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Fourth International, April 1945


Lily Roy

Socialism Reaffirmed – II


From Fourth International, vol.6 No.4, April 1945, pp.122-126.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


(Continued from last issue)

Now, Mr. Masani cannot conjure away this fundamental fact by blandly saying that the Nazi state is a “third ‘something’,” a new kind of state which he prefers not to call fascist but “totalitarian” and which he seeks to contrast with the capitalist state. We cannot help saying categorically that his alleged contrast is a piece of sheer terminological jugglery. To contrast the fascist state with the capitalist is to contrast a variant within a species with the species itself. For the essential fact about the fascist state is that it is only a particular form of the capitalist state, the form that it takes in the era of general capitalist decline. The fascist state is but the capitalist state rid of its democratic trappings. It is the capitalist state with the gloves off.

To define a state as capitalist or proletarian is to define it according to its nature, that is, its class nature. Of which class is it the instrument? The interests of which class does it protect and serve? These are the questions such a definition answers. To define a state as totalitarian is to define it not by its nature, but by its form; e.g. is it democratic or dictatorial? It will be plain to the reader, as it must have been plain to Mr. Masani, that the state of any given class can take any particular form, whether the state be capitalist or proletarian. Surely, Mr. Masani, you know this well. If you do, then why this fraudulent contrast? If you don’t, then please stop making dissertations on the subject.

Reconciling the Irreconcilable

There is, as it happens, a very good reason why Mr. Masani indulges in the piece of verbal dexterity we have noted in his discussion of the subject of the state. The reason is that it is necessary for his whole case to prove that the Nazi state and the Soviet state are states of the same nature. Unless he can prove this contention, the entire managerial thesis which we referred to in the first section of this brochure and which Mr. Masani takes over from James Burnham wholesale and retail, falls to the ground. For the very basis of the Burnham argument is that the Russian and the German states are states of the same nature, “managerial states.”

Let us then enquire whether this averment is true. In order to discover this let us examine briefly the Burnham-Masani definition of this new kind of state. Here is how Mr. Masani puts the matter:

As defined by Burnham, a managerial state is neither a capitalist nor a socialist state, but one in which the bureaucrats who run the administration and the managers who run industry hold power. The similarity between the managerial state and the socialist state is that in both private property in the instruments of production, distribution and exchange is either abolished or defunctionalized and all industry and economic enterprises are owned or controlled by the state. The difference between the managerial state and the socialist state is that in a socialist state the state itself belongs to the community or the common people while in the managerial state the state and its “nationalized economy” are not controlled by the people but by a small clique of bureaucrats or managers who constitute the dictatorship.

Doesn’t it all sound clear and persuasive until it is analyzed? Take Germany for a beginning. Is “private property in the means of production, distribution and exchange” abolished in contemporary Germany? Not even Mr. Masani would dare aver that! Is it then defunctionalized? Are the Krupps and Von Bohlens and the rest, the armament kings and industrial and banking magnates of Germany, defunctionalized? That is to say, have they been left with their private property only to be deprived of their profits (for profit-making is as we have seen, the one specific function of the capitalist)? Have they, Mr. Masani? or have they not? If Mr. Masani would only read his Economist for the right facts instead of the wrong opinions, he will find that the one thing that the Fascist state did was to restore the profitability of these very industries. Something is indeed going wrong with Mr. Masani’s “managerial state” at least in Germany.

As to the other aspect of the matter – are “all industry and economic enterprises” in Germany owned by the state? Not even Mr. Masani would dare aver that. Then are they controlled by the state? For the sake of limiting the argument let us allow to Mr. Masani that this is even so. But – and this is the nub of the question – if they are indeed controlled by the state, then, in whose interests does the state control them? Yes, Mr. Masani; in the interests of whom, i.e. of which class? Mr. Masani cannot get away with phrases like “the interests of the community or the nation,” for the nation is an arena of the class struggle and the state is an instrument in the class struggle. Mr. Masani knows this well as also the fact, since he quotes Lenin, that Lenin proved in his State and Revolution that the state is the coercive apparatus of the exploiting class for keeping in subjection the exploited class. The exploiting class in Germany is the capitalist class, and the exploited class the working class – this we have seen. Accordingly the Nazi state is the state of the German capitalist class. And if the German Nazi state indeed controls “all industry and economic enterprises,” then it exercises this control in the interests of the German capitalist class. And that precisely is why German capitalist private property has not been abolished by the state or defunctionalized by it. For no class, Mr. Masani, not even your trustee capitalists, will use its state power to legislate itself out of existence. There never has been such a case in history, and there never will be. For classes act along the line of their interests and not against them.

