Reformism or Revolution: 8. Socialism or Stalinism?

Throughout his book Dieterich fails to distinguish seriously between genuine socialism and Stalinism. Alan Woods puts the record straight.

Socialism and democracy

Since the fall of the USSR a whole new literary-historical genre has been born. More than a genre, it is a whole new industry, and moreover, it is an industry with a very satisfactory rate of profit. Every year a new pile of books and articles pours onto the market, each one with "new and startling revelations" about Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. The purpose of this new and profitable line of production is quite clear. It is not at all to serve the interests of historical truth or to advance scientific research: it is to blacken the name of the leaders of the Russian Revolution and to cover them with dirt. Hugo Chávez has stated many times that his conception of socialism in the 21st century has nothing in common with the bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature of socialism that existed in the Soviet Union under Stalin and Brezhnev. But that also had nothing in common with the ideas of Marx and Lenin, which were profoundly democratic.

Reformism or Revolution
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In his television programme Aló Presidente of 27th March, 2005, Hugo Chávez explained that he stood for socialism and a participatory democracy in accordance "with the original ideas of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels." The President's words are quite clear. How did Marx and Engels view the question of democracy? The founders of scientific socialism did not invent schemes for the new society, as Comrade Dieterich attempts to do. They based themselves on the real movement of the working class, in particular, the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871.

Marx explained that the workers cannot simply lay hold of the old state apparatus and use it to change society. He developed his theory of workers' power in The Civil War in France: Address of the General Council of the International Working Men's Association, 1871. What is the essence of this theory? Marx pointed out that the old state could not serve as an instrument to change society. It had to be destroyed and replaced with a new state power - a workers' state - that would be completely different to the old state machine, "the centralized state power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature". It would be a semi-state, to use Marx's expression, dedicated to its own disappearance:

"The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members was naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.

"Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workman's wage. The vested interests and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves. Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of the Central Government. Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the state was laid into the hands of the Commune.

"Having once got rid of the standing army and the police - the physical force elements of the old government - the Commune was anxious to break the spiritual force of repression, the ‘parson-power', by the disestablishment and disendowment of all churches as proprietary bodies. The priests were sent back to the recesses of private life, there to feed upon the alms of the faithful in imitation of their predecessors, the apostles." [1]

This bears absolutely no relation to the bureaucratic totalitarian regime of Stalinist Russia where the state was a monstrous repressive power standing above society. Even the word "dictatorship" in Marx's day had an entirely different connotation to that which we attach to it today. After the experience of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Pinochet the word dictatorship signifies concentration camps, the Gestapo and the KGB. But Marx actually had in mind the dictatorship of the Roman Republic, whereby in a state of emergency (usually war) the usual mechanisms of democracy were temporarily suspended and a dictator ruled for a temporary period with exceptional powers.

The Paris Commune was a very democratic form of popular government. Lenin and the Bolsheviks modelled the Soviet state on the same lines after the October Revolution. The workers took power through the soviets, which were the most democratic organs of popular representation ever invented. Despite the conditions of terrible backwardness in Russia the working class enjoyed democratic rights. The 1919 Party Programme specified that "all the working masses without exception must be induced to take part in the work of state administration". Direction of the planned economy was to be mainly in the hands of the trade unions. This document was immediately translated into all the main languages of the world and widely distributed. However, by the time of the purges in 1936 it was already regarded as a dangerous document and all copies of it were quietly removed from all libraries and bookshops in the USSR.

The state and revolution

These Marxist principles were followed by Lenin in the Russian Revolution. In one of his most famous books, State and Revolution, written in the revolutionary days of 1917, Lenin laid down the four conditions for Soviet power - not for Socialism or Communism, but for the first days of workers' power. Using the Paris Commune as a prototype, Lenin argued for the abolition of parliamentarism by turning "representative institutions from mere ‘talking shops' into working bodies". This would be done by removing the "division of labour between the legislative and the executive."

1) "All officials, without exception, to be elected and subject to recall at any time" and so "directly responsible to their constituents." "Democracy means equality." [2]

2) The "immediate introduction of control and superintendence by all, so that all shall become ‘bureaucrats' for a time and so that, therefore, no one can become a ‘bureaucrat'." Proletarian democracy would "take immediate steps to cut bureaucracy down to the roots [...] to the complete abolition of bureaucracy" since the "essence of bureaucracy" is officials becoming transformed "into privileged persons divorced from the masses and superior to the masses." [3]

3) There should be no special bodies of armed men standing apart from the people "since the majority of the people itself suppresses its oppressors, a ‘special force' is no longer necessary." Using the example of the Paris Commune, Lenin suggested this meant "abolition of the standing army." Instead there would be the "armed masses."

4) The new workers' state would be "the organization of violence for the suppression of ... the exploiting class, i.e. the bourgeoisie. The toilers need a state only to overcome the resistance of the exploiters" who are "an insignificant minority", that is "the landlords and the capitalists". This would see "an immense expansion of democracy ... for the poor, democracy for the people" while, simultaneously, imposing "a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists ... their resistance must be broken by force: it is clear that where is suppression there is also violence, there is no freedom, no democracy." [4]

For Lenin, as we see, the dictatorship of the proletariat signified the introduction of complete democracy for the people. The new workers' state would no longer be a state in the old sense but a semi-state, destined to gradually disappear as society advanced to socialism and a free association of producers. It is true that, under difficult conditions where the revolution was isolated amidst terrible backwardness, hunger and illiteracy, there were inevitable distortions. As early as 1920 Lenin said that "ours is a workers' state with bureaucratic deformations". But these were relatively small deformations, and nothing like the monstrous regime later established by Stalin.

The first condition for the establishment of a real workers' democracy is the active participation of the masses in the revolution from the very beginning. A revolution by its very essence is the work of the masses and can only succeed to the degree that it mobilizes and arms the masses. In November 1917 Lenin wrote an appeal in Pravda: "Comrades, working people! Remember that now you yourselves are at the helm of state. No one will help you if you yourselves do not unite and take into your hands all affairs of state. Get on with the job yourselves; begin right at the bottom, do not wait for anyone." [5]

In December 1917 Lenin wrote: "One of the most important tasks of today, if not the most important, is to develop [the] independent initiative of the workers, and of all the working and exploited people generally, develop it as widely as possible in creative organizational work. At all costs we must break the old, absurd, savage, despicable and disgusting prejudice that only the so-called upper classes, only the rich, and those who have gone through the school of the rich, are capable of administering the state and directing the organizational development of socialist society." [6]

There are hundreds of similar passages in Lenin's writings that express the same idea: that socialism, from the very beginning, must be built up by the workers themselves, by the creative initiative of the masses. These lines show how anxious Lenin was for the masses to involve themselves in the running of industry and the state. It is true that in the end the workers lost control of the state, but not because of any inherent error in the ideas of Marx and Lenin, but as the result of adverse objective conditions.

The real cause of the problems faced by the Bolsheviks was the isolation of the revolution. Lenin and Trotsky formed the Communist International in 1919 as a means of breaking out of this isolation. This was the only way forward. The 1919 Party Programme was written in terms of uncompromising proletarian internationalism. It started from the premise that the era of the world-wide proletarian revolution had begun. It explained that "deprivation of political rights and any kind of limitation of freedom are necessary as temporary measures" due to war and that "the Party will aim to replace and completely abolish them". But this aim was postponed by the invasion of the Soviet state by 21 armies of foreign intervention that plunged the country into a bloodbath.

In the period of so-called War Communism the military defence of the Revolution was paramount. The millions who enrolled into the Red Army had to be fed and clothed. Requisitioning was vital if the workers and soldiers were to survive. The whole of Soviet society was put on a war footing. The so-called policy of War Communism represented a desperate and heroic attempt to defend the revolution against all the odds.

On the 7th March 1918, Lenin weighed up the situation: "Regarded from the world-historical point of view, there would doubtlessly be no hope of the ultimate victory of our revolution if it were to remain alone, if there were no revolutionary movements in other countries. When the Bolshevik Party tackled the job alone, it did so in the firm conviction that the revolution was maturing in all countries and that in the end - but not at the very beginning - no matter what difficulties we experienced, no matter what defeats were in store for us, the world socialist revolution would come - because it is coming; would mature - because it is maturing and will reach full maturity. I repeat, our salvation from all these difficulties is an all-European revolution." [7]

He then concluded: "At all events, under all conceivable circumstances, if the German Revolution does not come, we are doomed." [8] Weeks later he repeated the same position: "Our backwardness has put us in the front-line, and we shall perish unless we are capable of holding out until we shall receive powerful support from workers who have risen in revolt in other countries." [9]

The main task was to hold on to power for as long as possible. Lenin never envisaged the prolonged isolation of the Soviet state. Either the isolation would be broken or the Soviet regime would be doomed. Everything depended upon the world revolution. Its delay created enormous difficulties that were to have profound consequences. Instead of the withering away of the state, the opposite process took place. On the basis of destitution aggravated by the civil war and economic blockade, the struggle for individual existence, to use Marx's phrase, did not disappear or soften, but assumed in succeeding years an unheard of ferocity. Rather than building on the foundations of the most advanced capitalism, the Soviet regime was attempting to overcome pre-capitalist problems. The task became "catch up with Europe and America". This was very far from the lower stage of communism envisaged by Marx. The Bolsheviks were forced to tackle economic and cultural problems that had long ago been solved in the West. Lenin once declared that socialism was "Soviet power plus electrification" to illustrate the basic task at hand.

