Bolshevik Revolution and Socialism of the Future

Satyaki Roy

People having faith on eternity of capitalism consider seven decades of the grand experiment of human civilization of building
socialism in Russia to be a dark tunnel 
that ends  in the late 80’s with
fresh air of liberal democracy and hence revolution deserves a collective
forgetting. Even if some bother to look back they seem to be busy in
discovering demons and episodes of tyranny somehow nervous in facing the social
process that created sparkles of alternative that caught the imagination of the
working class and dispossessed people of the world.
Non-existence of Soviet Union and the end of
Cold War era makes its absence even more pronounced in the context of the
current ascendancy of global capital.

The revolution didn’t succeed in transcending
capital relations but since capitalism is increasingly approaching its limits,
socialism continues to be the challenger, revolution is alive in the minds of
people, it raises its ugly head again and again within realities of
exploitation, deprivation, humiliation and oppression and finally in the dreams
of emancipation from all the shackles of un-freedom. It is not about glorifying
a defeat but it is about the occult power of kindling dreams of change that is
scary to the ruling class and hence they prefer silence rather than explicit
anathema on Bolshevik revolution. The other way of fossilizing soviet
revolution would be to see it as a dead monument or a dead star that have died
many light years back but still we see the blinking light, we see at a distance
and praise, sometimes as a mark of our past that stopped talking to the present
long back. As if it was a glory of the past that died out for some reason or
the other but introspecting on those reasons would diminish the glory itself
and hence let’s not talk that. The six weeks of revolutionary government in
1871 had enormous impact on Marx who was closely following the revolutionary
upsurge in the streets of Paris the way working class besieged the second
empire of Louis Napoleon and told the world new ways of organizing society.
Marx was immensely fascinated but also impatient to put together his views in
the pamphlet
The Civil War in France, dissecting the rise and fall of
the Commune and arrived at his new idea of state that marks a difference from
his idea of revolution spelt out in the

Socialism is not about controlling capital
relations that appear to be spontaneous it is about altering capital relations
altogether. Capital in Marx is a completely different animal, different from
every other analyses that we get from bourgeoisie schools of thought including
that of classical political economy. It is not a vector of inputs nor an
accumulation of past labour in the form of machines, buildings, tools and so
on. Capital in Marx is a social relation that separates direct producers from
the means of production and by this process creates a class of capitalist on
the one hand and the working class on the other hand. Capital therefore is a
private property of a class called capitalist and non-property of labour. This
is what we get from Grundrisse which Marx wrote as an introduction to
Capital. This property of class can take several juridical forms, private,
public, mixed and so on and altering this juridical form is not a sufficient
condition to transcend capital relations. In fact Marx in volume three of
Capital talks about various forms of capital and ownership structures that do
not conform with private property of means of production. For instance, Joint
Stock Company is a sublimation of private property to a capitalist collective.
Interest bearing capital or merchant capital get a cut of the surplus value not
because they own the means of production but receive subsumed class payments
for creating conditions for the production of surplus value. Therefore establishing
state ownership of means of production may be a precondition to achieve
socialism but if capital relations continue to exist capital would pick up its
own ‘personifications’ in various forms and the bureaucracy that run the show
on behalf of the state can emerge to be the new personification of capital.

Socialism is also not about fixing old limbs
into a new body. In other words every society creates its own materiality of
existence. Marx made a distinction between formal and real subsumption of
labour. In the former case it is a process of attaining control over labour
while the materiality of pre-capitalist production continues to exist and
therefore there exists possibilities of rewinding the process. Beyond a point
capitalism creates its own materiality of command and control. And this is the
rise of factory, from manufacture to machinofacture, large scale production and
so on which are the limbs created by capitalism as its own. Once bourgeoisie revolutionizes the production process and creates its own materiality existing
pre-capitalist structures function only as appendage to the dominant structure.
It is the real subsumption of labour when capitalism emerges as an organic
system. While talking about transition and the emergence of an organic system
Marx argues that an organic system is such in which each and every relationship
is the presupposition of the other. One reinforces the other and only then it
appears to be normalized and spontaneous. But this was achieved by capitalism
not as an automatic process rather it was a result of regulation regimes that
forcibly subvert and subjugate other pre-capitalist relationships to the
imperatives of capital. Socialism in a way failed to create its own materiality
and could not emerge as an organic system because it could not subvert the capital
relations that were active both internally and externally by instituting a
socialist regulation regime.