The Nazi state is thus not “a new kind of state” at all: it is the old capitalist state in a new brown uniform. What then of the Soviet Union? Let us say at once that if you would only cut out the two phrases “or defunctionalized” and “or controlled” from the Burnham-Masani definition of their managerial state, then the definition would be an exact description of contemporary Soviet reality. The contemporary Soviet state is certainly one in which “the bureaucrats who run the administration and the managers who run industry hold power,” in which “private property in the instruments of production ... is abolished,” in which not “all” but the decisive sections of “industry and economic enterprises are owned ... by the state,” and in which “the state and its ‘nationalized economy’ are not controlled by the people but by a small clique of bureaucrats or managers.” All this certainly prevails in the Soviet Union today; and the Soviet Union is certainly “a new kind of state.” But – and that is the whole point – it is also a state whose class nature bears not the slightest resemblance to the Nazi state.

The Soviet state is based on the violent overthrow of the capitalist class; the Nazi state on the violent defense of it. The Soviet state is based on the abolition of capitalist private property; the Nazi state on the protection of it. The Soviet state is based on the state ownership of the means of industrial production, banking and foreign trade; the Nazi state on its private ownership. In other words, between the two is the whole wide unbridgeable gulf that was dug by the October Revolution. How then can you assimilate them? You cannot – not even with the managerial thesis.

Nevertheless, the managerial thesis does seek to assimilate them. And it does so not by an honest analysis of reality, but by a little trick of language designed to obscure a heavy shift in meaning. According to Burnham-Masani, in the managerial state private property is “abolished or defunctionalized” and the means of production are “owned or controlled” by the state. According to them, further, private property is abolished in Russia and defunctionalized in Germany, while industry is owned by the state in Russia and controlled by the state in Germany. And according to them, still further, there is no essential difference between the two. For, as Mr. Masani repeatedly insists, “what matters most today is not ownership so much as control of the instruments of production.6#8221; So, to defunctionalize private property is as good as to abolish it. But is it? Certainly not, if the defunctionalization meant here is the same as the defunctionalization through trusteeship or Nazidom that we have analysed fully previously – for this defunctionalization of the capitalist by Mr. Masani proved to be nothing but the confirmation of the capitalist in his specific function. If the defunctionalization meant here, however, is something else, then all we can say is that Mr. Masani has not even hinted at it, still less explained it. It is the same with control and ownership. By their juxtaposition Mr. Masani suggests that control by the Nazi state is as good as ownership by the Soviet state. But is it? Certainly not. For the control of the Nazi state is exercised on behalf of the capitalist class, as we have seen, while the ownership of the Soviet state was established by the destruction of the capitalists.

It is plain from the foregoing that the Burnham-Masani attempt to assimilate the inassimilable has failed and that the managerial definition, if it covers anything honestly, covers only the degenerate workers state which is the contemporary Soviet Union. There is, however, a deep-going reason for the attempt by Mr. Masani to take over Burnham’s attempt to equate what cannot be equated. The reason is that, if you can only prove that the Nazi state and the Soviet state are of one and the same nature, then it would follow that the whole social process which brought the Soviet state into existence was and is unnecessary. The Soviet state was brought into being by carrying the class struggle to the point of insurrection and civil war, as a means to the political overthrow of the capitalist class, the establishment of the workers dictatorship and the abolition of capitalist private property through its vesting in the new state. That was the process by which the only new kind of state that followed on the capitalist state on our planet was brought into existence. But if the new kind of state which was thus brought into being is no different in nature from the Nazi state which was brought into existence not by revolution but in fact by the counter-revolution – i.e. not by the victorious uprising of the workers against the capitalists but by the bloody suppression of the workers by the capitalists, not by the abolition of private property but in order to protect it – then it is easy to urge, as Mr. Masani expressly urges in his book, that the carrying forward of the class struggle, the establishment of the workers dictatorship and the “nationalization” of the decisive means of production are simply unnecessary for the bringing to birth of this new kind of state and that a little “love and cooperation” (such as the Nazis displayed, no doubt) is all that is necessary for the achievement of this object. Hence the subtle sophistries of the managerial thesis.

Mr. Masani would, no doubt, retort that he does not depend merely on the managerial thesis but also on Russian fact. We shall not reply that theory is not produced in a vacuum, that indeed it is fact which has tattered his fine-spun theory; we shall, instead, follow him into the realms of Russian experience in which he delights to dwell, in order to discover whether even on the facts he alleges the conclusions he makes are warranted. We shall do so – and after that we shall leave Mr. Masani alone.

