Video: The Incoherence of “Transitional Society”

The Incoherence of “Transitional Society” as a Marxian Concept

 by Andrew Kliman

 

Kliman gave this talk to the Workers’ and Punks’ University May Day School in Llubljana, Slovenia, on April 27, 2013. The text of the talk is published below. The video, which includes the hour-long discussion that followed the talk, is here.

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First, a comment on the title of this talk. Titles have to be short, so I’ve used the phrase “Marxian concept,” but that’s ambiguous. What I mean is, “of Marx, in the context of Marx’s thought.” I’m not saying that proponents of the concept of a “transitional society” can’t be Marxists. The question of who is and isn’t a Marxist doesn’t interest me.

I want to thank Workers’ and Punks’ University for inviting me here, and for all of your work to the May Day School possible. And I want to thank you for publishing “Two Peas in a Pod,” a critique of positions on the Eurozone crisis put forward by Costas Lapavitsas and Michel Husson that Anne Jaclard and I wrote. We are pleased that people in Greece, to whom we sent the English version, liked it so much that they immediately translated and published it in Greek. So perhaps it may contribute a bit to the fightback there against the efforts to solve the crisis on the backs of working people.

We’re also pleased that you published “Two Peas in a Pod,” despite the fact that its political implications are controversial among you. You even suggested that, in my talk here this evening, I focus on what might be a related issue, the notion of a so-called transitional society between capitalism and socialism. Such solidarity and respect for conflicting ideas is extremely rare in our experience. We’re accustomed to having our views suppressed, and to lies and personal vilification. So we’re very grateful.

WPU video

Since the theme of this May Day School is accumulation, I want to begin by discussing the concept of “primitive socialist accumulation” put forward by the Bolshevik economic thinker Evgeny Preobrazhensky, in his 1926 book The New Economics. At the time, he was part of the Left Opposition to Stalin. In his view, the economy of the Soviet Union at that moment was partly a commodity-producing economy and partly a socialist economy. He regarded part of it as socialist because it was state-owned and controlled, and because it used planning, rather than “spontaneous” market forces, to determine prices and levels of output, and to allocate resources and workers. The relationship between the two parts of the economy was an antagonistic one in his view; there was a “struggle of the socialist planning principle against the spontaneity of commodity production.”

Hence, a fully socialist economy was conceived of as a totally planned economy with total state ownership and control of the means of production. What was needed to achieve this, Preobrazhensky thought, was a process of transition, in which the state-owned, planned part of the economy became an ever-larger part, crowding out the market-regulated, private part of the economy until it disappeared. The policy of “primitive socialist accumulation” that Preobrazhensky proposed was an effort to speed up this transition. Rapid accumulation of state capital, investment in production, would enlarge the state sector of the economy. Moreover, the private sector would be weakened because Preobrazhensky’s plan called for the “alienati[on of] part of the surplus product of [the] private economy for the benefit of the socialist accumulation fund.” In other words, the expansion of the state sector would take place at the direct expense of the private sector, which would be forced to fund some of that expansion. Originally, Preobrazhensky called this a process of “exploitation.”

Something like this was put into effect by Stalin two years later. Preobrazhensky, and Left Oppositionists generally, regarded Stalin’s new policy as the triumph of their ideas. And in terms of basic theoretical concepts, what Preobrazhensky put forward was even less distinctive than his policy proposals. What I find most troubling and problematic about his ideas are aspects that he doesn’t even argue for. He took these aspects for granted, because they were commonly accepted aspects of the Marxian economic thinking of his time.

In particular, his proposals for the transition from capitalism to socialism are based on the idea that more state planning, ownership, and control is progress toward socialism, which in turn rests on the fundamental equation of socialism with state planning, ownership, and control. These notions were very common. And despite all that we have had to learn by means of experience, they still remain very common.

Everyone is entitled to define socialism however he or she wishes––including Karl Marx. The notion that socialism equals state planning, ownership, and control was alien to Marx’s conception of socialism. More precisely, it was alien to his conception of what he called communist society, both its initial phase and its higher phase.

Let me first address the issue of state ownership and control.

Of course, Marx called for the abolition of private property. But what makes property private, in his view, is not individual ownership, but the separation of the direct producers, workers, from the property they produce. Thus, in the German Ideology, he and Frederick Engels noted that “ancient communal and State ownership … is still accompanied by slavery,” and they referred to the communal ownership of slaves as “communal private property” (emphasis added).

In volume 2 of Capital, Marx wrote, “The social capital is equal to the sum of the individual capitals (including … state capital, in so far as governments employ productive wage-labour in mines, railways, etc. and function as industrial capitalists.” Similarly, in his notes on Adolph Wagner’s critique of Capital, Marx wrote that “[w]here the state itself is a capitalist producer, as in the exploitation of mines, forests, etc., its product is a ‘commodity’ and hence possesses the specific character of every other commodity.”

Most importantly, in volume 1 of Capital, he implicitly addressed the issue of what would happen if the state’s role as capitalist producer expanded to such a point that it completely crowded out other capitalists. He argued that the tendency toward monopoly, the process of centralization of capitals, “would reach its extreme limit … [i]n a given society … only when the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company.” As Raya Dunayevskaya noted, Marx’s text implies that such a society “would remain capitalist[;] … this extreme development would in no way change the law of motion of that society.” Engels thus seems to have been stating Marx’s view as well as his own when he wrote, in Anti-Dühring,

“state ownership … does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. … The more [of them the state takes over], the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with.”

Now let me turn to the issue of planning. Preobrazhensky regarded planning and “the law of value” as opposites. This, too, was a rather common perspective, and it remains so.

As he used the term “law of value,” it was basically the same thing as the so-called law of supply and demand. It operated to the extent that prices, levels of output, and allocation of resources and workers were determined by competition in markets––and only to that extent. However, the equation of planning with socialism and market determination with capitalism didn’t really work. Preobrazhensky, like other thinkers who shared the same theoretical framework, was acutely aware that capitalism itself was becoming more planned, and thus less regulated by “the law of value.” This is how he characterized the German economy during World War I:

“The regulation of the whole of capitalist production by the bourgeois state reached a degree unprecedented in the history of capitalism. Production which formally remained commodity production was transformed de facto into planned production in the most important branches. Free competition was abolished, and the working of the law of value in many respects was almost completely replaced by the planning principle of state capitalism.”

Thus, in Preobrazhensky’s view, the transition from capitalism to socialism involved the further extension of a tendency that was already operating under capitalism, the tendency to replace “the law of value” with planning. So actually, according to this view, it’s not correct, strictly speaking, to distinguish between capitalism and socialism in terms of the law of value vs. planning. Thus the distinction between the two systems reduces to the other distinction, the distinction between private and state ownership and control.

In any case, his very limited conception of the “law of value” is quite different from Marx’s. In volume 3 of Capital, Marx argued that “the law of value [is not] affected” by the precise manner in which prices of particular commodities are determined, because a change in the way in which they are determined “does not abolish surplus-value itself, nor the total value of commodities as the source of the[ ] various price components.” Thus, as Marx is using the term “law of value,” the question of whether this law does or doesn’t operate has nothing to do with how prices of individual commodities are determined. What matters is whether the products are commodities, things that are not only useful but also possess “value,” and whether the total value–of all of the commodities, taken together–is determined by the amount of labor needed to produce them. If so, then the law of value, as Marx is using the term, is operative.