The terrible backwardness of Russia, coupled with the isolation of the revolution, began to bear down on the Soviet working class. Civil war, famine and physical exhaustion forced them into political apathy and gave rise to increasing bureaucratic deformations in the state and party. International assistance was vital to ensure the survival of the young Soviet republic. All the Bolsheviks could do was to hold on to power - despite all the odds - for as long as possible until assistance came from the West. "History gives nothing free of cost," wrote Trotsky in 1923. "Having made a reduction on one point - in politics - it makes us pay the more on another - in culture. The more easily (comparatively, of course) did the Russian proletariat pass through the revolutionary crisis, the harder becomes now its socialist constructive work." [10]

From War Communism to the NEP

Lenin's uncompromising internationalism was not the product of sentimental utopianism, but on the contrary, of a realistic appraisal of the situation. Lenin was well aware that the material conditions for socialism did not exist in Russia, but they did exist on a world scale. The world socialist revolution would prevent the revival of those barbarous features of class society, which Marx referred to as "all the old crap" by guaranteeing at its inception a higher development than capitalist society. This was the reason why Lenin placed such strong emphasis on the perspective of international revolution, and why he devoted so much time and energy to the building of the Communist International.

Quite rapidly on the basis of a world wide plan of production and a new world division of labour, this would give rise to a mighty impulse to the productive forces. Science and modern technique would be used to harness nature and turn deserts into fertile plains. All the destruction of the planet and the appalling waste of capitalism would be brought to an end. Within a generation or so the material basis for socialism would be laid.

Over time, the tremendous growth of production would eliminate all material inequality and provide for a superabundance of things that would universally raise the quality of life to unheard-of levels. All the basic human needs would be satisfied by such a planned world economy. As a consequence, classes would dissolve into society, together with the last vestiges of class society - money and the state. This would give rise to genuine communism and the replacement of the domination of man by man with the administration of things, to use Engels' expression.

Yet the overthrow of capitalism did not follow this pattern. Rather than the working class coming to power in the advanced industrial countries, the capitalist system was to break, in Lenin's words, "at its weakest link". Weak Russian capitalism paid the price for the bankruptcy of world capitalism. The Russian bourgeois had come on to the historic stage too late and was incapable of carrying through the tasks of the national-democratic revolution, which had been carried through long ago in the West.

However, through the law of uneven and combined development, foreign capital had established the largest and most modern industries in the cities of Russia, uprooting the peasantry and creating a proletariat virtually overnight. This new working class, on the basis of experience, was to look towards the most modern ideas of the workers' movement that reflected its needs - Marxism - and was the first proletariat to carry through the socialist revolution to a conclusion.

The fact that Russia was a backward country would not have been a problem if such a revolution had been a prelude to a successful world socialist revolution. That was the aim of the Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky. Internationalism was no sentimental gesture, but was rooted in the international character of capitalism and the class struggle. In the words of Trotsky: "Socialism is the organization of a planned and harmonious social production for the satisfaction of human wants. Collective ownership of the means of production is not yet socialism, but only its legal premise. The problem of a socialist society cannot be abstracted from the problem of the productive forces, which at the present stage of human development are worldwide in their very essence." [11]

Lenin and the Bolshevik Party never envisaged the Russian Revolution as a self-sufficient act, but as the beginning of the world socialist revolution. The Russian Revolution acted as a beacon to the workers of the world. In particular, it gave a mighty impetus to the German Revolution. But the cowardice of the Social Democratic leaders in Western Europe led to the defeat of the revolution in Germany, Italy and other countries, and the isolation of the Russian Revolution in conditions of appalling backwardness. Already by 1919 the number of industrial workers declined to 76 percent of the 1917 level, while that of building workers fell to 66 percent, railway workers to 63 percent. The figure for industrial workers generally fell to less than half from three million in 1917 to 1,240,000 in 1920. The population of Petrograd alone fell from 2,400,000 in 1917 to 574,000 in August 1920.

Under these circumstances, the Stalinist political counter-revolution became inevitable. The bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution did not emerge from some theoretical flaw in Bolshevism, but from crushing backwardness. The young Soviet Republic had been saved by international working class solidarity, but isolation was the cause of enormous cost and suffering. The Russian working class was stretched to breaking point. Physically exhausted and numerically weakened, it was faced with insurmountable cultural, economic and social obstacles. Herculean efforts were needed simply to hold out against imperialist encirclement.

Lenin had an honest and realistic attitude to the terrible problems that the Russian proletariat faced as a result of isolation and backwardness. In January 1919, he explained in a speech to the Russian trade unions: "The workers were never separated by a Great Wall of China from the old society. And they have preserved a good deal of the traditional mentality of capitalist society. The workers are building a new society without themselves having become new people, or cleansed of the filth of the old world; they are still standing up to their knees in that filth. We can only dream of clearing the filth away. It would be utterly utopian to think this could be done all at once. It would be so utopian that in practice it would only postpone socialism to kingdom come." [12]

Under the immensely difficult conditions that followed the Civil War, the Bolsheviks were compelled to make a tactical retreat, making concessions to the market and to the rich peasants (kulaks). This was the origin of the New Economic Policy. Within a short space of time industry began to revive. Production doubled in 1922 and 1923, although from a low base, and had managed to reach its pre-war level by 1926. Harvests were modestly increasing. The NEP had provided a breathing space, but the market had brought increasing social differentiation in its wake.

This retreat was completely justified, with increased production as a consequence, but it also gave rise to restorationist dangers with the enrichment of those hostile to socialism in town and country. The growth of the nascent bourgeois elements - the NEPmen and kulaks - was a by-product of this new policy. Alongside the re-emergence of class divisions, the rising bureaucracy in the state and party began to flex its muscles, hoping to consolidate and extend its position and influence. Under these conditions, the growth of these alien class and bureaucratic elements represented a mortal danger to the Revolution. Out of the continued isolation of the workers' state arose the threat of an internal bureaucratic degeneration.

Defending these concessions at the Tenth Congress, Lenin referred to the crushing pressure of the peasant masses on the working class as "a far greater danger than all the Denikins, Kolchaks, and Yudenichs [counter-revolutionary generals] put together. It would be fatal," he continued, "to be deluded on this score! The difficulties stemming from the petty-bourgeois element are enormous, and if they are to be overcome, we must have greater unity, and I don't just mean a resemblance of unity. We must all pull together with a single will, for in a peasant country only the will of the mass of the proletarians will enable the proletariat to accomplish the great task of its leadership and dictatorship. Assistance is on its way from the Western European countries but it is not coming quickly enough. Still it is coming and growing." [13]

Lenin, as always, put the matter clearly and honestly. The retreat of the NEP had been dictated by the enormous pressure of the peasantry on the workers' state, isolated by the delay of the socialist revolution in the West. Lenin always referred to it as a temporary state of affairs, a breathing space, before the next dramatic developments of the international socialist revolution. But he was also acutely aware of the dangers that lay on that road, especially the dangers of a revival of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements with the growth of the market economy:

"This peril - the development of small production and of the petty-bourgeois in the rural areas - is an extremely serious one," Lenin warned the Tenth Congress. In answer to those who were inclined to complacency, Lenin emphasised the point: "Do we have classes? Yes we do. Do we have a class struggle? Yes and a most furious one!" [14] These were the pressing considerations that induced Lenin to ban factions in the Party at the Tenth Congress. The reasons are given in the passage quoted from Lenin above, which clearly explains that this extraordinary measure was dictated by the dangers of alien class pressure expressing themselves through groups in the Party and was of a temporary character.

Dieterich and the Russian Revolution

We have grown accustomed to the slanders of the bourgeois and right wing reformists against the Russian Revolution, but over the past two decades there has been a new addition to the anti-communist chorus: the "theoretical" works of the ex-Stalinists who attempt to justify themselves by renouncing Marxist communism and all its works. These works fall into two broad categories: those who openly renounce Marxism and Leninism, and those who do so under false pretences. Heinz Dieterich belongs to the latter category. In an interview in the magazine Revista Mariátegui dated 2/2/2007, we read:

"Q. In your opinion, has there been any socialist country in the modern era?

"A. It depends on the criteria that are used for such judgment. As a scientific economist and sociologist, I prefer the parameters that Marx and Engels used: economy of value and participatory democracy. And under those criteria, there has been no socialist society since the French Revolution, although, yes, there have been many heroic and tragic attempts to achieve it."

We read with incredulity the statement that "there has been no socialist society since the French Revolution". Does that mean that the French Revolution was a socialist Revolution? Or that there was perhaps a socialist society before the French Revolution? We do not know, and comrade Dieterich, who specializes in imitating the Sphinx, has no desire to explain his mysterious utterances. In compensation for the lack of any explanation, he reminds us that he is not just an ordinary economist but a scientific economist and, if that were not enough, a sociologist as well. Well, that ought to be enough to silence even the most hardened sceptics!

The French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution. It was not and could not have been a socialist revolution because the means of production had not yet reached a sufficient level of development to achieve a classless society. Industry was as yet in its infancy and the working class was still in an embryonic state. The French Revolution of 1789-93 was carried out by the semi-proletarian and plebeian masses of Paris and the other big cities, with the support of the poor peasants. There were communist elements (as also in the English Revolution in the previous century). But these could not prevail. The masses did all the fighting but in the end the bourgeoisie enjoyed the fruits of the victory over the Ancien Régime.

