23. At the 8th Congress of the RCP(B). Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 29, p. 189. Cf. his Theses Presented to the First Congress of the Comintern: "The entire content of Marxism . . . reveals the economic inevitability, wherever commodity economy prevails, of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie" (Collected Works, vol. 28, p. 464).
was most concerned with the threat from the old exploiting classes, and it is not clear how he would otherwise have wanted to establish his claim.
It should now be rather clearer why Althusser characterizes the Stalin period in terms of a deviation from Marxism which took the form of economism and humanism. It is not of course that the events of this period were the simple consequence of a theoretical mistake. The deviation was itself not only theoretical, but also political. But in any case its roots lay in the class struggle -- in the class struggle under capitalism, which had allowed bourgeois ideology to penetrate deeply into the Marxism of the early Social-Democratic Parties, and in the class struggle under socialism, which prevented Stalin from casting off that influence.
I ought to say a few words at this point about alternative conceptions of the Stalin period. First, it should by now be evident that what I have said conflicts in the sharpest possible way with every explanation couched either in terms of legal ideology (Stalinism is essentially a "violation of socialist legality") or psychology (Stalin was mad, a criminal, or both).
Secondly, it is incompatible with Trotsky's accounts. I agree with Charles Bettelheim that in spite of the political struggles which he waged against Stalin, Trotsky's theoretical positions coincide with those of Stalin in two important respects: on the one hand he too thought that the disappearance of "private property" excluded the development of a new capitalist class; and on the other hand he too affirmed that "the root of all social organization is in the productive forces". As a consequence, his account of the so-called "degeneration" of socialism in the USSR
24. I will not mention the many "bourgeois" accounts here. What they naturally cannot see is that Stalinism was a result first, of the penetration of bourgeois theory and bourgeois methods into internal Soviet politics, and second, of the isolation of the new and still extremely weak socialist state in a capitalist world. "Stalinism" is not the price of communism; it is a price paid by the Soviet people, but extorted, ultimately, by imperialism.
25. Bettelheim, Luttes de classes en URSS, pp. 25-27. According to the author, "the two theses (on the disappearance of antagonistic classes in the USSR and on the primacy of the development of the productive forces) were a kind of 'commonpolace ' for 'European Marxism' in the 1930s".
is in any case unilaterally political, especially as far as his comments on the role of the "bureaucracy" are concerned.
But, thirdly, what I have said also conflicts with Bettelheim's positions. This becomes clear if one considers his account not only of the Stalin but also of the post-Stalin period.
It is true that Bettelheim correctly cites Stalin's economism and his belief in the disappearance of the objective basis for the existence of classes. But he adds that these doctrinal weaknesses led not only the existence of class struggle but also the rise of a new class, the State Bourgeoisie, to be overlooked.
It is this category of the State Bourgeoisie which presents the first difficulty (I speak only of theoretical difficulties here). It is that the category is not sufficiently specific. Every bourgeoisie, after all, is a "state bourgeoisie" in the sense that the action of the state is integral to the process of its constitution and reproduction as a unified ruling class. Bettelheim means of course that this bourgeoisie is constituted by a body of functionaries and administrators "which become in effect the proprietors (in the sense of a relation production) of the means of production". Since he is convinced that the emergence of this new class has at some time since Stalin's death, resulted in the restoration of capitalism in the USSR, we know that it must now be not simply a bourgeoisie but a capitalist class in the strict sense (the two things are not exactly the same).
One reason for Bettelheim's conclusion (a theoretical reason -- I say nothing of the political reason) may lie in his treatment of the distinction between the legal and real appropriation of the means of production. His version of this distinction contrasts property (in the legal sense) and possession. He uses it, however, in such a way that property sometimes appears to be little more than an illusion. For example, it appears that the new capitalist class establishes
26. Cf. Nicos Poulantzas' argument that the problems of bureaucracy always concern the state apparatus and not the state power" (Political Power and Social Classes, p 333 ) On this distinction, see below.
27. Cf. Balibar, Cinq Etudes, p. 177.
28. Bettelheim, Calcul économique et formes de propriété, p. 87. [Transcriber's Note: See Economic Calculation and Forms of Property. -- DJR]
its possession of the means of production not so much by creating new legal relations -- by constituting its property in the means of production -- but rather by reducing state property to "a merely legal relation", therefore a fiction. The consequence is that it becomes rather easier for Bettelheim to conclude -- like the Chinese Communist Party -- that, in spite of the fact that there has been no fundamental transformation in property relations in the Soviet Union, the class struggle has ended not simply in the generation of a new bourgeoisie and a new capitalist class but also in the restoration of capitalism itself. And this, from a "Chinese" standpoint, which Bettelheim is apparently struggling to respect, would mean precisely the abolition of "socialist production relations". Our disagreement with this kind of account will be obvious.
In fact, the subsistence of capitalist relations of production within socialism implies a tendency to the generation of a new bourgeoisie, but whether or not this tendency is realized depends on the outcome of the class struggle. Such a bourgeoisie may be generated, it may transform itself into a full-fledged capitalist class and it may succeed in restoring capitalism. But, as we shall see, a number of conditions, political as well as economic, must be fulfilled before such a thing can take place. And -- to take a concrete example, the example -- there is ample evidence, as far as the Soviet Union is concerned (especially of its remarkable stability), to refute the claim that it is rushing headlong toward such a restoration.
Be that as it may, it is no ground for complacency. On the contrary. Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland in 1970 are the proof. If the principal contradiction dominating the complexity of the Czech events clearly lay in the relation to the USSR (as Althusser and the French Communist Party believe), it is just as clear that secondary contradictions operated which were internal to Czech society. But these internal contradictions were by no means specific to the Czech situation. They also touched the USSR. This is no secret. The Cambridge economist Michael Ellman, for example, has pointed out that "in Czechoslovakia in the early 1960s the distribution of incomes was exceptionally
equal. . . . A major objective of the abortive Czech reform was to overcome this situation. Similarly one of the features of economic reform in the USSR has been to improve the position of the specialists relative to that of the workers".
The Polish events demonstrate something important, too. The workers' protest itself was not -- contrary to a common opinion -- directed against "Stalinism": rather the opposite. It was the result of economic reforms, especially in pricing policy, which in effect constituted one step in the abandonment of the relative equality of the Stalin years. The fact that the protest had to take the form of riots was, on the other hand, in all probability a result of the legacy of the "administrative methods" preferred in those years. But that is a different question.
It is therefore impossible to paint the Stalin period in wholly black or white terms, and it is equally impossible to pretend that its faults can be eliminated simply by "democratizing" or "liberalizing" the political structures (for the sake of "liberty") and "reforming" the economy (for the sake of "productivity"). The effects of Stalin's humanism and economism cannot be rectified by a more consistent humanism and a more consistent economism.
Something ought perhaps to be said here -- since the example will have occurred to the reader -- about the policies of the Chinese Communist Party. It is true that these policies have been consciously anti-humanist and anti-economist. This is certainly true of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-69 (which was however widely misrepresented in the West as a utopian, humanist project, whatever it was, it was not that). But, as far as it is possible to determine, the Chinese critique of Stalin suffers from an inadequate supply of alternative theses. Thus two recently published texts of Mao (dating from 1958 and 1959*) on Stalin's Economic Problems of Socialism make the following criticisms: Stalin failed to deal with the political and ideological conditions of the transition to communism; he put the accent on the "expert"
Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR " and "Critique
29. Michael Ellman, "What Kind of Economic Reform Does the Soviet Union Need?", in Cambridge Review, May, 1971, p. 210.
[* Transcriber's Note: See Mao's "Concerning