Monday, March 08, 2010

Was Russia Socialist ?

Another valuable article , this time a book review , from the archives of the Socialist Standard which foBoldr the first time will be placed on the web and be available for others to google .

The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience by Paresh Chattopadhyay

Some writers are unlucky. They start to write a book on some subject and are then overtaken by events before it is published. This has been the fate of Paresh Chattopadhyay whose book on Russia—and how, despite the various claims, it was neither socialist nor non-capitalist nor post-capitalist or whatever but capitalist in a strict Marxian sense—was overtaken by the collapse of the state capitalist system there, the changes of "is" into "was" at the proof-reading stage notwithstanding. It is to be hoped that this won't put people off reading the book on the grounds that this is all now ancient history, since Chattopadhyay's analysis of Russia under Bolshevik rule is excellent. His basic argument is that Russia during this period was capitalist because the economic system there was based on wage-labour and that, as Marx pointed out, wherever wage-labour exists so does capital and so capitalism.

Capital is not a thing but a social relation, one that comes into being whenever the producers are separated both from the means of production and from the products of their labour; this means that they can only get a living by selling their mental and physical energies, their productive skills, for a wage or salary. This is why the fact that one class in society has to work for wages is in itself evidence that capitalism exists; it is a sign that the producers are separated from the conditions of production, irrespective of who controls these conditions and how.

Chattopadhyay points out that Marx distinguished between two kinds of property—what Chattopadhyay calls "economic property" and "juridical property"— only the first of which is essential to capitalism. "Economic property" describes the actual social relation whereby one class holds and another class is excluded from the means of production; it is a factual situation. "Juridical property" is where this social fact is recognised by the law in the form of legal individual private property rights. These existed before capitalism—in Roman law for instance—and capitalism can exist without them. In this sense they are the icing on the capitalist cake not its essential ingredients.

The mistake, says Chattopadhyay, made by those who saw Russia as socialist (the Stalinists) or non-capitalist (the Trotskyists) was to identify the abolition of capitalism with the abolition of "juridical property" instead of with the abolition of "economic property". At no time after 1917 was this latter abolished, as was demonstrated by the continued existence and indeed general expansion of wage-labour there.

Some dissident Trotskyists and Stalinists have been prepared to go some distance down this road, but Chattopadhyay goes all the way. He argues that the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917 was not even an attempt to establish socialism in the Marxian sense. Lenin in fact had a quite different conception of socialism from Marx's:

"Socialism, even as a concept, appearing in Lenin's State and Revolution, contains elements such as 'state' and 'hired employees' earning 'wages', that are alien to Marx's socialism, conceived as free association ... Socialism, according to Marx, is a free association of producers without state, without commodity production and without wage labour."

What Lenin and the Bolsheviks aimed to establish—and did in fact establish—was a state-run capitalism in which the role of Marx's "functionaries of capital" was played not by individual private capitalists nor by paid directors of joint-stock companies but by Party/State officials. It follows from this that the Bolshevik seizure of power was not a socialist or proletarian revolution. It also follows that, as capitalism (the exclusion of the producers from the conditions of production and their having to work for wages) was never at any time abolished in Russia, all theories of "the restoration of capitalism" there—and there are people who would date this from the coming to power of Stalin or Khruschev or Yeltsin—were wrong; in fact nonsensical.

As can be seen, the approach of this book is very close to that of the Socialist Party. Certainly, it is now a book about history rather than the contemporary scene but it is yet another nail in the coffin of Leninism.

ALB - Socialist Standard, May 1995

Here are some other apt quotes from the writings of Paresh Chattopadhyay:-

"...the Bolshevised socialism is a state under the absolute rule of the communist party, passing for a proletarian state, owning the means of production under the appellation of "public ownership" and employing wage labour whose products take the commodity form. Needless to stress, this statist socialism based on wage slavery is the exact antipode of Marx's immensely emancipatory socialism conceived as a "union of free individuals" without private ownership of either variety - individual or collective - without state, without commodity production and without wage labour..." - Worlds Apart: Socialism in Marx and in Early Bolshevism

"...Similarly a central economic law of all societies " the law of the economy of time " would continue to operate in the Union. However, here again, this law takes on a completely new character...From now on necessary labor time would be measured in terms of needs of the "social indivdual," not in terms of needs of valorization. Similarly the surplus labor time far from signifying non-labor time for the few would mean free time for all social individuals. It is now society's free time and no longer labor time that increasingly becomes the true measure of society's wealth..." - On Some Aspects of the Dialectic of Labour in the Critique of Politcial Economy.

