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Mainstream, VOL LX No 35 New Delhi, August 20, 2022

In Conversion: Stalinism, Maoism And The Question Of The Messianic Revolution | Murzban Jal

Friday 19 August 2022

by Murzban Jal

Such dangers constitute the real spice of the trade; the greater the insecurity, the more the conspirator hastens to seize the pleasures of the moment. —Karl Marx, ‘Les Conspirateurs, Par A. Chenu, Ex-capitaine des Gardes Du Citoyen Caussidière. Les Sociétés’

It is impossible completely to understand Marx’s Capital, and especially the first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. Consequently half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!! —V.I. Lenin, PhilosophicalNotebooks.

The Political Fashion Industry

For those dissatisfied by the current political situation, it has become quite fashionable to put Maoism, especially Maoism in India, under the genre of some sort of revolutionary élan or the other. On the other hand, those who are well versed in Lenin’s writings would say that while it is right to be dissatisfied with the current political situation, at most the Maoists, and here we are meaning the Indian Maoists, cannot deal with current politics other than being involved in spectacles. The readers of Lenin would say that the Maoists are suffering from “infantile disorder” and some sort of “left-wing childishness”.

Likewise in the devastation that the imperialist bloc of nations led by the USA brought to Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact of nations, when Vladimir Putin is flexing his muscles in Ukraine, the ghost of Stalin also appears on the scene of history. What we then see is that “left-wing” politics calls for a return to Stalin and Stalinism as a necessity to confront imperialism. Stalin is thus—via the law of intended consequences—brought into fashion. But it is being brought into fashion when fascism has already become an essential part of this Fashion Industry. In this case would the global Fashion Industry have two models walking the ramp—the fascist model with a tooth brush moustache and the pockmarked pipe smoking Uncle Joe?

There are two points with which one begins our understanding of Stalinism and Maoism and the nostalgia of bring them back into fashion. Firstly one must note that the models walking the ramps of the Fashion Industry is because of a deep structured crisis within Marxism and that it was Lenin’s death which signaled a crisis in revolutionary Marxism, namely the crisis which was not merely a political crisis, but a theoretical crisis. The second point is that in the last few years there is an explosion in Marxist theory where a Marxist Renaissance is taking place, a Renaissance which is not bothered by the votaries of the Fashion Industry. However, while a Marxist Renaissance is indeed taking place, there is simultaneously a rise in right-wing populist fascist and neo-fascist movements all over the world that is accompanying the global economic crisis. Capitalism now does not need liberal democracy to be in charge of global capital accumulation, but fascism and authoritarianism. Would then the ghost of Stalin see the “ripe time” to descend on this world of mortals? Would the ghost of Mao also accompany the ghost of Stalin?

And when mainstream left forces seduced by parliamentary democracy have been rendered completely impotent, one turns not so much to the Stalinists, but the Maoists with the great hope that they will be able to fill the vacuum. We are talking here mainly of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). After all, (so the votaries of the Fashion Industry ask) have not the Maoists risked their lives for a revolutionary cause unlike the left parliamentary forces for whom the very idea of revolution is to be left merely as a long lost memory? Would the Maoist movement then literally become a spark that could light a prairie fire? Are the Maoists really revolutionaries in the mould of the Bolsheviks or are they sort of ideological children of the syndicalist movement? Or are they the real and legitimate children of Mao?

While these are important questions, a scientific and historical study locates this movement—i.e. the Communist Party of India (Maoist)—in the 19th century Narodniki movement, especially in the figure of Sergei Nechayev. Note the following from Nechayev:

The revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire life is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion—the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, government manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose—to destroy it. [1]

But there is also the figure of the 19th century West European anarchist which is central to the makeup of the Indian Maoists. Marx accurately captured the political thinking of the anarchists:

They are the alchemists of the revolution and are characterized by exactly the same chaotic thinking and blinkered bombs, obsessions as the alchemists of old. They leap at inventions that are supposed to work revolutionary miracles: incendiary destructive devices of magic effect, revolts which are expected to be all the more miraculous and astonishing in effect as their basis is less rational. Occupied with such scheming, they have no other purpose than the most immediate one of overthrowing the existing government and have the profoundest contempt for the more theoretical enlightenment of the proletariat about their class interests. [2]

