Chapter 1
Marx poses the problem

Let’s start by clarifying the reading we are doing of Marx’s great book, namely Le Capital. We are talking about the book Le Capital, and not The Communist Manifesto, in our view of lesser interest.

The first chapters of The Capital forcefully present the concept of surplus value. Marx explains that this surplus value is divided between the worker and the capitalist, and that in big industry, the share which returns to the worker tends to be reduced to the bare minimum allowing the working class to "reproduce". This is the minimum income for just surviving, once the contributions from the work of women and children are included. Like Jean-François Revel, we think that the impression of rigor resulting from the imposing formalism of Marx is an illusion, as very often in economic science. In fact, in previous modes of production, surplus value already existed, and was divided between, on the one hand the producer- peasant or craftsman, and on the other hand the privileged- ecclesiastics, aristocrats, or bourgeois. The share of the privileged corresponded to taxes, and could just as easily lead to the misery of the producers. Periodical jacqueries prooved it. It is therefore not in formalism that Marx's contribution seems most relevant to us.

Structural defects of capitalism

Indeed, where Marx masterfully challenges his time is when he explains that, contrary to the intuitive idea that progress should be mainly beneficial, industrialization in a capitalist context produces four types of major and structural social disturbance.

First social disturbance: the change in the organization of work is brutally imposed on all. Indeed, by increasing productivity not by a few percent, but by a factor which can be 100, in a market economy, industrialization produces a collapse in prices, and consequently, those who persist in producing by hand are simply ruined.

Second social disturbance: industrialization breaks the fragile balance between worker and employer, to the detriment of the first. In the unproductive economy before the industrial era, at times of economic prosperity, it was the production capacity that limited growth, so the craftsman who was the main element of production had some arguments to negotiate with his employer. In the industrialized economy, four factors weaken the position of the worker. First, a shift in the factor limiting growth, from production capacity to the capacity to sell production. Second, the main element of production tends to become the machine, therefore the capital and not the labor power. Third, the machine tends to make human work elementary, repetitive, therefore to make the worker easily replaceable by another. Fourth and finally, each major technical advance in the industry brutally throws a large number of craftsmen into the street, supplanted by a few machines, who are like refugees, and will hardly be in a position to defend their interests.
In fact, Marx concludes that the fate of the worker can only be improved by law or class struggle.

Third social disturbance: we have seen that industrialization moves from growth limited by the production capacity to growth limited by the capacity to sell. This creates greater instability. Indeed, one or more new arrivals can now supplant the existing ones in a very short time, ruin them and therefore make them disappear, with consequences that cascade at the level of subcontractors. In the end, all of this translates into repeated crises.

Fourth social disturbance: the massive increase in processing capacity linked to the industrialization of manufactures mechanically causes an increase upstream of the need for raw materials, and downstream of the need for outlets for finished products. This increase is so massive that national capacities are quickly saturated, causing a strong incentive to intensify colonial policy to gain access to new sources of raw materials and create new captive markets to sell finished products.

What is striking, and which probably justifies the important place occupied by Marx in the history of social thought, is that these four structural disturbances remain perfectly valid at the beginning of the 21st century. Let's resume.

