On Prabhat Patnaik’s article “The October Revolution and the Survival of Capitalism” in Monthly Review, July 2017

by Sandeep Banerjee

Frontier | July 19, 2017

It is indeed very difficult to present a critic on any of Prabhat Patnaik’s essay. So many points are always there to be argued and Frontier Weekly has a very limited space. So let me draw only some dots in brief and may the readers develop the picture themselves.

He argued, as against Bernstein and Rosa “The Leninist argument altered the basis of this debate altogether.[1] Capitalism had become historically obsolete or “moribund” as he called it, because in its imperialist stage it engulfed humanity in periodic and devastating wars”. Strange!

The Chapter 8 of his book Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism, bears a name “Parasitism and Decay of Capitalism” after the Chapter 7, named, “Imperialism, as a Special Stage of Capitalism” which ends with the lines: “The question is: what means other than war could there be under capitalism to overcome the disparity between the development of productive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one side, and the division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the other?” Whereas Chapter 7 ended with the conclusion: how Social Chauvinism arises in the scene or the objectivity of that. Indeed, social chauvinists so eager to protect the unity & integrity of India, (the ‘market’ named India or the map provided by the British Imperialism) would not like to dwell on such uncanny points. 

Now let me fearfully add another point of PP, which is commonly believed by all – “If the first step in understanding the conjuncture was to see that all countries within this conjuncture had to proceed through various routes toward socialism as a condition for the liberation of their peoples, then the second step in understanding was that their journeys were interconnected, that imperialism had linked them in a chain, whose breaking at the “weakest link” would set off a collapse of the chain altogether.” But today something bizarre has happened – I could not find such a line in Lenin’s works as uploaded in Marxist Internet Archive. I could find that conclusion in J.V. Stalin’s A Necessary Correction[2] and then in an article by Bolshevik.org[3].  Lenin made such a statement in a totally different context in mid-1917: The Chain Is No Stronger Than Its Weakest Link[4]. “If an iron chain is needed to hold a weight, say, of 100 poods, what would happen if we replaced one of its links by a wooden one? The chain would break. No matter how strong and intact all the other links are, if the wooden link breaks the whole chain will burst. The same is true in politics. The Mensheviks and Narodniks, the ministerialist gentlemen of these petty-bourgeois parties, have joined forces with Plekhanov’s “Yedinstvo” in the elections to the District Councils. You have only yourselves to blame, gentlemen! Your “iron” chain was poor and rusty enough as it is, and now it has several links made not even of wood, but of clay and paper”. (Italics mine, Pravda No. 67, Published according June 9 (May 2 7), 1917) I shall be obliged if somebody show me my error in searching faultily.

By the way, such observations of Lenin did not change his somewhat older comment on the ‘imminent world revolution’ (breaking at the “weakest link” would set off a collapse of the chain altogether). In 1916, in a polemic with Rosa, Lenin made a prophetic remark[5]: “if the European proletariat were to remain impotent for another twenty years; if the present war were to end in victories similar to those achieved by Napoleon, in the subjugation of a number of virile national states; if imperialism outside of Europe (primarily American and Japanese) were to remain in power for another twenty years without a transition to socialism, say, as a result of a Japanese-American war, then a great national war in Europe would be possible. This means that Europe would be thrown back for several decades. This is improbable. But it is not impossible, for to picture world history as advancing smoothly and steadily without sometimes taking gigantic strides backward is undialectical, unscientific and theoretically wrong. ” Another twenty years from 1916 meant 1936 – and there you are! Anschluß was just 2 years away and WWII, 3 years. Nationalism flourished everywhere. And in Russia, also appeared the slogan <Socialist Fatherland is in Danger> Социалистическое отечество в опасности!

Anyway, we should not focus on this point; rather let us go to post revolutionary Russia. PP says, “Even the survival of the Soviet Union was attributed by Lenin to the fact of inter-imperialist rivalry. In one of his last articles, “Better Fewer, but Better,” he attributed the failure of the joint military intervention by several imperialist countries in support of the Russian counterrevolution during the Civil War to the conflicts between the imperialist countries of the West and the East, and wondered if these conflicts would “give us a second respite.” Incidentally, Better Fewer But Better is one of Lenin’s late writing, written in 1923. So the survival of Soviet Russia was explained much before it too, in different contexts, in different times. And Lenin “wondered if these conflicts would “give us a second respite”” is an oversimplification presented by PP by not mentioning the next lines of Lenin – which was intentionally done by him to give his argument a ‘solid foundation’. What were the immediately next words of Lenin? “Can we save ourselves from the impending conflict with these imperialist countries? May we hope that the internal antagonisms and conflicts between the thriving imperialist countries of the East will give us a second respite as they did the first time, when the campaign of the West-European counter-revolution in support of the Russian counter-revolution broke down owing to the antagonisms in the camp of the counter-revolutionaries of the West and the East, in the camp of the Eastern and Western exploiters, in the camp of Japan and the U.S.A.? I think the reply to this question should be that the issue depends upon too many factors, and that the outcome of the struggle as a whole can be forecast only because in the long run capitalism itself is educating and training the vast majority of the population of the globe for the struggle.[6]” So, he did not say that Russia’s existence in dependent on inter-imperialist rivalry, rather depends of ‘too many factors’.

