(By James Connolly)
“For Reflections on Socialism [by Sam Webb, National Chair, Communist Party USA], the word ‘Stalin’ is less the name of a real historical individual than a symbol for everything reformism finds abhorrent about Soviet socialism in its heroic phase. It is not remarkable that decades of anti-Communist, anti-Soviet anda fortiori anti-Stalin ‘scholarship’ and propaganda have left most writers in English-speaking countries cowed and incapable of rational thought on this 20th century historical figure. The remarkable thing is that it comes from the pen of a Communist Party official.” – Edward A. Drummond, Reflections on Revisionism in the USA (2006)
“Hence, the aim of capitalist production is profit-making. As to consumption, capitalism needs it only in so far as it ensures the making of profit. Outside of this, consumption means nothing to capitalism. Man and his needs disappear from its field of vision. . . . The aim of socialist production is not profit, but man and his needs, that is, the satisfaction of his material and cultural requirements.” – J.V. Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R (1952)
The name of J.V. Stalin strikes terror in the hearts of the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois intellectuals. His name stokes their dread, even now, over a half-century since he died, and with good reason. It stands for their doom. That alone suffices to warrant a positive re-appraisal of Stalin’s significance for Communists.
Anti-Communist intellectuals and other commentators insist that Communists apologize for “the crimes of Stalin.” I am a Marxist-Leninist. I do not repent. I affirm as my own abiding heritage the heroic legacy of the Soviet Union and the community of socialist countries it championed—for which I will never apologize.
Unnoticed by almost all in the U.S. who call themselves “left-wing” stands the fact that Stalin sought to realize a society of equality unparalleled in history. Toward the end of his life, Stalin described the new society, and how to build this new society, in his pamphlet, Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. (1952). I recently re-read this work, Stalin’s last major writing before he died in 1953.
As his last major writing, this pamphlet allows Marxist-Leninists to comprehend Stalin’s thought at the point of its most mature development. I intend to re-read all of Stalin’s major writings before re-reading the other Marxist classics from V.I. Lenin back to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Indeed, as I will try to show in future posts, I do not think it is possible to grasp, use, and develop Marxism in any effective way without both understanding and intelligently applying the insights of Stalin.
The Soviet Union became the first socialist country in history under Stalin’s leadership. Stalin led an international communist movement whose national parties established people’s democracies in Asia and Europe. The creation of a united and powerful camp of socialist countries following the U.S.S.R.’s victory over fascism in World War II testifies to Stalin’s singular achievement. Cuba in 1959, to cite but one example, could only take the road of independent development free from U.S. imperialism because of the material solidarity of the very socialist camp created in Stalin’s time.
Stalin’s writings provide, even almost sixty years after his death, the clearest, most unambiguous introduction to the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin available. He remains the best guide to Marxism-Leninism: The student of the other classics will find their analyses more insightfully explained by Stalin than any other interpreter. In fact, Stalin’s theoretical work enriched and creatively developed Marxism in several areas, ranging from the dictatorship of the proletariat to Marxism in linguistics, and including the topic of how to build the new society here under review.
For all the aforementioned reasons, I believe that the international communist movement should once again evaluate Stalin’s writings as classics of Marxism on the same higher plane with Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Marxism-Leninism, with Stalin’s original, outstanding contribution as a necessary development, is the real science of society this and future generations of revolutionaries ought to study, apply, and master.
I read Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R.as a tutorial, derived from Soviet experience but applicable elsewhere, on how to build a socialist society, step-by-step, and effect the transition from socialism to communism. I offer my own commentary on the text. I also interpret a number of ways to apply a Marxist-Leninist line in the current conjuncture, in an analysis of history, and in the new society of the future Stalin illuminates.
Progress Publishers in Moscow, U.S.S.R., which printed the books I own by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, never published English translations of Stalin’s works when I began studying Marxism in the Seventies and Eighties. I therefore cite the English-language edition published by decision of the Central Committee of the Party of Labor of Albania (PLA) on the centenary of Stalin’s birth: Stalin, J.V., Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. (Tirana: “8 Nentori” Publishing House, 1979). The PLA mistakenly adhered to the capitalist restoration thesis on the Soviet Union and followed the Communist Party of China (CPC) into breaking the unity of the socialist camp headed by the Soviet Union. Maoism broke the unity of the socialist camp—its greatest crime, in which Enver Hoxha and the PLA were complicit. Notwithstanding this betrayal of proletarian internationalism, the PLA promoted the international distribution of Stalin’s writings, an indispensable practical resource for Marxism-Leninism—a mitigating circumstance.
