Ernest Mandel

Bureaucracy and Commodity Production

The theoretical bases of a Marxist interpretation of the USSR

(Part II)

IV. The concrete impact of the bureaucracy on social reality

Our revolutionary marxist interpretation of the Soviet Union isn’t based on an ‘objectivist’, still less an ‘economist’ conception of history. [28] We do not affirm in any case that the ‘subjective factor’ (the political line applied by the leadership of the state and the party) and its relationship with the average ‘national’ and ‘international’ class consciousness of the proletariat should have had, or has, a purely marginal impact. The objective circumstances (the degree of the development of the productive forces) certainly impose strict limits on the politics of the state and the party. Even the best revolutionaries in the Soviet Union would not be able today (not to speak of 1920, of 1927, of 1933 or of 1953) to completely abolish commodity production, the monetary economy, the state and the bureaucracy.

But, within these objective limits, the range of political possibility is more extended than one would generally believe. It is nearly twenty five years since we tried to explain (in chapter 16 of our Traité d’Économie Marxiste) the theoretical basis of these possible political variants. Nobody, up until now, has given a theoretical reply nor have they refuted the arguments.

In every society where there exists a more or less continuous enlargement of the forces of reproduction of social product it will subdivide itself, not into two, but into three base sectors:

  1. the funds consumed in production (A), which allows the reconstitution of the labour force and the means of production exhausted in the course of production;
  2. the funds of accumulation (B), constituted by the sum of the means of production and of the supplementary consumption of the producers, rendered expendable by the enlarged reproduction, measured in use values (in this context we evidently do not consider the relations of the value of exchange, because we are not only discussing the capitalist mode of production);
  3. the funds for non-productive consumption (C) (also including armaments production) which contributes nothing to the enlargement of future reproductive forces, again in terms of use values. [29]

The bureaucratic economic ideology (supported by innumerable western ideologues, including pseudo and semi-marxists) insists on the fact that a limitation of spending on production for consumption is necessary to guarantee a high level of accumulation for economic growth which will then assure in the long term ‘optimal growth’ of consumption. This is what would explain the elevated rate of accumulation of the soviet economy (an average of 25% of national revenue per annum). This thesis is practically and theoretically incorrect for two fundamental reasons: firstly, it neglects the fact that direct funds for consumption for the producers really represents the funds of indirect means of production. Each distancing from what the producers consider to be necessary for their consumption causes a relative, or even absolute, fall in labour productivity. Supplementary investments made possible by this relative or absolute fall in the consumption of the producers ends up with the rates of growth of final production. The 25% rate of accumulation initially implies an annual growth of 7%, then of 5%, then of 4%, then only 3%. Western economists refer to this as a ‘capital growth coefficient’ in the USSR: the official soviet economists define the same phenomenon with the concept of ‘slowing of the [duration of] the rotation of fixed funds’ [30] – secondly this ideology neglects the fact that the producers who consume less than they would like to, who consume goods of poor quality, and who are not satisfied with their working and living conditions (including with the absence of political and civil rights) work in an indifferent fashion, if not consciously slowly. Thus they must be forced to work.

In a capitalist economy this is essentially regulated by the labour market, that’s to say by fluctuations in wages, by the fear of losing one’s job, by periodic mass unemployment during economic crises and depressions, etc. In the Soviet Union these constraints only functioned marginally, or not at all: it is not at all simply a capitalist society. In place of the laws of the market there is administrative control and pressure and repression are in operation: the despotism of the bureaucracy. These circumstances explain precisely the over-development of controllers and police of all sorts: the hypertrophy of the bureaucracy and of the state. This ends up with an enormous growth in the above mentioned C (the resources for non-productive consumption). From this fact B diminishes more than in the case of a reasonable increase in A. The expansion of unproductive expenses reduces or suppresses the benefits of growth which are believed to be obtainable by limiting the consumption of the producers (A).

Herein lies the complete secret of the politics and the economic history of the bureaucracy, of its initial successes and of its more and more apparent setbacks. Because of the internal contradictions in its management and its planning, the bureaucracy is more and more the brake on the expansion of the productive forces. This obstacle on the road to socialism must be eliminated before advances can be made again.

