Association (marxism)

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The term association (or union , association ; association comes from the Latin socius , comrade , cooperative ( as-sociation )) was used in the early labor movement as a non-specific expression of the community and society among workers. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels use the word association apart from general usage on the one hand to define a communist society conceptually, namely as an association of free producers. On the other hand, to grasp the development of a communist society out of the capitalist order through the unification of the workers to form a class. You yourself coined the term for the labor movement through the establishment of the International Workers' Association .

Marx and Engels

Association as a communist organizational principle

The association as a conceptual version of a communist order already appears in the Marxian economic-philosophical manuscripts from the year 1844 with regard to the associated use of land . The advantages of the large-scale enterprises created by industrial competition are retained in the association, but feudalism, domination and the “silly property mysticism” have disappeared, and the comfortable relationship between man and earth is established in a sensible way by the Earth ceases to be an object of haggling, and through free work and free enjoyment it becomes a real, personal property of man again. "

In the German ideology of 1845, in “the real community ... individuals in and through their association gain their freedom at the same time .” The “community of revolutionary proletarians ” would be “the union of individuals (within the presupposition of the productive forces now developed, of course) who the conditions of the free development and movement of individuals under their control, conditions that have hitherto been left to chance and oppose the individual individuals precisely through their separation as individuals, through their necessary union, which is given with the division of labor , and through their separation had become an alien bond to them, had become independent. "

In the principles of communism by Engels (1847), the answer to the question of what kind this new social order will be: “Above all, it will take the operation of industry and all branches of production out of the hands of the individual competing individuals and in return all these branches of production through the whole of society, d. H. have to operate for joint account, according to a joint plan and with the participation of all members of society. It will therefore abolish competition and put association in its place. ”Engels comments on the consequences of the abolition of private property as follows:“ The general association of all members of society for the common and planned exploitation of the forces of production, the expansion of production to such an extent that it will satisfy the needs of all, the cessation of the state in which the needs of one are satisfied at the expense of the other, the complete annihilation of the classes and their opposites, the all-round development of the abilities of all members of society through the elimination of the previous division of labor, through industrial education, through the change of activity, through the participation of all in the pleasures produced by all, through the merging of town and country - these are the main results of the abolition of private property. "

One of the best-known versions of a communist society can be found in the manifesto of the communist party of 1848: "Instead of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class antagonisms, there is an association in which the free development of everyone is the condition for the free development of all."

In the first volume of Capital from 1867, Marx asks, “for a change, to imagine an association of free people who work with communal means of production and confidently use up their many individual workers as social workers. ... The overall product of the association is a social product. Part of this product is again used as a means of production . He remains social. But another part is consumed as food by the club members. It must therefore be distributed among them. The nature of this distribution will change with the particular nature of the social production organism itself and the corresponding historical level of development of the producers. Only in parallel with the production of goods do we assume that the share of each producer in food is determined by his working hours. Working hours would therefore play a double role. Their socially planned distribution regulates the correct proportion of the various work functions to the various needs. On the other hand, the working time also serves as a measure of the producer's individual share in the common work and therefore also in the individually consumable part of the common product. The social relationships of people to their work and their work products remain transparently simple in production as well as in distribution. "

In the Anti-Dühring of 1877 Engels explains that the socially effective forces assert themselves “blindly, violently, destructively” as long as laws of nature “as long as we do not recognize them and do not count on them.” This also applies in particular to “today's enormous [productive forces]. As long as we stubbornly refuse to understand their nature and character - and the capitalist mode of production and its defenders resist this understanding - as long as these forces work against us in spite of us, as long as they rule us, as we have explained in detail to have. But once understood in their nature, they can be transformed from demonic rulers into willing servants in the hands of the associated producers. It is the difference between the destructive force of electricity in the lightning bolt of a thunderstorm and the restrained electricity of the telegraph and the arc; ... "

In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), Engels defines the historical regaining of control of their own product by the producers "on the basis of the vast control of nature now achieved by man and the now possible free association" as "the task of the next Generations ". The state machine will "in a society that reorganizes production on the basis of free and equal association of producers" only in the "Museum of Antiquities".

