Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

The Inconsistencies of “State-Capitalism”

In a powerful short story of Rabindranath Tagore, a woman who was believed to be dead finds nobody accepting her. It was only when she did in fact die that she could prove that previously she had not died. Much like that story, sectors of the "communist" movement, e.g., many of those who used to call the Soviet Union "Social imperialist", discovered it was no such thing only when the terminal crisis of the bureaucratically degenerated workers' state had arrived. Some, however, canot give up this theory, for it is the foundation of too many other theories as well. An absolutely normative model building exercise has led some groups who have belatedly discovered the virtues of anti-Stalinism, to suggest that the Lenin era itself began state capitalism, and that unless any modern revolution begins with the normative ideal it has to be written off as a bourgeois revolution. For many such groups, Tony Cliff's version of "state capitalism" serves as the guide, though we do not thereby suggest that either Cliff or the SWP are responsible for the uses to which that theory is put. We publish below Ernest Mandel's response to Michael Kidron's review of Mandel's Marxist Economic Theory, dealing with the theory of state capitalism. At a later stage we hope to also publish a later essay on the same theme. This essay was originally published by the International marxist Group, and is here reproduced from the Marxists Internet Archive with due acknowledgements. see http://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1969/08/statecapitalism.htm

Radical Socialist

Ernest Mandel
The Inconsistencies of “State-Capitalism”

International Marxist Group Pamphlet, 8 Toynbee Street, London, E1, England 1969
Transcribed & marked up by Roland Sheppard for the Ernest Mandel Internet Archive, January, 2009.


A few words of explanation are necessary in introducing this pamphlet. Michael Kidron, a leading theoretician of the “state capitalist” tendency wrote a review of Ernest Mandel’s MARXIST ECONOMIC THEORY in issue number 36 of International Socialism . The review was extremely factional both in its language and its distortions.

Normally one tends to ignore shallow and vulgar criticisms, particularly when they give the appearance of being hurriedly written (possibly without having read the entire book). However crude though it was the review had a thread running through it: a thread of assumptions, vulgar concepts, and economic deterministic prejudices which represent the ideology of the theory of state capitalism. In replying to Kidron and in analyzing his arguments. Mandel was, therefore, able to examine the economic basis of the theories of the International Socialism group as a whole in a comprehensive manner. Mandel does more than this: he demonstrates how it is impossible to isolate theory from practice and how, in fact the Menshevik theories of International Socialism to a very bad political practice.

Such an examination is long overdue. Among the many peculiarities of the British political scene is the existence of a fairly large and active group whose leadership believes in the theory of state capitalism. This is both a historical and political anachronism. With rare exceptions, those who have deserted the revolutionary Marxist position by refusing to adopt the class line of unconditional defense of the workers states against imperialism have long since lost any claim to be considered as Marxists. In many cases, some of these groups have quite openly denounced Marxism and renounced the dialectic. In most countries the tendencies which have, at various times, come out in support of the James Burnham-pioneered “third camp” position have decomposed into their component parts: social democracy and anarchism. Others have become small sects constantly splitting about such profound questions as the actual date the Soviet Union became “state capitalist”.

In Britain owing mainly to the extreme sectarianism and ultra leftism of the leadership of the Socialist Labour League , the state capitalist tendency has been given a renewed lease of life. By adapting themselves to the “fall-out” from the SLL, principally by proclaiming the “easy regime” of their organization, they have tended to pick up former members of the SLL who wished to remain active in left-wing politics but who had suffered a series of traumatic shocks in the face of the SLL version of democratic centralism. The absence until recently, of a viable section of the Fourth International in Britain has been, of course, another important reason for the relative success of International Socialism .

Some of us predicted that its looseness would soon begin to catch up with it and that I.S. would be faced with organizational and political crises. That this has happened is abundantly clear. But a considerable number of young revolutionaries have been made sour and cynical as they passed through this organization and in the building of a revolutionary party these casualties cannot be afforded. Because the building of such a party is an important and urgent task which faces the revolutionary left in Britain.

The task of combating the theories of state capitalism is, therefore, a vital one. This pamphlet examines and demolishes these theories in a systematic manner and from the viewpoint of revolutionary Marxism. At the same time the pamphlet should be seen as a creative contribution towards the theory of bureaucracy and the transitional forms between capitalism and socialism. The lnternational Marxist Group is proud to publish it.

Michael Kidron’s “Maginot Marxism ”[1]cannot be considered a serious criticism of “Marxist Economic Theory ”. It takes up only three chapters out of eighteen and even these in an unsystematic and haphazard manner. It does not try to understand, let alone refute, the internal logic of the book, or any of the contributions it makes to the development of Marxist theory. Nevertheless it denies that any such contributions are contained in the book at all. But if it does not represent a serious critique of contemporary Marxist economic theory, it strikingly reveals most of the contradictions into which adherents of the theory of “state capitalism” enmesh themselves, when they have to tackle problems of economic analysis on a larger historic scale. A discussion of Kidron’s article is therefore useful, less as an “anticritique” than as a starting platform for a critique of the “state capitalist” theory.

“The Central Capitalist Dynamic”

Kidron starts out with an amazing accusation: Marxist Economic Theory is “unsure of the central capitalist dynamic”. This would be indeed an unforgivable sin for a Marxist, because “the central capitalist dynamic” is precisely what Marxist economic theory is about.

So in order to teach us a lesson, Kidron starts explaining what this “central capitalist dynamic” is in his opinion. First he says that what is peculiar to capitalism, among class societies, is the fact that “there is no central, public arrangement to ensure that the process (of pumping a surplus product systematically from the mass of producers) will go on in an orderly, continuous and predictable way. Key choices about the deployment of resources are left to individual capitals, big and small, pubic and private”. Then he continues to say that under capitalism “growth is the ultimate compulsion,” “the primacy of growth is essential to Marx’s model of the system at work”.

Unfortunately for Kidron, both “definitions” of the “central capitalist dynamic” get him immediately into trouble if considered in the light of economic history. In most class societies, there is no “central public arrangement” to ensure that the process of accumulation goes on “in an orderly, continuous and predictable way”. On each medieval demesne, it is true, a serf was forced to deliver say half of his output to the noble lord. But what was sowed and reaped on each demesne, what (if any) surplus was left over after the lord’s consumption needs Were covered, how much local, regional, national, or international trade was made possible as a result of this surplus, how much (if any) development of productive technique took place, was not only not “ensured” in an “orderly, continuous and predictable way” but was even much more disorderly, discontinuous and unpredictable, than under capitalism. To think that Alexander the Great (slave society), the Emperor of China (Asian mode of production) or Charlemagne (feudalism) were in possession of some mysterious “central, public arrangement” to ensure that the process of surplus product extraction went on in an “orderly, continuous and predictable way” in the societies they dominated, is a complete misreading of history. In fact, under precapitalist class society, interruptions in this process were much more numerous and much more disastrous for all involved than under capitalism (one has to think only of the regular recurrence of famines).

With his second definition, Kidron has no more luck than with his first one. The “primacy of growth” is not only true for capitalism; it is true for several other historic formations. The transition from dry to large scale irrigated agriculture, sometime between the 35th and the 30th century B.C., triggered off a tremendous process of growth which led us in the course of no more than 400 years from small isolated villages to large cities, extended international trade and the building of empires. The victory of the socialist world revolution tomorrow will also trigger off tremendous economic growth (and, perish the thought, even large-scale “accumulation”), unless of course we conceive of world socialism with two-thirds of mankind condemned to the miserable standard of living they are “enjoying” today.

So the very charge raised by Kidron against us boomerangs against him with a loud bans, right at the outset of his article. It is Kidron who quite plainly shows himself unable to define the’ specific characteristic of the capitalist mode of production. It is Kidron who is unable to define any “central dynamic” of capitalism which sets it apart from all other social formations in the history of mankind. And this is all the more amazing, because “Capital ” and all Marx’s economic writings are built upon precisely that differentia specifica which, in all modesty, we claim to have fully understood and made the cornerstone of Marxist Economic Theory as well.

It is sufficient to open “Capital ” and to read chapter I of the first vol. to understand what constitutes this “central dynamic” of the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism is the only form of class society in which commodity production becomes generalized, in which all elements of production (land, labor power, labor instruments. etc.) become commodities [2] Generalization of commodity production creates a constantly growing but also constantly uncertain and changing anonymous market, and this implies in turn universal competition. It is this universal competition between separate capitals (owned by separate capitalists) which is the main driving force for the accumulation of capital, the only means to systematically reduce production costs, because any individual capitalist who stays behind in this race will be pushed out of the market through being forced to sell at a loss (or at too small a profit). Capitalism is therefore a mode of production in which the generalization of commodity production unleashes a historic process of accumulation of capital, which is in turn a constant (be it discontinuous) growth of commodity production, of production of exchange values and reinvestment of surplus value.

Starting from this definition we can easily distinguish capitalism from previous class societies “with no central arrangement to ensure that the process wilt go in an orderly, continuous and predictable way,” as well as from other societies where there is a primacy of growth”. Capitalism is the only society in which economic growth takes the form of a general growth of commodity production, whereas economic growth in the period in which irrigation agriculture became generalized was essentially growth in the output of use-values (as it will be under socialism). Disorders, discontinuity in accumulation, and unpredictable developments in pre-capitalist class societies arose essentially from sudden decline in production, i.e. underproduction of use-values (famine, epidemics, population decline, decreasing fertility of the soil, wars, etc.); whereas disorders, discontinuity in accumulation and unpredictable developments under capitalism arise from overproduction of exchange-values, i.e. from the contradictions of commodity production (which most of the time are caused not by a decline but by an increase in the production of use-values).

Competition, economic compulsion and “psychological mechanisms”

It is true that Kidron uses, in passing, the concept of “competition” which would normally imply the notion of commodity production. He writes: “The behavior of individual capitals is narrowly determined by the competition between them … If an individual capital did not grow, it would ultimately be unable to afford the rationalization and innovation with which to meet those that did, or unable to ride as successfully the sudden changes in market conditions which are part of the system. For an individual capital growth is the ultimate compulsion” (p. 33). We fully agree with this description. But a moment’s thought will show that this is true only if one assumes a generalization of commodity production and competition between individual owners and sellers of commodities.[3]

“Competition” between different feudal landowners for the occupation of “land without a master” or the submission of free peasants; “competition” between Rome and Carthage; “competition” even between merchant cities (e.g. between ‘Venice and Byzantium, or between the Dutch and the Hansa towns) does not lead to the results which Kidron just described. Under such conditions, the failure to “accumulate capital” does not make a feudal demesne “ unable to ride as successfully the sudden changes in market conditions which are part of the system”, precisely because sudden changes in market conditions are not “ part of the system”, as long as the means of production have not become commodities and are not submitted therefore to constant and unpredictable technological changes. Lack of growth of merchant capital is no barrier to success, when supply as well as demand are more or less narrowly limited, as a result of limited markets, traditional techniques, and relatively stagnant output. Under such conditions, “competition” does not lead to productive reinvestment of capital, and especially not to its reinvestment in industry. Accumulation of capital takes the form of hoarding, of usury capital, of buying up of land.

So the rationale of capitalism can be understood only under conditions of constantly expanding commodity production, of a constantly expanding and insecure market, and of firms, or producing units, facing that anonymous market independently from each other and competing for larger and more profitable shares of the market. If one abandons that specific form of competition — capitalist competition, that is — then any rational explanation of the drive to accumulate becomes impossible, and we are left with mystifying tautological formulas like “capital must accumulate because it is its function to accumulate”, or “the bureaucracy is the personification of capital in its purest form”. But if we assume generalized and constantly expanding commodity production, we assume also the absolute need to realize the exchange-values of these commodities, in order to accumulate capital. It is the specific nature of commodity production that a ship full of shoes cannot be transformed into additional quantities of leather, and wages for additional manpower, if it is not sold, i.e., transformed into money. Innumerable capitalists have suffered a fate worse than death because they happened to forget that simple little rule which Kidron, curiously enough, seems to consider a special idiosyncrasy of Mandel’s. Because capital is tied to commodity production, and to commodity production only, because no capitalist production is possible on the basis of producing use-values. Money is indeed the initial and final form of capital, towards which the whole of economic activity is directed. And for that same reason, capital accumulation, the final money form of capital, and the capitalists’ thirst for profit, far from being distinctive from each other-the one “behavior of capital”, and the other “social and psychological mechanisms which ensure that behavior” are just different synonymous expressions of the same basic economic compulsion, determined by the structure of capitalist society.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that Marx understood the working of capital exactly in this way, and in this way only[4] . For Marx, “capital” could only exist in the form of different capitals[5] ; otherwise, there was no more compulsion to accumulate. Consequently, capital could only exist in the form of “different capitalists”, i.e., a social class constituted so that each part of it was, by compelling economic interest, tied to the survival of “its” own unit of production or circulation. Consequently, the “thirst for profit” of each part of that class, and the “drive to capital accumulation”, are identical, the second one being only realizable through the first (the attempt at profit maximization of each unit or firm).

For Marx capital implies commodity production, i.e., the need to sell commodities before one can reconstitute and expand capital. “Returning to the money form of capital”, “thirst of profit” (i.e., drive to profit maximization) and compulsion to accumulate capital are therefore exactly identical expressions, which uncover the basic tissue of capitalist society and capitalist mode of production: a dialectical unity between a class structure (based upon the interests of the ruling class), a specific mode of production (generalized commodity production, which, be it repeated again, implies that labor power has become a commodity, which implies therefore the existence of a proletarian class, forced to sell its labor power), and a specific set of laws of motion resulting from them (capital accumulation and its contradictions, among them, of course, the class struggle).

Kidron’s attempt to unravel this tissue is based on semantic misunderstandings, which ultimately reflect lack of clarity of what capitalism really means. To say that the capitalists’ “thirst for profit” (or the firm’s tendency to profit maximization) is a “social and psychological mechanism” through which the behavior of a mythical abstraction called “capital”, divorced from social classes, is assured, and that these “mechanisms” are common to all class societies, is committing a gross confusion between individual psychological motivations-on which much discussion is possible-and economic compulsions, to which social classes are ruthlessly submitted in a given social framework (under the impact of a given mode of production). The capitalists’ “thirst for profit” is not a matter of individual psychological motivation at all; it is an economic compulsion, as Kidron should infer from his own description of capitalist competition. And it is just not true that this “thirst for profit” is “common to all class societies”. On the contrary, all class societies in which the social surplus product took essentially the form of use-values produced ruling classes which had no “thirst for profit” whatsoever, but only “thirst” for luxury consumption, and which went so far as to systematically destroy the very sources of “profit” (i.e. of capital accumulation) in their thirst for consumption.

According to Kidron, Mandel confuses “social control” and its “form”. This argument is especially unfortunate, because Marx himself made explicitly the point that it is precisely the specific form of the social surplus product which implies the dynamic of the system[6] . Kidron seems to be under the impression that if precapitalist class societies did not know the kind of growth which capitalism witnesses, it was because the ruling classes had “everything under control”. We were then presumably living under “economic law and order”. The truth is of course quite different. Precapitalist ruling classes had no economic compulsion to capital accumulation because the form of the social surplus product was essentially that of use-values, and unlimited accumulation of use values is economically irrational and meaningless: the limit to economic growth was more or less given by the limit of luxury consumption of the ruling class and its retainers (including of course conspicuous consumption, vide: the pyramids).

Acceleration of economic growth could start on a tremendous scale only when the social surplus product took the form of money, which could be used not only to acquire consumer goods, but also to buy land, means of production and labor power, and when the generalization of commodity production, the creation of an expanding market, and the appearance on this market of independent producers and sellers of commodities, made it not only profitable but indispensable to reinvest money in expanding production. It is this economic compulsion for a social class to productive accumulation of the social surplus product-which was only possible because this surplus product had taken the form of money, had become surplus value— which created capitalism. And for Marxists, the tremendous revolutions involved in these transformations are inconceivable without a social class whose interests must be served — and indeed were served — through them; because for Marxists, unlike for vulgar “economic determinists”, no economic transformations are possible without social forces imposing them, and no social forces impose such transformations if these are against their basic economic interests.

That’s what Marx taught about capital, capitalism, the capitalist class (and incidentally. more generally about historical materialism. That’s what we tried to illustrate, with new empirical data, and at least in the historical parts of Marxist Economic Theory, in a more extended way than Marx had found time to do. We don’t say of course: this is true, because Marx said so. We only say: Marx truly said this. Kidron can either claim to approve Marx’s analysis of capital — and then he has to withdraw his clumsy criticism of our dealing with the “central dynamic” of the system. Or he has the perfect right to challenge Marx — but then he must come up with an analysis which covers the whole history of capital, from its inception till today, and which distinguishes this system from all other modes of production, either previous or ulterior, and that he hasn’t done so far. Perhaps he is, after all, afraid that he will look a bit silly pretending to know better than Marx what is the real essence of “Capital ”…

The Laws of Motion of Capitalism and the “Pure Model”

This is all the more important as Marx himself has clearly defined what method he used in his analysis of capitalism. In his preface to the second edition of “Capital”, he quotes approvingly an article in a Russian magazine which states that the scientific value of his analysis lies “in the unveiling of the particular laws which regulate the origins, existence, development and death of a given social organism, and its replacement by another and higher one”. Marx adds to this quotation that the author of that magazine article has most correctly (“treffend”) defined his method, which is the dialectical one.

This means that no understanding of capitalism is possible without the understanding of general laws of motion, which explain both its origins, its development through its successive stages, and its final and inevitable decline and fall. To say, as all “fashionable” professors of economics do today, that Marx discovered laws of motion which were correct “only for 19th century capitalism”, but that they don’t apply any more today, means to say that Marx was completely wrong. His ambition was not at all to analyze and given limited period of the history of capital; his ambition was to explain its whole history, from its beginning to its death.

Kidron, under the obvious influence of “fashionable” (i.e. bourgeois) economics, moves around this hot stew, quite unsure of himself, and does not dare either to eat or to refuse it. The “solution” with which he comes up is that in Marx’s “pure” system, the laws of motion apply, but that real life is quite different from this “pure” system, and in real life Marx’s laws of motion do not apply “completely” (or even not at all, which is at least implied in some of Kidron’s remarkable statements about contemporary capitalism).

Let us first state that Kidron’s way of summarizing the laws of motion of capitalism contains several “classical” oversimplifications, fashionable in academic circles and in the Kautsky — school of vulgarized Marxism; this is no accident, as we shall presently note. Kidron will have a hard time finding any evidence in Marx’s “Capital” that there is a tendency for labor power to decline in absolute terms under capitalism; that “booms become progressively less profitable and shorter: slumps more lasting and severe”[7] . But be this as it may, let us now follow Kidron’s argumentation of how the absence of a “closed system” of capital upsets the workings of the laws of motion of capitalism discovered by Marx:

“The model is a closed system, in which all output flows back as inputs in the form of investment goods or of wage goods. There are no leaks.

“Yet in principle a leak could insulate the compulsion to grow from its most important consequences . . . If ‘capital-intensive’ goods were drawn off, the rise would be slower and depending on the volume and composition of the leak-could even stop or be reversed. In such a case there would be no decline in the average rate of profit, no reason to expect increasingly severe slumps, and so on.

“Capitalism has never formed a closed system in practice. Wars and slumps have destroyed immense quantities of ouput. Capital exports have diverted and frozen other quantities for long stretches of time.

“A lot, since World War II, filtered out in the production of arms. Each of these leaks bas acted to slow the rise in the overall organic composition and the fall in the rate of profit.” (p.33).

A truly remarkable constant confusion between use-values and exchange-values, between physical goods produced (or destroyed) and their counterpart in form of value of commodities, appears throughout these lines. It is worthy of inclusion in a textbook simply to show what misunderstanding a lack of clarity on the dual nature of the commodity necessarily leads to.

What seems to lie at the basis of this whole conception is some vulgar theory of over-production, according to which it is a glut of physical goods which is at the basis of all capitalism’s evil. Slumps result from too many consumer goods; increased organic composition of capital and declining rate of profit result from too many investment goods (too many machines). When there are “leaks”, and other goods are produced instead of these, or, even better, when these goods are destroyed, then there is rejoicing in the sky of Capital, and laws of motion are magically put out of action.

Kidron forgets that what capitalism is about is the accumulation of capital (i.e., stored value) and not the disposal of the use-values of commodities. A certain proportion of these must, of course, fill physical needs and give production its needed physical material. But these physical conditions of reproduction arc only material preconditions for the successful realization of capital accumulation. They don’t guarantee in themselves either the realization of that process, nor its realization under conditions where the laws of motion of the system apply, apply only partially or, presumably for Kidron, don’t apply at all. These conditions depend exclusively on the composition, exchange, valorization and reproduction of capital as value.

The example of slumps clarifies this easily. A slump is not primarily a destruction of “immense quantities of output” (of physical goods). Sometimes, this destruction does not happen at all; and even when it does happen, it is only a secondary side-effect of what is the real meaning of slumps (and, incidentally, also their objective function in the dynamics of capitalism): the destruction of capital as value, through massive depreciation of stocks of goods, or fixed capital (parts of which even lose all their value: machines are turned into scrap iron, etc.) and of ‘fictitious capital’. Whether this essential process is accompanied by physical destruction of goods is immaterial.

Because slumps are destroyers of capital and not of “output”, they tend to lower the organic composition of capital[8] , and allow a rise in the rate of profit which sets off a new cycle of increased “Capital investment, boom, rising organic composition of capital, decline in the rate of profit, which eventually leads to a new decline in production, etc. There is therefore no need at all to discover any “leak” in the “closed system” to “explain” why slumps temporarily reverse the trend towards increased organic composition of capital and declining rate of profit. On the contrary, this “safetyvalve” is built-in in the “dosed system”, as Marx himself clearly stated and as we explicitly repeated ill Marxist Economic Theory[9] .

The same thing is true for (capital exports. This process can only be constructed as a “leak” from the “closed system”, if this “closed system” is viewed as being established in a single country, surrounded by a world outside of the realm of capitalism — a construction which is completely alien to Marx’s “model”. Once the “closed system” of capital is viewed as an international system (the capitalist world market), then capital exports are neither a “diversion” nor a “freezing” of output (?) for “long stretches of time”, but simply the manifestation of the basic law of motion of capitalism, the tendency of capital to flow from branches, regions, areas, countries with lower, to those with higher rates of profits. It is no accident that Kidron does not even mention this law of motion in his description of the model. And such a flow (be it “export” or not) of course counteracts the trend towards a declining rate of profit, inasmuch as it leads to capital investments with a lower organic composition of capital or (and) a higher rate of surplus value. Again, the counteracting tendency does not represent any “leak”, but is built-in-in the “midel” as such, and clearly stated by Marx himself.

Kidron’s third “leak” is represented by wars. The same infusion between use-values and exchange-values, between physical goods and capital, occurs here. All wars destroy physical goods; but whether they destroy capital is not so obvious nor so automatic.

In order to destroy capital, they must not only destroy consumer goods, including durable ones like houses, but also destroy industrial equipment to a larger degree than is newly built. Wars, it should not be forgotten, not only can destroy capital but also can lead to a tremendous increase of capital accumulation (as happened, for example, in the USA both during the first and second world war). Often the two processes occur side by side (like in Britain during- the second world war), and only if the first process is larger than the second one is there real capital destruction (i.e., does overall capital accumulation become negative). We have described the mechanics of this process of contracted reproduction under war economy ill Marxist Economy Theory; incidentally one of the examples of “fresh exploration” which Kidron somehow managed to miss in the book. Kidron seems to labor under the impression that wars and war production are “unproductive” and “destroy capital” because weapons are “destructive goods”. He forgets that a manufacturer of tanks, munitions and fighter planes makes a huge profit, uses a large part of it to accumulate capital (i.e. to buy new machinery and to hire new men ) and that this represents a process of capital accumulation identical to the similar steps embarked upon by a manufacturer of tinned milk or by a firm producing turbines.

We have now arrived at Kidron’s fourth “leak”: arms production. According to him, it represents a “drain”, and “being a capital-intensive drain, it will have a restraining effect on the tendency of the organic composition to rise” (pp. 33-34). Why arms production is a “drain”, and why it has a restraining effect on the tendency of the organic composition of capital to rise, remains an absolute mystery.

The whole construction is completely artificial and misses the main “law of motion” of capital accumulation altogether. For arms production is not conducted on some mysterious planet Mars, but on this wicked planet of ours; it is 110t conducted under conditions of some mysteriously unknown mode of production, but under “normal” and “classical” capitalism, with a constant flow of capital between all sectors of profitable investment, including arms production. So the calculation of an “organic composition of capital” in the arms industry, separate and apart from that of the “civilian sector”, is completely meaningless to establish the trend of the average rate of profit, which results precisely from the social average between all sectors, including the arms sector. What Kidron would have to prove, to show that the effect of capitalist arms production is to weaken or to stop the tendency to a declining rate of profit, is that the average social organic composition of capital (including of course the arms sector itself) has become lower than it would have been if that arms production sector would not have existed. And that conclusion just does not make any sense, if one assumes that the organic composition of capital in the arms production sector is actually higher and not lower than the average organic composition of capital in the “civilian” production sector, because it is nearly entirely situated in the “capital intensive” sector of heavy industry11[10] .

Kidron’s assumption could only imply an element of truth if the average organic composition of capital would be actually lower ill the armament sector than it is in the other sectors. In that case, of course, strong expansion of a sector with lower organic composition of capital would lower the social average organic composition of capital and thereby successfully counteract the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. But this hypothesis — which Kidron would be the first one to reject! — does not correspond to reality. And even if it would, it would not represent a “drain” but only a particular manifestation of the same basic law of motion of capitalist accumulation of the “pure” model, which we described above.

