Professor Asks:

Should We Bother About Communism?

In the course of our Party's year of discussion around Road to Revolution (IV) many works, both Marxist and non-Marxist were cited and quoted. One that deserves particular examination is Marx on the Choice Between Socialism and Communism, by Prof. Stanley Moore.

Our movement is part of the nearly century-and-a-half-old communist movement founded by Marx in opposition to all other sorts of socialism, and further advanced by Lenin and other communist revolutionaries. Our disputes center on the problem of how to realize communism.

Prof. Moore, on the other hand, denies the possibility that communism can ever exist. He regards the struggle for communism as illusory, intellectually unfounded, and self-defeating. He argues that the ideal of communism is incompatible with the materialist approach to history, that you cannot get to a communist goal from the principles of historical materialism. He regards Marx's attachment to communism as a young man's passion that he was forever unwilling to abandon, but never able to defend. His book is intended to prove that point; he raises the issues our enemies should raise, and does so in a scrupulously scholarly way that befits a professor emeritus of philosophy published by Harvard University Press.

Moore is very clear about his aim. He writes:

A communist economy is incompatible with a complex culture. The goal of establishing such an economy, immediately or ultimately, is therefore incompatible with the goal of creating a social order where the free development of each is conditioned by the free development of all.

The evidence of the historical record -- stretching back to 1917 and now including 15 countries where communists hold power -- renders wholly improbable the transition to communism predicted by Marx and Lenin...

The dogma that socialism must be the prelude to communism has proved an increasingly serious obstacle to developing efficient, dynamic socialist economies in countries under communist control...

More than economic issues are involved in the choice between socialism and communism as a final goal. The dogma that socialism must be the prelude to communism serves to justify repressive features of societies under communist rule, in the face of criticism from socialist dissidents within such societies and from those revisionists outside them inaccurately called Eurocommunists. The economic counterpart of their demands for political democracy and cultural pluralism is the demand for increasing the role of the markets, as devices for dispersing decisions and multiplying options, within a framework of planning. All three demands can be linked and strengthened through a reasoned rejection of communism as a final goal. (pp. viii-x)

We are for political democracy for the working class, we want to disperse decisions and multiply options, we support cultural pluralism, and we stand for social planning in the working class' interest. But we link and strengthen these demands through a reasoned rejection of socialism as an interim goal, an affirmation of communism as an interim goal, and a reaffirmation of communism as a final goal. The issue could not be more perfectly joined as between ourselves as the inheritors and exponents of Marx and Lenin, and Moore, as representative of all those, from LaSalle to Deng Xiaoping, who revise and deny revolutionary Marxism. Moore points out that the distinction between socialism and communism is that socialism abolishes exploitation but not exchange. Communism abolishes both. He then comments that

to recognize [this] is to confront the problem of demonstrating that a society that has abolished exploitation but not exchange is in some sense inferior to a society that has abolished both. Lenin does not argue the superiority of communism. Nor does Engels. Both treat it as demonstrated truth, and for this demonstration they look to Marx. Yet where in Marx's writings is that demonstration to be found? ...I shall attempt to show that his major arguments for the superiority of communism rely on moral and philosophical principles...incompatible with his materialist approach to history. (p.7)

Moore's demonstration is as follows: Before he became converted to communism, Marx developed a critique of capitalist society founded on a moral critique he derived from the German humanist philosopher Feuerbach. Feuerbach, according to Moore, had the idea that "men differ from other animals in possessing both an outer and an inner life. In his inner life he is conscious of sharing the essential nature of all men." "This," says Moore, "is the doctrine that underlies Marx's characterization of man as a species being in On the Jewish Question, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, and The Holy Family.

Marx's critique further states that modern exchange economies dehumanize men, force them to act as isolated individuals caught in a war of each against all. This is a cleavage between existence and essence, which is described as "estrangement." "Estrangement" is a condition in which man gives up something that is his own (alienation) which results in conflict; what man has relinquished confronts him as a hostile and destructive power.