I use Stalin’s own words and concepts to re-construct his guide to building the new society from a careful reading of the text. I organize my presentation into three parts: I. Preliminary Remarks on Proletarian Revolution & Proletarian Internationalism, II. Socialist Construction, and III. Transition to Communism. I derive the focus of this contribution from the continuing significance of Stalin’s pamphlet for instructing Communists on what is to be done from the moment state power is assumed. I begin with the assumption of state power since without state power and, specifically, without a dictatorship of the proletariat, no socialism will ever be victorious:
I. Preliminary Remarks on Proletarian Revolution & Proletarian Internationalism
- State Power:
“Favorable conditions for the assumption of power should not be missed—the proletariat should assume power without waiting until capitalism succeeds in ruining the millions of small and medium individual producers.” Page 22, summarizing Lenin, The Tax in Kind (April 1921) and On-Cooperation (January 1923). Lenin, V.I., Selected Works, Vol. 3 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977). The Mensheviks insisted that workers should only take power in major industrial capitalist countries, i.e., not take power in their own country, Russia.Lenin and Stalin, however, knew that in the period of monopoly capitalism the law of uneven development creates opportunities—which must be seized—for proletarian revolution to mature in weaker, less developed countries like Russia. Lenin and Stalin also understood the reality that President Salvador Allende of Chile would later learn about the hard way: Power cannot reallybe assumed without effective control of an army, a militia, and police and other security organs, including a domestic secret police and a foreign intelligence service. History shows that revolutionary forces need to develop their own military and security apparatuses. Communists must do this to supplant the already existing structures, as these tend to remain loyal to the class enemy regardless of whether or not a “Marxist” heads the government or any cabinet ministry.
Not only Marxist-Leninists, but the broader popular and democratic forces as well must keep in mind this important fact.Governments in the oppressed countries, seeking to develop their economies independently of imperialism, or in alliance with people’s democracies, slam into prison walls blocking their freedom to conduct policy when their “own” armies pledge allegiance to the Pentagon. Martyred Honduras in our time serves as yet another instructive reminder of the need for armed forces accountable to the anti-imperialist project, as if one should even be required given the abundant history in this regard.Communists must never forget this very basic lesson, and should ceaselessly critique the Social-Democrats and revisionists who infect the working class with naïveté on this point.
- The Working Class and Strategic Allies:
Communists must forge alliances between the working class and other forces (e.g., the peasantry, as in Russia) so as to overcome the resistance of the exploiters and “smash the old forces of society.” Page 15. The peasantry (now, as in Stalin’s time) remains a strategic ally of the proletariat in the oppressed countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In the imperialist countries of North America and Western Europe, other strategic alliances must be developed besides an alliance of workers and farmers. Strategic allies in the imperialist countries include racially and nationally oppressed communities, such as peoples of African descent and immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Arab and Islamic countries. Other potential allies may be located anywhere within the overwhelming majority of society, depending on the conjuncture of circumstances. Because proletarian revolution entails the abolition “of all exploitation,” “the class interests of the proletariat merge with the interests of the overwhelming majority of society.” Page 65. The point is to forge alliances to overcome and indeed smash the enemy, with whatever forces are available.
- Proletarian Internationalism:
International solidarity equals national security for socialist countries, and all the more so for socialism in one country. Immediately after assuming power, Communists must develop diplomatic, trading, and military and security connections between the new society and 1) other socialist countries (e.g., Cuba), 2) people’s democracies or socialist-oriented countries (e.g., Venezuela), and 3) capitalist countries on a path of development independent from imperialism (e.g.,Iran). Inter-imperialist rivalries should also be used to the advantage of the new society.
The new society’s external relations should range all the way from comrades and friends to tactical allies of the international proletariat to mere business counterparties: From Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Vietnam, China, and Russia to, perhaps,Germany, France, and even Britain. To secure the new society’s independence defines the aim of its foreign policy. The means to achieve the aim include the exploitation of any contradictions between U.S. imperialism, the main enemy of humanity, and other countries. The most brilliant such exploitation of contradictions between imperialist powers occurred in August 1939, with the signing of the non-aggression treaty betweenGermany and the U.S.S.R. This masterstroke alone made Stalin the best student of Machiavelli to ever appear in history.
To secure its long-term independence, the new society must work to create and strengthen “a united and powerful socialist camp confronting the camp of capitalism.” Page 42.Form defense and other security alliances to protect the right of the new society to build socialism. Link the new society to a “parallel world market,” “the new world market” of a socialist camp “joined together” in “economic cooperation and mutual assistance.” Pages 42-43. Economic cooperation defines the aim of socialist countries and people’s democracies that work together in this way. Page 43. So does mutual assistance. Page 43. In our time, nine Latin American and Caribbean countries united in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) mark the dawn, after a long night of imperialist-sponsored “intellectual property rights,” liberalization, de-regulation, and privatization, of what may in the future become the socialist camp reborn.
Three key consequences for imperialism follow from the growth of a united and powerful socialist camp. First, a contraction of “the sphere of exploitation of the world’s resources” occurs. Pages 43-44. Second, a deterioration of “opportunities for sale in the world market” by the imperialist countries takes place. Page 44. What follows as swiftly as night does day is imperialism’s attempt to kill any new society whose leaders as much as dream of limiting imperialism’s control of its markets and raw material resources. Third, the “growing economic might” of the socialist camp, including the increasing quest of socialist countries for export markets, also leads directly to industries in the imperialist countries “operating more and more below capacity.” Pages 43-44. This impacts the more privileged and less advanced sections of the working class in the imperialist countries on the ideological plane.
