Class history and theory: capitalism and communism in the USSR - review by Paresh Chattopadhyay

Paresh Chattopadhyay's review of Stepen Resnick's book on the USSR, analysing the Soviet experience in terms of class.

Submitted by libcom on July 27, 2005

CLASS THEORY AND HISTORY: CAPITALISM AND COMMUNISM IN THE USSR, Stephan A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff; New York and London: Routledge, 2002

Reviewed by Paresh Chattopadhyay

The book under review is not just one more addition to the numerous works on the USSR that have so far appeared in print. This is an unusual work. It attempts to analyse the whole soviet experience (1917-1990) in terms of 'class,' derived from Marx. According to the authors the USSR was all along a "state form of capitalism." The Bolsheviks had simply replaced pre-1917 "private capitalism" with "state capitalism."

I. The Argument

The authors distinguish their kind of class analysis from the rest of such analysis. Contrary to the latter which, they say, advances their class analysis in terms of property and/or power, their own class analysis is grounded in Marx's concept of `surplus,' its production, appropriation and distribution involving different groups - `classes' - in all societies (pp. X-XI). The organisation of the whole process constitutes "society's class structure." A "communist class structure" is one where production and appropriation of surplus are effected by the same group of people - unlike in other class societies - but still the distribution of surplus brings in a different group of people who simply receive a part of the surplus without being involved in the first two processes - constituting a different class. Let it be noted that in their class analysis the authors are guided by what they call the "Marxian notion of over-determination," that is, all aspects of society conditioning and shaping one another (pp. IX, XIV, 9). Given more than one class in communism - "two groups of people" in fact as mentioned earlier - communism is neither `classless' nor without `class conflict.' In fact the second group is paid a part of the surplus in order to perform various "non class processes" so as to sustain the communist society (pp. 14, 15, 16). The authors distinguish communism from socialism. Unlike communism, socialism is not a distinct class process, with its own form of producing, appropriating and distributing surplus (pp. 76-77).

After putting across their notion of `communism' the authors turn to `capitalism' where they are basically concerned with `state capitalism.' The latter they "define" as "capitalist process of producing, appropriating and distributing surplus, consisting of and interacting with processes that place state officials in the class position of appropriators and distribution of surplus" (p. 85). For the authors the USSR displays a `state capitalism' rather than some other kind of exploitative class structure. In the USSR collective property replaced private property in the means of production, and plan replaced market which, however, did not eliminate workers' exploitation (pp. 90-97). They also discuss different kinds of `state capitalism' in Lenin and summarize the basic alternative theories of state capitalism (particularly) with respect to the USSR) (Ch. 4 passim).

In their historical part they first discuss the class situation in the pre-1917 Russia in order to show how what they call the "1917 revolution" arose out of the existing multiple and contradictory class structures of the country (1861-1917) which presented essentially a combination of `feudal," `ancient' and `capitalist' class structures where "Communist class structures" lay almost completely outside the experience of pre-1917 Russia" (p. 144). In their account of the post-1917 period, based on standard `western' sources, they argue that the "1917 revolution" at first simply displaced private capitalism in industry with state capitalism and, in agriculture, eliminated private capitalism with a vast number of small farmers. The NEP led to the re-emergence of private capitalist farms. However, with the exception of "communist class structures generated by collectivitization of the late 1920s, exploitation remained a significant reality of soviet agriculture" (p. 157). As regards the soviet households, they retained "mostly feudal and significant ancient class structures." Soviet workers in fields and factories and at home "did not free themselves from class exploitation" (p. 157). After the NEP the stat capitalist class structure of industry returned to a more centralized form. The collectivization of agriculture established communist class structures (particularly in agriculture). However, the state's subsequent policies did much to undermine them (p. 256). Finally, while the "1917 revolution" had eliminated private in favour of state capitalism, towards the end, in the 1980s, it was state capitalism that was in decay. "The crises reversed the direction of 1917: the last transition went from state back to private capitalism" (p. 281).

This unusual work, closely argued, raises many important - particularly theoretical - issues which deserve careful discussion. In what follows our focus mostly will be on theoretical issues, the most challenging in the book. However, given the space limit, we propose to take up only some of them (naturally arbitrarily).

II. Marx on Capitalism - A particular Reading

Most of the theoretical discussion in the book concerns the authors' very original ideas about surplus and class and, connected therewith, their innovative notion of "communist class structure." However, before we come to have a look at those interesting ideas, it is, perhaps, only proper to say a few words about the authors' view on Marx's approach to capitalism.

According to the authors, Marx's analysis of capitalism "concentrated on the particular kind of capitalism dominant in his day," that is "private capitalism" to "understand" which he devised his value formula (c + v + s = w) (pp. 13, 86, 171). To support this contention they refer to the well-known opening lines of Capital about the capitalist "wealth" consisting of an "immense accumulation of commodities" where "individual commodity appears as its elementary form." They interpret this as meaning the "exchange of privately owned and produced commodities." Unfortunately we do not agree with this reading of Marx. To start with, Marx's subject in Capital is the "enquiry into the capitalist mode of production and corresponding relations of circulation" with a view to "discovering the law of motion of the modern society" (1962a: 12, 15-16). It is a question of capital as such independently of the specific juridical form of ownership, whether `private' or `public' (state). In fact in his manuscript for Capital vol. 3 composed before Capital vol. 1 Marx himself takes full account of the evolution of capital's ownership form, entirely dictated by the demands of capital accumulation, till a stage is reached where capital remains no longer "private" and becomes "directly social" signifying the "abolition of capital as private property within the limits of the capitalist mode of production itself" (1964a: 452; 1992: 502; emphasis in the manuscript, not in Engels edition).

