Max Shachtman


Stalin on Socialism

Decoding Stalin’s Message to the Russian Stalinist Congress

(November 1952

From The New International, Vol. XVIII No. 6, November–December 1952, pp. 284–322.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Marx was not very fortunate with his Capital. It finally became widely clear that in it Marx had dealt the analytical death-blow to capitalism and provided the proletariat with the theoretical means of annihilating capitalism altogether. But when it was first published in Germany eighty-five years ago, this master-work which proclaimed the discovery of the law of motion of capitalism met a restrained reception. In the working-class movement, it was announced in a modest review by Schweitzer in his paper and a little later in a couple of unsigned articles by Engels in the elder Liebknecht’s paper. Its epochal impact could never have been guessed at the time from these quiet commentaries.

With Stalin it is different. No one is left to guess if his contributions are momentous. That is authoritatively indicated, underlined, repeated and insisted upon when the contribution appears, i.e., when the revelation is vouchsafed. It is immediately guaranteed not only by a tremendous circulation by its obligatory publication in full in every periodical of the author’s worldwide empire, but in the obligatory fifteen million reprints which make up the first Russian edition alone. A million voices and pens are mobilized to propagate the new gospel to millions more who cannot help but listen and read. Everything written and said on the subject up to the historic moment is execrated and extirpated as the veriest idiocy, where it is not suspected of having been poison deliberately introduced into the public mind at the instigation of wreckers. Resolutions are mimeographed for adoption at factory meetings, thanking the author for having at last turned night into day with the exceptional sun-genius which is his unique property, assuring him that critics of the clarification will be beaten to a pulp on the spot, and pledging the redoubled efforts of the factory to surpass its production quota even if it means working more overtime without pay. At all succeeding assemblies, plenary meetings, conferences or congresses, every reference to Stalin and his latest revelation is punctuated by applause which, the record shows, seldom fails to be prolonged, often becomes tempestuous and always ends in an orgiastic ovation for the Vozhd which would redden the cheeks of an ox. The banality, absurdity, ignorance and irrelevance of the revelations seem only to heighten the frenzy of his audiences.

Yet the reaction is not pathological, but political. Who else has yet succeeded in kneading profane ingredients so artfully into palatable, theoretical and political justifications for the rule of tyranny in the name of freedom, and of swinishness in the name of brotherhood? Stalin has improved on the old Roman emperor who appointed his horse to membership in the Roman Senate, therewith inaugurating one of our oldest parliamentary traditions. Stalin’s appointees understand and appreciate him as no dumb animal could. Their ovations rise from the deepest wells of their gratitude for the one who raised them to sovereignty and its perquisites, not only in the reality of the “happy life” but also in the gospels which sanctify their wallowing in it.

A prime example is Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. [1], which was made public on the eve of the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, convened last October although the 18th Congress was held only thirteen years ago. Formally, it appears as a series of remarks addressed to the participants in a discussion, held November 1951, on a proposed textbook on political economy; and, accompanying them are replies to four economists who were plucked out of obscurity to serve as objects of rebuttal for Stalin and were then just as abruptly returned to the unknown. Practically speaking, they no longer exist; they could not possibly survive the seigneurial contempt, the coarse sneers and the menacing interdictions with which Stalin annihilates the views they are supposed to hold.

The mere statement by Malenkov, in his Central Committee report to the 19th Congress, that the new Stalin revelation “is of the greatest importance for Marxist-Leninist theory and for all practical work,” sets off the familiar “prolonged, tempestuous applause” from everyone in the hall. But that is only one of the more inhibited statements by Malenkov. He warms to the task as he progresses.

“Comrade Stalin’s substantiation of the objective character of economic laws is of the greatest importance from the standpoint of principle.” This will come like balm in Gilead to the shades of those like Marx and Engels and their bourgeois predecessors who insisted upon the objective character of economic laws: to receive substantiation from Stalin was worth waiting for.

“Comrade Stalin’s discovery of the fundamental economic law of contemporary capitalism and of the fundamental economic law of socialism is a tremendous contribution to Marxian political economy.” It would be a mean adversary who begrudged Stalin admiration for a discovery of such intoxicating import. Here are people who have been fighting capitalism and building socialism for most of their lives without realizing the basic economic laws involved in either case; then in the twilight hours of capitalism, which is on its very last toe in Russia, and the twilight hours of socialism, under which life is gay and which is steadily passing over into full-bodied communism, they learn at last what these fundamental laws really are. Like the good citizen in Molière who is told that he has been speaking prose all his life, they find that all their labors have been in the most harmonious and scientific consonance with objective law! Small wonder that they honor the genius in their midst who discovers or invents or elaborates, and at the very least substantiates, these splendid laws.

“Comrade Stalin,” continues Malenkov, “discovered the objective economic law of the obligatory conformity of the production relations to the character of the productive forces, and substantiated the tremendous cognitive and transforming role of that law.” There are two passages in the writings of Karl Marx that are quoted by friend and foe more often than any others. One of them, written almost a hundred years ago in his famous introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, sets forth the law that Marx himself calls the “general conclusion” he drew from his study of political economy and which remained the “leading thread” in all his further studies:

In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production ... At a certain stage of their development the material forces of production in society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they had been at work before. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters. Then comes the period of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed.

This is the “objective economic law” that Stalin discovered. Stalin has a clear case of plagiarism to make out against Marx, for, as the Viennese poet once said, “that is exactly how I would have written it.” Whatever may be said about the laws that exist in Stalinist Russia, there is obviously none that prohibits public ignorance or ignorant shamelessness or shameless bootlicking or bootlicking plagiary. But let us leave this director of the official agglutination of Sir Pertinax MacSycophants for the more profitable object of their adoration. [2]

“Economic Laws Under Socialism”

What Stalin’s new work is formally and what it has as its real aims, are two different things. And what its real aims are, is not easy to discern at first glance. It helps a good deal, to start with, to know Stalin’s method in such matters:

Confronted with a problem, especially if it is represented by a real or potential adversary, it is Stalin’s way to start by bagatellizing its seriousness, by denying that it has the weight which substantial forces would lend it, by selecting some obscure or defenseless persons as the object for a crushing attack in which ideas utterly alien to Marxism and socialism are injected under cover of the most illiterate or irrelevant but always most pious and self-contradictory references to Marxian orthodoxy; he never fails to make far-from-irrelevant references to the indestructible unity of the party and the integrity of the state, both of which are represented exclusively by the Central Committee with Comrade Stalin invariably at its head. The bureaucracy, which has learned to understand the esoteric language of Stalinism, is immediately alerted, that is, it loosens its holster straps. Public discussion on the problem does not end, only because it never begins. The innocent object of the attack is massively and scientifically abused, ridiculed, isolated and menaced, so that the poor whipping boy sometimes wishes he were dead, a wish which is not always denied. Only later, sometimes much later, it is learned that Stalin’s attack was directed toward an acute problem and against important persons or forces. By then, the persons have been forced to their knees, ready for a bullet at the base of the skull or an uncertain reprieve; the problem has either been solved or violently repressed; it may reappear later in another form, but Stalin has gained time.

So it is in the present case. After setting forth his principal contentions against the unnamed “some comrades” who “deny the objective character of laws of science, and of the laws of political economy in particular, under socialism,” Stalin writes:

It may be said that all this is correct and generally known; but that there is nothing new in it, and that it therefore [is] not worth spending time reiterating generally-known truths. Of course, there really is nothing new in this; but it would be a mistake to think that it is not worth spending time reiterating certain truths that are well known to us.

Anyone in Russia who “might say” that the Stalin revelations are “generally known” and are “nothing new,” or who would call them anything short of “epoch-making,” must be living an underground existence, or else he enjoys the luxury of a police license for silence. But that apart, what is so importantly new that it induces Stalin to reiterate with such ceremony and to all continents these “truths” which are not only correct and generally known but have nothing new in them?

The fact is that we, the leading core, are joined every year by thousands of new and young forces who are ardently desirous of assisting us and ardently desirous of proving their worth, but who do not possess an adequate Marxist education, are unfamiliar with many truths that are well known to us, and are therefore compelled to grope in the darkness.

This does not speak too well for the quality of instruction in the educational system which any Stalinist publication will insist, without false modesty, is the best in the world. Whatever its higher duties, surely its elementary duty is to teach the young forces the “correct and generally-known” truths. The ones who every year join the “leading core” are surely the best products; and if the best are that ignorant, what must their inferiors look like? It is a dismal picture. But what disturbs Stalin is the practical result. The ardent thousands of new and young forces are consequently.

... staggered by the colossal achievements of Soviet government, they are dazzled by the extraordinary successes of the Soviet system, and they begin to imagine that Soviet government can “do anything,” that “nothing is beyond it,” that it can abolish scientific laws and form new ones ... I think that systematic reiteration and patient explanation of so-called “generally-known” truths is one of the best methods of educating these comrades in Marxism.

Now we are moving out of the cave and into the light. The “ardent youth” is a clear case of substitution, not in the neurotic but in the political sense, and we shall come soon enough to who is really meant to be the object of the “systematic reiteration and patient explanation.” The “disease” which needs curing is, however, now known: it is that bedazzlement with the colossal achievements and extraordinary successes which makes people imagine that the Soviet government can do anything – for them.

That is an illusion, it now seems. The braggart who confounded his dupes by repeatedly boasting that “we Bolsheviks” are “men of a special mould” who can “conquer any fortress,” that is, can “do anything,” is now not content with putting a minus where the plus was, but scornfully derides anyone else who ever held that a plus sign made any sense in the first place. All self-criticism under the Stalinist regime follows this model.

It is an illusion because what can be done under the Russian regime, as under any other social formation, is limited (if not controlled) by the “laws of political economy [that] reflect the law-governed processes which operate independently of the will of man.” Profoundly mistaken, continues Stalin, are those comrades who “believe that in view of the specific role assigned to the Soviet state by history, the Soviet state and its leaders can abolish existing laws of political economy and can ‘form,’ ‘create,’ new laws.”

Stalin does not want his point to be missed. He is not dealing with political economy of economic law under capitalism alone. Man cannot abolish laws of nature, laws of science, or create new ones. What holds for the laws of nature,

... must be said of the laws of economic development, the laws of political economy – whether in the period of capitalism or in the period of socialism. Here, too, the laws of economic development, as in the case of natural sciences, are objective laws, reflecting processes of economic development which take place independently of the will of man. Man may discover these laws, get to know them and, relying upon them, utilize them in the interest of society, impart a different direction to the destructive action of some of the laws, restrict their sphere of action, and allow fuller scope to other laws that are forcing their way to the forefront; but he cannot destroy them or create new economic laws. (My emphasis. M.S.)

Unfortunately, we need a little more of this. It must be taken dose by dose, for without more, the full breadth and depth and height cannot be grasped.

It is said that some of the economic laws operating in our country under socialism, including the law of value have been “transformed,” or even “radically transformed,” on the basis of planned economy. That is likewise untrue. Laws cannot be “transformed,” still less “radically” transformed. If they can be transformed, they they can be abolished and replaced by other laws. The thesis that laws can be “transformed” is a relic of the incorrect formula that laws can be “abolished” or “formed.” Although the formula that economic laws can be transformed has already been current in our country for a long time, it must be abandoned for the sake of accuracy.

If the law of value cannot be transformed, let alone radically transformed, because that implies that it can even be abolished, then under socialism, it continues to exist. Certainly, writes Stalin, “it does exist and does operate.” But “the system of wage labor no longer exists and labor power is no longer a commodity, and ... the system of exploitation has long been abolished,” writes the same Stalin. How then does the law of value exist and operate? Because, continues Stalin, “today there are two basic forms of socialist production in our country: state, or publicly-owned production, and collective-farm production, which cannot be said to be publicly owned.” In the latter case, unlike the former, “the collective farms are unwilling to alienate their products except in the form of commodities, in exchange for which they desire to receive the commodities they need.”

With a sweep of the pen Stalin lifts the curtain on an economic category which Marx, at any rate, who was an enemy of hobgoblins in all sciences, never dreamed of, namely, socialist commodity production, or the production of socialist commodities. From the production of these weird objects which are at once socialist and commodities, it is elementary to conclude that “under the socialist system” the law of value “does exist and does operate.” For:

Wherever commodities and commodity production exist, there the law of value must also exist.

In our country the sphere of operation of the law of value extends, first of all, to commodity circulation, to the exchange of commodities through purchase and sale, the exchange, chiefly, of articles of personal consumption. Here, in this sphere, the law of value preserves, within certain limits, of course, the function of a regulator.

But the operation of the law of value is not confined to the sphere of commodity circulation. It also extends to production. True, the law of value has no regulating function in our socialist production, but it nevertheless influences production, and this fact cannot be ignored when directing production. As a matter of fact, consumer goods, which are needed to compensate the labor power expended in the process of production, are produced and realized in our country as commodities coming under the operation of the law of value. It is precisely here that the law exercizes its influence on production. In this connection, such things as cost accounting and profitableness, production costs, prices, etc., are of actual importance in our enterprises. Consequently, our enterprises cannot, and must not, function without taking the law of value into account.