Imperialist decline resulting from the rise of socialism helps consolidate the material basis for a counter-revolutionary foreign policy in the North American, West European, Japanese, and Australian labor movements: At least some members of the working class in the imperialist countries believe their self-interest lies in the destruction of the new societies. A material basis exists for support for U.S. foreign policy by relatively privileged and protected sections of the U.S. working class (i.e., the labor aristocracy), whose support is facilitated within the labor movement by the labor lieutenants of capital at the AFL-CIO and Change to Win. Racism cements this identification with imperialism when the targets are African, Asian, or Latin American countries seeking to develop independently of the U.S.
The “growing economic might” of a socialist camp works “at the bottom” of “a general, i.e., all-round crisis of the world capitalist system, embracing both the economic and political spheres.” Page 74. The growing economic might of a socialist camp “disintegrates” the single world market and “deepens” the crisis of the world capitalist system. Pages 42-44.To accelerate this general crisis of the world capitalist system constitutes a duty of Communists in all countries. It must be fulfilled, among other ways, through solidarity with the socialist countries and people’s democracies.
- Marxist-Leninist Ideological Leadership and the Struggle Against Revisionism:
Socialist countries should develop their ideological leadership of an international movement that includes the revolutionary working class in the imperialist countries as well as the national liberation movements in the oppressed countries. A governing Communist party’s international responsibility includes educating Communists and “sympathetic” people abroad, especially the “revolutionary youth” and “young Communists of all countries,” on how to build socialism. Pages 56, 59-61. In Stalin’s words, “they want to . . . learn from us and to utilize our experience in their own countries.” Page 60.Internationalist responsibility also includes educating comrades abroad in the basics of Marxism-Leninism and elevating their level of understanding: Stalin remarks on “the inadequate level of Marxist development of the majority of the Communist parties abroad.” Page 61. Compared with the “inadequate” level of Marxist development during Stalin’s time, the level of development at the present time, when revisionism predominates in many Communist parties, appears positively abysmal.
In Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R., Stalin suggests, with specific reference to his contemporary Yaroshenko, that this particular revisionist’s theoretical work manifests “something like the ‘primacy’ of bourgeois ideology over Marxist ideology.” Pages 99-100. In Reflections on Revisionism in the USA, Edward A. Drummond offers the following useful definition of revisionism that applies to the trend in the U.S. and elsewhere: “In precise Communist usage, revisionism is a political and ideological trend in the working class movement whose supporters, claiming to ‘renew,’ ‘reconsider,’ and ‘revise’ Marxist-Leninist theory, distort it, and objectively take away its class-struggle and revolutionary essence. It is easier to define revisionism than to uncover it, for its practitioners employ verbal sleight of hand and willful ambiguity.” (Drummond, Edward A., Reflections on Revisionism in the USA (2006), at Marxism-Leninism Today: The Electronic Journal of Marxist-Leninist Thought, Subject Area: “Opportunism, Reformism, Revisionism,” mltoday.com.)Revisionism, in sum, reflects the reproduction of bourgeois ideology, disguised as Marxism, within the communist movement.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), a leading anti-revisionist center, saw the matter as follows in 2005: “The International Communist Movement remains organizationally and ideologically fragmented; it is experiencing a crisis. The struggle between revolutionary communist viewpoints and reformist, opportunist viewpoints continues within its ranks. The conflict between the line of ‘resistance-rupture’ and the line of ‘adaptation-assimilation’ into the imperialist system continues.”Theses of the Central Committee of the Communist Party ofGreece, Documents from the 17th Congress, “The Situation in the International Communist Movement,” February 9-12, 2005.
The forging of a socialist society anywhere on earth “ruptures” the chains of imperialist domination. It marks the profoundest possible “resistance” to imperialism. A common commitment to this resistance and rupture unites the existing socialist countries and Communists everywhere who oppose revisionist adaptation and assimilation. Here may be found the firmest allies of the socialist countries: The anti-revisionists of non-socialist countries, who wish to learn from socialist societies in order to lead their own countries to such “ruptures” with imperialism.
- The Peace Movement:
Socialist countries should develop connections with the peace movement and with democratic, anti-war, and anti-militarist sectors of society in the imperialist countries.Communists in the imperialist countries must develop solidarity with the socialist countries through their work in the peace movement, and through work in the labor movement and among democratic forces in general. Peace and non-aggression towards capitalist countries characterize the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, according to Stalin. Page 47. A socialist economy needs peace to develop as freely as possible: Imagine the level of development the Soviet Union would have achieved in the Forties without the devastation wrought by German imperialism during World War II!
Capitalist countries, however, tend as a matter of course to be hostile to socialism. The “basic economic law of modern capitalism” is “the securing of the maximum capitalist profit.”Page 52. On an international level, this occurs through “the enslavement and systematic robbery of the peoples of other countries, especially backward countries.” Page 52. It also takes place through “wars and militarization of the national economy, which are utilized for the obtaining of the highest profits.” Page 52. The maximum capitalist profit “is the motor of monopoly capitalism.” Page 53. What “‘business’” best facilitates “the extraction of the maximum profit”? The “organization of new wars.” Page 53. The natural tendency of major capitalist countries, the U.S., Britain, and France, therefore, leads to militarism, new wars, and the enslavement and systematic robbery of other countries. Ultimately, only the abolition of imperialism in the U.S., Britain, and France—the overthrow of capitalism in these countries—will end their tendencies to aggression. Page 50.
