B. Tamarkin

The Forum

A Reply to David S. Reiss

Source: The Communist Review, March 1923, Vol. 3, No. 11.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

As many of our readers know, we publish all controversial matter in the “Review” under the heading of the “Forum.” The following contribution has been sent in reply to one which appeared in the “Review” last November. It is interesting to note the two disputants, in this case, are American readers; this shows the wide influence of the “Review” in overseas English speaking countries.

IT would seem that the purpose of the article, which appeared in the REVIEW in November, 1922, and which set out to analyse “The Theory of the Social Revolution” and sought also to give reasons for the reconsideration of a Marxian prediction,” was merely an attempt to make a straw effigy of Marx and then to proceed to burn it.

The purpose of the present article is to prove the correctness of the statements made by Marx. Therefore, I shall go into no discussion here of such errors as: “The theory of increasing misery is the theory of the social revolution,” which, to say the least, requires great amendment to make it accurate.

Our bourgeois opponents belittle the rôle that the developement of the technique in production plays in social evolution. In fact, it is the storm centre of their frothy rage. Superficial, like his compatriots, our Marx-critic reduces the determinate of social development and revolution to a matter of efficiency in trade competition.

“The country that is more developed industrially only shows to the less developed, the image of its own future.” Thus is Marx quoted from page 13 of Capital. Consciously or otherwise, Reiss performs the unpardonable error of tearing a sentence out of its indispensable setting; the section, serving to give the matter its intended meaning, is entirely omitted. Marx says:—

“Intrinsically, it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results. The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, they image of its own future.”

Marx, here, plainly shows what he means by the last sentence. The country which has, as yet, not attained the capitalist mode of production should not harbour any illusions. When it attains industrial development, it will suffer the class antagonisms and struggles that ail its more developed neighbour. It is a matter of the law, the tendencies of social development that concern Marx. And, he has discovered that, at basis, it is a matter—not, as we are told, of trade efficiency—but of the development of the forces of production themselves.

The sleeky lawyer, Morris Hillquit, in his From Marx to Lenin, includes in his quotations, upon which are based the attempts to disprove either Marx or the possibility of the permanency of the Proletarian Revolution in Russia, such extracts as employed by the far less able aspirant to the position of a Marx-critic. Where the latter gets his silly surmises as to the meaning of the above quotation will become clear hereafter.

However, Marx cannot be consistently accused of denying that “an industrially more developed country can sometimes be overtaken by a formerly industrially less developed country.” On page 13 of Capital he says: “In this work I have to examine the capitalist mode of production, and the conditions of production and exchange corresponding to that mode.” “Up to the present time” (July 25, 1867) “their classic ground is England.”

Nor was it intended to convey nonsense such as: the less developed country will produce the same product and employ the identical methods in such production, as the more developed country. Marx’ primary concern was not about how to produce bread, bibles or whisky. The matter was not one of “methods of production.” It was a question of the capitalist mode of production, its immanent laws, enabling us to understand its growth and inevitable decay.

When Marx wrote: “The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has sprung up and flourished along with and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds (“sounds,” please; not “ends”) “The expropriators are expropriated”; where do we find even a suggestion, leaving along an explicit statement, to the effect that the proletarian revolution must inevitablv occur first in the land of greater quantity production, as Reiss’ comparison of Russia and America implies.

But let us see what Marx says: “Then comes the period of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation, the entire imtnense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations the distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic—in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. (Critique of Political Economy, page 12.)

From the above, it becomes apparent that to attempt to set a rule as to the advent of a political revolution in one country previous to another, the imminence of such a revolution to be determined by a particular degree of economic development, is Utopian.

Statements made by Reiss would lead one to think that Marx did not take into consideration variations in social development in different countries. He might have denied the great influence of differing historic antecedents. But it is indeed significant that on that very page 13 of Capital we find: “Where capitalist production is fully naturalised among the Germans (for instance, in the factories proper) the condition of things is much worse than in England, because the counterpoise of the Factory Acts is wanting. In all other spheres, we, like all the rest of Continental Western Europe, suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development. Alongside of modern evils, a whole series of inherited evils oppress us, arising from the passive survival of antiquated modes of production, with their inevitable train of social and political anachronisms. We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead. Le mort saisit le vif.”

I necessarily conclude that while Marx pointed to the development of society’s economic powers, the increase in the productivity of labour through technical development, as the force heading us inevitably towards social revolution, nevertheless, he recognised the efficacy of a differing historical background to change the course, not the destination, the particular path, not the general direction, of social evolution. In other words, the process of social evolution shows us the laws of the growth and decay of capitalist production “working its way” by means of varying historical material towards a general goal. “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle.” (Communist Manifesto—Marx and Engels.)

The false assumption is made that Marx thought the Proletarian Revolution inevitable in the more industrially advanced country, before the less developed. In his Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History (1906), even Kautsky warns “against the popular interpretation” (misinterpretation) “of the historical materialism which holds that the land which takes the lead in the economic development invariably also brings the corresponding forms of the class war to the sharpest and most decisive expression.” This particular point was in conformity with Marxism. Marx himself had made a related statement as far back as 1859, in his Critique of Political Economy, page 12, quoted above.