On the other hand, virtually neglected by Marx's partisans as well as by his detractors and, needless to add, totally unrecognizeded by the bourgeois jurisprudence, private ownership of capital has another and more profound sense in Marx - beyond individual private ownership either by household or by corporation. In this sense capital is always private property even when it is under `public' (state) property. In this sense Marx speaks of the objective conditions of labour becoming capital when, separated from the immediate producers and confronting them as an "autonomous power," they are "monopolised by a part of society" as "private property of a part of society" (1956: 21; 1964a: 823; 1992: 843). They become "class property" of the capitalist class (see 1966b: 71, 73; 1971: 75). Private ownership in capital can disappear only with capital itself. Only when the conditions of production are collectively appropriated by the associated producers themselves.

As regards the "individual commodity as the elementary form of the capitalist wealth," the "individual commodity" here does not necessarily mean "privately owned and produced commodities" as the authors contend (our emphasis). When Marx speaks of commodity as a product of "private labour," "private" here does not necessarily mean juridical private ownership. "Private" here means non directly social labour "operating independently of each other" (1962a: 87). This completely fits in with "commodity" being produced by the "State" itself as "the capitalist producer" where this commodity "possesses the specific character of every other commodity" (Marx 1962c: 370).

The authors say that "Marx nowhere argued that capitalist exploitation must always exist with commodities and markets" (p. 86). One could turn their contention and say, on the basis of Marx's texts, that Marx nowhere argued that capitalism could exist without commodities and everywhere argued that capitalism is simply generalized commodity production (with labour power necessarily appearing as a commodity). Indeed, while commodity (and markets) could, indeed, exist in the absence of capitalism (as in pre-capitalist societies), the existence of commodities there is only concerned with a part of society's products. Only in capitalism all or most of the products of labour assume commodity form. In pre-capitalism use value and not exchange value dominates production where what is exchanged is basically the surplus of production beyond the producer's immediate self-satisfaction. The aim of production is use value, not exchange value. However, "the (capitalist's) determining aim is not use value and enjoyment, but exchange value and its expansion." The "capitalist" indeed, is the "fanatical agent of valorization" (1962a: 618; 1965: 1095). As Marx says: "To produce commodities does not distinguish the capitalist mode of production from other modes of production, but rather that commodity is the dominant and determining character of its product. This immediately implies that the labour is only a seller of commodity and thus a free wage labourer" (1964a: 886; 1992: 897). Marx underlined in his Urtext (1858): "To wish that exchange value will not develop from commodity and money into capital, or that labour, producing exchange value, will not develop into wage labour is as pious as it is absurd" (1953: 916).

III. Surplus Approach to Class in Relation to Marx

It is the authors' great merit to have brought (back) what constituted one of the central ideas of the classical political economy, later revolutionized by Marx's `critique' (to be subverted soon by the marginalist `counter revolution' in [bourgeois] political economy) namely, notion of `class' in relation to `surplus' (labour) with which they undertake to analyse the Russian society of the period 1917-1918, by quite properly calling their approach a "surplus theory of class" (p. IX). In this they affirm their Marx heritage and sharply distinguish their approach from that of the dominant `Marxism' which, they say, not without reason, has left aside the surplus (labour) approach in favour of property/power approach to class in order to analyze the (ex)soviet society. They should be praised for this innovative treatment of the question.

Right at the beginning of their book they assert that they base their analysis on the "unique surplus labour notion of class offered by Marx" (p. 8). However, this affirmation is not, we are afraid, without problems. In their approach they "define class" exclusively in terms of surplus (labour) - how society organises production, appropriation and distribution of surplus (p. XI). Stated in this way, their "surplus theory of class" does not seem to cross the bounds of the surplus approach to class of the great bourgeois political economists, particularly, Quesnay and Ricardo, and covers only a part of Marx's approach, leaving aside Marx's specific contribution to this question compared to all his predecessors. It is well known that Marx had no part in inventing (discovering) the notions (of the reality) of `surplus' and `class' (and their connection) which he found already more or less elaborated by his great predecessors (economists and historians). Marx's (own) specific contribution in this area lies elsewhere. This contribution comes from his absolutely revolutionary materialist method, pertaining to what he calls the "new materialism" as opposed both to idealism and to the "old materialism" which went before him (and Engels) that is, including Feuerbach's, and whose standpoint is proclaimed as "human society or social humanity," not "bourgeois society," as with "old materialism" (Point 10 of the so-called `Theses' on Feuerbach, 1845). This materialism, as the "materialist conception of the world" or the materialist "conception of history" (hereafter MCH), rather inexactly called `historical materialism' (the term never used by Marx), was first fairly well elaborated in the German Ideology (1845-46) and later found its classic expression in Marx's much misunderstood magisterial `Preface' to the Contribution (1859), then explicitly reiterated by him, even calling it "my method" and the "only scientific method" in Capital I (1962a: 25, 96, 393).

This method centers on the way, the `mode' (Weise) in which people in a particular society produce and reproduce their "material life." Thereby this materialist method lends a profoundly historical sense to social-economic categories, making them "historical" and not "eternal" (contrary, particulary, to the method of the bourgeois political economy). Now, surplus (labour) arises in the process of production within a particular mode of production and is integrally connected with what Marx calls the "social relations of production." And it is precisely the ,social relations of production which find expression antagonistically in classes in a class society. "The specific economic form in which the unpaid surplus labour is pumped out of the immediate producers determines the relation of lordship and bondage as it results directly from production itself and in its turn appears (erscheinend) as determining it. It is on this that the whole form of the economic community, born out of the production relations themselves, . . . is based" (Marx 1992: 732, 1964: 799). The mode of production, to which correspond the relations of production and classes arising therefrom, together with the mode of obtaining surplus (labour) from the immediate producers are all historically specific to particular, historically evolved societies. Indeed, in his much quoted letter to Weydemeyer (1852) one of Marx's originalities in relation to class analysis is affirmed as his "proof" that the existence of classes is bound up with the historical stages of the development of production. Now, as regards surplus (labour), in all class societies, in general, "wherever a part of society possesses a monopoly of the means of production the labourer has to add surplus labour time to the labour time necessary for her/his self sustenance in order to create surplus for the possessor of the means of production" (Marx 1962a: 249). However, this statement, valid for all class societies throughout the "pre-history of human society" - in the specific sense of Marx (1859) (greatly modified when the humanity enters its proper "history," as we shall note in a moment) - does not indicate which specific class society it is referring to. Hence Marx's more specific statement: "It is only the mode through which surplus labour is imposed on and extorted from the immediate producer that distinguishes the different economic forms of society, slavery, for example, from the society of wage labour" (1962a: 231). Following the MCH, in the absence of any explicit reference to the specificity of the mode of production and the corresponding (social) relations of production, and the specific mode of obtaining the surplus connected therewith, any discussion of class and surplus as such remains a-historical and, at best, incomplete. The authors under consideration, in their discussion of the surplus theory of class, - highly innovative in itself - seem to abstract altogether from the question of mode of production and corresponding relations of production together with the specific mode (following therefrom) of obtaining the surplus labour which lie at the center of Marx's "materialist conception of the world." Far from ascribing the "conditions of existence of classes" to the "non class aspects of social life," as the authors do (p. 43), MCH, on the contrary, seeks to find the `conditions of existence of classes' in what Marx calls the "economic conditions," the "economic foundations," the "economic structure of society," that is, the "mode of production of material life and the relations of production following therefrom" (Marx 1972a: p. 350; 1962a: 96). Put tersely, "classes are based on the relations of production" (Marx 1973c: 89). Similarly Engels in 1878: "the classes of society . . . are always the products of the relations of production and circulation, in a word, the economic relations of their epoch" (1962: 25, emphasis in text).

