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The Inevitability
of Communism (7)


Since Hook does not see in Das Kapital the uncovering of the laws of social movement but only the critique ( conditioned by the will of the proletariat ) of bourgeois economics, so Das Kapital is not to him the theoretical actualization of materialist dialectics but "the application of historical materialism to the 'mysteries' of value, price, and profit ( page 187 )." In other words, since, according to Hook, the relations of production determine the thinking and actions of human beings, Marx developed from the standpoint of the proletariat his critique of bourgeois economics, which is simply criticism and nothing else. If the proletariat wins, then as a consequence Marx's Capital remains merely as an historical document, filled with the thoughts of a class which suffered under the rule of capitalism. Historical materialism here is not a part of the dialectical development but divorced from it; not a productive element, but a view of life ( Weltanschauung ). "Yet," as Marx wrote concerning his Russian critic in the preface to the first volume of Capital, "what else is he describing but the dialectical method ?"' But to Hook, Das Kapital is only an ideology, and from this point of view he says ( page 181 ) :

"What justifies Marx and Engels in holding that the mode of economic production is the decisive factor in social life is the revolutionary will of the proletariat which is prepared to act upon that assumption . . . . It is only because we want to change the economic structure of society that we look for evidence of the fact that in the past, economic change has had a profound effect upon all social and cultural life. Because we want to change the economic structure of society, we assert that this evidence from the past together with our revolutionary act in the present constitutes a sufficient cause for believing that the general proposition 'in the last instance the mode of economic production determines the general character of social life', will be true in the near future."

Even though he follows this up with the statement that what we want and when we want it cannot be derived from an independent, absolute desire to action, but are historically conditioned, still in his interpretation the will remains divorced from consciousness. There is here no interaction and no dialectical whole. In spite of all materialistic concessions and idealistic inconsistencies, the viewpoint still is that we see the determining factor in the mode of economic production merely because we want to change the economic relations. The willing, however much it may be conditioned, remains for Hook at bottom decisive. The seriousness with which he accepts this view is seen in his description of the way in which social change arises. He writes ( page 84 ) :

"From objective conditions, social and natural ( thesis ), there arises human needs and purposes which, in recognizing the objective possibilities in the given situation ( anti-thesis ) set up a course of action ( synthesis ) designed to actualize these possibilities."

Action, to Hook, which is identical with willing, forms the synthesis. To Marx, however, the synthesis is something different; here the proletariat, as the antithesis of bourgeois society, already contains what forms the content of the Hook synthesis. The Marxian synthesis presupposes successful action; it lies behind willing. It is the result of the negation of the negation, it is the communist society. The growth of the proletariat itself is not only the growth of proletarian misery but also of class consciousness and of action. This whole process turns off, at a certain level of development, into the revolution. "Was der Mensch will, das muss er wollen." Willing is inseparable from the proletariat; the existence of the proletariat as a material force of production is at the same time the existence of willing. Every setting apart and over-emphasis of the will should be eschewed. We may rather say with Engels : "A revolution is a pure phenomenon of nature, conducted more in accordance with physical laws than according to the rules which in ordinary times condition the development of society. Or rather, these rules assume in the course of a revolution a much more physical character, the material power of necessity comes out more forcefully." The material power is identical with will as well as with consciousness. In ordinary times ( Reformism ) these faculties are necessarily ascribed more value than they possess, so that they again become idealistic and false. In revolutionary times no matter how much will and consciousness exist, these factors always remain far behind the actual material power of the revolution.

The actual revolutionary process is much more closely related to the processes of nature than we are capable of conceiving in an unrevolutionary period; the "human" ( ideological ) factor in the development becomes more insignificant. Ten thousand starving human beings with the clearest consciousness and the strongest willing mean nothing in certain circumstances; ten million starving under the same circumstances, without consciousness and the specific human willing, may mean . .. revolution. Men die of hunger with and without consciousness and will, but in either case they do not die of hunger in sight of food. And when Hook in the course of his exposition refers to the millions of human beings who perished from the lack of class consciousness, he is after all merely pointing out the fact that even the presence of class consciousness could not have prevented starvation. In the other hand, he produces no instance in which millions of human beings went hungry in sight of food. For in such a case they would not have starved, but would have gained possession of the food and in so doing become . . . class conscious.