Concerning the first social disturbance linked to the organizational change which is imposed on all, Marx takes the example of the Indian weavers, who were massively ruined by the arrival of the goods produced industrially in England: "The weavers' bones whitewash the plains of India ”.
We find the same kind of phenomenon today with Indian farmers. Industrial suppliers of fertilizers arrive. Production increases, prices eventually drop significantly, and those who have not agreed to use the fertilizer are ruined. But the story does not end there. Some bad harvests arrive, and those who agreed to use the fertilizer, in debt, find themselves expropriated in turn.
Even if the phenomenon is slower and softened by the periodic intervention of the State, a bit like in the England of Marx, it is the same story that has been played with French small farming for decades, simply instead of the fertilizers in the Indian case, it is necessary to transpose by agricultural machines plus fertilizers, and instead of bad harvests, it is necessary to transpose bad harvests plus price fluctuations.
What can be learned from this first point is that when he has to make significant investments to produce, and not just sweat, the small independent producer becomes dependent either on the State or on finance. In the second case, it's very simple: it disappears. The first case is what Marx called for.
Let us return for a moment to the case of French agriculture. The permanent tensions reflect a system in which small independent farmers have become dependent as a result of mechanization and the use of fertilizers, but the State does not want to assume all the consequences and does support them only minimally in the practice, so as not to go against liberal dogma while avoiding massive disasters like in India. In fact, the state behaves a bit like a general practitioner who would only accept to treat a patient when his temperature exceeds 40 ° C. In other words, we are not trying to solve the problem, but just to contain the effects. If in the short term, it is a pragmatic attitude, in the long term, it becomes a dangerous game, because it contributes to the progressive deterioration of confidence, which builds the road to populism. However, it is the same attitude, hardly more determined, than that of the English government of the time described by Marx: "What strikes us therefore in the English legislation of 1867 is on the one hand the necessity imposed to the parliament of the ruling classes to adopt in principle such extraordinary measures and on such a large scale against the excesses of capitalist exploitation, and on the other hand the reluctance, repugnance and bad faith with which it in practice lent itself to it. » (1)

Regarding the second social disturbance, namely the imbalance of the negotiation power between the worker and the capitalist in favor of the second, here again, Marx's observation remains valid.
What should be understood is that the period which we call "the Glorious Thirties", and which we tend to regard as a golden age which should be regained, was not in fact the result of a progress in the management of the affairs of the State, but simply an indirect and temporary profit related to the war, and that therefore, the end of it was inevitable. In other words, as Thomas Piketty shows very well in The capital in the 21st century, the two world wars of the 21st century caused a temporary interruption in the natural course of capitalism, nothing more. From the 1980s, we gradually returned to something quite close to what we had known in the Belle Epoque, namely an imbalance in the distribution of wealth in favor of capital, accompanied by great precariousness of workers.
Let's take two examples.
First example: the evolution of the standard mode of development of business management software. In many companies, the IT manager is a collaborator that the CEO avoids facing. Indeed, the latter being a 'digital illiterate', he is not able, in fact, to effectively manage the organization of his business since it is based on software, of which he does not understand the ins and outs. Here, therefore, was a counterexample of what Marx describes, since the balance of the relationship was for once favorable to the worker. However, there has been a massive movement of outsourcing of IT development to external IT services companies (2), even delocalised IT services companies. This model is not effective, because the management software is at the heart of the organization of the company, of its culture, so outsourcing tends to amplify the gap between actual activity and what is developed. On the other hand, this brings power back to capital, because the programmers employed by the subcontractors are in fact more easily pressurable. IBM, a legendary company during the second half of the 20th century, has gradually shifted from an American company providing infrastructure and structuring its market, to an Indian IT services company managed by the stock market.
Second example: the 'Industry 4.0' concept (3). Once we remove the elements that fall under generalities or futurology, what remains? Not much, except the glorification of precariousness, based on examples of workers "free and independent" because they are able to adapt constantly. In this sense, Industry 4.0 is only one of the avatars of the general political discourse which no longer aims to solve the problems of precariousness, but to make the population accept precariousness, via a chosen vocabulary where we replace for example "precariousness" by "flexibility", and by concealing this primary intention in the midst of many other concepts, with the benefit of no longer even having to concede measures to limit the negative effects, contrary to what a direct discourse, such as flexicurity for example, imposes.

