An Interesting View of Small Scale Production and Private Ownership from 1902

Though Karl Kautsky was famously vilified by both Lenin¹ and Trotsky² for his critique of the establishment of a socialist republic by the Bolsheviks and for his centrist wavering in the face of the rising imperial conflict of World War I, he played an essential role as a popularizer  of socialist ideas and theory during the heyday of the German Social Democratic Party. He was the editor of the 4th volume of Capital and a key participant in the drafting of the 1891 Ef0rt Programme which was consistently working class and socialist in its tone and content. Kautsky, though perhaps middle class in temperament and lacking in revolutionary mettle when faced with the test of history, provided an essential link of living continuity between the theoretical work of Marx and Engels–the latter of whom was his friend and working associate –and the generation of revolutionists who led the Russian and German Revolutions at the end of the First World War. He was also an essential part of the leadership of one of the great mass working class socialist parties in history the SPD.

In this, as in every other relation, the greatest diversity and possibility of change will rule. Nothing is more false than to represent the socialist society as a simple, rigid mechanism whose wheels when once set in motion run on continuously in the same manner.

The most manifold forms of property in the means of production – national, municipal, cooperatives of consumption and production, and private can exist beside each other in a socialist society – the most diverse forms of industrial organization, bureaucratic, trades union, cooperative and individual; the most diverse forms of remuneration of labor, fixed wages, time wages, piece wages, participation in the economics in raw material, machinery, etc., participation in the results of intensive labor the most diverse forms of circulation of products, like contract by purchase from the warehouses of the State, from municipalities, from co-operatives of production, from producers themselves, etc., etc. The same manifold character of economic mechanism that exists to-day is possible in a socialistic society. Only the hunting and the hunted, the struggling and resisting, the annihilation and being annihilated of the present competitive struggle are excluded and therewith the contrast between exploiter and exploited.

¹See V.I. Lenin The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky : 1918

²See Leon Trotsky : Terrorism and Communism : 1922

The Remnants of Private Property in the Means of Production

Karl Kautsky  from The Social Revolution / The Day After The Social Revolution, 1902 (follow link for complete text)

Original Publication in English by Charles Kerr Chicago

We have seen that the proletarian regime would make short work of the smaller businesses where they represent the little, undeveloped plants, not only in industry but also in exchange.

The efforts referred to above for the organization of circulation would also lead to the greatest possible abolition of the little middlemen by crushing them out, partially through co-operatives for consumption, partly through extension of municipal activity. Superintendence and organization of the productive processes will be much easier when it is not necessary to deal with countless operators, but rather with only a few organizations.

Besides the work of the middle-men the direct producers of articles of consumption for local necessity would fall to the cooperatives and municipalities – for example, bakeries, milk and vegetable production and erection of buildings.

Agriculture

But it is not to be expected that all small private industries will disappear in this manner. This will be specially true in agriculture. To be sure those agricultural plants which have already become capitalist industries would fall with the wage system and be transformed into national, municipal or co-operative businesses. Therewith a large number of the little competing farmers of to-day would cease to exist and go as laborers into the industrial or agricultural great industry, because they could there secure a respectable existence. But we may be sure that some farmers would always remain with their own family, or at the most with one assistant, or maid that will be reckoned as part of the family, and would continue their little industry. With the present conservative nature of our farmers it is highly probable that a number of them would continue to work in the present manner. The proletarian governmental power would have absolutely no inclination to take over such little businesses. As yet no socialist who is to be taken seriously has ever demanded that the farmers should be expropriated, or that their goods should be confiscated. It is much more probable that each little farmer would be permitted to work on as he has previously done. The farmer has nothing to fear from a socialist regime.

Indeed it is highly probable that these agricultural industries would receive considerable strengthening through the new regime. It would bring an abolition of militarism, of burdens of taxation, bring self-government and nationalism of schools and road taxes, an abolition of poor relief and perhaps also a lowering of mortgage burdens, and many other advantages. We have also seen that the victorious proletariat has every reason to increase the amount of products, and among those products for which the demand would be increased, the most important are agricultural products. In spite of all the refutation of the theory of increasing misery there is still much hunger to satisfy, and this fact alone justifies us in the opinion that the raising of wages mold show itself above all in an increase of the demand for agricultural products. The proletarian regime would also have the greatest interest in increasing the production of the farmers and it would have powerful forces at its disposal for this purpose. Its own interests demand that the agricultural industry should be brought to a higher stage through the care of animals, machines and fertilizers, through improvement of the soil, etc. It mold in this manner assist in Increasing agricultural products, including those in the industries not yet socialized.

But here, as well as in every sphere, conditions would make it necessary to simplify the circulation process by substituting for a large number of private individuals trading their products with one another a few organizations united for economic purposes. The State would much prefer instead of selling breeding animals, machines and fertilizers to the individual farmers to deal with the farmers’ societies and co-operatives. These societies and co-operatives would find as the purchasers of their products no longer private middle-men, but either co-operatives, unions for consumption, municipalities or national industries (mills, sugar factories, breweries and such like). So here also the private industry would continually recede before the social, and the latter would finally transform the agricultural industry itself and permit the development of many such industries through the co-operative or municipal co-operative into one great social industry. The farmers will combine their possessions and operate them in common, especially when they see how the social operation of the expropriated great industry proves that with the same expenditure of labor perceptibly more can be produced, or that with the same number of products the laborers can be granted considerably more leisure than is possible in the small industry. If the small industry is still able to assert itself in agriculture this is due not a little to the fact that it can pump more labor out of its laborers than the great industry. It is undeniable that farmers work harder than the wage workers of the great land owners. The farmer has scarcely any free time, and even during the little free time that he has he must be continually studying how he can improve his business. There is nothing else in his life but his business, and that is also one of the reasons why he is so hard for us to gain.

