Georg Lukács 1968
Democratisation Today and Tomorrow: Part II.
The Pure Alternative: Stalinism or Socialist Democracy
We have already emphasized that the crux of Stalin’s method rested on the principle of the priority of tactics over strategy, and even more the priority of tactics over the total evolutionary path of mankind which is the content of the ontology of social being. But we have also seen that this methodological problem cannot be attributed to Stalin alone. The priority of tactics was not an exclusively Russian or Stalinist problem. It was the dominant trend within late nineteenth and twentieth century European socialism and this hegemony was manifested in a variety of forms. It was the prevailing tendency in European social democracy which used this methodology with completely different class contents and therefore with completely different goals and political procedures. The hegemony of tactics within Russian communism was not a uniquely Soviet phenomenon, but rather the adoption of an existing and preferred contemporary tendency. It was — consciously or not — an example of an adaptation to the so-called “realpolitik” of the bourgeoisie, which became the dominant mode of action within the countries of western Europe on various ideological grounds. On the whole, it was not the case that the successors of Lenin were mere imitators of their western counterparts. We have already pointed out that Bukharin, for example, was disposed to a positivistic interpretation of Marxism and we must add that long before Lenin’s death Zinoviev’s praxis revealed tendencies which showed close affinity to the manipulative internal party practices of social democracy.
All this must be specifically illuminated through exact historical research. The decisive conceptual motif is easily detectable: it is the break with the Marxist conception of the role of the economic in the total process of the development of society. An erroneous view of the role of the economy was widely disseminated at that time throughout the entire worker’s movement. Marxism degenerated into economic reductionism. This was directly connected with the fact that the specialization of knowledge led to the separation of the sciences from each other. With slight variations, the working class movement and its ideology adopted this division of labor, the independence of scientific disciplines from each other. Marx had defined the economic as the material foundation of a more total historical process. In the twentieth century, the definition of the economic had been changed to that of a more or less “exact” individual science, so that, for example, Hilferding, from this positivist perspective, could explain Marxist economics as compatible with any world view. The economic as an individual science, as the sole causal determinant of social evolution, had lost its organic connection with the historical destiny of the human species. Marx had seen the economic as one factor of social evolution, and as organically interconnected with other social causal determinants. For this reason, sciences which are individualized, removed from their interdependence with other causal agents, easily slide into mere tactics. Lenin stood completely opposed, alone among his contemporaries — supporters and detractors — to this distortion of the Marxist conception of the economic as mere industrial productivity.
This process of converting the economic into an isolated science laid the methodological foundation for its capacity to be manipulated. This development did not conquer all political parties or movements. It was only in the communist movement that this ability to manipulate the economic was completely realized. Within social democracy, economic manipulation was aimed at an adjustment to bourgeois society, and this led to revisionism, or to a complete break with Marxism. Stalin first distorted the meaning of the economic on the theoretical level, and this distortion then became an instrument for his brutal manipulation of socialist development. When Stalin distorted the economic as a specialized positivist science, when he detached it from any political connectedness, he could claim to be building socialism by exclusively concentrating on industrial growth while totally ignoring the question of socialist democracy. One should not leave out of the account that Bukharin much earlier had defined, in a positivist-mechanistic reduction, the Marxist idea of the forces of production to mean simply technology. The theoretic falseness of this conception cannot be dealt with in detail. We point out only one important theoretic-practical consequence of this interpretation. Bukharin assumed that slavery in the ancient world was one economic consequence of technological underdevelopment, while Marx himself traces this technological underdevelopment back to the slave foundation of the ancient world. It is clear that the theoretic dead end that Bukharin’s technological determinism must lead to is based upon a limited notion of the economic. For Marx, the economic is more than just technology, more than a specialized individual science, but one causal factor within a larger total social formation. Marx places the priority on the concept of social totality. With regard to the level of development of the natural sciences in the ancient world, a higher advance of technology was entirely possible. Indeed, where the social totality did not place limits on further developments, technological achievement did advance to higher levels, as, for example, in the armaments industry. We only mention Bukharin’s methodological conception because in its major outlines it became the dominant ideology under Stalin, although with many modifications, as we shall point out later. Under the appearance of Marxist orthodoxy, this methodology (the economic as an exact individual science separated from the total historical process of the social anthropogenesis of humanity) also proved to be an instrument for the construction of a system for the bureaucratic manipulation of society in socialism.
This is clearer in Stalin himself than with Bukharin and the other contenders for leadership. Relatively late (1952), at the time of his completely consolidated autocracy as theoretic and political leader of world communism, as the allegedly legitimate successor of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, Stalin published a small treatise on The Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S. S. R. Its main tactical and propagandistic purpose was to cure the economic theory of socialism of its “subjectivist” aberrations and lead it back to its original Marxist-materialist foundations, to make the Marxist theory of value — under the conditions of socialism — the foundation of economic theory and praxis again. However, subjectivism in the era of Stalin could only be interpreted as the bureaucratic manipulation of production. The bureaucracy manipulated economic figures in order to present questionable developments (or even stagnation) as progress, specific procedures as the necessary price one had to pay for rapid progress, and outlawed every critical insight. One ought to remember that in the 1930s, the calculation of production figures on a per capita basis was, for a time, prohibited because it was called a bourgeois aberration. The purpose of this prohibition was not to let the population know that the rise of Soviet production lagged behind that of the capitalist world. Taking into account the vast size of the Soviet Union, the comparison of present production with previous years could occasion great differences in the interpretation of the statistics — and with the ban on critical examination and free access to the facts — the real tempo of economic development could be hidden from the population. The restoration of the Marxist laws of value had the — in itself correct — purpose to restrict the most extreme forms of bureaucratic manipulation (the subjectivism which falsified economic reality).
