A critique of Croat communist group Kontra Klasa's article 'Notes on the transition to communism' from a left-communist standpoint. Originally published in Intransigence, March 26, 2019.
Critical remarks on Kontra Klasa’s ‘Notes on the transition to communism’
“We leave to others, to the “technicians” and to the recipe makers, or to the “orthodox” of Marxism, the pleasure of engaging in anticipations, of wandering the paths of utopianism or of throwing into the face of proletarians of formulas emptied of their class substance …” – Mitchell, Bilan1
Issue #2 of Intransigence features a text by Kontra Klasa2 outlining their conception of the transition to communism. The starting point of this text is the existence of a “communist dictatorship” established over some territory, and it explores what options this “communist dictatorship” would have in a capitalist world.
In the language of Kontra Klasa’s article, the revolution is “against value and property,” the revolution, we are told, “would imply immediate abolition of most forms of property,” the aim of the revolution is thus the destruction of capitalist social relations and the implementation of measures for the production of communism. The “revolutionary zone” simply “expands” and “brings more resources under its control”, and in this “revolutionary zone,” “the general structure of the communist system of provisioning will already be in place” as production and distribution are regulated according to a “scientific social plan based on human need.” Having read this text, what is striking is the absence of political considerations in it, their view of the revolution and the transition to communism denies the primacy of political factors in favour of technical and administrative ones, all of which runs contrary to the Left Communist understanding of the revolution.
In the fifth of his series of articles on the period of transiton for Bilan, the journal of the Italian communist left in exile in France and Belgium, Mitchell3 wrote:
the essentially international problem of the building of socialism – the preface to communism – cannot be resolved in the framework of one proletarian state, but only on the basis of the political defeat of the world bourgeoisie, at least in the vital centres of its rule, the most advanced countries.
While it is undeniable that a national proletariat can only undertake certain economic tasks after installing its own rule, the construction of socialism can only get going after the destruction of the most powerful capitalist states, even though the victory of a “poor” proletariat can take on a huge significance if it is integrated into the process of development of the world revolution. In other words, the tasks of a victorious proletariat with regard to its own economy are subordinated to the necessities of the international class struggle.4
And in his critique of the ideas of both the Dutch Left, as outlined in Jan Appel’s Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, and Adhémar Hennaut, leading figure in the Left Opposition in Belgium and the quasi-Trotskyist Ligue des Communistes Internationaliste, Vercesi wrote:
The mistake made in our opinion by the Dutch left communists and with them the Cde Hennaut is to put themselves in a fundamentally sterile direction, because the foundation of Marxism is precisely to recognize that the foundations of a Communist economy can only occur on the world stage, and never can they be realized within the borders of a proletarian state. The latter may intervene in the economic field to change the process of production, but in no way to permanently establish this process on communist bases because on this subject the conditions to make possible such an economy can be achieved only on the international basis. To break the Marxist theory in its very essence is to believe that it is possible to carry out the economic tasks of the proletariat within a single country. We are not moving towards the fulfillment of this supreme goal by making the workers believe that after the victory over the bourgeoisie they will be able to directly direct and manage the economy in one country. Until the world victory these conditions do not exist and to get in the direction that will allow the maturation of these conditions we must begin by recognizing that within a single country it is impossible to obtain definitive results; it must first be recognized that the very institution of direct control of the workers over the economy is not possible. Apart from its economic objectives, of enormous importance, as we shall see later, the victorious proletariat finds its main task in the open proclamation that it is impossible for it to establish the very foundations of communism, but that to arrive at this result, which is by no means peculiar to it, it must put the State at the service of the world revolution, from which only the real conditions for the emancipation of workers can spring up from the national as well as the international point of view.5
For the Communist Left, the revolution is primarily a political event, its aim is the establishment of the worldwide dictatorship of the proletariat, not the “abolition of value” within the geographic constraints of some “revolutionary zone”. Society can only begin to embark upon wholesale social transformation after the victory of the world revolution, and any economic measures taken by an isolated “communist dictatorship” function as palliatives in the face of the hardships of the revolutionary period, they are nothing more than half-measures, until after the revolution succeeds on a world scale.
The period of transition is not limited to any “revolutionary territory,” but necessarily a global process, for the overcoming of a global mode of production, and the social classes and capitalist social relations will persist, but gradually disappear in the course of this process. All this is contradicted by Kontra Klasa’s claim that “the individual member of the society in transition” is “a person who perhaps labors but is no longer a worker or proletarian,” because this implies that the working-class, and hence all the classes of captalist society, can be abolished within the borders of the “communist dictatorship,” even before the victory of the world revolution and the beginning of the worldwide transition to communism. Therefore, the transition does not, according to Kontra Klasa, have to be a worldwide process.
Not only do they claim that “the individual member” is “no longer a worker or proletarian,” but Kontra Klasa also suggest that this individual might “have to fulfill a labor obligation, imposed as much as possible on all available members of society equally. In the latter case, compulsion will be open and direct […] Direct, open compulsion is of course far from pleasant, but it is a sharp pain that disappears quickly.” It was always understood by Marx that the abolition of classes and capitalism entailed the reclamation of productive activity as a free and conscious pursuit for the direct satisfaction of life’s needs and wants by communist humanity, since what we know and experience as ‘work’ today is simply the form taken by productive activity (useful labour) in the specific social and historical context of a society dominated by relations of exchange and value. The abolition of classes, the association of ‘free and equal producers’, is incompatible with the existence of forced labour, if only because along with the disappearance of classes and capitalist social categories, coercive institutions also disappear.
