In the Light of Marxism

Questioning of an Historical Period

Elif Çağlı

May 1991

III. The Transition Period: A Period of Revolutionary Transformations

Marx deals with the problem of transition from capitalism to communism in the Critique Of The Gotha Programme with the following well-known lines:

Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.[1]

What can be the fundamental economic aspects of this transition period which will be launched by the conquest of political power by the proletariat and in which the process of the birth of classless society will begin? There are no lengthy explanations specifically focused on this subject in the classical works of Marxism. The Marxist theory has limited itself with throwing light on the future prospects and the fundamental points of start for the struggle for communism. This attitude is in conformity with the materialist understanding of history and the scientific method of Marxism and reveals its difference from the utopian and petty-bourgeois socialist currents that design future with idealist schemes and models. This point can easily be understood from the lines of Marx and Engels emphasising this aspect of the problem:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.[2]

The outlines drawn by Marxist theory on the structure of the capitalist society in which the proletarian revolution will take place, and on the classless society which is the final aim of this revolution, constitute a general framework for the nature of the movement from the former to the latter (the transition period). Thus, it is possible, by making deductions from this general framework, to grasp what kind of properties this historical period, which has the character of transition from capitalism to communism on a world scale, will bear compared to the past and the future.

The Theoretical Conception of Transition Period as Defined by Marx

It is essential to have a correct position on two central points in order to make a general assessment of the economic transformations of the transition period. First is the laws of movement of the economic system the proletariat will liquidate by its struggle on a world scale, that is the world capitalist system. Secondly, a general perspective of the classless society that the proletariat will reach through a social revolution. The classical works of Marxism provide the basis for a correct position on these two central points. Despite the experience after the October Revolution, this holds true even today.

The framework drawn by Marxism concerning the law of motion of the capitalist economic system is a very wide subject to be thoroughly dealt with here. Therefore, we have to limit ourselves by focusing only on the points necessitated by this study. As for the future perspective of the proletariat, it seems necessary to start with the fundamental ideas of the founders of Marxism in this respect.

As is well known, under capitalism all labour products, including the labour power itself, become commodities and are exchanged via sale and purchase. To be able to speak of commodity production, first there must be labour products produced for exchange in the market; and the consumer and producer qualities must not be united in the same person.

Political economy begins with commodities; begins from the moment when products are exchanged for one another – whether by individuals or by primitive communities. The product that appears in exchange is a commodity. It is, however, a commodity solely because a relation between two persons or communities attaches to the thing, the product, the relation between producer and consumer who are here no longer united in the same person.[3]

Marx’s theory of value explains the operation of the law of value which regulates the distribution of total labour-time in a society. Under capitalism this distribution is realised not via a kind of plan but the market mechanism. There are no direct links between individual producers: they exist in a social division of labour where the links are constructed only by commodity exchange. Law of value is peculiar to capitalism only; and the capitalism reflects a mechanism in which the law of value dominates. As Marx explains, the capitalist has two aims:

Use-values are only produced by capitalists, because, and in so far as, they are the material substratum, the depositories of exchange-value. Our capitalist has two objects in view: in the first place, he wants to produce a use-value that has a value in exchange, that is to say, an article destined to be sold, a commodity; and secondly, he desires to produce a commodity whose value shall be greater than the sum of the values of the commodities used in its production, that is, of the means of production and the labour-power, that he purchased with his good money in the open market. His aim is to produce not only a use-value, but a commodity also; not only use-value, but value; not only value, but at the same time surplus-value.[4]

Under capitalism, commodities –as exchange values with different magnitudes– meet according to the quantity of general abstract labour (socially necessary labour) they include, which constitutes the essence of the exchange value. The transaction of exchange in the market is regulated through a price mechanism in which prices are supposed to become equal to the exchange values only in the long run.

However, the capitalist law of value ceases to exist in the communist society from its very first phase. This means that labour products will no longer appear as bearing two different values (use value and exchange value). The production process, which, under capitalism, is a process of producing use values, which assume an exchange value, and surplus-value, undergoes a qualitative change in the classless society. It becomes a process, where the necessary products to meet the need of the society, that is the use values directly supplied to the service of the society, are produced.