But what is the real meaning of Stalin’s return to the Marxist law of value? Above all, he, perhaps less out of error than from tactical considerations, confused the law of value itself with the appearance it assumed in commodity exchange. Thus he referred to the significance of the law of value in production in the following way: “The matter in question is that the articles of consumption, which are necessary to guarantee the expenditure of labor power in the production process, are themselves produced and realized in the form of commodities which are subject to the effects of the law of value. The effect of the law of value on production becomes apparent here. “ In this context, we are interested in his method which manifests itself all the more clearly when he comes to speak on other crucial aspects of the law of value. As we have seen, in order to account for the fluctuating role the law of value played in the planned economy of the Soviet Union and to determine its actual value, he was forced to place himself in open contradiction to Marx. His political needs required him to violate Marxist methodology. He calculated that because of his hegemonic control of the party, no one in Russia at that time would point out his own contradiction of Marx. He posed the question of value openly and unambiguously:
It is said that the law of value is a permanent law, indispensable for all periods of historical development, and even if the law of value ceased being an effective regulator of exchange relations in the period of the second phase of communist society, it would still stay in force as a regulator of the relations between the different branches of production and the distribution of labor between them.
This is absolutely incorrect. Value, like the law of value, is a historical category and thus related to the existence of commodity production. If the production of commodities ceases to exist, value in its manifestations and the law of value likewise disappears.
We have quoted this passage at great length in order to clearly describe Stalin’s thoughts and to demonstrate their contrast to Marx’s. Marx speaks about the various forms of the law of value, not in an extremely inaccessible passage, but in the beginning of the first volume of Kapital. Marx isolates at least three distinct forms of the law of value; for example, with Robinson Crusoe, or with a self-supporting peasant family in the Middle Ages, or, finally, in socialism itself. Labor time, i.e., the present socially necessary labor time, the immediate economic materialization of value, has a double function: “Its socially planned distribution regulates the correct relationship between the different function of labor and different needs.” On the other hand, Marx adds, “labor time serves as a measure of the individual producer’s share in common labor and therefore also of the individually consumable portion of common production." Whereas Marx defines labor time as the substance of value, Stalin defined value as commodity exchange. In direct contradiction to Marx, Stalin affirmed that it was not just commodities serving individual consumption that remain subject to the law of value, but the producers’ entire share of the total social yield of commodities, and this makes an enormous difference. For Marx, labor exploitation can exist under socialism if labor time is expropriated from the laborer, since “the share of every producer to the means of subsistence is determined by his labor time.” For Stalin, however, the law of value cannot exist under socialism because socialism destroyed commodity exchange, and commodity exchange was the basis of exploitation. Thus, Marx and Stalin disagreed in their analyses of the socialist stage of history, for Marx maintains that surplus labor can continue under socialism, while Stalin thought that since socialism destroyed commodities it must also destroy surplus labor.
For Marx, the law of value is not dependent upon commodity production. Yet Stalin insisted on this interconnection, and it was by no means a mere slip of the tongue. Stalin’s distortion of the methodology of Marx had practical consequences, for it led him to distort the definition of socialism. A fallacious definition of the construction of socialism was presented in a propagandistic fashion, as if Stalin consciously wanted to substitute a false interpretation of Marx for the true one. For this purpose, Stalin used the trick of depicting classical economic categories as if they were merely historical manifestations of capitalism and thus no longer operative in socialism, although according to Marx these classical economic categories are applicable to any mode of production. Stalin’s intent was to present his manipulative form of socialism as the theoretic and political fulfillment of Marxism-Leninism. The first step toward an understanding of the connection between the Stalinist formulation of Marxism and the prevention and even destruction of socialist democracy is an analysis of Stalin’s misinterpretation of Marx’s concept of surplus value in his The Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. The need to politically legitimate his rule made it mandatory for Stalin to portray his Soviet Union as on the correct path to socialism, and in order to prove this Stalin had to falsify Marx. Political need led to the necessity to distort methodology, and a false methodology led to flawed and misguided policies. “I have in mind,” Stalin said, “such concepts as ‘necessary’ and ‘surplus’ labor time.” According to Stalin, Marx had correctly employed these categories in the analysis of capitalist production, but showed how they would lose their meaning after the socialization of the means of production. “It is likewise bizarre,” he continued, “to talk of ‘necessary’ and ‘surplus’ labor now, as if under the present conditions the labor performed by the worker for the benefit of society, for the expansion of production, for the development of education, for Public Health, for the organization of defense, was not as necessary for the presently ruling working class as the labor performed for the gratification of needs is for the individual laborer and his family." In other words, under socialism, surplus labor no longer existed, but only necessary labor.
We are dealing here with Marx’s distinction between “necessary” and “surplus” labor and we are concerned with the economic reproductive process. In opposition to Stalin’s thesis, it must be said that the difference between the labor necessary for the reproduction of the worker and the labor he performs in addition to that, (surplus labor) is by no means a specific feature of capitalism. Surplus labor is an important and an indispensable economic feature in the development of the reproductive process generally from its primeval history up to communism. The economic foundation of slavery as distinct from the initial killing or even devouring of captured enemies was economically based on the fact that the slave could supply a greater quantum of labor than was necessary for his own individual reproduction. Marx also points out that in slavery — in opposition to serfdom and wage labor — the labor necessary for the self-reproduction of the worker appears to decrease, just as surplus labor, an increment of labor in addition to necessary labor, increases in capitalist wage labor. However, this is a necessary illusion, but nothing more than an illusion. All three economic formations — slavery, serfdom, and wage labor — are objectively based on the appropriation of surplus value through the contemporary ruling classes. The appropriation of surplus value assumes a great variety of historical forms, assumes shapes dictated by the use of immediate brute force or economic compulsion. However, the two most basic presuppositions for the higher development of socioeconomic life are: the constant tendency of the socially necessary labor needed for the reproduction of an individual to decrease, and the corresponding tendency for surplus value to constantly increase. For Marx, it is a fixed law of economic progress that surplus value in general immediately falls prey to the exploitative mechanisms of a society. However, depending upon the different structures of different social formulations, the appropriation of surplus labor can serve the universal social purpose of developing a higher human personality.