Making surplus necessarily associated with class, they cannot, quite consistently with their own logic, see how surplus can exist in a society without classes. However, with all their internal consistency, problems do arise when they bring in Marx as almost supporting their position. Thus they write: "Marx wrote extensively on class in terms of surplus, he said little about either the dictatorship of the proletariat or classlessness" (p. 71). While the first part of the statement, as noted earlier, is, at best, an incomplete representation of Marx's (own) specific contribution to the surplus-and-class question, the second part tends to ignore Marx's entire theory and practice concerning the emancipation of the proletariat - beginning in early 1840s and ending with his life itself - with which his idea of a classless "union of free individuals" (1962a: 92-93), after the demise of capital, is intimately connected. (We leave aside for the moment the question of the proletarian dictatorship). Even when, to affirm his position, Marx did not have to repeat everywhere - like a `mantra' - `classless society' as the configuration of society after capital, there are a sufficient number of his texts which explicitly refute our authors' contention. Marx's logic is straightforward. For him the existence of classes in a society - the lot of "humanity's pre-history" till now - signifies an unfree society - whether the individual's unfreedom is (predominantly) "personal" (subjective) - including patriarchy - as under slavery or serfdom or it is (predominantly) "material" (objective) as under capital (through "commodity fetishism" and "wage slavery"). And the bourgeois relations of production - obviously including classes under capital - are the "last antagonistic form of social production process" (Marx 1980: 101). (Let us note that for Marx classes exist only in mutual antagonism.) Now we turn to some of Marx's (own) texts.

In one of the first polemical works written jointly by Marx (mostly) and Engels (1845) we read: "The proletariat will triumph only by abolishing itself and by abolishing its opposite" (1972b: p. 38). Given that the work basically speaks of only two opposing classes - the "possessing class" and the "proletarian class" (1972b: p. 38) - the sentence cited could only mean the `abolition of classes.' In the very next major work (1845-46) - where, as we earlier noted, the MCH is first fully elaborated - we find en toutes lettres the expression: the "communist revolution" as "abolishing the domination of all the classes" and as "abolishing the classes themselves" (1973b: pp. 69-70). About a year later Marx affirms that the "condition of emancipation (affranchissement) of the labouring class is the abolition of every class" (1965: 136). The Manifesto, shortly afterwards, speaks of the "disappearance of class differences (Klassenunterschiede) in course of the movement" and of the proletariat, as the "ruling class," "abolishing classes in general and therewith its own domination as a class" (Marx and Engels: 1966b: p. 77). Two years later in his Class Struggles in France (1950) Marx declared the "class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transition point towards the abolition of class differences in general" (Abschaffung der Klassenuntershiede überhaupt) (1973c: p. 89; emphasis in text). A few years later, in his 1857-58 manuscripts, Marx wrote about the necessity of the presence, in a latent state, in society of the "material conditions of production and corresponding relations of circulation for a society without classes" for the success of "any attempt at exploding the society" (1953: 77). Again in the Statutes of the First International - composed by Marx - we read about the struggle for the "emancipation of the working class" aimed at the "abolition of all class régime" (General Council of 1964, p. 420). Similarly in the `Afterword' to the second edition of Capital (1873) Marx famously wrote about the ultimate "abolition of classes" as the "historical mission of the proletariat" (1962a: 25) In his `Address' on the Paris Commune (1871) Marx wrote of the "class struggles through which the working classes strive for the abolition of classes" (1971: 156). Then in the Gothakritik Marx reaffirmed the "abolition of class distinctions (Abschaffung der Klassenunterschiede)" leading to the "disappearance of all the social and political inequality itself arising from them" (1966b: 184).

IV. Communism: Utopian and Class Based

Quite consistently with their own logic, our authors qualify classless communism as "utopian" (11) (and not they alone!) which naturally would include Marx-envisaged communism, following from our demonstration above (based on Marx's own texts). By using the same term for classless communism in general that Marx and Engels had used about their socialist `utopian' predecessors like St. Simon, Fourier, Owen, the authors seem to obscure a basic difference between the two approaches. Marx (and Engels) definitely did not call these socialists `utopians' simply because they had earlier envisaged the society after capital as classless. Their systems, qualified by the Communist Manifesto as "authentically socialist and communist," developed at a period when the proletariat was only in its embryonic stage, far from having as yet its own political movement and in a situation where the material conditions of their emancipation - the product of capitalism itself - were lacking. Hence their systems would have no real base in the society itself and therefore could only be the product of their will and imagination unconnected with the adequate subjective and objective conditions for a revolutionary transformation of the capitalist society. A contrario, the Manifesto praises them for their "positive formulae about the future society" which anticipated, among other things, the abolition of wage labour, of state, and the disappearance of class antagonisms (1966b: 84-85). Years later Marx would add that the "ends of the movement proclaimed by the utopians are the ends proclaimed by the Paris Revolution and by the International" (1971: 165-66).

