MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | ETIENNE BALIBAR

ETIENNE BALIBAR

ON THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT


 
Socialism and Communism

 
Thus we arrive at the third aspect of the dictatorship of the proletariat: what I called in the beginning Lenin's third argument. We shall examine it in its own right: the above discussion already shows how important it is. It is ultimately only on the basis of this third argument that we can understand the two preceding arguments. It shows why they are necessary, and it allows us to understand the historical role of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Even set out in schematic form, as it must be here, given the space available to us, it has a more concrete and a more dialectical form than these first two arguments.

    I presented this thesis in a very allusive manner: I said that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the period of transition from capitalism to communism. It follows that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not the period of 'transition to socialism', and even less is it a particular political 'road' taken by this transition to socialism: it is socialism itself, an historical period of uninterrupted revolution and of the deepening of the class struggle, the period of transition to communism. Thus, the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be correctly defined except by referring it right from the beginning to the theoretical and practical standpoint of communism; it cannot be defined by reference to the standpoint of socialism, considered as an independent objective.

    We have to show of course that we are not dealing here with a simple question of words, a question of definitions. What is of primary importance is not the use of such and such a word (even if the terms involved do have a connotation which, in the light of experience, is not at all accidental): it is their historical content which is crucial. It is not a question of calling by the name 'dictatorship of the proletariat' what others call socialism, for the pleasure of upsetting some people, but of demonstrating, at least in principle, why the problems of socialism cannot be posed in a revolutionary manner except in terms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and of making use of this knowledge as a touchstone and as an instrument for the analysis of the real history of socialism.

    It is not irrelevant in this respect to pose the question, first of all, of why Lenin came to place such principled importance in this argument, not in an 'academic' manner -- to use a phrase which is supposed to frighten us -- but as a guide to practical action: recognition of this argument might become a question of life or death. This problem deserves a whole work of research to itself; it would tell us a lot about the historical conditions of Leninism. I shall mention only two facts, two episodes of the revolutionary process, which may serve as reference points, since they are decisive.

    The first is that in 1917 Lenin posed the problem of the Russian Revolution in these terms, to the great surprise of the Bolsheviks themselves. And this he did because he recognized that the revolution in course really was, in spite of a number of exceptional characteristics and of paradoxical conditions, a proletarian and therefore a communist revolution. It was not a 'purely' proletarian revolution: as I have already pointed out, according to Lenin there are no 'pure' revolutions in history. But it was a revolution whose main aspect was proletarian, and whose leading force was the proletariat, for its enemy was the imperialist system, the 'imperialist chain' in which Russia was a link. In the world of imperialism, there was no longer any place for another kind of revolution. Only the proletariat could therefore lead it, by itself taking power, in spite of the difficulties of this enterprise (Lenin was to say later: 'Under the influence of a number of unique historical conditions, backward Russia was the first to show the world [. . .] that the significance of the proletariat is infinitely greater than its proportion in the total population' C.W., XXXI, 90 ["Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder , p. 93]). That is why, in State and Revolution (a 'simply circumstantial' work!), Lenin directly poses the problems of the proletarian revolution, whose historical epoch has now opened: it is the problems of communism which must urgently be brought to light and taken in hand.

    Let us look at this first fact a little more closely. It will allow us to understand that there is nothing speculative about this question.

The biographies of Lenin and the histories of the Russian Revolution have recounted a hundred times the anecdotal side of the events of April 1917, when Lenin returned to Russia, having crossed Germany in his famous 'sealed carriage' and arrived at the Finland Station in Petrograd, where delegations of the Bolshevik Party and of the Provisional Government were awaiting him. The speech which he made was to amaze his comrades, those who had experienced on the spot the fall of the Tsar, the establishment of the Soviets and of the Provisional Republican Government, and the new conditions of political work. He was however to repeat it again and again in the course of the following days, before meetings of the leaders and members of the Party. He was to publish his theses, the famous April Theses,[*] in Pravda : but the editorial board, though it was made up of his best comrades in arms, added an introductory paragraph to the effect that Lenin was only expressing his personal opinion. During these discussions, Lenin was interrupted, and treated as a madman and as an anarchist: the very man who was later to be presented as the founder, the teacher, the only master theoretician of the Party, was in this period completely alone, isolated in his own Party, apparently in complete disagreement with his own previous line. It was to take him a month, in the heat of events, while the masses of peasants, workers and soldiers entered into acute struggle with the 'revolutionary' government of the bourgeoisie (of which the Socialists were members), in order to win the Party over to his analyses and his slogans and therefore in order to make possible, as far as its 'subjective conditions' are concerned, the October Revolution.

    What were these theses for which Lenin was arguing, whose unlikely and unexpected character I have just drawn attention to? Would Lenin himself, a few months beforehand, have been able to formulate them exactly in this way? They resulted from a particular analysis, according to which the revolution which had just begun in Russia, as a consequence of the imperialist war, was -- in spite of all its special characteristics -- the beginning of a world proletarian revolution. It thus became necessary to envisage the objective of the seizure of State power, which would open the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was the reason for the new slogan: 'All power to the Soviets'; for the Soviets represented, in the face of the bourgeois State, the embryo of a proletarian State. And it was also the reason for proposing, at the


[*] [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution". -- DJR]

organizational level, that the Party should cease to be and to be called a Socialist, 'Social-Democratic' Party, in order to call itself and to become in reality a Communist Party, the first detachment of a new 'Communist' International. There is much more in these revolutionary theses which, for the first time since Marx, once again linked the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the concrete perspective of communism, than the simple intention to 'draw a line' in words between the Communists and the opportunist Socialist Parties whose imperialist war had illustrated their historical 'bankruptcy'. We are talking about theses concerning matters of principle, but which are nevertheless indispensable to and immediately applicable to practical problems.

    In order to understand this point, we must glance briefly backwards. Why, up to 1917, did Lenin talk so little about the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'? Why did he even construct, in order to grasp the political tasks of the revolution of 1905, a concept which can in many respects be described as 'hybrid' and quite monstrous: namely the concept of the 'revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry', a concept borrowed in part from the example of the French Revolution, which is not exactly the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' (even if it anticipates certain aspects of this latter concept), and which still formed the basis in 1927 of the thought of most of the Bolshevik leaders? Contrary to what one might think (and to what, after the event, 'Leninist' orthodoxy has suggested), the reason was not that Social-Democracy in this epoch, in general, ignored or refused the term 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. On the contrary, it was in fact defending this term in its own way against Bernstein's revisionism. The reason was precisely that Lenin, during the whole pre-revolutionary period, shared certain theoretical premises with Social-Democracy, while at the same time drawing in practice diametrically opposed conclusions and coming into conflict with its principal Russian theoreticians. In other words, Lenin originally shared the conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of transition to socialism, just as he originally shared the idea that a 'backward' country like Russia was not 'ready' for socialist revolution, that it would have to pass through a more or less lengthy phase of 'bourgeois' revolution. To put it differently again, he had not yet been able to free himself explicitly and radically from the mechanistic and evolutionist conception accord- ing to which, for each particular country, it is the 'level of maturity' of the economic and social development of capitalism and this alone which can create the conditions for socialism in that country, which can render capitalist property in the means of production 'superfluous' and harmful, and which thus makes political and social revolution 'inevitable', a revolution which would transform the producers into the collective owners of their means of production. The conclusion was of course that the dictatorship of the proletariat had nothing to do with the particular historical 'situation' of Russia.