The socialization of the means of production rules out the appropriation of surplus labor by means of the possession of private property. However, it in no way transcends the basic categories of economic production; it only establishes a radically new social formation in order to make possible the progressive social use of surplus labor. Marx outlines the economic-cultural essence of the increase in the forces of production in the following manner: “The free development of individuality, and therefore not the reduction of the necessary labor time in order to increase surplus labor but generally the reduction of the necessary work of society to a minimum in order to allow for the artistic and scientific education of individuals as a result of the time and creative means that has become available to all of them." In the Critique of the Gotha Program, he takes an appropriately hard line against Lassalle’s vulgarized view that socialism only signifies the worker’s acquisition of his “full value of labor.” In his critique of Lassalle, Marx emphasizes that surplus labor has to cover all the costs that are necessary for the maintenance and further improvement of production itself. It has to pay for the administrative expenses of a society, its general needs such as education, health care, etc. Marx correctly emphasizes that under socialism these social services are better funded than in previous social formations. These general needs include funds for the disabled. According to Marx, these social needs determine the economic framework for individual consumption, for the individual self-reproduction of the laboring people under socialism. Stalin simply turned Lassalle’s fundamentally false conception upside down and he was able to declare the category of surplus labor as nonexistent under socialism. We have already quoted from his arguments. As we have seen, Lassalle was governed by the illusion that socialism signified the transition of the collective products of work into the immediate sphere of the self-production of the individual worker, while Stalin simply equated mediated economic movements into immediate ones; without commodity exchange the worker no longer produced surplus-labor. Both Stalin and Lassalle falsified the fundamental economic constituents of social self-reproduction. They both did this in a diametrically opposite manner, but in both cases this contradiction was based upon a systematic ignorance of the real economic factors of the social reproduction process.
To simplify matters, let us take education as an example. It is certainly not directly included in the process of individual self-reproduction. Under capitalism, the necessity for education only arises from the technological needs of bourgeois society and it is imposed on the working class from above because specific labor processes simply can not be technically performed by illiterate workers. But even though socialism places this question on the social agenda with an intensity unimaginable in any of the previous class societies, it is still neither inclined to nor capable of doing away with the economic penetration and mediation of the educational sphere. But compared to capitalism, socialism introduces, with strong ideological overtones, a qualitatively new idea, that this economic penetration of the sphere of education had to be solved on the initiative of the proletariat themselves. Let us recollect that during the introduction of NEP, Lenin makes the liquidation of illiteracy a crucial political and ideological task.
Naturally, ideology must be understood in the exact Marxist sense. In his introduction to The Critique of Political Economy, Marx defines ideological forms as the social medium in which the people themselves become conscious of social conflicts and fight them out. This definition reveals the ambiguity of the inner dialectic of ideology. On the one hand, social conflicts originate in the objectively necessary and deterministic contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production. On the other hand, and simultaneously, every ideology is a complex instrument that enables the people themselves to become conscious of existing social conflicts and to fight them out in a practical manner. Correspondingly, in Lenin’s view the liquidation of illiteracy was a problem that objectively evolved out of Russia’s economic backwardness. The solution to illiteracy was the object of Russia’s own inherently conscious praxis intermediated by the consciousness and activity of the working people. Thus, after the domination of the exploiting class had been broken by the socialization of all the means of production the way was cleared for the proletariat to become capable of solving the collective problems of everyday life through their own self-activity. Education — to stick to this example — can in this manner be changed from an economically mediated superstructure to a force for the extension and deepening of the life of every individual man. Education can become a social force created by man for himself. Due to its inherent social nature, education can result in the self-genesis of man, the bringing forth of man as his own self-creation and self-completion and to his becoming the producer of his own self. This empowering of man is accomplished through the reduction of the labor time necessary, which Marx once called the “superfluous,” for their own self-reproduction, because then more surplus labor time can be applied to the task of man’s self-genesis.
Naturally, in the last analysis, the social context is the deciding moment in determining the use of surplus labor. The level of development of production, the reduction of the labor necessary for the self-reproduction of the working class, the ideological struggle over the contents of this superfluous substance are causes that arise from social, objectively determined phenomena. Also, the things that result from this intermixture of socially objective causes must themselves be of a primarily social nature. However, and here this complex of questions connects with the problem of democratization, is there a conflict between the social and the individual? Is the individual absorbed in the social or is there a reciprocal process which reinforces the two poles between the social and the individual? Can individual actions accomplish two reciprocal and simultaneous results: can they produce a social outcome leading to the increase of social productivity and can they develop the individual personality, promote, enrich and deepen a subject’s incipient individuality? We have previously mentioned the observation of Marx that the Kingdom of Freedom signifies the unfolding of human powers which is valid as an end in itself. That signifies a mode of praxis that surpasses the economic and passes beyond the basic and therefore unsurpassable Kingdom of Necessity. In the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx commented on this transcendence of the domination of the economic, asserting that “labor was not only the means to life but had become the first need of life.”
