Book Review from the February 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
Marx and Soviet Reality by Daniel Norman. The Batchworth Press, 1955. 2s. 6d.
This is a very useful little booklet of 72 pages which demolishes, with numerous quotations from Marx and Engels, a large number of the myths the Bolsheviks have built up to delude the uncritical: particularly their claims to be Marxists and to have established Socialism in Russia.
The author shows that the Russian revolution was fundamentally a revolution, similar to the French revolution of 1789-93, for the purpose of bringing Russia out of semi-feudalism into modern capitalism. Its ruthlessness and barbarity were part of the hot-house process. He also shows that the revolution never went "off the track,” as the Trotskyists pretend, because Stalin only carried on the Lenin programme.
The opening paragraphs of the booklet indicate the author’s standpoint:
“There it at least one point on which Soviet propaganda and the opponents of Marxian—and Socialism in general— agree: both describe the U.S.S.R. as the embodiment of the Marx-Engels conception of a Socialist society. Both claim to see in the masters of the Kremlin the heirs and faithful pupils of Marx, and in the Soviet policy the extension of Marxian policy in our time.
"Nothing could be wider of the mark; nothing would have infuriated Marx and Engels more. For under its Marxist veneer of Bolshevik terminology, Soviet reality can be easily identified with everything abhorred, criticised, and fought against by Marx and Engels all their lives.”
Of unemployment in Russia the author has this to say:-
"How can there by any question of unemployment where important part of the working population is permanently behind barbed wire, working for wages far under subsistence level, that is, in worse conditions than a slave of ancient times.” (Page 27.)
Although the means of production are owned by the State the new privileged class that has grown up in Russia had their position legalised by the Stalin Constitution of 1936, which confirmed the right to private property and the right to inheritance. So the claim of the wealthy to the products of the workers’ labour is protected in the same way as in other capitalist countries. Of the relation between the Russian State and the workers the author describes as follows:—
“The fact that in the U.S.S.R. the State is the owner of the conditions of production—'the general capitalist’—and the direct producers are wage-earners, that therefore the relations between them, according to Marx, are still the relations between capital and labour, between employer and proletarians, whether or not this pleases the Soviet leaders. And there is no difficulty in discovering that all the characteristics of the capitalist system of exploitation are to be found in the Russian system of relationship between the State, owner of the means of production, and the direct producer, the worker." (Page 23.)
The author makes the following general observation on Soviet planning:—
“The general aim of Soviet planning being the industrialisation of the country, the immediate task for the Russian State capitalist planners is 'augmentation of Capital,' and capital, be it State or private, is accumulated surplus value. The planning of wages is thus naturally reduced to squeezing as much unpaid labour as possible from the worker, and the planners see to it that they are not robbed of their part” (Page 21.)
There are numerous quotations from Capital, as well as from other writings of Marx and Engels to illustrate how different their conception was from that which the Bolsheviks have tried to foist upon them, and how truly the progress of Russian industrialisation has followed the path which Marx had forecast as necessary in order to establish capitalism there.
Marx pointed out that “The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process.” The author shows how the Russian plans accomplished just this, increasing the number of industrial workers by over 20 millions between 1928 and 1940, "without taking into account the millions of peasants who, during this period, were sent to hard labour in Siberia find Central Asiatic Russia, nor the further millions who perished during the famines of the thirties.” (Page 32.)
A letter from Engels to Vera Zasulich April 23rd, 1885, is quoted in which Engels gave an astonishing forecast of events in Russia. After saying that a revolution in Russia was imminent, he goes on:—
“This is one of the exceptional cases where it is possible for a handful of men to make a revolution . . . Well, if ever Blanquism—the phantasy of turning a whole society topsy-turvy by the activity of a small conspiracy—had a certain justification for its existence, it is certainly in Petersburg.
“Once the fire is set to the powder, once the forces released and the national energy transformed from potential into kinetic energy . . . the men who have set the mine ablaze will be blown away by the explosion, which will be a thousand times stronger than they and which will seek its issue as it can, as the economic forces and resistances determine.
"Supposing these men think they can seize power, what does it matter ? Provided they make the hole which will burst the dam, the torrent itself will soon rob them of their illusions. But if it so happens that these illusions had the effect of giving them a superior force of will, why complain of that? People who boasted that they had made a revolution have always seen, next day, that they had no idea what they were doing; that the revolution made bore no resemblance whatsoever to that they wanted to make." (Page 45.)
We have now given sufficient to enable the reader to judge the character of this booklet. We can certainly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject matter and who has hitherto been misled by the fraudulent propaganda of the Russian Communists and their supporters.
What the author’s own outlook is, apart from the subject with which be is dealing, is not clear. We would be interested to know what he means, for instance, by "the alternative contained in our society: a revolutionary evolution towards a Socialism which implies freedom and democracy” (page 68). Also whether he supports Marx’s mistaken view about the value of the cooperatives “as forms of transaction from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one.” (Page 22)
This booklet puts views we have been expressing for nearly 40 years—see pamphlet “Russia Since 1917.”