Kidron would have spared himself much confusion, if instead of talking about “leaks” and “drains”, he would have started from the key-difficulty which monopoly capitalism has encountered for three-quarters of a century. This is not the difficulty of disposing of surplus goods (thereby welcoming any turn in development which would lead to a sudden decline in the “surplus” of consumer goods and investment goods), but the difficulty of disposing of surplus capital, which derives from the very nature of monopoly capital[11] . Thence both the drive to increasing capital exports, and the drive towards arms production. The economic function of arms production is to provide additional fields of investment for capital surplus, not to reduce the increase in the organic composition of capital and/or the declining rate of profit. Its overall effect-if it is large- will be to ensure a higher rate of overall growth (obviously. because the alternative would be not to use at all the capital invested in arms production) and to reduce the volume of investment and output fluctuations (because arms production. unlike “civilian” production, generally does not decline in phases of recession). But whether all this leads to a rise or to a decline in the average rate of profit depends on other circumstances (e.g., on the effects of arms production on the rate of surplus value), not on the nature of arms production as a “drain”.

Contemporary Capitalism and Vulgar Economics

So Kidron’s whole construction of “leaks” and “drains” collapses as an explanation of why the laws of motion of capitalism don’t apply today. He is faced with the same dilemma as all those who call themselves Marxists: either he has somehow to accept that there are “tendencies” which do not manifest themselves (which is of course something different from saying that there are tendencies which don’t manifest themselves permanently or without counteracting tendencies), or he has to have a fresh look at reality, try to shake off impressionism, and to find behind superficial phenomena and doctored “statistics” more fundamental economic processes which do, after all, correspond to Marx’s laws of motion.

That’s what we tried, in Marxist Economic Theory and subsequent writings, and we think we can prove our case. As we have shown, between 1869 and 1919, the output of producers’ goods increased more than twenty times in the USA, whereas the output of consumer goods only increased twelve times. Between 1919 and 1964, the output of machinery and instruments in the USA, rose from 14.1 % to 20.5’/6 of total manufacturing production. Again, the output of machinery increased threefold between 1947 and 1968, whereas total industrial production rose by 250 % in the same period. So one might infer that for one century the output of department I has indeed grown more rapidly than the output of department II, which implies that there is a definite tendency for the organic composition of capital to rise[12] , and that, from a long term point of view, this tendency is neither stopped nor reversed during the last decades (although it obviously slows down percent wise. when the absolute volume of department I reaches a higher and higher level. The same rate of growth of the organic composition of capital would require, starting from a certain absolute volume of constant capital and given the average rate of capital accumulation, an absolute decline in variable capital or in output of department II—which has obviously not been the case, and could not be the case given the existing relationship of forces between Capital and labor in the U.S.A.).

Now given the evidence of a long-term trend of rise in the organic composition of capital, given the complete lack, of evidence of any long-term rise in the rate of surplus value proportional to it, one can only conclude either that there has to be long-term decline in the average rate of profit, or that Marx’s labor theory of value does not hold any more (that constant capital is somehow mysteriously “producing surplus value”), and in that case, the whole of Marx’s economic theory collapses. Let us repeat again that we are not talking of a couple of years here and a couple of years there, but of long-term trends. Kidron makes a caricature of our analysis when he says that for us “the real thing “ becomes as simple as the model [13]. But surely, a model which has no relation whatsoever to the “real thing” is a wrong model, I would presume . . . And the denial of any longterm decline in the rate of profit leads Kidron smack into vulgar economics accepting the labor theory of value with one hand and denying it with another.

In studying capitalist statistics on “rates of profit”, one has to take a whole series of precautions, in order to translate them into Marxist terms.

In the first place, the average rate of profit Marxist economic theory is concerned with the rate of profit on the flow of current production (pl/c+v, in which is the fraction of the total capital stock actually used up in annual output and not the rate of profit of the stock of total capital investment (pl/K+M, in which K is the value of all fixed capital invested and M the value of total circulation capital available in capitalist industry). Most statistics-and balance sheets of capitalist firms calculate profit rates on the stock and not on the flow-and the difference can be quite striking.

In, the second place. Marx’s laws of motions are concerned with value production, not with price calculations. It takes a lot of analytical labor to deduct from national income and national expenditure statistics the sum-total of surplus value produced by industrial labor. Part of that surplus- value is appropriated by other sectors of capital (banking capital, commercial capital, capital invested in the service industries, etc.) through the market (i.e., through the purchase of “services” by the manufacturing firms, which appears in the balance-sheets as “production costs”, or through the sale of commodities below their prices of production), is thus deducted from the income of industrial capital, and is not included in the category “profit of industry before taxes”. If this part of surplus value, while increasing in absolute figures, is declining in relation to “industrial profits”, then the rate of growth of surplus value as compared with the rate of growth of current capital expenditure might be in fact lower than appears from the statistical “series before taxes”, and the average rate of profit might in fact be declining although the series “profit before taxes” does not show so.

In the third place, ever since corporation taxes became “burdensome”, a whole new “service industry” for doctoring balance-sheets has arisen. Most Marxist commentators have insisted especially upon the profit-concealing function of this doctoring (e.g., camouflaging important part of surplus value as constant capital consumption, through the method of accelerated depreciation)[14] . They seem to have forgotten that this also implies a systematic under-valuation of capital itself, in the first place an under-valuation of the total capital stock-which is all the more formidable because it becomes cumulative-but also an under-valuation of current capital expenditure (part of which is marked down in the books as “current costs of repair”, another part of which does not appear at all, because the value has already been “written off” before). Now if the real value of capital is much higher than appears in the balance sheets, then of course statistical series which appear to show uncertain fluctuations of the rate of profit, or even an increase of that rate, can actually hide a long-term tendency of a declining rate of profit[15] .

All this being said, do the statistical series really warrant any conclusion that the trend towards a declining average rate of profit has somehow been reversed by contemporary capitalism? Kidron’s own series, whatever may be its serious shortcomings indicated above, actually prove the opposite. In order to interpret them, we have to understand that the rate of profit-oscillation works on two wavelengths, so to speak. They work within the span of each cycle, going up in the boom and going down under conditions of recessions; and they work in longer-range periods, tending to reach peaks, during booms, which have a tendency to become lower (which does not mean naturally that each boom must have automatically a lower maximum rate of profit than the previous one had. Increases in the rate of surplus value can momentarily offset the effects of increases in the organic composition of capital). One can dispute the first type cyclical decline only if one disputes the inevitability of cyclical variations of capitalist production at all; and one cannot dispute this inevitability neither in fact (recessions have occurred in the USA economy in 1949, 1953, 1957, 1%0, and one is starting right now) nor in theory (it flows precisely from the fragmentation of productive resources between different owners. i.e., from the existence of “different capitals”, viz., from capitalist competition without which as we have seen above, capitalism cannot be conceived).

But what about the long-term trends of the rate of profit? Kidron’s statistics show that on “net working capital” the rate of profit declined from 49 % in the boom year 1950 to 43.6 % in the next peak boom year 1955. 38.4% in the next peak boom year 1959 and an average of 43.1 % for the three boom years 1965, 1966 and 1967. There is no “linear” decline, but the tendency towards decline is quite clear.

The same applies to the two main European capitalist countries, West Germany and Great Britain. In West Germany, net profits as a percentage of net capital worth declined for all industry from 20.9% in 1951 toUS.5% in 1955, 18.4% in 1960 and 14.9% in 1965 (each peak years of the cycle; the rates for the intermediary years are each time lower than the peaks). And for Britain, the Financial Times’ “ Annual Trend of Industrial Profit” series indicate a similar trend: for all industrial companies, the rate of profit as against net assets declines from an average of 9.3% for the 1952-1960 period to an average of 7.8% for the 1961-1965, and an average of 6.9% for the 1965-1968 period[16] .

So Kidron is wrong when he assumes that “’nothing beyond the forties could sustain Mandel’s thesis … “

It is true, that Marxist Economic Theory does not treat in a systematic way the problem of the sharp rise in the rate of growth of the capitalist economy after world war II, a rate of growth which is now declining — as we foresaw correctly since the early sixties, and as the very same issue of “International Socialism” which prints Kidron’s critique also confirms (p. 31). The reason for this does not lie in our “maginot Marxism” (it is not difficult to explain that rise with Marx’s analytical tools). It lies simply in the fact that most of Marxist Economic Theory was written in the late fifties, i.e. more than ten years ago, when many of the postwar trends were not yet clear.

The further development of what we believe to be the explanation of the peculiarities of contemporary capitalism” can be found in a few of our later writings[17]. Briefly, we think that what we have been witnessing is a third industrial revolution, similar in effect to the second one which ushered in the phase of monopoly capitalism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. We believe that each of the three industrial revolutions which capitalism witnessed till now have had a similar effect of pushing the rate of investment and of growth upward during a first series of cycles, while inevitably preparing thereby the grounds for a later “long cycle” with a much lower rate of growth. We believe, in other words, that the cyclical movement of the rate of profit is three-fold: inside each 5 to 10 years cycle (first up, then down); between the peaks of several cycles constituting together a long-term period of 20-25 years (generally down); and between several long-term periods (more erratic, but downward in the “secular” sense: obviously, the average rate of profit is today lower than it was in the first half of the 19th century).

Does this view of a new industrial revolution overthrow the classical Marxist-Leninist conception of imperialism as the final stage of capitalism? It does not, no more than the appearance of monopoly capitalism overthrew the classical Marxist conception of competition being the driving force of capitalism.

The third phase in the history of capitalism reproduces most of the basic features of imperialism on a higher scale, just as monopoly capitalism reproduced competition on a higher scale. But it does so in a changed framework. Whereas “free competition” capitalism was largely limited to a small part of the world, imperialism embraced the whole earth. “Neocapitalism” (or late capitalism) is again limited to only part of the world. But whereas early expanding “liberal” capitalism of the 19th century had only to face decaying older social orders, “late” capitalism is confronted with the formidable challenge of anti-capitalist forces and a post-capitalist social order which enjoys both a higher rate of growth and a much larger popular appeal to at least two-thirds of mankind.

One can also add that during the “long period” of stagnation of capitalist world economy (1913-1940) a great “reserve” of scientific and technological inventions had been built up, whose large-scale productive application was delayed as a result of the unfavorable economic conditions prevailing during that period. The dynamic of these inventions, accelerated by the results of the war economy boom itself, laid the basis for a real explosion of technological innovations, which could be widely applied under conditions of reconstruction, stepped up capital accumulation[18] and continued expansion of arms production, itself strongly determined by the conditions of “competition” with a non-capitalist economy in the Soviet Union.

In any case, the key aspect of this development is to understand the oversimplification of the assumption (of which even Lenin and Trotsky were at moments victim of) that the structural crisis of the world capitalist system, which undoubtedly began with the first world war and the Russian revolution, somehow is identical with an absolute decline in the development of productive forces. There is no trace in Marx’s “Capital” and his mature economic thought of such an idea.

The structural crisis of the capitalist world system means that the system begins to break up, that there is an uninterrupted chain of social revolution erupting, some victorious and some defeated, that the restriction of world capitalism to only parts of the world (and the challenge which the other part represents to it) put formidable supplementary constraints on to it, that the fundamental contradiction between the level of development which the productive forces have reached and the capitalist production relations, leads periodically to big social explosions, and that thereby tile objective pre-conditions for victorious socialist revolutions exist, historically for the whole epoch, and conjuncturally at successive phases in various countries. This structural crisis of the capitalist mode of production is intertwined with the periodic crisis of overproduction, but by no means identical or synonymous with it. And each time when a period of revolutionary upsurge of the working class in the industrialized imperialist countries ends in defeat, this creates a situation in which an economic: recovery is not only possible but inevitable for the imperialist bourgeoisie.

In other words: the basic notion here is that there are no “economic situations without a way out” for the imperialist bourgeoisie, as Lenin rightly stated. Capitalism cannot collapse simply out of its own inner economic contradictions. This Kautskyist conception — which, through the intermediary of English mechanistic “Marxists” of the Strachey type, has exercised a deep influence on Marxist thought in Great Britain — is the underlying assumption of much of Kidron’s misplaced critique against Marxist Economic Theory. We don’t share this conception, and Marx had nothing to with it. The only thing he showed was that the inner contradictions of capitalism lead towards periodic economic crisis and social explosions. The fact that even in a period of accelerated investment and growth a tremendous inverted pyramid of monetary inflation and personal indebtedness had to be erected to keep the system going — a pyramid which cannot be expanded in an unlimited way — clearly shows that all these contradictions are still very much with us, like in Marx’s time. But whether capitalism collapses or not depends on the successful revolutionary action of the working class. And what happens when it does not collapse depends on a variety of factors, some of which we have just sketched.

We shall not take up Kidron’s laborious attempts at irony, accusing us of pandering to the notions of “non-stagnating stagnation” and of “slumpless slumps”[19]. It is very significant that in none of the passages of Marxist Economic Theory, which Kidron cites as proof that we did not “incorporate the uncomfortable fact of the mildness of post-war recessions” into our general analysis, but continue to speak of the “inevitable slumps” (presumably on pages 168, 171,346.347.529, etc.) in none of these passages does the word “slump” even so much as appear! The only “inevitability” we mention in all these passages is the inevitability of periodical downward fluctuations, of periodic declines in output, of periodic increases in unemployment, of periodic overproduction of commodities and excess capacity of equipment. That’s what capitalist crisis means for Marxist economic theory. And these continued to occur regularly, after World War II as well as before.

Kidron does not understand at all the point we made about “recessions” and “slumps”: that the difference is purely quantitative and not qualitative (and very often quantitative only after a certain stretch of time; the first manifestations of a recession are very often as violent as the first manifestations of the 1929 slump, as we statistically proved). Recurrent recessions prove precisely that, capitalism is not capable of regular, harmonious growth, is not capable of avoiding unemployment and is not capable of avoiding fluctuations of income; all this for the simple reason that it is generalized commodity production conducted under conditions of private property (of “many capitals”) which inevitably implies irregular, spasmodic ups and downs of investment. A mild recession is a recession, i.e., a crisis, after all; and a million unemployed in a country like West Germany or Italy are, after all, a million unemployed’ and not full employment. That they don’t have the gravity of the 1929 and the 1938 slumps, we concede willingly. But what does that prove? How about comparing them to the pre-1929 or the pre-1913 crises of overproduction (these were, after all, those which Marx wrote about)? What about determining their tendency? Will they tend to become “milder” and “milder” till they fade away? Or will they become stronger and stronger?

These matters are all connected with the very heart of Marxist economic theory. Is it possible to avoid fluctuations while generalized commodity production exists? Is it possible to avoid crises of overproduction (pardon me: “recessions”) when “key choices about the deployment of resources” are left to individual capitalists? If Kidron thinks it isn’t, he, too, believes in the inevitability of crises of overproduction under capitalism, and then, following his own absurd vocabulary, he too is a believer in “slumpless slumps”. And if he doesn’t believe in the inevitability of crises under “contemporary” capitalism, then he can in no way hide his complete and total break with Marxist economic theory, method, analytical categories and doctrine as a whole. His impressionist refusal to answer these questions is, in fact, a typical “refusal to generalize”, characteristic of vulgar economics.

Capitalism and “State Capitalism” — the Nature of the Soviet Economy

How does it happen that a trained and not talentless economist like Kidron, who has also read some Marx, can make such elementary blunders, constantly confusing use values and exchange values, physical goods and capital, absence of slumps of the 1929 type and absence of capitalist crisis of overproduction? The reasons obviously do not lie in his lack of analytical ability. They lie in his desperate attempt to cling to the myth of “state capitalism” existing in Russia, and to the need which flows from that attempt to show somehow that there is no “basic” difference between the functioning of “contemporary capitalism” and the functioning of the Soviet economy. That’s why he has to slur over or even deny fundamental aspects of capitalism and fundamental laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production.

Ever since social-democratic opponents of the Russian October revolution hatched the theory of “capitalism” continuing to exist in the Soviet Union, supporters of that theory have been faced with a difficult choice. Either they consider that Russian “capitalism” has all the basic features of classic capitalism as analyzed by Marx, to start with generalized commodity production, and that it also shows all the basic contradictions of capitalism, included capitalist crisis of overproduction and then they have a hard time discovering evidence for this. Or they admit the obvious fact that most of these features are absent from the Soviet economy, and they then have to contend that these features are not “basic” to capitalism anyhow, which in the last analysis only means exploitation of wage-labor by “accumulators”. This then implies unavoidably that there are qualitative differences between the functioning of capitalism as it exists in the West and the functioning of the Soviet economy, and that “state capitalism” is a mode of production different (i.e., corresponding to different laws of motion) from classical private capitalism. Bordiga is the outstanding representative of the first current, Tony Cliff of the second current. The peculiarity of Kidron is to try to have it both ways: he intends to eat his “state capitalist” cake and have it too!

He starts by conceding that Soviet economy is not subjected to the tyranny of profit nor to internal competition nor to crisis (p. 35). The explanation is that in Russia we are living under the regime of “a single capital”. But if there is no competition, if there is only a single capital, then, obviously; there is a “central, public arrangement to ensure that the process will go on in an orderly, continuous and predictable way” (Kidron’s definition of what does not exist under capitalism) and this “arrangement” is called central planning. Obviously, too, if there is no competition, “key choices about the deployment of resources” are not left to “individual capitals” (which do not exist), but are centrally determined in a coherent way, and we have continuous growth. And then, equally obviously, there is no capitalism, because all these “arrangements” are unattainable under capitalism.

But at the same time as he concedes all this, Kidron makes a series of statements which completely contradict this conception of the laws of motion of capitalism not applying inside Russia. We read that “nothing (!) in Stalinist (including post-Stalin) Russia defies analysis in terms of Marx’s model The process of pumping out surpluses from the mass of producers is as vulnerable in Russia to wild and random encroachments (!) from other capitals as it is anywhere else. The people, that organize and benefit from it, arc under as oppressive a compulsion to fast economic growth as any similarly placed class elsewhere” (p. 34). We wait for any substantiation of these breathtaking statements. There is none to come. And none can come because they are based on a crude conceptual sleight-of-hand. Here all the initial confusion between use-values and exchange values, between accumulation of machines and accumulation of capital, between conflicts of different social systems and capitalist competition, come finally into their own.

Let us take for a minute the concept of a “single capital” seriously and see where it leads us.

Inside General Motors there is of course no capitalist competition going on. The department producing car bodies does not “compete” with the department producing gear-boxes. Capital does not “flow” from one department to the other, when gear-box production is “more profitable” than car body production. General Motors normally can do nothing with gear-boxes in excess of cars produced (we leave aside the marginal case where a large corporation would actually sell parts to competitors; this does not change anything in the logic of our reasoning). Normally, the production of all parts is “planned” so that a maximum number of cars can be sold profitably.

Now if there is no “market economy” inside General Motors corporations; if the flow of goods between the departments of that “single capital” is not a flow of commodities but a flow of use-values, why then in General Motors a capitalist trust, why is the final product indeed a commodity, why are the owners of the corporation under the economic compulsion to exploit their workers and to accumulate more and more capital? Obviously because they have to sell their cars on a market, in competition with other car manufacturing corporations. If the wages in their firm go up quicker than productivity of labor, cost prices go up and then General Motors cars would be priced out of the market. If the rate of exploitation goes down, capital accumulation goes down, technology becomes obsolete compared to that of competitors with higher capital accumulation, and again the firm not only would quickly lose its share of the market, but would even be in danger of finding no market whatsoever for its goods. It is through the fact that the final products of General Motors are commodities, have to be sold on a market, and are therefore subject to capitalist competition, that the inner organization of the plant which appears at first sight as “planned economy” is subject to “wild and random encroachments from other capitals”, and that anarchy of production, increased exploitation, capital accumulation, periodic crisis, firing of workers, inflow and outflow of capital from the auto branch to other branches, in brief, all the laws of motion of capital discovered by Marx; assert themselves.

Now let us presume that through some “miracle” called the October Revolution the workers of General Motors expropriate their owners and reorganize production in such a way that they do not have to sell any commodities on the outside market (later, after some soul-searching, they decide to divert 1% of their annual output for such a sale, but this does not change anything decisively in the set-up; even if this 1% were to be suddenly suppressed, no basic change in the organization of their would occur).[20] Diversification of production tends to cover at least the elementary needs of all the manpower of the firm. Would this still be “capitalist” production? Of course not, no more than that of the “communistic” colonies of 19th century America. Do the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production apply to that outfit? Evidently not. There would be no capital accumulation, only an accumulation of industrial equipment, produced according to plan, in the form of use-values. There would be no flow of capital from less to more profitable areas.[21] There would be no cyclical movement of investment, income and output, no periodic crisis, no periodic unemployment, but steady growth (provided the planning functions more or less adequately).

Would there be threat of encroachment by capitalism? Of course there would be such a threat; capitalism, by its very nature, is adverse to any part of the earth and any potential market being taken out of its grip. This threat would take the form of a threatening police action (or a military action) to restore private property and “free enterprise” in the domain of the collectivized outfit. It would take the form of trying to lure away the G.M. workers, by showing them at least that elsewhere they could enjoy a higher standard of living. These threats would, obviously, influence the behavior of whoever administers collectivized General Motors. Part of output would have to be diverted for arms production, for purposes of self-defense, and there would be a powerful incentive for technically more and more advanced arms production. Plans would also have to be drafted (and redrafted) in order not to fall too much behind capitalist production technique for consumer and investment goods too (or even for overtaking them). The division of total output inside the collectivized domain would be influenced by these challenges and the desired response to them. This would be true, incidentally, independently from the fact whether collectivized domain were administered under a perfect scheme of workers control and workers self-management, or whether it were administered by a hideous gang of foremen and engineers, who grabbed power inside the domain in order to reserve for themselves the cream of the output, achieving thereby a much higher standard of living than the modest average made possible by the given capacity of output, achieving thereby a much higher standard of living than the modest average made possible by the given capacity of output. And the possibility of political power and self-administration being taken away from the workers of the plant would in its turn depend on the degree by which general consumers needs would be satisfied (if they were, there would be no “incentive” for anyone grabbing power in order to satisfy consumer needs!), on the degree of political activity, awareness and socialist consciousness of the workers (in its turn depending at least partially on their standard of consumption, of leisure and of culture), and on their class cohesiveness (in part a function of the existence and leading influence of a revolutionary organization) .

But by no stretch of imagination, and especially, by no clever word-play (first using “wild and random encroachments” instead of pressure or threat of encroachments; then using “encroachment” instead of “competition for shares of a market”: and finally substituting accumulation of capital for accumulation of use-values, could these conditions be pressed back into the categories of Marx’s model of the inner logic, the laws of motion and the contradictions of generalized commodity production, i.e., of the capitalist mode of production.

So the conclusion is inescapable. There is no “single capital” in Russia (capitalist production under “single capital” was ruled out by Marx anyway). It is absurd to assume that capitalist production was somehow reintroduced because of “competition on the capitalist world market” (i.e., that the tail of 1 % of output imported from and exported to advanced capitalist countries is wagging the dog of the Russian economy).

And it is even methodologically wrong to assume a mechanical and automatic identity between the fact of a country being submitted to “encroachments” of foreign capital and the fact of that country becoming capitalist. Only if and when these encroachments change the internal mode of production do they lead to introduction (or reintroduction) of capitalism.

Marx made the point that India and China, although gradually drawn into the capitalist world market, did not for several centuries become capitalist countries (i.e., acquire a capitalist mode of production), because of the strong resistance which the basic mode of production of these countries continued to oppose to the “encroachments” of international capital. And if such was the capacity of resistance of a decadent and decaying Asiatic mode of production, surely the capacity of resistance against encroachments by the world market of a superior mode of production, based on collective property of the means of production and planned economy, could be understood to be a thousand times stronger. History proves that it has indeed been so.

The Meaning of the Economic Reforms in the U.S.S.R.

All these questions become even clearer if one tries to fit the current economic reforms in Russia and Eastern Europe into this analytical framework. If we assume, as Kidron does, that Russia is a capitalist economy “accumulating capital” under pressure of and in competition with the capitalist world market, then these reforms become meaningless (indeed, any analysis of the Russian economy made by “state-capitalists”, cf. Tony Cliff’s “The Nature of Stalinist Russia ” written in the fifties, completely failed to foresee anything of the kind). There is the need to “accumulate capital”. The bureaucracy is the “agency for accumulation”. Accumulation leads to “class struggle” like in the West. But because there is “fascist-type dictatorship”, this can only erupt violently (and not for reforms). That’s all they had to say.

If one starts however from the assumption that Russia’s economy is not capitalist; that it is a specific non-capitalist mode of production, then one has to analyze the specific contradictions of that mode of production, and then one can foresee the specific economic and social problems, conflicts and crisis, which will arise from these contradictions (completely different from those of bourgeois society). That’s what we tried to do in Marxist Economic Theory and events have shown us to be right. Indeed, the very contradictions which we laid bare were admitted by the leading economists there and used as starting points for the economic reforms being introduced in Eastern Europe and the USSR since the early sixties (these reforms, be it said in passing, will only temporarily provide solace and can in no way solve the said contradictions, which can only be overcome by a political revolution introducing democratically-centralized, i.e., planned, workers management).