The material conditions for socialism developed in Western Europe in the course of the 19th century. The rapid development of industry in England created the conditions for the growth of the working class, trade unions and political organizations. The Chartists were the first mass political movement of the working which fought for a programme of political democracy in the first half of the 19th century and were open to socialist and revolutionary ideas. The revolutions that swept the continent of Europe in 1848-49 for the first time showed the revolutionary potential of the working class and also revealed the complete bankruptcy of the bourgeois Liberals, who everywhere played a counter-revolutionary role.

The defeat of the revolutions in France, Germany, Austria and Hungary, paved the way for a further development of the productive forces under capitalism. This gave stability to the capitalist system, which was still in its phase of youthful vigour. The class struggle in England was in abeyance after the defeat of the Chartists. Engels later spoke of the "forty years' winter sleep of the English proletariat". The long delay of the socialist revolution had a material basis. Under these circumstances all the Historical Projects in the world would have made no difference.

The Paris Commune of 1871 was a proletarian revolution that led to the formation of the first workers' state in the world. This was not yet socialism. The Commune did not even nationalize the Bank of France - and this one of its main mistakes, as Marx pointed out. The Communards were crushed by the bourgeois counter-revolution and this prepared the way for a further development of capitalism.

There was a long period of capitalist expansion that lasted approximately from 1871 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. This was a period of "globalisation", with the invention of the telegraph and the steamship, and a massive expansion of the railways in the USA, Russia and other countries. It was also a period of imperialism, the enslavement of new colonies and increasing conflicts between the big imperialist powers.

In place of small workshops and "free enterprise" we had the concentration of capital, the formation of big cartels, the increasing domination of the banks and the export of capital. This gave rise to the phenomenon that Lenin described as combined and uneven development. The colonial and semi-colonial countries imported finished goods and capital and exported raw materials. Imperialism had at its disposal a vast army of colonial slaves producing surplus value at far higher rates than the workers at home and thus creating super-profits.

This was exploitation on a grand scale and was precisely based upon unequal exchange - the exchange of more labour for less. This unequal exchange on the world market exists to the present day and is the main mechanism whereby the imperialist countries continue to exploit and plunder the former colonies, even when the latter have long ago achieved formal independence.

In the past, comrade Dieterich had illusions in Stalinism. He still speaks of the former Stalinist economies as "real socialism" and "really existing socialism". Only now he has had second thoughts since 1989. The Soviet Union has collapsed, so it is no longer really existing. Therefore, he simply declares the whole "project" impossible. This is what the Germans call "throwing out the baby with the bath water". In one of his articles, comrade Dieterich gives us a brief lesson on the Russian Revolution. It is very brief. In fact he disposes of in four lines:

"At the fall of the bourgeois-tsarist power in (1917) revolutionary theory had to accomplish three tasks: a) explain the real events, b) conceptualise the necessary economic, military, cultural and political institutions of the future and, c) legitimate the policies of the vanguard (party) to the majority." [15]

Once more Heinz Dieterich poses the question in idealist terms. The task of the Bolsheviks after the overthrow of Tsarism was not to conceptualize "institutions of the future", but to actually carry out the socialist transformation of society under extremely difficult objective conditions. The institutions whereby the working class took power and administrated society did not have to be conceptualized in theory because they already existed in practice. The soviets, which were born as extended strike committees in 1905 and re-emerged in February 1917, were never "conceptualized in theory". They were not anticipated in the writings of Marx, Engels or Lenin, but improvised by the workers themselves. Nobody told them to set up the soviets, they just did it.

To people like Dieterich it is unthinkable that the working class should be capable of achieving its own emancipation. They regard the workers as little children who must be led by the hand to the paradise of Socialism of the 21st Century by kindly intellectual ladies and gentlemen who, out of the goodness of their hearts, condescend to place themselves at the head of suffering humanity and lead it to Salvation. This has nothing in common with Marxism, which bases itself on the self-movement of the revolutionary proletariat. Marx said: the task of the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves. The Russian Revolution is the best proof of this assertion.

Of course, leadership is necessary, the party is necessary and theory is necessary. These things are necessary because the working class is not entirely homogeneous. There are more advanced layers and more backward layers. Marx pointed out that the working class without organization is only raw material for exploitation. It is necessary to group the most advanced elements of the class (the vanguard) in a revolutionary party that fights to win the leadership of the class as a whole. There is no contradiction between this and the assertion that the working class must emancipate itself, and the October Revolution completely confirms the truth of this.

Without the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky the Russian Revolution would not have taken place in 1917. Either a workers' dictatorship or fascist reaction: that is the way in which Lenin posed the alternatives in 1917. Without the struggle waged, in particular by Lenin, with all his immense personal authority, the movement would undoubtedly have fallen beneath the mailed fist of reaction. The same choice stands before the people of Venezuela and Bolivia now: either finish the revolutionary task that has been started - that means, expropriate the landlords and capitalists - or sooner or later you will be confronted by a counter-revolutionary overthrow.

Achievements of the Russian Revolution

Nowadays, it is fashionable to belittle the results achieved, or even to deny them altogether. Yet the slightest consideration of the facts leads us to a very different conclusion. Despite all the problems, deficiencies and crimes (which, incidentally, the history of capitalism furnishes us in great abundance), the most astonishing advances were achieved by the nationalized planned economy in the Soviet Union in what was, historically speaking, a remarkably short space of time.

The nationalized planned economy in the USSR furnished proof of the most extraordinary vitality for decades. Such a transformation is unprecedented in the annals of human history. The Revolution radically abolished private ownership of the means of production. For the first time in history, the viability of a nationalized planned economy was demonstrated, not in theory but in practice. Over one-sixth of the earth's surface, in a gigantic, unprecedented experiment, it was proved that it was possible to run society without capitalists, landowners and moneylenders.

Russia in 1917 was considerably more backward than Pakistan today. Under frightful conditions of economic, social and cultural backwardness, the regime of workers' democracy established by Lenin and Trotsky was replaced by the bureaucratic dictatorship of Stalin. This was a terrible reverse, signifying the liquidation of the political power of the working class, but not of the fundamental socio-economic conquests of October, the new property relations, which had their clearest expression in the nationalized planned economy.

The viability of the new productive system was put to a severe test in 1941-45, when the Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany with all the combined resources of Europe at its disposal. Despite the loss of 27 million lives, the USSR succeeded in defeating Hitler, and went on, after 1945, to reconstruct its shattered economy in a remarkably short space of time, transforming itself into the world's second power. From a backward, semi-feudal, mainly illiterate country in 1917, the USSR became a modern, developed economy, with a quarter of the world's scientists, a health and educational system equal or superior to anything found in the West, able to launch the first space satellite and put the first man into space.

Such astonishing advances, in a country that set out from a level more backward than Pakistan today, must give us pause for thought. One can sympathize with the ideals of the Bolshevik Revolution, or oppose them, but such a remarkable transformation in such a short space of time demands the attention of thinking people everywhere. In a period of 50 years, the USSR increased its gross domestic product nine times over.

Despite the terrible destruction of the Second World War, it increased its GDP five times over from 1945 to 1979. In 1950, the GDP of the USSR was only 33 percent that of the USA. By 1979, it was already 58 percent. By the late 1970s, the Soviet Union was a formidable industrial power, which in absolute terms had already overtaken the rest of the world in a whole series of key sectors. The USSR was the world's second biggest industrial producer after the USA and was the biggest producer of oil, steel, cement, asbestos, tractors, and many machine tools. The Soviet space programme was the envy of the world.

Nor is the full extent of the achievement expressed in these figures. All this was achieved without unemployment, which was virtually unknown in the Soviet Union. In fact, it was legally a crime. Moreover, for most of the post-war period, there was little or no inflation. The bureaucracy learned the truth of Trotsky's warning that "inflation is the syphilis of a planned economy". After the Second World War for most of the time the bureaucracy took care to ensure that inflation was kept under control. This was particularly the case with the prices of basic items of consumption. Before perestroika (reconstruction), the last time meat and dairy prices had been increased was in 1962 - twenty years earlier. The USSR had a balanced budget and even a small surplus every year. It is interesting to note that not a single Western government has succeeded in achieving this result (as the Maastricht conditions prove), just as they have not succeeded in achieving full employment and zero inflation, things which also existed in the Soviet Union. The Western critics of the Soviet Union kept very quiet about this, because it demonstrated the possibilities of even a transitional economy, never mind socialism.

Already in The German Ideology, written in 1845 to 1846, Marx and Engels explained that "...this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old crap would necessarily be reproduced..." [16]

By the phrase "all the old crap", Marx and Engels had in mind inequality, exploitation, oppression, corruption, bureaucracy, the state and all the other evils endemic in class society. Today, after the fall of Stalinism in Russia, the enemies of socialism try to show that the ideas of Marxism cannot be put into practice. They overlook the little detail that Russia before 1917 was an extremely backward country. Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who were quite well acquainted with the writings of Marx, were well aware that the material conditions for socialism were absent in Russia.

