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
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
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."
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
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"
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."
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
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
statecThe 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."
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 statecceases
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