    But two things then happened: on the one hand, this economistic and evolutionist conception of socialism proved itself incapable either of analyzing imperialism or of genuinely opposing it; and on the other hand, the objective conditions of revolution, under the impact of imperialism itself, were suddenly present in a country where, 'in theory', such a revolution should never have been possible . . . From that moment on, Lenin had to revise his position: not to renounce the materialist idea according to which the objective conditions of a revolution and of a new society are engendered by capitalism itself; but to give up the idea -- the dominant idea of Social-Democracy -- that one must wait for the conditions of socialism to 'mature'. It had to be understood that capitalism does not create the conditions of a new society by a kind of pre-established harmony, in such a way that the capitalists can be removed simply by a vote or by a coup d'etat, the new society then appearing in the full light of day, having already been prepared within capitalism itself. It had to be understood that if 'socialism is knocking at the door of every present-day capitalist State', this is only because the contradictions of capitalism have become insuperable; it is these contradictory elements which socialism has to correct, to develop, to complete and to assemble. From this moment on, it became possible to understand that the proletarian revolution, though it is linked to the general development of capitalism in the world, which has reached its imperialist stage, is not mechanically linked, in this or that of its phases, to the 'advanced' capitalist countries, to the leaders in the 'development' of capitalism. For these advanced countries are not necessarily, in a given conjuncture, those whose contradictions are most acute.

    By re-introducing and rectifying the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, by relating this concept directly to the perspec- tive of communism (and therefore to the insuperable contradictions of capitalism, which will not finally disappear until classes themselves disappear) -- rather than relating it only to the perspective of socialism, conceived as the result of the spontaneous development of the most advanced forms of capitalism -- Lenin was able to explain and to grasp the concrete and unique character of the historical conditions in which the proletarian revolution began.

    That is also why, once the real history of this problem in Marxist theory is understood, it is impossible not to be astonished by the argument now being put forward to the effect that the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is an idea adapted by nature to the 'backward' conditions of the Russian Revolution (with its 'minority' proletariat, forced to make use of abnormal means of struggle because it did not represent a majority of the population, etc.): nothing is more contrary to the facts than this idea that the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is only a provisional response to, and a reflexion of, an historical situation which today no longer exists. The truth is that Lenin, arguing against the whole Marxist orthodoxy of his time, was able to rescue the concept of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' from the sphere of reformist socialism, and to discover the conditions of its unexpected 'application' to the conditions of the Russian Revolution: thus at the same time he was able to submit it to a provisional theoretical rectification, whose full importance still has to be appreciated today, by making it into the concentrated expression of the communist point of view -- and not simply of the socialist point of view -- on the development of class struggle in history. I shall return to this point in a moment.

    But I must right away, and just as briefly, say something about the second fact which I mentioned. For a Marxist, who wants to reason dialectically, this fact is even more important than the preceding one: it provides its confirmation. When Lenin in 1922 drew up the provisional balance-sheet of five years of uninterrupted revolution, he had to take into account its victories (in the face of armed counter-revolution), but also its defeats, including those which seemed to be the result of a mechanical application of Marxist theory. The simple fact that the Soviet power had triumphed over the whole coalition of its internal and external enemies, that it had maintained itself in spite of its isolation, of the devastating effects of the war and of the famine, was an immense historical victory: not the victory of a system of government technically and militarily more efficient than others, but the victory of a class, the proof that the epoch of proletarian revolutions had finally been opened. However, the period of 'war communism' also produced dramatic consequences which very nearly led to the destruction of the Soviet power: the 'disappearance of the proletariat' (because hundreds of thousands of proletarians had been killed at the front in the Civil War, and also because an important part of the proletariat had been forced to take over military and administrative tasks, tasks of controlling the management of enterprises, etc., and had left the sphere of production); the collapsing alliance between the proletariat and peasantry, in particular as a consequence of the policy of requisitioning the harvest and of the methods of constraint which had to be employed in order to carry this policy through; finally the 're-appearance of bureaucracy within the Soviet regime', the full dangers of which can be understood if it is related to the two preceding phenomena; thus the picture emerges of an isolated and decomposed revolutionary proletariat, impossibly trapped between, 'up above', the old State apparatus which was still in place, and 'down below', the hostility of the peasant masses, of the petty-bourgeoisie of producers. That is why Lenin then undertook and enrolled the Communists in a thorough self-criticism. At least, he desperately tried to do so. It is true that the situation can be explained by objective causes, which no-one had the power to eliminate: but objective causes only produce particular effects through the mediation of practice, by aggravating contradictions internal to that practice. Lenin showed how great was the error that he had committed in believing that it was possible to move directly from the existing capitalist system to communism, underestimating the inevitable 'delays', therefore ignoring the stages of transition, and confusing communism with different, more or less viable forms of State capitalism. 'We have to admit', said Lenin, 'that there has been a radical modification in our whole outlook on socialism.' (On Co-operation, 1923, Cw., XXXIII, 474.)[1]


[1] On all these points, and on others which I only treat allusively in this work, one must refer to Robert Linhart's analyses in his book Lenine, Les Paysans, Taylor (Le Seuil, Paris, 1976). Linhart is perfectly right to point out that 'Lenin continually contradicted himself -- unlike his contemporaries among Marxist theoreticians and most of his followers. The idea that 'Lenin never contradicted himself' is the leitmotiv of Stalin's Problems of Leninism. Linhart's book is a valuable guide, helping [cont. onto p. 131. -- DJR] us to escape from the alternative: either the good old dogmatism or the superficial relativism into which Elleinstein leads us. Any careful reader will realize how ridiculous are definitions like 'Leninism = the spatio-temporal conditions of the Russian Revolution'; such arguments demonstrate an ignorance of the object of study (we get only a few remarks about the backwardness of the Russian peasantry, drunk on vodka and duped by the priests, plus a few statistics) equalled only by the pomposity of their tautological appeals to History.

