Marx and Soviet Reality. Daniel Norman (1955)

II: Communist Society According to Marx

Marx and Engels were Western Europe’s children, bred in her civilisation, and their theories the direct product of her culture. They shared with their immediate predecessors and their contemporaries a general optimism in the future of mankind and a belief in progress, in men and in man’s ability to create a better world. Men as free and socially integrated individuals were the focal point of their preoccupations and theory. Taken as a whole, their writings bear the mark of the scholars and revolutionary fighters they were, but also of the Utopian trend of their times. Not only did they not escape the pitfall of Utopia, but in many ways their image of a future society is more Utopian than that of the ‘Utopians’ who preceded them.

Their dream – the Communist Society – was a free association of completely free men, where no separation between ‘private and common interest’ existed: a society where ‘everyone could give himself a complete education in whatever domain he fancied’. For ‘man’s activity becomes an adverse force which subjugates him, instead of his being its master’ when there is ‘a division of labour’; everyone must then have a profession, that is a ‘determined, exclusive sphere of activity’ he has not chosen and in which ‘he is forced to remain if he does not want to lose his means of existence’. In their Communist Society, on the contrary, a man would be given ‘the possibility to do this today and that tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to go fishing in the afternoon, to do cattle breeding in the evening, to criticise after dinner’, as he chose (‘The German Ideology’, MEGA, 1/5).

It would be a mistake to think that this emancipation is meant only on the material plane. All alienation, be it of a material or an ethical, a physical or a psychological, an individual or a social order, disappears in Marx and Engels’ Communist Society. A volume could be filled simply with quotations from all stages of their life describing this or that aspect of their conception of the future society. Here is one of their many definitions of a Communist society. It is taken from one of Marx’s manuscripts, written in 1844, which remained unknown up to the 1930s and was first published in Die Frühschriften (The Early Works), by Landhurst and Mayer; it is called National Economy and Philosophy, and contains a condensed version of almost all the major aspects of their later works, including the first formulation of historical materialism. [1] It is of great importance and help in understanding Marxian Sociology.

In it, the Utopian Marx rubs shoulders with the realist, the materialist with the moralist, the philosopher with the economist. In the introduction, discussing the various forms of Communism, he describes three different kinds: (i) ‘Raw Communism’; (ii) That having preserved a political (‘democratic or despotic’) or an anarchist character; and (iii) That which is a ‘perfect humanism and naturalism’.

The first is termed ‘still barbaric and stupid’. In it ‘the determination of the worker is not suppressed, but extended to all men’. This barbarian Communism, ‘by systematically denying man’s personality, is precisely but the consequent expression of private property, which is itself this negation’. Here:

... the community is only a labour community with equality of wages paid by the common capital, (that is) the community as the general capitalist. The two sides of the capital-labour relationship are raised to an imagined generality, with Labour as the determination in which everybody is placed, capital as the recognised generality and power of the community.

It is in Marx’s view only ‘an aspect of the infamy of private property which wants to present itself as the positive community’ (MEGA, 1/3).

The second form:

... though already conscious of being the reintegration or the return of man to himself, abolition of human self-alienation, not having yet grasped the positive nature of private property nor the human nature of need, is still affected and infected. (Ibid)

The third, which is Marxian Communism, is defined as follows:

Communism as the positive abolition of private property as human self-alienation, means the real appropriation of human entity by and for man; thus the complete, conscious return – accomplished inside all the riches of the past development – of man for himself qua social, that is, as a human being. This Communism is, as perfect Naturalism, identical with Humanism, and as perfect Humanism identical with Naturalism; it is the real solution of the antagonism between man and nature, between man and man; the genuine solution of the conflict between existence and essence, between objectivisation and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. It is history’s solved riddle and is conscious of being the solution. (Ibid)

It is clear that there is not the slightest relation between Marx’s vision of the future Communist society and Soviet Communism. At its best, the latter fits perfectly into the pattern of the barbaric Communism described by Marx. Nothing would be easier than to put all the pieces together and, after having reconstituted the whole picture of the great Marxian Utopia, to compare it with Soviet society, to show not only that no relationship whatsoever can be established between the two, but also that there is no indication in the Russian regime of a future development in the direction of the Communism of which Marx and Engels dreamed. This would certainly be interesting, but it is not our aim here, and it would not be altogether convincing; it could be objected, and with reason, that it was not the Utopia which made Marx and Engels famous, and that their influence is not due to it, even though it occupies an important place in their work and did contribute towards their influence.

For our purpose, then, we need go no further into this question, but shall emphasise two points emerging from the above: (i) As long, in any society, as the slightest alienation in the status of man continues to exist, even if it pretends to be Communism, there is no question of a Communist society in the Marxian sense, and (ii) The abolition of private property does not necessarily lead to this society. This is extremely important, as we shall see.