This overestimation, or rather wrong estimation of the role of consciousness leads Hook also to overestimate the rô1e of the party and, in the narrower sense, of the rôle of the individual in the historical process; a rôle which he does not conceive historically, but quite absolutely. In order to get at the rô1e of the genius, he asks, for example ( page 169 ) :

"Would the Russian Revolution have taken place in October, 1917, if Lenin had died an exile in Switzerland ? And if the Russian Revolution had not taken place when it did, would subsequent events in Russia have taken the same course ?"

The same game is continued with other statesmen and scientists, and then Hook turns sharply against Engels, Plechanov and others who held the view that every period which needs great men also creates them. Hook replies ( pp. 171-172 ) :

"With all due respect, this position seems to me to be arrant nonsense.... To argue that if Napoleon had not lived, someone else and not he would have been Napoleon ( i.e. would have performed Napoleon's work ) and then to offer as evidence the fact that whenever a great man was necessary he has always been found, is logically infantile . . . . Where was the great leader hiding when Italy was objectively ready for revolution in 1921 and Germany in 1923 ? . . . There are no musts in history; there are only probabilities."

To answer on the same plane, we may say, first, as Hook has stated in another place, that only practice shows whether a truth is true, hence also whether a great man is really such. And this practice is social practice. If, for example, society had not presupposed ( mechanism in manufacture ), actualized ( division of labor ) and applied Newton's knowledge, Newton's genius would have died with him. If the capitalization process had not given France such power in offense and defense, the genius Napoleon would perhaps have died as a lieutenant still more lonely than on St. Helena. Society determines what is genius. The Russian Revolution is independent of Lenin, and even its time of occurence was not in the least conditioned by him but by an endless series of interweaving factors in which the genius Lenin is swallowed up, and without which he cannot be understood. The fact that the Bolsheviks succeeded in seizing political power in a revolution over which they had no control stands, of course, in part in direct relation to the Bolsheviks and also in part to the personality of Lenin. But the idea that without Lenin the course of Russian history would have been decidedly different is beneath the level of Marxist inquiry, which constantly traces history back to the needs of social life. The Russian Revolution did not adapt itself to Lenin, but Lenin adapted himself to the Russian Revolution. It was only because he accepted the revolutionary movement that he won influence over it, that he became an executive organ for it. The great degree to which Lenin was conditioned by the actual course of the revolution and how little he himself determined its development is shown by the way he revised his work after the revolution. This is very clearly expressed in a speech he delivered in October 1921, when he said :

"The democratic-bourgeois revolution has been carried through to the end by us as by no one else . . . . We had not calculated sufficiently in connection with our design of putting into operation socialized production and the communist mode of distribution of the products among the small peasants, by direct order of the proletarian state. Life has shown us our errors. A series of transitional stages -- state capitalism and socialism -- was required in order to prepare the way for communism. This will involve labor extending over a great number of years. Not directly by way of enthusiasm, but with the aid of personal interests, of personal interestedness, with the aid of economic calculation, you must first build a substantial bridge which, in the land of the small peasants, leads through state capitalism to socialism; in no other way can you arrive at communism. This was revealed to us by the objective process of development of the Revolution . . . . The proletarian state must become a provident, careful and skilful proprietor, the future wholesale dealer; in no other way can the land of the small peasants be raised to a high economic level. A wholesale dealer; that appears to be an economic type just as far removed from communism as heaven is from earth. But that is simply one of the contradictions which in actual life lead from the farming enterprise of the small peasants through state capitalism to socialism. Personal interestedness raises production. Wholesale trade serves to unite millions of small peasants economically, arouses their interest, leads them to the next stage : the various forms of connection, of union in production itself."

The course of the Revolution rejected, first, all the old Bolshevist ideas which were still closely connected with the state capitalism of Hilferding, and forced the adoption of war communism as the new doctrine; and then the actual course of developments rejected also this new "construction" and took a purer turn to state capitalism. So that the Russian Revolution is a classic example of the fact that the course of development is determined not by the ideas of great men but by the socially necessary practice. Whether the Russian Revolution without Lenin would have taken any other course than the state-capitalist one is perhaps not worth discussing, for Lenin himself held that capitalism, not only in Western Europe but also in Russia, was sufficiently advanced that the next phase could only turn into socialism. Lenin regarded imperialism as "capitalism in its transitional form, parasitic or stagnating capitalism." Imperialism led, according to Lenin, simply to the universal socializing of production : "It drags the capitalist, against his will, into a social order which offers a transition from complete freedom of competition to complete socialization." The war, according to Lenin, had transformed monopoly capitalism into the "state-monopolist" form; the "state-military-monopolist capitalism" is, however, a "thorough-going material preparation for socialism, the entrance gate to it." With the conquest of state power and the taking over of the banks, he thought that state capitalism could be very quickly transformed into socialism. The carrying out of state-capitalist economy in Russia was therefore, in Lenin's view, only the anticipation of the real movement of capital. What was accomplished was the necessary capitalist consequence of advancing monopolization. The Party accelerated what would necessarily come about, finally, even without this acceleration.