Is this a good thing? It is not a bad thing.

It would indeed be a bad thing, so bad that humanity’s position would be hopeless, if all this nonsense were true. Fortunately, it is not. The pursuit of truth does not concern Stalin. His aim in all this is to falsify the social position of the workers in order to falsify the social position of the ruling class. This aim requires him to go back on himself, so that two contrary positions serve the same basic purpose. The first position has been sufficiently reiterated: economic laws reflect objective processes which take place independently of the will of man, and they cannot be transformed or abolished or repealed or replaced by other laws. But in the middle of all this reiteration, we learn from Stalin that

The law of balanced development of the national economy arose in opposition to the law of competition and anarchy of production under capitalism. It arose from the socialization of the means of production, after the law of competition and anarchy of production had lost its validity.

A few paragraphs earlier, after calling to his aid a quotation from Engels in a way which, as Engels liked to say, is enough to give you epilepsy, Stalin comments with satisfaction:

As we see, Engels’ formula does not speak at all in favor of those who think that under socialism economic laws can be abolished and new ones created. On the contrary, it demands, not the abolition, but the understanding of economic laws and their intelligent application ...

It has been demonstrated that society is not powerless against laws, that, having come to know economic laws and relying upon them, society can restrict their sphere of action, utilize them in the interests of society and “harness” them, just as in the case of the forces of nature and their laws ...

The first question that arises, then, is this: why was the law of competition and anarchy of production allowed to “lose its validity”? Once understood, why was it not applied intelligently – once known, why was it not relied upon, utilized and harnessed? The answer seems to be: here we have one economic law, to start with, that governs the economic development of a given social formation but doesn’t even have “validity” for the economic development in another social formation.

The second question that arises is this: if the law of competition and anarchy was valid for capitalism, but is not valid for socialism (for the moment we make the preposterous assumption that there is or can be such a thing under Stalinism), how can it exist anywhere under socialism except in history books? A law that has no validity, a law that is inoperative, is a non-existent law. If it was put out of existence by the revolution which instituted the “socialization [accurately: the nationalization] of the means of production,” did not the revolution abolish this law of capitalism?

The third question that arises is this: if the law of balanced development of the national economy (for the moment we make the preposterous assumption that there is or can be such a law) did not exist under capitalism, but exists today under socialism where it “arose in opposition” to the capitalist law which it invalidated only because of the revolution which nationalized the means of production, did not the revolution thereby “create” or “form” a new, socialist economic law?

No matter: whatever the question, whatever the answer, we have Stalin’s word for it that while man cannot abolish or even change economic laws, man can, by revolution, for example, render economic law invalid – and any faithful Stalinist can plainly see that if I render a law invalid I have not changed it in any way. We also have his word for it that while man cannot create or form new laws, man can, by revolution, for example, render previously non-existent laws operative and even dominant – and this thought too will strike the faithful Stalinist as patent and pellucid. And we have his word for it – it is good tidings – that even the famous law of value which “does exist and does operate,” while it dogs our every footstep in what we now have, socialism, will disappear under what we shall some distant day have, communism.

Value, like the law of value, is a historical category connected with the existence of commodity production. With the disappearance of commodity production, value and its forms and the laws of value also disappear.

In the second phase of communist society, the amount of labor expended on the production of goods will be measured not in a roundabout way, not through value and its forms, as in the case under commodity production, but directly and immediately – by the amount of time, the number of hours, expended on the production of goods.

Verily, that will be a day of greatness for man – that second phase of communist society, or briefly, pure communism, as distinguished by Marx from the first phase of communist society, or socialism, which is and has been officially established in Russia since as far back as 1935. When that day comes, production and distribution will be on the highest imaginable plane – “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – and the antithesis and distinctions between town and country, skilled and unskilled, mental and physical labor will be abolished. “We, the leading core,” give you our most solemn of promises that we will speed you toward that paradisaic day as swiftly as the Trotskyists, wreckers and cosmopolitans let us.

Meanwhile, however, we are only in the first or socialist phase of the communist society. To pass from the first phase to the blissful second, means work, hard work, more work, uncomplaining work, and satisfaction with the colossal achievement therefrom. But do not “begin to imagine that the Soviet government can ‘do anything,’ that ‘nothing is beyond it,’ that it can abolish scientific laws and form new ones.” In plain Russian, do not imagine that because the achievements are colossal and the successes extraordinary, your conditions of life, economic and political, are going to improve. That is for tomorrow, which happens to be incalculably distant. For today, we live under law, particularly the law of value, which not only “does exist and does operate,” but does so in a mysterious way that explains nothing but justifies everything.

It would be simple honesty if it were all put bluntly: why are the necessities of life so scarce, why are the prices for the available necessities so high, why is the quality of the available necessities so low? On the other hand, why does “the state” fare so well in the work of maintaining and expanding big industry, maintaining and expanding the armed forces in general and the police forces in particular, and above everything else, in maintaining and expanding “itself,” that is, its personnel? But it is contrary to the inner and outer nature of the author of the Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. to put so honestly and plainly the question to which his whole work is devoted. Wherever there is embarrassment, there is substitution, anonymity, pseudonymity, circumlocution, but nowhere straightforwardness. In this way, the defenseless law of value, present or absent, is made to justify all without explaining anything.

Stalin has already been quoted as to where the law of value is involved: the law

... extends, first of all, to commodity circulation, to the exchange of commodities through purchase and sale, the exchange, chiefly, of articles of personal consumption. Here, in this sphere, the law of value preserves, within certain limits, of course, the function of a regulator ... [the law] has no regulating function in our socialist production, but it nevertheless influences production ... As a matter of fact, consumer goods, which are needed to compensate the labor power expended in the process of production, are produced and realized in our country as commodities coming under the operation of the law of value. It is precisely here that the law of value exercizes its influence on production. (My emphasis. M.S.)

To put it crudely, the share of the national income allotted to the workers falls under the workings of the law of value, according to Stalin. The real significance of these utterly incredible words we have quoted will receive a more detailed treatment later, in order not to break the thread of Stalin’s exposition.

However, does the law of value, “in the first phase of development of communist society,” regulate the proportions of labor distributed among various branches of production? At this point, unlike others, Stalin’s exposition is not only important but appropriate and irrefutable:

If this were true, it would be incomprehensible why our light industries, which are the most profitable, are not being developed to the utmost, and why preference is given to our heavy industries, which are often less profitable and sometimes altogether unprofitable.

If this were true, it would be incomprehensible why a number of our heavy industry plants which are still unprofitable and where the labor of the worker does not yield the “proper returns,” are not closed down, and why new light industry plants, which would certainly be profitable and where the labor of the workers might yield “big returns,” are not opened.

If this were true, it would be incomprehensible why workers are not transferred from plants that are less profitable, but very necessary to our national economy, to plants which are more profitable – in accordance with the law of value, which supposedly regulates the “proportions” of labor distributed among the branches of production. This is very well put, and no Marxist could reasonably quarrel with it. Here it is quite obvious that the law of value does not operate. In determining the annual or quinquennial investment distribution over all the separate branches of industry – and by virtue of the fact that it is able to determine it because industry, agriculture and the working class are nationalized – the Stalinist state is able to ignore that capitalist law which determines and regulates that incessant ebb and flow of capital to and from different branches of industry which tends to equalize the rate of profit in all branches. Price fixing by means of the notorious Stalinist turnover tax regulates, as the late Rudolph Hilferding perspicaciously observed, the distribution of the national product among the classes of this new society. Light industries, which, essentially, provide the workers’ share of the national income, “are the most profitable.” The turnover tax makes quite sure of that by placing a levy of some eighty percent on agricultural products, and some twenty percent on the products of light industry – which is anywhere from ten to fifty times more than the tax on the means of production! But “more profitable” though they are, the light industries “are not being developed to the utmost.” That is, for the workers and for the peasants: scarcity. The heavy industries arc built up “even though” they are “unprofitable.” Why unprofitable? Is labor less productive than in light industry? Not very likely. It is simply a matter of the all but nominal turnover tax levied on the means of production and their products. But that is precisely why the bureaucracy has the lion’s share of the national income at its disposal. Every bit of strengthening and expansion of heavy industry, which is centralized entirely in its hands and controlled exclusively by it, correspondingly strengthens and expands its power over society (at home and abroad!), that is, its power over the masses, over the national income, over production and distribution, over all forms of social and personal life. And this is true in the Stalinist state to a degree never enjoyed by any other ruling class, anywhere or anytime in history!

“Consumer goods, which are needed to compensate the labor power expended in the process of production” – these come “under the operation of the law of value.” But means of production – can they

... be regarded as commodities in our socialist system? In my opinion they certainly cannot.

... In the first place, means of production are not “sold” to any purchaser, they are not “sold” even to collective farms; they are only allocated by the state to its enterprises. In the second place, when transferring means of production to any enterprise, their owner – the state – does not at all lose the ownership of them; on the contrary, it retains it fully. In the third place, directors of enterprises who receive means of production from the Soviet state, far from becoming their owners, are deemed to be the agents of the state in the utilization of the means of production, in accordance with the plans established by the state.

In the absence of a better statement of the relationship, this one can be accepted as perfectly accurate. But if the law of value does not operate in the different branches of the nationalized industry, which are most directly embraced in state planning, where does it exist and regulate? Perhaps in that strange sphere of economic life, the collective farms, where “socialist commodity” production moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform? According to Stalin, there is one who holds that view, a comrade Alexander Ilych Notkin, not otherwise identified, and characterized only by having given the Vozhd the opportunity to expose him as a public cretin (we say “holds that view,” which is wrong; he “held” that view; but assuming he is among the living it is dead certain that he no longer does). Stalin rejects the view, and again, his statement is perfectly accurate:

Is the influence of the law of value on the price of raw materials produced by agriculture a regulating influence, as you, comrade Notkin, claim? It would be a regulating one, if prices of agricultural raw materials had “free” play in our country, if the law of competition and anarchy of production prevailed, if we did not have a planned economy, and if the production of raw materials were not regulated by plan. But since all these “ifs” are missing in our economic system, the influence of the law of value on the price of agricultural raw materials cannot be a regulating one. In the first place, in our country, prices of agricultural raw materials are fixed, established by plan, and are not “free.” In the second place, the quantities of agricultural raw materials produced are not determined spontaneously by chance elements, but by plan. In the third place, the implements of production needed for the producing of agricultural raw materials are concentrated not in the hands of individuals or groups of individuals but in the hands of the state. What then, after this, remains of the regulating function of the law of value? It appears that the law of value is itself regulated by the above-mentioned factors characteristic of socialist production.

Consequently, it cannot be denied that the law of value does influence the formation of prices of agricultural raw materials, that it is one of the factors in this process. But still less can it be denied that its influence is not, and cannot be, a regulating one.

What this “influence” is that the law of value exerts, here or elsewhere in Stalin’s remarks, here or elsewhere in the Stalinist economy, is not stated. Is it the influence that supply and demand have on price, or one friend has upon another, or the moon has on the tide, or music has on the savage breast, or Stalin has on Malenkov? No one can tell. It is entirely without definition, specification, measurement, or substance – the Holy Ghost of the “socialist commodity,” in Stalinist political economy. Anyhow, it is good to learn that the law of value does not regulate the production of the collective farms. It is itself regulated, and so being, is reduced, as a law, to atomic proportions without atomic power.

What remains, after all this, of the law of value under Stalinist socialism? In the planned economy of big and small industry, it is not in evidence at all; in the more-or-less planned economy of agriculture, “it appears that it is itself regulated.” These two spheres account for the overwhelming bulk of production in the Russian empire. It preserves its function of regulator – and even there only within certain limits, “of course,” – in what is, in Stalin’s own version, a necessarily minor and constantly diminishing sector of economic life, one which in any case could not be considered weighty by comparison with the heavily predominant and determinant importance of the rest of economic life. But even in this sphere – the “consumer goods” – is the situation really the way it is described by Stalin? Let us look a little closer.

The Marxian Law of Value

According to the Marxian theory or law of value, the value of every commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labor required for its production (or reproduction). In the highest stage of commodity production, the one in which it becomes predominant, namely, capitalism, labor power itself becomes almost universally a commodity, a peculiar commodity, it is true, but one whose value is nevertheless determined like that of any other commodity. The worker sells his commodity, as he must, to the capitalist. But, exploiter though he is, the capitalist pays the worker the full value (more or less) of his labor power. He pays him in the form of another peculiar commodity, money, which is a universal equivalent and with which the worker in turn acquires those commodities he needs to live on (that is, to reproduce his labor power). He in turn pays the full value (more or less) for these commodities. For the value of his labor power, the worker receives an equivalent value in other commodities. The bourgeois principle of equality is perfectly maintained. Equal values have been exchanged. There has been no cheating, no stealing. Commodity exchange can operate on no other principle, above all under the conditions of capitalism, than that of the exchange of equivalents.