A perusal of Marx's own texts - the most telling ones selectively taken - again, would show how unlike the `utopians,' he did not derive his projected classless society (after capital) just from his head and how he argued that its appearance required proper material conditions as its basis - the conditions created by past history. Overtly taking an anti-idealist position he wrote as early as 1844: "We will not proceed in the old German way - in the way of Hegel's Phenomenology . . . To supersede the idea of private property, communism as thought is wholly sufficient. To supersede real private property there has to be a real communist action. This will come out of history" (1966a: 116; emphasis in text). About a year later, while elaborating their MCH, he and Engels wrote: "communism is not . . . an ideal to which the reality has to conform. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the pre-condition (Voraussetzung) existing at present" (1973b: 35, emphasis in text). (The same work clearly proclaims the "abolition of classes," as we showed earlier.) Engels in his polemic with Karl Heinzen (October, 1847) put the matter lucidly: "communism is not a doctrine, but a movement. Its point of departure is facts, not principles. The communists do not have as their prerequisite this or that philosophy but the whole history of the past and above all the present day real results in the civilized lands . . .. In so far as it is theoretical, communism is the theoretical expression of the position of the proletariat in the class struggles with the bourgeoisie and the theoretical résumé of the conditions of liberation of the proletariat" (1972a: pp. 321-22). In the same year, one month later, Marx takes over the same idea from Engels and writes: "In so far as communism is a theory, it is the theoretical expression of a `movement'" (1972a: 357). And the very next year the Communist Manifesto famously observes: "The theoretical conceptions of the communists are in no way based on ideas, principles, discovered or invented by such and such world reformer. They only express, in general terms, the real condition of the class struggle which exist, of a historical movement which is going on before our eyes" (1966b: 70). In his 1857-58 manuscripts Marx underlines that "universally developed individuals whose social relations would be subject to their own collective control as personal and common relations (that is, the communist collectivity) are a product of history" (1953: 79). And "if, in the society as it is, the natural conditions of production and the corresponding relation of circulation for a classless society do not already exist in a latent (verhüllt) state, all attempts at exploding the society would be Don Quixotism" (1953: 77). Then in Capital we read that a "union of free individuals" requires "a whole set of material conditions of existence which can only be the naturally grown product of a long and painful development" (1962c: 92, 94). In his `Address' on the Commune (1871) Marx insists: "The workers have no ideals to realise, but to set free the elements of the new society with which the old collapsing bourgeois society is pregnant" (1971: 76, our emphasis). The same biological metaphor we find in the Gothakritik where we read that the "communist society comes out of the womb of the capitalist society through prolonged birth pangs" (1966b: 178, 179).

Now a word about Marx's allegedly saying "little about the dictatorship of the proletariat" (the book, p. 71). True, if we take the particular term itself, the frequency of its use in Marx's texts is not high. But - what is more important - if we take the concept behind the term, that is, if we take proletarian dictatorship (PD for short) conceived as - and this is what it is - the absolute class rule of the proletariat (constituting the "immense majority"), then it is clear from Marx's writings that for him it is an integral part of the proletarian revolution towards establishment of a "union of free individuals." PD is, indeed, nothing but the "conquest of political power by the proletariat" - the "conquest of democracy" - only as a "first step," as the Manifesto asserts, towards ultimately revolutionising the whole bourgeois mode of production beginning from which `moment' all political power ceases to exist. This (class) `dictatorship' is all the more necessary for the proletariat because, unlike the bourgeoisie which (in its revolutionary process) already undermines the pre-bourgeois social relations long before overturning the existing political power, thus "ensuring its already acquired (shon erworbene) position by subjecting the whole society to the conditions of its appropriation," the proletariat has to start its revolution by conquering its own political power as preparation towards ultimately abolishing the bourgeois mode of production (1966b: 68). A couple of years before the Manifesto spoke of the necessity of conquest of political power by the proletariat, Marx and Engels affirmed, it seems for the first time, as the "conditions" for "abolition of all the old forms of society and of domination in general," the necessity for the proletariat to "conquer political power" (1973b: 34). In 1850 Marx uses, for the first time, the term itself appearing twice in the same work - "dictatorship of the working class" and "class dictatorship of the proletariat" (1973c: 33, 85). Then, of course, we have, two years later, the famous letter to Weydemeyer (which our authors have partially cited) repeating some of the language of this book. Some years later, in his `Inaugural Address' (1864) to the First international as well as in its statutes drafted by him Marx reaffirms that the "great task of the labouring classes is the conquest of political power" in order to prevent the privileged classes from "defending and perpetrating their economic monopolies" (General Council 1964: 426). In the Gothakritik Marx returns to the exact term in question: "revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat" presiding over the "revolutionary transformation period" (1966b: 186; emphasis in text).

V. Two Concepts of Communism

Our authors claim that their "concept of communism" is elaborated on the basis of Marx's class analysis as a "distinct non exploitative communist class structure," that theirs is a "new Marxian view of communism," that "Marx provided the analytical basis for as well as gestured towards this class notion of communism" (pages IX, 5, 14-15; emphasis in text). This is of course a society "without exploitation" because the same people who produce the surplus collectively are also its collective appropriators. However, this is a society "with classes and class surplus "inasmuch as besides the producers - appropriators of the surplus, there exists a second group receiving distribution from the first to perform various "non-class processes" - involving political, administrative, cultural and other activities - to sustain the communist class structure. These two groups constitute "different communist class positions" (pages 14-15). They affirm that "Marx criticized the Gothic Programme . . . because it neglected the non-class processes" and that "Marx viewed such processes as necessary to sustain a communist class structure" (p. 46). They assert that societies with communist class structure may exhibit varying political forms ranging from those that are fully democratic in nature to those that are clearly despotic, they may display property ownership ranging from fully collective to the very private. The mechanisms of distribution in these societies may range from "full scale central planning to private markets including markets for labour power and means of production" (p. 10). While dismissing communism as a classless society, they very much positively envisage a communist society having categories like "values, surplus values and profit rates" - prefacing them with the attribute "communist administered" - as well as market in labour power commodity" "sold" for "wages," that is, "market communism" or "generalized communist commodity production," all this occurring within a "communist state," non state communism not being excluded though (pages 34, 39, 60, 63, 93).

