Dialogue with Stalin (1)
By submitting another article, a good two years after his last article, (that infamous text on linguistics which we had to deal with only incidentally, but which would be worthy of detailed treatment; nevertheless, quod differtur ) about 50 pages long , Stalin responds to topics that have been presented in the last two years not only in the series "Thread of Time", but also in the workshops on the theory and programme of Marxism conducted by our Movement, and which have been published in summarized or detailed form.
By which we do not mean that Stalin (or his secretariat, whose networks span the globe) would have looked at this material and turned to us. We must not believe that if we are real Marxists, the great historical disputes required personified protagonists presenting themselves to the astounded humanity – as if an angel on his cloud were blowing into the heavenly trumpet, and Dante's demon Barbariccia responds with a sound that comes "de profundis", that is, from the depths, in the realest, known to you, sense of the word . Or like the Christian Paladin and the Saracen Sultan, who, before they draw their sparkling sabers, introduce themselves in a loud voice, challenge each other with the list of their ancestors and victorious tournaments and swear death to each other.
That's just what was missing! On the one hand, the highest leader of the world's largest state and the "communist" world proletariat, and on the other hand, a nobody, a nothing.
In reality, the facts and material forces acting in the substructure deterministically take up the discussion among themselves; and those who then dictate the text or hack into the keys are, like those who give the lecture, mere mechanisms, loudspeakers that passively convert the waves into voices; and it is not said that a loudspeaker with a power of 2000 watts doesn't just produce the greatest nonsense.
It is therefore the same questions that emerge with regard to the importance of both social conditions in today's Russia and international relations at the economic, political and military levels; they impose themselves just as much up there as they do down here, and they can only be clarified if they are juxtaposed with the theory that grasps what has already happened and is known, and if these questions are juxtaposed with the history of this theory, which a very long time ago – which remains indelible – was a common one.
So we know very well that Stalin's answer from the upper Kremlin stories does not respond to our words and is not addressed to us. In order to continue the debate, it is not even necessary for him to know our theoretical organs . The things and forces – whether large or small, past, present or future – remain the same, despite the whims of symbolism. When the ancient philosophy wrote "sunt nomina rerum" (literally: the names belong to things), she wanted to say that things do not belong to the name. Translated into our language, this means: the thing determines the name, not the other way round. You can continue to dedicate 99% of your work to the name, portraits, epithets, lives and graves of the great men: we will continue in the shadows, knowing that soon the generation will come who will only smile at you, you famous men of the great and very small calibre.
But the things between the lines in Stalin's writing are too important for us to deny him the dialogue. For this reason, and not from a "á tout seigneur tout honneur", we answer and expect the new appeal – even if it takes another two years, because we don't have a hurry (isn't it true, ex-Marxist?).
Tomorrow and Yesterday
All of the issues dealt with by Stalin are junctions of Marxism and almost all of them are old nails, which we insistently demanded that they be struck firmly before we presume to forge the future.
Of course, the majority of the political "viewers" distributed among the various camps were not impressed by what Stalin had come back to in a suggestive way, but by what he anticipated about an uncertain future. Rushing onto it (because that's what is causing a stir) neither friend nor foe understood a single word and presented strange and exaggerated versions. The perspective – that is their obsession. If the observers are a bunch of fools, the machinist is no better off: He, who starts the machine from his high prison, the highest offices of governmental power, is currently in a position in which he is least likely to be able to see and anticipate himself. So while all of the impressive predictions cause excitement, we are concerned with what came to him as a result of his retrospect (where he is not blocked by kippers and a lot of whirlwind). In accordance with the existentialist credo, everyone obeys the utterly dumb imperative: to talk, and the political press provides entertainment just when it reveals the future and reports about prophecies that a "great name" has lowered itself down to pronounce. This time something unexpected came about: nothing of world revolution, nothing of peace anymore, but also no "holy" war between Russia and the rest of the world, but rather the inevitable war between the capitalist states, which Russia – for the time being – is not counted among. No news for Marxism, but also interesting for us who do not have a particular fondness for political cinema, where the cinema-goer doesn't care much whether what he sees is "really true" or not. And in the dream world of the land of boundless opportunities, luxurious restaurants, white telephones or the embrace of a flawless supervenus made of celluloid, the spectator, the small employee or the wage slave, returns contentedly to his hovel, where he approaches his wife, who is embarrassed by the troubles of work, if he does not replace her with a street beauty.
