Paresh Chattopadhyay has published a review of a collection of socialist writings edited by Irfan Habib, a prominent Marxist historian of Mughal India, in the most recent issue of Economic and Political Weekly (Vol. 45, Issue 41; Oct. 9-15, 2010). As usual, Chattopadhyay does not let his scholarly respect for an individual deter him from issuing a devastating criticism when what he considers distortions of Marxism are involved. Habib’s book is On Socialism: Selections from Writings of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, V I Lenin, J V Stalin, Mao Zedong (2009).
An Excerpt From Chattopadhyay’s review, “Marx Made to Serve Party-State”
Stalinist Conception of Socialism
Let us now see how the editor depicts the socialist society, basing himself, in Marx’s case, almost wholly on a single text – the Gothacritique. Here we find as designers of this society not only Marx and Engels but also Lenin, Stalin and Mao. This “Hall of Fame” also accommodates in one corner [Oscar] Lange and [Maurice] Dobb (p 171). Socialism has a number of features: means of production are socialised; they are brought under “public ownership”, that is, state ownership. The product of surplus labour generated under this ownership provides for replacement and enlargement of the productive apparatus, “distribution among workers as additions to their wages or for social services”, and administration (our italics) (pp 171, 173). This is a mixture of Capital and the Gothacritique, between the accumulation process of capital and the enlarged reproduction of socialist economy.
Let us explore further the editor’s analysis. He cites from the Gothacritique the ultra famous paragraph beginning with the statement that in the cooperative society producers do not exchange their products, and that producers receive from society labour certificates indicating the amount of labour s/he has performed enabling her/him thereby the means of consumption having cost the same amount of labour. The editor then finds out by cost-benefit analysis (aided presumably by market socialists like Lange and Dobb), that Marx’s distribution scheme was not the most efficient, and concludes by asserting the necessity of the use of money (in lieu of Marx’s scheme) and declaring “we therefore come back to money, and so to commodity sale” (in socialism) (pp 173-74). Next, the editor asserts that as “Marx grappled with the problem of payment for labour under socialism, one notices his cautious hesitations”. He refers to Marx’s affirmation of the prevalence of principle of equal exchange – as in the commodity world (a bourgeois right) – in socialism, and concludes that the “labour process thus remains that of free wage labour” (p 174, our emphasis). “Labour power remains a commodity under Socialism” (p 175). The question now is, after taking over commodity production and wage labour from capital(ism) as the necessary elements, what specific characteristic could still mark the new society as socialist in Marx’s sense! The editor’s view that “a socialist economy is established by converting means of production into public – that is, state-property” was indeed the view of the spokespersons of Russia’s Party- State, but certainly not Marx’s.
State, commodity production and wage labour were always considered by Marx as foreign and antagonistic to the society of free and associated producers, which is what socialism is, right from its first stage onwards. There is no counter example in Marx’s texts. Marx starts his struggle against these elements of enslavement and alienation right from 1843-44. The remarkable thing is, in this whole discussion the editor, like Stalin, Lange e tutti quanti never refers to the new society’s specific mode of production or the specific relations of production arising therefrom. Marx opposes socialism’s associated mode of production (AMP) to the capitalist mode of production (CMP). “Property relations are only a juridical expression of production relations” (Marx 1859, 1980: 100). Even the very text of Marx which the editor is analysing underlines this. “Are the economic relations (that is, production relations) regulated by the legal conceptions or do not, on the contrary, the legal conceptions originate (entspringen) in the economic relations?” (Marx 1875, 1966: 177).
(1966) (1875): Randglossen zum Programm der deutschen Arbeiterpartei in Marx-Engels Ausgewälte Schriften, Vol 2 (Frankfurt am Mein: Fischer).
(1980) (1858-61): Ökonomische Manuskripte und Schriften, MEGA II/2 (Berlin: Dietz).