A Critique of Neo-Trotskyism:
Commodity, Value and Law of Value Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

Ubaldo Buttafava

Within the world revolutionary movement the debate on the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat has emerged is once again current. The importance of this question derives from the need to re-establish, with scientific rigour, what should be the theoretical foundations and the political objectives of the class struggle of the proletariat and the people. This is because we are all aware that great revolutionary battles are just around the corner, the grounds for which have been prepared by the global decomposition of world imperialism, which, driven on by the Law of Maximum Profits, is creating unemployment for millions of proletarians and the starvation of entire peoples.

To turn our attention towards the revolutionary experience of this century does not mean defending a glorious history for sentimental reasons, nor to hoist the banner of sectarianism through fear of offering arguments to the class enemy.

Furthermore, this debate is not a monologue, but rather a struggle against bourgeois ideology which, in virtue of the imminence of the revolution, is springing up within the proletarian movement itself.

We communists have our own methodology, which is neither metaphysical (immutable) nor idealist, but rather materialist, dialectical and historical. This is based on concrete analysis, which takes into consideration the real processes of history in their development, in all their aspects, in the way that history has established them. For this reason, we reject any conception which proceeds from preconceived or utopian models of socialism. This does not mean that we are exempt from the critical analysis of the path that the oppressed masses have embarked upon on the road to social emancipation and freedom – quite the contrary, in fact.

This analysis has to result in the consolidation and development of Marxism-Leninism, as a result of the general experience of the Movement, and not the other way around. This is because our theory is not a dogma to which reality has to accommodate itself, nor a conception that falls apart at the seams at the slightest sudden unforeseen event or retreat. Our theory is an edifice which is enriched and perfected through the uncharted pathways of the struggle against the old system. The necessity to understand the ebbs and flows of history constitutes, for this reason, a moment in the development of the theory.

For all these reasons, we reject the thesis of those – in particular the Trotskyists – who claim that our defeats are to be attributed, not to the class enemy, principally the bourgeoisie, but rather to the communists and to socialism as such.

For Marxist-Leninists, it follows that as a concept, socialism – the first stage of communism – is the other aspect of the class contradiction with capitalist imperialism, through which both are interdependent, that is to say that they struggle against and in turn condition each other in all fields. It seems obvious to us that those societies which set out on the path of socialism and who set the construction of the material basis for communism as one of their primary tasks, find themselves bound to a certain extent by the laws and categories derived from capitalism, and that the latter are gradually superseded and, although they conserve their form, change their character in the new conditions determined by the socialist base.

The experience of the last decades have confirmed the continued relevance of Stalin’s theory according to which the class struggle continues in socialist society, in terms of both social relations and the theoretical, political and ideological field, even though private ownership of the means of production no longer exists. For this reason, the internal or external bourgeoisie can regain power and re-establish the old social relations of exploitation, so long as certain political conditions persist.

But while the work and though of Stalin are returning to the centre of attention in many countries, in others, especially in western Europe, in which the bourgeoisie has gained a vast experience in terms of reformism, there has been a recrudescence of the old Trotskyist and Titoite theses which try to attack Leninism through attacks on Stalin. This is a question of “theories” which have as their objective the undermining the faith of the working class and the militants in communism. Historical truth is obscured or distorted, while there is silence concerning the enormous class struggles which have characterised this century, struggles which have developed through the participation of millions of people, through the use of every means possible, from the expenditure of billions of dollars to nuclear weapons, neo-fascism, corruption and hundreds of “local” wars, from reactionary and religious parties to the underworld, etc.

In all this counter-revolutionary activity, the ones who stand out for their corruption are those who have been given the task within our Movement of deviating it. These “wasters” had (and have) the task of creating ideological chaos, supporting deviations, attacking Marxism-Leninism and its defenders, and dividing our resources.

These adopt the mask of defenders of our theory, who in addition interpret and, like high priests, “judge” our work; about their own work, they have very little to say.

The worst is that, for all the power at their command, they do not manage to produce anything serious, but rather churn out the usual subjective idealism which presents the history of the communist movement as plagued by errors. The Trotskyists started all this, followed by the Titoites (M. Djilas) with the “theory” of the “new class” engendered since the 1930s by socialism itself; then came the Khrushchevites insinuating that the dictatorship of the proletariat was not democratic; the Maoists collaborated in this – from the right, joining in the chorus with Khrushchev with “the correct handling of contradictions among the people,” in order to reach the point of denying in reality Stalin’s thesis that the class struggle adopts more complex and more difficult forms under socialism.