This means the commodity economy is over. Under socialism, where there are no classes, and which is based on the co-operation of all individuals who can work, therefore where all workers become free producers, the separation between producer and consumer no longer exists. Producers do not exchange their products in the classless society which is based on the common possession of the means of production. Marx starts evaluating the classless society in Critique of The Gotha Programme with the following lines:

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.[5]

Yet under capitalism, an individual’s labour could only indirectly be part of the total labour, that is after being transformed into exchange value. What Marx explains here is that, even in the first phase of communist society, the products of social labour will start to function as use values (products) not exchange values (commodities). In socialism, labour products are never transformed into capital through exchange and therefore do not have an exchange value. To tell in a nutshell, socialism is a historical period in which law of value and commodity production absolutely cease to exist.

Expressing at every opportunity that the “value” is not an eternal economic category but only an expression of the nature of the period of capitalist production, Marx always made fun of the assumptions that the law of value would also be valid in the period of socialism. Likewise, Engels criticised Duhring who had wanted to apply the law of value to socialism.

The end of the capitalist commodity economy means that the conditions of existence of capital no longer exist. Since, in order to speak of capital, it is necessary to have a market where those privately owning the means of production and those having nothing but their labour power meet each other. However, there will neither be a class having private property nor labourers selling their labour-power in order to make a living in the classless society built upon the common ownership of the means of production.

In socialism, the first phase of classless society, each producer will get his/her share directly from the society’s consumer goods stock according to the proportion of his/her working hours to the total working hours of the society. As Marx stated, by this way the producer as an individual will get just the equivalent of his/her contribution (after making necessary deductions) to the society. What are these necessary deductions? Marx explains them as follows:

First, cover for replacement of the means of production used up.

Secondly, additional portion for expansion of production.

Thirdly, reserve or insurance funds to provide against accidents, dislocations caused by natural calamities, etc.


There remains the other part of the total product, intended to serve as means of consumption.

Before this is divided among the individuals, there has to be deducted again, from it:

First, the general costs of administration not belonging to production.

This part will, from the outset, be very considerably restricted in comparison with present-day society, and it diminishes in proportion as the new society develops.

Secondly, that which is intended for the common satisfaction of needs, such as schools, health services, etc.

From the outset, this part grows considerably in comparison with present-day society, and it grows in proportion as the new society develops.

Thirdly, funds for those unable to work, etc., in short, for what is included under so-called official poor relief today. [6]

Of course, we are not here considering the communist society (that is its higher phase) which develops on its own foundations. This is a communist society just as it emerges from the capitalist society. Let’s read from Marx:

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society –after the deductions have been made– exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labour. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labour time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labour (after deducting his labour for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labour cost. The same amount of labour which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.[7]

The price mechanism, that accompanies the distribution of commodities, and the money as a medium of exchange and bearer of exchange value in capitalism will have no function in socialism. Thus the planning which will dominate the economic mechanism in the period of socialism will be based on the social working hours, not on the price-money mechanism.

Another important point that must be kept in mind with Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme is the concept of “equal rights”. As is well known, it is not yet possible in the first phase of communism for each to give to society according to his ability and receive according to his needs. In the period of socialism, a principle in the form of giving equal share from the consumption stock of society for equal periods of work will be in force. It flows from the prediction that an abundance which could be expressed as “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs” will not yet be achievable in the first phase of communism.

For the same reason, the first phase of communism will be a period in which the functional division of mental-manual labour between the producers does not yet completely disappear, but starts to wither away. This division will completely be overcome only in the higher phase when labour ceases to be a must and becomes a habit and a pleasure and there is an abundance and a cultural development makes it possible for every individual to do every work he/she wants. However, to remind an important point, we should say that, beginning from the first phase of communism, class division within society will be over; this means the division of mental-manual labour as a social classification or the division of ruler-ruled will no longer exist.

Thus, what is meant by the division of mental-physical labour is not yet removed in socialism, is only the functional differences between the direct producers based on their work. Even this can only be overcome by the advances and leaps in the productive forces and technology.

