Source: Socialist Standard, August 1936.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The new draft Constitution now being considered in Russia lays it down that “to each according to the quality and quantity of his work” is a Socialist principle. In the July SOCIALIST STANDARD that assertion was challenged on the ground that the principle is a capitalist one. As the question is an important one, and much confusion is likely to result from the Russian declaration, it was proposed to follow the matter up. In the meantime, the Daily Worker (July 4th) has departed from the general rule of the Communists of ignoring the S.P.G.B. by replying to the comment published in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD. While the Daily Worker’s observations are not well-informed, they will serve as an introduction. This is what the Daily Worker says:
“Marxists have always drawn a distinction, corresponding to the distinction in reality, between Socialism and Communism, Socialism being that period between the seizure of power, by the working-class and the epoch of full Communism. In the period of Socialism, the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to the quantity and quality of his work” obtains. Only with full Communism, the conditions for which are built in the period of Socialism, will the principle “ from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” be realised.
Lest, however, the “Socialist Standard” should doubt that this has always been the view of true Socialists, I would suggest that the writer of this illiterate piece of nonsense should read Karl Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, where he will find this alleged “corrupted version” fully explained and justified.” Daily Worker. July 4th, 1936.
The writer of the above, with more trust in Stalin than knowledge of the subject, has simply repeated what Stalin has said on several occasions. It happens, however, that Stalin’s version of Socialist theory, and even of the past activities of the Bolsheviks, can be shown to be false. Let us, therefore, examine the points one by one, beginning with the terms Socialism and Communism.
These terms have had a chequered history, but it can be said with certainty that the Daily Worker’s statement about them is wrong. It is not correct that Marxists have always used the term Socialism to mean a “period between the seizure of power by the working-class and the epoch of full Communism.” Marx did not, neither did Engels, and Lenin knew this even if the Daily Worker does not know it. Lenin, in The State and Revolution, actually quotes from Marx a passage in which Marx referred to such a period, but did not use the term Socialism to describe it. The passage Lenin quoted from Marx begins with the words: “But these defects are unavoidable in the first phase of Communist society ...” (See The State and Revolution, by N. Lenin. Pub. Allen and Unwin, Ltd. p. 96.) We see then that Marx at that date, did not call this period Socialism but “the first phase of Communism.” It is Lenin, not Marx, who then interposed the words “generally called Socialism.” (p. 96.)
Notice, too, that while the Daily Worker says “always,” Lenin said “generally”; but even Lenin’s more cautious statement is wrong, except possibly as regards usage in Russia alone. To what extent in Russia the terms Socialism and Communism were used in this way we do not know, although it seems probable that even there it has been a comparatively recent development. Outside Russia it appears to have existed only in the imagination of the Daily Worker.
Marx and Engels used the terms Communism and Socialism to mean precisely the same thing. They used “Communism” in the early years up to about 1875, and after that date mainly used the term “Socialism.” There was a reason for this. In the early days, about 1847-1850, Marx and Engels chose the name “Communism” in order to distinguish their ideas from Utopian, reactionary or disreputable movements then in existence, which called themselves “Socialist.” Later on, when these movements disappeared or went into obscurity, and when, from 1870 onwards, parties were being formed in many countries under the name Social-Democratic Party or Socialist Party, Marx and Engels reverted to the words Socialist and Socialism. Thus when Marx in 1875 (as mentioned by Lenin) wanted to make the distinction referred to by the Daily Worker, he spoke of the “first phase of Communist society” and “a higher phase of Communist society.” Engels, writing in the same year, used the term Socialism, not Communism, and habitually did so afterwards. Marx also fell, more or less closely, into line with this change of names and terms, using sometimes the one, sometimes the other, without any distinction of meaning.
It will be noticed that one of the most widely circulated works of Engels was called by him Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, not “Communism, Utopian and Scientific.”
Another partial break in the use of names came in 1918, when the Bolshevists (the majority wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Party) wished to indicate their repudiation of the wartime actions of their associates in the Second International. To do this they changed their name to Communist Party, and when they formed the Third International they called it Communist. Even then the British Communist Party only partly fell into line in the use of terms, and continued very largely to use the term Socialism as synonymous with Communism. Thus, the 1929 Election manifesto of the Communist Party of Great Britain, “Class against Class,” repeatedly uses the term Socialism, and only once the term Communism. Each time Socialism occurs in that manifesto it is as the equivalent of Communism, and never in the way the Daily Worker says that “Marxists have always” used it.
