Worlds apart: socialism in Marx and in early Bolshevism

Soviet poster, 1920.
Soviet poster, 1920.

Paresh Chattopadhyay's article on Marx and the divergence of the Bolsheviks from his conception of socialism.

Submitted by libcom on January 17, 2006

A Provisional Overview
This paper is concerned with socialism purely as a theoretical category, leaving aside the historical movements and acts that have occurred in its name. "Early Bolshevism" refers to Bolshevism before Stalin's consolidation of power. Marx's notion of post-capitalist society - "communism", "socialism", "society of free and associated producers" - envisaged a society that has left behind all the vehicles of exploitation and oppression of the old society, such as state, commodity production, money, wage labour, to name the principal ones. This is contrasted with the notion of socialism as it appears in the writings of the early Bolsheviks - Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky. It turns out that the socialism emerging from the works of these avowed "Marxists" is the exact opposite of the socialism one finds in Marx's extant texts.

Paresh Chattopadhyay

Socialism or communism, conceived theoretically, was considered by Marx (and Engels) as simply the theoretical expression of the workers' struggle against capital towards their own emancipation. The present paper, however, is concerned with socialism purely as a theoretical category, leaving aside the historical movements and acts that have occurred in its name. "Early Bolshevism" refers to Bolshevism before Stalin's consolidation of power, that is, Bolshevism, which still appears in a most favourable light to the majority of the so-called "Marxist" left. Basically we are concerned with the important relevant writings of arguably the four best-known representatives of Bolshevism of the period: Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky. This paper is simply a rapid overview of the theme.

In brief, Marx's perspective of the society after capital, that is, socialism or communism (same in Marx) is immensely emancipatory. This is what he calls the "union of free individuals", based on the "associated mode of production". As opposed both to the forcible union of the producers with their conditions of production (as in pre-capitalism) and to the non-voluntary separation between the two (as in capitalism), socialism signifies reunion of the producers with their conditions of production at a higher level (compared to their union on a narrow basis within a limited circle in "primitive communism").

A socialist or communist society is the outcome of the workers' self-emancipatory revolution against capital, not to be confused with the so-called seizure of power by the working class, far less the seizure of power by a group in its name. This is not a momentary but an "epochal" event comprising a whole "period of revolutionary transformation" during which the bourgeois mode of production and, along with it, the whole bourgeois social order with wage labour, commodity production and state are superseded. The workers' installation of (their own) power is only the "first step" in this "long and painful" trajectory.1 On the other hand, the necessary material conditions of the rise of the future society are created within capitalism by capital itself, and without these conditions any attempt at exploding the existing society would be only Don Quixotic, as Marx wrote in his 1850s manuscripts.2

In all hitherto existing societies community has in fact stood as an independent power against singular individuals and subjugated them. It was, as Marx calls it, a "false" or "illusory" community. In the "union of free individuals" for the first time there arises the "true" community where universally developed individuals dominate their own social relations. Individuals in the new society are free in a sense unknown hitherto. Going beyond "personal dependence" of pre-capitalism as well as "material dependence" of capitalism, "social individuals" attain their "free individuality" in this union of free individuals.3 It is, as Marx calls it, a "complete elaboration of the human interiority", and "the development of human energy as an end in itself".4 In the "associated mode of production" (AMP), as Marx designates the new mode of production, there is voluntary and unmediated union of individuals dominating their own products as well as unconstrained union of producing individuals with their conditions of production. As a result commodity production as well as the wage system go out of existence.

In the AMP along with the transformation of the old relations of production there is also the transformation of ownership relations, which are only the juridical expression of the social relations of production. All hitherto existing class societies have been marked by private ownership of the means of production where "private ownership" signifies non-ownership of the means of production by society's majority. This is what Marx calls "private ownership of a part of society" or "class ownership".5 This class ownership under capital appears as separation of the producers from the means of production (this is unique to capitalist society). This signifies of course the separation of the great majority of society from the means of production. Now this capitalist private ownership could take different forms: ownership by private individuals, ownership by what Marx calls "associated capitalists" or ownership by the state.6 However, private ownership in question remains invariant with respect to these different forms. Capitalist class ownership under its different forms disappears only with the disappearance of the capitalist production relations yielding place to direct collective appropriation of the conditions of production by society itself.

