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Socialisation / Anton Pannekoek, 1920

Socialisation / Anton Pannekoek. – In: The Call , 10, 17 June 1920; source transcription: Ted Crawford, 2007, for Marxists’ Internet Archive , Part I , Part II ; another version: Socialization , retranslated by Greg Adargo from a French reedition.

During the first months that followed the German Revolution of November, 1918, there arose a cry of “Socialisation.” It was the expression of the will of the masses to-give to the revolution a social meaning, and not to let it stop at reshuffling of persons, or at a simple transformation of the political system. Kautsky warned the public against a too rapid socialisation, for which society would not yet be ripe. The miners put forward socialisation as one of their strike aims – as did recently the British miners. A commission to study the question of socialisation was formed, but secret councils and the Government sabotaged its decision. For the Majority Socialist Government, socialisation is only a phrase, a means of deceiving the workers; everyone knows that it has long ago abandoned all the former aims and principles of Socialism. But the Independents have remained the faithful guardians of the old Socialist doctrine; they believe in it sincerely, as far as the programme of socialisation is concerned. It is therefore interesting to study this programme, in order to characterise the radical tendency which exists in the social-democracy of all countries, side by side with the governmental Socialists or opposition to them.

When the workers demand socialisation, they are, beyond any doubt, thinking of Socialism, of its Socialist form of Society, of the suppression of capitalist exploitation We shall see if it has the same meaning for the social-democratic chiefs of to-day. Marx never spoke of socialisation: he spoke of the expropriation of the expropriators.

Of the two principal transformations introduced by Socialism in production – the suppression of exploitation and the organisation of the economic system – the first is the most significant, the most important for the proletariat. One can conceive the organisation of production on a capitalist basis; it leads to State Socialism, to a more complete enslavement and exploitation of the proletariat by the power of the centralised State. The suppression of exploitation with the dispersion of production was the ideal of the primitive co-operators and of the anarchists; but where the suppression of exploitation has been accomplished, as in Communist Russia, it is necessary immediately to occupy ourselves with the organisation of production.

It is at this point that the Social-Democrats put forward general watchwords, preparatory to practical measures of legislation, from which we can see, in the clearest possible way, what socialisation means to them. Such was the case at Vienna, where reign the “Marxists” Renner and Otto Bauer. We take from a lecture given by Bauer on April 24th, at a meeting of Trade Union leaders, the arguments by which he sought to recommend his plans to these working class representatives. In order, he said, completely to socialise large industry, in order to get rid of the capitalists, expropriation is first of all necessary. “We take their enterprises from them,” and the organisation of the new form of administration must follow. “Expropriation must not take place without compensation, for we should be obliged to confiscate all capital, including war bonds. The savings banks would then go bankrupt, the small peasants and the employees would lose their savings, and international complications would arise. It is therefore impossible to realise a mere confiscation of capitalist property.” The capitalist would therefore be compensated; an arbitral court would determine the amount of compensation, which “ought to be fixed according to the permanent value, and ought not to consider war profits” The compensation would be paid in State loan bonds, which would bear an annual interest of four per cent.

Of course, he concludes, this does not yet mean complete socialisation, because the former capitalist still receives the interest on his enterprise as an annual income. “To suppress this gradually is a problem of fiscal legislation, and, eventually, of the transformation of the rights of inheritance”; after some generations, revenues not produced by labour would completely disappear.

To throw light on the principles which lie at the bottom of these plans of socialisation put forward by the Social-Democrats, we must consider more closely the essence of capitalist property and of economic expropriation.


Money, in its capacity as capital, has the power of multiplying itself continually by means of surplus-value. Whoever transforms his money into capital and invests it in production receives his share of the total surplus-value produced by the world-proletariat.

The source of surplus-value is the exploitation of the proletariat: labour-power is paid less than the value it produces.

