Concerning the lowest phase of communist society, arising immediately after the transfer of political power and ownership of the means of production into the hands of the proletariat, Marx said;
"We are not concerned here with a communist society developing on its own foundations, but with one which has only just emerged from capitalist society, and which therefore bears the imprint of the old society, from whose bowels it emerged, in all relations, economic, moral and intellectual." (Cited, in translation, by Lenin in "State and Revolution." Vol. 31, p.91)
How long is this period? What limits its duration?
The half century of history of socialist society in our country permits us to pose this question in another way. Separated, as our society is, from capitalism by an entire lifetime, is it not a socialist society arising on its own foundations? An affirmative answer to this question would establish a qualitative distinction between our society and the society discussed by Marx in this citation. It would permit us to declare that our society is characterized by other laws, distinct from the laws of the initial phase of socialism.
However, we can not give an affirmative answer to this question.
"Theoretically, there can be no doubt that, between capitalism and communism, there lies a certain transition period. This can not unite within it the characteristics and attributes of both these social management structures. This period can only be a period of struggle between dying capitalism and rising communism; or, in other words, between defeated but not yet destroyed capitalism and rising, but still weak, communism."
Lenin wrote this in 1919 in his article "Economics and Politics in the Epoch of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat."
Thus the struggle between capitalism and communism is prolonged up until the complete victory of communism. Socialism, or the lowest phase of communist society, is the name for this entire period of struggle.
It is utterly obvious that this struggle cannot cease; for example, after the complete liquidation of the bourgeoisie as a class. After such liquidation, it continues as the struggle against the tendency of the categories of private property to revive in the consciousness of the defeated classes, as the struggle against a system of views which has collapsed, but which is not completely annihilated and still manifests itself in social relations.
The presence of the imprints of capitalism must be seen both in the equal right of payment for labour, which, as Marx noted in the "Critique of the Gotha Programme," remains a bourgeois right, and in the very existence of the socialist state which exists not only to suppress capitalist tendencies, but also to maintain such survivals of bourgeois right as are essential for the society. But this is not all. Such imprints are also maintained in the relations between members of society and collectives, in the relations of people to material values, in morals and ethics. They exist in each individual's consciousness, permeating their personal plans, forms of action, value systems and so forth.
For us this is important to the extent that the action of one social law or another is shaped by the level of development of social consciousness. In this sense, socialist society presents a quite complicated picture. For, in it, social laws inherited from the capitalist past remain in force, yet, at the same time, linked with the development of consciousness, ever more favourable conditions are created for the action of different social laws, the laws of communist society, whose sphere of action has a tendency to grow broader.
But the existence of a general tendency for the influence of the laws of communism to grow, for the supplanting of bourgeois laws in social life, by no means assures that, in each particular case, the victory of communist over capitalist laws is guaranteed. In fact quite the opposite, it means that there is an equality of forces in each specific sphere and that, in this stubborn opposition, the victory of communist over bourgeois laws is only achieved when a revolutionary shift in the consciousness of the masses occurs, when there is a revolutionary change in the relations of the masses to the sum of the phenomena of social life.
Very frequently, we are concerned with situations in which an advance to communism is produced where the essential revolutionary shift exists only in the consciousness of a minority, it is produced because it is supported by the enthusiasm, the living energy of this minority. But enthusiasm is not eternal, with the passage of time it inevitably dies away. And if, at that moment, the decisive shift in the consciousness of the masses has not taken place, then the advance to communism will necessarily be halted and the bourgeoisie will not only recover its lost positions, but will even obtain a definite advantage under these unstable conditions and may significantly strengthen its situation. It is precisely such flashy, ultra-left adventures, and particularly ultra-left urgency, that, more often than not, lead to the strengthening of reaction, of counter-revolution. And even if there is a forward movement (and it is only based on the enthusiasm of a minority that we can move forward, it is only such breakthroughs that can produce shifts in the consciousness of the masses), if the next step in the development of communism has been sufficiently prepared, that is, is, in principle, realizable on the basis of the achieved level of consciousness, even in such a case, underestimation of the particular situation, disdain for a Marxist analysis of successes and failures, can give rise to such mistakes as will undermine the undertaking, will overthrow it, and may even destroy the very platform from which it was initially launched. Here, we ought to say immediately; the more serious the business we undertake, the more decisive the advance which is taking shape, the greater will be the tension in the situation, and the greater will be the risk of suffering a defeat and being thrown back. But without this there can be no movement forward. For it is only in situations of the highest tension that the masses are compelled to responsibly think through the choice between the old and the new, and without this there can be no shift in consciousness, no internal revolution.
Forward movement to the new is always a revolutionary process. The hope that the masses can completely prepare themselves for the new, can develop within themselves the striving to overthrow, and moreover simultaneously, the old habits and norms of life and what is more pick up the new; this is existentialist garbage. Under conditions of the peaceful transformation of existence, such a thing can never occur in the consciousness of the majority of individuals. Even ignoring differences in experience and capability, age differences alone can present a decisive obstacle.
How then is it, given the obvious existence of individual paths of consciousness, that society progresses all the same, transforms from one stage of development to another?