We must not consider state ownership of the conditions of production as equivalent to social appropriation of the conditions of production, inasmuch as state exists - whatever its nature -only as an institution which has autonomised itself from society. Real (as opposed to juridically enacted) appropriation by society itself (that is, the collective body of producers) can take place only with the disappearance of the state. It is quite relevant to recall here Marx's high praise for the 1871 communards for having made the revolution against state as such, not this or that kind of state.

We come to exchange relations of the Association. With the transformation of society's production relations, its exchange relations - that is both individuals' exchanges with nature and individuals' social exchanges among themselves - are also transformed. As regards the first, in the new society, freed from the mad drive for accumulation - production for production's sake as Marx calls it - of the old society and with the unique goal of satisfying human needs, the socialised individuals rationally regulate their material exchanges with nature with the least expenditure of force and carry on these exchanges in the conditions most worth of and in fullest conformity with their human nature.7

Coming to exchange relations among individuals, first let us note that in any society the labour of the individual producers creating useful objects for one another has, by that very fact, a social character. However, in a society of generalised commodity production, where products result from private labours executed in reciprocal independence, the social character of these labours - hence the reciprocal relations of the creators of these products - are not established directly. Their social character is mediated by exchange of products taking commodity form. The social relations of individuals take the form of social relations of their products, confronting the producing individuals as an independent power, dominating them.

With the inauguration of the Association there begins the process of collective appropriation of the conditions of production by society, as noted earlier. And with the end of private appropriation of the conditions of production there also ends the need for the products of individual labour to go through exchange taking the commodity form. In the new society individual labour is directly social from the beginning. In place of exchange of products taking the commodity form (as in the old society) there is now "free exchange of activities" among "social individuals" determined by their collective needs and aims on the basis of collective appropriation. In the Association, in contrast with the capitalist society, the social character of production is presupposed, and participation in the world of products is not mediated by the exchange of reciprocally independent labours or of products of labours.8 Here the labour of the individual is posited as social labour from the outset. In a well-known text, which needs reemphasising, Marx asserts that in the "communist society as it has just come out of capitalist society" that is, in its very "first phase" the producers "do not exchange their products and as little does labour applied on these products appear as value".9

Turning to distribution in the Association, the basic distribution in any society is the distribution of the conditions of production from which follows the distribution of the products of these conditions. Now, the "distribution of the conditions of production is a character of the mode of production itself".10 Hence with the transformation of the capitalist mode of production (CMP) into the associated mode of production (AMP), the old mode of distribution is also transformed. Now, for any society, the distribution of the conditions of production really boils down to the allocation of society's total labour time (including dead and living labour) across the economy in definite proportions corresponding to its needs. Equally, society's total time employed on production (including related activities) has to be economised in order to leave maximum non-labour time for the enjoyment and self-development of society's members. "All economy", indeed, is "finally reduced to the economy of time".11 However different societies execute the economy of time and the allocation of labour time to different spheres of activities in different ways. Under capitalism the allocation of society's labour time is effected through the exchange of products taking the commodity form, but in the Association the problem is solved through direct and conscious control of society over its labour time without the need for social relations of persons to appear as social relations between things.12

