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The Fundamental Concepts of Socialism
-From Marx and Engels

Written by Ken'ichi Suzuki (1985)
Translated by Roy West

1. Socialism as the "free association group" and its conditions

In this essay, I would like to look briefly at the fundamental concepts of socialism provided by Marx and Engels. Of course, Marx and Engels, who set out to show the laws of movement and historical tendencies of capitalism, and foster the actual class struggle of the workers, never compiled a theory of socialism.

Nevertheless, Marx and Engels necessarily discussed socialism in connection to their analysis of capitalism, and if we look at what they wrote, the fundamental concepts of socialism become perfectly clear.

Already in 1847 Marx and Engels had clarified the concept of socialism in the Communist Manifesto, where they wrote: "In place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class conflicts there will be an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." (Marx Later Political Writings: Cambridge University Press)

In the opening part of Capital, a society opposed to the "world of the commodity" is described as "an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social force." (Penguin Classics)

Let's look at a passage from The Civil War in France (1871):

"if united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon a common plan, this taking it under their own control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of Capitalist production-what else, gentlemen, would it be but Communism, "possible" Communism? (International Publishers)

One more example comes from an essay Marx wrote in 1871 entitled "On the Nationalization of Land":

"The national concentration of the means of production is the natural base of a society in which a co-operative union of free and equal producers consciously acts in accordance to a rational plan." (translated from Japanese)

Socialism (communism) is thus a society in which private property is abolished so that the means of production become the common property of society. Individual labor power is consciously expended by a "association of free men" as one part of society's labor power; that is a "combination" of "large cooperative production unions" consciously coordinates production and distribution based on a rational single common plan.

Of course, to realize this society the highest development of commodity production and heavy industry are the necessary preconditions.

"For the oppressed class to be able to emancipate itself it is necessary that the productive powers already acquired and the existing social relations should not longer be capable of existing side by side." (The Poverty of Philosophy) (International Publishers)

On the one hand, the development of capitalism leads to the formation and expansion of the working class, the bearers of the future society. Together with the development of capitalist heavy industry, the working class is organized together to form one large power and becomes aware of its mission as the "grave digger" of capitalism.

According to Marx and Engels, socialism presupposed the highest development of capitalism-as well as the magnification of capitalist contradictions and the development of the workers class struggle, and was only possible under these conditions-this is the self-evident presupposition, so to speak.

Consequently they foresaw in The Communist Manifesto that a "communist revolution" would first arise in the "civilized countries" (England, America, France, Germany). In 1894 Engels still , " "

They did not foresee a "socialist revolution" in economically backward Russia and China, and indeed this view was well-grounded.

In 1894, Engels' outlook was that "after the victory of the proletariat and the transfer of the means of production to common property", the development to socialism for the surrounding countries where capitalist development was late would be remarkably shortened. (translated from Japanese)

2. Is Socialism Compatible With Commodity Production?

In the last part we confirmed that socialism is a society in which private property has been abolished, and the means of production have shifted to common social ownership; "an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social force" (Capital)

It is natural that from the outset in this sort of society there is no room for the existence of commodities or currency which are categories peculiar to a society founded on private property and a naturally occurring division of labor. Nevertheless, since Stalin, the ideologues of "socialist" countries have developed specious arguments that under socialism the law of value can be "made use of", or that there is such a thing as "socialist commodity production". We are going to examine this point in this part.

Needless to say, commodity production is not the only form of social production. As Engels said: "In the ancient Indian communities and in the family communities of the southern Slavs, products are not transformed into commodities. The members of the community are directly associated for production; the work is distributed according to tradition and requirements, and likewise the products to the extent that they are destined for consumption. Direct social production and direct distribution preclude all exchange of commodities, therefore also the transformation of the products into commodities (at any rate within the community) and consequently their transformation into values." (Anti-Duhring, International Publishers)

Under what social relations, then, does a product become a commodity? "Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labour of private individuals who work independently of each other." (Capital, Penguin)

The combination of this private labor forms the total social labor; but it is only through the exchange of their labor products that the producers come into social contact-thus it is through the relation entered into with the exchange of their labor products that this private labor becomes part of the total social labor. In this way, the specific social character of private labors carried on independently of each other = their equality as human labor assumes the form of the existence of value of labor products.

In other words, socialism is completely different than " a society of commodity producers, whose general social relation of production consists in the fact that they treat their products as commodities, hence as values, and in this material [sachlich] form bring their individual, private labours into relation with each other as homogeneous human labour." (Ibid)

"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. The quantity of social labour contained in a product need not then be established in a roundabout way; daily experience shows in a direct way how much of it is required on the average. cHence, on the assumption we made above, society will not assign values to products. It will not express the simple fact that the hundred square yards of cloth have required for their production, say, a thousand hours of labour in the oblique and meaningless way, stating that they have the value of a thousand hours of labour. It is true that even then it will still be necessary for society to know how much labour each article of consumption requires for its production. It will have to arrange its plan of production in accordance with its means of production, which include, in particular, its labour-powers. The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of the much-vaunted 'value'." (Anti-Duhring)

It should be clear from the above citation that socialism is not compatible with commodity production and the law of value. The Soviet and Chinese ideologues' position that their societies produce commodities is a "confession" that in these are, after all, bourgeois societies.

3. Socialism and the "Withering Away of the State"

To end this short essay, let's consider the question of the "withering away state".

Thus, the abolition of private property first takes the form of the transformation into state property. Engels after noting that the "the proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property", clarifies the process of the "withering of the state":

"But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state. Society thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the statecThe state was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole society-taking possession of the means of production in the name of society-this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not 'abolished'. It dies out." (Anti-Duhring)

There is no ambiguity here. Originally it was a clear, self-evident premise for Marxists that since the state was a "product of irreconcilable class antagonism" it follows that "with the extinction of classes the state will also inevitably cease to exist." (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State). Based on this premise, Engels clearly formulated the socio-economic basis for the state to wither away.

Lenin also fully agreed with Engels theory of the withering away of the state, and wrote that the proletariat state was "already a transitional state and thus not a state in the original sense". Lenin, inheriting the thought of Engels, points out that this was a "half state" and writes, "Only in (the highest level-Suzuki) communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists has been completely crushed, when the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e., when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production), only then 'the statecceases to exist', and 'it becomes possible to speak of freedom'. (The State and Revolution, Progress Publishers)

Far from being "half-states", the Soviet Union and China are oppressive states in the original sense, and are becoming stronger and stronger instead of withering away. This is the proof that these are not socialist societies.

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