In the Soviet Union the size of the bureaucracy, as much as that of commodity production, is much larger than that which is objectively inevitable. The interaction between objective inevitability and bureaucratic politics (that’s to say the product of specific bureaucratic interests) determines soviet reality and its dynamic. The consequences of this interaction can be summarised in the formula: an enormous waste. A recent chief of the bureaucracy, Yuri Andropov, estimated that one third of annual working hours were wasted. One would not be able to find a more overwhelming judgement on the management of the soviet economy by the bureaucracy.

From the time of Marx, marxist revolutionaries have always been aware of the danger of the working class, come to power, would be oppressed by its own bureaucrats. In The Civil War in France, Marx sketched out the measures by which the State-Commune – the dictatorship of the proletariat – would have to distinguish itself from the bourgeois state: election of all officials by universal suffrage; recall by the electors; limitation of payment to the average worker’s wage. Marx adds:

‘The Commune made that catchword of bourgeois revolutions – cheap government – a reality by destroying the two greatest sources of expenditure: the standing army and state functionarism.’ [31]

In the introduction that he wrote for this pamphlet of Marx, Engels explicitly affirmed:

‘From the outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not manage with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.’ (our emphasis). [32]

Starting from this base Lenin was able to draw the following conclusion:

‘The whole point is that this “sort of parliament” will not merely “establish the working regulations and supervise the management” of the “apparatus”, but this apparatus will not be “bureaucratic”. The workers, after winning political power, will smash the old bureaucratic apparatus, shatter it to its very foundations, and raze it to the ground; they will replace it by a new one, consisting of the very same workers and other employees, against whose transformation into bureaucrats the measures will at once be taken which were specified in detail by Marx and Engels.’ (our emphasis) [33]

Toward the end of his conscious life, Lenin recognised with bitterness that these guarantees were not working in the Soviet Union. For this reason he qualified the existing state as a workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations, a bureaucratically deformed workers’ state. [34] This formula isn’t the invention of Trotsky or of the fourth international. It comes from Lenin, who employed it notably in justifying strikes in the USSR. (Between times, the right to strike has been expunged from the constitution of the Soviet Union and from that of the People’s Republic of China). It is no longer permitted to talk of the ‘withering away of the bureaucracy’. The soviet bureaucracy is forced to recognise that in its social formation, and in similar social formations, powerful social contradictions exist. [35] After the XX Congress of the CPSU, the failure of the Chinese cultural revolution, and the explosion of Solidarnosc in Poland, it would be difficult to deny it. But it cannot allow that one takes account of its contradictions by social concepts. It has to limit itself to ‘explanations’ historically or even purely moralistically ideological: ‘errors’, ‘deviations’, ‘bad conduct’, ‘factionalism’, ‘cliquism’, ‘crimes’, absence of ‘communist morality’ (one no longer says proletarian morality), etc.

It is true that, at times, a critical soviet author may risk himself by going further. But he must, from the start, entangle himself in contradictions because he cannot go right to the conclusion of his thoughts. He also risks violent reprimands from the authorities. It is this that the soviet philosopher Butenko predicted in another situation. It happened to him after he had denounced, in the light of events in Poland, ‘the deformations’ of the Polish system from 1948-1949, that’s to say right from the very start, also to say they have lasted for more than 30 years! So, he wrote that a deformation of socialism could consist of ‘the common ownership of the means of production ... were able to be replaced ... by the property of the bureaucratic state, separate from the workers’. What’s more, ‘the mechanisms of power in the interests of the workers and by the workers themselves could be replaced by a mechanism of workers’ power but not in their interests’. Is this only true in the People’s Republic of Poland and not for the USSR? We don’t need to reply: te fabula narratur (roughly ‘are you joking’ – Trans)? And what to think of the following conclusion:

‘The analysis of these contradictions is a task heavy with responsibility[indeed, indeed, E.M.] which touches on the interest of diverse groups [which groups? Why this kind, indulgent, appeasing way of talking? E.M.] and for which each imprecise remark [Only the imprecise? Perhaps even more so for each precise remark? E.M.] may be used to the detriment of society [Why are the interests of a ‘group’ suddenly identified with the interests of society, although they are mutually contradictory? E.M.] as much as to the disadvantage of the researcher in question [Here’s the real problem! Who is able to utilise it? The proletariat as the ruling class? Or the plenipotentiaries of the party, of the state and of the bureaucracy?].’