Marx recognized that socialist production must be planned. But planning by itself was not the central issue. He wrote in vol. 1 of Capital that “[t]he veil is not removed from the … process of material production … until it becomes production by freely associated [people], and stands under their conscious and planned control.” So first, there is the crucial issue of whether the producers are freely associated, an issue that was almost completely absent from Preobrazhensky’s book. But even if we restrict our focus to planning, note that Marx indicates that production must stand under the conscious and planned control of the direct producers. The issue here is whether the contents of the plan are determined by the producers themselves or whether they are determined by economic laws and imperatives over which the producers have no control. When the law of value in Marx’s sense is operative, “the labour-time necessary to produce [the products] asserts itself as a regulative law of nature” in the same way that “the law of gravity asserts itself when a person’s house collapses on top of him.”

In 1943, Dunayevskaya challenged the idea that concentration of all capital in the hands of the state makes it possible to raise workers’ standard of living. The problem, she argued, is that the determination of products’ values by the labor-time socially necessary for their production will assert itself, regardless of what the planners want and regardless of what they put into the plan. If the state tries to raise workers’ standard of living, then “the cost of production of a commodity rises above the cost [in] the surrounding world market. Then … [p]roduction ceases because the commodity cannot compete with a cheaper commodity from a value-producing economy, or … the society … will ultimately be defeated by the more efficient capitalist nations in the present form of capitalist competition[,] which is total imperialist war.” To compete effectively in the context of “the world market, governed by the law of value,” planning must be “governed by the necessity to pay the laborer the minimum … and to extract from him the maximum surplus value.” As long as that is the case, “that is how long capitalist relations of production exist, no matter what you name the social order.” [1]

The economic policies that Preobrazhensky proposed 87 years ago, for a country that no longer exists, are of course not of any particular interest to us now. But his ideas regarding the transition from capitalism to socialism do remain of interest, for another reason. They are an example of the view that political changes and/or legal changes are the determining factors in social change. This continues to be a very widely held view, among Marxists, anarchists, autonomists, and so on.

Paresh Chattopadhyay—an important Marx scholar—has argued, I think correctly, that Preobrazhensky’s concept of transition makes legal changes the determining factor. It does so because it equates capitalism with a specific form of ownership, and socialism with a different form of ownership. But forms of ownership are legal relations. In Preobrazhensky’s book, the transition from capitalism to socialism is therefore conceived as the transition from one legal form of ownership to another legal form of ownership. The change in legal form produces a change in the character of the society, and a change in the character of its production relations, and it produces these changes automatically, or more precisely, as a matter of definition.

As Chattopadhyay puts it,

Preobrazhensky conceives the transitional economy purely in terms of changes in property relations (forms).  … capitalism is supposed to change automatically into socialism along with it. … In other words, ownership relations (forms) are taken as an independent variable in the process of social transformation. Preobrazhensky thereby seems to be suffering from what Marx had long ago denounced as ‘metaphysical or juridical illusion’ in his well-known critique of Proudhon. [2]

It is interesting that Preobrazhensky addressed this issue at one point in his book. He posed the question, “Perhaps the replacement of private ownership by social ownership on all the commanding heights is merely a formal juridical act which involves no change in the essence of the system?” But he asked this only rhetorically. Evidently he regarded the question as too preposterous to take seriously.

Nowadays, the idea that state ownership and control of the means of production is sufficient to “change … the essence of the system,” that it constitutes socialism, is much less popular than it was in Preobrazhensky’s time, for obvious reasons. But somewhat similar ideas remain popular.  For instance, in the midst of the global financial crisis, some leftist economists called for state control or nationalization of the financial system.

Rick Wolff called for state control and banks managed by workers.  According to Wolff,  “workers who also served on their own boards of directors would make different decisions … than traditional boards elected by shareholders”; “[w]orkers’ … well-being … would displace individual enterprise profits … as the prevailing objective.” Fred Moseley and John Weeks favored nationalization of finance. Moseley argued that if the state is in charge of the banks, they can be transformed from institutions interested in maximum profit into institutions that pursue public policy objectives. Thus “[t]he nationalization of banks … could be an important step on the road to socialism.”

But there cannot be socialism in one country. What results when you try to have socialism in one country is state-capitalism, a state-run system that is still embedded in the global capitalist economy, and which is still locked into a competitive battle with capitals elsewhere in the world.

A state-run bank is still a bank. It still has to obtain funds before it can lend them out, and to do so, it must provide a decent return to those who supply it with funds. (This is true of a worker-run bank as well.) But this means that its investment decisions cannot be based on what would enhance workers’ well-being or on public policy objectives. If enhancement of workers’ well-being or fulfillment of public policy objectives would significantly reduce its profitability in relationship to the profitability of banks with which it competes—and it is hard to imagine circumstances in which this would not be the case—a bank that would dare to pursue these goals would find that lenders and investors would not supply it with the funds it needs in order to compete successfully, or even to remain solvent. In order to survive, a state-run (or worker-run) bank must pursue the goal of profit maximization, just like every other bank.

The belief that political changes and/or legal changes are the determining factors in social change also takes a number of other forms that are very popular today. It seems that most people want to see another world, but think it can come about, if at all, by voting it in, or by workers becoming their own bosses, or by paying everyone the same amount, or by means of whatever political, legal, and administrative measures they have been led to believe can accomplish the redistribution of power and wealth and really make their lives better.

And, on the anticapitalist left, the typical view of how to transcend capitalism can be summarized as follows. First, you change people’s consciousness, or their consciousness changes through their participation in new forms of organization. The change in consciousness allows us to increase our side’s political power, to the point where we take control, either through elections or by seizing power.  And once our side has political power, we can then change the nature of the economy and the state simply by deciding to put “people before profit” and implementing what we decide. We need the right political forms, forms of organization, to accomplish this—and there’s a whole lot of debate about what are the right forms of organization. But if we do have the right forms of organization, then overcoming capitalism is a simple matter.  We decide, through these forms of organization, what should be produced and what shouldn’t, we decide how to distribute resources and goods fairly, we decide on other social priorities, and then we just put these decisions into effect.

This picture of social change is in the minds of almost the whole of the anticapitalist left, from vanguardists to anarchists.

Unintended consequences

The obvious problem that is overlooked here is the problem of unintended consequences. If you make a decision and implement it, you can’t assume that the result, the consequences, will be what you expected or intended. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. After all, no one—including Stalin—intended to turn the USSR into the monstrosity it became.

Now, if the unintended consequences are just mistakes, it might be possible to correct them over time simply through experimentation, doing things a bit differently and seeing if that improves matters. But experimentation is no solution if the unintended consequences are the result of the fact that the economic laws of capitalism continue to govern your supposed new society. If “the labour-time necessary to produce [the products continues to assert[ ] itself as a regulative law of nature,” if you have to pay workers the minimum and extract from them the maximum—despite your intentions–in order to compete effectively, there will be a continual stream of unintended consequences that you won’t be able to eliminate through experimentation. A country that tries to improve the standard of living of its workers too much will not be competitive. State-run banks that try to pursue public policy objectives instead of maximizing profit, and worker-run banks that try to enhance the workers’ well-being instead of maximizing profit, will lack the funds to do so. And so on.

