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John G. Wright

Book Review

The Marxian Theory of the State

(December 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 57, 30 December 1933, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Marxian Theory of the State
by Sherman H.M. Chang, Ph.D.

This book is advertised as “the first scholarly book on the Marxist theory of the state”. Dr. Chang came to write it by chance. Beginning merely out of curiosity with a chapter on Marxian theory, he discovered that no one had written fully on the political theory of Communism, and therefore decided to make a deep study of “this formidable theory of the state”. He devoted two years to this deep study, and accomplished precisely what could be expected from a curiosity that is bolstered up with such concentrated effort. In that time, he managed to become acquainted with a half dozen pamphlets by Lenin, a few extracts by Trotsky, and absolutely nothing of Liebknecbt, Luxemburg, and Mehring, not to mention such “nonentities” as Plekhanov or Kautsky of the pre-revisionist period.

Chang’s “Slant” on Marxism

In view of the fact that this book bristles with classic quotations of Marxism, and also because such outstanding theorists as Bedacht and Trachtenberg seem to have been somewhat involved in providing Dr. Chang with a genuine “slant” on Marxism, we intended to go somewhat into the scope of this purported interpretation of Marxist theory, and Chang’s qualifications as a scientist and scholar in general.

In this “Marxian” study of the state, there is practically no mention whatever, made (to say nothing of analysis) of the Russian Revolution of 1905, and the October Revolution. One is led to the suspicion that Chang’s reason for studying the Paris Commune, is the fact that it has had some mention among “his authorities.”

Chang’s scholarship is upon that level which does not transcend scholasticism. The bulk of his bibliography consists of the works of such authorities on Marxism as Max Beer, M.M. Bober, one Kleene, and the like. To prove that historical materialism is monistic, he refers – to the “findings of Kleene and Bober (which serve to strengthen our contention that historical materialism is monistic)”. Although he refers slightingly to Plekhanov as another “great Marxist”, Chang obviously never read Plekhanov’s classic defense of historical materialism. It is only when his own authorities fail him that he resorts to such dubious sources as Trotsky – for example, “since even such an authority ... as Max Beer overlooks this character of the Commune, it is worth while to quote Trotsky.”

A Surprising “Discovery”

It is not surprising therefore to find that the Doctor is surprised at the deliberate falsification of Marxism by the revisionists. And, moreover, that from the heights of his erudition, he suspects that even most devoted disciples of Marx were not quite so well informed as he. Chang indirectly imputes to Lenin ignorance of Marx’s The Class Struggles in France. On what ground’s? On the grounds that he did not include two wellvknown quotations from that book in his pamphlet The State and Revolution. According to Chang, “it is interesting to note that such a devoted disciples of Marx had made no mention (of these passages) in his State and Revolution”. Had the doctor devoted a few more weeks to Lenin he might have discovered that a number of people had written rather fully on the political theory, and that Lenin had far closer first hand knowledge about the quotations than Chang! He might have also learned that the State and Revolution was never completed, as planned.

But his two years research authorizes Chang not only to note with interest but also to comment in passing upon the relative merits of Marxists. No work of Mehring’s is referred to in Chang’s book, but he did read a book of Ryazanov, and this leads our doctor to the scientific conclusion that Ryazanov ranks higher than Mehring. “It should be noticed in passing that Ryazauov as a historian of Marxist literature (sic!) ranks higher even than Frans Mehring.” We need only remark that Ryazanov ranked Mehring as the greatest historian of Marxism.

Literature and History

Chang not only has hazy notions as to what Marxist literature consists of, but he confounds literature with history, and is blissfully unaware that there is a distinction between dialectic materialism (the philosophy of Marxism) and historical materialism (Marxist sociology). He thinks that “historical materialism is also known as dialectic materialism.” In Pennsylvania, this passes for scholarship. But these are only the artificial pearls of his erudition, the genuine jewels are still ahead.

The learned Doctor has a preface and an introduction to his book. In the preface he informs us that in his book there is “little mention or use of Marxian economics”. But in the introduction he informs us that “it is presumptuous to draw a rigid line between economics and political science.” He is convinced of this, on the authority of professor J.H. Laski. On his own words, and upon his own authority, Chang pleads guilty of having been so presumptions as to draw a rigid line between Marxian economics and Marxian politics.

His lack of knowledge of Marxian economics does not, however, hinder him from speaking authoritatively about it. According to him “one of the productive forces is wage-labor.” He confounds productive forces with productive relations. Wage-labor is a productive relation. It is a bourgeois relation of production.

The Marxian concept of “class” is a closed book to Chang, but this does not prevent him from being very erudite in his chapter, The Class Domination Theory of the State. According to Chang the intellectuals are a class in society. It is perhaps safe to say that even Bedacht knows better.

When the classic quotations of Marxism run counter to Chang’s own conclusion, he amputates them, in order to make them, conform. Thus Chang is convinced that a necessary feature of Communist society is the disappearance of the division of labor. He reaches this conclusion by misinterpreting Marx’s statement to the effect that in a Communist society the subjection of labor dependent upon the present division of labor will disappear, and that there will be no opposition between brain and manual work. To Chang this means that the division of labor itself will disappear. (Marx’s own words are “when the slavish subordination of the individual to the yoke of the division of labor has disappeared, and when concomitantly the distinction between mental and physical work has ceased to exist ...”). Chang then bolsters his misinterpretation, by reporting that Engels agreed with him. Engels (according to Chang) held the view that the division of labor “lies at the basis of the division into classes”. (The point being that since classes will disappear so will the division of labor!). Here is what Engels actually wrote, “It is, therefore, the law of division of labor that lies at the basis of the division into classes.” Of course, the enslaving subordination of the individual under the division of labor as it exists in class society is one thing, and the division of labor itself is something else again. Among the outstanding characteristics of Communist society is that it frees the individual from subjection under particular types of the division of labor; but the Communist society itself has no intentions of doing away with division of labor. it is based upon international division of labor. And of course the law of the division of labor is one thing, and the division of labor is another. But Chang is law unto himself, and having confounded so many things, and understood so little, he confounds Marxism with himself.

A Typical Ph.D. Thesis

What has been said is sufficient evidence that Chang’s thesis is a typical Ph.D. performance on the American standard, pretentious, presumptuous, and second-hand. From the Marxist viewpoint it is worthless. We caution those who, seeking the easy way, would use this book as a source book of quotations. For one thing, Chang quotes Lenin through Stalin. But then what else could be expected, from one indebted to Bedacht, except to cite Stalin as “one who follows Lenin’s theory of the proletarian dictatorship very closely”? Is it astonishing that Chang therefore lists as minor extensions of Marxism, Lenin’s “theory of colonial revolutions and the theory of the unequal development of capitalism”. And that he also includes among Lenin’s contributions to Marxism “the theory of the possibility of the victory of socialism in one country.” For a summary of all these minor extensions, he refers the readers not to Lenin but to – Stalin. But the good doctor is not being funny, he is serious!

In all respects, his performance qualifies Chang not only for a doctorate but for a professorship in the present Marx-Lenin Institute, under the leadership of Stalin.

Last updated: 4 January 2016