We cannot here reproduce the whole argument; but let us concentrate on the main points. As we have said above, it IS simply not true that all ruling layers (classes and castes) in history have had an urge to pump more and more surplus product out of the producers. And it is even less true that they all have an urge to “accumulate capital”. This “urge” is typical only for the capitalist class, under the concrete conditions of the capitalist mode of production (universal commodity production and private property of the means of production, i.e., the existence of “several capitals”, i.e., competition). Now the Soviet bureaucracy is not a capitalist class. It does not manage factories under conditions of universal commodity production. It is not in the process of competition for markets with other capitalists. So it is under no economic compulsion to maximize output and under even less economic compulsion to optimize resource utilization. In fact, it accepts the “tyranny of the plan!’ (as Kidron states, without seeming to understand that this is a qualitatively different “tyranny” from that of profit) only because It wants to keep its managerial position, as a means of achieving the optimum standard of consumption available under the given conditions. In other words, the consumption desires of the bureaucracy (like the consumption desires of precapitalist classes) and not the need to maximize accumulation and output, are the motive force behind bureaucratic management. And this unavoidably clashes with the inner logic of a planned economy which calls for maximizing output[22] and optimizing deployment of resources.

How did Stalin solve this contradiction? Essentially through two means. On the one hand, “material consumer incentives” to the bureaucrats were greatly increased, and were made much more meaningful in the light of the miserable standard of living of the mass of the producers. On the other hand, the bureaucrat was trapped in a mass of orders which he had to fulfill, lest he lose not only his consumer privileges but also his liberty and very possibly his life. It was tacitly understood that among all these contradictory indicators, that of attaining or surpassing gross output figures had the absolute priority, and that he was allowed to disregard some other indicators to attain these. But from time to time he was harshly reminded, through violent sanctions, that he had to respect plan discipline as a whole, and not only parts of it.

Why did this combination of carrot and stick increasingly fail to deliver results starting with the fifties? From the point of view of the overall interests of the planned economy, because it had been geared essentially to the needs of an extensive industrialization (with large reserves of land. natural resources and manpower); in which cost calculations in relation to alternative investment projects were of less importance; this period was over and the Soviet economy needed urgently to grow from extensive into intensive industrialization, with much more closely calculated use of resources than before. From the point of view of the bureaucracy as a social layer, because both the carrot and the stick were rapidly losing their effects. The incentive effect of the bureaucracy’s consumer privileges was dwindling, when the general standard of life in the country rose and in fad inequality in income declined somewhat: e.g. the salary of a director of the biggest machine-building plant, first category, was only five times the minimum wage of a cleaning woman, after the latest rise of minimum wages on January 1st, 1968, instead of eight times in 1966 or ten to twelve times under Stain. The fear of violent repression was also receding as a result of the “liberalization” of the Khrushchev era and the general decrease ill the use of arbitrary trials, deportation (not to say killings etc.), against individual bureaucrats.

Looking for a way to overcome the growing contradictions between the general needs of the planned economy and the material interests of the individual bureaucrats (which are pure consumer interests, be it repeated!) as the driving force of economic growth, the leaders and ideologues of the bureaucracy gradually evolved a system of economic reforms which would tie the income of the bureaucrats to an objective measurement of economic performance. Instead of these privileges depending only on the managerial position and carrying out the plan, they would henceforth increasingly depend on the performance of the factory the bureaucrat manages. And profit was partially “rehabilitated” as a faithful indicator of such overall economic performance. In this way, the bureaucracy’s ideologues thought the managers would be forced to a higher degree of optimization in resource utilization than before. The machine-building plant’s director we referred to above would receive his “incentive” through bonuses tied to profit, instead of through a very high salary.

Contrary to what superficial Maoist and semi-Maoist critiques in the West assumed-these strange new “state capitalist” bedfellows of Kidron”! — the reforms do not mean that capitalism is being reintroduced in he Soviet Union. They do not mean that profit becomes the motive force of economic growth, i.e., starts to direct investment “spontaneously” from branches where it is lower towards branches where it is higher. No real competition in the capitalist sense of the word (i.e., competition for selling on an anarchic market) occurs. Means of production have not become commodities. Rather, what has occurred is the use of a pseudo-market to optimize resource utilization quite along the lines which the late Oscar Lange postulated already in the thirties[23].

But do these reforms mean a smooth and rational use of the planned economy’s resources, in order to achieve the maximum growth of output? By no means. They only substitute one set of contradictions for another. Income of the bureaucracy is now increasingly tied to the factory’s “success” on the “market”. But this “success” does not depend only, or even essentially, upon a rational utilization of given resources available to the factory. It also, and above all, depends upon the technology of the factory (i.e., new investment taking place) and upon a given relationship between the “prices” the factory has to pay for what it “buys”, the amount of manpower it has to use and its wages bill on the one hand, and the “prices” the same factory receives for what it “sells” on the other hand. As long as these prices, the mass and form of investment, the amount of manpower and wages, are determined by the plan, the bureaucrat will quickly feel cheated by the new arrangements. He will say: “You want us to perform “optimally”, but you fix things so from the start, that such a performance is, in fact, impossible”[24].

So the economic reforms must unleash a constant tug-of-war of a new type between the plan and the bureaucrats administering the units of output. The old tug-of-war was essentially about allocations (the bureaucrats systematically overestimated the factories’ needs of workers and material, while they underevaluated the productive capacity of the same factories). The new tug-of-war will be about power of decision. The factory managers will demand the right to hire and fire workers as they like. They will demand the right to “negotiate” wages (regionally, locally, or even by branch or unit) according to “market conditions”. They will demand the right to retain the major part of the “profit” of “their” factory to be invested there. They will ask for a rising (and specific) share in total investment to be realized autonomously by themselves, inside “their” factory. They will above all demand that they should fix the prices of the products they “sell” as they seem fit to do (i.e., as the “market” dictates). And the “planners” will of course stridently resent all these demands which run counter to the elementary principles and needs of central planning.

Let us assume for a moment that the factory managers were to be successful in their demands, and gradually conquer these supplementary rights (this is the actual formula used today in Soviet discussion: “increasing rights for the factory managers”). What would be the outcome of that process? Surely, we would have to drop the inverted commas around the words “market”, “buy” and “sell”. Surely, each factory making its own investment, trying to establish its own prices, negotiating its own wages, would have become an independent firm, and the market would then “arbiter” between these firms and give birth to prices which would no more be determined by plan, but would result from the inter-play of market forces. Surely, in that case, capital would flow from less to more profitable branches. It would no more be the plan, but this flow of capital which would determine the general lines of growth of the economy. Surely, more and more firms would then find it profitable to export part of their goods instead of selling them in the inner market, and would establish direct connections with foreign firms which would increasingly also sell on the Russian market, as well as export capital to that country. Surely, the growth of individual investment would inevitably lead to overinvestment which in a market economy could only be corrected through periodic crises of overproduction and unemployment (never mind whether “mild” as recessions, or “grave” as slumps).

In that case, of course, the Soviet economy would have become a capitalist economy, for everybody to see and acknowledge the fact, even the dogmatic and myopic Mandel. But would it be a “state capitalist” economy’! The whole process started because the income of the factory manager being tied to the factory’s “profit”, the manager had received a strong economic incentive to determine this “profit” by his own decision (i.e., to establish control over most of the decisions on which that profit depends). But once he actually succeeds in doing this, he has an even stronger incentive to remain tied to “his” factory for the rest of his life, and to transmit these “ties” to his children and family. Imagine how cheated he would feel if, after having succeeded in making a factory a “profitable” concern, he would then be transferred to another factory which makes a loss (with the loss of income which this would entail for him!). So the process could only end by the reintroduction of private property. And when, even before this ultimate outcome, the ties with foreign firms become stronger, villas bought on foreign coasts and mountains, bank-accounts established in foreign banks and used for some “profitable investment” (e.g. the purchase of foreign stocks and bonds) would become additional stepping stones in this process.

One could say that all this is purely imaginary and only invented for argument’s sake. But is it indeed? Hasn’t that process actually begun in the Soviet Union? Have not the managers received the right to fire some “excessive workers”? Has not pressure to grant them the right to “fix their own prices” (i.e. to have them fixed by supply and demand on the market) already started, and isn’t it referred to in the Soviet press? Have not certain ideologues of the “managerial layer” (whose existence is now openly admitted and whose formation and education is surrounded with the greatest care by the leaders of the bureaucracy) claimed the right to decide upon the closure of “unprofitable factories”? Has not even Liberman raised his voice in favor of the enterprise becoming more and more “self-financing”? Isn’t there already an experiment with a whole industrial branch financing “its own” investment?[25] Haven’t the trends towards a disintegration of planned economy begun to assert themselves in Yugoslavia, since the “economic reforms” of 1965? Hasn’t even an open conflict arisen between “workers self-management” (in its distorted Yugoslav version) and “socialist market economy”, the most “aggressive” wing of the Yugoslav factory managers openly defending the idea that management should be freed from day-today “encroachments” by the workers’ councils, whose functions should presumably be reduced to one of “deciding income distribution”, e.g. to similar functions of a capitalist firm’s general stockholders meeting? And isn’t the possibility of this process going further and further in that direction conceivable today, with all the social forces and contradictions involved in it before our eyes, in broad daylight so to speak, in the Yugoslav case?

What we deny of course is that this process could lead to “gradual” and “imperceptible” restoration of capitalism. We do not believe that this restoration of capitalism can be achieved “behind the backs of society”, so to speak, in the first place behind the backs of the working class, which is already by far the numerically strongest class in the Soviet Union and in many other Eastern European countries. We are convinced that the workers will put up the strongest possible resistance to such a disintegration of the planned economy, especially when it entails a loss of job security, reappearance of large-scale unemployment, wage decreases and the strong increase in inequality of income[26] We are therefore convinced that capitalism could be restored in the Soviet Union or in any Eastern European country only after breaking the fierce resistance of the working class. And we are likewise convinced that the state apparatus is tied in its majority to the perseverance of social ownership of the means of production and of planned economy, and that its resistance would have to be broken too on the road of capitalist restoration (that is the reason why we still call it a workers’ state, incidentally be it a very degenerate one), nay that it will have to be broken and shattered to pieces, and replaced by a state apparatus of another type, geared to the defense of private property and “free enterprise”. Given the present constellation of social forces, both nationally and internationally, we think it very unlikely that this resistance could actually be broken under these conditions, and that capitalism could be restored either in the Soviet Union, or in Yugoslavia, or in any other bureaucratically degenerated or deformed workers’ state.

But the beginning of the process is here, for everybody to see. And it reveals the inconsistencies and contradictions of the theory of “state capitalism” in a striking way. For Kidron will have to answer two sets of questions:

First, are all these contradictions, conflicts, trends and processes anywhere similar or identical to the laws of motion of capitalism, observed by Marx? Have they anything to do with what has been going on in the West during the last 20 years? Aren’t they obviously contradictions, conflicts and laws of motion of a mode of production qualitatively different from capitalism? Aren’t they precisely those conflicts between “the logic of the market” and the “logic of planning”, which the late Preobrashensky analyzed as characteristic for the period of transition between capitalism become socialism, which is ushered in by the overthrow of capitalism? How could capitalism become restored under capitalism? Would Kidron deny that the above-sketched process, if it would unfold till its ultimate logic, would actually lead to the replacement of one social system by another? Would he then concede that “state capitalism” is different from “private capitalism”, exhibiting different and specific laws of motion? But -what’s the use of calling it then “capitalism”? And what becomes of the preposterous statement that “nothing in Stalinist Russia defies analysis in terms of Marx’s model”? Would it indeed not be more correct to postulate the opposite: the whole development of Stalinist Russia follows other laws than those elucidated in Marx’s mode of capitalism-

Second; if one presumes that the process of disintegration of planned economy proceeds till the bitter end, and that “classical” capitalism, based upon the private ownership of the means of production, is restored in the Soviet Union, what would Kidron call that process, and what would be his political attitude towards it? Would it be just the change of one form of “capitalism” into another? Would Kidron’s attitude be one of indifference, or even of glee, “liberal capitalism” replacing a “totalitarian” one? Would the change in the mode of production and in the nature of the state be a historical progression or a historical regression? If it would be a regression (and the more intelligent “state capitalists” tend to admit that), wouldn’t Kidron then be in the unfortunate position of having to call it a social counter-revolution, and to give a positive connotation to what he calls the “ruling class” in the Soviet Union, rehabilitating it and “defending” it against its “reactionary enemies”? And if he were “indifferent”, how could he reconcile this with the obvious economic and social regression encompassed in this process? If he were even to deny this regression, how could he reconcile this with his own admission that there reigns today in Russia “the tyranny of the plan” and not the “tyranny of the market”?

The society in transition between capitalism and socialism

The most irresponsible of Kidron’s statements is the one that denies the existence and the very possibility of a society in transition between capitalism and socialism. (In all fairness, one must state that Tony Cliff does not agree with him on this point.) Calling such a society a mere “verbal convenience” is not only in opposition to the whole body of theory of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and to more than a century of experience of the revolutionary labor movement (it is not Mandel who invented that category, after all), but also puts a question mark over the possibility of socialist revolution anywhere in the world today, to begin with in Britain and Western-Europe.

Kidron’s argument is again a typical example of his mechanistic and unhistoric thought. True, he says, there can be a transition between feudal society and capitalist society[27], because capitalism can grow piecemeal within the interstices of feudal society. Then he goes on: “But socialism is a total system. It cannot grow piecemeal within the interstices of a capitalist society. How does workers’ control of production coexist with control by a ruling class when the means of production in dispute are one and the same? How does self-determination and consumer sovereignty (’production for use’) coexist with the external compulsion and blind accumulation that results from capitalist dispersal? There may be (!) room for transitional forms in distribution, butt at the level of production and control over production the only possible transition is a sudden, revolutionary one” (p. 35).

The first striking feature of this argument is Kidron’s definition of socialism. We can hardly believe our eyes: Kidron appears here as a pupil of … Stalin! For it was Stalin who first dared to introduce into Marxist thought the utterly revisionist and primitive notion that socialism = workers control over the means of production from capitalists, big and small. It is true that for Stalin, socialism equals nationalization of these means of production, whereas Kidron, loudly protesting, calls this a farce and claims that socialism = workers control over production. But when the smoke has cleared from the verbal battlefield, and all the epithets and insults are pushed out of the way, the notion is exactly the same in both cases, and it is exactly as wrong!

For classical Marxism, to which we continue to adhere notwithstanding all of Kidron’s sneers, socialism means a classless society. It therefore presupposes not only the suppression of private property of the means of production, henceforth managed in a planned way by the associate producers themselves, but it also calls for a level of development of the productive forces which makes possible the withering away of commodity production, of money, and of the state. It is therefore a new social system having its own mode of production, its own mode of distribution, and its own economic automatism, which constantly reproduces basically socialist relations between men.

Now the working class is perfectly capable of overthrowing capitalism in a single country (it did so in Russia, Yugoslavia, China, Cuba, North Vietnam, and is busy doing so in South Vietnam right now). But it is not capable of building a socialist society in a single country, not even in the U.S.A. (not to speak of Britain or Western Europe). When it has taken power and has organized a planned economy it is not able to suppress commodity production completely because output is not yet high enough to cover all social needs. If it tries to do this artificially, commodity production (with some “private” monetary standard) will re-emerge spontaneously from universal rationing, independently of the will of the “associated producers”[28]. Commodity production will therefore still prevail ill the realm of consumer goods. Economic automatism will not reproduce “socialist” relationships in society; state coercion will be necessary to correct that. And we will therefore have a society in transition between capitalism and socialism, characterized (like the Soviet Union) by the basic contradiction and combination of a non-capitalist mode of production and essentially bourgeois norms of distribution[29]. It is no more capitalism, because there is no universal commodity production, no capitalist competition, no capital accumulation, no laws of motion of capital. It is not yet socialism, because there is still partial commodity production, not yet universal production for use, there is still money, there are still social conflicts, and there is still a state.

Kidron could object: “I admitted that there might be transitional form in distribution, didn’t I? But what about control over production?” Unfortunately, it is not possible to separate production and distribution in such a mechanistic and total way. If bourgeois distribution norms still reign, there is still some inequality of income. If there is still inequality of income, some social tensions subsist (the more so the more backward the country is from the outset, or the greater this inequality), and the state instill necessary and cannot wither away. True, if the state is administered by the workers themselves, this role of arbiter will function in the general direction of greater equality; if it is administered by a privileged bureaucracy, it will arbitrate in the sense of maintaining and consolidating these differences of income. But the inevitability of social tension and the survival of the state correspond to the survival of precisely these bourgeois norms of distribution, which in turn reflect precisely the degree of development of the productive forces: insufficient for an immediate and general introduction of free distribution of goods and services. And the concrete way in which the economy will be managed will again depend at least partially upon the effects which the existing money economy and inequality of income will have on the activity and consciousness of the producers, on their class cohesion and political involvement, etc., etc.

If this is so, such a society still has the need for accumulation (not of capital, of course, but use-values in the form of equipment, etc.). The division of the social product between consumption and accumulation remains a problem, creating new social tensions. Whether there is workers control of bureaucratic management will make a lot of difference in the way this problem is solved: but it cannot make the problem disappear through magic. And all these problems and tensions are neither those of a socialist society, nor those of a capitalist society, but precisely those of a society in Transition from one to another (in the larger historical sense of the word, like Marx and Lenin characterized it: “the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat”, which is most certainly not the epoch of socialism).

Of course accumulation will not be “blind” (it is not in Russia either). But external compulsion will still very much be with us (except if one assumes simultaneous revolution in the whole world), and will lead to new distributions and allocations of the social product (not only between consumer goods and investment goods, but also between them and weaponry). And this will again create many problems, and increase social tensions all around.

So a society in transition from capitalism to socialism, far from being a mere “verbal convenience” of Mandel’s, is a basic historic category which maintains its fundamental significance for the whole epoch of world revolution. That’s what was built in Russia by Lenin and Trotsky. That’s what still will subsist in the Soviet Union when the working class will have overthrown the parasitic rule’ of the bureaucracy, through a political revolution, and when it will have restored full Soviet democracy. That’s what we shall have to build, when the workers take power and establish “genuine workers control”, in any country of the world tomorrow. That and not fully Hedged socialism and “production for use” without commodities, money, at state and — alas — weapons. Anybody who promises otherwise is only creating meaningless illusions among workers, which will cause havoc and deception when reality exposing them. “A society in transition between capitalism and socialism (i.e., the historical epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat, under whatever form this may appear) doesn’t exist”, thunders Kidron. “A society of transition between capitalism and socialism, i.e. . . . nationalization of all means of production under workers control, democratically planned economy, but still with commodity production of consumer goods, with the survival of money, with foreign trade and with a workers army the threat of strong bourgeois states subsists: that’s the only thing we can build immediately, when we overthrow capitalism tomorrow”, revolutionary socialist workers in Britain will answer

If Kidron wanted to be consistent —but can one ask an adherent of the theory of “state capitalism” to be consistent’? — he would have to reply to them: “Back with you sons of Satan! You want to entice me to build not a society in transition between capitalism and socialism — because such a society doesn’t exist — but state capitalism. This I will steadfastly refuse. I will tell you that you are unable to overthrow capitalism anywhere, anytime, as long as it is not overthrown in all countries simultaneously, as long as long as there is compulsion to accumulate and to manufacture weapons. For socialism can only be born with one stroke, or it won’t be born at all”. Will Kidron dare draw this ultimate conclusion from his irresponsible denial of the existence of a society in transition between capitalism and socialism., and dare tell British workers they should wait before overthrowing capitalism even if and when conditions for this for this overthrow would be most favorable in their country, till they can do it simultaneously with the American and . . . Soviet Workers, lest they themselves entangled unwittingly in the building of “state capitalism”?

The politics of “state capitalism”

Kidron might shrink back before this ultimate conclusion of his thinking but it is its logical conclusion. It shows the uselessness and danger of the theory of “state capitalism” for the working out of a revolutionary strategy in the present world.

If one starts from the assumption that capitalism to-day reigns supreme not only in Russia, but also in Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe, China, North Vietnam, Cuba —an assumption, incidentally, which you won’t find a single capitalist in the world sharing — then it follows that world capitalism is today stronger than it ever was before in history. Then capitalism has ushered in a new and sensational phase of universal development of the productive forces, above all in backward countries like Russia and China, much more impressive even than anything Marx described for 19th century capitalism. Then Trotsky was deadly wrong with his Theory of Permanent Revolution , and his denial of any possibility for capitalism to solve the historic tasks of the bourgeois revolution in under developed countries. Then any suggestion that there is a “world crisis of the capitalist system” can only be so much empty talk.

In the best of cases, we would be faced with intensified international competition between two imperialist blocs, which eventually could lead to war, but with which revolutionists could have nothing to do. And it then follows that there do not exist today any objective conditions ripe for socialist revolution, anywhere in the world, As long as capitalism continues its triumphant march forward. Only after some major breakdown of the system (perhaps after a war?) could such a possibility arise. Strangely enough, a consistent “state capitalist” would thus arrive at a very similar conclusion as a pro-Moscow CPer (the pro-Peking CPers will in good time arrive at the same conclusion too): socialist revolution is not on the agenda anywhere just now.

The strategic conclusions which follow are concrete and very deadly. Kidron himself has spelled them out at least for two of the three sectors of world revolution.

In Western Europe, basing himself on his assumption of capitalism triumphant, Kidron, as late as 1967, while recognizing that some slowdown of growth would probably occur, saw as the only possible strategy for the working class movement the perspective of … “mass reformism” from below[30]. We, on the other hand, understanding, we believe, much more correctly the structural crisis of the world capitalist system, could make the prediction that notwithstanding the temporary increase in the rate of growth of the Western economy in the fifties and the early sixties, this remained a deeply crisis-ridden system, in which periodic social explosions, which would put the revolutionary conquest of power on the agenda, were unavoidable[31]. The French May 1968 events have shown who has been right and who has been wrong in that respect, and what Kidron’s analysis objectively leads to: to furnish a theoretical apology for all those reformist and neo-reformist tendencies in the Western labor movement — to start with the French CP! — who all claim that no more than a defense of workers’ real wages and the like is possible today.

For the colonial and semi-colonial countries, Kidron’s medicine is an even more bitter one. As the colonial revolution can only lead to capitalism in one form or another-a current exercise of the British adherents of the, “state capitalist” theory is to explain even the cultural revolution in China by reference to the need “to step up capital accumulation”; presumably, if tomorrow, after Mao’s death, most of the decisions of the “cultural revolution” were reversed, the same explanation would then be given for the reversal. We had better stop chattering about “permanent revolution”. Anybody who comes to power there, including through a popular uprising, can only submit himself to the laws of competition of the world market. As these laws evidently play against the poor countries (and poor classes), workers and poor peasants in these countries can only expect higher burdens, nothing else. It sounds unbelievable, but that’s exactly what Kidron has to say about the perspectives of the Ceylon “trotskyists”[32]:

“Ceylon is poor. She is terribly dependent on the export of plantation products, primarily tea, whose prices are steadily falling. Unless she can break into new export markets for manufactured goods, she will simply become poorer.

“Exporting new goods is not easy, particularly in competition with speculators like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore and it is made less easy by Ceylon’s relatively high level of social welfare expenditure …

“If the transition is be made at all — and it is undeniable necessary —productivity will have to be jacked up and wages held down. There is no alterative. All the LSSP can hope for is that the workers will make the sacrifice willingly.

“This then is their dilemma: they are a working-class party in theory yet much of their policy is directed at making palatable the sacrifices they intend demanding from the workers, they are ostensibly a socialist party, yet much of their program is concerned with making Ceylon competitive in a capitalist world.

“It is a cruel dilemma, and one that can become only crueler as, and if, the left-coalition implements its economic program. For as they do so they must become increasingly isolated — foreign capital will put on the squeeze, the coalition’s small business allies will take fright and the anti-coalition left will nibble successfully at their working class support” (Socialist Worker , July 3, 1969-our emphasis).

If all this were true, one should have to draw two conclusions. One that it is useless to try today to make a socialist revolution in Ceylon; things could only become worse, and a socialist should limit himself to fight for modest democratic and economic reforms, postponing “revolution” till some better age. Second, that it would be utterly irresponsible to condemn, not only the reformist LSSP of entering a bourgeois coalition government, but also and above all the various reformist CPs of supporting national bourgeois governments (as the Brazilian, Iraqi, Persian, Indonesian CPs have done and the Indian CPs are doing now, one knows with what magnificent results!) Because they had no more choice than the reformist LSSP, and wasn’t it preferable, after all, to have the capitalists do the dirty job of squeezing the workers’ standard of living themselves, rather than do It for them under the false signboard of “socialist revolution”?[33]

So Kidron’s politics lead to utter despair for a revolutionist. No revolution possible in the West; no revolution possible in the South; as for the East, insofar as the “objective conditions” are similar either to the West (in Russia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany) or to the South (China. Vietnam, etc.) why hope for revolution there? The only place to withdraw, for a revolutionist, in Kidron’s universe, is to the study, where intelligent commentary can be made about the failures of past revolutions and perspectives of new ones, in the 21st century. The members of “International Socialism ” should ask themselves whether that’s what they joined their group for.

No wonder that Kidron scolds us for “shifting easily” from urban workers to “third world” peasants, to ‘’’Students as the revolutionary focus” (p. 3:0. If world revolution is some vague prospect for a distant future, then of course the only thing to do today would be — outside of studying —to involve oneself with the day-to-day economic struggles of the workers, meanwhile preaching socialism, as good social-democrats did around 1890.