Well, instead of focusing on the starting point – because that is essential – everyone has rushed to the end. One would have to put a stop to this whole flock of half-idiots, who crumbled their heads over the "after", and repulse the study of the "before"; that would be a lot easier, but they can't think of that. Although one does not understand the opened page, one does not resist the temptation to turn the page further, in the hope of becoming wise after all from the previous one; so it happens that the fool becomes more and more stupid.
In whatever shape the police commanding public peace, who the West is so disgusted at (where the means of dulling and standardizing the skulls are ten times bigger and more repugnant): The definition of the social stage reached and the running economic wheelwork in Russia is a question that imposes itself – leading to the following dilemma: Should we continue to claim that the Russian economy is socialist, respectively in the first stage of communism, or do we have to admit that despite state industrialism, it is governed by the law of value inherent to capitalism? Stalin seems to be attacking the last thesis and slowing down economists and plant managers who are in a hurry to accept it. In reality, he is preparing the confession that will soon follow and be useful in the revolutionary sense as well. But the bullshit organized by the "free world" reads from it the announcement of the transition to the higher stage of full communism!
In order to bring the question to the fore, Stalin makes use of the classical method. It would be easy to bet on a different color that would free him from any obligation to Marx and Lenin's school, but even the bank itself could be blown up at this stage of the game. So instead we start from ovo. Well, that is all right for us, since we have not bet anything in history's roulette and learned from childhood on: our cause is that of the proletariat, which has nothing to lose. Stalin explains that a "textbook of the Marxist economy" is necessary (we are in 1952), not only for the Soviet youth, but also for comrades in other countries. So watch out, inexperienced and forgetful!
To include a chapter on Lenin and Stalin as the founders of the political economy of socialism in such a book, even Stalin considers superfluous because it would not bring anything new. That's right, if he wants to say what is already known: they both didn't invent it, but learned it – Lenin always emphasized this.
Now that we are moving on to the field of strict terminology and "school" wording, we must say in advance that we have a preprint of Stalin's text, which the Stalinist newspapers themselves have taken from a non-Russian press agency. We will look up in the full text as soon as possible .
Commodities and Socialism
The reference to the basic elements of Marxist economics serves Stalin to discuss the "system of commodity production in socialism". We have explained in various texts (avoiding to say anything new) that every system of commodity production is a non-socialist system; this is exactly what we will reaffirm. If Stalin (Stalin, again and again Stalin; we are dealing here with an article that could just as well have come from a commission that could "in 100 years" have replaced or discredited Stalin: for simplicity's sake, however, it is useful to use names as symbols for complex events and contexts) had spoken of a system of commodity production after the conquest of power by the proletariat, this would not have been a monstrosity.
Referring to Engels, it seems that some "comrades" in Russia have said that the maintenance of the system of commodity production (respectively the commodity character of the products) after nationalization of the means of production meant to maintain the capitalist economic system. Stalin is certainly not the man who could theoretically prove them wrong. If, however, they say that, in case they say it, one had been able to eliminate commodity production and had only neglected or forgotten it, then they should be mistaken.
But Stalin wants to prove that in a "socialist country" (a word belonging to a questionable school) commodity production can exist, and he draws upon the Marxist definitions and their clear, albeit perhaps not entirely flawless, synthesis in Lenin's propaganda brochure .
We have dealt several times with this subject, i. e. commodity production, its emergence and rule, its clearly capitalist character. According to Josef Stalin, precise plans can be drawn up within commodity production without fearing that the terrible maelstrom of the commodity world will draw the careless pilot into the middle of the vortex and devour him in the capitalist abyss. However, his article reveals (to whom reading it as a Marxist) that the vortexes are becoming ever tighter and faster – as predicted in theory.