But Lenin and Trotsky never had the idea of a national revolution or "socialism in one country", and least of all in a backward country like Russia. The Bolsheviks took power in 1917 with the perspective of a world revolution. The October Revolution was a powerful impetus for the rest of Europe, beginning with Germany where the revolution could have succeeded had it not been for the cowardly betrayal of the social democratic leaders who saved capitalism. The world paid a terrible price for this crime, with the economic and social convulsions of the two decades between the wars, the triumph of Hitler in Germany, the civil war in Spain and finally the horrors of a new world war.

As Trotsky explains: "That socialization of the capitalist-created means of production is of tremendous economic benefit is today demonstrable not only in theory but also by the experiment of the USSR, not-withstanding the limitations of that experiment. True, capitalistic reactionaries, not without artifice, use Stalin's regime as a scarecrow against the ideas of socialism. As a matter of fact, Marx never said that socialism could be achieved in a single country, and moreover, a backward country. The continuing privations of the masses in the USSR, the omnipotence of the privileged caste, which has lifted itself above the nation and its misery, finally, the rampant club-law of the bureaucrats are not consequences of the socialist method of economy but of the isolation and backwardness of the USSR caught in the ring of capitalist encirclement. The wonder is that under such exceptionally unfavourable conditions planned economy has managed to demonstrate its insuperable benefits." [17]

Dieterich's ‘explanation'

How does Heinz Dieterich explain the collapse of the USSR? He refers repeatedly to the implosion of the Soviet Union, but nowhere does he explain the reasons for it. This is not the place to deal in depth with the reasons for the collapse of Stalinism. That has been done elsewhere. [18] Dieterich offers no serious explanation for the collapse of the USSR, for the simple reason that he himself is incapable of understanding it. Yet without explaining this we cannot make a single step forward. The first question asked by workers and young people (and by all honest communists who want to learn from the past in order not to repeat it) is: if socialism is really so good, why did it fail in Russia? This is what Dieterich says in an article in Rebelión (27/08/2005):

"5. The conditions for defeating capitalist civilization definitively have been explained with clarity by Lenin, possibly the greatest practical-theoretical revolutionary Socialist ever known in modern times. Those conditions are two: a) a productivity of labour superior to that of capitalism and, b) real participative democracy of the masses.

"6. Under Stalin, both criteria were drained of real content, undermining the viability of the original Historical Project in the medium term. The productivity of labour is, essentially, a function of two factors: the technological level of the productive forces and the rate of surplus value, that is to say, the relation between surplus labour and necessary labour that measures the degree of exploitation of the direct producer.

"Since the USSR did not have access to advanced technology, it was impossible to compete with capitalist labour productivity by this route. The increase of the rate of surplus labour by means of the militarization of labour was the answer of Stalin to the stated dilemma, with the consequence of work and the ‘plan' of production became transformed into forces as coercive and alienating for the direct producer (worker) as they had been under capitalism and the market in the previous economy.

"The political absolutism of the Stalinist system, with total absorption and bureaucratic control of all the possible circuits of self-determination and democratic self-organization of the people and the State, by an omnipotent and omnipresent Party, destroyed the second criterion that Lenin had formulated as the precondition for the definitive triumph over capitalism: participative democracy. In this way, the evolutionary unviability of the system in the medium term was sealed and its implosion was only a question of time; unless it returned to the Leninist model of the socialist transition.

"7. Lenin had defined the mode of socialist production by a) a productivity of labour superior to that of capitalist production and, b) real democracy in economy, culture and State. The first criterion was born of the circumstances of extreme destruction and underdevelopment of Russia: it was an imperative necessity of the time. Nowadays it no longer necessary to postulate it in this way, because labour productivity has reached a sufficient level to provide the whole of humanity an adequate standard of life." [19]

It is very gratifying to see that Heinz Dieterich considers Lenin to be: "possibly the greatest practical-theoretical revolutionary Socialist ever known in modern times." (Presumably he has to include the word "possibly" in order to leave some space for Arno Peters and himself.) However, it would have been even better if he had explained what Lenin had to say about real participative democracy of the masses and the precise nature of the Leninist model of the socialist transition. But since he has forgotten to do so, let us come to his assistance.

The regime established by the October Revolution was neither totalitarian nor bureaucratic, but the most democratic regime yet seen on earth - a regime in which, for the first time, millions of ordinary men and women overthrew their exploiters, took their destiny in their own hands, and at least began the task of transforming society. That this task, under specific conditions, was diverted along channels unforeseen by the leaders of the revolution does not invalidate the ideas of the October Revolution, nor does it lessen the significance of the colossal gains made by the USSR for the 70 years that followed.

After the Bolshevik Revolution the nationalized planned economy achieved unprecedented rates of growth: 20 percent every year under the first Five Year Plans, and ten percent after 1945. But in the period after 1965, the growth rate of the Soviet economy began to slow down. Between 1965 and 1970, the growth rate was 5.4 percent. Over the next seven-year period, between 1971 and 1978, the average rate of growth was only 3.7 percent. This compared to an average of 3.5 percent for the advanced capitalist economies of the OECD.

In other words, the growth rate of the Soviet Union was no longer much higher than that achieved under capitalism, a disastrous state of affairs. As a result, the USSR's share of total world production actually fell slightly, from 12.5 percent in 1960 to 12.3 percent in 1979. In the same period, Japan increased its share from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent. All Khrushchev's talk about catching up with and overtaking America evaporated into thin air.

Subsequently the growth rate in the Soviet Union continued to fall. By the end of the Brezhnev period, (the "period of stagnation" as it was baptized by Gorbachov) it was reduced to zero. How do we explain this? As Trotsky explained, a nationalized planned economy needs democracy, as the human body requires oxygen. Without the democratic control and administration of the working class, a regime of nationalization and planning would inevitably seize up at a certain point, especially in a modern, sophisticated and complex economy. This fact is graphically reflected in the falling rate of growth of the Soviet economy since the early 1970s, after the unprecedented successes of the planned economy in the earlier period.

The regimes in the USSR and its Eastern European satellites in many ways were the opposite of socialism. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the regime of workers' democracy (soviet democracy) established by the Bolsheviks in 1917. This was completely destroyed by Stalin and the privileged bureaucracy he represented. Under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, there was no workers' control or democratic participation. The top bureaucrats decided everything.

The command economy partially worked in the beginning, at the cost of great sacrifices by the masses, at a time when the Soviet Union was under-developed. But by the 1970s, due to the advantages given by the revolution and the abolition of landlordism and capitalism, Russia had developed a powerful developed economy, the second super-power. One million different commodities were being produced in Russia. With an advanced economy, bureaucratic command will not work. The whole economy seized up. From being a relative fetter, the bureaucracy became an absolute fetter on the development of society. And therefore the rule of the bureaucracy was doomed.

Once this stage had been reached, the bureaucracy ceased to play even the relatively progressive role it had played in the past. This is the reason why the Soviet regime entered into crisis. This is now common knowledge. But to be wise after the event is relatively easy. It is not so easy to predict historical processes in advance. But this was certainly the case with Ted Grant's remarkable writings on Russia, which accurately plotted the graph of the decline of Stalinism and predicted its outcome a quarter of a century before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here alone we find a comprehensive analysis of the reasons for the crisis of the bureaucratic regime, which even today remains a book sealed with seven seals for all other commentators on events in the former USSR.

The isolation of the Russian Revolution in conditions of extreme economic and cultural backwardness was the soil in which the bureaucracy thrived, gradually pushing the workers out of the soviets and concentrating power into its own hands. Under Stalin, all the political gains of the October Revolution were eliminated. The bureaucracy constituted itself into a ruling caste that elevated itself above the working class and ruled in its name.

Like every other ruling class or caste in history, it used the state to defend its power and privileges. All elements of workers' democracy were ruthlessly suppressed and replaced with a repulsive totalitarian dictatorship. In the end, that voracious bureaucracy undermined and destroyed the nationalized planned economy, leading the land of October back to capitalism. Nowadays, the former leaders of the CPSU who used to talk about "socialism" and "communism" are singing the praises of market economics. They have every reason to, since they have plundered the state and converted themselves into the owners of big private monopolies.

Many of the present capitalists in Russia are themselves members of the old nomenklatura, people who not long ago carried a Communist Party card in their pocket and spoke in the name of "socialism". In fact, they had nothing to do with socialism, communism or the working class. They were part of a parasitic ruling caste, which lived a life of luxury on the backs of the Soviet workers. Now, with the same cynicism that always characterized these elements, they have openly gone over to capitalism. But this miraculous transformation cannot be consummated so easily. These people feel a compelling need to justify their apostasy by heaping curses on what they professed to believe in only yesterday. By these means they try to throw dust in the eyes of the masses, while salving their own consciences - always supposing that they possess such a thing, which is, in fact, highly improbable. But even the worst scoundrel likes to find some justification for his actions.

However, what the Western critics of Marxism do not want to publicise is that the movement in the direction of a capitalist market economy in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, far from improving the situation, has caused an unmitigated social and economic disaster. It is true that the productive forces stagnated under Brezhnev, but when the economy was privatised it fell by at least 60 percent - a staggering collapse, far worse than the slump of 1929-32 in the USA. Under the planned economy, the people of the Soviet Union enjoyed a level of life expectancy, health care and education on a level with the most developed capitalist countries, or in advance of them.