The economy of society's global time employed in material production (and related activities), generating disposable time thereby, acquires a new meaning in the Association. This surplus labour time beyond the time required for labourers' material needs, instead of being appropriated by a small minority in the name of society now becomes society's free time for creating the basis of all-round development of the "socialised individuals". The distinction between necessary and surplus labour time loses its earlier meaning. Necessary labour time would now be measured in terms of the needs of the associated individuals not the needs of valorisation and remain the creative substance of wealth. But as Marx emphasises in one of his early 1860s manuscripts, the free time, disposable time, is the wealth itself - in part for enjoying the products, in part for "free activity which, unlike labour, is not determined by the compulsion of an external finality which has to be fulfilled whose fulfillment being either a natural necessity or a social obligation".13

Turning to the distribution of the total social product in the "Republic of Labour", it is first divided between the production needs and the (direct) consumption needs of society. As regards the share for production needs, it is divided again between replacement and extension of society's productive apparatus on the one hand and society's insurance and reserve funds (not in value form) against uncertainty on the other. The rest of the social product serves collective consumption - health, education, provision for those not able to work - and personal consumption. As regards the mode of the distribution of the means of personal consumption among society's labouring individuals, these latter, having ceased to sell their labour power, no longer receive the returns to their labour in wage form. Instead, they receive from their own Association some kind of a token indicating each one's labour contribution to production (including related activities) enabling the person to draw from the common stock of means of consumption an amount costing the same amount of labour. Given the disappearance of commodity production, these tokens are not money; they do not circulate.14

This principle of equivalent exchange, apparently parallel to, but not the same as, what prevails under commodity production, since "form and content" have both changed, cannot be avoided at the very initial stage of the Association just coming out of the womb of capital. This process is wholly overcome only at a higher stage of the Association when all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more fully based on the all round development of the socialised individuals along with the development of the forces of production. Only at that stage can the principle of equivalent exchange yield its place to a new principle: "from each according to one's ability to each according to one's needs".15

(Early) Bolshevism
From Marx's notion of the post-capitalist society - appearing in Marx's texts in equivalent terms such as "communism", "socialism", "Republic of Labour", "Union of free individuals", "cooperative society", "society of free and associated producers", etc - envisaged as a society which has left behind all the vehicles of oppression and exploitation of the human of the old society, such as state, commodity production, money, wage labour, to name the principal ones, let us pass on to the notion of socialism as it appears in the writings of the early Bolsheviks, all of whom, it is necessary to stress, considered themselves as the followers of Marx. We deal successively with Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky. The treatment will be necessarily brief.

Totally unlike Marx, Lenin makes a distinction between socialism and communism equating them, respectively with the first and the second phase of communism (following Marx, Lenin could have as well distinguished between the first and the second phase of socialism). Corresponding to this distinction Lenin distinguishes between two transitions - the first from capitalism to socialism, the second from socialism to communism. Naturally, this distinction, too, nowhere appears in Marx. The distinctions in question, apparently merely terminological and innocent looking, had far reaching consequences, which were far from innocent. These became convenient instruments for legitimising and justifying the ideology and every act of the Party-State from 1917 onwards in the name of (building) socialism, which was stressed as the need for the immediate future, and thus shelving all the vital aspects of Marx's immense emancipatory project of the post capitalist society off to the Greek calends of the never-never land of communism, thereby metamorphosing Marx's project of socialism (communism) into an unalloyed utopia.