Kontra Klasa recognise that the “communist dictatorship” cannot avoid trading on the world-market in order to obtain goods. They write: “production of trade goods would proceed along roughly the same lines as production of other goods”, that “the revolutionary zone” would “have no currency of its own, either because such currency was never necessary to begin with, or because the short time in which currency is issued will be hyperinflationary to pay whatever debts might hinder access to the world market,” and would “set its prices in whichever “foreign” currency proves most convenient”. It “could set those prices at will, administratively, since there would be no costs of production.” These are “goods which have a price, but not value in the full sense since no abstract labor is embodied in them. This will enable the revolutionary dictatorship to consistently undercut other sellers.” What makes all of this absurd is that it is based on the rather naive supposition that a “communist dictatorship” which:
- has “no currency of its own”
- or a worthless currency because of hyperinflation
- which sets “prices at will, administratively […] in whichever “foreign” currency proves most convenient”
- and “consistently undercut[s] other sellers”
will even be allowed to trade on the world market to begin with…. The reality is that such a revolutionary territory would face severe embargos, sanctions, or blockades and be cut-off from the foreign trade. No country on Earth would tolerate a “revolutionary dictatorship” which “consistently undercut other sellers.” If it is to escape death by isolation, the policy of a territory where the proletariat take power has to be geared towards the goal of a successful, global extension of the revolution. As such, the success of the world revolution will depend less on the internal factors of the revolutionary territory, such as effective technical administration, the development of a system of “scientific” planning, or its rapid social transformation, than on the external factors, such as the international balance of class forces and the political situation of the world revolutionary wave, of which the political victory of the proletariat in one region is simply an episode. All this depends on effective organisation, winning the support of masses around the world, and preparing for the possibility of class confrontation acquiring the form of military struggles and carrying these out effectively, among other things.
Kontra Klasa’s perspective is based on the delusion that communists can avoid the messy world of political struggle, in their article the world revolution and transition to communism will simply be smooth, rational, and orderely processes, achieved through through planning and trading, and the problems that will arise from this process will primarily be of a technical nature. Eventually the “communist” dictatorship will impose “harsher and harsher terms of exchange,” thereby destroying the world-market, until finally the good news: “human society enters integral communism.” And all this without the agency of the world proletariat, and without worldwide political organisation (a world communist party), action, or world revolution(!)
It is also unclear how Kontra Klasa imagine their policies will actually be implemented. Their “communist dictatorship” appears to stand above the masses, the struggle, and the society. They conveniently avoid dealing with the internal structure of the “communist dictatorship”, so it is not clear where the decision-making power rests in their “communist dictatorship”. Do Kontra Klasa believe that the working-class will make the decisions, or do they imagine a collective of planners, or technocrats, will engineer the perfect society from above, and on behalf of the masses? The most intellectually-brilliant, rational schemes for transition are worthless without the enthusiastic support of the working-class, and any attempt to impose an agenda that includes rationing and forced labour upon the working-class will inevitably be met with resistance.
And finally, Kontra Klasa took as their starting point the existence of a “communist dictatorship trading on the world market,” without ever explaining how this came to be. In reality, it is likely that such a “communist dictatorship” would emerge in the course of a world revolutionary wave. Since the communist party of the future will be a single, worldwide organisation, without any regional or national character, it will avoid fusing into any nation-state, or adopting as its cause the interests of any single “revolutionary territory”. Communists will not have any interest in taking power for themselves, decisions will be taken by the class, and the party will participate in this without attempting to substitute itself for the class. In reality, communists are only a part of the class, in Onorato Damen’s words “the relationship between the party and class is dialectically linked, with both on the same level, i.e. placing special emphasis on neither the party nor on the class. We see the party as a part of the whole (the class)”6 The revolutionary organisation, according to Damen, “would have to avoid becoming the instrument of the workers state and it would have to defend the interests of the revolution.”7
Against Kontra Klasa, we maintain that the fate of the great social explosions of the future, which will demand “all things for all men,”8 those future attempts of the wage-slaves and unemployed to “leap from the realm of objective necessity to the realm of objective freedom,”9 depend above all on the political victory of the world revolutionary wave. In contrast to the left-capitalists of Kontra Klasa, the communist left defends the view that the primary objective of the world communist party, and proletarians in the revolutionary territory must be political, not economic – world revolution, not “building socialism”.
1 Problems of the Period of Transition (Part 1), Bilan no.28: http://www.collectif-smolny.org/article.php3?id_article=826
2 A communist group in Croatia, quotes are from their article: https://mcmxix.org/2018/07/09/notes-on-the-transition-to-communism/
3 Bilan – published from November 1933 to February 1938 (46 issues in total), was established as the successor to the Bulletin d‘information de la Fraction de Gauche Italienne (the last issue of which was published in February 1933). In the pages of Bilan, we find internationalist reflections on everything from the rise of fascism, the theory of the ‘decadence’ of capitalism, the Spanish Civil War, ant-fascism and the Popular Front, Hitler and Nazism, Stalinism and the Great Terror, Trotsky and the Fourth International, and the international build-up to the Second World War. Among the most important names behind Bilan were Ottorino Perrone (‘Vercesi’) and Virgilio Verdaro (‘Gatto Mammone’) – the co-editors, and Jehan van den Hoven (‘Mitchell’).
4 Italian Left 1936: Problems of the period of transition, ICC: https://en.internationalism.org/ir/2008/132/bilan1936
5 Party – International – State / VII – 3rd Part: The Soviet State, Bilan no.21 http://www.collectif-smolny.org/article.php3?id_article=299
6 ‘Axioms of Revolutionary Theory and Practice’, Bordiga Beyond the Myth, Prometheus Publications.
7 Damen, quoted from The Bordigist Current (1912-1952)
8 ‘Dialectical Materialism and the Fate of Humanity’, C.L.R. James: https://www.marxists.org/archive/james-clr/works/diamat/diamat47.htm