In the third volume of Marx's Capital (published in 1894), in a famous passage on the social production of life, the following is formulated: “The realm of freedom really only begins where work, which is determined by need and external expediency, ends; it is therefore, in the nature of things, beyond the sphere of actual material production. ... Freedom in this area [the realm of necessity] can only consist in the fact that the socialized man, the associated producers, regulate their metabolism with nature rationally, bring them under their collective control, instead of being ruled by a blind power to become; perform it with the least amount of effort and under the conditions most dignified and appropriate to their human nature. But this always remains a realm of necessity. Beyond this begins the development of human strength, which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, but which can only flourish on that realm of necessity as its basis. "

Association as a way to communism

Unification of the workers to the class on the basis of the capitalist development tendencies

In The Situation of the Working Class in England of 1845, Engels describes the emergence of trade unions, the purpose of which was "to determine wages and to negotiate en masse as a power with employers." Location and the competition among the proletarians, fueled by hardship, was “the real importance” for the young Engels in the “first attempt of the workers ... to abolish the competition. They presuppose the insight that the rule of the bourgeoisie rests only on the competition of the workers among themselves; H. on the fragmentation of the proletariat, from the opposition of the individual workers to one another. And precisely because they are directed against competition, against the lifeblood of the current social order, even if only one-sided, they are so dangerous to this social order. The worker cannot attack the bourgeoisie and with it the whole existing institution of society in any more wonderful place than in this one. If the competition of the workers among themselves is disturbed, if all workers are determined not to allow themselves to be exploited by the bourgeoisie any more, then the realm of property is at an end. ”Engels therefore defines the“ competition of workers against each other ”as“ the worst side of the present conditions for the worker, the sharpest weapon against the proletariat in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Hence the striving of the workers to abolish this competition through associations, hence the anger of the bourgeoisie against these associations and their triumph over every defeat inflicted on them. "

In Marx's misery of philosophy of 1847, the association of workers is described as a decisive moment for the emergence of a class for itself : “The first attempts by workers to associate with one another always take the form of coalitions. ... so the coalitions, which were isolated at the beginning, are formed to the extent that the capitalists, for their part, unite into groups for the purpose of repression, and in relation to capital that is always united, the maintenance of associations becomes more necessary for them than that of wages. ... Once at this point, the coalition takes on a political character. ... The rule of capital has created a common situation, common interests for this mass. So this mass is already a class in relation to capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle ... this mass comes together, constitutes itself as a class for itself. "

In the Communist Party's manifesto , the idea of ​​the unification of the proletariat into a political class, driven by capitalist development, is further developed: “The proletariat goes through various stages of development. His struggle against the bourgeoisie begins with his existence. In the beginning the individual workers, then the workers of a factory, then the workers of a branch of work fight in one place against the individual bourgeois, who directly exploits them. ... At this stage the workers form a mass scattered all over the country and fragmented by competition. Mass cohesion of the workers is not yet the result of their own unification, but the result of the unification of the bourgeoisie, which in order to achieve its own political ends must set the whole proletariat in motion ... But with the development of industry, not only does the proletariat increase; it is compressed in larger masses, its strength grows, and it feels it more. ... The workers are beginning to form coalitions against the bourgeois; they come together to maintain their wages. They create lasting associations themselves in order to provide provisions for the occasional outrage. ... The real result of their struggles is not the immediate success, but the ever increasing unification of the workers. It is being promoted by the growing means of communication that… connect workers…. All that is needed is a connection in order to centralize the many local struggles of the same character everywhere into a national, a class struggle . ... The progress of industry, of which the bourgeoisie is the willless and unresisting bearer, replaces the isolation of the workers through competition with their revolutionary union through association. With the development of great industry, the basis itself is pulled from under the feet of the bourgeoisie, on which it produces and the products itself. Above all, it produces its own gravedigger. "

In a handwritten manuscript on wages , which is closely related to the work Wage Labor and Capital (1849), Marx devotes himself more closely to workers' associations. The purpose of the associations would be to "abolish the competition and put in its place the union among the workers." Marx doubts that the workers' associations can effectively increase wages (new production techniques, relocation, competition of nations on the world market reduce wages) , however, the meaning of the associations lies in the fact that they “serve the means of the unification of the working class, the preparation for the overthrow of the whole old society with its class antagonisms”.