Lenin conceives socialism basically in terms of ownership form of the means of production rather than in terms of the (social) relations of production. And he posits 'social ownership' of the means of production (in socialism) against capitalism's private ownership uniquely in the sense of "private ownership of separate individuals".16 Here again Lenin is several steps backward compared to Marx. For Marx juridical relations (forms) have no independent existence, they simply arise from the economic, that is, production relations. In other words it is the production (economic) relations which determine the ownership relations and their specific forms, not inversely. Secondly, Marx had already shown on the basis of his close observation of capitalism's development how its forms of ownership changed in response to the needs of capital accumulation. The ownership form of which Lenin speaks was indeed the initial form in capitalism, directly taken over from the Roman law. However, in the course of capital's development the requirements of capital's accumulation dictated a change in the ownership form from individual to collective capitalist ownership, which signified "abolition of private ownership within the capitalist mode of production itself", as Marx clearly noted. The relevant texts of Marx were already available quite some time before Lenin wrote his text from which our citation comes. Lenin's concept of private ownership was of course the dominant concept in the Second International "Marxism" taken over from bourgeois jurisprudence. Similarly, social ownership in Lenin (for socialism) does not mean society's ownership that is, direct appropriation by society itself. It is rather state ownership where the state is by supposition a working class state.17 This identification of state ownership with ownership by the whole society is, again, absent from Marx's texts. Indeed, far from social ownership being identical with (working class) state ownership, socialism - even in its Leninist identification with Marx's lower phase of communism - excludes not only individual private ownership of the means of production but also (working class) state ownership, inasmuch as the first phase of the Association arrives on the historical scene only at the end of the transformation period coinciding with the end of the proletariat and its political rule ("state" if you like). The mode of appropriation becomes for the first time directly social. This is the real social ownership that Marx envisages.

As regards exchange relations in socialism, Lenin's position is not without ambiguities. In some writings he speaks of "suppression" of commodity production with the end of capitalism,18 while in other writings he speaks of "socialist exchange of products" and denies the commodity character of state factory products "exchanged" against peasants' products.19 We know from Marx that in the very first phase of the Association (Lenin's "socialism"), "producers do not exchange their products". We also know that exchange of products is replaced in the new society by the "free exchange" of "activities".

The scope of distribution in the new society is very narrow in Lenin. He is far and away from the range of Marx's preoccupation in this regard. He is not concerned with the allocation of productive resources among different branches of activity nor with the corresponding problem of the best way to allocate society's total labour time or with the division of this time between necessary (labour) time and free time for the associated producers with far reaching emancipatory consequences. Lenin is almost exclusively concerned with the distribution of the means of consumption among the society's individuals. Here he follows literally Marx's "Marginal Notes" (1875) discussed above. At the same time Lenin takes liberty with Marx's text. Referring to what Marx calls (remaining) "bourgeois right" in the lower phase of the Association (Lenin's "socialism"), Lenin envisages equality of "labour and wage" for the citizens, now transformed into "hired employees of the state" (sluzhashchikh po naimu) where, further, the enforcement of "bourgeois right" would, according to him, necessitate the presence of the "bourgeois" state.20 This is indeed a strange reading of Marx's text with serious implications. First, the transformation of the producing citizens into hired employees of the state receiving wage as remuneration would simply mean that the citizens instead of being wage labourers of private enterprises, are now wage labourers of the state (calling the state a workers' state does not change the character of citizens' labour as wage labour). In the same text that Lenin (mis-) reads, Marx denounces the wage system as a "system of slavery". In fact the distribution of the means of consumption through labour tokens has nothing to do with their distribution through wage remuneration. As regards hired labour, let us recall that in his famous Inaugural Address to the International, Marx opposes "hired labour" to "associated labour". In fact Marx had already called the "state...employing productive wage labour" "capitalist".

Continuing with the problem of distribution of the means of consumption in socialism (Marx's lower phase of the Association) Lenin refers to the not yet superseded "bourgeois right" (Marx) in this connection and insists on the need of the existence of "bourgeois state" to enforce this right. This latter is Lenin's own gloss and is nowhere to be found in Marx's extant texts. In fact the antagonistic relation between state and freedom (essence of the "union of free individuals") was a constant in Marx at least beginning with his polemic with Ruge right up to his last theoretical writing (also a polemic). But why should in any case the enforcement of "bourgeois right" require a state, and that, too, a "bourgeois state" in a society which arises only after the last form of political power held by the proletariat has evaporated along with the proletariat itself after a long revolutionary transformation period! Even with the "bourgeois right" remaining Marx envisages society itself, not any special political apparatus, undertaking the task of distributing the means of consumption in the very first phase of the Association. Even when Marx speculates on what kind of transformation will the state form (Staatswesen) undergo in communism, he immediately adds the meaning of this speculation: which social functions will be left there that are analogous to the present day state functions. First note that this speculation about the future of state functions applies to communism as such, not simply to its first phase, which is Lenin's concern in the context of "bourgeois state" enforcing the "bourgeois right".