But if world revolution is seen as the main reality of our epoch, drawing larger and larger parts of mankind in its orbit; as a result of the world crisis of the capitalist system, then the objective shifts of the process-whose main epicenter did pass in fact during twenty years (1948-1968) from Western Europe to China, Vietnam, the Arab world, Cuba, Bolivia, etc.— must be followed and evaluated with the greatest care, and the fact that the students did trigger off a general strike and revolutionary struggles in two industrialized countries, France and Argentina, within the same year, should be given all the importance it merits. This does not distract from the concept that the industrial proletariat remains, on a world scale, the decisive social force to overthrow capitalism and build a socialist world. But it leads back to the Leninist concept of “What is to be done?”, that a truly revolutionary organization can only challenge Capital’s power-here on a world scale, and not in the framework of Russia-if it succeeds in integrating and orienting towards socialism all objectively revolutionary demands and movements of other social layers, be it “third world peasants” (nearly two-thirds of mankind by the way)-students in revolt.

The inconsistencies of “state capitalism” do not stop there. The adherents to “state capitalist” theories were at least consistent when they refused to back North Korea and China against American imperialism in the Korean war; why back one “imperialist camp” against the other? Now, all of a sudden, they back North Vietnam and the South-Vietnamese Liberation Front (the nucleus, presumably, of the ‘bureaucratic class’ which is going to extract tomorrow the last drop of surplus-value from the South Vietnamese laborers under the “state capitalist” system they arc busy establishing):

What has happened? Isn’t Russia “state capitalist” or “imperialist” any more? Has China ceased to be “state capitalist”? Is the conflict no more a conflict between two “imperialist camps”? Have the South Vietnamese communists suddenly more “choice” than the “Tropical Trotskyists” in Ceylon:

Could they —God forbid! — Actually lead a socialist revolution and build a society “in transition form capitalism to socialism”, instead of state capitalism? One can’t make head nor tail of this “logic”. Here all the inconsistencies of the theory of “state capitalism” are revealed quite nakedly’[34].

Let us add that Kidron’s dilemma for the Ceylon trotskyists (and revolutionists in the backward semi-colonial countries in general, at that) does not make much sense from an economic point of view either. Kidron assumes that the “terrible dependence” of Ceylon on the capitalist world market is somehow the result of that country’s poverty and backwardness; but couldn’t it be conceived as the origin rather than the consequence of that poverty? What does Ceylon (or rather the Ceylonese capitalists and foreign plantation companies) receive in exchange for tea, rubber and coconut exports, and what do they do with these results of unequal exchange? Do they use it for industrializing the country? Only to a small extent. Don’t they rather import a lot of consumer goods, to begin with food? Couldn’t most of these consumer goods, to start with food, be produced in Ceylon itself? Isn’t there a tremendous reserve available for this, half a million unemployed plus all the underemployed able-bodied adult men (not to speak about the unemployed adult women)? Shouldn’t this underemployment of the nation’s resources be viewed as one of the main roots of underdevelopment too? Shouldn’t the enthusiasm of the population be mobilized for these productive purposes, rather than for having them “accept sacrifices in their standard of living”? Couldn’t this “labor investment” under conditions of socialist democracy (i.e., majority consensus and workers control) lead to an increase in output, where increase in the standard of living could go side by side with increase in investment (in fact, isn’t that the economically optimum solution, i.e., the one which guarantees fastest economic growth)? Wouldn’t the main condition for such a “take-off” be the expropriation of foreign and native capital and the establishment of a state monopoly of foreign trade and isn’t the trouble with the reformist LSSP that it can achieve this neither in alliance with the bourgeois SLFP nor by electoral means? Couldn’t Ceylon answer an economic blockade by Britain (if it came about) like Cuba did, by exchanging rubber, tea and other goods for Russian, Czechoslovak and East German industrial equipment? Couldn’t the administration of the tea estates by, the Tamil workers, and the subsequent rise of their standard of living, create tremendous sympathy and enthusiasm for a Ceylon workers and peasants republic among the starving downtrodden but politically already alert or even radicalized population of South India and Bengal’! Couldn’t a victorious Ceylonese revolution become a powerful factor for triggering off a revolution in India, which would be one of the most important and far-reaching upheavals in the history of the human race? That is the answer to Kidron’s dilemma, which any revolutionary Marxist could have mapped out to him. If he himself hasn’t found it, it is not because of lack of intelligence, but because the theory of “state capitalism” makes him colorblind to the real problems of world revolution today and their answers.

Under these circumstances, one cannot be surprised that, faced with the accusation of “crude philosophical idealism” hurled at us by Kidron we are not at all upset. Yes, in our view Marxism does imply that Ceylonese revolutionists have a choice today, and that “capitalist exploitation and accumulation” does not fatally flow there from a certain set of economic circumstances. Yes, in our view, the tragic lack of understanding by the leadership of the Bolshevik party, in the twenties, of the problem of bureaucratic deformation of the workers state, and of the means to fight it till a new upsurge of world revolution came about, was the main cause of Stalin’s conquest of power, and not any economic fatality against which there was no avail. Yes, we are not “economic determinists” in Kidron’s way, which is really Kautsky’s and Otto Baeur’s tradition, excluding revolutionary party as a determining factor of history, anywhere, any time. To be accused of “philosophical idealism” by such a fatalist cannot but confirm us that we are right.[35]

After all, some people, before Kidron, thought that socialists in a backward country had no choice but to act as a benign opposition to capitalists, because they thought that whatever one did, capitalism was on the agenda in that country (as long as it would not have been overthrown in all or most of the industrially advanced countries of the world). That’s why these people were furiously opposed to the October revolution, which they called a “voluntarist adventure”, inspired by “crude philosophical idealism”. That’s why they proclaimed triumphantly, as early as 1920, that facts had proven them right, and that “capitalism” (some actually said: state capitalism) existed in that country. The name of that country was Russia, and the people were called Mensheviks. They are Kidron’s models and inspiration, whether he likes it or not.

August 10, 1969
Ernest Mandel

1. Michael Kidron. “Maginot Marxism: Mandel’s Economics ”, in “International Socialism ”, April-May, 1969

2. Capitalism is the transformation of labor power capital into a means of means of production into capital, which means that they have to become commodities too.

3. “Objects for use only become commodities because they are products of private labors, conducted independently from each other. The complex of these private labors constitutes global labor. As the producers establish social contact only starting with — the exchange of the products of their labor, the specific social character of their labors appears only through, this exchange” (Volume I, chapter I, p. 39) —“In order that these objects may enter into relations with each other as commodities, their guardians must place themselves in relation to one another as persons whose will resides in these objects. . . . They must, therefore, mutually recognize each other as private proprietors” (Volume I, chapter II, pp. 50-51) —In the existence of the product as commodity, determined historical conditions are embedded. In order to become a commodity, the product couldn’t be produced as means of immediate subsistence for the producer himself. If we would have pursued our investigation and asked: ’Under what conditions do all or even the majority of products take the form of commodities’!’, we would have discovered that this happens only on the basis of a very specific mode of production, the capitalist one” (Volume I, chapter IV. p. 132) — The transformation of a sum of money in means of production and labor power is the first movement which a quantity of value passes through, if it has to function as capital. This takes place on the market, in the circulation sphere. The second phase of the movement, the production process, is finished as soon as the means of production are transformed into commodities, whose value is greater than the value of their component parts, and thus contains the advanced capital plus surplus value. These commodities must then be thrown back into the circulation sphere” (Volume I, 7th part, preface to chapter XXI, p. 527). All references are to the German edition of “Das Kapital” of Karl Marx, edited by Engels (9th printing, Hamburg, Otto Mcissncrs Verlag 1921), and have been translated by us.

4. “This absolute drive (Trieb) of enriching himself, this passionate chasing after value, is common to both the capitalist and the hoarder, but while the hoarder is but a mad capitalist, the capitalist is a rational hoarder. The indefatigable increase of value, which the hoarder tries to attain through salvaging money out of circulation, the more intelligent capitalist realizes it by throwing money again and again into circulation” (Volume I, chapter 4, p. 116) — “Commodity production presupposes commodity circulation, and commodity circulation presupposes the representation of commodities as money, monetary circulation; the duplication of commodities in commodities and money is a law of the appearance of products as commodities. In the same way capitalist commodity production presupposes — from a social as well as from an individual point of view — capital in monetary form or monetary capital as primus motor for each new beginning business, and as a continuous motor. … The whole advanced value of capital, i.e., all component parts of capital, which are composed of commodities, labor power, labor means and productive material, must constantly be bought by money and bought again. What is true here for individual capital, is also true for social capital, which can function only in the form of many individual capitals” (Volume II, chapter 18, p. 328) —“Money is the form in which each individual capital (abstraction made of credit) must appear, in order to transform itself into productive capital, this follows from the nature of capitalist production itself, in general from commodity production” (ibidem, p. 332, for source, see note 3).

5. “Capital exists and can only exist as many capitals, and its self-determination appears therefore as interaction of these many capitals on each other,” (p. 317) — the concept of capital implies, that the objective conditions of and — and these are its own products-become embodied in confrontation with labor (literally: take up a personality in confrontation with labor. E.M.), or, which is the same, that they are posed as property of a personality alien to the worker. The concept of capital implies that of the capitalist” (p. 412) — Karl Marx: “Grundrisse der Krillk der pollitischen Oekonomie , (Rohcntwurf) 1857-1858”. DietzVerlag, Berlin 1953. Our own translation.

6. “The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus labor is pumped from the direct producers, determines the conditions of domination and submission (Knechtschaft) as they emerge directly from production itself, and react in its turn in a determining way upon production” (Volume HI. chapter 47, p. 324 of “Das Kapital ”, source as in note 3).

7. In “Marxist Economic Theory” we have clearly indicated the counteracting, tendencies, which slow down and, momentarily, even reverse the tendency for the average rate of profit to decline.

8. Cf. Baran-Sweezy: Monopoly Capital , pp. 372-378, Monthly Review Press , 1966, New York.

9. We have already indicated elsewhere a very telling example: when the Mobutu regime of Congo nationalized the Union Miniere du Haut-Katanga and proposed to pay compensation on the basis of the net book value of assets, the gentlemen concerned cried out like wounded animals: “But our assets are worth three times as much. . . .”

10. West German figures “Zeitschrift fár allgemeine und textile Marktwirtschaft”, Heft 2, 1968-The British figures are not completely comparable, because till 1965 they express the relation between net profits (gross profits less depreciation and taxes) and net assets, whereas the post 1965 figures deduct financial charges too from gross profits. The difference is however less than 1 %, and therefore cannot change the general trend.

11. See especially “The Economics of Neo-Capitalism ”, published in the “Socialist Register ”, 1964, London, Merlin Press.

12. Stepped up capital accumulation can be explained in Germany, Italy and Japan, the three countries with the highest rate of growth for the period 1950-1965 among the major imperialist powers, essentially as a result of a sudden upward push in the rate of surplus value. Reconstruction of the ruined economy increased profit and productivity of labor rapidly, whereas wages lagged behind, as a result of the large surplus of labor (from Japanese and Italian agriculture on the one hand, the strong influx of East German refugees on the other hand).

13. Kidron denies that there has been a decline of world trade in relation to total industrial production, and states that “trade in manufactures has … gone up twice the rate of output since 1948” (p. 34). He forgets that there was a -tremendous drop in the relation: trade in manufacturers/output of manufacturers for the capitalist countries after the 1929 slump; that the pre-1929 relation was reached again only in 1965; that the pre-1929 relation was in itself lower than the 1913 relation; and that the 1965 figures are strongly inflated as a result of the expansion of trade inside the European Common Market (which, at least partially, resembles the -trade inside the United States more than international trade). A tendency which verifies itself for more than half a century is surely a historical tendency, even if it is reversed for four years.

14. Cf. Baran-Sweezy: Monopoly Capital , pp. 372-378, Monthly Review Press , 1966, New York.

15. We have already indicated elsewhere a very telling example: when the Mobutu regime of Congo nationalized the Union Miniere du Haut-Katanga and proposed to pay compensation on the basis of the net book value of assets, the gentlemen concerned cried out like wounded animals: “But our assets are worth three times as much. . . .”

16. West German figures “Zeitschrift fár allgemeine und textile Marktwirtschaft ”, Heft 2, 1968-The British figures are not completely comparable, because till 1965 they express the relation between net profits (gross profits less depreciation and taxes) and net assets, whereas the post 1965 figures deduct financial charges too from gross profits. The difference is however less than 1 %, and therefore cannot change the general trend.

17. See especially “The Economics of Neo-Capitalism ”, published in the “Socialist Register ”, 1964, London, Merlin Press.

18. Stepped up capital accumulation can be explained in Germany, Italy and Japan, the three countries with the highest rate of growth for the period 1950-1965 among the major imperialist powers, essentially as a result of a sudden upward push in the rate of surplus value. Reconstruction of the ruined economy increased profit and productivity of labor rapidly, whereas wages lagged behind, as a result of the large surplus of labor (from Japanese and Italian agriculture on the one hand, the strong influx of East German refugees on the other hand).

19. Kidron denies that there has been a decline of world trade in relation to total industrial production, and states that “trade in manufactures has … gone up twice the rate of output since 1948” (p. 34). He forgets that there was a -tremendous drop in the relation: trade in manufacturers/output of manufacturers for the capitalist countries after the 1929 slump; that the pre-1929 relation was reached again only in 1965; that the pre-1929 relation was in itself lower than the 1913 relation; and that the 1965 figures are strongly inflated as a result of the expansion of trade inside the European Common Market (which, at least partially, resembles the -trade inside the United States more than international trade). A tendency which verifies itself for more than half a century is surely a historical tendency, even if it is reversed for four years.

20. Imports from capitalist countries fell from 0.7% of the Soviet Union’s national income in 1940 to 0.5’)(, in 1950, after that slowly to rise to 1.2% of the national income in 1959 and 1.5% in 1964. These figures don’t tell the whole story though, for a large part of these imports come from semi-colonial countries which have an average productivity of labor much lower than that of the Soviet Union and can therefore neither “encroach” nor “wound” anything inside the Soviet economy. Imports from advanced capitalist countries have till now remained consistently lower than 1% of the Soviet Union’s national income.

21. Kidron alleges that the planners ensure growth by a flow from low-productivity to high-productivity sectors, and equates this with the flow of capital from sectors with low profits to sectors with high profits. He seems to forget that in a capitalist economy, it is not physical productivity of labor, but financial profitability of capital (through the prism of the market) which directs the now of resources from one sector to another — and that both parameters by no means automatically coincide. Unwittingly he has thereby stressed another qualitative difference between the Soviet economy and a capitalist economy, instead of “discovering” a simile. Just in passing: doesn’t Kidron believe that in a socialized, or even a socialist economy, resources will also have to flow from low-productivity to high-productivity sectors, inasmuch as economic growth is still needed? Doesn’t this indicate the basic similarity between the Soviet economy and any economy in the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat, after the overthrow of capitalism, in whatever part of the world this occurs?

22. Not, of course, maximizing accumulation. We showed in “Marxist Economic Theory ” that the Maximum rate of accumulation never leads to the fastest rate of growth, also some “fresh” thinking which escapes Kidron’s attention.

23. Cf. Oscar Lange and Fred M. Taylor: “On the Economic Theory of Socialism ”.

24. The economic rationale of central planning as against “individual profitability” of the factory lies in the fact that the optimum combination of national (or international) resources gives a higher economic result (whether counted in net revenue or in economy of time-time) than the sum total of the optima achieved on a factory level.

25. A few recent Soviet articles referring to these debates can here be mentioned: V. Komin: “Economic Reforms and Tasks in Further Improving Price Formation ”, in “Planovoie Khoziaistvo ”, 1968 nr. 4; v, Lisitsyn and G. Popov: “On administrative cadres ”, in “Planovoie Khoziaistvo”, 1968, nr. 5; E. G. Liberman and Z. Zhitnitsky: “Economic and Administrative Methods of Managing the Economy ”, in “Planovoje Khoziaistvo”, 1968, nr. 1. etc.

26. Cf. The outcry and near-open revolt of the Yugoslav workers since 1968 against the results of the “economic reforms”, especially in the form of increased unemployment, increased inequality of income and increased encroachments by managing bodies on, the workers’ rights.

27. In fact, there have been “transitional societies” between all major stages of man’s history. Cf. George Novack’s excellent article in the November-December 1968 issue of “International Socialist Review ”.

28. In “Marxist Economic Theory” we analyzed for the first ,time (except for the contribution by Preobrashensky, essentially geared however to the problems of an underdeveloped agrarian country) the concrete process of withering away of commodity production, in the course of building a socialist economy. One would have expected some comments of Kidron’s on this example of “fresh exploration”.

29. Kidron eagerly picks up our remarks about unsold stocks in the Soviet Union to show that overproduction, after all, exists in that country. He doesn’t understand that from a partial survival of commodity production, partial overproduction would emerge inevitably, as we correctly predicted already in the fifties, but that, the whole difference between capitalism on the one hand, and petty commodity production or society in transition between capitalism and socialism on the other hand, lies precisely herein, that in the first case, generalized commodity production leads “by natural law” to generalized overproduction, i.e., to periodic decreases in investment, in income, in output and in employment in the economy as a whole, whereas under partial commodity production this is not the case, no more in medieval Italy than in today’s Russia. Here notwithstanding unsaleable stocks in various sectors of consumer goods, global investment, income, output and employment don’t interrupt their continuous growth. Kidron has again, unwittingly, clarified a major qualitative difference of Soviet economy and of capitalism, instead of the simile he thought to have discovered.

30. Michael Kidron: “Western Capitalism since the War ”, pp. 147-148 Kidron’s prescription was based upon the assumption of permanent full employment. Once this is eroded, the resistance of workers of individual factories or firms against the increasingly centralized determination of real wages has no chance of success.

31. See our article: “Une strategie socialiste pour 1’Europe capitaliste ”, in “Revue. internationale du Socialisme ”, No.9, mai-juin 1965.

32. Kidron should have been at least objective enough to tell his readers that after entering a coalition government with the bourgeoisie, the reformist LSSP was expelled by the Fourth International, while a minority, the LSSP(R) — which has the secretary of the strongest Ceylon trade union in its ranks-maintains the continuity of Revolutionary Marxism, i.e., Trotskyism, in the island.

33. Incidentally, this conception equals a rehabilitation of Stalin too. The poor fellow had -obviously no choice-no more than the reformist LSSP-but to industrialize Russia at the expense of the workers’ standards of living. And the alternative program of Trotsky’s Left Opposition’? So much “philosophical dealism”, undoubtedly….

34. We could continue the tale. The same issued of “International Socialism ” which publishes Kidron’s “article contains an excellent report by Ibrahim Ali, which end; with the following sentence: “Only a revolutionary and internationalist solution is capable, not only of solving the Palestine problem, but all other problems of social and national emancipation in the region”. We fully agree. But let Kidron explain why “developed Arabs” can solve all (!) their social problems through a socialist revolution, while “underdeveloped Ceylonese” cannot. Let the editors of “International Socialism ” explain why what is true for the Arab revolution, Eastern sector, was not applicable to the Arab revolution, Western sector (i.e., the Algerian revolution). Wouldn’t it then have been necessary to give the Algerian armed struggle against French imperialism the same kind of critical support “International Socialism ” is giving today the Palestinian guerillas? And wouldn’t it have been necessary to try and push the Algerian revolution forward to a socialist revolution, exactly like Ibrahim Ali proposes today to the Palestinians’!

35. Even on this very minor question Kidron cannot keep his categories clear. "Philosophical idealism" is a doctrine which affirms the primacy of spirit (mind) over matter, the first creating the second. When we say that the individual unconscious still harbors echoes from the "communist part" of 7000 years ago, we don't imply thereby that instincts or ideas "create" material conditions; wc simply assume that they can linger DB after the material conditions which gave birth to thcm have disappeared. This statement has therefore nothing to do with either philosophical or historical idealism, but is an elementary truth of historical materialism, conceived in a dialectical way. Doesn't Kidron know that the peculiar ideas of the Catholic Churcb, born out of material conditions of feudalism, still have a powerful impact a thousand years after their formulation? Doesn't he know that superstitions born from material conditions which have disappeared for many more centuries also linger on? Why is it then so difficult to conceive that some of the elementary customs of social solidarity and cooperation, born under tribal communism, and maintained in the village community, could still strongly affirm themselves today? Perhaps because Kidron's way of thinking is narrowly mechanistic and based upon vulgar determinism, where everything flows automatically from economic fatality?

Trotsky, Lenin, Lukacs Dialectics and Revolution

Trotsky, Lenin, Lukacs

Dialectics and Revolution

Michael Löwy

There seems to exist an intimate link between the dialectical method and revolutionary theory: not by chance, the high period of revolutionary thinking in the XXth century, the years 1905-1925, are also those of some of the most interesting attemps to use the hegelo-marxist dialectics as an instrument of knowledge and action. Let me try to illustrate the connexion between dialectics and revolution in the thought of three distinct Marxist figures : Leon D. Trotsky, Vladimir I. Lenin and György Lukacs.


Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, as sketched for the first time in his essay Results and Prospects (1906), was one of the most astonishing political breakthroughs in Marxist thinking at the beginning of the XXth century. By rejecting the idea of separate historical stages - the first one being a “bourgeois democratic” one - in the future Russian Revolution, and raising the possibility of transforming the democratic into a proletarian/socialist revolution in a “permanent” (i.e. uninterrupted) process, it not only predicted the general strategy of the October revolution, but also provided key insights into the other revolutionary processes which would take place later on, in China, Indochina, Cuba, etc.

Of course, it is not without its problems and shortcomings, but it was incomparably more relevant to the real revolutionary processes in the periphery of the capitalist system than anything produced by “orthodox Marxism” from the death of Engels until 1917. Now, a careful study of the roots of Trotsky’s political boldness and of the whole theory of permanent revolution, reveals that his views were informed by a specific understanding of Marxism, an interpretation of the dialectical materialist method, distinct from the dominant orthodoxy of the Second International, and of Russian Marxism. The young Trotsky did not read Hegel, but his understanding of Marxist theory owes much to his first lectures in historical materialism, namely, the works of Antonio Labriola. In his autobiography he recalled the “delight” with which he first devoured Labriola’s essays during his imprisonment in Odessa in 1893. [1]

His initiation into dialectics thus took place through an encounter with perhaps the least orthodox of the major figures of the Second International. Formed in the Hegelian school, Labriola fought relentlessly against the neo-positivist and vulgar-materialist trends that proliferated in Italian Marxism (Turati!). He was one of the first to reject the economistic interpretations of Marxism by attempting to restore the dialectical concepts of totality and historical process. Labriola defended historical materialism as a self-sufficient and independent theoretical system, irreducible to other currents; he also rejected scholastic dogmatism and the cult of the textbook, insisting on the need of a critical development of Marxism [2].

Trotsky’s starting-point, therefore, was this critical, dialectical and anti-dogmatic understanding that Labriola had inspired. “Marxism”, he wrote in 1906, “is above all a method of analysis - not analysis of texts, but analysis of social relations”. Let us focus on five of the most important and distinctive features of the methodology that underlies the Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, in his distinction from the other Russian Marxists, from Plekhanov to Lenin and from the Mensheviks to the Bolsheviks (before 1917).

1. From the vantage point of the dialectical comprehension of the unity of the opposites, Trotsky criticized the Bolsheviks’ rigid division between the socialist power of the proletariat and the “democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants”, as a “logical, purely formal operation”. This abstract logic is even more sharply attacked in his polemic against Plekhanov, whose whole reasoning can be reduced to an “empty syllogism”: our revolution is bourgeois, therefore we should support the Cadets, the constitutionalist bourgeois party.

Moreover, in an astonishing passage from a critique against the Menshevik Tcherevanin, he explicitly condemned the analytical - i.e. abstract-formal, pre-dialectical - character of Menshevik politics : “Tcherevanin constructs his tactics as Spinoza did his ethics, that is to say, geometrically” [3]. Of course, Trotsky was not a philosopher and almost never wrote specific philosophical texts , but this makes his clear-sighted grasp of the methodological dimension of his controversy with stagist conceptions all the more remarkable.

2. In History and Class Consciousness (1923), Lukacs insisted that the dialectical category of totality was the essence of Marx’s method, indeed the very principle of revolution within the domain of knowledge [4]. Trotsky’s theory, written twenty years earlier, is an exceptionally significant illustration of this Lukacsian thesis. Indeed, one of the essential sources of the superiority of Trotsky’s revolutionary thought is the fact that he adopted the viewpoint of totality, perceiving capitalism and the class struggle as a world process.

In the Preface to a Russian edition (1905) of Lassalle’s articles about the revolution of 1848, he argues : “Binding all countries together with its mode of production and its commerce, capitalism has converted the whole world into a single economic and political organism (...) This immediately gives the events now unfolding and international character, and opens up a wide horizon. The political emancipation of Russia led by the working class (...) will make it the initiator of the liquidation of world capitalism, for which history has created the objective condition” [5]. Only by posing the problem in these terms - at the level of “maturity” of the capitalist system in its totality - was it possible to transcend the traditional perspective of the Russian Marxists, who defined the socialist-revolutionary “unripeness” of Russia exclusively in terms of a national economic determinism.

3. Trotsky explicitly rejected the un-dialectical economism - the tendency to reduce, in a non-mediated and one-sided way, all social, political and ideological contradictions to the economic infra-structure - which was one of the hallmarks of Plekhanov’s vulgar materialist interpretation of Marxism. Indeed, Trotsky break with economism was one of the decisive steps towards the theory of permanent revolution. A key paragraph in Results and Prospects defined with precision the political stakes implied in this rupture : “To imagine that the dictatorship of the proletariat is in some way automatically dependent on the technical development and resources of a country is a prejudice of ‘economic’ materialism simplified to absurdity. This point of view has nothing in common with Marxism” [6].

