Marx and Soviet Reality. Daniel Norman (1955)

IV: Soviet Reality According to Stalin

Now let us see what are the direct relations between the owners of conditions of production and the direct producers in the USSR. Apparently we are here confronted with a new type of society. Stalin claimed that they had achieved Socialism – that is, ‘the first phase of Communist society’ (which is based on relations of a ‘new type’). They claim to have ‘abolished’ private property and that the means of production are the ‘property of the whole people, thus rendering impossible the exploitation of man by man’.

According to Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Stalin’s last masterpiece, the new economy, is a planned one, and its basic law is ‘the securing of maximum satisfaction of the constantly rising material and cultural requirements of the whole of society through the continuous expansion and perfection of Socialist production on the basis of higher techniques’. But he admits the persistence of ‘commodity production’ – although in the Soviet economy the ‘system of wage labour and exploitation had been abolished’ – and of ‘commodity circulation’ with its ‘money economy’.

This, according to Stalin, is due to the existence of two basic forms of production. ‘State, or public-owned production, and collective farm production’ where ‘although the means of production (land, machines) do belong to the state, the product of production [sic] is the property of the different collective farms’ and the latter are ‘unwilling to alienate their products except in the form of commodities’. He also admits the ‘existence of the law of value’, and that it still ‘operates’, not only in the ‘sphere of commodity circulation’ but also in ‘production’.

Yet to build his picture of a Soviet Socialist society, Stalin is obliged purely and simply to ‘discard certain... concepts taken from Marx’s Capital such as “necessary” and “surplus” labour, “necessary” and “surplus” product, “necessary” and “surplus” time...’ and others from Engels’ Anti-Dühring, and even to adopt Herr Dühring’s theories on the ‘antithesis’ between town and country and between mental and physical labour.

In fact, so as to present Soviet society as a Socialist society – that is, a Marxian society in the period of transition to Communism – he persistently avoids confronting their view with Soviet reality, and even goes so far as to assert that ‘Commodity production must not be identified with Capitalist production’, that is, the exact contrary of what Marx said. For Capital opens with the famous sentence: ‘The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity.’ Moreover, and most important, Stalin throws Marx’s method of investigation overboard on the pretext that it is not applicable to Soviet society.

Indeed Stalin, who knew better than anybody what Soviet society really is, was perfectly aware that a Marxian analysis of this reality would mean the end of the myth of a ‘Marxist’ Russia, which would be a mortal blow to the interests of Soviet propaganda and influence in the ranks of the masses abroad. He thus gave his usual performance of juggling with half-truths (when not with completely empty notions), using Marx when convenient and ‘discarding’ his sociology in the name of orthodox ‘Marxism’ when not, being certain, as he was, of finding the traditional adversaries of Marx ready to swallow the prepared pill and thus aid in maintaining the deception.

His opus was naturally hailed by all the Stalinists in the world as a ‘work of genius’, a ‘classic of Marxism’, and a ‘masterpiece of Marxism’, and the anti-Socialists joined the chorus with never a doubt cast on its ‘Marxistness’ – to coin a word. Indeed, one of Marx’s recent critics in France went so far as to add a special appendix to his book in which he terms the opus ‘one of the most important contributions to Marxist political economy to see the light of day since Capital itself’ (Marxism and Humanism: Introduction to the Economic Work of Karl Marx, by Pierre Bigo).