Butenko went as far as to advance the conclusion:

‘These manifestations of deformation of socialism produce themselves each time on a concrete historical base, which are normally parasitic eruptions on the real process of socialist growth, and which are undertaken by determined groups in their own interests.’ (our emphasis) [36]

Who are these mysterious ‘determined groups’? Why aren’t they named? Are they not, precisely, the bureaucracy?

The same thing goes for the most liberal of non-soviet apologists. And so Georges Lukacs starts his commentary on the XX Congress of the CPSU in squarely rejecting the ‘cult of personality’ as an explanation for stalinism. He makes the first timid steps towards a social, materialist explanation of the phenomenon.

‘My first, almost immediate reaction to the XX Congress was directed beyond the person, against the organisation: against the bureaucratic machine which has produced the cult of personality and which, it follows, is dedicated to its permanent and expansive reproduction.’ [37]

But the deviation towards an historic idealism is immediately at work. Instead of placing the autonomy of the machine in the context of a social conflict of interests, using the traditional methods of historical materialism, Lukacs explains the enormous crimes of Stalin – the tyrant who killed more communists than Hitler; the bill runs to some 15 million soviet people – by the false ideas of Stalin:

‘I have not completely mastered this material. But already these passing and fragmentary commentaries are able to show you that with Stalin it was not in any way a question of isolated, occasional errors, as many have wanted to believe for a long time. It was rather about a false system of perception, which gradually developed.’ [38]

In other words: the bureaucracy was not working to enthrone the ‘cult of personality’ and ‘Stalin’s false system of ideas’ in the service of material interests which confronted the working class as a foreign social force. The stubborn defence of its monopoly of power is not explained by the fact that this power constitutes the base of its material privileges. No, the ‘false’ ideas of Stalin (which emerged in the special situation in the USSR in the thirties) have produced the total and arbitrary authority of the bureaucracy. Isn’t this a complete rupture with historical materialism? That which is able to explain this rupture for a marxist as educated and intelligent as George Lukacs is his willingness to find excuses for the bureaucratic dictatorship, rather than to explain it scientifically (and also, in passing, to justify his own capitulation before this dictatorship for decades).

Hanging from Lukacs idealistic theses is the ‘objectivist-historicist’ interpretation in the style of Elleinstein who explains the Stalin phenomenon by ‘historic circumstances’ in ignoring once again the specific social phenomenon of the bureaucracy.

To sum up: isolated in a less developed country, the Russian socialist revolution was not able to deploy itself in the direction of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the construction of a socialist society without class, in the way that classical marxist theory had foreseen. Insufficient production created generalised poverty. In these conditions, and given the modest cultural level of the proletariat, it gradually lost the direct exercise of political power to the benefit of a machine of functionaries: the bureaucracy.

The international and Russian proletariat was yet too weak (mostly subjective reasons regarding the former, objective reasons for the latter) to guarantee the progressive limitation of the market and monetary economy and the victorious international extension of the revolution in the more advanced countries. But the growing crisis of imperialism and capitalism, together with the real force of the proletariat and the partial extension of the revolution prevents the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. From this follows the specific manner of play of the law of value and the new division of labour, based on poverty, in soviet society: not under the form of the emergence of a dominant new class, but on the over-development of a bureaucratic layer (caste) not yet liberated from collective ownership of the means of production and of the centralised, planned economy.

This bureaucratic layer enjoys growing material privileges and a monopoly on political power to guarantee them. But it is at the same time obliged to limit its privileges to the sphere of the consumption of goods. From this arises the insurmountable contradictions at the heart of the soviet society and economy. From this arises the necessity of a second political, anti-bureaucratic revolution, the only historical alternative to the disintegration of the planned economy and collective ownership by the transformation of a part of the bureaucracy into a dominant capitalist class.