This speculation about the analogy of present day state functions for communism no more signifies the existence of state in communism (at any stage) than the parallelism with equality of commodity exchange for distribution in the lower stage of communism signifies the existence of commodity production in the first stage of the Association (as many readers of Marx think). Indeed, Lenin's logic is baffling. Inasmuch as the lower phase is inaugurated only after the transformation period when after it has destroyed the bourgeois state the proletariat disappears along with its own "state", the existence of a bourgeois state in this phase would signify, in the absence of the bourgeoisie (Lenin's assumption)), that the (non proletarian) workers would themselves recreate the bourgeois state after having liquidated their own.

Trotsky's approach to socialism is predominantly juridical. In order to establish socialism the principal task is to win the fight against private capital, which means abolishing "individual ownership" of the means of production. With the most important industries in the hands of the workers' state, class exploitation ceases to exist taking capitalism along with it. However Trotsky at the same time affirms that the struggle between "state capital and private capital" continues, the abolition of capitalism through the elimination of individual ownership of a means of production notwithstanding.21

For Trotsky capitalism is a system of private (individual) ownership in the means of production and market regulation of the economy. Consequently socialist economy appears as a centralised, directed economy in which a general plan would establish the allocation of society's material means of production and (living) labour among different branches of the economy. In other words, a socialist economy is a planned "state economy" where planning would mean abolition of the market.22

Thus Trotsky's image of socialism directly follows from his specific concept of capitalism. Inasmuch as capitalism is conceived primarily in terms of a specific ownership form and a specific form of circulation, and not (primarily) in terms of specificity of the social relation of production, socialism is also envisaged simply as the abolition of those forms of ownership and circulation. Thus socialism appears as (proletarian) state ownership of the means of production with central planning, and not as a "union of free individuals" based on social appropriation as opposed to private ownership in both its basic forms, individual and collective (including state) ownership. What is important for Trotsky is what he calls the "class nature" of the state. If the state is in the hands of the working class - clearly substituted by party - then, despite the presence of commodity categories and wage labour, there is no exploitation and thus no capitalism, although the latter's "forms" still persist.23 That by socialism Trotsky is far from meaning a "union of free individuals" is also clear from the way he envisages the organisation of labour and its allocation across the different branches of the economy of the new society. This organisation and this allocation are not effected directly by society itself as in Marx; on the contrary, they are done by the state through its central(ised) planning. The whole process involves workers' subordination to the state and state's coercive power over the workers. Confronted by the Mensheviks, Trotsky, in one of his writings concedes that "there will be no state and no coercive apparatus in a socialist regime".24

Bukharin's point of departure for analysing the transition period is "state capitalism" - reached by capitalism in its latter day "organised" capitalism - which is supposed to have already eliminated the market along with anarchy of production, giving rise to what he calls "a new type of production relations". After distinguishing socialism from communism he makes the transitional system the repository of some of the basic characteristics of Marx's "lower phase of communism". In this transitional system with the proletarian nationalisation of the means of production there arises the "state form of socialism" and the process of creating surplus value ceases.25 Bukharin denies the relevance of Marxian categories of capitalism for the transitional society. According to him, to the extent that "conscious social order" replaces "spontaneity", the commodity is turned into a product together with the collapse of the monetary system. Hence there is no value or price; profit (surplus value) disappears. As mentioned earlier, already under state capitalism commodity tends to disappear "within the country" though the anarchy of production is reproduced in the world at large.26 The substance of this argument, we know, later reappears among the theorists of "state capitalism" in Stalinist Russia.