It is certainly possible that the existing level of productive forces in the world at present can bear the potentials of a far grater abundance than Marx’s time. However we cannot ignore at the same time the increasing needs of the ever growing human population and the enormous destruction capitalism has caused in labour power and nature. Marx has long ago made it clear that capitalism can develop material production only by weakening two sources of all wealth: human labour power and nature.

Let us turn to Marx’s explanation. It states that in the lower phase of communism the bourgeois equal right is not yet surpassed. This means that two individuals who are not equal in fact (one is superior to another physically or mentally, one has more children etc.) can get equal shares from the consumption stock of the society for equal hours of work in socialism. This is what is meant by the bourgeois conception of equality and that its short-sightedness has not yet been surpassed. The lower phase in which labour is not yet life’s “prime want”, but a “compulsory means of life” (since, leaving aside those who are unable to work, “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” principle is valid) is an enormous progress compared to the past. However it also represents a level of social development in which some limitations continue compared to the higher phase which will develop on its own foundations. This limitedness is not because people are not yet able to demand a higher law, namely the genuine equality, but because law can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development.

In the higher phase of communism genuine equality is reached by giving unequal shares from the consumption stock of society to the individuals who are unequal in reality. In this phase individuals get their share not according to their hours of work, but according to their needs. Thus the narrow horizon of the principle of bourgeois equality, which is only a relic of bourgeois law, will be surpassed and the free producers will be able to start to live the real equality and freedom without the need of coercion thanks to the economic abundance they have created and cultural change conditioned by it.

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs![8]

And Engels described in his Anti-Dühring the transformation human life will undergo on a world scale with the seizing of the means of production by society and doing away with the commodity production:

With the seizing of the means of production by society production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organisation. The struggle for individual existence disappears. ... The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, with full consciousness, make his own history – only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the humanity’s leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.[9]

Evidently all explanations of Marx and Engels on “freedom” are based upon an abundance of productive forces. They objected the concept of abstract freedom in the bourgeois society and futile discussions on this subject. However, some authors incapable of understanding the essence of Marxism, accused this approach of the founders of Marxism, which is based on “the level of productive forces”, of “economic determinism” etc. It would be just the place here to cite the following lines of Marx refuting quite succinctly the petty bourgeois mentality which is incapable of understanding that freedom is not an intellectual action but an economic level that human race can reach in its social evolution:

… it is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world and by employing real means, … slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and … in general, people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity.[10]

Transition Period is not a Stagnant Period

Having drawn conclusions from Paris Commune, which would illuminate the vision of the communist movement, Marx had remarked the profound historical dimension of the transition period. Establishment of the Commune administration in Paris in 1871 was only a beginning just like the proletariat’s conquest of power in industrial centres of Russia after the October Revolution in 1917. That is why Marx pointed out that there would be a hard, long and hilly historic road stretching out before the proletarian power:

The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune. They have no ready-made utopias to introduce par décret du peuple. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realise, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant.[11]

Thus, Marx explained that the main characteristic of the transition period was the accomplishment of social transformations by the ruling proletariat in order to “set free the elements of the new society”. These social transformations will make it possible to liquidate capitalism and develop the productive forces to a level beyond that under capitalism thanks to the centralisation of the means of production in the hands of the proletariat.

The transition period neither has its own peculiar production relations nor it can be called capitalist or socialist. It represents a movement from the past to the future. It can be at a point very near to the past (capitalism) or to the future (socialism) depending on the situation of the dictatorship of the proletariat on a world scale and its real position against the capitalist system. For this reason, the main characteristic of the transition period with respect to the transformation of the production relations can reveal itself only with the progress of the world revolution in the advanced capitalist countries. What we mean by the main characteristic is the advance of the proletariat, having become the ruling class by a political revolution, to the position of being the master of the conditions of production. Marx points out to the element that illuminates the base of whole social structure:

It is always the direct relation of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers, which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden foundation of the entire social construction, and with it of the political form of the relations between sovereignty and dependence, in short, of the corresponding form of the state.[12]

Marx states that the proletariat would take the material conditions of production under its control in the case that it becomes the ruling class and centralises the means of production in its own hands. This is a very important feature of the transition period. It means that when the proletariat becomes the real master of the conditions of production by its own state, the plans about what to produce, how and how much will be made by the ruling proletariat. What characterises this period is not only the destruction of the old order, expropriation of capitalists and liquidation of capitalist production relations. Also and essentially within this period the proletariat, organised as a “state”, will organise a planned economy and prepare the material and cultural developments in order to do away with the social division of labour and contradictions resulting from it. That is to say, this will be a historic period in which economic, social, cultural foundations of classless society are built. This is in fact a period of struggle between the defeated but not yet completely destroyed capitalism and emerging communism. The class antagonisms taken over from the old society will gradually disappear in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat but old class differences in the form of habits, culture etc. will continue to exist for a long time (until the first phase of communism).

