Is Stalin a Marxist?
Barbara Ward in “Policy for the West” has examined most of the wishful projects popularised during the last few years by top-level politicians to deal with the “Russian menace.” She is an economist of some note, one among many who, as Marx said, seek to serve the day to day needs of capitalism. In other words, she is concerned to make capitalism work.
Russia, she thinks, will not start a third world war. She doesn’t need to, because according to beliefs which the Communists say they derive from Marx, she has only to wait for the breakdown of western capitalism, in the meantime continuing her policy of aggression on the Korean pattern, sowing discord between the western nations wherever possible, and assisting Communist Parties everywhere to achieve power.
But this idea of the breakdown of capitalism in the west—or anywhere else—does not derive from Marx. Such a contingency was never subscribed to by turn. It does not come within the limits of rational thought. Stalin himself, quite obviously, does not think that capitalism will collapse anywhere, or he would not rely on the system to endure while building an industrial empire to rival America. Whatever her ideology may be, Russia’s economy is capitalist with the usual set-up of production for profit and a wage-slave class.
Russia’s foreign policy is capitalist—grabbing fresh markets, sources of supply of essential materials, and extending her spheres of influence—like the similar policy in the West.
According to Miss Ward containment of Russia is of first importance in the policy of the West. But this must be effected without disrupting the economy of any of the member states, whose armed forces must be sufficiently strong and mobile to deter aggression at any point in the Russian perimeter. They must have a police system that will render each nation proof against spies and saboteurs. And the backward peoples of the Far East must be won for the West by the investment of western capital for their industrialisation.
Lenin once said that imperialism was the highest phase of capitalism. Russia had reached that phase before the outbreak of world war two. During the war she proved herself equal to any of the allies in military strength; and after victory just as rapacious for annexations and reparations.
A nation can only be judged by its policy and its actions, and Russia’s policy, including her suspicious peace campaign is based on her needs as a capitalist state. How then, can Miss Ward have been deceived into the belief that Russia is Socialist or, same thing, Communist?
When Charlie Chaplin ((Daily Herald, 25/9/51), was asked if he was a communist he replied, “Communist? I’m a comic! I can’t understand Karl Marx so how can I be a communist.” But unlike Miss Ward who accepts the popular notion that Russia is Marxist because Stalin says so, Chaplin sees something of the reality behind the witch-hunt and goes on “Those men down there, they are mad! mad with the lust for blood/ When they talk about communists I don’t mind, but I wish they would be honest. They don’t hate communists, they simply hate the men who may take their money away from them.”
That is what the Bolsheviks did in 1917. On achieving power they proclaimed themselves the state, nationalised the means of production and distribution without compensation, and acquired almost complete right of exploitation over the Russian workers in industry.
Had Marx lived to-day he would have dissected Soviet capitalism just as ruthlessly as he did its nineteenth century predecessor in Britain. He would have exposed their “democratic ” constitution as a shallow fraud, just as socialists in half-a-dozen countries have been doing ever since its adoption in 1937.
Miss Ward has several chapters on the economic and financial side of the containment policy. The risk of inflation, she says, must be met by increased production and a readiness not to take advantage of the nation’s needs by excessive demands for higher wages.
When discussing trade cycles Miss Ward admits that the west has no more guarantee against slumps than it had in the twenties. She does not explain the cause. Apparently the cause is just as much a mystery as it was throughout the 19th century. But she does think that the regularity of the cycles seems to suggest that they are not dependent on “crop failure or technical change.” Nor, to do her credit, does she attempt to revive the theory of sun spots. As for some innate trend in the system that idea she says, came from the communists, who are also responsible for “the innate contradictions of capitalist society” and “the dialectical necessity that produces slump and boom.” Here, of course, was Miss Ward’s chance to expose the Communist explanation, expressed by her with a brevity and crudity that divest it of intelligible meaning.
Instead she evades the question of cause by asking “But is there any agreed explanation of the rhythmical nature of the trade cycle?” Replying to her own question, she says there is, and many economists agree with her that it is a question of demand. “The demand for capital goods or for further investment.” But surely investment implies the existence of markets, people with money ready to buy commodities. A few pages previously she had written “Undersupply is not the typical predicament of modern industrial society. It is the insufficiency and the irregularity of demand.”