Yet the capitalist exploits the worker. In paying for labor power at its value, the capitalist has the use of labor power, namely, labor itself, for a longer time than is needed to reproduce the value of the labor power he has bought. That is, he disposes of its use during the time when it is necessary labor, and during the time when it is surplus labor, that is, while it produces a value above that of the labor power purchased. The secret of surplus value is laid bare. No cheating, equal values fairly exchanged – and that is exactly how the worker is exploited and surplus value appropriated by the capitalist. Thus, the Marxian theory of value is nothing but the theory of surplus value. That is all it is or ever was.

Under Stalin’s socialism, Lord be praised, “the system of wage labor and exploitation has been abolished,” or so he says. But the workers’ need for consumer goods, however undesirable that need may seem to some, has not been abolished. But it turns out that the “consumer goods, which are needed to compensate the labor power expended in the process of production, are produced and realized in our country as commodities coming under the operation of the law of value” (my emphasis. M.S.).

Now we are in a maze, not easy to enter and harder to leave. If that is how consumer goods are produced and realized (that is, exchanged or sold), then their value, like that of all commodities, must be determined by the labor time needed to produce them. The law of value, under whose operation these “socialist” commodities come, tell us that commodities exchange only against other commodities, and that in the proportion of the labor time embedded in each of them. Against what commodity are the consumer-goods-commodities exchanged in Russia? Against the commodity known as labor power – since these goods are “needed to compensate the labor power expended in the process of production”? If that is the case, we have before us not a socialist economy, in the first, second or any other phase, but capitalism. For capitalist economy is distinguished from all others in which commodities are produced by the fact that labor power, too, has become a commodity. But only a few lines earlier, Stalin takes pains to explain that “Talk of labor power being a commodity, and of ‘hiring’ of workers sounds rather absurd now, under our system.” Not only sounds absurd, but is absurd. In that case, we, along with Stalin, are stuck. If the consumer goods are not exchanged against another commodity of equal value – and they are not, for labor power is no longer a commodity – then they are not realized as commodities, and the genial Stalin is talking gibberish.

Are they perhaps produced as commodities, that is, is there at least a half-truth in what Stalin writes? Not even half of a half-truth. In the first place, an object which is produced for the use of others but which is not exchanged against another commodity, which is not realized as a commodity, may be a delicious thing to eat, a handsome thing to wear, an excellent thing to polish boots with, a hallucination or invention of Stalinism – a commodity it is not and cannot be. If we ignore the first place, then in the second place an object is produced as a commodity only in one of two circumstances: One, if the labor power employed in producing it is itself a commodity, as is typically the case under capitalist economy. But labor power is certainly not a commodity under Stalinism, not because Stalin denies it, but in spite of his denial. [3] Two, commodities can be produced even when labor power is not a commodity – but only under pre-capitalist economy, or under capitalist economy to the extent that pre-capitalist forms persist. But that is so only because the worker (or peasant) is an individual producer who still privately owns his instruments of production, himself exchanges his products against others, and is therefore not obliged to offer his labor power for sale on the market as a commodity. But except for a diminishing handful whose influence on the Russian economy is negligible, and to whom Stalin is not even referring, there is no pre-capitalist commodity production, there are no individual producers owning the means of production, there are virtually no consumer goods produced for distribution on the basis of private ownership of the instruments of labor. In a word, Stalin is still talking gibberish.

How consumer goods, like all other products, are produced under Stalinism, must be left for later, with the notation made in advance that the way they are produced is of determinant importance. But produced they are, and consumed they are. What Stalin was to tell us is how consumer goods become goods of the consumer, that is, how they are distributed. If they are not distributed in accordance with the familiar laws of commodity exchange, what law does regulate distribution? The answer is of interest not only to us, but to millions who work under the Stalinist regime. And from precisely this standpoint, Stalin’s work was not written for nothing. What it has yielded toward enriching our understanding, we already know. But that was only hors d’oeuvres; our mental belts must be loosened for richer courses to come. The next platter contains nothing smaller than the fundamental economic law of socialism which, we have it on the superior authority of Malenkov, has just been discovered by Stalin. Even though the picayune critic might deem it a little late in being discovered, in view of the fact that socialism in Russia is moving with such unarrestable speed to communism, it is not too late. At any rate, it is not too little, for it encompasses within itself more than any other economic law ever contained. Perhaps we will learn from it the basis upon which the wealth produced in Stalinist society is distributed.

The essential features and requirements of the basic law of socialism might be formulated roughly in this way: the securing of the maximum satisfaction of the constantly rising material and cultural requirements of the whole of society through the continuous expansion and perfection of socialist production on the basis of higher techniques ...

It is said that the law of balanced, proportionate development of the national economy is the basic economic law of socialism. That is not true. Balanced development of the national economy, and, hence, economic planning, which is a more or less faithful reflection of this law, can yield nothing by themselves, if it is not known for what purpose economic development is planned, or if that purpose is not clear. The law of balanced development of the national economy can yield the desired result only if there is a purpose for the sake of which economic development is planned. This purpose the law of balanced development of the national economy cannot itself provide. Still less can economic planning provide it. The purpose is inherent in the basic economic law of socialism, in the shape of its requirements, as expounded above. Consequently, the law of balanced development of the national economy can operate to its full scope only if its operation rests on the basic economic law of socialism.

There we have the whole of it, and forthwith it prompts the melancholy thought that nobody in the vast fiefs of the Kremlin dares roll on the floor laughing when he reads it. However, let us listen very carefully to every word of this wondrous law, lest its full juiciness escape us:

What other law can be mentioned in the same breath with this one? Ohm’s law that the current flowing in any portion of an electrical circuit is equal to the applied electromotive force divided by the resistance, has, no doubt, some interest, but is there inherent in it the purpose of satisfying the maximum electric light and power requirements of the whole of society? No. And all other laws of nature and society suffer from the same fatal inadequacy. Not so under the Stalin Law of Inherent Purpose, to give it the name under which it will pass into oblivion.

But if the newly-discovered basic law of socialism is already operating, why – if one may ask without meaning offense – why do we need the appalling congestion of big and little Stalins, Malenkovs and Berias, with their Politbureaus, Secretariats, Collegiums, Praesidiums and associated slave-drivers, prison wardens, trained lickspittles and trained assassins? We need them, it should be plain, to enforce the excellent basic law of socialism in order that socialist production shall grow and improve so that the maximum satisfaction of society’s requirements shall be secured. But – one asks further – is not that very purpose inherent in the law, and besides, is not this law too a mere “reflection of objective processes which take place independently of the will of man”?

To this question there will be no answer, particularly not in Russia where the Discoverer sees to it that there is no question in the first place. If there were an answer, we would flee it: the question is based on a “law” which is lunacy incarnate, and any answer related to it would be correspondingly tainted. More important, however, is the fact that the new law proclaimed by Stalin gives no answer at all to the concrete question: how are consumer goods distributed under Stalino-socialism, by what criterion or standard or formula, if any, are they distributed among the members of this socialist society? Even if Stalin’s new discovery were an “economic law” instead of the sheer fiddle-faddle that it is; even if it were the honest statement of a social aim – which is all such a statement ever could be – instead of the cold and mocking duplicity that it is; it would still tell us nothing about the basis on which consumer goods are distributed.

There is, fortunately for the patient, a last resort. It is the formula now familiar in Marxian literature, and known widely in the Stalinist world as well. Under communism, wrote Marx in the famous passage of his criticism of the draft of a program prepared for the unification congress of the German Social Democracy at Gotha in 1875, “the narrow bourgeois horizon of rights [can] be left far behind and society will inscribe on its banner: ‘From each according to his capacity, to each according to his need.’”

The formula presupposes an enormous increase in the forces of production, the end of the distinction between physical and mental work, with labor becoming “not merely a means to live but ... the first necessity of living.” How far distant such a stage of society may be, or even whether it can be fully attained by man, is not involved for the moment. We are concerned only with what is being done and what can be done to draw society ever closer to the realization of the principle expressed in Marx’s watchword. The principle itself is unambiguous: “In a higher phase of communist society,” as Marx puts it, everybody will work for the community to the best of his capacity without any compulsion or regulation from society, and society will freely accord him everything he needs.

Stalin makes no claim that Russia has reached the “higher phase of communist society.” Quite the contrary. He insists that it has not, and under the given conditions, with the best will in the world, it could not have attained this stage. In this he is, of course, perfectly right. Just as perfectly right is his corresponding insistence that the quoted formula of Marx cannot yet be applied to “our socialist society,” since it represents only the first phase of communist society. “To pave the way for the transition to communism” in its higher phase, says Stalin, a number of conditions must be met. Let us leave these conditions aside for a while, and ask if Stalin, in this very connection, gives any indication of the formula which can be and is supplied in the meantime. He does indeed.

Only after all these preliminary conditions have been satisfied in their entirety will it be possible to pass from the socialist formula, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work,” to the communist formula, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Patience is therewith doubly rewarded, once for itself and again for having finally reached to the all-resolving formula. We are not only given it. We get more than we bargained for. It is only very little overstated to say that the purpose of the entire Stalin work – including all his somniloquies on political economy, on economic law in general and the law of value in particular, and on the truly ecstatic discovery of basic laws of socialist economy which are distinguished from all economic laws in that they are not laws at all – was to defend this “socialist” formula, to bolster it up again with learned obscurities, to justify it again in the language if not in the sense of Marxian theory.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his work” – that is the distinctive contribution Stalin has made to the mind and life of his time. That is his lasting contribution, and not the theory of “socialism in one country” – or the theory of “the bloc of four classes” in the colonial revolutions or the theory of “social-Fascism” or any of the other constructions which, however important the role they played for a given period or moment, faded when they served their transient or auxiliary purpose. It is to this “formula,” in so far as a formula expresses social needs and social hopes, that Stalin owes his rise as the authentic and venerated leader of the new ruling class; to it the new ruling class owes its success in destroying the Bolshevik revolution root and branch, owes its own conquest of state power.

Although there have been vague hints attributing the formula to Marx, no such out-and-out claim has been made; the falsification – it is nothing else – has not advanced to such a point as yet. It has only been designated as “Marxian.” Any number of times since the beginning of the rise of Stalin and the coagulation around him and his program of the new bureaucracy, Stalin has advanced with diminished restraint the idea which is the essence of this “formula of socialism.” Each time, the argument for it, the justification, has been different; some of the arguments exclude others that were made; some are in out-and-out conflict with others. But it is also a fact that the idea itself has been persistently and more and more confidently advanced, with increasing support from those who grasped its meaning and benefited from its implementation in the real life of Stalinist society.

Equality and Inequality Under Stalin

It is the idea of inequality – not in general and not as a law of nature, to be sure, but as economic inequality which is only a manifestation of the fundamental social, or class, inequality of Stalinism.

The Bolshevik revolution was an equalitarian revolution in the socialist, not the religious or bourgeois, sense. The Stalinist counter-revolution, anti-socialist through and through and from start to finish, was therefore necessarily anti-equalitarian, in reality as well as in ideology. The counter-revolution goes back of course to the early days of the resistance of the Left Opposition. When Zinoviev, on the verge of the open break with Stalin which preceded the alliance with Trotsky, wrote his Philosophy of the Epoch in 1925, Stalin was the first one to denounce him. Zinoviev, not without factional designs against Stalin, reminded people that the proletariat had made the revolution of 1917 in the name of equality, and now that the civil war was over and the Soviet regime politically and economically more-or-less stabilized, it was necessary, he urged cautiously, to begin taking steps again to realize the equality for which the proletariat almost secretly yearned. Stalin’s attack upon him was prompt, surprisingly – for those days – violent, ugly, ominous; but except for the charge of “demagoguery,” dark and vague. Only after the Trotskyist and Zinovievist opposition had been crushed and dispersed, and the Bukharin-Rykov-Tomsky opposition, the last representatives of the historical Bolshevism, even if in its right-wing form, had been brought to its knees, did Stalin find it possible to champion inequality directly and make it official party, state and police policy. It is significant that this came in the period of super-industrialization and all-out collectivization. It was the beginning of the end of the last traces of working-class power and rights, and the substitution of omnipotent police absolutism.

