Main Marxism and the U.S.S.R.: The Theory of Proletarian Dictatorship and the Marxist Analysis of Soviet..

Marxism and the U.S.S.R.: The Theory of Proletarian Dictatorship and the Marxist Analysis of Soviet Society

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Marxism and the U.S.S.R.
The Theory of Proletarian Dictatorship and
the Marxist Analysis of Soviet Society

Paul BeIlis

© Paul Bellis 1979
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 1979

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
without permission

First published 1979 by
London and Basingstolce
A.ssociated companies in Delhi
Dublin Hong Kong Johannesburg Lagos
Melbourne Xew Tork Singapore Tokyo

British Library Cataloguiag in Publication Data
Bellis, Paul
Marxism and the USSR
I. Russia - Politics and govemment - 1917I. Tide
ISBN 978-1-349-04411-5
ISBN 978-1-349-04409-2 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-1-349-04409-2

This book is sold subjeet
to the standard conditions
of the Xet Book A.greement

To the Memory of my Mother
Gwenven Bellis



List of Works Cited in Abbreviated Form
1 The Theoretical Foundations
The Dictatorship ofthe Proletariat and the Transition
to Socialism
The Commune and After
The Economy in the Transition Period
Russia and the Proletarian Revolution
2 Lenin and the Bolshevik Experience
The Soviet Phenomenon
A Workers' State with Bureaucratic Distortions
3 Trotsky and the Legacy of October
Thermidor and Bonapartism
The State in the Transition Period: The Co-ordinates
of Bureaucratic Degeneration
Politicalor Social Revolution? - The Socio-Economic
Status of the Soviet Bureaucracy
4 Bureaucratic Collectivism, State Capitalism, and the
Marxist Theory of the State
The Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism
Tony Cliff and the Theory of State Capitalism
Stalinism and the Eastern European Revolution
5 The Theory ofState Capitalism and the Soviet Economy
State Capitalism and Marxist Theory
The Law of Value and the Soviet Economy
The Permanent Arms Economy
Value and Surplus-Value in the Economy of
The First Five-Year Plan and the Law of Primitive
Socialist Accumulation









6 Contemporary State Capitalist and 'New Class' Analyses
of the Soviet Social Formation
Bettelheim and the Soviet 'State Bourgeoisie'
'New Class' Theories from Eastern Europe
Three Conceptions of Soviet State Capitalism:
Dunayevskaya, Mattick, and James
Leninism and Libertarian Socialism: Socialisme ou
7 Conclusions


2 13





My principal debt of gratitude is that owed, for his indispensable
guidance, to Dr Terrell Carver, of the Department of Political
Theory and Institutions at the University of Liverpool. I am
grateful to Professor F. F. Ridley for pertinent and valuable advice,
and to the Staff of the U niversity's Sidney Jones Library for their
efficiency in dealing with a pie thora of requests and problems. I
wish, finally, to acknowledge the very real contri bution made by the
late Cynthia Baldry, revolutionary Marxist, on whose suggestion
the research of which this book was the eventual product was
initially undertaken.
Macmillan and I would also like to thank the following
publishers who have kindly given permission for the use of copyright
material: Pathfinder Press for the extracts from The Revolution
Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going? by Leon
Trotsky; Penguin Books Ltd and Random House Inc. for the
extracts from Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy
by Karl Marx, translated by Martin Nicholaus (Pelican Books in
association with New Left Review, 1973). Translation copyright©
Martin Nicholaus, 1973. Also Pluto Press Ltd for the extracts from
State Capitalism in Russia by Tony Cliff, and Routledge & Kegan
Paul Ltd for the extracts from Economic Calculation and Forms of
Property by Charles Bettelheim.
We have made every effort to trace all the copyright holders but if
any have inadvertently been overlooked, we will be pleased to make
the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.





List of Works Cited in
Abbreviated Form


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BR 11
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Buick (1975)
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Burnham (1972)
CAP 111
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Hallas (1969)
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Hindess and Hirst (1975)
Holubenko (1975)
Horowitz (1969)



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Lane, David, The End of Inequaliry?:
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Kidron (1970)
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Lane (1971)
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Lenin, 'Economies'
Lenin, 'Kautsky'
Lenin, 'Mentality'
Lenin, 'Power'



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Lenin, 'Tasks'
Lewin (1974)

Lewin (1975)
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LSW j 1
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Mandel, 'Mystifications'

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Manifesto rif the Communist Party
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Mandel, Ernest, 'The Inconsistencies
of "State Capitalism"', in Readings
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Mandel, Ernest, 'The LabourTheory
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Mandel, Ernest, The Formation rif the


Mandel (1972)

Mandel (1974<l)

Mandel (1974b)

Mandel (1975a)
Mandel (1975b)
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Mili band (1970)
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Nicolaus (1972)


Selected Works, 2 vols. (Moscow,
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After (Political Writings, vol.III)
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Trotsky, Leon, The New Course (ind.
Max Shachtman, 'The Struggle for
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Marx', in R. Blackburn (ed.) Ideology in Social Science, (London,
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Left Review, no. 48 (1968), pp. 4161.
Engels, Frederick, On Authoriry,
(MESWj2) vol. I, pp. 63&-9.
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Parkin (1972)

Post gate (1922)
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Purdy (1976)

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Poulantzas, Nicos, Political Power and
Social Classes (London, 1973)'
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Purdy, David, The Soviet Union - State


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Rakovski (1977)

Rakovsky, 'Dangers'


Rizzi (1939)
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Sartre (1976)
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Shaehtman (1962)


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Trotsky, 'State'

Trotsky, 'Thermidor'

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1975), pp. 179-21 9.

Among the most significant of recent developments within the
European reformist left has been the explicit abandonment
by the French Communist Party (P.C.F.), at its Twenty-Second
Congress in January/February 1976, ofthe Marxist concept ofthe
dictatorship of the proletariat. This theoretical rupture clearly
corresponds to the political practice of the P .C.F. and its sister
parties, geared as they are to the progressive transformation of the
bourgeois state through the election ofsuccessive 'left' governments,
supported from below by the 'mass pressure' of an amorphous and
undefined popular movement. Eurocommunism's Fabian strategy,
and its repudiation ofthe conception most central to the theoretical
practice of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, are, however, indissolubly
bound up with what has for decades constituted the major obstacle to
socialist revolution in the West: the existence of societies which, while
formally proclaiming their incarnation of socialism, are characterised by signal inequality, an absence of any effective democracy,
and continuing deficiencies in the supply and quality of many basic
consumption goods. 1 Any attempt to comprehend and transcend
this conjuncture must necessarily start from an analysis ofthe Soviet
Union itself, as the first sodal formation in which capitalism was
overthrown, and in whose deformed, and deforming shadow all
subsequent anti-capitalist upheavals have inevitably occurred: this
is the object of the book.
The opening chapter traces the development, by the founders of
historical materialism, of the concept of the transition from the
capitalist to the socialist mode ofproduction, and ofthe dictatorship
ofthe proletariat, as the political counterpart and condition ofthis
socio-economic transformation. Chapter 2 is an appraisal ofLenin's
contribution to the problematic ofthe transition, seen in the context
ofthe interna I and external milieux in which the first workers' state
was established. Chapter 3 documents Trotsky's brilliant, if ultimately incomplete extension of the theory to account for that
state's degeneration, and to conceptualise the character and


Marxism and the U.S.S.R.

dynamics ofthe bureaucratic 'totalitarianism' which issued from it.
In Ckapters 4 to 6 consideration is given to the alternative Marxist
analyses of the Soviet social formation which have subsequently
been articulated, explicitly or implicitly, in opposition to that put
forward by Trotsky (and since developed by other theorists standing
in the same tradition, most notably the Belgian Ernest Mandel, a
leading member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International). This necessitates examining their internal coherence,
as ostensibly Marxist analyses, and assessing also their 'external'2
correspondence with features and trends apparent in the contemporary U .S.S.R.
The present work is a systematic attempt to collate the various
strands of the discussion on the socio-economic character of the
Soviet Union, clarifying its terms of reference and subjecting the
diverse conclusions which have emerged from it to a critical
scrutiny. It should be seen as a provisional summary of a debate
which is far from being Byzantine: on the contrary, the 'Russian
Question' remains an ineradicable reference point of revolutionary
Marxist politics, 3 and it is in terms ofthose politics that what follows
must ultimately be assessed.


