marxism


The 1936 Constitution of the USSR contains two biblical verses:

He who does not work, neither shall he eat.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.

The first is clear enough, being drawn from 2 Thessalonians 3:10. But the second is a little more obscure, although it comes originally from Acts 4:35. Clearly, the appearance of such texts in the Constitution is not by chance. So how did they end up there?

A hint may be found in the slight obscurity of the origins of the second text, for it is not exactly the same as that of Acts 4:35. That hint suggests a unique exegetical path that winds its way from the Bible, through Lenin and the slogans of the early Bolshevik government in the USSR, to none other than Joseph Stalin. Let me trace that path.

I begin with the text from 2 Thessalonians: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’. Among the Bolsheviks, Lenin was the first to use it. It was 1918, during the famine brought about by the shortage of grain through the disruption to rail transport by the First World War and the White Armies of the Civil War. With the grain shortage came massive speculation by the profiteers – kulaks in the countryside and business owners in the cities. In that context, Lenin addressed a group of workers in Petrograd:

‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’. ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’ – every toiler understands that. Every worker, every poor and even middle peasant, everybody who has suffered need in his lifetime, everybody who has ever lived by his own labour, is in agreement with this. Nine-tenths of the population of Russia are in agreement with this truth. In this simple, elementary and perfectly obvious truth lies the basis of socialism, the indefeasible source of its strength, the indestructible pledge of its final victory (Collected Works, volume 27, pp. 391-2).

As the Civil War raged on and shortages continued, the text from 2 Thessalonians became a major feature of Agitprop. It featured on posters plastered throughout town and country. And it led to the Metropolitan of Moscow, Aleksandr Vvedensky, to observe:

When you say you are for the principle of work, I remind you of the slogan, ‘he who does not work shall not eat.’ I have seen this in a number of different cities on revolutionary posters. I am just upset that there was no reference to the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, from where the slogan is taken (Vvedensky in Lunacharsky, Religia i prosveshchenie, 1985, p. 193).

So it should be no surprise that Stalin should make much use of this text – with Lenin’s blessing – and that it should appear in the Soviet Constitution of 1936.

What about the second text from the Constitution: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’.

I suggest that it is a reinterpretation of Acts 4:35 in light of 2 Thessalonians 3:10. This reinterpretation was undertaken by the erstwhile theological scholar and avid student of the Bible, Joseph Stalin. Let us begin with Acts itself:

They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The context is the brief account of early Christian communism, in which everything was held in common and no-one had private possessions (see also Acts 2). Everyone would put whatever wealth they had into the common property and then it was distributed according to need. I do not wish to go into the long history of the various interpretations of this passage, save to point out that Acts 4:35 eventually became a socialist slogan, ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’. The influence of Engels’s argument for revolutionary Christianity had an influence here, as did Marx’s use of the slogan.

Yet, the Soviet Constitution of 1936 does not use this version of the slogan. Instead, it has ‘to each according to his work’. The exegetical work of Stalin is responsible. In texts leading up to the constitution (a revision of the one from 1924), Stalin interprets the text in light of what was by then a well-established distinction between socialism and communism. Socialism became the first stage of communism, which would eventually – albeit without a specified time frame – become fully fledged communism. Indeed, after the frenetic and profoundly disrupting drives for industrialisation, collectivisation and socialisation of economic and social life in the late 1920s and 1930s, the government announced that socialism had been achieved in the Soviet Union. But communism was still to come.

So Stalin distinguished between two slogans, one appropriate for socialism and the other for communism. Under socialism, the appropriate slogan was ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’. Under communism, it would be ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. The first slogan was clearly a combination of the texts from 2 Thessalonians and Acts 4. Not only does one need to work in order to live (targeted at capitalists and the idle rich), but one also works according to ability and is recompensed in light of the work done.

But what does this mean in practice? It means people will be paid according to the labour they have provided. It means different pay scales (within reason) in terms of skills, type of labour, and contribution to the overall good of the socialist project. It also means that one should take responsibility for one’s labour and stay in the same job for a while. This is far from the idea of ‘equalitarianism’, under which ‘everybody would get the same pay, an equal quantity of meat and an equal quantity of bread, would wear the same clothes and receive the same goods in the same quantities—such a socialism is unknown to Marxism’ (Stalin, Works, volume 13, p. 120).