It is this proposition of the Maoists being “alchemists of the revolution” with their “chaotic thinking and blinkered bombs” which is central to this essay. In contrast to this alchemical chaos, Marxism, as we very well know, is composed on the dialectical unity of theory and praxis. The next proposition is that while Mao was a poet and theoretician in his own right (unlike Stalin), Marx’s repertoire of the international proletarian movement and the struggle for a global classless, casteless, anti-patriarchal society, a society without borders, sans the state and commodity production was completely and absolutely alien to him. For Marxism the present question is: “What to do the day after the revolution?” [3]

Maoism has no answer for this extremely important question, just as Stalinism has no answer.

The Alchemists of the Revolution and the Great Russian Chauvinist 
This essay while being a critique of Stalinism and Maoism is basically a reply to Bernard D’Mello’s three part article ‘Psychohistory, ‘Stalinism’, ‘Maoism’, ‘State Capitalism’’ which is a continuation of the conversation between us starting with my ‘Naxalbari and the Specters of Marx’ published in Critique. Journal of Socialist Theory which was basically a long review article of his book on the Naxalite movement (India after Naxalbari. Unfinished History) which was followed by his ‘On the Peremptory ‘Critiques’ of India’s Maoist Movement’ published in Frontier which was then followed by my ‘The Maoist Movement in India’ and ‘Marx, Stalin, Mao: Rebellion and Pseudo-Rebellion’ both which appeared in Frontier.

Bernard is without doubts a very important thinker of the left movement who has undoubtedly contributed to the theorization of socialism. His long stint with Economic & Political Weekly has helped nurture inspiring debates which will be etched permanently in the cranium of the left movement, besides his numerous books like his edited book What is Maoism and Other Essays. The fact that he highlights Stalin’s despotism in What is Maoism and Other Essays where he brings in Harry Bravermann’s essay ‘Lenin and Stalin’ must be noted. In this book, Bernard talks of ‘Leninism and its Stalinist Decompositions’. [4] He thus recognizes that Stalinism at least signifies a decomposition of the revolution.

Yet despite Bernard’s apprehension of Stalin as authoritarian and paternalistic—(he is quoting Mao’s critique of Stalin), unable as he says in ‘Psychohistory, ‘Stalinism’, ‘Maoism’, ‘State Capitalism’’ to create a “truly collective system” where he (Stalin) “set the rate of accumulation too high”, his mistrust of the peasants and not having the ability to understand either materialism or dialectics because of his education as a priest—he finds “irrelevant evidence” of Stalin’s not mere brutality, but his counterrevolutionary character. For him, the Soviet Union was not state capitalist. Then what was it? This he does not say. He gives only scattered remarks on Stalin’s decomposed character.

The fact that internationalism was replaced by Stalin with the national socialist macabre idea of “socialism in one country”, Marx’s “union of free people” was replaced by the despotic state and that state capitalism replaced post-commodity production, he does not even once talk of. Bernard does mention Paul Sweezy, Samir Amin and Moshe Levin. But Marx does not appear even once. And so too is the absence of Marx’s critique of political economy. The fact that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 because of the seeds which were sown by Stalin he does not even once refer to. He does not mention that for Marx and Engels there could be no isolated revolution that could be successful and that Stalin lied that with imperialism there was “uneven development” that allowed separate national socialist revolutions, which refuted Marx and Engels’ politics of international revolutions. He does not say that Marx so often said that if any type of isolated revolution took place there would be a reversal to an older social and economic order. Recall Marx’s The Class Struggles in France where he says that the French proletariat “thought they would be able to consummate a proletarian revolution within the national walls of France, side by side with the remaining bourgeois nations” [5] and The German Ideology where Marx and Engels warned that with local revolutions “want is merely made general, and with want the struggle for necessities would begin again; and the old filthy business would necessarily be restored”. [6] 1991 proved Marx right and Stalin and Mao wrong. The old filthy business was necessarily restored. Bernard seems to be oblivious to these mega events. And in this oblivion he wants to write on the Naxalite movement and the history of the revolutionary movement in India.