The Theoretical


Marx's first reference to 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' occurs
in the third of a trilogy of articles which he wrote for his ill-fated
journal Neue Rheinische Z,eitung- Politisch-Oekonomisch Revue in 1850,
and which were subsequendy assembled under the tide The Class
Struggles in France, 1848-185°. The term is here employed by Marx in
the context of an exposition of what, for hirn, was entailed by
revolutionary socialism:
. . . the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class
dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transition point to
the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the
relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all
the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from
these social relations. (CSF, p. I 17)
In April 1850, a month after Marx's writing of this article, the
concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat was incorporated into
the first of the six statutes of the Universal Society of Communist
Revolutionaries, among the principal figures of which were numbered, in addition to Marx and Engels, the Chartist George Harney
and the exiled leaders of the Blanquists:
The aim of the society is the overthrow of all the privileged
classes, and to submit these classes to the dictatorship of the
proletariat by maintaining the revolution in permanence until
the realisation of communism, which will be the last organisational form of the human family.l


Marxism anti the U.S.S.R.

Although the term itselfis not used, it is generally recognised that
the substance of the concept of proletarian dictatorship as it was
perceived by Marx and Engels at the time was elaborated in the
Maniftsto of the Communist Party, written two years earlier: 2
. . . the first step in the revolution by the working dass, is to raise
the proletariat to the position of ruling dass, to win the batde of
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by
degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the
proletariat organised as the ruling dass; and to increase the total
of productive forces as rapidly as possible. (MAN, p. 52)
In the same work, Marx and Engels described the object and end
product of proletarian rule:
When, in the course of development, dass distinctions have
disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the
hands ofa vast association ofthe whole nation, the public power
will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called,
is merely the organised power of one dass for oppressing another.
If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is
compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a
dass, if, by means ofa revolution, it makes itselfthe ruling dass,
and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of
production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept
away the conditions for the existence of dass antagonisms and of
dasses generally, and will thereby have abolished its own
supremacy as a dass.
In place ofthe old bourgeois society, with its dasses and dass
antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free
development of each is the condition for the free development of
all. (MAN, p. 53)3
Although there is not, in the Maniftsto, any explicit reference to
the abolition of the state, there can be no doubt that Marx and
Engels envisaged precisely this. Hence, in a book review written
about the same time, Marx observed that: 'The abolition ofthe state
has only one meaning to the Communists, as the necessary result of

The Theoretical Foundations


the abolition of dasses, whereupon the need for the organised power
of one dass for the suppression of another ceases to exist'. (Cited in
Draper (1970), p. 288) In a much later work by Engels, the SaintSimonian formulation of the de-politicisation of the public power
employed in the Manifesto is explicitly equated with the abolition of
the state:
All socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it
political authority, will disappear as a result ofthe coming social
revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political
character and be transformed into the simple administrative
functions of watching over the true interests of society. (OA,
The Manifesto itself refers to the 'rule' of the proletariat rather
than to its 'dictatorship' ,as in the statement that 'the first step in the
revolution ... is to raise the proletariat to the position ofthe ruling
dass'. Engels, in the preliminary draft of the work which he
prepared, wrote that the revolution 'will establish a democratic
constitution and through this the direct or indirect dominance ofthe
proletariat'. (PC, p. 13) However, in correspondence with Otto
Lüning (co-editor, with Marx's dose friendJoseph Weydemeyer, of
the Frankfurt journal Neue Deutsche Zeitung), Marx made it dear
that he recognised no substantive difference between his concept of
the dictatorship ofthe proletariat as set out in The Class Struggles in
France, and the formulation employed in the Manifesto (and
implicitly also the synonymous terminology used by Engels in
Principles of Communism). (See Draper, 1962, p. 98)4
It has been daimed by some commentators that the French
revolutionary Louis-Auguste Blanqui, rather than Marx, was the
first to coin the term 'dictatorship of the proletariat' 5, although
Draper has disputed this. In any event, Marx and Engels were
emphatic about the distinctio.n between their own conception of
revolutionary dictatorship and that of Blanquists, as is made dear
by Engels' statement in his artide The Programme 01 the Blanquist
Fugitives From the Paris Commune:
From Blanqui's assumption, that any revolution may be made by
the out break of a small revolutionary minority, follows of itself
the necessity of a dictatorship after the success ofthe venture. This
is, of course, a dictatorship, not of the entire revolutionary dass,
the proletariat, but of the sm all minority that has made the


Marxism and the U.S.S.R.
revolution, and who are themselves previously organized under
the dictatorship of one or several individuals. (Cited in Draper,
1962, p. 95)

When Blanqui's exiled followers in London adopted the Marxist
conception of proletarian dictatorship in a programmatic document, 6 Engels observed, presumably with some satisfaction, that
. . . when the so-called Blanquists made an attempt to transform
themselves from mere political revolutionists into a socialist
workers' faction with a definite programme - as was done by the
Blanquist fugitives in London in their manifesto, Internationale et
Revolution,-they ... adopted, and almost literally at that, the
views of German scientific socialism on the necessity of political
action by the proletariat and of its dictatorship as the transition
point to the abolition of dasses and with them of the state - views
such as had already been expressed in the Communist Manifisto
and since then on innumerable occasions. (HQ, p. 613)7
In his letter to Weydemeyer of 5 March 1852, Marx summarised
his ideas on the dictatorship of the proletariat, at the same time
disdaiming any credit for the discovery of dasses and the dass
What I did that was new was to demonstrate: I) that the existence

of classes is merely linked to particular historical phases in the

development ofproduction, 2) that dass struggle necessarily leads to
the dictatorship ofthe proletariat, 3) that this dictatorship itself only
constitutes the transition to the abolition of alt classes and to a
classless sociery. (MESC, p. 64)
After this, aperiod of twenty years was to elapse before any
reference to the proletarian dictatorship occurred again in the
writings of Marx or Engels. When it reappeared, the conception
itself had undergone a significant extension and refinement, the
stimulus for this being the experience of the Paris Commune.

In none of his copious writings did Marx ever refer to the Paris
Commune of 1871 as the dictatorship ofthe proletariat. 8 Some ten

The Theoretical Foundations

years after the event, he remarked that 'apart from the fact that this
was merely the rising of a city under exceptional conditions, the
majority ofthe commune was by no means socialist, nor could it be'.
(Marx to Nieuwenhuis, 22 February 1881, MESC, pp. 317-19) In
the First Drajt of The Civil War in France, he wrote that: 'The
principal measures taken by the Commune are taken for the
salvation of the middle dass'. (FD, p. 258) As Miliband has
observed, Marx's reluctance to characterise the Commune as the
dictatorship ofthe proletariat would also follow from the fact that he
undoubtedly conceived of this dictatorship as the product of a
socialist revolution on anational scale. (Miliband, 1965, p. 291) It is
nevertheless the case that Engels, in his 189 I Preface to The Civil War
in France, hailed the Commune as the realisation ofthe proletarian
Oflate, the Social-Democratic philistine has once again been
filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the
Proletariat. Well and good, gentleman, do you want to know what
this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was
the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. (MESW/ I, pp. 24B-59)
There is no necessary contradiction here. As Avineri has pointed
out, The Civil War in France, although it appears to be an account of
the Commune's ~chievements, is actually an evaluation of its
ascribed potential:
... wh at Marx saw in the Commune as a model for the future
were not the actual, concrete arrangements it instituted, but a
projection of the potentialities of these arrangements onto the
future. Only this projection gives the Commune its historical
significance. Marx, then, does not discuss the Commune as it
actually was, but as it could be, not in actu but in potentia. He
elevates the Commune's possible enactments and its potential
arrangements to a paradigm offuture society. It is not the Paris
Commune of 187 I that provides the model for future society, but
the immanent reason Marx saw in it had it survived (though he
was sure it would not). Only such a projection allows Marx, in his
188 I letter, 9 to criticise the historical Commune for not nationalising the Banque de France, and to praise the potential
Commune for an intention to abolish private property. (Avineri,
1971, pp. 240-1)


Marxism arui the U.S.S.R.