The remedy for estrangement produced by capitalist institutions is to bring men's existence into harmony with their essence in a social order based on the principle of community, the unity of man with man. "This is the doctrine," writes Moore, "that underlies Marx's call for a return from society to community." Finally, this return to community is seen to occur with the victory of communism -which is a revolutionary politica1, movement of the working class.

Although in later years Marx disowned Feuerbach's account of human nature, and broke with his former philosophical convictions, Moore points out that Marx never rejected his communist conclusions, but only the premise from which he arrived at them.

More importantly, argues Moore, Marx's new premises actually contradict his communist conclusions, and this is the philosophic reason for the persistent challenge of revisionism in the history of Marxist doctrinal disputes.


Marx's new premises are the body of ideas known as historical materialism. Moore describes historical materialism as being "centered on the problem of exploitation, the conflict of proletarians with bourgeoisie." The earlier premise, "philosophic communism," is centered on the problem of estrangement, the conflict of human essence with human existence.

"That the problems differ," comments Moore, "can be shown by asking whether ending exploitation is sufficient to end estrangement, and if it is not, what else is required. (pp. 11-12)

We might better ask, in the light of history, whether s9cialism ends' exploitation, whether exploitation can ever be ended without at the same time ending estrangement. The answer, which history shows is No, will show that the problems do not differ.

Moore's error, throughout his entire work, is to reduce historical materialism to economic determinism. He deletes all aspects of historical materialism that deal with the interaction of the ideological superstructure and the material base. He defines historical materialism as a system of economic analysis. For example, he writes, "In predicting the end of commodity fetishism Marx uses only the language of historical materialism...examination of his account of capitalist accumulation reveals no economic grounds for predicting the end of commodity exchange." (p. 62)

No revolutionary Marxist ever held that economic grounds alone caused any change in society. In a letter on this very point Engels wrote

Political, juridical, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic, etc. development is based on economic development. But all these react upon one another and also upon the economic basis. It is not that the economic condition is the cause and alone active, while everything else is only a: passive effect. There is, rather, interaction on the basis of economic necessity, which ultimately always asserts itself. (Letter to Borgius, Jan. 25, 1894. Emphasis by Engels.)

And Mao Zedong, wrote on this point:

True, the productive forces, practice and economic base generally play the principal and decisive role: whoever denies this is not a materialist. But it must also be admitted that in certain conditions such aspects of the relations of production, theory, and the superstructure in turn manifest themselves in the principal and decisive role...The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal role in those times of which Lenin said, "Without' revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary. Movement." When a task, no matter what, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy. When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural change becomes principal and decisive. Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also -- and indeed must -- recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being, and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical ~J materialism and upholds dialectical materialism. (On Contradiction)

As a result of his fundamental error, Moore is satisfied to conceive a critique of the essence of Marxist thought (which he states "is relevant to the present, perhaps even to the future.") without bothering with the accumulated historical experience which conditioned, proved, disproved and developed that body of thought. In the name of historical materialism Moore dispenses with history.

Consequently, Moore, straining for effect; can at best only point to instances where Marx, faced with the problem of peering into the future with no practical experience to guide him, had to fall back on his philosophical system to suggest a possible, and therefore very generalized, resolution of future social contradictions. This has always been philosophy's role in human thought. Before man's practical experience with his environment develops, he can only explain the world through idea systems. Only after experience has been gained and mastery achieved does science develop. Moore can attack communism only by refusing to investigate the actual history of the worldwide communist revolution, which means an investigation of its ideas and practice. And he can justify this only by stripping historical materialism of its historical materialist content.

Moore's argument for market socialism collapses altogether, and its irrelevancy becomes stark, exactly at the mid-point of his book. There he is forced to concede, in that curiously inverted language his decomposition of historical materialism requires him to use:

...the trends [Marx] predicts in the development of the forces of production are insufficient, by themselves, to produce the transition he predicts from socialism to communism. Those trends would prove incompatible with the production of wage labor and commodity exchange only if they resulted in the total fusion of labor and enjoyment. But, as Marx discusses them in Capital, they approach this goal without ever reaching it. At some point they may create a situation where socialism becomes possible: at no point will they create a situation where socialism becomes impossible. This conclusion accords with the language of the Critique, where Marx writes of a situation when men "can" -- not where they must -- replace socialism with communism.