To what extent is this portrait of communism related to Marx's? To answer this question it might be helpful to have a summary glance of the future society as it appears in Marx's texts, read carefully. Even though Marx refused to write a "cookbook" for the future society, there are, spread all over his writings enough materials for offering us a fair idea of the kind of society that he thought would succeed capital. Here we try to present an aperçu drawing on what we consider as Marx's most important texts on the subject.

To start with, the fundamental point of the Marx-envisaged society after capital which informs Marx's theoretical (and practical militant) work all his adult life is the immense emancipatory perspective (for the humanity) in which communism is placed through the abolition of capital. The whole process - which is "epochal," not momentary (like a `seizure of power') - starts with the working class self-emancipatory revolution, given the adequate material conditions for such revolution prepared by capital itself through its self-annihilating contradictions. It passes through a "long, painful" "revolutionary transformation period," "changing circumstances and individuals" in preparation for the future "Association." After the workers have in course of the transformation period, largely eliminated (though not yet all the vestiges of) the existing elements of the old society such as classes, private ownership of the means of production, state, commodity production, wage labour, but carrying over all the "acquisitions of the capitalist era," a new mode of production comes into existence - the Associated Mode of Production (AMP) the basis of the new society, "society of free and associated producers" - as opposed to all the earlier modes. Corresponding to the AMP there is a new mode of appropriation of the conditions of production - collective appropriation by society (of producers) itself, totally different from earlier private appropriation - either household/corporate or `public' (state), where the ownership in either form had appeared to the producers as an oppressive configuration autonomously standing against the producers. Similarly, the mode of distribution in the new society corresponds to the new mode of production. Here, with the collective appropriation of the conditions of production and directly social labour, neither the allocation of labour time (across the different branches of production as well as between society's necessary and disposable labour time) nor the distribution of society's total product with regard to reserves and enlarged reproduction requirements as well as personal consumption need to be mediated by money-commodity-wage form - the enslaving elements of the old society. The producers after being separated from the conditions of production - their own creation - under capital are now (re)unified with them "at a higher level," and, with the mutual alienation between individuals of the earlier era eliminated, there is now the unmediated union of individuals who are all simple producers (after ceasing to be proletarians). Individuals cease to be subject to "personal dependence" (as under pre-capitalism) as well as to "material (objective) dependence" (as under capitalism) and as universally developed "social individuals," gain "free individuality." Inasmuch as the proletariat constitute the immense majority, being at the same time the lowest class in society in the "last antagonist social form," the rest of society is naturally emancipated along with the proletariat. The humanity enters its history leaving its "pre-history" behind (1932: 536; 1953: 77, 78, 635, 636; 1962a: 92, 93, 109-10, 419, 790-91; 1962b: 312; 1964: 456, 621, 828; 1965: 136; 1966b: 77, 177-78; 1971: 75; 1972c: 159, 185-86; 1973a: 358; 1973b: 67-68; 1976: 236, 327; 1988: 129; 1992: 504, 662, 838).

Now we return to the question of the relation between the two configurations of communism - our authors' in relation to Marx's. From our earlier discussion we know that for Marx (and Engels) communism is a "historical movement," a process of long and painful revolutionary transformation leading to the advent of a new society, a "union of free individuals." As regards our authors, in order to focus on class and surplus aspect of communism, they seem to have abstracted from the entire revolutionary transformation process (including the necessary material conditions) towards its realisation as well as the emancipatory implications of the new society. Apart from this consideration if we take the two communist societies as such, portrayed by the two sides, there seems to be almost nothing in common between them excepting the term `communism.' So it is not at all clear how we should view our authors' claim that this is a "new Marxian view of communism" or that their "class notion of communism" is Marx based. On the contrary, if one works within Marx's conceptual framework concerning `commodity,' `capital,' `wage labour' which we might suppose our authors do - then the conclusion is inescapable that some of their possible communist forms are simply forms of capital. "Generalised commodity production" and "wage labour" (they are really equivalent categories) - in Marx's conceptual framework - are simply two different names for the same `beast' - capital, even if they are qualified as `communist' (and `socialist' as with the `market socialists'). To anyone with even partial familiarity with Marx's texts this should be too clear to require any demonstration.

Before proceeding further let us briefly note a second specific reading by our authors of a text by Marx (the first reading, as we discussed earlier, concerns Marx's letter to Weydemyer 1852). This second reading concerns the Gothakritik regarding the communist society. They write: "Marx criticised the Gotha Programme . . . because it neglected the non class processes. He viewed such processes as necessary to sustain a communist class structure" (p. 46). This is, again, we submit, a very problematic reading of Marx's text, to say the least. First of all, Marx is explicit in the text itself of this society's classlessness even in its `lower' phase. Of course this society characterized as "cooperative" (genossenschaftliche) would automatically exclude classes. Still, regarding the right of the producers being proportional to the labour they supply, Marx specifically affirms that even though this equal right is really unequal for unequal labour, "it recognizes no class differences because everyone is a worker like everyone else (Es erkennt keine Klassenunterschiede an, weil jeder nur Arbeiter ist wie der andre) (1966b: 979). Again, Marx criticised the Programme's formula "removal of all social and political inequality" and suggested the correction: "with the abolition of class differences (Abshaffung der Klassenunterschiede) all the social and political inequality springing therefrom vanishes of itself" (1966b: 184). Hence there is no question of "communist class structure" here. In a sense everything in this society belongs to or is a "non-class process" simply because there are no classes at all. As regards Marx's criticism of the Programme referred to by the authors, what Marx criticises the programme for - among many other things - is rather not to have taken account of the use of the society's total product besides personal consumption of the labourers and questions the Lassallean notion of distribution allowing each labourer the `undiminished fruit' of individual labour without providing for the common (social) needs such as reserve and insurance funds, resources for the extension of society's productive apparatus, provision for those unable to work. Basically the same ideas appear in Marx's other texts - non polemically - antedating the Gothakritik (see Marx 1962a: 93; 1964: 883; 1992: 893-94). Thus, however favourable such a reading of Marx's Lassalle critique may appear to be for the authors' own position (like their reading of Marx's letter of 1852), it is simply not warranted by Marx's text as we read it.

