Lenin on war economy and socialism

Submitted by martin on 13 April, 2020 - 9:11 Author: Martin Thomas
tatlin tower

World War One, like the Covid-19 pandemic, pushed capitalist governments into "socialistic" measures of public control of economic life.

World War Two would do so even more. And by then governments in Britain and the USA, having to deal with stronger labour movements and sorely remembering the revolutionary tumults at the end of and after World War One, conceded a stronger "social" element and more liberties in their state control of economic life.

Writing in October 1917, Lenin presented his working-class socialist programme as a "revolutionary-democratic" going-forward from that state capitalism.

His approach can help guide us in our demands for when the pandemic subsides.

Keir Starmer has already said: "We now know who the key workers are, they have very often been overlooked, underpaid, and there has got to be a change...

"We have to think about how we reimagine the economy going forward… I think it is inevitable that we have to ask those that have more to pay more...

"When we are through [the coronavirus crisis] there is going to have to be a reckoning, we are going to have to do things differently."

In France, the fiercely neoliberal president Emmanuel Macron has now promised "a massive plan of investments for our hospitals... deep and durable".

In Starmer's scheme, though, "those that have more" will still "have more", only maybe not quite so much more.

Lenin argued instead for a society without privileged rulers, in which, in his words, "every cook will govern".

This is how he put it:

What the German [pro-war social democrats who still made an effort to present themselves as Marxists] call "war-time socialism" is in fact war-time state-monopoly capitalism, or, to put it more simply and clearly, war-time penal servitude for the workers and war-time protection for capitalist profits.

Now try to substitute for the... landowner-capitalist state, a revolutionary-democratic state, i.e., a state which in a revolutionary way abolishes all privileges and does not fear to introduce the fullest democracy in a revolutionary way.

You will find that, given a really revolutionary-democratic state, state-monopoly capitalism inevitably and unavoidably implies a step, and more than one step, towards socialism!

For if a huge capitalist undertaking becomes a monopoly, it means that it serves the whole nation. If it has become a state monopoly, it means that the state (i.e., the armed organisation of the population, the workers and peasants above all, provided there is revolutionary democracy) directs the whole undertaking. In whose interest?

Either in the interest of the landowners and capitalists, in which case we have not a revolutionary-democratic, but a reactionary-bureaucratic state, an imperialist republic.

Or in the interest of revolutionary democracy - and then it is a step towards socialism.

For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly.

There is no middle course here. The objective process of development is such that it is impossible to advance from monopolies (and the war has magnified their number, role and importance tenfold) without advancing towards socialism.

• The version of this article in the print and pdf versions is slightly abridged.

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