Clear support for this interpretation is provided by a reference
which occurs in a letter by Engels, written in 1884: 'That in The Civil
War the instinctive tendencies ofthe Commune were put down to its
credit as more or less deli berate plans was justified and even
necessary under the circumstances'. (Engels to Bernstein, 1 January
1884, MESC, p. 345) Marx hirnself stated that the 'great social
measure of the Commune was its own working existence', arguing
that, had it survived, its inherent dynamic would, ofnecessity, have
led it in a socialist direction:
The political rule of the producer cannot coexist with the
perpetuation ofhis social sla very. The Commune was therefore to
serve as alever for uprooting the economical foundations upon
which rest the existence of dasses, and therefore of dass rule.
(CW, p. 290)
Lenin, taking up Marx's analysis of the Commune almost half a
century later, was to argue that the main lesson to be learned from it
was contained in Marx's assertion that 'the working dass cannot
simply lay hold ofthe ready-made state machinery, and wield it for
its own purposes' . (See Chapter 2) In his PreJace to The Civil War,
Engels had emphasised this same aspect of Marx's account,
referring to the 'shattering of the former state power and its
replacement by a new and truly democratic one'} and arguing that
the state, pending its future abolition, must be regarded as 'at best
an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for
dass supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just
like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much
as possible'. (MESW /1, pp. 248-59)1°
Marx himselfidentified what he regarded as the 'new feature' of
the Commune as being that:
... the people, after the first rise, have not disarmed themselves
and surrendered their power into the hands of the republican
mountebanks ofthe ruling dasses, that, by the constitution ofthe
CommuTU!, they have taken the actual management of their
revolution into their own hands and found at the same time, in
the case ofsuccess, the means to hold it in the hands ofthe people
itself, displacing the state machinery, the goverhmental machinery of the ruling dasses by a governmental machinery of their
own. (FD, p. 261)

The Theoretical Foundations

The 'true secret' of the Commune, Marx dedared, was that 'It
was essentially a working-dass government, the produce of the
struggle ofthe producing dasses against the appropriating dass, the
political form at last discovered under which to work out the
economic emancipation oflabour'. (CW, p. 290) He identified the
principal structural innovations of this new political form as being:
I. The abolition of the standing army and its replacement by a
popular militia as an armed force no longer separate from and
opposed to the people.
2. The political functionaries of the Commune consisted of
elected and fully recallable delegat es rather than representatives.
The police, judiciary, and other officials were similarly elected by
universal suffrage and were revocable.
3. The delegated officials received no special material privileges,
their incomes being on a par with those of skilled workers.
4. The separation of executive and legislative functions, characteristic ofthe bourgeois regime, was ended: 'The Commune was to
be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at
the same time'. (CW, p. 287)
5. The extension ofthe Communal structure was to have created
a genuinely unified and co-ordinated organisation at the level ofthe
social formation as a whole:

The Paris Commune was, of course, to serve as a model to all
the great industrial centres ofFrance. The communal regime once
established in Paris and the secondary centres, the old centralised
Government would in the provinces, too, have to give way to the
self-government of the producers. In a rough sketch of national
organisation which the Commune had no time to develop, it
states dearly that the Commune was to be the political form of
even the smallest country hamlet . . . The rural communes of
every district were to administer their common affairs by an
assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district
assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at all times bound by the
mandat imperatif(formal instructions) ofhis constituents. The few
but important functions which still would remain for a central
government were not to be suppressed ... but were to be
discharged by Communal, and therefore strictly responsible
agents. The unity ofthe nation was not to be broken, but, on the


Marxism and the U.S.S.R.
contrary, to be organised by the Communal Constitution and to
become a reality by the destruction of the State power which
daimed to be the embodiment of that unity independent of, and
superior to, the nation itself, from which it was but a parasitic
excrescence. While the merely repressive organs of the old
governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate
functions were to be wrested from an authority usurping preeminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible
agents of society. (CW, pp. 288-9)

Marx dearly placed great emphasis on the democratic and
egalitarian features of the Commune, a fact which would certainly
follow from the distinction which he and Engels drew between their
conception of proletarian dictatorship and that of the Blanquists,
which they saw as being essentially eIitist and conspiratorial.
This emphasis also derived from Marx's critique of the nature
and role of the contemporary state. His and Engels' views on the
state as an agency of dass domination and oppression had been set
out in the Manifesto ofthe Communist Party, while Marx himselfhad
elaborated a critique of the separation of the state and civil society
and ofthe nature ofthe former as an 'illusory community', five years
earlier. (PEW, pp. 58-198)
In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx described and
analysed the massive bureaucratisation which the Fn;nch state had
undergone in its Bonapartist form. Referring to the 'executive
power with its enormous bureaucratic and military organisation ... this appalling parasitic bodY' which enmeshes the
body of French society and chokes all its pores', he observed, in a
sentence which prefigures his later pronouncements on the CommUDe, that: 'All revolutions perfected this machine instead of
smashing it'. (EB, p. 169) The aggrandisement of the Bonapartist
state, he maintained, had effectively resulted in the almost total
subjugation of bourgeois society by its own executive power.
In The Civil War in France, Marx recorded the further growth of
the state power, while emphasising also the continued expansion of
its role as an agency of dass oppression:
At the same pace at which the progress of modern industry
developed, widened, intensified the dass antagonism between
capital and labour, the State power assumed more and more the
character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public

The Theoretical Foundations


force organised for social enslavement, of an engine of dass
despotism. (CW, p. 285)
It was this analysis which prompted Marx's graphie characterisation of the Commune:

It was a revolution against the state itself, this supernaturalist
abortion ofsociety, a resumption by the people for the people of
its own sociallife. It was not a revolution to transfer it from one
fraction of the ruling dass to the other, but a revolution to break
down this horrid machinery of dass domination itself. (FD,
Had the Commune survived, he conduded, the Communal
Constitution 'would have restored to the social body all the forces
hitherto absorbed by the State parasite feeding upon, and dogging
the free movement of, society'. (CW, p. 289)11
In his account of the Commune, Marx thus moved from the
problematic of the de-politicisation of the public power as articulated in the Maniftsto of the Communist Party to that of the deinstitutionalisation ofpolitical power, in the realisation ofwhich, as
Miliband has remarked, the Commune 'did embody, for Marx, the
essential elements of his concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat'. (Miliband, 1965, p. 291) lt should be noted, however, that
this conception by no means originated with Marx. The affinity of
Marx's writings on the Commune with his earlier polemic on the
separation of the state and civil society in such works as the Critique of
Hegel's Doctrine ofthe State and The Jewish Qpestion has been noted by
Colletti, who has also drawn attention to the similarity between the
concepts articulated in The Civil War in France and those developed
by Rousseau in The Social Contract. The evidence, in his view,
demonstrates condusively the essential (albeit indirect) dependence of Marx's 'political' theory on the ideas of the eighteenth
century French philosopher,
. . . to whom the critique of parliamentarism, the theory of
popular delegacy and even the idea of the state's disappearance
can all be traced back. This implies in turn that the true originality
of Marxism must be sought rather in the field of social and
economic analysis than political theory.12


Marxism and the U.S.S.R.

Fernbach has emphasised that the structural features of the
Commune as described by Marx 'do not explicitly demarcate a
privileged position for the industrial working dass any more than
the corresponding features of the bourgeois state, in either its
parliamentary, Bonapartist, or fascist variants, do for the bourgeoisie'. (David Fernbach, Introduction, MPW, BI, 36) This, as he
points out, would seem indeed to follow from Marx's view that a
social dass can only attain hegemony to the extent that its own
particular interests coincide with the broader historical movement
of the development of social production. In the case of the
proletariat Marx considered that its own interests as a dass and the
universal interest ofsocial progress were absolutely synonymous. He
first explained why this was necessarily the case in the Introduction to
his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right:
So where is the positive possibility of German emancipation?
This is ouranswer. In the formation ofa dass with radical chains, a
dass of civil society which is not a dass of civil society, a dass
which is the dissolution of all dasses, a sphere which has a
universal character because of its universal suffering and which
lays claim to no particular right because the wrong it suffers is not a
particular wrong but wrong in general; a sphere of society which can
no longer lay daim to a historical tide, but merely to a human one,
which does not stand in one-sided opposition to the consequences
but in all-sided opposition to the premises ofthe German political
system; and finally a sphere which cannot emancipate itself
without emancipating itself from - and thereby emancipatingall the other spheres ofsociety, which is, in a word, the totallossof
humanity and which can therefore redeem itself only through the
total redemption of humanity. This dissolution of society as a
particular dass is the proletariat. (PEW, pp. 243-57)13
With the advent of the Commune, the working dass was to
achieve, albeit temporarily, the historical role as a universal dass
which Marx had attributed to it in his earlier writings. Hence, in his
account of it, Marx emphasised wh at he saw as its 'all-sided
opposition' to the premises of the existing political system:
Only the proletarians, fired by a new social task to accomplish by
them for all of society, to do away with all dasses and dass rule,
were the men to break the instrument of that dass rule - the state,