The problem here isn’t that you’ve made mistakes. So experimentation, correcting mistakes, won’t solve the problem.  The problem is rather that, despite your good intentions, and despite the new priorities, new forms of organization, new forms of ownership, new laws, and the new name you give your society, it remains capitalist. It remains capitalist because the economic laws that govern capitalism continue to govern your society. And they continue to govern your society because new priorities, new forms of organization, new forms of ownership and so forth are not enough––by themselves––to overcome the economic laws of capitalism.

And this, above all, is why I think we need Marx today.  It is commonly said that he was a theorist of capitalism, not of socialism. But a lot of his work pertains, directly or indirectly, to the concept of a new society. And, to some degree, he worked out what would actually be needed in order to transcend capitalism. We ignore this legacy at our peril.

Specifically, Marx battled Proudhonism and similar tendencies on the Left throughout his adult life. He didn’t disagree with their ultimate goals. He shared those goals. But he fought a never-ending battle against these tendencies because he thought that their alternatives to existing society would not work. They would merely be capitalism in a different form or they would be unviable and lead back to capitalism.  And the reason why they wouldn’t work, he argued, is that these supposed alternatives to capitalism all try to get rid of capitalism without getting rid of its mode of production.

For example, he criticized John Gray’s proposal to eliminate money. Gray wanted there to be  a national bank that would issue certificates denominated in labor-time. Workers would give the products they produced to the bank. In return, the bank would give them certificates, which they could use to obtain other products held by the bank. If you handed over products that took you a week to produce, for instance, you would get certificates that allowed you to withdraw commodities that other workers took a week to produce.

Against this, Marx argued that, to really eliminate money, you have to eliminate exchange-value, which requires that you eliminate commodities, which requires that you eliminate commodity production, which requires that labor be directly social—in contrast to existing society, where private labor becomes social indirectly, through the exchange of its products. If labor were directly social, “exchange-value would not be turned into price; but neither would use-value be turned into exchange-value and the product into a commodity, and thus the very basis of bourgeois production would be abolished.” The problem was that abolition of the bourgeois mode of production isn’t what Gray had in mind. He had in mind a system in which “goods are … produced as commodities but not exchanged as commodities.” In other words, Gray’s proposal wouldn’t work because it tries to change the capitalist system by eliminating its effects, but not the causes of these effects.

When he summarized these and similar criticisms in general terms, Marx typically did so by stating that changes in relations of production are the determining factor; changes in political and legal forms, and changes in consciousness, are the consequences of the changes in the relations of production. For instance, in his Preface to the work in which he criticized Gray, Marx wrote,

“The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.  …  The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

He reaffirmed this in the first chapter of Capital (see note 34).

CCPE

Such statements are often construed as economic determinism, or they are said to deny the importance of subjectivity and human agency. I don’t think that’s the case. After all, it is people who have to change the relations of production, and this is political activity, conscious activity. I think Marx’s point is rather this. First, changes in political and legal forms, and changes in consciousness, are not themselves changes in the relations of production. Second, if only they are changed, not the relations of production, the changes will not succeed in changing the character of the society.

I think Marx’s most important thoughts about this issue are those in his Critique of the Gotha Program. This Critique is important partly because it contains a mature statement of his view, eight years after Capital was published, and one of the more developed expressions of his view. It is also important because it is explicitly about the respective roles played by the mode of production, and by political and legal relations, in the transformation of capitalist society into socialist (“communist”) society. And it is important because it is a political document. Marx was opposing the political program of the new united German Social Democratic Party, and thereby opposing the unification. And the primary basis of his opposition was the Program’s call to eliminate a key effect of capitalism, “unfair” income distribution, without getting rid of its causes.

The core of his whole argument is that a society’s notions of justice, legal relations, and income distribution depend on and correspond to its mode of production. With regard to rights or law (das Recht), he comments that “Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.” With regard to legal relations,” he writes, “Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise out of economic ones?” He also criticizes the Gotha Program for not “treating existing society … as the basis of the existing state” and the future society as the basis of the future state, but instead “treat[ing] the state … as an independent entity.”

And with regard to the Gotha Program’s call for “fair distribution” of income, Marx responds that the “treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution” is “[v]ulgar socialism … taken over from the bourgeois economists.” He also writes,

The capitalist mode of production … rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of nonworkers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of … labor power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one.

Keep in mind that, for Marx, “co-operative property” is not a matter of legal title. He says here that “legal relations arise out of economic ones,” and he recognized, as I noted earlier, the existence of “communal private property.”

As I understand the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx argues that, in order for the means of production to be the co-operative property of the workers themselves, exchange of products must be eliminated, which requires the elimination of value and value production, which in turn requires that labor become directly social, in the sense that a hour of one worker’s labor is equal to an hour of every other worker’s labor. And this equality of labors, again, is not the result of a legal decree, but of changes in the economic foundation of society.

I don’t have time to explicate or defend this reading here. If you wish, I can do so in the discussion. What I want to turn to now is something that Marx didn’t say in the Critique of the Gotha Program. Here’s what he did say:

Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. [emphases added]

The political transition is the transition from the capitalist state, which enforces the rule of the minority over the majority, to a workers’ state, which enforces the rule of the majority over the minority, to the situation in which there is no state. Once capitalist society has been transformed into socialist society (i.e., the initial phase of communism), there are no social classes, and thus no need for a state to enforce class rule. The state dies out, withers away.

So Marx does refer to a transition, but not to a transitional society. There is the revolutionary transformation of capitalist society into communist society, and a corresponding political transition period. The myth that he was a proponent of a transitional society is based on confusing “transformation” and “transition.” This confusion may have started with Lenin. In his book The State and Revolution, Lenin quoted what Marx wrote, and then commented,Now the question is put somewhat differently: the transition from capitalist society … to communist society is impossible without a ‘political transition period’” (emphasis added).

But “transformation” and “transition” are different concepts. A transformation is a radical change. One thing becomes another thing. That is all. How that change occurs is not part of the concept of transformation itself. And the change doesn’t necessarily take place by means of a transition. If I flip the light switch, I transform a light room into a dark room.

In any case, I don’t think the idea of a transitional society—an intermediate society in between capitalism and  socialism—makes any sense within the context of Marx’s thought. It does make sense given some other conceptions of capitalism and socialism, but not Marx’s. For instance, the idea of a transitional society makes perfect sense if one thinks, as Preobrazhensky did, that capitalism is private ownership while socialism is state ownership. In that case, there is indeed a third kind of society in between them, in which there’s both private and state ownership. And the move from capitalism to socialism is thus a transition, from less to more to complete state ownership.

And there are other conceptions of social change in which the idea of a transitional society also makes perfect sense. For instance, one idea that has recently been popular is that the new society is the completed process of occupying space and establishing new forms of organization on occupied space. On this conception, there is again a third kind of society in between capitalism and the new society, a society with elements of both of them, and the move from capitalism to the new society is again a process of transition––in this case, the quantitative increase in occupied space and new forms of organization.