Not without contradicting himself Bukharin holds that when under a (proletarian) state economy the products of labour continue to be exchanged in their price form prices are simply explained away as purely formal, without value content. In the same way, as regards labourers' remuneration under proletarian dictatorship, which appears as wage the latter according to Bukharin, is really a "phenomenal magnitude" or an "outer shell" in monetary form without any "content".27 Bukharin seems not to be aware that if there is no wage form of remuneration there is no wage labour that is, there is no proletariat and, consequently, no proletarian dictatorship. Hence there is no need for a revolutionary transformation period between capitalism and socialism. A change in the ownership form and state form is sufficient for Bukharin to wish away wage labour and thereby the capitalist mode of production. Bukharin in fact continually confuses the transition period with what Marx calls the "lower phase of communist society". He does this by inverting the materialist method. That is, he first makes production relations a derivative of ownership relations - which in Marx's terms are simply the "juridical expression" of production relations. Even here he does not distinguish between ownership relation and ownership form; secondly, private ownership for him means only individual private ownership, excluding what Marx considers as collective (class) ownership; thirdly, he identifies state ownership with social ownership and hence state ownership for him signifies abolition of private ownership. Bukharin's position on socialism and transition to socialism could, without much difficulty, be explained in terms of an attempt at rationalising the policies pursued by the new regime of which he was one of the leaders and to which he was ideologically committed. However, in a text relatively free from the need of such rationalisation, penned on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Marx's death, and Bukharin's last discussion on socialism, he clearly distinguishes between socialism and transition to socialism. Dealing with socialism in the Leninist (non Marxian) sense of the "lower phase of communism" he enumerates its six basic characteristics: (1) less than full development of the productive forces, (2) non-suppression of the difference between mental and physical labour, (3) distribution according to labour, not need, (4) continuation of the residue of "bourgeois right" (5) residues of hierarchy, subordination and state, (6) absence of commodity character of labour's product.28 Needless to add, the fifth characteristic given here finds no place in Marx's text.

It is clear that though there is an improvement in Bukharin's latter position compared to his earlier one, still in common with what we find in the writings of his distinguished colleagues, we do not find any explicit affirmation that socialism, even understood in Lenin's specific sense of the lower phase of communism, is already a "union of free individuals", without any authority, state or otherwise, outside of what is freely self imposed by the associated producers.

Preobrazhensky, in his principal work, designated as "economic theory of the USSR", considers the "soviet" economy as a "socialist-commodity" economy with a commodity sector and a state sector (identified as socialist sector). In this economy there are two regulators - law of value and the principle of planning. The fundamental tendency of the latter takes the form of "primitive socialist accumulation" (PSA). The two regulators operate in a relation of antagonism. The law of value operates "spontaneously" in the unorganised (non-state) economy, while within the organised (state) sector - where the state is the monopoly producer and the unique buyer of its own products - the law of value ceases to operate. In its turn PSA signifies accumulation of material resources in the hands of the state, drawn from sources external to the state economy. PSA operates through the "exploitation of pre-socialist forms" by the socialist (that is, state system) of economy. This is how PSA strives to eliminate the law of value.29

Preobrazhensky distinguishes between PSA and SA, the socialist accumulation, that is, extended reproduction of the means of production and labour power on the basis of surplus product created within the socialist, that is, the state sector. The principal mechanism of the "exploitation of the pre-socialist forms" by the proletarian state is the transfer of this surplus product from agriculture to (nationalised) industry by way of non-equivalent exchange.

Like Bukharin before him, Preobrazhensky also denies the relevance of the categories of Capital for the "socialist-commodity economy", since these categories are valid only for the capitalist-commodity economy. Thus, for Preobrazhensky, within the planned economy of the USSR there is really no commodity production. Prices used in inter-trust transactions have only a "purely formal character". Commodity categories really exist only in the transactions of the state sector with the private sector. By the same reasoning the value form of the surplus product and the wage form of labour remuneration arising from the economic operations within the state sector are made to disappear.30 (Stalin would later take over these ideas).

