Letters to the Editors from the March 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received a letter from a reader who disagrees with our attitude towards the Communist parties. The letter is reproduced below and is followed by our reply. For convenience we have numbered the sections of his letter.
(1) I read the Socialist Standard with interest, but not always with agreement. In particular, I am not sure that you are correct in your assessments of the nature of Soviet and Chinese society. If they are "State Capitalist” and not "Socialist,” why is it that the "Private capitalist States” fear them from consideration of their social and economic nature and not merely as "imperialist rivals.”
(2) To state that a society must go through a phase of capitalist development before it can move on to Socialism is to make a dogma of Marxism and to imply that the man himself was infallible and the fount of all truth.
(3) The theory of Socialism is easy enough to understand, all that is required is some intelligence: it is not necessary that a man live in a highly industrialised capitalist society before the light of Socialism can begin to shine in his eyes. It follows therefore that a whole people, say, six hundred million Chinese, can become sufficiently enlightened to seek to establish a Socialist society even though they may not have enough industrial power to make a bloomin’ push-bike.
That is to say, political understanding may run far ahead of economic development. In that event the people take possession of their land and such industry and “means of distribution and exchange” as stand on the land, and proceed from there. That, comrade, is Socialism. They can each render service "according to his ability,” but cannot receive goods and services “according to his needs.” That, comrade, would be Communism. Why, if a Chinaman has an abdominal pain, it is unlikely if there will be a medico within a hundred miles to administer a dose of salts, but because he cannot, receive “according to his needs” it does not follow that somebody is exploiting him.
(4) It follows from this that, given this basis of society, some system of priorities must be established. They cannot all be adequately fed until they have tilled a lot of land, or adequately clothed until they have grown a lot of cotton and reared a lot of sheep.
And they cannot even make a screwdriver, let alone a motor car, until they have mined some coal and iron ore and built a blast furnace.
Meanwhile, they have to suffer great privation. That is just bad luck, but does not mean that they are being “exploited.” I have a hunch that the Chinese are doing fine. They are using every bit of machinery and tools that are at hand, and even smelt iron ore in little brick-built fireplaces.
(5) And as for the trials and “liquidations,” well, it is sheer political innocence to pretend that when the power of the workers and peasants is established that they will have no more enemies, and that the dispossessed parasites will begin to love them. It is utterly naive to imagine that capitalism can be liquidated and Socialism consolidated without a little bit of "roughness.”
Comrade, I reckon history is passing you by. Your Socialism is purist and idealistic, but bears no relationship to the stark reality of the state of the world.
E. C. Rushton.
(1) State Capitalist Russia
Our correspondent tells us that the private capitalist States fear Russia and China not merely because they are "imperialist rivals,” but from consideration of their social and economic nature. He gives no evidence for his belief and, as it happens, the man who is widely regarded as the chief exponent of opposition to Russian policy, Mr. Foster Dulles, has just told Mr. Mikoyan that the Russian system is “State capitalism.” (This is dealt with in our Editorial.)
(2) Was Marx Right?
If our correspondent wants to show that it is possible for society to advance straight into Socialism without going through the phase of capitalist development all he has to do is to show where this has happened. It is now over 40 years since the Communists came to power in Russia with the declared intention of doing this—with total lack of success.
(3) Socialism, Communism and State Capitalism
In paragraph (3) of his letter our correspondent gives a definition that will fit State capitalism, and then declares: "That, comrades, is Socialism ” He further declares that Communism is something quite different and gives it a quite different definition.
This, of course, is the piece of political trickery used by the Russian Government. It was not the view held by Marx, to whom Socialism and Communism were synonymous terms. It has never been the view of the S.P.G.B., which adhered to the Marxian view.
What is more, it was not, in the first place, the view of the Communists who gained power in Russia in 1917. When Lenin held that “State capitalism” would be a step forward for Russia he called it State capitalism. (Lenin, The Chief Tasks of Our Times.) ,
When the late Maxim Litvinoff, in 1918, told us that the Communists in Russia would “in no distant future establish a Socialist regime in Russia," he did not mean that after 40 years they would have State capitalism and would call that “ Socialism." (See The Bolshevik Revolution, 1918. Page 53.)
He was using the term as it was habitually then used by him and his fellow Communists to mean the same as the term “Communism." As late as 1923 the Communist Party of Great Britain published an English edition of "A Short Course of Economic Science," by A. Bogdanoff, and this work was declared to be the standard textbook “ in hundreds if not thousands of party schools and study circles now functioning in Soviet Russia." This work defined “the Socialist system” as “ the highest stage of society we can conceive " (p. 391).
This is quite irreconcilable with our correspondent’s version, which claims that Socialism already exists in Russia. In view of Krushchev’s recent declaration that Russia would soon abolish income tax (but not the much larger turnover tax and profits tax) it is interesting to recall that this same book said that “With the establishment of Socialism, all taxes . . . will become superfluous, because the whole of the social product, necessary as well as surplus, will be at the disposal of society, to be used for the satisfaction of its requirements" (p. 295).
When our correspondent says that he sees the light of Socialism in 600 million Chinese eyes all he means is State Capitalism, and even for that he gives not a tittle of evidence.
(4) Defence of Inequality
What our correspondent here describes as a necessary system of “priorities." because “they cannot all be adequately fed," is just a Russian and Chinese version of the defence the privileged class offers in every capitalist country for the inequality that sustains their privileged position.
Here again this modern Russian version is a glaring departure from what the Communists said in the early years. Lenin had at first laid down the principle that as an immediate step they would introduce equal wages throughout the Russian system, all officials, etc., to receive approximately the “ordinary pay of the workers." And when they gave this up Lenin said frankly that the introduction of high salaries for a minority was “not merely a halt in a certain part and to a certain degree of the offensive against Capitalism . . . but also a step backwards." (“Soviets of Work," Lenin, April, 1918).
Now the “step backwards" to inequality has become the normal principle of what our correspondent claims to be “Socialism."
Our correspondent says, “they," the masses, “have to suffer great privation’’—but not the privileged rulers and other favoured groups.
(5) Trials and Liquidations
Here our correspondent gives us a little lecture on the necessity of “roughness" towards the dispossessed parasites, and ends with the remark that history has passed us by.
To which we may retort that it is news to us that the thousands of Hungarian workers who, 2½ years ago were shot down by the Russian army, were “dispossessed parasites."
On the contrary, the new parasites are doing very well in the new State capitalist countries wrongly called Socialist.
And when our correspondent tells us of his “hunch that the Chinese are doing fine" (though he also says the masses are suffering great privation) it is he who is turning a blind eye to the fact that over 40 years of Communist rule in Russia has produced not Socialism, but State capitalism. If the Chinese workers model themselves on the experience of Russia their efforts will prove to be equally misdirected.