Money and property have thus, in the capitalist system, not merely quite a new meaning, but they have also become a new standard. In the petit-bourgeois world, money is the measure of the value of the labour-time necessary for the production of a commodity. In its capacity as capital, money is the measure of surplus-value, of the profit which can be realised by the means of production. Although it may have involved no labour, a price will be paid for piece of land corresponding to its rent capitalised. It is the same with a large enterprise. If its foundation has cost, let us say, 100,000 francs (a hundred shares of 1,000 francs each) and it produces a dividend of 10 per cent., a share will not be sold at 1,000 francs, but at about 2,000 francs: for 1,000 francs at 5 per cent. bring in the same revenue as that share. Its capitalist value is 2,000 francs, for it is fixed by the revenue; and the capitalist value of the whole enterprise is 200,000 francs, although it may only have cost 100,000francs.

We know that the great banks, on the formation of a new enterprise, put this difference in their pockets in advance, as “promoter’s profits,” by issuing (in the case under consideration) shares for 200,000 francs.

On the other hand, if the profits from this enterprise fall – for example, through the successful competition of still larger enterprises – more and more, until it can only produce a dividend of 1 per cent., its capitalist value falls to 10,000 francs. If the profit disappears entirely, the capitalist value of the enterprise falls to zero, and only the material value of the stock can still be realised.

Capitalist property signifies first of all, then, not the right to dispose of commodities, but the right to receive revenue without working for it, to receive surplus-value. Its form is the share, the paper on which this right is inscribed. The enterprise, the factory, is only the instrument by witch surplus value is produced; property itself is the right to surplus value. The suppression of exploitation, the suppression of this right, is in consequence the suppression of capitalist value, the confiscation of capital. We can now understand the method of Otto Bauer: to confuse under the same heading this form of capital and the few pence saved by the little man – who is thinking primarily of safeguarding his property, and not of receiving a revenue without working for it – and in this way to make the Trade Union official’s shudder at an attack on exploitation.

The suppression of capitalist property and the suppression of exploitation are not, therefore, cause and effect, means and end; they are one and the same thing. Capitalist property does not exist except by exploitation, and its value is fixed by surplus-value. Let surplus-value disappear in one way or another, let the worker receive the full product of his labour, and capitalist property will disappear at the same time. If the proletariat improves its conditions of labour in such a way that enterprises will no longer bring any profit to capital, their capitalist value will fall to zero; the factories can become very useful to society, but they will have lost their value for the capitalists. Money, then, loses the power of producing more money, of producing surplus value, because the workers no longer allow themselves to be exploited. This is the expropriation of which Marx was thinking. Capitalist property will be suppressed because capital will have no value, will not produce any profit. This economic expropriation, by which property loses its value and is consequently destroyed, although the right of free disposition remains, is the opposite of the legal expropriation often carried out in the capitalist world, by which the right of free disposition is suppressed, while property is allowed to remain in the form of compensation.


It goes without saying that legal expropriation will also take place during the transition from capitalism to Socialism. The political power of the proletariat will take all the measures that are necessary for the suppression of exploitation. It will not content itself with limiting the former employers right of free exploitation by regularising wages, hours of labour; and prices; it will suppress it altogether. The economic basis of these measures is thus defined. It is not confiscation of all property; as the terrified petit-bourgeoisie think, but the suppression of all right to surplus-value, to a revenue not produced by labour. It is the legal expression of the political fact that the proletariat is master, and that it will not let itself be exploited any longer.


Socialisation according to the recipe of Bauer is legal expropriation without an economic expropriation – a thing that any capitalist government might propose. The capitalist value of enterprises will be paid to employers in the form of compensation, and they will henceforward receive, in the form of interest on bonds, what they formerly received in the form of profits. The remark that war profits will not enter into consideration shows that the normal profit will be taken as a standard. This socialisation replaces private capitalism by State capitalism; the State assumes the task of sweating profits out of the workers and handing it over to the capitalists. For the workers, very little will have been changed: as before, they will have to create a revenue for the capitalists without any labour on the part of the latter. Exploitation remains exactly the same as before.