The S.P.G.B., throughout its existence, has used the term Socialism, never in the manner the Daily Worker alleges the term is used, but always to mean what Marx and Engels meant by Socialism and Communism. Further, the S.P.G.B. has never helped to spread confusion by conceding the term Socialist to such bodies as the British Labour Party. The Communist Party in this as in other directions has managed to box the compass, declaring at one time that the Labour Party is “the third capitalist party. It lays claim to the title of Socialist Party, but has nothing to do with Socialism “ (“Class against Class,” p. 8), and at another time referring to it as a Socialist Party (Mr. Harry Pollitt, in a letter to the Town Crier, Birmingham, June 26th, 1936).
Among many other illustrations of the way in which the terms Socialism and Communism have been used may be mentioned the English translation of the Communist Bogdanoff’s A Short Course of Economic Science, the final chapter of which carries the sub-title, “Socialist Society,” and uses the term Socialism in place of and as the equivalent of Communism. The book was published by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1923.
So much for the question of terms. Now for the basic principle of Socialism and Stalin’s revised version of it, remembering all the while that Stalin, when he uses the term Socialism, means the phase after the workers’ capture of power, and when he uses the term Communism he means the later phase. Stalin claims that Russia is now in the first phase and developing towards the later phase.
This principle, quoted by Marx in the course of his criticism of the programme adopted by the German Social-Democrats at their Congress at Gotha in 1875, was by no means original. Similar ideas were discussed by the equalitarians during the French Revolution, and later on by such men as Louis Blanc, in France, and J. F. Bray, in England. Louis Blanc was using this same principle in 1839, although on occasion he employed it in reverse order “ To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities.” It was framed in opposition to the doctrine of the followers of Saint-Simon, “Let each be placed according to his capacity and rewarded according to his work.”
Now for Marx’s views on the subject. In his criticism of the Gotha programme in 1875, he pointed out that “the co-operative commonwealth based upon common ownership of the means of production” (i.e., Socialism, or, as he then called it, Communism) would have a “first phase” in which it would be “afflicted with the congenital defects of the society from which it has sprung.” In this first phase the individual “receives from society a voucher showing that he has done so-and-so much work. ... On presentation of this voucher he withdraws from the communal storehouse of articles of consumption as much as this quantum of work is worth.” (The quotations are from the S.L.P. edition called “the Socialist Programme,” translated by Eden and Cedar Paul, and published in 1918.) In this first phase there would, Marx says, be. mal-adaptations. Thus if each individual were required “to do an equal quantum of work, and all to receive an equal share from the social fund of articles of consumption,” the man with dependants to keep would be worse off than the single man, while the stronger and more clever individuals would be able to do the required amount of work with less effort than the weak. Marx added that “such mal-adaptations are inevitable in the first phase of Communist society, because it is born out of capitalist society.”
In due course the first phase would go, giving place to a higher phase: -
“In a higher phase of communist society, when| the slavish subordination of the individual to the yoke of the division of labour has disappeared, and when concomitantly the distinction between mental and physical work has ceased to exist; when labour is no longer the means to live, but is in itself the first of vital needs; when the productive forces of society have expanded proportionately with the multi- form development of the individuals of whom society is made up then will the narrow bourgeois outlook be utterly transcended, and then will society inscribe upon its banners, “From everyone according to his capacities, to everyone according to his needs!”
(It may be mentioned that Louis Blanc and others had also preceded Marx in stating that this last principle would not be applicable until after a “transition” period.)
Before going on to the present distortion of Marx’s writings by the Russian Communists, , certain observations may be made in order to put Marx’s words into proper perspective. His comments on the Gotha programme were “marginal notes,” to use his own description, and were written at a time when he was “overwhelmed with work.” They are, for the most part, clear enough, but in certain passages undue compression has left ambiguity. For example, there is the solitary reference to “the distinction between mental and physical work” which has been seized upon by Stalin as the basis of his revision. Though it is by no means certain what Marx meant, it is arguable that he considered that, in the “first phase,” “mental “ workers would have to be placed on a somewhat higher level than other workers. They would get a somewhat larger share of products. If that was Marx’s view it is still questionable, however even in the circumstances envisaged by him in 1875 whether any such differentiation would not produce more problems and difficulties than it would solve. More importantly, the circumstances envisaged by Marx at that time are widely different from the circumstances that would now obtain after a Socialist majority have gained control of the political machinery. In 60 years the “productive forces of society have expanded” greatly thus removing to a considerable extent one of the obstacles to the inauguration of the “higher phase.” Secondly, the working class have already travelled some distance away from capitalist notions about work and pay. Thirdly, we know from the experience of these 60 years that the understanding of Socialism which the workers will have to acquire before the conquest of power for Socialism becomes a possibility will be considerably greater than Marx held to be necessary in 1875. In short, all the reasons for having a phase based on “to each according to his work” (and for possible differentiation between mental and physical work) will have disappeared or be greatly weakened.
