Anarchism / Marxism debates

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Aug 20 16:45:57 MDT 1999

Welch wrote:
>I think maybe you are confused Louis, socialism or nothing rhetoric may
>students but it doesn't wash. I'm not familiar with the parts of Marx's
>writings that discuss Russia but it seems unlikely that he would have denied
>that capitalism could develop in Russia, since that would be at variance with
>the theory described in Capital.

I didn't say that Marx denied that capitalism could develop in Russia, only
that if it did it would harm the chances for revolution.

In a March 8, 1881 reply to Russian populist leader Vera Zasulich, Marx
answered their concerns about whether Capital was a general description of
how societies progress historically, including Russia where there was
wide-scale communal ownership of land. They thought that the precapitalist
communes in Russia could serve as springboard for world revolution,
starting with the overthrow of Czarism. Their "Marxist" opponents,
including Plekhanov who had a strong influence on Lenin, thought that it
would be beneficial for capitalism to destroy agrarian precapitalist
formations. Marx sided with the populists against the more "orthodox"
Marxists, who are Welch's ideological predecessors.

Marx writes, "I hope that a few lines will suffice to leave you in no doubt
about the way in which my so-called theory has been misunderstood. In
analysing the genesis of capitalist production, I said: At the heart of the
capitalist system is a complete separation of. . . the producer from the
means of production. . . the expropriation of the agricultural producer is
the basis of the whole process. Only in England has it been accomplished in
a radical manner. . . . But all the other countries of Western Europe are
following the same course. (Capital, French edition, p. 315.)"

He goes on to explain that the ‘historical inevitability’ of this course is
therefore expressly restricted to the countries of Western Europe. "The
reason for this restriction is indicated in Ch. XXXII: ‘Private property,
founded upon personal labour . . . is supplanted by capitalist private
property, which rests on exploitation of the labour of others, on

But he rejects the notion that this historical course is either necessary
or progressive in the Russian case:

"In the Western case, then, one form of private property is transformed
into another form of private property. In the case of the Russian peasants,
however, their communal property would have to be transformed into private
property. The analysis in Capital therefore provides no reasons either for
or against the vitality of the Russian commune. But the special study I
have made of it, including a search for original source-material, has
convinced me that the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in
Russia. But in order that it might function as such, the harmful influences
assailing it on all sides must first be eliminated, and it must then be
assured the normal conditions for spontaneous development."

The commune, a precapitalist formation which the "orthodox" Marxists
regarded as an obstacle that had to be superseded, is in Marx's words, a
"fulcrum for social regeneration", a euphemism for revolution. The "harmful
influences" he is referring to is the spread of private property in the
countryside. Marx was not a "stagist".

Louis Proyect

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