Is the idea of the reciprocity between the social and individual an expression of utopianism? This seems to be the case and indeed is the case, as long as we separate the present from the future, as long as we draw a sharp line between present day actuality and a desired future. Things appear differently if we do not consider the social and the individual as contrasting conditions, but as complementary poles of a unified social process and agree with Lenin that what we call socialist or proletarian democracy is just this concrete process which creatively binds the objective and the subjective to each other. In that case, socialism, the first phase of communism, appears as a particular social formation whose economic structure, whose interpersonal cooperation, can only be adequately developed by means of the reciprocity of the social and the individual. The social structures that exist outside of and independently of man are purely objective. These social structures are the inherent processes of society that develop in accordance with deterministic laws and lie beyond human control. Human beings live inside these objective social structures. The laws of this social objectivity cannot be suspended, but social development in total unfolds as a mutual process between the objective and subjective conscious human action. Socialist democracy — taking man to be an active creature, which is the true nature of his human species being since he is forced to be active in his everyday praxis — transforms the objectified and objective products of human labor into objects that are consciously created by man himself and that fulfill human purposes. Socialist democracy is the political framework that allows objectivity, without violating the inherent law of objectivity, to become a tool in the teleological designs of conscious active men. It is the conquest of consciousness and self-determination over blind objectivity. As the victory of self-determination, socialist democracy transforms the human neighbor, one’s fellow man, from acting as a hindrance to one’s own praxis to an indispensable and affirmative co-worker and co-helper.
Naturally, the intent, intensity, content, and direction of such historical progress is shaped and determined by the economic level of the social formation existing at that time. The proletarian revolution released the totality of socially necessary labor time from its enslavement to capitalism. The amount of surplus labor contained in this totality was clearly a product of the level of Russian industrial development. The Russian Revolution was led into an objective dead end precisely because its backward industrial development required a continuous large outlay of socially necessary labor. The problem of the relationship between necessary and surplus labor could be concealed from the population as long as its victories and the defense of the revolution were still the immediate focus of revolutionary praxis and while the insurgent masses were enthusiastically involved in political questions. Within the direct democratic political structures created by the revolution, problems ranging from the most trivial to the most complex issues of world affairs could be debated. These direct democratic political structures not only allowed the Russian masses to participate in tempestuous global affairs, but the issues that confronted Russia were also of interest to the entire world. Let us remember, for example. the international reverberations let loose by the peace negotiation of Brest-Litovsk.
This seemingly overpowering mass spontaneity was even expanded, consolidated and directed toward concrete goals through the organizational work of the Soviets. Originating in the Commune of 187 1, spontaneously cropping up anew in 1905, the Soviet movement became the paradigmatic model of socialist democracy in and after 1917. Its dramatic force sprang from the fact that it allowed men, above all in their everyday life, in their work places, their homes, to organize for direct political action. The Soviets either gradually or abruptly helped the masses rise to a revolutionary consciousness and praxis on all critical social questions. During the final phase of the formation of the Soviet movement (1917), the interconnection of everyday life with politics, the question of a rapid conclusion of a peace treaty with Germany, was firmly fused. There emerged a spontaneous interchange between everyday questions and those of the highest political magnitude. Socialist democratization as represented in the Soviets joined the subjective and objective. The context of the times, the Revolution of 1917 and the World War of 1914, facilitated these developments.
The Soviet movement developed spontaneously everywhere and step-by-step rose to a higher and higher level of consciousness. The Stalin era twisted the controversy between Lenin and Luxemburg into a manipulatory demagogical distortion so that what it called conscious behavior stood in exclusive contrast to spontaneity in order to lessen the social significance of spontaneity. Stalin magnified the contrast between Lenin and Luxemburg and made Lenin out to be an opponent of mass spontaneity. Stalin did this in order to strengthen the dominating control of the party over the mass. But Lenin, whom Stalin presented as the authority responsible for this bureaucratic and manipulative attitude, was not hostile to spontaneity and conceived it as the “cell of teleological action." And, indeed, the Revolution sought and often spontaneously found those institutional forms which could constitute the political framework for a real revolutionizing of Russian society, forms which themselves created the opportunity for an expanded level of activity for men. Spontaneous mass movements heighten the sense of human self-determination and show how the knowledge of objective reality can be transformed into an instrument of human teleological action. This can only occur if the connection between the particular interests of the day and the crucial universal questions becomes real for the person involved in the concerns of everyday life. Revolutionary situations differ from the ordinary everyday because such situations spontaneously call for action. It is not sufficient to comprehend revolutionary situations theoretically. Obviously, becoming conscious in this context does not simply mean the reception and understanding of “information,” but the inherent transformation of consciousness into a guide for one’s own action. This movement of spontaneity towards a teleology of praxis will be discussed in detail later on. For now, we have to content ourselves with the observation that the Revolution of 1917 — thanks to Lenin’s leadership of the Communist party — was capable of synthesizing the everyday with the crucial problems of society and the state, and because of this the Soviet government did not lose its rootedness in the everyday life of the people.
The bitter Civil War raised the accomplishments of the Soviet movement to memorable heights. At the same time, economic factors that stemmed from the underdevelopment of the Russian Empire worked in a subterranean fashion to undermine the achievements of the Soviets. These economic pitfalls were hidden by the successes of the day. Lenin recognized this dangerous course when he abruptly changed directions, repudiated “war communism” both theoretically and practically and introduced NEP. He saw — and this was the chief danger of bureaucratization — that the spontaneous revolutionary unity of the people, the alliance of proletariat and peasant that brought about their common liberation from the yoke of capitalism, was in danger of being torn apart. In Lenin’s day, this revolutionary alliance of workers and peasants was consciously organized and supported by the party. The massive economic problems of Russia that became visible after the Civil War could not be solved by the revolutionary spontaneity of 1917. New problems required new solutions. The need for peaceful consolidation and the higher development of socialist democracy posed completely new qualitative problems for the working masses, which even the most sincere and determined revolutionary enthusiasm was not sufficient to solve. (Lenin made this absolutely clear in his speeches and writings concerning the introduction of NEP.)