Now let us look further at Marx’s views, and also Lenin’s views on the subject of equality of wages.
Whatever Marx may have had in mind about the “distinction between mental and physical work” there is no doubt whatever that he strongly favoured at least approximate equality of wages, in the first phase, until such time as distribution “according to need” would eliminate the whole problem. Writing on the Paris Communards of 1871, Marx, in his Civil War in France (Labour Publishing Co. edition, 1921), highly approved their rule that “from the members of the Commune downwards the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages” (p. 31. See also p. 34).
At one time (but not now) the Bolsheviks were aware of this. Lenin, in his Soviets at Work, an address he delivered in April, 1918, expressly endorsed the
“principles of the Paris Commune and of any proletarian rule, which demand the reduction of salaries to the standard of remuneration of the average worker . . . .” (See edition published in 1919 by the Socialist Information and Research Bureau, Glasgow. Pages 17-19.)
Lenin was regretting that necessity compelled the Russian Government to pay high salaries to specialists. He did not pretend that it was anything but a backward step. He said, “Such a measure is not merely a halt in a certain part and to a certain degree of the offensive against capitalism . . . but also a step backward by our Socialist Soviet State, which has from the very beginning proclaimed and carried on a policy of reducing high salaries to the standard of wages of the average worker.” (Italics ours.)
Lenin went on to call the payment of high salaries “the old bourgeois method,” and said, “the corrupting influence of high salaries is beyond dispute both on the Soviets ... and on the mass of the workers.” He admitted that “to pay unequal salaries is really a step backward; we will not cheat the people by pretending otherwise.”
Lenin had also referred to the matter in 1917 in The State and Revolution. Using the Post Office as an example, Lenin declared (pages 52 and 53) that, after overthrowing the capitalists, the task of the Communists would be to
“Make practical use of the experience .... which the Commune has given us. To organise our whole material economy like the postal system, but in such a way that the technical experts, inspectors, clerks, and, indeed, all the persons employed, should receive no higher wage than the working man. ...” (Italics ours.)
We see, therefore, what Marx said; how Lenin interpreted Marx; and what Lenin’s own emphatic views were.
Then there was a resolution passed by the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party in 1921, an English version of which is given as follows in “Economic History” (January, 1932. Supplement of the Economic Journal):
“The theory and practice as regards wages should be based upon as equal a distribution as possible of the standard articles of consumption. However, the Unions will make use of wages both in money and kind, as a means of improving discipline and production.”
Now let us jump from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and the present-day Bolsheviks.
The first point to notice is that, whereas Marx and Lenin used the expression “To each according to the quantity of his work” (and Bogdanoff says, “in proportion to the amount of labour”), the new draft Russian Constitution has smuggled in the word “quality” also. (The first Constitution, adopted in 1918, was silent on the point, merely proclaiming the principle, “He that does not work, neither shall he eat.”)
Stalin, in recent speeches, has also inserted this word quality, absent from earlier statements of the principle.
Now if this change meant only that the work demanded of the able-bodied shall be of good quality, one could say that the inclusion of the word is unnecessary but harmless, unnecessary because nobody in his senses argues in favour of bad work.
If, on the other hand, it meant that all Russian “able-bodied citizens,” from the members of the Government downwards” to apply the words Marx applied to the Commune are being paid approximately on the same standard, i.e., “workmen’s wages,” plus some small bonus for output or for quality as a stimulus to greater output and better quality, three criticisms could be made. One is that such a system would need great care in its application to avoid penalising the weak. The second is that such a measure (justified by Marx and others, for application during the first phase, on the ground of capitalist mentality and low productivity) would be hard to square with Bolshevik claims about their success in making the population Socialist in outlook, and their claims about the high productivity of industry.
The third criticism is, nothing can excuse the Russian Communists’ pretence that such a principle is a Socialist one. Even if they were compelled to bow to necessity in the matter of their system of distribution (owing to low productivity and the capitalist outlook of the population) that cannot in any way justify them in circulating in English-speaking countries an English version of the Constitution which declares that “to each according to the quantity and quality of work,” particularly as it is applied in Russia, is “the principle of Socialism.” The Communists know full well that large numbers of workers have already been deceived by them into believing that what we call Socialism (and what Marx and Engels called Socialism or Communism) has been established in Russia. The Communists cannot escape the charge that they are wilfully deceiving the workers.
Furthermore, Stalin is using this word “quality” as cover for something much worse than differentiated wage rates. Whereas Lenin admitted that inequality was a regrettable necessity, a step backward, a corrupting influence, Stalin (and his new admirer, Sidney Webb) is glorifying it, and doing so under cover of the altered version of Marx’s and Lenin’s statements.