If PP saw Lenin’s writings, speeches in party congress/conferences he could find that initially most of the CC members including Lenin was banking on revolution on the west, particularly German Revolution. And till then Russia should ‘hold on’. Russia was the just like an underdeveloped ‘base area’ whose existence depends much upon the expansion of world revolution on the developed west (as he wrote in 1916 in Junius Pamphlet). Only when after 1921-22 it was observed that the western/German revolution lost the steam, and the in-house situation in Russia turned very critical (severe resentment among peasants, Kronstadt event, the revolution going to the east, and etc) the party took the NEP, searched for a new way to reach socialism by “Cooperation”, and etc.

The way the agricultural communes were running, Lenin resented much and scolded those commune managements. Moreover the over dependence of Lenin and the Party on the ‘agricultural proletariat’ was shattered – there might have been millions of them, but eventually during the ‘war communism’ period there was some kind of ‘levelling’ and very few existed who did not have individual lands; and in one encounter with a Gubernia agricultural proletariat they demanded individual plots from growing vegetables and even permission to keep domestic animals[7] for personal consumption (or selling) in front of Lenin himself. The 1918-19 discussions about slowly abolishing money[8] changed to stabilisation of Rouble and make it gold-backed[9].

That Russia was only declaring her intention to become socialist/communist was told many times by Lenin. In “Economic Problems of Socialism in Soviet Union”, Stalin had to deal with the question that how, in spite of having money, commodity, prices, etc. capitalist categories Soviet Union can still be called Socialist. Mao also wrote some notes on Stalin’s observation. And we will see how definition of socialism, communism, and socialist country / communist country were changing – changing away from Engel’s explanation in Part III of Anti Dühring. But Mao insisted on Lenin’s formulation in “Economics And Politics InThe Era Of TheDictatorship OfTheProletariat”, only adding a small issue – that classes do exist in socialism and class struggle too [10]Mao also showed that turning to revisionism is quite possible for a ‘socialist country’’ as the recent history of Yugoslavia was showing. For Lenin, a better description of Russia in his time was “Dictatorship of theProletariat”, whereas Socialism or Socialist Country only points to the. Though, when it was clear that the west is not at the verge of socialist revolution, did some easier slogan emerged, like “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country”.

PP moved fast to “But alongside these changes, the postwar conjuncture was also marked by something that went beyond what Leninism had visualized, namely a replacement of acute inter-imperialist rivalry by an overarching domination of one power (which some called “super-imperialism”). The fundamental perception of the Communist movement about the imperialist stage of capitalism, on the basis of which the proposition about the imminence of world revolution had been argued, namely that it would be characterized by inter-imperialist rivalry and wars, ceased to be valid in the postwar conjuncture. No doubt the Cuban and Vietnamese Revolutions occurred during this conjuncture, but they were more a belated product of the earlier conjuncture, rather than a specific product of the postwar one.” The late 1960s all over the world, the Autonomia movement in Italy, the blood stained, cruel and violent national liberation wars was visàvis peaceful handover of power in some countries (having a violent anti-imperialist movement in the past) didn’t mean anything to PP’s party, like the Eurocommunists who defended mother/father land against ‘secession’. He could write “likewise delinking from globalization, to reverse its baneful consequences upon the workers and petty producers, by a state based on a worker-peasant alliance, will be part of a transition, through stages, toward socialism”, but their friendly govt. supported by their full strength did nothing about even scribbling a line on this regard. Neither did they try to do anything small in the states run by them.