But I don’t think the idea of a transitional society in between capitalism and  socialism is coherent as a Marxian concept.  A transitional state in between the capitalist state and socialist non-state makes perfect sense as a Marxian concept. But a transitional society does not.

The difference has to do with the difference I have been emphasizing in this talk––between political and legal forms, on the one hand, and the mode of production, the economic foundation of society, on the other hand. In Marx’s view, changes in political and legal forms are produced by changes in the economic foundation of society, not vice-versa.

Political domination is rooted in class antagonisms. Class antagonisms are in turn rooted in the existence of the division of society into classes.  And the division of society into classes is rooted in the mode of production.  So the transition from the capitalist state to the socialist non-state is intelligible, as a Marxian concept, because this transition is based on and corresponds to the revolutionary transformation of the mode of production. Once the mode of production is transformed, society won’t be divided into classes; so, of course, there won’t be class antagonisms. And that eliminates the need for a state in the proper sense of the term. There is a transition from rule by a minority, to rule by the majority, to rule by all.

So the transformation of the capitalist mode of production into the socialist mode of production produces the transition from capitalist state to socialist non-state. But what transformation of the capitalist mode of production into the socialist mode of production could produce a transition from the capitalist mode of production into the socialist mode of production? The question simply makes no sense.

Thus, there’s no genuine analogy between the political transition and the revolutionary transformation of the mode of production. In the view of Marx and Engels, capitalist relations of production are the basis for the existence of the state. So if the basis changes, this causes the political and legal superstructure to change. But can we say that, if the basis changes, this causes the basis to change? No. This is incoherent drivel.

Capitalism is based on the mode of production; socialism is based on the socialist mode of production. If there is a third kind of society in between them, what is its mode of production? Capitalism is governed by the law of value (in Marx’s sense) and related economic imperatives that are specific to it. Socialism is not. What about the third, distinct kind of society that supposedly lies in between them?  Is it governed by these specifically capitalist laws and imperatives, or is it not?

If the answer is that the transitional society is partly governed by them, let me ask: is a woman carrying a small fetus only partly pregnant? The logic of capital is totalizing. The failures of state capitalism and the welfare states have shown that they they cannot control this logic. It batters down all Chinese walls, creates a world in its own image. So I can certainly imagine an unstable state of flux in the process of transforming capitalism into socialism, a state of flux in which capitalism’s economic laws and imperatives haven’t yet been fully dismantled. But I cannot imagine a third kind of society—as distinct from an unstable state of flux—in which capitalism’s economic laws and imperatives both do and do not operate.

I am not arguing that everything has to change all at once. I am not denying that some changes must be gradual.  My point is rather that “transitional society” is incoherent as a Marxian concept. It does not help, but hurts, efforts to understand and return to the perspective of the revolutionary transformation of society that Marx projected.

—–

Notes

[1] Although Dunayevkaya wrote the first draft of this article in 1943, it was not published until late 1946 and early 1947.

[2] Paresh Chattopadhay, “Socialism and Value Categories in Early Soviet Doctrine: Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Preobrazhensky,” in Alan Freeman, Andrew Kliman, and Julian Wells (eds.), The New Value Controversy and the Foundations of Economics. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2004.

 

Comments

11 Comments on "Video: The Incoherence of “Transitional Society”"

  1. Georgia on Tue, 7th May 2013 8:34 am 

    “The issue of what would happen if the state’s role as capitalist producer expanded to such a point that it completely crowded out other capitalists. He argued that the tendency toward monopoly, the process of centralization of capitals “would reach its extreme limit”

    Just to point out the similar consequences of today under a different political hat

    States today have taken on the role of national sovereigns in that they can’t afford to buy out the corporations to control nations; states are ‘subjects’ to corporate profit – at all levels. The British government is slashing high street businesses FOR corporations, to slash competition, to slash the number in the workforce enabling slave labour costs. The extreme limit will be Charles Dickens all over again in centralised top heavy businesses. Humanity will suffer because state control is not really about the people; they are always the last in the hierarchy of responsibility when really they should be the first since none of what we are speaking about could ever occur without their creativity and labour.

    “Engles: “state ownership … does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. … The more [of them the state takes over], the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with.”

    Yes as I’ve tried to outline above – because the workers lives are determined by the levels of productivity not by autonomy and creativity

    “As he used the term “law of value,” it was basically the same thing as the so-called law of supply and demand. It operated to the extent that prices, levels of output, and allocation of resources and workers were determined by competition in markets”

    What happened under working conditions of World War one:
    “and the working of the law of value in many respects was almost completely replaced by the planning principle of state capitalism.”

    yes, and with the principle of state capitalism policies and laws are created to reinforce those ‘principles’ – the market as the object of capitalism is again ‘super imposed’ upon human nature. You either overthrow that system of ‘profit’ that abstraction or you don’t the former makes human life possible the latter does not. Exchange of labour could be simply that. The value would be the ‘needed’ labour to survive. Small boroughs could do it. Jehovah’s Witnesses do it LOL – they do!

    “In Preobrazhensky’s book, the transition from capitalism to socialism is therefore conceived as the transition from one legal form of ownership to another legal form of ownership. The change in legal formproduces a change in the character of the society, and a change in the character of its production relations, and it produces these changes automatically, or more precisely, as a matter of definition”.

    We need only to look at history to see how law, policies, labour laws, trade unions and more change with the laws that enforce production first. The character of a society matches the productive forces too i.e it backs up its ideology and even turn on each other if they are not following its values – workers against unemployed – lazy etc. This Preobrazhensky relies too much on the law as if it is ‘god given’ – I always see the route of law and policies emerging from its original vehicle – the faith arising out of dominant religions.

    “Rick Wolff called for state control and banks managed by workers. According to Wolff, “workers who also served on their own boards of directors would make different decisions … than traditional boards elected by shareholders”; “[w]orkers’ … well-being … would displace individual enterprise profits … as the prevailing objective.”
    No way – no way – this is happening in the UK. Lots of its social institutions are run by people who have been trained as managers. They are the products of initial poor education and therefore have been swept up to be trained in Nazi controlling mechanisms. We now have a workforce filled with ‘chavs’ who cannot for the life of them make any connections – eg Borough Councils – catastrophes. However, nationalisation of the banks is a yes while organising better ways.

    “But there cannot be socialism in one country. What results when you try to have socialism in one country is state-capitalism, a state-run system that is still embedded in the global capitalist economy, and which is still locked into a competitive battle with capitals elsewhere in the world”.

    Always been my gripe – I think its impossible. The world has been purposely built with inequalities in it. There isn’t a way for international capitalism UNLESS the electricity is switched off globally all at once. If you have a national socialist country they’ll be starved out by international economy. Its rather like North America starving out its many nations to force them into the dominant mode of ‘abstraction’ competition and capitalism – do or die.

    “A state-run bank is still a bank. It still has to obtain funds before it can lend them out, and to do so, it must provide a decent return to those who supply it with funds. (This is true of a worker-run bank as well.) But this means that its investment decisions cannot be based on what would enhance workers’ well-being or on public policy objectives. If enhancement of workers’ well-being or fulfilment of public policy objectives would significantly reduce its profitability in relationship to the profitability of banks with which it competes—and it is hard to imagine circumstances in which this would not be the case—a bank that would dare to pursue these goals would find that lenders and investors would not supply it with the funds it needs in order to compete successfully, or even to remain solvent. In order to survive, a state-run (or worker-run) bank must pursue the goal of profit maximization, just like every other bank”.