These difficult tasks were complicated by the nonclassical genesis of socialism in an underdeveloped country. Seemingly, this was a question of mere quantitative difference: after years of an imperialist war followed by a civil war with all their unavoidable destruction even a highly developed capitalist country must engage in a period of economic restoration. Such a period would have two primary purposes and stood at the center of all social praxis: the economic reconstruction of the country and the surpassing of prewar levels of industrial growth. The Soviet Republic was not only concerned with the mere reconstruction of the economy, but with the advance of the economy up to a level, a level that had never been previously attained, which would provide an adequate basis for the building of a socialist society. If we abstractly speak of two durations of time, one a relatively brief period of transition and the other an extended historical epoch, the difference between the transition and the epoch is a mere quantitative one, a variation in the amount of time. However, in terms of social reality, the distinction between transition and epoch is decidedly qualitative, for it concerns not time, but human life. If we speak of a transition in which the reconstitution and advance of the economy can be fulfilled, then we speak of one generation of human beings that can fulfill these tasks. (The transition may amount to a decade.) But if we speak of a historical epoch devoted to the reconstitution and advance of the economy, then we are referring to several generations of human lives which are compelled to concentrate their main purpose and their crucial efforts not so much on the genuine building of socialism as on the material construction of only the economic presupposition of socialism.
The problem outlined above, the development of an objective future economic foundation for socialism, was made more difficult for the Soviet people because it was posed imperatively, the people were not given any alternatives. For politically conscious people, the actual historical alternatives could be concretized in the following questions: given the indispensability of an objective economic foundation for the construction of socialism whether and to what degree the industrial advancement of Russia was compatible with socialist democracy? Was the need for industrial improvement and the resulting institutions and social forms compatible with those institutions and social forms prerequisite for a socialist democracy? We have pointed out earlier when referring to the confrontations over economics called forth by the internal struggles among Lenin’s successors, that none of the contesting groups realized or posed this alternative. They focused exclusively on economic questions and ignored the issue of democratization. Because they remained oblivious to the claim of democracy, they put into place a system of centralized governmental regulation from above. As we have also suggested, Lenin himself opposed this tendency in the last years of his life in so far as he was theoretically and practically capable of influencing events. The alternative between democracy and bureaucracy formed the core of his later writings which can be referred to as his last What Is To Be Done? We have also pointed out what can be seen more clearly from our historical vantage point, that the exclusive preoccupation which economic questions predisposed Lenin’s successors to think in exclusively tactical terms. A distorted Marxist methodology which was on the theoretical level the misunderstanding of the economic as a positivist science and which was on the practical level the grasping of the economic as the absolute political priority in Russia, served as the basis for turning the sociopolitical praxis of Lenin’s successors into more tactical maneuvers. Stalin was also one of those who committed there errors. In terms of the questions we have been discussing, he must not be viewed as a follower of Lenin’s method.
The fact that Stalin was a far superior tactician than his opponents does not change anything in relation to the basic problems concerning the direction of later Soviet development. Stalin and his opponents both retreated from Lenin, both allowed politics to be totally controlled by tactical considerations. In this respect, Stalin was also a more gifted figure among those who were struggling for power, for he out-maneuvered his opponents with superior adroitness and shrewdness. He successfully presented himself as the only genuine and worthy successor of Lenin. In the political discussions of the following decades, Stalin’s propagandistically proclaimed unanimity with Lenin was hammered deeply into the consciousness of the Communists. It ought to be one of the crucial ideological functions of our contemporary transitional period and of our efforts to re-establish genuine Marxism that this historical legend, which has been systematically built by Stalin and his apparatus, be torn to pieces. Practically nothing has been done about this until now, although the subject is extraordinarily important. Leninism, in which the spirit of Marx lived, was converted into its diametrical opposite. Stalin accomplished this deformation of Leninism and Marxism, but he was able to create the illusion that complete unanimity existed between Stalin and Marxism-Leninism. It is extremely important that bourgeois anti-Marxism was solidified because it took Stalin at his word and confused Stalinism and Marxism-Leninism. It is far more important that among the ranks of Communists in socialist lands the picture of Marx and Lenin was also distorted owing to this acceptance of Stalin’s methodology. This became an extremely effective barrier to self-awareness, especially after the basic facts of the Stalin era became widely known and made the historical revision of Stalinism into a matter of extreme urgency.
This condensed rough draft as it lies before us here is not the appropriate place to undertake this arduous task with the necessary exhaustiveness. In this outline, only methodological suggestions can come under discussion. It will achieve its purpose if it helps bring more detailed research gradually into existence. It is impossible to carry out this kind of research with the presently existing materials, documents, and critical bibliography. Step by step, Stalin had build up a deceptive ideological apparatus. His publications are full of quotes from Marx, Engels, and Lenin that, at times, are not even fundamentally wrong but trivialized. Those statements of Stalin which describe his new method and those which show Stalin in opposition to Marxism-Leninism, need to be collated and gathered in a systematic methodological presentation which would show how the omnipotence of tactics, its domination over theory, was grounded and cemented on this foundation. The first step in the omnipotence of tactics was the simplification, even vulgarization, of the principles of Marx and Lenin. It is only necessary to take a look at the definition of dialectics in the famous fourth chapter of the party history to prove this. In the first years of World War I, in preparation for the forthcoming debates over the war, imperialism and the socialist revolution, Lenin had extraordinarily deepened and differentiated his conception of dialectics in his reading of Hegel’s Logic. However, in that famous and classical fourth chapter of the party history, we receive nothing but simplifying vulgarization that functioned in the 1930s as a perfect substitute for Marxism and Leninism. The domination of centrally directed tactics can thrive best if scientific investigation and independent reflection are replaced by a reified, although impressive, mobilization of propagandistic methods.
