and a lot of it is harmful. The family, for example, has become a transactional and exploitative institution n capitalism. Education and morality is designed to brainwash children, so of-course it needs to changed. Other objections capitalists have to socialism were also discussed, especially the one arising out of capitalist anxieties to lose control of people as currently a lot of people, especially women, are treated as objects.


Then after going through all these objections, chapter 3 was discussed and the various kinds of reactionary “socialisms” and in the Indian context how they manifested. As well as utopian “socialism” in the Indian context. Also, it was decided to go into the role of Gandhi in the future.


Petit Bourgeois “socialism” was discussed they don't want to end Capitalism, just trammel it.

Bourgeois “socialism”: free transport, free college etc. Sanders in America. Not even social democracy in the older sense of the word as it does try to increase worker's power. Similarly democratic socialism in Engels' conception was discussed. Two ideas from Bourgeois “socialism” as the manifesto lists were contextualised in their modern form – “Can everyone not be an entrepreneur?” – “Communism is impractical; let's just do massive welfare.”

Marx encouraged overthrow of Capitalism, not running away to an island. No utopian socialists in our times though we could think of. The last chapter was quickly went through and its essence, that engage with the politics of the day, but constantly raise the property question was discussed in detail, what that means in terms of India, when to engage with electoralism and how. This would be the theme for the next meetings. At this point the meeting ended.