Lenin wrote in Soviets at Work that “our Socialist-Soviet State . . . has from the very beginning proclaimed and carried on a policy of reducing high salaries to the standard of the average worker.”
Stalin’s Government, far from reducing high salaries, is encouraging them. He goes further and according to the Webbs in their Soviet Communism denounces those who now put Lenin’s point of view as “ leftist blockheads.” He declares that the Bolsheviks never held that view.
The Webbs quote from a speech of Stalin’s delivered in January, 1934, at the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of Russia:
“These people (“leftist blockheads,” he calls them elsewhere) evidently think that Socialism calls for equality, for levelling the requirements and the personal lives of the members of society. Needless to say, such an assumption has nothing in common with Marxism, with Leninism. By equality Marxism means, not equality in personal requirements and personal life, but the abolition of class. . . .” (Soviet Communism, p. 702.)
Stalin’s speech contains one true and important point, that Socialists are interested primarily in abolishing the private ownership and control of the means of life which is the basis of class division. Stalin is also right in repudiating the idea that Socialists aim at imposing uniformity. But in the light of what is actually being done in Russia under Stalin’s Government, what meaning are we to attach to his further statement that “Marxism starts out with the assumption that people’s abilities and requirements are not, and cannot be, equal in quality or in quantity, either in the period of Socialism or in the period of Communism”? (Webbs, p. 702).
Marx and Lenin laid it down that in the first phase everyone should be at least approximately on workmen’s wages, and in the higher phase, when productivity had increased and prejudices disappeared, all should be treated on the principle “each according to his needs.” Stalin’s Government does no such thing. It promotes great inequality between the various rates of workmen’s pay and between those rates and the salaries, fees, and royalties of technicians, high officials, popular literary men, novelists and so on, and for the later phase it promises “to each according to his needs,” but only on the basis that (in Stalin’s words) “requirements are not and cannot be equal in quality or in quantity.” This can only mean that some are always to have a higher standard of living than others.
The Daily Worker objected to our statement that the new Russian principle is a “corrupted version” of the basic principle of Socialism. Is it not evident, however, that Stalin’s words and the actions of his Government embody precisely that “corrupting influence” which Lenin associated with high salaries in his Soviets at Work?
Let us examine some of the actual applications of Stalin’s theory in Russia.
The Webbs, who thoroughly approve of Stalin’s views on this subject, report, in their Soviet Communism (p. 711) that in Russian industry work and pay are graded into anything from eight to seventeen grades, but and this is important “always excluding the apprentices, with the mere porters, cleaners or gate-keepers on the one hand, and the foremen, technicians and managers on the other.” (Note the reference to “mere porters” by our Labour Peer!)
The difference between the pay of the highest and lowest grades of workmen varies according to occupation. In some cases it appears that the highest may be three or four times the amount of the lowest but outside and above the rates of pay of these workmen’s grades are the salaries of foremen and administrative and technical staffs. Why? On what principle? What has become of Lenin’s demand that, in the Post Office, for example, technical experts, inspectors, and so on, should get no more than a workman’s wage? What has happened to the example of the Commune so praised by Marx and Lenin?
On what ground does the playwright Schkwarkin get 300,000 roubles a year from royalties on his plays (compared with a skilled workman’s 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 roubles), making him a very rich man even after deduction of income tax? Is this in accordance with the quantity of his work, even if modified for the supposed distinction between mental and physical work? Is it, like the average factory worker’s pay, based on output or piece-work?
The pay of a head of a department in the Russian local government service is 700 to 1,000 roubles a month, while that of a typist is 175 to 250 roubles a month. How does a Communist decide that the head of a department is worth four typists? And why is he worth half as much again as an engineer or a lawyer (400 to 700 roubles)?
(These figures are taken from the Bulletin of the “International Committee of Employees, etc.” Moscow. June, 1936.)
The same question applies to all the favoured groups of politicians, technicians, officials, managers, popular writers and playwrights, etc.
The fact is that the real or supposed needs of Russian State capitalism and of the ruling group and their close associates have given rise to riches and poverty, privilege and lack of privileges, the features of capitalism generally. Russia is faced with the largely non-Socialist outlook of the population and the still relatively low productive capacity of industry. Lenin, when faced with such a necessity, said: “To pay unequal salaries is a step backward; we will not cheat the people by pretending otherwise.” Stalin, rather than admit the truth, chooses to gloss it over by misusing Socialist phrases, and by corrupting statements of Socialist principle. His hangers-on throughout the world first give their unqualified support to whatever he may say from time to time, then try to find reasons for doing so afterwards, quite
regardless of the interests of the working class and the Socialist movement.