Stalin did not as yet, in those days, say a word about “socialist political economy” and “socialist commodity production” and “basic economic laws of socialism” and “law of value under socialism,” for even then people might have giggled or laughed out loud. These were invented later to make the wormy social reality appear “Marxistic.” But the beginning of the enslavement of the masses required that inequality be placed prominently on the banner of the state. In 1931, in his speech before the conference of the industrialists, he said:

... It must not be tolerated that a locomotive engineer should receive the same wages as a writer. [4] Marx and Engels said that the difference between skilled and unskilled work would continue to exist even under socialism, and even after the abolition of classes; that this difference would disappear only under communism, and that therefore even under socialism “wage labor” must be paid according to need. Our industrialist and trade-union equalitarians are not, however, in agreement with this and believe that this difference has already disappeared under our Soviet system. Who is right: Marx and Lenin or the equalitarians? We may take it that Marx and Lenin are right. But from that it follows that whoever draws up wage scales today on equalitarian “principles,” without considering the difference between skilled labor and unskilled labor, breaks with Marxism, with Leninism. (Stalin, Fragen des Leninismus [Problems of Leninism], p. 621.)

By that time, it is doubtful if a single “industrialist” considered himself less than the superior in skill of the locomotive engineer or even the writer; and if, moreover, it was so clearly a choice between the “equalitarians” and Marx and Engels, the equalitarians were as good as counted out before the voting.

A year later, in an interview granted to Emil Ludwig who, being a skilled writer, did not hesitate to discuss matters about which he knew thrice less than zero, Stalin put the case of inequality more blatantly and with utterly unashamed demagoguery:

The sort of socialism in which everyone receives the same wages, the same quantity of meat, the same quantity of bread, wears just the same things, and receives the same products in the same quantity – such a socialism is unknown to Marxism. Marxism only says: until the final annihilation of classes, and until labor, instead of being a means to existence, has become the first necessity of life – voluntary labor for society – everyone will be paid for his labor in accordance with the work done. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his labor” – this is the Marxist formula for socialism, that is, the formula for the first state of communism, the first stage of communist society ...

Read how Marx criticized Stirner for his tendency to equalitarianism, read Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program of 1875 ... Equalitarianism has nothing in common with Marxist socialism ... (An Interview with the German Writer, Emil Ludwig, pp. 15f.)

This was 1932, and Stalin had already seen to it that not one living soul remained in all the broad lands of Russia who would rise in public to read what Marx did write in the Critique of the Gotha Program. For Ludwig, no doubt, it was enough to be assured that socialism has no equalitarian notions of the kind that Stalin so cheaply ridiculed; for the expanding bureaucracy, which was moving measurably closer to its own private “socialism” every single day, it was enough to be assured that Stirner was dead and that Marx had explicitly allowed it to have a greater quantity of meat and bread than the “unskilled” and even to have meat and bread when others had none.

Like a criminal to the scene of the crime, Stalin feels compelled to return unfailingly ot his new doctrine at frequent intervals. “Every Leninist knows,” he said, coming back again to the same subject, at the 17th Congress of the Stalinist party in 1934,

... that is, if he is a real Leninist, that equality in the sphere of requirements and personal life is a piece of reactionary petty bourgeois stupidity worthy of a primitive sect of ascetics, but not of a socialist society organized on Marxian lines ...

[By equality Marxism means] ... the equal duty of all to work according to their ability and the equal right of all toilers to receive according to the amount of work they have done (socialist society) ... the equal duty of all to work according to their ability and the equal right of all toilers to receive according to their requirements (communist society). (The State of the Soviet Union, pp. 71f.)

This systematic campaign, personally led by Stalin, which made the Russian state the only one in the world openly and officially to proclaim the implanting and protection of economic inequality, came to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of the war, most particularly when Hitler’s legions threatened the very existence of the bureaucracy and its privileges. The outrageous mockery of the sentiments, dignity and deep aspirations of the masses was instantly and completely suspended. Not a word about “socialist” inequality can be found in the Stalinist literature during that period. We cannot escape the significance of the fact that the campaign was resumed only after the Russian victory at Stalingrad and the launching of the anti-German offensive which carried to Berlin and allowed the bureaucracy to breathe freely again. Even then – in 1943 – Stalin took care not to put his name to the theory he had argued for so aggressively before the war. The thread was picked up, instead, ostensibly by the editors of Pod Znamenen Marxisma (Under the Banner of Marxism), a name which is only one of the many fictions which make up the style of the regime.

The Stalinist editors, clay figures like all their ilk, were assigned to announce that the teaching of political economy had been restored in the higher academic institutions (when and why had it been dropped?) and to explain its significance for the “socialist economy.” It was the most elaborate, ludicrous and even monstrous theoretical justification for Stalinist exploitation and inequality yet put forward. Crudely, stupidly, and, one might almost say, with a sense of shame at having to write the very, very opposite of what all of them, especially their chief, Leontiev, had been writing up to yesterday, they gave the “Marxian” arguments to justify inequality of “wages” under socialism and the extraction of surplus products from exploited labor which is its twin.

The “hints” in the editorial statement were broad enough for any moderately-well-informed person. As one example, take their criticism of the “mistake which crept into our teaching of political economy in the field of primitive communism,” namely, “the romantic idealization of that system.” And why, except for generally valid and obvious reasons, should that system not be romantically idealized? Because, it yielded so little, that “had any one received a somewhat larger share of the social product, there would not have been enough left to satisfy the hunger of the other members of the primitive society, who then would have perished from starvation.” It does not take too perspicacious a reader to infer the rest: in “our socialist society,” on the contrary, there is “enough left to satisfy the hunger” of the masses, i.e., keep them from starvation, even though there are those who have “received a somewhat larger share of the social product.” But why the difference? Because – well, because – to blurt out the unpleasant truth, because there is a difficulty.

The difficulty is that the labor of the citizens of a socialist order is not qualitatively uniform. In this respect it differs from the work of a communist society ...

Work of one category requires more training than that of another. [Let us remember this sentence well. It is entirely in order ... for a different conclusion. M.S.] In other words, there exist differences between skilled and unskilled work, and between work of various degrees of skill ...

All this signifies that the hour (or day) of work of one worker is not equal to the hour (or day) of another. As a result of this, the measure of labor and measure of consumption in a socialist society can be calculated only on the basis of the law of value. (American Economic Review, Sept. 1944, p. 522)

In the twenty preceding years of anti-equalitarian propaganda the law of value had never before appeared. Inequality was motivated by any number of considerations, as has already been indicated, but not one of them invoked the law of value. The war was won but not yet over. The masses of the Kremlin empire were restless and discontented, and even openly rebellious in fifty different ways. With the victory already assured, the bureaucracy did not lose a day in resuming the struggle for its privileges. Only now it found it necessary to summon the aid of an “objective economic law” as a supplement to that other kind of law which is so emphatically administered by the G.P.U.

As is always the case when the order for a new turn comes from above, the under strappers, terrified lest they appear to show insufficient belief in the new revelation and zeal in public self-degradation, went to unusually preposterous extremes. In the inevitable access of vertigo, they wrote such things as these:

The labor of the members of socialist society produces commodities ...

In the planned economy of the U.S.S.R. commodities are objects of purchase and sale ...

The value of a commodity in socialist society is determined not by the units of labor actually expended on its production, but by the quantity of labor socially necessary for its production and reproduction ...

In socialist society the product of labor is a commodity; it has use value and value ...

If the word “capitalism” were substituted everywhere for the words “socialist society” or “U.S.S.R.” the sentences would be perfectly correct and valid. Applied to socialist or Stalinist society, however, they were a disaster, devoid of Marxism, logic, truth or common-sense. However, such deficiencies are not, by themselves, a handicap in Russia; indeed, in most cases where theory and politics are involved, they arc regarded as assets.

In any case, by Stalinist standards, the editors of Pod Znamenem Marxisma may congratulate themselves upon being so extraordinarily lucky, and they undoubtedly do. The product of their terror-stricken zeal has lasted nine years without public exposure, public self-condemnation and worse. In 1952, as if he has just heard of what the editors wrote as a worldwide sensation in 1943, and as if he is too polite to mention even such reprobate ignoramuses, Stalin cancels out everything contained in the four sentences quoted above by writing that means of production “certainly cannot” be regarded as “commodities in our socialist system” and are therefore not “objects of purchase and sale”; that in reality essentially the same holds true even of agricultural products, so that the law of value there “is itself regulated”; that in reality the law of value has only an “influence” which “is not, and cannot be, a regulating one.”

Apparently, it doesn’t matter if the premises are diametrically opposed one to the other, so long as the conclusion is the same. The lucky editors have had their more palpable hallucinations replaced by others more impalpable; the essence of the cause has been preserved and, what is more, consolidated by the all-but-too-late discovery of the basic economic laws of socialism.

Everything has changed a dozen times in more than a quarter of a century of the rise of Stalinism, but the flinty opposition to “equalitarianism” remains the eternal soul of the social system:

Yet, after all is said that should be said, shouldn’t the devil be given his due? Does justified general opposition to Stalin and Stalinism demand opposition to everything Stalin says, even if what he says is a truism? After all, a man like Isaac Deutscher who, although an apologist of Stalinism, is nevertheless a severe critic, acknowledges that in his fight against the equalitarian trends, for all its exaggerations, Stalin “found support for his thesis in Marx’s well-known saying that even in a classless society workers would at first be paid according to their labor and not to their needs.” After all, even Trotsky, irreconcilable foe of Stalinism though he was, acknowledged, precisely by reference to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, that “In so far as the state which assumes the task of socialist transformation is compelled to defend inequality – that is, the material privileges of a minority – by methods of compulsion, in so far does it also remain a ‘bourgeois’ state, even though without a bourgeoisie,” and that in this sense, the very “essence of the present economic and cultural work” under Stalinism is the “application of socialist methods for the solution of pre-socialist problems.” If that is what two such different opponents of Stalinism write about the basic question of inequality that is at stake – or seems to be at stake – is it necessary to say much more on the matter?

Not only is it necessary to say more, but fortunately for socialist aspirations, it is possible to say it much differently – much, much differently.

Since Marx and Engels have been invoked so often in the discussion, it is simple decency to allow them to speak for themselves. Our understanding will not suffer from their direct participation – and I mean our understanding of Marxism and of socialism and of Stalinism.

Marx and Engels on the Socialist Society

It would be unfruitful – to say the least, it would yield us too little from what has so much to offer us – if we went directly to the famous Critique of the Gotha Program. Without further apology for the delay, let us set forth some preliminary considerations in the expectation that their value will reveal itself with their unfoldment. And our first preliminary deals with political economy.

Stalin assails “Comrade Yaroshenko” for denying “the necessity for a single political economy for all social formations, on the grounds that every social formation has its specific economic laws. But he is absolutely wrong there, and is at variance with such Marxists as Engels and Lenin.” There is then a “single” political economy for all social formations, hence for socialism, hence for communism, for it too is a social formation.

Now it is true that in the famous Anti-Dühring – which is required reading for anyone who wants a clear grasp of the problem – Engels, to whom Stalin refers for authority, does write that “political economy, in the widest sense, is the science of the laws governing the production and exchange of the material means of subsistence in human society” (my emphasis – M.S.). But what follows only emphasizes what small significance the founders of scientific socialism attached to the statement which, as the polemic against Dühring shows, is made pro forma – only so that the writer can hurry along to significant matters.

In the first place, Engels hastens to add:

The conditions under which men produce and exchange vary from country to country, and within each country again from generation to generation. Political economy, therefore, cannot be the same for all countries and for all historical epochs ... Anyone who attempted to bring Patagonia’s political economy under the same laws as are operative in present-day England would obviously produce only the most banal commonplaces. (Op. cit., p. 167)

“Only the most banal commonplaces” – that’s a direct personal thrust at Stalin!

In a later chapter, Engels is less charitable (actually the chapter was written for Engels by Marx), not because he denies “the natural laws of all economics,” as Dühring called them, but because they are not of the essence of political economy, because they “prove to be merely universally familiar and often not even properly understood platitudes of the worst description” (Ibid., p. 258x). Why?

Because, in the second place, “the basis of all political economy,” as it is so flatly stated in Marx’s denunciation of Proudhon, is “exchange-value” (Poverty of Philosophy, p. 197). And the only exchange-value, or value, known in economics is the value of commodities. It is true that the same Engels who makes this statement about the only value known to economics, elsewhere traces the law of value and commodity production to the dimmest recesses of history, thousands of years back. But he does that, in replying to the critics of the third volume of Capital, only to emphasize the “historical age” of the law of value from the standpoint of correspondence between the real value of a commodity and price, its money form and not to indicate the universal and eternal applicability of political economy. In fact, Engels speaks of political economy “in the widest sense” applying to non-capitalist societies only to the extent that the categories which alone form the subject matter of political economy and are to be found in their most highly developed and most predominant and decisive form in capitalist society, are also to be found in pre-capitalist societies in embryonic form, and therefore not as factors determining the economic and social relationships that were the distinguishing characteristics of those societies.