    A national bank would not see the profits strived for by capitalist banks however such could see a profit, albeit a small one. Perhaps these banks could do business with other nations who have the same? At least its a start to redistribute power to the people – but it should have happened before this current mess – still its possible.

    “And, on the anticapitalist left, the typical First, you change people’s consciousness, or their consciousness changes through their participation in new forms of organization”.

    That never happens; the leaders still refer back to 1917 like a phuckin gospel

    “The change in consciousness allows us to increase our side’s political power, to the point where we take control, either through elections or by seizing power. And once our side has political power, we can then change the nature of the economy and the state simply by deciding to put “people before profit” and implementing what we decide”.

    Nope because Marx et al are seen as ‘gods’ by the tutors and not as political economists who wanted to explain how things work. The language of the left has become too supreme for the common workers to understand. The language of the left is made by academics (sorry but true) who even form their own words for each other to understand only in academic conferences and papers ( away to save space on explanations – a symbol in a word) which are not included in dictionaries even if the worker had time to read them!! Language is EVERYTHING. The workers history and the worker, the human’s language should be used and this changes with the modes and means of production – keep it COMMON.

    “We need the right political forms, forms of organization, to accomplish this—and there’s a whole lot of debate about what are the right forms of organization”.

    If socialism is hell bent in not breaking the law and upsetting the status quo – demonstrations as ‘determined’ by the state – behaviour – not to upset anything – why bother? Organisation – teach the children – they are the next generation and believe me education is seriously stunting their abilities to make any connections whatsoever.

    “But if . . . . .then overcoming capitalism is a simple matter”. ” We decide what should be produced . . . .how to distribute resources and other social priorities, and then we just put these decisions into effect”.

    LOL – just turn the phuckin lights out if you want change. But remember this – people will die but we’ve ALL fed into this ugly system –

    “But experimentation is no solution if the unintended consequences are the result of the fact that the economic laws of capitalism continue to govern your supposed new society”.

    Agreed – its still an experiment which will have unintended consequences outside of ‘good intentions’!! By the way the whole of the West is run on ‘good intentions’. We need to stop ‘abstracting’ and moralising to know what is best for civilisation – food, shelter, healthcare and pension for starters – I think we are all agreed upon that. Further LESS working hours and more freedom/happiness to be human and live. That will do for starters!

    “Proudhonism ” . . . . .is that these supposed alternatives to capitalism all try to get rid of capitalism without getting rid of its mode of production.” For example, he criticized John Gray’s proposal to eliminate money. Gray wanted there to be a national bank that would issue certificates denominated in labor-time. Workers would give the products they produced to the bank. In return, the bank would give them certificates, which they could use to obtain other products held by the bank. If you handed over products that took you a week to produce, for instance, you would get certificates that allowed you to withdraw commodities that other workers took a week to produce”.

    How ugly is that – state control – it’s not freedom its monstrously the same but even worse somehow. NO! Let the people exchange their good with each other for ‘whatever’ they want! In some of the Eastern European countries now this is how they are surviving – dealing with each other. Not receiving ‘tickets’ by a state who ‘determines’ that all should be valued on ‘time’. Time is valuable especially in a capitalist society – ask Henry Ford! So again, then, our state would be following its ‘morality’ its ‘principles’ and its hierarchy of abstraction. NO. The people can decide ‘between’ them selves. The state is EMPLOYED by the people; lets NEVER forget that. If anything it is answerable to humanity who invented it to do a job of CARE.
    As Bishop Berkeley said about money and value ”
    Very fittingly it was Bishop Berkeley, the advocate of mystical idealism in English philosophy, who gave the doctrine of the nominal standard of money a theoretical twist, which the practical Secretary to the Treasury had omitted to do. Berkeley asks
    “Whether the terms Crown, Livre, Pound Sterling, etc., are not to be considered as Exponents or Denominations of such Proportions?” (i.e., proportions of abstract value as such). “And whether Gold, Silver, and Paper are not Tickets or Counters for Reckoning, Recording and Transferring thereof?” (of the proportion of value). “Whether Power to command the Industry” (social labour) “of others be not real Wealth? And whether Money be not in Truth, Tickets or Tokens for conveying and recording such Power, and whether it be of great consequence what Materials the Tickets are made of?” [3]
    That is; in view of how gold and silver have measured the ‘value’ of our existence. It has nothing to do with labour etc – again only in abstraction and ideals.

    John Steward Mills “The unit once fixed, we can, by multiplying it, ascend to the greatest value…. The value of commodities, therefore, depending upon a general combination of circumstances relative to themselves and to the fancies of men, their value ought to be considered as changing only with respect to one another; consequently, anything which troubles or perplexes the ascertaining those changes of proportion by the means of a general, determinate and invariable scale, must be hurtful to trade…. Money … is an ideal scale of equal parts”.

    The same with tickets – and what would they be made of LOL!
    Ah paper – tree’s – now that puts a whole new spin on things – tree’s REALLY are more valuable than gold and silver – ask the inhabitants of Easter Island! Scotland, The Amazon! Or, lets just forget the issuing of tickets in exchange for the much NEEDED stewarding and work of humanity!

    ” If labor were directly social, “exchange-value would not be turned into price; but neither would use-value be turned into exchange-value and the product into a commodity, and thus the very basis of bourgeois production would be abolished.”

    Yep – like I said they are doing it already amongst the poor in Hungary, they were in Malta too. When you have to eat you realise the value of food. Try eating a paper ticket and try eating money. Don’t worry the human conscience will arrive as survival. The only concern is whether such a conscience having been conditioned to be ‘solitary’ in its capitalist pursuits will be able to immediately adapt to ‘share’ ?

    ” “The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. … The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure”

    Yep – hopefully it will be the simultaneous transformation of each nation with another that will opt to work together ‘immediately’.

    ” Such statements are often construed as economic determinism, or they are said to deny the importance of subjectivity and human agency”.

    Yes; and they are economically determined and rather than deny the importance of human subjectivity they ‘show’ how easy it is to ‘determine’ us. However, treat agency like a pig and it will bite back eventually.

    Determinism too as simply because people ‘believe’ them to be ‘ruling’ us of which they are. If humanity itself made a state to administer well being it would have to have ‘dispensable’ organisers running it to stave off competing long term jobs/bosses/hierarchical mentalities. It could be the ‘social service’ expected of people instead of ‘national service’ . . . .!

    (From Marx’s critique of the Gotha Program)” I don’t think that’s the case. After all, it is people who have to change the relations of production, and this is political activity, conscious activity.”

    However the terrible determining conditions of life coerce people into changing them! It is the conditions of our environment our lives that ignite thought and action. Hence our responses are determined by these things.

    “I think Marx’s point is rather this. First, changes in political and legal forms, and changes in consciousness, are not themselves changes in the relations of production. Second, if only they are changed, not the relations of production, the changes will not succeed in changing the character of the society.”

    Yep
    ” xchange of products must be eliminated, which requires the elimination of value and value production, which in turn requires that labor become directly social, in the sense that a hour of one worker’s labor is equal to an hour of every other worker’s labor. And this equality of labors, again, is not the result of a legal decree, but of changes in the economic foundation of society.”