In order to further clarify the problem of democratization, although an exhaustive and penetrating analysis is not possible, I quote Stalin’s definition of theory from his lectures on the foundations of Leninism. He said: “Theory is the experience of the worker’s movement of all lands taken in its universal form." In order to make the contrast between Stalin and Lenin obvious, it is only necessary to recall the passages of Lenin we quoted earlier in which he defended Marxism as an incorporation of the major cultural experience of the West. While Stalin limited theory to the experiences of proletariat, Lenin saw Marxism as the culmination of the western experience. Even when Lenin, as we have also seen, approached the theory of the “withering away of the state” it is treated by him as a discovery of a general tendency of the totality of world history the results of which can be utilized by Marxism for the true liberation of humanity. Of course, this liberation must be coincident with socioeconomic possibilities and limitations. If Marxism is divorced from its western cultural heritage, if its philosophical presuppositions are detached from its western precursors then it is separated from its broad humanism and loses its higher purposes. The priority of tactics under Stalin accomplished this purpose and led to the general vulgarization of the methodology of Marxism. Stalinism hid this deformation of Marxism through the clever manipulation of language and gave the impression that he had preserved and even advanced the essence of Marxism. This manifested itself with great clarity in Zhdanov’s famous theory concerning the essence of Hegelian philosophy. In order to complete the radical reification of the dialectic, Stalinism found it necessary to rule out the seminal and generative influence of Hegel’s dialectic on Marxism. In order to substantiate the divorce between Hegel and Marx — theoretically, — Hegelian philosophy was presented by Zhdanov as a reactionary response to the French Revolution. In a purely theoretic manner, this was the epitome of the tendency toward vulgarization: Marxism must be presented as something new without any precursors in the bourgeois world, without any relationship to previous world historic developments.
The Stalinist deformation of Marxism was so obvious that even the very first criticism of it at the twentieth Congress quickly unmasked one of its important theoretical constructs as completely fraudulent. We refer to the thesis concerning the worsening of the class struggle during the period of the proletarian dictatorship. In order to expand this correct critique of Stalinism into a real systematic analysis, in order to extend this attack on one idea into a repudiation of the whole Stalinist system, two methodological observations were required.
First, the thesis regarding the worsening of the class struggle was itself not the initial theoretical foundation of Stalinist praxis but only its subsequent justification. The period of the Great Purges, of the physical annihilation of any potential oppositional leader, could be deduced from this highly arbitrary thesis, but the reverse conclusion cuts to the truth: when Stalin, from tactical considerations made the decision for the radical decimation of all opposition, of even individual suspects, the theory of the worsening of the class struggle arose in order to offer propagandistic preparation for and justification of these policies. Secondly, it must be pointed out that this was not an isolated case, but rather illustrated, both objectively and subjectively, Stalin’s characteristic and general methods of procedure.
This is graphically shown by the apologistic theories which arose as a consequence of the pact between Hitler and Stalin. The Hitler-Stalin Pact was of a purely politico-tactical character and could be evaluated as such from a variety of viewpoints. (I personally regarded it as a correct tactical diplomatic chess move.) In relation to the matter we are discussing here, it is above all significant that Stalin immediately appended to this purely tactical maneuver a definition of the nature of the Second World War, namely the idea that the emergent conflict was an imperialist war of the same kind as 1914. Those communists who were loyal to Stalin (for instance, in France) were directed to use their major efforts to overthrow their own governments rather than struggle against Hitler. Only when Hitler broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union did Stalin change his interpretation and designate the Second World War as a struggle against fascism.
The totality of Stalin’s praxis is replete with such tactically manipulated theoretic decisions. The basis of Stalin’s praxis was that the existent tactical needs were supported by a generalized theoretic substructure that in many cases bore no resemblance to either the facts or to the general lines of historical development. Rather, the theory was exclusively intended to justify the existing tactical needs. Thus when Stalin felt the tactical need, in the late 1920s, to attack his rivals as enemies of the socialist revolution on the most minimal theoretical differences the “theory” arose that seemingly marginal differences of opinion signified the highest theoretical danger — a devious way of camouflaging the enemy. With the international workers movement, this priority of the tactical received its most important theoretic embodiment when Stalin denounced the social democrats as “twin brothers” of the fascists, and the left wing of social democracy was regarded as the most dangerous ideological current within the labor movement. (The criticism of Stalin’s methodology is highly important and of immediate concern. It is as operative in the present almost as frequently as it was during the times of Stalin.)