In this framework, the direction of the politics of the CPSU is neither objectively predetermined nor without influence in the evolution of the countries of the world. It possesses an evident margin of autonomy. In the face of the enlargement of commodity production and of the expansion of the bureaucracy, this direction can stimulate or fight these developments. Up to now, it has accelerated them in a significant manner. It has thus sharpened the social contradictions. Far from being an arm of the proletarian masses (of the proletariat as a class) against bureaucracy, as Lenin hoped and wished, the party has transformed itself into an instrument of bureaucratic authority. Instead of raising the proletariat to the position of direct class dominance during the dictatorship of the proletariat, the party has transformed itself into a bureaucratic machine separate from the working class. The bureaucratisation of the party is entwined with the bureaucratisation of the state to oppress the proletariat once again.

It is evident that all these problems are closely linked to those of the thermidor. But is much less well known that, already by 1921, Lenin had posed the problem of an eventual thermidor in the Soviet Union in his notes for the 10th Conference of the party: ‘Thermidor? In reason one has to say: it’s possible, isn’t it? Will it arrive? We will see.’ [39]

V. The fetishistic ideology of the bureaucracy

The ideological evolution of the stalinist and post-stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR corresponds in a striking manner – we would even say a surprising manner – with the contradictory and hybrid social reality of the USSR, with the specific overlapping of bureaucratic despotism and of the influence of the law of value.

The bureaucracy does not have its own ideology. It continues to support itself on a systematic deformation of marxism as a substitute for such an ideology. But it does not involve a fortunate or exclusively pragmatic deformation. Cutting across the cynicism of realpolitik which has lead the Kremlin to impose a thousand conjunctural twists and capers on those unfortunate official ideologues, more fundamental traits have emerged little by little.

The first of these traits is the fetishisation of the state pushed to the extreme. In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (Kritik des Hegelschen Staatsrecht), Marx had already presented this fetishisation as an ideological characteristic of all bureaucracies. He did it in a penetrating and brilliant fashion, one which is completely applicable to the soviet bureaucracy:

‘The bureaucratic mind is through and through a Jesuitical, theological mind. The bureaucrats are the Jesuits and theologians of the state. The bureaucracy is la république prêtre. Since the bureaucracy according to its essence is the state as formalism, so too it is according to its end. The real end of the state thus appears to the bureaucracy as an end opposed to the state. The mind of the bureaucracy is the formal mind of the state. It therefore makes the formal mind of the state, or the real mindlessness of the state, a categorical imperative. The bureaucracy asserts itself to be the final end of the state. Because the bureaucracy makes its formal aims its content, it comes into conflict everywhere with the real aims. Hence it is obliged to present what is formal for the content and the content for what is formal. The aims of the state are transformed into aims of bureaus, or the aims of bureaus into the aims of the state. The bureaucracy is a circle from which no one can escape, its hierarchy is a hierarchy of knowledge. The highest point entrusts the understanding of particulars to the lower echelons, whereas these, on the other hand, credit the highest with an understanding in regard to the universal; and thus they deceive one another. The bureaucracy is the imaginary state alongside the real state; it is the spiritualism of the state. As a result everything has a double meaning, one real and one bureaucratic, just as knowledge is double, one real and one bureaucratic (and the same with the will). A real thing, however, is treated according to its bureaucratic essence, according to its otherworldly, spiritual essence. The bureaucracy has the being of the state, the spiritual being of society, in its possession; it is its private property. The general spirit of the bureaucracy is the secret, the mystery, preserved inwardly by means of the hierarchy and externally as a closed corporation. To make public the mind and the disposition of the state appears therefore to the bureaucracy as a betrayal of its mystery. Accordingly authority is the principle of its knowledge and being, and the deification of authority is its mentality. But at the very heart of the bureaucracy this spiritualism turns into a crass materialism, the materialism of passive obedience, of trust in authority, the mechanism of an ossified and formalistic behaviour, of fixed principles, conceptions, and traditions. As far as the individual bureaucrat is concerned, the end of the state becomes his private end: a pursuit of higher posts, the building of a career. In the first place, he considers real life to be purely material, for the spirit of this life has its separate existence in the bureaucracy. Thus the bureaucrat must make life as materialistic as possible. Secondly, real life is material for the bureaucrat, i.e. in so far as it becomes an object of bureaucratic action, because his spirit is prescribed for him, his end lies outside of him, his existence is the existence of the bureau. The state, then, exists only as various bureau-minds whose connection consists of subordination and dumb obedience. Real knowledge appears to be devoid of content just as real life appears to be dead, for this imaginary knowledge and life pass for what is real and essential. Thus the bureaucrat must use the real state Jesuitically, no matter whether this Jesuitism be conscious or unconscious. But given that his antithesis is knowledge, it is inevitable that he likewise attain to self-consciousness and, at that moment, deliberate Jesuitism. While the bureaucracy is on one hand this crass materialism, it manifests its crass spiritualism in its will to do everything, i.e., in its making the will the causa prima, for it is pure active existence which receives its content from without; thus it can manifest its existence only through forming and restricting this content. The bureaucrat has the world as a mere object of his action.’ [40]

