February 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Lenin on Cooperatives. And Other Articles on Marxism, Philosophy and Society'. By Alan Spence (New Interventions Publications, 150 pages)
This is a collection of articles published in the Trotskyoid journal New Interventions between 1991 and 2008 by a former Communist Party industrial militant who become a ‘Labour & Co-op’ reformist. The subjects range from Lenin's 1921 'New Economic Policy', through 'proletarian philosophy', the NHS, the land question in Hong Kong, to Aristotle and Ancient Athens.
As predicted by those who had understood Marx's theory of social development, once the Bolsheviks had stabilised their rule they were faced with the problem of how to feed the urban population, which, in circumstance of an isolated and economically backward Russia with an 80 percent peasant population, could only be done by allowing and encouraging capitalism to develop in the countryside. During the civil war period the Bolshevik government had simply requisitioned – taken by force – food from the peasantry. Lenin realised that this could not be a permanent policy and in 1921, with the civil war over, introduced the 'new economic policy' of encouraging peasants to move away from subsistence farming to producing a surplus for sale in the towns; at the same time the state industrial enterprises were encouraged to produce farm equipment to sell to the peasants.
Lenin openly described this policy as 'state capitalism', or the development of capitalism under the auspices of the state. It meant that the Bolshevik government was in the same position as other 'Labour' governments, except that it had come to power through a coup d'état and was determined to hold on to power come what may. Spence well describes this policy and the reasoning behind it, with which he thoroughly agrees, criticising Stalin for abandoning it in favour of forcibly expropriating the peasantry.
Spence, however, is not an uncritical admirer of Lenin. In the articles on philosophy he defends Joseph Dietzgen's view that ideas are equally a part of the real world as what is tangible, as opposed to Lenin's view that 'to say that thought is material is to make a false step, a step towards confusing materialism and idealism.' Lenin's condemnation was enough for the Communist Party to wage a campaign against Dietzgen's view as set out by Fred Casey, of the old National Council of Labour Colleges, in his book Thinking. In regretting this Spence has a point.