Oblivious to Marx’s critique of national socialism that led to the collapse of the USSR, one is thus left with the “great hero theory” where heroes like Stalin and Mao are seen making history and where anti-heroes like Nikita Khrushchev and Deng Xiaoping with their subjective utterances are seen turning the great socialist homelands into centres of revisionism and social imperialism.

That is why I say that bereft of Marx’s theoretical problematic, Bernard involves a stubborn refusal to read the history of Revolutionary Marxism. Bernard also involves a stubborn refusal to understand the Stalinist counterrevolution where the New Economic Policy (NEP) bureaucrats replaced the militant Bolsheviks and other non-Bolshevik revolutionaries, a replacement that that led to the rise of the bureaucracy that installed despotic state capitalism in the USSR culminating in the massacre of the Bolsheviks.

 The Naxalite movement that he refers to while intending to uproot the shameful feudo-capitalist system established by the feudal serfs of corporate capital (to borrow a term of Ambedkar) [7] was indeed a spontaneous spark that could have lit the revolution in India. But because of complete lack of theoretical insights (as Lenin warned in his What is to be Done?), this spontaneity would only serve the ruling classes where spontaneity would be subservient to state terror. And because of the lack of theory they could not understand the nature of revolutions and counterrevolutions. It is amazing that the Naxalites despite being victims of state terror would never speak against Stalinist terror that turned the USSR into the graveyard of world revolutions. For them, there is nothing called the Indic variation of the Asiatic mode of production with the caste system forming the backbone of this mode. For them there is only the spectacle of the revolution.

Now note Mao:

According to the Marxist theory of the state, the army is the chief component of state power. Whoever wants to seize and retain state power must have a strong army. Some people ridicule us as advocates of the "omnipotence of war". Yes, we are advocates of the omnipotence of revolutionary war; that is good, not bad, it is Marxist......Experience in the class struggle in the era of imperialism teaches us that it is only by the power of the gun that the working class and the labouring masses can defeat the armed bourgeoisie and landlords; in this sense we may say that only with guns can the whole world be transformed. [8]

Consider now the Party Constitution of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) that was drafted in 2004:

Because the armed struggle will remain the highest and main form of struggle and army as the highest form of organization of this revolution, hence armed struggle will play a decisive role. Whereas the united front will be built in the course of advancing armed struggle, mass organizations and mass struggles are necessary and indispensable but their purpose is to serve the war. [9]

Besides noting the militarization of the left movement and the infantile desire for violence it is necessary to recall Trotsky’s MyLife when he noted how in prison there was a certain anarchist called Luzin (a school teacher) who always preferred to be with hardened criminals. One day he suddenly stabbed a policeman on duty. “Luzin declared that he had nothing against the man personally, but that he wanted, through him, to strike at the tyranny of the state”. [10] This anarchism and hyper-individualism that confuses the individual (policeman) with the general (the state), this spectacle of “revolutionary miracles” and “incendiary destructive devices of magic effect” (recalling Marx) was the core of the Naxalite movement and this remains the core of Maoist politics today. They being banned by the Indian state and declared as the single biggest security threat does not scare them. In fact it is a badge of honour that they proudly display on their proud chests.

What has to be said is that there are two spectacles here, one the spectacle of the anarchist with his magic bombs and the other of the Indian state with its counter magic. Just as Marx says that the police needs the anarchists and the anarchists needs the police, so too one says that the state needs the Maoists and the Maoists need the state for their mutual existences.

One thing must be noted. The Indian Maoists are at least being true to their ideology of creating spectacles with their “chaotic thinking and blinkered bombs” (to recall Marx’s phrase once again). But the Maoists do not understand that behind these spectacles of chaos and bombs lies the figure of not only Mao, but also that of Stalin. Bernard says that my critique of Stalin as a counterrevolutionary (and no mere decomposer) is “repeated familiar Trotskyist polemic on Stalin” and that my deriding Stalin and Mao as state capitalists is “initiated by Menshevik intellectuals, and then picked up by Raya Dunayevskaya, a former secretary of Leon Trotsky in Mexico during 1937-3.” For him, Stalin’s mass murders, especially his hand in the murders of Chinese revolutionaries on April 12, 1927 are “not backed by evidence” and are mere “dogmatic assertions about Stalin”. One needs to recall Stalin here when he is seen clearly supporting Chiang Kai-shek when the latter was planning the massacre of the communists:

Chiang Kai-shek is submitting to discipline. The Kuomintang is a bloc, a sort of revolutionary parliament, with the Right, the Left, and the Communists. Why make a coup d’etat? Why drive away the Right when we have the majority and when the Right listens to us? ... At present, we need the Right. It has capable people, who still direct the army and lead it against the imperialists. Chiang Kai-shek has perhaps no sympathy for the revolution but he is leading the army and cannot do otherwise than lead it against the imperialists. Beside this, the people of the Right have relations with the General Chang Tso-lin [the Manchurian warlord] and understand very well how to demoralize them and to induce them to pass over to the side of the revolution, bag and baggage, without striking a blow. Also, they have connections with the rich merchants and can raise money from them. So they have to be utilized to the end, squeezed out like a lemon, and then flung away. [11]

Bernard gives a rather strange twist to this saying that poor and innocent Stalin was fooled by the cunning Chiang Kai-shek. Stalin should not have trusted him, period. The problem is that Bernard has not brought in details of Stalin’s systematic counterrevolution, his hand in the rise of fascism, especially in Germany, not to forget the replacement of the proletariat by the despotic bureaucracy, culminating in the infamous Moscow Trials where the entire vanguard of the 1917 revolution was condemned as fascist agents and then shot. All of Lenin’s comrades were murdered by Stalin after the kangaroo court led by the right-wing Menshevik jurist Vyshinksiy (who wanted Lenin arrested in 1917—he actually signed the order of arrest) after being condemned as fascist agents. Stalin’s acts were bizarre to the extreme when the Nazis were planning the attack on the Soviet Union; he (Stalin) was purging the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Red Army, along mass murdering revolutionary communists. Bernard seems to say that Stalin and Mao made mere mistakes, but that there was nothing essentially wrong with their politics. He then wants to build a political movement built on the principles of Stalin and Mao.

The fact that Vladimir Putin is acting like Stalin (on everything especially on the national question, especially his dreams of a Greater Russia) does not seem to affect him. He does not even once refer to Stalin’s idea of “autonomization” (forced and compulsive entrance of republics into the USSR) as against Lenin’s idea of rights of nations to self-determination and voluntary inclusion of republics into the USSR. For Lenin “the whole business of “autonomization” was radically wrong and badly timed”. [12] Lenin is talking of Stalin and Orjonikidze who marched into Georgia “going to the extreme of applying physical violence”. [13] “We took over from tsarism”, so Lenin continues “and slightly anointed with Soviet oil”. [14] What Stalin created was what Lenin called the “Great-Russian chauvinist” and “the onslaught of the really Russian man.” [15] This type of a person is a “rascal and tyrant” like the Russian bureaucrat [16]. Lenin feared that “the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietized workers would drown in that tide of chauvinist Great-Russian riff-raff like a fly in milk”. [17]

What Bernard also needs to be told is that the state that the Bolsheviks inherited, “the state apparatus that we call ours”, to recall Lenin, “is in fact quite alien to us; it is a bourgeois and tsarist hotchpotch”. [18] Lenin further says that “there has been no possibility of getting rid of it....without the help of other countries...” [19] Note the internationalism that Lenin advocates as against Stalin’s national socialism. Note also the alleged “socialist state” which Stalin would perfect was a hotchpotch of the bourgeois and tsarist states. Stalin represented this hotchpotch. He was a true bourgeois tsar.

The problem is that Stalin is not dead, neither are the dreams of the Great Russian chauvinists. The fact that at Putin is acting like a born-again Stalin implies that something was wrong in the Soviet Union, something that was not merely contingently wrong, but essentially wrong. We need scientific explanations that seek to understand how state capitalism governed by the Asiatic despot came onto the scene of history where the Great Russian chauvinist spoke the language of Marx. It is this which needs explanation. Otherwise one could write critiques of Stalin like the ones being churned by historians like Steven Kotkin who boil Stalin and Stalinism into not mere Lenin and Leninism, but to Marx’s theoretical problematic itself. My writing the review article in Critique followed by the two articles in Frontier was precisely to show the counterrevolutionary character of Stalinism and Maoism which follows the same Stalinist path, but with a difference since Mao was an eternal rebel.