Important work remains to be done, however, even though favorable conditions for the assumption of power in any imperialist country may not yet exist: Communists should focus on encouraging and leading the peace movement and other democratic forces. The peace movement, Stalin writes, can play a very positive role in “preventing” or “temporarily postponing” a particular war, or in temporarily preserving a particular peace.Page 49. The peace movement can force “the resignation of a bellicose government.” Page 49. The peace movement can install a bourgeois government “prepared temporarily to keep the peace.” Page 49. “That, of course, will be good. Even very good,” Stalin writes. Page 49. The duty of Communists in theU.S., for example, entails advocacy of the right of nations to independent development free from U.S. imperialism, to include the explicit right of Cuba and other countries to become and remain socialist, free from any U.S. invasion, blockade, or other interference.
Stalin, interestingly, believes that “it is possible that in a definite conjuncture of circumstances,” the fight for peace “will develop here or there” into a fight for socialism. Page 49.Communists should thus never lose sight of the potential of the peace movement to be transformed into something qualitatively different, i.e., into “a movement for the overthrow of capitalism.”Page 49. In any case, the peace movement’s anti-militarism opposes the war industry, “the ‘business’ best adapted to the extraction of the maximum profit.” Page 53. The peace movement therefore, even without Marxist-Leninist leadership, objectively tends to undermine modern monopoly capitalism—as long as the peace movement (whether out of religious, pacifist, or other motives) consistently and vigorously objects to imperialist aggression. Stalin’s dialectical appreciation of the peace movement contrasts with the pseudo-revolutionary and ultra-left adventurist posturing of Trotskyites and others blind to the interconnection between and interdependence of the causes of peace and socialism.
II. Socialist Construction
- Expropriate the Bourgeoisie:
Communists in state power must direct the state to expropriate the bourgeoisie, or socialism will remain a mere dream. Make the means of production in industry “the property of the whole people.” Page 14. Make them “public property.”Pages 19, 22, summarizing Lenin, The Tax in Kind and On-Cooperation. Expropriate them. Page 22, summarizing Lenin,The Tax in Kind and On-Cooperation. That alone abolishes exploitation and creates “socialist forms of economy.” Page 14.Stalin, citing Engels in Anti-Duhring, describes “conversion into state property” as “the initial form of nationalization.” Page 110.“Conversion into state property” is one form of nationalization, indeed, “the most natural initial form of nationalization” “so long as the state exists.” Page 110.
- Socialist Production:
State or public ownership of the means of production and the product of production constitutes one of “two basic forms of socialist production” that exist in the Soviet Union, according to Stalin. Pages 24-25. The terms “implements of production” and “‘instruments of labor’” (Marx) (“those of a mechanical nature”) also describe the means of production. Page 70. Both the means of production and the product of production become “national property” in the state- or publicly-owned enterprises. Pages 24-25. Collective-farm production is the other basic form of socialist production Stalin analyzes in Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. Page 25.
- Collective-Farm Production:
The new society must support a “mass collective-farm movement.” Page 112. Collectivization of agriculture liberates the peasantry from “the payment of rent” and all “expenditure for the purchase of land” (Page 57), to include mortgage and other debt obligations. It expropriates the landlords and kulaks (rich peasants). Page 36.
Collectivization equals socialism—but not yet communism. The term “cooperative enterprise” describes the kind of venture in agriculture that is a collective farm. Page 117.
In a country with “numerous” “small and medium rural owner-producers” (Page 20), “gradually unite” “the small and medium individual producers” into “producers’ cooperatives, i.e., in large agricultural enterprises, collective farms.” Page 22, summarizing Lenin, The Tax in Kind and On-Cooperation. Land and machines (the means of production or “basic implements of production”) belong to the state. Pages 25, 116-17. The national economic plan sets prices and quantities of agricultural raw materials. Page 71. Each different collective farm holds the state-owned land “in perpetual tenure” (meaning the collective farm “cannot sell, buy, lease, or mortgage” the land). Page 25.
Group ownership, i.e., by each collective farm, prevails over “the product of production” (e.g., “grain, meat, butter, vegetables, cotton, sugar beet, flax, etc.” (Page 117)), and the seed, as well as “minor implements” (“scythes and sickles, small power engines, etc.”). Pages 25, 111. Each collective farm “distributes its income among its members on the basis of workday units.” Page 117. Collective farms part with their products “in the form of commodities, in exchange for which they desire to receive the commodities they need.” Page 25.Personal property continues to exist in each collective-farm household over “subsidiary husbandry on the plot, a dwelling house, livestock, poultry, and minor agricultural implements.”Page 56.
Collective farms should become “large-scale production” operations, supplied with “first-class tractors and other machines” by the state. Page 22, summarizing Lenin, The Tax in Kind and On-Cooperation. The state allocates means of production such as tractors to collective-farm enterprises—it does not sell means of production to collective farms (or to any other enterprises). Page 67. The state actually supplies “first-class tractors and other machines” to the collective farms for free, thereby “converting the alliance between the working class and the peasantry into friendship between them.” Page 37. State ownership of “the basic implements of production concentrated in the Machine and Tractor Stations” (Page 110) makes the state able to supply the collective farms with new and “newer still,” ever “perfected,” “up-to-date” technical equipment and machines. Page 113. The state possesses the ability “to undertake the expenditure of billions of rubles,” investing in “replacing” “old machines,” “because it, and it alone,” unlike the collective farms, “is in a position to bear such losses for six or eight years and only then recover the outlays.” Page 114.
