Economic and technology revolution lays basis for communism, argues Dave Craig
The international socialist revolution is the process by which the international working class transforms international capitalism into world communism. This period of revolutionary transition was called socialism, or the lower phase or stage of communism by Marx and Lenin.
For communists, socialism is not a new type of society, state system or national economy. It is an economic and technological revolution, which, regardless of where it begins, must be broadly international in scope.
Since Marx’s time, we have the experience of the Russian Revolution. We have seen the practical results of ‘socialism in one country’ and various other forms of national socialism, including fascism. Given this history, it is dangerous and misleading to use the generic term ‘socialism’ without specifying its international and revolutionary character.
This was the argument I put forward in a paper submitted to the recent Republican Communist Network debate on ‘international socialism’ in Edinburgh. I consider myself to be an international socialist and had originally been one of the proposers of this slogan for the Network’s platform. But I had shifted position in favour of ‘international socialist revolution’. Whilst I consider the two slogans to be interchangeable, the latter is better because it draws attention to the revolutionary nature of international socialism as a process of transition.
In the debate before the launch of the RCN, there had been two opposed positions - ‘international socialism and world communism’ versus ‘internationalism, socialism and world communism’. The latter is a variant of national socialism because it breaks the link between socialism and internationalism. When it came to voting on these, ‘international socialism’ received a minority of votes. This was more a reflection of the fact that some comrades were concerned that the RCN might split, before it was even off the ground, if ‘international socialism’ was adopted.
At the first full debate following the launch of the RCN, the fear of a split had receded. Comrades felt able to take positions without worrying about the consequences. Papers were submitted in favour of ‘international socialism’, ‘international socialist revolution’ and what I will call ‘slogan X’. The latter is my short hand for the Communist Tendency’s position. Its paper argued against ‘international socialism’, but did not put forward a slogan to summarise its alternative. At this point the CT had not considered the option of ‘international socialist revolution’.
During the debate it became increasingly clear that the CT was in a minority of two. All other comrades lined up in support of ‘international socialism’. Some false arguments were shredded. For example the argument that we should not use ‘international socialism’ because the Socialist Workers Party and the Committee for a Workers International in Scotland use it. So too was the argument that the slogan had been misused in the past. This was equally true of words like ‘democracy’ and ‘communism’. The only real justification was whether any slogan was scientifically correct. Some comrades become a little frustrated on hearing the CT’s arguments. They could not see why logically these arguments meant rejecting ‘international socialism’.
At the end myself and Mary Ward called on the CT to spell out before the next round of debate what words should replace ‘slogan X’. In a letter to the Weekly Worker (November 18), Allan Armstrong identifies ‘slogan X’ as ‘international revolution’. This should now enable us to move the debate forwards. Allan explains that the CT does not support the slogan ‘international socialism’ because “it suggests a fixed stage, without any movement”. He says that this was acknowledged by me when I suggested ‘international socialist revolution’ as the intermediate slogan. He says: “This at least has the advantage of suggesting a process rather than stage, emphasising the transitional nature of socialism.”
We should recognise three important components to a scientific approach. First are critical assessments of theory drawn from the past - insights from major theorists such as Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, etc. Second, we have lessons drawn from major experiences of the international working class: for example, the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. Third, there is scientific knowledge of contemporary international capitalism and developments within global capitalism.
The case for ‘international socialist revolution’ begins with world capitalism or imperialism and its opposite, world communism. In the Communist manifesto Marx explained the global nature of capitalism. He says: “Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way ...
“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” (K Marx, F Engels SW Moscow 1968, p37-38).
Marx continues to elaborate his point: “The bourgeoisie through its exploitation of the world market has given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country ... In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations” (p39).
Since Marx and Engels wrote these prophetic words the international and global nature of capitalism has neither been ended nor reduced. On the contrary it has been massively extended and deepened. At the beginning of the 20th century Lenin’s theory of imperialism identified a new historical stage of international capitalism (or imperialism). Multinational corporations now dominate world production, finance, commerce and trade. During the 1980s a new period of globalisation began.