Let’s see how this applies in practice to the soviet bureaucracy: first of all a doctrine which denies the parasitism and the historically limited, transient character of the state. Let’s listen to doctor L.S. Mamut, that particularly gifted author:

‘From a retrospective point of view the reality of the state, as can be seen only on the scale of world history, develops a continuously more elevated level of political liberty for the society and its social subjects (...) According to Marx, liberty can only be created with the help of institutions (of the state); to that end they are fundamentally changed and, what is more important, have to be placed under the effective control of the workers of the new society (...) After the victory of the revolutionary proletariat over the bourgeoisie, the liberty of society will include the liberty of every worker. A collective liberty which does not have as a precondition the liberty of every associated individual is, according to Marx and Engels, simply absurd. Society cannot liberate itself without liberating each individual.’ [41]

With the exception of the last two phrases, which come from Marx and Engels and not from an ideologue of the soviet bureaucracy, this extract is theoretically and empirically absurd. The ‘victory of the revolutionary proletariat over the bourgeoisie’ has been a reality in the Soviet Union for sixty eight years. Does each soviet worker today have the freedom to create an independent union, a political organisation or a monthly paper without the prior approbation of an organ of the state? May he write and distribute a pamphlet or a tract that displeases the ‘functionaries’ without censure? If he tries to do so, isn’t he lead immediately to the commissariat whether in a labour camp or a psychiatric hospital, and doesn’t he immediately lose his job? Is that the liberty of the individual? Does the soviet working class effectively control the KGB? Where? How? When? Aren’t intelligent critics ashamed to writes such nonsense? Where is ‘the soviet workers control’ over the central organs of the state – the same organs of the state that are supposed to guarantee ‘a continuously more elevated level of political liberty for the society and its social subjects’? This control might exist in relation to the circulation of the metro or to the temperature of the soup in the factory kitchen (but even that is not certain!). But such a ‘control’ exists equally under different forms in bourgeois democracy: this is not ‘a more elevated level of political liberty for the social subject’.

A sophist might reply: ‘political liberty’ is less important than economic liberty. Let’s admit it. But in what way, and why, are these opposites? And then are soviet workers free to determine the proportions of the state economic plan, to decide the relationship between consumption and accumulation? Are they free to criticise Gosplan decisions in public, to propose alternative proportions in the state’s spending, salarial or social, or the politics of health and education? Isn’t that ‘economic freedom’? And how can one enjoy economic liberty without enjoying political liberty, when the state controls the means of production and social surplus?

Is it compatible with marxism to pretend that, even if the workers effectively control the organs of the state, they would transform the state such that it would guarantee ‘ever greater liberty’? Not at all. Engels wrote:

‘In possession of the public power and the right of taxation, the officials now present themselves as organs of society standing above society. The free, willing respect accorded to the organs of the gentile constitution is not enough for them, even if they could have it. Representatives of a power which estranges them from society, they have to be given prestige by means of special decrees, which invest them with a peculiar sanctity and inviolability. The lowest police officer of the civilized state has more “authority” than all the organs of gentile society put together; but the mightiest prince and the greatest statesman or general of civilization might envy the humblest of the gentile chiefs the unforced and unquestioned respect accorded to him. For the one stands in the midst of society; the other is forced to pose as something outside and above it.’ [42]

Here one is far from ‘the state which’ from the point of view of world history ‘develops more and more liberty’ for individuals! These lines of Engels brilliantly sum up the complete marxist theory of bureaucracy. What’s more, Engels, writing to Bebel, said exactly the opposite to what Mamut said concerning ‘the state as guarantor of liberty’.

