Region: TCBook Club


via The Communist Bloc

The People's Republic of Eriadni

Socialist Heronia wrote:i have now also made a first reading of "the principles of communism"
small handful of questions:
1. how shall the state, at any given moment in time, be able to determine exactly how many resources are at its disposal and exactly what society needs?
2. am i correct to identify the "petty bourgeoisie" defined in the paper with the modern middle class?
3. the ussr's doctrine of "socialism in one country" seems to directly contradict the assertion that a revolution everywhere will follow a revolution anywhere. what happened?

I'll offer my takes on a couple of these, but I'll chuck em in spoilers so comrades reading aren't coloured by my take whilst they do a first reading themselves...

Engels is basically making an observation that the increase in productive forces and technological advancement has led to a situation where resource scarcity is increasingly rare. The assertion that the state can determine resource levels and needs is, for him, a logical conclusion that there's no longer any need for scarcity and the power of the state is enough to distribute resources as it sees fit.

This has taken a couple forms historically, prominently command economies like those of the USSR, China under Mao, the Eastern Bloc, etc. Today, an argument can be made that state ownership of the commanding heights of the economy in China, Vietnam and increasingly Cuba, alongside promotion of private enterprise, also achieves these goals.

Yes and no. There's a distinction and it arises from the modern usage of the word middle-class. Middle-class today is usually used to describe "middle income" and encompasses, amongst others, white-collar professionals, unionised blue-collar workers as well as business owners and perhaps landlords. The usage in the modern context is usually associated with a certain lifestyle, liveable because "middle-class" persons make a certain amount of money each year. The modern use of the "class" is usually based on a person's income.

However what Engels means by the petty bourgeoisie is a more limited. He's not interested about income as the determinant of socio-economic class, but rather the relationship particular persons have with private property and the means of production. The bourgeoisie are the owners of the means of production, for example, and the proletariat forced into selling their labour power for a wage. The petty bourgeoisie sit somewhere in the middle. First, they do actually own private property and the means of production, but on a limited scale. They might own a shop, or a cafe, or a small workshop that makes certain tools or furniture. What differentiates the petty bourgeois from the bourgeoisie is that although they own the means of production, the differences in scale mean that they will ultimately be outcompeted by the bourgeoisie, and at the end of the day be reduced to selling their labour power for a wage, like the proletariat.

This is also why Marxists consider the petty bourgeoisie to be among the most reactionary members of society, because they stand to lose the most from any changes to the status quo. The bourgeois as a class are safe from major changes to social relations, as they make a lot of profit, ownnearly all the means of production, and accumulating large amounts of capital . The proletariat as a class are already losing out, as they are forced to sell their labour. But, the petty bourgeois can go from making some profit and owning some of the means of production and accumulating some capital to being forced to sell their labour alongside the proletariat.

In summary, their interests as a class in the economic sense lie with the proletariat but their consciousness generally lies with the bourgeoisie.

An important thing to note is that Engels wrote this in 1848 and Socialism in One Country arose in the 1920s and quite a lot of stuff happened between those two periods. In summary, when the Russian Revolution began, the Bolsheviks were fairly sure that Engels would in fact be proven correct and the world proletariat would rise up and we'd have a socialist commonwealth by Christmas. That's why the Russian government made such major concessions at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Germans, for example as they believed the German working class would rise up in their own revolution and then they'd be super friendly and renegotiate or bring about an entirely new concept of nationhood.

As it turns out, this kinda happened, with a couple revolutionary efforts erupting after the First World War in Germany. These included a soldiers and workers strike, followed by the establishment of a soviet in Hamburg, strikes and the establishment of a soviet in Munich and the Spartacist Revolt in Berlin. These were put down by the social-democratic government at the time, who allied with right-wing soldiers (the Freikorps) returning from the war to crush the socialists.This was compounded further by a lack of socialist revolutions in the victorious Allied nations, and their own interventions on the side of the White Army during the Russian Civil War. The rise of fascism in Italy, a nation with a strong communist/socialist political tradition alongside these events convinced Soviet leadership that perhaps the world revolution concept wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and that focusing on building and protecting socialism in one country was necessary for the survival of the revolution.

Whether this position was correct, and the questions of why the revolutions in Germany failed and fascism's triumph in Italy have been subject to a great deal of theorising and debate ever since, and are by no means settled discussions. There are a great many writings on these subjects.

I hope this helped at least a little bit!