    We must look closely at the precise point on which Lenin made his self-criticism, and therefore in what direction this self-criticism led him, and leads us. Lenin's self-criticism was not at all -- contrary to what certain Bolsheviks believed -- directed against what we called the need to define the socialist revolution in terms of communism: for it is this need which in the last analysis accounts for the fact that the world socialist revolution began in that country where, at a precise moment, the most acute contradictions were concentrated.[2] In spite of all the pressures continuously exercized on him in this connexion, Lenin never accepted, and with good reason, the idea that he should return to the mechanistic schema according to which socialism arrives when its 'conditions have matured'; that the socialist revolution 'should have', if everything had gone 'properly', taken place elsewhere, in another way . . . than there where it became a reality, where it confronted the hard test of reality! That is why Lenin's self-criticism, which deals precisely with the need to give up all illusions, to recognize against all forms of voluntarism the nature of the obstacles thrown up on the road to communism, is not a kind of renunciation or of subjective repentance, but a great step forward in objectivity, as a result of which there emerged in this epoch a force capable, in spite of all its defects and all its errors, of transforming the world: the International Communist Movement.

    This becomes even clearer if you follow the development of Lenin's self-criticism, and if you study it in terms of the direction in which it moves. Originally, Lenin conceived of the New Economic Policy, involving commodity trade with the peasantry, 'concessions' to foreign capitalists and the development of co-operatives, as a 'step backwards' imposed by the temporarily


[2] Among the most important of which was the contradiction between the young Russian imperialist bourgeoisie and the Russian proletariat, which -- in spite of its relative numerical weakness -- had been able to create a stronger bond with revolutionary Marxist theory than any other European proletariat: both of these classes had developed out of the old, rapidly decomposing semi-feudal regime and against the background of the 'national crisis, affecting both exploited and exploiters'.

ruinous condition of the Russian economy, which could not be overcome by purely administrative measures. But later, more and more, Lenin modified and rectified this view: he showed that the NEP in fact represented a step forward and, with all its special 'Russian' characteristics, a necessary step towards communism. For the causes of the errors and the illusions of the Bolsheviks were more profound and more general than these special conditions taken separately; the dramatic circumstances of the Civil War only served as a revelation in this respect. It had to be recognized that capitalist relations of production had actually not disappeared, but that a 'communist' -- in fact, statist -- legal form had been imposed upon them, and that the whole task of transforming them remained. More exactly, these relations had only been reproduced, in a new form imposed by the State, by means of constraint and of ideology. That is what had to be recognized and analyzed, and that is why, taking full account of the contradictions of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the form of transition from capitalism to communism, and full account of the delays and the stages which this transition involved, it was more than ever necessary to set out from the standpoint of communism, and step by step to apply this standpoint in practice. Lenin's theses in State and Revolution were thus confirmed: they were rectified in practical experience.

    At each step of this experience, Lenin thus defended and developed Marxist theory, at the cost of a difficult and unfinished internal struggle, in the Party and at the level of theory itself. Against the current. Against the manner in which the socialism of the Second International had deviated in its principles towards economism and statism. Against a tendency which was already, within the Bolshevik Party itself, making itself felt -- the 'posthumous revenge of the Second International', to use the expression proposed by Althusser. Against evolutionism, for the revolutionary dialectic.

    Whoever makes a first-hand study of the conditions in which the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat was first produced, then developed and rectified, of the enemies which it had to face at each of these stages within the Labour Movement itself, of the terms in which it had to be presented, given these conditions and given these opponents -- he will certainly come to the conclusion that the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat has always -- been ahead of its time, just as revolutions themselves, in which the mass movement suddenly raises its head where it is not expected, are themselves ahead of their time. Sometimes this concept, apparently under its own power, would surpass everyone's hopes; sometimes it would disappoint the expectations of those who were precisely counting on it, and had spent their lives patiently working it out, putting it together. It is ahead of its time, just as the real dialectic of history is ahead of its time, as opposed to the mechanical schemas of social evolution, even when these are formulated in a Marxist language. In this connexion, Gramsci would be right (cf : 'the revolution against Capital !') . . . if it were not for the fact that the whole of Capital only becomes intelligible in connexion with the dictatorship of the proletariat, whose necessity it demonstrates. Nothing is more revealing, in this respect, than a comparison between the situation in while Lenin found himself fifty years ago and that in which we find ourselves today. Then, in the name of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat', the most orthodox Marxists proclaimed the impossibility of a socialist revolution in Russia, demanding of the workers, peasants and intellectuals that they should wait until imperialism, following the horrors of the war, had provided a few decades of capitalist industrial development. Today, there are Communists who believe that we have waited long enough, that capitalist industrial development has advanced so far that we no longer need the dictatorship of the proletariat, that we have reached a point beyond that at which it plays a necessary role. Two apparently opposite conclusions. But their theoretical foundations are exactly identical. I leave it to the reader to draw the conclusion: if it is not true that the dictatorship of the proletariat was, historically, a concept invented specially to describe the difficult transition to socialism in a 'backward' capitalist country, what value can there be in the thesis supported by this pseudo-historical argument, according to which we no longer need the dictatorship of the proletariat today in order to deal with the particular problems and dangers thrown up by our own revolutionary situation?


The historical tendency to the dictatorship of the proletariat
We have just made an apparent detour via the history of the conditions in which the Leninist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat was constituted. We can now return to the question of what this thesis implies, as far as the relations of socialism and communism are concerned.

    What the concrete analyses carried out by Lenin show, with all their rectifications, is in fact the following: that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a 'slogan' summing up this or that particular tactic, even though it does determine the choice of correct slogans. It is not even a particular strategic line, whose meaning would be relative to certain transitory historical conditions, even though it does determine strategy and allow us to understand why a given strategy must be transformed.[3] It is neither a tactic nor a strategy to be applied after having first been invented; the dictatorship of the proletariat is above all a reality, just as objective as the class struggle itself, of which it is a consequence. It is a reaiity which Lenin tried to study scientifically, to the extent that it revealed itself in practice, in order to be able to find his bearings in the struggle.

    But what kind of reality? Not a reality like a table or a chair, which you can simply 'touch' and 'see'. It cannot be an unmoving, unchanging reality, any more than the class struggle itself can be. It is the reality of an historical tendency, a reality subject to ceaseless transformations which cannot be reduced to this or that form of government, this or that system of institutions, even of revolutionary institutions, established once and for all.[4] A tendency does not cease to exist because it meets with obstacles, because its direction has to be corrected under the impact of the existing historical conditions. On the contrary, this is precisely the manner in which it exists and develops.

