Letter: Dight’s Dilemma
To the Editors, Socialist Standard.
On page 104 of the Socialist Standard of this month’s issue you quote from Marx’s “Critique of Political Economy,” as follows :—
“No social order ever disappears 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 for their existence have matured in the womb of the old society.”
And then, for the purpose of emphasising the above quotation, you quote again, this time from the “oft-quoted passage” (so gleefully and gloatingly quoted so often by yourselves since the November Revolution in Russia) from the preface to Marx’s “Capital”
“One nation can and should learn from others. And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement—and it is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society—it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs.” (Italics mine.)
And this is your interpretation as instanced by your comment which follows immediately upon the quotations :—
“These quotations prove not only that Marx did not expect a country in a backward condition economically to be able to establish Socialism, but also that he expressly denied such a thing possible. So far from following Marx as ‘Judex’ suggests, Lenin has acted in direct opposition to Marx’s teaching. To suggest that, a country like Russia, still largely feudalistic, with only the beginnings of capitalism, is ‘most suitable for Socialism,’ shows a most complete ignorance of Marx, coupled with a boundless recklessness of assertion.”
Far from wanting to defend “Judex,” of the “English Review,” I am nevertheless opposed to the possible inference that can be drawn from the above, that Lenin, as well as “Judex,” displays “ignorance of Marx, coupled with a boundless recklessness of assertion,” as well as your “reckless assertion” that “Lenin has acted in direct opposition to Marx’s teaching.” Marx, of course, “did not expect a country in a backward condition economically to establish Socialism.” But did Lenin? Again and again did Lenin assert the necessity for the economic development of Russia as being requisite for the establishment of Socialism. But if you wish to imply that that means that Russia must first of all pass through all the phases of capitalist development, then how do you account for, say, America (among other countries) not having passed through feudalism as well as others that have not passed through all its phases? Marx, when referring to a society being on “the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement,” clearly refers to a revolutionary period within that society. Hence his reference to the “birth pangs.” And then if we read that this revolutionary period cannot be cleared “by bold leaps,” nor that “the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development ” can be removed “by legal enactments,” we shall then be able to reconcile your quotations with the following:—
“Let us now look at Russia. At the time of the Revolutions of 1848-1849, the monarchs of Europe, like the European bourgeoisie, saw in Russian intervention their sole means of protection against the proletariat, at that time just awakening to a consciousness of its strength. They placed the Czar at the head of European reaction. To-day, he is a prisoner of revolution at Gatchina, and Russia is in the front rank of the revolutionary movement of Europe. The burden of the Communist manifesto was the declaration of the inevitable disappearance of existing bourgeois property. But in Russia, along with the capitalist system which is developing with feverish haste, and of the large landed property of the bourgeoisie in course of formation, more than half of the land is the common property of the peasantry. The question is, therefore, whether the Russian peasant commune, that already degenerate form of primitive commune property in land, will pass directly into the superior form of communist ownership of the land, or whether it must rather first follow the same process of dissolution that it has undergone in the historical development of the West? The only possible way to reply to that question to-day is as follows : If the Russian Revolution is the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West, and if both should be successful, then the existing communal property of Russia may serve as the starting point for a communist development.” (Preface to 2nd Russian edition of Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Engels, 1882. Italics mine.)
If my reading and interpretation (which opposes yours) of your quotations is incorrect, how do you reconcile your quotations with mine? It seems to me you’ve got some job.
Mr. Dight’s method of discussing Marx in relation to Russia is so delightfully simple as to almost cause one to wonder if it is genuine. If we will only suppose that Marx meant something quite contrary to what he wrote, then it will be easy to follow Mr. Dight. But if one decides to keep closely to what Marx wrote and taught, then Mr. Dight is hopelessly out of the argument.
Mr. Dight’s “possible inference” only becomes so by straining language beyond all reason. The very quotation, “most suitable for Socialism,” shows that it was “Judex” who showed a “most complete ignorance of Marx, coupled with a boundless recklessness.” Lenin is not ignorant of Marx. But this only makes matters worse for Lenin.
Mr. Dight says: “Marx, of course, ‘did not expect a country in a backward condition economically to establish Socialism.’ But did Lenin? ” The answer is Yes! Lenin proclaimed the upheaval in 1917 as a “Socialist Revolution” even as late as his “Left Wing Communism,” written in 1920. It’s true that later Lenin had to modify his own words, as he has had to do on so many other points. But that hits Lenin and Dight —not us.
Almost any elementary school child could answer the question about America. That country was colonised by people who had already reached the early stages of capitalism, and is an example of capitalist development by transplanted material. It is not a case of a nation passing over to capitalism without going through Feudalism, as the natives did not develop at all—perhaps because they were exterminated by the newcomers.
It is in his next sentence that Mr. Dight tries to saddle us with the simple assumption referred to above when, in dealing with the quotation from “Capital,” he says : “Marx . . . clearly refers to a revolutionary period, etc.” Marx, on the contrary, “clearly” does nothing of the sort. He was dealing with the “normal development” of societies and how they cannot evade the “successive phases” of this “normal development.”
But even if one takes Mr. Dight’s absurd assumption, for the purpose of the argument, Mr. Dight’s conclusion is still false. When Marx writes of “revolutionary periods” he takes care to explain that he is dealing with “social revolutions,” where one system is broken up and another takes its place. No such “revolution” has taken place in Russia. Due to the war and the corruption it developed among the ruling class, Czarism collapsed, and in the chaos following, the Bolsheviks—a tiny minority— after a first failure, seized power in 1917. No fundamental change took place in the methods of producing and distributing wealth. In other words, there was no “social revolution.” All that happened was that one minority began to rule instead of another. The attempts of this minority to impose economic methods and conditions upon a people not yet developed to a level of these conditions has been without success. That is to say, that they have failed disastrously to “clear by bold leaps or remove by legal enactments” (though the latter have been turned out by the ton) “the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development.” To any normal person the facts of the situation in Russia would be a complete and crushing answer to Dight. Not so to the short-sighted and intellectually limited fanatic. Calmly ignoring the situation, he tries to find comfort in idiotic interpretations of Marx’s writings.
“If the Russian Revolution is the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West . . . “(Italics ours.)
“and if both should be successful, etc.,”
“then the existing communal property of Russia may serve as the starting point for a Communist development.”