The difference is that Stalin conceived the dialectics of negation as no longer applicable in the USSR since he had heralded Communist Paradise there where the notorious “end of history” was realized, while for Mao (who without doubts trained himself in rigorous philosophical thinking, albeit with “Chinese characteristics”), all reality is essentially contradictory and in a process of radical becoming. But Mao’s contradictions and the dialectics of negativity leads to the “great chaos under heaven” where even if imperialist USA bombed China with atomic bombs which “would make a hole right through the earth, or even blow it up, that would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole”. [20]

Maoism thus is Stalinism in rebellion against the Stalinism itself. Stalin feared chaos, Mao thrived on it. And it this chaos and rebellion that makes the Maoists the alchemists of the revolution. And since Stalin never died, so too Mao is permanently present with his mythical barrel of the gun lighting prairie fires, fires that only burn the revolution.

Theory and Anti-Theory

Merely quoting Mao (as Bernard does) on Stalin’s authoritarian and paternalistic character does not explain Stalinism. Stalinism is a unique feature in history and it needs theorization. Mere scattered statements here and there picked up from the repertoire of journalism does not provide for a Marxist theory of revolution and counterrevolution. The tragedy is that Stalinism appeared and yet appears as a duplicate Marxism, Marxism in disguise where the counterrevolutionary was wearing the mask of the revolutionary. Stalin, according to his fans (Putin included), is the one single person who built the USSR, not to forget who single-handedly fought the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

What Bernard is saying is that theory (here he is referring to Dunayevskaya) is not of any worth. As he says “philosophizing to arrive at theoretical generalizations is of little worth”. Bernard wants Marxism without theory, without philosophy and thinking comrades. Bernard thus has “the profoundest contempt for the......theoretical enlightenment of the proletariat” (to recall Marx once again). And it is this precise feature which I am combating. One recalls the young Lenin where he outlined his theory of revolution in the following words: “without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement”. [21] And it is to this theory as Marxist theory that one needs to focus on.

Recall Marx who so often mentioned the importance of thoroughly reading and understanding Hegelian dialectics without which the critique of bourgeois political economy would not be possible. Hegel, as he famously said in Capital, Vol. I cannot be treated as a “dead dog”. [22] For Bernard there is no question of reading Hegel and understanding the question of dialectics and how dialectics is completely different from formal reasoning and empiricist sociology.

Since Bernard dismisses theory as it cannot provide “evidence”, it is necessary to turn to 1914 when the First Imperialist World War broke out and the stalwarts of the Second International (Plekhanov and Karl Kautsky are two examples) supported their respective countries in this imperialist war. What Lenin did was that he did not (like Charu Muzumdar) argue for drenching his hands in the blood of all class enemies. What he did was that he went back to the basics, namely went back to Marxist theory as theory and thus went back to a systematic reading of philosophy, especially Hegel’s Science of Logic and studying its relation to Marx’s theory of revolution.

Lenin saw the capitulation to nationalism and national chauvinism of Plekhanov and Kautsky. For him, they (Plekhanov and Kautsky) were not imagined proto-fascist agents who needed to be murdered. He noted a theoretical crisis and turned to seeking the transcendence of this crisis. He saw Plekhanov as a contemplative materialist who did not understand the logic of becoming and the need of revolutionary praxis. He held no personal grudge against him (Plekhanov). The contemplative materialists who literally feared the revolution for Lenin were not to be understood as the “degeneration of the Bukharanites into political double-dealers” and the “degeneration of the Trotskyite double-dealers into a Whiteguard of assassins and spies” as Stalin imagined all those who opposed him. [23]

The conversion that I am having with Bernard is on the nature of this theory, of Marxist theory as revolutionary theory that is able to grip the masses. For this it is important to bring in Hegel’s Logic which is divided in three sections: (1) the doctrine of being (Sein), (2) the doctrine of essence (Wesen), and (3) the doctrine of notion (Begriff). It is this that Lenin was studying in 1914 and it is this logical framework with which Marx was working in his Grundrisse and Capital.