- Abolish Unemployment:
Socialism eliminates the scourge of unemployment. Page 58. Each person able to work will do so, for example, in a state enterprise or on a collective farm. The abolition of unemployment means the abolition of the material basis for the hostility of workers to labor-saving machines. Machines “economize labor” and moreover “lighten the labor of the worker.” Page 58. Under capitalism, labor-saving machines result in unemployment. In socialism, they create free time but no unemployment. No “reserve army of unemployed” exists to depress the living standards of the other “part of the working class” “engaged in production.” Pages 58-59. The state guarantees employment to each person no matter how successfully machines reduce the need for his or her labor. Full employment therefore motivates workers to use labor-saving machines, in contrast to the situation under capitalism.
Note also that unlike narrow trade unionists, for whom only the presently employed workers are part of the working class, for Stalin the working class includes the unemployed and,a fortiori, the underemployed. “The unemployed must necessarily form part of the working class,” Stalin remarks. Page 58. The least privileged, least protected strata of the working class, disproportionately of racially and nationally oppressed peoples in the imperialist as well as oppressed countries, form the most exploited sector of the class. In the Marxist-Leninist concept, a Communist party must seek to agitate, propagandize, and organize advanced workers within the most exploited and oppressed strata of the working class. A Communist party’s strategy for socialist construction likewise must include the full employment of all members of the working class.
- Satisfy Constantly Rising Material and Cultural Requirements:
Stalin concluded his analysis of the basic economic laws of modern capitalism and of socialism by formulating “the essential features and requirements” of “the basic economic law of socialism” as follows: The “securing of the maximum satisfaction of the constantly rising material and cultural requirements of the whole of society through the continuous expansion and perfection of socialist production on the basis of higher techniques.” Page 54. The basic economic law of socialism defines both “the aim of socialist production” and “themeans for the achievement of the aim.” Page 99. Socialism’s basic economic law requires “unbroken expansion of production” and “an unbroken process of perfecting production on the basis of higher techniques.” Page 54.
- Economic Planning:
Economic planning, Stalin additionally concluded, “can achieve positive results only if” it “conforms in every way” to “the requirements of the basic economic law of socialism” (Page 55): The “securing of the maximum satisfaction of the constantly rising material and cultural requirements of the whole of society through the continuous expansion and perfection of socialist production on the basis of higher techniques.” Page 54. The new society must create and support planning bodies that plan social production correctly, i.e., so as to reflect the requirements of both the basic economic law of socialism and “the economic law of balanced development of the national economy.” Pages 16, 55.“Balanced development,” according to Stalin, means “proportionate development.” Pages 31-32. Annual and five-year plans should “fully” reflect the requirements of the law of balanced development. Pages 16, 34-35. Economic planning “can achieve positive results only if” it also “correctly reflects” the requirements of “the law of balanced development of the national economy.” Page 55.
Quoting Engels in Anti-Duhring, Stalin describes real freedom as “‘appreciation of necessity.’” Pages 12-13. “Having come to know objective laws (‘necessity’), man will apply them with full consciousness in the interests of society.” Page 13.
- Democratic Centralism:
Ideological progress in a socialist country occurs when hidden revisionists become open revisionists and a struggle ensues, at the end of which Marxism-Leninism prevails. A correct application of democratic centralism draws revisionists out into the open but defuses the hostile tendencies they harbor, thereby depriving foreign imperialism of potential internal allies.Stalin’s February 1952 “Remarks on Economic Questions Connected with the November 1951 Discussion,” published inEconomic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R., address participants in an economic discussion on “the draft textbook on political economy.” Page 9. Stalin’s text makes clear that a frank debate took place around that time. Some participants made public in writing their disagreements with Stalin and with the majority views he represented. Page 95. As Stalin’s replies to several letter writers, appended to his “Remarks” and published in Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R., attest, some participants expressed revisionist views and even what Stalin termed Bukharinite views. Page 92. I must add that they stated their revisionist views without any discernible fear of consequences.
Indeed, Stalin appears to suggest in concluding his “Remarks” that Marxist-Leninists and at least some of the revisionists should work together to complete the draft textbook.“Supporters” as well as “opponents of the majority of the participants in the discussion, out-and-out critics of the draft textbook,” should be appointed to “a small committee” “to improve the draft textbook,” he writes. Page 62. Stalin stressed the importance of the textbook on political economy for educating revolutionaries abroad on how to build socialism.Pages 56, 59-61. Yet it appears that Stalin sought to incorporate other people as well as firm Marxist-Leninists into this important work. If so, this uproots the conventional wisdom, gullibly imbibed even by many Communists today, that says that Stalin never tolerated any criticism. To be sure, Stalin suggests appointing “an editorial committee, of three persons, say, to take care of the final editing of the textbook.” Page 62. The editorial committee would ensure the Marxist-Leninist soundness of the final work product. However, it remains the case that Stalin on this occasion appeared to encourage Marxist-Leninists in a socialist society to work with at least some revisionists at the same time they struggled against their revisionism.