This brings us back quite naturally to the third social disturbance denounced by Marx. Indeed, a major source of the problem of precariousness is the instability of the capitalist economy. From the moment when changes are rapid, it is illusory to think, or to try to make believe, that the weakest will not be left behind.
Have things changed at this level? Certainly, following the 1929 crisis, we understood the importance of saving the situation by the intervention of the State when the liberal economy enters crisis, but we also understood with the Lehman Brothers case of 2008 that capitalism is irresponsible by nature, so that when the state saves the economy, it saves it globally, but it does not save those left behind, on the contrary: it accelerates inequality because the smarters and the less scrupulous take advantage of the transient disorder. We can also cite the Japanese experience of Lean manufacturing as described in the book The Machine That Changed the World which shows how a different organization of production has helped stabilize the Japanese economy for a time, with the key benefit of lifetime jobs. However, the Olympus case (4) proves that in the absence of a deeper transformation of the production system, the alternative model did not hold. It will be the object of this book to propose a more complete model.

Let us finish by examining what is becoming today the fourth social disturbance denounced by Marx, namely the increased pressure of colonization to ensure the supply of raw materials and the outlets for manufactured goods. On this point, we can clearly see a shift of the colonization model, from an English and French system where one drives the colonized  country from the metropolis, to an American system, where one simply intrigues behind the scenes to secure a favorable government. A perfect illustration is Françafrique. Does this change anything for populations? Is the natural resource curse over? Nothing seems less certain.
At this level, only Dien Xiaoping's China seems to mark a discontinuity compared to what Marx describes. However, it is a discontinuity which illustrates and confirms Marx's point rather than invalidating it. Indeed, it is because it has implemented a hybrid system with strong state control over the market economy that China has so far managed to no longer be a mere victim of the appetite for new markets by already industrialized countries.

The first assessment is that the four structural faults of the system denounced by Marx are still valid. Let us now define mode precisely what the system is. The "system" is in fact the combination of two elements: on the one hand, the main power held by the bourgeoisie, that is to say capital, as opposed to the aristocratic power of the Old regime or politics of the communist systems; on the other hand, the industrial revolution which makes productivity literally explode in certain areas.
Now let us note that these two aspects have been massively stacked again since the end of the XXᵉ century. Indeed, on the one hand, ultra-liberalism stemming from Friedman's economic theories conquered the United States and then Europe via England. In France, we have thus gone from an economy with a State driving the creation of champions (Nuclear, Aeronautics, TGV) and arbitrator of social dialogue under De Gaulle and Pompidou to an economy conforming to the European model where the State is content with role of policeman of the market, and precariousness, renamed flexibility, becomes again the social model considered as the most effective. On the other hand, we witnessed the second industrial revolution, that of computer science and robotics, with the same abrupt and massive gains in productivity, activity by activity.

Usually, what is called "second industrial revolution" corresponds to the advent of electricity, oil and the automobile, that is to say the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. In this book, we have considered that this is rather the continuation of the first industrial revolution, which is that of the engine which makes it possible to advantageously replace the physical capacities of humans in a good number of tasks. Conversely, what we have chosen to call here the second industrial revolution corresponds to the advent of information technology, which makes it possible to advantageously replace the mental capacities of humans in many tasks. In both cases, the replacement results in a such massive gain in productivity that humans cannot fight against machines.

The philosophical question emanating from progress

Let us now come to the central philosophical question posed by Marx: why does the abundance resulting from the explosion of productivity translates into an explosion of inequalities, resulting in a worsening of the living conditions of workers?

Let's start by understanding why this question suddenly became relevant, specifically in the time of Marx, and why it is becoming so again today. To do this, let's go back briefly to the period from Antiquity to the 16th century. What characterizes production is low productivity. This considerably restricts the number of viable social organization models. One would be to have only peasants and artisans, with no hierarchical structure above them. The problem with a community adopting such an organization is that, if it is located in an area that is somewhat favorable in terms of natural conditions, it will quickly be invaded by a neighboring group with military capabilities. So the minimum is either a community with all the individuals beeing either peasants and soldiers, or craftsmen and soldiers, which poses a probably insurmountable problem with the means of the time in terms of training, equipment, and defining the limits of the "all in solidarity" zone, or a community made up mainly of individuals employed in agriculture and crafts, to which is added a military caste. But the quality that prevails at the military level is rather brutality, which prepares poorly to manage internal problems, hence the addition of a third aristocratic or religious caste, often both. This is what is found in areas where the conditions of existence are favorable, from Antiquity to the sixteenth century. Once society is organized in this way, the only two major evils it encounters are natural disasters, famines and epidemics on the one hand, and invasion by an external empire on the other. And in fact, no one questions the merits of the system in its core principles, including various forms of slavery. What people hope is just to be able to climb up to the aristocratic class, so all that the system needs to put in place is what we call today a credible "social elevator", for example the emancipation of slaves among the Romans, or the ennoblement for acts of bravery, or other, in medieval society.