We cannot speak of pure forms or categories peculiar to the transition period, since it does not bear the character of an independent socio-economic formation and is a dynamic period in which revolutionary transformations take place. The economic life of the transition period should be understood as a dynamic process of construction from the past to the future, in which the capitalist production relations are liquidated and therefore cannot yet be defined by the features of classless society.

Although the transition period will find its full meaning on the basis of revolutionary leaps on a world scale by the proletariat, let us make an abstraction in order to grasp its features with future dimensions. Let us assume that nationalisation has been done by a workers power and private ownership of the means of production has been put an end to. In such a situation, and within the limitations posed by these conditions, the laws of capitalist economy would cease to operate. For example generalised commodity economy would be over, the production process would cease to be a process where exchange value and surplus-value are produced. The law of value would no longer hold sway. And connected with this, the price mechanism as the expression of exchange value and the function of money as the universal equivalent would cease to be valid. But under the given conditions, by extending the transition period to its logical conclusions, these assumptions would only remain as abstractions aimed at understanding the new situation that may appear when the capitalist workings are completely put an end to.

On the other hand, even though the speed and the scope of the change in the transition period depends on the given conditions, it would be useful to try to understand more closely the possible results of some practices to be immediately carried through at least in big industry (such as nationalisation or prohibition of employing waged labour by private entrepreneurs. Because transformations of this kind were carried out in Russia after the October Revolution in 1917. Therefore, we can continue examining the subject in broad lines taking as a starting point the meaning of the transformation experienced under the soviet workers power.

Under the workers’ state if the use of wage labour on the basis of private property in large industry is put an end to, then labour power ceases to be a commodity in that sector. Such a situation is a sign of the liquidation of the capitalist production relations within given limits. Because the essential character of capitalist mechanism reveals itself in that labour power itself is a commodity. That labour becomes wage labour.

However if capitalist relations still exist in agriculture and small-scale production in general, this means the categories of money and commodity have not been abolished. However, under these circumstances we have tried to describe, we cannot talk of a generalised commodity production characteristic of capitalism. Is this a contradiction? Or is this a process, just like before capitalism, in which the categories of money and commodity exist although we cannot talk of a generalised commodity production? But of course not in the sense of a process of birth of capital but that of a death! Let us turn to Marx for further explanation. Pointing out to the difference between the period during which only money and commodity circulation existed and the period of generalised commodity economy which amounts to the primary condition of existence for the capitalism, Marx says:

The historical conditions of its existence are by no means given with the mere circulation of money and commodities. It can spring into life, only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence meets in the market with the free labourer selling his labour-power. And this one historical condition comprises a world’s history. Capital, therefore, announces from its first appearance a new epoch in the process of social production.[13]

Thus, the transition period between capitalism, in which general commodity production prevails, and socialism, in which commodity production ends, is a historic process in which the former is liquidated and the latter is prepared. So the transition period is not a separate socio-economic formation completely independent from these two; it cannot be comprehended without reference to the past and the present.

Likewise, if we try to understand the transformations to be carried out on the basis of the liquidation of capitalism, it is possible to say the following: In the transition period, the production process gradually becomes, depending of course on the existing level of productive forces and provided that the workers’ state nationalises and efficiently uses the means of production, a process in which the social needs of the producers are met. So, in this situation, the capitalist market economy comes to an end and a new period of central planning begins in the economy.