The correlation of forces on a world scale makes the best lens through which to view this instance of a creative application of democratic centralism. The Soviet Union in 1952 probably felt more secure than ever, with its nuclear weapons (“First Lightning” test-exploded in August 1949) and neighboring people’s democracies in Asia and Europe. This frank, public discussion likely would not have been reasonably possible under such conditions of encirclement as existed in the Thirties—when a bloc of rightist and Trotskyite spies, saboteurs, and assassins waged war against the U.S.S.R. on behalf of the Gestapo and other imperialist puppet-masters.
Stalin’s way of managing revisionist critics in 1952 also models comradely behavior that contrasts favorably with the conduct of Mao Zedong’s supporters during the so-called “Cultural Revolution.” Maoist “Red Guards” turned a healthy mistrust of intellectualism into an undialectical approach to criticism/self-criticism.
- Marxist Education:
A governing Communist party must ensure that “new and young forces” joining “the leading core” of the socialist society receive “an adequate Marxist education.” Pages 17-18.Do this by using “the best methods” of Marxist-Leninist education: “systematic reiteration and patient explanation of so-called ‘generally-known’ truths.” Page 18. The writings of the classics, Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, contain the “‘generally-known’ truths” without which an adequate Marxist education is impossible.
The very survival of socialism depends on the Marxist education of the new society’s leaders. This is especially true so long as imperialism exists. Lacking a solid foundation in Marxism-Leninism, the leaders of a socialist country would necessarily “grope in the darkness.” Page 18. They would also fall prey to ideological deceivers singing either fascist or liberal siren songs—or both. This in fact occurred in the late Eighties to many Communists in the Soviet Union and socialist Europe, as a result of which they found their nations’ peoples tricked into enslavement to imperialism.
- Struggle Against Economic Ignorance and Incompetence:
Expose and criticize the ignorance and incompetence of “our [Soviet] business executives and planners.” Page 30. Until commodity production disappears, “such things as cost accounting and profitableness, production costs, prices, etc., are of actual importance in our enterprises.” Pages 29, 32-33. So long as socialism, the first phase, exists, and communism, the second phase, remains in the future, “the amount of labor expended on the production of goods” will not yet be measured “by the amount of time, the number of hours, expended on the production of goods.” Page 33.
In socialism, the “checking and controlling” of the enterprises require an understanding of “the value of means of production, their cost of production, their price, etc.,” “for purposes of calculation and settlement, for determining whether enterprises are paying or running at a loss.” Page 68. “The interests of our foreign trade” also require an understanding of value, cost, and price, since sales to other countries transform means of production and other goods created in socialist conditions into alienable commodities whose value must be calculated. Pages 68-69.
In a socialist society, Stalin writes, the old forms of commodities, money, and banks continue to exist but under qualitatively different conditions: “The old not simply being abolished out of hand, but changing its nature in adaptation to the new, and retaining only its form; while the new does not simply destroy the old, but infiltrates into it, changes its nature and its functions, without smashing its form, but utilizing it for the development of the new.” Page 69. A more dialectical appreciation of economic development in socialist conditions scarcely exists.
- Give Primacy to the Production of Means of Production:
According to Stalin, Communists in state power must not use profitableness to determine whether to prefer heavy industry over light industry. The “profitableness of individual plants and industries” “must be taken into account both when planning construction and when planning production” in socialist society.Page 72. Taking profitableness “into account,” however, should not be confused with using profitableness as the determining factor.
In Stalin’s view, socialist countries ought to use the basic economic law of socialism and the law of balanced development of the national economy as the determining factors in whether to prefer heavy industry over light industry. Profitableness gauges whether the labor of the workers yields “‘big returns.’” Pages 33-34. Light industries geared to consumption will likely be preferred if profitableness is the criterion. Pages 33-34. Instead, “ensure a continuous and high rate of expansion of [the] national economy” by giving “primacy to the production of means of production.” Pages 34-35.
Stalin urges socialist countries to use economic planning to develop the national economy in a way that deepens socialism. Pages 34-35. China’s revisionist model of an export-dependent economy, by contrast, develops the national economy without Stalin’s focus on moving socialism forward to communism. China invested heavily in light industrial production for U.S. consumption. When the ability of consumers in the imperialist countries to buy light-industrial goods made inChina severely declined in the current world economic crisis,China learned once again what it means to be vulnerable to the “disruptive” “periodical economic crises” of the capitalist world.Page 35.
- Organize a Socialist Emulation Movement: a Mass Movement of Workers to Take Industrial Production to New Heights:
Socialist countries must support “mass movements” of workers to acquire the “cultural and technical” knowledge of the engineering and technical personnel and use that knowledge to take industrial production to new heights for the benefit of the whole people. Pages 39-40. The “abolition of capitalism” means the disappearance of “the antagonism of interests between physical and mental labor.” Page 38. “Distinctions” remain between “physical workers” and “managerial personnel,” but not antagonistic interests. Page 38. Stalin makes it very clear that “the disappearance” of these remaining distinctions is “a problem of the greatest seriousness,” “a problem of paramount importance for us.” Pages 38-39. Stalin also acknowledges that “this problem was not discussed by the Marxist classics. It is a new problem, one that has been raised practically by our socialist construction.” Page 38.