Nearly two-thirds of Mr. Masani’s book is concerned with Russia. He has, you see, visited Russia twice – which was just once too often, since he passed from hope on the first occasion to disillusionment on the second, and thereby also from socialism to renegadism. However that may be, he impresses us that he discovered on his second visit what he has plainly discovered but lately from books and what indeed he could have discovered easily long before 1937 from Trotsky’s books, namely, that Stalinist Russia is drifting away from October back towards capitalism. From all of which he draws the grand conclusion – socialism has failed and Marxism must be revised.

The question arises: Has socialism failed? Which raises the further question: What is socialism? To this last question we shall not answer with a quotation from one of the classical authorities on the subject, namely, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky. We shall instead proceed on Mr. Masani’s own statement that “the socialist society was to be classless, democratic and international” (his italics). We shall proceed on this statement; but we shall also take leave to remind him that the term “democratic” can really apply not to the stage of socialism but to the transition stage prior to it.

[The socialist society is, as we shall demonstrate, stateless insofar as “state” connotes a coercive apparatus of class rule. To apply to it the term “democratic” is therefore wrong; for democracy itself is a form of government, i.e. a form of class rule. We thus have, for instance, bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy. Bourgeois democracy, whatever the claims made for it and whatever the illusions created by the universal franchise and parliamentary systems, is in the ultimate analysis democracy only for the capitalist class which rules over the other classes it exploits. Proletarian democracy is similarly democracy for the proletariat, and connotes the political rule of the working class. But this rule, it is to be stressed, is on the one hand not a rule of exploiters over the exploited – the proletariat cannot exploit itself – and on the other not the rule of the minority over the majority but of the majority over the minority. Proletarian democracy is thus the widest form of democracy possible in history, for, beyond it, there can be no question of class rule at all, and therefore of any form of government.]

Why has there to be a transition stage? Because socialism is the end product of a whole social process of which the proletarian revolution and the creation of the workers state are only the beginning. You do not go to bed under capitalism one night, sleep through a revolution of which you are not even a spectator, but, of course, a subsequent admirer, and wake next morning in a socialist society to sing, and Mr. Masani says he sang, following Wordsworth:

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven.”

No, Mr. Masani, that is not how it is. On the contrary, a process occupying a whole historical epoch is involved in the bringing to being of the socialist society. To begin with it is necessary to bring into being the essential pre-requisite of the socialist society, the workers state. And since, as you yourself have pointed out rightly, the socialist society is an international society, its political prerequisite is the international revolution resulting in the international workers state. This international revolution will, by reason of the uneven development of capitalism, take the form of an interlinked series of revolutions in various countries, the totality of which will constitute the international proletarian revolution. This process will itself occupy a whole historical era, the era which began with the Russian revolution of 1917, the era which Lenin termed the era of proletarian revolution and revolutionary wars.

Transition to Socialism

It is plain that in this era the workers state, or rather states, will have many repressive functions by reason of the necessity of protecting the revolution against remnants of the old propertied classes from within, and against foreign capitalist attack. It is also plain, however, that even at this stage the workers state will also be considerably engaged in the administration of things, viz., the state property. And it is worth noting that from the beginning the workers state shows this substantial difference from the capitalist state, which is basically a coercive apparatus and only in a very minor sense an apparatus for the administration of things, e.g. the Post Office.

When the international revolution is completed and the world proletarian state comes into existence, the era of proletarian revolution and revolutionary wars gives way to the era of socialist development. On the basis of the world proletarian dictatorship, which itself arises on the basis of the already existing capitalist-created world economy, a planned and unified world economy will be brought into being, and not merely the productive forces (as under capitalism) but also production itself will be developed to levels hitherto unknown.

In this period, it is plain, the workers state will necessarily lose a considerable proportion of its repressive functions, for the entire army and the apparatus of diplomacy will have become unnecessary, as also some proportion of the police inasmuch as the threat of counter-revolution from the expropriated classes will have become insignificant. The state will now substantially be concerned with the administration of things rather than the government of men. Substantially, but not completely. For in this period distribution will still be to an appreciable extent according to work (payment according to work) and not according to need. And since this economic differentiation will be flowing not from the natural inequality of human being and human being but from the artificial inequality induced by relative and diminishing scarcity, the state will still be necessary, though to a rapidly diminishing extent, as a coercive apparatus.