...The argument from historical materialism proves at most that classless economies will develop to a point where men can choose between socialism and communism. The prediction that they will then choose communism rests wholly upon ~he argument from distributive justice. (pp. 44-45)

, And further on he writes:

To weigh the textual evidence is to reject the claim that Marx's analysis of capitalist accumulation culminates in predicting transition to a specifically socialist economy. This is not to assert that it predicts transition to a communist economy but that, taken literally, it is neutral between the two. (p. 56)

So here we have a scholar whose stated aim is to prove the "conflict between communism, and historical materialism." He intentionally emasculates historical materialism to allow him to reach his goal. Then, despite all this, he is forced to concede that even looking at the matter through his distorted presentation of historical materialism, there is no conflict. Even his brand of historical materialism "proves...economies will develop to the point where men can choose...communism," and even directly from the point of capitalism. Such a scholar is an ass in lion's skin. He is a con artist. ~', His book is a hoax.

But even though Moore's argument dissolves of its own accord, his specific points are useful to examine since they are likely to be raised r. by others.

Moore summarizes Marx's moral premise as follows:

Men's productive work connects them with their fellow men -with the universal, the species. To make this service of th

Socialist society is, in reality, and is seen by workers who live under it as, a capitalist society.

universal, not the unintended consequence, but the conscious motive of human activity, is to achieve distinctly human status and dignity. This requires transformation of productive work into an end in itself, total fusion of labor and enjoyment in free activity. But the cleavage between labor and enjoyment inherent in an exchange economy is incompatible with this goal. The motive of those who exchange, either products for products, or work for products, is to earn a living -- to receive an income and spend it satisfying egoistic needs. Their work is not free activity but forced labor. Dehumanizing and estrangement -- conflict between human existence and human essence -- are therefore inextricably embedded in exchange.

Another critique by Marx is summarized by Moore this way:

Exchange develops with the division of labor. Both separate labor from enjoyment. This cleavage produces a conflict between the interest of each individual and the common interest of all the individuals made interdependent by division of labor and commodity exchange. Because each individual seeks only his particular interest, the common interest confronts him -- in the market and the state -- as an alien and coercive power. This estrangement cannot be ended, forced labor cannot be replaced by free activity, with- out ending both division of labor and exchange.

And quoting Marx directly:

We perceive therefore that wages and private property are identical. For wage labor -- where labor is in the pay of its product, its object -- is only a necessary consequence of the estrangement of labor. Where labor is paid a wage it appears, not as an end in itself, but as the servant of wages...A compulsory increase in wages...would therefore be nothing but higher payment to the slave: it would not win for the laborer or his labor their human status and dignity. Even equality of payment...would merely reduplicate the relation of contemporary laborers to their labor as a 'relation of all men to labor. Society would then be perceived as an abstract capitalist. (p. 14.ouotes from The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, para. 59-61)

This is precisely the nub of what is wrong with socialism. Socialist society (which has not even tried equality of payment, but instead is based on piece-work wages) is in reality, and is so perceived by the workers who live in it, a capitalist society of a particular form.

But Marx's insight went deeper: As Moore points out, Marx anticipated and argues against the notion of material incentives because he felt they were incompatible with the development of communism. Marx wrote that " the positive self-consciousness of man...just as real life is the positive reality of man, no longer mediated through the transcendence of private property -- through communism.

Moore explains that what Marx means by this is to attack

moral an economy ...[where] producers (are not paid wages but nonetheless)...will work to satisfy needs that are egoistic rather than comm:una1...They will therefore work for the sake of being paid, in the sense that they will not regard their work as an end in itself...He is concerned here, not with survival of exploitation through exchange, but with survival of the cleavage between labor and enjoyment -with what is now called the question of material incentives. (p.17)

So here we have Marx, 140 years ago, anticipating and condemning the most "modern" "progressive" "practical" and "advanced" social development policies adopted by the leaders of all the socialist countries. You can't get to communism on that road, says Marx.