    In order to understand this point, and to act accordingly, we must relate the dictatorship of the proletariat to the whole of its conditions, on the scale of the history of human societies: it is a tendency which begins to develop within capitalism itself, in struggle


[3] It is in this sense that I referred, during the Pre-Congress debate for the 22nd Congress, to 'a line of reasoning' tending to 'assign new historical objectives' to the action of the Communists. Georges Marchais's reply -- 'Our goal has not changed: it is still socialism' -- leads me to make my point in a more precise manner, and brings us directly to the basic question: what is socialism, from the Marxist point of view?
[4] This is Stalin's point of view, as expressed in his definition of the 'system of the dictatorship of the proletariat': for Stalin, the dictatorship of the proletariat is simply a hierarchical structure of institutions, dominated by the Party, and linking the masses to the Party by means of a certain number of 'transmission belts'.

against capitalism. Just as, formally, capitalism is originally an historical tendency which begins to develop within feudal society, in struggle against it, in different, first of all fragmentary and hesitant forms. This tendency therefore precedes by far the first victorious revolutions, and this is what allowed Marx and then Lenin to argue that communism is not an ideal, not a simple, abstract historical stage of the future, which might be predicted or prophesied, but a real tendency present in the existing contradictions of capitalist society, even though in fragmentary and still hesitant forms, which are nevertheless growing progressively stronger.

    In what sense is communism thus real tendency, already present in capitalist society itself? The answer, schematically, is the following: in two senses, which are not originally directly related.

    -- On the one hand, in the form of the tendency to the socialization of production and of the productive forces. It is capitalist accumulation itself which constantly develops this tendency, in the form of the concentration of capital and of the State;

    -- On the other hand, in the form of the class struggles of the proletariat, in which first the independence, and then later the ideological and political hegemony of the proletariat are manifested. These struggles allow the proletariat to organize itself as a revolutionary class, to place solidarity on a higher level than competition and division. These struggles do not -- and for a good reason! -- find an ally in the State, but they do result from the very conditions of life and of work and begin to make possible the collective mastery of these conditions.

    Throughout the whole development of capitalism, these two, tendencies constantly exercize an influence on one another, but they remain quite distinct. They do not merge with one another; on the contrary, they stand in mutual opposition. In order for them to begin to merge, you need a real proletarian revolution, the seizure of State power by the proletariat.

    History has shown that the conditions for such a revolution are only produced by capitalism when it has arrived at the stage of imperialism, and unevenly from country to country, though the movement is globally irreversible (which does not mean that it is irreversible in any particular case). Only then, in determinate social conditions, which must differ from case to case, first in one and then in many countries, can the historical epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat begin. And Leninist theory reflects this fact by showing that the epoch of imperialism is also the epoch of socialist revolutions, i.e. by explaining the characteristics of the epoch, in the last analysis, in terms of the simultaneous, contradictory development of imperialism and of the dictatorship of the proletariat. A contradiction which operates at the world level, but which is necessarily reflected, in an extreme variety of forms, within each social formation, before and after the socialist revolution.

    In the course of the historical period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the two opposed forms in which, for a long time, communism has been tendentially present in the development of capitalism itself, themselves begin to merge. It is possible to say, as Marx already pointed out, that they are present right from the beginning of the history of capitalism: which does not mean that the conditions for their effective combination could be satisfied except after a very long period, in spite of the attempts which took place in this connexion (like the Paris Commune). But it is just because Marxist theory was present from the beginning that it was able to prepare so far in advance the theoretical foundations of the revolution. With the revolution a new period opens, when these originally opposed forms begin to link up and to transform each other, under the domination of the second form, which represents the directly proletarian element. The socialization of production tendentially ceases to take the capitalist form, but only at the end of a long struggle, to the extent that the direct administration of society by the workers becomes a reality, together with the forms of communist labour. This fusion of the two forms can therefore not take place immediately, without contradiction. The history of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the history of the development and of the resolution of this contradiction.

    But if this is true, it follows that we must now rectify an idea which is profoundly rooted in the whole of the International Communist Movement, an idea which, as we saw in the beginning, weighs heavily on the analysis of the problems raised by the present discussion. It is the idea of a simply 'external' contradiction between socialism and imperialism, the idea that socialism (or the 'socialist camp') and imperialism constitute two worlds, not simply foreign and opposed one to the other, but without any common point or line of communication between them, other than 'external relations' of a diplomatic character, which may be, depending on the case, either hostile or peaceful. It is true that the imperialist bourgeoisie of the 'Cold War' always presented things in this way (together with, in counterpart, the opposite thesis: that these two worlds are at root the same, two variants of 'industrial society'), but that is no good reason for us to take over such a non-dialectical and non-materialist idea. Socialism and imperialism are neither 'two worlds' impervious one to the other, nor one single world. This notion of the 'two worlds' places Communists in an impossible position: the socialist world represents 'the future', the imperialist world represents 'the past'; between this past and this future there can by definition be no interdependence, no interaction, simply the tenuous thread of a moment of transition, all the more difficult to grasp because it is still to come, and yet has already taken place. In order to find a way out of this maze, you would need nothing less than a good idealist philosophy of the indefinite repetition of history, of the 'eternal circle' . . .

    It is not astonishing that, in such a perspective, the new revolutions which must occur outside of the 'socialist camp', and further aggravate the crisis of imperialism and its historical decomposition, become strictly speaking impossible to imagine!

    But it is also not astonishing that from the same point of view, the recent history of the socialist countries appears to be in explicable -- at the very moment when we are forced to try to explain it: we can explain neither the social contradictions which come to the surface in this or that country, nor those which characterize the relations between different socialist countries. How can we possibly explain them if socialism is that 'other world' in which the historical tendencies of capitalism and of imperialism represent no more than an inert and almost forgotten past, whose return can be prevented by a good army stationed on the national borders? And how, on the other hand, can we escape the idea that capitalism will indeed be (purely and simply) restored when, the contradictions having become more acute, socialism, in its 'pure' and ideal form, which we used to imagine already existed beyond the frontiers of the imperialist world, can no longer stand the test of the facts? Finally, how can we any longer justify the idea that, although the labour and Communist movement of the socialist countries has influenced and still does influence that of the capitalist countries, the opposite is not true, and that the Com-munists of all countries can only watch as passive spectators the development of the history of socialism, in spite of the fact that they have daily experience of its direct repercussions on their own class struggle?

    Things begin to look a little less irrational -- I repeat: they begin to do so -- once we rectify this mechanical notion, once we understand that the contradiction between socialism and imperialism is not an 'external' contradiction, but an internal contradiction, and once we try to draw the consequences of this fact. It is an internal contradiction, first of all because it is one of the forms in which, in the present epoch, the antagonistic contradiction between capital and wage labour, or bourgeoisie and proletariat, is developing. The second reason is that, as always, neither of the two terms of the contradiction can remain 'pure', independent of the other: in the development of the contradiction, each exercizes an influence on the other and transforms it, giving birth to new situations and social structures. No-one will deny that the very existence of socialism in an increasing number of countries has had a profound influence on the history of imperialism, even providing it with certain means of developing the tendency to State Monopoly Capitalism. It is time to recognize that the development of imperialism -- which did not come to a halt in 1917 -- has continued to have political and economic effects on the history of the socialist countries, playing on the internal bases provided for it in this connexion by the existence of contradictory social relations within the socialist countries themselves.