As production increases, however, as the material things on which human life and civilization are based are produced in increasing abundance, the very need for distribution according to work progressively disappears and the actual possibility of distribution according to need comes into existence. “To each according to his need” – that part of the slogan descriptive of communist society is progressively realized. And as the possibility of distribution according to need grows, pari passu [with equal pace], the need for the apparatus of force, the “state,” which protects the earlier form of distribution also disappears. That is to say, “the state withers away” completely. And since, in the meantime, as Mr. Masani himself concedes, human nature itself will have undergone a transformation; and since also, by reason of technical development and the vast extension of leisure, work itself will have become a pleasant pastime instead of a laborious task; mankind will have learned to work for society according to ability. The other half also of the slogan descriptive of communist society will thus have been translated into reality – “from each according to his ability.” And this self-acting society of associated producers will also be classless inasmuch as its members will have no differential relation to the means of production, distribution and exchange. Property will no longer belong to the state, which is the instrument of a class, but to the community, which is now classless; and the state itself, if the term be permissible for an apparatus of the nature that it will be, will be concerned not with the government of men but the administration of things.

That is the socialist society of the classic conception, and that, also according to the classic conception, is how it comes into being. Can we then proceed to “reconsider” Marxism on the footing that socialism has been tried and found wanting? We cannot; for, to begin with, it has not been tried at all.

To which Mr. Masani would probably reply: this is, no doubt, all very interesting; but didn’t Lenin and Trotsky, when they “made the Revolution of October 1917” (we quote Mr. Masani) declare “that they would, along with Czarism, abolish capitalism and usher in the socialist society?” And doesn’t Stalin claim today that he has built it there already? It is true that Lenin and Trotsky did say so – rightly; and it is also true that Stalin claims so – only wrongly. But what did Lenin and Trotsky mean when they said the revolution would “usher in” the socialist society? This becomes clear from another remark of Mr. Masani’s, viz. that according to Lenin and Trotsky, the Russian Revolution “was to be the forerunner of the World Revolution.” In other words, the Russian Revolution was but the curtain-raiser or first act in the drama of the international proletarian revolution which would bring into being the world proletarian state which would usher in the socialist society. That is what Lenin and Trotsky meant, and that is what you will find they always taught if you read the whole of Lenin and Trotsky instead of an odd scrap or two torn out of their context. And that precisely is why Stalin is wrong when he says he has built “Socialism” in Russia, or even when he says that you can build socialism in Russia alone. The theory of “socialism in one country,” centrist Stalin’s eclectic product, is false to the core and indeed a contradiction in terms; for, as Mr. Masani himself has pointed out for the benefit of the world in general and of Stalinist falsifiers in particular, the socialist society is not national but international.

So far so good. But we are sorry to have to state that even with the term “international” Mr. Masani plays still another of his favorite verbal tricks. “The socialist society,” says Mr. Masani to begin with, and rightly, “was to be ... international.” This on page 11. We turn to page 12, and we find him saying of his experiences in Russia in 1927: “There was no mistaking the spirit of fraternity, of international solidarity and of good fellowship that prevailed.” And on page 14, regarding what he found in Russia in 1937: “Gone was the spirit of international brotherhood.” Do you see the trick: the use of the same term with a complete shift in meaning? At the beginning he was talking of an international society, i.e. a society which was international in its political and economic basis. At the end, he is talking of a society which is international in spirit and in outlook. And because Russia has lost the latter spirit and outlook, we are asked to conclude that the former society, which never came into existence, has failed. Only Mr. Masani can prove so profoundly futurist a thesis: the failure of a society which has not yet come into existence.

Let us now turn to Mr. Masani’s specific revisions. Mr. Masani informs us:

There are at least four major assumptions of Marxism, – there may be more – which, I believe, need to be reconsidered. The first of these is that the abolition of private property and its nationalization will automatically bring in economic democracy and a classless society. It has now been shown in Russia that it need do nothing of the sort. (Masani’s italics.)

Please note Mr. Masani’s own italicized word – “automatically.” Note it, because no Marxist has ever held the position which Mr. Masani here attributes to Marxism in order to revise it. What Marxism teaches is, on the one hand, that the abolition of private property and its vesting in the workers state is the necessary prerequisite for bringing in (through a long process, occupying a whole era, as we have seen) “economic democracy” and the classless society; and on the other, that the abolition of private property and its socialization will signify the coming into being of “economic democracy” and the classless society. In other words, “nationalization” by the workers state is a stage, and a necessary stage, on the road to socialization; and just as socialization itself signifies the absence of classes, nationalization signifies not their absence but precisely their presence. Nationalization is the act of vesting in the state; socialization is the process of vesting in the community. You cannot vest in the community if classes exist; for, in that case, whatever you may term it in form, it will in fact be a vesting in the dominant class. You vest in the state precisely because classes exist; and statification is the method by which the working class takes into its hands the property of which it has expropriated the capitalists. This is not to bring in the classless society; it is to create the prerequisite for bringing it into being: prerequisite, because, without the abolition of private property, you cannot free the productive forces of society from the fetters of private profit which obstructs that further development of them which is essential to the building of socialism.