4. Trotsky’s method refused the un-dialectical conception of history as a pre-determined evolution, typical of Menshevik arguments. He had a rich and dialectical understanding of historical development as a contradictory process, where at every moment alternatives are posed. The task of Marxism, he wrote, was precisely to “discover the ‘possibilities’ of the developing revolution” [7].

In Results and Prospects, as well as in later essays - for instance, his polemic against the Mensheviks, “The proletariat and the Russian revolution” (1908), he analyzes the process of permanent revolution towards socialist transformation through the dialectical concept of objective possibility, whose outcome depended on innumerable subjective factors as well as unforeseeable events - and not as an inevitable necessity whose triumph (or defeat) was already assured. It was this recognition of the open character of social historicity that gave revolutionary praxis its decisive place in the architecture of Trotsky’s theoretical-political ideas from 1905 on.

5. While the Populists insisted on the peculiarities of Russia and the Mensheviks believed that their country would necessarily follow the “general laws” of capitalist development, Trotsky was able to achieve a dialectical synthesis between the universal and the particular, the specificity of the Russian social formation and the world capitalist process. In a remarkable passage from the History of the Russian Revolution (1930) he explicitly formulated the viewpoint that was already implicit in his 1906 essays : “In the essence of the matter the Slavophile conception, with all its reactionary fantasticness, and also Narodnikism, with all its democratic illusions, were by no means mere speculations, but rested upon indubitable and moreover deep peculiarities of Russia’s development, understood one-sidedly however and incorrectly evaluated.

In its struggle with Narodnikism, Russian Marxism, demonstrating the identity of the laws of development for all countries, not infrequently fell into a dogmatic mechanization discovering a tendency to pour out the baby with the bath water” [8]. Trotsky’s historical perspective was, therefore, a dialectical Aufhebung, able to simultaneously negate-preserve-transcend the contradiction between the Populists ant the Russian Marxists.

It was the combination of all these methodological innovations that made Results and Prospects so unique in the landscape of Russian Marxism before 1917 ; dialectics was at the heart of the theory of permanent revolution.

As Isaac Deutscher wrote in his biography, if one reads again this pamphlet from 1906, “one cannot but be impressed by the sweep and boldness of this vision. He reconnoitered the future as one who surveys from a towering mountain top a new and immense horizon and point to vast, uncharted landmarks in the distance” [9].

Until 1914, Lenin used to consider himself, on the theoretical and philosophical level, as a faithful follower of the orthodox Marxism of the Second International, as represented by figures such as Karl Kautsky and G. V. Plekhanov. His main philosophical work from the early years, Materialism and Empiriocriticism, is much influenced by the kind of Marxism represented by the leader of the Menshevik faction. His philosophical thinking began to change radically after 1914, when he saw - and at first could not believe - that German Social-Democracy (including Kautsky) voted the war credits for the Kaiser’s government in August 4, 1914 - a choice reproduced in Russia by Plekhanov and several of his comrades.

The catastrophe of the Second International at the outbreak of World War I was, for Lenin, striking evidence that something was rotten in the state of Denmark of official “orthodox” Marxism. The political bankruptcy of that orthodoxy led him, therefore, to a profound revision of the philosophical premises of the Kautsky-Plekhanov sort of historical materialism. It will be necessary one day to retrace the precise track that led Lenin from the trauma of August 1914 to the Logic of Hegel scarcely a month after. The simple desire to return to the sources of Marxist thinking ? Or a clear intuition that the methodological Achilles’ heel of Second International Marxism was the absence of dialectics ?

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that his vision of Marxist philosophy was profoundly changed by it. Evidence of this is the text itself of the Philosophical Notebooks, but also the letter he sent on January 4, 1915, shortly after having finished reading Hegel’s The Science of Logic (December 17, 1914) to the editorial secretary of Granat Publishers to ask if “there was still time to make some corrections [to his Karl Marx entry ] in the section of dialectics." [10]

And it was by no means a "passing enthusiasm" : seven years later, in one of his last writings, On the Significance of Militant Marxism (1922), he called on "the editors and contributors" of the party’s theoretical journal (Under the Banner of Marxism) to "be a kind of Society of Materialist Friends of Hegelian Dialectics." He insists on the need for a "systematic study of Hegelian Dialectics from a materialist standpoint," and proposes even to "print in the journal excerpts from Hegel’s principal works, interpret them materialistically and comment on them with the help of examples of the way Marx applied dialectics." [11]

What were the tendencies of Second International Marxism which gave it a predialectical character?

1. Primarily, the tendency to ignore the distinction between Marx’s dialectical materialism and the "ancient," "vulgar," "metaphysical" materialism of Helvetius, Feuerbach, etc. Plekhanov, for instance, could write these astonishing lines: "In Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach . . . none of the fundamental ideas of Feuerbach’s philosophy are refuted; they are merely amended ... Marx and Engels’ materialist views were elaborated in the direction indicated by the inner logic of Feuerbach’s philosophy" ! [12]

2. The tendency, that flows from the first, to reduce historical materialism to mechanical economic determinism in which the "objective" is always the cause of the "subjective." For example, Kautsky untiringly insists on the idea that "the domination of the proletariat and the social revolution cannot come about before the preliminary conditions, as much economic as psychological, of a socialist society are sufficiently realised." What are these "psychological conditions"? According to Kautsky, "intelligence, discipline and an organisational talent." How will these conditions be created? "It is the historical task of capitalism" to realize them. The moral of history: "It is only where the capitalist system of production has attained a high degree of development that economic conditions permit the transformation, by the power of the people, of capitalist property in the means of production into social ownership." [13]

3. The attempt to reduce the dialectic to Darwinian evolutionism, where the different stages of human history (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism) follow a sequence rigorously determined by the "laws of history." Kautsky, for example, defines Marxism as "the scientific study of the evolution of the social organism." Kautsky had, in fact, been a Darwinian before becoming a Marxist, and it is not without reason that his disciple Brill defined his method as “bio-historical materialism”...

4. An abstract and naturalistic conception of the "laws of history," strikingly illustrated by the marvelous pronouncement of Plekhanov when he heard the news of the October Revolution: "But it’s a violation of all the laws of history!".

5. A tendency to relapse into the analytical method, grasping only “distinct and separate" objects, fixed in their differences: Russia-Germany; bourgeois revolution-socialist revolution; party-masses; minimum program-maximum program, etc. There is no doubt that Kautsky and Plekhanov had carefully read and studied Hegel; but they had not, so to speak, "absorbed" and "digested" him into their theoretical systems, grounded on evolutionism and historical determinism.

How far did Lenin’s notes on (or about) Hegel’s Logic constitute a challenge to predialectical Marxism?

1. First, Lenin insists on the philosophical abyss separating "stupid," that is,"metaphysical, undeveloped, dead, crude" materialism from Marxist materialism, which, on the contrary, is nearer to "intelligent," that is, dialectical, idealism. Consequently, he criticizes Plekhanov severely for having written nothing on Hegel’s Great Logic, "that is to say, basically on the dialectic as philosophical knowledge," and for having criticized Kant from the standpoint of vulgar materialism rather than in the manner of Hegel [14].

2. He fully grasps the dialectical conception of causality : "Cause and effect, ergo, are merely moments of universal reciprocal dependence, of (universal) connection, of the reciprocal connection of events. ..." At the same time, he praises the dialectical process by which Hegel dissolves the "opposition of solid and abstract", of subjective and objective, by destroying their one-sidedness [15].

3. He emphasizes the major difference between the vulgar evolutionist conception of development and the dialectical one : "the first, [development as decrease and increase, as repetition] is lifeless, pale and dry; the second [development as a unity of opposites] alone furnishes the key to the ’leaps,’ to the ’break in continuity,’ to the ’transformation into the opposite,’ to the destruction of the old and emergence of the new." [16]

4. With Hegel, he struggles "against making the concept of law absolute, against simplifying it, against making a fetish of it" (and adds: "NB for modern physics!!!"). He writes likewise that "laws, all laws, are narrow, incomplete, approximate." [17] 5. He sees in the category of totality, in the development of the entire ensemble of the moments of reality, the essence of dialectical cognition [18]. We can see the use Lenin made immediately of this methodological principle in the pamphlet he wrote at the time, The Collapse of the Second International (1915) : he submits to severe criticism the apologists of "national defence"-who attempt to deny the imperialist character of the Great War because of the "national factor" of the war of the Serbs against Austria-by underlining that Marx’s dialectic "correctly excludes any isolated examination of an object, i.e., one that is one-sided and monstrously distorted." [19]

Against the isolation, fixation, separation, and abstract opposition of different moments of reality, Lenin insists in dissolving them through the category of totality, arguing also that "the dialectic is the theory which shows . . . why human understanding should not take contraries as dead and petrified but as living, conditioned, mobile, interpenetrating each other." [20]

What interests us here most is less the discussion of the philosophical content of Lenin’s Notebooks of 1914-15 "in itself" than that of its political consequences : the socialist-revolutionary conception developed by the Bolshevik leader in his “April Thesis” from 1917. It is not difficult to find the red thread leading from the category of totality to the theory of the weakest link in the imperialist chain; from the inter-penetration of opposites to the transformation of the democratic into the socialist revolution; from the dialectical conception of causality to the refusal to define the character of the Russian Revolution solely by Russia’s "economically backward base"; from the critique of vulgar evolutionism to the "break in continuity" in 1917; and so on.

But the most important is quite simply that the critical reading, the materialist reading of Hegel had freed Lenin from the straitjacket of the pseudo-orthodox Marxism of the Second International, from the theoretical limitation it imposed on his thinking. The study of Hegelian logic was the instrument by means of which Lenin cleared the theoretical road leading to the Finland Station of Petrograd, where he first announced “All the power to the soviets”.

In March-April 1917, liberated from the obstacle represented by predialectical Marxism, Lenin could, under the pressure of events, rid himself in good time of its political corollary: the abstract and rigid principle according to which "The Russian revolution could only be bourgeois, since Russia was not economically ripe for a socialist revolution." Once he crossed the Rubicon, he applied himself to studying the problem from a practical, concrete, and realistic angle: what are the measures, constituting in fact the transition towards socialism, that could be made acceptable to the majority of the people, that is, the masses of the workers and peasants ? This is the road which led to the October Revolution...

The philosophical work that best gave expression to the dialectics of revolution after October 1917 was probably György Lukacs’ History and Class consciousness (1923). By dissolving the reified moments in the contradictory process of the historical totality, and by emphasizing the unity between the subjective and the objective in the revolutionary praxis, Lukacs was able to dialectically supersede (Aufhebung) the traditional oppositions between “ought” and «being”, values and reality, ethics and politics, final goal and immediate circumstances, human will and material conditions. Since this opus magnum of Marxist dialectics in the XXth century is well known, I would like to add a few comments on another piece by Lukacs, only recently discovered, Chvostismus und Dialektik .

For many years scholars and readers wondered why Lukacs never answered to the intense fire of criticism directed against History and Class Consciousness (HCC) soon after its publication, particularly from Communist quarters. The recent discovery of Chvostismus und Dialektik - probably written around 1925 - in the former archives of the Lenin Institute shows that this “missing link” existed : Lukacs did reply, in a most explicit and vigorous way, to these attacks, and defended the main ideas of his hegelo-marxist masterpiece from 1923. One may consider this answer as the last revolutionary/marxist writing of the Hungarian philosopher, just before a major turn in his theoretical and political orientation - the philosophical “reconciliation with reality” proposed by his essay on Moses Hess from 1926 [21].

Chvostismus und Dialektik - English translation : Tailism and Dialectics - may be considered as a powerful exercise in revolutionary dialectics, against the crypto-positivist brand of “Marxism” that was soon to become the official ideology of the Soviet bureaucracy. The key element in this polemical battle is Lukacs’ emphasis on the decisive revolutionary importance of the subjective moment in the subject/object historical dialectics.

If one had to summarize the value and the significance of Tailism and dialectics, I would argue that it is a powerful hegelian/marxist apology of revolutionary subjectivity. This motive runs like a red thread throughout the whole piece, particularly in its first part, but even, to some extent, in the second one too. Let us try to bring into evidence the main moments of this argument. One could begin with the mysterious term Chvostismus of the book’s title - Lukacs never bothered to explain it, supposing that its - German ? Russian ? - readers were familiar with it. The word was used by Lenin in his polemics - for instance in What is to be done ? - against those “economistic Marxists” who “tail-end” the spontaneous labour movement. Lukacs, however, uses it in a much broader historiosophical sense : Chvostismus means passively following - “tailing” - the “objective” course of events, while ignoring the subjective/revolutionary moments of the historical process.

Lukacs denounces the attempt by Rudas and Deborin to transform Marxism into a “science” in the positivist, bourgeois sense. Deborin - an ex-Menshevik - tries, in a regressive move, to bring back historical materialism “into the fold of Comte or Herbert Spencer” (auf Comte oder Herbert Spencer zurückrevidiert), a sort of bourgeois sociology studying transhistorical laws that exclude all human activity. And Rudas places himself as a “scientific” observer of the objective, law-bound course of history, whereby he can “anticipate” revolutionary developments. Both regard as worthy of scientific investigation only what is free of any participation on the part of the historical subject, and both reject, in the name of this “Marxist” (in fact, positivist) science any attempt to accord “an active and positive role to a subjective moment in history”. [22] The war against subjectivism, argues Lukacs, is the banner under which opportunism justifies its rejection of revolutionary dialectics : it was used by Bernstein against Marx and by Kautsky against Lenin. In the name of anti-subjectivism, Rudas develops a fatalist conception of history, which includes only “the objective conditions”, but leaves no room for the decision of the historical agents. In an article in Inprekor against Trotsky - criticised by Lukacs in T&D - Rudas claims that the defeat of the Hungarian revolution of 1919 was due only to “objective conditions” and not to any mistakes of the Communist leadership; he mentions both Trotsky and Lukacs as examples of a one-sided conception of politics which overemphasizes the importance of proletarian class consciousness [23]. While rejecting the accusation of “subjective idealism”, Lukacs does not retract from his voluntarist viewpoint : in the decisive moments of the struggle “everything depends on class consciousness , on the conscious will of the proletariat” - the subjective component. Of course, there is a dialectical interaction between subject and object in the historical process, but in the crucial moment (Augenblick) of crisis, it gives the direction of the events, in the form of revolutionary consciousness and praxis. By his fatalist attitude, Rudas ignores praxis and develops a theory of passive “tail-ending”, considering that history is a process that “takes place independently of human consciousness”.

What is Leninism, argues Lukacs, if not the permanent insistence on the “active and conscious rôle of the subjective moment” ? How could one imagine, “without this function of the subjective moment”, Lenin’s conception of insurrection as an art? Insurrection is precisely the Augenblick, the instant of the revolutionary process where “the subjective moment has a decisive predominance (ein entscheidendes Übergewicht)”.

In that instant, the fate of the revolution, and therefore of humanity “depends on the subjective moment”. This does not mean that revolutionaries should “wait” for the arrival of this Augenblick : there is no moment in the historical process where the possibility of an active rôle of the subjective moments is completely lacking [24]. In this context, Lukacs turns his critical weapons against one of the main expressions of this positivist, “sociological”, contemplative, fatalist - chvostistisch in his terminology - and objectivist conception of history : the ideology of progress. Rudas and Deborin believe that the historical process is an evolution mechanistically and fatally leading to the next stage. History is conceived, according to the dogmas of evolutionism, as permanent advance, endless progress : the temporally later stage is necessarily the higher one in every respect.

György Lukács (Georg Lukács)
György Lukacs

From a dialectical viewpoint, however, the historical process is “not an evolutionary nor an organic one”, but contradictory, jerkily unfolding in advances and retreats [25]. Unfortunately Lukacs does not develop this insights, that point towards a radical break with the ideology of inevitable progress common to Second and - after 1924 - Third International Marxism. Another important aspect related to this battle against the positivist degradation of Marxism is Lukacs critique, in the second part of the essay, against the views expressed by Rudas on technology and industry as an “objective” and neutral system of “exchange between humans and nature”. This would mean, objects Lukacs, that there is an essential identity between the capitalist and the socialist society !

In his viewpoint, revolution has to change not only the relations of production but also revolutionize to a large extent the concrete forms of technology and industry existing in capitalism, since they are intimately linked to the capitalist division of labour. In this issue too Lukacs was well ahead of his time, but the suggestion remains undeveloped in his essay [26].

Michael Löwy, a philosopher and sociologist of Brazilian origin, is a member of the New Anti-capitalist Party in France and of the Fourth International. A Fellow of the IIRE in Amsterdam and former research director of the French National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), he has written many books, including The Marxism of Che Guevara, Marxism and Liberation Theology, Fatherland or Mother Earth? and The War of Gods: Religion and Politics in Latin America. He is joint author (with Joel Kovel) of the International Ecosocialist Manifesto. He was also one of the organizers of the first International Ecosocialist Meeting, in Paris, in 2007.


[1] Trotsky, My Life, New York, 1960, p. 119.

[2] See A.Labriola, La concepcion materialista de la historia (1897), La Habana, 1970, p. 115, 243

[3] See A.Labriola, La concepcion materialista de la historia (1897), La Habana, 1970, p. 115, 243

[4] G.Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, London, 1971, ch. 1.

[5] G.Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, London, 1971, ch. 1.

[6] Results and Prospects, p. 195.

[7] Ibid p. 168.

[8] Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, London, 1965, vol. I, p. 427.

[9] I.Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, London, 1954, p. 161

[10] Quoted in R.Garaudy, Lenine, Paris, PUF, 1969, p. 40

[11] Lenin, Selected Works, vol . 3 p. 672, 667-668.

[12] George V. Plekhanov, Fundamental Problems of Marxism (London, Martin Lawrence, n.d.) pp. 30-31. Cf. also pp. 21-22 : « Marx’s theory of cognition is directly derived from Feuerbach’s. If you like, we can even say that, strictly speaking, it is Feuerbach’s theory...given a profounder meaning in a general way by Marx ».

[13] Karl Kautsky, The social revolution, Chicago, Charles Kerr, 1903, pp. 185-187 (translation modified)..

[14] Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, pp. 179, 276, 277

[15] Ibid, pp. 159, 187, 260.

[16] Ibid. p. 360.

[17] Ibid. p. 151

[18] Ibid. pp. 157-158. See also pp. 171, 196, 218.

[19] Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International in Collected Works, vol. 21, p. 235.

[20] Lenin, Karl Marx, in CW, vol. 21, p.33.

[21] On the meaning of this work in Lukacs’s intellectual evolution, I refer to the last chapter of my book Georg Lukacs. From Romanticism to Bolshevism, London, New Left Books, 1980.

[22] G.Lukacs, Tailism and the dialectics, London, Verso, 2000, pp. 50, 135, 137. Cf. the German original, Chvostismus und Dialektik, Budapest, Aron Verlag, 1996, p.9

[23] As John Ree very aptly comments, Rudas and Deborin stand in drect continuity with Second International positivist/determinist Marxism : “In Rudas’ mind, Trotsky and Lukacs are linked because they both stress the importance of the subjective factor in the revolution. Rudas steps forth as a defender of the ‘objective conditions’ which guranteed that the revolution was bound to fail. The striking similarity with Karl Kautsky’s review of Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy, in which he attributes the failure of the German revolution to just such objective conditions, is striking testimony to the persistence of vulgar Marxism among the emerging Stalinist bureaucracy”. (“Introduction” to T&D pp. 24-25)

[24] G.Lukacs, T&D pp. 48, 54-58, 62. Cf. Chvostismus und Dialektik p. 16. Emphasis in the original. Of course, this argument is mainly developed in the first chapter of the first part of the essay, which has the explicit title “Subjectivism”; but one can find it also in other parts of the document.

[25] T&D pp.55, 78, 105.

[26] T&D pp. 134-135.

Reproduced from International Viewpoint

The Laws of Motion of the Soviet Economy

While the reality of capitalism in the USSR today, after Gorbachev's intervention, followed by the Yeltsin led full scale counter revolution, is indubitable, the nature of the Stalinist USSR continues to be debated. We will be publishing three essays by Ernest Mandel, dealing with the characterisation of the USSR as a transitional economy, with a bureaucracy, an unstable social layer, as the ruling group. They will also look at the theory of State Capitalism. The first of these is published here. It is taken with due acknowledgements from the Marxists Internet Archive, http://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1981/xx/sovecon.htm
Radical socialist

The Laws of Motion of the Soviet Economy


From The Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol.13 No.1, Spring 1981, pp.35-39.
Thanks to Joseph Auciello.
Downloaded with thanks from the Ernest Mandel Internet Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

ABSTRACT: The concept of a transitional society is utilized to analyze the laws of development of the Soviet economy. A transitional society, it is argued, is not defined by the simple combination or articulation of old and new relations, but instead is understood to be a formation with relations of production specific to this transitional period. The decisive feature of these new relations is the conscious distribution of the means of production and labor-power through the plan. The distribution of consumer goods, however, still maintains the commodity form. Consequently, the economic order is governed by the conflict of two antagonistic logics – the logic of the plan and the logic of the market.

To the extent that one can discover general laws for the existing societies in transition between capitalism and socialism, which are characterized by extreme bureaucratic deformation or degeneration, they would have to be characterized as follows:

(1) State ownership of all important industrial, transportation and financial enterprises (i.e. of the means of production and circulation), combined with legal (constitutional) suppression of the right to their private appropriation, centralized economic planning and state monopoly of foreign trade, imply the absence of generalized commodity production and the rule of the law of value in the USSR. This means that the economy is no longer capitalist. There is neither a market for large means of production nor for manpower, and labor-power has ceased to be a commodity.

On the other hand, the pressure of the world market, the insufficient level of development of the productive forces, the conflict of interest between social classes (workers, peasants) and social layers (the bureaucracy), the enormous structural differences between industry and agriculture, town and countryside, manual and intellectual labor [1] lead to an inevitable survival of commodity production – essentially of means of consumption [2] – and to the impossibility of freeing the economy completely of value. The survival of a partial commodity production implies that the economy is not yet a socialist one. The unfolding conflict between the logic of the plan and the influence of the law of value is therefore the main contradiction and the main law of motion of the Soviet economy, as of all economies in the phase of transition between capitalism and socialism.

(2) The absence of the rule of the law of value implies, among other things, that the Soviet economy has been able to develop independently from the profit-derived sector priorities and distortions imposed by international capitalism on all less developed economies in the epoch of imperialism. It also implies that it has been able to avoid the business cycle, periodic crises of overproduction, and conjunctural large-scale unemployment. It has been characterized by long-term average rates of growth superior to those of industrialized capitalist countries, even after achieving its basic industrialization. But the survival of partial commodity production, the pressure of the world market and all the other constraints mentioned above, objectively restrict the efficiency and scope of global economic planning. They imply periodic fluctuations in the rate of economic growth and a series of tensions and crises specific to a society in transition between capitalism and socialism, qualitatively different from both the capitalist and socialist economy. They also imply the possibility of partial overproduction of all those goods which remain commodities.

(3) Survival of commodity production in department II – and its correlative, the money or wage-form of redistribution of labor-power (the workers’ access to consumer goods mainly through exchange against money) – implies for every society in transition between capitalism and socialism a contradiction between non-capitalist relations of production and bourgeois forms of distribution. [3] This conflict is not restricted to the sphere of distribution only. It has repercussions in the sphere of production, in the organization of work and production relations at a plant level, and in the techniques of planning. One of these repercussions is a bias towards independent book-keeping at enterprise level and, as a result of the generalized use of money for national book-keeping, a bias towards financial autonomy of enterprises. So long as only partial commodity production survives, money does not and cannot have the same functions as under capitalism or even under petty commodity production; it cannot become large-scale capital, and only in marginal cases (“black market production”) does it become a means of direct exploitation of labor-power. But though never an instrument for really appropriating large means of production, it can become a means of partial private appropriation of the social surplus product (interest, rent) and it does unleash a spontaneous tendency to primitive private capital accumulation, up to a certain ceiling. It remains especially a key vehicle for the consolidation and transmission of social inequality (inheritance). This is another key contradiction and law of motion of the Soviet economy.

(4) These basic contradictions, characteristic for all social formations in transition between capitalism and socialism, are greatly aggravated in the USSR. by the political counter-revolution (Thermidor) which triumphed in the Twenties, and which led to a monopoly of power (administration) in all spheres of social life by a materially privileged social layer, the bureaucracy. In the same way as the law of value reigns in its most normal, least impeded way under competitive capitalism, socially planned investment and distribution of the main economic resources function in a normal and unimpeded way only under the control and management of the economy by the associated producers themselves. Management of productive units and of all basic economic processes by a privileged bureaucracy necessarily introduces enormous distortions and waste in the planning process, which combine with those distortions arising from the survival of partial commodity production, the pressure of the world market, etc., and strengthen them constantly. These distortions account for many of the specific crises which the Soviet economy has witnessed during the past half-century. This is another basic law of motion of the Soviet economy.

(5) The mass of the producers have an evident dual interest in optimizing the planned use of economic resources: their interest in minimizing their (mechanical, non-creative) labor inputs, and their interest in minimizing their consumer satisfaction. [4] Any waste of economic resources violates one or both of these interests. There is no empirical evidence or theoretical “proof” that under real democratic workers’ management, a centrally planned collectivized economy would not allow a more efficient combination of economic resources than that achieved through competition and attempts at profit maximization under capitalism.