It should be clear that Preobrazhensky's ideas about the new society logically follow from his two fundamental assumptions: first, the identity of social ownership and (proletarian, that is communist party ruled) state ownership and, second, the identity of socialist economy with (proletarian, that is communist party ruled) state economy. Thus confounding the ownership form and production relation, Preobrazhensky could speak of the "socialist relations of production of the state economy" of the USSR. For Preobrazhensky the period that the transitional economy will take before capitalism is changed into socialism is exactly the period that the transitional economy will take to nationalise the principal means of production. The only problem remaining after this near-complete "stateisation" would be the development of the productive forces.

The reasons given by Preobrazhensky to deny the commodity-character to labour power and the products of labour in general within the state sector of the "socialist-commodity" economy are basically the same as those proffered earlier by Trotsky and Bukharin. These involve a number of assumptions - explicit or implicit. First, determination of society's production relations by ownership relations; secondly, equating the capitalist ownership relation to a particular ownership form, namely individual private ownership; thirdly, identifying the substitution of private individual ownership by (proletarian, that is communist party ruled) state ownership with the abolition of capitalism itself along with its fundamental categories leaving only its contentless forms. The categories such as prices and wages really disappear simply because they cease to behave "spontaneously" and are regulated by central planning, far removed from the direct domination by the immediate producers. This is a complete inversion of Marx's (and Engels's) "new materialism".

One could safely conclude that the socialism that emerges from the works of these avowed "Marxists" turns out to be the exact opposite of the socialism which one finds in Marx's extant texts. Two central points of this Bolshevized socialism - ultimately rooted in the Lassalle-Kautsky tradition of the Second International - are first, an amalgam of state and society where the state under the communist party rule - passing for a proletarian state - subordinates society and, secondly, the idea that ownership relations determine production relations and that the juridical abolition of a specific form of capitalist ownership, that is, private individual ownership of the means of production signifies the abolition of capitalism itself, even if its value and wage categories persist - explained away as mere "forms" without exploitative content.

In other words, the Bolshevised socialism is a state under the absolute rule of the communist party, passing for a proletarian state, owning the means of production under the appellation of "public ownership" and employing wage labour whose products take the commodity form. Needless to stress, this statist socialism based on wage slavery is the exact antipode of Marx's immensely emancipatory socialism conceived as a "union of free individuals" without private ownership of either variety - individual or collective - without state, without commodity production and without wage labour, which springs naturally from the "womb" of capital itself. These avowed disciples of Marx have indeed quasi-successfully turned his human-emancipatory post-capitalist project into a pure utopia.

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[An earlier version of the paper was presented to the annual conference of Historical Materialism in London in early November 2005. A different version of the paper is forthcoming in Hungarian translation in the Budapest journal Eszmelet. We are grateful to N Krishnaji for his encouragement.]

1 Marx 1966, pp 76, 186; 1987, 110.
2 Marx 1953, p 77.
3 1953, pp 75, 593; 1987 p 109; 1932, p 536.
4 1953, p 387; 1973a, p 536; 1992, p 838.
5 1966, p 73; 1956, p 21; 1992, p 843.
6 1973b, pp 101, 236; 1992, p 502.
7 1992, p 838.
8 1953, pp 77, 88.
9 1966, p 178.
10 900; 1966, p 180.
11 1953, p 89.
12 See Marx's letters to Engels and Kugelmann, January 8 and 11, 1868.
13 1953, pp 595-96; 1962, pp 255-56.
14 1987, p 109; 1966, pp 177-78; 1973b, p 358.
15 1966, pp 179-80.
16 Lenin 1982a, pp 300, 302.
17 1982b, pp 711, 712, 714, 716.
18 1962, p 151; 1963, p 121.
19 1964, pp 275-76.
20 1982a, pp 302, 306, 307-08.
21 Trotsky 1963, p 187; 1972, pp 239, 245; 1984, p 226.
22 1984, pp 220-22, 229.
23 1963, pp 256-58; 1972, pp 233, 245, 271-72. For an interesting discussion see Bongiovanni 1975, pp 179-80.
24 1963, p 254.
25 Bukharin 1970, pp 72, 116, 119.
26 1970, pp 16, 33.
27 1970, p 145.
28 1989, p 417.
29 Preobrazhensky 1926, pp 62-63, 72, 94, 122, 152, 154.
30 1926, pp 160, 182, 212, 220.