‘As long as the proletariat still uses the state, it uses it not in the interests of liberty, but to oppress its adversaries and, as soon as it’s a question of liberty, the state as such ceases to exist.’ [43]

As for the difference between the bourgeois state – and all other forms of class dominated states – on the one hand and the proletarian state (the dictatorship of the proletariat) as Marx and Engels had conceived it, Lenin was still more cutting and radical. In the State and Revolution he wrote, in referring to the Paris commune and the dictatorship of the proletariat:

‘It is still necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie and crush their resistance ... The organ of suppression, however, is here the majority of the population, and not a minority, as was always the case ... And since the majority of people itself suppresses its oppressors, a “special force” for suppression is no longer necessary! In this sense, the state begins to wither away. Instead of the special institutions of a privileged minority (privileged officialdom, the chiefs of the standing army), the majority itself can directly fulfil all these functions, and the more the functions of state power are performed by the people as a whole, the less need there is for the existence of this power ... This shows more clearly than anything else the turn from bourgeois to proletarian democracy, from the democracy of the oppressors to that of the oppressed classes, from the state as a “special force” for the suppression of a particular class to the suppression of the oppressors by the general force of the majority of the people ...’ [44]

Lenin summed up the difference between the bourgeois state and the dictatorship of the proletariat in these succinct and radical terms: ‘Soviet power is a new type of state, without bureaucracy, without police, without a standing army.’ [45]

We see yet again all that separates the bureaucratic workers’ state and the power of councils as envisaged by Marx, Engels and Lenin. The irony is that if anyone was to publish and distribute Lenin’s quote today in the USSR, they would receive a sentence of five to ten years of forced labour in the gulag for the crime of ‘anti-soviet agitation’ or of ‘defamation of the soviet authorities’. Worse still, he might be subjected to years of internment in a psychiatric hospital brainwashed by medication. Effectively one would have to be mad – as mad as Lenin – to imagine a soviet state without bureaucrats, without police and without a standing army ... The fetishism of the state sometimes passes beyond belief: the bureaucracy’s ideologues tranquilly envisage the maintenance of the secret police, i.e. the KGB, in a ‘fully developed’(sic) communist society without state: ‘the state withers away but the organs remain’! How, indeed, to foresee its own disappearance as a distinct and privileged social group without denying itself now? One could not find better proof than this that the ideologues of the bureaucracy are, in the last analysis, the ideologues of the police.

But in the ideology of the bureaucracy the fetishism of the state is combined, at the same time, in a bizarre and significant manner with classical commodity fetishism, a characteristic of all commodity producing societies (partial or general). Marx demonstrated that commodity production only exists as a function of the private character of work, thus of private property (once again: partial or general). No, the stalinist and post-stalinist ideologues reply. The law of value rules in the USSR as a function of ‘objective necessity’: it’s an ‘objective law’.

Borrowing a formula, in any case shortened, from Engels, and refilling it with a content completely different from Engel’s, they add: liberty can only be the recognition of necessity. But with this formula, Engels was explicitly referring to the ‘law of nature’. For stalinist and post-stalinist ideologues the ‘law of value’ thus has the force of a ‘law of nature’, while for Marx and Engels the law was truly neither ‘natural’ nor eternal, but strictly linked to particular social conditions, limited in time, those precisely of societies in which producers work separately from one another because of private ownership, and don’t enter into mutual relations with each other except by the exchange of products from their private work.

The hybrid combination of the fetishisation of the state and the fetishisation of commodities in the ideology of the bureaucracy, takes in its turn the specific form of justification of its own role and of the function of the bureaucracy in itself. The bureaucracy ‘uses’ (the young Marx said: petrifies) the ‘objective laws’ to direct the economy. The despotic state manipulates ‘the law of value’, that’s to say it violates it at every step. But at the same time bureaucratic planning has to bend before ‘the material interests’ of the producers (in fact that of the bureaucrats), and cannot base itself on the priority realisation of democratic needs defined by the workers in terms of ‘use values’, because ‘the law of value prohibits it’. It will reign, then, despite the sovereignty of the state. Sometimes the arbitrary nature of bureaucratic management is legitimated by this, sometimes it is its wasteful disfunctionality, which will be in fact independent of the will and the action of the bureaucracy.