    If we do not want the recognition of this fact -- which implies the urgent need of a concrete analysis -- to lead, as certain people fear, to reactionary conclusions, to the idea that there exists a relation of symmetry between socialism and imperialism, to the idea that the two terms of the contradiction are equivalent, an idea which imperialism makes use of in order to undermine the revolutionary movement, we must precisely relate the whole of the problem to the framework of the general tendency out of which this contradiction arises. We must, as Lenin saw, define imperialism as the stage of capitalism in which the history of communism itself begins, in the dangerous and contradictory form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.


What is socialism?
What I have just outlined in a very general manner can be explained in another way, by starting out from the simple but very topical question: what is 'socialism'?

    It is nowadays common to define socialism in terms of a combination of the 'collective property of the means of production' and the 'political power of the working people'. But this definition is insufficient. Or worse: it is false, because, by ignoring the question of the class struggle, of the place of socialism in the history of the class struggle and of the forms taken by the class struggle after the socialist revolution, it leaves room for enormous ambiguities. It does not allow us to distinguish clearly between proletarian socialism and bourgeois or petty-bourgeois 'socialism', which really does exist in the ideological and political field. The mistake becomes even more serious when socialism is defined in terms of planning, economic rationality, social justice, the 'logic of needs', etc.

    Let us first therefore say a word about what socialism cannot be, from the Marxist standpoint: socialism cannot be a classless society. And, since it is not a society without classes, it cannot be a society without exploitation, a society from which every form of exploitation has disappeared. Socialism can only be a society in which every form of exploitation is on the way to disappearing, to the extent that its material foundations are disappearing.

    Lenin explained this very elearly, in 1919, in a remarkable text, entitled Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (XXX, 107ff.), whose formulations can be usefully compared with those of the article 'Left-Wing' Communism -- an Infantile Disorder (1920) and with those, among others, of his Report on the NEP presented to the Eleventh Congress of the RCP (B) in 1922 (XXXIII, 259ff.). Lenin writes:

    'Theoretically, there can be no doubt that between capitalism and communism there lies a definite transition period which must combine the features and properties of both these forms of social eeonomy. This transition period has to be a period of struggle between dying capitalism and nascent communism -- or, in other words, between capitalism which has been defeated but not destroyed and communism which has been born but is still very feeble.'

    Let us pause here for a moment, in order to look more closely at these remarkable formulations: this inevitable transition period, which takes a whole historical epoch (even if, in 1919, Lenin and the Bolsheviks underestimated its length), is socialism itself. This means that socialism is not an independent economic and social formation, and even less is it an independent historical mode of production. There is no socialist mode of production in the sense that there is a capitalist mode of production or a communist mode of production, contrary to what mechanistic Marxists like Kautsky or Plekhanov believed (they were always trying to work out the degree of its 'maturity'), and contrary to what a certain number of Communists believe today. To imagine that there can be an independent socialist mode of production, distinct both from the capitalist mode of production and from communism is either to imagine, in a utopian manner, that it is possible to move immediately from capitalism to the classless society, or to imagine that classes can exist without class struggle, that class relations can exist without being antagonistic. And the common root of these utopian ideas is generally the confusion between relations of production, in the Marxist sense of the term, which are relations of men to one another and of men to the material means of production in productive labour, with simple legal property relations, or again with relations of income distribution, of the distribution of the social product between individuals and classes, as regulated by the law.

    Let us make this point more precisely, for questions of terminology can play a decisive role here. The basic production relation of the capitalist mode of production is the 'immediate relation of the labourer to the means of production': it is the relation of exploitation, which rests on wage labour, the buying and selling of labour power, which is then 'consumed' in the production process. It is the social relation (concerning classes, not individuals; and the function of the legal forms which it takes is precisely to subject individuals to the basic relation itself) which transforms the means of production into just so many means of 'pumping' labour power and causing it to produce a certain amount of surplus labour. As Marx showed, this production relation is the last possible relation of exploitation in history: once having arrived there, you can neither return to former modes of exploitation -- in which the labourer enjoys a certain form of possession of his means of production and a certain individual control over their use -- nor go forward to a 'new' mode of exploita- tion. For capitalism is characterized precisely by the absolute separation of the labourer from the means of production, with which he only comes into contact through their owner, who controls them. Capitalism may last a very long time, it may undergo a long series of transformations with respect to the (legal) form of the (individual or collective) property of the means of production. And it may undergo a long series of transformations based on a number of technological revolutions, and of revolutions in the organization of the labour process, with all the necessary consequences on the system of qualifications, and therefore on the education of working people and on their relation to the labour market, etc. But all these transformations are always historical developments of the basic production relation: capitalist wage labour. Socialism is not a new mode of exploitation (whatever some may think). Nor is it a mode of production without exploitation and without classes: it can only be grasped as a period of transition.

    Is this an unprecedented idea within Marxism? By no means. On the contrary, it is part of Marxism. It is the key to the theoretical work of Marx, from the Communist Manifesto to Capital, in which its scientific foundations are laid down. Finally, it is made explicit in the text of the Critique of the Gotha Programme, where Marx works out its first consequences, precisely in order to criticize the opportunist deviation of Social-Democracy: he shows that 'socialism' is only the first phase of communist society, therefore a period of transition to communism. Certain of Marx's formulations are very interesting in this connexion. For example, he explains that socialism is a communist society which has not yet 'developed on its own foundations', i.e., to borrow the rigorous terminology of Capital, on its own mode of production. He adds to this argument the fact that, under socialism, it is still 'bourgeois law' -- we could just as well simply say law, because all law, from the beginning of capitalism onwards, is bourgeois -- which inevitably regulates the relation of the workers to the means and to the product of their labour. Equally interesting is the fact that he lists the transformation of the social division of labour (and in particular of the division of manual and intellectual labour) as one of the conditions of the progressive transition from socialism to communism in the strict sense, i.e. to the higher phase of communist society, within which, once the transition has been accomplished, and to the extent that it is accomplished, it will find 'its own foundations'.