Everything changed in Marx's time, with industrialization, which made other organizations models possible by the simple fact that covering the basic needs of the population no longer necessarily occupies almost all of the available people. From then on, the traditional model of society was no longer self-evident. We can for example interpret the Civil War in the United States in this way: the north, which had started its industrialization, is ready to change its social model, the south which has remained in agricultural production not. In other words, a social organization involving slavery does not shock as long as it corresponds, with a few nuances, to an economic necessity, but becomes morally problematic for a certain number of individuals, therefore causes major social conflicts, as soon as it is no longer justified by natural constraints, and is not masked by distance. The same is true of extreme insecurity.
It is therefore not surprising that the second industrial revolution, the one of information technology and robotics, because of the new productivity surplus it allows, brings back to the fore the questioning concerning the relevance of our social model, as in the time of Marx.

To clarify the current relevance of the question posed by Marx, let's start by asking ourselves: the crisis of confidence in the system, which results in the rise of populism, is it? The result of the fact that everyone is asking the same question of relevance of the system as Marx, without necessarily doing it explicitly? The symptom of distrust of the elites as a social class? The result of an anemic functioning of the social elevator which serves as a stabilizer for any unequal society?
Several elements lead us to believe that we are witnessing above all a crisis of confidence in the relevance of the system to make everyone benefit from progress, and that the poor image of the elites as well as the weak functioning of the social elevator are just aggravating factors. First, the emergence of ecological sensitivity that combats the inability of the current system to preserve the future. Then, the observation that tolerance towards the four structural defects of capitalism noted by Marx has considerably diminished, in particular at the level of factory closings which are one of the consequences of capitalist instability. Finally, the observation that Europe, the ideal of brotherhood of peoples on a model of capitalist social organization, makes no longer people dream. Furthermore, the criticism commonly made of Europe, rightly or wrongly, of being technocratic and champion of liberalism, rather than of being corrupted, also tends to show distrust in the system more than in the political class.
As a summary, it seems to us that it is indeed the model of capitalist society, the undesirable effects of which were noted by Marx, which is no longer morally acceptable because of the new technological capacities resulting from the second industrial revolution, that had a side effect of raising the level of requirements vis-à-vis the social system.

Lack of shored solution

We have just seen that Marx is the thinker who poses the great philosophical question linked to the qualitative insufficiency of the social system, as a result of technological progress, and that this question has become hot again today, due to the second industrial revolution, that of computer science and robotics.
In a very general way, the resolution of a problem, here the qualitative insufficiency of the capitalist social organization, supposes four stages: to recognize the problem, to lead a correct analysis, to develop a relevant solution, and finally to implement it.
Let us first note that the majority of works, like the ones of Emile Zola, even today, are content to limit themselves to the first step, namely to observe and denounce. What makes Marx's work unique is that it covers the second stage by carrying out a detailed analysis, the main lines of which we have just reproduced. Let us now see what Marx offers at the third and fourth stages, namely the development of a solution and its implementation. For this, it is necessary to differentiate two Marx. That of the Communist Manifesto on the one hand, that of The Capital on the other hand.