The Theoretical FounJations
the centralized and organized govemmental power usurping to
be the master instead of the servant of society. (FD, p. 250)
It necessarily followed that the Commune was a genuinely
democratic regime through which the political power ofthe mass of
the people could be directly expressed and thus 'a thoroughly
expansive political form, while all previous forms of govemment
had been emphatically repressive'. (CW, p. 290)
The Commune, Marx pointed out, established a working
alliance with the petty bourgeoisie, which was given a share in
govemment corresponding to its numerical strength. (FD, p. 258)
The proletariat, however, remained the hegemonie dass, its
leadership determining the character of the ruling bloc as a whole:
'the working dass was openly acknowledged as the only dass
capable of sodal initiative, even by the great bulk of the Paris
middle dass - shopkeepers, tradesmen, merchants - the wealthy
capitalists alone excepted'. (FD, p. 214) The govemmental
apparatus ofthe Commune thus served to organise the hegemony of
the proletariat as the apparatus of the capitalist state served to
organise the hegemony of the bourgeoisie:

As the state machinery and parliamentarism are not the reallife
of the ruling dass, but only the organized general organs of their
dominion, the political guarantees and forms and expressions of
the old order of things, so the Commune is not the sodal
movement of the working dass and therefore of a general
regeneration of mankind, but the organized means of action.
(FD, pp. 252-3)
Marx emphasised that the establishment of the Commune did
not in itself put an end to sodal antagonisms:
The Commune does not do away with the dass struggles, through
which the working dasses strive to the abolition of dasses . . . but
it affords the rational medium in which that dass struggle can run
through its different phases in the most rational and humane way.
(FD, p. 253)
The Commune would thus still find it necessary to repress the
minority which had avested interest in the restoration of the old
order and which was therefore firmly opposed to its power. With the

Marxism and the U.S.S.R.

extension ofthe Communal regime, however, this opposition would
cease to pose any serious threat:
The Communal organisation once firmly established on a
national scale, the catastrophes it might still have to undergo
would be sporadic slaveholders' insurrections, which, while for a
moment interrupting the work of peaceful progress, would only
accelerate the movement, by putting the sword into the hand of
the social revolution. (FD, p. 253)
Without doubt, the most significant effect which the experience of
the Commune had on the way in which Marx and Engels
conceptualised the transition to socialism was that they no longer
presented the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat
and the disappearance of the state as two separate and distinct
stages within the transition period . In his account of the Commune,
as has already been noted, Marx emphasised that the political power
which the proletariat substituted for the bourgeois state was
fundamentally different in character from the power which it
supplanted; the establishment of the Commune was therefore 'a
revolution against the state iself'. The principal features of the
Communal Constitution as described by Marx delimited the
structure of astate which, in Engels' words, was undergoing a
process of 'gradual dissolution'. (Engels to van Patten, 18 April
1883, MESC, pp. 340---2) Engels had even argued that: 'The whole
talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the
Commune, which was no longer astate in the proper sense of the
word'. (Engels to Bebel, 18-28 March 1875, MESC, pp. 272-7)
The determinant function of the proletarian state form, in contradistinction to that of all others hitherto, was to facilitate its own
eventual disappearance. Engels set down his most extended
treatment of this thesis in Anti-Dühring:
As soon as there is no longer any dass of society to be held in
subjection; as soon as, along with dass domination and the
struggle for individual existence based on the former anarchy of
production, the collisions and excesses arising from these have
also been abolished, there is nothing more to be repressed which
would make a special repressive force, astate, necessary. The first
act in which the state really comes forward as the representative
of society as a whole - the taking possession of the means of

The Theoretical Foundations
production in the name of society - is at the same time its last
independent act as astate. The interference of the state power in
social relations be comes superftuous in one sphere after another,
and then ceases ofitself. The government of persons is replaced by
the government of things and the direction of the process of
production. The state is not "abolished", it withers away. (AD,
p. 3 1 5)
When this part of Anti-Dühring was revised for publication as
Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, Engels added the following:
Socialised production upon a predetermined plan becomes
henceforth possible. The development of production makes the
existence of different dasses of society thence forth an
anachronism. In proportion as anarchy in social production
vanishes, the political authority of the state dies out. (SUS,
p. 428)
The concept of the substitution of 'the government of things and
the direction of the process of production' for 'the government of
persons' did not, it should be noted, originate with Marx and
Engels, but was first expounded by the 'utopian socialist' Henri de
Saint-Simon. 14 It was Saint-Simon who first articulated the idea of
a planned and collectively-owned mode of production based on
modern industry and technology as an alternative to the anarchy of
capitalist production. In its Saint-Simonian version, however, this
conception had no specific connection with the working dass
movement and the aim of proletarian emancipation. 15
It is perhaps surprising that, although the conscious regulation of
the economy was so intrinsically apart ofthe Marxist concept ofthe
socialist mode ofproduction, there are few references to planning as
such in the writings ofMarx and Engels. Apart from a few general
comments about the planned distribution of labour-time in future
communist society in the Grundrisse and the first and third volumes of
Capital, Marx's best-known and most explicit statement on this
theme occurs in The Civil War in France:

If co-operative production is not to remain a sham and asnare; if
it is to supersede the Capitalist system; if united co-operative
societies are to regulate national production upon a common
plan, thus taking it under their own control, and putting an end

Marxism and the U.S.S.R.
to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the
fatality of Capitalist production - what else, gentlemen, would it
be but Communism, "possible" Communism? (CW, p. 291)
There is virtually nothing to be found in the works of Marx and
Engels on the concrete forms of planning within the socialist mode of
production, although this is altogether more understandable in
view oftheir professed aversion to the construction of'blueprints' for
the future socialist society. Indeed, the only comment of any
substance on this question is that by Engels in Anti-Dühring:
From the moment when society enters into possession of the
means of production and uses them in direct association for
production, the labour of each individual, however varied its
specifically useful character may be, is immediately and directly
social labour. The quantity of social labour contained in a
product has then no need to be established in a roundabout way;
daily experience shows in a direct way how much ofit is required
on the average ... It is true that even then it will still be
necessary for society to know how much labour each article of
consumption requires for its production. It will have to arrange
its plan ofproduction in accordance with its means ofproduction,
which include, in particular, its labour forces. The useful etrects of
the various articles of consumption, compared with each other
and with the quantity of labour required for their production,
will in the last analysis determine the plan. People will be able to
manage everything very simply, without the intervention ofthe
famous "value". (AD, pp. 345-6)
Marx, as his comments in the Critique of the Gotha Programme
demonstrate, undoubtedly shared Engels' prognosis, equating the
establishment ofthe collective ownership ofthe me ans ofproduction
with the abolition of commodity exchange and the law of value.
There are, however, serious objections to such a view (see Chapter 5).
Marx and Engels added an important proviso to their conception
ofthe disappearance ofthe state. As long as its dass adversary still
existed, the proletariat would still need the state, both to maintain
its own social supremacy, and to remodel all levels (and particularly
the economic) of the social formation in accordance with its own
dass interests. Marx expressed this thesis with particular darity in
his Conspectus of Bakunin's "Statism and Anarchy":16

The Theoretical Foundations


... so long as the other dasses, especially the capitalist dass, still
exists, so long as the proletariat struggles with it (for when it
attains government power its enemies and the old organization of
society have not yet vanished), it must employ forcible means,
hence governmental means. It is itself still a dass and the
economic conditions from which the dass struggle and the
existence of dasses derive have still not disappeared and must be
either removed out ofthe way or transformed, this transformation
process being forcibly hastened. (MPW, III, 333-8).
In his artide Political Indifferentism, originally published as a
companion piece to Engels' On Authoriry, Marx pointed out how, 'if
the workers replace the dictatorship of the bourgeois dass with their
own revolutionary dictatorship' , they, in so doing, 'give to the state
a revolutionary and transitory form'. (MPW, III, 327-32) It was
with the same conception in mind that Engels polemicised against
the Lassallean idea of a 'free state', to which Marx had already
addressed hirnself in his Critique of the Gotha Programme:
Since the state is only a transitional institution which is used in
the struggle, during the revolution, to hold down one's adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a free people's state: so
long as the proletariat still uses the state, it does not use it in the
interests offreedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and
as soon as it becomes possible to speak offreedom the state as such
ceases to exist. (Engels to Bebel, 18-28 March 1875, MESC,
pp. 272-7)
Unfortunately, some of Engels' later writings seem to obscure
rat her than darify the question of the political form of the
proletarian dictatorship. In A Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic
Programme of 1891, Engels stated that:
If one thing is certain it is that our Party and the working dass can
only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This
is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat,
as the Great French Revolution has already shown .. .l7
Lenin commenting on this passage, supposed Engels to be arguing
that the extension of democracy inevitably gives rise to an upsurge