    In order to understand our present situation, it is particularly important to recall the historical fate of these formulations of Marx. On the one hand they were immediately criticized by the German Social-Democratic Party and by its 'Marxist' leaders, at the same time and for the same reasons that these leaders criticized the 'rectification' of the Communist Manifesto, whose importance with respect to the question of the State apparatus I mentioned earlier. All this was very logical. Then, having been taken up again and commented on at length by Lenin,[5] they became canonical formulae, constantly quoted but in fact used in a non-dialectical way, within the framework of the 'theory of stages'. I cited, at the beginning of this book (in chapter 1) a typical example of this theory in Stalin's work. There is no doubt, if you look first for theoretical reasons contained in the letter of the texts themselves, that this problem is related to the fact that Marx's formulations are still -- and for a good reason, given that Marx was no prophet, contrary to a popular legend -- of a very general and abstract nature. That is why they leave room for ambiguity. They leave room for a non-dialectical conception of the relation between socialism and communism, in which this relation can appear to be a matter of a simple, mechanical succession. It is true that in order to get this idea you have to read the texts very superficially, i.e. to concentrate above all on the 'general idea of transition', while more or less ignoring the content which Marx gives to each of these stages, and therefore the motor of the transition linking them. In this way a fetishism concerning the formal number of these stages is produced, and you are back in a utopian ideology.

    Of course, any present-day 'Marxist' is prepared to admit that after the 'end' of socialism there will be something else -- communism -- and that consequently socialism, in the long term, in the very long term, is not an end in itself, etc. The fact that Marx, in order to characterize the difference between socialism and communism, borrowed two old revolutionary slogans of utopian socialism which put the accent precisely on distribution and not on


[5] The reader should refer, in this connexion, to the full text of Lenin's commentary, in The State and Revolution, ch. V.

production ('To each according to his work'/'To each according to his needs'), this fact has paradoxically contributed to relegating the questions of communism to a kind of golden age, or to an indeterminate 'end of history'. It has been used to define so-called 'general laws' of the socialist mode of production and of the communist mode of production, and to construct on this basis a whole imaginary political economy of these modes of production. In this non-dialectical, mechanistic and evolutionist interpretation of Marx, 'socialism' and 'communism' become successive stages, the second of which only begins when the first is complete. And it is in this perspective that the dictatorship of the proletariat is re-defined as a 'path of transition to socialism', thus becoming little by little unintelligible. It is in the logic of such an evolutionist approach, which is incapable of thinking in terms of tendencies and of contradiction, to multiply the 'intermediate stages' in order to evade the resulting theoretical difficulties: to the transition period between capitalism and communism is added another, between imperialism and the transition to socialism, and another within the stage of socialism itself, etc. But why precisely these 'stages'? Why not more, or less? And how are they to be distinguished from one another, if they all represent forms of the 'classless society'? The circle is closed.

    Let us therefore return to Lenin's formulations:

    'The necessity for a whole historical era distinguished by these transitional features should be obvious not only to Marxists, but to any educated person who is in any degree acquainted with the theory of development . . .'

    What are these 'transitional features'? Lenin has just said: they concern the struggle between capitalism and communism. He then adds:

    'Yet all the talk on the subject of the transition to socialism which we hear from present-day petty-bourgeois democrats [. . .] is marked by complete disregard of this obvious truth. Petty-bourgeois democrats are distinguished by an aversion to class struggle, by their dreams of avoiding it [. . .]. Such democrats, therefore, either avoid recognizing any necessity for a whole historical period of transition from capitalism to communism or regard it as their duty to concoct schemes for reconciling the two contending forces instead of leading the struggle of one of these forces.' (XXX, 108. ["Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat "])

    Since we want to abolish the class struggle, they argue, let us not encourage it ! Let us make up some plans. Up to now, history has always moved forward by its 'bad side', by struggle, or by violence: now it can move forward by its 'good side' . . .

    By defining the phase of transition as a phase of struggle, of contradiction between the surviving elements of the capitalist mode of production and the nascent elements of communist relations of production, Lenin, though he does not indicate what concrete forms this struggle must take, does make it quite clear (except to fools) that it must continuously change its form in the course of its development. He does not content himself with 'making up some plans'. He does not try to forecast how long it will last, or how easy or difficult it will be. But he does provide the key which allows a Marxist to escape from a paradox as crazy as the attempt to square the circle: the paradox of the existence of classes and of class relations without class struggle!

    On precisely this point Lenin continues:

    'Classes still remain and will remain in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship will become unnecessary when classes disappear. Without the dictatorship of the proletariat they will not disappear.

    Classes have remained, but in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat every class has undergone a change, and the relations between the classes have also changed. The class struggle does not disappear under the dictatorship of the proletariat; it merely assumes different forms.' (XXX, 115. ["Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat"])

    I note in passing that in reality this 'simply' indicates the enormous theoretical task which Marxists face, a task which is however vital for all Communists: the analysis of the new forms of the existence of classes and of the c!ass struggle under socialism, bearing in mind of course that these new forms always have their roots in capitalist relations of production and of exploitation. We cannot say that much progress has been made on this task since Lenin's time. There is no doubt that this 'delay' is not unconnected, once again, with Stalin's position, which vacillated in the 1930s between two equally false theses: one arguing for the continuous sharpening of class struggle under socialism, the other claiming that the class struggle had come to an end in the USSR.

    If you re-read the analyses sketched out by Lenin in the course of the years of the revolution, you will soon come to the conclusion that this problem is precisely the one which he was trying to pose in a correct form in order to understand the nature of the obstacles met with in the course of the struggle, and in order to rectify the line of the Party. Lenin was slowly discovering the enormous complexity of this problem, which did not derive from the particular conditions existing in Russia (especially, from its economic and cultural 'backwardness'), but in the first place from the nature of the socialist revolution itself, of which no-one had any previous experience. He returns to this question when talking about the NEP:

    'When I spoke about communist competition, what I had in mind were not communist sympathies but the development of economic forms and social systems. This is not competition but, if not the last, then nearly the last, desperate, furious, life-and-death struggle between capitalism and communism.

    . . . It is one more form of the struggle between two irreconcilably hostile classes. It is another form of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.' (XXXIII, 287-89. [Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.).])

    But in this struggle 'we are not being subjected to armed attack', yet 'nevertheless, the fight against capitalist society has become a hundred times more fierce and perilous, because we are not always able to tell enemies from friends' (ibid.). New forms of classes and of class struggle, in which it is no longer possible simply to attack the 'political power' of the capitalists ('We have quite enough political power'!), nor their 'economic power' ('The economic power in the hands of the proletarian State of Russia is quite adequate to ensure a transition to communism'!); it is capitalist relations themselves, as materialized in commodity production, in the State apparatus, which have to be attacked. New forms of the class struggle, in which, as a provincial Communist wrote: 'It is not enough to defeat the bourgeoisie, to overpower them; they must be compelled to work for us.' (Cited by Lenin; XXXIII, 290.) Thus the mass line of the dictatorship of the proletariat, unity and struggle inseparably linked, becomes even more necessary, because it is essential 'to build communism with the hands of non-Communists'. Lenin points out: 'The idea of building communist society exclusively with the hands of the Communists is childish, absolutely childish. We Communists are but a drop in the ocean' (ibid.).

