[Marxism] Robert Brenner responds

Lil Joe joe_radical at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 2 00:32:24 MST 2004

>From Marx:
What is society, irrespective of its form? The product of man's interaction
upon man. Is man free to choose this or that form of society? By no means.
If you assume a given state of development of man's productive faculties,
you will have a corresponding form of commerce and consumption. If you
assume given stages of development in production, commerce or consumption,
you will have a corresponding form of social constitution, a corresponding
organisation, whether of the family, of the estates or of the classes—in a
word, a corresponding civil society. If you assume this or that civil
society, you will have this or that political system, which is but the
official expression of civil society.
Man never renounces what he has gained, but this does not mean that he never
renounces the form of society in which he has acquired certain productive
forces. On the contrary. If he is not to he deprived of the results obtained
or to forfeit the fruits of civilisation, man is compelled to change all his
traditional social forms as soon as the mode of commerce ceases to
correspond to the productive forces acquired. Here I use the word commerce
in its widest sense—as we would say Verkehr in German. For instance,
privilege, the institution of guilds and corporations, the regulatory system
of the Middle Ages, were the only social relations that corresponded to the
acquired productive forces and to the pre-existing social conditions front
which those institutions had emerged. Protected by the corporative and
regulatory system, capital had accumulated, maritime trade had expanded,
colonies had been founded—and man would have lost the very fruits of all
this had he wished to preserve the forms under whose protection those fruits
had ripened. And, indeed, two thunderclaps occurred,the revolutions of 1640
and of 1688. In England, all the earlier economic forms, the social
relations corresponding to them, and the political system which was the
official expression of the old civil society, were destroyed. Thus, the
economic forms in which man produces, consumes and exchanges are transitory
and historical. With the acquisition of new productive faculties man changes
his mode of production and with the mode of production he changes all the
economic relations which were but the necessary relations of that particular
mode of production.

>From Lenin (1918)

Yesterday, the main task of the moment was, as determinedly as possible, to
nationalise, confiscate, beat down and crush the bourgeoisie, and put down
sabotage. Today, only a blind man could fail to see that we have
nationalised, confiscated, beaten down and put down more than we have had
time to count. The difference between socialisation and simple confiscation
is that confiscation can be carried out by “determination” alone, without
the ability to calculate and distribute properly, whereas socialisation
cannot be brought about without this ability.

The historical service we have rendered is that yesterday we were determined
(and we shall be tomorrow) in confiscating, in beating down the bourgeoisie,
in putting down sabotage. To write about this today in “theses on the
present situation” is to fix one’s eyes on the past and to fail to
understand the transition to the future.

“. . . To put down sabotage completely. . . .” What a task they have found!
Our saboteurs are quite sufficiently “put down”. What we lack is something
quite different. We lack the proper calculation of which saboteurs to set to
work and where to place them. We lack the organisation of our own forces
that is needed for, say, one Bolshevik leader or controller to be able to
supervise a hundred saboteurs who are now coming into our service. When that
is how matters stand, to flaunt such phrases as “a most determined policy of
socialisation”, “routing”, and “completely putting down” is just missing the
mark. It is typical of the petty-bourgeois revolutionary not to notice that
routing, putting down, etc., is not enough for socialism. It is sufficient
for a small proprietor enraged against a big proprietor. But no proletarian
revolutionary would ever fall into such error.

If the words we have quoted provoke a smile, the following discovery made by
the “Left Communists” will provoke nothing short of Homeric laughter.
According to them, under the “Bolshevik deviation to the right” the Soviet
Republic is threatened with “evolution towards state capitalism”. They have
really frightened us this time! And with what gusto these “Left Communists”
repeat this threatening revelation in their theses and articles. . . .

It has not occurred to them that state capitalism would be a step forward as
compared with the present state of affairs in our Soviet Republic. If in
approximately six months’ time state capitalism became established in our
Republic, this would be a great success and a sure guarantee that within a
year socialism will have gained a permanently firm hold and will have become
invincible in our country.

I can imagine with what noble indignation a “Left Communist” will recoil
from these words, and what “devastating criticism” he will make to the
workers against the “Bolshevik deviation to the right”. What! Transition to
state capitalism in the Soviet Socialist Republic would be a step forward?.
. . Isn’t this the betrayal of socialism?

Here we come to the root of the economic mistake of the “Left Communists”.
And that is why we must deal with this point in greater detail.

Firstly, the “Left Communists” do not understand what kind of transition it
is from capitalism to socialism that gives us the right and the grounds to
call our country the Socialist Republic of Soviets.

Secondly, they reveal their petty-bourgeois mentality precisely by not
recognising the petty-bourgeois element as the principal enemy of socialism
in our country.

Thirdly, in making a bugbear of “state capitalism”, they betray their
failure to understand that the Soviet state differs from the bourgeois state

Let us examine these three points.

No one, I think, in studying the question of the economic system of Russia,
has denied its transitional character. Nor, I think, has any Communist
denied that the term Socialist Soviet Republic implies the determination of
Soviet power to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the new
economic system is recognised as a socialist order.

But what does the word “transition” mean? Does it not mean, as applied to an
economy, that the present system contains elements, particles, fragments of
both capitalism and socialism? Everyone will admit that it does. But not all
who admit this take the trouble to consider what elements actually
constitute the various socio-economic structures that exist in Russia at the
present time. And this is the crux of the question.