The cause was, and is, transformed into the effect, and vice versa. Thus socialism was defeated through bureaucracy (let’s see when the US falls, since they possess the greatest bureaucracy in the world), through lack of democracy (as if capitalism had won because of its democratic character, and the dictatorship of the proletariat was not the highest form of democracy for the workers), and other pleasantries. We communists should always bear in mind our method of analysis of social phenomena, classes and the class struggle, of which we have brilliant examples from our classical authors.

In this way we can observe classes both in their material (economic) reality and their formal (ideological) existence, in their dialectical conditioning. Only in this way will we go to the root of the problem, establishing each time a hierarchy of priorities of the difficulties we encounter, in a particular way, in the first phase of communism, socialism, where the slogan is “to each according to their work”, which does not allow bourgeois right to be superseded until communism is reached: “to each according to their need.” And to be sure, the road to communism is long and full of difficult and complex obstacles which the bourgeoisie introduces, having at its disposition not only its powerful media, but also its long-standing ideological world which is expressed through the conception of the world and of society, through the sciences and culture, through the family, the relations between work, the individual and society. There are differences between the various recurrent attacks on Leninism, but they all aim to lead our Movement into the arms of the old Brezhnevite revisionism, in the name of a “realistic” path and “modern” definitions, as if we had been wandering in the kingdom of utopia armed with old and outdated instruments. And to this end they offer us analyses and theories, which it would be an underestimation to describe as comical.

For example, nowadays there is a thesis circulating in Russia (presented by Medvedev) according to which only fragments of socialism had ever existed in that country, a thesis which others have applied to Albania. Thus, it becomes very “easy” to dismiss Enver Hoxha (and 40 years of glorious struggle) and to begin to demolish Stalin. The only problem is that these “realistic” and “modern” theories completely lack the slightest scientific dignity. They rehabilitate all the Trotskyite-Bukharinite charlatanry about the supposed second period of socialist construction (the Stalinist period), in which it is said that the interests of particular individuals and groups were strengthened at the expense of the interests of society in general, with consequent loss of control over the economy, through which a new class was formed (this would be the new thesis for the authors). In substance, the dictatorship of the proletariat is said to have engendered the new class and a transitional, pseudo-socialist society en route towards the total restoration of capitalism, through which it was impossible for the Khrushchevite revisionists to resolve their problems (although they tried!). What is to be said about all this? The conclusion – if we were to pursue the logic of the ideas of these “modern realists” to the end – is that the defeat of socialism in the USSR was due to the Bolshevik Party, which created the new class, lost control of the economy, and limited the power and the rights of the proletariat. We have to recognise that this is no small thing! How could the bourgeoisie have risen again if not through the Bolshevik Party? A bourgeoisie (the old one) which, according to these “modern realists” no longer existed, since private ownership of the means of production had been eradicated.

For the “modern critics” capitalism is nothing but property. For this reason, they do not understand that the abolition of bourgeois private property – de facto and de jure – still does not mean the definitive eradication of all the economic, social, political and ideological relations inherited from the old system. And when the “modern critics”, in order to support their analysis, locate the origins of the restoration of capitalism principally in the economic causes (commodity, value and law of value), they arrive – as we shall see later – at the metaphysical conclusion that the socialist system is in reality capitalist. But let us now pose the question: politically speaking, who were Trotsky, Bukharin, Khrushchev and the others? Which social class did they represent? Perhaps they were communists because they did not possess means of production, or because they were members of the Party? What is revisionism? Is it a simple deviation from Marxism? Is bourgeois ideology a form which, separated from the economic relations which engendered it, loses all function?

No society divided into classes can maintain itself without a well defined ideological system The “modern critics” deny that the principle that objective causes create only the possibility for the emergence of revisionism, and that it is the subjective conditions, within socialism, which can transform this possibility into a reality.

These people isolate what for them are “objective” causes as the origin of the restoration of capitalism, for the reason that for them it “follows from the Marxist method” that always and in every way it is the economic cause alone which explains regressive phenomena. These theorists, with the most vulgar schematism, having learnt by heart that the root of the superstructure is the economic basis, “explain” every social and political phenomenon with this fact. But their conception of the social structure (of the basis) is not Marxist, but positivist, hence their economism.