    And what happens when the Communists do not succeed in hammering out and then in applying this mass line? Then 'they are not directing [and cannot direct], they are being directed [and will continue to be directed].' Lenin is not so complacent as to ignore this fact; he even admits that there is some truth in the analysis made by some émigré bourgeois politicians intelligent enough to grasp the real tendency making up one of the sides of the contradiction, and who thus conclude: 'The Bolsheviks can say what they like; [. . .] they will arrive at the ordinary bourgeois State, and we must support them. History proceeds in devious ways.' Such is the 'plain class truth uttered by the class enemy'!

    Thus Lenin's words of 1920 take on their full meaning: 'Dictatorship is a big, harsh and bloody word, one which expresses a relentless life-and-death struggle between two classes, two worlds, two historical epochs.' And what is socialism, if not precisely two worlds within the same world, two epochs within one single historical epoch? Lenin adds: 'Such words must not be uttered frivolously.' (XXX, 355.)

    This expression has two senses: on the one hand it implies that you do not say such things on the spur of the moment; and on the other hand that you cannot, from one moment to the next, get rid of the reality which they express.


The real 'problems of Leninism'
When you re-read Lenin's texts today, or perhaps in fact really read them for the first time, you not only render to Leninism its revolutionary due, and rediscover its critical power, so long buried under the weight of dogmatism. You also begin to understand his real political position. There is no complete theory of socialism and of the dictatorship of the proletariat, there is no dogmatic system in Lenin. Nor do his writings consist of a set of simple empirical responses to the demands of a very particular historical situation. It is just because Lenin never leaves the sphere of the concrete analysis of the revolutionary process that he is able progressively to grasp the general meaning of the problems which it runs up against. Lenin's theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a system of dogmatic or empiricist responses (dogmatism and empiricism go together); it is a system of questions posed in the face of a contradictory reality, in response to the contradictions of this reality, an attempt to escape from utopianism and adventurism in all their forms. In this respect, it is now easy to see why what I called Lenin's 'third argument', in which the standpoint of communism comes to the fore, is absolutely indispensable: only this standpoint can guarantee the coherence and the development of revolutionary Marxism. Far from 'closing the circle' of a theory which falsely imagines itself to be complete, it is an element of progress, which opens new perspectives. It is a thesis whose function is precisely to open such perspectives, to develop and to rectify the analysis of the dictatorship of the proletariat -- an analysis which, though it has begun, is only in its first stages. It is therefore also possible to understand, at least in part, why the suppression of this third argument lies at the heart of the Stalinian deviation which had such profound effects on the whole of the International Communist Movement. That is why, in the present conjuncture, in today's world, a world combining new forms of imperialism with the first forms of socialism, a correct understanding and a creative applica tion of the Marxist theory of the State and of the dictatorship of the proletariat depend -- this must be openly recognized and openly stated -- on the recognition and the development of Lenin's third argument: that socialism only makes sense from the standpoint of communism, as a phase in its concrete realization.

    Thus, to stand on the basis of the principles of Leninism is indeed, as we have been told so many times and for so many years, to develop Leninism. But this phrase has no real content unless it implies that we seriously take up the questions posed by Lenin, discuss the way in which they are formulated and, taking account of the conditions under which they arose and of the need of practical direction to which they corresponded, try to discover what problems they imply. To develop Leninism is not simply to make use of some vague 'method' or to justify the substitution of one concept for another by invoking 'concrete reality', which is supposed to throw up all the new concepts which we need, leaving us only the task of turning to marvel at their appearance.

    I should like, at my own risk and peril, to mention two of the problems which arise out of the above arguments.

*       *       *

1. The first problem derives from the fact that socialism is always based on commodity production and circulation in course of transformation towards non-commodity production. If you pose the problem -- and I have just tried to show that you must do so -- in terms of the mode of production, it seems to follow that the existence of commodity relations under socialism produces a permanent tendency to the re-constitution of relations of exploitation, and of the development of the still existing forms of exploitation. This is above all a consequence of the fact that labour power itself remains a commodity, that labour remains wage labour (subjected to 'bourgeois law'). The means of production cannot cease to be commodities, even if they are produced and distributed by the State, as long as wage labour remains. But now the question arises: is socialist planning itself a non-commodity form of the organization of production? Under what historical conditions might it become such a form? Given the historical experience of the Five-Year Plans and the 'economic reforms' in the socialist countries, there is now good reason to believe that planning, together with the collective property of the means of production, is first of all, and throughout a long historical period, in fact a new (modified) form of commodity production and circulation, and not its absolute opposite.

    Lenin did not 'jump ahead of his time'; he by no means resolved this question. But he did make it possible for us to pose it. For obvious reasons, linked with the situation of the Soviet Union of the 1920s, Lenin usually brings up this question in connexion with the problem of peasant petty-commodity production. His general, continually repeated arguments about the persistence of classes under socialism are usually directly referred to the problem of the persistence of petty peasant production, the massive and concrete form of commodity production with which the Russian revolution had to come to terms. We also know that it is this reference which allowed Stalin to argue, following collectivization, that class antagonisms had 'disappeared', and to link the 'survival of commodity categories' to simple legal differences between the sectors of production (co-operative property, State Property).

    But on several occasions (cf. in particular the article 'Left-Wing' Communism - an Infantile Disorder, part of which I have already quoted; XXXI, 114-15 [pp.122-23]) Lenin overcame the limits of this point of view. And he did so by posing a remarkable question, precisely concerning classes: it is not only from petty commodity production that capitalist relations tend to "re-emerge, but also from another 'habit', that which is "engendered" by the existence of bourgeois ideological relations within the State apparatus and within the productive apparatus. We are talking about 'intellectuals, political representatives, school-teachers, engineers, skilled workers, etc.', therefore about the petty-bourgeois and proletarian masses caught up in these relations of which they are -- to use Lenin's phrase, which is sure to give our humanist friends the shivers -- the 'human raw material'. Or rather, we are talking about these very relations, which are directly bound up with political and economic relations, and which are reproduced by the whole system of qualification and education: you cannot abolish them by decree.

    Lenin's remarks suggest that the question of commodity production, and in particular the question of the commodity form of human labour power, must be coupled with that of the forms of the division of labour, and of the antagonistic relations implied by this division in the form in which they are inherited by socialism from capitalism. Now collective property and planning, in themselves, do nothing to modify this division of labour: on the contrary, they continually come up against the persistent contradictions between different 'social categories' which are its result.