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15 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Hiroshima on March 12, 2009

This paper is concerned with socialism purely as a theoretical category,

but a purely theoretical category is a concern of a materialist critique.

check out:

Dave B

15 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Dave B on March 12, 2009

I think that even the Bolsheviks and Lenin had no illusions about the idea that through the state the workers or labouring masses collectively owned and controlled the state ‘owned’ means of production.

The Bolshevik party owned and controlled the national capital and they were the State.


When we are reproached with having established a dictatorship of one party and, as you have heard, a united socialist front is proposed, we say, "Yes, it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position because it is the party that has won,

The identification of the Bolshevik party with the workers did persist however even if it did descend into Orwellian farce;

Very often the word “workers” is taken to mean the factory proletariat. But it does not mean that at all. During the war people who were by no means proletarians went into the factories; they went into the factories to dodge the war. Are the social and economic conditions in our country today such as to induce real proletarians to go into the factories? No. It would be true according to Marx; but Marx did not write about Russia; he wrote about capitalism as a whole, beginning with the fifteenth century. It held true over a period of six hundred years, but it is not true for present-day Russia. Very often those who go into the factories are not proletarians; they are casual elements of every description.


State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix. This state capitalism is connected with the state, and the state is the workers, the advanced section of the workers, the vanguard. We are the state.

That really means;

State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix. This state capitalism is connected with the state, and the state is the Bolshevik party, the vanguard. We are the state.

In fact the Bolshevik party was itself a small minority of the population, less than 1%. Eg the graph in;

And from Lenin, assuming an adult population of about 100 million;

If we have 300,000 to 400,000 members in the Party, even that number is excessive, for literally everything goes to show that the level of training of the present Party membership is inadequate. That is why I strongly insist on longer probation periods, and on instructing the Organising Bureau to draw up and strictly apply rules that will really make the period of probation a serious test and not an empty formality.

The role and control of the non advanced masses in Bolshevik state capitalism was to be minimal one;

…from the standpoint of transition from capitalism to communism, he has lost sight of the fact that we have here a complex arrangement of cogwheels which cannot be a simple one; for the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised by a mass proletarian organisation. It cannot work without a number of “transmission belts” running from the vanguard to the mass of the advanced class, and from the latter to the mass of the working people. In Russia, this mass is a peasant one. There is no such mass anywhere else, but even in the most advanced countries there is a non-proletarian, or a not entirely proletarian, mass.

So the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was not the dictatorship the proletarian mass.

Engels 1874, The Program of the Blanquist Fugitives from the Paris Commune

From Blanqui's assumption, that any revolution may be made by the outbreak of a small revolutionary minority, follows of itself the necessity of a dictatorship after the success of the venture. This is, of course, a dictatorship, not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of the small minority that has made the revolution, and who are themselves previously organized under the dictatorship of one or several individuals.

We see, then, that Blanqui is a revolutionary of the preceding generation.

There is nothing complicated about juridical concepts of ownership, if you have ultimate control over something and the benefits that accrue form it then you own it.

Dave B

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Dave B on July 19, 2009

Not the right place perhaps but I am having a spat with a Leninist.

Looking for a short and sweet informed article on the nature of the German State monopoly capitalism that the Bolsheviks were keen on copying that I can cut and paste and quote from.