‘One oughtn’t to go to the other extreme: if commodity production prevails, and with it the anarchy of the market, the law of value will act in a spontaneous manner, production for an unknown free market will be inevitable, given the regulatory role of this law, etc. Spontaneity is prevented by the socialist state, since it attempts to restrain the negative sides [!] of commodity-money relations and to subordinate their instruments [?] to consciously planned goals. Thanks to the theory of marxism-leninism and from the practice of the construction of socialism and communism, the great economic potential of the socialist state as subject and organising force of the economic mechanism has been discovered [!] and demonstrated. It would, however, be an error to believe that in socialism the determination of quantity [of the measure?] of work and consumption depends solely [!] on the state. To an important extent this function is fulfilled by the law of value.’ [46]

According to Marx, the law of value imposes itself in a market economy in an objective manner, on the backs of men and women, and acts independently of their will. It determines in the medium term – but not by day to day – the value of commodities and thus the value of the commodity of ‘labour power’, in so far as the latter is a commodity. In socialist society, are the resources available for the producers consumption determined by their conscious decision to devote let’s say 75% of production to consumer goods? No, replies our not very red professor: the socialist state (and what of the associated producers?) isn’t free to determine by itself the size of these resources: ‘to an important extent’ these function is fulfilled by the law of value.

Thus labour force is still a commodity! If not, how else could it have a value determined by ‘the law of value’? But if labour force is a commodity, in the same way as the means of production, how can ‘the socialist state’ prevent ‘the law of value’ – an objective law, independent of human will – from determining the values of all commodities, and thus the dynamics of economic growth? It’s because the ‘socialist state’ can ‘restrain’ this law! If this pure gibberish has any sense, it’s that it demonstrates that the disorder in the ‘theory’ of the bureaucracy is of the same measure as the disorder in its practical management. This all ends up with the revisionist concept that the state survives, not just in socialist society but even in a ‘not entirely achieved’ communist society, and this despite the complete disappearance of classes. What is this strange state for? ‘The withering away of the state will depend in the first place on the success with which the rest of capitalism is eliminated from the consciousness of man.’ [47]

In other terms: an apparatus of repression is necessary – ‘groups of armed men’ – to exclusively impose ideological discipline (monolithism)! The police restrict themselves to policing ideas, since they have nothing else to do. But, even so, they must survive to fulfil this ‘vital’ function. Isn’t it evident that we are in the presence of an ideology of self-justification which reflects the material existence of the bureaucracy as an apparatus, that appropriates for itself the exercise of functions that society formerly exercised without a special apparatus, which could be exercised in the same manner tomorrow except that it isn’t ‘authorised’ to exercise it because the bureaucracy needs to survive at any price?

The full significance of the anti-bureaucratic political revolution, and its objective necessity, cannot be grasped without understanding both the objective role of the bureaucracy and the objective function of socialist democracy in the USSR. It is not about applying some ‘ideal norms’. It is about the socio-economic necessities resulting from the inherent contradictions of soviet society.

When the state takes control of all the major means of production, appropriates and centrally distributes the social surplus, the question of the control of both these things becomes decisive for the dynamics of society. This question implies a redistribution of the social surplus between the three great funds mentioned above (the A, B, C in section IV, Translator’s note). While in the absence of effective democracy in the councils, the state is driven to carry out its management without reference to the needs and preferences of the great mass of producers and consumers, which are both clearly recognised and expressed, social despotism (that’s to say oppression) and economic dysfunction are inevitable.

For this reason, the arbitrary-despotic character of the centralised economic allocation in the Soviet Union does not reflect the ‘essence’ of collective ownership and still less the ‘essence’ of the imperatives of a planned economy. The bureaucracy may apply ‘reforms’ with the aim of correcting this arbitrary character. It may reapply supplementary doses of market economy. But the bureaucratic centralism remains no less despotic and wasteful; it is condemned to remain so. There is only one alternative to arbitrary bureaucracy: a system of planning and management in which the mass of workers centrally allocate resources and democratically determine priorities themselves. Such a system demands that the masses themselves articulate their needs as producers, consumers and citizens, in other words that they become the masters of their conditions of work and life, that they progressively liberate themselves from despotism, from the bureaucratic diktat and from that of the market (the tyranny of the wallet).