    That is why it produces nothing but confusion to picture socialism in terms of the simple 'rationalization' of the organization of social labour, the parasitic capitalist class having been eliminated (even if this process is supposed to be accompanied, at the social level, by a fair distribution of the products of labour, and at the political level by greater liberty and increased 'participation' for the masses). Such a picture leaves out the essential point: that socialism, as an historical process, can only develop on the basis of a profound, progressive transformation of the division of labour, on the basis of a conscious political struggle against the division of manual and intellectual labour, against 'narrow' specialization, for what Marx called 'all-round competence'. Socialism cannot consist in the permanent association, in the service of their common interest, of the various social strata and categories of 'working people' existing in capitalist society: it cannot perpetuate, or even 'guarantee' the distinctions in function and status which divide them, as if there always had to be engineers on the one hand and unskilled workers on the other, professors, lawyers and labourers . . . It can only be the continuous process of the transformation of these divisions, which will finally suppress the foundations of all competition, in the capitalist sense of the term, between working people, therefore the very foundations of wage labour and conse-

quently the bases of commodity production, whether planned or not. In an earlier chapter I talked about the constitution of the proletariat as a class in terms of a process which can only 'end' with the constitution of the proletariat as the ruling class; It seems to me that it is therefore now time to propose the following argument: socialism is a process in the course of which the condition of the proletariat becomes generalized at the same time as it is transformed and tends to disappear. This is, in both senses of the term, the end point of the formation of the proletariat.

*       *       *

2. But this first question leads us on to a second, more precise question, that of the relation between socialism and State capitalism.

    What is remarkable here is that, although Lenin right from the first considered State capitalism, the product of the insurmountable contradictions of imperialism, to be the 'threshold of socialism', he needed to go through the whole experience of revolution in order to discover the practical consequences of this direct relation. In the economic field, socialism first takes the form of State capitalism, itself in course of development. You will remember the famous formula from The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It :

    'Socialism is merely the next step forward from State-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely State-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly.' (XXV, 362.)

    As becomes clear not only from the context of this quote, but also from the whole of Lenin's later thoughts on the matter,[6] to say that capitalist monopoly has ceased to be capitalist monopoly is to imply that it has ceased to be a class monopoly of the bourgeoisie; but that does not mean -- on the contrary -- that it immediately loses the whole of its capitalist character. Or, if you like, it means that it will only have lost the whole of its capitalist character at the moment when it will be genuinely possible to talk about the appropriation of the means of production by the whole people, because the whole people will be made up of productive workers, and because the antagonistic forms of the division of labour, inherited from capitalism, will have disappeared -- in other words,


[6] Cf. the pamphlet on The Tax in Kind (1921), which cites, summarizes and rectifies the arguments of 1917 and 1918 (XXXII, 329ff.).

because, to the extent that the whole of society will have been absorbed into the proletariat, the proletariat as such will have finally disappeared.

    Normally, when this formula is cited from Lenin's writings, only one aspect is generally taken up: the idea that the objective foundations of socialism lie in capitalism itself, in the form of the (capitalist) socialization of the productive forces and of production. Thus the revolutionary point of the argument is often missed: namely that there is no other possible solution to the contradictions of monopoly and State-monopoly Capitalism except the proletarian revolution and socialism. But above all the dialectical consequence of his argument, as it bears on socialism itself, is generally ignored: there is no attempt to analyze the fact that the contradictions of this process of capitalist socialization -- contradictions which only represent the material form of the intensification of exploitation by capitalism -- are inevitably 'inherited' by and carried over into socialism. They cannot miraculously disappear as a simple result of the seizure of power.

    Of course, the forms taken by State Capitalism under socialism are necessarily profoundly contradictory and of an unprecedented kind. Lenin pointed this out in 1922:

    'We philosophize about how State capitalism is to be interpreted, and look into old books. But in those old books you will not find what we are discussing; they deal with the State capitalism that exists under capitalism. Not a single word about State capitalism under communism. It did not occur even to Marx to write a word on this subject . . .'

    And he added:

    'State capitalism is the most unexpected and absolutely unforeseen form of capitalism [....] We passed the decision that State capitalism would be permitted by the proletarian State, and we are the State. [....] We must learn, we must see to it, that in a proletarian country State capitalism cannot and does not go beyond the framework and conditions delineated for it by the proletariat, beyond conditions that benefit the proletariat.' (XXXIII, 278, 310-312. [Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) ])

    The complexity of contradictions: State capitalism is at one and the same time both the representation, in the face of commodity production, of the general struggle between socialism and capitalism, and also something to be controlled, limited and finally suppressed and eliminated by proletarian socialism. From what point of view does State capitalism, in opposition to the previous forms of capitalism, 'represent' socialism, to what extent is it a revolutionary tendency? From what point of view is it on the contrary the main enemy in which all the fundamental characteristics of capitalism tend to be 'concentrated', and against which the proletariat must struggle? And how are these two aspects com bined, in a given country, in a given conjuncture?

    This is a typical example of the kind of question which it is impossible either to ask or to answer unless you start out from the theoretical standpoint of communism, of the struggle between capitalism and communism. Starting out from the concrete conditions existing in Russia ('Nobody could foresee that the proletariat would achieve power in one of the least developed countries, and would first try to organize large-scale production and distribution for the peasantry and then, finding that it could not cope with the task owing to the low standard of culture, would enlist the services of capitalism') Lenin came to stand, in fact, more and more consistently on this standpoint. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see why: socialism is in the first instance the collective property of the means of production; this form of property cannot be equated primarily with the appropriation of these means of production by the State, whatever the particular legal form which it may take. To restrict socialism to State appropriation would entail, from the point of view of the workers, that this appropriation remained formal, since it would not itself abolish the separation of the worker (of labour power) from the means of production.

    But at the same time State appropriation does produce a substantial transformation of the previous situation. It does first of all suppress the separation characteristic of capitalism between the political sphere and the economic sphere, or more exactly the sphere of labour (the term 'economic' is ambiguous here; bourgeois politics and bourgeois economics have never been separate!).

    On the one hand, it turns the problems of the organization of labour and of the transformation of labour relations into directly political problems.

    On the other hand, it enables all the forms of the mass movement, of revolutionary mass democracy, to become means of revolutionizing labour itself and the relations of production. And at the same time it ties the 'political' problem of the withering away of the State to the 'economic' problem of the abolition of exploitation. Because although these problems cannot be solved separately, they can be solved through one another, together.

    In this connexion, I shall re-introduce an expression which I have had occasion to use before, and say that socialism, the historical period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is necessarily characterized by the unprecedented extension of a new form or new practice of politics. And this of course also means that socialism can only exist and can only develop to the extent that this new (mass) political practice also exists and develops. It is in this context that, in my opinion, Lenin's famous formula defining socialism as 'electrification plus Soviet power' must be explained, not by ignoring but precisely by taking account of the conjuncture in which it was put forward. It does not mean that you have electrification (and more generally the planned development of the productive forces) on the one hand, and Soviet power on the other, one alongside the other, one in the economy, the other in the State: it implies that each is dialectically related to the other, so that electrification and planned development take place within the framework of the development of the power of the Soviets and of the mass organizations. And in consequence State capitalism is subjected to the development of communist social relations and communist forms of organization.