But in the absence of democratic control over planning, production and distribution by the associated producers themselves, the only way in which a centrally planned collectivized economy can be run is by a (contradictory) combination of the drive for material self-interest by the “managerial” layer of the bureaucracy, and of political control by the state apparatus (the party apparatus having long since been absorbed by the state apparatus). Experience has confirmed what Marxist theory could predict: such a combination must keep the development of Soviet economy constantly below its optimum rate of growth, and must periodically produce explosive disproportions between different branches of the national economy. This is again a basic law of motion of the Soviet economy.

(6) The material privileges of the bureaucracy are essentially restricted to the spheres of consumption. (We leave aside “immaterial privileges,” “social prestige,” the “thirst for power” not expressed in material advantages, which are irrelevant to economic analysis.) Given the specific nature of the Soviet economy, these privileges take two forms: higher money incomes (including those illegally acquired through bribes, corruption, theft, “grey” and “black” market operations, etc.), and non-monetary advantages linked to given hierarchical levels inside the bureaucracy (access to special shops, to state-owned cars, apartments, dachas, etc.). Both forms lead to a qualitatively higher access to consumer goods (of higher quality) than that of the average worker (not to speak of the average peasant). But they do not lead to private ownership of the means of production, nor to the accumulation of huge private money fortunes.

This introduces an additional, and explosive, contradiction into the functioning of the Soviet economy. While the material self-interest of the bureaucracy is the main instrument for the realization of the plan (the main mechanism through which economic growth is socially mediated, given the bureaucracy’s monopoly of administration of the economy), there is no economic mechanism, not to speak of a spontaneously or automatically functioning one, through which the fulfillment of that self-interest can dovetail with the optimization of economic growth – at least not from the moment a certain threshold of industrialization has been passed. (Incidentally, this is one of the main theoretical proofs that the bureaucracy is not the new ruling class). [5]

All the main economic reforms of the Soviet economy since the Second Five-Year Plan – from the khozraschyot principle introduced under Stalin, to Khrushchev’s sovnarkhozy, Lieberman’s proposed “restoration of the profit indicator of overall economic performance,” – and Kosygin’s system of “combined indicators” – are unsuccessful attempts to overcome that contradiction which fuels another basic law of motion of the Soviet economy. They must remain unsuccessful, because by its very nature as a material privileged layer in consumption, the bureaucracy cannot overcome its tendency to subordinate overall social priorities to private sectoral advantages (calculated by and gained for the management of each separate factory, trust, locality, region, branch, nationality, etc.). Only democratically associated producers receiving an equalized “social dividend” from increased economic growth or increased productivity of labor, would be genuinely interested in global social optimization of the use of economic resources.

Any form of bureaucratic management will, therefore, always lead to a waste of such resources, e.g. hiding reserves, transmitting false information, excessive input requirements, outputs of low quality or unrelated to consumer needs, under-employment of productive capacity, theft of productive inputs for “grey” or “black market” operations, etc. Neither the systematic use of terror (as under Stalin) nor the partial restoration of market mechanisms can eliminate the source of that waste, which is the conflict between the material private self-interest of the managing bureaucracy and the needs of optimum use of economic resources made possible by the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and of the rule of the law of value, and demanded by the collective interests of the overwhelming majority of the producers. (It is obvious that each successive bureaucratic reform can achieve, and has achieved, some temporary, partial success in overcoming particularly heavy blocks to further economic growth.)

(7) The tremendous cumulative growth of the Soviet economy over more than half a century, made possible by the overthrow of capitalism, has transformed that country from a relatively backward one into the second largest industrial power on earth, at least from the point of view of total absolute production figures. It has even permitted industrial productivity of labor to approach the levels of Italy and Britain, while agricultural productivity of labor remains dismally low. This economic growth has dramatically increased the social weight of the Soviet proletariat, its level of culture and technical skill. The objective possibilities of workers’ management of the economy are today incomparably higher than they were in 1917, 1927 or 1937.

However, none of this implies that the more the Soviet economy grows the easier and quicker becomes the overthrow of the bureaucracy’s monopoly of power and management of the economy and society. The relative stability of its rule which has lasted much longer than most Marxist critics thought possible, can be explained by the fact that this overthrow can result only from conscious political action, i.e. a political revolution, which requires not only ripe objective conditions but also ripe subjective conditions. The relative unripeness of these latter is the key reason for the relative longevity of bureaucratic dictatorship.

(8) On the one hand, one of the main results of the long period of dictatorship (especially under Stalin’s reign of terror, but not only under these conditions) has been a process of progressive automization and de-politicization of the Soviet working class, which has put big subjective obstacles in the path of a political revolution. The way in which communism, Marxism, and socialism have become discredited in the eyes of the Soviet proletariat, as a result of their systematic prostitution as an apologetic state religion in the service of the bureaucracy, is typical of these new subjective obstacles. This is especially so in the absence of a victorious socialist revolution in the West or of a victorious political revolution in an Eastern European country, which could offer the Soviet workers a more attractive “alternative model for the building of socialism” that the Stalinist one.

On the other hand, the very growth of the Soviet economy, in spite of all the waste caused by bureaucratic mismanagement, has created the basis for a slow but steady long-term improvement in the standard of living of the Soviet workers, which is now much higher than it was. The Soviet bureaucracy can therefore embark upon a course of “reformist consumerism” as an alternative to political action inside the Soviet working class. While such a course provokes new tensions and contradictions, arising from unsatisfied rising expectations (for quality consumer goods, access to higher education, a better health service, freedom to travel abroad, etc.) it has, at least for a period, maintained depoliticization and atomization inside the working class and has hampered a rebirth of systematic mass action or mass organization (except, in part, among oppressed nationalities, and then for national goals only).

But the relative unripeness of the subjective preconditions for political revolution does not lead either to a smooth reproduction of bureaucratic rule or to automatic economic growth. It introduces another partially explosive contradiction into the Soviet economy. The more the growing objective weight of the Soviet proletariat collides with its continuous elimination from meaningful decision-taking processes in management and planning, the more a generalized indifference towards the outcome of the productive process permeates all levels of workers’ activities, and this in turn becomes a major source of slow-down in economic growth (and a huge reserve source of additional growth in the event of a victorious political revolution).

(9) For twenty years, the Soviet bureaucracy has confronted growing problems arising from the need to pass from extensive to intensive industrialization. This need results from the gradual exhaustion of the large-scale reserves in land, agricultural labor and raw materials which had been available for industrialization during the first decades after the initiation of the Five-Year Plans. All attempts to solve these problems till now have failed to achieve a qualitatively higher degree of efficiency in the use of economic resources, though some progress continues to be achieved. The two basic stumbling blocks which the Bonapartist leadership of the bureaucracy cannot overcome are the impossibility (already mentioned) of rationally tying the material self-interests of the bureaucracy to the optimization of economic growth, and the impossibility (already mentioned) of overcoming the relative indifference towards production of the direct producers. The first of these could be overcome only through re-establishing a permanent tie of material interests between the individual bureaucrats and given enterprises, i.e. re-introducing private property in the economic (and not necessarily at the same moment in the juridical) sense of the term, i.e. through a restoration of capitalism. The second stumbling block could be overcome only through the conquest of generalized workers’ control, workers’ management, and workers’ political power in the economy and society. The first of these radical changes would mean a victorious social counterrevolution, the second a victorious political antibureaucratic revolution.

(10) Inside the bureaucracy, especially its “managerial” wing, there is undoubtedly a tendency towards linking its drive for security of social status, income and privileges to permanent ties with a given enterprise or group of enterprises. This tendency reflects the general historical experience that without such ties (i.e. private property in the economic sense of the term), no permanent guarantee can be found for the security of material privileges and social status and their transmission to the next generations. This tendency dovetails with the objective trend of the dictatorship to try to find a unifying rationale between the material self-interests of the bureaucrats and the need to streamline the operation of the system. It likewise dovetails with the pressure of the world market, the trend towards private small-scale primitive capital accumulation, the operation of “grey” and “black market” sectors of production, etc. If successful, it would lead by degrees to a disappearance of central planning, a dismantling of the state monopoly of foreign trade and to a growing symbiosis of a certain number of Soviet enterprises – freed from the iron control of the plan – with their counterparts in imperialist countries.

But before such tendencies could lead to a restoration of capitalism, they would have to eliminate the resistance of the key sectors of the state apparatus which oppose that trend. This, incidentally, is the objective justification for the use of the scientific formula “degenerated workers state” for the Soviet state, in spite of all its anti-working class measures and the total lack of direct class power or even political rights in the USSR. They would especially have to break the resistance of the working class itself which would stand to lose, as a result of such a process of capitalist restoration, the principal remaining conquest of the October revolution in its own eyes: a qualitatively higher degree of job security than under capitalism (the right to work). [6] Restoration of capitalism on the “cold” or gradual road (as imagined through a “palace revolution,” by the Maoists, Bettelheim and other theoreticians) is as impossible as the overthrow of capitalism in a gradual way. To believe otherwise is, to use an apt formula of Trotsky’s, “to unwind the reformist movie backwards.” Such a restoration could result only from new and disastrous defeats of the Soviet and international proletariat, after violent social and political confrontations. These are still before us, not behind us.

(11) The overthrow of capitalism in a number of East European countries after World War II, as a result of military-bureaucratic interventions by the Soviet state, has created a Kremlin-controlled glacis at the Western frontier of the USSR over which the Soviet bureaucracy exercises a far-reaching control. But while that control was nearly unlimited during the first years after the upheaval and during the cold war period, it has gradually become more contradictory under the – sometimes combined, sometimes autonomous – operations of the three major factors: in each of those countries a ruling “national” bureaucratic layer has emerged which has its own material interests to defend and which, while ultimately depending on the Soviet army to guarantee its rule, can up to a certain point haggle with the Kremlin over the degree of “national autonomic economic development” and can put innumerable stumbling blocks in the road to greater integration inside COMECON. (The Rumanian bureaucracy is the prototype of such a “national” bureaucracy.) Each of these countries (with the possible exception of Bulgaria) is much more dependent upon foreign trade with the capitalist countries, and is therefore much more vulnerable than the Soviet economy to the fluctuations of the international capitalist economy. This also has social and political consequences inside those countries; especially in those where the degree of atomization and political passivity of the working class is much less than in the USSR. Indeed, in four of these countries (GDR 1953, Hungary and Poland 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968) we have already witnessed the beginning of huge mass movements centered around the working class and leading to the very threshold of political revolution.

Objective economic needs make unavoidable a gradual growing integration of the Soviet economy with those of the “people’s democracies.” But the Soviet bureaucracy cannot finalize such an integration beyond a given threshold, and each attempt unleashes further powerful contradictions, especially if it conflicts with the immediate interests of the masses: for in that case a higher level of working class activity and consciousness in Eastern Europe is transferred (at least partially and temporarily) into the Soviet economy and society. This has become an additional and important law of motion of the Soviet economy.

(12) The laws of motion of Soviet economy and society are inextricably linked to the class struggle on a world scale, i.e. to the outcome of the historical conflict between the world proletariat and the international capitalist class, i.e. to the fate of world revolution and of the international capitalist system. The victory of the October socialist revolution in a relatively backward country is in the last analysis understandable only against the background of the decline beginning of the world capitalist system in the imperialist epoch. Historically, it signifies the beginning of the process of world revolution.

The counter-revolutionary victory of Stalinism, the establishment of the bureaucratic dictatorship in the USSR. is ultimately the result of grave defeats of world revolution, of which the defeat of the Russian proletariat by the bureaucratic onslaught was an important part. But the survival of the USSR. as a non-capitalist economy and society (in spite of three powerful attempts at capitalist restoration by imperialism in 1918-1921, in 1941-1944 and in 1947-1951) is the result of the fact that the Stalinist counter-revolutionary victories were only partial, that the world proletariat was not completely defeated and reduced to passivity, that the historical crisis of the capitalist mode of production was itself too powerful an obstacle to be overcome, and that periodic new upsurges of world revolution occurred after the early forties.

In that sense, the future of the Soviet Union is yet undecided. Its fate depends upon the outcome of the struggle between antagonistic class forces on a world scale. Precisely because the Soviet economy is not a new mode of production, definitely crystallized and capable of autonomous self-reproduction, its inner laws of motion in and by themselves cannot decide its final form. New decisive defeats of the international proletariat will give a powerful impulse to a restoration of capitalism in the USSR. Any decisive victory of world revolution will give a powerful impulse to a victory of the politically antibureaucratic revolution in the Soviet Union, and will reopen the road to socialism which the bureaucratic dictatorship has blocked.




1. Rudolf Bahro proposes, not without justification, to replace that old formula with one which distinguishes between “specific” and “general” labor (i.e. mechanical labor and labor which is really helping to develop the human personality). He has a point. Especially after the technological revolution, many forms of intellectual labor (not to speak of administrative labor) can be as boring, mechanical and soul-destroying as manual conveyor-belt labor (indeed, there is literally an “interoffice conveyor-belt” functioning already!), while certain forms of manual labor are obviously creative. The question is not so much that certain forms of mechanical labor will stay with us for a long time, even under socialism. It is that nobody should be restricted to performing such jobs, even in the period of transition between capitalism and socialism. Hence the key importance of a radical reduction of the workweek (indeed, the introduction of the half-work-week, by the socialist revolution). Bahro, Eine Dokumentation (EVA, 1977).

2. Of course some means of production remain commodities in the USSR. Those sold to nonstate enterprises (kolkhozes, handicraft shops, foreign buyers) are the most important category. Small tools are also sold to individuals, and can be used for small scale production.

3. Those who continue to repeat that the mode of distribution has to “strictly conform” to the mode of production in each and every social formation, according to historical materialism, we can only recall for the nth time Engels’ statement: “Each new mode of production or process of exchange is at first retarded not only by the old process and the political associations which is essential to it in the course of a long struggle.” Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975): 179.

4. This is of course not meant in the vulgar sense of accumulation of more and more material goods, but in the broader sense of creating increasing opportunities (to start with: time and material means) for individual self-development and the development of rich social relations.

5. There is no example in history of a ruling class whose basic interest would conflict with the logic of the mode of production it represents.

6. Recently, Polish managers openly stated that “limited unemployment wouldn’t be such a bad thing to introduce more ‘work discipline’ into the factories.”

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Marx, Engels, and 'Anti-Dühring'

 Political Studies (1983), Vol. 31, pp. 284-294


Gordon Welty
Wright State University
Dayton, OH 45435 USA


[//284] There is no reason to suppose that Marxist scholarship should deviate from the canons of philology. Those canons require initially the scientific establishment of a text. There must be a stemma of manuscripts and editions whereby variant texts can be identified, as well as a list of conjectured readings for corrupted passages, etc. Next, these canons require attribution of the textual passages to authors, to joint authors, or to some other hand. Where the composition period was brief, the temporal order of the several passages can be indicated; where composition or publication was more protracted, the passages can be dated as well. A third step (which can be omitted for certain purposes) is the interpretation of the established, attributed, and dated text in terms of themes, motives, intended audiences, etc. Finally, the philological approach includes an evaluation, with suggestions for further study.


An interesting and important topic of Marxist scholarship is the theoretical accord or divergence of Marx's and Engels' thought. It has frequently been asserted that they diverged substantially in their theoretical writings; as Shlomo Avineri has expressed it "Marx's views cannot be squared with Engels' theories as described in Anti-Dühring..." But these assertions have not gone unchallenged; Stefan Anguelov among others has argued for the unity of Marx and Engels' theoretical contributions. "Marx, far from being against Engels' published philosophical essays, entirely shared Engels' conceptions; Marx revised Engels' manuscript Anti-Dühring ..." etc.1


Since Anti-Dühring was intended to summarize and popularize the doctrines of historical materialism, dialectics, and Marxian political economics, it has become the focal point for much of this debate. If Marx and Engels agreed upon a `division of labor' as Anguelov suggests, whereby Marx was to concentrate on political economy while Engels concentrated on philosophical topics, then Anti-Dühring transcended that division by incorporating sections on political economy as well as natural philosophy./2/ Thus the rather neat distinctions that [284/285] can be drawn by attributing the authorship, say, of Capital I to Marx and Dialectics of Nature to Engels are obscured in the case of Anti-Dühring.

Engels acknowledged in the `Preface' to the second, 1886 edition of Anti-Dühring that "the outlook expounded in this book was founded and developed in far greater measure by Marx, and only in an insignificant degree by myself" and that "I read the whole manuscript to [Marx] before it was printed."/3/ Terrell Carver comments on this passage that "there is nothing in the Marx-Engels correspondence, in their works, or anywhere else to support this."/4/ Thus Carver's argument against the theoretical accord of Marx's and Engels' thought turns upon Engels' veracity.

In cases such as the "Marx-Darwin correspondence," veracity is indeed impugned. But, in such a case, (a) credibility is questioned in terms of evidence independent of the text in question, and (b) the 'authority' in question must be of less than credible character anyhow; recall the "disreputable dog," Aveling, implicated in the "Marx-Darwin correspondence."/5/ Apart from these two conditions, an argument such as Carver's is quite problematic, involving as it does the disordering of the canons of scholarship. Attribution of authorship thereby turns illicitly upon the interpretation of the 'author's' motives.

Before returning to Carver's main argument, consider for an instance his characterization of Engels' motives. Carver avers that in Engels' Dialectics of Nature, "his views on the 'general nature of dialectics' were formulated explicitly, which was not the case in the first edition of Anti-Dühring. He continues "Engels, it seems, was canny enough to avoid creating disagreements with Marx."/6/ After Carver has thus impugned Engels' intellectual honesty, one turns to the text of Anti-Dühring and is perhaps surprised to find Engels stating that "dialectics, however, is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society, and thought."/7/ And that passage was unchanged by Engels throughout the three editions of the book./8/

Returning then to Carver's main contention, he reiterates that "Marx said nothing [in the 'surviving Marx-Engels correspondence'] to confirm Engels' claim that he was familiar with the lengthy text of Anti-Dühring."/9/ In contrast to much of the argument for the theoretical divergence of Marx and Engels, turning as it does on subtle issues of emphasis and tone, Carver's bold textual claim has the merit that it can be addressed rather directly. Moreover, the focus on Anti-Dühring has benefit of the scientifically established text in the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA). There are several possibilities here. Marx may have been familiar with a draft of Anti-Dühring as a result of his or Engels' reading of [285/286] it; or, he may have discussed the substance of Anti-Dühring with Engels (without necessarily having been familiar with a draft). In light of the review of Dühring's Critical History of National Economy which Marx contributed to Anti-Dühring, the second possibility cannot seriously be questioned./10/ The question thus is Marx's familiarity with draft materials of Anti-Dühring.

Marx makes an interesting reference in a letter to Wilhelm Freund which bears upon this issue. Carver observes that "Anti-Dühring appeared during 1877-78 in installments in Vorwarts, which Marx could easily have read."/11/ Of course this is quite beside the point, as many people did read the serialized Anti-Dühring; the issue is whether and what Marx knew of the contents prior to serialization. On 21 January 1877, Marx asked Freund to remind Dr Moritz Traube to send along citations of Traube's writings, because Engels is "laboring on a work of philosophy and, as it happens, Traube's achievements are emphasized."/12/ Thus Marx had some familiarity at that date with the contents of Anti-Dühring. But the chapter of Anti-Dühring which addressed the 'Traubesche Kunstzellen' was published in Vorwarts, Number 24, only on 25 February 1877./13/

Why should Marx have asked for Traube's citations and have known a month before publication that Traube's discoveries would be addressed in the serialized Anti-Dühring, unless Marx was familiar with this material in draft. And, on Carver's own argument, this would not have been the most likely topic of Anti-Dühring with which Marx would have been familiar; it was a less likely topic, for instance than those from the social sciences./14/ If it seems at all likely that Marx was familiar with draft material of Anti-Dühring on topics of organic chemistry, it is much more likely that he had read (or listened while Engels read from) other draft materials as well. Be that as it may, it seems that Marx's correspondence, contrary to Carver's assertions, does tend to confirm the veracity of Engels' claim that Marx had knowledge of some if not all of the draft materials of Anti-Dühring.

At this juncture, attention can properly focus on motives. On the one hand, Marx did not publicize either his familiarity with, or his contributions to Anti-Dühring. At the personal level, this can be imputed to Marx's modesty and sense of propriety. At the political level, this can be imputed to Marx's and Engels' perception of the issue of Marx's 'authority' in the Continental working-class movement in the 1870s./15/ On the other hand, after Marx's death, Engels did acknowledge his lifelong collaborator's familiarity with, and contributions to Anti-Dühring in the 1886 'Preface'. In correspondence with Franz Mehring, Engels explains his relationship to Marx and incidentally sheds light on his acknowledgements of 1886. "When one had the good fortune to work for forty years with a man like Marx, one usually does not during his lifetime get the [286/287] recognition one thinks one deserves. Then, when the greater man dies, the lesser easily gets overrated and this seems to me to be just my case at present."/16/ Thus the 'Preface' of 1886 can be imputed to Engels' own well-known modesty and sense of propriety.


The resolution of these issues permits the consideration of another point that also involves the rather careful reading of the text of Anti-Dühring. Engels defines the subject matter of political economy at the beginning of Part II as "the science of laws governing the production and exchange of the material means of subsistence in human society."/17/ Turning from subject matter to the method of political economy, he continues "it must first investigate the special laws of each individual stage in the evolution of production and exchange, and only when it has completed this investigation will it be able to establish the few quite general laws which hold good for production and exchange in general." Engels concludes with the proviso that "the laws which are valid for definite modes of production and forms of exchange hold good for all historical periods in which these modes of production and forms of exchange prevail."/18/ This is surely a concise and intriguing formulation of the subject matter and method of political economy. On the one hand, it suggests that the object of Marx's and Engels' political economic studies was not limited to bourgeois society./19/

On the other hand, it has been proposed that Engels' characterization of political economy differs substantially from Marx's own. Lucio Colletti, for instance, holds that the views of Engels and that of Marx represent "two profoundly different ways of seeing things."/20/ Indicting Engels among others for a "total lack of understanding of the relationship between the logical process and the process of reality," Colletti charges that the logical categories of Capital I, namely commodities, money, capital, etc., have been applied historically (and thereby illicitly) to a "succession of the various forms of society."/21/

Were these charges true, of course, they would evidence a serious misspecification on Engels' part. When we turn to Engels' text, however, we quite another set of categories than those of Capital I applied to the historical cases./22/ For instance: communal property in land corresponds to fairly equal distribution of the labor product, while the dissolution of community corresponds to considerable inequality of distribution. (Indeed Marx had addressed with great brevity this inverse relationship of communal property and impoverishment in his notebooks dating from the late 1850s)./23/ Consider an [287/288] historical example. As the Israelite patriarchal communal form was dissolving during the ninth and eighth centuries, the prophets reacted strongly to the ever increasing inequality among the populace. In Ephraim, Amos condemned the extreme inequality manifested in debt-slavery (Amos 2:6) and foretold alienation of the land, i.e. the complete dissolution of communal or redemptive property in land (Amos 7:17); in Judah, Micah likewise condemned debt-slavery (Micah 2:2) and also anticipated alienation of the land (Micah 2:4). For another instance: agriculture on a large scale corresponds to a class-antagonistic social structure, while agriculture on a small scale corresponds to the absence of such class antagonisms. (Later, Kautsky and Lenin were to address the relationship of the scale of agricultural production and class antagonism; both Arthur Stinchcombe and Jeffrey Paige have recently made extensive studies of this relationship.)/24/ As Engels continues, it becomes evident that the categories he utilizes in his general political economy not only are not simply those of "commodities, money, capital," Engels' are instead more general categories of forms of property, forms of appropriation of the labor product, forms of social antagonism, etc.

These categories may subsume those categories of Capital I; for example, 'capital' is subsumed under the more general 'property' or the category 'social antagonism'. (Similarly, Marx's categories of Capital I subsume those of Capital III: for example, 'finance capital', 'industrial capital', and 'landed capital' are subsumed under the more general category 'capital'.) But Engels cannot be convicted on this evidence of having confounded these several sets of categories. These more general categories give rise to 'laws' of their own which may be nomothetically less satisfying than the laws of Capital (say that treating the tendency of the rate of profit to decline). But Engels admits as much: "political economy in this wider sense has still to be brought into being. Such economic science as we possess up to the present is limited almost exclusively to the genesis and development of the capitalist mode of production."/25/

Thus Engels' categories in Anti-Dühring are not vulgar misappropriations of those of Capital I; even so, the question remains whether Engels' and Marx's understandings of the subject matter and method of political economy accord. This issue can be addressed rather directly, as Marx too has prepared a draft discussion of the topic. In the 'Introduction' to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx has three major sections./26/ The first section addresses 'Production' and the second, the Interrelationship of Production, Distribution, Exchange, and Consumption. These sections indicate the subject matter of political economy. The third section addresses 'The Method of Political Economy'. These three sections comprise a whole; the understanding of any single section depends upon the comprehension of the whole.

Marx's argument in the first section establishes that material production is [288/289] socially determined production by individuals; this implicates production at a definite stage of social development. Marx explicitly considers and rejects defining this stage in an historical account or by taking the stage in isolation. Both these analyses are based on the unreflective standpoint of the individual. Instead, he points out that each stage includes the moment common to several stages of production in general as well as the moment of specific differences of production between stages. By way of illustration, the stage of finance capitalism is understood to incorporate the moment of capitalist relations (i.e. the capitalist appropriation of surplus value) common to any bourgeois society, with the moment of imperialist relations (that is the metropolitan appropriation of super-profits) specific to this stage. This likewise suggests that Marx's political economic study was not to be restricted to bourgeois society. Further, each stage includes the moment of particular productive sectors as well as that of the totality of production, the conjuncture of the set of particular sectors. Finally, these moments organically presuppose 'a definite social corpus' or social subject./27/ Marx's argument thus moves from the abstract, the general moment, through the ever more specific moments, to the concrete, the social corpus. It moreover moves from the inchoate terms of individualism or an ahistorical analysis to the articulated terms of the dialectic. (The logical form of this argument is explicated in the third section of Marx's 'Introduction'.) In sum, it is thus the social corpus that is the object of analysis rather than the process or mode of production which is a characteristic (albeit a crucial characteristic) of the social form.