What are Moore's reply, and the reply as well of the politicians who lead the established communist movement? "Good, says Moore. "I don't want to go there." "We may want to go there," intone the politicians, "but later on, in the sweet bye and bye."

According to Moore, communism has no point, is not necessary, is not superior to socialism, and is anyway impossible to achieve for sociological, philosophical and economic reasons. Why has communism no point? Because, says Moore, Marx is inconclusive. He neither asserts nor denies that disappearance of class distinctions will be accompanied by abolition of exchange.

Now this is either an altogether absurd point, or else Moore saying that it is not the abolition of exchange that produces classlessness, but rather the abolition of exploitation; and secondly, that if socialism did not produce classlessness Marx is not asserting that communism will either.

Who in his right mind would argue that socialism has produced classlessness, or is evolving in that direction? On the contrary, the old class relations are maintained with new personnel and in new forms consistent with the mixed state-private capitalism that is the essence of socialism. So if state ownership of the means of production means the end of exploitation, clearly classlessness is not a by-product of the ending of exploitation.


But does state ownership mean the end of exploitation? History shows that state ownership by itself does not affect the relations of production one way or another. In place of the old capitalist class, the state appears as an abstract capitalist. And even this appearance changes as the party becomes nepotistic and corrupt. The state as abstract capitalist is replaced by the party as concrete capitalist. Exploitation therefore can remain despite state ownership, though in a somewhat altered way. So long as the working class does not control the state it produces surplus labor in conditions of state ownership of the means of production. The economic condition required for this state of affairs to exist is the existence of labor power as private property. Destroy the wage labor relationship and you destroy at the same time the foundation for the state existing as a hostile and alien power opposed to the working class. Socialism, in other words, cannot produce or evolve toward classlessness, but communism can.

Why is communism unnecessary? Because, f according to Moore, though class conflict is an evil, it is rooted in the more general evil of egoism and self-interest. Can egoism be abolished all at once? Obviously not -- perhaps it cannot be abolished at all. If it could be abolished over time, there should be some transitional stage between capitalism and the state that corresponds to the abolition of egoism. But this would require a transitional economy that falls short of abolishing exchange, although it would abolish exploitation. You would have socialism, but not communism.

But if egoism cannot be abolished, then exchange cannot be abolished. The question must then arise: does every institution which channels activities motivated by individual interest toward results promoting collective interests at the same time frustrate some human

Socialism cannot produce or evolve toward classlessness. Communism can

need? Put another way, is there a human need for free labor, for total fusion of particular motives with the common good? Alternatively, can there be such a thing as "proletarian individualism?" If there is a need for this fusion, is this need cultural or biological? What is the empirical evidence for its existence? Marx, says Moore, is dogmatically assuming what he ought to prove empirically, but which he cannot prove. Without the proof there is no basis for believing communism is necessary.

This objection is interesting if you mangle historical materialism the way Moore has. Materialism holds that egoism, like all concepts, is an aspect of social consciousness that has its roots in material conditions. If the material conditions are changed, then in time the social consciousness can be changed. Neither egoism, nor any other idea, is genetically handed down. The point to be addressed is what material conditions have to be changed, and in what way, to provide the basis for eliminating egoism and self-interest. But this problem is no different from the problem of ending exploitation. The material basis for solving both problems is the abolition of wage labor. Yet, if wage labor is to be ended in conditions of freedom, then obviously labor must be its own end. This is the essence of the cultural revolution that accompanies communism. To start from the standpoint of individual interest conflicts with, and frustrates, the need to carry out a cultural revolution for labor as free activity, as an end in itself. It is precisely the development of historical materialism that proves the necessity of communism.

Why is communism not superior to socialism? Because, according to Moore, socialism can do everything communism claims to do. Socialism could ultimately be fair he says, and can abolish economic dependence by allotting to non-productive people (children, the disabled, etc.) incomes from the fund for communal needs. Workers could receive wages determined through a competing market for labor. This would produce equilibrium prices for labor power by paying more for harder work, or more dangerous work, and so on, so that socialist wages would be fair. What then would be unfair? According to Marx, any general system of rules is unfair since it involves applying the same standard to different, differing individuals. But from what conception of fairness does it follow that every respect in which people differ provides grounds for different treatment? Communism therefore is not superior to socialism.

