We have concentrated on comparing the socialist and Marxist vision of future society with the "vision" of the immediatists (i.e. those who distrust the State-form and the Party-form seen by Marx, Lenin and ourselves as the essential prerequisites of revolution), but we haven't yet stopped, although we've flicked through the 'Marginal Notes' part of the Critique of the Gotha Programme, to examine the fundamental difference between the lower and higher stages of socialism, classically reinstated by Lenin.
The obvious superiority of the economic system in which production and distribution is not performed by "autonomous units" on the pattern of the present capitalist "concentration camps" (based around jobs, enterprises, and various jurisdictions including the nation – whose barbed wire fences we will forcibly remove one of these days) but by society, for society, and on a social scale, is already apparent in the lower of the two stages theorised by Marx.
In the lower stage of socialism class differences have still not been eliminated; the State can't be abolished yet; still the pathological traditions of a society divided into Orders, up to the third and last, survive; the city and country are still separate; the social division of duties and tasks, the separation of hand and brain, of technical and manual labour, has not been abolished.
However on the economic level, the sectors of society which hitherto had a closeted, independent existence are thrown into the unitary, social melting pot. The small communes, trade confederations, and individual enterprises, which are not even allowed a transitory existence, are already done for.
From the moment a "communist society appears, emerging from the womb of capitalist society", there is no longer a place for markets, for trading between the barbed-wire surrounded "autonomous sectors". "Within the cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products anymore; similarly the labour spent on the products no longer appears as the value [underlined by Marx] of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, as a material characteristic, for now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual pieces of labour are no longer merely indirectly [as would be the case in the commune, trade union and factory council schemes] but directly, a component part of the total labour".
In the concluding pages of our study of Russia's political and economic structure, we developed the point that even during the first, lower stage the mercantile limitations of commodity-production are overstepped. No longer can anything be acquired by an individual and bound to his person, or family, through money: instead he is entitled to a non-permanent, non-cumulative coupon which allows him a time-limited consumption, and which is awarded to him within still restricted, socially calculated limits.
Our conception of a dictatorship over consumption (i.e. the first stage, which will be followed by a social, species rationality) entails this: on each coupon there will not be written so many currency units, which can be converted into anything, say, just tobacco and alcohol and no bread and milk, but names of specific wares as in the famous wartime "ration cards".
Bourgeois law will survive, however, insofar as the amount of consumption will correspond to the amount of labour given to society – after the well-known deductions to the common fund have been made – and this calculation will have to be based on availability, as well as on utility and need.
Instead of the products of human labour being bought and sold and subject to the law of equivalent value (as would be the case if they were to be exchanged between "autonomous" communes, trade unions or enterprises) they will instead form one, social mass. Finally only one commodity-exchange like connection will remain: that which exists between quantity of labour supplied and individual daily consumption.
A colossal blunder we chanced to hear offers us a wonderful opportunity to explain this concept. Somebody – an outstanding immediatist, no doubt about it! – has been going around saying that "in a socialist economy the market will remain, but it will of course be restricted to products. Labour will no longer be a commodity".
Such people can sometimes help us express an idea correctly – as long we turn what they say upside-down. This is what they ought to have said: "In the socialist economy there will no longer be a market" or better still: "an economy is socialist when the market no longer exists". In the first stage, however, "one economic quantity will still be measured as a commodity: human labour". In the higher stage, human labour will be nothing other than a way of life, it will become a pleasure. Marx puts it like this "Labour will be the first of man's vital needs".
In order to free man's work from being a commodity it is necessary to destroy the whole market system! Wasn't this the first of Marx's objections to Proudhon?
We've mentioned one blunder that is doing the rounds, and here is another one which we will dismantle as soon as possible in a future study: "the productive forces need to be greatly increased before the market can be eliminated". This is not true at all: according to Marxist theory, the productive forces are already too developed to be contained within the capitalist mode of production. Marx considers the development of the productive forces as the basis for the higher stage of socialism – that in which consumption is not socially limited by insufficient production – but not as a condition for the collapse of the commodity-producing society and of capitalist anarchy.
In the 1891 programme, in a passage which must have been dictated by Engels, it says: "Productive forces have already grown to such an extent that the regime of private property is no more compatible with the wise employment of them".
The time is ripe for the monstrous productive forces of capitalism to be prostrated before the dictatorial control of production and consumption. It is merely a question of revolutionary force for that class which, even when its living standards are rising (which Marx, as we have shown above, never denied) is constantly weighed down by insecurity and uncertainty about the future. It is an uncertainty which looms over the whole of society as well, and a few decades from now it will manifest as an alternative between global crisis and war – or international communist revolution.
The proletarian class will need to equip itself with the necessary force to carry out their historic task. First, it will involve a reconstruction – a reinstating – of revolutionary theory, then it will be a matter of rebuilding a Communist Party on an international basis; a party without frontiers.