Marx's argument in the second section of the 'Introduction' establishes the interrelationship of production (in the 'narrower sense'), consumption, distribution, circulation and material exchange. Analyzed superficially, Marx says, these are related as a syllogism: production is the general term, consumption is the individual term, distribution is the proportional middle term, and material exchange is the particular middle term. This superficial analysis restricts itself to the distribution of the product./28/

More profoundly analyzed, production is the presupposition of the moments of consumption and distribution of the products. Production, consumption, and distribution of the means of production are related as content and form (or production, in the 'wider sense')./29/ Finally, circulation is but a moment of material exchange; both are determined by the moments of distribution and consumption./30/ Hence, all these moments are related organically, comprising a concrete unity (again the 'social corpus'), with the mode of production determining the processes or modes of consumption, distribution, etc. Notice how the argument moves even more strikingly from the abstract formulation to the concrete, and from the inchoate to the dialectical. [289/290]

Engels too had discussed the interrelationship of production, distribution, and exchange in Part II of Anti-Dühring. Amplifying upon his definition of the subject matter of political economy, that is "the science of the laws governing production and exchange," he argues that exchange (to the extent it has emerged in a particular society) presupposes production./31/ This of course accords with Marx's characterization, especially where he holds that "the intensity of exchange, its extent and nature, are determined by the development and structure of production."/32/ It likewise accords with Marx and Engels' earlier formulation in the German Ideology where they had argued that a mode of production is always combined with a mode of co-operation or co-ordination, a "materialist connection of humans with one another."/33/ Moreover, Engels argues that modes of production and exchange determine the mode of distribution of the product, while the mode of distribution (in the wider sense) determines the modes of production and exchange. All this accords with Marx's analysis. Only the category of consumption is omitted from Engels' discussion here, perhaps because that category implicates that of the Person./34/


Two points follow from this accord of Marx's and Engels' understanding of the subject matter of political economy. These points can be illustrated in the writings of Jürgen Habermas at the one extreme and John Weeks at the other. The present context permits little more than mention of these points.


Habermas, as is well known, has faulted 'historical materialism' for its 'instrumentalist' (or 'technologistic') bias, its oversight of the symbolic moment of communicative action. He identifies in this regard particularly Engels, Georgi Plekhanov, and Josef Stalin./35/ On the one hand, the specifics of Marx and Engels' understanding of the subject matter of political economy give Habermas' critique the appearance of being a misspecification. 'Exchange' is indeed 'social intercourse' (Verkehr) which encompasses both moments of 'material' exchange and 'ideal' forms of interaction./36/ On the other hand, Habermas' account differentiating human social intercourse from communication is warranted only by Habermas' history of the species. He differentiates anthropoids from hominids, not in terms of hominid symbolic behavior but in terms of development of the 'hunting mode of production'./37/ In evidentiary terms, Habermas' notion of the proto-human as hunter has been rejected by Engels as [290/291] well as current anthropologists./38/ In theoretical terms, Habermas' notion that anthropoid behavior was "based on symbolically mediated interaction in [George Herbert] Mead's sense" must similarly be rejected./39/ Thus Habermas' account of the emergence of the human mode of life (Lebensweise) essentially misspecifies the problem. The proto-human was a gatherer who occasionally 'hunted', thus at one with the anthropoids; the proto-human was accultured, a symbol and tool user, hence distinct from the anthropoids. When human social intercourse is acknowledged to incorporate communication, Habermas' critique of historical materialism must in large part be set aside.

Weeks, by contrast, has faulted Engels for his 'circulationist' bias as well as overlooking the role of force in societal transformations. Following Colletti, Weeks holds that Marx and Engels' "views on fundamental issues differed diametrically."/40/ But Weeks faults Engels precisely for what Habermas considers to be a virtue.

On the one hand, the 'circulationist' theory of economic crises holds either inadequate aggregate demand or else the 'profit squeeze' generate the crisis./41/ In either case the understanding is that the crisis is located within the sphere of circulation; by contrast, the Marxian understanding is that it is located in the sphere of production. In Anti-Dühring, Engels explicitly defines and analyses crises in terms of the overproduction of means of production, hence he cannot be characterized on this evidence as an 'underconsumptionist'./42/ He likewise holds that the proletarian standard of living is determined by the division of labor under the regime of capital, hence Engels cannot be accused of supposing that the distribution of 'factor income' to wage fund ('labor's share') and profits is in some sense exogenous to the sphere of production./43/ Thus Engels subscribed to neither an underconsumption theory nor a 'profit squeeze' hypothesis; hence he [291/292] cannot be identified with Paul Sweezy, Michael Kalecki, Samir Amin et al. as 'circulationists'.

On the other hand, Weeks makes much out of Engels' statement in Anti-Dühring that "the whole process [of the development of capitalism] can be explained by purely economic causes; at no point whatever are robbery, force, the state or political interference of any kind necessary."/44/ Weeks simply treats this passage apart from its context. In the nineteenth (and even in the twentieth) century, some social theorists held that society was politically conflictual in essence. (These were not necessarily Social Darwinists.) Eugen Dühring was an important member of this tradition; Engels took pains to dissociate his and Marx's writings from this tradition./45/ Engels, with considerable dialectical skill, showed in the Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State how the earliest fundamental (or generic) transformation of human society, that of the "world-historic overthrow of mother-right" was to be explained without presupposing the existence of the several institutions listed in the book's title./46/ Likewise, he shows in Anti-Dühring how subsequent generic transformations of society such as the rise of the state apparatus or the emergence of domestic and chattel slavery were to be explained without begging the question./47/

When he turns to the capitalist transformation, it is thus not surprising that Engels proceeds similarly. In Anti-Dühring he shows, dialectically (and in this instance echoing Capital I), that the necessity which underlay the earlier transformations of society was present in the development of capitalism as well./48/ This is not to say that chance has no significance in societal transformation, but that it is a determinate significance. Plekhanov, in reviewing just this issue, pointed out that "conquests, confiscations and monopolies" have occurred throughout recorded history. But, he continued, all these 'political' events, "far from determining the direction of economic development were, on the contrary, themselves determined by it in their forms and subsequent social effects."/49/ Hence the appropriateness of Engels' explanation of the development of capitalism in economic terms.

Moreover, Weeks' blatant confounding of the 'logical process' of the accumulation of capital presented in Part VII of Capital I with the 'processes of reality' such as those of primitive accumulation described in Part VIII is precisely the "total lack of understanding" castigated by Colletti. Marx himself indicates at the beginning of Part VII that "an exact analysis of the process [of accumulation] demands that we...disregard all phenomena that hide the play of its inner [292/293] mechanism," while he describes Part VIII of Capital I as "actual history."/50/ But this focuses attention on the method of political economy.

In sum, where Habermas tries to differentiate Marx from Engels by alleging that the latter tended especially towards single-factor technologism, Weeks tries to differentiate the two by alleging that Engels tended towards a circulationist (or even a 'revisionist') dualism while it was Marx who was the monist. But Weeks' discussion withstands close scrutiny no better than does Habermas'.


Thus it can be concluded that, in terms of their conceptions of the subject matter of political economy, Engels' and Marx's views hardly represent "profoundly different ways of seeing things." What of their conceptions of method? Marx' argument in the third section of the 'Introduction' to the Critique of Political Economy establishes the method of political economy./51/ The social corpus is the starting point, say twentieth century English society. Through the process of analysis of the immediate concept into its constituent genera and differentiae, increasingly abstract concepts such as class, wage-labor, price, etc. are reached. Given the most simple terms, those terms and other terms subsumed within them articulate so as to represent the social corpus as an organic synthesis, a concrete unity. On the one hand it will not do to dispense with analysis and take society as it is experienced (the 'process of reality'). As Georg Lukacs has commented on this section, "knowledge that is oriented in this way towards the immediately given reality always ends up with merely notational ideas. These therefore have to be more exactly defined with the aid of isolating abstractions."/52/ On the other hand, it will no more do to begin with abstract terms and undertake a 'logical process' of synthesis. Lukacs continues "inference by deduction from categorial ideas easily leads to unsupported speculative conceptions."/53/ In either case one has inchoate terms and relationships, abstractly empiricist or abstractly rational as the case may be, and in neither case can the terms and relations be assimilated to the concrete whole.


A few pages before his characterization in Anti-Dühring of the subject matter and method of political economy, Engels had discussed 'Dialectics'./54/ This passage illustrates his understanding of the method of political economy. Engels recounted that Marx examined the historical processes, the "processes of reality" in Colletti's terms, which characterize both the social corpus of mercantile capitalism and that of capitalism per se. These were analyzed in terms of forms of property. Capitalistic private property sublates individual private property. But an expanding and deepening class struggle attends capitalistic production to the point where capitalistic property itself is sublated in social revolution. Hence the synthesis: it is the negation of the negation./55/ Through this 'logical process' (Colletti's terms), through the workings of this 'dialectical law in history' (in [293/294] Carver's terms), the concrete unity of capitalism is concisely revealed in its organic complexity and potentiality.

Thus it appears that Engels' and Marx's conceptions of the method of political economy are in accord no less than their conceptions of its subject matter. Of course this is not difficult to comprehend if Marx was familiar with the drafts of Anti-Dühring.

It would be the height of presumption to suggest that a topic so complex and rich as Marx and Engels' theoretical accord could be definitively addressed in this brief statement. More modestly, it can be proposed that future discussions of this topic be obliged to be couched in scientific rather than doctrinaire terms. This is a timely proposal. On the one hand, the completion of the Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) and the English translation of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels have scientifically established the texts in the former and have made them readily accessible in the latter. On the other hand, the ever widening recognition of the scientific stature of historical materialism demands no less. [294//]


1. S. Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 69; Anguelov "Reflection and Practice," Philosophical Currents, Vol. 5 (1973), p. 76. Anguelov follows Lenin here; see V.I. Lenin Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), Vol. 21, p. 84.1. S. Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 69; Anguelov "Reflection and Practice," Philosophical Currents, Vol. 5 (1973), p. 76. Anguelov follows Lenin here; see V.I. Lenin Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), Vol. 21, p. 84.

2. On this 'division of labor', see Marx's testimony in Herr Vogt, K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, (New York: International Publishers, 1975 ff), Vol. 17, p. 114; and Engels in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962). Vol. 1, p. 549.

3. F. Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), p. 14

4. T. Carver "Marx, Engels and Dialectics," Political Studies, Vol. 28 (1980), p. 357.

5. See Lewis S. Feuer "Is the Darwin-Marx Correspondence Authentic?" Annals of Science, Vol. 32 (1975), pp. 11-12. See also R. Colp, Jr. "The Contacts of Charles Darwin with Edward Aveling and Karl Marx," Annals of Science, Vol. 33 (1976), pp. 387-394; also M.A. Fay "Did Marx offer to Dedicate Capital to Darwin?" Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 39 (1978), pp. 133-146 and M.A. Fay "Marx and Darwin" Monthly Review Vol. 31 (1980), pp. 40-57.

6. Carver "Marx, Engels and Dialectics," p. 361.

7. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 194.

8. K. Marx and F. Engels Gesamtausgabe (Moscow: Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, 1935), I. Abteilung: Anti-Dühring/Dialektic der Natur (Sonderausgabe herausgegeben von V. Adoratskii), S. 144. This is the document Carver cites in his note 12.

9. Carver "Marx, Engels and Dialectics," p. 360.

10. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 312 ff; also Gesamtausgabe, I. Abteilung, S. 341-371; cf. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 14, 22.

11. Carver "Marx, Engels and Dialectics," p. 360.

12. See Marx's letter to Wm. Freund, 21 January 1877; K. Marx and F. Engels Werke (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1956 ff), Bd. 34, S. 245-6.


13. Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, I. Abteilung: Anti-Dühring, S. 85.

14. Carver "Marx, Engels and Dialectics," p. 361

15. See Engels' letter to E. Bernstein, 25 October 1881, K. Marx and F. Engels Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 324. See also the symptomatic discussion of Wilhelm Liebknecht during the 1850s and 1860s in Herr Vogt, Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 17, p. 113.

16. See Engels' letter to F. Mehring, 14 July 1893, Marx and Engels Selected Correspondence p. 433.

17. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 203.

18. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 204.

19. Cf. also G. Welty, "The Materialist Science of Culture and the Critique of Ideology," Quarterly Journal of Ideology, Vol. 5 (1981).

20. L. Colletti Marxism and Hegel (London: NLB, 1973), p. 132.

21. Colletti, Marxism and Hegel. p. 130 ff.

22. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 204-5.

23. K. Marx Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations (New York: International Publishers, 1965), p. 83.

24. K. Kautsky La Question Agraire (Paris: Maspero, 1970); V.I. Lenin, The Development of Capitalism in Russia (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), esp. ch. II; also A. Rochester, Lenin and the Agrarian Question (New York: International Publishers, 1942), esp. chs. I and III; A.L. Stinchcombe, "Agricultural Enterprise and Rural Class Relations," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 67 (1961); J.M. Paige Agrarian Revolution (New York: Free Press, 1975), ch. 2.

25. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 207-8.

26. K. Marx Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970), Appendix, pp. 188-214.

27. Marx, 'Introduction', pp. 188-91.

28. Marx, 'Introduction', pp. 193-4; cf. also G Lukacs, The Ontology of Social Being Pt. I, iv (London: Merlin Press 1978), pp. 59-60.

29. This distinction anticipates that of Departments I and II in Capital II. Cf. also Lukacs The Ontology of Social Being, pp. 60-7.

30. Marx, 'Introduction', pp. 195-204.

31. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 203.

32. Marx 'Introduction', p. 204.

33. K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 43. J. Weeks argues that this passage was the source of the differences he finds between Marx and Engels; cf. his Capital and Exploitation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp. 61-2.

34. Cf. K. Marx and F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe (Berlin: Dietz Verlag 1976), II. Abteil, Bd. I, Teil I, S. 26.

35. J. Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979), chs. 3 and 4, esp. p. 145; also his Knowledge and Human Interests (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), chs. 2 and 3. See T. McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1978), chs. 1.2 and 3.5.

36. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 32.

37. Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, p. 135.

38. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), Vol. II, p. 186; also K. Marx, The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1972), p. 99. See S. Slocum, "Woman the Gatherer" in R.R. Reiter (ed.), Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), pp. 36-50; N. Tanner and A. Zihlman, "Women in Evolution," Signs, Vol. 1 (1976) and Vol. 4 (1978); E. Leacock, "Women's Status in Egalitarian Society," Current Anthropology, Vol. 19 (1978). See also Charles Woolfson The Labor Theory of Culture (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982).

39. G.H. Mead, Philosophy of the Act (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938), pp. 109-10: "It is only man who has entered into a social relation with his environment..."

40. Weeks, Capital and Exploitation, chs. 1 and 2 [with appendix], esp. p. 51. Weeks' inability in general to give an intelligible reading of Engels is beyond the scope of this article. One illustration must suffice for now. Weeks supposes that Geist, when used by Werner Sombart, meant "a mental construct" (p. 14). In fact, this is precisely the opposite of what Sombart (or Engels) meant by the term; see Sombart's Die drei Nationalokonomien (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1930) or Engels, "Law of Value and Rate of Profit," Capital III, Appendix. Weeks' discussion is thereafter a hopeless morass of the views of Conrad Schmidt, Marx and Engels, and a half dozen other writers.

41. Weeks Capital and Exploitation, p. 9.

42. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 393-4. See also Michael Bleaney, Underconsumption Theories: A Historical and Critical Analysis (New York: International Publishers, 1976) for an extensive discussion.

43. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 376. This 'profit-squeeze' hypothesis can be traced at least as far back as Pareto; see V. Pareto Treatise on General Sociology (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1935) §§ 2203-36. It is associated in Great Britain with Andrew Glyn and B. Sutcliffe, British Capitalism, Workers and the Profit Squeeze (London: Penguin Books, 1972) and in the United States with Raford Boddy and J. Crotty, "Class Conflict and Macro-Policy," Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 7 (1975).

44. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 226; see also Weeks, Capital and Exploitation, p. 20, p. 57.

45. Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 34, note 'b'; also Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 41 (added in the 1882 edition: Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).

46. Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 217; again Engels follows Lewis H. Morgan, and Marx, The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, pp. 119-121. This line of discussion renders quite suspect Habermas' notion that the nuclear family initiated human society; cf. his Communication and the Evolution of Society, p. 136. In support of Habermas, see C.O. Lovejoy, "The Origin of Man," Science, Vol. 211 (1981).

47. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 247-248 on the State; pp. 248-249 on slavery.

48. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 225-226; earlier Engels noted that without an understanding of this inevitability of capitalism, the previous forms of socialism were moralistic and utopian (p. 42).

49. G. Plekhanov Selected Philosophical Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980), Vol. IV, pp. 89-90.

50. Marx, Capital (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954), Vol. I, pp. 565, 714.

51. Marx, 'Introduction', p. 205 ff.

52. Lukacs, The Ontology of Social Being, p. 27.


This is taken from http://www.wright.edu/~gordon.welty/ENGELS83.HTM and is being published with the ermission of Professor Welty

Administrator, Radical Socialist, 29.11.2010

On Engels’ Anti-Dühring

28 November was the birth anniversary of Frederick Engels, who along with karl Marx was a co-founder of te scientific basis of working class emancipation and socialism. In Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science, Engels expounded for the first time ever in a comprehensive way the views of Marx and himself. We publish two essays on this classic work. The first onbe, published here, is by David Riazanov, a Russian Marxist and a major Marx and Engels scholar of the early twentieth century. The essay is republished here with due acknowledgements from the Marxists Internet Archive.

Administrator, Radical Socialist

David Riazanov

On Engels’ Anti-Dühring


Preface to Anti-Dühring, Moscow 1928. [1]
English Translation: Labour Monthly, May & June 1929.
Transcribed by Adam Buick.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Fifty years have passed since the appearance of Anti-Dühring as a separate book. The Preface to the first edition was signed by Engels, June 11, 1878. This date, however, is not quite accurate. The articles against Dühring were first printed inVorwärts, the central organ of united German Social Democracy. The first article appeared in January 3, 18 77. The first section of the book, Philosophy, was published in nineteen issues ending May 13, 1877. After this there was an interruption. The second section, Political Economy, began to appear on July 27, occupied nine numbers and was finished on December 30, 1877. The third section, Socialism, followed, after a considerable gap lasting more than four months. It was published in five numbers, beginning May 5 and ending July 7, 1878. Thus, the last chapter was printed in Vorwärts a month later than is shown in the preface.

When we speak of the significance of Anti-Dühring it is necessary to bear in mind the position of German Social Democracy at that time. It is well known – especially to those who have studied the disputes around the Gotha Programme – how inadequate was the Marxist equipment of German Social Democracy in 1875. The disputes which took place around this compromising project of a Programme are well known. But this still does not give a complete picture of the extraordinarily low Marxist level which at that time was characteristic of German Social Democracy. In one respect, Mehring was right. If Marx and Engels were dissatisfied with Liebknecht because of the compromise which he concluded with the Lassalleans in the sphere of programme and tactics, it was because they over-estimated the Marxist understanding in the ranks of the “Eisenachers,” i.e., in the ranks of that Party which considered itself Marxist. If we take the central organ of Social Democracy, even after the union, we find there nothing more than an incredibly confused, almost vulgar, socialism. It was a monstrous mixture of some propositions of Marx, with some of Lassalle, and with a whole series of theses, the origin of which is to be found in contemporary bourgeois literature. It is sufficient to remark how from 1873 onwards the authority of Dühring grew greater and greater.

Comrades acquainted with Anti-Dühring usually have an impression of Dühring as almost an absolute cretin. But Dühring was no idiot. He was a big figure. He had in him that which makes many such active men immediately attractive to youth, namely, the qualities of a man with an encyclopedic education, who could orientate himself unusually freely in questions of natural science, philosophy, political economy, and socialism. He was a man who could give to the younger generation, in the old popular term, “a system of truth.” He gave a complete system of world outlook, he gave answers to all the troublesome questions. Moreover, he was a man known to the younger generation by his hatred of the professors, and in his personal life not especially happy, as might be expected from a man who lost his sight at the age of twenty-eight, and was compelled to acquire all his knowledge with the aid of other, almost accidental, persons. He was a man living in great poverty. All this created sympathy towards him.

The chief apostle of Dühring in German Social Democracy was Bernstein. We have, at least, five separate recollections of Bernstein’s on this interesting phase of his life. Each time he acknowledges that he was a very zealous and fervent disciple. He infected Fritsch, Most, Bebel, and Bracke with “Dühringism”. He writes that in 1873 he never missed an occasion of hearing the lectures of Dühring and he carried with him in his enthusiasm a whole series of comrades, including foreigners, for the most part Russians. He gave Dühring’s book to Bebel, then in prison, and Bebel wrote from prison in March, 1874, an article entitled A New Communist.

Bebel ends his article in the following fashion:–

“All our considerations against Dühring’s conception do not militate against his fundamental views. We consider them irreproachable, and regard him with complete approval. And we will never hesitate to declare that after Marx’s Capital, the new work of Dühring belongs to the best that the new era has produced in the economic sphere. We, therefore, heartily recommend the study of his book.”

This was the response of Bebel, who was dissatisfied with the Gotha unity, with the Gotha compromise. It can easily be imagined how this article was received in London. We have evidence that Engels immediately sent a request to Berlin as to who wrote this article. Liebknecht hastened to re-assure Engels (June 13, 1874):–

“Of course, it is impossible to avoid foolishnesses, but as soon as they are recognised they are, as far as possible, corrected. Have you any basis for believing that Dühring is worthless or a hidden enemy? Everything known to me about him strengthens me in the belief that, although he is confused, he is indubitably honest and stands unreservedly on our side. The article denounced by you was not altogether correct and was written with an unbounded measure of enthusiasm. In any case the intentions of the author were certainly good and the article has not produced a bad effect.”

Somewhat later Bloss declares to Engels, writing from prison:

“In regard to Dühring you are right ... in his Critical History of Socialism and Political Economy he wrote much stupidity. I have only now read this book.”

After Liebknecht and particularly Bloss had become more acquainted with Dühring, Liebknecht sent a request to Engels on February 1, 1875, that he should write an article about Dühring. Unfortunately, there are no letters of Engels and Marx in regard to this, but, obviously, they had created no little disturbance. Liebknecht writes:–

“When will it be possible to receive from you some work on Dühring, who in the second edition of his History of Political Economy has again repeated all his numerous stupidities about Marx? I was attending the lectures of this man before Christmas. Megalomania, and at the same time a furious hatred of Marx, that is all. But he has entrenched himself very strongly among our people, especially in Berlin, and consequently it is necessary to examine him fundamentally. You probably have the second edition. If you have not, we will send it to you.”

In a second letter, not immediately to Engels or Marx, but to Engels’ wife, Liebknecht adds,

“You must tell Engels that he must deal with Dühring fundamentally, but it is necessary to remember one thing: Dühring is literally dying of hunger”.

Engels did not agree particularly willingly. He resisted for a long time. From his correspondence with Marx we know that this task did not particularly attract him, the more so because just at this time he was in the full fervour of his occupation with natural science. It was only shortly before that he had communicated to Marx and to Schorlemmer the basic theses of his dialectics of nature. He was about to expand them in a special work, and he did not wish to throw aside this labour and occupy himself with a polemic against Dühring who was better known to him than to Liebknecht. Marx and Engels had already finished with Dühring. The latter had interested them as early as the sixties, when he wrote one of the first criticisms of Capital. They had already found out at that time that he was a “privat-docent” in political economy and a collaborator of the official newspaper Staatsanzeiger, to which Marx had definitely refused to contribute, and that Dühring had had a lawsuit with the well-known Privy Councillor Wagener in regard to the authorship of a certain production, a memorandum report written for Bismarck, on how to settle the socialist question. Wagener thought that he had to do with an ordinary “privat-docent” and put his own signature to the report. Dühring brought a lawsuit against him and won it. Marx and Engels were aware that Dühring in the sphere of political economy was a great worshipper of Carey and List, which was not known to the so-called young comrades.

Accordingly, Engels, who had just begun to take up a more interesting subject, was very unwilling to occupy himself with Dühring. And from the correspondence it is possible to see how much pressing was needed on the part of Liebknecht before Engels finally undertook the work.

In 1875-76 the cult of Dühring became stronger and stronger.

“Instead of the fighting slogan ‘Lassalle or Marx’”, writes Bernstein in his latest autobiography, “it seemed that there was put forward a new slogan ‘Dühring or Marx and Lassalle.’ And in all this I was not a little to blame.”

Attempts were made to use the Vorwärts to advertise Dühring. In fact, Liebknecht had to carry on a stubborn struggle, once having permitted this error on the part of Bebel, in order not to allow Vorwärts to be converted into an organ which exalted Dühring as a thinker on a level equal with Marx. The matter became more complicated still when Most wrote a big philosophical article on Dühring and sent it to Liebknecht. In 1876, Most even exceeded Bernstein in his Dühring worship; as an energetic worker and a magnificent agitator, he won for Dühring great popularity among the Berlin workers, theBerliner Freie Presse, the organ of the Berlin organisation, being greatly under the influence of Most.