Marxism anti the U.S.S.R.

of dass struggle and to popular demands whose realisation
entails the emergence of the dictatorship of the prpletariat. (SR,
P·3 1 4)
This confusion may, as Miliband suggests, derive from the fact
that Marx supported the establishment of the democratic republic
while simultaneously denouncing its dass (bourgeois) character,
although the contradiction is only an apparent one, since Marx
acknowledged it to be the most progressive form ofbourgeois regime
(and therefore wished to see it supplant the more backward and
absolutist state forms) without losing sight of the fact that it
remained a system of dass rule. It was, nevertheless, on the basis of
passages such as that just cited from Engels, that Kautsky argued
that the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat was meant to
designate the social character of the state power rather than the
actual form of government. Starting from the premise that a dass
'can rule, but not govern, for a dass is a formless mass, while only an
organisation can govern', Kautsky maintained that Marx conceived the proletarian dictatorship as being merely 'a condition
which must necessarily arise when the proletariat has conquered
political power' .18
An examination ofMarx's writings on the Commune would seem
to destroy any possible basis for such a view, perhaps most notable,
in this context, being the passage in which he described the
Commune as 'essentially a working-dass government, the produce
of the struggle of the producing dasses against the appropriating
dass, the political form at last discovered under which to work out
the emancipation of labour'. (CW, p. 290) Miliband is surely
correct in conduding that, for Marx, the dictatorship of the
proletariat constituted

... hotk a statement of the dass character of the political power
anti a description of the political power itself . . . it is in fact the
nature ofthe political power which it describes which guarantees
its dass character. (Miliband, 1965, pp. 28g-g0)


It has been argued by Buick that the transition period between
capitalist and communist society did not represent, for Marx, the

The Theoretical Foundations
period between the establishment of the common ownership of the
means of production and the time when the principle of 'from each
according to his ability, to each according to his needs' would be
implemented, but was rather the stage after the proletariat's seizure
of political power and before the nationalisation of the means of
producion. He maintains that it was, in effect, 'the period during
which the working dass would be using state power to bring the
means of production into common ownership'. (Buick, 1975,
p. 59)
With reference to Marx's distinction, in the Critique cif the Gotha
Programme, between the first, or lower, and the higher phase of
communist society, Buick contends that:
. . . Marx is tal king of different phases of the same society, a
society "based on the common ownership of the me ans of
production", i.e. a dassless, stateless society with no wages or
monetary system ... No doubt one could speak of a transition
from the "first" to a higher phase of socialism, but the fact
remains that Marx did not employ the concept of "transition
period" in this sense. For hirn ... it was the transition from
capitalism to socialism and not from one phase of socialism to
another. (Buick, 1975, p. 61)
The principal target of Buick's cntique would seem to be
Mandel, whose conception of the 'transitional society' he is
concerned to refute. (See, e.g. Mandel, 1974a, passim). It must be
recognised that there are, indeed, passages in the writings ofMarx
and Engels which would appear to support Buick's thesis. They did
emphasise, however, that: 'Communism is not for us astate ofaffairs
which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to
adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes
the present state of things'. (GI, pp. 56-7) Precisely because the
'present state of things' is itself a contingent and not an absolute or
'given' factor, it necessarily follows that the specific character and
content ofthe tasks to be accomplished during the transition period
by 'the proletariat organised as the ruling dass', and the periodisation of these tasks, cannot be arbitrarily defined in advance,
except in the most general sense.
The most important factor to condition the nature of the
transition period must certainly be the level of development
attained by the productive forces. It was, indeed, their changing


Marxism and the U.S.S.R.

assessment of this factor in different conjunctures which prompted
Marx and Engels to revise their views on the degree to which the
abolition ofthe capitalist mode ofproduction could be regarded as
being an imminently realisable prospect (see below).
Moreover, the nationalisation of the me ans of production was
only one of the tasks posited for the working dass during the
transition period, as is dear from Marx's exposition ofthe concept of
proletarian dictatorship in The Class Struggles in France, in which it is
depicted as the suppression of all the conditions of existence of
capitalist social relations of production. Inseparable from this
conception, as Marx made clear in his account of the Commune,
would be the elimination of bureaucracy and thereby the restoration to the social body proper of 'all the forces hitherto
absorbed by the State parasite feeding upon, and dogging the free
movement of, Society'. (CW, p. 289) And, as a matter of course, the
victorious proletariat would be obliged to take measures 'to increase
the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible'. (MAN, p. 52).
Ifthe realisation of all these tasks is already posited at the inception
of 'the first phase of communist society', it would indeed be difficult
to understand Marx's own characterisation ofthe transitional social
What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it
has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary,just as it
emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect,
economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the
birth marks ofthe old society from whose womb it emerges. (GP,
P·3 1 9)
It is surely an unnecessarily formalistic methodology which
differentiates between one series of tasks, supposedly peculiar to the
transition period between capitalist and communist society, and
another series, to be achieved during the transition from the lower to
the higher phase of communist society. Notwithstanding the
inevitably provision al nature ofMarx's formulations ofthe character and content of the transition, he would certainly have rejected
such an abstract schema.
What is dear is that Marx envisaged an evolution of the mode of
distribution during the transition period, which would differ in the
first and the higher phases of communist society in correspondence
with the level of development attained by the forces ofproduction.
In the first phase, distribution would be effected in accordance with

The Theoretical Fouruiations


the labour-time contributed by each individual, mediated through
the issue of vouchers exchangeable against consumption goods. This
phase would be, in its essentials, identical with what Marx had in his
earlier works described as 'crude communism' (although he had
then used the term in a pejorative sense to characterise vulgar
conceptions ofthe abolition ofthe capitalist mode ofproduction), in
... the community is simply a community of labour and equality
of wages, which are paid out by the communal capital, the
communiv as universal capitalist. Both sides of the relation are
raised to an imaginary universality-labour as the condition in
which everyone is placed and capital as the acknowledged
universality and power of the community.18
In the Critique of the Gotha Programme he explained the basis of
distribution in the first phase of communist society:
Here obviously the same principle prevails as that which
regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange
of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under
the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his
labour, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the
ownership of individuals except individual means of consumption. But, as far as the distribution of the latter among the
individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as
in the exchange of commodity-equivalents: a given amount of
labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount oflabour in
another form. (GP, pp. 319-20)
It could therefore be said, Marx observed, that 'equal right' is still
in principle during the first phase of communist society, although
this is in reality 'bourgeois right' and 'a right of inequality'. Since
equality in this instance consists in the fact that each individual's
contribution to society and hence his or her entitlement to
consumption goods is measured in labour-time, as an 'equal
standard', it folIows, precisely by virtue of the fact that 'it tacitly
recognises unequal individual endowment and thus productive
capacity as natural privileges' , that 'equal right is an unequal right


Marxism and the U.S.S.R.

for unequal labour'. (GP, p. 320) Marx emphasised, moreover,
... one worker is married, another not; one has more children
than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal
performance of labour, and hence an equal share in the social
consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another,
one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these
defects, right instead of being equal would have to be unequal.
(GP, p. 320)
It must be recognised, he conduded, that:
... these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist
society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth
pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the
economic structure of society and its cultural development
conditioned thereby.
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving
subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and
therewith also the anti thesis between mental and physicallabour,
has vanished; after labour has become not only a means oflife but
life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased
with the all-round development of the individual, and all the
springs of co-operative wealth ftow more abundantly - only then
can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its
entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according
to his ability, to each according to his needs! (GP, pp. 320-1)
The assessment by Marx and Engels of the viability of the
establishment of a society based on the collective ownership of the
means of production as an immediate aim had, in their earlier
writings, been a distinctly qualified one. In 1847 Marx had argued
If the proletariat destroys the political rule of the bourgeoisie,
that will only be a temporary victory, only an element in the
service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in 1794, so long as in
the course ofhistory, in its "movement", the material conditions
are not yet created which make necessary the abolition of the