But this holds true only for the older generation; the younger generation is conscious of other things. They feel a strong impulse towards enjoyments and pleasures, towards joy, and also towards a higher culture, and because they cannot satisfy these impulses in the country they stream into the cities and populate the level plains. When once the farmer sees, however, that he can remain in agriculture without being compelled to renounce leisure and culture he will no longer flee from agriculture, but will simply move from the little industry to the great and therewith the last fortress of private property will disappear.

But the victorious proletariat will not consider a violent hastening of this development, and this for the very good reason that it does not feel itself called upon to get its head cracked without any necessity. And this has been the result of every attempt to force the farmers to a new stage of production. However high may be my estimate of the belligerency and fearlessness of the proletariat, its struggle is not directed against the little people that are themselves exploited, but against the great exploiters.

Small Industry

Along with agriculture the small industry in business comes into consideration. This also need not completely disappear at once. To be sure the new regime, as we have already seen, would, whenever poorly organized industry came in competition with the more perfect, strive to concentrate production in the well directed great industries. This could be easily attained, however, without the application of force by the simple raising of wages. But there will always be branches of industry in which the machine cannot compete successfully with hand labor, or, cannot accomplish what the latter can accomplish. It is highly significant that an investigation of the factory statistics of the German empire did not yield a single form of production in which the small industry still exclusively rules, with one insignificant exception (four plants each with one laborer). A few figures that, so far as I know, have never yet been published are here given. In the following branches of industry the small business rules almost exclusively, more than 97 per cent of all industries, while the great business with more than fifty laborers does not exist at all:

Number of Factories with:
1 to 5
workers
6 to 50
workers
Number of
motors
Makers of whetstones        77     2 52
Makers of violins   1,037   24   5
Preparation of anatomical material      126     3
Scavengers      971     2 11
Spinners (materials not given)      275     3   2
Weavers (materials not given)      608     6   5
Rubber toys          4
Barbers, hairdressers, wigmakers 60,035 470   6
Cleaners of clothes and bootblacks      744     4   7
Chimneysweeps   3,860   26
Sculptors and painters   5,630   84   2

If we exclude painters, barbers, chimneysweeps, violin makers and, according to my opinion, also scavengers and bootblacks, this reduces the held of existing small businesses, in industries which are outside the field of competition of great industries, to practically nil.

Nevertheless it may be granted that the small industry will have a definite position in the future in many branches of industry that produce directly for human consumption, for the machines manufacture essentially only products in bulk, while many purchasers desire that their personal taste shall be considered. It is easily possible that even under a proletarian regime the number of small businesses may increase as the well being of the masses increases. The demand for products of hand labor as a result of this may become active. Artistic hand work may accordingly receive a new impulse. However, we need not expect the realization of the picture of the future that William Morris has painted for us in his beautiful Utopia, in which the machine plays no role whatever. The machine will remain the ruler of the productive process. It will never give up this position again to hand labor. This, however, does not exclude the possibility that hand work in many artistic branches will again flourish and that it will even conquer many new fields. Meanwhile it to-day too often maintains its existence only as the product of extreme misery. As a house industry hand work in a socialist society call only exist as an expensive luxury which may in a universal well being find an extensive distribution. The foundation of the productive process will still remain the machine-driven great industry. The problematical small industries will at the most be maintained as islands in the ocean of the great social businesses.

Variety in the Forms of Economic Structure

These little industries, again, can take on the most various forms in regard to the ownership of their means of production and the disposal of their products. They may be dependent upon a great national or municipal industry, from which they receive their raw material and tools and to which they dispose of their products. They can produce for private customers, or for the open market, etc. as to-day, so then, a laborer can occupy himself in the most diverse occupations one after another. A seamstress, for example, can occupy herself for a time in a national factory and at another time make dresses for private customers at home, then again can sew for another customer in her own house, and finally she may, with a few comrades, unite in a co-operative for the manufacture of clothing for sale.

In this, as in every other relation, the greatest diversity and possibility of change will rule. Nothing is more false than to represent the socialist society as a simple, rigid mechanism whose wheels when once set in motion run on continuously in the same manner.

The most manifold forms of property in the means of production – national, municipal, cooperatives of consumption and production, and private can exist beside each other in a socialist society – the most diverse forms of industrial organization, bureaucratic, trades union, cooperative and individual; the most diverse forms of remuneration of labor, fixed wages, time wages, piece wages, participation in the economics in raw material, machinery, etc., participation in the results of intensive labor the most diverse forms of circulation of products, like contract by purchase from the warehouses of the State, from municipalities, from co-operatives of production, from producers themselves, etc., etc. The same manifold character of economic mechanism that exists to-day is possible in a socialistic society. Only the hunting and the hunted, the struggling and resisting, the annihilation and being annihilated of the present competitive struggle are excluded and therewith the contrast between exploiter and exploited.

About rawlinsview

News and political commentary from the point of view of the social interests of the international working class.
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