A socialist emulation movement would solve the new problem in the following way: Workers 1) master “the minimum requirements of technical knowledge” and 2) rise “to the level of the technical personnel” by actually correcting technicians and engineers, 3) in order “to break down the existing norms, as antiquated, to introduce new and more up-to-date norms, and so on,” and 4) do this as a “mass movement” of workers encompassing “the majority of the workers,” and “not only isolated groups.” Page 40. Stalin acknowledges that too few Soviet workers actually joined the socialist emulation movement, indicating that its real potential, yet to be shown, will only be revealed when “the majority of the workers” join such a movement. Page 40.
A new society where socialist emulation fully realizes its potential will help conform the relations of production to the character of the productive forces, and thereby move the socio-economic system forward to communism. See page 67.Resistance to the socialist emulation movement will likely arise from “backward, inert forces that do not realize the necessity for changing the relations of production.” Page 67. Ideological support for this resistance by “backward, inert forces,” I suspect, will inevitably cluster around some kind of revisionist argument that the acquisition of cultural and technical knowledge by masses of workers serves as a brake on the productive forces and therefore harms socialism.
As a result of socialist emulation, essential distinctions between “the managerial staffs” and the physical workers will be abolished. Page 41. “Inessential” distinctions will continue to exist, ultimately grounded in the different “conditions of labor” for managerial personnel and workers. Page 41. Stalin engages in self-criticism by noting that his previous formulation, misinterpreted by comrades to imply the abolition of “alldistinction” between physical and mental labor, was for that reason “imprecise, unsatisfactory,” and “must be discarded.”Page 41. Stalin’s candor in abandoning his previous formulation as imprecise and unsatisfactory shows the falsity of Social-Democratic, Trotskyite, and other claims that Stalin held himself out to be infallible.
Marxist-Leninists must not mistake a socialist emulation movement for any kind of “independent trade union.” Trade unions in a socialist country that equip workers to create labor-saving machines serve the cause of socialism and communism.So do trade unions that otherwise facilitate the cultural and technical advancement of workers. Trade unions in a socialist country that put forward wage demands without much regard for the central government’s economic plan, however, do not.Likewise, trade unions that look to the AFL-CIO’s “SolidarityCenter” or other imperialist labor centers for advice in effect try to mislead the working class. Poland’s Solidarnosc showed what happens when U.S. puppets take over a socialist country’s labor movement and succeed in bringing the working class under the hegemony of its own arch-enemies. A governing Communist party must combat any tendency towards so-called independent trade unions, i.e., trade unions independent from the dictatorship of the proletariat.
III. Transition to Communism
- Preliminary Conditions for Transition to Communism:
Stalin outlines “three main preliminary” or “basic conditions required to pave the way for the transition to communism.” Pages 85, 88:
- Continuous Expansion of All Social Production:
First, the conditions include “a continuous expansion of all social production, with a relatively higher rate of expansion of the production of means of production.” Page 85. “Reproduction on an extended scale becomes altogether impossible without it.”Page 85.
- Make Collective-Farm Property Into Public Property & Abolish Money:
Second, “by means of gradual transitions carried out to the advantage of the collective farms,” “raise collective-farm property to the level of public property.” Page 86. Also, “by means of gradual transitions . . . replace commodity circulation by a system of products-exchange” under the “central government, or some other [controlling] socio-economic center.”Page 86. Through products-exchange, collective farms will “receive for their products” “chiefly the manufactures they need” instead of money. Page 118. The “interests of society” will govern “the whole product of social production.” Page 86.“Commodity production (exchange through purchase and sale)” will cease. Page 22. In its stead will be “only one all-embracing production sector, with the right to dispose of all the consumer goods produced in the country. . . .” Page 25.
Money, being “unnecessary” (Pages 25-26), will die with the end of commodity circulation (“the exchange of commodities through purchase and sale, the exchange, chiefly, of articles of personal consumption” (Page 29)). After all countries become socialist, when trade throughout the world becomes a system of products-exchange under a controlling, international socio-economic center, money will disappear for good. Foreign trade will cease because countries as separate and distinct socio-economic units will no longer exist.
- All-Round Development of People’s Physical and Mental Abilities:
Third, “ensure such a cultural advancement of society as will secure for all members of society the all-round development of their physical and mental abilities.” Page 87. Stalin envisions this cultural advancement as profoundly affecting both education and work. Education will “enable [members of society] to be active agents of social development.” Page 88. Members of society will be able “freely to choose their occupations and not be tied all their lives, owing to the existing division of labor, to some one occupation.” Page 88. Stalin envisions this veritable cultural revolution as requiring “substantial changes in the present status of labor.” Page 88. He states that the following four specific changes are “necessary” (Page 88):
- Shorter Working Day:
Stalin affirms the necessity of shortening the working day “at least to six, and subsequently to five hours.” Page 88. “This is needed in order that the members of society might have the necessary free time to receive an all-round education.” Page 88.