The commodity, as Lenin reminds, is a thing with a double character: it satisfies some human need and is exchangeable for another thing. And the lines just before say simply: "In capitalist society, the production of commodities is predominant, and Marx's analysis therefore begin with an analysis of commodity."
The commodity thus possesses these two characteristics, and it does only become a commodity when the second characteristic is added to the first. The first, use value, is comprehendable even for flat materialists like us, even for a child. It can be sensually experienced: once licked on a piece of sugar, we stretch out our hands once more for a sugar cube. But the road is long – Marx flies over it in this great paragraph – until the sugar takes on an exchange value and one comes to the delicate problem of Stalin, who is surprised that one established an equivalence between grain and cotton.
Marx, Lenin, Stalin and we know very well what a hell dance is going on as soon as exchange value appears. What did Lenin say? Where the bourgeois economists saw relationships between things, Marx discovered relationships between people! What do the three volumes of Marx's "Capital" and the nearly 50 pages of Lenin's work prove? Very simple. Where conventional economics sees perfect equivalence in exchange, we no longer see exchangeable things, but people in a social movement, we no longer see equivalence, but a scam. Karl Marx speaks of a spook that gives the goods this strange and at first glance incomprehensible character. Lenin, like any other Marxist, would have grabbed the cold horror at the idea of being able to produce and exchange goods while at the same time expelling their inherent devil through exorcism. Does Stalin believe that? Or does he just want to tell us that the devil is stronger than himself?
Just as the ghosts of medieval knights took revenge on Cromwell's revolution by bourgeoisly haunting the castles left to the Landlords, so the goblin fetish of the commodity runs inexorably through the halls of the Kremlin, and behind the rush of words sounding from the speakers of the nineteenth party convention, one can hear gloating laughter .
When he wants to establish that commodity production and capitalism are not absolutely identical, Stalin again makes use of our method. Following the historical course backwards, he points out, like Marx, that in certain forms of society (slavekeeper order, feudalism, etc.) commodity production existed but "did not lead to capitalism". This is indeed what Marx says in a passage of his historical summary, but he has developed it quite differently and with a completely different aim. The bourgeois economist claims that the system of commodity production is the only possible mechanism to combine production with consumption – he knows all too well that as long as this mechanism is in place, capital will continue to dominate the world. Marx replies: We will see where the historical trend is heading; first of all, I force you to acknowledge the irrefutable facts of the past: it wasn't always commodity production that ensured that the consumer was supplied with the product of labour. As examples, he mentions the primitive societies based on collecting and direct consumption, the ancient forms of the family and the tribe, the feudal system of direct consumption within self-sufficient circles, in which the products did not have to take on a commodity form. With the development and complexity of technology and needs, sectors emerge that are first supplied by barter trade and then by actual trade. Which proves that commodity production, including private property, is neither "natural" nor, as the bourgeois claims, permanent and eternal. The late appearance of commodity production (the system of commodity production, as Stalin says) and its existence on the sidelines of other modes of production serve Marx to show that commodity production, after it has become universal, just after the spread of the capitalist production system, must go down with it.
It would take too long if we wanted to cite the Marxist passages directed against Proudhon, Lassalle, Rodbertus and many others, denouncing any attempt to reconcile commodity production with the socialist emancipation of the proletariat.
For Lenin, this is the cornerstone of Marxism. It would be quite difficult to reconcile it with Stalin's current thesis: "Why then, one asks, cannot commodity production similarly serve our socialist society for a certain period" or "Commodity production leads to capitalism only if there is private ownership of the means of production, if labour power appears in the market as a commodity which can be bought by the capitalist and exploited in the process of production, and if, consequently, the system of exploitation of wageworkers by capitalists exists in the country". This hypothesis is, of course, absurd; in the Marxist analysis, any existence of a mass of commodities suggests that reserveless proletarians had to sell their labour-power. If in the past there was commodity production limited to a few branches, it was not because the labour-power was sold "voluntarily" as it is today, but rather because it was squeezed by force of arms from enslaved prisoners or serfs in personal dependency.
Do we have to quote the first two lines of "Capital" again? "The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as 'an immense accumulation of commodities'."