Thus, the principle of “profit” that motivates production under capitalism leaves its place to the planning to meet the needs of labouring masses in much more optimum scales. Within the nationalised big scale industry transformation of the surplus value produced by the proletariat into capital ceases. The meaning of this can be expressed as follows: the ruling proletariat expropriates the surplus value created by itself in the name of its own state and appropriate these social funds for necessary investments. As to small scale production, it is united in cooperatives and is put under control of the workers state by means of economic measures (taxes etc.).

Consequently “price” now does not involve a capitalist profit in the sector under the control of workers’ state since the capitalist accumulation and surplus value production is over; it can only carry on its function of measuring in the planning. This, on the other hand, is very relative and only valid within the borders of workers state. Since if we consider the existence of the workers’ state surrounded by the world capitalist market, the pressure of the latter and world prices inevitably affects this or that way the economy under the workers’ state, and in the final analysis it will be a decomposing, destructive element.

In the transition period under the workers state labour power ceases to be a commodity in the given conditions described above. Under the workers state, even though the worker gets for his work in the form of money as if like his old wage, when we compare his position in the production process with that under capitalism, we see that he will have been far from being a wage labourer. Since after the liquidation of the capitalist mechanism, the workers will not have sold their labour power to the capitalist; they will have appropriated it for themselves. One cannot be his own waged slave. Or one cannot be the boss and the worker at the same time. This means that the waged slavery of capitalism is over.

According to an evaluation system of labour under the workers’ state, a plan which is based on a principle of equal pay for equal work in similar type of labour can be valid. If the ruling proletariat is to decide the arrangement of the working hours and conditions, it will at the same time be the one who decides how much should be the burden and for what. A regime of labour regulated by workers themselves as their own bosses will not lead to the type of problems as in the case they are forced by an alien power (a ruling bureaucracy, for instance), although this regime does not yet offer the well-being of the classless society of the future. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat the social surplus labour is transferred to the social development funds with a plan of advancing the general level of development of society.

The economic functioning of the transition period can be realised through a centralised plan that reflects the demands, proposals and participation from below of the proletariat organised in soviets. One can talk of a democratic functioning, which is the necessary condition for a workers’ state, only if the central planning is based on the initiatives of the local soviets and factory committees and the results are evaluated on this basis. Otherwise it will merely be a bureaucratic central planning which is in full contradiction to the workers’ democracy, the necessary condition for the transition period.

In the era of world economy the real calculation of economic productivity (the distribution of the forces of production among different production fields, choice of technology etc.) must depend on a world-wide planning. The dictatorship of the proletariat to be established in a relatively backward country has no chance to reach the economic productivity of the world capitalism, unless it is spread to the countries dominating the world capitalist system. In this case the price system, which is a measure in central planning and inter-sectoral input-output calculations, will be useless even for comparison with the prices in the capitalist market dominating the world economy. Yet the economic productivity has to be measured on a world scale in order to be able to talk about a successful planning in the real sense of the word.

On the other hand, under a dictatorship of the proletariat limited by such conditions, commercial relations with the capitalist world will inevitably be continued. Although under workers’ state foreign trade is nationalised, this does not mean everything. Given that people live in a single world after all, being aware of each other despite all measures, their demands as consumers will take shape according to world standards. Now that the goods that can meet these needs can only be supplied from the world market, then the workers’ state will either import what it can not produce, or a black market under the workers’ state will do it. In either case, the economy under the workers’ state will be under the pressure of the capitalist world market. And this will drag the economic planning into a crisis upon the effect of objective economic pressures. Thus the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat surrounded by the world capitalism will not be affected by this objectivity and stand firm on its feet is alien to Marxism.

In conclusion, the speed and scope of the arrangements and transformations concerning the transition period depends, in the final analysis, not solely on the voluntary decisions of political organisations, but on the level of economic development of the sector under control of the workers’ state. For example, it is not possible to avoid from the enormous problems of the lack of industrialisation if the dictatorship of the proletariat is isolated in backward countries. To bring about in a democratic fashion the “primitive accumulation” required for an industrial leap forward purely with its own resources and human power, without benefiting from the capabilities of world economy under the capitalist embargo is not a question of will. Even though it seems possible in some respect to employ the human power ruthlessly for this purpose in a big country, it runs counter to the spirit of the workers’ state or workers’ democracy. But on the other hand a workers’ state cannot survive without economic development. Therefore to make a living for a workers’ state born anew facing such impasses is closely linked with the advance of world revolution.