That this capitalistic course was modified through the influence of the Bolsheviks is incontestable, but it remained capitalistic, and furthermore, the modification was limited to veiling the real nature of the reversion to capitalism, or of the forming of a new false consciousness. So we find Bucharin, at a government conference toward the end of 1925, expressing himself as follows : "If we confess that the enterprises taken over by the State are state capitalist enterprises, if we say this openly, how can we then conduct a campaign for a greater output ? In factories which are not purely socialistic, the workers will not increase the productivity of their labor."

The Russian practice is not directed according to communist principles, but follows the laws of capitalist accumulation. What other laws would it follow if Lenin and the Bolsheviks had not won ? We have in Russia also, even though in modified form, a surplus-value production under the ideological camouflage of "socialist construction." The wage relation is identical with that of capitalist production, forming also in Russia the basis for the existence of a growing bureaucracy with mounting privileges, a bureaucracy which, by the side of the private capitalist elements which are still present, is strictly to be appraised as a new class appropriating to itself surplus labor and surplus value. The very fact of the existence of the wage relation signifies that the means of production are not controlled by the producers but stand over against them in the form of capital, and this circumstance further compels a reproduction process in the form of capital accumulation. This latter, on the basis of the Marxian law of value, with which the Russian situation also must be illuminated, leads necessarily to crisis and final collapse. The law of accumulation is at the same time the accumulation of impoverishment, and hence also the Russian workers are actually growing poorer at the same rate as capital accumulates. The productivity of the Russian workers increases faster than their wages; of the increasing social product they receive a relatively ever smaller share. To Marx, this relative pauperization of the working population in the course of accumulation is only a phase of the absolute pauperization; it is only another expression for the increasing exploitation of the workers, and there can hardly be any doubt that even without Lenin and the Russian Revolution nothing but increasing exploitation could have occurred in Russia. Only one who, like Hook, mistakes the content of the Russian Revolution can raise the question as to whether Russian history without Lenin would have taken any other course than it actually did. It would, to be sure, have proceeded with different ideologies, different banners, different leaders, and with a different tempo, but for the living proletariat these differences are entirely insignificant. And since the revolution we are talking about is proletarian in name, one can only ask : what has been changed, as a result of the Revolution and the existence of the genius Lenin, as regards the situation of the Russian workers ? Nothing essential ! For the proletariat, Lenin was no more than Kerensky, no more than any bourgeois revolutionary, who does not abolish exploitation but only changes its forms.

There are not two kinds of wage labor, one capitalistic and the other bolshevistic : wage labor is the form in which, under capitalist production, the surplus value is appropriated by the ruling class or element. To be sure, the means of production have here passed from the hands of the private entrepreneurs into those of the State; as regards the producers, however, nothing has changed. Just as before, their only means of livelihood is the sale of their labor power. The only difference is that they are no longer required to deal with the individual capitalist but with the general capitalist, the State, as the purchaser of labor power. The economic relationship between producer and product still corresponds here to the capitalistic one. The means of production are only further centralized; which is not the end of a communist economy, but only a means to the end. The influence of Lenin, the policy of the Bolsheviks, stand revealed as a great capacity for adapting itself to the necessary course of development, in order, as the Bolshevist Party or as genius, to stay in power, which can only be the power of necessity. Had Lenin attempted to carry through a communist policy, his greatness would have been reduced -- or elevated, as one likes, -- to that of a tipsy Utopian.

Where were the great leaders of Italy in 1921 and of Germany in 1923 ( and again in 1933 ) ? If an answer must absolutely be made, one may point no doubt to Mussolini and the leadership of the Third International, Zinoviev at the time. Mussolini, who accelerated the objectively necessary process of concentration of capital in Italy; the leadership of the Third International, which maintained the "status quo," in Europe in the interest of the Russian Bolshevist regime by preventing the German revolution. Thus Radek declared ( by order of Zinoviev ) before the thirteenth conference of the Russian Communist Party on February 16, 1924 : "The central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as well as the executive committee of the Comintern unequivocally recognizes that the Communist Party of Germany acted correctly when, in view of the superior armed-force of the enemy and the division within the ranks of the working class, it avoided an armed conflict." ( This was repeated in 1933-34 ).