It is only in this way that one can, in the immediate future, beat the irresponsibility and incompetence of the bureaucracy. The satisfactory solution of relations between production and needs signifies democratic centralism, that’s to say the auto-centralised administration of the economy and the state, planned and realised by the workers themselves. [48] This is not possible except with the progressive restriction (but not the immediate abolition) not only of commodity production but also of the bureaucracy, in the framework of the socialist democracy of councils.


28. For orthodox Maoists a large dose of ignorance and cynicism are needed in order to accuse the Chinese proletariat, and certain factions of the Chinese bureaucracy after the ‘Chinese cultural revolution’ of economism, because they demanded a modest increase in wages. The proletariat had lived for a decade with stagnant monetary wages and declining real wages. At the same time, the ruling layers of the bureaucracy – here including Mao’s faction in the restrictive sense of the term – lived in abundance, having enormous privileges, with villas, private cinemas, private gardens and swimming pools, and heaps of private servants in their luxury villas. This cynicism wasn’t only shared by the ruling clique of the People’s republic, but also by the most important Maoist intellectuals outside China ... A cynicism which cannot be ‘excused’ but by the flagrant ignorance of real conditions. But for the intellectuals it isn’t an excuse, above all because this naïve ignorance shows itself twice: firstly in relation to the soviet reality, then in relation to the Chinese reality.

29. Ernest Mandel, Traité d’Économie Marxiste, Paris, collection 10/18, 1969, vol.4, pp.84-149.

30. Cf. also A Bagdarassov, S. Pervouchine, Productivité du Travail, Réserves pour la Croissance, Kommunist no.2, 1983.

‘A major cause of the quantitatively and qualitatively poor statistics of economic growth comes from the fact that in place of a real economy of work on a non-equivalent basis, an exchange is produced between living work and dead work, objectified, in the terms of which each new pace towards the growth of productivity of work based on a larger expenditure for objectified work, is not compensated by expenditure on living work in the economy’.

31. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, in Oeuvres Choisies in 2 vols., op. cit., p.555.

32. Ibidem, p.512.

33. Lenin, The State and Revolution, op. cit., p.252.

34. Lenin, Werke, vol.32, p.7. Alexandre Zimine (Le Stalinisme et son ”socialisme réel“, Paris, La Brèche, 1982) presents an overwhelming indictment against the revisionist thesis of a ‘socialism’ that would go hand in hand with the persistent survival of diverse social classes.

35. Relating to this, cf. the article by W.S. Semionov, the chief editor of the soviet journal Voprossi Philosophii, The problem of contradictions under socialism, in no.7, 1982, and A. Butenko, The contradiction of the development of socialism as a social order, no.10, 1982.

36. A. Butenko, op. cit.

37. George Lukacs, Lettre à Carocci, op. cit., p.658.

38. Ibidem, p.674.

39. V.I. Lenin, Sochineniya (Complete Works in Russian), vol.43, p.403 of the fifth edition.

40. Karl Marx, Kritik des Hegelschen Staatsrecht, MEW, vol.1, pp.248-250.

41. L.S. Mamut, Aspects Socio-Philosophiques de la Doctrine Marxiste de l’État, in Voprossi Philosophii no.2, 1982. The citation of Marx is in MEW vol.XX, p.273.

42. Friedrich Engels, The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, op. cit., p.166.

43. Friedrich Engels, Lettre à Bebel du 18-28 mars 1875, in MEW, vol.34, p.129.

44. Lenin, The State and Revolution, op. cit. pp. 194-195.

45. Lenin, Sämtliche Werke, first edition, vol.22, p.390.

46. Professor A.I. Malych, Fragen der Ökonomischen Theorie in Friedrich Engels Anti-Duhring, in Marx-Engels Jahrbuch 2, Dietz-Verlag, Berlin 1979, pp.103-104.

47. Grundlagen der Marxistischen Philosophie (German translation of a soviet work), Dietz-Verlag, Berlin 1959, p.584.

48. Experience has shown that without political pluralism, that’s to say without an effective system (and not only a formal one) of different political groupings, free elections and the possibility to elect and recall the leaders from the highest posts are impossible in an already consolidated workers’ state. Cf. the theses adopted on Dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist democracy by the XII Congress of the IV International.


Last updated on 2.1.2006