Anybody who sought to write the “political economy” of Asiatic despotism or slavery or feudalism, to establish the “laws of motion” of the economy that was the fundamental characteristic of any of these social formations (and not of some subordinate segment of the economy – commodity production, let us say – which may have existed but was not its basic feature), would merit the sympathy you give to a heroic but futile effort. Engels could not fail to understand this:

Political economy, however, as the science of the conditions and forms under which the various human societies have produced and exchanged and on this basis have distributed their products – political economy in this wider sense has still to be brought into being. Such economic science as we have up to the present is almost exclusively limited to the genesis and development of the capitalist mode of production. (Anti-Dühring, p. 171)

“Has still to be brought into being” – but we may confidently add, never will be. “Almost exclusively limited” to the capitalist mode of production – but why only “almost”? That is explained further on, in a sense which is absolutely identical with what we say above about the “political economy” of “all” social formations, and absolutely opposed to Stalin’s fantasy:

Since political economy, as it makes its appearance in history, is in fact nothing but the scientific insight into the economics of the period of capitalist production, statements and theorems relating to it (for example, in the writings of ancient Greek society) can only be found to the extent that certain phenomena – such as commodity production, trade, money, interest-bearing capital, etc. – are common to both societies ... Because of this, their views form, historically, the theoretical starting point of the modern science. (Ibid., p. 259. My emphasis. M.S.) [5]

In a fragment he wrote in 1859 to present Marx’s Critique of Political Economy to the German public, Engels was even more unambiguous: “Political economy is the theoretical analysis of the modern bourgeois society and thereby it presupposes developed bourgeois conditions.” (Engels Brevier, Vienna 1920, p. 113)

And in a letter written in 1865 to the German scientist who was interested in the labor question and in the history of materialism, F.A. Lange, Engels said:

To us so-called “economic laws” are not eternal laws of nature but historic laws which arise and disappear; and the code of modern political economy, in so far as it has been drawn up with proper objectivity by the economists, is to us simply a summary of the laws and conditions under which alone modern bourgeois society can exist – in short the conditions of its production and exchange expressed in an abstract and summary way. To us also, therefore, none of these laws, in so far as it expresses purely bourgeois conditions, is older than modern bourgeois society; those which have hitherto been more or less valid throughout all history only express just those relations which are common to the conditions of all society based on class rule and class exploitation. (Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence, p. 198) [6]

But what better reference can be made in this respect than the one that Marx himself makes to the only bourgeois writer, an unnamed Russian, who showed by his review of the first volume of Capital that he grasped Marx’s dialectic method of economic analysis? The Russian reviewer, as quoted with unconcealed pride by Marx, wrote:

Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence ... But it will be said, the general laws of economic life are one and the same, no matter whether they are applied to the present or the past. This Marx directly denies. According to him, such abstract laws do not exist. On the contrary, in his opinion every historical period has laws of its own ... As soon as society has outlived a given period of development, and is passing over from one given stage to another, it begins to be subject also to other laws. In a word, economic life offers us a phenomenon analogous to the history of evolution in other branches of biology. The old economists misunderstood the nature of economic laws when they likened them to the laws of physics and chemistry. A more thorough analysis of phenomena shows that social organisms differ among themselves as fundamentally as plants or animals. Nay, one and the same phenomenon falls under quite different laws in consequence of the different structure of those organisms as a whole, of the variations of their individual organs, of the different conditions in which those organs function, etc. (Capital, Vol. I, pp. 23f.)

There is nothing in the mysterious and much-discussed soul of the Russian that prevents him from understanding Marxian economics. Far from it. Marx’s unnamed Russian, though a bourgeois, grasped it without difficulty, requiring for that only intelligence and honesty. But when these two simple qualities are replaced by a motive as ulterior as it is unmentionable, it is more difficult, even if the Russian is not really a Russian, and not a bourgeois at all.

What about commodity production under Stalin’s “socialism”? Stalin is quite right in recalling that commodity production antedates capitalist commodity production. It existed under feudalism and even earlier, yet capitalist production did not dominate the economy. In other words, commodity production is not, by itself, capitalist production. So far, so good. The interesting question, however, is this: Is there commodity production under Stalinism? Even Stalin does not – does not yet – presume to say in just so many words that the law of value, be it as “regulator” or as “influencer,” is applicable to any product other than a commodity.

Stalin does not anywhere define a commodity or the law of value in the language of Marxism. His silence is dictated neither by considerations of literary economy “or the feeling that his readers know what is meant, but simply by discretion. Marx begins his monumental anatomy of capitalist economy by analyzing the commodity as the fundamental cell of that economy. And it is upon his analysis of that commodity, the typical and preponderant product of capitalist society, and of the basic inner contradiction between its use value and its (exchange) value, that he constructs little by little the edifice of his analysis as a whole and of that negation of capitalism which is the proletarian struggle and victory. And what is a commodity? The entire richness of Marx’s answer cannot be reproduced or even summarized here; a knowledge of it would suffice to explode every word of Stalin’s new views on economics. But a simple Marxian definition of the commodity will suffice for the narrow question we have before us at the moment.

Engels, as if anticipating our Dühring when dealing with his own, makes perfectly clear what is meant by a commodity:

Marx is dealing here directly only with the determination of the value of commodities, i.e., objects which, within a society composed of private producers, are produced and exchanged against each other by these private producers for their private account. (Anti-Dühring, p. 225)

And again, to make sure:

The only value known in economics is the value of commodities. What are commodities? Products made in a society of private producers more or less separate from each other, and therefore in the first place private products. These private products, however, become commodities only when they are made, not for the use by their producers, but for use by others, that is, for social use; they enter into social use through exchange. (Ibid., p. 342)

Then, to leave no room for doubt:

Therefore when I say that a commodity has a particular value, I say (1) that it is a socially useful product; (2) that it has been produced by a private individual for private account ... (Ibid., p. 343)

If that is what a commodity is – and it has always been that to all Marxists, and not only to them but to all serious bourgeois economists – where is commodity production in Russia? Among the poor wretches whose products reach the illegal market, or the occasionally legalized open market, and whose total economic activity accounts for a fraction of a fraction of one per cent of the total of the country as a whole? Practically speaking, commodity production in Russia, if it cannot be called unknown, may certainly be called insignificant, utterly insignificant in determining the character of the mode of production and distribution under Stalinism.

But if products are not produced by private owners, blindly for the market, what happens to the law of value? The law of value applies only to commodities, whose value is the “only value known in economics.” When capitalist property has been replaced by state property, and production and distribution are centrally planned, organized, carried out, controlled from start to finish, then commodity production has been abolished. With it is abolished the law of value. Stalin may repeat one hundred times that economic laws cannot be “reformed” or “repealed” or “abolished,” but he is talking like an ignoramus or a reactionary (Marx always insisted on what should be self-evident, namely, that whoever preaches the eternal validity of economic laws or economic formations, is a reactionary) or an ignorant reactionary. Marx, impatient with the continued repetition of Lassalle’s “iron law of wages” by the German social-democrats, berated them sharply in his Critique of the Gotha Program:

If I abolish wage-labor, then naturally I abolish its laws whether they be of “iron” or of sponge.

But perhaps the law of value is some sort of exception which can and should be considered valid in a socialist economy, and not only under capitalism. The Marxian law of value is nothing but the law of surplus value, that is, the specific law of exploitation under capitalism, as we said above. In fact, Engels remarks in his preface to the second volume of Capital (p. 25) that “In order to understand what surplus value is, Marx had to find out what value is.” When Stalin, ducking and tacking and squirming, and talking two dialects at the same time, not daring to say outright that the law of value is the regulator of his “socialist” production but yet making obfuscatory references to an inchoate “influence” of the law of value, he is in simple fact stating that there is exploitation of labor under his “socialism” and that it must not be resisted because it has the personal approval of Marx and Engels. Nowhere are the founders of scientific socialism so perfidiously treated as under Stalinism. According to Engels, in passages which must be known to Stalin, or those in his Secretariat-for-Theory,

... the exchangeability against each other of products of equal social labor, that is to say, the law of value, is precisely the fundamental law of commodity production, hence also of its highest form, capitalist production. (Anti-Dühring, p. 849)

But there is more to the law of value than that. There is so much more, as to make it the most comprehensive and the basic conception in Marxian theory, the indispensable foundation of its critique of capitalist society and its theory of proletarian socialist triumph – that and nothing less. In a passage that absolutely pulverizes Stalin’s argumentation, if there is anything left of it by now, Engels writes:

The concept of value is the most general and therefore the most comprehensive expression of the economic conditions of commodity production. Consequently, the concept of value contains the germ, not only of money, but also of all more developed forms of the production and exchange of commodities ... The value form of products therefore already contains in germ the whole capitalist form of production, the antagonism between capitalists and wage workers, the industrial reserve army, crises.

Now give special attention to the words that follow directly, and which every Stalinist bureaucrat should some day be compelled to recite before every meal:

To seek to abolish the capitalist form of production by establishing “true value” is therefore equivalent to attempting to abolish Catholicism by establishing the “true” Pope, or to set up a society in which at last the producers control their products by the logical application of an economic category which is the most comprehensive expression of the subjection of the producers by their own product. (Ibid., p. 347)

Again, a direct thrust at Stalin, with his talk of the law of value “influencing” production and distribution, and the law of value being “itself regulated” – that is, in effect, with his talk of how his “socialism” assures the “logical application of an economic category,” the law of value, which best expresses class rule and exploitation, the domination of living labor by dead labor, as Marx likes to put it!

The socialist founders saw the end of the law of value under socialism because

The quantity of social labor contained in a product has then no need to be established in a roundabout way; daily experience shows in a direct way how much of it is required on the average. Society can simply calculate how many hours of labor are contained in a steam engine, a bushel of wheat of the last harvest, or a hundred square yards of cloth of a certain quality. It could therefore never occur to it still to express the quantity of labor put into the products which it will then know directly and in its absolute amount in a third product, and moreover in a measure which is only relative, fluctuating, inadequate, though formerly unavoidable for lack of a better, and not in its natural, adequate and absolute measure, time ...

On the assumption we made above, therefore, society will also not assign values to products. It will not express the simple fact that the hundred square yards of cloth have required for their production, let us say, a thousand hours of labor in the oblique and meaningless way, that they have the value of a thousand hours of labor. It is true that even then it will still be necessary for society to know how much labor each article of consumption requires for its production. It will have to arrange its plans of production in accordance with its means of production, which include, in particular, its labor forces. The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with each other and with the quantity of labor required for their production, will in the last analysis determine the plan. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of the famous “value.” (Ibid., p. 346)

We will do without the famous value and its famous law under socialism! So thought Engels and so he wrote. So also did Marx, and so he wrote, most explicitly in his letter to Engels on Dühring (January 8, 1868) and in his famous letter to Kugelmann on the law of value six months later. It is worth quoting from the latter in particular:

The nonsense about the necessity of proving the concept of value arises from complete ignorance both of the subject dealt with and of the method of science. Every child knows that a country which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but for a few weeks, would die. Every child knows too that the mass of products corresponding to the different needs require different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labor of society. That this necessity of distributing social labor in definite proportions cannot be done away with by the particular form of social production, but can only change the form it assumes, is self-evident. No natural laws can be done away with. What can change, in changing historical circumstances, is the form in which these laws operate. And the form in which this proportional division of labor operates, in a state of society where the interconnection of social labor is manifested in the private exchange of the individual products of labor, is precisely the exchange value of these products.

The point of bourgeois society consists precisely in this, that a priori there is no conscious, social regulation of production. The reasonable and the necessary in nature asserts itself only as a blindly working average. (Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence, pp. 246f.)

The conclusion then seems inescapable – in so far as the views of Marx and Engels are concerned – that if Stalin claims, as he must, that under his “socialism” production is regulated “by the direct and conscious control of society over its working time – which is only possible under common ownership” (as Marx puts it above) then the form in which the “natural law” operates is not and cannot be the law of value.

Apologists for Stalinism – and here we mean those apologists who are honestly and entirely unaware of what they are saying, who regard themselves as objective but intransigent enemies of Stalinism – now retreat to their last trench: “Yes, perhaps, possibly, maybe, it is worth some meditation, you may be right, but one thing cannot be denied – that in the socialist or first phase of communism, the social product cannot be distributed to the producer on the basis of need, as would be the case in the highest phase, but on the basis of labor, as Marx makes so clear. So – give Stalin his due, if only out of deference to Marx and Engels.”

We swear we have no other intention. Only, our conception of what is Stalin’s due derives from what Marx, Engels and Lenin actually said and not from what careless readers think they said.

Marx avoided like a plague all attempts to draw him into the construction of utopias. His references to the society of tomorrow were invariably in the form of parenthetical asides to his critique of the society of today. He did not hesitate to dwell on the strategy and tactics of the socialist revolution, but he allowed himself the formulation of only the most general principles of rational organization of the socialist society. But these principles remain, down to our own day – indeed, in our own day more than ever before – of the very essence of socialism, and without them all talk of socialism is a joke and a malicious one.