Even apart from the question of Marx connection, there is a problem within the authors' model of communism itself. Their notion of communism according to them, we know, is a society without exploitation inasmuch as the same group of people produce and appropriate the surplus. However the authors also posit the possibility of forms of communism - as we saw earlier - with workers selling their labour power as a commodity and receiving their revenue as wage. If this is the case, does this society remain communist in the authors' original sense (being non exploitative)? Labourers sell their labour power because, separated from the conditions of production, they can, in order to survive, only dispose of their unique asset, the labour power, to the possessors of those conditions, against wages in order to produce, besides their own subsistence, a surplus for its appropriation by the non possessors of the conditions of production. Thus there arise at least two antagonistic classes - the producers and the appropriators/distributors of surplus. The society in question is thus exploitative and not communist on the authors' own terms. However on another point regarding their communism, they are internally quite consistent even though, here again, there is a great difference between their approach and Marx's (and Engels's). This concerns the question of the existence of surplus (labour) in a classless society. It goes without saying, given the authors' position that surplus (labour) is invariably associated with class and vice versa, if there is a classless society - which, of course, they discount as utopia - it must have to be without surplus. "In a classless society no division between necessary and surplus exists. (Here) production, appropriation, distribution of surplus disappear" (p. 72). However if "in all societies one part of the population (workers) . . . produce a quantity of output . . . which always exceeds the portion returned to this part" and the "surplus" goes first to the appropriators who then distribute "portions of this surplus" to the rest of society (p. XI; emphasis added), then, by definition classless society is inexistent.

The ideas of Marx (and Engels) on this question are very different. From their point of view - entirely based on their MCH - whether an association exists between surplus (labour) and class depends entirely on how this surplus is obtained. Only when surplus labour - producing the surplus - is "imposed on and extorted (abgepresst)" from the immediate producer (Marx 1962a: 231; 1965: 770. The term "imposed" was added in the French version), we have this association, which has been largely the case with the human society till now. Again, given this association, what specific form this association takes depends entirely on the specific mode of extorting this surplus - distinguishing, e.g., a slave society from a bourgeois society - in other words, on the specificity of the (social) relations of production on which classes are based. We earlier saw that our authors do not bring (at least not explicitly) into their surplus-and-class analysis the question of relations of production nor the latter's historical specificity, the central aspect of the MCH. If (on the other hand) the producers themselves collectively dominate the conditions of production (and appropriation) - which is the case with the AMP "under the conscious, planned control of the freely socialised (vergesellschafteter) individuals" (in the French version "freely associated men acting consciously (and as) masters of their own social movement") (Marx 1962a: 94; 1965: 614) - then surplus continues to be produced by surplus labour which is no longer "pumped out" as "unpaid surplus labour" (Marx 1964: 799; 1992: 732) by the non producers, then we have surplus without classes. One could see in different texts of Marx (and Engels) the discussion of surplus in the future society (after capital) which is always considered classless. This, as we just saw, is palpable in the Gothakritik with its discussion of the division of the total social product of the (classless) communist society at its `lower' phase into the part satisfying the immediate consumption needs of the producers - corresponding to `necessary' labour - and the part satisfying requirements of enlarged reproduction of the productive apparatus, society's insurance and reserve funds and the consumption needs of society's members who are unable to work - the part corresponding to surplus labour. Similar ideas also appear elsewhere (see, among others, 1962a: 93; 1964: 828, 883; 1992: 838, 893-94). Here is a succinct statement from Engels: "A surplus of labour product beyond the cost of subsistence of labour and the formation and extension of society's production and reserve fund out of this surplus was and is the foundation of all further social, political and intellectual development. Till now in history this fund was the possession (Besitztum) of a privileged class to whose lot also fell, thanks to this possession, the political domination and intellectual leadership. Only the coming social revolution will really make social this production and reserve fund, that is, the entire mass of raw materials, instruments of production and subsistence, by taking away the disposition from the privileged class and transferring it to the whole society as the common property (Gemeingut)" (1962: 180).

The most original and innovative part of the book concerns the class based analysis of the Russian (soviet) household - particularly the accent on the basically unchanging exploitative situation of women in the Russian households after 1917. We do not know any other work on Russia based on `household class structure' which is so thoroughgoing. And our authors deserve high praise for that. In fact, to the great credit of the authors, the preoccupation with the situation of women very importantly informs their book. Bringing the class analysis right inside the household, not even Marx attempted this, though Marx had proposed emancipatory ideas on women - unsurpassed by any other thinker that we know - based on his severe analysis of women's oppression/exploitation under patriarchy (right from his 1844-45 writings to his Ethnological Notebooks at almost the end of his life, though unfortunately the authors do not mention this while speaking of the `Marxist' ideas, beginning with Engels, on the situation of women).

Consistently with their ideas on class and surplus the authors hold that the soviet policy proceeded without reference to the direct and often antagonistic class relations between men and women in relation to household production. Quite rightly they emphasize that in spite of improvements in several aspects of women's lives (education, formal equality, etc.) the eventual policy decision affirmed that the best course was to upon "the family," soviet policy thereby endowing and reinforcing the traditional household structures inherited from pre-revolutionary Russia (188-89, 197).