Thus to talk say of Stalinism and the Stalinist counterrevolution one needs the Begriff to speak, the Begriff which has gripped the essence (Wesen) of being (Sein) or reality. And that is why I am saying that to understand revolutionary dialectics one needs the theory of the Begriff with its inbuilt conceptual framework that is able to grasp reality. For dialectics, the main question is (as Hegel asks in his Logic): “What is it to have a concept (Begriff) of a thing?” He answers that to have a concept of a thing is to mentally grasp and grip reality, as in forceps/biceps thereby holding on to it and holding it still. One has to, as Marx notes in the Grundrisse “hold then fast at the beginning” such that “their development (is) possible without confounding everything”. [24]

And with the gripping of reality with the dialectic Begriff one moves from appearances to the essence of things. The dialectic of the Begriff does not stick to appearances. It instead recalls Marx that “all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided”. [25]

Socialist Commodity Production or State Capitalism? 

Bernard on the contrary does not involve theory, the theory of dialectics. He insists on his “journalist” repertoire whereby he can get “evidence”. Besides his journalistic reporting on Stalin and Mao, he also has a theory of capitalism where (contra Marx and Engels) there can be something called “socialist commodity production”. In fact the core problem for 20th century Marxism was how to transcend the commodity in order to build communism (even the 1st stage of it following Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme). Marx and Engels were firm on it—communism (i.e. immediately after the seizure of the means of production by the proletariat) excludes commodities, value, money, etc. Bernard does not at all mention this. He sticks with 20th-century Marxism (including Trotsky) that something called “socialist commodity production” is necessary and possible. For Trotsky there was a “preparatory regime transitional from capitalism to socialism”. [26] Trotsky in this sense did not differ from Stalin. But unlike Stalin who classified this era as socialist and communist, Trotsky talked of a preparatory regime peculiar for backward Russian conditions.

Further, Trotsky never classified the Soviet Union as state capitalist. For him it was a betrayed revolution (by the bureaucracy) and thus merely a degenerated workers’ state. So for Bernard to say that I have “repeated familiar Trotskyist polemic on Stalin” is clearly untrue. One should note this old Stalinist cliché. Anyone who opposed Stalin was a Trotskyite, just as anyone and everyone opposing the Nazis were Jews.

In fact the core of my argument is on the nature of socialist economics and that there could never be anything called “socialist commodity production”. Stalin was an anti-Marxist since he institutionalized this “socialist commodity production” a feature that Mao blindly followed (of course with his famous “Chinese characteristics”). What comrades have not understood is that nationalization of means of production is not the same as socialization of these means of production. One has to, as Marx says, discover the “cell form” in order to understand the anatomy of the body. [27] And for Marx value is this cell form, an argument that Stalin never possibly understood and thus never espoused.

Recall Marx’s Gotha Programme where he says that “within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labour.” [28]

The same is said by Engels in his Anti-Dühring who said that “from the moment when society enters into possession of the means of production and uses them in direct association for production, the labour of each individual, however varied its specifically useful character may be, becomes at the start and directly social labour” [29]. For him “people will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of much-vaunted “value””. [30]

Clearly different from Marx and Engels was Mao’s formulation:

There are those who fear commodities. Without exception they fear capitalism, not realizing that with the elimination of capitalists it is allowable to expand commodity production vastly. We are still backward in commodity production, behind Brazil and India. Commodity production is not an isolated thing. Look at the context: capitalism or socialism. In a capitalist context it is capitalist commodity production. In a socialist context it is socialist commodity production. [31]

Note now what Stalin says in his Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR:

Our commodity production is not of the ordinary type, but a special kind of commodity production. Commodity production without capitalists.... [32]

Now that Stalin discovered his Platonic commodity production or capitalism without the capitalists (since the Stalinist-Platonic state became the capitalist itself that he intended to annihilate), he also openly espoused his revisionism of Marx’s basic critique of political economy when he said that “I think that we must also discard certain other concepts taken from Marx’s Capital—where Marx was concerned with an analysis of capitalism”. [33] But Stalin did not stop with his grand Platonic idea of “socialist commodity production” by discarding Marx; he said that “I think that our economists should put an end to this in-congruity between the old concepts and the new state of affairs in our socialist country, by replacing the old concepts with new ones that correspond to the new situation. We could tolerate this incongruity for a certain period, but the time has come to put an end to it.” [34] Note that when Stalin could not tolerate this “incongruity” and the “time has come to end it” he literally meant it.