These examples, which can be multiplied at will, clearly illustrate the inner coherence of Stalin’s method: one responds to an existent situation on the basis of tactics. Theory merely has the function of subsequently representing the already made tactical decisions as necessary results of Marxist-Leninist methodology. Within the system, ideology also becomes an object for manipulation. It loses that immense free play, that contradictory multiplicity and asymmetricity that it has in Marx, who looks upon ideology as an instrument to fight out socioeconomic conflicts. Under Stalinism, ideology appeared, on the one hand, as a mechanistic product of a present economic situation. On the other hand, ideology appeared as material without its own content which can for that reason be reshaped according to the will of a person. This corresponds to Stalin’s definition of ideology which he gave in his essay on language. In that essay particular emphasis was laid on the mechanical nature of its genesis. Stalin wrote: “The superstructure is the product of one single epoch in the course of which a given economic basis arises and prevails. For that reason, the superstructure does not last long. It will be removed and disappear with the removal and disappearance of the basis." Even on the stylistic level, the contrast to Marx is striking. For Marx, the disappearance of an ideology is also the outcome of a social process. But Marx did not understand societies as governed by deterministic law. Social developments, for Marx, combines deterministic as well as subjective factors, so the total movement is a relatively non-necessitarian process. In contradiction to Marx, Stalin thought that ideologies were “removed” ,i.e. they were the simple object of a social activity — namely, Stalin’s voluntarism.
The inherent tendency of such manipulation comes to light brilliantly in what is for us the most singular question: Stalin’s destruction of the Soviet structure of the socialist state. We have previously tried to show that the essential characteristic of the new Soviet system was the social transcendence of the citizen — idealism of bourgeois society. The historical purpose of socialism is to end the divorce between the man of everyday life and man as a political agent. The citizen, political man, who acts both democratically and practically, should no longer be an ideal essence cut off from real man (the man of the democratic constitution). Within the context of bourgeois society, this real man is taught to function in terms of egoistic and materialistic ends. But under socialism a new social ideal arises, a man who aims at the material concrete realization of his sociability in everyday life so that the immediate questions of the day as well as the universal and great affairs of state are resolved in collective cooperation with his class comrades. We have already pointed out how the revolutionary collapse of capitalism unleashed a broad and deep enthusiasm that penetrated into all areas of everyday life. The first years of the Bolshevik Revolution exerted an international fascination that stemmed from the world historic drama of this huge undertaking and the enthusiasm it launched passed far beyond the ranks of the Communists. The revolution had opened a new historical horizon, the possibility of new human beginnings. From among a multiplicity of voices, it is sufficient to quote Bloch’s poem, “The Twelve,” in order to show how many people, reacting to the possibilities created by the revolution, now believed that they could achieve a life which combined the worldly, earthly, and material with that of immanent meaning. They believed that the revolution had brought the thousand-year-old dream of the cooperative nature of human species being closer to fulfillment.
The Civil War accomplished two contradictory things: it imparted to this movement the character of inspired heroism and it introduced the bureaucratization of life. At the conclusion of the heroic period, the problem of bureaucratization arose. Emerging in the period after Lenin’s death, the problem of bureaucratization was symptomatic of and above all stemmed from the economics of the nonclassical genesis of socialism in Russia. Stalin’s tactical solution to the existent problems rested in a radical bureaucratic demolition of every tendency that might act as a precondition for socialist democracy. The Soviet system practically ceased to exist. As a mere formality, leaving the one party system in place, the highest democratic organs of the state received a form that brought them extraordinarily close to the impotent parliamentarian system of bourgeois democracy. The lower reaches of the Soviet system were reduced to mere local administrative organs chosen through election. All the efforts of the last years of Lenin’s life to ideologically prepare the construction of a real socialist democracy disappeared. At this time, the participant in political or universal social life could only — in the best of cases — justify his actions as mere bourgeois citizen idealism. In the life of the citizen of the state, the ruling tendency was a universal bureaucratization of political as well as administrative praxis. I repeat, it is impossible to describe, either extensively or intensively, the entire scope of Stalinist praxis in all its theoretical presuppositions and consequences. It appears to me, however, that what has been mentioned so far suffices to make clear how this praxis overturned every attempt on the part of Lenin to continue the formation of the objective as well as subjective conditions for a complete construction of a socialist democracy.
It must be stressed that we are speaking of Socialist Democracy and not of socialism in general. One can and must criticize the blurring of these distinctions by all who wish to defend the Leninist heritage. One must admit that Stalin, who assumed the leadership of Russia for decades as a result of the interparty struggles, did accomplish some highly important results. Stalin did create the industrial base for socialism, but not the political base for socialist democracy. These industrial accomplishments did compensate for the weaknesses resulting from the nonclassical origins of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is a commonplace that these questions over the nonclassical nature of the Russian Revolution cannot be considered even today as completely resolved, but it is likewise obvious that the Soviet Union has ceased being the economically backward country that it was in the 1920s. This was Stalin’s achievement. Nowadays bourgeois critics tend to forget that they once talked of a forced, partial or total restitution of capitalism at the beginning of NEP. Using strategic terminology, Lenin described the NEP as a “retreat.” But the facts say something completely opposite, for capitalism was not restored to Russia and today the Soviet Union has become a major economic power, the second industrial power in the world, despite all its undeniable problems in important areas of economic life. And it has raised itself to this level without having to make the slightest concession in the central principle that the socialization of the means of production is the economic basis of socialism.