If such a proposal had been made in the time of capitalist prosperity, it would have been acceptable for the proletariat; the amount of surplus-value accruing to the capitalists being fixed, every new increase of productivity through organisation and technical progress would benefit the proletariat. But the capitalist class did not think of it because it claimed these advantages for itself.

To-day, conditions are different, and surplus-value is in danger. The economic chaos, the loss of stocks, and of raw material, the heavy tribute to the capitalism of the Entente, give ground for anticipating a diminution capitalist profits. The revolt of the working class masses, the beginning of the proletarian revolution, which render doubtful the fate of all exploitation, have further complicated the situation. Socialisation now comes, just at the right moment, to guarantee capital its profits in the form of State interest. A Communist Government, like the Russian, guarantees immediately the results of the new-found power and liberty of the proletariat by refusing to capital all rights of further exploitation. A Social Democratic Government guarantees the existence of the former proletarian slavery by perpetuating the old tribute paid by the workers to capital just at the moment when it ought to disappear. Socialisation in these circumstances is only the legal expression of the political fact that the proletariat is only an apparent master, and is ready calmly to let itself go on being exploited. Just as the “Socialist” government is only the continuation of the former capitalist government under the banner of Socialism, “socialisation” is only the continuation also of the former capitalist exploitation under the guise of Socialism.

If we, enquire how it is that intelligent politicians and former Marxists can arrive at ideas like these, the well known political character of the tendency which has become embodied in the Independent Socialist Party will give us our reply. It was radical in name, it paid lip service to the class war, but it feared every form of vigorous struggle. This was already the case before the war, when Kautsky, Haase, and their friends opposed themselves to the radical extreme left as a “Marxist centre.” To day the same thing is happening. They wish to bring the workers Socialism. But they fear a struggle against the capitalist class. They see very well that a true suppression of all capitalist profits, confiscation of capital as it has been realised by Communism in Russia, involves the capitalist class in a violent struggle; for it is a question of its very existence, of its life or death as a class. They consider the proletariat to be too weak for this struggle, and consequently seek to achieve their object by roundabout paths, by making it attractive for the capitalist class. Politically, the plans for socialisation are an attempt to lead the proletariat to the Socialist goal, without touching the capitalist class at its vital spot, without provoking its violent anger; and in this way to avoid a violent class struggle.

The intention would be praiseworthy if only it could be But if one considers all that would be necessary to make up the capitalist tribute – interest for the former capitalist proprietors of the means of production, interest on the war loans, the tribute to the capitalism of the Entente – we shall see that all this could not be realised, even were the proletariat to accept intensive toil, and worse conditions of life. In view of the present destruction of economic life and of the physical forces of the masses, the immediate suppression of all parasitism is a pressing necessity for the relief of society. But even if we do not take into account this abnormal state of misery, and if we only consider socialisation is one of the first steps of the proletarian revolution, as a first step towards Socialism, its impossibility is apparent so long as the proletariat has not yet acquired all its powers. When the workers wake up and strive for liberty and independence they put forward demands for the improvement of their conditions of labour and existence.

These improvements will immediately decrease profits. The Socialist State may cry for them: “Work harder!”; the opposite will nevertheless happen.

When the capitalist yoke no longer bears down with an iron grip upon the workers, the inhuman tension of exploitation will relax and labour will become, less intense, will become more human. The dividends, the profits of undertakings will fall. Without socialisation, the private capitalist would have to bear the loss but when the State has to pay them interest, it is the Socialist State which has guaranteed them their profits despite the beginning of the working-class revolution, and which will bear the loss There will remain to it the choice, either of opposing the workers demands; of breaking strikes, of becoming a violent government on the side of capital, and against the proletariat, or else to collapse in an unavoidable bankruptcy. The capitalist class will again proclaim its triumph, for the impossibility of “socialisation” will have been practically demonstrated.

This will be the result of the clever attempt to arrive at a form of Socialism by avoiding the class struggle. Socialisation which is devised to spare the profits of the capitalist class cannot be a path to Socialism There is no other way but to suppress exploitation and with this object to carry on an unrelenting class struggle.

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Compiled by Vico, 11 April 2017