This article has been reproduced from the Socialist Standard (November 1994), the monthly journal of The Socialist Party of Great Britain

Marx & Socialism
educating the educators

We publish below part of an exchange of correspondence, which is self-explanatory, between one of our members and Collins English Dictionaries.
Dear Sirs,

I recently bought a copy of The Collins Dictionary & Thesaurus in One Volume as a reference work for my studies. I would like to advise you of a significant factual and historical error it contains.

This concerns the entry under "socialism". There are three definitions given: I refer to the third which states, "(in Marxist theory) a transitional stage in the development of a society from capitalism to communism". This is incorrect. Nowhere in the writings of Marx, nor indeed in those of Engels, are the terms "socialism" or/and "communism" used to describe either a transitional stage or different stages of social development. In this sense Marx used the terms interchangeably to mean a society of common ownership and production for use, and therefore without buying and selling, an exchange economy, classes or the state.

As a matter of historical interest, this separation was first made by Lenin in an attempt to give credibility to the post-1917 situation in Russia, by frequently referring to that society, now generally acknowledged to be state capitalist, by the term "socialism". As a student of Marx's work for nearly fifty years, I assure you that the definition you give is derived from Leninist theory not Marx's as you state.



Dear Mr Robertson,

Thank you for your letter of 15 August. In it you state that the definition of SOCIALISM (sense 3) refers to Leninist and not Marxist theory. I agree with your assertion as Marx did not describe any intermediate "socialist" stage between the collapse of capitalism and the establishment of communism. He used the terms "communism" and "socialism" interchangeably. It was, as you rightly point out, Lenin who created this distinction to describe the situation in the Soviet Union after the Bolsheviks seized power. Subsequent Soviet leaders, as you are no doubt well aware, also used this distinction, most notably Khrushchev who in the early 1960s described the USSR as a "socialist state" that would "achieve Communism by 1980".

Thank you for taking the trouble to point out this mistake.

Yours sincerely,

Assistant Lexicographer,
Collins English Dictionaries.