Though the authors should undoubtedly be praised for bringing to the fore the women's question under continuing male domination, their concept of `household class (structure)' still poses a small problem. If, to use a phrase of Marx (though he had no concept of `household class'), there is the "slavery of the family members by the head of the family . . . using and exploiting them" (1988: 134), then the non-producing appropriating-distributing (that is, exploiting) `class' is reduced to a single individual of the household, assuming that each household is an autonomous family-unit. In the case of a two-member (male-female) household, each single individual would constitute a class - exploiting or exploited. Only in the case of a single member household combining all the three operations there would be no class. In such a case - an individual constituting a class - the term `class' ceases to mean a collective entity, as it is usually understood (in Latin `classis' is assembly) and has to be redefined.

VI. Aspects of Soviet History

The book's historical part (part 3) is a good, brief account of Russia's modern history (19th-20th century) based on standard sources, and they analyse this history quite well in their own class-theoretical terms, which is indeed original and innovative. We have nothing new to add here. Unable to do justice to their entire analysis we confine ourselves to a few remarks on some aspects of this analysis. First, whenever the authors speak of the Russian revolution of 1917, they, following the dominant soviet historiography, seem basically to mean what occurred in October of that year. This, we submit, amounts to a rather (over) simplification of the revolutionary reality of 1917. In fact there were two qualitatively distinct `moments' of the revolutionary process that emerged in Russia in 1917 - in February and October. The revolutionary mass upsurge in February sallied forth spontaneously without any organized direction from `above.' Initiated by women (to their greater credit) on the women's day, the movement was entirely dominated by the toilers of the land and had all the basic characteristics of the great popular revolutions of the past, such as those of 1789-93 and 1871 in France (see Anweiler 1958 and Ferro 1967). Targeting mainly the pre-bourgeois social order, this revolutionary upsurge started out as an immense mass movement in an open-ended, plural revolutionary process and had, it appears, the potential to go over - at a later date, given appropriate material conditions - to an authentic socialist revolution (in the sense of Marx) if the involved toiling masses had been allowed unfettered freedom - through their (own) self-administering organs - to continue their march forward. The Bolsheviks put a brake on the process, destroyed the democratic part of the revolution - derogatively called by Lenin "notorious democratism" - and accelerated the bourgeois part. We hope that in a future edition the authors would bring this great event to the fore.

The authors' statement that the "USSR never attempted, let alone achieved communism on a society-wide basis and that it represented a state form of capitalism" (p. X) is absolutely true. But then their own statement that the USSR made the "boldest and most successful socialist experiment" (p. 99; our emphasis) seems not to be quite consistent with the earlier one. We also read in the book: "The absences of the surplus labour notion of class and of the non determinist reasoning with most Marxist conceptualization of socialism and communism . . . helped to thwart the revolutionary potential of the regimes the various movements favouring them have created: a possible transition from a capitalist to a communist class structure" (p. 4). The reason for the non advent in Russia of a communist society is, we submit, better explained in terms of the MCH rather than in terms of any conceptual inadequacy of the notion of surplus labour based class or in terms of a lack of clear reasoning on determinism/non determinism among the concerned people. Even a `correct' conceptual perspective about communism (among the concerned people) will not establish a communist society. In spite of all the correct ideas about a "union of free individuals" and all the will and energy to bring it about, it will not arrive in the absence of the "material conditions of the emancipation of the proletariat" which are only "the product of history," as the Manifesto affirms. Marx (and Engels) never tired of repeating it. Thus in his `Bakunin Kritik' (1874-75) Marx observed: "A radical social revolution is bound up with certain historical conditions of economic development. The latter are its pre-conditions. . . . Bakunin understands nothing of the social revolution, excepting its political phrases. For him, its economic conditions do not exist" (1973d: 633). The 1917 Russia precisely lacked the necessary material conditions, including the numerical weakness and cultural backwardness of the "historical agents" of such a radical transformation - which could only be created by a certain level of capitalist development. While never giving up the ideological discourse that October 1917 had inaugurated a `socialist' revolution, Lenin, perhaps more than anybody else, soon understood - much to the chagrin of the `infantile' Left - that given Russia's backwardness, there was no other way to go forward, but to "catch up and surpass" (dognat' i peregnat') the advanced capitalist countries - which implied a rapid growth of the productive forces and an advanced proletariat, and this necessitated the development of capitalism, at least over a period, in a largely pre-capitalist country where the inauguration of socialism was an impossible project for some time to come. Hence the NEP, which as our authors have correctly observed, was developing capitalism (p. 157).

The authors' statement that the "workers largely concurred in celebrating" what they considered "as a transition from capitalism to communism" (p. 185) should be taken cum grano salis. In fact within a few months after October (1917) workers' dissatisfaction with the nouveau régime started and grew fairly rapidly with increasing mass protests and demonstrations. "A third stage began to unfold in the Bolshevik-labour relations leading to open conflict, repression and the consolidation of the dictatorship over the proletariat" (Rosenberg 1987: 117). The "turn of the masses away from the Bolsheviks," as Medvedev calls it, was shown in the elections to the soviets in spring and summer, 1918 - the Bolsheviks were losing ground (1979: 148-49. He also gives some election results). Towards the beginning of 1921 workers' disenchantment reached high intensity in different urban centres, particularly in Petrograd's factories, previous strongholds of the Bolsheviks. Referring to the situation globally, Deutscher writes that the "bulk of the working class, not to speak of the peasantry, unmistakeably turned against the Bolsheviks. If the Bolsheviks had now permitted free elections to the Soviets, they would almost certainly have been swept from power" (1963: 504, 505). Popular discontent reached its climax in early 1921 in Kronstadt, earlier dubbed by Trotsky as the "pride and glory of the revolution." There the immense majority of the toilers developing on their own an unusual political sense realised that the nouveau régime by overturning the promises of October have turned into an oppressor of the labouring people and created a "new serfdom" and that the country required a `regime change' or what they called a "third revolution" (Daniels 1960: 144). Their movement - falsely dubbed `counter revolutionary' under the Whites - was suppressed and drowned in blood by the powers that be (see Heller and Nekrich 1989: 91). Thus ended the `Red Kronstadt' which "had produced a bustling, self governing, egalitarian and highly politicized soviet democracy the like of which had not been seen in Europe since the Paris Commune" (Getzler 1983: 246)

VII. Conclusion

Let us conclude. As we said earlier, the book under review is an unusual work, the like of which is not encountered every day. It is highly original and, to the authors' credit, highly challenging. The book, indeed, stands out among the myriads of works on the soviet question. Going back to the tradition of the classical political economy and, to a certain extent, to Marx's analysis of class, they have succeeded in giving a new meaning to the notion of `class' by firmly connecting it with the notion of `surplus' (labour) and disconnecting it from the notions of property and power which has been so prominent with most Marxists till now. They have surely to be praised for going against the current.