Transition Period is Linked With World Revolution

Since capitalism is a world system, the social revolution to overthrow it should have worldwide dimensions rather than national. Therefore the transition from capitalism to communism can acquire its full meaning only when the political revolution is victorious on a world scale; that is when the political rule of the world bourgeoisie is brought to an end.

The new social conditions in the transition period under the dictatorship of the proletariat do not in fact come into being out of nothing. As Marx stated, the socialisation of productive forces already accomplished due to capitalist development is now set free from the restricting capitalist relations of production and is given the freedom for a full development. It is in this sense that “the socialist building”, although it will be the conscious product of the working class who also changes itself by a social revolution, is in the final analysis not a question of will, but depends on whether the material conditions for change exists or not.

It is this very point that Marx explains by his famous phrase: “A social formation never disappears before all the productive forces inherent therein develop; new and higher relations of production never come and place themselves before their material conditions of existence flourish in the heart of the old society.” And he continues:

Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation.[14]

Of course the question whether the material conditions for socialism have ripened or not can be answered on a world scale and not on a national scale. Because the capitalist mode of production represents not an organisation of production restrained to a local or regional level, but the creation of a world system. This approach is as correct as the fact that the reality of individual countries can not be substituted for the reality of a whole world. And it is obvious how the kind of thinking “now that the world revolution does not proceed along with revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries, we should find a way to build socialism within the borders of a single country” is unscientific and far from the Marxist conception.

The overthrow of bourgeois power and building the proletarian power historically signify the beginning of a movement of transition from capitalism to communism, of course with the reservation that it is conditioned with the limitedness of national bounds yet. However, even a partial victory of this historic movement depends on the permanence of revolution on a world scale.

Even if the nationalisation process, that is the appropriation of the means of production by the workers’ state (the first task of a victorious proletarian revolution), starts on a national scale, the socialisation of the ownership of the means of production can only be achieved on an international scale. In other words, the state ownership over the transition period is not yet a social ownership (that is the ownership of whole society) in the real sense of the word. Here the state ownership means, like in all other class societies, not the common ownership of whole society, but still of the ruling class (the proletariat). Therefore the state ownership cannot be identified with the social ownership despite it is in the hands of the proletariat. The proletariat’s state ownership is an important step on the way to social ownership, but only a step.

The real socialisation of the ownership of the means of production is a matter of classless society. The real social nature of the means of production can fully appear only when the transition period concludes its historic task on a world scale. In other words, a social organisation wherein the means of production serve all the people throughout the world can be possible if and only if the world capitalist system is absolutely put an end to and the national borders disappear.

Realisation of “individual ownership on the basis of common ownership of the means of production” that is the assumption of social ownership by each individual in society will mean the solution of the contradiction between individual and society. When the conditions that lead to the self alienation of individual to his own labour are thus liquidated, the phenomenon of alienation will disappear and free individual will profoundly be interested in the consequences of his labour; and labour will become a pleasure.

Although the proletarian state ownership that puts an end to the capitalist ownership constitutes a point of support for a socialist planning of production, everything depends in the final analysis on whether there is an economic productivity exceeding the level reached by world capitalist system. That is the problem. It is impossible for a proletarian revolution beginning in the backward countries to reach such a productivity without the company of advanced countries. For this reason, even if the legal changes in the sphere of property after the revolution in such countries (for example nationalisation in industry and collectivisation in agriculture) may bring about a certain economic development with respect to the past, this will be a “development” falling behind the level of world capitalism, identifying itself with catching up with it. But this is not what Marxism understands from the economic development which will be reached by abolishing private ownership of the means of production. It is a kind of development which exceeds the level reached by capitalism. For this reason, to accept the state ownership as an adequate point of support and say “socialism is being built”, is to confuse the legal with the real.

Marx said “law can never be superior to material base”, meaning that legal changes without a material basis would prove inadequate to break through. Thus, it will not be more than legal wishful thinking to take the state ownership of the means of production alone as the sign of the presence of a process of building socialist production relations. Above all, the concept of socialist production relations imply the period of socialism and presuppose an according level of material-economic base. Socialist production relations means the relations between the free producers in the production process, in the first phase of the classless society.