    However:

    I am in two minds about this: Even though it is ‘fair’ as we know it. It still follows the same path as the ‘making’ of ‘money’ and of ‘tickets’ mentioned before. This for me throws up a whole ‘new’ issue which is not a new issue and is intrinsically linked to ALL OF THIS INCLUDING THIS REMEDY OF CAPITALISM. That being; LANGUAGE and the weighted ASSUMPTIONS within it as if INTERNATIONALLY we share the same perceptions of what is fair. Countries of the West that are living out the history of Calvinism – the protestant ethic and its values, its language, the abstraction of reality in ideology, ethics, equality as automatically equated with THE SYMMETRY OF NUMBERS in time, in production etc is itself a DOMINANT mode of production. What is always failing in my eyes is that we are supposed to be ridding capitalism for the purpose of ‘freedom’ and to exercise it. All of this excludes what actual freedom really is. Organising freedom is only possible at a ‘shared consciousness level therefore it HAS TO BE LOCAL. Nonetheless, internationally we could have symmetry of chosen ‘freedoms’ from the people. We are making the same assumptions has we have always since the onslaught of manufacturing – but even out of our pleonasm being a singular ‘ultimate’ existence for the whole world.
    Perhaps therefore it’s better to aim for the freedom of societies to exist however they want outside the demon capitalism. After all, there is enough evidence that is enslaves everybody.

    ” So Marx does refer to a transition, but not to a transitional society”.

    LOL the only way you could get that is to ‘sweet talk’ the owners of corporation round to it!

    ” If I flip the light switch, I transform a light room into a dark room.”

    Like I say . . . . . .

    ” Preobrazhensky did, that capitalism is private ownership while socialism is state ownership. In that case, there is indeed a third kind of society in between them, in which there’s both private and state ownership. And the move from capitalism to socialism is thus a transition, from less to more to complete state ownership.”

    What? You mean like we had before Thatcher got in! Didn’t take much time to dissolve it did it. All you had to do was to offer the workers to ‘buy’ their council houses, and give them a few poxy little shares in some abstract companies and banks and bingo! Privatisation became a reality. I actually think that this current international debt IS part of an investment of the bourgeoisie that of course we are paying for. This debt, the lending, investment and so on which enabled workers to take part therefore making national debts served as a small cost to corporations whom are buying up the businesses extremely cheaply, and closing competition. The international debt was a planned investment. Not only that – the workers get to pay it off! Wow. Back to the point I don’t particularly think in reality then there is such a thing as a third society in-between when again, profit is still the motive. Profit can only be made through competition were there are only winners and losers which are based on top profit makers.

    ” And there are other conceptions of social change in which the idea of a transitional society also makes perfect sense. For instance, one idea that has recently been popular is that the new society is the completed process of occupying space and establishing new forms of organization on occupied space. On this conception, there is againa third kind of society in between capitalism and the new society, a society with elements of both of them, and the move from capitalism to the new society is again a process of transition––in this case, the quantitative increase in occupied space and new forms of organization.”

    OH SHIT history all over again – watch out – freedom – the’ transitionals’ are coming! Perhaps this time round we won’t be so ‘hospitable’ and let you die of your own diseases! LOL

    “But I don’t think the idea of a transitional society in between capitalism and socialism is coherent as a Marxian concept”

    It’s not coherent at all. It’s only coherent as an example of contradiction.

    ” A transitional state in between the capitalist state and socialist non-state makes perfect sense as a Marxian concept”
    Yes, if transitional means ‘the immediate’ transformation of the state that Marx was speaking. However; your issue here is concerned with ‘timing and duration’. Transitional yes – if the dominant social relations have ended and then there is an organisational period perhaps – a transition or a ‘becoming’. However, I’d say that once the dominant relations have ended you’ve already achieved transformation and transition is ‘superflous’ to it – we could call it an ‘adjustment period’ perhaps or ‘further organising’, whatever.

    But as a ‘thing’ of debate ‘transitional’ in your paper may need clarifying as what its ‘form’ would be.

    Perhaps to set out how this could be achieved: i.e. would the ruling class and its businesses be completely taken over by the workers. Or, would the budding socialist modes of production be ‘competing’ with them! Or would it consist of these budding ones setting up their own international relations (possible) outside of the dominant ones – Or do you mean still using the exchange of money until things are worked out? What of the role of the military? Do you think corporations would ‘allow’ this especially in view of what we are going through now. What is going to be this ‘revolutionary mode of production that has the ability to transport itself and the workers into a socialist state?

    . “But a transitional society out of the mode of production”

    This does not make sense unless it is subversively planning the demise of its owners.

    “Political domination is rooted in class antagonisms. Class antagonisms are in turn rooted in the existence of the division of society into classes. And the division of society into classes is rooted in the mode of production”

    Yes maybe partially; but class antagonisms arise out of bourgeois ideology in the relations of production concerning what is professional what is skilful what is creative etc – ranked and hierarchal which spawns ‘false class consciousness’ among the workers etc – ‘deserving poor’, civil servants as ‘sophisticated’ . Regardless, it comes out of the bourgeois – top down ideology about the ranking of work i.e. ‘ the relations of production?

    “So the transition from the capitalist state to the socialist non-state is intelligible, as a Marxian concept, because this transition is based on and corresponds to the revolutionary transformation of the mode of production”.

    It’s funny – I see that it would be the transformation of the state to the socialist state being the revolutionary transformation of the ‘relations of production’. The mode of production is still going to be workers (without hierarchy, the tools won’t change, and neither the materials I don’t think anyhow lol). Its the current relations that cause inequalities within the mode of production like unequal laws, and the abstraction of it in worth and job in it. However, the tools, and organisation of the work itself is set up to run smoothly and efficiently whomever is running for socialist or elite state.

    As you stated

    ” the mode of production, the economic foundation of society . . .” Surely its like saying that if a whole societies mode of production is fishing then we can move into socialism, or if its fashion design we can also – whatever is produced we can do so. I think I may have lost the plot so to speak here. I thought that the laws etc that Marx said would change with the modes of production (the productive forces) were to do with ‘ the efficiency of the mode. Accordingly, the modes labour power and its means – the materials, tools, etc and the ‘organising of worker relations to it – labour laws backing them up as opposed to being used as a vehicle to socialism. Labour law cannot be used as a mechanism for the transition to socialism because they are written and enforced to guarantee the security of the relations of production – top down -not to secure the workers in terms of equality. It would underwrite itself. However, if you are referring to the RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION per se as transformational then I agree. The mode of production would change ‘accordingly’ with new regulations of equality etc. However it still does not need to be called ‘transitional’ because profit would have gone with the overthrow of the ‘relations aspect legally written in – now usurped -wouldn’t it?

    Ahhhh I’ve just read your conclusion – and say – that’s about the size of it lol!

  2. Keith on Tue, 7th May 2013 11:19 am 

    I enjoyed this and agree with its main points.

    I think that there are some pieces that remain ambiguous (the difference between legal and political for instance). But the main piece missing, in my view, are the productive forces. What is the difference between a capitalist and communist mode of production? It must be the level of development of the productive forces.