At the level of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels simply recommend the class struggle, which must lead to the abolition of bourgeois property, that is to say in modern terms, a nationalized economy. This is the solution that was implemented in the USSR in the 20th century. However, the testimony of witnesses to the Russian revolution clearly shows that a dominant trait is unpreparedness, improvisation. All attention had been focused on catching power, not on theorizing of its subsequent exercise. In fact, once the power was conquered, because of the lack of preparation, one decided on new structures for the exercise of power, but just presupposed their relevance. Now, the naivety of the solution, and the lack of reflection concerning its implementation, can be traced back to Marx, and more precisely to the Communist Manifesto. In fact, if Marx does not seek to detail an operational system, it is probably because he presupposes that the shift of the main power from capital to politics is enough to make progress profitable for all. We will come back to this with more detail in Chapter 7.

If at the level of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels closely match the image that we associate with them via the word "Marxist", on the other hand, the solution worked out by Marx in The Capital corresponds more to what we today calls social democracy. Indeed, it is the regulation of labor and the market by the State, by means of the law. It is important to note that almost all of the current systems, from Communist China to Europe through the United States, correspond, at deferent degrees, to the application of the recommendations made by Marx in The Capital, namely regulating the savagery of the market through laws to promote education, and strengthening workers' rights over what they could get in a pure market economy. Indeed, in The Capital, Marx does not deal with the political system, democracy or autocracy. It simply deals with the relationship between free enterprise and the state. In the end, regarding the solution proposed in The Capital, Marx leaves us a mixed impression. On the one hand, his solution has become almost universal, but on the other, it remains at a level of generality which makes it almost ineffective since it boils down to a simple sentence: the State must regulate the market by law. In other words, here again, Marx is content with the solution of a simple concept, as opposed to the development of an alternative system. We will return to this point also in Chapter 7.

It remains to be clarified why in this chapter, we remained focused on the work of Marx, to the exclusion of the many other thinkers who theorized social organization in the 18th and 19th centuries. When tackling a delicate problem, the interest of the proposed solution is not only due to the rigor and the breadth of the reasoning, but also, and often much more to the way in which the problem was posed, formulated, and to the chosen way to approach it. However, it is precisely at this level that Marx innovates and differentiates itself from others. He starts from observations on the field, searches for the causes, then establishes a theory, where the others remain in observations like realistic novelists, or remain in the world of ideas like the philosophers of the lights.

In summary, Marx distinguishes himself from other thinkers by the fact that he is not content to denounce, but that he performs a relevant analysis of the functioning of capitalist society, and that moreover, what he observes remains true today. On the other hand, at the level of the development of a solution, and even more of its implementation, it remains very insufficient. It should be noted in his defense, that Marx did not have at his disposal the sociological tools to guide him in the development of a solution. These are the tools that we will discuss in the following chapters of this first part.


This sentence corresponds to Roy's translation, and revised by Marx himself, page 213.
In the version directed by Lefebvre edited by Quadrige / PUF in 1993, we find, page 555: "What is striking in this English legislation of 1867 is, on the one hand, the necessity made for this Parliament of dominant classes of admitting the principle of such extraordinary measures of such magnitude against the excesses of capitalist exploitation; and on the other hand the insufficiency, the bad will and the bad faith with which it passed to the realization of these measures. "

Software Engineering firm

The term 'Industry 4.0' designates a new way of imagining the means of production of the future, and the associated social organization. It seems to have appeared for the first time in 2011, at the World Industry Forum in Hanover. The 4, refers to a 4th industrial revolution.

The Olympus affair is a financial scandal which broke out following the company's attempt to conceal losses linked to speculative investments made in the 1990s. What is revealing here is the difference in perception of this affair, in the West and in Japan. For the West, what predominates is the financial scandal, and therefore the incomprehension in the face of the attitude of Japanese leaders who seem at the same time eager to get out of it, and incapable of assuming the facts, which is probably misinterpreted as a form of corporatism. On the other hand, for the Japanese, what is most serious is the breach of the social contract that this scandal reveals. Indeed, the Lean social contract presupposes a search for stability, in order to be able to guarantee lifetime jobs. So what is most serious in this case from the Japanese point of view is not so much the loss itself, but the simple fact of having participated in the crazy financial speculation of the 1990s.