The Russian Economy
After the text has more or less skillfully demonstrated to show respect for the origins of Marxism, it moves on to the question of today's Russian economy. The task is to silence those who want to have determined that the system of commodity production inevitably leads to the restoration of capitalism – and thus also us, who even more clearly say: commodity production only survives in so far as we are within a totally capitalist system.
In the famous Stalin pamphlet one finds these concessions regarding the Russian economy: even if the large firms are socialized, the small and medium-sized firms however aren't expropriated: on the contrary, this would "be equal to a crime". According to the author, they should transition into cooperative firms.
Currently there are two sectors of commodity production in Russia: on the one hand the public, "nationally owned" production. In the state-owned enterprises, the means of production and production itself, thus also the products, are national property. How simplistic: in Italy, the tobacco factories and accordingly their sold cigarettes are owned by the state. Does this already qualify for the assertion that one is in a phase of the "abolishment of the wage labour system" and the respective workers weren't "forced" to sell their labour power? Surely not.
Let's move on to the other sector: agriculture. In the kolkhozes, says the brochure, land and machines are state property, but the products of labour don't belong to the state, but to the kolkhoz. And the kolkhoz sheds only from them because they are commodities, which are exchangeable for other commodities that one needs. There is no link between the rural kolkhoz and the urban regions which is not based on exchange. "Therefore commodity production and commodity circulation are still such a necessity as they have been thirty years ago for example."
Let's put aside for a moment the argument about the remote possibility of overcoming this situation. It is to be noted that what Lenin proposed in 1922 is out of the question: "We wield the political power in our hands, and we will persevere militarily, but in the economic domain we need to fall back on the purely capitalist form of commodity production". Corollary of this statement was: if we interrupt for a certain time the erection of the socialist economy, we will get back at it after the European revolution. Today's propositions are diametrically opposed to this.
One doesn't even try anymore to make a case such as the following: in the transition from capitalism to socialism certain sectors of production for a while are still subjected to commodity production.
Instead, one simply says: everything is a commodity; there is no other economic framework but that of commodity exchange and accordingly of the buying of labour power, not even in state-owned, large firms. Indeed, from where does the factory worker get his means of subsistence? The kolkhoz sells them to him mediated by private merchants; preferably it sells them to the state, from which it obtains tools, fertilizer etc.; the worker then must procure the means of subsistence in the state-owned stores for hard-earned rubles. Couldn't the state distribute the products, of which it can dispose, directly to its workers? Surely not, because the worker (especially the Russian one) doesn't consume tractors, vehicles, locomotives, not to speak of cannons and machine guns. And clothing and furniture are of course produced in the small- and medium-sized firms untouched by the state.
The state therefore can give the workers which are dependent upon it nothing but a monetary wage, with which they then buy what they want (a bourgeois euphemism for: the little they can buy). That the wage-distributing entrepreneur is the state, which presents itself as the "ideal" or "legitimate" representative of the working class, doesn't say the slightest, if it wasn't even able to begin distributing anything quantitatively relevant outside the mechanism of commodity production.
Anarchy and Despotism
Stalin approaches some Marxist goals, which we continuously brought back from the past: lowering of the gap, respectively sublation of the contradiction between town and country; overcoming of the social division of labour; drastic reduction (to 5 or 6 hours as an immediate measure) of the working day, as the only mean to abolish the separation between manual and mental labour and to erase the leftovers of bourgeois ideology.
At the assembly in July 1952 in Rome, we dealt with the topic of the 12. chapter of "Capital": "Separation of labour and factory", for "factory" read "business". It was shown: to leave capitalism, along with the system of commodity production, the social division of labour – of which Stalin also speaks – and as well the technical, respectively managerial division of labour, which leads to the brutalization of the worker and which is the origin of factory despotism, must be destroyed. The two axes of the bourgeois system are social anarchy and factory despotism. In Stalin, we can at least recognize the struggle to fight against the former, whereas he remains silent about the latter. But nothing in contemporary Russia is moving towards the direction of the programmatical goals, neither those named by Stalin, nor those of which nobody talks anyway.