- Universal Compulsory Polytechnical Education:
This must be introduced. It is “required,” as also noted above, so “the members of society might be able freely to choose their occupations, and not be tied to some one occupation all their lives.” Page 88.
- Radical Improvement of Housing Conditions:
Stalin describes this as “likewise necessary.” Page 88.
- At Least Double Real Wages of Workers and Employees:
Likewise necessary, real wages “should be at least doubled, if not more, both by means of direct increases of wages and salaries, and, more especially, by further systematic reductions of prices for consumer goods.” Page 88.
“Only after all these preliminary conditions have been satisfied in their entirety,” according to Stalin, is it “possible” to transition to communism. Page 89. The “radical transition” to the “higher form of economy” that is communism necessitates “a number of stages of economic and cultural re-education of society.” Pages 85, 89. Material preconditions include “an abundance of products, capable of covering all the requirements of society.” Page 85.
The group property system of collective agriculture, and the commodity circulation that system entails, will have been “gradually” replaced by public property and products-exchange.Pages 85, 87. Ultimately, work itself must be “transformed in the eyes of society” from “a nuisance” into “‘life’s prime want’” (Marx). Pages 85, 88-89. Ultimately, also, “social property” must be “transformed in the eyes of society” into “the sacred and inviolable basis of the existence of society.” Page 85.
In communism, in other words, people will desire to work not because they must labor to earn income to survive but because work itself satisfies intrinsic needs. Stalin quotes Engels to the effect that “‘labor will become a pleasure instead of a burden.’” Page 89. In communism, the idea that a single human being would own means of production will be, for practical purposes, unthinkable.
Need shall define compensation. Page 89. The “communist principle of distribution of products according to needs” will prevail. Page 116. Needs themselves, i.e., people’s “material and cultural requirements” (Page 98), I think, would be so qualitatively transformed by the norms of socialism and communism as to be unrecognizable to a contemporary U.S. bourgeois or petty-bourgeois consumerist.
- Withering Away of the State:
“With the extension of the sphere of operation of socialism in the majority of the countries of the world the state will die away.” Page 110. “Society will remain. Hence, the heir of the public property will then be not the state, which will have died away, but society itself, in the shape of a central, directing economic body.” Page 110.
A country that moves forward in the direction charted above shall at least have a fighting chance to build a new society, free from capitalism. This path, I contend, defines the Marxist-Leninist line on socialist construction and transition to communism. Necessity will at times dictate a strategic retreat, for example, the New Economic Policy (NEP) decided upon at the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in March 1921. Nor should any reasonable person be surprised if imperialist blockade, such as attacks heroic Cuba, results in major, protracted detours from the road to communism.
Bukharin, however, fabricated a virtue out of necessity, claiming that NEP showed the way to socialism. Today’s advocates of the “socialist market economy” appear to see no possibility to escape the moribund system of capitalism—and are not actively looking for one, either. In practice, they envision an endless future of privatization, with no realistic prospects to develop the socialist society Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin anticipated.
Revisionists tend to dismiss all talk of transition to communism as at best premature and, at worst, ultra-left. And yet Stalin placed questions central to this transition (“the problem of the disappearance of distinctions between town (industry) and country (agriculture), and between physical and mental labor”) in front of Soviet economists in 1952. Page 38. All the more so do the productive forces in 2009 now make socialism achievable in all countries, even the least developed industrially. Stalin publicly addressed questions of transition to communism, however, because he saw Soviet socialism beginning to encounter the problem of the disappearance of distinctions in a “practical,” not “imaginary,” way. Page 38.
Stalin’s concepts of socialist emulation, public ownership of farm property, and products-exchange reflect Marxist solutions to actual problems of socialist construction and transition to communism that never confronted Lenin.Additionally, they reflect solutions fully consistent with Lenin’s theory and practice. By contrast, Bukharinism leads to a new society’s subordinate reintegration into the world capitalist system and, ultimately, to the disintegration of any socialism that exists.
Stalin’s analysis remains immensely useful because it shows Communists tools to clear a way out of the tangled swamp of the “socialist market economy.” State ownership of the means of production in industry and economic planning serve a larger historical moment besides an interlude of public investment preceding inevitable re-privatization. Stalin’s work gives Communists in all countries a conception of how to develop socialism to abolish money and overcome the existing division of labor’s essential distinctions between workers and managerial personnel, i.e., how to transition to communism.Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. serves to equip Communists with standards to measure progress toward the goal.Stalin’s work arms Communists with a weapon with which to struggle against trends (e.g., Bukharinism and its latter-day expressions) that serve to slow, halt, or reverse this progress.
Stalin, writing in 1952, looked at economic policy from the point of view of whether it “expedited the transition of [Soviet] society from socialism to communism.” Page 115. Stalin put each policy proposal to the following theoretical test: “Would it bring us any nearer to communism?” Page 115. This clear and precise question clarifies the distinction between the opposing aims of Marxism-Leninism and revisionism in solving problems of economic policy in a socialist country. Stalin led the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) in building a society vastly more fit for human habitation than the capitalism—in truth, the hell—foisted onto the Soviet people in the Nineties after the overthrow of socialism. Stalin described the new society to be created as a result of our struggle. He envisioned a future worth fighting for.