If the preparations for socialist production relations are meant, then the matter should have been approached from the standpoint of the characteristics of a real transition process. But those who start from the standpoint of “socialism in one country” declared that the state ownership signifies the establishment of socialist production relations theorising the distortions emerged under the bureaucratic dictatorships. However, this did not solve the problem and they tried to evade it by defining the fundamental contradiction of those countries as the contradiction between the “already established” socialist production relations and the backwardness of the productive forces. For example Bettelheim, who defended such views for years, and those who aped him and alike likened the bureaucratic dictatorship to a “tent” which is supposed to mean the establishment of socialist production relations. To them this tent was to be filled with the production forces suitable for socialism in time! What they had in common was that they theorised the state ownership in the Soviet Union and alike as socialism without questioning the production relations. They were asserting that law can be superior to material base by identifying state ownership with the socialist production relations and making a complete mess of Marxism by this kind of “contributions”.

The concept of production relations belongs to the sphere of economic-material base, and it is not a “legal” concept in relation to property forms. Production relations depend on the level of productive forces. While production relations can fall behind the level of productive forces, in the final analysis they can never be ahead of it, which means the production relations are fundamentally conditioned with the level of productive forces. For example just like the need for a qualitative development (industrial revolution) in order to surpass feudal production relations and reach capitalist production relations, the formation of socialist relations of production requires a leap in the productive forces that exceeds the level of capitalism on a world scale. To claim otherwise means to turn upside down the dialectical materialistic understanding of the evolution of society.

The period of dictatorship of the proletariat, as a historic period, is not one that can be lived and concluded within the borders of one country. It is a historic period that will include the growth of revolution into world revolution on the basis of spreading into at least a few advanced capitalist countries. In the case that the proletarian revolution has not yet achieved a leap forward that can shake the reign of the world capitalist system to its foundations, and that it can hit not the core but the peripheries of capitalism, then the workers’ power (if established) will be subjected to the crushing pressure of these objective conditions. In that case, the rule of the proletariat (organised as a state) over the production process will be shadowed by the reign of the world capitalist system. Engels pointed out the difficulties awaiting the proletarian power in case that the world proletarian revolution breaks out not in one of the vital centres of capitalism but in the periphery where political contradictions are intensified:

If a war ... brings us to power prematurely, the technicians will be our chief enemies; they will deceive and betray us wherever they can and we shall have to use terror against them but shall get cheated all the same.[15]

The danger Engels had mentioned, was realised when the proletarian revolution was confined to a backward country like Russia. Despite the historic leap forward by the 1917 October Revolution, the Russian proletariat could not overcome its enormous inadequacies in economy and culture, since the European revolution did not come to help. The proletariat, therefore, could not fully become the ruling power of the production process. For example, it could not take the technicians under its control; on the contrary, unfortunately, got subordinated to the hegemony of the returning bureaucracy.

The reality in the Soviet Union has been for years theorised as “real socialism”. The so-called Marxists have written a lot of books on this subject. They have presented the economic structure in the Soviet Union as an example of transition from capitalism to communism. They have done this without investigating whether the state is a workers’ state or not and without verifying the precondition of workers’ democracy, the principle Marx had stated as the fundamental condition for the transition period. In fact, the workers state born out of 1917 October Revolution had later been destroyed by a bureaucratic counter-revolution and the “Soviet” state had been transformed into a despotic-bureaucratic state. The destruction of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the fundamental condition of the progress from capitalism to communism, thus resulted in termination of the dynamic of transition period in the Soviet Union. A new socio-economic process has begun based on the despotic-statist mode of production with the absolute power of Stalinism.

[1] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. III, p.26.

[2] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.38.

[3] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.514

[4] Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1977, p.181

[5] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. III, p.17.

[6] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. III, pp.16-17

[7] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. III, pp.17-18

[8] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. III, p.19

[9] Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp.335-6

[10] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, pp.26-27

[11] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, p.224

[12] Marx, Capital, Vol. III, p.919.

[13] Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p.167

[14] Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, p.21

[15] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, London, 1942, p.493.