What happened to living standards after the restoration of capitalism? The Financial Times of 14/2/94 carried a front-page article with the title Russia faces population crisis as death rate soars. The article points out that: "In the past year alone, the death rate jumped 20 percent, or 360,000 deaths more than in 1992. Researchers now believe that the average age for male mortality in Russia has sunk to 59 - far below the average in the industrialized world and the lowest in Russia since the early 1960s."

Dieterich's myths and Trotsky's prediction

How does comrade Dieterich explain the collapse of Stalinism? In the article La disyuntiva de Cuba: Capitalismo o nuevo socialismo, published in Rebelión (17/03/06) we read:

"The ideological ‘necessity' to identify falsely (mystify) that which was State, as the social, was the original sin of the scientific social theory and philosophy of the socialist countries. It converted itself into a sterilizing founding myth of the nascent soviet civilization, which impeded the later evolution of revolutionary theory, especially when under the power of the Stalinist Party-State those whom Stalin considered the ‘enemies of the people' were sanctioned even with death. ‘Enemies of the people' was a reformulation of the Jacobin formula of the ‘enemies of the revolution', which not only applied to the Trotskyists and the opposition of ‘right' and ‘left', but also served as a powerful preventive against any attempt to discover the historic truth of the new civilization."

Here we have a typical specimen of Dieterich's idealist and impressionistic method of analysis. He does not provide any real explanation for the Stalinist political counter-revolution in Russia. What was the reason for this "ideological necessity"? He cannot say because he does not know. From a Marxist point of view, if an idea (even an incorrect idea) is put forward and gets powerful support in society, it follows that this idea represents the interests of a class or caste in society. The question that must be asked (and which Dieterich never asks) is: what interests did Stalin represent? What drove him to order the imprisonment and murder of hundreds of thousands of dedicated Leninists ("Trotskyists")?

Comrade Dieterich refers us to Khrushchev's famous secret speech at the XX Congress of the CPSU in 1956. How did Khrushchev explain the crimes of Stalin? He explained them as the result of the cult of personality. This speech, which Dieterich regards as a "transcendental step to return to socialist constitutionality, accompanied by the rehabilitation of innumerable victims", explained precisely nothing. Khrushchev and Gorbachev blamed Stalin for the crimes of that epoch. Stalin was a monster. Dieterich agrees with them. But one man, however evil, could not be solely responsible for all these crimes. Stalin represented the counter-revolution of the privileged elite, the bureaucratic caste of millions of officials of the state, the party, the management of industry, the generals and so forth. That was where his power derived. He could not have carried out these crimes without the support of this bureaucracy.

The caste of privileged officials usurped power, taking it out of the hands of the working class. They abolished the movement towards equality and installed enormous privileges for themselves. These were increased over the decades. The top strata in Russian society lived like millionaires. Gorbachev's wife wore diamonds and imported dresses from the top fashion houses of Paris. What sort of socialism is that?

Heinz Dieterich is critical of Khrushchev, but not for the correct reasons. His criticism is that his measures did not lead to "the deep revision of the founding myth of the nascent Soviet society, which would have been able to return to Soviet science and art the great potential of emancipation inherent in dialectical materialism. The political destalinization was not followed by an epistemological destalinization of the dominant discourse, which was as essential and unpostponeable as the first." [20]

In his article Venezuela: modo de producción socialista y fase de transición, in Rebelión, 10/11/05, Dieterich says: "the evolutionary unviability of the system in the medium term was sealed and its implosion was only a question of time; unless it returned to the Leninist model of the socialist transition." This is what comrade Dieterich writes today. But if the collapse of the USSR and its return to capitalism were inevitable, Heinz Dieterich ought to have been able to predict it in advance.

Where are the predictions of Heinz Dieterich concerning the collapse of the USSR and its return to capitalism? One searches his writings in vain since these predictions were never made. On the contrary, our Heinz, a former Stalinist, was so hypnotised by the achievements of "real socialism" that he still uses this expression whenever he speaks about Stalinism. It is not very difficult to predict things that have already happened. But this is all that our scientific economist and sociologist is capable of.

Where can we find a Marxist analysis of Stalinism and a clear and unambiguous prediction of how it would end? We can find it only in one place: in a book written as long ago as 1936 by the man who was undoubtedly one of the two greatest practical-theoretical revolutionary Socialists ever known in modern times, the man who, alongside Lenin, led the Russian workers and peasants to power in October 1917: Leon Trotsky.

In The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky not only predicted that the Stalinist bureaucracy could end by restoring capitalism in the USSR. He gave a precise description of what would happen afterwards: "The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture." [21] These words predict exactly what has happened in Russia since 1991.

Instead of dealing with the real material foundations of Stalinism as the political expression of the material interests of the bureaucracy, Dieterich attributes it to the founding myth of the nascent Soviet society. But Soviet society was not founded on a myth at all, but on real relations of production, real class relations and a real legal and state superstructure erected upon them. Without dealing with these questions we can never understand the evolution of the Soviet Union. But our Heinz does not deal with them. Instead he refers us to the rarefied world of mythology.

Instead of keeping our feet on the ground we are invited to float gently into the realms of fantasy. This is absolutely typical of the kind of bourgeois sociology that is taught in universities today, and which Heinz evidently feels more at home with than with Marxism. The founders of the Soviet Workers' Republic, Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party that they led, were not guided by myths but by the scientific theories of Marx and Engels. The state they created, basing themselves on the movement of the working class, was modelled on the democratic model of the Paris Commune and was expressed through the rule of the soviets.

"The political destalinization," Dieterich complains, "was not followed by an epistemological destalinization of the dominant discourse." What does this mean? Only this: that Dieterich considers that Khrushchev really did carry out destalinization in practice, but failed to carry it out epistemologically. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.

So the only fault Dieterich finds with Khrushchev is that he did not carry his destalinization into this particular branch of Soviet philosophy. In El Socialismo del Siglo XXI, page 19, we read: "The fall of ‘really existing' socialism clarified even more the logic of this process, making it evident than the so-called Cold War was not more than an episode in the long ‘north-south' war, that is to say, part of the secular problem of western colonialism and imperialism, in which the USSR merely played the tragic role of Spartacus."

Dieterich compares the likes of Stalin, Brezhnev and Gorbachov with the great revolutionary and leader of the slaves, Spartacus. It would be difficult to think of a more scandalous comparison. To liken the leader of the greatest slave rebellion in history to Stalin who organized the setting up of slave labour camps where he imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Russian revolutionaries is a disgrace. But then, we have already become accustomed to comrade Dieterich's absurdities and can expect nothing else from him.

Under Stalin, millions of Soviet citizens were sent to die of starvation in the labour camps. The democratic and internationalist traditions of Lenin were trampled underfoot. The most terrible crimes were committed against the working class. But all Heinz Dieterich can think about is epistemology! And Heinz would have us believe that the reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union was defects in Soviet epistemology! If only they had paid more attention to this branch of philosophy, all would have been for the best in the best of all "really existing socialist" worlds! Here we really do say good-bye to reality and ascend to the fantastic world, not of epistemology, but precisely of mythology.

Real Socialism?

On page 24 of the same book, Dieterich casually throws in the following phrase: "And nobody who claims to be a realist would dare to think that what used to be ‘really existing' socialism could still serve as a world alternative, capable of overcoming capitalism through a mass movement".

In common with many other ex-admirers of the USSR Dieterich has thrown all his old ideas overboard, like a man throwing surplus ballast off a sinking ship. But at no time does he tell us why the ideas that he defended in the past must now be thrown overboard, and why the so-called really existing socialism is of no use. This shows an extremely light-minded attitude to theory and the socialist movement. It is true that Stalinism failed, and that the bureaucracy, having undermined the democratic socialist regime established by Lenin and Trotsky in 1917, ultimately destroyed the USSR.

Unless we are able to provide the working class with an explanation for this degeneration, we will be forever unable to convince the new generation that socialism and Marxism are the only viable alternative to senile capitalism. Yet, 16 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Dieterich is not only incapable of providing such an explanation, but he still refers to the totalitarian caricature of Stalinism as "socialism". A greater service to the enemies of socialism and Marxism one cannot imagine.

Today, many honest Communists demand to know the truth about this "real socialism". They want to understand why the "socialist paradise" depicted by their leaders for so long, could collapse like a house of cards, without any attempt on the part of the Russian working class to defend it. They demand to know how it is possible that the great majority of the leaders of the CPSU, who sang the praises of socialism and communism in the past, have now become converted to capitalism and have transformed themselves into a capitalist oligarchy, which has enriched itself by plundering state-owned property. To these honest communists, Heinz Dieterich has nothing whatsoever to say, except the bare assertion that "real socialism" can no longer provide an alternative.

In the article The Alternative of Cuba, Capitalism or New Socialism (12/4/06), under the heading "Stalin and the Economic Theory of the New Order", we read: "The second difficulty of the constructors of socialism was not ideological but theoretical. The economy improvised under the conditions of the tyrannical Russian reality and the economic-political blockade of imperialism, was not the replica of a capitalist system, but neither did it represent the mode of socialist production, which the political economy and political ethics of Marx and Engels foresaw. Because it was not founded on value (time inputs) and the interchange of equal values (equivalences), nor in the self-determination of the direct producers."