Is communism different? In one respect it is, for this is the time when ‘labour has been transformed from a means of subsistence into the prime want of man, into voluntary labour for society’ (p. 121). Yet, communism is like socialism in that it does not fall into the trap of individualist equalitarianism in relation to labour. One provides labour according to ability and is given what one needs. Obviously, the abilities differ, as do the needs – depending on one stage in life, whether one has children or not, whether one is sick or healthy.

Until then, the socialist version of the two biblical texts remained in force:

From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.

Three features of a Bolshevik:

If we really want to maintain and develop a Bolshevik tempo … the main thing is to have the passionate Bolshevik desire to master technique.

And when we have done that we shall develop a tempo of which we dare not even dream at present. (Works, volume 13, pp. 43, 44, 75)

For some reason, this reminds me of that great Australian film, Children of the Revolution.

CR

For some time now I have been pondering, and asking advice, concerning a Chinese name for myself. I am after a proper Chinese name, rather than a version that sounds like my name: 罗兰博尔.

The family name was little trouble, since a reasonably common Chinese family name is 薄 (Bó).

However, the personal name took more work. A breakthrough came on a recent trip to Shanghai and some very good advice.

‘Roland’ means ‘mighty in the land’, or ‘powerful in the land’.

A good Chinese character for ‘powerful’, ‘strong’ and so on is 强 (Qiáng). The rest should be easy, I thought. Just add 国 (Guó)  and you have 强国 (Qiángguó): powerful in the country.

Now came the good advice: this form draws attention to me, as being the one who is powerful and so on. But it is not really the done thing to make such grandiose claims on one’s own behalf. So far better to have 国强 (Guóqiáng), since this means a powerful, strong country. The emphasis is on the country, not me.

So my full Chinese name is now 薄国强: Bó Guóqiáng.

International Critical Thought has just published issue 5.1. I am taken with a couple of articles from the issue. The first is by Chen Ping, called ‘Has Capitalism Defeated Socialism Yet?—Kornai’s Turnaround on Liberalism, and the Evaporation of Myths about Eastern Europe’. The abstract reads:

The Hungarian economist Janos Kornai has warned the West of the possibility of a reversal of liberalization in Eastern Europe. He advocates a new policy of containment aimed at countries such as Russia and China. This prompts us to investigate the truth concerning the transition in Eastern Europe. After 1990 the West recalculated economic data from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (FSUEE thereafter) before 1990, for creating an illusion that “shock therapy” had made progress in FSUEE. However, the Eastern Europeans including the Hungarians, who were enthusiastic for liberalization from socialism, soon discovered that joining the European Union (EU) was damaging the interests of the majority of people in Eastern Europe, while Western Europeans also came increasingly to oppose the financial burdens imposed by EU enlargement and immigration inflows. The short-sighted transition strategy carried out in Eastern Europe and the preoccupation with geopolitical interests have in fact exacerbated the EU’s economic crisis, triggering a civil war in Ukraine and causing Russia to become disillusioned with the West. Kornai’s theory of soft-budget constraints as well as his anti-Keynesian policies during the transition recession, is responsible for the economic downturn triggered by rapid liberalization in Eastern Europe. The reversal of the liberalization trend in Eastern Europe and the change in the mass psychology of Eastern Europeans towards the West together constitute an important rebuff to utopian capitalist thinking in China. Has capitalism defeated socialism, as Western propaganda claims? The success of China’s autonomous open-door policy and the failure of Eastern Europe’s unilateral opening indicate that the collapse of the FSUEE occurred mainly for political rather than economic reasons.

The second is an article review by Tony Andréani & Rémy Herrera, called ‘Which Economic Model for China?—Review of La Voie chinoise by Michel Aglietta and Guo Bai’. In their conclusion they observe:

Our analytical framework being different from that of Michel Aglietta and Guo Bai (2012), whose work is welcome, we interpret the Chinese reality differently. It seems to us that, in China, the socialist road has not been abandoned. At present, the public sector is gaining ground over the private sector—public companies are acquiring many private firms. Besides, the idea that the Chinese policy, including economic policy, can be explained by the will of a hierarchical, disciplined Communist Party to remain in power and, for this, to meet primarily the interests of a state bureaucracy that it dominates and on which it relies, does not seem to correspond to reality. First, it is quite normal that a party claiming to be itself in the line of a revolution seeks to remain in power in order to achieve the goals it thinks are of people’s interest. Second, we must look closely at the efforts of self-reform that this party has started. It is not afraid to expose its own deficiencies concerning its internal democracy, as well as the reforms of its political system step by step. Under these conditions, we can have a different reading of the Chinese political system. That said, there is—this is what we believe—a hidden struggle (not an open one, as during the Maoist era) inside the Party, universities and research centers, intellectual circles and even, more discreetly, within local media, between two political lines, namely, a social-democrat orientation (some people just say “liberal”) and a socialist one. The latter is attributed in part to the “new left,” which is placed in a certain continuity with the Maoist legacy. The socialist way far outweighs the social-democrat way in the strength of its argument—let’s add that, if it were to dominate, it would also experience its own internal struggles. In a sense, we can rejoice at this: nothing is worse in social discourse than monolithic thinking.

In the midst of the frenetic enthusiasm of the collectivisation drive, Stalin published his famous article, ‘Dizzy with Success’. It called on comrades not to get carried away with enthusiasm, not to run too far ahead and damage the process. At one point, even village church bells appear:

I say nothing of those “revolutionaries”—save the mark!—who begin the work of organising artels by removing the bells from the churches. Just imagine, removing the church bells—how r-r-revolutionary! (Works, vol. 12, p. 204)

While working through this material, it is becoming increasingly clear that Stakhanovite enthusiasm is the framework in which the waves of purges of the 1930s should be understood. These purges are not merely cynical eliminations of rivals, nor are they merely the manifestation of fears (both real and unreal) of plots to overthrow the government. They are a major dimension of Stakhanovite enthusiasm, in which people threw themselves with extraordinary energy into the revolutionary changes taking place. The upshot is that those who lagged behind or who actively resisted the process became the focus of another and more negative dimension of that enthusiasm.

Stalin icon 24

As I settle into Beijing for a while, with much peace and quiet and opportunities for writing (and the pleasure of being in a country where the government is mainly the Communist Party), I have been enjoying my favourite restaurant. I treat myself to a meal there once or twice a week, while mostly eating in the dining halls.

One of the pleasures at this little eatery concerns some of the dishes. These include:

Husband and wife lung slice

Thread jujube in Sydney

Boiled salt bath chap

Sneak liver pointed

Beijing heaving

Needless to say, the only way to find out is to order them – in Chinese characters, as is the custom here.

Stalin and women: this conjunction usually evokes salacious details of Stalin’s somewhat active life as a young man, leaving a number of offspring across Russia. But in this he was no different from many other young Georgian males.

Far less known is the way he came to see, later in life, the importance of socialism for women. On many occasions, he addressed women’s congresses, let alone framing the Constitution of the USSR (1936 revision) to address explicitly equality of the sexes. Article 132 of what has been called an ‘affirmative action’ constitution reads:

Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured to women by granting them an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.

They often struggled to live up to ideals expressed and often acted hypocritically, as Alexandra Kollontai points out, but you can’t fault the ideals. Needless to say, the USSR is usually written out of the history of feminism – as with so many other matters. As the constitution was in its final stages of being formulated, Stalin addressed a gathering of collective farm women shock workers. His speeches at earlier women’s congresses may have been somewhat patronising, but here the issue of socialism and women gains clear expression:

Comrades, what we have seen here today is a slice of the new life we call the collective life, the socialist life. We have heard the simple accounts of simple toiling people, how they strove and overcame difficulties in order to achieve success in socialist competition. We have heard the speeches not of ordinary women, but, I would say, of women who are heroines of labour, because only heroines of labour could have achieved the successes they have achieved. We had no such women before. Here am I, already 56 years of age, I have seen many things in my time, I have seen many labouring men and women. But never have I met such women. They are an absolutely new type of people. Only free labour, only collective farm labour could have given rise to such heroines of labour in the countryside. (Works, vol. 14, p. 85).

This picture comes from the gathering itself:

Stalin and women 17 (320x271)

Not a few posters were produced on a similar theme, such as this one for the actual congress:

Stalin and women 16 (219x320)

 

And more:

Stalin and women 15 (320x220)

Stalin and women 12 (320x242)

Stalin and women 06 (320x162)

Next Page »