In an address to the Communist League in 1850, Marx and Engels demand that the revolution should be made “permanent” “until all more or less possessing classes are ousted from rule, state power is conquered by the proletariat and the association of the proletarians so far has advanced not only in one country but in all ruling countries of the whole world that the competition of the proletarians in these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians. "

In the first volume of Capital , Marx summarizes “the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation” as follows: “Hand in hand with ... the expropriation of many capitalists by a few, the cooperative form of the labor process develops on an ever increasing scale, the conscious technical application of science, the Planned exploitation of the earth, the transformation of the means of work into means of work that can only be used jointly, the economization of all means of production through their use as means of production of combined social labor, the engulfing of all peoples in the network of the world market and thus the international character of the capitalist regime. With the steadily decreasing number of capital magnates, who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this transformation process, the mass of misery, ..., exploitation, but also the indignation of the constantly swelling and unified and organized working class, trained by the mechanism of the capitalist production process itself, grows. ... [T] he capitalist production creates its own negation with the necessity of a natural process. ... This does not restore private property, but it does restore individual property based on the achievement of the capitalist era: cooperation and common ownership of the earth and the means of production produced by labor itself. "

Cooperatives as a transitional economic form

In the inaugural address of the International Workers' Association of 1864, the cooperative movement is described as the “victory of the political economy of labor over the political economy of capital”. “The value of these great experiments cannot be overestimated. By action, rather than argument, they proved that production can proceed on a large scale and in accordance with the advancement of modern science without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of "hands"; that, in order to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of domination over and means of exploitation against the worker himself, and that like slave labor, like serf labor, wage labor is only a temporary and subordinate social form disappear before the associated work, which does its work with a willing hand, a vigorous mind and a happy heart. ”In the instructions for the delegates of the Provisional Central Council on the individual questions of 1866, Marx explains with regard to cooperative work:“ We recognize the cooperative movement as one the driving forces behind the transformation of contemporary society based on class antagonisms. Your great merit is to show practically that the existing despotic and poverty-inducing system of subjugation of labor to capital can be replaced by the republican and beneficial system of association of free and equal producers. "However," the cooperative system would be limited to the dwarf forms, ... never able to transform capitalist society. In order to transform social production into a comprehensive and harmonious system of free cooperative work, general social changes are required, changes in the general conditions of society, which can only be realized through the transition of the organized violence of society, i. H. of state power, from the hands of the capitalists and landowners into the hands of the producers themselves. "

In the third volume of Capital , the cooperative factories are analyzed as the first breakthrough of the old form “within the old form”. The cooperative factories would necessarily “reproduce all the defects of the existing system”, but “the opposition between capital and labor is eliminated within them, even if at first only in the form that the workers as an association are their own capitalists ... They show how, At a certain stage of development of the material productive forces and their corresponding social forms of production, a new mode of production naturally develops and emerges from a mode of production. "Cooperative factories as well as capitalist share-based enterprises should be viewed" as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one ".

At the same time, as early as the 18th Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte , Marx warned against "doctrinal experiments, exchange banks and workers' associations" falling into disrepair, if or when they refrain from "overturning the old world with their own great total means", and instead seek "behind the back of society, in a private way, within its limited conditions of existence, to accomplish its salvation", and therefore necessarily fail.

The International Workers' Association and Paris Commune as examples of the practical movement

In the Provisional Statutes of the International Workers 'Association , the purpose of the International Workers' Association is defined as "the establishment of a center of connection and cooperation between the working-class societies existing in different countries, which pursue the same goal, namely: protection, progress and complete Emancipation of the working class. "

In The Civil War in France , Marx sees the Paris Commune as that emancipatory movement that “wanted to abolish class property that transforms the work of the many into the wealth of the few. It intended the expropriation of the expropriators. It wanted to make individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, the land and capital, now above all the means of enslavement and exploitation of labor, into mere tools of free and associated labor. "

Dealing with other trends


Marx and Engels distinguished themselves from other thinkers of the socialist camp in their considerations on association. Engels pays tribute to Fourier's merit, “having shown the advantages, or rather the necessity of the merger”, as well as the insight that “if each individual is allowed to do what he likes according to his personal inclination, ... satisfies the needs of all but there is “a very serious inconsistency in Fourierism, and that is the retention of private property. In its phalansteres or cooperative communities there are rich and poor, capitalists and workers. The property of all members is brought into a common fund, the company conducts trade ... and ... activities, and the income is distributed among the members: part as wages, a second part as bonuses for expertise and talent, a third part as interest on capital . So after all the beautiful theories of cooperative formation and free labor, after a whole host of indignant declamations against trade, self-interest and competition, in practice we have the old competition system based on an improved plan, a Poor Law Bastille with more liberal principles! "


Marx criticizes Proudhon's idea that association is not in opposition to competition. Marx sums up Proudhon's reflections polemically: "Whoever says competition says a common goal, and that proves on the one hand that competition is association, on the other hand that competition is not egoism." Marx raises the rhetorical question of which socialists "get through." the mere word association believe that it can refute competition? And how can Mr. Proudhon himself defend competition against socialism by referring to it with the single word association? "Engels also criticized Proudhon:" [T] he socialist of the smallholder and the master craftsman, hated the association with a positive hatred . He said of it that it included more bad than good, that it was sterile by nature, even harmful, because it was a fetter placed on the freedom of the worker; it is a pure dogma, unproductive and burdensome, in conflict with the freedom of the worker as well as with the saving of labor, and its disadvantages grow faster than its advantages; opposed to it, competition, division of labor, private property are economic forces. "