The Theoretical Foundations


bourgeois mode of production and thus the definitive overthrow
of bourgeois political rule. 20
Engels, too, in his preliminary draft for the Manifesto ofthe Communist
Parry, denied that it would any more be possible to abolish private
property all at once than that the existing forces of production
. . . at one stroke be multiplied to the extent necessary for the
creation of a communal society. In all probability , the proletarian revolution will transform existing society gradually and
will be able to abolish private property only when the means of
production are available in sufficient quantity. (PC, p. 13)
In the Manifesto itself, however, any doubts which Marx and Engels
might have had about the 'ripeness' of the material conditions for
the abolition of the capitalist mode of production were put aside.
Reviewing this period almost four decades later, in his Introduction
to Marx's Tke Class Struggles in France, Engels wrote that: 'History
has proved us, and all who thought like us, wrong. It has made it
dear that the state of economic development on the Continent was
not, by a long way, ripe for the elimination of capitalist production'. (CSF, p. 12) Engels might not then, it may be supposed,
have exduded such an eventuality in the case of the first social
formation to undergo capitalist industrialisation, Britain. In any
event, by 1872, he felt himself able to put forward, as a generalisation, the proposition that the industrial revolution had
... raised the productive power ofhuman labour to such a high
level that - for the first time in the history of mankind - the
possibility exists, given a rational division oflabour among all, of
producing not only enough for the plentiful consumption of all
members of society and for an abundant reserve fund, but also of
leaving each individual sufficient leisure so that what is really
worth preserving in historically inherited culture - science, art,
forms of intercourse - may not only be preserved but converted
from a monopoly ofthe ruling dass into the common property of
the whole of society, and may be further developed. (H~ p. 565)
Six years later, he reiterated the same thesis even more

Marxism and the U.S.S.R.
The possibility ofsecuring for every member ofsociety, through
sodal production, an existence which is not only fully sufficient
from a material stand point and becoming richer from day to day,
but also guarantees to them the completely unrestricted development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties - this
possibility now exists for the first time, but it does exist. (AD, p.
3 1 7)
This was evidently an exaggeration, at least if it was meant to be
understood literally, as opposed to being a polemical overstatement
ofan essentially valid argument, namely, the case for the implementation ofsocially planned production. Even in the most advanced of
the contemporary capitalist countries, it would not be possible to
inaugurate the 'first phase of communist society' , certainly as Marx
and Engels saw it, that is, as a social formation in which commodity
production had been eliminated (see below, Chapter 5). As Mandel
has pointed out, however:
If the capitalist mode of production were to be abolished on the
world scale it would be possible to go over at once, without any
transition other than that required by political events, to the
organisation of an economy in which commodity production is
abolished and which adapts men's productive efforts to the
satisfaction of current needs. The only condition for such a rapid
and far-reaching transformation would be restriction oJ needs to the
most elementary ones. . . .
The productive forces at mankind's disposal today make it
possible to satisfy these needs without any transitional phase of
accumulation or further industrial progress. Existing productive
forces would, of course, have to be redistributed on a colossal
scale ... (Mandel, 1968, p. 608)

Clearly, though, the implementation ofthe principle of'from each
according to his ability, to each according to his needs' is by no
means such a proximate possibility, and must, even on the most
optimistic prognosis, remain a distinctly long-term prospect. It will,
of necessity, require a vast expansion of the productive forces
('socialist accumulation'), not only towards the suppression of
commodity production and the regulatory capacity of the law of
value, but also in order to attain the drastic reduction in necessary
labour-time which is essential if the division of labour is to be

The Theoretical Foundations
overcome and the 'withering-away' of dasses and the state thereby
facilitated. This possibility can nevertheless be realised only in the
context of an authentic proletarian political practice and the
successful culmination of the dass struggle.


In his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique 01Political Economy, Marx
stated that:
No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for
which there is room in it have 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 itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks
as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more dosely, it will
always be found that the task itself arises only when the material
conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the
process offormation. (MESW/I, pp. 180-4)

It is undeniable that Marx's conception of socialism was premissed
on the existence of a very high level of development of the
productive forces, induding the proletariat itself. Marx did not
believe, however, that the form in which this development was
achieved was itself rigidly determined. Thus, the passage cited
above must be qualified with reference to aseries of statements
which occur in both his and Engels' writings, in which they
explicitly repudiated any attempt to transform the 'historical sketch
ofthe genesis of capitalism in Western Europe' set out in Capital into
'an historico-philosophic theory of the general path of development
prescribed by fate to all nations'. (Marx to Otechestvenniye Zapiski,
November 1877, MESC, pp. 291-4)
In 188 I, in correspondence with Vera Zasulich, Marx emphasised that the 'historical inevitability' of the origins of the
capitalist mode of production depicted in Capital was 'expressly
limited to the countries of Western Europe' . (Marx to Zasulich, 8
March 1881, MESC pp. 319-20) The point at issue in this
exchange, as in Marx's earlier letter to the editorial board of
Otechestvenniye Zapiski, was the possibility that the village commune
(obshchina) might come to constitute the basis for a socialist

Marxism anti the U.S.S.R.
transformation in Russia. It was precisely this thesis which formed
the central programmatic tenet of the Narodniki, a grouping of
populist intellectuals which emerged in Russia during the 1870's
(though prefigured in the ideas of Alexander Herzen some twenty
years earlier).
Marx himself reached the conclusion, in his 1877 letter, that it
would indeed be possible for Russia to initiate the transition to
socialism without having to undergo 'all the fatal vicissitudes ofthe
capitalist regime', in particular, the dispossession of the peasantry
and the creation of a proletariat 'free' to sell its labour-power, which
would imply the liquidation of the obshchina. Engels had already
arrived at an essentially similar conclusion two years earlier in his
article On Social Relations in Russia, although he emphasised the
dependence of socialist transformation in Russia on simultaneous
proletarian revolution in Western Europe. 21 In 1882, in the PreJace
to the Russian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx
and Engels set out their joint conclusion:
If the Russian revolution be comes the signal for a proletarian
revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the
present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the
starting point of a communist development. (MESW /2, I, 22-4)
Engels was subsequently, during the I 890s, to revise the perspective which he and Marx had espoused in 1882, adopting, in
efTect, the view of Plekhanov (who had himself rejected agrarian
populism after the demise of the Narodnovoltsy, following their
assassination of the Tsar in March 1881) according to which Russia
had already entered its phase of capitalist development, which
would inevitably create an indigenous proletariat and, in so doing,
the agency which would itself resolve the question of the mode of
socialist transformation. 22 Although the Russian Marxist current
launched by Plekhanov (who in 1883, with Paul Axelrod and Vera
Zasulich, founded the 'Emancipation ofLabour' group) dissociated
itself from all belief in the imputed socialist potential of the rural
commune system, it still adhered to the thesis, as articulated in the
1882 PreJace to the Manifesto, ofRussia's essential dependence on the
proletarian revolution in Europe as a complement to its own
socialist transformation. In itself, this thesis had a much more
general basis, which was often enough stated in the writings ofMarx
and Engels. Thus, for example, the Provisional Rules which Marx

The Theoretical Foundations


drew up for the First International contained the emphatic
assertion that:
... the emancipation oflabour is neither a local nor anational,
but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern
society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence,
practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries ...
(MPW, III, 82-4)
It was precisely this premise on which Trotsky based his opposition
to Stalin's 'socialism in one country'.
The actuality of socio-economic development in Russia proved to
be more complex than Marx and Engels had envisaged, which
should not be found surprising, particularly in view of their
inevitably incomplete apprehension ofthe nature and consequences
of imperialist expansion. The most significant feature of this
expansion proved to be the phenomenon of uneven and combined
development, as a function of which capitalist social relations of
production came to interpenetrate and subordinate the pre-existing
socio-economic forms in Russia and other 'backward' countries. 23
The Russia of 19I7 was not, although a superficial analysis might
have suggested it, essentially feudal, but was rather characterised by
an incomplete form of capitalist development, the central political
consequence of which was that the national bourgeoisie was
incapable of carrying through the bourgeois-democratic revolution,
that is, of restructuring the political and ideological levels of the
social formation under its own hegemony.
In the event, the Russian revolution was not to have, as Lenin
believed until April 1917 (and as the Mensheviks continued
thereafter to assert), a bourgeois-democratic character, as encapsulated in the slogan of 'the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry', but was rat her to be an
immediately socialist event. This had already received its theoretical expression in Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, first
formulated as a result of the experience of the abortive 1905
revolution. 24 The implications of this concept were in essence that

