Paresh Chattopadhyay on the economic ideas of Lenin's, as opposed to Marx's socialism.
Economic Content of Socialism in Lenin
Is It the Same as in Marx?
Economic and Political Weekly (Bombay) January 26, 1991.
In the following lines we propose to discuss critically how Lenin conceived of socialism as a new form of society and to what extent his concept of socialism could be considered Marxian. As the title of the paper indicates, we shall be concerned here basically with the economic content of socialism considered purely as a theoretical category. It should be emphasised that we are not concerned here with the (practical) policies Lenin pursued, before or after October 1917, towards the realisation of socialism. Ours is an exercise in pure theory.
In what follows, Section I summarises Lenin's main ideas on socialism's economic content, Section II examines these ideas in the light of Marx's writings on the subject, while Section III concludes the paper.
The discussion of socialism considered as a specific economic-social formation does not figure much in Lenin's writings as a theoretical category before 1917. Even then it is difficult to accept the statement of a contemporary Hungarian economist that "prior to the 1917 socialist revolution Lenin made only sporadic allusions to the pattern of the socialist economy".(1) True, beginning with the Bolshevik seizure of political power in October 1917, the problem of building a socialist economy in his country increasingly preoccupied Lenin's mind. However, while this preoccupation concerned socialism's implementation in practice, Lenin's most comprehensive discussion of socialism as a purely theoretical category—particularly with respect to its economic content—antedates the October seizure of power and is found mainly in the famous pamphlet The State and Revolution, unfinished though its composition was. On the other hand, in Lenin's post-October writings there appear important theoretical formulations on socialism. Here we shall be trying to touch upon what we consider to be Lenin's most significant writings on the socialist economy, before and after October 1917, and we shall be paying particular attention to the relevant discussion in The State and Revolution.
Lenin makes a distinction between socialism and communism as well as identifies socialism with what is already, according to Marx, the "first phase of communism". Thus he holds that "from capitalism mankind can pass directly only to socialism" and that "socialism must inevitably grow...gradually into communism".(2) Similarly, after posing the question, "what is communism and what distinguishes it from socialism?", he answers that communism is a "higher social form" compared to socialism, the latter being the "first form of the new society".(3) On the other hand, Lenin explicitly identifies 'socialism' with Marx's "first phase of communism",(4) while referring, at the same time, to the "scientific distinction between socialism and communism".(5) Consistently with the latter argument he speaks of two distinct "transitions", one "from capitalism to socialism" and the other "from socialism to
Coming to socialism itself, Lenin conceives it as a system of "social ownership of the means of production and the distribution of products according to the measure of each one's labour".(7) By "social ownership of the means of production" or, alternatively, "the common ownership of the whole of society over the means of production",(8) Lenin means—negatively speaking—the abolition of "private ownership of the means of. production",(9) where, again, by "private ownership" he means "private ownership of separate persons (otdel'nykh lits)".(10) In socialism "the means of production have ceased to be the private ownership of separate persons, the means of production belong to the whole society".(11) Positively speaking, "social ownership of the means of production" signifies for Lenin "the means of production belonging to the working class state power", or "the ownership of the means of production being in the hands of the (working class) state", as he puts it in one of his articles.(12) He calls the enterprises as being of "consequent socialist type" when these, including the land on which these are situated, "belong to the (working class) state".(13)
Continuing on the transformation of the property form, Lenin observes that under socialism, since "it will be impossible to usurp the means of production and turn them into private property, the exploitation of individual by individual will be impossible".(14)
As regards the distribution relations in socialism—understood as Marx's "first phase of communism"—Lenin, paraphrasing Marx's 'Marginal Notes' of 1875, observes that "every member of society, performing a certain part of the socially-necessary labour, receives from society a certificate to the effect that he/she has done a certain amount of labour". Then, "after a deduction is made of the amount of labour going to the public fund" every labourer receives, against the certificate, a corresponding amount of products from the public store of consumer goods and thus "receives from society as much as he/she has given to it". Following Marx textually, Lenin points out that this "equal right" of the labourer, being an application of an equal measure to different people, in fact implies inequality and hence does not cross the "narrow horizon of bourgeois right". Lenin infers that this "bourgeois right" in socialism necessitates the presence of the "bourgeois state" to enforce it, of course "without the bourgeoisie".(15)
Lenin further observes, referring to the "first phase of communism", that since communism cannot yet be entirely free from traditions or vestiges of capitalism, there will be (in its first phase) "equality of all members of society (only) in relation to ownership of the means of production, that is, equality of labour and wages".(16) But somewhat differently, in the first phase of the communist society "all citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state...that is, a single country-wide state syndicate...with equality of labour and pay". (17)
Finally, as regards exchange relations, Lenin excludes commodity production from socialism. The end of capitalism would signify for him "the elimination of commodity production",(18) and in the new social order "organised and state-wide distribution of products" is to be "substituted for commerce".(19) In the same way the Party Programme adopted in 1919 under his direct guidance emphasises the need for "applying measures for extending accounting without money and for preparing the elimination of money".(20)
Now Lenin's position that we have cited here—namely, the incompatibility of socialism with commodity production—refers to his texts composed before the start of the 'New Economic Policy' (NEP) (in 1921). There is a fairly widespread view that this position changed in his writings beginning with NEP, and that in these writings Lenin emphasised commodity production's compatibility with, if not its necessity under, socialism.(21) This view, we submit, is not quite correct.
What changed in Lenin's perspective in the period after the so-called 'War Communism' was not his basic position on commodity production in relation to socialism but rather the way he envisaged such production in relation to the transition to socialism. Indeed, as can be seen from Lenin's writings and speeches after the period of 'War Communism', his sole preoccupation during the last years of his life is with the specific problems of arriving at socialism—in the absence of proletarian revolutions in western Europe—in the situation of Russia's backward economy marked strongly by traits of pre-capitalism.
Lenin admits earlier policy mistakes of the Bolshevik leadership in this regard. "We", he writes on the fourth anniversary of October, "reckoned on establishing—directly commanded by the proletarian state—the state production and distribution of products on communist lines in a small-peasant country. Life has shown our mistake." Now he realises that in a "small-peasant country" (like Russia) socialism has to be reached "by way of state capitalism"—"led" by the "wholesale merchant".(22) Lenin asks the party, in the "contemporary transitional economy from capitalism to socialism",(23) to "grasp trade as the link...in the transitional forms of [our] socialist contribution...to create the foundation for socialist social-economic relations".(24) When Lenin says that "commodity exchange with the peasantry" forms "the economic foundation of socialism",(25) he seems to mean that commodity production and exchange are the elements not of socialism itself but they serve as "mediating links" for the "transition from patriarchalism and small production to socialism",(26) as "firm footbridges to socialism through state capitalism".(27) On the contrary, "the socialist exchange of products", Lenin emphasises, "are not commodities in the politico-economic sense of the term".(28)
When, in one of his last compositions, Lenin asserts that "there has been a radical change in our whole point of view on socialism", this "change" has little to do with Lenin's basic position on commodity production in the future society. This "change" rather refers to the new emphasis on the "growth of co-operation" and the necessity of "cultural revolution'—away from the earlier preoccupation with the "winning of political power"—for "an advance to socialism" (pereiti K sotsializmu) requiring a "whole historical epoch".(29)