Communism is not a utopian scheme invented by ideologists. Lenin says that communism “has its origins in capitalism, that it develops historically from capitalism, that it is the action of a social force to which capitalism gave birth” (VI Lenin SW Vol 2, Moscow 1977, p299). International capitalism has already created the organisational structure and technological basis for communism. It has produced giant multinationals corporations able to plan production on a global scale. These corporations organise millions of workers across the world into huge cooperative ventures.
Capitalism is currently undergoing an immense technological revolution on the basis of information technology. This technology, that has given us the worldwide web, is the technology of communism. Modern communism is surely www.human.liberation.-com. The technological revolution already underway will be completed and transformed by the international working class into a means of social liberation. Commenting on the technological basis for communism, David Rousset points to the importance that Marxism gives to the “technological factor” - what Marx terms “the material conditions of production”. It is fashionable these days to ignore the economic and technological basis for communism for fear of being accused of economic determinism. But in reaction to Stalinist determinism we have surely thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Rousset goes on to say that, “Monopoly capitalism has created an autonomous reality: the world market. It is at the level of the world market that the full realisation of its potentialities occurs. It is also within the world market that its contradictions assume their greatest intensity. Because socialism is built on the basis of the highest level of development, the base of the socialist revolution is not and cannot be a national one” (D Rousset The legacy of the Bolshevik revolution London 1982, p2).
He say that the socialist revolution includes in its aims “the break-up of national frontiers”. I take this to include the ending of pseudo-national economies. World communism or global communism is a more advanced form of social organisation than international capitalism. Global communism, fully exploiting the potentiality of information technology, will be a world of material abundance in which the social ‘scarcity’ of capitalism - poverty, famine, unemployment - has been abolished. A ‘new world economic order’ will provide the material basis for human freedom.
Communism is a classless society of associated global producers. This represents a massive leap forward for humanity. The superiority of communist civilisation lies in its ability to reduce working time, overcome the division between mental and manual labour and increase the level of human education and culture. A world without money or value, without wages, prices or profits will be organised by cooperative communities on the basis of social needs and wants.
World capitalism is abolished, not in a negative sense, but in the positive sense of being transcended onto a higher level of human society. The primitive form of globalisation already achieved by international capitalism will give way to a higher form of communist globalisation. The socialist revolution is the connecting process between world capitalism and global communism. It means the seizure of the commanding heights of the global economy by the international working class and its revolutionary reorganisation. Marxist dialectics understands the existence of transitional or intermediate stages in the movement between opposites - in this case between capitalism and communism.
Lenin identified imperialism (or international capitalism) as the highest stage of capitalism. Socialism was seen by Marx, Engels and Lenin as the lower phase or stage of communism. Consequently the highest stage of capitalism is one step away from the lower stage of communism. To express this in another way, international socialism is one step beyond or one step higher than imperialism. Socialism is a higher form of internationalisation than already achieved by world capitalism.
Lenin argues that, “The first fact that has been established most accurately by the whole theory of development, by science as a whole - a fact ignored by the utopians, and is ignored by the present-day opportunists, who are afraid of the socialist revolution - is that, historically, there must undoubtedly be a special stage, or special phase, of transition from capitalism to communism” (VI Lenin SW Vol 2, Moscow 1977, p300). Lenin quotes Marx saying, “Between capitalism and communism lies the period of the revolutionary transition of the one into the other.” Therefore the lower stage of communism is a period of revolutionary transition: that is, the socialist revolution.