On receiving Most’s article, Liebknecht purposely sent it to Engels, because he presumed that Engels after reading it would understand that, whether he liked doing so or not, it was necessary to set to work about Dühring. Engels finally agreed to write a series of articles on Dühring and began the task.

I will not dwell in more detail on this point, because the correspondence of Marx and Engels gives a whole series of indications of the unwillingness with which in the beginning Engels addressed himself to this subject. In any case, he was not able to dispatch the first article before the autumn of 1876. This was the first section, on Philosophy.

But here there occurred a little mishap: Liebknecht had not expected that Engels would send his article so late. He expected them earlier, at the beginning of the electoral campaign – the elections took place in January, 1877. It is understandable that Liebknecht and a number of other comrades were extremely occupied with the electoral campaign, too much so to pay attention as to how Engels’ articles would be printed. It is clear that Engels was fully justified in his dissatisfaction. It would have been impossible to make use of Engels’ articles in a worse fashion than was done by Vorwärtsduring January, 1877. The chapters of the section on Philosophy were printed with the most abundant printer’s errors, and were divided up senselessly without any basis. Receiving his articles in this shameful form, Engels was nearly beside himself and thundered at the editors in his letters, seeing in all this almost an intrigue of the Dühringites. Such a thought would, in fact, very naturally occur to anyone who sees how this section of Anti-Dühring was printed.

Finally, Engels wrote one of his fiercest letters to Liebknecht. Engels’ letters to Liebknecht were always in very sharp terms, but this was an extra sharp letter. Engels accused Liebknecht of all the mortal sins. But Liebknecht always showed great patience in relation to the “old man.” He explained to Engels that it was all due to the electoral campaign, and finally peace was made between them, but this was immediately followed by a new incident, that of the famous Gotha Congress of 1877. The last portion of the part on Philosophy was printed on May 13, 1877, and the Gotha Congress took place on May 27 to 29, 1877. Let us see how the history of this Congress is given by two authors. We will first of all hear Mehring:–

“How greatly Engels’ book was necessary was shown perhaps in the most striking fashion by the rather unfavourable reception that it received from the Party. Most and others were not far removed from closing the columns of the Vorwärts to it, thus giving to the heretic Engels a similar fate to that already dealt out to Dühring by the official university clique. Fortunately, the Congress of 1877 did not take this step. Solely on the basis of agitational and practical considerations, it decided to continue the publication of this purely scientific polemic in its paper, but only in a scientific supplement to the central organ. Not a few sharp words, however, were said. Neisser accused the editorial board of Vorwärts of not making sufficient efforts for a proper supervision of Engels’ work, and Walteich remarked in his arrogant manner, which had already antagonised Lassalle, that Engels’ tone was bound to lead to the ruin of literary taste and because of him the spiritual fare provided by Vorwärts was becoming absolutely uneatable.”

This is Mehring’s account. Now let us turn to Bebel’s story:–

“Still more unpleasant were the debates provoked by Most on the subject of Engels’ articles in Vorwärts directed against Dühring. The latter had succeeded in getting on his side almost all the leaders of the Berlin working-class movement. I was also of the opinion that for the purposes of agitation it was necessary to support and utilise every literary tendency which, like the works of Dühring, sharply criticised the existing social order and declared in favour of Communism. From this point of view, I had already in 1874 written from prison for the Volkstaattwo articles under the heading A New Communist, in which I examined the works of Dühring. They had been sent to me by Edward Bernstein, who, at that time, together with Most, Fritsch, &c., belonged to the most fervent admirers of Dühring. The circumstance that Dühring had very quickly come into conflict with the university authorities and the Government – a conflict which ended with his dismissal in June, 1877, from Berlin University – still more raised his prestige in the eyes of his followers. All this led Most to introduce the proposal that for the future such articles as those of Engels against Dühring, which did not present any interest for the great mass of readers, or evoked the dissatisfaction of the readers, should not be published any more in the central organ.”

Both Bebel and Mehring, however, do not quite accurately represent what took place at the Congress. There were even more unpleasant things. Neisser’s remarks have already been given by Mehring. Liebknecht waxed indignant against Neisser. Then Most and his comrades introduced a resolution that the Congress should declare that “articles such as the recent articles of Engels against Dühring are entirely devoid of interest for the readers of Vorwärts, and should be removed from the central organ.” Liebknecht, of course, wanted to protest, but there was immediately introduced another proposal by Kleimich and his comrades, that “discussions on the proposal of Most, and on other proposals relating to Engels’ articles in the Vorwärts, should be introduced only from the point of view of material expediency and not in any case from the point of view of principle or of science.”

This resolution of Kleimich was passed by thirty-seven votes to thirty-six. After this, Liebknecht declared that the discussions lost all significance if on this question it was possible to speak only of material expediency. Then Bebel and his comrades introduced a resolution as follows:–

“Taking into consideration the length (!) of the articles of Engels against Dühring and presuming that in future they will become even longer, and taking into account that the polemic which is being conducted by Engels in the columns of Vorwärts against Dühring or against his adherents will give to the latter or his adherents the right to reply with equally lengthy articles and in this way to take up excessively the space of Vorwärts, and taking into account that our cause has nothing to gain from this, since it is a matter of a purely scientific dispute, the Congress resolves that the publication of the articles of Engels against Dühring in the chief portion of Vorwärtsshall cease, and that all these articles shall be printed in the scientific: supplement of Vorwärts or as a separate pamphlet. And in the same way all further debates in regard to this special subject must be removed from the main portion of Vorwärts.”

This resolution was accepted by the Congress after Most had withdrawn his resolution and identified himself with the proposal of Bebel. Thus, Bebel at this Congress played a part considerably different from that described in his memoirs.

Liebknecht, in one of his letters to Engels, writes that, unfortunately, he had not had a chance of talking things over with Bebel, and Bebel committed this blunder. At any rate, the whole of this episode concerning Dühring and Engels’ articles in the central organ, the chief editor of which was Liebknecht, and in which Bebel had great influence, is very characteristic of the intellectual calibre of the German Social Democratic Party at that time.

The police and the university authorities again came to the assistance of Dühring. The Congress ended in May, 1877. Engels had to take up the continuation of his articles. Just at this period, Dühring reached the zenith of his popularity. The Ministry for Education raised the question about Dühring’s dismissal from Berlin University. This was one of the great sensational events in Europe at the time, and was not less attentively followed in our own fatherland, where already prior to this people had begun to be interested in Dühring. Mikhailovsky wrote a lengthy article in Notes of the Fatherland on the Scandal in Berlin UniversityVorwärts and Liebknecht were also compelled to come to the defence of Dühring, for it was impossible to leave him at the mercy of the university authorities. A series of articles appeared in Vorwärts in defence of Dühring, and this time not as the author of a definite system, but simply as the defender of the freedom of science which it was necessary to defend in the Prussian police state. The Vorwärts also even printed poems and odes in honour of Dühring, just at the time of the gap between the printing of the first and second sections of Anti-Dühring. Many young students – Schippel, Emmanuel Wurm, Firek, Manfred Wittich – came to the defence of Dühring together with Fritsch and Most, the last named arranging workers’ meetings, &c. The others on their side organised a series of students’ meetings, where Dühring was defended as a representative of oppressed science. Mehring declares in his History of German Social Democracy that this was the last idealistic movement among German students.

Dühring, however, who attracted sympathy for himself as a State-persecuted savant, drove away almost all his adherents by his unbearable character. Just at the moment when he had achieved his greatest success in coming close to the Berlin workers and their leaders, he committed a series of acts which made any kind of joint work with him impossible. Thus, to the State university he wished to oppose a free academy, and he drew up regulations for this academy, but of such a kind that he disgusted the Berlin social democrats. He opposed his free academy to the idea of a labour university, which he refused to consider, for he did not intend, as he wrote, to give anyone an opportunity to exploit him. Bernstein suspected Dühring, as he writes in two variants of his memoirs, of having together with Most organised the campaign against Engels at the Gotha Congress. For this suspicion he had certain grounds.

The Berliner Freie Presse, in which Most and his comrades participated, as late as October, 1878, was still defending Dühring in toto. But by the beginning of November a complete rupture had taken place. Dühring definitely came to the conclusion that Most and his company were intending to sacrifice him to Liebknecht, and that they did not fulfil their promises, in that they did not succeed in securing the cessation of Engels’ articles in Vorwärts. So Bernstein writes. Dühring declared that the social democrats simply wished to utilise him for their party, and thus to ruin his scientific career.

Bernstein, in another variant of his memoirs, writes: “It was not Engels who killed Dühring, but Dühring who killed himself.”

The same idea is to be found in a letter of Liebknecht’s to Engels. Naturally, this is an exaggeration. Dühring had lost personal prestige, but the cult of Dühring was still unvanquished; it was still necessary to fight him, and this was shown most clearly precisely in 1878. A new journal The Future was founded, the predecessor of which was the scientific supplement ofVorwärts. The programme of this paper, which was intended to serve as the central scientific organ of the party, constituted such an eclectic mixture that Engels could write to Marx with full justification that there was developing in Germany a new German vulgar socialism, which was worthy to rank with the “true socialism” of 1845. Consequently, Engels wrote the subsequent articles against Dühring, those of the sections Political Economy and Socialism, in a different manner. He struck at Dühring, but he aimed his blows at Most, Fritsch, Liebknecht, and Bebel. In some places, Engels directly polemicises against them, although he does not mention them by name.

It remains to say something on the significance of Anti-Dühring. I have already pointed out the chief causes of Dühring’s popularity. This must always be kept in mind. Dühring gave the revolutionary youth a philosophy of the world. He gave them a system of ideas; he gave them a system of answers to troublesome questions. What had a Marxist at that time? There was the Communist Manifesto. But the Communist Manifesto without all that had preceded it, without all the preparatory data, of which it was the conclusion, without the appropriate historical knowledge, was less intelligible than Lassalle’s Programme of the Workers. It must be added also that it was only when a new edition was published in 1872, after it had been unobtainable for a long time, that it attained a really large circulation. Capital was rather widely read. But, even for Liebknecht, Capital was principally a book which gave him material for a Reichstag speech on working-class legislation, which provided him with material for an anniversary speech, if he wished to show to what degree the workers had been exploited by capitalism. Liebknecht was frankly convinced in 1874 that Buckle was the greatest of all historians and the creator of a new conception of world history, whilst Marx was only the creator of a new economic system. Just as in Russia, Capital in its philosophical and historical-materialist parts remained for the readers of Marx “an unread chapter of a favourite book” – as Plekhanov expressed it.

Engels’ literary connection with the Volksstaat (the People’s State), which appeared under Liebknecht’s editorship, began as early as 1873. He had to answer various practical questions. A certain Mühlberger wrote an article on the housing problem which showed that the People’s State had forgotten the difference between Proudhonism and Marxism, and Engels used this opportunity to give a magnificent exposition of the difference between Proudhonism and Marxism in this concrete example. This was the German, more scholarly and more fundamental way – to write for a concrete occasion. A description of the whole system of the world philosophy was still lacking. This was given for the first time in Anti-Dühring. Engels himself tells us wherein lies the significance of Anti-Dühring:–

“It (the polemic against Dühring) gave one, on the one hand, the opportunity to develop from the positive side, in the very varied subjects treated in the book, my views on questions of more general scientific or practical interest to-day ... It was necessary for me to go into all his conceptions and state mine in opposition to his. Negative criticism became, thanks to this, positive; the polemic was turned into a more or less connected exposition of the dialectical method and communist world-philosophy upheld by Marx and myself, and this, moreover, over a fairly comprehensive range of subjects.”

Engels thus himself recognises that the polemic against Dühring had induced him to put forward a system in opposition to a system, a world philosophy in opposition to a world philosophy. And in this lies the chief significance of Anti-Dühring. Marx and Engels naturally knew – what we only now know – that in their letter files lay the manuscript of German Ideology. They knew that they had the possibility in the forties of putting forward in opposition to the current bourgeois philosophy of “true Socialism” their system of Communist world philosophy. But only Marx and Engels knew that. Liebknecht who had worked and lived in the closest co-operation with Marx and Engels for twelve years did not know it; the innumerable readers did not know it, and, of course, no single reader of the Gotha Programme could have had any idea of it. For the first time, in 1878, in Anti-Dühring was given a system of Communist philosophy which could refute petty-bourgeois philosophy in all its different varieties – and in this Marx and Engels naturally based themselves on the earlier work already done by them.

Now (and this is a very interesting point), when we read the chapters in the German Ideology devoted to Feuerbach – they have been printed in the Archives issued by the Marx- Engels’ Institute – it is possible to establish how far Marx and Engels had changed their point of view. Not since the time of the Holy Family then, Comrade Stepanov would be correct – for the point of view adopted by Marx and Engels in this work had already been “withdrawn” in the German Ideology. That was a still earlier stage. That was a close approach to Marxism, but it was not yet Marxism.

In one of his articles against Heinzen, Marx said:–

“Where he succeeds in observing the diversity, he does not see the unity, and where he sees the unity, he does not see the diversity. When he manages to establish various definitions they immediately become petrified in his hands, and he regards it as the most harmful sophistry to set these conceptions against each other in such a way that they catch fire and come to life.”

Between the standpoint of the “German Ideology” and that developed in the first volume of Capital there is not any kind of “jump.” The basic conceptions which Engels developed in Anti-Dühring in the section Philosophy, even in those parts relating to natural science, were already completely formulated in Capital in a series of remarks, which were so distorted by Dühring. In Anti-Dühring Engels develops the dialectical method which Marx and he had created and which they had employed since 1846, since the time of the German Ideology.

When I published Engels’ Dialectics of Nature, which I had discovered, I emphasised, in my foreword, that in comparison with what Engels had said in Anti-Dühring this contained no single new idea. I wrote “no single new idea” intentionally. The quite untenable attempt of some comrades to find certain differences between Anti-Dühring and the Engels of the eighties, who had reached “completely opposite conceptions,” arises from the unclear understanding of a number of remarks in Anti-Dühring and from an inattentive reading of Engels’ foreword to the second edition of Anti-Dühring.

What does Engels say in this foreword? He is dealing with Dühring at a time when he was undergoing a “moulting process” with regard to the natural sciences. He uses a terminology that is not quite exact; all that he needed was not at his disposal, and he hoped that he would later be able to give his conception in a more carefully thought-out form. He wrote this in 1885. Whoever reads carefully the foreword to the second edition knows that Engels quite consciously, out of a feeling of peculiar literary tact, looked out for any change. One must read the letters of Engels to Marx to understand how difficult it was for Engels, for purely human reasons, to write polemics against Dühring. He said that it was very difficult for him to write against a blind person. He had to struggle with himself for a long time in order to overcome this clearly sentimental feeling. And, therefore, he said again in his foreword, that he could not have written otherwise than as he did in 1878.

I have already pointed out in my introduction to the Dialectics of Nature that Engels did not know Mendeleyev’s periodic law when he wrote Anti-Dühring. One must not forget that the articles of the section Philosophy were all printed previous to May, 1877, and had been sent for publication by the autumn of 1876. Engels had no opportunity of studying the technical literature of chemistry which was scattered through the various scientific journals. It may be mentioned in justification of him that only in 1877 did there appear in such a “compendium” as the comprehensive text book of chemistry as that of by Roscoe and Schorlemmer any exposition of Mendeleyev’s law. Engels could have used it for the second edition in 1885, when he had at his disposal a mass of material which confirmed his basic conceptions, but he deliberately did not do so. In the foreword to the second edition he gives a hint of a future work, but he does not change his views. It is the same basic conception which he had formulated in Anti-Dühring, which appears in the notes and drafts of articles written after 1878, only more fully explained. In this relation, any attempt to prove a contradiction between Engels in 1878 and in 1882, based on the desire to stick a new label on an old idea, is doomed to utter failure.

After Anti-Dühring, Engels had the opportunity to develop more fully some of the conceptions which he had briefly formulated in the philosophical section of his polemic against Dühring. In his special work on Feuerbach, he gave a detailed exposition of his own and Marx’s relations to the philosophy of Hegel and Feuerbach. In connection with this, Engels also gave a positive answer to a large number of questions relating to philosophy, ethics and social science. In this way, Engels’ book on Feuerbach becomes not only an important supplement, but also an excellent commentary on the corresponding chapters of Anti-Dühring . Not less important now in this connection are those parts which I have published from Engels’German Ideology and Dialectics of Nature.

One must specially draw attention to Engels’ brilliant description, in the first section, of the origin and development of the idea of equality. Marx had already shown in Capital that the determination of the value of commodities by labour and the free exchange of these products of labour on the basis of this value, is the real foundation of the whole political, judicial and philosophical ideology of the modern bourgeoisie.

The sketch of Engels served as the stimulus for a series of Marxist works – in particular by Lafargue, Kautsky and Plekhanov – in which the origin of various kinds of “eternal” ideas is investigated.

The second section of Anti-Dühring is devoted to the basic problems of Marxist economic theory and to this day forms the most authoritative introduction to a study of Capital. Engels gives definitions of the subject matter, the method and the tasks of political economy. On this point I do not agree with those who regard political economy as a science which investigates only the economy of commodities and the capitalist commodity relations, and who conceive right only as the right of the producers of commodities. All such attempts constitute a desire to give a “beginning " and an “end” to everything, to define exactly, to point out precisely where development is still in progress, where a succeeding form abolishes the preceding, explains it and is itself fully explained by its antecedent conditions.

The second section contains noteworthy articles devoted to the theory of force, in which the mutual relations between the economic and political factors in the history of human society are explained in a masterly fashion. In addition, Engels gives a concise history of the art of war, showing what great significance the study of the history of the art of war has for the materialist interpretation of history .The full importance of these chapters will only be fully apparent when all Engels’ writings on military questions have appeared, but, together with the foreword to Borkheim’s book (1887) and the articlesCan Europe Disarm? (1893), the sketch which Engels gave in Anti-Dühring represents the clearest formulation of the views which he had evolved in long years of study of the history and theory of warfare.

He was able to foretell the future imperialist war and to sketch its probable consequences with almost prophetic accuracy. It is true that the sketch of the history of the art of war which we have in Anti-Dühring finishes with 1877. The Franco-German War of 1870 was the last great war which Engels examined. In this respect Engels’ sketch stands in need of considerable supplementation.

It can be said that some of Engels’ assertions are not altogether incontestable. Especially when he wrote that armaments as used at the time of the Franco-German War “had reached such perfection that further improvements in this direction could not have any decisive influence.” Even firearms have undergone considerable development since 1878. New branches of military technique have appeared, based on the development of aircraft and the chemical industry. The submarine has brought about changes in the sphere of naval warfare. It is true that the experiences of the war of 1914-1918 have fully justified the conclusions at which Engels arrived on the basis of his examination of the question of the competition between armour-plating and artillery .Even in the form of dreadnoughts, the armoured-cruiser “has been brought to such a height of perfection that it has become so invulnerable as to be unsuitable for use.”

But Engels has excellently revealed the inner dialectic of militarism. Militarism, in its modern imperialist form, bears within itself all the seeds of its own destruction.

“What the bourgeois democracy of 1848 could not bring about, just because it was bourgeois and not proletarian, viz., to give the working masses a conscious will, corresponding to their class position, will inevitably be achieved by Socialism (Communism). And that means the destruction from within of militarism and with it of all standing armies.”

The third section of Anti-Dühring deals with Socialism. We have already seen how Bebel appraised the predecessors of Marx and Engels, the Utopian Socialists. Dühring in his works distorted not only the history of political economy but also with the history of Socialism. Engels’ book gave a new and powerful impetus to the study of Socialism. All the works of Kautsky, Bernstein, Plekhanov and Mehring on these subjects have their starting point, both as regards theme and as regards their general construction, in the fundamental thesis which Engels formulated in his excursus on the subject of the history of Socialism.

But this was not all that Engels achieved in the third section of Anti-Dühring. For the first time since the Communist Manifesto, on the basis of the experiences of the revolution of 1848, of the First International and of the Paris Commune, the fundamental questions of programme, strategy and tactics for the proletariat were put forward in a comprehensive manner. For the first time it was shown what inexhaustible treasure Marx’s Capital contained for the answers to these questions. Engels for the first time fully expounded how capitalism gives rise to and prepares all the material and intellectual elements of the future order of society. In the same section of Anti-Dühring, for the first time, the Marxist conception of the role and origin of the State, already hinted at in German Ideology, was developed in detail in opposition not only to Dühring but also to the Anarchists, the Lassalleans and even the Eisenachers, who had not been able to free themselves from the influence of the Lassallean cult of the State.

It is by no means an accident that careful working out of the questions of the programme only begins after the appearance of Anti-Dühring. The Erfurt Programme of German Social Democracy, which in its essence is partly the work of Engels, would have been inconceivable had it not been for the tremendous preparatory work which Engels had put into Anti-Dühring. The same can be said of the programme of the group for “Liberation of Labour”, and the first programme of our party. The most important part of Engels’ book entitled The Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science, which equally with the Communist Manifesto is to this day the best manual for mastering the foundations of Marxism, is taken from the third section of Anti-Dühring.

In the book of Antonio Labriola, Socialism and Philosophy, we find the following interesting thought:–

“Every country, unfortunately, has its Dühring. Who knows what other ‘Antis’ might have been written by the Engels’s of other countries. In my opinion, the real significance of Anti-Dühring is that it gives the Socialists of other countries and other tongues the possibility of arming themselves with those critical methods without which no ‘Anti-’ can be written, and which are essential for the fight against all those who distort or corrupt Socialism in the name of various sociological systems.”

Labriola was right. In every country where Marxism begins to develop it must cease to be in the position of a product of a “foreign creation”. Marxism can only triumph in a country if it succeeds in explaining, on the basis of fundamental Marxist principles, the concrete realities of the country concerned; if it succeeds in showing that the dialectical method, dialectical materialism, represents an all-embracing method in the sense that the concrete reality in question, with whatever particular “qualities” it may be endowed finds its explanation through it itself, by the struggle of its internal contradictions; that all these “specific characters” result from the inner class conflict, from the development of the struggle of contradictions in that particular section – be it historical, economic or geographical.

In his pamphlet Who are the Friends of the People? Lenin again emphasises the same idea, namely, that Marxism can only lead the proletariat against the bourgeoisie of the country in question when it becomes for the proletariat and for the revolutionary intelligentsia a new Communist world philosophy in opposition to all varieties of bourgeois philosophy. The immortal service of Engels in this respect – and those are correct who say that Anti-Dühring is, after and alongside ofCapital, the most important Marxist work, is that, in opposition to bourgeois world philosophy, he for the first time put forward this Communist world philosophy. He left it to later Marxists to develop this Communist world philosophy on the basis of new and ever-developing national and international experiences, and to make it ever more complete, more comprehensive, without ever forgetting that the result can only be reached thanks to the aid of such an incomparable weapon as the method of dialectical materialism.



1. English translation of the preface to the 50th anniversary edition of Anti-Dühring published in Moscow in 1928, Labour Monthly May and June 1929 (the section dealing with the influence of Anti-Dühring on the development of Marxist ideas in Russia was not translated).


Tories, Liberals at War with School Children in Britain

Riot police get brutal with students

Riot police get brutal with students large. Image source: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/Thousands of school and university students turned out on the streets of London today to voice their anger at the Con-Dem coalition's vicious assault on Britain's education system.

Following their embarrassment earlier this month, when thousands of students beseiged and invaded Tory HQ, riot police reacted against peaceful protesters with a brutal containment strategy, corralling crowds in Whitehall for several hours.

The University of London Union's Carnival of Resistance, which began with a few hundred people, swelled to over 5,000 as it passed Trafalgar Square - ignoring Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's plea for students to call off the protests.

The procession was expected to end with a rally in Trafalgar Square but the bulk of students broke away from the official route, weaving through traffic to end up on Whitehall.

Reading University lecturer Hannah Sawtell, who joined the march in support of students, said that young people had a right to be angry.

With plans to introduce £9,000 a year tuition fees and and brutal cuts to university budgets which are causing services such as crèches to close she said that she "definitely wouldn't have been able to go to university now.

"I was a single mum and, at the time, I got 80 per cent of my childcare paid for plus money to live on plus help with loans. And when I was a student it was only a grand a year to go to university."

Samba bands, drum and bass and hip-hop sound systems kept the atmosphere upbeat at first as students shouted "Tory scum here we come" and "No ifs no buts, no education cuts."

But then riot police and officers on horses threw a cordon around protesters, known as "kettling" and on a number of occasions police lines surged into students unprovoked.

Labour MP John McDonnell said: "There was no violence whatsoever but the police surged and pushed them into a tight corner, putting people in danger of being hurt. It was a peaceful and good-humoured march and the police should have respected that but now they have provoked anger."

Forward Intelligence Teams from the Metropolitan Police could also be seen taking photographs of students and a number of arrests were made. these teams are notorious for taking photographs of protesters once they have been kettled, and creating files on them as "domestic extremists" even though they have committed no offence.

Earlier in the day police monitoring group Fitwatch had offered activists legal observer training before the ULU procession set off to ensure an increased level of protection for protesters from the pervasive police presence.

Protesters were forced to push away barriers erected for road maintenance to create more space and avoid being trampled. Those who tried to escape the kettled area were violently pushed back by police.

Angry students responded by throwing smoke bombs and lightweight placard sticks, lighting bonfires and, at one point, a police van which was left in the middle of the sea of students was spray painted and smashed.

 From Morning Star, 24 November