The essence of the matter is that society is not simply a sum of individuals. Society is society, that is the sum of individuals linked by the relations between them.
Of course, humanity can change qualitatively and can change under influences independent of it, changes in the conditions of existence; change in existence leads to a corresponding restructuring of consciousness. But the root of the self-development of human society lies precisely in the fact of the existence of individuals.
This certainly does not mean that, in order to realize some change, people must come to agreement amongst themselves. Rather, something else follows, namely that it is possible to understand the laws which specify the commonality and similarity of processes which lead to qualitative shifts in the consciousness of society. Such a process can be more or less localized, it can grip the whole of humanity or a single country, or even just a single family, it can concern the most essential aspects of the style of life, or, as in the case of fashion, only the most superficial realms of consciousness; but the sequence of its development is always predictable, always passes through similar phases.
Each step in the development of social consciousness has a completely predictable structure. Contradictions ripening in society are reflected in the consciousness of particular individuals. These individual reflections vary, they depend on the degree of participation in the given contradiction, on the character of the individual and their requirements and experience, particularly emotional experience. In one individual these reflections are only set aside in consciousness, creating an impression in one form or another, while in a different individual, they become a decisive factor for consciousness, that is they define action. In individual cases, such changes in behaviour are habitually explained as anomalies in the particular consciousness of individuals, but their repetition provides convincing evidence of the ripening of the contradiction. These very changes in the form of action are conscious or unconscious attempt to find the resolution of these contradictions.
To the extent that the contradictions grow and the number of individuals preoccupied (in either the literal, or in the case of an unconscious search, figurative sense of this word) with their solution grows, then this concern unites them into a competent force on a social scale, into a socially significant minority. And this minority acts! It performs actions which, in one way or another, intervene in life, in an existence which remains passive in the given relation, the still inert majority. And this is when the minority, perceiving the contradiction more sharply, through the weight of its actions is able to pose the critical question to society as a whole, when the actions of the minority are able, in the most decisive way, to shatter the calm of the majority, to change the course of their existence; it is only then that society is confronted with the necessity of giving a clear answer - how ready is it to settle these existing contradictions, to produce a revolutionary change. And so it is, through the endless repetition of similar processes, superimposing the processes at different scales, through both progressive and reactionary resolution of crises, that society is able to move forward, to create its own future.
This digression into the theory of social development, has, of course, a broader significance than the specific tasks of the present work, but we must certainly clarify that all progress is inconceivable without the sternest struggle, without the hottest battles, in which defeat is as unavoidable as victory.
We are all supporters of the new. We act for progress. We are trained to speak and think in this way; and it is the most brainless garbage, which even intrudes into Marxist propaganda. Even if we actually participate in the struggle for progress in one realm, we remain retrogrades in many other realms. And you can do nothing about it; this is simply human nature which restrains us from rash action, which ties us to conditions, for better or for worse, under which we can exist. And, more frequently than not, we don't generally think over such progressive changes, on the whole we stress our interest in the quantitative side; more, richer, better. This also assists the forward movement, but is not itself movement, rather it is just the preparation for it. In order to take a step the leg must be lifted, but the leg can be moved up and down many times without taking a step.
To be a Marxist means really assisting the self-development of society, its self-movement to the communist future. But this is not so simple.
To be a Marxist means to be sharp. It means attentively detecting the tendencies of social movement, carefully investigating and assessing them and boldly going over to the side of the progressive tendencies.
To be a Marxist means to be biased. Marxism is objective, but it is objectively on the side of the new. Too often we encounter the type of "Marxists" who call their Philistine indifference "objectivity." A Marxist must be biased, that is must support the new not merely with words or even feelings, but with action.
And, most importantly, to be a Marxist means to understand that the new can come into existence in no other way than through the cruelest struggle with the old. The genuine supporter of the new does not wait for all-powerful support to appear, but opposes the whole of society. All new forces are provided only with their own, proper force, their energy and enthusiasm. And in this tensest confrontation, any detail can prove to be decisive, any turning point can be critical. Doubling and tripling the forces in this struggle, using the individual energy to maximum effectiveness is possible through the most profound analysis of the situation, through the objective Marxist accounting for all the forces acting in the skirmish, for the applicable laws and tendencies.
So now, having sketched the panorama, we will return to what would seem to be an altogether calm question, who should be occupied with this work?
Having liquidated private property in the means of production, having made short work of the class of capitalists, we got down to the construction of communism. But do we know how to do this?
We must know which direction to move in. We must know this so well that we are able to understand the tendencies which surround us.
We must be able to detect and take into account all the tendencies of the current moment. Not concealing the sounds of the moment with the thunder of beautiful slogans, but must listen to them most attentively, for it is in the real tendencies, and not in beautiful words, that the slogans of tomorrow are hidden.
We must understand in as much detail as possible the objective laws which are today in force in society. We must always remember that these laws are not proclaimed, but appear, are extracted from the very life of society, from the whole gigantic mass of facts which express this life.
Undertaking the construction of communism without mastering this knowledge is no different than wandering in a forest without a compass or a map.
The interpreter on the English language - Perry Vodchik