djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Thu Apr 27 01:50:22 MDT 1995
Comments on WALTER DAUM, The Life and Death of Stalinism: A Resurrection of
Marxist Theory (NY:Socialist Voice Publishing, Co., 1990) $15. Socialist
Voice Publishing Co, PO Box 3573, New York, NY 10008-3573
The Marxian analyses of Stalinism and the Soviet Mode of Production are
summarized in the second volume of Howard and King's recent History of
If these chapters are a good indication of previous analysis, one cannot
but underline what a leap Walter Daum's analysis marks in the Marxist
critique of Stalinism. (Walter is on this line; recognizing the name, I
bought his book from an used book store; what follows is a very brief
summary of his book).
In this work Daum combines a detailed knowledge of the historical
development of Stalinism with polemicism and rigorous theoretical argument
(the explanations of value, competition, the falling profit rate, the
export of capital, and most of all fictitious capital are quite brilliant).
Daum is able to mix theory, history and polemics and achieve something of a
While the book is a detailed analysis of statified capitalism, that is
treated as one of many forms of middle class marxism, which includes third
worldism and many forms of Trotskyism. And the term middle class marxism
is not bandied about as an abuse of opponents but shown to be a real
tendency in opposition to the self-emancipation of the working class.
The analysis here is never merely formal or terminological but always of
particular situations--and Daum's knowledge of the history of class
struggle is very deep. He teaches us much about the real
counter-offensives which have been waged against the working class which is
driven by the laws of motion of capital to develop revolutionary forms of
organization and aquire socialist consciousness.
Daum attempts to prove that Stalinism became nothing less than a form of
capitalism. Not only is his argument generally very persuasive, Daum also
clearly sets up the conditions any such argument has to meet and then
proceeds to do so. There are eight chapters (summaries below are basically
from the book)
The first chapter develops Marx's theory of value, showing that value is
inherent in any system of wage labor--"in contrast to the assumption that
it is inapplicable to a monopolitistic (above all statified) economy." On
the basis of this theory of value, he is able to advance a new theory of
the falling profit rate, which puts fictitious capital at the center. This
is very interesting and doubtless required if theory is to be adequate to
contemporary capitalism. I also found interesting the explanation of
marx's treatment of competition--from this alone, one can see how different
Marx is from bourgeois economics. So this chapter is more than a summary
but a successful attempt to breathe life into Marx's basic concepts.
The second chapter shows how the contradictions of capitalism bring about
the epoch of imperialism and decay. There is a very good treatment of the
problem of the export of capital here. What is refreshing about this book
that, though indebted to Lenin and Trotsky, it always advances their
insights through critiques of them. Dogma is avoided.
The third chapter deals with transition and transitional forms. It speaks
directly to the debate between James Lawler and Louis Proyect on this line.
A couple of interesting twists in this chapter: Stalin is shown to be an
idealist, and the lack of centralization and planning in the Stalinist mode
The fourth chapter is a sympathetic, yet again critical, discussion of
Trotsky's developing theory of Stalinism.
The fifth chapter illustrates why the Stalinist bureaucracy is capitalist.
Daum thus shows how the laws of motion operate in statified capitalism.
The violations of law of value are shown to be inherent in decaying
Chapters six and seven are an excellent review and critique of post-war
developments in theory and practice. The comments on the postwar economic
boom are especially incisive. Special attention is paid to the
degeneration of the trotskyite movement.
The eighth chapter written before the full collapse of the Soviet bloc now
seems even more insightful.
As may not be surprising, I especially enjoyed the combination of
theoretical argument with polemicism. This book makes for exciting
reading, for it is free of any defeatist attitude towards the revolutionary
capactity of the working class. I'll end with a passage near the beginning
of the book.
"Thus the major theories of the Soviet system all reduce, in effect, to one
category: a third system neither capitalist nor socialist. Moreover, they
postulate a mode of production that does not generate capitalism's law of
motion or any other; it is governned by central decision, not blind laws.
Therefore there can be no *inherent* reason for tis stagnation and
breakdown, no fundamental class conflict. The system-side crisis can only
be caused by bad planning or oppression.
"The conception of a static Stalinsim has serious political consequences.
A society whose internal motion does not comple fundamental change offers
little hope for socialism. The masses may rebel against hardship and
despotism, but they are not driven to develop revolutionary forms of
organization and acquire socialist consciousness.
"Contrast Marx's analysis of capitalism as a society whose development and
change is powered by class struggle. This motion leads to crises and decay,
on the one hand, and the strengthening of the proletariat's consciousness
and organization, on the other. The laws of motion drive the proletariat
both to resist exploitation and prepare itself to rule; the dual power
councils (of soviets) of every working-class revolt this century confirm
this urge. This is the reason for revolutionary Marxism's characteristic
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