    The ambiguity in Andrew’s and maybe Marx’s points above coalesces around the idea of “social labor.” Andrew writes: “in the sense that a hour of one worker’s labor is equal to an hour of every other worker’s labor. And this equality of labors, again, is not the result of a legal decree, but of changes in the economic foundation of society.”

    What change in the “economic foundation of society” could bring this about? Only the development of labors productive power. In fact, abolishing the the rule of socially necessary labor time (the law of value) is a problem of developing the productive power of labor such that socially necessary labor time approaches zero.

    Capitalism does this spontaneously. The capital relation is a relation of competition and competition compels the development of the productive forces resulting unwittingly in a falling rate of profit. The falling rate of profit is an expression of the developing productive force. Capitalism drives down socially necessary labor time unconsciously. The goal of socialism is to consciously eliminate socially necessary labor time (automate labor).

    in other words — the relations of production (value, profit =, commodity, money, debt etc. come into conflict with the continuous development of the productive forces.

    The fight is for a shorter working day — that is the fight now and until necessary labor is eliminated.

  3. Jurriaan Bendien on Thu, 9th May 2013 1:52 pm 

    Andrew makes some good points. Trotskyists labelled the USSR as non-socialist because of moral outrage and as non-capitalist so as not to discourage the workers about the possibility for socialist progress. As Marx pointed out, there are all kinds of socialisms, some more edifying and others more despotic. In reality, the USSR did become socialist, but it was a specifically Russian socialism emerging from unique historical circumstances. But his case against the very idea of a transitional era in the history of society fails , both because a communist transformation of society will take time and because in any type of society there doesn’t just exist only one mode of production.

  4. Year 10 Educated Workers on Sat, 11th May 2013 1:32 am 

    “The language of the left has become too supreme for the common workers to understand. The language of the left is made by academics (sorry but true) who even form their own words for each other to understand only in academic conferences and papers ( away to save space on explanations – a symbol in a word) which are not included in dictionaries even if the worker had time to read them!! Language is EVERYTHING. The workers history and the worker, the human’s language should be used and this changes with the modes and means of production – keep it COMMON.”

    and so say all of us !

  5. Rawlinsview on Sat, 2nd Nov 2013 3:42 pm 

    “In Preobrazhensky’s book, the transition from capitalism to socialism is therefore conceived as the transition from one legal form of ownership to another legal form of ownership. The change in legal form produces a change in the character of the society, and a change in the character of its production relations, and it produces these changes automatically, or more precisely, as a matter of definition”.

    It is in this quote, which you laud, that you “lay bare” the superficiality of your reading of Preobrazhensky, In fact it is hard to imagine why you would go to the trouble of reading something of such complexity and subtlety and then follow it up with such a half hearted analysis.

    The real questions of class and power in revolutionary strategy are in your work non-existent.

    You effectively deny the reality of the Russian revolution or Preobrazhenksy’s role in it as a person who joined the struggle at 14 and the RSDLP at the age of 17 and ended up giving his life for his long term opposition to Stalin and his refusal to recant in the show trials of 1937.

    The fact that millions of working people and peasants rose up on the Russian Revolution that Preobrazhenksy participated directly in their struggle and that his writings on economics where written as the Bolshevik leadership was trying to figure out how to feed the workers in the cities, to bring electricity to the countryside.

    Preobrazhenky, organized workers in struggle, opposed the 1st world war, built with his comrades the first attempt in history to establish a socialist government, fought for democracy and open debate within the communist party, defended the social interests of the working class, believed that the reinforcement of industrial development would be an aid to the peasantry, opposed the rise of Stalin, stood independent politically from Trotsky, opposed forced collectivization of agriculture, and took a bullet in the head for it.

    Though he spent only one semester in university (he was arrested and imprisoned in his first year), …. [here, an ad hominem remark has been removed, per our Comment policy–Ed.]

    rawlinsview.com

  6. Andrew Kliman on Sat, 2nd Nov 2013 9:01 pm 

    Rawlinsview offers no argument in support of his claim that my reading of Preobrazhensky is superficial. Nor does he show–or even attempt to show–that there is anything incorrect in my statement that

    “In Preobrazhensky’s book, the transition from capitalism to socialism is therefore conceived as the transition from one legal form of ownership to another legal form of ownership. The change in legal form produces a change in the character of the society, and a change in the character of its production relations, and it produces these changes automatically, or more precisely, as a matter of definition”.

    My essay is about the coherence or lack of coherence of the concept of “transitional society.” It is not an essay about “strategy.” That is why “The real questions of class and power in revolutionary strategy” are “non-existent” in it. So what? The real questions of whether “transitional society” is coherent as a concept of Marx’s is “nonexistent” in Rawlinsview’s comment.

    As for Rawlinsview’s claim that I “effectively deny the reality of the Russian revolution or Preobrazhenksy’s role in it,” that’s ridiculous. The essay says nothing about these things, one way or another. Again, it’s an essay about a CONCEPT. But for the record: the Russian revolution took place and Preobrazhensky played a role in it.

    The rest of Rawlinsview’s comment provides information on Preobrazhenksy’s life and politics, but has nothing to do with my essay, which (again!) is about the coherence or lack of coherence of the concept of “transitional society,” not Preobrazhenksy’s life and politics.

  7. Jason S. on Tue, 12th Nov 2013 6:28 pm 

    Andrew leaves out some important details when he quotes Fred Moseley. Moseley states:

    “The nationalization of banks WOULD NOT SOLVE THE CURRENT ECONOMIC CRISIS COMPLETELY, but it would help stabilize the banking system and could lead to increased lending to creditworthy businesses and consumers.”

    “The nationalization of banks IS NOT SOCIALISM, but it could be an important step on the road to socialism.”

    (my emphasis)

    These qualifiers strike me as rather important.

    In any event, in a bourgeois democracy, a socialist organization that doesn’t put forth a program of radical reforms that at least conceivably could be achieved PRIOR to the dismantling of the capitalist state is a socialist organization that’s going to remain forever marginal.

    If your only demand is GLOBAL SOCIALIST REVOLUTION RIGHT NOW, you’re going to be dismissed as a quack, regardless of the details of your arguments.

    Much of this argumentation about the rightness or wrongness of using the term “transitional society” strikes me as splitting hairs. In no country will it be possible to transition from a predominantly-market economy to a democratically-planned economy in an instant. Andrew admits as much. So there will be a a transition PERIOD — and who knows how long it will last — between one and the other, with common ownership and democratic planning displacing market forces and capitalist ownership as quickly as is possible. Andrew’s right that “the dictatorship of the proletariat” isn’t a mode of production. It’s BETWEEN two modes of production. But it’s still a SOCIETY, yes? So what’s so wrong with referring to the transitional society?

  8. Andrew Kliman on Tue, 19th Nov 2013 11:53 pm 

    @ Jason S:

    In Marx’s view, there’s something in between capitalist society and what he called communist society, but no, it ISN’T a society. It’s a process of revolutionary transformation of capitalist society into communist society.

    I agree that this process won’t literally take an instant, but I think the “how long it takes” issue is a red herring. By conflating the dubious notion of “transitional society” with the simple and obvious fact that processes take time, the notion of an in-between society is made to seem plausible.

