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The Errors of Stalin

"Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R."
By J.STALIN (Foreign Languages Publishing House)

HAILED at the Communist Party Conference in Russia last October as " a work of genius," this pamphlet is an attempt to square the theories of Marxism with the practice of contemporary Russia. The major part consists of remarks by J. Stalin on economic questions connected with a discussion that took place in November 1951, and there are also replies to some of his comrades who put forward theories with which he disagreed. Limited space precludes us from dealing here with more than a few of the many points that are made in this pamphlet which, despite the rather, wordy style of the author, really requires a pamphlet to give a full socialist answer.

Labour Power a Commodity

" Capitalist production is the highest form of com¬modity production. Commodity production leads to capitalism only if there is private ownership of the means of production, if labour power appears in the market as a commodity which can be bought by the capitalist and exploited in the process of production ..."

On page 18 Russia is a society where " the means of production are no longer private but socialist property " and the system of wage labour has " long ceased to exist"— but on page 77 it is necessary " that real wages of workers and employees should be at least doubled." Since there is an obvious contradiction here, let us try to resolve it by examining the two qualifying conditions under which commodity production is admitted to lead to capitalism.

First, private ownership of the means of production means that some people are owners and some non-owners. Whether this ownership takes the form of individual shares or state bonds (as in nationalised industries and in Russia) does not affect the fact that the means of production are class-owned, as distinct from being held in common. Second, can labour power be bought and exploited in the process of production in Russia?

Certainly it can. Where does the money come from needed to finance development schemes, armaments and other state expenditure if not from the surplus value produced by the workers? In Russia the workers may find it difficult (or even impossible) to name an individual who benefits from their labour— but so, for example, do Post Office workers in Britain. In both cases their labour power is a commodity, bought by others through the agency of the state, and paid for with wages which represent a fraction of the value produced.

To avoid reasoned discussion of the subject, Stalin attempts to disarm criticism by laughing it out of court. "Talk of labour power being a commodity, and of 'hiring' of workers sounds rather absurd now, under our system: as though the working class, which possesses means of production, hires itself and sells its labour power to itself."

What is absurd about this statement is the assumption that the working class possesses means of production. To talk of hiring workers is quite reasonable, provided you accept that labour power is bought, by the state, which allows access to what is produced to the privileged few and to the unprivileged many in similar proportions to those in other capitalist countries. The source of the absurdity is made even more obvious if we apply the statement to this country— "talk of hiring railway workers sounds rather absurd under nationalisation: as though the working class, which possesses means of production, hires itself." Of course the workers in Russia don't hire themselves — if they did they would surely not need to be told to double the wages that they are supposed to pay themselves.

World Markets

In trying to prove that the means of production in Russia cannot be regarded as commodities, Stalin remarks "in the sphere of foreign trade, but only in this sphere, our means of production really are commodities, and really are sold (in the direct meaning of the term)." They are indirectly sold when allocated by the state to its enterprises. But the same remarks could apply to any state-owned industry in any country, and merely go to show how similar is the economy in Russia to that in the rest of the capitalist world.

The Disintegration of the Single World Market and the Deepening of the Crisis of World Capitalism is the heading of one section of the pamphlet. Russia, China, and the European People's Democracies "formed a united and powerful socialist camp confronting the camp of capitalism ... so that now we have two parallel world markets." Soon these People's Democracies "will themselves feel the necessity of finding an outside market for their surplus products."

From the way in which this subject is dealt with, one might be led to imagine that the crisis of world capitalism is something from which the Russian camp stands apart. It is all very well for Stalin to talk of the inevitability of war between capitalist countries, but it cannot be denied that the "imperialism" that he so frequently attacks manifests itself as competition between rival producers for markets abroad. The entry of China and the other satellites into the arena can in no way be interpreted as a beneficial influence on world affairs — rather, it is an ominous indication that the struggle will be intensified and carried into new areas.

Relations of Production

Let us now examine one or two points contained in Stalin's replies to those he calls his erring comrades. It appears that Alexander Ilyich Notkin claimed that complete conformity of the relations of production with the character of the productive forces can be achieved only under Socialism and Communism. His critic is only interested in the present (which he calls Socialism). The productive forces, Stalin asserts," undeniably move in advance of the relations of production even under Socialism. Only after a certain lapse of time do the relations of production change in line with the character of the productive forces.'' He refers to "backward, inert forces that do not realize the necessity for changing the relations of production," and it is reasonable to suppose that he includes among these the collective farms, who "will not recognize any other economic relation with the town except the commodity relation."

But these economic problems of the present Russian system have nothing whatever to do with the question that they appear to be debating. This was dealt with by Marx in a famous passage in the preface to "The Critique of Political Economy": —

" At a certain stage of their development the material forces of production in society come in conflict with the existing relations of production .... From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation
the entire immense superstructure is more or less transformed."

Stalin would no doubt like to edit this to read " the superstructure is less rapidly transformed." Nevertheless. Marx's meaning is clear — the new social relations are in harmony with the new economic basis. The change from Capitalism to Socialism, is the revolutionising of the productive relations, and talk of a certain lapse of time before they change in line with the productive forces is completely irrelevant.

Form and Essence

According to Stalin, economic development proceeds not by way of upheavals, but by gradual changes. Commodities, money and banks "lose their old functions and acquire new ones, preserve their old form, which is utilized by the socialist system." He solemnly writes of approaching the matter from the standpoint of Marxist analysis, and concludes " that it is chiefly the form, the outward appearance, of the old categories of capitalism that have remained in our country, but that their essence has radically changed."

Against this must be set the fact that nowhere in the works of Marx and Engels will you find reference to old and new functions of capitalist categories. They were concerned with delving below the outward appearance of things, not in order to show that form changes while essence remains the same, but to find the underlying principles that determine the nature of Capitalism. To claim that Socialism can utilize the form of capitalist institutions like money is just meaningless double-talk — unless "Socialism" is taken to mean "State Capitalism." Even then it still has tc be shown how Communism (a system without commodities, money and banks) is helped along by the preservation of commodities, money and banks.

In the course of answering his comrade L. D. Yaroshenko, Stalin chides him for asserting "that there is no contradiction between the relations of production and the productive forces of society under Socialism." On the face of it, it is damaging to Stalin's "Marxist" theory to admit that there are such contradictions in Russia but, of course, he suitably qualifies his admission : "given a correct policy on the part of the directing bodies, these contradictions cannot grow into antagonisms." The directing bodies thus stand to be shot at when antagonisms arise (i.e.. things go wrong), and when these bodies have been replaced by new ones the antagonisms presumably disappear, leaving just the old contradictions — quite a neat verbal solution of the economic problems in the U.S.S.R.

What Stalin calls the other errors of Comrade Yaroshenko consist largely of differences of opinion about adapting quotations of Marx and Engels, and one cannot help wishing that the latter were still alive to disprove that their ideas bore any resemblance to those that Stalin and Co. now put forward. As socialists, we can only hope that the publication of this pamphlet will lead Communist Party members and sympathisers (and others) to compare the theories of Stalin with those of Marx and Engels, and to discover which are calculated to promote the cause of Socialism and which to retard it.

S.R.P., Socialist Standard February 1953

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