Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A. H. Evans

Truth Will Out – Against Modern Revisionism

A Collection of Letters which passed between Arthur Evans and the leadership of the C.P.G.B. between 1947 and 1953.


Maurice Dobb, in his work, “Studies in the Development of Capitalism,” chapters 8-9, puts forward a theory which seems to this writer to constitute a break with the accepted classical Marxist theory. Dobb believes it possible to have “ .... in a matured capitalist economy a democratic state pursuing an expansionist economic theory in the interest of a high standard of mass consumption and using its powers to combat monopolist restriction and to shape production and investment to the general interest,” p.384. Carrying forward this thought he continues: “That such an economic form could be no more than a transitional stage between a capitalist and a socialist system is no doubt true. Transitional economic and social forms, composed to an unusual degree of a mixture of elements from different systems and resting on a precarious balance of conflicting class forces, are apt to have problems peculiar to themselves and to be inherently unstable,” p.386.

J. R. Campbell, who reviews these chapters of this work we are discussing in the Autumn “Modern Quarterly” 1947, is in complete agreement with the above sentiments, he sees the “essence of the conflict between Marxism and Social Democracy” in the inherently unstable conditions resulting from the ’precarious balance of class forces.’ He sees the “... essence of the conflict between Marxism and Social Democracy ... in the class struggle now raging within the controlled economy,” p. 371-2. It is interesting to note the dialectic of the unfolding situation from one of relativeness to one of absolutes, the possibility of a “democratic state combating monopolistic restraint” having a “transitional stage resting on a precarious balance,” has been seized upon by Campbell and carried to its logical conclusion, a “controlled economy” has now emerged!

Classical Marxism rests its case on the attitude it adopts to the nature of the state, hence no understanding of the full implication of this talk of “controlled economy” is possible without at least a cursory examination of the role of the state to society.

Since the publication of the Communist Manifesto a furious struggle around this question of the state has been going on. Classical Marxism contends that the state is primarily, above all else, an instrument of force representing the power of a single dominant class, hence in order for another class, its antipode, to achieve power under conditions peculiar to capitalism two things are essential: (1) the working class must seize state power through breaking the force of the capitalists; (2) the working class must destroy the old apparatus which it cannot use for its purpose. Classical Marxism contends that these two steps are essential because the old repressive apparatus was permeated with the ideology of the old ruling class, pointing out that the smashing of this repressive machine has nothing to do with the problem of utilising the ordinary mechanism of the state, for example the clerical workers.

As is well known the position of Marxism upon the question of the place of imperialism in history is beyond doubt. Lenin, in his famous work, “Imperialism, the highest stage of Capitalism,” summarised the position of revolutionary Marxism on this point, emphasising the continuity of the historical process, proving that imperialism constituted the furthest possible advance of the capitalist system, that with its downfall would end the entire world system of exploitation based upon the rights of private property. What is important to remember is that Marxists regard imperialism as a phase of capitalism covering a definite epoch, and that it is characterised by the rise of monopoly capital out of free competition, with the latter, however, existing alongside it.

One would certainly think that a work bearing the title, “Studies in the development of Capitalism,” a work moreover which claims to rest itself on the Marxist interpretation of economic development, would have devoted itself to a special examination of this question of imperialism, but search as one may the references to imperialism are so vague and general that no one would conclude that imperialism represents a departure to the highest level in the development of capitalist society.

On page 352, where Dobb has been pointing out the usefulness of the state machine in bringing colonial peoples to their senses via the clubbing and terror method, he says: “Needless to say, such conditions were not peculiar to Great Britain in the decades of imperialism,” from this one is entitled to infer that something has happened since those decades Dobb speaks of in the past tense cannot be accidental–nor the attempt to shift the blame away from British imperialism as far as is possible!

That Maurice Dobb is presenting a thesis in defence of such an hypothesis is made quite clear from his remarks on page 372: “In its policy of territorial expansion, fascist economy introduced two significant improvements upon the older imperialism. Imperialism of the 1914 type had turned its eyes toward undeveloped agricultural areas of the world... Thus, as time went on, the two dominating economic motives of imperialism–the desire to extend the investment field and the desire to extend the market for the industrial products of the imperial metropolis–came to stand in contradiction with one another ... If imperialism was to continue to represent an expansive force for capitalism in the older countries, it had to find either new territories or a new technique... this fascist imperialism endeavoured to do.” Here, in a nutshell, is the essence of the theses which Maurice Dobb is putting forward in the name of Marx! (My emphasis).

We are presented here with some pretty ideas indeed: (1) that there are a number of ’types’ of modern imperialism; (2) that the old, pre-1914 type expressed itself through export of capital to backward agricultural areas; (3) that this ’type’ of imperialism died out because it faced an insoluble contradiction, investment in backward areas developed those areas industrially; (4) that fascism, being cannibalistic, attempted to cut this gordian knot by moving into and grabbing highly industrialised areas.

On point l: Lenin has pointed out, “The characteristic feature of imperialism is precisely the fact that it strives to annex not only agrarian but even the most industrialised regions (the German appetite for Belgium; the French appetite for Lorraine, and, we will add, the U.S. appetite for Canada, A.E.) first, because the fact that the world is already partitioned makes it necessary, and second, because an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between a number striving for hegemony,” Imperialism, p. 83. This was in answer to Karl Kautsky who raised the same defence of the bourgeoisie, on precisely the same point in the year 1914! Such is the state of British thought in the year 1947, so low have we sunk since Ricardo!

On point 2: Capital exported itself to any place on the face of the earth that offered substantial profit, for example, to U.S.A. when that country was already a powerful industrialised nation.