Stalinism is anti-Marxism. It is revisionism at its worst. That its goal is authoritarian state capitalism is obvious from the difference spelt out above from the Marx and Engels reading of value and commodity production and that value only and solely intervenes when labour is not direct social labour, i.e. not socialist labour but based on private property. When there is no “labour in common or directly associated labour” [35] then and then only does value intervene as measuring the socially necessary time taken to produce goods. If there is common labour, then value does not intervene, for it intervenes only when there is a split between individual labour and social labour. The functioning of value is an alienated functioning for it “goes on behind the backs of the producers, and, consequently appear to be fixed by custom”. [36] It thus works in a “roundabout way” [37], something that Engels repeats in his Anti-Dühring. [38]

It is as simple as that. What Marx states above is the general functioning of capitalism. It is not based on the empiricist sociology of individual property. Monopoly capitalism has converted individual property to a great extent into monopolist capitalist property. Stalin’s arguments have nothing to do with Marx, especially nothing to do with Marx’s method in Capital. And that is why he says that value “is not a bad thing” [39] in complete contrast to Marx’s theory of the fetish character of commodities. Also recall Stalin wanted value to train his “business executives” with the technology of value [40], besides his startling revisionist claim that the law of value is not the basic law of capitalism. [41] For Marx value is the “cell form” of capitalism. For Stalin it is not the basic law of capitalism.

For Marx, the commodity is a “very queer thing abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” [42] having a fetish character endowed with “magic and necromancy” [43]. And for him, commodities “assume a phantasmagorical form different from their reality”. [44]

For both Stalin and Mao, value was a technique and not a reified social relations of production as was for Marx. [45] For Stalin and Mao, commodities had no fetishistic character. For Marx, commodities could never be controlled. For Stalin and Mao commodities could be and must be controlled.

What Bernard does is that unlike dialectics, he is involved in social engineering and tinkering around like an empiricist. His idea of capitalism is not Marx’s idea. None of Marx’s categories are even vaguely referred to. One has to go back to Lenin’s reading of Hegel’s Logic and say that one cannot understand Capital, “especially the first chapter”, without understanding the entire Logic of Hegel. [46] Why is Lenin arguing for this “first chapter”, the chapter which Stalin and Mao had no clue about and which is total silent for Bernard?

Bernard (as in the tradition of empiricist sociology) understands capitalism as ownership of means of production by private capitalists and competition amongst capitalists. He forgets Marx’s logic of capital accumulation where capitalists become mere “personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular of class-relations and class-relations.” [47] Individuals, as he goes on, are not “responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains”. [48] For Marx there is a logical ordering of categories on capitalist accumulation beginning with the commodity and its two factors (use value and value: the substance of value [abstract labour] and magnitude of value [socially necessary labour time taken to produce commodities]) , then followed by the two fold character of labour embodied in commodities [concrete and abstract labour], form of value, money, the transformation of money into capital, the production of surplus value culminating in the general law of capital accumulation.

Stalin was obsessed, on the one hand, with what he called the “laws of science” which take place independent of the will of man”. “Man may”, so the great leader said, “discover these laws, get to know them, study them, reckon with them in his activities and utilize them in the interest of society, but he cannot change of abolish them”. [49] While like the theologian who discovers “laws” (like Moses) and says that (contra Marx) that one cannot change the world, but only interpret it, he feared world revolutions. Stalin’s half-bourgeois, half-tsarist personality drove him to an obsession where he was obsessed with individuals, especially with Trotsky and Bukharin as imagined fascists being members of phantasmagorical “gang of assassins”. But besides being obsessed with the imaginary “gang of assassins” he was also obsessed with himself.