What else they could do but theorising: “However, an important question arises here. While capitalism has once more assumed a form where it deserves only to be “despised,” the muting of inter-imperialist rivalry makes sustaining any effort to escape the hegemony of international finance capital that much more difficult, unlike even in Lenin’s time. Transcending the conjuncture itself becomes difficult in the absence of disunity among the major capitalist powers. Or, put differently, the muting of inter-imperialist rivalry appears to create a “no-exit” situation, where despite the oppressiveness of the current conjuncture any escape from it seems impossible.” Transnational or multination finance capital is, to they, transcended country’s border. Waw janaab. In very recent past we had seen India’s ONGC acquired a good share of the booty in Iraq, and as India buys many nuclear reactor ROSATOM, ONGC in turn got space in arctic drilling too. In each foreign tours the Indian leaders buy things of that very county – not capital that transcended national barrier. And how smartly India works to save the imperialist powers’ capital can be shown by many facts. Why do you thing Chug got ejected from ITC, the British American Tabaco (mainly British)? Just because he wanted to refuse British request of increasing their share in ITC from 30-35% to 65% or so? What did our national/state capital, represented by LIC and nationalised banks ultimately voted against Chug and he had to quit, back in 1995? Because he wanted to make ITC an Indian Multinational with more Indian holding than the foreign British Multinational BAT. What happened to the tea garden managers surrounded by an Assamese Nationalist outfit? That news never got focus in the media.  They got Airlifted by Indian Air Force and Indian Army – our ‘national’ forces acted to save the life of HUL executives [11] (and HUL, as you know is a mainly British owned farm who increased its stake in the company to something like 65-75%). So national armed forces acted in favour of Foreign (British) Multinational. It can be argued that how can they can agree with this when their governments are joining hands with multinational; rather they are presenting us supranational-multinationals disconnected with Imperialist countries. The imperialist power forced India to take armed action to save multinational executives. There are numbers other examples. But let us stop here to raise just one more point.

His theory or hypothesis says there was almost no inter-imperialist completion/war in the post WWII era. It was necessary for his party. If you draw a picture of NATO-SEATO-SENTO vs WARSHAW PACT countries, the weakening of Russia post-1991, inability to resist Iraq war, but mingling militarily in Afghanistan, the China-Vs-Russia contradiction in the war in between Cambodia-vs-Vietnam war…, the way the ‘soviet Russian’ submarines moved in to save India against the Seventh Fleet of USA… China’s intervention in Africa and Latin America (including making of a second bigger trans-oceanic canal) …. The how CPIM ab invite multinationals and shouting against imperialism during Iraq war or such events…
Beware against revisionists in India.


1. “Eduard Bernstein had asked for a “revision” of Marxism, to substitute an agenda of reforms within the capitalist system for a revolutionary overthrow of it, on the grounds that no such protracted crisis or “collapse” was on the horizon; and Rosa Luxemburg had asserted the revolutionary vision by developing a theory of accumulation of capital that pointed to an eventual collapse of the system.” — Prabhat Patnaik (hereafter mentioned as PP). Was Rosa so naive as to think a system collapsing in its own without some revolutionary movement by the class!

7. “Two notes have been handed up, both asking whether workers in state farms are allowed to keep their own small livestock, vegetable plots and poultry. I have just asked for a copy of the act we recently discussed in the Council of People’s Commissars and which was passed by the Central Executive Committee. This act is entitled “Statute on Socialist Land Settlement and the Measures for the Transition to Socialist Farming”. I don’t know whether a copy of this act is available here. I helped to draft it and delivered a report on it to the Commission set up by the Central Executive Committee. If my memory does not betray me—we have so many laws that one cannot remember them all, and many more acts have been passed since then—I think this act contains a clause which prohibits workers in state farms from keeping their own livestock and holding separate vegetable plots. I should like to have a copy of that act and consult it. (A copy of the act is handed to Lenin.) Here is Clause 46: “No worker or office employee in a state farm shall have the right to keep his own livestock, poultry, or vegetable plot.” Thus, it turns out that not all of you were aware of the existence of this act. One of the comrades in the Presidium told me that there was a heated debate on this question at this Congress. I do not quite understand why. I have just been handed a copy of Izvestia containing this act entitled “Statute on Socialist Land Settlement and the Measures for the Transition to Socialist Farming”. Why was this clause inserted in the act? To introduce labour in common on a common farm. If private vegetable plots, animals, poultry, and so forth, were permitted again, we should revert to the small farming that had existed hitherto. If that were the case, would it be worthwhile to have all this bother. Would it be worthwhile establishing state farms? It goes without saying that if you discuss this question and, knowing as you do the conditions prevailing in Petrograd Gubernia—I am told that this Congress consists solely of representatives of Petrograd Gubernia—if on the basis of your experience of what has been done in Petrograd Gubernia, and in spite of all the arguments in favour of common production, you arrive at the conclusion that a temporary exception should be made for this gubernia, we shall re-examine the question. Only, you must try to prove to us that such an exception is really necessary, that special conditions, absent in other gubernias, prevail in Petrograd Gubernia, otherwise, all the others will demand the same exception.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/mar/13.htm