By introducing the very innovative notion of `household class structure' - which even Marx never attempted to advance - they have, to their great credit, brought the women's question to the fore not only in their historical analysis of the soviet class society but also in their purely theoretical analysis of class structure based on surplus.

To them, as to many others, the USSR was a state capitalist society. But their approach is very different from the rest precisely because of their very original notion of class based not on property or power - as it is with the other partisans of the state capitalism thesis - but on surplus (labour). Problems, however, arise, as we saw earlier, when they claim Marx as their source both on the surplus theory of class and on the future communist society. We think there is no need to connect Marx with their very innovative work. Indeed, once we disconnect the two, their work standing on its own, with strong internal consistency, appears as a very significant contribution to the class theory and to its very fruitful and innovative application to the soviet history. This highly original and challenging text should be compulsory reading for all serious students of the soviet question.

Paresh Chattopadhyay

University of Quebec in Montreal

e-mail [email protected]


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In Engels's edition (1964) the last part reads "reacts upon it (zurückwirkt auf sie) as determining elements."

We regret to note that the authors' representation of Marx's first (original) contribution (among three) mentioned in this celebrated letter is not really warranted by the letter's text. Speaking of Marx's "new contributions" our authors paraphrase the first contribution as being "a specific definition of class in terms of surplus production relations" (p. 43). Now, whatever concordance this paraphrase might have with the authors' own position, it has very little to do with Marx's own text which literally runs as follows ". . . what new I did was (1) to prove that the existence of classes is simply bound up with the definite historical phases of the development of production (bestimmte historische Entwicklungsphasen der Produktion) . . ." (in Marx and Engels 1964: 423, emphasis in text). We immediately see that the term `surplus' itself is absent and that there is no attempt at any `definition' of `class.' (It is well known Marx never gave a `definition' of class). On the other hand, the crucial historical aspect of the text (crucial for MCH) is missing. On a broad canvas, Marx's standard phrase is "relations of production" tout court, not `relations of surplus production.' Indeed there are no relations of `surplus production' apart from the relations of production. It is remarkable that while the authors claim that their class theory is based on Marx's class analysis, the three contributions mentioned in this letter by Marx as specifically his own, distinguishing him from the bourgeois historians and economists on the class question, do not find much echo in their work. (While the first - which we have been discussing - finds no application in their work, at least not explicitly, the second and the third, that is, proletarian dictatorship and future classless society, given by the authors themselves in their quotation from the text (p. 71), are simply not accepted by them as a part of class analysis)..

Two years later this phrase will appear (almost verbatim) in Marx's famous letter to Weydemeyer as Marx's third original contribution in connection with classes. The same idea will reappear in the Gothakritik twenty-five years later.

In the same work we read: "If the material elements of a total revolution are absent, it is wholly indifferent from the practical development if the idea of this revolution has been formulated a hundred times" (1973b: 38-39, emphasis in text).

In the same work, associating "communism" with "revolutionary socialism," Marx wrote: "This socialism is the declaration of the revolution in permanence, the class dictatorship of the proletariat, point of transition to the full abolition of class differences, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they are based . . ." (1973c: 89-90, emphasis in text).

Our authors' arguments here remind us of the arguments advanced by the spokespersons of the soviet regime about the existence of value categories in socialism (understood à la Lenin as the first phase of communism). By a strange reading of the Gothakritik Lenin, right in his State and Revolution - supposed to be the most libertarian in soviet political literature - affirmed the presence of "hired employees of the state" (supposed to be under working class control) earning "wages" (which totally contradicts the text of the Gothakritik. (In his "Inaugural Address" (1864) Marx had opposed `associated labour' to `hired labour'). Later Lenin's first disciples - Trotsky, Bukharin, Preobrazhensky - spoke of the presence in socialism of value categories (including wages) as simple `forms' without `capitalist content' under the supposed `working class state.' This rationalisation was taken over with `refinements' under the successive soviet rulers till the regime's evaporation. Elsewhere we have discussed this question at some length on the basis of the relevant texts. (See Chattopadhyay 2002).

This pervades even such a work as Capital even though it is considered by some to be an `esoteric' scholarly work concerned almost exclusively with economic matters. In one of his first reviews of Capital I, Engels, clearly sensing that some eager revolutionaries might be "disappointed" with the book after waiting for quite a long time to see here "finally revealed" the "secret true socialist doctrine" and "panacea," warned its readers that there was no "one thousand year communist kingdom" awaiting them here. But "who has eyes to see, sees here, stated clearly enough, the demand for a social revolution." He added that "here it is a question not of workers' association with state capital à la Lassalle, but of the abolition of capital itself" (1973: 216, emphasis in text).

We have tried to give an integral picture of the society after capital as it appears in Marx's texts in Chattopadhyay (2003).

This reminds one of Althusser's famous expression "lecture symptômale" referring to the "existence of two texts" in a single text - one visible, the other invisible (different from the first) (Althusser 1966: pp. 31-32).

Outside Russia, A. Bordiga was the only front ranking Leninist to have understood this. See Bordiga (1980: 144).

the authors themselves recognize "mounting anger and strikes" of the workers, but strictly limit their account to their specific economic demands while referring also to the "class crisis of the ancients" on the question of grain requisition (p. 207; our emphasis).