Let us enumerate these elements:

1) patriarchal, i.e., to a considerable extent natural, peasant farming;

2) small commodity production (this Includes the majority of those peasants
who sell their grain);

3) private capitalism;

4) state capitalism;

5) socialism.

Russia is so vast and so varied that all these different types of
socio-economic structures are intermingled. This is what constitutes the
specific features of the situation.

The question arises: what elements predominate? Clearly in a small-peasant
country, the petty-bourgeois element predominates and it must predominate,
for the great majority of those working the land are small commodity
producers. The shell of our state capitalism (grain monopoly, state
controlled entrepreneurs and traders, bourgeois co-operators) is pierced now
in one place, now in another by profiteers, the chief object of profiteering
being grain.

It is in this field that the main struggle is being waged. Between what
elements is this struggle being waged if we are to speak in terms of
economic categories such as “state capitalism"? Between the fourth and the
fifth in the order in which I have just enumerated them. Of course not. It
is not state capitalism that is at war with socialism, but the petty
bourgeoisie plus private capitalism fighting together against both state
capitalism and socialism. The petty bourgeoisie oppose every kind of state
interference, accounting and control, whether it be state capitalist or
state socialist. This is an absolutely unquestionable fact of reality, and
the root of the economic mistake of the “Left Communists” is that they have
failed to understand it. The profiteer, the commercial racketeer, the
disrupter of monopoly—these are our principal “internal” enemies, the
enemies of the economic measures of Soviet power. A hundred and twenty-five
years ago it might have been excusable for the French petty bourgeoisie, the
most ardent and sincere revolutionaries, to try to crush the profiteer by
executing a few of the “chosen” and by making thunderous declamations.
Today, however, the purely rhetorical attitude to this question assumed by
some Left Socialist-Revolutionaries can rouse nothing but disgust and
revulsion in every politically conscious revolutionary. We know perfectly
well that the economic basis of profiteering is both the small proprietors,
who are exceptionally widespread in Russia, and private capitalism, of which
every petty bourgeois is an agent. We know that the million tentacles of
this petty-bourgeois hydra now and again encircle various sections of the
workers, that, instead of state monopoly, profiteering forces its way into
every pore of our social and economic organism.
At present, petty-bourgeois capitalism prevails in Russia, and it is one and
the same road that leads from it to both large-scale state capitalism and to
socialism, through one and the same intermediary station called “national
accounting and control of production and distribution”. Those who fail to
understand this are committing an unpardonable mistake in economics. Either
they do not know the facts of life, do not see what actually exists and are
unable to look the truth in the face, or they confine themselves to
abstractly comparing “capitalism” with “socialism” and fail to study the
concrete forms and stages of the transition that is taking place in our
country. Let it be said in parenthesis that this is the very theoretical
mistake which misled the best people in the Novaya Zhizn and Vperyod camp.
The worst and the mediocre of these, owing to their stupidity and
spinelessness, tag along behind the bourgeoisie, of whom they stand in awe.
The best of them have failed to understand that it was not without reason
that the teachers of socialism spoke of a whole period of transition from
capitalism to socialism and emphasised the “prolonged birth pangs” of the
new society. And this new society is again an abstraction which can come
into being only by passlng through a series of varied, imperfect concrete
attempts to create this or that socialist state.

It is because Russia cannot advance from the economic situation now existing
here without traversing the ground which is common to state capitalism and
to socialism (national accounting and control) that the attempt to frighten
others as well as themselves with “evolution towards state capitalism”
(Kommunist No. 1, p. 8, col. 1) is utter theoretical nonsense. This is
letting one’s thoughts wander away from the true road of “evolution”, and
failing to understand what this road is. In practice, it is equivalent to
pulling us back to small proprietary capitalism.

In order to convince the reader that this is not the first time I have given
this “high” appreciation of state capitalism and that I gave it before the
Bolsheviks seized power I take the liberty of quoting the following passage
from my pamphlet The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It , written in
September 1917.

“. . . Try to substitute for the Junker-capitalist state, for the
landowner-capitalist state, a revolutionary-democratic state, i.e., a state
which in a revolutionary way abolishes all privileges and does not fear to
introduce the fullest democracy in a revolutionary way. You will find that,
given a really revolutionary-democratic state, state-monopoly capitalism
inevitably and unavoidably implies a step, and more than one step, towards

“. . . For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist

“. . . State-monopoly capitalism is a complete material preparation for
socialism, the threshold of socialism, a rung on the ladder of history
between which and the rung called socialism there are no intermediate
ruugs ” (pages 27 and 28)

Please note that this was written when Kerensky was in power, that we are
discussing not the dictatorship of the proletariat, not the socialist state,
but the “revolutionary-democratic” state. Is it not clear that the higher we
stand on this political ladder, the more completely we incorporate the
socialist state and the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviets, the
less ought we to fear “state capitalism"? Is it not clear that from the
material, economic and productive point of view, we are not yet on “the
threshold” of socialism? Is it not clear that we cannot pass through the
door of socialism without crossing “the threshold” we have not yet reached?

>From whatever side we approach the question, only one conclusion can be
drawn: the argument of the “Left Communists” about the “state capitalism”
which is alleged to be threatening us is an utter mistake in economics and
is evident proof that they are complete slaves of petty-bourgeois ideology.

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