Marx felt impelled to state the principles that interest us here most forcefully and clearly in connection with a clause in the German party’s draft of a program which was based on Lassalle’s formula that under socialism every worker will receive the full proceeds of his labor. In a few scornful words, Marx demolished this absurd formula. Before the worker receives his share of the total social product (there is no such thing as his share of the individual product he helped to produce – say, the ink on a printed book), two sets of three deductions must be made from it:

It is with respect to the remainder of the social product that Marx is now prepared to set down the principles of their distribution. He could do it without hesitation only by virtue of his studies of political economy, the commodity, the law of value and their historical nature, that is, those very matters that Stalin is compelled to deal with in order to justify his “theory” of distribution and which we, accordingly, have had to deal with much too briefly in prefacing the matter in hand.

Marx starts with a passage which is now obliterated from the literature of Stalinism: in quoting from the Critique in 1943, the editors of Pod Znamenem Marxisma took good care to omit the passage and it goes without saying that reading Stalin you would never guess that it existed:

Within the cooperative commonwealth based on the social ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor embodied in the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, the individual labor no longer exists as an indirectly but as a directly constituent part of the total labor. (Critique of the Gotha Program, p. 29)

These words alone suffice to consign Stalin’s “world-historical discovery” to the trashbasket. But Marx is not yet through with him, so neither are we. There is still the matter of distribution not only according to quantity of labor, as Marx puts it, but as the Stalinists illicitly insert into the formula, the “quality” of labor contributed to society, that is, inequality of consumption due to the difference between “skilled and unskilled” – at least in the “first phase.” Continuing his commentary, Marx makes particularly clear to his reader that it is precisely this phase he is dealing with, and not the indefinite future:

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as if it had developed on a basis of its own, but on the contrary as it emerges from capitalist society, which is thus in every respect tainted economically, morally and intellectually with the hereditary diseases of the old society from whose womb it is emerging. In this way the individual producer receives back again from society, with deductions, exactly what he gives. What he has given to society is his individual amount of labor. For example, the social working-day consists of the sum of the individuals’ hours of work. The individual working time of the individual producer is that part of the social working-day contributed by him, his part thereof. He receives from society a voucher that he has contributed such and such a quantity of work (after deductions from his work for the common fund) and draws through this voucher on the social storehouse as much of the means of consumption as the same quantity of work costs. The amount of work he has given to society in one form, be receives back in another. (Ibid., p. 29)

There is not a word about skilled labor as against unskilled, there is not a word about distribution being based upon “quality” of labor. What the producer contributes is measured by his share of the social working-day, and that is his own working-time. That and nothing else determines what he draws from society. It is not the “socialist” principle of inequality that prevails, but the socialist principle of equality – and that in the society just emerging from capitalism! That is what Marx insists upon:

Here obviously the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities so far as this exchange is of equal values. Content and form are changed because under the changed conditions no one can contribute anything except his labor, and, on the other hand, nothing can pass into the possession of individuals except individual objects of consumption. But so far as the distribution of the latter among individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity-equivalents, i.e., equal quantities of labor in one form are exchanged for equal quantities of labor in another form. (Ibid., p. 29)

Commodities and therefore values are no longer produced. But the principle of equality prevails – and here Marx is making a convenient comparison with a familiar phenomenon – in the same sense in which commodities are exchanged as value equivalents. For equal working-time contributed, an equal share of the social fund: “the equality consists in the fact that everything is measured by an equal measure, labor.” And as we already heard from Engels, the socialist society will not dream of expressing “the quantity of labor put into the product” by anything but “its natural, adequate and absolute measure, time.”

But at this point, Marx adds a consideration which is not a “clever paradox,” but a shining example of dialectical thinking. The principle of equality for all producers which he insists upon as the basis of distribution in the first stage of communism, the “equal right,” turns out to be “an unequal right for unequal work.” Individuals are different and therefore unequal; one has a different “individual endowment and thus capacities for production” than another; one is married, another single. For all these reasons, and others no less obvious,

Given an equal capacity for labor and thence an equal share in the funds for social consumption, the one will in practice receive more than the other, the one will be richer than the other and so forth. To avoid all these inconveniences, rights must be unequal instead of being equal.

But these deficiencies are unavoidable in the first phase of communist society when it is just emerging after prolonged birthpangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure and the cultural development of society conditioned by it ...

In a higher phase of communist society ... the narrow bourgeois horizon of rights [can] be left far behind and society will inscribe on its banner: “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his need.”

The equal right of the first stage of communism, because it is necessarily applied to unequal individuals, is a violation of genuine equality! For genuine equality, possible only with superabundance and the new type of communist man, rights must be unequal!

Stalin is not even talking the same language as Marx. He is not even talking about the same things as Marx. In actuality, he is not even talking about the different standards that should be applied under socialism to skilled and unskilled labor. He cannot but know the traditional Marxian position on this matter. In the first place, Marx, quite well aware of the difference between skilled and unskilled labor, nevertheless refused to exaggerate its importance even under capitalism. [7] In the second place, Engels, who knew Marx’s view like the back of his hand, and was particularly familiar with the sections we have quoted from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, took up the self-same question directly, three years after the critique, in his polemic against Dühring.

Dühring proposed, for his “socialitarian” regime, that all labor be compensated exactly the same way, that is, full equality. He argued that all labor time “is in its essence and without exception ... absolutely equal in value.” He denounced Marx’s “foggy conception” on the difference between the commodity values produced during the same period of time by skilled labor and by unskilled labor. He went further and derided Marx for not ridding himself of the “ghost of a skilled labor time,” adding that Marx “was hampered by the traditional mode of thought of the educated classes to whom it necessarily appears monstrous to recognize the labor time of a porter and that of an architect as of absolutely equal value from the standpoint of economics.” Hence, according to Marx – as Dühring understood him – socialism will recompense the skilled architect at a higher rate, so to say, than the unskilled porter.

Engels’ reply is as if written as a special – and conclusive – contribution to this discussion, and we reproduce it with particular pleasure. Writes Engels: If Herr Dühring presents Marx’s statements (about the difference between skilled labor and unskilled labor, and the reducibility of the former to the latter in determining the value of commodities) – if he presents these statements

... as the principles on which Marx would like to see the distribution of the necessaries of life regulated in organized socialist society, he is guilty of a shameless imposture, the like of which is only to be found in the blackmailing press. (Anti-Dühring, p. 228)

Brrrr! What Engels would say today about Stalin in this connection, cannot safely be left to the imagination; but it would not be affectionate.

But let us look a little more closely at the [Dühring] theory of equality in values. All labor time is completely equal in value, the porter’s and the architect’s. So labor time, and therefore labor itself, has a value. But labor is the creator of all values. It alone gives the natural products which exist a value in the economic sense. Value itself is nothing more than the expression of the socially necessary human labor materialized in an object. Labor can therefore have no value. It would be just as possible to speak of the value of labor and to try to determine it, as to speak of the value of value, or to try to determine the weight, not of a heavy body, but of heaviness itself ... And now let the reader judge Herr Dühring’s audacity in making Marx responsible for asserting that the labor time of one person is in itself more valuable than that of another’s, that labor time, and therefore labor, has a value – Marx, who first disclosed that labor can have no value, and why it cannot!

For socialism, which will emancipate human labor power from its position as a commodity, the discovery that labor has no value and can have none is of great importance. With this discovery all attempts ... to regulate the future distribution of the necessaries of life as a kind of more exalted wages, necessarily fall to the ground ... It is true that, to the mode of thought of the educated classes which Herr Dühring has inherited, it must seem monstrous that in time to come there will no longer be any professional porters or architects, and that the man who for half an hour gives instructions as an architect will also push a barrow for a period, until his activity as an architect is once again required. It is a fine sore of socialism which perpetuates the professional porter! (Ibid., pp. 228f.)

Every word a contemptuous condemnation of Stalin, Stalin’s ideas, Stalin’s reference to Marx and Engels, Stalin’s “socialism”! Engels does not, of course, dream of rejecting the idea of equality under socialism, but only the ridiculous economic theory on which Dühring based it, So he adds:

How then are we to solve the whole important question of the higher wages paid for compound labor? In a society of private producers, private individuals or their families pay the costs of training the skilled worker; hence the higher price paid for the trained labor power also comes first of all to private individuals; the clever slave is sold for a higher price, and the clever wage earner is paid higher wages. In a socialistically organized society, these costs are born by society, and to it therefore belong also the fruits, the greater values produced by skilled labor. The laborer himself has no claim to extra payments ... (Ibid., p. 229)

It is clear, and there is no possibility of honest misunderstanding, assuming you read Marx and Engels as they themselves wrote, and not as someone re-wrote them. Lenin had no doubts as to what Marx was saying. He dwelled upon it at great length on the very eve of the Bolshevik revolution, and not in some obscure letter read by four people, but in an open publication to which he attached the most decisive theoretical and political importance of anything he ever wrote, State and Revolution. He quotes voluminously from the Critique of the Gotha Program, commenting and elaborating every passage, almost every line. Under socialism, as he sees it,

“He who does not work, shall not eat” – this socialist principle is already realized; “for an equal quantity of labor, an equal quantity of products” – this socialist principle is also already realized. However, this is not yet communism. (State and Revolution, p. 78)

In the socialist phase – and by that Lenin emphasizes, as does Marx, that he is referring to the society as it emerges directly from capitalism and is tainted by it – we have

... the attainment of equality for all members of society in respect of the ownership of the means of production, that is, of equality of labor and equality of wages ... (Ibid., p. 82)

All citizens are here transformed into hired employees of the state, which is made up of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of one national state “syndicate.” All that is required is that they should work equally, should regularly do their share of work, and should receive equal pay. (Ibid., p. 83)

The whole of society will have become one office and one factory, with equal work and equal pay. (Ibid., p. 84)

But most important of all:

Until the “higher” phase of communism arrives, the socialists demand the strictest control, by society and by the state, of the quantity of labor and the quantity of consumption; only this control must start with the expropriation of the capitalists, with the control of the workers over the capitalists, and must be carried out, not by a state of bureaucrats, but by a state of armed workers. (Ibid., p. 80)

The whole trouble lies in the fact that the armed workers have long since not only been disarmed but totally disfranchised and enslaved, and the state is nothing but a state of bureaucrats. That is why there is nothing faintly resembling equal pay; that is why equal pay is denounced more violently than in any bourgeois country; that is why Stalin puts forward his reactionary theories, for which he impudently makes Marx and Engels his authority.

But the real heart of the problem will have been missed if it is not understood that, basically, as we wrote above, Stalin is not concerned with justifying the higher compensation that a skilled worker gets in Russia as compared with an unskilled worker. That is only the formal cover for his attempt to give a Marxist, a socialist, legitimation to the difference between all the workers, on the one side, and the bureaucracy, on the other, the difference by means of which the former is exploited and oppressed by the latter in a new class society. For when Stalin sneers at equalitarianism as something fit for ascetics, it is not the skilled worker who applauds, for his lot is not significantly better than that of the unskilled worker; the enthusiastic applause comes from the bureaucrats who are anything but ascetics, physical or spiritual. Anti-equalitarian socialism--through thick and thin, from start to finish, with or without quotations from Marx – that has been and remains the sacrosanct unalterable and indestructible, official ideology of the new ruling class, the collectivist state bureaucracy. Anti-equalitarian socialism is the new barbarism, it is not socialism at all.

The New Stalinist Society

Every advance – I think it is Hegel who says it somewhere – is an obstacle to another advance. This holds true of the installation of new, efficient machinery, we know; but it is also true of the acquisition of a rational idea by the mind. The more energetically the mind is obliged to defend the rational idea against some irrational idea, the more conservative the mind becomes and the less inclined it is to self-criticism. Marxist minds are not free from this tendency. It is common knowledge among Marxists that capitalism produces its own gravedigger, the socialist proletariat, and that with the collapse of capitalism from the contradictions imminent in it, the socialist proletariat, taking command of society, will reorganize it on rational, socialist foundations. Capitalist society, then, is the direct precursor of socialism.

Virtually everything that was adduced above against the idea that Stalinist society is in any sense socialist, serves in passing to dispose of the claims advanced by various schools of thumbsucking that it is some sort of capitalist society. To ordinary people who do not live on their thumbs but in the real world around them, the anti-capitalist nature of Stalinist society is obvious. It is from this reality that, by the mere mechanical process of elimination, they create in their minds the socialist or at least the working-class nature of Stalinism. What holds their thinking in a paralyzing vise is the theory that society can move from capitalism only to socialism. They have converted this belief into a dogma standing above history and above reality.

Marx was not really responsible for the ossification of his theory of historical materialism into a dogma. To be sure, he dwelled in his work only on the socialist succession to capitalism, for no other social forces appeared that would seem to require a modification of this historical conception. Nevertheless, on those rare occasions when thinking Marxists, Marx included, were taxed with a dogmatic conception of social evolution, they took pains to divorce themselves from the association.