The demand for productive cooperatives with state aid from Lassalle is also rejected by Marx and Engels. In the revolution called for by Marx and Engels, “it is not about workers' associations with state capital as in the case of late Lassalle, this is about the abolition of capital in general.” Particular criticism is made of those supporters of Lassalle “who do not go beyond his demand Productive cooperatives with state credit went out and divided the whole working class into state workers and self-helpers. ”In the course of the criticism of the Gotha program it is stated that among the Lassalleans there was no question of“ organizing the working class as a class through the trade unions ”, and“ that is a very important point, because this is the real class organization of the proletariat in which it fights its daily struggles with capital ”. Instead, according to their state socialist conception, “the“ socialist organization of collective labor ”will arise from the“ state aid ”that the state gives to productive cooperatives, which it, not the worker,“ brings into being ”. This is worthy of Lassalle's imagination that one can just as easily build a new company with the backing of the state as a new railway! "


further reading

  • Jens Becker / Heinz Brakemeier (eds.): Association of free individuals? Critique of the barter society and the overall social subject in Theodor W. Adorno . VSA 2004, ISBN 3-89965-044-1
  • Hannes Giessler Furlan: Association of Free People? Idea and Reality of Communist Economy . Jump 2018.

Individual evidence

  1. Karl Marx: Economic-philosophical manuscripts from 1844 , MEW 40, p. 508.
  2. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Die deutsche Ideologie , MEW 3, S. 74f.
  3. Friedrich Engels: Principles of Communism , MEW 4, p. 370.
  4. ^ Friedrich Engels: Principles of Communism , MEW 4, p. 377.
  5. ^ Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party , MEW 4, p. 482.
  6. ^ Karl Marx: Das Kapital I , MEW 23, p. 92f.
  7. ^ Friedrich Engels: Anti-Dühring , MEW 20, p. 260f.
  8. Friedrich Engels: The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State , MEW 21, p. 110
  9. ^ Friedrich Engels: The origin of the family, private property and the state , MEW 21, p. 168
  10. ^ Karl Marx: Das Kapital III , MEW 25, p. 828.
  11. ^ Friedrich Engels: The situation of the working class in England , MEW 2, p. 433.
  12. ^ Friedrich Engels: The situation of the working class in England , MEW 2, p. 436.
  13. ^ Friedrich Engels: The situation of the working class in England , MEW 2, p. 307.
  14. ^ Karl Marx: The misery of philosophy , MEW 4, p. 180f.
  15. ^ Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party , MEW 4, pp. 470–474.
  16. ^ Karl Marx: Arbeitslohn , MEW 6, p. 554f.
  17. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Address of the central authority to the federal government from March 1850 , MEW 7, p. 248.
  18. ^ Karl Marx: Das Kapital I , MEW 23, p. 790f.
  19. Karl Marx: Inaugural Address of the International Workers' Association , MEW 16, p. 11f.
  20. ^ Karl Marx: Instructions for the delegates of the Provisional Central Council on the individual questions MEW 16, p. 195f.
  21. ^ Karl Marx: Das Kapital III , MEW 23, p. 456.
  22. ^ Karl Marx: The eighteenth Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte , MEW 8, p. 122.
  23. ^ Karl Marx: Provisional Statutes of the International Workers' Association , MEW 16, p. 15.
  24. Karl Marx: The Civil War in France , MEW 17, p. 342.
  25. ^ Friedrich Engels: Advances in social reform on the continent , MEW 1, p. 483f.
  26. ^ Karl Marx: The misery of philosophy , MEW 4, p. 161.
  27. Friedrich Engels: Introduction [to Karl Marx's "Civil War in France" (1891 edition)] , MEW 22, p. 196.
  28. ^ Friedrich Engels: Review of the first volume "Das Kapital" for the "Düsseldorfer Zeitung" , MEW 16, 216.
  29. ^ Friedrich Engels: Foreword to the fourth German edition (1890) of the “Manifesto of the Communist Party” , MEW 22, p. 57.
  30. ^ Friedrich Engels: Letter to Bebel , MEW 19, p. 6.
  31. ^ Karl Marx: Critique of the Gothaer Program , MEW 19, p. 26.