And what has Russia proved on this point? Precisely what Marxists anticipated: that the productive forces of society, when freed from the fetters of private property (which is but a means to private profit), are rendered capable of unprecedented development. We shall not here set out to describe Russian achievements in this sphere, for Mr. Masani admits them: admits them, however, with a qualification with which it is necessary for us to deal. Mr. Masani says:

... the Soviet regime has ... big achievements to its credit. It has industrialized the country, put agriculture on a sounder footing, increased material prosperity and spread literacy at a pace which other countries have hitherto found impossible of achievement. But there is nothing specifically socialist about these achievements. These are the objectives of all efficient capitalist and Fascist states.

There you are: the old game of verbal trickery once more. “There is nothing specifically socialist about these achievements. These are the objectives of all efficient capitalist and Fascist states.” Between “achievements” and “objectives” Mr. Masani, is the whole wide difference between dreaming and doing. The capitalist state, which protects private property, dreams of doing these things, but cannot. The workers state, which abolishes private property, doeshem. Why? Because only the workers state can. Only the workers state, because it has removed the capitalist fetters on the productive forces.

From the “reconsideration” of “nationalization” by the workers state, Mr. Masani passes to the reconsideration of the workers state itself. Here are his own words:

The second Marxist assumption that needs reviewing is that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (that is, of the Communist Party on behalf of the proletariat) is a possible and indeed a necessary transition stage to socialism. The theory was that having served its purpose the dictatorship would evaporate, and indeed, as Lenin following Engels put it, “the state will then wither away.” ... In Russia where it is claimed by the Soviet Government that a classless society has already been achieved, that Government shows not the slightest tendency to relax its complete stranglehold on individual liberty of every kind, much less to “wither away.”

Let us look at this passage a little closely. It starts with a definition of the proletarian dictatorship: “the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, that is, of the Communist Party on behalf of the proletariat.” We are sorry to have to say so, but Mr. Masani is once again at his old game of setting up a false idol in order to knock it down. Marxism does say that the proletarian dictatorship is a necessary (and not merely possible) stage on the road to socialism. Marxism does say that; and we shall in due course show why. But Marxism does not say that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship of the Communist Party on behalf of the proletariat. That, Mr. Masani, is your definition; and a false one at that.

That is not all. Mr. Masani goes on to say, in the above passage, that in Russia where it is claimed by the Soviet Government that a classless society exists, the state shows no signs of withering. This, in fact, is the reason why he wishes to reconsider the whole question of the proletarian dictatorship. But, Mr. Masani, when you seek to reconsider theory you must do so not on claims but on facts. And the fact is that, as you have yourself shown in your book, the Soviet Government’s claim is false. The Soviet society is not a classless society; and if you are honest about theory, that is the fact on which you must proceed and not on claims which you yourself know to be false. That is the scientific approach to the question, as distinguished from the propagandist approach.

Let us then look into the question honestly for Mr. Masani’s benefit. What is the dictatorship of the proletariat? It is precisely what it states it is: the rule of the working class over other classes. This dictatorship the working class exercises through its state, the workers state: the state which it sets up to administer its collective affairs and to manage and defend its collective property. This state it controls politically through the Soviets, i.e. the democratic organs of working class struggle and rule. In other words, the proletarian dictatorship connotes, among other things, also proletarian democracy. Should proletarian democracy be undermined or overthrown, the proletariat would lose its political control over the state.

But this loss of political control does not, by itself, suffice to exhaust the dictatorship of its class content. For, the dictatorship of the proletariat connotes not only the proletarian democracy but also, primarily, a specific set of property relations. So long as these property relations remain intact, the state remains a workers state, though a degenerate one.

And this is the position in the Soviet Union today. The administrative and managerial personnel whom the toilers, through their Soviets, appointed to administer the state and to manage the state property, have shaken themselves free of the toilers, and indeed converted the Soviets, the trade unions and the Communist Party itself from instruments of the working class into instruments of their own bureaucratic rule. In other words, the bureaucracy has politically expropriated the working class.

[To Be Continued]

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