We have already explained that Dieterich's idea of an economy based on the exchange of equal values (equivalences) is utopian nonsense that has nothing to do with Marxist economics, or with the real world in general. We have also explained that it is physically impossible to calculate the exact amount of value (time inputs) contained in individual commodities, since such a task, apart from being quite unnecessary, would exhaust all the computing power of all the computers in the world.

What about the "self-determination of the direct producers"? This formula is also wrong. It is an anarchist notion, not a Marxist one. The idea that the workers of a particular enterprise will directly own and control "their" factory, office, or mine would negate any possibility of socialist planning. It would tend to place one group of workers in contradiction with other groups of workers. And it would end up inevitably in a kind of market economy, with competition, money, profit and loss, in which the more productive enterprises would enrich themselves at the expense of the less productive ones. So much for Dieterich's utopia; but how does he analyse the character of the USSR?

"It was a reality sui generis, a hybrid, whose description and scientific explanation required its own theoretical paradigm, that is, an evolution of the paradigm of the classics which would be capable of apprehending scientifically the new economic reality." [22]

Something that is sui generis is unique, of its own kind, and therefore cannot be usefully compared to anything else. According to comrade Dieterich an analysis of the USSR "required its own theoretical paradigm, that is, an evolution of the paradigm of the classics". Paradigm is a word that some scientists tend to use when they do not know what to say. All that our Heinz is doing here is expressing his own bewilderment and his inability to say anything useful or even comprehensible about an important question, which demands an answer.

He informs us that the USSR "required its own theoretical paradigm", but nowhere does he say what this theoretical paradigm is. He does not say what it is because he has absolutely no idea of what Stalinism was or why it arose. Nor does he say what ought to be said, namely that Stalinism represents the absolute negation of socialism as understood by Marx and Lenin. Moreover, to understand this phenomenon we do not require a "unique paradigm" but a thorough grounding in the Marxist method of analysis. But this is something comrade Dieterich certainly does not possess.

Is it true that the classical ideas of Marxism are incapable of shedding light on the phenomenon of Stalinism? Is it the case, as Dieterich argues, that an entirely new system of ideas and methodology ("paradigm") are necessary? No, it is not true at all. As a matter of fact, it is only possible to understand the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution by using the Marxist method of dialectical and historical materialism. That is what enabled Leon Trotsky to analyse this phenomenon and to predict the fall of the USSR decades before it happened. Similarly, it is only possible to gain a rational understanding of the workings of the Soviet economy by going back to the economic writings of Marx. No matter how we look at the matter, it is clear that the prices of commodities even in a workers' state must be based on something: what else can this be but the value of the product, the socially necessary labour time contained in it? This question was dealt with by Marx in Critique of the Gotha Programme:

"Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labour. The phrase ‘proceeds of labour', objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.

"What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society - after the deductions have been made - exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labour. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labour time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labour (after deducting his labour for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labour cost. The same amount of labour which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

"Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labour, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labour in another form.

"Hence, equal right here is still in principle - bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.

"In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatised by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labour they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labour.

"But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labour in the same time, or can labour for a longer time; and labour, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labour. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only - for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labour, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.

"But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

"In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly - only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!" [23]

Lenin later wrote: "The great significance of Marx's explanation is, that here too, he consistently applies materialist dialectics, the theory of development, and regards communism as something which develops out of capitalism. Instead of scholastically invented, ‘concocted' definitions and fruitless disputes over words (What is socialism? What is communism?), Marx gives analysis of what might be called the stages of the economic maturity of communism." [24]

We have quoted these works at length to show yet again how clearly Marx and Lenin always explained their ideas. It is a pity the same cannot be said for certain other writings we have had to read lately.

Did the law of value function in the USSR?

Heinz Dieterich writes: "In the discussion of mercantile relations, he [Stalin] took the following position. He observed that capital goods (means of production) were not freely sold, but were produced and assigned through the plan to their destinations, a fact for which they could not be considered merchandise. On the other hand, the means of consumption could be acquired freely, a fact, for which their mercantile character was undeniable.

"It is evident that Stalin was right so far as the mechanical application of capitalist terminology, and even classical political economics, to the Soviet economy was not justifiable, either politically or scientifically. But neither was it theoretically defendable to identify the new State with society in a system in which participative democracy did not exist, or to identify the economic model that it developed as ‘socialist'.

"The new economy was not capitalist because there did not exist any class of private capitalists who controlled the three strategic variables of any modern economic system: the surplus, the prices and the rate of investment. For this reason it was a fallacy to qualify the hybrid Soviet system as State capitalism, as occurred in various debates of the seventies (see the Bettelheim-Sweezy polemics). But, on the other hand, yes it continued being essentially a market economy ruled by the price and lacking the decisive approaches of a socialist economic system: value and economic democracy. In rigor, I think an acceptable scientific definition of the new Soviet economy, would be the following: an economy primarily of the market, not chrematistic." [25]

Confusion is piled upon confusion. One minute Dieterich describes the USSR as "really existing socialism," and the next he says it "essentially a market economy ruled by the price and lacking the decisive approaches of a socialist economic system: value and economic democracy". If it was a market economy, then it must have had the law of motion of a market economy - that is, booms and slumps. But there were no booms and slumps in Stalin's Russia, which achieved unprecedented levels of economic growth. Thus, if we accept Heinz Dieterich's analysis we would have to explain an entirely new phenomenon, a socio-economic system completely unknown to Marxism: a market economy (that is, capitalism) without private capitalists, which has abolished booms and slumps. What is the nature of this strange beast, which is neither fish nor flesh nor fowl? Comrade Dieterich does not enlighten us. This is hardly surprising since he does not know himself. He merely repeats an endless string of contradictory statements and hopes nobody will notice.

Comrade Dieterich is incapable of thinking dialectically. He is only capable of thinking in terms of capitalism and socialism as fixed categories, and that is why he always ends in such a confused mess. Between capitalism and socialism there is a transitional period, in which the bourgeoisie is expropriated and a nationalised planned economy is installed. This represents a colossal conquest and a big step forward, as the history of the USSR demonstrated. But it is not yet socialism.

Even when we characterise the USSR as a transitional form of society, we do not exhaust the question. It is necessary to take into account the concrete conditions in which the October Revolution took place. The problem was that the Bolsheviks had taken power in Russia, an extremely backward country in which the material conditions for building socialism were absent. Lenin never claimed that socialism existed in Russia (let alone communism). What existed in Russia after the October Revolution was neither socialism nor communism but a workers' state or the dictatorship of the proletariat, as Marx called it. Moreover, as Lenin pointed out to Bukharin in 1920, given Russia's extreme backwardness, it was a workers' state with bureaucratic deformations.

In the transitional stage between capitalism and socialism it is inevitable that certain features left over from the old society (capitalism) will still exist, including the labour theory of value, money, prices, wages, etc. Of course, in a workers' state, the law of value will not function in the same way as under capitalism. In a nationalized planned economy the law of motion of a market economy (booms and slumps) is abolished. This is one of the most important advantages of a nationalized planned economy, permitting a colossal development of the productive forces. The history of the USSR, especially of the first Five Year Plans, completely confirms this. But the nationalization of the productive forces, although it is a necessary precondition for socialism, in and of itself, does not signify that socialism has been achieved. It does not signify that manure can be transformed into gold, as Trotsky observed.

Marx explained that under socialism all that the managers would be entitled to would be the wages of superintendence. But the Soviet bureaucracy appropriated far more than this. Apart from their high salaries and legal privileges, cars, luxury flats, servants, dachas, holiday resorts, etc., they also had many illegal privileges and perks. This was not the same as the profits of a private capitalist, which in the end play a necessary role in the market economy. Every worker understands this. The workers may go on strike to increase their share of the surplus value and reduce that of the bosses, but it would never occur to them to demand that the bosses should not make any profit at all. By contrast, every rouble appropriated by the bureaucracy above the wages of superintendence was merely theft and parasitism.

Soviet Russia was not socialism but a transitional society in which capitalism had been abolished but in which capitalist laws continue to operate, albeit in a modified form, alongside the laws of the future socialist society (elements of planning). This is undoubtedly a dialectical contradiction, which flows from the contradictory nature of a society that has broken with the past but does not yet possess the necessary level of material, technological and cultural development that would permit it to pass immediately to what Engels described as the "realm of freedom". It is complete nonsense to refer to the USSR as a "market economy", which to any literate person signifies capitalism. In the Soviet Union the means of production were in the hands of the state, which took all the decisions concerning investment, distribution, consumption and so on. If everything is owned by the state and there are no private capitalists (as even comrade Dieterich can see) then the laws of capitalist market economy are annulled. You can call Stalin's Russia anything you like, but capitalism it was not.

The bureaucracy plundered the economy for its own interests. It enjoyed huge privileges that were completely unjustified from a socialist point of view. The wealth appropriated by the bureaucracy was taken from the surplus value produced by the Soviet workers. But this had nothing in common with the way in which the capitalists extract surplus value. The capitalists play a necessary role in a market economy, investing money for the sake of profit. But that was not the case with the Soviet Union, where the means of production were socially owned and investment decisions were not determined by private profit.