And since he wanted value to discipline society and teach his beloved “business executives”, the society that he built was that of the business executives. And like all business executives the Gulags and Auschwitzs would also be built. Look at Moscow’s present carnage of Ukraine and you will see the return of the business executive disciplining society and building Gulags and Auschwitzs. Stalin as the Great Russian chauvinist and the bourgeois tsar has returned once again. And this is because we did not bury him properly and did not exorcise his ghost. Value, so Marx said in Capital, is a ghost. [50]

 And the ghost has come, dressed not merely as Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden but as Josef Stalin. Uncle Joe has now come. Is Mao just down the corner? But why should we tear ourselves between which types of capitalism to embrace: the Western free market type or the Orientalist despotic type of Stalin and Mao? Should we not transcend this ridiculous binary that is thrust on us by world capitalism and ask the very pertinent question: “What to do the day after the revolution?”

It is this question that the masses are asking us. After all, the masses are not at all interested in ghosts. Are we ready to answer them?


[1Sergei Nechayev, The Revolutionary Catechism, in https://www.marxists.org/subject/anarchism/nechayev/catechism.htm. Last seen 14 November 2019.

[2Karl Marx, ‘Les Conspirateurs, Par A.Chenu, Ex-capitaine des Gardes Du Citoyen Caussidière. Les Sociétés’, in Marx. Engels. Collected Works, Vol. 10 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), p. 318.

[3See Kevin Anderson, Kieran Durkin and Heather A. Brown, Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism. Race, Class, Gender, and the Dialectics of Revolution (Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), pp. 26, 41.

[4Bernard D’Mello, What is Maoism and Other Essays (Kharpur: Monthly Review Press, 2010), p. 87

[5Karl Marx, ‘The Class Struggle in France’, in Marx. Engels. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol. One (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), p. 213

[6Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology (Moscow: progress Publishers, 1976), p. 54

[7B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah’, in Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979), p. 227.

[8Mao Tsetung, ‘Problems of War and Strategy’ in Selected Works of Mao-Tsetung, Vol. I (Kolkotta: Janashakti, 1999), p. 337.

[9Party Constitution. Central Committee (P) CPI (Maoist), in https://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/documents/papers/partyconstitution.htm

[10Leon Trotsky, My Life (London: Penguin Books, 1971), p. 134

[11Harold Isaacs in The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (Stanford University Press, 1961), p. 162.

[12See Lenin, ‘The Question of Nationalities or “Autonomization”’, in V.I. Lenin,Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol. 3 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), p. 688.

[13Ibid.

[14Ibid.

[15Ibid.

[16Ibid.

[17Ibid.

[18Ibid.

[19Ibid.

[20See Mao Tsetung , ‘The Chinese People Cannot be Cowed Down by the Atom Bomb’, 28 January, 1955, in Selected Works ofMaoTsetung, Vol. V (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977), p. 152

[21V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done? (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), p. 25.

[22Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1983), p. 29.

[23See History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Bolsheviks. Short Course (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1951), pp. 496-503.

[24Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicholas (London: Penguin Books, 1974 ), p. 817

[25Karl Marx, Capital, Vo. III (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1986), p. 817

[26Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2006), p. 63.

[27Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p. 19

[28Karl Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, in Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 319

[29Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring. Herr Dühring’s Revolution in Science (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 374.

[30Ibid, p. 375.

[31Mao, ACritique of Soviet Economics (London: Monthly Review Press, 1977), p. 143-144.

[32J. V. Stalin, ‘Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR’, in J.V. Stalin. Selected Writings, Vol. II (Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1976), p. 299.

[33Ibid, p. 300.

[34Ibid.

[35Capital, Vol. I, p. 82.

[36Ibid., p. 52.

[37Ibid., p. 57.

[38Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 375.

[39J.V. Stalin, ‘Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR’, p. 301

[40Ibid.

[41Ibid., p. 315.

[42Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p. 76.

[43Ibid., p. 80.

[44Ibid., p. 81.

[45See Capital, Vol. III, pp. 814-5.

[46V.I. Lenin. Collected Works, Vol. 38, Philosophical Notebooks (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980), p. 180.

[47Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p. 21

[48Ibid.

[49Stalin, op. cit., pp. 28-9.

[50Karl Marx, DasKapital, Erster Band (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1981), p. 52

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