If a – today as tomorrow insurmountable – barrier is lowered down between state firm and kolkhoz, which only lifts to allow for business "for mutual gain" to be made, what should bring town and country closer together, what should free the worker from the necessity to sell too many working hours for little money, respectively a few means of subsistence and give him therefore the possibility of disputing the scientific and cultural monopoly of capitalist tradition?
We therefore not only haven't got the first phase of socialism in front of us, but also not even a total state capitalism, that means an economy, in which – even though all products are commodities and circulate for money – the state disposes of every product; so, a form in which the state can centrally determine all proportions of equivalence, including labour power. Such a state as well couldn't be controlled nor conquered economically/politically by the working class and would function in service of the anonymous and hiddenly operating capital. But Russia is far away from that anyways: all that is there, is the after the anti-feudal revolution arisen state industrialism . Thanks to public investment in extensive public projects, this system allowed for the quick development and dispersion of industry and of capitalism, accelerated the bourgeois transformation of agriculture and agricultural law. But the "collectivist economic" agricultural businesses have nothing public, much less socialist in them: they're on the level of cooperatives, just as they existed around the turn of the century in the Italian Padan Plain and which produced on leased or (often out of state ownership) bought land. The only difference is that in the kolkhoz without a doubt there's a hundred times more thefts than in those modest, but honest cooperatives – but Stalin, high up in the Kremlin, is not going to hear of that.
The industrial state must negotiate the buying of the means of consumption on the "free market", which means that wage and labour time are on the same level as in the capitalist private industry. Concerning the economic development, it is to be said that for example America is closer to complete state capitalism than Russia: after all the Russian worker has to spend three fifths of his wage on agrarian products, whereas the American worker spends the same ratio on industrial products; he even gets the food delivered by the industry for the most part in cans – the poor devil.
State and Retreat
At this point, there is another important question to be posed. The relationship between agriculture and industry stays on an entirely bourgeois level, no matter how substantial the inexorable progress of industry. Stalin confesses, that not even future interventions into this relation are to be expected, which would amount to more statism, much less socialism.
This drawback also hides subtly behind the Marxist doctrine. What can we do? Expropriate the kolkhozes brutally? For that we would need to make use of the state power. And precisely here Stalin reintroduces the withering away of the state, which he wanted to do away with on another occasion, whereas he back then put a mask on, as if he wanted to say: "You're only making fun, right guys?."
Of course, the assumption, that a worker's state could make a drawback is indefensible – when the entire agrarian sector is still commodity based and privately organized. Because even if one would for a moment accept the earlier contested thesis of the existence of commodity production under socialism, it would be inseparable from the other thesis: If commodity production isn't abolished everywhere, the withering away of the state cannot be on the table.
Ultimately, we can only reason that the fundamental relation between town and country (that during the dramatic development of thousands of years freed itself from Asiatic and feudal forms) is solved there exactly as capitalism plans and and what is expressed by the classical, in bourgeois countries used words: To regulate the commodity exchange between industry- and agricultural production rationally. This system "requires thus a gigantic increase" of industrial production [Stalin, p. 95]. Well then! If one disregards for a moment the fantasized correct state – a virtually "liberal" solution.
* * *
The question of the relation between agriculture and industry was answered by the confession of the impotence to do anything but to industrialize and to increase production, thus at the expense of the workers. At this point, as already mentioned, there are the other two great questions of the relation between state and business and among businesses to be posed.
For Stalin, it presented itself like this: Does the law of value which applies in capitalist production also exist in Russia? Does it also apply for the state owned, large scale industry? This law determines, that commodity exchange always follows equivalents: the appearance of "freedom, equality and Bentham" , which Marx destroyed, when he showed that capitalism doesn't produce for the product, but for profit. Command and control of the economic laws – between those two cliffs Stalin's "manifesto" maneuvers back and forth and thus confirms our thesis: In its most powerful form, capital subordinates itself to the state, even when the state appears as the judicial sole owner of all businesses.
On the second day, oh Scheherazade , we will tell you of that, and on the third day of the world market and war.