In a letter, much less well known than it merits, to a Russian editor, in 1877, Marx protests against such a conception:

... my critic ... feels himself obliged to metamorphose my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into an historico-philosophic theory of the marche general [general path] imposed by fate upon every people, whatever the historic circumstances in which it finds itself, in order that it may ultimately arrive at the form of economy which will ensure, together with the greatest expansion of the productive powers of social labor, the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. (He is both honoring and shaming me too much.)

... Thus events strikingly analogous but taking place in different surroundings led to totally different results. By studying each of these forms of evolution separately and then comparing them one can easily find the clue to this phenomenon, but one will never arrive thereby at the universal passport of a general historico-philosophical theory, the supreme virtue of which consists in being super-historical. (Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence, pp. 354f.)

The scintillating Russian Marxist, Plekhanov, seems to have had more than one occasion for disavowing any supra-historical concept in Marxism. In one of his best polemics against the Populists of his time, particularly their leading light, Mikhailovsky, he points out that, according to Marx

... dialectical materialism doesn’t sentence any countries to anything at all, that it doesn’t point out a way which is general and “inevitable” for all nations at all times: that the further development of every given society always depends on the relationship of social forces within it; and that therefore any serious person must, without guessing or whimpering’ about some fantastic “inevitability,” first of all study those relations. Only such a study can show what is “inevitable” and what is not “inevitable” for the given society. (Plekhanov, In Defense of Materialism, p. 264)

Immediately afterward, and in almost the same words used by Marx in the above letter to the Russian editor, Plekhanov pokes fun at the Utopians:

The conformity to law of historical movements assumed in their eyes a mystical appearance; the path along which mankind proceeds was in their imagination marked out beforehand, as it were, and no historical events could change the direction of that path. An interesting psychological aberration! [8] (Ibid., p. 265)

The nature of Stalinist society cannot possibly be established by seeing whether or not it conforms to some abstract “law of succession” from capitalism to socialism. But a study of the social relations which produced and consolidated it will yield all we need to know about it. Only the salient points can be indicated here.

Russia in 1917 was ripe for a socialist revolution as the only means of preventing a general disintegration, but it was anything but ripe for socialism – for that it required an economic legacy which capitalism in Russia had scarcely begun to accumulate for it. Lenin did not even propose to nationalize the means of production, but to establish workers’ control over them with the guarantee of a reasonable profit to capital; even where he proposed to nationalize the banks, he denounced as a canard the story that the Bolsheviks would confiscate the modest savings of the worker or the millions in the accounts of the capitalists. He undoubtedly hoped that, since capitalism historically paves the way economically for socialism, the Russian capitalists, the managers, the technicians and experts, or most of them, could be persuaded, on patriotic or financially attractive grounds, to cooperate in building up the country’s economy in a socialistically-controlled capitalist manner made possible by the political domination of the proletariat. It never even began to work out that way. The bourgeoisie fled the factories to take up arms against the proletarian regime. The workers often nationalized plants spontaneously, on the spot, and submitted their acts for legal endorsement by their Soviet government; Lenin signed the necessary documents reluctantly, but there was no other way. After all, everything depended, basically, on the spread of the world revolution to the advanced countries, which was expected every day (and not only by the Bolsheviks, but by virtually the entire terror-stricken world bourgeoisie which, ingrate, has yet to strike medals for its Social Democratic saviors).

What Lenin had planned in the sections of State and Revolution we quoted above, could never really materialize. A few months after the seizure of power, he proposed, in his draft of the party program,

... the gradual reduction of the working day to six hours and ... the gradual equalization of all wages and salaries in all professions and categories. (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. VIII, p. 334)

It was not implemented and never realized, except, perhaps, in the rough equality that prevailed in the heroic but bitter days of War Communism, when everybody, except some peasants at one end and some bureaucrats at the other, was equally on the verge of hunger. Lenin knew the socialist principles of distribution; but there was no adequate economic level for socialism in Russia.

To save the country from the ruin of the civil war and the blockade of the world, the Bolsheviks finally adopted Lenin’s plan of “state capitalism,” as he called it for lack of a better term, insisting repeatedly that there was no such “state capitalism” in any of the “books” because there had never been such a “state capitalism” in the world. It was unique, not only in Lenin’s view but in reality. The retreat to freedom for capitalist production and exchange was rigidly confined to limited spheres and always under the control of an anti-capitalist regime which held all the political power and the “commanding heights” of the economy, the statified means of production in particular. One of the main aspects of Lenin’s “state capitalist” plan hardly ever left the paper it was written on and played virtually no role in the economy, namely, plans for the concession of mines, forests, oil wells, and the like, to foreign capitalists. But free trade (more or less) for the peasants and freedom (more or less) for the urban trader, soon began to restore friendly relations between the state and the peasant mass – and between the state and the discontented worker – and also to restore the economy as a whole to stability. Differentiation of wages – in no way comparable, however, to what it is today – was introduced, but Lenin never dreamed of calling that socialistic. In concluding his report to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee at the end of April 1918, he referred angrily to the criticisms of his proposal for paying higher wages not only to certain skilled workers, like railroad engineers, but to bourgeois experts as well:

And if it is said, if Bukharin says, that that is no violation of principle, then I say that we do have here a violation of the principle of the Paris Commune. State capitalism does not consist of money, but of social relations. If we pay out, on the basis of the Railroad Decree, wages of 2,000 rubles, that is state capitalism. (Lenin, Sämtliche Werke, Vol. XXII, p. 569)

But with the growth, side by side, of “state-capitalist” production and what Lenin called production of the socialist type, and in the protracted absence of the world revolution, inequality grew apace and conflict brewed. Fostering the inequality from which they benefited were the richer peasants, their trader-counterpart in the city, but above all the growing ranks of the bureaucracy, relishing the taste of privilege for the first time. Resisting inequality – and in this Zinoviev was absolutely right in 1925 in his Philosophy of the Epoch – was the mass of ordinary workers, who were at the less attractive pole of inequality. The resistance proved inadequate. Trotsky gave us a profound insight when he wrote that in the first period of the Soviet regime,

... the “equalizing” character of wages destroying personal interestedness, became a brake upon the development of the productive forces. (The Revolution Betrayed, p. 112)

Is the socialist method of distribution a brake on progress? Yes, under certain circumstances! In a country which, isolated, was not ready for socialism, socialist distribution was impossible. The Russian working class, bearer, so to speak, of this socialist method, and the Left Opposition, its spokesman, had to be crushed. To the eternal disgrace of the international working class, it was allowed to be crushed; and to this day all of us are suffering bitterly from its consequences.

Engels wrote, in another but a related connection:

... with the differences in distribution, class differences emerges ...

The development of each new mode of production or form of exchange is at first retarded not only by the old forms and the political institutions which correspond to these, but also by the old mode of distribution; it can only secure the distribution which is essential to it in the course of a long struggle. (Anti-Dühring, p. 169)

This applies without changing a word to the development of Stalinism out of the Russian socialist revolution and as its negation.

In alliance with the kulaks and all the conservative elements in the country who grumbled at the favored position of the working class, the bureaucracy, not yet fully conscious of its own role and aspirations, crushed the Trotskyist Opposition, and therewith the proletariat, “in the course of a long struggle.” Then, “in the course of a long struggle,” it crushed the Bukharinists, then all the other remaining representatives, radical or conservative, of old Bolshevism, then the entire peasantry, and therewith all remnants of democracy. As Trotsky put it, “The regime had become ‘totalitarian’ in character several years before this word arrived from Germany.” The bureaucracy which now ruled the state had become conscious of itself and its role in the course of struggle – as happens with all classes – but to no one does it owe more for consolidating it, for clarifying it to itself, and for masking its social self, than to its authentic leader, Stalin, the renegade from socialism and assassin of the revolution.

Stalin nurtured and “legitimized” and expanded the inequality in distribution to an extent unknown in any modern country on the face of the world. But “with differences in distribution, class differences emerge.” Stalin attended, supervised, led the bureaucracy through its counter-revolution against the enfeebled workers’ power and to its consolidation as a class enjoying all the power in the state and all the benefits of that power.

Trotsky acknowledged that a basic change had taken place in the field of distribution when Stalinism took power, but he denied that such a change had taken place in the field of production, or what he called “nationalized property.” He was drastically wrong. The mode of distribution could be changed, or changed durably, only if the mode of production was changed! And, as always in history, the mode of production could be changed only if there were a change in the distribution of what Marx calls the “conditions of production.” Let us follow this for a moment. Marx writes:

Capitalist methods of production for example depend on the condition that the material conditions of production are distributed among non-workers under the form of capital and landownership, while the masses are only owners of the personal production, i.e., labor power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the contemporary distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. But if the material conditions of production are the collective property of the workers themselves, then, naturally, a different distribution of the means of production from the present one will result. (Critique of the Gotha Program, p. 32)

Excellent, better than excellent! For some people whom we have in mind, but whose names are too sacred to mention, this passage should be required reading, not less than once a week for the first year. “The collective property of the workers themselves” – that’s an ideal formulation, we have never seen a better. Broadly, that can exist under two conditions: one, under communism, when all are workers and “associated producers” and no state is required either for purposes of coercion or as a repository of the collective property; two, after the socialist revolution but before communism, in the transition period, when a state is still needed. But in the latter case, it is the collective property of the workers only if the workers have the state in their hands. In that case, the mode of production is clearly indicated: self-disciplined, self-determined, self-regulated production for use according to general plan which is made possible by centralized disposability of the means of production. Property is then not simply nationalized. That is an anonymous term, without reference to the class character of the “nation”; it is therefore deception. Property is in the collective hands of the workers-in-power.

But what if the nation is in the hands of an anti-proletarian, anti-socialist bureaucracy – as Trotsky rightly called it – and it enjoys all the political power, all the state power, all the political rights, exclusively? To repeat that property is “still” nationalized is, at best, self-hypnosis. The means of production are now entirely – to paraphrase Marx – “the collective property of the bureaucracy itself.” The bureaucracy’s seizure of power in the state, when the state owns the means of production, automatically, by the very act, assured a radically different “distribution of the conditions of production.” And therefore a different mode of production! And therefore a different mode of distribution!

As under the early Soviets, so today, there is production for use and not for profit in the capitalist sense, production of products and not of commodity values. But production is for the use, first of all and primarily and predominantly, of the ruling class, the bureaucracy. The worker is not a proletarian, i.e., a free wage worker, free from ownership of the means of production but also free to sell his labor power on the market; neither is he the worker of the socialist type that was being formed in the first period of the revolution, i.e., the worker who collectively determined production and distribution. He is the new, Stalinist type of worker, i.e., a modern slave, whose labor power is a chattel belonging to the state, i.e., the bureaucracy. And the peasant is a state serf or the agricultural equivalent of the modern slave in the industrial centers.

The worker has nothing to say and the bureaucracy everything to say about: what is produced, where and when it is produced, how it is produced, with what intensity of physical exertion it is produced, and how it is distributed, to whom it is distributed, how much of it is distributed. “The very fact,” wrote Trotsky (op. cit., p. 249) “of its appropriation of political power in a country where the principal means of production are in the hands of the state, creates a new and hitherto unknown relation between the bureaucracy and the riches of the nation.” True to the highest degree of importance! Power in the state-owning-the-property, which excludes power of any other kind or degree in the country, gives the bureaucracy a power of exploitation and oppression never before known in any period of history – with no exception, not one! It is precisely that centralization and complete fusion of all political and economic power that gives the bureaucracy a “hitherto unknown” power over man’s economic life, his personal life, his marital life, his life with any and all other human beings, his cultural activities – in a word, his whole life. [9] What else does it need to be characterized as a ruling class? Trotsky wrote in his fine essay on Marxism in the United States (p. 13):

He who owns surplus-product is master of the situation – owns wealth, owns the state, has the key to the church, to the courts, to the sciences and to the arts.

It is not less than the exact truth! Does it apply to the Stalinist ruling class in Russia? Not as much as it applies to the capitalist class in the United States, but much more and more completely!

The mode of distribution flows from the mode of production, under Stalinism as elsewhere. Under feudalism, where production also was for use, the distribution of the surplus product proceeded, generally speaking, in accordance with hierarchical rank, political power, or both. Under capitalism, the distribution of the surplus value takes place in accordance with the principle of “capitalist communism,” as Marx calls it, that is, generally speaking, in the same proportion as the share of the total capital owned by each capitalist. Under “Stalinist communism,” whose structure so strongly resembles some of the theocratic and feudal societies, the distribution of the surplus product also takes place in accordance with hierarchical rank, political power or a combination of the two, as decided by the bureaucracy collectively, or more exactly, in its summits. [10] It goes without saying that while the law of value exists in Russia for Stalin, he insists that the very category of “surplus labor” is absurd, for all the labor of the working class is just as much “necessary labor” as any of it is. As the French say: Ça se comprend!