... the necessary logical distinction between the two revolutionary stages could not be transposed into a simple chronological
succession within the real, historical process. That process, on the
contrary, would so thoroughly combine with one another notjust

Marxism anti the U.S.S.R.

particular elements of the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions,
but their substantive contents - a peasant agrarian revolution
with the establishment of a worker's state, the destruction of the
Tsarist state apparatus with the first encroachments on capitalist
property-as to confute any neat or clear-cut historical periodization. (Geras, 1975, p. 26)
With the elaboration in 1917 ofhis April Theses, Lenin, too, came to
see the realisation by the proletariat of the tasks of the bourgeoisdemocratic revolution as being necessarily the consequence rather
than the precondition of the socialist revolution. Russia took the
road of proletarian revolution, in Trotsky's words
... not because her economy was the first to become ripe for
socialist change, but because she could not develop further on a
capitalist basis. Socialization of the means of production had
become a necessary condition for bringing the country out of
barbarism. (RB, p. 5)
There was, however, a price to be paid this precocity, in that
... the establishment of socialist forms of property in the
backward country came up against the inadequate level of
technique and culture. Itselfborn ofthe contradictions between
high world productive forces and capitalist forms of property, the
October revolution produced in its turn a contradiction between
low national productive forces and socialist forms of property.
(RB, p. 300)
In 1858, Marx had written to Engels:

The difficult question for us is this: on the Continent the
revolution is imminent and will moreover immediately assume a
socialist character. Is it not bound to be crushed in this little
corner, considering that in a far greater territory the movement of
bourgeois society is still in the ascendant? (Marx to Engels, 8
October 1858, MESC, pp. 103-4)
Almost six decades later, the same quest ion was posed de facta rather
than ex hypotheosi with the success of the October Revolution. The
problematic ofthe dictatorship ofthe proletariat and the transition

The Theoretical Foundations
period which had occupied Marx and Engels in theory now
confronted the Bolshevik Party, and in particular Lenin and
Trotsky, as the two principal architects ofits seizure ofstate power.
Their response to it shaped the subsequent development of the
world's first workers' state.


Lenin and the
Bolshevik Experience


Lenin's best-known and most extended treatment of the dictatorship ofthe proletariat and the transition period is to be found in his
1917 text The State and Revolution, written immediately before the
Bolshevik Party's seizure of power. The point of departure for this
work is Marx's assertion, in The Civil War in Franee, that 'the
working dass cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state
machinery and wield it for its own purposes' . Following the
condusion to which Marx and Engels had been led in their
appraisal ofthe Commune, Lenin argued that the proletariat must,
on seizing power, smash and destroy the existing state apparatus, as
the political form in which was inscribed its own socio-economic
Lenin's emphasis on the destruction of the bourgeois state
apparatus 1 did not imply, however, that the revolution could be
equated with violence, or that the degree or extent of violence could
be taken as being indicative ofthe measure ofits success. As Colletti
has stated:
The essential point ofthe revolution, the destTUetion it cannot forgo
(and of which violence is not in itself a sufficient guarantee) is
rather the destruction of the bourgeois State as a power separate
from and eounterposed to the masses, and its re placement by a
power of a new type. (Colletti, 1972, p. 220)
The proletarian revolution, Colletti emphasises, therefore involves
not only the transfer of power from one dass to another, but
constitutes also the re placement of one type of power by another,
both aspects being necessarily interlinked 'because the working dass
that seizes power is the working dass that governs itself.

Lenin and the Bolshevik Experience

The bourgeois state apparatus, Lenin argued in The State and
Revolution, would actually be supplanted by 'something which was
no longer the state proper', that is, by 'a state so constituted that it
begins to wither away immediately, and cannot but wither away',
the essence of this change being 'a gigantic replacement of certain
institutions by other institutions of a fundamentally different type'.
Although, again following Marx and Engels, he maintained that
the new proletarian state would consist of 'the proletariat armed
and organised as the ruling dass', there are few indications in the
work as to what would be the specific form (as opposed to the
general character) ofthe institutions ofproletarian rule. Lenin did
suggest, however, that under the dictatorship of the proletariat

... the people can suppress the exploiters even with a very simple
"rnachine" , almost without a "rnachine" , without a special
apparatus, by the simple organisation ojthe armed people (such as the
Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies ... ). (SR, p. 329)
EIsewhere in the text, he referred to the replacement of bourgeois
ministries by 'committees of specialists working under sovereign,
all-powerful Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies', and to
... the conversion of all citizens into workers and other employees of one huge "syndicate" - the whole state - and the
complete subordination of the entire work of this syndicate to a
genuinely democratic state, the state of the Soviets of Workers'
and Soldiers' Deputies. (SR, p. 334)
The soviets had first come into existence during the events of
1905, the earHest known being the result ofspontaneous action by
strikingworkers (the St. Petersburg Soviet, in which Trotsky played
a major role, was among the first to be formed). According to Carr,
Lenin's attitude towards the soviets at this time was 'somewhat
lukewarm' . (BR, I, 95) This is not, however, apparent in Lenin's
writings ofthe period. There is nevertheless no substantive basis for
Cliff's assertion that 'almost from the outset' Lenin apprehended
the role ofthe soviets as 'the form offuture workers' power'.2 While
the tide ofLenin's artide Of23 November 19053 might appear to be
supportive ofsuch an interpretation, his appraisal ofthe soviets was
clearly quite different. In the text, he refers to the soviets 'and other
revolutionary associations' as constituting 'a provisional revoluti-

Marxism and the U.S.S.R.
onary government', which he saw as being both 'an organ of power
of the people which temporarily assurnes the duties of a government
that has collapsed' and 'the organ of insurrection, uniting all who
have risen in revolt and exercising political leadership of the
insurrection'. In a subsequent article entitled Socialism and Anarchism
Lenin stated, more explicitly, that: 'The Soviet of Workers'
Deputies is not a labour parliament and not an organ ofproletarian
self-government, nor an organ of self-government at all, but a
fighting organisation for the achievement of definite aims'. (Lenin,
CW, X, 71-4)
The rejection of Cliff's implicit contention that Lenin's evaluation of the soviets in 1905 prefigures his account of their role in
works written during and after 1917 does, however, serve to draw
attention to a problem entailed in any attempt to situate the latter in
the development ofLenin's thought. This is the apparent absence,
in his writings, ofany theoretical antecedents ofthe 'anti-statism' of
The State and Revolution (with the exception ofhis notes ofJanuaryFebruary 1917,4 from which that work was assembled, and a
number of subsequent articles: see below). Cohen has pointed out
that while Anton Pannekoek (whose polemic with Kautsky on the
state Lenin documented in The State and Revolution: see SR, pp. 3449) and the Swede Zeth Höglund had both resurrected the theme of
the need to destroy the bourgeois state apparatus articulated in the
writings of Marx and Engels on the Commune, Bukharin was the
first Bolshevik theorist to address hirnself to it. He maintains that
'Lenin had not thought about the matter before Bukharin raised it',
and hence that while 'Lenin's authority legitimized antistatism ... the true initiative was Bukharin's'. (Cohen, 1974, pp.
41 and 43 respectively) Sawer, similarly, has argued that Lenin's
conception ofthe transitional state emerged during the course ofhis
work on a reply to Bukharin's 1916 article The Imperialist Robber
State, an earlier version ofwhich he had refused publication in the
party's theoretical journal. (Sawer, 1977, pp. 214-21) This
contrasts sharply with the conventional view, recently restated by
Anderson, that Lenin's new theoretical stance evolved as a response
to the concrete experience ofthe recrudescence ofthe soviets early in
1917. (See Anderson, 1976, p. 116) In any event, Lenin certainly
went beyond the views of Pannekoek and Bukharin in actually
identifying the soviets with the new state form ofthe dictatorship of
the proletariat,:; prefigured in the Paris Commune (Pannekoek,
writing in 1912, had done no more than claim that the events of

Lenin anti the Bolshevik Experience

seven years earlier in Russia had demonstrated the necessity of
extra-parliamentary mass action, leading to the creation of an
alternative working-class power structure transcending bourgeoisdemocratic political forms).
In March 1917, following the revival of the Petrograd Soviet in
the previous month, Lenin wrote in his Letters from Afar that it
represented an 'unofficial, as yet undeveloped and comparatively
weak workers' government' or 'the embryo of a workers' government' .
(Lenin, CW, XXIII, 297-342)6 At the same time he argued,
prefiguring The State and Revolution, that the proletariat must smash
the existing state apparatus, substituting for it the armed people.
In The Dual Power, written in April 1917, Lenin expanded his
account of a month before, declaring that