‘Necessary and surplus work'

In the USSR, the state appropriated the surplus created by the labour of the working class. Part of that surplus was indeed spent on social security, health, education, etc. Part was spent on re-investment in industry, agriculture, science and technology, and part on defence. This would also be the case in a healthy workers' state, run on the lines of a workers' democracy. Under Lenin and Trotsky, the Soviet state did not spend the enormous sums that the Stalinist bureaucracy later dedicated to defence. This was because the Bolsheviks did not rely only on the Red Army to defend its frontiers. They relied on the solidarity of the international proletariat, which actually saved the young Workers' Republic from the threat of armed intervention. The ruling class of Britain and France, faced with the threat of civil war, were forced to abandon their plans for military intervention by pressure from the working class.

Lenin and Trotsky created the Communist International in 1919 as an instrument to spread the socialist revolution to Europe and the whole world - the only real way to save the Soviet state from the danger of war and foreign intervention. But Stalin, with his narrow national mentality, cynically used the foreign communist parties as an instrument of Russian foreign policy, and then disbanded the Communist International in 1943 as a gesture of good will to his British and American allies. For Stalin and the bureaucracy the defence of the USSR was reduced to a question of military power and diplomatic manoeuvring. This led to the arms race with the USA, which had ruinous results for the Soviet economy and played a significant part in undermining it. A disproportionate amount of the wealth produced by the workers of the USSR was diverted away from productive investment and raising living standards into wasteful military expenditure.

In addition to the huge military expenditure we must add the maintenance of an enormous apparatus of repression: the police, the secret police, a vast network of spies and informers, prisons and labour camps. This was necessary, not for the defence of the revolution against external enemies and internal counter-revolution, but to defend the privileges of the bureaucracy against the working class.

In a discussion with Soviet economists, in 1952, Stalin made the following statement: "The concepts of work necessary work and surplus work and necessary product and surplus product are not useful for our economy. Is not all that enters into social security and defence part of necessary work? Is not the worker interested in this? In a socialist economy we must make the following distinction work for one's own necessities and work for society." In the passage quoted here, Stalin attempts to conceal the parasitic role of the bureaucracy by means of a theoretical distortion. "The concepts of work necessary work and surplus work and necessary product and surplus product are not useful for our economy," he says. But from a Marxist point of view this is wrong. Stalin denied the existence of necessary work and surplus work and necessary product and surplus product in the USSR because he wished to conceal the fact that the bureaucracy was exploiting the working class.

This exploitation, however, was not the same as under capitalism, where private capitalists extract surplus value from the working class. Here the surplus product was appropriated by the state (which would also be the case in a healthy workers' state, as we have seen). "Is not all that enters into social security and defence part of necessary work? Is not the worker interested in this? In a socialist economy we must make the following distinction: work for one's own necessities and work for society." To this the Soviet worker would reply: "Yes, it is necessary to provide funds for social security and defence, and this is working for our own necessities. But working for society is not the same as working to pay for the unjustified privileges and luxurious life-style of a parasitic bureaucracy." Of course, the Soviet workers did not give this reply, because nobody asked them.

The bureaucracy was not interested in the opinions of the workers, only in giving orders. If they had had the computer technology that our Heinz regards as the magical key that will open all doors to the Socialism of the 21st century, they would have issued even more orders, but they would not have been anxious to enter into an Internet discussion with the workers. The first question the workers would ask is: in a society that is supposed to be socialist, how do you justify these huge wage differentials and all your privileges, big cars, dachas and servants?

The transitional society

In the transitional period between capitalism and socialism many of the features of the old system will remain in being, including money and price. The state cannot determine prices arbitrarily, nor can it determine the amount of money in circulation arbitrarily. Money is, after all, just a commodity, albeit a commodity of a special kind (the commodity of commodities). Engels already dealt with this problem in Anti-Dühring: "If the sword (i.e. the state) has the magic economic power ascribed to it by Herr Dühring, why is it that no government has been able to succeed in permanently compelling bad money to have the ‘distribution value' of good money, or assignats to have the ‘distribution value' of gold?" [26]

It is inevitable that some of the economic categories inherited from capitalism will still remain in the transitional society between capitalism and communism. Some of the laws of market economy will be abrogated but others will remain, although in a modified form. In Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky explains:

"The role of money in Soviet economy is not only unfinished but, as we have said, still has a long growth ahead. The transitional epoch between capitalism and socialism taken as a whole does not mean a cutting down of trade but, on the contrary, its extraordinary extension. All branches of industry transform themselves and grow. New ones continually arise, and all are compelled to define their relations to one another both quantitatively and qualitatively. The liquidation of the consummatory peasant economy, and at the same time of the shut-in family life, means a transfer to the sphere of social interchange, and ipso facto money circulation, of all the labour energy which was formerly expended within the limits of the peasant's yard, or within the walls of his private dwelling. All products and services begin for the first time in history to be exchanged for one another." [27]

The nationalization of the means of production and the introduction of a planned economy marks a big step forward as opposed to the anarchy of the market and private ownership. The state can now regulate and plan the economy, but only within the confines of the law of value. In the transitional period the law of value is not abolished, but is modified. Trotsky points out: "The nationalisation of the means of production and credit, the co-operativising or state-ising of internal trade, the monopoly of foreign trade, the collectivisation of agriculture, the law of inheritance - set strict limits upon the personal accumulation of money and hinder its conversion into private capital (usurious, commercial and industrial). These functions of money, however, bound up as they are with exploitation, are not liquidated at the beginning of a proletarian revolution, but in a modified form are transferred to the state, the universal merchant, creditor and industrialist. At the same time the more elementary functions of money as measure of value, means of exchange and medium of payment, are not only preserved, but acquire a broader field of action than they had under capitalism." [28]

By its very nature a transitional society will display some of the features of the old society, side by side with elements of the new, socialist, society. Thus, in the economic sphere some of the laws peculiar to socialism apply, side by side with some that have been inherited from capitalism. This is, of course, a contradiction that must be overcome by subsequent developments. With the further development of the productive forces, the reduction of the working day and the raising of productivity to undreamed-of heights, the raising of living standards and the cultural level of the whole population, the conditions will be prepared for a further development of the socialist element and the progressive elimination of the remnants left over from the past. The speed and the ease with which this transition is made depend above all upon the material conditions of society.

A nationalized planned economy, of course, gives us a huge advantage over capitalism. The workers' state can consciously regulate and plan production (though within limits determined by the general level of economic and social development). It can determine the rate of investment, the proportions between means of production and means of consumption, the price of articles of consumption, etc. Heinz Dieterich imagines that it is possible to eliminate completely all the exploitative elements of capitalism without abolishing capitalism itself. This, he assures us, can be achieved by simply abolishing prices and exchanging commodities on the basis of the "principle of equivalence". As a matter of fact, it will not be possible to abolish prices even in a workers' state, as we have just explained. Still less will it be possible to abolish prices on the basis of a capitalist market economy, as comrade Dieterich proposes.

Is it correct as Dieterich maintains that every worker will receive the exact amount that he or she has produced ("the wages of equivalence")? No it is not correct. Even if this were possible (and it is not), it would actually signify the continuation of inequality, not its abolition. Workers who are stronger, more skilled, etc. would receive more than their weaker and less skilled brothers and sisters. Certain groups of workers would find themselves in a privileged position vis a vis the rest of the class, and in a position to abuse that position. For example, in Venezuela the workers of PDVSA would be in a privileged position vis a vis, say, the agricultural labourers and so on.

In the transitional period there would still be commodity production, although it would be organized by the state instead of private capitalists. The state will still buy labour power and pay wages, though the differences between high and low incomes would be reduced considerably from the outset and the differentials would continue to be reduced as society proceeded in a socialist direction. The law of the circulation of commodities, including the circulation of money will be maintained in a transitional economy, together with the other elements of the old society within the new society: money, value, surplus value, etc. Trotsky explained that the only real money in Russia (or in any transitional economy - even an ideal workers' state) must be based on gold.

Even in a workers' state surplus value will still be produced by the working class, as in every other economic system for the last 10,000 years or so. The state will appropriate the surplus value produced by the workers in order to invest in production and provide necessary social services. In a workers' democracy, the way in which this is done - the precise proportions dedicated to production and consumption, investment and research, building and the arts - will be decided democratically. But in any case, surplus value will still exist.

The answer - cybernetics?

The idea put forward by Dieterich that the USSR collapsed because it lacked adequate cybernetic and computer science is equally false. If the bureaucracy had introduced computers without democratic workers' control and management of the economy, it would have led to even greater chaos. A single bureaucratic error (and there were millions of such errors every day) written into a computer programme and fed into a network linking all the computers in the USSR would have multiplied the error to the nth degree, causing total collapse faster than one could say "Heinz Dieterich".

One of the main reasons why central planning failed in the USSR was because there was no feedback. The bureaucratic planners gave orders and expected them to be carried out. Not for nothing were they described as "command economies". We know the reason for this. There was no workers' democracy. But for Heinz Dieterich the problem was quite different. It was the inability to process information, that is, it was not a political problem at all but a technical one - a "cybernetic" problem. This is completely false. The workers did not offer information (did not denounce the corruption, swindling, bungling and sabotage of the bureaucracy) not because the channels of communication had not been created, but because it was not in their interests to do so. Any worker who criticized the bureaucracy would have been sacked or imprisoned. The so-called trade unions were not unions at all but part of the bureaucratic state. The problem was therefore a political problem, not a technical one.