It would appear that here the lady has inadvertently stumbled on one of those “innate contradictions of capitalist society” i.e., the inability of those who produce all wealth to buy back more than the amount represented by wages and salaries. And the determination of investors not to invest capital unless assured of safe and adequate returns.
Miss Ward aims to kill two birds with one shot. To do so with success they must both be in the line of fire. Hence, to discredit Marxism the Russian set-up is treated by her as either Marxist or derived from Marx. And the failure of Marxism, she alleges, is demonstrated by the concentration camps, bogus trials and mass executions. “It was from the so-called scientific and dialectical socialism of Marx that the idea of complete state ownership as a ‘cure-all’ of economic evils was derived.” Here, she is careful not to impute the statement to Marx. By devious twists anything can be derived: even Russian imperialism as Stalin has shown by his tortuous record on national independence; while his substitution of “work” for “needs” in the Marx and Engels slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is a complete reversal of the original meaning, and by itself stamps Russia as capitalist and labour-power as a commodity.
In her reckless denunciation of Marx she writes:
“Marx himself and Lenin after him did not talk about planning at all, and had no concrete suggestions for controlling the trade cycle or stabilizing world trade. They simply said dogmatically that if the state owned everything, these problems would not arise.”
Marx regarded trade as the capitalist mechanism of appropriation, and division among themselves, of the wealth produced by the workers. He anticipated that knowledge, progressing on rationalist lines would enable them to understand the acquisitive nature of trade, and the repressive function oi the state. Consequently they would organise to abolish both, substituting their own system of common ownership of the means of production and distribution, and establishing democracy on a basis of equality.
By attributing to Marx the statement “that if the state owned everything these problems would not arise,” she displays her ignorance of Marxism and the real function of the state. Irrespective of its origin, the statement itself is absurd. Ownership by the state, i.e. nationalization, either wholly, as in Russia, or in part, is everywhere dependent on trade.
Under the heading “Faith for Freedom,” Miss Ward sets out to vanquish Marxism, using ancient civilizations as a sample of what to expect under communism. She says “It is the tragedy of Marxist communism that it restores the old fetters of fatality and tyranny.” She sees the capitalist epoch since the industrial revolution as a “breath taking experiment in freedom. . . . A release from the shackles of tyrannical governments.” “We know from man’s long history that the Western experiment of freedom and responsibility is a flash in the pan, a spark in the longest night, an experiment bounded in space and time, and preceded by aeons of collective servitude.” While Communism, she says, “ is to step back into an older environment, to regress,” etc., etc.
There are many pages of eulogies of capitalism and prophetic warnings of man’s debasement by communism. She has visions of mankind under Communism reduced to the “mentality of bees and ants,” controlled by their environment and tyrannical governments. “Behind the concept of the withering away of the state lies not only the loss of freedom, but the loss of rationality and humanity itself.”
The totalitarian form of government is the nearest approach to Miss Ward’s vision of communism, but it is still capitalism. The Bolsheviks saw its possibilities as an alternative after their failure to establish Socialism. Italy and Germany followed the same pattern. While Hitler prophesied that “National Socialism” could serve capitalism for a thousand years, Truman said that an ideology cannot be fought by armed force, forgetting that they had put paid to “National Socialism” by that very means; making nonsense of Hitler’s boast by further nonsense.
The difference between East and West from the workers’ viewpoint, is that in the West they are free to organise industrially or politically for their own purposes as a class, while in the East they are circumscribed by the state ideology which it is a crime to question.
But the quarrel between East and West is not over democracy. Nor is it a struggle for Socialism; but a struggle for supremacy in a capitalist world. And whichever side wins the workers will still be wage- slaves, submitting in apathy to the growth of the servile state pictured by Miss Ward, or by taking up the thread of human progress, and challenging the right of a privileged class to dictate the destiny of mankind, become responsible for the establishment of Socialism.
The task of utilising and extending all the advantages that have been achieved under capitalism can only be accomplished by those who understand its technical and scientific parts, those who have built it up by hand and brain, and are responsible for the working of the system from day to day, the only useful class; the working-class. That class has only to learn that it can produce and distribute for society far better without the incubus of trade, and without the repressive actions of class government, by their own democratic organisation. Without these encumbrances they could soon be free from the present nightmare of poverty and atom bombs.