Alongside the Provisional Government, the government of the
bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient,
but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is
growing-the Soviet ofWorkers' and Soldiers' Deputies .... It
is a revolutionary dictatorship, i.e., apower directly based on
revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative ofthe people from
below, and not on a law enacted by a centralised state power.
(Lenin, CW, XXIV, 38-41)
The concept of dual power - the existence, alongside the bourgeois governmental institutions, oforgans ofworking-class powerwas by no means a new one, having already been expounded in
Marx's Address to the Gentral Gommittee of the Gommunist League of
March 1850. Marx had emphasised that, parallel with the bourgeois governments, the workers
... must simultaneously establish their own revolutionary workers' governments, either in the form of local executive committees and councils or through workers' clubs or committees, so
that the bourgeois-democratic governments not only lose the
support of the workers but find themselves from the very
beginning supervised and threatened by authorities behind
which stand the whole mass ofthe wörkers. (MPW, I, 319-30)7
Lenin reiterated his views on the soviets in other works written
during April 1917, most notably his Letters On Tactics and The Tasks
ofthe Proletariat in Our Revolution, in wh ich he also touched on some of


Marxism and the U.S.S.R.

the associated themes which were to receive their fuHest treatment
in The State and Revolution. Surprisingly, the last-mentioned, Lenin's
major work of 1917, contains no definitive statement of his
conception of the role of the soviets, to which there are only two or
three concrete references in the entire text. His most explicit
characterisation of their function is rather to be found in a number
of works which appeared in the following year.
In The Immediate T asks ofthe Soviet Government, Lenin dedared that
... Soviet power is nothing but an organisational form of the
dictatorship of the proletariat, the dictatorship of the advanced
dass, which raises to a new democracy and to independent
participation in the administration ofthe state tens upon tens of
millions of working and exploited people, who by their own
experience leam to regard the disciplined and dass-conscious
vanguard of the proletariat as their most reliable leader. (Lenin,
'Tasks', p. 422)

In his Letter to American Workers, Lenin described the soviets as 'a
new and higher type of democracy, a form of the proletarian
dictatorship, a means of administering the state without the
bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie'. (LSW /1, pp. 456-67)
Again, in his polemic against Kautsky, he wrote that: 'The Soviets
are the direct organisation of the toiling and exploited masses
themselves, which helps them to organise and adminster their own
state in every possible way'. (Lenin, 'Kautsky', p. 62)
The emphasis in aH three passages just cited is very much on the
democratic and mass participatory character of the soviet system.
Inseparable from this aspect of the system is the problem of
bureaucracy and the elaboration of measures to combat it and
ultimately eliminate it, which is actually one of the major themes of
The State and Revolution. At this time, Lenin saw those measures
described by Marx in his writings on the Commune as being fully
adequate to this end, citing with approval Engels' summary ofthese
in his Preface to The Civil War in France. Paraphrasing this, Lenin
wrote that:
The workers, after winning political power, will smash the old
bureaucratic apparatus, shatter it to its very foundations, and
raze it to the ground; they will replace it by a new one, consisting
of the very same workers and other employees, against whose

Lenin and the Bolshevik Experience

transformation into bureaucrats the measures will at once be
taken which were specified in detail by Marx and Engels: I) not
only election, but also recall at any time; 2) pay not to exceed that
of a workman; 3) immediate introduction of control and
supervision by all, so that all may become "bureaucrats" for a
time and that, therefore, nobody may be able to become a
"bureaucrat". (SR, p. 343)
It was not possible, Lenin acknowledged, to eliminate bureaucracy
'at once, everywhere and completely'. Wh at was necessary was to
begin to convert the functions of the bureaucracy into simplified
administrative operations within the competence ofthe mass ofthe
population. This, for Lenin, was the practical meaning of the
abolition of the state and the de-institutionalisation of political
power projected by Marx, and before hirn by Rousseau. One of its
conditions of possibility was the establishment of universalliteracy
(SR, p. 336); another, as he (and Marx) recognised, was the
progressive expansion ofthe productivity oflabour, 'thus making it
possible to reduce the working day to seven, six, or even fewer
hours'. (Lenin, 'Tasks', p. 414; cf. CAP, III, 820) The conception of
'control and supervision by all' to which Lenin had referred was
enshrined in the Programme adopted at the Eighth Party Congress
in March 1919, which advocated the involvement of every member
of a soviet in some function of administration, with a continuous
rotation of offices among those so engaged, and the progressive
drawing-in ofwider layers ofthe masses to administrative work. The
same theme received even more explicit expression in the popular
manual produced by the joint authors of the 1919 Programme,
which dedared that the object of proletarian rule must be 'to
replace the old officialdom by the masses themselves'. (ABC, p. 237)
In The State and Revolution, Lenin had written that: 'The more
democratic the "state" which consists of the armed workers, and
which is "no longer astate in the proper sense of the word", the
more rapidly everyJorm ofstate begins to wither away'. (SR, p. 337)
Paralleling this, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky argued that: 'The
more extensive this participation ofthe masses is, the sooner will the
dictatorship of the proletariat die out'. (ABC, p. 240)
It was, Lerrin emphasised, precisely in terms of their relation to
participation and to the representation of dass interests that the
different structures ofbourgeois and soviet (proletarian) democracy
must be understood:

Marxism anti the U.S.S.R.
The old, i.e., bourgeois, democracy and the parliamentary
system were so organised that it was the mass of working people
who were kept farthest away from the machinery of government.
Soviet power, i.e., the dictatorship ofthe proletariat, on the other
hand, is so organised as to bring the working people closer to the
machinery of government. That, too, is the purpose of combining
the legislative and executive authority under the Soviet organisation of the state and of replacing territorial constituencies by
production units - the factory. 8
By analogy with Marx's outline of the prospective national
organisation ofthe Commune, the soviet system was structured in a
tiered pyramid, the soviet organisations in each tier electing
delegates, fuHy revocable, to the tier above, from local to national
level. While it is clear that even before Lenin's death, the
concentration of power in central institutions at the expense of the
local soviets and congresses of soviets and their organs was weH
advanced, the democratic potential inherent in the soviet system
could never be completely effaced. I t is therefore significant that one
ofthe major provisions ofthe new constitution promulgated in 1936
effected the reversion from a representative system based on the
units of production to the territoriaHy organised system of direct
elections characteristic of the bourgeois-democratic regime.
In one important respect, Lenin's treatment ofthe transition to
socialism goes beyond that ofMarx and Engels: his account, in The
State anti Revolution, of 'the economic basis of the withering away of
the state'. Marx had distinguished between the first, or lower, and
the higher phases of communist society, each of which was
characterised by a different mode of distribution (see Chapter I).
Lenin, commenting on Marx's account, chose to designate these
two phases as being, respectively, those of 'socialism' and of
'communism' proper. 9 Like Marx, however, he characterised the
first phase of the transition as marked by the continued existence of
bourgeois norms ofdistribution. Developing this thesis, Lenin wrote
In its first phase, or first stage, communism cannot as yet be fuHy
mature economicaHy and entirely free from traditions or vestiges
of capitalism. Hence the interesting phenomenon that communism in its first phase retains "the narrow horizon of bourgeois
right". Of course, bourgeois right in regard to the distribution of

Lenin and the Bolshevik Experience

consumer goods inevitably presupposes the existence of the
bourgeois state, for right is nothing without an apparatus capable of
enforcing the observance of the standards of right.
It follows that under communism there remains for a time not
only bourgeois right, but even the bourgeois state, without the
bourgeoisie! (SR, p. 335)
Lenin did not me an by this that the capitalist state as such survives
during the transition period, but referred rather to the dual role in
which the proletarian state apparatus was necessarily cast in its
enforcement of differentials within the sphere of distribution
simultaneously with its safeguarding of the collective ownership of
the means ofproduction. Only when the material preconditions for
the implementation by society ofthe principle 'from each according
to his ability, to each according to his needs' had been fulfilled
would this regulatory capacity of the state become superfluous:
The state withers away insofar as there are no longer any
capitalists, any dasses, and consequently, no dass can be
But the state has not yet completely withered away, since there
still remains the safeguarding of "bourgeois right", which
sanctifies actual inequality. For the state to wither away
completely, com