But this question can also be approached dialectically, and we shall then recognize that the problem of great men is itself a quite historical one. Particularly in capitalist society, in which the symbol is more "real" than reality, the problem of leadership acquires such importance that ideologically it becomes the problem of history. The market-price problem is the obverse side of the leader problem. Hegel stopping short with the Prussian State, the money form of commodities, the leader-mass problem, are all one and the same expression for the level of the social forces of production in their capitalist integument. The real working class movement knows no leader "problem." In it the decisions are made by the soviets, who carry on the action as also later the economic life.

But this change in the role of the personality can be recognized not only in the political domain; it holds also for science. The specialization of science goes hand in hand with its development. The social division of labor is not being restricted but extended. Each invention and discovery necessarily bears a more and more collective character. This socialization leads to ever more socializing. In the beginnings of capitalist society there were inventors, today there are invention shops. Inventions are produced almost in the same manner as automobile tires. In modern capitalism the individual counts less, all innovations come from the laboratories of work in common.

The fact that this does not become politically visible is due to the necessity of the bourgeoisie of becoming ideological ever more reactionary in the same measure as it drives forward the actual relations. If the bourgeoisie once required a Napoleon, today the stupidity of Hitler serves as the symbolic glueing together of its centrifugal tendencies. And yet for the German bourgeoisie Hitler looms as an over-towering personality; for if Napoleon assisted the development of capitalist society, Hitler assists in staving off its collapse. But even without Napoleon capitalism would have taken up its victorious march, and it will collapse in spite of Hitler. The two of them can contribute a small part to determining the tempo, while the upgrade or the collapsing tendency operates, but the general tendency is beyond their power to alter. Through all temporary modifications the march of history, the development of the human forces of production makes its way. But even within these modifications the real significance of "great men" is not inherent in themselves but only theirs in connection with all other social circumstances. It is only because history under capitalism works with a false consciousness that the actual movement lies concealed behind the leader fetishism. When this movement takes place with a correct consciousness, it will put even the genius in his proper place.

Throughout his disquisition upon the role of the leader and that of chance in the broader sense, Hook has forgotten his own starting point, which demands that every problem be regarded as an historical one. The alternative presented by the Communist Manifesto -- communism or barbarism -- points not to the determining role of human will but to its limitations. Since there is no equilibrium, a tarrying human race will necessarily perish if objective necessities are not carried through. But the tarrying itself is a temporary one. Barbarism is not the end of each development, but only an interruption which is dearly paid for. Barbarism is not the return to the ox-cart and into the primitive, but the barbarous condition of self-laceration in the death crisis and wars of a rotting capitalism. There is only one way out . . . the way which leads forward, salvation through communism.

The starting point of the communist mode of production is the elevation already attained by the productive forces of capitalism. If the youthful capitalism needed Napoleon and the expiring one required Hitler, if capitalism always needed fancies -- since reality, which had no common interests, also permitted no common struggle -- the communist revolution needs only itself, that is, the action of the masses. It has no need of fetishism, of fancy, in order to carry on in reality, for it knows only common interests and permits a genuine common struggle.

To the eminent personage, as also to the role of chance in history generally, no more can be ascribed than Marx ascribed to them in a letter to Kugelmann quoted by Hook. But the content of this letter does not support but opposes Hook's absolute, idealistic, unhistorical conception of the leader problem. [2] "These 'accidents' themselves," says Marx, "naturally fall within the general path of development and are compensated by other 'accidents'. But acceleration and retardation are very much influenced by such 'accidents', among which must be reckoned also the 'accidental' character of the people who first stand at the head of the movement." The significance of these "accidents" must be grasped historically. The question as to how far they still have importance today is not resolved from theory but from practice. Here also "the investigation of the real situation", as this was conceived by Lenin, "forms the true essence and the living soul of Marxism".


[2] The quotation marks in which Marx encloses his "accidents" show the restricted sense in which he wishes to have them taken. The word first ( zuerst ) toward the end of the passage emphasizes this still more. ( The word is omitted in Hook's text ). The italics are mine.

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