This extremely important point is all too often neglected in the current discussions. Especially if one — in addition to many individual factors — criticizes the Stalinist period from the perspective of its political failure to advance socialist democracy, as we do in these pages. At the same time, one must never lose sight of Stalin’s success in laying the economic foundations of socialism and the world historic consequences which followed. One can correctly, for example, affirm the guilt of Stalin in the victory of Hitlerism because Stalin divided German Communists from German Social Democrats and prevented a united left front against Hitler. But one would form a completely warped judgement if one did not at the same time note that the world must thank the Soviet Union above all for preventing Europe from becoming a part of the Hitlerian Reich. Munich and its consequences, the style of official French strategy, show that the democratic-capitalist powers of Western Europe neither possessed the will nor the capacity to oppose the Hitlerian plan of world domination. Only in the Soviet Union did Hitler find an enemy, who with the greatest sacrifices, with an unshakeable determination, could and did achieve his complete extermination. Even with the victory over Hitler, the services of the Soviet Union to rescue and preserve civilization in our time were still not exhausted. One thinks about the atom bomb and its possible military and political consequences. When it was used against Japan every thinking man knew that its use was not necessary but Hiroshima was the prelude to the world domination of American imperialism. Immediately after dropping the bomb, some apolitical but sophisticated men like Thomas Mann, without being socialists, clearly expressed their opinion that the atom bomb was directed more against the Soviet Union than against Japan itself. The fact that in a surprisingly short space of time the Soviet Union was capable of producing its own atom bomb and the resulting nuclear stalemate did not only portend the prevention of a third world war but also halted the world domination of American imperialism.
Stalin, and other leading political personalities, were not the final causes of world events of such great dimensions. Their individual political activity helped realize those tendencies that necessarily grew out of a given economic structure. The Soviet Union as the protector of world peace, as the impediment to imperialist subjection, can only carry out this function consistently because of its socialist structure. Because the Soviet Union has eliminated private property in the means of production there are no economic groups in this socialist state who stand to profit by an outbreak of hostilities. The eradication of private property has uprooted the economic incentives for war. The socialization of the means of production has indeed created the incentives for a policy of peace. Despite many tactical errors in individual cases, Soviet Russia has successfully fulfilled its role as the defender of world peace. The attitude towards war, even toward a world war with all its economic and social consequences, has completely different dimensions in capitalist countries. The driving force that pushes these countries to conquest and war is undoubtedly that part of industry, above all heavy industry, that has a direct interest in such adventures. Anyone who has followed the economic development of the imperialist period with even the slightest concern can easily see that the most important advances of modern industrial development are the direct result of the armaments industry and war itself. Even though against the immediate interests of the populace, the success of the capitalist manipulation of public opinion in ideologically mobilizing the broad masses in the cause of patriotic wars need not concern us. In most cases, the power that is gathered behind the war lobby is strong enough to prevail in the unleashing or continuation of war, even against mass opposition.
After the confiscation of the means of production from the hands of individuals or particular groups, there no longer exists in the Soviet Union social groups that find war to be economically profitable. In socialist societies there is no longer any economic base for the social divisiveness engendered by war. Any war can only have purely negative consequences, such as lowering the present or potential standard of living of working people. In all socialist countries, these decisive and automatic economic consequences of the socialization of the means of production are the material conditions for its spontaneous desire for peace.
The ability of socialist society to limit militarism refers exclusively to war itself. The armaments — technological preparation for war is another matter. We must soon delve into the question of how the socialization of the means of production effects the normal functioning of total production. Before we take a closer look at this highly important problem, let us first take note that every socialist economic system, also manipulated by Stalinist methods, was and still is capable of competing both quantitatively and qualitatively with capitalist production, but only in the field of armaments. The reason for this is obvious. Through the mechanism of commodity exchange, capitalism — indeed with specific limitation — can continuously control the quantity and quality of production. It is understandable that it is more difficult for a planned socialist economy to accomplish this, especially in a Stalinist hyperbureaucratized form of planning and the difficulties of its practical execution. Though we cannot consider this crucial problem in detail in this context, we can still point out that in a socialist system it is possible for the armaments industry — and only for it — to create effective organs for the control of the quantity and quality of the goods it produces. The military accomplishes this by placing the army command — and only it — in a position to test those products it needs in the process of their production. The military only permits the actual production of those products that pass the test of properly functioning use-values. Obviously, some errors of judgment are unavoidable even in this context, but the control exerted by the actual consumers which has been raised to the standard of real competence, creates a difference between the quality and quantity of military production and the quality and quantity of civilian production. This is not just a matter of individual or isolated cases, but a matter that concerns the universal objective structural relations of socialist production itself. Only in the context of the general problem of socialist production can the success or failure of individual cases be discussed.
In pure economic terms, socialism reached two major goals. It created the material basis for a universal policy of peace. At the same time, it developed an industrial-military base that made it an effective force in the power struggle of the imperialist period. But the bureaucratic and ideological manipulation of these attainments seriously reduced the capacity of such policies to internationalize the socialist revolution. Specifically, the purely tactical determination and corresponding manipulation of socialist ideology degraded revolutionary praxis to the level of mere national power politics. In the international area as well, the contrasts between Lenin and Stalin are clearly visible. When Lenin supported Kemal Pascha in his national fight for the liberation of Turkey against the dictatorship of the victorious imperialist powers, the principle behind the support was evident to everyone: in terms of every revolt against the imperialist redistribution of the world, the workers’ and peasants’ state was on the side of the revolutionaries irrespective of the social system in the name of which they rebelled against imperialism. This support was grounded in the principles of socialism, in the philosophically correct theories of Marx and Lenin over the role of the struggle of national liberation in history. Due to his purely tactical approach to all the great questions of history, Stalin was not capable of bestowing such an incontestable spiritual and moral physiognomy to his policies. This was true even against Hitler. When the successors of Stalin, for example, became the protectors of the Arab states against Israel, this decision was modelled on the ideological manipulation of the master. In this void of ideological principle, they were compelled to justify this decision by using the tactical slogan of socialism. Because they embraced Stalin’s methodology, their action took on the appearance of an ideologically embellished great power policy, even though it ultimately had a revolutionary and anti-imperialist grounding. There is a difference between revolutionary principle and national power politics. We shall return to the question of the international consequences of this kind of ideological misunderstanding and show the effects such ideological misinterpretation had on socialist world policies since Stalin’s time.