1920s >> 1922 >> no-213-may-1922

Letter: Dight’s Dilemma

To the Editors, Socialist Standard.

Dear Sirs,

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.

Yours faithfully,


Hy. Dight.

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.


As Mr. Dight’s first point falls, his second —dealing with the 1882 preface to the “Communist Manifesto”—no longer holds. But even apart from this, the quotation itself is a flat contradiction to the position of Mr. Dight. Take the very sentence he has put into italics because he thinks it gives us “some job.” (It does—to avoid choking with laughter at his blindness.) The sentence contains three points, each of which is in direct opposition to the position in Russia:—


If the Russian Revolution is the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West . . . “(Italics ours.)

As the upheaval in Russia in 1917 scarcely raised a ripple among the “workers of the West,” and certainly not the faintest suggestion of a Revolution, this point by itself smashes Dight’s attempted case. At the Berlin Conference of the three “Internationals” Radek made a statement showing how correct our attitude is. He said in reference to the Soviet Republic “which no one denies is, if not a workers’, at least a revolutionary state (“Communist,” 15/4/1922). As he admits it was not a workers’ “revolution,” it would be interesting to know whose “revolution” he considers it to be !


The second point is :—


 “and if both should be successful, etc.,”

As neither came into existence, Mr. Dight cannot draw even the pretence of support from this phrase.


  “then the existing communal property of Russia may serve as the starting point for a Communist development.”

Even in the conclusion, nothing positive. Marx and Engels do not say that it “will” be a starting point, but only that it “may.” Two “ifs” and a “may” in the sentence —with the “ifs” not yet fulfilled! And this is the sort of stuff Dight relies upon when he tries to falsify the teachings of Marx. But the matter may be taken a point further.


The great blunder made by Lenin and Trotsky was that they, in their ignorance of Western conditions, expected a revolution by the workers of England, Germany, and France. Even after their first disappointment, when they had to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, they still hoped for this Western Revolution. Only now are they beginning to realise the hopelessness of such an event for some time ahead. Hence their concessions and offers to the European and American capitalists.


A great deal of injury has been done to the propaganda of Socialism by attempting to foist upon Marx the responsibility for the wild-headed schemes of the Bolsheviks and their supporters. The blind praise of anything emanating from Russia has led these fanatics to actions injurious to the Bolsheviks themselves. Instead of recognising the overpowering conditions against the Bolsheviks and giving them praise for certain things they have done, these ranters have devoted their whole attention to boosting the absurd claims of the Bolsheviks. Fantastic decrees that had not the slightest effect outside of the office issuing them, were hailed as marvels produced by geniuses, that changed Russia overnight from a private property basis to one of advanced Communism. Millions of peasants who could not read were converted, we were told, into class-conscious, highly intelligent Marxians by the shoals of pamphlets distributed among them.! Only its tremendous tragedy saves it from being a farce.


And all the time, as we have continually pointed out in the pages of the Socialist Standard, the Bolsheviks were doing things that deserved high praise and which, put in their proper perspective, gave valuable lessons to the Western workers. The first lesson they gave was to show that a minority, who were not capitalists, could run the affairs of a huge country, under the special conditions existing there, in an efficient manner. This lesson tends to break down the superstitution still held by many workers, “that you must have the capitalists in control,” and has aroused shrieking opposition from the Churchills and Poincares of the West.


One of the Departments whose efficiency has been most loudly advertised by the supporters of Bolshevism is the War Department, whose head, Trotsky, has appropriated most of the praise to himself. But, as a matter of fact, Trotsky’s work— assuming it was his—was far less difficult than that of every other Department. After being under Conscription for generations, the Russian peasant falls almost automatically into the position of a soldier if he is supplied with munitions. It was a task of immensely greater magnitude to manufacture a rifle in Russia than to use it once it was made. The difficulties of transport were colossal, and under the conditions prevailing the Transport Department worked in a marvelous manner. The question of obtaining food for the townspeople, and the paralysing problem of how to transport such food as existed in face of the Army’s demand for railways and wagons, was sufficient to appall the strongest. In education, too, the attempt to adopt the best of Western methods, and the care given to the children will stand like a monument to the credit of those responsible for the Department.


It is for things of this kind that the Bolsheviks deserve high praise—not for ignoring the teachings of Marx. And even here the Marxian dictum receives marked illustration. What was the first obstacle the Bolsheviks met? The answer is, “Lack of sufficient men and women capable of carrying on the work.” With all the good-will in the world, they were too few in numbers to “man” all the Departments themselves, and there was a lamentable shortage of others, capable of doing so, in the country. Practically every visitor to Russia, even if a bitter opponent of the Bolsheviks, agrees that the latter have been “bled white” under the terrific strain imposed upon them by the attempt to administer so huge a country.


Jack Fitzgerald