Marxism-Leninism teaches us that the structure is constituted by both the productive forces and the relations of production, and both are essential to it. To fail to understand the dialectical relation, the union, between these two factors, it to privilege the forces of production (hence the failure to understand the role of value and the law of value under socialism) relative to the relations of production, which means to fail to understand the primacy of the class struggle in the development of the forces of production and the changes caused by the socialisation of the means of production. It means to fall into Trotskyite-Bukharinite positions, that is into bourgeois economism. The dictatorship of the proletariat, like the class struggle, has as its objective, along with the development of the productive forces and the creation of new economic and social relations of production, the eradication of the categories and the laws inherited from capitalism.

Hence the conclusion that the restoration of capitalism finds its primary cause in the socialist economic base.

Engels always rejected such mechanical interpretations, in his famous writings and letters. He always argued that the economic relations give rise to the gigantic superstructure in whatever mode of production, but he took into account the fact that the social and ideological relations which arise from a given superstructure play a great role in the process of history, and that with respect to changes in the social structure, those in the superstructure are much slower and more complex.

If the Marxist method of class struggle is abandoned, we quickly enter the theoretical terrain of the bourgeoisie, the class struggle is abandoned and secondary phenomena (like technocracy, determinate forms of democracy or of centralism) are treated as causes.

But let us return to the above mentioned “objective causes”. Here are the theses put forward by the “modern critics”: Stalin’s analysis of the socialist economy presents certain limits; during the Stalinist era the Law of Value regulated the economy (since money existed). When the products were sold to the workers, they became commodities and the Law of Value functioned, since the workers could not determine the prices. All communists of this period underestimated the Law of Value, which – on the contrary – is the only law that has to be taken into account. This in turn proves that we have to resort to the capitalist laws which inevitably lead to distortions. The existence of money and the Law of Value indicate that the State Plan does not regulate the entire economy, thus benefiting private and group interests – besides, the co-operatives were the property of social groups.

According to our “modern critics”, the consequences that were mentioned earlier in relation to the “second period” derived from these “objective causes”, i.e. false solutions to problems and pseudo-socialism, so that the Bolsheviks were unable to get rid of the material bases of the degeneration (stratification, bureaucracy, etc.). Thus a new transitional society appeared (perhaps from outer space?) destined to end in the restoration of capitalism.

What needs to be said? It seems like a summary, or a Russian salad, with all the favourite theories of the Trotskyites, the Bukharinites, the Brezhnevites and the Chinese “Gang of Four” mixed up together. Social relations and political and social factors thus play a secondary, marginal role for these disciples of economic fatalism, whereas – on the contrary – it is known that the development of the productive forces towards socialism and communism presupposes, in order to continually create new relations of production, that this necessity is a conscious one, and that these new laws of socialism (as Stalin teaches us) operate and proceed by means of men.

And, if we concede that the absurd hypothesis that things were indeed the way that the “modern critics” imagine, what should communists have done with regard to commodity, value and the Law of Value? In the light of their “objective” (and “immutable”) presence in socialism, should they have been left to operate spontaneously in order not to “underestimate” them? Should they have ignored them? This thesis may be “modern”, but it is the same thesis as was put forward by Bukharin, who was the main advocate of the theory that it was necessary to resort to the free operation of the laws of bourgeois economy in order to avoid provoking bureaucratic distortions. For Bukharin and for the “Gang of Four”, Commodity, Value and the Law of Value have to be ignored. For Bukharin, this is because the (capitalist) economic objective coincides with the spontaneous development towards socialism. For the “Gang of Four”, in turn, this is because to take Value into account in the first phase of communism is tantamount to going towards the complete restoration of Bourgeois Right, and thus of capitalism.

Stalin will have had his limits (as the “modern critics” say) but these limits have nothing to do with any supposed confusion or distance separating him from Marxism-Leninism. The theoretical substance, to coin a phrase, of the “modern critics” is: some categories and Laws of capitalist economy continue to exist under socialism, operating both at the level of social content and form. This would be the wonderful “scientific” discovery that has been underestimated throughout this century by all communists (the reverse is more certain).

For our part, on the other hand, we do not disdain these fantasies of our “modern critics”, above all because you need a good dose of dishonesty to ignore and to not understand Stalin’s simple and clear arguments in the work, “Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR”. Therefore we will go deeper into the analysis.

Marxist-Leninists know that the value of a commodity is determined by the labour time socially necessary for its production. Value is therefore human labour incarnated in the commodity, the crystallisation of this labour.