8. While not (for the time being) abolishing money and not prohibiting individual purchase and sale transactions by individual families, we must, in the first place, make it obligatory by law to carry out all such transactions through the consumer and producer communes. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/7thcong/18.htm
“First throw off the yoke of money, the power of capital, abolish private property, then the slow growth of “conscientiousness” on this new basis.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/x02.htm

9. “I shall convert pounds sterling into gold rubles, at a rate of ten gold rubles to one pound.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x03.htm; “The Importance Of Gold Now And After The Complete Victory Of Socialism” https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/nov/05.htm

10. The Chinese Communists began to campaign against the new revisionist clique led by Khrushchov within the international communist movement. In particular they combatted the erroneous theory that it is possible for the proletariat to seize state power, not by means of the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie, but through a peaceful parliamentary road. The Communist Party of Great Britain had the dubious distinction of having been the first communist party to openly proclaim a revisionist line when it adopted The British Road to Socialism as its programme back in 1951. Even so, Mao engaged in ideological struggle with its leader, the labour aristocrat Harry Pollitt, but without any success as this comment made in 1957 shows:
Now the Communist Parties in a number of countries, the British Communist Party for example, only advance the slogan of peaceful transition. We talked this over with the leader of the British Party but couldn’t get anywhere. Naturally they may feel proud, for as their leader queried, “How can Khrushchov claim to have introduced peaceful transition? I advanced it long before he did!”
Another first for Britain!
By the early nineteen sixties it was clear that the revisionists in the U.S.S.R. were becoming consolidated into a new state bourgeoisie and were rapidly reinstating capitalist relations of production in Soviet society. Also in China the revisionist elements were strong, their leading representative being Liu Shao-chi who was President of the PRC. Throughout the nineteen fifties there had been many sharp struggles against the revisionists who opposed the Great leap forward of 1958 and the step-by-step collectivisation of agriculture. Drawing from this experience, together with the counter-revolutionary turn of events in the Soviet Union, Mao began a campaign to alert the Chinese workers and peasants to the need for intensifying the class struggle as the key link in the process of socialist transition. In 1962 he said:
Now then, do classes exist in socialist countries? Does class struggle exist? We can now affirm that classes do exist in socialist countries and that class struggle undoubtedly exists. Lenin said: After the victory of the revolution, because of the existence of the bourgeoisie internationally, because of the existence of bourgeois remnants internationally, because the petit bourgeoisie exists and continually generates a bourgeoisie, therefore the classes which have been overthrown within the country will continue to exist for a long time to come and may even attempt restoration. The bourgeois revolutions in Europe in such countries as England and France had many ups and downs. After the overthrow of feudalism there were several restorations and reversals of fortune. This kind of reversal is also possible in socialist countries. An example of this is Yugoslavia which has changed its nature and become revisionist, changing from a worker and peasant country to a country ruled by reactionary nationalist elements. In our country we must come to grasp understand and study this problem really thoroughly. We must acknowledge that classes will continue to exist for a long time. We must also acknowledge the existence of a struggle of class against class, and admit the possibility of the restoration of the reactionary classes. We must raise our vigilance and properly educate our youth as well as the cadres, the masses and the middle-and basic-level cadres. Old cadres must also study these problems and be educated. Otherwise a country like ours can still move towards its opposite. Even to move towards its opposite would not matter too much because there would still be the negation of the negation, and afterwards we might move towards our opposite again. If our children’s generation go in for revisionism and move towards their opposite, so that although they are still nominally have socialism it is fact capitalism, then our grandsons will certainly rise up in revolt and overthrow their fathers because the masses will not be satisfied. Therefore, from now on we must talk about this every year, every month, everyday, we will talk about it at congresses, at Party delegate conferences, at plenums, at every meeting we hold, so that we have a more enlightened Marxist-Leninist line on the problem. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.hightide/red-star-mao.htm

11. In November 1990, executives of HLL’s Doom Dooma Tea Estates in Assam and their families were airlifted out of the tea estates, with the help of the Army and the Air Force. HLL had been asked to pay Rs 35 lakh plus 5% of the net profits of Brooke Bond and Lipton. HLL refused to pay, and decided to close its business in the area instead. http://www.icmrindia.org/free%20resources/casestudies/The%20Tata%20Tea-Business%20Ethics.htm

SOURCE: http://frontierweekly.com/views/jul-17/19-7-17-On%20Prabhat%20Patnaiks%20article.html


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