Incidentally, since we now have the computer power, the socialist "project" should now at last be viable for the 21st century. There should be no problem at all - except for the little detail that Dieterich has not noticed: that the capitalists and bankers still own the means of production, including the computers and the means of producing them, as well as the copyright to all the computer programmes, the computer technology, the scientists and the laboratories. For some strange reason, they insist that these things be used to produce profits for them, and not an "economy of equivalents" for the benefit of humankind. What are we going to do about this sad state of affairs? Dieterich does not say.

Having abandoned nationalization and central state planning as a means of getting to 21st Socialism, comrade Dieterich has no alternative but to retreat to - a market economy, which he hopes to transform by some miracle into a participatory democracy. Compared to this, the miracle of changing water into wine at the feast of Canaa pales into insignificance. Let us consider for a moment some of the problems involved in what Dieterich is proposing. Under capitalism markets are supposed to process information in a decentralised way without the need to assemble all the information centrally and then pass it down the chain of command. In fact, markets do no such thing. A most striking example of market misinformation is climate change. According to Nicolas Stern, a trained neoclassical economist says that this is the greatest example of market failure ever. We are in danger of making the planet uninhabitable, yet no market signal tells us this. The whole effect is not reflected on the profit and loss balance sheet. To accept the logic of the market is equivalent to unconditional surrender to the logic of capitalism.

The idea that markets process information comes from the reactionary bourgeois economist Friederich Hayek during the interwar debate on "socialist calculation". This dates from about 1920 when the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises declared that economic calculation under socialism was impossible. The pro-capitalist economists received a sound thrashing over the next few years from socialists schooled in neoclassical economics and arguing within that tradition. Hayek then developed a second line of defence in this debate. He put forward the line that, though not impossible, rational economic calculation would be very complex under socialism. He claimed that the market made all these calculations without anyone having to think about the bigger picture. Hayek remained a minor figure for a long time after the Second World War. But the collapse of the Stalinist economies saw his ideas dusted off and widely publicised as an explanation of the events.

The Stalinist notion of planning as a top down process and its inevitable failure played into the hands of the likes of Hayek. Both Hayek and Dieterich equate Stalinism with socialism. First comrade Dieterich capitulates to the logic of the market. Then he conjures up an era of non-equivalent exchange, a concept that is entirely contrary to the letter and spirit of Marx. The idea that real planning is done just by issuing decrees from the centre was ridiculed by Trotsky in 1932. He wrote: "If there existed the universal mind that projected itself into the scientific fantasy of Laplace, a mind that would register simultaneously all the processes of nature and society, that could measure the dynamics of their motion, that could forecast the results of their inter-reactions, such a mind could of course a priori draw up an exhaustive economic plan, beginning with the number of hectares of wheat and down to the last button for a vest." [29]

Like all the other ex-Marxists, in abandoning Stalinism, Heinz has no desire to return to the genuine ideas of communism - the ideas and programme of the October Revolution, of Lenin and Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party. Instead, he is striving to revise Marxism, to strip it of all its revolutionary and class content, and to drag the movement into the swamp of reformism and social democracy. However, since Dieterich realises that social democracy has a bad name in Latin America, where the revolution is advancing in the direction of socialism everywhere, he is compelled to resort to subterfuge. He pretends to have invented an entirely new concept, which is far superior to capitalism or "real socialism", which will solve all our problems and lead us quite painlessly into the realm of a new civilisation.

He says this himself quite explicitly. On page 23 of El Socialismo del Siglo XXI, comrade Dieterich informs us that he is neither in favour of capitalism nor the so-called real socialism of the USSR. Instead, he has developed the idea of an entirely new kind of society, previously unknown to Marxism, which he calls the "participative democracy". This peculiar animal, neither fish nor fowl, is not to be found in any of the writings of Engels, Marx or Lenin. It is presented to us as an entirely new concept. On further examination, however, we find that there is nothing novel about it, and that it really expresses the utopian-democratic illusions of the petit bourgeoisie.

Socialism and consumerism

In the article in Revista Mariátegui (15/08/06) Dieterich is asked: "You state that consumerism is the opiate of the people. In 21st century Socialism will consumerism vanish?" Since 21st Century Socialism has already made profits disappear and turned tigers into vegetarians, this particular question would seem superfluous, and the answer predictable:

"Yes, because a new economy is not only the accounting of value and participative democracy, but it also needs to change the entire profile of production and consumption, because, just from the point of view of ecology, the pattern of consumption we have is unsustainable. Any society of the future, including capitalism, would have to make substantial changes in this profile of consumption and I believe that a socialism (sic) will have a completely different face." [30]

It is quite true that the capitalist system is colossally wasteful and that the anarchy of capitalist production and the greed for profit is threatening the environment and putting the future of the planet in danger. The only answer to this is a socialist planned economy on a world scale. Mere tinkering with the system (Keynesianism) is useless. It is necessary to expropriate the banks and monopolies and institute a democratic plan of production that will put the interests of the human race first, not private profits.

One of the main arguments raised is the question of finite energy supplies and global warming. The use of fossil fuels is undoubtedly limited and causes many problems. But alternative supplies could have been developed decades ago, if the big oil monopolies had not sabotaged the research. The obvious alternative is nuclear fusion, which, unlike nuclear fission, is clean, cheap and virtually unlimited (hydrogen is present in vast quantities in water, with which our planet abounds). There are many more examples of how the present problems could be easily solved by the development of adequate technology and a rational plan of production.

The argument, so often repeated in petty bourgeois ecologist circles and so eagerly embraced by the right wing reformists, that we cannot afford to maintain present levels of consumption is both hypocritical and reactionary. The same middle class intellectuals who lecture the masses that they must restrict consumption do not exactly live in conditions of poverty themselves. On the other hand, the bourgeois are skilfully using the same arguments to justify raising taxes (on the poor) and cutting living standards. The notion that the planet "cannot sustain the present levels of production and consumption" is entirely false, superficial and in essence reactionary. What is true is that the planet cannot stand indefinitely the monstrous plunder and rapine that is practiced by the big transnational companies in their lust for profits.

A planned economy would enable humanity to exploit natural resources in a rational and scientific way, balancing the needs of human consumption with the need to preserve and cherish our beautiful world and pass on our natural heritage intact to future generations. Socialism in our time will not signify a regime of austerity. On the contrary, a genuine socialist society will begin at the highest point achieved by capitalism. It will signify, not a reduction in living standards, but an all-round increase in the standard of living, together with a general reduction of working hours. This is the prior condition for a real participative democracy - that is, a workers' democracy. Without it, all talk of socialism will be mere empty demagogy.

It is clear from everything we have read that comrade Dieterich's approach to socialism has nothing in common with Marxism. Socialism, as understood by Marx and Lenin, presupposes that the development of the productive forces has reached a sufficient level that it would eliminate all material inequality. The abolition of classes cannot be established by decree. It must arise from a superabundance of things that would universally raise the quality of life to unheard-of levels.

All the basic human needs would be satisfied, and therefore the humiliating struggle for existence would cease. A general reduction in working hours would provide the conditions for an unparalleled development of culture. It would enable men and women to participate in the administration of industry, the state and society. From the very beginning the workers' state would be characterised by a level of democratic participation far superior to the most democratic bourgeois republic. As a consequence, classes would dissolve into society, together with the last vestiges of class society - money and the state. This would give rise to genuine communism and the replacement of the domination of man by man with the "administration of things", to use Engels' expression. This, and nothing else, is what Marxists call socialism. Ultimately, the success of socialism can only be guaranteed by world socialism and a socialist planned world economy.

The nationalization of the productive forces was a great step forward, but it by no means guaranteed the victory of socialism in Russia. As Trotsky put it: "Socialism is the organisation of a planned and harmonious social production for the satisfaction of human wants. Collective ownership of the means of production is not yet socialism, but only its legal premise. The problem of a socialist society cannot be abstracted from the problem of the productive forces, which at the present stage of human development are worldwide in their very essence." [31]


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[1] Marx, The Civil War in France, The Third Address, May, 1871. [The Paris Commune].
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., pp. 381-491.
[5] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 26, p. 297, my emphasis, AW.
[6] Ibid. p. 409, my emphasis, AW.
[7] Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 27, p. 95.
[8] Ibid. p. 98.
[9] Ibid. p. 232.
[10] Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life, p. 20.
[11] Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p. 1237.
[12] Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 25, pp. 424-5.
[13] Ibid., vol. 32, p.179.
[14] Ibid. vol. 32, page 212.
[15] Dieterich, La disyuntiva de Cuba: Capitalismo o nuevo socialismo, in Rebelión, 17/3/2006.
[16] Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, Feuerbach, part 5, in Selected Works, Vol. 1, p. 37.
[17] L. Trotsky, Introduction to The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx.
[18] See Ted Grant, Russia, from Revolution to Counter-revolution.
[19] Dieterich, Venezuela: Ten Theses on the New Political Class, in Rebelión, 27/8/2005.
[20] Ibid. My emphasis, AW.
[21] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, Is the Bureaucracy a ruling class? p. 251. My emphasis, AW.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, pp. 16-19, The Critique of the Gotha Programme.
[24] Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 25, p. 471.
[25] Dieterich, The Alternative of Cuba: Capitalism or New Socialism, April 12, 2006.
[26] Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 228.
[27] Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, p. 67, NY, 1972.
[28] Ibid., p. 66, emphasis in original.
[29] The Soviet economy in danger, in Trotsky’s Writings, 1932, p. 274.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p. 1237.