Historical period during which the capitalist relations of production helped the free development of the productive forces of Humanity. This is the period in which the world market and the global systems of communications and transport were born, the productivity of almost all factors multiplied, the global population increased as never before, and a universal class appeared: the proletariat.
Capitalism was for a long period a progressive system. Progressive not in the false moral sense of “humanitarian” or egalitarian, far from it, but because it revolutionized the whole world by developing the productive forces of humanity in a way that had never been seen before through the commodification of social relations and the creation of a universal class, the proletariat.
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigor in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.
The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848
Crisis and Expansion in Rising Capitalism
In its rising phase capitalism has enough oxygen to realize the surplus value it takes from the workers: it not only sells to the demand it itself creates -the workers’ wages- but to the independent peasants, the artisans and other remnants of feudalism in its own territory and, increasingly, in the colonial and semi-colonial markets. With a whole world ahead of it, capitalism liberates and awakens dormant and unthinkable productive forces all over the world. In this phase, the bourgeoisie presents itself as revolutionary vis-à-vis the previous ruling classes.
Of course the bourgeoisie is not homogeneous and never stops competing with each other in the market. This competition happened – and still happens – in two ways. The simplest and most obvious is to increase surplus value in absolute terms: simply by paying less per hour worked, lowering wages and lengthening working hours. But this strategy ended up aggravating the problem by reducing demand even further. The optimal way is to incorporate technologies that allow to produce more with less working hours, that is, to increase the relative surplus value by incorporating new capital. In theory, this would allow wages to be increased and profits to rise at the same time, but only on the condition that the market would increase as well.
In the rising period of capitalism the “classic” dynamics of the capitalist crisis in which overproduction of commodities, unemployment and falling wages go hand in hand and feed off each other only materialized at specific periods and on a national scale. In other words, the trend towards pauperization was only temporarily materializing.
Crises, in principle national, generally occurred when there was a limit or a fall in demand on the domestic extra-capitalist market. It was not that the peasants “ran out”, but that a poor harvest or lack of transport infrastructure limited their capacity to absorb goods. To save accumulation, in the proximity of each crisis there was an expansion of credit – to inflate demand artificially – and increased competition among capitalists to increase surplus value and remain in the existing market.
In this way the typical economic cycle of rising capitalism would proceed accordingly:
-> expansion of the market and demand -> technological development -> rise in wages and lowering of the cost of more goods -> improvement in the living conditions of workers -> increase in the mass of workers -> signs of market saturation -> expansion of credit -> appearance of unemployment and overproduction -> increase in absolute surplus value ->.
In other words, each cycle ended with the “overproduction” of goods and the pauperization of the workers, and began with a new expansion of markets inwards (through enclosure, construction of roads, etc.) and outwards from the national state (conquest of colonies, national unification, imposition of free trade in new regions, etc.). Since this was still possible because there was a vast pre-capitalist economy globally and even locally, each cycle of crisis ended with the expansion of a capitalism empowered by new technologies, increased productive forces, a proletariat enlarged out of newly dispossessed masses, new developments in transport, etc.
National Liberation in Rising Capitalism
Rising capitalism is that of the expansion and rise of the bourgeoisie as a ruling class. With the bourgeois revolutions, the nation appears as an expression of the project of articulation of the social totality by the bourgeoisie. In the great empires where regional bourgeoisies appear that can articulate an alternative against the whole territory of the state, the bourgeois revolution can take the form of national liberation, that is, the separation of a territory from the dynastic state to become a national market under a national state of its own. As long as there is no proletariat with a leading capacity -as will happen in the Russian empire and its more industrialized provinces, such as Poland or Finland, from 1900- these movements will be progressive. Progressive because they aim at the expansion of the world market, the development within the new frontiers of a mass working class and therefore, the formation of the proletariat as a universal class.
Trade unions, parliamentarism and workers’ struggle
The revolutionary bourgeoisie, in its need to lead the whole of the social classes for its seizure of power, will provide itself with a “democratic programme”. That is, within the framework of a general and historical tendency towards expansion, it will be able to grant the workers liberties and guarantees for their own political organization. In that framework, the participation in parliaments in the way of the parties of the II International -without voting for the government’s budgets or entering into the internal quarrels of the bourgeois state organization- plays a doubly positive role.
On the one hand, it helps to make the proletariat see itself as a class in a state that has not yet absorbed the expressions of bourgeois “civil society” into its midst, nor has the state crushed the “workers’ democracy” built by the Second International: this whole massive structure of diverse organizations – from trade unions to cultural and cooperative associations – with which the proletariat constitutes spaces and environments where its consciousness can develop and assert itself in its universality, beyond the divisions of trade, workshop or territory.
On the other hand, it serves the working class to gain concessions which, in the framework of ascending capitalism, are lasting in the economic sphere and contribute to its constitution as a class in the political sphere: universal suffrage, reduction of the working day, etc.
In the same way as parliaments, the trade unions, as wholesalers of the labor power in the market, continue to represent the needs of grouping the workers against a capitalism that, as a trend, can grant real improvements in living and working conditions and access to knowledge.
All this will disappear in the capitalist decadence with the counterrevolution (Stalinist, democratic or fascist), the development of state capitalism and the consolidation of different forms of state totalitarianism.