Soviet Union did create unique example in
history in terms of providing more humane working conditions, full employment,
institutions of social reproduction that weakens patriarchy, social care and
subsidized necessities to the level unmatched to many of the advanced
capitalist countries. Real wage and per capita physical consumption increased
till the end of eighties and there were episodes of declining working hours in
a day as well. These were achievements unthinkable in a backward country like
Russia; and were made possible by the Soviet state simply because of a
different imagination of social organisation. It created immense impact on the
working class of both advanced and developing economies and the ruling class of
those countries being scared of the rising popularity of the idea of socialism
were forced to institute various designs of welfare measures. But one should
not undermine the fact that all these achievements of living standards and
rights were established and practiced in Soviet Union by the state and its
managers of enterprises and these were never the result of working class
agency. In a soviet enterprise it was really difficult to lay off a worker
because of the protective benevolence of a paternal state but at the same time
there was hardly any provision to fight against managers of enterprises or the
state. The dominant idea was why the working class should need an agency to
fight against the socialist state which is by definition a working class state.
In fact the system was driven by an implicit contract between the state and the
working class where the class would compromise its agency against better living
and relative egalitarianism ensured by the state. With an impatient chase to
higher growth it could manage to achieve living standards comparable to many
developed countries and hence could sustain the contract for quite some time
but beyond a point extensive growth path became unsustainable. Then there was
need for intensification of production and labour process which was bitterly
fought back by the working class that aggravated the crisis of soviet

‘Perfecting’ capitalism required a protracted
process of three hundred years, and still it is one of the most imperfect and
uneven systems in the world. Bourgeoisie theorisation often poses capitalism as
a system that rests upon freedom of producer and consumer interacting through
market and in the political realm voices their concerns through institutions of
democracy. But this is a facade that capitalism created successfully to hide
its ugly faces. It is not the market and freedom of exchange that creates profit
for capital. It is rather the ‘hidden abode of production’ inside the factory
which is deaf to any sort of democracy operates through command and control and
that is the site of production and appropriation of surplus value. Capitalism
in history had always been tainted with blood and murder, brutal appropriation
of resources causing dispossession for the sake of surplus during colonialism
in the past and through imperialist globalization in the regime of Empire. It
seems to have a peaceful democratic face in Western Europe and may be in some
other parts of the world but it had the ugly face of fascism in Germany, Italy
and Spain, it is capitalism that destroyed generations of people in Vietnam,
organised mass killings in Chile and Indonesia, it is the same capitalism that
in recent history brutally organised mass murder in Afghanistan and Iraq. It
happily accommodated feudal monarchy and even slavery that existed in many
parts of the world, it is dazzling with wealth in the US and poverty and hunger
in Somalia and large parts of Africa. The unending thirst of profit making
which is the holy instinct of capitalism creates a devastating threat to human
relations and also causing environmental degradation. It is taking toll to
human civilization and hence increasingly reaching its limits. The failure of
Soviet Union can only give a breathing space to capitalism to breathe its last.

Future socialism has nothing to learn from the
rot of capitalism but it has to draw lessons from the defeat of Paris commune
and Soviet Union and East European failures. It has the claim of not only
replacing capitalist exploitation but to do away with capital relations
altogether and eradicate all kinds of exploitation and oppression. Socialism is
reinstating the collective subjectivity of the working class which is
essentially a process of reuniting the direct producers to the process of
production. Collective ownership of the means of production is a prerequisite
in this protracted transformation towards a society where labour becomes
‘immediately social’.  In capitalism the
relation between human beings and their societal existence is mediated
indirectly through market. The social relationship and interdependence between
human beings is fetishized as relation between things. The socially necessary
labour and not the actual amount of labour congealed determine the value of the
commodity. This average measure of abstract labour is the guiding principle of
value relations which works indirectly as the capitalist regulator from behind.
Socialism is supposed to be a system that makes human relations direct and not
mediated by exchange values. It is where society and its constitutive
individuals interact as contributing to the commons and get return according to
the labour actually spent. It is a gradual transformation towards the world of
use values where human beings exchange their contributions directly, where
reduction of labour time through advanced technology increases disposable time that
enhances individual freedom of choice of work, the kind of freedom that
capitalism could never think of. The idea is to ultimately transcend the realm
of necessity when labour is no longer
a means of life but emerges as life’s prime want.  In other words labour seizes to be an input
of production and emerges to be the subject of production who by its education,
tradition and with appropriate use of mind and body decide priorities and needs
of society unmediated by any other institution or agency. In this case the
societal existence is prior to production which acts as a presupposition rather
than being realized indirectly after production as in the case of capitalism. In
this protracted process of transcendence regulations need to be put in place
that consciously subvert capital relations and subjugate all other relations to
the imperatives of socialism that works on the basis of active solidarity. This
process of transcendence might involve force as it used to be in any regulatory
regime of the past but it is supposed to be less coercive for the working
people at large because these are destined to end capital relations that
separate labour from the conditions of labour. And of course it would be more
coercive to few people who could benefit by the reproduction of exploitative
elements carried over from the past.  There
may be some need of coordinating such activities, some sort of ‘directing
authority’ as Marx indicates in Capital and the role of the coordinator is
similar to that of a conductor in an orchestra, who does not own the band,
neither the instruments, one who is not the employer but a musician with a
particular responsibility of conducting, very similar to any other musician in
the band. Here the conductor is not the master of the band instead can be
replaced by the band anytime if she does not perform her duty. The state here
dissolves into community and society. Socialism therefore is a journey towards
dissolving the state rather than strengthening it. It has to evolve its own
materiality that is communitarian and participative replacing production
structures those were suitable for command and control. It is only then
socialism will evolve as an organic system where each and every relationship
reinforces the other and the system becomes naturalized. It is a journey
towards association of free and equal producers where human beings are not
passive receivers of gains and losses but creators of their own history.  

The author is Associate Professor at ISID, New Delhi.