In Lenin’s debate with the ‘imperialist economists’ he sets out to clarify the relationship between economics and political democracy. He says: “Capitalism in general, and imperialism in particular, turn democracy into an illusion - though at the same time capitalism engenders democratic aspirations in the masses, creates democratic institutions, aggravates the antagonism between imperialism’s denial of democracy and the mass striving for democracy. Capitalism and imperialism can be overthrown only by economic revolution. They cannot be overthrown by democratic transformations, even the most ‘ideal’. But a proletariat not schooled in the struggle for democracy is incapable of performing an economic revolution” (VI Lenin CW Vol 23, Moscow 1970, p25).
Socialism can thus be understood as an international “economic revolution”. An economic revolution means radically changing the material, technological and social organisation of production, distribution and exchange. Of course such an international revolution would not be possible without the working class taking political power. The transfer of political power from one class to another is a necessary precondition for a radical economic revolution. Lenin explained that the Russian Revolution was “only the beginning of the international socialist revolution” (ibid Vol 26, p386). The Bolsheviks maintained that the development of the revolution inside Russia was dependent on the success of the revolution in other countries: “We, the Russian working and exploited classes, have the honour of being the vanguard of the international socialist revolution” (ibid p472).
Like Lenin, Trotsky uses the term ‘international socialist revolution’ in his theory of permanent revolution (L Trotsky Results and prospects New York 1969, p280). He explains that, “The international character of the socialist revolution, which constitutes the third aspect of the theory of permanent revolution, flows from the present state of economy and the social structure of humanity” (p133). He states: “Internationalism is no abstract principle, but a theoretical and political reflection of the character of the world economy, of world development of the productive forces and the world scale of the class struggle” (p133). In this quotation Trotsky links together the international character of the socialist revolution with the development of the productive forces.
Trotsky argued that socialist revolution was “grounded on an immense growth of the productive forces” and “could take shape in its fundamental aspects only on the soil of the worldwide division of labour which has been created by the entire preceding development of capitalism” (L Trotsky The first five years of the Communist International New York 1945, p55). Trotsky is entirely correct to link socialism to the economic or material basis of world capitalism.
What is the substance of the international economic revolution? Capitalism is an exploitative commodity-producing society. Commodities are not simply use values or useful products, but are the valued property of their owners. The value of this property is measured in terms of money by its price. Capitalism is regulated by value, expressed in the relationship of wages, prices and profits. The power of productive labour to produce socially useful goods and services is held back by the law of value. The socialist economic revolution can be seen as the liberation of use value from the constraints of value.
Communist society is a society without money or value. The international economic revolution does not so much abolish money as replace it with international time accounting. Rather than measuring value in terms of dollars, pounds, francs, euros and yen, the workers will measure costs of production in direct labour time. Direct labour time provides a universal measure of economic activity across the globe. It also provides a measure of the contribution ‘from each according to his/her ability; to each according to his/her work’. The time taken for particular tasks and the time contributed by each worker will be calculated and known. Marx notes that the same principle applies in the lower stage of communism as exists under capitalism: “A given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labour in another form” - the principle of equal exchange (quoted in W Daum The life and death of Stalinism New York 1990, p112).
The move from a global economy based on numerous currencies to one based on the universal measurement of labour time constitutes a radical international economic revolution. At a stroke it would make economic activity transparent and open to democratic accountability, whilst radically altering the distribution of income. Abolishing world market forces or the law of value and replacing this with the universal measurement of labour time would finally break down the walls of economic nationalism.
After the collapse of USSR, the question of the nature of socialism and its relationship to communism is posed with renewed force and urgency. In face of difficulties and disagreements the RCN has had in coming to an agreed socialist slogan, it is tempting to drop the socialist slogan from the platform. That would be opportunism, a short-sighted approach to politics. We must fight this reactionary trend. We must have a scientifically based socialist slogan and defend it against all the enemies of the working class.
Whilst I can accept the slogan ‘international socialism’, the term ‘international socialist revolution’ most accurately gets us to the scientific truth. Whilst the fact that Lenin and Trotsky used this concept does not constitute proof of its correctness, I see no reason to jettison their slogan. Our task is to give it new or clearer meaning.