On point 3: Imperialism heightens competition, drives toward war in an effort to solve its difficulties, to redivide the market. As Lenin points out, it ’dies out’ when it is smashed by the people headed by the working class under the direction of the Communist Party.

On point 4: Fascism does not represent a qualitative departure from imperialism, it is imperialism forced to discard its disguise of democracy, just as British imperialism has discarded its disguise when driven to extremity by the stubbornness of a workers’ strike when police, soldiers and the courts are used to crumble it; or when they open fire on the colonial peoples as they have done time and again.

Now we come to Maurice Dobb’s treatment of the great depression of the early thirties. He marvels at the fact that even during those grim years of deepest crises profits maintained an average figure of more than 6 per cent, he seems to be of the opinion that this is all the more remarkable in view of the ’fact’ that, “Some estimates of the share of the national income (What estimates, from whom! A.E.) accruing to wage earners, which have figured in recent discussion, do not suggest any marked change in this proportion either in the course of the crisis years or as a longer term tendency since the opening of the century,” p. 329. and he carries this attempt to belittle and hide the drastic fall in the living standard of masses of people–not only the working class!–still further: “First of all is the extent to which, despite the abnormal dimensions of the labour reserve army in all countries, real wages of those who kept their employment were maintained or even rose in the crisis years of the early 1930’s.” p. 334. (My emphasis).

So mass unemployment under capitalism is “abnormal,” something unusual! The 800,000 coal miners of the twenties and the thirties would think that a most curious statement, most curious indeed! But let us proceed, for Maurice Dobb has still further “surprises” in store for himself–and us–“... the fact that the productivity of labour showed a quite unusual state of increase,” p. 336. Amazing to think that employers take advantage of mass unemployment to increase their share of surplus value! Maurice Dobb is outspokenly nonplussed, puzzled and bewildered over this increase in labour’s productivity in view of the “... fact that the number of wage-earners in manufacturing industry fell by 7 to 8 per cent while the physical volume of production rose by 13,” p. 338, but he has already solved this perplexing problem of productivity: “Such a surprising growth in productivity affords prima facie evidence of considerable advances in technique! ” Not a single word is to be found of the speed-up, the stretch-out, or of the fact that in the major industries such as coal, steel, transport and automobile no advances in technique took place for a period of three years, in coal and transport for far longer!

Maurice Dobb advances the theory that the strength of the trade union movement was responsible for maintaining the wage structure of workers employed at a real rate as high or higher than before the depression struck; so powerful were the trade unions that ”... the mechanism of the industrial reserve army (the unemployed, A.E.)... had virtually ceased to perform its age-long function and, except in Germany... Capitalism lacked any mechanism that could function in its place.”

How does this correspond to reality? It fails completely to correspond to reality, the trade union movement did not, and could not, stop the attack by the employers on the living standard of the people, employed as well as unemployed; the most it could do was to alleviate to some extent the burden on the backs of the most skilled section of the working class. The trade union movement does not present a united front to the trusts and their government, inevitably the leadership of the majority of the unions falls into the hands of careerists and opportunists of all shades–like the William Greens, the Ernie Bevins, who themselves reflect the opportunism in the minds of the masses. How could it be otherwise? It is one of the tricks of right-wing social democracy to be boastful, to play up to and exaggerate the strength of working class organisation under capitalism. Dobb would have us believe that the influence of such as Ernie Bevin–one of the arch betrayers of British labour–prevented a fall in the living standard of employed workers, such men, who work hand in glove with the monopolists, who are part of the apparatus of the ruling class! Strance, strange, strange indeed!

Maurice Dobb’s second reason for the “lightness” with which the crisis hit the masses he believes to be the fall in the prices of agricultural commodities, but outside a factual statement of the severe fall in agricultural prices there is nothing to indicate the catastrophe which hit world agriculture. As we recall, agriculture was forcibly degraded, machinery more and more went out of use. the horse and mule came back, labour-power became cheaper than the machine. How is it possible to “study the development of Capitalism” without mentioning the fact that “surplus stock” was slaughtered off, crops by the millions of acres ploughed under, farmers driven off the land by armed force as in the U.S.A.? Why is all this not mentioned unless it is to add to the impression which the book gives that monopoly-capitalism is not nearly as strong–or as black–as some people have painted it?

For example, pages 341-47 fill Dobb with still more surprises, he finds that there is no need to worry unduly over small businesses for the “persistence of the small firm... even when these qualifications have been made (Pointing to the large measure of control big business exercises. A.E.) an element of surprise remains.”

We are entitled to ask from an economist proof to back up his assertions and the theory he draws from them, but search as you may you will find no tables of statistics on wages, on unemployment benefits, no figures whatsoever by which we can measure the ’facts’ regarding the crisis which Dobb places before us. Yet such figures are available, why haven’t they been used? Why, for example, is Dobb utterly silent about the work of the statistician and economist, Kuczynski, whose studies of the crisis in Germany, Britain and the U.S.A. are classical? They haven’t been used because such a methodology would reveal the bankruptcy of Dobb. his complete and utter confusion when dealing with the crisis of capitalism, which led swiftly and directly to an armed struggle for the re-division of the world’s markets.

Finally, Dobb reveals his ideas on the state: Pages 353-7 describes the use of brutality and violence against the American working class through corruption of government officials by big-business, he approves a report denouncing “... a concentration of economic power which can compete on equal terms with the modern state... and may even supersede it,” Dobb adds, “When business policy takes the step of financing and arming a mass political movement to capture the machinery of government... we have merely a further and logical stage beyond the measures we have been describing” (my emphasis). To put it into plain English, the state is not in the hands of a single dominant class, Maurice Dobb may think so but it is not the view of Lenin or of Stalin.