It is, therefore, incompatible with fact to state that “The social revolution in Russia may be non-Marxian. But to the extent that it is nonMarxian, to that extent is Marxism non-economic and non-historical.” Utterances like these only constitute an acknowledgment to revisionism that its contentions are well founded. They constitute a perversion of Marxism.

But such nonsense is no surprise when it is known to emanate from a man who worships the stock-in-trade of medieval philosophy and scorns those who value such work as that of Joseph Dietzgen, the working-class “philosopher.” If Reiss had understood Dietzgen’s Nature of Human Brainwork, the relativity of things would have emained no empty phrase for him. Perchance, the readers of the COMMUNIST REVIEW would then have been saved such flagrant impositions as the attempt to explain any thing torn from its connections.

In order to obtain exact knowledge, it is necessary to carefully examine the objective facts of the particular problem. But Mr. Reiss has no need of this. In order to intelligently discuss a Marxian question, he does not require a knowledge of Marxism from its originals; it is unnecessary to find whether in fact his “Marxian economists” were Marxian. To him, when dealing with the Russian Revolution, it is immaterial whether there is such an historical factor as the string of morbid conditions, inherited from a putrified feudal order; neither is it essential to weigh the influence of Western Capital.

“No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces, for which there is room in it, have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society.” (Until here quoted by Reiss.) “Therefore mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.”

And what does Reiss say?—“If the working class is to wait with its social revolution until all inventions in the means of production have been made and until all capital will have been monopolised—for this is what the industrially most developed country would mean under capitalism—they may indeed wait with the social revolution for ever.”

How well Mr Reiss has learned the art of perversion! “The monopoly of capital” is easily changed into all capital”; “more developed” is twisted into “most developed.” Is this corrupt method the way to prove Marx wrong in his fundamental tenets? It would be well for this muddlehead to cease criticising (as he has done heretofore) Marx’ works until he has shed his bourgeois trickery; until he has acquired the proletarian mode of reasoning, which is indispensable to a Communist; until he will have understood Marx.

Before one can expect a social revolution, a political revolution must have taken place: the proletariat must have seized the powers of the State. The social revolution: new, higher relations of production; communist proprietorship: i.e., no proprietorship, but communist use of the social wealth; these cannot be consummated until the technique of industry, machine development, etc., have developed the productivity of labour to a point where we can put into practice the motto: “From each according his ability; to each according his needs.”

This condition is, however, not required for a political revolution. Here, it is necessary that: (1) the mode of production shall be capitalist, i.e., the technique of production must be sufficiently advanced to have evolved a more or less homogeneous proletariat; (2) the class conflict must have grown to an unusual intensity; (3) the proletariat must possess sufficient knowledge and understanding to judge how to solve every new problem arising on the steep road to emancipation.

As regards the first point Marx and Engels tell us that: “Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their involuntary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces above all, are its own gravediggers.” (Communist Manifesto, page 29.)

As concerns the second point, outside of special conditions of individual growth, we find the answer in the law of value. When the demand for a given commodity falls, it signifies that the labour incorporated in that commodity has fallen in social necessity. Hence each article contains less value; therefore falls in price. This is true of labour-power as of any other commodity.

The tendency is for wealth to increase, through the increase in the productivity of labour, and for its opportunity of investment as profit bearing capital to diminish. Hence there is an over-abundance of labour power. The labour expended on the individual labour power falls in social necessity. As a consequence, labour power falls in value. And it falls to the point where the mass of those who find a master at all, obtain a price such as lowers their standard of living.

The surplus labour power on the market is not wheat which can be left to rot on American wheat fields. Labour power exists only as living human beings. These must be fed. The bourgeoisie “is unfit to rule, because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state that it has to feed him instead of being fed by him.” (Communist Manifesto, page 29.)

The above-named conditions sow a spirit of rebellion, of antagonism towards the exploiter. And the struggle for more of society’s wealth grows in bitterness.

But the proletariat cannot limit itself to more wages, etc., if its revolution is to succeed. The expropriators must be expropriated. Hence, the proletariat must capture the powers of state.

And here we come to the third condition. Outside of the reaction of men’s minds directly to the conditions of the struggle, this cannot be answered any other way than by: What more practical function has the revolutionary party of the proletariat at this time, than that of spreading information and an understanding of what the struggle is all about, among their comrades in slavery.

The conditions above described and necessary to a political revolution, come into being in different countries at different stages of technical development due to differing historical backgrounds and differing relations one country bears to others. The only rule I have for determining when the time for the seizure of power is ripe is: “Prepare and watch the times.”

In Russia, the break in the capitalist forms has taken place first. However, the “new higher relations of production” cannot develop until labour becomes more highly productive, until Russia acquires a higher technique.

For years, in various industries, the more industrially advanced countries have been ripe for the initiation of a Communist relationship in production. But the organization and understanding of their proletariat was not such as could hope to successfully cope with the particular form of their common problem, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.