Saturday, March 30, 2013

a war of words

Language is a battleground that socialists are often called upon to enter. Calling a party, socialist or communist, or claiming to be one, does not mean that the party is really socialist or communist.

For Marx and ourselves socialism is the society succeeding capitalism and contrary to the widespread erroneous idea, socialism is not a transitional society towards an ultimate aim called communism. For Marx socialism is communism, refers to the same social formation, simply being another term, like the terms Republic of Labour, society of free and associated producers or simply Association, Co-operative Society, union of free individuals, are all equivalent terms for the same society.

The “dictatorship of the proletariat” is not synonymous with socialism. the conquest of political power by the proletariat is not the end of the proletarian revolution, it constitutes, in fact, only the “first step" in the revolution” (Manifesto) which continues through a prolonged period till the capitalist mode of production is replaced by the “associated mode of production”, the basis of socialism. This is the “revolutionary transformation period between capitalist and communist society” during which the proletariat exercises its dictatorship. Hence, by definition, proletarian dictatorship cannot be “synonymous” with socialism. socialism, according to Marx, the ‘‘organisation’’ of society is ‘‘essentially economic–the establishment of the conditions of the union of individual’’ (German Ideology). In the socialist society, which is classless by definition,

there is no political power. This is explicitly stated both in Marx’s 1847 polemic with Proudhon and in the 1848 Communist Manifesto. In fact Marx always thought that state and human freedom are irreconcilable. Only during what Marx called the ‘‘revolutionary transfomation period’’ preceding socialism, the new state arising after the destruction of the old state machine, as the class power (no Party power in the name of the class, of course) of the labouring class representing society’s ‘‘immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’’ (Manifesto 1848) is necessary to put down any attempted “slave-owner" rebellion. (See Civil War in France and Marx’s Bakunin Critique, 1874). It should be clear that this last state - as a kind of necessary evil-presided over by the ‘‘immense majority in the interest of the immense majority" is, by nature of things, also the least repressive state appearing so far in social evolution.

With the disappearance of classes, there is also no political power, no state, and so no “workers’ state” either in the new society. Indeed, the German Ideology emphasises that the “organisation” of the new society is “essentially economic”. Marx did not leave any "programme" for socialism but he left us a sufficient quantity of material to have a clear idea of who he thought should happen to capitalism.

According to Lenin’s reading of Critique of the Gotha Programme it is said it describes a two-phase division of communist society. a lower and a higher. The first Lenin calls socialism and the second, he describes as communism. He did not seem to have invented this nomenclature. But he is the one whose use of these terms was accepted and widely used first by the international communist movement and then even by the anti-Marxists all over the world. For Lenin there are now two transitions, one from capitalism to socialism, and an other from socialism to communism.

Lenin may not have originated the distinction that socialism is different from communism, declaring it to be only the first phase of and transition to communism, but he made it famous and popularised it. Marx's socialism is a society of free producers who abolished private ownership of the means of production, commercial relations, wage labour and the State. Lenin's “socialism”does not eliminate wage labour and is based on the State ownership of the means of production, identified as social property. So Lenin's socialism is extremely different from the perspective of Marx's emancipation based on association of producers. Lenin conceives socialism substantially in terms of juridical ownership rather than production relationships therefore ending separate individual ownership and turning the ownership over to the state was for him social ownership. Lenin’s “socialism” envisages the economy as one state syndicate, a single factory, where all citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state with equal wages (soon to abandoned, however). Lenin is talking about the “state itself as capitalist in so far it employs wage labour” and the total national capital constituting a single capital in the hands of a single capitalist" as described in Capital. There is a striking similarity between what Lenin is saying here and what Marx calls “crude or vulgar communismin his 1844 Paris manuscripts. In this latter type of communism, the “condition of the labourer is not abolished, it is extended to all individuals. It is a simple community of labour where prevails equality of wage paid by the universal capitalist.
Marx had already showed the rise of the "associated capitalists" in stock-holder companies where the property of private individuals is replaced by ownership of collective capitalist investors. However, this is not the most important thing about private property. If the means of production in a society remain in the hands of the minority and thereby separated from the majority, there exists private property in the form of "private property of a part of society", class private property. So it does not matter at all even if it is the state which owns the property in the means of production, as long as the majority is deprived of those means. The irrefutable demonstration is the existence of wage labour for the majority. The existence of wage / salaried earners representing the majority of the population is a necessary and sufficient condition for the existence of private property in the means of production. State property is in fact a variety of private property.

For Marx private property in the means of production exists whenever these
means of production, separated from the producers, belong to a minority in society, leaving the great majority nothing but labour power to sell. It does not require any specific historical research to prove that this was the lot of the majority in each and every 'socialist' regime. In other words these were all state capitalist regimes. It is not difficult to see that this socialism, even though governed by a group professing to be the authentic disciples of Marx, has little to do with what Marx envisaged as socialism following the disappearance of capitalism.

This is not merely a semantic disagreement on words and meanings. It has far reaching consequences. The idea that there was a difference was put to good use by the rulers of the state-capitalist countries which called themselves socialist. They legitimizing every repressive act of these regimes in the name of building socialism thereby relegating all the self-emancipatory aspects of Marx’s socialism to a never-never land of ‘communism’, a utopia never to be realised. What Lenin presents as socialism is far removed from what Marx meant by it. Lenin’s “socialism” is really state capitalism.

The Glasow-based academic Hillel Ticktin also writes that “The transition to what - socialism or communism? It is clear that Marx made no distinction between the two....What difference does this terminology make? Well, it has made a great deal of difference, because it allowed the Stalinists to say that socialism is the lower phase of communism and, while in this lower phase all sorts of dreadful things can happen, we are still advancing to a communist society...We should simply go back to Marx's use. The society we are striving to attain may be called communist or socialist, but in the transitional period it is neither. As far as I am concerned, 'socialist society' and 'communist society' refer to the same thing.”

So as regards socialism being the transition to communism, Marx nowhere says this. For Marx this distinction is non-existent. For him socialism is neither the transition to communism, nor the lower phase of communism. Socialism and communism being identical, one could as well speak of the lower and the higher phases of socialism In fact Marx calls capitalism itself the transitional point or transitional phase to communism. For Marx human history only begins with socialism, because only then will the human individual, till now subjugated by “false community” personally and materially, become free both from personal and material unfreedom.

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