    In Marx’s view, the foundation of a society is its mode of production. If one posits the existence of an in-between society, then one either rejects his view or one posits the existence of an in-between mode of production on which the in-between society is founded.

    If the former is your position, then please tell us how a society can operate in a viable, sustainable manner if the character of the mode of production is in conflict with the character of the society.

    If the latter is your position, then please tell us what is the character of the in-between mode of production that lies at the foundation of the in-between society. Do the economic laws that govern capitalist society also govern this in-between one?

    What you seem to be arguing for is some kind of “mixed economy.” Every “mixed economy” I know of is a capitalist economy. The view that a “mixed economy” is partly socialist flows from a conception that what distinguishes socialism from capitalism is different property forms, forms of ownership, not different relations of production. That conception and Marx’s are antithetical.

    Once one avoids conflating the dubious notion of “transitional society” with the simple and obvious fact that processes take time, your statement that “In no country will it be possible to transition from a predominantly-market economy to a democratically-planned economy IN AN INSTANT” becomes “In no country will it be possible to transition from a predominantly-market economy to a democratically-planned economy DIRECTLY, WITHOUT FIRST GOING THROUGH AN IN-BETWEEN SOCIETY.” The self-evident character of the statement vanishes. It requires justification. What is your justification for it?

    Even more importantly, you simply assume that the in-between society can be a “transition” to socialist society. That’s not at all obvious, and I don’t think it’s plausible. You don’t tell us whether the economic laws that govern capitalist society govern this in-between society, but that seems to be the case. And you tell us that this in-between society isn’t even democratically planned and lacks common ownership of the means of production. How does such a thing “become” socialism? Through the exercise of political will? If the mode of production is the determining factor, as Marx argued, then political and legal changes flow from changes in the mode of production, not the other way around.

    On other matters:

    The stuff from Moseley that you cited does not contradict the fact, nor “qualify” the fact, that he claimed that (a) if state is in charge of the banks, they can be transformed from institutions interested in maximum profit into institutions that pursue public policy objectives and that (b) nationalization of banks within capitalism can be an important step on the road to socialism. Those were the claims I criticized.

    I don’t think intellectuals or small radical groups should be putting forward ANY sort of programs “for” the masses of people or making ANY demands “for” them. We should support their struggles and their demands, practically and theoretically. The suggestion that I don’t favor wringing concessions from the rulers and capitalists within capitalism, concessions that fall short of socialism, is pure fabrication. Please see my discussion of this in the video above. It begins at about 1 hr 36 minutes in, and lasts about 6 minutes.

  9. Jason S. on Wed, 20th Nov 2013 9:34 pm 

    I said: “So there will be a a transition PERIOD — and who knows how long it will last — between one and the other, with common ownership and democratic planning displacing market forces and capitalist ownership as quickly as is possible.”

    So when you say “you tell us that this in-between society isn’t even democratically planned and lacks common ownership of the means of production” — this isn’t quite true. There is substantial common ownership — of what today are natural monopolies and the giant oligopolistic corporations, for example — but not of EVERYTHING, and there is substantive democratic planning, but with the partial retention of markets.

    Why is this necessary? Because, like it or not (I don’t), classes continue to exist after the dismantling of the capitalist state and until the petty proprietors are absorbed into the working class. The “petty proprietors” includes not only peasants and artisans, and traditional small capitalists, but also the owners of intellectual property, particularly the intelligentsia/professional middle classes.

    Even under a workers’ state it should be clear that there will still be major skills and training bottlenecks, and that large areas of production will still operate on the basis of small family enterprises. The small un-socialized private ownership of information, therefore, will continue to be the basis of a class of petty proprietors separate from the workers –- including managerial and bureaucratic specialists (and probably also one of small capitalists). The problem is how to subordinate these groups to the interests of the working class.

    The absorption of the petty proprietors into the proletariat will occur through the skills, which they monopolize as a class, becoming devalorized through all workers acquiring them (universal education/higher education; workers’ control leading to workers’ management; rotation of managerial and state posts; abolition of all forms of state and commercial secrecy and confidentiality; etc.). But again, this will take time.

    Some coercion of the petty proprietors in general, but also some economic concessions to them, will be unavoidable. We have no choice but to contemplate a significant period of working-class rule with a subsisting petty bourgeoisie, therefore implying only PARTIAL demonetization of the economy.

    If you don’t want to call this a “transitional society,” fine — let’s not split hairs.

  10. Andrew Kliman on Sat, 7th Dec 2013 1:16 am 

    Jason,

    You haven’t responded to most of what I wrote in reply to you.

    For instance, what about the stuff on Moseley and programs “for” the masses I addressed at the end?

    More importantly, you haven’t answered whether

    (a) you reject the idea that the foundation of a society is its mode of production

    or whether, instead,

    (b) you think that the in-between mode of production that lies at the foundation of your imagined in-between society is governed by the economic laws that govern capitalist society.

    And most importantly, you don’t address the issue of whether your in-between “society” is actually a capitalist society or the issue of how such a “society” can or will become a socialist society. To repeat, “If the mode of production is the determining factor, as Marx argued, then political and legal changes flow from changes in the mode of production, not the other way around.”

    This is important because, while I accept your clarification, what you describe as a “transitional” society–partial “planning” and collective titles to property–sounds an awful like the Sweden of several decades ago. It proved to be a transition to the Swedish capitalism of today, not socialism.

    I also don’t think a society has common ownership of the means of production just because legal titles to property are held collectively. Was the working population of Stalin’s Russia genuinely in possession of their own means of production? Similarly, I don’t think an economy is “planned” just because the rulers set goals and try to achieve them–within the context of the lawless laws of capitalism that they do not plan or control!

  11. Jason S. on Wed, 11th Dec 2013 2:01 am 

    Unbelievable.

    You think what I described has something to do with the Swedish social democracy of yore.

    Obviously it doesn’t. Do I really have to spell out why? (For one thing, the capitalist STATE was never dismantled in Sweden. Rather important point!)

    I discussed the inevitable problems of the transition from capitalism to socialism, which are both economic and political; i.e., the problem of the continued existence of a class of petty proprietors who CANNOT all be expropriated in one fell swoop, in large part because it’s impossible to “expropriate” SKILLS as opposed to property.

    The transitional period between capitalism to socialism does not establish its own mode of production. It’s in-between the two, moving from one to the other. That’s what I described.

    I mentioned universal education/higher education; workers’ control leading to workers’ management; rotation of managerial and state posts; abolition of all forms of state and commercial secrecy and confidentiality…

    This is social-democratic Sweden?? Er, no, it’s not.

    You yourself mention “an unstable state of flux in the process of transforming capitalism into socialism, a state of flux in which capitalism’s economic laws and imperatives haven’t yet been fully dismantled.”

    What do you think I was describing? Oh, right, Swedish social democracy. The mind boggles…

    Was the working population of Stalin’s Russia genuinely in possession of their own means of production? Of course not. The key reason? There was no workers’ democracy in Russia, which is the prerequisite for workers to genuinely own their own means of production! (There was no workers’ democracy left when Preobrazhensky was writing, either.)

    As to political programs and such; I advocate party programs essentially along these lines:

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm

    I’ll leave it at that.







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