We have here, so to say, the realization of the Rodbertus utopia, but in a form that would surely have scared the old Pomeranian feudal-socialist out of his skin. His charge that Marx plagiarized his ideas, and Engels’ answer to the charge, are familiar to most Marxist students. They may not have paid the proper attention to Engels’ comments on the socialist utopia of Rodbertus. Rodbertus devised a society free from economic crises, but with ruling classes who fulfill a number of economically unproductive but, according to Rodbertus, necessary functions and whose existence would be necessary for some 500 more years (until the “highest phase” of the Rodbertus society?). Meanwhile, there would of course still be exchange (again the law of value!) with the workers participating to the extent of getting labor-notes equivalent, in his scheme, to four out of the twelve hours per day of labor – as Engels notes, two hundred per cent surplus value! In the course of the gay time he has slicing this stuff and nonsense to ribbons in the preface to Marx’s famous attack on Proudhon, Engels writes these interesting words:

The support of functions, economically unproductive, by the product of labor has not been neglected by the other labor-note Utopians. But they leave the workers to impose this obligation upon themselves, following in this respect the customary democratic method, while Rodbertus, whose whole theory of social reform in 1842 is fashioned according to the Prussian State pattern of that time, refers everything to the judgment of the bureaucracy, which authoritatively determines the share of the worker in the product of his own labor, and graciously abandons that part to him. (Marx, Poverty of Philosophy, preface, p. 24. My emphasis. M.S.)

The harmless dream of Rodbertus, modified in form but its essence raised to the nth power, is the nightmare of Stalinism. Yet, this nightmare of barbarism is condoned, if not supported outright, by an incredible variety of people on the grounds that it is a socialist or a sort of socialist regime which, in its young days, is experiencing inevitable difficulties; whose leaders may make an honest error here and there, but which is moving on the whole and ever so purposefully toward heaven on earth. They run the range from cabinet minister-mystics in the U.S.A. to cabinet minister-careerists in France, from demented Anglican clergymen to demented Moslem mullahs, from pukka-Sahib journalists to unskilled pen prostitutes, from millionaire ambassadors to millionaires’s sons, from actors to actresses and artists to models, from British Laborites who care nothing about philosophy to French philosphers who care nothing about labor, from Austro-Marxists to anti-Bolshevik Mensheviks, all the way over to absolutely guaranteed, stamped at the factory, official Trotskyists. In the best of cases, they are victims of a fetishism.

In capitalist production and exchange, says Marx, we have the fetishism of commodities. Just as in the religious world, “the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race,” so it is with the products of man’s hand in the world of commodities. The fetishism of commodities conceals the real relations between persons, at bottom, the relationship between classes, in the process of production, so that they appear instead as a relation between things – commodities – which have a mysterious social property.

In Stalinist production, this is replaced by the fetishism of state property. Like commodities, state property acquires a mystical social character of its own independently of who possesses the state power and who thereby determines the real relations in the process of production, which are relations between classes. The Stalinist Constitution, it goes without saying, does not fail to make this fetishism its prime principle, identifying state property with “the possessions of the whole people.” Trotsky is exactly right in calling this identification “the fundamental sophism of the official doctrine” (which did not prevent his self-styled “orthodox” followers from repeating this sophism for years as their own and from acting to this day as if it were not a sophism). On this basis, there is indeed no longer a difference between the “necessary labor” of the producer and the “surplus labor,” since the labor goes to expand and consolidate state property, that is, the possessions of the people, that is, the people themselves. If the bureaucracy squeezes the last drop of energy out of the worker it is simply one part of the people helping another part of the people to satisfy the requirements of all the people – the strengthening of state property. If a hungry 12-year-old steals a loaf of bread, and is shot, as “Soviet” law says, it is only in defense of state property, owned by all. The worker is necessary, the corrupt official is necessary, the factory and farm Legrees are necessary, the G.P.U. in the plant, the death cell, the concentration camp is necessary – all are necessary for the building of state property. Each receives according to his labor and contributes according to his very best ability – the worker gives his lifeblood and his freedom, the official his sacred honor, the Legree his terrified and terrifying lash, the G.P.U. its fist and pistol, and Stalin himself the consoling religion of the Highest Phase. (For “communism” is the religion of Stalinism, that is, the opium of the people. It plays the same role under Stalinism that heaven plays in other churches: as the future reward for enduring without undue complaint the misery of the masses in the present.)

It can be set down as a “dogma”: until at least the vanguard of the working-class movement in all countries, Russia included, dispel the misty fetishism of nationalized property, Stalinism will never be replaced by socialism.

It is hardly necessary to add that the socialist proletariat does not reject nationalization of the means of production as an evil in itself. That is as absurd as the blind adoration of it. If people gather together loose stones into a solid mass, they have only laid a good foundation for a structure. But let us suppose that a gang of thugs emerges out of their ranks and forces them to build, not the palace of the people they first dreamed of, but a prison of rock and steel whose cells are inhabited by the mass of them and locked and guarded by the armed thugs. They clothe and feed and house the inmates, after a fashion, but their main purpose is to keep them working to produce a surplus product for the thugs. If the thugs have any sense at all, they will see to it that the equipment of the prison and the prison itself is kept intact (“defense of state property”). There will be no crises of overproduction, no commodity production or values in the first place, and the “socialist” principle of distribution will be rigorously observed and enforced by club, machine-gun and iron bars. Whatever else it is called, nobody would dream of calling it a “degenerated workers’ palace,” any more than imprisonment in general is called degenerated freedom.

Above all, it would[cause some consternation if, at the annual banquet of the guards, turnkeys and stool-pigeons, the warden proclaimed, amid tumultuous, prolonged applause rising to a tempestuous ovation, that the inhabitants as a whole, from himself down to the humblest inmate of a solitary punishment cell, were now flatfootedly installed in the first phase of socialism. [11] Still, it is doubtful if some of our contemporaries could even then be persuaded that this workers’ prison will gradually evolve into a workers’ palace as a concomitant of the softening of the warden’s heart and brain. Most people would see that it will first have to be torn down to its base.

It will be torn down – the real prison, not the one in the parable. Stalinism has done its work. The next great Russian revolution will not find at hand the scraggly heritage of the Czarist economy but a vastly more developed economic heritage built up in the decades of its Babylonian captivity, one from which it can really advance to socialism with seven-league boots. To conclude from this incontestable fact, as do some socialists, that Stalinism has played a progressive role, is to put it gently, rather risky. It comes down to saying that the conservatism of the German working class, which failed to make its revolution in time, which would have solved smoothly the economic problem of Soviet Russia, made Stalinism necessary and progressive! It comes down to saying that the defeat of Trotsky by Stalin made Stalinism progressive! It comes down to saying that the more economically backward the country in which Stalinism comes to power – and therefore the further removed it is from providing, by itself, the material pre-conditions for socialism, and therefore the more savage and brutal and privileged the native Stalinist bureaucracy would have to be in order to squeeze enough surplus labor out of the toiling masses for the creation of such a pre-socialist foundation – the more progressive Stalinism is!

The permanent crisis of Stalinism, which reaches sharp peaks at times and then subsides but is never overcome, attests what we regard as its inner incapacity to attain stability, even that stability of stagnation that characterized feudalism. The never-ending, always-growing, all-pervading political police, which not even the most repressive, the most exploitive or the most hated regime anywhere else in the world uses or needs on such a scale, is the bureaucracy’s public acknowledgment of the irrepressible popular opposition to it which assures the permanency of the crisis. To detail how the antagonisms manifest themselves between the people and the ruling class and within the ranks of the ruling class itself, is for another time. But they are antagonisms which can never be eliminated by the regime; on the contrary, it will itself be eliminated by them.

When that happens, the theoretical rubbish written to justify Stalinist inequality, that is, Stalinist exploitation, will not be burned in the public places but widely reprinted with appropriate commentaries to show the new generation the abominations that were committed before its day in the noble name of socialism.

* * *


1. In this article, we are using the official English translation which appeared in the Daily Worker of Nov. 9, 1952. The translation of the excerpts from Stalin’s work which appeared a little earlier in the New York Times is quite unusable. The translator was plainly unfamiliar with the subject matter and by trying to render the text into syntactically graceful English succeeded in reducing Stalin’s authentic incoherence into incomprehensibility. The translation in the Daily Worker is superior in all respects: the elegance, lucidity and music of Stalin’s distinguishing style are faithfully reproduced, that is, it reads like a sandbag dragging through a field of glue.

2. In the following examination of Stalin’s new work, the writer has felt obliged to confine himself to the theoretical questions raised by Stalin. But theory is anything but the most important question on Stalin’s mind, and the careful reader of his work will not fail to perceive what really concerns Stalin and, in this instance, all the rest of us. I therefore hope soon to return to Stalin’s work in order to deal with such matters as the conflicts within the Stalinist bureaucracy over agricultural policy – the attitude toward the collectives and the peasantry; over international policy – the attitude toward war and peace in the struggle with the U.S. bloc. These conflicts are “finally” settled by Stalin’s article, that is, settled until the next stage of the fight within the bureaucracy. The relation between these internal bureaucratic fights and the struggle of the people for the overthrow of the Stalinist regime, will form one part of the article to follow – M.S.

3. “For the conversion of his money into capital, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free laborer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labor power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale ...” (Capital, Vol. I, p. 188.) There is no such free laborer in Stalinist Russia, and labor power is not a commodity there.

4. A curious historical coincidence – this choosing of a railroad engineer as an example of a “socialist” wage differential. See further on what Lenin called a higher wage for a railroad engineer in 1918, i.e., well before the revolution was destroyed by Stalin’s “socialism.”

5. The quotation occurs early in Chapter X of the second part of the Anti-Dühring. This is the chapter Marx wrote for Engels. This particular quotation is just about word for word and syllable for syllable taken from Marx’s original text, which can be found, so far as I know, in the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, a special volume published on the fortieth anniversary of Engels’ death, not serially numbered like the other volumes of this collection. Marx’s Glossary Notes on Dühring’s Critical History of National Economy begin on p. 341, and the above quotation is to be found on the following page.

6. Rosa Luxemburg expressed the Marxian conception in a winged phrase: “The Marxian doctrine is a child of bourgeois economy, but a child whose birth has cost the life of the mother.” (Luxemburg, Einführing in die Nationalökonomie, p. 77) (Note by MIA: In the printed version there is no anchor for this footnote, so we have inserted an anchor where it seems appropriate.)

7. See the footnote on pp. 220f. of Vol. I of Capital, as one example.

8. An Open Letter directed exclusively to the attention of the most “official” editorial boards, “official” theorists, “official” secretariats, “official” bureaus, and assorted official confusionists: “Dear Comrades, Please take note – Plekhanov, although not an official member of your International, calls it an interesting psychological aberration!”

9. Despotism on the basis of common ownership is not only not unknown but quite familiar. The notion that there is something immanently socialistic or communistic in property that is not privately owned is a product of trained ignorance. Engels reminds us that “The ancient communes, where they continued to exist, have for thousands of years formed the basis of the most barbarous form of state, Oriental despotism, from India to Russia.” (Anti-Dühring, p. 206.) However, these despotisms were trivial compared with that based upon the state (pseudo-common) ownership of modern means of production. In the hands of a working-class regime, nationalized property makes possible the march toward total democracy. In the hands of a Stalinist bureaucracy, it makes possible a total despotism. All with one all-important reservation, to be sure. The social forces arrayed against Oriental despotisms were as nothing compared to the social forces arrayed against the totalitarian bureaucracy. They are modern slaves, but modern slaves, i.e., willy-nilly socialized by modern production and therewith endowed with an invincible potential.

10. The latest five-year plan for the period 1951–1955 provides for the following aims: a 70% growth of the entire gross industrial product: a minimum of a 60% rise in the national income, “and in this connection, to ensure a further rise in the incomes of factory and office workers and of the peasants.” And that “further rise” is what – in the light of the 70% increase in gross product and 60% increase in national income? “To raise the real wages of factory and office workers by not less than 35%, taking into account reduction of retail prices”! Add to this, that the 35% promised wage rise is the notorious “average,” that is, includes armies of highly-favored bureaucrats and their entourages who – since we have socialism – most often come under the heading of “factory and office workers.” More or less the same relation is to be found in all the five-year plans from the first one onward.

Note also that the plan for 1951–1955 is submitted for the first time to any public body not earlier than October 1952, at the 19th Congress of the Stalinist party, submitted presumably for the approval without which the plan would be inoperative. That is, it is submitted for endorsement two years after it has been in effect. Since the plan has another three years to run, one can only ask: What was the rush?

11. We are perhaps overreaching ourselves in saying that “nobody would dream” of doing this or saying that. A few years ago, the incredibly official Militant said editorially that the Stalinist factory was a prison to which the Russian worker was sentenced for life. Not before and not since has it said anything truer or more scientific. Conclusion: Stalinist Russia is a workers’ prison? Of course not! It is obviously a workers’ state. It would be sad to think that man dragged his way upward out of the primeval ooze, from the ape to Goethe, as Engels says, and from Goethe to Darwin, Marx and Einstein, only to go back to this.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 16 December 2018