"... C[apitalist] M[ode] of P[roduction] has proved to be the most destructive among all the modes of production that have existed so far in human evolution. Continuing through the plunder, uprooting, enslavement and outright murder of peoples perpetrated at an unprecedented scale across the globe, right at its `rosy dawn', capitalist transformation of the production process with the whole globe as its theatre, has, above all, meant the martyrdom of the producers; and the technology and the combination of the social process of production developed by it has meant the simultaneous exhaustion of the twin sources from which springs all wealth: the earth and the labourer..." - Marx on Capital's Globalization - The Dialectic of Negativity

"...the fundamental point of the Marx-envisaged society after capital which informs Marx's theoretical (and practical militant) work all his adult life is the immense emancipatory perspective (for the humanity) in which communism is placed through the abolition of capital. The whole process - which is "epochal," not momentary (like a 'seizure of power') - starts with the working class self-emancipatory revolution, given the adequate material conditions for such revolution prepared by capital itself through its self-annihilating contradictions. It passes through a "long, painful" "revolutionary transformation period," "changing circumstances and individuals" in preparation for the future "Association." After the workers have in course of the transformation period, largely eliminated (though not yet all the vestiges of) the existing elements of the old society such as classes, private ownership of the means of production, state, commodity production, wage labour, but carrying over all the "acquisitions of the capitalist era," a new mode of production comes into existence... Here, with the collective appropriation of the conditions of production and directly social labour, neither the allocation of labour time (across the different branches of production as well as between society's necessary and disposable labour time) nor the distribution of society's total product with regard to reserves and enlarged reproduction requirements as well as personal consumption need to be mediated by money-commodity-wage form - the enslaving elements of the old society...there is now the unmediated union of individuals who are all simple producers (after ceasing to be proletarians). Individuals cease to be subject to "personal dependence" (as under pre-capitalism) as well as to "material (objective) dependence" (as under capitalism) and as universally developed "social individuals," gain "free individuality." ...." - Class History and Theory: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR

"...The problem of rationally allocating productive resources in an economy is common to all human societies at least as long as these resources remain relatively limited compared to needs. However, there is no need to assume that this allocation could be effected rationally (if at all) only through the exchange of resources taking the value (price) form...The point is that the allocation through the value form of the products of human labor is only "a particular social manner of counting labor employed in the production of an object" precisely in a society in which "the process of production dominates individuals, individuals do not dominate the process of production" (Marx ) ..."- Capitalism as Socialism: Defence of Socialism in the Socialist Calculation of Debate Revisited

" should be clear that for Marx, after the demise of the proletarian political power along with the proletariat at the end of the revolutionary transformation period and the consequent disappearance of classes, the state, like commodity production and wage labour " embodying human unfreedom " can have no place in socialism. However, unlike what he does with commodity production and wage labour, Marx does not, in the Gothakritik, directly treat the question of the state in relation to the Association. He simply wonders about which social functions would remain in the communist society analogous to the present day state functions. That this is no way implies the continued existence of the state in the new society is clear in Marx's denunciation, in the same document, of the "Lassallean sect's servile faith in the state," which he considers as "remote from socialism."..." - A Manifesto of Emancipation: Marx's "Marginal Notes to the German Worker's Party" After One Hundred and Twenty Five Years

"...The communist revolution has a universal character. This is because the proletariat, having no property and no country, is the expression of the dissolution of all classes and all nationalities. Moreover, because of the universal development of the productive forces (under capitalism) and the "world-historical" extension of capital " appearing as a power alien to the proletariat " the proletariat's subjection is universal. The proletariat can exist only as a world historical (weltgeschichtlich) force, in the same way as communism can exist only as a world historical reality. Another fundamental aspect of the universal character of the communist revolution is that the emancipation of the proletariat, the result of the communist revolution, does not mean that the emancipation is limited to the proletariat. It is universal, human..." - The Place of the Communist Manifesto in the Elaboration of the Marxian Idea of the Post-Capital


robert said...

Very useful post, thanks Alan.

Richard said...

Paresh C is one of the most interesting thinkers writing today. His book on Russia is a compelling analysis of Marx's concept of capital - that is why the book is completely relevant to us now.

Only when we are clear about the nature of capital can we be sure about what we need to do to overcome it.