The problem with this objection is that it argues the wrong point. Fairness is not the issue as Moore puts it, because economic dependence is not the question communism is concerned with. It is ironic that Moore should be reduced to this formulation, because it forces him to rely on the very concept of "distributive justice" which he falsely attacks Marx for relying on. The issue for communism is ending class distinctions, abolishing the difference between rich and poor, ending inequality, destroying the concept of self-interest. Even Moore's type of market Socialism (which differs markedly from the market socialism preached about in the socialist countries) could not result in abolishing the evils communism will abolish. This is why Moore finds another set of evils to be concerned about. When communism is well developed and has abolished inequality and self- interest, and is producing abundantly (as that future society will define abundance) then the possibility of overcoming general systems of rules will be present for humanity. Then it will truly be possible to develop a social order in which the free development of each is conditioned by the free development of all. Moore's concept of fairness is appropriate only to one whose horizons extend no further than exchange-dominated, class-ridden societies, such as his socialism. Communism is infinitely superior to socialism.

Why is communism impossible to achieve? According to Moore, communism is economically unworkable, because if you abolish the market you lose all ability to allocate appropriate amounts of labor among specific productive activities. Marx does state that the labor market is needed to translate concrete labor into what he calls universal social labor or average social labor, which is the unit of calculation of labor time. Without knowing how much universal labor is needed for different productive activities, there cannot be an appropriate allocation of labor power. Communism, therefore, has no mechanism for properly proportioning labor time among different kinds of work; but socialist economies with competitive markets can do this, according to Marx's own argument, says Moore. The problem with this objection is that we do not need to know the amount of universal labor time embodied in a product unless we are involved in exchange, and are concerned with making sure that the exchange process is fair. For that you need a mark. But if you have abolished wage labor, doing away with the market would permit injustice only to the extent work diverges from being an end in itself. If this question of injustice does not arise, then all you are left with is the problem of appropriate allocation. That problem is managed by knowing the amount of concrete labor you require. Stalin put it this way:

In the second phase of communist society, the amount of labor expended on the production of goods will be measured, not in a roundabout way, not through value and its forms, as is the case under commodity production, but directly and immediately by the amount of time, the number of hours, expended in the production of goods. As to the distribution of labor, its distribution among the branches of production will be regulated, not by the law of value, which will have ceased to function by that time, but by the growth of society's demand for goods... (Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR)

Communism is unworkable only for those who don't want it to work.

Communism cannot be achieved, according to Moore, because it requires ending the division of labor. As Marx put it:

In a communist society no one has a single, exclusive sphere of activity; each can cultivate any field he likes. Society regulates the general production, and so makes it possible for me to do this today, that tomorrow, to hunt in the, morning, fish in the afternoon, raise cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I please -- without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, cowherd or critic.

If you end specialization you nonetheless retain differentiation of functions, and in this example introduce fluidity of occupations. How can society regulate production where occupation is a matter of individual choice, as Marx demands? Exchange is more necessary than ever before, says Moore, with the planning authorities regulating production through differential wages, paying more for more needed types of labor, less for other types of labor. Thus,

Communism is unworkable only for those who don't want it to work.

Moore argues, ending the division of labor makes communism impossible,

Moore cannot conceive of any institutional arrangements other than the ones he has lived with. But the "ignorant" Chinese peasants, who could not read Marx, let alone Moore, were able to conceive and began to develop institutions not based on the division of labor during the period of the peoples' communes, Where society is decentralized, and communist labor is the rule, ending the division of labor, ending specialization while retaining fluidity of functions, becomes very achievable. It is precisely this way that the state ceases to be an alien and hostile power. Complexity of culture is advanced through decentralization combined with central planning; and based on peoples' eagerness to work for society. The key is abolishing wage labor. Communism is achievable for those who wish to be free. That is why we should bother with it.

Thought about and written voluntarily, without hope of gain, January 1982