The Value of labour-power is determined by the value of the things that are currently necessary to produce, develop, conserve and disturb it (Marx).

The Law of Value established the relation between the values produced and in this way spontaneously regulates the exchange of commodities through the mechanism of prices (and through money). The social division of labour and the distribution of the means of production between the different branches of the commodity economy. This is under capitalism.

Why is it that Commodity, Value and Law of Value – in both form and content – do not completely disappear under socialism? Because it is during this phase that it is necessary to create all the economic, political and ideological conditions through which, thanks to the new relations of production and the expansion of the forces of production – the complete and superior development of the peasant economy through state farms, of socialist commerce, of all the mental faculties of each individual, of science and technology, and the transcendence of commodity relations of distribution – the relations of production will become relations between really equal human beings, who will be able to implement the famous communist principle, without the need to take into account the Value produced by each social subject or category. Without there being more exchange transactions influenced by (communist) social relations in the socialist phase, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Communist Party have to socialise all the means of production, that is to say to abolish private and group property; eliminate labour-power as a commodity and thus eradicated the exploitation of labour-power; and overcome the differences between the town and the countryside and between intellectual and manual labour, etc. They have to create the conditions for the exchange of products rather than the exchange of commodities.

Therefore, under socialism, which cannot be superseded by decree, commodities continue to circulate – between the state and the Kolkhozes; Value and the Law of Value have their influence, though this is not a determinate influence; and economic differences continue to exist, for example between simple and complex labour.

Furthermore, the “modern critics” remain silent on the question of the function of theory (“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”, V.I. Lenin). But the swindle – for it a swindle that we are dealing with here – resides in its malicious theorisations. How can it be claimed that the dictatorship of the proletariat sells commodities to the workers? The workers, who are the owners of the means of production and are no longer exploited, sell their products to each other. Who is it who sells “commodities” to the workers? Which “social subject” does this? Who sets the prices? The capitalists or the dictatorship of the proletariat led by its party? These prices, are they free (i.e. set through the anarchy of the market or through competition) or are they the result of a determinate economic policy? Is the existence of money under the dictatorship of the proletariat synonymous with a socialist or a capitalist economy?

In “The German Ideology”, Marx affirms that the contradictions between the productive forces and the relations of production were the primary, essential – basic – causes of the class conflicts. Stalin was right, then, when he maintained that the class struggle continues under socialism.

The class struggle continues despite the fact that the bourgeoisie no longer exists as an economic class, or that the maximum that remains of it are minuscule groups without any social weight, and despite the fact that there are just two friendly classes (the workers and the working peasants in the Kolkhozes) and the social layer of the intelligentsia. But if class contradictions are the content of the struggle for communism- and the history of the last 40 years has amply shown that a bitter struggle continues to be waged under socialism – this indicates that the bourgeoisie continues to act in all spheres of social activity, be it at the national or international level. It indicates – as Marx wrote – that it is necessary not only to continually to bring the relations of production in line with the powerful productive forces of socialism, but also that it is necessary to eradicate all the old social relations and the ideas which continually arise from them.

But, according to what the “modern critics” say, Commodity, Value and the Law of Value are what drive society back towards capitalism and which lead to degeneration. But can it be claimed that under socialism there exists a commodity economy like the one under capitalism? No, this cannot be claimed because the circulation of “commodites” is limited to consumption goods and does not extend to the means of production and labour-power.

The victory of socialism in the USSR constituted a great triumph for Leninist theory’ its (temporary) defeat, in turn, constitutes a victory for anti-Leninist theories. The “modern critics” are the epigones of Trotskyism, which maintained that in the conditions of the transition period, of socialism, trade and money do not change their character, but remain the same as under capitalism. Stalin, at the XIV Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR replied to these enemies in the following manner: “The question consists in the fact that the socialist elements of our society, struggling against the capitalist elements, assimilate these methods and instruments of the bourgeoisie in order to overcome the capitalist elements; that they use them with success against capitalism for the construction of the socialist foundations.” During his entire life, Stalin always placed objective Laws at the centre of his practice, something that is not necessary to illustrate, but evidently the “modern critics” underestimate the power of our memory. In reality, these gentlemen try, with clumsy arguments, to put off the theoretical debate by reducing it to the cloak of Trotskyism in order to sabotage revolutionary practice through spreading confusion. The century coming will be the century of the revolutionary communist proletariat.

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