Saturday, September 07, 2019

Socialism and Communism

In its last few issues, Weekly Worker, has been addressing the issue of different interpretations of what socialism and communism means. Nick Rodgers in two articles highlighted the conflicting application of those words by Marx and by Lenin. Jack Conrad disputed Rodgers' understanding of the two terms and in doing so cited Comrade Adam Buick as an example of another mistaken analysis.

Adam has answered him.

State capitalism

Despite what Jack Conrad writes, I have never claimed that Lenin innovated when he called post-capitalist society ‘socialism’ (‘The twophases of communism’, August 15). This was standard practice amongst first-generation Marxists and, in fact, shows that for them the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ were interchangeable.
Lenin’s ‘innovation’ was to see ‘socialism’ starting at the beginning of the period Marx envisaged when the working class would be using its control of political power to transform capitalist society into ‘communist society’ (or, the same thing, ‘socialist society’): ie, a period during which socialism (or communism) had yet to be established.

Lenin further ‘innovated’ by extending this period into what Marx had called the “first phase of communist society”. As a result he has the state and the wages system continuing to survive into socialism/communism. As he put it in State and revolution, in this phase “all citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state” (chapter 5, section 3). In other articles from the same period Lenin frequently confused state capitalism and socialism in this way, as all Leninists have done ever since.

I see that Jack and the CPGB follow Lenin here, defining socialism as “the rule of the working class”, whereas socialism means the disappearance of all classes, including the working class. For you, as for him, ‘socialism’ starts when the working class win political power, not when the means of production have become the common property of society under democratic control - by which time the state, money, wages, profits, banks, etc will have disappeared.
Jack also talks of a “transitional society”, whereas Marx had written only of a “political transition period”, not a new form of society. For more on this, see the article I wrote decades ago on ‘The myth of the transitional society’(

It only remains to add that, given the tremendous development of the forces of production since Marx’s day, capitalism can now be transformed into socialism/communism fairly quickly - and that exchanging quotes from Marx settles only the academic, historical question of what Marx thought, not what should be done today.

Adam Buick
Socialist Party of Great Britain

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